Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Marvelous Murphy Museum

 Studebaker - PDFIn recent issues of the Montecito Journal, I’ve told readers about events and exhibits at the Murphy Auto Museum in Oxnard. I was there this past weekend to see the L.A. Studebaker Drivers Club’s 30th Annual Winter Meet Car Show, and while there I got a tour from museum director David Neel, who pointed out some of his favorite cars in the collection.

Here is a look at some of those cars, and what makes them interesting.
1961 Lincoln Continental Convertible with its suicide doors
 The 1961 Lincoln Continental hails From Neel’s personal collection. Viewers of the HBO series Entourage are familiar with this car, especially the black example that stars in the show’s opening sequence. The feature that makes that sequence, and the car itself, particularly striking, is its “suicide doors,” which open from the center.

There are several common stories that illustrate the origin of this moniker, but all speak to the dangerous nature of the feature. One points out that if a rear passenger exits toward the street, a car coming up behind that edges a bit too close would clip the door, closing it on the passenger, with the ugly result that the bottoms of their legs – and in the case of a hard top, their head – are swiftly removed.

The next theory goes to the fact that the side impact protection of the passenger cabin is compromised by the lack of what is called a “B pillar,” the piece of metal to which the rear door would normally be mounted.

But Neel subscribes to the third, which indicates that if you’re traveling at speed in the rear of the cabin and the passenger door has not been fully latched, the act of trying to grab it as it opens would pull you straight out of the car. 
Neel helpfully explained the rationale behind the design, though. The Continental sitting right next to it on the museum floor was the previous generation, and it was the longest car ever produced – longer than a Ford Excursion. The suicide door design helped to take out nearly 17 inches in length.

That previous car had sold few copies, and this fourth-generation Continental was given the arduous task of saving the entire Lincoln brand. Neel’s copy only has 20 thousand miles on it, and is unrestored, making it that much more valuable.

On loan from the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles is a 1938 tractor truck from R.E.O., Ransom Olds’s second company. It’s towing a Curtiss-Wright Aerocar trailer, which had been designed with an interior on par with a Pullman luxury train car. It was used by a wealthy land developer in L.A.

“He would take his potential investors around to all his holdings,” says Neel. Later in its life, it would take tourists around Griffith Park, until it stopped running in 1991. It usually sits in front of the Petersen, but that museum’s remodel brought it to the Murphy.

To get it in its current place “took like five hours,” says Neel, “because it’s so big, it doesn’t have power steering and it’s articulated.” When you see this behemoth in its current spot, you’ll know what he means.

As the Studebaker show was bustling outside, Neel brought us to a Studebaker Avanti in the museum’s main collection. This version, a supercharged R2 model, was a 1964 model, which had squarish headlight bezels instead of circular ones, the only distinction versus the previous year.

The car was designed by Raymond Loewy and his team with a fiberglass body, integrated roll bar, and aircraft- style switches in an effort to “design a car that nobody else could touch.” Studebaker was essentially broke at that time, and the Avanti was a failed effort to save the company.

Andy Granatelli, a tribute to whom had just opened in the room next door at the museum, had helped to tune the car for Studebaker, and he also set several land-speed records in it, some still standing.

The Murphy has a 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner, owned by an accountant in L.A. It was one of the first cars in the collection, in 2002.
1969 Plymouth Roadrunner 383ci
 “This car was restored in 1980, and it’s never seen the light of day since,” says Neel. “If you look inside that car... it looks like a brand-new car.” It also has several options that make it particularly valuable.

Finally, Neel pointed out another vehicle from his own collection, a 1963 Chevrolet truck.

“I learned to drive on a truck just like that,” he says, echoing a similar notion to the one that has driven the explosion in classic car values – particularly for muscle cars – in the past few decades. The baby boomers grew up in the heyday of American automotive excitement, before geopolitical oil issues and safety concerns imposed constraints on power and styling. Now in their prime earning years, many of them have come back to the cars they loved, and driven up prices for these rides to stratospheric heights. 
The museum houses cars mostly from private collections, a testament to this desire for nostalgic vehicles. And the Murphy has much more to offer, with not only cars from every era, but also art exhibits, and even an 1,800 square-foot train set created and operated by the Gold Coast Modular Railroad Club.

And there are continuous special exhibits, like the current one featuring Jeeps back to WWII, there until the end of this month, followed by vintage campers starting in April. The suggested donation for admission is $9, free for kids and active military, and for that price you get a look at more than 100 years of automotive history.

Visit for more info.

If you have a story about a special car or piece of car culture in the local area, email Randy at

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Special Delivery: Car Technology

Technology specialist Michael Lampkin and Customer Relations specialist Karissa Sanchez
of DCH Lexus, with the sporty 2015 RC F
Special Delivery: Car Technology - PDF On a recent road trip, I found myself with idle hands as my girlfriend, Liz, drove us down to L.A. So I began to play around with the iDrive system in her BMW to see if there was anything interesting hidden within its menus. Inevitably, I came to the BMW Apps option and eagerly dove in.

The suite offered connections with services like Facebook and Twitter, as well as news and weather feeds, among other things. After wrestling with the controller for quite a while, I eventually figured out how to activate all these features. Still, the functionality was sub-par, and we ultimately concluded that it was likely the only person using the BMW Apps suite was the engineer who designed it.

There were a few other features on her car that Liz wasn’t familiar with, so I gave her a brief tutorial based on my experience evaluating vehicles, including BMWs, throughout my career. And of course, the thought came to us: shouldn’t the dealer have done this?

Yes, yes somebody there should have, as part of the delivery process. Delivery is what dealers call the process when a buyer comes to complete the purchase and pick up their vehicle. And getting it right has become all the more important in these days of proliferating automotive technology.

Just about every luxury car now has an infotainment screen, which centralizes all of the functions of the vehicle, such as music, navigation, climate control, vehicle customization, and things such as web browsing and smartphone app extensions. These systems are now becoming more common among mainstream cars as well, and this fact can actually have a surprisingly negative impact on satisfaction with these cars. Consumer Reports has noted strongly that certain brands were seeing lots of unhappy customers due to confusion over infotainment systems.

Just as Liz’s BMW dealer failed to adequately school her on the car’s systems – the dealer name has been omitted to protect the lazy – I’ve heard from many other people who have had similar experiences.

Isn’t there any dealer out there who takes the time to do a delivery right? I decided to find out. So I took to the web, and using Yelp I sifted through reviews of just about every dealership in Santa Barbara, looking for one thing: the mention of a thorough delivery process. And I found it, once.

The only dealer I saw who got props for walking a customer through the many features of a car was DCH Lexus, and the reviewer, Steve F., mentions Dana Ochoa by name, thanking her for a great sales experience.

Now, I certainly don’t mean to suggest that this type of experience doesn’t happen regularly in Santa Barbara, since this was a cursory examination of one source. I’ve definitely had great interactions with local dealers, and I know they provide many great customer experiences. But I would have expected such an important aspect of the delivery process to be more memorable.

So I decided to talk to Ochoa about her approach, as well as that of the dealership she represented. While she no longer works at DCH, she sat down with me to talk about her experiences there and the legacy she left, as well as her general philosophy of customer service.

Ochoa started her career at a Toyota dealer in L.A. in the 1980s, and has had experience at several dealerships. In her view, many of them have historically had an attitude about the delivery characterized by “The 3 Cs”: “See the keys, see the car, see ya later,” she said.

Lampkin and Sanchez explore
the RC F’s mouse-like touch pad
“Very often, all you’d do is show them where the headlights and wipers were,” she added. “Frankly most people were so excited, they just wanted to go and play with their car.”

As technology became a bigger part of the user experience with cars, dealerships took a bit of a “trial and error” approach, said Ochoa. When customers would come back and ask about a feature, the dealers would start to educate them more.

In recent years, though, some car manufacturers began to push dealers to start educating customers further, realizing the damage their confusion could do to their brands. Lexus has been one of the most aggressive in this regard. During her time at DCH, Lexus approached Ochoa to set up a Lexus Delivery Specialist function.

“We were a brand-new store. At the same time that we were launching, Lexus was launching their Delivery Specialist.” While most Lexus stores designated a single Delivery Specialist, DCH invested the money to certify each of their sales people as such. Ochoa created the LDS program for the store, which is still used as the template for deliveries there.

Ochoa has since moved on from DCH, but I got a chance to talk to her successor, Karissa Sanchez, who is in charge of Customer Relations. She talked about the current process, which is driven largely by the use of a custom iPad app from Lexus.

The app cleverly starts with a customer-specified delivery duration and fits the features into the time allotted. Interestingly, when Sanchez showed me the list of recent deliveries, every single one had been roughly a half hour. It’s not surprising, given customers’ excitement to get on the road, and it clarifies the challenges that dealers must face in educating their buyers. There’s a fine line between a thorough run-through and information overload.

Michael Lampkin, the dealership’s technology specialist, echoed this sentiment. “After a while, the fatigue sets in and their eyes glass over, and I don’t even know if they’re retaining it.” He suggests to many customers that they carry a pad with them in the car to write down anything further they’d like to learn.

One challenge for the delivery process can even be outside technology, such as when setting up connections to third-party apps. Lexus’s Enform infotainment system lets them link with these apps, but a lot of customers do this at home because they can’t remember their passwords, said Sanchez. This issue sounded all too familiar, and my suggestion that they have customers arrive with a list of their passwords was received positively.

The Safety Connect system is also set up at this time, so if the car is in an accident Lexus can dispatch emergency services to its location. While many infotainment systems have this sort of functionality, I suspect that in the absence of thorough delivery processes, many drivers leave the dealer without ever knowing about it.

Regardless of where you buy your next car, odds are there’ll be a learning curve, and you’ll need to play around with it for a while to get the full picture of all the technology packed into your new “rolling computer.” But the good news is, dealers and manufacturers are getting much better at educating their buyer base about all these vehicles have to offer, so there’s hope for even the staunchest technophobes.

If you have a story about a special car or piece of car culture in the local area, email Randy at