Our Smyth Performance Ute Kit Is Here

I have taken delivery of my Smyth Performance Ute kit. Now I can begin the process of turning my own VW Jetta into a Ute. But before I pull the car in the garage and begin dismantling the back half of it, let's take a look at what you actually get in the kit. Not only do you receive many custom parts created by Smyth Performance, you also get a collection of standard parts that you might find at any auto parts store. But the contents of the box are the specific parts you need to build your own Smyth Ute.

The largest pieces of the kit are the fiberglass bed sides. These will run all the way from the back of what are now the front doors all the way to the rear of the car, covering the openings for the back doors. Conveniently, this particular piece will also cover up the dents in the car's right rear wheelwell. Some additional trimming will be necessary. I'll have to cut the hole for the fuel filler door, as well as make some cuts to attach the tail lights, which were originally intended for a Ford Explorer SporTrac. These are also included with the kit.

This piece will go on top of the front of the bed and attach to what's left of the roof after I cut it, creating the back of the Ute's passenger compartment. I'll also have to install the sliding glass window into it.

These fiberglass pieces are essentially a body kit that covers the rocker panels between the front wheelwells and the back doors. These will help blend the front of the car into the lines of the bed side pieces after they are installed.

Most of the aluminum pieces are bundled together here. This includes the front and sides of the bed, as well as various braces and bodywork that hold the Ute together but will not be visible from the outside. There's also a roll of black carpeting that will line the interior rather than bare metal. I'll likely add a layer of sound deadening material between the front of the bed and the interior carpet as well.

This box contains all kinds of little parts - brackets, fasteners, tailgate hardware, and so on. The tailgate itself, which is an off the shelf part for a Ford Ranger step side, is drop shipped to you directly from the supplier, and never sees the Smyth factory.

But before any of these parts go on, I have to remove quite a bit from the car. This includes the back seats, trunk interior, trunk lid, tail lights, back doors, and the back bumper. Plus there's also that minor detail of cutting the top rear quarter of the car away. I was a bit busy this past weekend and will be attending Red Bull GRC in Connecticut next weekend, but I hope to back the Jetta into the garage and begin its transformation from an ordinary sedan into a rather unusual kit car.

This Alfa Romeo 4C Hillclimb Car Has a Formula 3000 V-8

The Alfa Romeo 4C is among the cheapest of the mid-engined sports cars to be sold in America since the demise of Toyota's MR2. Sitting at $55,900 in the USA, the 4C occupies a price point in the middle ground between sports cars for us commoners, such as the Ford Mustang and Toyota 86, and the realm of supercars demanding six (or more) figures, like the Nissan GT-R. In its realm, the 4C used to be the lonely champion of the four-cylinder engine, as it has a 1.8-liter turbo four making 240 horsepower (though it now has the Porsche Boxster to keep it company).

No Google searches have turned up any automotive publications requesting more cylinders, but if more power and sound is what you need, you sometimes have to abandon your factory engine and go with something punchier. YouTube channel 19Bozzy92 has uploaded a video of a 4C hillclimb car that has been modified to accommodate the 3.0-liter Zytek V-8 from a Formula 3000 car. For those unaware, Formula 3000 is a now-defunct open wheel single seater class that was situated between Formula 3 and Formula 1. According to 19Bozzy92, the engine is making 450 horsepower, and the entire car weighs a mere 700 kilograms, or approximately 1,540 pounds. This car is still well under a ton even with a driver and full load of fuel, giving it a power-to-weight ratio approaching that of hypercars.

This is not the only instance of ex-Formula racing engines making their way into hillclimb cars. Last month, we shared a BMW powered by an Indycar V-8; even more well-known is the BMW 134 of Georg Plasa. It is good to see the trend of repurposing these rev-happy engines for further use is still happening, long after the series from which the V-8s originate are gone.

Honda Donates Two Africa Twin Motorcycles to Redondo Beach Police Department

Redondo Beach Police Department has proven to be a forward-thinking department with their strong community impact through social media, beach patrol and an overall "behind the badge" kind of vibe. Their motto is "we are the community, leading the way in law enforcement," and given that choice of words they feel driven to explore new forms of policing. Since Redondo Beach is located, well, on the beach, the department has utilized motorcycles and side-by-sides to effectively police hard-to-reach areas, seeing as how a patrol car isn't exactly a good fit for soft sand.

Well...this trainee has a lot of explaining to do! #stuck #mudbogging #oops #trainee #newguys #rallycar #RedondoBeach #RedondoBeachPoliceDepartment #RBPD #wearethecommunity #leadingthewayinlawenforcement #redondobeachpier #police #policefamily #thinblueline #tbl #leadersapplyhere

A post shared by Redondo Beach PD (@redondobeachpd) on Jan 11, 2017 at 7:20pm PST

Several years ago, Honda Community Relations donated a pair of side-by-sides to the RBPD to help protect the community, and their partnership proved to be beneficial. In recent years Redondo Beach has utilized Honda ST1300 motorcycles to police their community, but according to Chief Keith Kauffman, the department is looking to invest in a more agile unit.

#MotorSanta is out patrolling #RedondoBeach on his @honda_powersports_us #ST1300p looking for people on the #NaughtyList @alpinestars @policemotors @shark_helmets @funningtv @police_usa

A post shared by Redondo Beach PD (@redondobeachpd) on Dec 20, 2016 at 3:07pm PST

That is where the Honda Africa Twin comes into play; the 998cc adventure motorcycle is smaller, lighter and more nimble than the conventional police motorcycle, perfect for a place like Redondo Beach. There is no question that this motorcycle can quickly respond to incidents and tackle stairs with ease.

Another unique feature is that the Africa Twin is equipped with an automatic dual clutch transmission, so officers can focus on other tasks like radio use and pursuing a suspect. In order to better suit the department, RBPD will be sending the two motorcycles to bike customizer Roland Sands for further upfitting.

And if all goes well, there is a good chance the department will invest in more of the adventure bikes. Good luck with the new motorcycles Redondo Beach Police Department, and stay safe.

Watch a Racer Lose Control When a Wheel Flies Off His BMW E36 3 Series Race Car

Losing a wheel at any speed can have serious consequences, but having it happen on track when you're hauling ass is pretty much the worst-case scenario. A video shared on YouTube shows what that scene could look like when a BMW E36 3 Series race car and a populated race track are involved.

The video, shared to YouTube by grassroots racer and former Pirelli World Challenge driver Van Svenson shows how the incident went down. Svenson was behind the wheel of a BMW E36 race car at New Jersey Motorsports Park's Thunderbolt track when the studs on one of the car's four corners broke.

"I had a wild ride when the studs on my left rear wheel failed in T4 at Thunderbolt," Svenson wrote in the video description. "Luckily, I didn't hit anyone or anything."

Yeah, and it was a damn close call.

After the wheel came off, the E36 can be seen spinning in circles uncontrollably. It's amazing that the car wasn't struck by one of the race cars out on track.

Twin-Turbo Lamborghini Huracan Sets Half-Mile World Record of 250 MPH

The horsepower wars of the past decade have spoiled us all. With tuning shops coaxing quadruple-digit power figures from stock-looking cars and production engines knocking on their door, it takes something truly eye-popping to break through the clutter and really knock us dead. But a world-record, 250 mile-per-hour half-mile run in a twin-turbo Lamborghini Huracan at an airstrip in North Carolina? Yeah, that'll do the trick.

Tuned to heck by the team at Underground Racing, this Huracan's 5.2-liter V-10 is likely packing something close to 3,000 horsepower at the crank. UGR is known for their ability to more than quintuple the Huracan's factory power numbers with their twin-turbo kits and accompanying engine upgrades, resulting in what they claim to be the fastest street-legal Lamborghinis in the world. It looks like the same car they showed off at TX2K17 last month, where it made short work of the quarter-mile competition.

That's impressive enough, but what makes this yellow Huracan (and frankly, most of their builds) really cool is the stock appearance. Any old shop can throw together a stupid-fast drag car with a big hood bulge and even bigger slicks, but it takes real skill and precision engineering to build a car capable of safely hitting 200-plus mph speeds without any ornamentation like this. It doesn't even need a parachute.

The record run was performed by speed freak Gidi Chamdi, who previously set the half-mile record at 240 mph in an Underground Racing-tuned Lamborghini Gallardo last summer. He was then passed by a Huracan (247 mph) in September and later a Nissan GT-R (248 mph) just two months ago, so he was eager to take back the crown at WannaGoFast's shootout at Stanly County Airport in New London, North Carolina this weekend. And take it back he did, reaching an insane 250.27 mph.

Putting that in perspective—at that speed, the Huracan is covering more than the length of a football field every second.

Of course, when we say "record," we're talking about street-legal road cars—a top fuel dragster could certainly put this Lambo away, though running one for a half mile versus the standard quarter mile would probably destroy the engine in the process.

Underground Racing also brought out an Audi R8 V10 Plus for a few runs, which managed "only" 244.80 mph. But again, we're all spoiled at this point. It's hard to see how they'll be able to keep topping themselves in perpetuity, but we're eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Mercedes-Benz Breaks Ground on $560 Million Electric Car Battery Plant

Batteries for electric cars are becoming big business—and they require big factories to handle it. As part of its plans for a massive push into the EV market, Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG has broken ground on a giant factory designed solely to crank out batteries for electric cars in forthcoming years.

The new factory in Kamenz, Saxony, represents a roughly €500 million investment (around $560 million at current exchange rates) for Daimler—half of the carmaker's planned billion-euro investment in battery tech worldwide. That, in turn, represents just a small piece of the company's planned $11 billion budget for electric vehicle development over the next five years.

The new 50-acre, carbon-neutral facility sits near the company's existing battery plant; when it opens next year, it will quadruple the battery production space of the facility and double the current number of staff, creating more than 500 jobs.

And Daimler needs all the batteries it can build. Mercedes intendeds to launch at least 10 purely-electric cars between now and 2022. The carmaker has created a new sub-brand, known as Mercedes-Benz EQ, that will specialize in selling EVs alone. The company revealed the first EQ model in show car form last fall, in the form of the Mercedes-Benz Generation EQ Concept—a midsized EV SUV making roughly 400 horsepower and offering a maximum range of roughly 310 miles.

In a sign of the importance of electric cars to the German automotive industry's future, chancellor Angela Merkel and local attended the groundbreaking ceremony, along with Daimler chairman Dieter "Dr. Z" Zetsche and a flock of other executives from the company. The German government has made battery-powered vehicles a cornerstone of its plans to build towards an environmentally-friendly future; according to a statement from the nation's deputy economy minister last year, Germany is seeking to ban new fossil fuel-powered cars from being sold in the country starting in 2030.

The Ford Flex Is the Modern Station Wagon

Long ago, back in the dark ages before the Earth cooled and Chrysler invented the minivan, families often traveled together in this mysterious contraption known as the "station wagon." These were typically full size sedans (another dying breed) with the roof extended over the entire trunk area. This could be used for more cargo room for all the stuff that goes along with kids, or in some cases for people if there was a third row seat. If you think this sounds like the modern SUV/crossover, you'd be right. When you think of Ford's lineup, you think of the Explorer, Escape, Edge, Expedition - something starting with E. You probably don't think of the Flex, with its modern yet simultaneously retro brick-on-wheels styling. But in my opinion, this is Ford's best SUV/crossover, because it's not really a crossover. It's a station wagon in disguise.

My wife bought a 2012 Limited model two years ago. It's been the perfect compliment to our fleet. It excels at mommy-mobile kid hauling duties. It's quite comfortable and easy to drive long distances. The middle row seats are actually more spacious than the front seats. I wouldn't want to ride too far in the back row, but it's a good size for kids. Its spacious interior saved us when we moved into our house after our Jeep Comanche project bit the dust mid-move. Folding down all the seats gave us just as much cargo room as the old pickup truck.

These are all things a station wagon does well. So do crossovers, but they often have swoopy curves in their design that make look good but sacrifice usable interior space. It's amazing how small some crossovers are on the inside. But the Flex is hip to be square, like an old station wagon, and is that much more practical because of it. Crossovers and SUVs also tend to have a good deal of ground clearance thanks to their truck-based history. People like the high, commanding view of the road an SUV provides. Yet the Flex only has 5.9 inches of ground clearance. That's only an inch more than my Subaru WRX. An off-road beast, this is not.

The downside of station wagons is that, like the minivan, they are typically uncool. But there are exceptions to that. The Dodge Magnum rewrote the book on wagons, being a throwback to the classics with modern styling and an available V8 under the hood driving the back wheels. The Flex isn't that - it's better. Instead of a roaring V8, ours has the optional 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6, sending 355hp (365hp in new models) to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. It more than gets out of its own way. It handles more like a car than a crossover. Sure, it's no corner carver, but you can put the transmission in manual mode and use the paddle shifters to actually enjoy a twisty back road. It's no Miata, but it's far more fun than any crossover should be.

That's because the Flex is no crossover. It's a classic station wagon wearing a crossover disguise. It's too bad that Ford is discontinuing the Flex in 2020. If you need a vehicle of this type, the Flex is a highly underrated gem.

General Motors No Longer Selling Cars in India

According to a Reuters report this morning, General Motors has decided to stop selling cars in India. This effectively cancels "most" of the company's billion dollar plan to build and sell low-cost cars in the country, first announced back in 2015. Currently, GM only markets and sells Chevrolet cars in India, but those operations will cease at the end of the year. The country has a population of 1.3 billion and is set to overtake Japan as the third-largest market in the world within the next ten years.

However, this decision comes as much less of a surprise upon learning that after twenty years in the market, Chevy holds less than one percent share of passenger car sales in India. But GM isn't pulling out of all of its Indian operations entirely. The American automaker is keeping its Bangalore tech center open and turning its Talegaon assembly plant into an export-only affair.

The company's other assembly plant in Halol is set to be sold to China-based SAIC Motor Corp—a joint venture partner of GM's. In an interview, GM Chief of International Operations Stefan Jacoby said, "We are not giving up benefits India offers as a local cost manufacturing hub with an excellent supplier base which is extremely competitive."

GM's Indian exports—primarily to Mexico and Latin America—almost doubled to nearly 71,000 cars in the previous fiscal year. Considering the Talegaon plant has a capacity 130,000 vehicles per year, its recasting as an export plant should be feasible for the foreseeable future. In addition, Jacoby assures that the move will not impact GM Korea's existing role as Chevy exporter to North America, Southeast Asia, Australia, and Pakistan.

Ride Along as the Nio EP9 Electric Supercar Runs the Nurburgring in 6:45.9

Last Friday, upstart electric carmaker Nio (formerly known as NextEV) dropped a bombshell on the automotive world just as it was preparing to head home for the weekend: the all-electric, 1,342-horsepower EP9 supercar had just run a hot lap of the famed Nurburgring Nordschleife in six minutes and 45.9 seconds, beating out the Lamborghini Huracan Performante by more than six seconds.

Of course, anyone can claim to have set a record Nurburgring lap. For example:

The only way to prove a 'Ring lap time, really, is to release a video of it. Ideally, a single take from a single camera showing the road ahead and the interior of the car, complete with a superimposed map and a timer to minimize the chances of editing tomfoolery.

So luckily for us, Nio has released just that sort of video for the EP9's latest 'Ring run.

Now, as many astute readers and commenters on sites like Reddit have pointed out, Nio never explicitly said the EP9 set a new production car lap record. The company's press release, like the title of the video below, simply says the car "Breaks the Nurburgring Nordschleife Lap Record." It's a bit of public relations jujitsu that seems designed to further stir up controversy as to where this car lies in the list of 'Ring contenders. Technically speaking, it could be referring to the electric car lap record—though that already belonged to the car. The Wikipedia page on Nurburgring lap times places the car as the fastest car in the "non-series/non-road-legal vehicles" category, a rather nebulous section that excludes road-ready cars and race cars alike. It seems likely that the controversy over the EP9's categorization will go on for

One thing none of us can argue with, though: This electric supercar is fast as hell.

(One note: At the end of the video, Nio quotes the "previous lap record" as 6:48.00. It's not quite clear to what Nio is referring—the closest lap to that on the Wikipedia page is the non-street-legal Pagani Zonda R's 6:47.50, but given the company's apparent dedication to hundredths of a decimal, you'd think they'd be more precise if that were the case.)

Tempers Flare After Tesla Model S P100D Dominates Eighth-Mile Drag Race Showdown

Here's a scene that will become more common over the next 20 or 30 years: Electric cars dominating their gas-powered forebearers at the drag strip. It's no secret that electric motors put out incredible amounts of torque off the line, but someone forgot to tell that to the five racers beaten by a mostly-stripped Tesla Model S P100D at a "cash days-style" eighth-of-a-mile showdown at 710 Dragway in Rowland, North Carolina earlier this month. And just when you think everyone's learned their lesson, a sixth challenger appears for an extracurricular grudge race and doesn't take too kindly to the obvious result.

YouTuber Tesla Racing Channel has been building up his new Tesla Model S P100D into a drag racing demon since taking delivery last September. The car already boasts one of the fastest 0-60 times ever for a production car—possibly even quicker than the official 2.5 seconds—and TRC has lightened the load even more by stripping out the interior and swapping the stock wheels for a lightweight 19-inch-by-10-inch BBS set. Throw in some Mickey Thompson drag-focused tires and electrical upgrades by noted "Tesla hacker" Jason Hughes, and it's hard to imagine much short of that 2,700-horsepower Nissan GT-R besting this beast in the 1/8-mile run.

To test it out, TRC took the Model S P100D to a "cash days-style" night meet at 710 Dragway, where the cars take off from the far end of the strip to simulate an illegal street race. The pavement down there is in pretty poor shape, plus there's a man with a flashlight giving the signal instead of the usual Christmas tree. 19 cars entered at $100 a pop, and over the course of five runs the P100D handily beats two Ford Mustangs, a G-Body Monte Carlo, an S-10 (yes, really), and a fourth-gen Camaro to win the top prize.

Though the it beats everyone off the line, both the fifth-gen Mustang (at 4:10) and the Camaro (at 11:00) come flying back near the finish line and would easily defeat the Tesla in a quarter mile race. All the instant torque in the world can only take an electric car so far, so quickly without multiple gears. Perhaps that's why another cocky Camaro driver saunters up at 14:20 and challenges the Tesla to a final run with $600 on the line.

After a little back-and-forth, Mr. Camaro agrees to give our electric hero the break. In street racing terms, that means the Tesla driver can take off whenever he wants to, and the Camaro driver has to react to his start. This is monumentally stupid for a number of reasons—the Tesla has AWD, launch control, and boundless off-the-line torque—and the results at 18:00 bear that out.

In the aftermath, the final three minutes of the video are where the magic happens. One of the organizers informs the Tesla driver that a few people in the crowd are upset with him. Why exactly? Well, it's hard to hear much between the drunken yelling and macho posturing, but you can make out a few choice phrases: That was a shitty-ass poor-ass excuse for a race! I work on electric cars, you know that was a bullshit run! Sure you do, bud. The Camaro driver is also pissed, calling the Tesla driver "scared" and complaining about the head start that he willingly gave him.

There are a few morals to this story. One, don't pound a beer between runs at the drag strip like several of these geniuses do. Two, don't challenge an AWD electric car AND give it a timing advantage on the 1/8 mile. And three, don't react to losing $300 by ranting and raving about how it doesn't matter to you. Then everyone knows it does.