Categories
Kartik Thoughts

On letting go…

The human condition is predicated on a desire for maintaining individual existence. This means that our minds design a construct for self-preservation, contingent on the concept that we matter. It is essential for a being to believe in that they matter, for otherwise, why bother to try to protect yourself. Why not just get eaten by that really big cat with long saber-like teeth? From these ancient precepts, our minds have refined these primeval reflexes into far more intricate constructs.

While these saber-toothed adversaries are conquered by the vagaries of a brutal world, the only way humans have survived from our forebears as a small scattered wandering tribal population to a teeming, seething mass that occupies a planet (and then some) is by a deeply entrenched belief that: “I” matter. That “my” work matters. That these actions are “mine” and “I” deserve credit. The wise may differ, but wiring the humans this way, has helped power them as the Universe’s tools to fashion the present as it is.

These are the definition of the human condition. The reasons for celebration in success and the basis for sorrow during loss. Emotions that mean nothing to the overall scheme of things but help keep the human mind intact in that being’s journey from inception to conclusion.

Thus, we can’t rid ourselves of these. No more than wishing for two right hands.

So what of the left hands?

The left hand is the unconscious and naturally submissive, yet supportive balancing act that allows the right hand to be creative. As in all things, the dark that defines the light.

Looking back on the last half century, I have led a charmed existence. Born to a family on the ascendant, blessed with educational opportunities that harnessed my potential, and, most importantly, a partner who perfectly complements me, my retrospective only reveals a life beautifully lived. Yet, regret and bitterness creeps into my mind.

Why?

It is these thoughts of ownership. Of posession. Of being in control.

These thoughts and ideas impel us to revel, to rebel, to revolt, to react and to resolve the world into a comprehensible construct that does not challenge the primacy of our existence. Even at the cost of others.

Let go.

Recognize that the colors you see are the results of the brain’s processing of information. Are you seeing reality or just the mind’s interpretation of your sensory perception?

Let go.

For peace lies in knowing that “I” am a rudderless boat in sea of events in the Universe. That not capsizing or making others capsize is the way to go.

Let go.

For events will resolve on their own.

Let go.

For you need the mental strength, both to recover from sorrows at the depths of defeat… … just as much as the energies expended in exultation of victory.

Let go.

For Life goes on.

Categories
photo essay review of cameras Uncategorized

La vida leica redux

I am not a documentary photographer.

Laugh as you might at my philistine ignorance, but the concept of Impressionism in photography is new to me. Too often have my images been critiqued as too saturated, modified, edited etc., what have you.

Sod it all. And to all of you heartless critics, you can take your opinions and store it where the sun don’t shine. (I would have added an angry “For all I care!”, but it is obvious that I do)

I like taking pictures. I like editing them to give my impression of what I see. And my present weapon of choice is the Leica SL (not that rebadged Panasonic, which is the Leica SL2) , but the original Leica SL. With its humble 24MP sensor. Without sensor-shift image stabilization. Without the high-ISO range of the SL2-S.

And before you SoNikCanon fanboys proclaim their AF superiority, I only use traditional manual focus adapted R and L lenses. Also this is not a camera review. Nor is it a lens review. It is a review of the past year of MY pictures. Nothing more or less.

The typ601 Leica SL is one I got used in mint condition from Adorama. With an unfilled warranty and registration, this baby is mine as far as Leica knows. Like the m9P that preceded it (as my go-to), the construction is beautiful, but the buttons are stupid and despite everyone swearing at how naturally things fell to hand, the Panasonics, Sonys and Nikons of this world and yes, the old M9P, has this beat. Even after a year, I am constantly struggling with the ISO, the focus assist and EVF/LCD switch as well as that damn video (creation of Satan) button.

The lenses I use are an interesting combination and I will discuss them individually. From a pre-ASPH Elmarit 21mm M, my favorite Summilux-M 50mm, the quirky Apo Macro Elmarit-R 100mm, and the incredibly flexible Vario Elmar F4 80-200, it is an adequate range of brushes to satisfy the breadth of my artistic palette. Oh, and yes, unless artistically inclined otherwise, I almost always am wide open aperture.

The King.

In my book, there is every other lens, and then there is the Summilux-M 50 1.4. Compact, sharp and with colors to die for. Whether edited in post or not, images are simply gorgeous.

The quiet Ace

The Elmarit M 21mm is a shockingly small and light lens. Like most ultra-wides, very easy to focus as most things are often in focus wide open. Amazing as a travel companion, the heft of the SL that provides it that wonderful balance in hand, completely overshadows the 21, which feels like a lens cap by comparison. I even did an entire trip on one lens without missing the other lenses. The max aperture of 2.8 is a limitation, but the added bulk of the 1.4 21mm cousin, makes this a compromise (and financial bonus) that I am happy to make. Plus, like all Leicas, colors to die for.

Jack the Sportsman

No leica lens will ever be a Jack of all trades. They are ALL that special. Still, a lens that can do so much more is the Vario Elmar R 80-200 mm zoom lens. Amazingly beautiful to hold and use, balancing beautifully on the SL. Even without IS, gives some remarkable pictures.

The odd one out.

The Apo Macro Elmarit-R 100 is a strange bird. Incredibly bulky with a very very long throw, and despite incredible sharpness, a very dry Zeiss-like presentation. Still, adds full-on macro capabilities to my set and when used for portraits can be a very interesting lens indeed.

Yup.

Those were my pics with my edits on Lightroom.

Nope. You don’t need to like them because I like them plenty.

At the end of the day, it is as much about the pictures as the fun I have had composing them, focusing them, exposing them and developing them. Maybe your smartphone does better. And can focus automatically. And expose. And is much lighter. Which is a wonderful thing.

La Vida Leica is a Happy Cow!

Like happy cows and good milk (from that terrible ad), I firmly believe that the photographer’s relationship with his/her camera greatly drives the pictures they take. It has nothing to do with the technical characteristics of the camera, but everything to do with how your camera inspires you to be creative.

Categories
Kartik Thoughts

Are you really “free to choose”?

Freedom.

Choice.

Independence.

Even before the Anti-vaxxers cornered the market on “freedom” and “choice”, humans for years have lived in the firm and grounded belief that choices and consequences were controlled events. “Good” choices resulted in “good” consequences and “Evil” choices in “evil” consequences. By extension thus, evil happenstance must be a consequence of a prior “evil” sin or victimhood of another’s “evil” act, to be repaid in a “good” consequence – somewhere in the timeline (past or future).

These concepts of choice and consequence and the freedom that sentients claim to possess are the driving force of our ethics, morals and religions: fundamentals of a human society that always claims to possess a comprehensive knowledge and perception of the universe – from our prehensile cave-dwelling forbears to the scientific technocrats at the bleeding edge of science. For instance, we were sure that the world was flat, until we learned that it was not. And that we were the center of the universe, until we learned that we weren’t. And that up, down, left and right, back and front were durable concepts that define our reality, until Relativity showed the universe to be something else.

So are YOU free?

Can YOU choose?

Are YOUR thoughts and actions truly independent?

Join me in exploring these ideas in this fascinating rabbit-hole.

Let us take the simple act of brushing your teeth (or not brushing them, for that matter). Is it really your choice? For the sake of simplicity we will pursue the avenue of brushing your teeth. Society has created norms (long before YOU were even a concept), that fresher smelling mouths are desirable. Your state of mind this morning, is to try to play along – so you brush. There are so many influences of the Universe at large on each moiety as well as each minute action, footstep, thought, and idea. Resultantly, the action in large part is merely a reflection of the sum total of the Universes forces acting at a certain point. YOU just happen to be person these forces are pulling (or pushing) in a certain direction. YOU would need to be a remarkably strong individual to be able to overcome a whole universe of forces. (Note: If you are that Universally strong individual (because there can only be one, by definition) this blog-post may not apply, and please don’t squish me)

If YOU are not choosing, but merely being pulled in the inevitable direction of the sum total of forces, it implies that all actions must thus be pre-ordained. In this Universe, a zero-sum arising from nothing but the intent to Be. It raises the intriguing possibility that in reality (if such a thing exists), our precepts of good, evil, choice, consequence and, yes, freedom are merely human-made constructs to help our minds account for the inequities of the Universe’s pre-ordained course.

As bleak a picture as this drab Universe-model, I have painted, joy and sorrow still abound. These are absolutes that are contingent on the human condition.

Yes!

We do get to choose.

To be happy.

To be sad.

To be angry.

To be peaceful.

To accept or to reject the preordained nature of the Universe.

Think of the passage of the Universe (and our lives within) like a train journey from creation to extinction. We (all of us) are on this train of existence, created by the Choice-to-Be, on a journey through the map of preordained fate as it unfolds. Like passengers on a train, our control of the journey is minimal, limited in the duration specified and direction of our tickets. Some travel in first-class and yet, others are jostling in standing-room only. Yet, people at both extremes (and every one in between) may choose to be happy, sad, angry or at peace with their station and fates.

Consider it.

Think of situations in life where a given specific event in your own life, seems to be one that brings you happiness in some contexts and deep sorrow at others.

Realize that the choice to be happy or sad, is yours.

Rather than quarreling with the Universe’s preordained decisions, choose happiness and joy. For it is infectious and will spread, until one day, a pandemic of infectious happiness will cover the Universe from infinite edge to edge. Embracing the joy of the best moments of the past, present and future will generate the happy memories to tide the times when the Universal Plan inflicts the worst.

Choose Happy.

Choose Joy.

Choose Peace.

And if others choose otherwise, judge them not. We only exist to choose our own Feelings. Not those of others.

Categories
Kartik Thoughts

Two’s …. … the Universe

In the Beginning, there was Balance and there was Nothing.

Zero.

There was no up or down. No truth or untruth. No sin or good deed. No joy or sorrow. No beauty or ugliness. No day or night. No black or white. No God or Devil.

From the singular Nothing came Two. A Positive and a Negative. Balance continued as Nothing gave rise to Something. As each dyad multiplied to bring forth Existence, Balance continued, as it does to this day. As these positives and negatives intermingled, like a fractal pattern, the universe grew and formed. As they clashed, came forth light, forces of electromagnetism, of gravity, of strong and weak forces, space and mass. As the great expansion began, the dimension of time came into being as well.

This Universe is at heart a Zero. Nothing. It really both exists, and yet, doesn’t exist. For each positive out there, a corresponding confounding canceling negative ensures the zero sum.

Not just in physics, but in life.

For each good and benevolent act, a malevolent evil springs forth. For each act of charity, an act of meanness. For each give, a take. Because that is where Balance is. And Balance is the underlying principle that underlies this Non-existent – Existence.

If all acts are evil and good, why act? If it is all a Zero-Sum, why bother?

Because Purpose forced the creation of this Existence. To force the creation of the primordial Dyad from Nothing. Purpose expands the universe, all the while adhering to Balance.

Each individual out there has Purpose. Following that Purpose is nature. Lion eating seemingly innocent Deer eating seemingly innocent Grass seemingly eating Soil enriched by Lion (in life and death). Following your Purpose, whether benevolent or malevolent, is Nature.

Categories
Kartik Thoughts

How “Science” is killing innovation

As a frontline healthcare worker and proud COVE trial participant, I was unblinded today. To my relief, I was both declared immunized and not a hypochondriac (as some “kind” friends had wondered – helpfully adding that I might have gotten the placebo). It felt like a tremendous weight was off my shoulders, in this dark, heavy time of death and disease. As I gave thanks to the trialists, the NIAID, the companies that made the vaccine and the Federal Operation Warpspeed that made this medical miracle my wonderful reality, I began the search for where the vaccine came from.

The story reveals a cautionary tale as to how we nearly did not get these amazingly effective tools. As with all things, the reality is that scientific discovery is predicated on funding. Owing to the prestige (and supposed independence/flexibility) of it, most scientists prefer to stay in academic environs. Funding comes for a variety of peer-reviewed sources, University endowments, national and international societies, and, most significantly the NIH (and some other agencies) a.k.a Big Science. Although notionally impartial and encouraging of innovation, the experience and story of Katalin Kariko (and God know how many others) tells differently.

A rash of stories in the media highlight how an immigrant, previously academic scientist, who was the focal point of the discovery that made this vaccine possible, was rejected time and again by Big Science in her pursuit of this exact discovery. As a nearly former scientist, this tale is one that I have seen time and again. Big Science is predicated on who you know, and how your work conforms to dogma of “established” science. People that are “unknown” or have novel (heretic) ideas are seldom tolerated and never funded. It is both a wonder, and a blessing, that Dr. Kariko managed to carry her work to fruition despite this consistently adverse environment.

Time and again, mediocre science, bereft of novelty, harvests rich rewards from Big Science, whereas true innovation is felt to be “too risky” to support. This runs contrary to the spirit of scientific inquiry. Institutionalized religion draws power from dogma and hierarchy, and Big Science is no different. Any challenge to either is met with being ignored, excommunicated, exiled and (if possible) death. In other words, Big Science is the new Inquisition. Cloaked in the respectability of academic titles and degrees, these are the same dogmatic and mediocre thinkers who are in science for the prestige and not the passion of discovery, to whom novelty and breaking the mold are anathema, and woe betide any who speak to challenge them.

As someone currently carrying funding from Big Science, is this ingratitude? Bitterness, at the small share of my spoils? Jealousy at those who are better endowed than I?

Maybe.

Is it all this bad? Is there no good in the system?

Or maybe, I’m just an honest taxpayer with a unique view of how billions of tax dollars of an unwitting public are divided up by Big Science acolytes.

Like many good acts of religious orders, there is tremendous good that is done by Big Science. However, over time, our rate of discovery is slowing. As we grow more content and established, our output has increased but the effects of this increased output have not.

As a publicly funded enterprise, Big Science has to be accountable to the people that pay for this. By chanting scientific hymns beyond the understanding of a lay-person and a few light-shows in test tubes, a dazzled public stands by while Big Science divides the spoils. As a scientist with a commitment to study, science and discovery and not, a blind loyalty to the Big Science establishment, and as a responsible citizen I need to speak up.

As of today, over 300,000 people are dead from this virus. That this vaccine may save untold more and was almost a non-entity is a painful reminder of how essential is our need for major reform. If you can, share this widely, talk about it, send it to the media, the Congress, the Senate and your leaders. Tell them that Big Science may not be the panacea they think it is. We need to salute heroes like Dr. Kariko. And we need to be able to use our tax dollars to support the untold others that Big Science rejects in their unholy desire to enforce conformity and dogma.

Categories
Cars

Rattle and hum!

U

should drive a 60’s race-car

2

Wasting a rare 60 degree cloudless December day in St. Louis certainly rises to the level of a misdemeanor. To do so, as a Backdraft owner, is pure felony. Anticipation fills my heart as I wash away the clouds of weekly drudgery and commuting. The approach of noon and the assurance of knowing that all my neighbours are out in their yard, power-tools ablaze, fills me with the courage to awaken the stuporous elapid in her heated pen.

Despite a slight struggle with “winter”-gas (a pox on the house of the inventor of this bane), she thunders into life, with throbbing anger as her electric choke settles her carb in. Many people, myself included, think that “sports-cars” with their special exhausts sound loud. I am pleased to report that there is simply NO point of reference when it comes to the sound of a fully roused 427 ci classic race engine. It is not just loud, but also rich and deep. It permeates the environ, filling the listener with warmth of a bath in warm chocolate sauce on a frozen morning. The sound equivalent of a Chocolate Fudge Sundae. On a Saturday.

Like all good things, driving a Cobra replica, is filled with an elaborate ceremony. 4-point seatbelts. A tiny metal key. Turning the battery contact. And then, the starter button. Followed by the eruption of sounds and smells that embellish the whole experience. Being older and weaker, the wimp in me opted for the power steering and the modern T5 gearbox. While this takes something away from the rawness of the original, it does make backing out of a curved driveway a lot easier.

Starting cold, the car seems a little lumpy at low speeds. Even the initial takeoff on the ramp to the expressway seems to betray greater deliberation. Overall, when fully warmed up the ideal cruise is at around 2200 rpm, when the engine feels most relaxed. 1900 rpm seems to be the harmonic frequency of the engine and results in a fair amount of vibration, particularly in top-gear. For most driving in urban areas, 4th gear is a comfortable top. Going to 5th at below 65 mph is clearly uncomfortable, both for car and driver. Interestingly, the space between 2200 and 3100 rpm is the sweet spot for a drive. Above 3000 rpm the engine gets a bit shouty, but heading towards higher rpm results in a more coherent sound as she seems to settle into her preferred race-car state.

Heading out on a country road, this car is in its element. Sharing Ken Miles’ intials (but alas, none of his skill), I pilot this brooding serpent through a beautifully surfaced and banked country road as the fallow winter landscapes flash by. Yes, the race suspension from a 2010’s BMW M3 is firm but surprisingly unpunishing. For a change, I care little for the racket I make as there is no-one around save the hibernating wildlife.

Heading back to the expressway, the car does not skip a beat in switching back to highway cruiser. Sailing with silent (relatively) menace, every Mustang, Corvette and muscle car d’jour slows to match in awe of her beauty and character. A bevy of waves, “thumbs up”, and honks accompany her as she imperiously strides on her homeward trek.

And what of the driver?

Unlike Bond’s martini, stirred AND shaken.

And who needs a dessert, a drink or a drug, when the high that ensues from driving this is so magical that the whole point of each week is looking forward to this weekend dalliance.

Categories
Kartik Thoughts

Thoughts on a Sunday…

It is 6AM on a relatively bright and crisp Thanksgiving weekend. Alpana checks her patient list as she heads to work to see a host of patients, some with COVID19 and others with the usual ailments that fill our plates at work. We talk about how the pandemic has affected us and its impact on society in general. The CNN headline on Japanese suicide rates, the resignation of a local health official over threats to her family and the increase in local spread among the community feature, as we look to the winter ahead with trepidation.

A bright spot in our thoughts, is the possibility that a vaccine might be a savior. But will it be too little, too late? Only time will tell. As more of our colleagues test positive, we look to our own safety. As more and more public officials, on both sides of the political spectrum, show support for preventative and safety measures, we look at the increasing fatigue that we (as much as everyone else) are experiencing in this new reality.

But wait, masks, distancing, washing hands? Restrictions? What restrictions?

As a proceduralist, these aren’t restrictions, these are my every day activities. As they would be for welders, mechanics, sanitation workers, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists… you name it. And every occupation has its own.

When do these rules of behaviors become a restrictive burden?

I think the answer is in us.

They are “restrictive” as much as we want them to be.

We are “restricted” to breathe air, want for food, desire shelter and companionship.

We are “restricted” to need to care for family and friends.

We are “restricted” to the boundaries of our locale, city, state, country, planet, solar system and galaxy.

Most of all, we are “restricted” to the confines of this body, the most precious gift endowed us by our Creator.

In the face of these restrictions, what of the mere mask, the “6-foot rule” and the hand-washing? When seen from this overarchingly “restricted” life, these seem like just a fraction. But are they “just an increment” or “the last straw”?

Again, the answer lies in us. Despite the profusion of death and disease all around, many, including friends and family, move to the latter. Their attitude, one of defiance in the face of logic, as they abandon all pretense. Social media, the bane and savior of our isolated world, relays videos and pictures of indoor get-togethers, as families and friends gather in close embrace, singing and sharing.

How will this end?

Who knows?

Maybe the naysayers are right. Maybe this is all fake. Or #fake. Maybe this is just physicians trying to whip up panic to demonstrate their power.

Smart people discuss the ethics of caring for individuals that don’t isolate or take precautions. They even suggest that only “good” people deserve to be treated.

My take on this is as follows:

I am a physician who provides a service to those who need it. No part of this involves my judging their behavior or character. What’s more meaningful is that I am PAID to deliver said service. Just like, smoking, sloth, gluttony and pollution that keep our clinics humming, the pandemic is just another, newer, source of activity.

I plan to keep doing what I do for each patient.

Be the best physician I can be.

Dispense the right advice – for THEM to make the best decision.

Do what I can to help them, and let them do what they wish to do. The day that I am paid to police their activity and make their decisions for them, that is the day I leave medicine.

That said, as an individual I can judge and decide who I want to be friends with. That includes family members that I want to relate to and those that I don’t. Like any individual, I retain the freedom to be as arbitrary as I please in doing so.

So.

If you don’t want to wash hands, if you want to make a point of posting pictures and videos of indoor maskless groups, holding hands and in close proximity and if you think you are “tired” of this pandemic and all the “restrictions”, I am happy to be your physician, just not your friend.

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Uncategorized

Serpentine adventures…

Hello, again. Our Cobra adventure is now three days in. After the torrid rainstorm, that was the St. Louis Diwali, a bright, crisp and windy Sunday meant 2 drives with the Blue Snake.

After waiting till the sun was truly in the clear (and neighbours likely awake from their slumber), it was two pumps on the gas pedal and a push on the starter pedal to awake the beast. From the usual explosion of noise, her engine settles into a Brrump-Brrump-Brrump rhythm. Strapped in my four point harness, like a biplane pilot, I gingerly engage reverse as I crawl out onto my driveway. Pedestrians enjoying the morning walk regard me with disdain as I try to enter the roadway.

Surprisingly, the clutch is light, the transmission precise as I gently advance through first, second and third as I trudge down Wydown – just under the limit. Shouting a big “Thank you” to the county of St. Louis for fixing Big Bend, I traverse the segment from Wydown to the 40 without the usual bone-shaking that the ultra-stiff suspension of this replica of a 60s racer has. With the smoothness of a P-51 taking wing in the crisp November air, she delights as I gently advance the gas pedal to match the expressway speed as she settles into her overdrive at a meager 1800 rpm and 60 mph. Occasionally buffeted by the near gale-force winds that remained from the prior night’s storm, she continues unabated, her steering light (and a little numb – thanks to the power assistance) and drawing on easy reserves of power to climb inclines without even the thought of a downshift.

Despite the balmy 50o weather, freezing air rips through the cabin as it creeps through the tiny spaces in the soft top. Notwithstanding my relaxed grip, my fingers are numb on the moto lita at 11 and 2 as we coast to the exit towards the Chesterfield Airport. Returning back to the expressway from the overpass, she eases into roadways speeds with the easy alacrity of an old hand, gently reminding me of how outmatched I am to what she is capable of, yet welcoming me to enjoying her thoroughbred power as she flexed her considerable muscle. Her dimunitive proportions (the same as the Mazda Miata) make her a dream to point and steer as she switches lanes accurately and without complaint.

Thundering back up our driveway, she returns to her abode with a clatter and a clang as I remove the battery-kill tag. I enter to find her angry namesake, looking in askance to being left behind. Apologies delivered, I head to work in my trusty Golf.

Returning from work, I find both ladies ready to embark again. The cobra ready to dance, and Alpana dressed in biking gear. A smile on the latter, broader than the Chesapeake Bay greets me as I start up the 4-wheeled one. Accompanied by the thunder of her exhaust, we go through a gentle drive through the quiet Clayton Sunday, as the smiles continue to grow.

Trundling home, my wife looks at me. Of all the cars I’ve had, this would be the first time, her face was both content, yet excited, as she pronounced that this was her favorite car ever.

Which would make sense.

Of all the cars I’ve owned, this is by far the prettiest, meanest, most characterful car that carries a streak of mischief but remains responsible, gentle and smart. Probably my second best choice in all my life.

BDR#2122

RT4 with an Iconic 427 ci engine. 488 bhp/533 lbft on the dyno. BMW E91 rear independent suspension with coilovers. 4 piston 13 inch brakes in front and single piston in the back. 18 inch 245/40 (front) and 295/40 (rear). Heated seats and interior with cloth soft top.

Categories
Cars

Move over Eagle Speedster, THIS is the prettiest car in the world.

The rarefied club of readers of this blog will recognize my many prior ululations in salute of my erstwhile Carrera 3.2. These astute few may also remember that a few months ago, that car had left our families fold, as we searched anew for a replacement. One, distinct from the stark and dull 80s look to a more chrome laden, but new car. Discerning readers might think that a Porsche reimagined by Singer might meet these criteria, but to an untrained eye (and we have many in our family), they still seem like an acquired taste. As cars go, built with Germanic precision, with crisp handling and accurate dynamics, nothing comes close to a Porsche in maximizing the drivability and performance to price ratio. However, the real price you pay, is the push-me, pull-you bug-eyed appearance. Despite my many efforts to portray it otherwise, the beholder that finds a Porsche pretty is rare.

Which is why, the aesthete of the family and love of my life, never really warmed up to it. Also, growing up in a middle-class household, we could never really think of a “used” car as special. On a jaunt to Fastlane Cars in St. Charles, MO, we came upon a gorgeous Porsche Blue Shelby Cobra Replica made by Backdraft Racing in Boynton Beach FL. Coming on the heels of watching Matt Damon and Christian Bale in Ford vs. Ferrari, she was familiar with the shape but enamored of the brightwork and the colors of this beautiful car.

Looking more into BDR, I found that like a modern-day iteration of Carroll Shelby, this was a company with a strong racing heritage, who were not trying to replicate a Cobra, but build a beautiful modern classic racecar inspired by both the spirit as well as the shape of the Classic Cobra. While Shelby American continues to sell “authorized” continuation copies (both in aluminum and fiberglass), there are several manufacturers that build “replica” cars. I would like to briefly review my thoughts on them from my research on the internet and why one could choose to buy on of them and how it influenced my decision to go with a Backdraft.

  1. Shelby American: These are continuation cars with both aluminum and fiberglass bodies sold as rollers (i.e. rolling chassis with everything minus the engine and transmission). Shelby does make a variety of Ford derived engines that fit these. They do have independent front and rear supsensions with updates to make them more modern, but the original top-loader four and the 427FE engine (while classic – tend to be a bit of a 60s handful). These are also at a significant premium with a take-home cost of $150k (fiberglass) and $250K (aluminum) with a typical engine set up. Cost aside, these do represent a good value when it comes to resale.
  2. Superformance. Licensed by Carrol Shelby (after a lawsuit), these are honest copies of the Shelby with a variety of modern accoutrements to make the Serpent less of a threat. No, you don’t get ABS or traction control, but still. With jewel like precision and superb fit and finish, they seem to have become the industry standard. From the 289 “slab side”, the 289 FIA, the 427 roadster and the 427 s/c, they make Cobras in all flavors and shapes. While respected both as a car as well as with resale, I was some what put off by the unashamed similarities to the original and did not want to come of as a poser. Plus, the original Hi-Tech company and Superformance were originally a collision company restoring old damaged cars, not really a Carroll Shelby esque racing heritage. FWIW, all the cars used in Ford v. Ferrari were SPF replicas.
  3. ERA. With Everrett Morrison, probably one of the oldest acts, these are well respected replicas sold as owner assembled kits. I lack the sophistication to assemble one, nor the confidence to drive something I put together in the garage, a car with an enormous engine trying every second to swallow me whole. That said, a well put together ERA is a beautiful sight, but the key is finding one that is well put together. Also, the whole point was to move away from a used car.
  4. Everret Morrison. Also good cars but IMHO in the second or third rung.
  5. Factory Five Racing. Initially building these cars by putting a fiberglass body on an old Mustang ‘donor’, these have moved to modern chassis with wonderful attributes. The fact that several builders will deliver a turnkey product, does not change the fact that something in their appearance or prior stigma – does not really look right to me.

Backdraft Racing is a South Africa based company with strong racing roots. As winners of Daytona in 1984, Reg Dodd and Tony Martin, imbue these cars with the raw spirit and character of the original car that inspired these. With a subtly different shape, these pay an homage to the artistry of the AC Ace body (originally circa 1953) modified by Carroll Shelby in 1965 with flared front and rear fenders, a giant maw and huge side-pipe exhausts. And yet, looking at the car, it does not look like someone cloning a car but creating a different inspired original. Unlike many of the replicas above, these were built to race first, drive or show last. With a typical ladder suspension bonded to a beautifully painted fiberglass shell, these cars represent the best ideals of the performance of the original Cobra without the weakness of the aluminum body. Fiberglass, the shell used in Carroll Shelby’s first choice, the Corvette.

And what is it like?

Glorious. Simply glorious.

As I gingerly, sat down and was briefed by Dan Hillebrandt, the sales manager at FastLane Cars, the horror stories of crazy cobras and drivers out of their depth, filled my mind. Turning the key and pressing the starter button seemed to unleash Surtur as the entire world began to shake and tremble. Passers-by took a step back. Abashed by the drama, I bid farewell to my guide, engaging first and letting out the clutch as the newest member of our household rolled forwards towards the exit of the lot. It is at this point that I realized that the drivers and passenger side, RayDot mirrors were a wonderful cosmetic addition, with no purpose. The only thing scarier than driving a 2400lb pound car with 7.0L V8 engine with 488 bhp and 533 lb ft of torque, is doing so without knowing who else might be on the road.

Gingerly, easing myself on to the highway, I was immediately pleased to see that the more “novice” T5 gearbox, allowed me to shift quickly through the gears to settle into a legal cruise, while traffic seemed to zip around me. Still, noone seemed to come as close as they are wont (in my other vehicles). I would like to believe that the fearsome thunder emanating from this Reptile had something to do with it. The price of all that thunder? Refueling halfway from home. With an uneventful ride back home, this Indigo Blue RT4 with it’s white racing stripes, noisily slipped up our driveway and joined our family, welcomed by her new namesake, her dog and the two kids as they posed for pics.

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A magical day at Fastlane Classic Cars!

A few blogposts ago, I alluded to Fastlane Classic Cars. It is a cool place to visit and is staffed by car enthusiasts who are driven by the spirit of the car, more than fastidious adherence to purity of lineage. Dan, the general manager, was kind enough to allow me to take some pictures. These were done with my trusty old Leica SL with a 80-200 F4 ROM. All the pictures were taken at wide-open aperture and handheld. It may have been easier to take these with a wider lens, but the importance of maintaining the proportions of these beautiful cars was more imperative than just capturing the whole car.