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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Speed Kills: More and More Über-Expensive Cars Being Reduced to Rubble

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2007 at 8:59 AM

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The number of mega-expensive cars being removed in 37 pieces from the state's roads has gone through the roof. We talk to a local speed demon to figure out why.

By Joe Eskenazi

It took the Germans to say in one word –- schadenfreude –- what Americans say in six: "Pleasure taken from someone else's misfortune." It took the Americans to mass-market schadenfreude in the guise of America's Funniest Home Videos.

But in a perfect melding of the American and European sensibilities of the word, more and more Californians now have the opportunity to drive past some chump who spent six figures on a European-crafted, street-legal race car that he's proceeded to smash to bits and laugh at his rich ass. I guess you could say, "Schadenfreude, dude."

The California Highway Patrol recently announced that, while the overall accident rate has dropped since 2002, there has been an 81 percent jump in accidents involving Bentleys, Ferraris, Aston Martins, and other ridiculously powerful cars.

My interest piqued, I called the San Francisco Bentley dealer...

to ask why this might be. And while general manager Vince Goode hawks phallic symbols for a living, he didn't want to touch this one with a 10-foot pole. He quickly shunted me off to a spokesperson for Lamborghini.

Soon Nguyen was happy to state that there are far more Lamborghinis on the road now than the Dark Ages of 2002, and questioned the CHP's tabulation methods (though counting the number of accidents involving Lamborghinis et al. in 2007 and comparing it to the 2002 tally hardly seems to be a task requiring a Newtonian level of intelligence). Beyond those statements, she said her P.R. firm would be "unable to give an interview at this time. Our CEO is in Singapore for the event."

I wondered, for about .47 seconds what, exactly "the event" was before turning back to the task of revealing why more and more supercars are getting supertrashed. And it turns out, the only person who would give me a straight answer was a raving speed freak.

N.V. Krishnan is a San Francisco engineer who may or may not have relocated to San Francisco after watching the seminal chase scene (Mustang v. Barracuda!) in "Bullit." Simply put, the man likes to drive fast. Really fast.

But he also likes to pay rent. So while a 2007 Bentley Azure Convertible will run you $330,000, Krishnan spent $25,000 on a used 2001 Porsche Boxster S. And, for around one-thirteenth the cash of a supercar, Krishnan notes that, theoretically, one could drive, say, 154 miles per hour on Highway 101. Theoretically.

With the money he saved, Krishnan invested in a driving course. And now that he's, in essence, a licensed lunatic, he can see why so many fellow speed demons fold, spindle, and mutilate their beloved vehicles.

"The primary thing is, [the driving instructors] force you to lose control of your car under very controlled situations," he says. "You're in a wide open space so you won't bang into anything and they make you turn really quickly or go in circles faster and faster until the car skids out. They sit with you and make you do it again and again. And it gets into your head. It becomes part of your muscle memory, the whole feeling of how a car feels when it's starting to lose control."

"Then there's the theoretical side of things," he continues. "One thing is, you have to look where you want to go. Say you're driving and a huge truck comes up [in front of you], most people focus on the truck. And as an instinct, we tend to go where our eyes are. Here, they teach you to look where you want to go, away from the truck."

High-powered cars tend, overwhelmingly, to be rear-wheel-drive vehicles. This gives them more torque but also makes it far easier to oversteer (i.e. fishtail). For an untrained driver, a fishtailing situation, especially at high speeds, is a near-certain accident.

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"A high-powered car gives you lateral acceleration; you can take a turn much faster than in a normal car, aAnd that can get very addictive," Krishnan says. "You're low to the ground, the car is wide, the tires are wider, and you have superior suspension. It's very easy to overestimate the capability of the car and lose control taking a turn."

"There are often subtle signs before the car loses control. You can feel your rear moving slightly sideways, it's a very subtle thing. But when you feel it enough, you can recognize it."

Any driver with an overly powerful car and an "I need to go fast to show what I do" attitude is risking his life and investment if he doesn't take a class, Krishnan says.

Jill Cooper has another suggestion, however: Slow down! "I think we really need to examine the problem of speeding on our highways. We need to examine our culture's love of speed," said Cooper, the assistant director of U.C. Berkeley's Traffic Safety Center.

Krishnan agrees: "I think she does have a point." He pauses. "But the speed, and the danger, it really loosens the body chemistry. I've found when I get home after working long and hard on a project and I'm completely frustrated I get in my car and there's almost a karmic experience to hitting the gas and flying."

Photos | courtesy of www.wreckedexotics.com

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Bio:
Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" is a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly, which he has written for since 2007. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers... more

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