Tag Archives: cars

The Genetics of Speed

October 9, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The family that accelerates from 0-60 in under 3 seconds together stays together. That observation holds true for at least one area father-son duo, Drs. Kam and Max Chiu. They are both radiation oncologists (Kam practices in Lincoln, while Max is completing his residency at UNMC). They both developed a love for automobiles early in life. And they both own ultra-high-performance sports cars built in Woking, England, by storied race car manufacturer McLaren.

The elder Dr. Chiu, whose love of fast cars is rooted in the hours he spent playing with toy cars at his father’s Hong Kong toy factory, kicked off this family’s mini British Invasion in 2013 with the acquisition of a McLaren MP4-12C Project Alpha. This English answer to Italian and German exotic dominance boasts 616 horsepower from a 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V-8 engine nestled behind the carbon-fiber passenger cell. The description, along with assorted industry reviews, was compelling enough to encourage Kam to make his purchase without driving any McLaren, let alone this $300,000-and-change special edition.

“I bought it off the internet…from [a dealer] in California,” Kam nonchalantly admits. He even traded in his beloved Ferrari F430 as part of the deal, not knowing if he would instantly regret the decision.

“So [the dealer] picks up the F430 and drops off the 12C, and that first spin? I take it out and it’s just fantastic,” recalls Kam. “The 12C is a lot more comfortable than the 430.” As one of only six Project Alpha cars created in collaboration between dealer McLaren Chicago and the factory’s McLaren Special Operations division, the orange-and-black 12C is a rarity among rarities.

Following his father into the world of mechanized speed was an easier decision for Max than following him into the medical field. And when it came time to dip his own right toe into the exotic market, the answer was obvious: The third generation of the MP4-12C, now christened the 720S (for 720 metric horsepower, or 710 by U.S. standards). “The 720 is definitely a lot more refined [than the 12C]. I drove it almost every day for the last month,” Max says of the 2017-edition vehicle. “But then I took it out on some twisting country roads last week…and it’s insane. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

While the doctors’ McLarens are two of only a handful in the area, they are part of a (perhaps surprisingly) thriving exotic automotive scene in Nebraska. “In a state of only a couple million, you have plenty of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, things like that,” reveals Kam. But the pair lament a lack of dealerships or other service options—the closest McLaren locations are in Chicago and Denver.

Numerous cars have cycled through their hands over the years, and the Chius currently own a handful of other high-performance vehicles, including a rare-for-America JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) Nissan Skyline GT-R. But the McLaren magic doesn’t seem likely to fade anytime soon. “I would most likely purchase another McLaren sometime down the road,” offers Kam. “It has the substance to back up the looks.” 

Although, when pressed to pick his favorite among all the vehicles he has owned in three decades of collecting, Kam admits, “If I could only own one car ever, it would be a minivan.”

Because even in the world of cars, sometimes function is more important than fashion.


Visit mclaren.com for more information.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Dr. Max Chiu between the 720S McLaren (left) and the Project Alpha 12C.

An Agile, Aerodynamic Arachnid

April 18, 2018 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jay Leno…Jerry Seinfeld…Jason Pittack.

These “Js” are three of less than 1,000 people in the world to own a Porsche 918 Spyder—specifically, they are three of 918 owners of this vehicle.

“In the Midwest, there were only two copies of this car that I am aware of,” says Steve Gehring, president of the Great Plains Region of the Porsche Club of America. “Jason drove his around Omaha, so it was spotted here and there and people got to look at one.”

Pittack, the dealer principal for Woodhouse, likens his liquid-silver, 887-hp Spyder to a rocket ship—the car sports a 600-horsepower, eight-cylinder engine and two additional electric motors.

From left: Jason Pittack and his wife, Shelbi, with their Porsche 918 Spyder

That’s because the 918 was developed to have a powerful hybrid drive with the efficiency and ecologic consciousness modern drivers desire. Porsche, Pittack says, comes out with a “supercar” about every 10 years to serve as a showcase for the future of its technology.  The hybrid technology tested on the 918 is today available in the Porsche Panamera Turbo S (which was unveiled last year) and is in production with next year’s Mission E, Porsche’s first fully-electric car.

Besides being the dealer principle for Omaha’s Porsche dealership, he is a car guy.

“It’s been in my blood since day one,” he says, as evidenced by the fact that the first word he ever spoke was “car.” (The second two, for those who are curious, were “here’s” and “Johnny.”)

He owned, and enjoyed owning, the previous Porsche supercar, and knew when Porsche announced the 918 that the hybrid supercar would be a hot item. He put a deposit on the $950,000 car the first day they announced the concept in 2010.

Then, the wait began. Concept to production on this car took three years. The specific car he purchased was the 34th off the line and the fourth to come to the United States from Germany. The vehicle was flown to Atlanta by jet (it had a plane ticket) and was loaded onto a trailer from Reliable Carriers, the company known for delivering cars to the Daytona 500 and Barrett Jackson Auction.

The car was worth the wait, as he saw in October 2014. The acceleration will make a car fan’s hair stand on end, but the stops for fuel are infrequent.

“It’s a zero to 60 in 2.2 seconds, and we average 40 miles per gallon with it.” Pittack says.

Not that he accelerates that fast that often. Pittack and his wife don’t take it on long trips, or even the speedway, but it might be seen at the grocery store or the parking lot outside their favorite restaurant. The top pops off easily to turn into a convertible, making it a good all-seasons car. The fact that it’s built with carbon fiber makes it very lightweight.

And about that engine?

“You can use [the hybrid engines] in any combination. You can drive the vehicle like a true hybrid in all-electric,” he says. “You can drive it in electric to where the gas kicks on when you romp on it a little bit. You can drive it in the electric/gas combination at all times, and you can do it in just a full-out race mode where everything is just going nuts.”

And you do all that with the touch of a button on the steering wheel.

“It’s meant to be very intuitive on the inside. Just everything’s touch-feel,” Pittack says. “Using the inside of this car is like using an iPad or iPod.

Like the rare piece of art that this is, its value has appreciated to about $1.5 million. Given the value, one may be inclined to let it sit and never drive it at all. In fact, the second Porsche 918 in the area was never driven. That was owned by Pittack’s father, Lance, until February. Jason, though, loves using his car. It’s a fact that makes Gehring happy.

“Porsche cars are meant to be driven in our view, all of us who have them love to drive as many different models as possible,” Gehring says. “That one, for the average enthusiast is unattainable. Most of us will never see one, never drive one.”

“I drive all my stuff,” he says, and the Spyder is his current favorite vehicle. “It’s the fastest, but it’s also the most user-friendly.”

This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.

We Can’t Drive 55

June 8, 2017 by

I have a little pinback button with a red flag emblazoned with the words “Safety First.” It was produced in 1915 by the Nebraska Safety League, which seems to have been one of a number of grassroots efforts to improve public safety.

This was in response to the nationwide development of a group called the National Council for Industrial Safety, which initially focused on workplace safety, but expanded its scope in the next few years to include traffic and home concerns (changing its name to the National Safety Council).

About that time, Omaha’s city commissioner, John J. Ryder, visited New York and discovered something called the “American Museum of Safety,” which functioned, in part, to instruct school children about street safety. He was enamored with this idea and advocated for a local version.

Both recommendations came at the end of an era of almost unbridled carnage in the streets. To read the newspapers of the era, crossing the street sometimes sounded like a game of Frogger, with pedestrians dodging carriages, streetcars, automobiles, and runaway horses. Auto fatalities had skyrocketed—a total of 54 people had died in crashes in 1900, but by 1915 nearly 7,000 Americans had been killed on the roads.

The first talk of speed limits in Omaha seems to have occurred as far back as 1903, when an automobile ordinance was proposed. There weren’t many car owners in town, and they tended to be wealthy, and tended to get their way as a result. When the ordinance suggested a low speed limit of six-to-eight miles per hour, the car owners rebelled. Included among them was Gurdon Wattles, who made his fortune in transportation. He complained that cars only went two speeds, slow and fast, and slow was too slow to be much good, and fast was too fast for the speed limit. He suggested 12 miles per hour would be satisfactory.

They got their way, but almost immediately advances in auto technology rendered this limit moot. By 1905, cars were speeding around Omaha at 40 miles per hour, and police were complaining it was nearly impossible to enforce the limit—to tell a car’s speed, police had to watch a car travel from one area to the next and count seconds, and then do some quick math. In 1909, there was even a proposal to reduce the speed limit again, back down to six miles per hour, to discourage cars driving at dangerous speeds.

Instead, the speed limit crept upward. By 1911, it was 15 miles per hour. By the 1920s, with the advent of highways built specifically for automobiles, the maximum speed jumped to 25 miles per hour. By 1935, it was 35. And in 1969, speeds on the highways leapt to 60 miles per hour.

So it has been ever since, but for a brief period in the 1970s when, in response to spiking oil prices, there was a national maximum speed limit off 55 miles per hour, which proved unpopular enough for Sammy Hagar to enjoy chart success with a song titled “I Can’t Drive 55.”

The federal limits were repealed in 1995. Currently, the maximum speed limit in Nebraska is 75 miles per hour, a speed that Gurdon Wattles probably would have enjoyed.

This article was printed in the May/June edition of 60 Plus.

Clean Machines

July 14, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article published in the summer 2015 edition of B2B.

Sure, you can swing through the car wash attached to your local gas station. But as the days get warmer, the line gets longer. Add to that vacuuming up dirt and grime, and wiping down the car interior, and most of us put this necessary chore off for as long as possible.

Enter Kirk Koop of Crystal Blue Mobile Detail. Crystal Blue is a mobile business providing customizable, luxury mobile detailing services at either your home or office. That’s right. Both the car wash and the car detailing services come to you.

“Our services are available in Omaha and the metro area, within reason,” he explains.

Koop started Crystal Blue back in 1997 with just $2,200, which was originally intended for college. Growing up with a passion for cars, Koop picked up and moved to Las Vegas after high school graduation.

It wasn’t exactly the traditional route, but it certainly paved the way for his future. In Vegas, he began working for Total Mobile Detail, a company that provided services similar to what he now offers here. “When I returned to Omaha, I saw an opportunity to fill a need in our community,” Koop says. “I found one client who was willing to allow me to care for his detailing needs and I invested my whole $2,200 into a working detail van, equipment, and chemicals.”

Crystal Blue Mobile Detail, he says, takes pride in its family business values. “We believe that the way we treat the customer is just as important as how we treat the car,” he says.

The company is contracted to provide services for fleets such as all 21 Enterprise Rent-A-Car
locations. To date, Crystal Blue has two vans that detail an average of about 450 cars a month. Of those, 71 are monthly agreements for which Crystal Blue maintains an individual’s car at a set time and place on a weekly basis. “I like to say, ‘You look good, you feel good. You feel good, you do good!’” Koop proclaims.

Crystal Blue has not only grown significantly since its one client and minimal investment, but it has also provided Koop with relationships throughout Omaha. He maintains about 90% of his clients, including that very first, trusting individual, he says.

“We plan on providing our luxury service for many years to come,” Koop says.

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