Dream Wheels

| October 05, 2005

When new models are taken to a test track, photographers looking for exclusive sneak-preview pictures for auto magazines are known to have ways of hearing about it and trying to get a shot. For their daring and nuisance value, they have been dubbed the “carparazzi,” the auto equivalent of the celebrity-hounding paparazzi.

According to Reliable Carrier car-hauler Dan Bemben, you always have to watch out for the carparazzi when hauling new models.

“You know they might be there. The manufacturer knows it and everyone, drivers like us included, have to be alert to that,” he says. “You don’t want to unload a vehicle the manufacturer wants to remain a secret when you know they are there – or might be just around the corner hiding – and make it easy for one of them to get a picture.

“We’ll sometimes have to shoo them away,” Bemben says. And that can get nasty, although usually for the test drivers or manufacturer’s reps.

Truck drivers might be asked to block a view with their trailer, block a road or just keep an eye out in motel lobbies. Unpacking their new models means casting a wary eye, sometimes with binoculars, for anyone who may be waiting to snap a picture. And in these days of smaller electronic wizardry, even a camera small enough to be held inside a clenched hand can take magazine-quality pictures.

It is a legal form of industrial espionage. While a few car company execs say the publicity is valuable, most say it is a bad thing for them because it lets competitors see their new models and maybe steal some of their innovations. At the same time it can stop people from buying the current model and dent sales because they are waiting for the new one.

To see some of the carparazzi’s work, check out the car magazines or try this site and click on the Enthusiasts tag to find their Spy Shots section.

Clay Models and Concept Cars
It’s usually very close to life size. When automakers want to introduce a new car, they start with sketches; then they build computer models to test the vehicle in theory, then build a small clay model. Next comes a full-size clay model.

Why not use a computer and “create” a new car on the screen in 3-D? The beauty of clay models is that they are real, and people can stand back and look at them (and touch them). And changes are easy to make if someone prefers the headlights or the grille to be modified.

If everyone loves it, a concept car may be built. Some concepts go all the way and can be driven. Some are just parts of a car, say the body, or the body with an interior but no engine, many of them built for shows. Innovation is common in the building of concepts, and a wide range of materials may be used to build the concept. Since a big rig will haul it, weight is usually not a factor. If the concept is a big enough hit, it may make it into production.

Models of the cars of the future are susceptible to heat and cold, so trailers are temperature controlled. These models are also unique, so extra care has to be taken not to bump or dent them because there are no spare parts to replace what’s damaged. A new one would have to be made from scratch. And with clay cars you can’t chain or tie them down – what look like axles aren’t really axles but part of the model. They aren’t drivable, and they don’t steer, so loading and unloading is a different job entirely. Dollies and jacks are commonly used to move them. Reliable’s Dan Bemben often uses pipes, rolling the models over a series of pipes to push them onto and off the trailer. If a model is really heavy, and many are, they may be jacked up in the trailer to take the weight off the “wheels,” so the model doesn’t lose shape in transit.

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