Recollections of Working With Dreamcars
by Chris Szwedo
Every once in a while in the business of production comes unique opportunities. Early in 2011 I was contacted by Ralph Lauren Car Collection manager Mark Reinwald, with whom I had worked extensively as cameraman/director in filming the collection for the memorable 2005 MFA/Boston Exhibition, aptly named, Speed, Style and Beauty. He informed me the cars would be displayed once more in the art world setting, and what a setting it would be-- none other than perhaps the most respected museum in the world-- The Louvre, in Paris, France! More specifically, a unit of the Louvre called Les Arts Decoratif.
Working with this amazing collection this time would involve producing quality sound recordings of 17 cars in action chosen specifically by The Louvre for special rooms in the exhibit. Five of the cars I already had in my library from my earlier experiences. Twelve more to go-- among them several Ferraris, Jaguars, a Porsche, and the amazing F1 McLaren LM. After agreeing to do it reality set in…the request had come in the midst of one of the toughest winters in recent Northeastern US memory. The initial idea to record them at Lime Rock Park, or Monticello was not going to work with two feet of ice and snow on the tracks, and a deadline of April 28 for opening night in Paris meant providing all completely edited segments by the end of March. Another hitch…the cars would only be available within a 5-day timeframe as they were all being prepped for shipping to France on Lufthansa. One remaining car, a 1950 Jaguar XK-120 was getting a new paint job at Paul Russell Restorations in Essex, Massachusetts, so there would also be a trip there.
So what would we do? The mutual decision was to record them on public roads in Westchester County, one of the busiest places in all of New York State, just above New York City! I thought that we had to be a combination of desperate, crazy, and courageous. To do this meant willing to risk being arrested, not to mention the risk to the collection. The Louvre had requested that many of the cars be recorded in top gear. Well, that would be possible only at a racetrack in warm weather with a top driver, so the challenge would be to get a representative sampling of speed. After all, The F1 McLaren…the safest car in the exhibition from a design standpoint, hits 100 mph in second gear. All of these cars could be considered dangerous as many were race cars with tiny doors the size of a pizza box. I did not want to die, but the prospect of a second adventure of working with this surreal collection took over.
I arrived at the Lauren garage in Westchester County in late February with barely a moment to spare. The facility exterior is an unremarkable but modern two-level 50,000 square ft. building that inside has been transformed into a modern art gallery of its own, complete with a work environment straight out of James Bond. Mark Reinwald gave a quick tour, and good feelings returned to me, seeing once more not only Mark but old friends like the Count Trossi, the Bugatti Atlantic, the Ferrari TR61, the alloy Gullwing, the Blower Bentley, the Jaguar XKD, and my personal favorite…the Porsche 550 Spyder. A total of 70 ultra-valuable cars were there in what has been described as the greatest car collection in private hands on the planet.
But the gleam and glow lasted only seconds, as the working environment at Lauren’s garage is all-serious. The stress of preparing for The Louvre seemed stuck on the faces of Mark and his crew. Or perhaps it was the stress of taking multi-million dollar machines--check that--works of art, on busy public roads in search of quiet areas to exploit. What if the police came? We have no permits and a limited time. Surely Ralph Lauren would bail us out, or so we thought.
So in the sunshine of a cold winter morning came the process…getting the cars running and warmed up…then a moment of quiet…then the re-start-- recording the ignition inside and outside of the cars. Tailpipe, front end, brisk take-offs. All of this followed by a burst of speed and gear changes on the nearby Interstate, my eyes fixed on the recording dials as I heard sounds that exist specifically in race cars-- unique within themselves, and nowhere else. That week we tore up the Sawmill Expressway, blasted past the New Croton Reservoir and roared through the backroads near the Cross River Reservoir. We froze in open cars, were warned firmly by the police on State Rt. 100-- “twenty minutes pal, that’s it, that’s all you get!”… and were subsequently visited by a police helicopter hovering above our 1964 Ferrari 250 LM. But we persevered, finding new places to roar past, trying to stay one step ahead in a cell-phone world where everyone wants to take a picture of the car you are in, or in many cases, “call the cops”.
Two memories stand out…getting pinned to the back of the jet-like McLaren, and the pitch-bending loudness of it all. Remembering for a second looking up and seeing someone in an SUV actually trying to keep pace, and in a blink we were gone. However fast you can go in a dozen seconds in that car, we did. Until a tiny crack in the windshield reminded us that it was February in freezing New York State on a dirty highway. I also keep thinking of a certain ice-fisherman on the Cross River Reservoir. Every two hours we would reappear, blasting by with another supercar. Was the ice cracking beneath him?
In the end, it all got done, with patience and perseverance. The people at The Louvre were wonderful to work for, and the most civilized clients imaginable. The results are here, car by car, (except for a troublesome 1960 Ferrari SWB, which constantly backfired)… on this link to a cool web site created by Ralph Lauren media group to promote the extraordinary Paris Exhibition at Les Arts Decoratif at The Louvre. It was a thrill to visit Paris and see the end result. By bringing them in close, The Louvre has done a great job of humanizing the Lauren cars in this special and rare exhibit of masterpieces of the Mechanical Age.