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Fast Companyby Margaret Sutherlin | Men's Book Chicago magazine | July 10, 2012
What we drive can say a lot about us. The real poetry in the man-machine relationship, though, happens when a lucky car guy is able to land his dream ride, whether it’s a restored classic with a great personal story behind it or a modern supercar whose appeal calls for little explanation. We checked in with a handful of Chicago men for whom getting behind the wheel means much more than just moving from point A to B.
Nick Mancuso, Aston Martin DBRS9
It’s true, Nick Mancuso does sound like a thrill seeker. When the 26-year-old race car driver isn’t behind the wheel he’s catching crocodiles, anacondas and other rare reptiles around the world. “On paper I do look like an adrenaline junkie,” he says. “But it’s weird because I don’t do it for that feeling. I do it because I think it’s interesting. You have to be knowledgeable, precise and calculating, because things can go pretty wrong with a cobra or a car.” On the street Mancuso drives a 2007 Subaru WRX STi. On the track, it’s a Ford Racing Focus ST-R for the Multimatic team in the Grand Am series. And when he’s really feeling inspired? That’s when he gets behind the wheel of his Aston Martin DBRS9, once owned by Indianapolis 500 legend Bobby Rahal. “It’s such a cool car,” says Mancuso. And one that’s great for honing his craft. “Besides trying to win, the thing in racing that keeps my attention is the pursuit of perfection,” he says. “It’s tenths, hundredths of a second that determine position. You’re never going to get a perfect lap, but you’re always trying.”
Jim Keck, 1952 Nash-Healey
A fan of British sports cars since he first took a spin in his cousin’s Triumph TR2 at age 13, retired electrical motor executive Jim Keck has been collecting cars and motorcycles since he was in college. It all started with his first 1957 Austin Healey. These days he has five Healeys in his collection, including a 1951 Allard K2 and a prized 1952 Nash-Healey. To find the cars Keck has scoured the globe, from Morris, Ill., to China. One of his favorite finds can be credited to his mother-in-law, who spotted a newspaper classified for an unrestored 1955 Austin Healey in a garage in Morris. “There’s a lot of stuff right in your own backyard if you go looking for it,” he says. But the 1952 Nash-Healey he was lucky enough to run across in an auction. “I love the restoration, but we like to get them out and drive them too,” he says. “One of the neatest things about these cars is that you have to work at driving them. Even the cheapest new car drives better than the best car from 30 years ago. But these, they have personalities."
Nick Karavites, McLaren MP4-12C
You know you’re in rare air when you upgrade your Lambo. Lifelong admirer of super-fast, super-sleek sports cars Nick Karavites has indeed owned Lamborghinis—but his real soft spot is for his new McLaren MP4-12C. Karavites loves Formula 1 and he, like many other enthusiasts, can’t forget the debut of McLaren’s first street car in the 1990s, which won 1, 3, 4, 5 and 13 at the 1995 LeMans. “When I heard McLaren was coming out with a new street car, not even seeing it, I knew I had to have it,” he says. “I knew it was going to be great.” And it is. The exotic look and powerful engine make it fun to drive not just around town, but on the racetrack. Karavites, who grew up in Chicago, is one of the most successful McDonald’s franchise owners in the city, and always knew that he wanted to someday own his dream cars. “We lived downtown and we got into an accident with one of the more aggressive taxi drivers,” he says. “I said to my Mom, ‘I want to be a taxi driver!’ I think she knew I really liked cars by the time I was 12.”
Philip Preston, 1965 Cadillac Eldorado
On Christmas 1964, Philip Preston’s father rolled home in a brand-new, seafoam green Cadillac to surprise his mother. Fast-forward a few decades and Preston, who worked on a pit crew in the 1970s and has made a career out of his love for science and inventing things, leapt at the chance to buy a 1964 Eldorado and restore it himself. “The most exciting time is when you go through a car with your notepad and you look at everything,” he says. “The fun part is before you even take a bolt out. It’s like writing your Christmas list.” The president of PolyScience, the company that provides, among many other temperature-control products, the high-tech culinary equipment to chefs like Grant Achatz and Charlie Trotter, Preston has a lot of collections, from pool tables dating back to the 1880s to cartoon cells. But his most impressive is his classic car collection, which he’s done all of the restoration work on himself. There’s the 1964 Eldorado, an icy blue 1965 Corvette convertible he bought when he was 19, a red 1970 Ford Bronco often used to take the boat to the lake and a recently completed rare 1965 Dodge 426 Coronet Convertible, as well as many Norton and Triumph motorcycles, boats and trucks from the ’40s. Between the vehicles and a huge garden complete with a chicken coop just outside his back door, Preston is a busy man even when he’s not at work. “The shortage is always time, not interests,” he says.