Peter's 550 by Zach Sorensen-Nielsen

Before I post the photos that I took of this car, first, some photos that my grandfather took of me with some Ferraris almost 5 years ago. Here I am in San Francisco on my 16th birthday after my first ride in a Ferrari ever. Yeah, I look fantastic. This is not the car I went for a ride in, but a perfect Rosso Corsa 550 Maranello owned by the same person. The owner, Peter, a long-time friend and business partner of my grandparents, is just out of frame speaking to my grandmother.

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For my 16th birthday, my grandparents took me to lunch with Peter and promised me a ride in his newly acquired Ferrari 458 after we ate. We were quickly stuffed with Chinese food and drove back to Peter’s house in my grandparents Corolla. It was now time to start the 458 for the first time. I was never really in love with cars before this moment because I had never been in an interesting car. My parents owned cars like Rav4s, Mazda station wagons, even a Camry while I was growing up. Cars were not their priority so I did not give them much thought.  A big italian V8 firing up inside a garage was something I had never experienced. Holy shit. I remember the anticipation as Peter flipped the starter, and the tail lights came on. Everything whirred and buzzed to life before the engine cranked twice and was suddenly alive. The entire house vibrated; I bet the entire city block was rumbling along with those 8 cylinders firing as they warmed up. I remember this feeling, and this sound so incredibly vividly. Peter pulled the car out into the street for a few photographs before I hopped in and we pulled down Potrero Hill towards the freeway for a little Tom Foolery.

I did not know until later, but my grandpa had warned Peter, “not to do any stupid shit with my grandson.” Peter, bless his heart, did every stupid shit possible. All of the stupid shits. It was faster than I had ever been in my life. Yet the entire time, I felt planted, secure and safe in the daytona seats of the 458. Whenever a gap in traffic presented itself, it was down 3 gears and through the gap we flew. Peter drove the wheels off of his cars.

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Too soon, Peter and I returned to his garage. After checking out his modified Mercedes E55 AMG and collection of motorcycles, I looked out the window into the garage next door also owned by Peter. I could see the back end of his 550 Maranello poking out from behind a wall. We walked next door to see the 550 sitting spotless in a completely stripped out garage with bare walls and a concrete floor. He opened the driver’s door and told me to hop in. I was alone in the driver’s seat of a Ferrari for the first time in my life. I depressed the clutch and began to click the shifter from gate to gate. I had no key, and on that day, the 550 remained off as Peter was busy showing us other things. I hopped out and sadly, did not get to hear that car run. The 550 Maranello has always stuck with me, not as my favorite Ferrari, not even my favorite V12 Ferrari, but it is special for a different reason. It stuck with me as one of the car that got me interested in cars. I got an amazing ride in the 458, but I sat in the driver’s seat, ran through the gears and felt the experience of the 550’s interior.

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About a month after my visit, Peter passed away incredibly suddenly. I am incredibly lucky to have been able to see Peter one more time before we lost him. I was left with memories and an itching desire to go fast in a red Italian car with a prancing horse on the front. Ever since, I have been photographing, learning about and doing everything I can to spend as much time around these cars as possible. 

A few years after Peter’s passing I felt like I should to contact his mechanic, Phil. He inherited the 550 Maranello upon Peter’s death. I wanted to meet Peter and see the car again. It took a few months for me to set up a time to be in the Bay Area, but finally when I arrived at Phil’s house, the garage door opened, revealing that very familiar red V12 monster.

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I was immediately brought back to memories of sitting in Peter’s garage, it still has Peter’s license plate, he has Peter’s eulogy strapped in the leather lined rear parcel shelf (most 550s have carpet back there) and he even has an identical Mercedes to one that Peter used to own. Phil went on to tell me stories about him and Peter, showing me old photographs of them together at different events like hill climbs, car shows, and customer drives.

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The story that struck me the most was the beginning of Peter and Phil's love affair with the Ferrari brand. It began at a Mercedes client drive featuring their new supercar. Phil could not remember the model, but based on the cars in attendance, it was most certainly the Mercedes, McLaren SLR. In addition to the SLR, the event included other cars for clients to test. One of those other cars was a Ferrari F430. After trying each car, Phil, Peter and apparently most of the people at the drive, all agreed that the Ferrari was the superior car of the group. The Mercedes representatives were chagrined as everybody opted for the Ferrari memorabilia to take home instead of theirs. A few weeks went by, and Peter developed the itch to own a car from the brand that had shamed his beloved Benz. He went down to Ferrari San Francisco and purchased the 550 Maranello with little knowledge of the car. 

It turned out that a different client, whom Phil and Peter met at the Mercedes drive, brought his 550 in to trade up to a 575. So Peter became the second owner of the car and at the same time, he joined the Ferrari Club of San Francisco. The previous owner was a member so Peter decided to keep the car in the club. Peter fell hard and fast in love with the car and the Ferrari brand after doing drives and Ferrari events all over California.

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Years went by with the car under Peter’s ownership. During that time, whenever Peter needed something done to the car, he brought it to Phil. Phil and Peter brought the car on hill climbs, to car shows, and to Monterey Car Week. Peter brought it back home to the gates of Maranello. He truly appreciated that car for what it was and gave it all the respect in the world. Peter always said that when he died, that he would give the 550 to Phil. I heard those claims even before I was able to reconnect with Peter back in 2013. Luckily, Phil was able to receive the car after Peter’s passing and has been taking care of it ever since. This means that since this car was purchased new, it has been a part of the Ferrari club of San Francisco.

After we told stories about Peter for a while, Phil asked if I would like to go for a ride. You know I said, “yes.” We hopped in the car, and he fired it up. I have heard 550s run in person before, so I knew exactly how it was going to sound, but damn did it feel special. I was finally hearing Peter’s car run. Phil and Peter had experimented with many different exhaust variations, straight pipes, mufflers and so on, but this was the one that Peter and Phil had finally agreed upon.

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We backed out of the garage slowly as to not scrape the front end and slowly brought the car up to temp, idling through the streets near his house. We made our way far from other people and things like stop lights to a windy mountain road that cut through the brown winter California hillsides. It was a curvy strip of asphalt with giant, banked, race-track like corners. As soon as it was apparent that we were alone on this road, I heard the click of the shifter going from 4th, to 3rd, to 2nd gear. A wave of torque smoothly kicked up the front as the balanced and smooth V12 howled out of the exhaust behind us. The faster we went, the less I felt the bumps on the road as the tires stretched and glided over the road. The first corner approached quickly and Phil lifted off of the throttle, allowing us to decelerate just enough to ease the car into the curve. Halfway through the corner, he rolled back into the throttle and the car grabbed the road, hard. We accelerated out to find nothing but more curves for the next mile or so. It was not the quickest car around this road, and it wasn’t the most comfortable, but damn was it perfect. That is what a Ferrari is all about. It is about being out on an empty road, going way too fucking fast, and hearing the best soundtrack you could ever imagine bounce off the hillsides back at you. Ferrari is about emotion. Ferrari is about stories. Ferrari is about driving and way more.

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When Phil and Peter went to that Mercedes press drive event, they decided that the Ferrari 430 was the superior car. Having studied the cars on that drive, I can guarantee that the Ferrari was not the fastest, most dynamic or innovative. Peter chose the Ferrari because it was what felt the best to him. For some, the quest for the quickest handling and most precise car is everything. I almost see it as two different hobbies, those who are looking at cars for their engineering capabilities and build quality. Others, like the italians, who want a car that looks good, sounds good and not much else, including having a car that works well. Gotta pay to play with cars like that. I hate that this was impressed upon my so young because I now do my best to own difficult and finicky, but very fun cars. Thanks, Peter; thank you so much.

I am beyond elated to have been able to reconnect with the 550 Maranello and make a new friend in the process. I truly have Peter to thank for my love and appreciation for what cars really are. They tell stories, they hold memories, and they bring people together. The next time you get into your car to drive to the grocery store or to go to work, appreciate the sound it makes turning over, the engine burbling into life saying “where are we going today?” and the feeling you get when you push the accelerator. I also have Phil to thank for welcoming me into his home, sharing with me his stories, and even putting miles on his car.

The Jewel of the XC90 Mountain by Zach Sorensen-Nielsen

The new Volvo XC90’s list of awards is so long you have to scroll and scroll and scroll to read them all on Volvo’s website. After driving the V90 Cross Country in February, I knew that I needed to give this award-winning Swedish machine a drive and the kind folks at Fields Volvo were kind enough to accommodate. I went out on a deceivingly sunny Wednesday afternoon. The sun was shining but the wind was biting.

I said hello to Jamie and we went to select just the right XC90 for the drive. Jamie and I agreed on the XC90 T8 R-Design, the truck was sent to be washed, and I sat down to enjoy Fields Volvo’s waiting area complete with fruit, ice cream, and drinks. As comfortable as the dealership is, when I saw the XC90 pull up in all of its clean and shiny glory, I hopped up, grabbed the keys from Jamie, and was ready to go! I walked outside to bask in the Onyx black paint’s glory. It is dark and deep, but when the sun shines on it just right, it maintains a metallic flake.

The R-Design styling gives this SUV a more aggressive presence than the standard XC90. The grill is specific to the R-Design and it gives the front end a menacing but nice grimace when combined with the headlights. “Thor’s Hammer” running lights separate the high and low beams on each side headlights. Below the grill and headlights, a re-styled, color-matched splitter outlines the bottom lip. Silver side mirrors unique to the R-Design complete the look on the sides. Bringing up the rear a pair of wide exhaust pipes covers the smaller, round pipes hidden inside each. The damn sexy tail lights we know and love from these new Volvos rest atop the exhaust, contouring the rear hatch which is thin and trim on top, rounding off at the husky lights that extend out with the body below the windows.

But you want to know how it drives. The XC90 always starts in hybrid mode with just the electric engines going. When you put your foot on the gas or change the drive mode, the gasoline engine turns on, but you would never know because it kicks in effortlessly and quietly even while giving you much more power.  The XC90 pushes higher revs even though it barely feels like it is doing any work.

The T8 R-Design has the same gasoline engine as the V90 Cross Country that I reviewed here.  It is a 4 cylinder, super and turbocharged engine making 317 horsepower. In addition, there is an electric motor making roughly 85 additional horsepower bringing the total to 400 hp and 472 pound feet of torque. The third row of seats allows you to bring 7 people from 0 to 60 in 5.3 seconds. Five point three seconds! In a truck that weighs in in just over 5000 pounds. Try to wrap your head around that.

Switching to “Power” mode gives the driver both electric and gas engines working together for all the moose power and torque this SUV has to give. Driving in Power mode, I used the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters to shift the 8 speed transmission. The paddles had surprisingly quick response in Power mode, but in all the other drive modes the paddles felt a little slow. Hybrid mode is perfect for around town driving. The electric motor gives you immediate power to fill the lag that would be there with just the gasoline engine.

For a little context, my daily driver is a lowered Camaro. I am neither used to riding high up and nor do I normally enjoy it. However, sitting in the XC90 R-Design felt very familiar and confident. The body of the XC90 sits just under 70 inches tall, which is just about Land Rover height but the seating position of the XC90 feels a little lower than some other larger SUVs.  Sitting in the R-Design, it is apparent that you are in a sporty trimmed truck. The steering wheel is wrapped in lush leather which makes it feel substantial in your hands. Behind the wheel, the small, but responsive paddle shifters wait for your command. The seats hug your sides just right, making you feel planted and secure, while still being some of the most comfortable seats I have ever sat in. The center console is home to my favorite element of the XC90 T8; the crystal shift knob by Orrefors. It truly is the jewel of the mountain that is the XC90. The crystal is handmade using Swedish glass blowing techniques and a crazy video of them being made can be found right here. (Seriously, you need to watch this video) The crystal shift knob can only be found in the T8 model of the XC90 as well as the S90. It just highlights the whole driving experience with a crystal shimmer and the notion that this SUV is way more important than yours.

This brand new XC90 hd only delivery miles, so I did not take it far. Being that it isn’t mine, I didn’t push its limits so this really is just my initial impressions of the Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design. As they say, you only get one first impression and this XC90 really left it's mark with me. The XC90 T8 R-Design is the ultimate 400 horsepower Swedish mountain.

The Volvo V90 Cross Country made me love a brown station wagon. by Zach Sorensen-Nielsen

The amazing team at Fields Volvo in Northfield, Illinois ( www.volvonorthfield.com ) arranged for me to test drive and photograph the new V90 Cross Country on an unusually warm February, Chicago day. Special thanks to Joe Cotteler, Fields Volvo GM, for helping me set up this adventure; Jamie Johnson, Fields Volvo salesperson who walked me through every switch, button and screen of the V90 Cross Country ( in-between deliveries and dealing with her own customers ) ; and Jeremy Atkins for answering my questions after I was finished with the drive. 

The V90 Cross Country in Maple Brown Metallic jumped out as soon as I approached the lot. In a sea of beautiful grey and black Volvos, the color drew me in. Someone might say the car is brown, but that does not do the color justice. I have never felt this drawn to a "brown car" before, let alone a "brown" station wagon, but Maple Brown Metallic is a deep, rich dark brown with gold, red, and silver flakes.  In the right light, the gold flake made it shimmer like dark amber.

In addition to the mesmerizing color, this car has graceful, artistic body lines (see photos). The tail lights descend from the roof line, along the side of the hatch and curve into the area where the handle resides. These narrow taillights give the wagon a slim tall rear profile.  The sweeping shape and size give the rear end of the car a serious presence on the road. The V90 Cross Country bears its chrome teeth on the front grill along with the Volvo badge. Two very simple but incredibly beautiful lines slide along either side of the hood. All together, the V90 Cross Country is an incredibly beautiful station wagon that is a perfect example of modern Scandinavian design. Coming from someone with 2 Scandinavian last names, you know you can trust me!

Eventually I thought, “maybe I should stop staring at this car and go introduce myself.” I was greeted by Jamie in the showroom of the sparkling- white, floor- to- ceiling windowed dealership. We walked back outside and Jamie patiently went over every switch, screen, and speaker in the V90 Cross Country.  After chatting about everything from the sunroof, to how to get my butt at just the right temperature, the wagon was washed and I got behind the wheel.  

Sitting down in the V90 Cross Country was beyond what I expected of a Volvo. This particular V90 is equipped with the Luxury Package which included the seat cushion extensions and sides, leather covering the dash and door panels, as well as the color coordinated bumpers and sills on the exterior. Blonde leather cascades over the surfaces of the seats, armrests, undersides of the dash, doors and inside of the steering wheel. Everything that is not creamy, leathery goodness is inlaid with dark walnut wood and black leather and the front seats were adjustable in places I didn’t know you could adjust. Before setting off, I set the side bolsters to hug me just so, the thigh rests to hold my legs up comfortably, the cooled seats for a comfy butt, and the headrest to cradle my head while I switched the ignition on. The 2.0l twin charged, four cylinder engine quietly turns over and once I closed the driver’s door I was immediately aware of just how quiet the interior is. I could hear nothing of the freeway that roared just 20 yards from where I sat. I connected my phone to the bluetooth system, choose “Concert Hall” on the Bowers and Wilkins stereo system, and Rush’s “Limelight” began to play on SiriusXM.  After cranking it to 11, I felt like Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart were playing in the backseat but really, they were just playing through 19 separate speakers.

 

I cruised out of the parking lot in Volvo’s ‘Comfort Mode’ which does not affect the suspension (unless you have the optional air suspension which this vehicle did not ) but it does change the way the engine and transmission behave. The engine is quiet and calm but as powerful as it ever needs to be. Around town in comfort mode, steering was effortless and the car felt easy to maneuver in traffic. The V90 Cross Country has four different driving modes to choose from; Eco Mode, which shifts the 8 speed transmission as economically as possible; Comfort Mode, which gives you a few more revs than the Eco Mode; Off Road, which I wasn’t able to really test but on the street it felt very similar to Comfort, and Dynamic; and Dynamic Mode, where I spent a majority of my drive.

The roads near the dealership are narrow, 2-lanes with long sweeping curves. Dynamic mode holds the revs higher, gives you a bit more sound from the exhaust and tightens up the steering. The turbo and supercharged engine delivers you immediate torque, and before I knew it, I was above wagon speed. I was reminded of this by the heads up display showing my speed as well as a mini speed limit sign with the appropriate speed. I reached a scenic spot along this curvy road, I pulled off to shoot a few photos of the car. After packing my things back up, I decided to turn around and go back the way that I came. This wagon is a hair over 16 feet long and in Dynamic Mode, I made a 180 degree turn on a narrow two lane road with 2 wheels on the road and the other 2 on the shoulder. Before I left for the drive, Jamie told me to test out the turning radius and wow, am I glad I did. The V90 Cross Country does a fantastic job of shrinking around you to become more than maneuverable in small situations.

Before heading back to the dealership, I decided to take the car to cruise a few exits on the expressway to feel how it would be on a long drive. In Eco Mode, the transmission put me in 8th gear at 65 mph. The engine was barely idling, but when you put your foot down to pass, there is a small but noticeable lag as it downshifts. In Comfort Mode, the lag disappeared and it kicks you down to give you enough grunt to get past whatever substandard car is in front of you. In Dynamic Mode, however, the V90 Cross Country could give a Golf GTI a run for it’s money as it takes off and you and your 3 kids, dog, and groceries are gone before anyone even knew it.


I had serious trouble giving the keys back to Jamie; I did not want to let it go. I knew the V90 Cross Country would be a comfortable, even luxurious car, but I truly was not prepared for how this wagon performed. I did not get to spend a lot of time with the Volvo V90 Cross Country, but the few hours I had and the friendly folks at Fields Volvo made it a wonderful day. Thank you again to everyone at Fields Volvo for letting me come in and do this road test and shoot photos of the brand new V90 Cross Country!  You really should test drive this car at Fields Volvo.  You won’t want to give back the keys either.  

 

 

Mikey and his 54' by Zach Sorensen-Nielsen

(This is an old story I wrote back in 2015) 

 

Mikey tells me at the same time that my GPS tells me that “My location is on the right.” My excitement peaks when I see a demolition derby car parked outside of a junkyard looking place. It was something out of Mad Max, dented fenders, no glass, flat tires and an all around aura of destruction and evil. “Oh hell yes” I say to myself because I knew that only better things were to come around the corner. Mikey was taking me to see the body of his 1954 Chevy Bel Air. He has told me things about this car but I have yet to see it. We both get out of my car and I get my first glimpse down the row of cars that range from completely wrecked to decent condition. Then were the inbetweens, those shocked me. We spent a good twenty minutes walking around, looking at, opening doors and playing with different cars that were sitting around in the lot. I know what a 54 Chevy looks like so I had my eyes peeled. I had no previous knowledge of what exactly was in the yard here because I just wanted to find out for myself.


    We get to the very back of the yard, giant concrete walls towering above us, one side is train tracks, the other a 5 story building. There is what used to be a 54 Chevy, no doors, no windows, no fenders, no trunk and no hood. Absolutely nothing. I moved things around a bit in the yard to be able to get a good photograph of the body. It was a black car, in the shade so lighting it right was a bit of a challenge but once I eventually got the lighting set, the photos really started to pop. This was just the first portion of Mikey’s car that I shot, I would have to go back at a later time to get everything else finished up.

Mikey’s Bel Air is spread across the entire city of Evanston and his house as well. I walked across Mikey’s backyard, about a week after I finished shooting at the garage that the body is stored in. Mikey open’s the side door to his garage and I look in and what do I see? A giant blue tarp. I was slightly confused because it really looked as if there was nothing else in there. He moves the tarp aside and there it is, the skeleton to his 57. Wheels and frame but little else. He starts to shift things around so I can get a better view of it. The big garage door opens and dust, dirt and what I can only assume to be rat shit rains down on me. “Oh yeah we haven’t opened this door since we brought the frame in here like seven months ago.” Mikey says to me with a laugh. I move out of the way of the raining feces to the outer part of his garage door where I can see the garage as a whole. Just like most other enthusiast’s garages I have been in, it was a giant nest of tools, parts and things that the rest of the family said “get this the hell out of the house or I’m moving.”

To most people that is true. Why wouldn’t you buy a pre built hot rod or even something you will never have to worry about? It is about the passion, and the emotional connection that car people, develop with their automobiles. Car culture is in a way very representative of a small sliver of our population. Whether it is working on cars or anything else, so few people actually get down and get their hands dirty anymore. The easy route is the way to go, but not for car people. Car people will intentionally put themselves in the hardest possible situation because they know that situation will yield the best results. Mikey is such an amazing example of this. To quote Mikey “you don’t truly love your car until you’ve gotten down to the bare frame.”

 

 

 

Mike and Fire Arts by Zach Sorensen-Nielsen

After a journey down the long, dark hallway to the door of Firearts, “You made it!” Mike greets my dad and I the same way every time we arrive. It’s as if he doesn’t expect us to be there but is absolutely ecstatic that we are. Mike has been the person watching over me since I started blacksmithing about a year and a half ago. He is a bit of a mystery to me still though. The things he does, says and such. I have little idea what Mike really is about.

    After a journey down the long, dark hallway to the door of the shop, we walk in and are greeted by Mike with some sort of new piece, book, or story from the week before. Mike loves to talk and shit, does he talk! We will come back to Mike’s stories and talking but first I have to address the perfectionist attitude he has and flaunts. When I am working in the shop and Mike is walking around, surveying his students; I feel judgement as Mike looks at my piece. Whenever I am stuck it’s like Mike can sense it and he walks directly over to me. “May I?” He asks before he grabs the hammer from my hand. He somehow can take a piece of mine that I am stuck on, and with a few shaky hammer strikes, get it to look exactly how I wanted or even better. Mike is a perfectionist and it shows. When I asked him to be a part of my project he happily obliged but when he realized that I wanted to take photos of him while he was working, he said no because he was too shaky. He was embarrassed about how he felt he looked while he was working. I told him, “It doesn’t matter how you look while you work because your pieces speak for themselves, they are amazing.” He wouldn’t budge on the subject sadly. I resorted to sneaking photos of Mike working while at class.

 

Mike’s stories are almost as good as his swords. They are always so vivid and descriptive. And by that I mean long. Oh my god he likes to talk. But every once in a while, he tells a story that catches me by surprise. I would like to share one of those with you.

One of the last times we went into class, Mike told us a story about a bus ride he took to class one day. On this bus ride, Mike was wearing a policeman’s cap, a leather jacket and was carrying a four foot broadsword he was working on. Which of those three things sticks out most in your head? I think we all know our answer. The policeman’s cap! No? Well the policeman’s cap sure stuck out to the police officer as she boarded the bus that day.

 

She walks over to Mike and says “Sir, what do you think you are doing?” Well Ma’am I am a blacksmith, this sword is a project I happen to be working on. “No sir, the cap. Only Chicago PD Officers are supposed to have those caps. How the hell did you get that cap?” Officer, one of my students gave it to me, you see I’m a blacksmi… “Just take the hat off sir.”

This story shocks me even to this day purely because the man is carrying a four foot fucking broadsword and could chop anyone’s head off with it but hey I guess that’s just me. This story is just so Mike in the way that he always gets into weird situations like this. He is just a small old man, who carries swords on the bus and gets yelled at for his hat.