On Friday, July 26th, 2013, the day began with a visit to American Racing Wheels to see their new lineup, to see their offices, and to talk about cars with them. From there, we headed west to Los Angeles for an event at the Petersen Automotive Museum, which was to be held after hours that evening. The day was a little overcast, but otherwise not a bad day for the end of July, and the drive down Wilshire Blvd. was basically uneventful, save for a few close calls with the mid-day lunch traffic merging from lane to lane. Pretty typical for the location and time of day, and LA traffic’s reputation precedes itself.
Early in the day, about half of the Mopars had arrived and were getting situated.
The event to be held later that day included a special guest, Ralph Gilles. He’s a friend of Mopar360, an enthusiast group that attended the event and began to bring cars in early that afternoon. Mopar360 is led by President Juan Lovato, who took over the group when he felt it wasn’t reaching it’s true potential. Along with Vice President, Trisha Allen, and Sergeant of Arms, Allen Fincher, they’ve brought this group to more than 300 members across the US, with more than 1,500 followers on Facebook.
Mopar360 holds events on a regular basis, like cruises, movie days, or just getting together to talk about Mopars – and about who did what to their HEMI. While they’re more of a modern Mopar group, we were invited along on this cruise-in at the Petersen Museum with our 1965 Plymouth Belvedere II, the lone orphan of the group. Mopar360 doesn’t ask for fees or dues, and we were a good fit to the only requirement to be a part of the group: to be a Mopar enthusiast. Our ’65 now sports the Mopar360 window sticker, identifying us as a member; this was our second event with them.
The parking area filled in quickly, splashing Mopar colors mixed in with Mopar pride.
Another group that frequents events with Mopar360 is SoCalLX, more Mopar enthusiasts who share a love for the modern LX platform cars. Mopar360, along with SoCalLX, will be hosting The First Annual Moss Bros. Car Show in September, 2013, in San Bernardino, California. Already, members are excited to participate, and a great turnout is expected. We will do our best to be there and bring this show to our readers and Mopar enthusiasts, as well. We also saw a good showing from SoCal Challengers at the show, they also participate in events with the other two groups, making a huge gathering like the one at the Petersen Museum.
The cars began filling into the parking structure adjacent to the museum, and Lovato and club member Hailey Regnier helped corral the cars into the private area where club members could park their cars, where they began polishing and wiping them down. As the lot filled, and spilled out into the adjoining parking structure, we were all treated to a food and beverage concession to keep us nourished. As people continued to wipe down their cars, dozens of others stood around sharing stories and tales, all waiting for the man of the hour to join us outside and to see the display of awesome Mopars.
This show wouldn't be complete without the vehicle responsible for for making SRT successful.
President and CEO of SRT Brand
Trisha and Finch talked about their Crossfire to a guy named Ralph (middle).
Most people know of Ralph Gilles from the numerous articles posted online and in the news, and videos shared all over the internet. This former car designer at Chrysler moved his way up within the ranks, and is seen by many as the man who helped save the Viper, bringing it over to the Street & Racing Technology Group that we know as SRT. But the bottom line about Gilles is that, while he may be the CEO of SRT and someone we all admire and respect, he’s truly just like the rest of us car guys and simply loves fast cars.
When he first came out of the museum to greet us, he was nothing but smiles and hugs for the many people he has come to know from the two car clubs parked outside. He remembers many of them because whenever there is an event such as this, he is there with the rest of the enthusiasts, sharing a meal, or sharing in the passion. To many of the people there, he isn’t the CEO of SRT, he’s Ralph.
Early pictures of Ralph and his work. He stopped to take a pic with some guy from SLTV, too.
Gilles grew up loving cars, so it didn’t take much for him to come out and check out all of the cars on display. He noticed the progress that some have made, and signed autographs on dashboards, fender aprons, and even our own Plymouth. He posed for pictures with those who asked, and shook hands with all who approached him. He was there for the show that was to take place a couple of hours later, but made sure that everyone knew he was there for them, too.
He’s more than just a car guy or a CEO – he’s a friend, someone that will ask you how you’ve been, check out your car, and even pay you a compliment on what you’ve done to it, and he asks questions about it. He’s interested in your car because you’re interested in it, and he’s not there because he has to be there, he’s there because he enjoys being there, and it shows. He was truly excited to see the turnout, and thanked everyone for showing up.
A couple of car guys talking about - what else? Cars, of course. It was a great show with lots of laughs, and interesting fun-facts about Gilles and the cars he has owned.
Inside the MotoMan Studio
The main event held that evening was a brand new venue for the host of the show, George J. Notaras, known to his many YouTube viewers as MotoManTV. His special guest that evening was Gilles, someone that Notaras also calls a friend because he has had many conversations with Gilles over the years. Notaras is much like the rest of us, he is someone who just loves cars. He has taken that love and turned it into a business, and his videos and followers on YouTube and Facebook have been watching MotoMan for a little over three years.
Ralph Gilles and George J. Notaras Inside the MotoMan Studio at the Petersen Museum.
Notaras fell into a high tech career during school, and after a few years he decided it wasn’t for him and he entered the world of entertainment, following his passion for stand-up comedy. Starting in small clubs, he moved up into bigger clubs and after seeing his skills he was offered a writing gig.
Eventually, he parlayed his craft into a series of stories about cars and the people around them, and that’s where he started on the career path he is on today. Oh, and he still manages to find time to step up to the microphone and perform stand up at The Comedy Store.
In January, 2010, MotoMan TV was launched. They had begun filming in July the year before, and the current format, Inside the MotoMan Studio, began in April of this year, with Randy Rodriguez of Nissan Design – the man behind the current 350Z.
Notaras has worked hard to get exciting guests on his shows; but rather than just talk about who they are now, he spends the time telling us who the guest was growing up, about their early years, and about their passion for the automobile. The show doesn’t get into all of the politics that fill many of the online articles, it addresses who the person is in the seat next to Notaras.
He told us, “At the end of the day, the people in the audience can meet someone like Ralph Gilles, and hear all of his interesting stories. They see that he’s just another car guy who had someone in his life that inspired him to achieve what he has accomplished.” Notaras likes that aspect of the show because he, too, grew up loving cars. He saw his father’s interest in cars and he shared in that interest. Like many of us, once the bug bit, the passion for anything automotive began to carve a niche for him.
We can't remember if Ralph was talking about a fish he caught or the gap between him and George when they raced out at Willow Springs. Either way, the tale got bigger.
Inside the MotoMan Studio is done in addition to his weekly car videos. For his shows, he has people to man the cameras and equipment for him from time to time, both paid and internships. Some trips, he might bring one person along, and others he may bring as many as six people to help with the show. He enjoys what he does and it shows, because it’s his passion, not just a job he fell into.
MotoMan has had interviews with several big names in the automotive industry, and there are many more coming up in the months that follow. This event was the first one held in the Petersen Automotive Museum, a new venue for Notaras and MotoMan. He said, “I’ve had access to some really good people in the automotive industry, and we’re very excited about this. It’s a great place to do the show.”
There was a question and answer session, with some great questions and honest answers from Gilles. Afterwards, some introductions and thank yous were in order. Trisha and Juan joined George and Ralph on stage, with Phil Bowdoin in the wings.
As for how Gilles became the CEO or SRT, he truly did work his way up through the ranks. During the show we saw plenty of his early designs, and he told us all that he loved designing dashboards and instrument panels. His first assignments with Chrysler ncluded designing the heater controls for the LH cars. Inspired by his Aunt Giselle to achieve, he looked back at the screen and saw a picture of her during the show, and he got a little emotional.
When he was a teen, she took some of his sketches and sent them to Lee Iacoca, along with a letter talking about how Chrysler would benefit from Gilles’ talent. Gilles said, “She is so important to me, she gave me the inspiration to follow my dreams. She’s a truly amazing woman.” Who knows where he would be without her inspiration, but for many of us, he has followed the dreams that we shared, and has truly rewarded us with his talents.
We have talked about it before, and I want to do it but Chrysler isn’t 100% behind it right now. We are ready for it, we have what we need but haven’t gotten approval. -Ralph Gilles
We learned a lot about Gilles during the show, about his passions and how he got his start. At the end of the show, guests were selected to ask questions and get answers from Gilles. The questions ranged from “what should we expect from the SRT-4 Dart” to “Will SRT create a performance parts division, much like we had with Direct Connection back in the day.” Gilles said, “We asked our fans what kind of horsepower they expected from the SRT-4 Dart, and nobody’s answer was less than 300 horsepower.” He said they’re giving that one a lot of thought.
Another question was about the new ‘Cuda and what platform it will have, and he said, “It will be smaller than the current Challenger, but not by much.” As for SRT performance parts, Gilles said, “We have talked about it before, and I want to do it but Chrysler isn’t 100% behind it right now. We are ready for it, we have what we need but haven’t gotten approval.” He’s an honest man, and gives you a straight answer, something that was very well received.
More cool displays from the museum, but pictures don't do it justice. If you are in Los Angeles, it's worth a visit. Admission is free if you come for the show.
The Petersen Museum will be the location for Inside the MotoMan Studio on a monthly basis, with future guests including Don Butler, from Cadillac; former GM executive Bob Lutz; and Camaro Chief Al Oppenheiser, to name a few. All who attend the show will be given another treat from the museum, too: admission is free for those attending the show. Great cars, great history, great displays, and a great show that brings us all just that much closer to the people who pave the road towards our addictions: the love of the automobile. How can you resist something like that?
Be sure to check out the MotoMan Facebook page and Like them, and let them know you found out about them here. And like they always say, if you’re ever in the greater Los Angeles area, make sure that the Petersen Automotive Museum is one of your stops so that you can join the fun and excitement – Inside the Studio with MotoMan.
Check out some more pictures from the event in the gallery below – from outside in the parking lot, and inside The Petersen Automotive Museum.