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Under the Hood: Mark Oldman

January 26th, 2011 by Ian

Pictured: Anti-snob wine expert and acclaimed writer Mark Oldman, standing proudly with his ’07 Parnelli Jones Mustang.

It was one of those random NYC moments.  I happen to be crossing the street when I heard the roar of something otherworldly.  I turned my head and caught the glimpse of what seemed to be a NYC taxi on steroids.  As this bright orange blur inched closer I decided to raise my arm up and try to hail it down. To my surprise the man behind the wheel pulled over to me and rolled down his window.  “Hey what’s up?,” he said. My response, “what the hell is this thing, I heard you from 2 blocks away?”  Then the light turned green, and it was time to move. ”my name is Mark Oldman,” he screamed over first gear and then chirped through the light. Shit, I missed the I went home and googled Mark Oldman.

It turns out that Mark Oldman is one of the country’s leading wine personalities. Seriously, the guy is way into grapes…lead judge on the PBS series “The Winemakers,” a regular on Martha Stewart Radio’s “Living Today, and the wine guru for “Everyday with Rachel Ray.”  He also leads wine lectures and courses all over the country, including the Aspen Food and Wine Classic, and the South Beach Food Network Wine and Food Festival.  Oh, I forgot to mention the 5 incredibly successful wine books he’s written..including his most recent release “Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine.”

Putting aside all these accolades and accomplishments, Oldman happens to be one of the nicest, most down to earth guys around.  I exchanged a few emails with him, and the next day I was sitting shotgun in his bad ass 400 HP Parnelli Jones Edition-Mustang. Oldman lovingly refers to it as “El Tigre.” The “Grabber Orange” paint and matte black details stick out like a sore thumb amongst all the yuppified Range Rovers and BMW’s stacked 5-deep in the garage. Yet, this is the kind of sore thumb you want, the kind that grins at you and says “saddle up partner, we got some fast driving to do.”

This model was named after the legendary racer Parnelli Jones, and his autograph is on the dash to prove it.  The power, color, and form of this beast pay homage to Jones’ 1970 Boss 302 Mustang, which ruled the SCCA Trans AM Series in the early seventies.  “El Tigre” is #480 of only 500 produced, with #001 belonging to Parnelli Jones himself.  This car has all the retro-muscle details you want and expect.  The matte black shaker protrudes from the hood to swallow some high pressure air, while the hood pins make sure that hood stays put; side note: they look tough as hell. The jet black louvers that cover the rear window ensure poor visibility for the driver, but also scare the shit out of any would–be tailgaters.

After our ride, Oldman was kind enough to invite me into his new apartment to check out some of his wine, and art collection.  And this is only the wine that he keeps at home, there’s a storage facility down the block for the real collection.  I also got to see the office where these books are crafted.  He only moved in four months ago, and he’s been on a book give the guy a break about the mess and lack of furniture.  Most importantly his car is in the garage below, there’s plenty of wine in the fridge, and there’s art on the walls.  We don’t feel so bad..

Check out the real talk with Mark Oldman, after the speed bump.

Do you remember wanting a sports car as a kid?  Was American muscle always in your future?

Actually, airliners were my childhood obsession.  I dreamt about Eastern Airlines L-10-11’s and used to beg my Mom to take me to Newark Airport to ogle planes and seek autographs from pilots, and sometimes from skycaps, because I would mistake them for pilots. I think I was the first and only airport groupie.

That said, in high school I harbored fantasies of pimping out a Wonder Bread truck with shag carpet, floor speakers, perhaps a couch. The gleeful absurdity of it just seemed right.

We know you appreciate modern muscle, but what is your stance on the vintage stuff? Is Mustang still the king in that department?

I love the vintage stuff.  Last year I had the opportunity to tool around Manhattan in a deep-water blue ‘67 Chevy Chevelle SS and its Snoop style and nostalgic ‘60s feel were electrifying.

It’s not everyday that you see one of these, especially with only 500 made…but when you do see it, you can’t miss it.  You hear it from about 3 blocks away. What kind of reactions do you get from people on the streets of NYC?

I like to say that its greatest admirers are little kids, police officers, and ex-astronauts. Oh, and foreign tourists. Europeans seem to have a fascination for muscle cars like they do other iconic and robustly American inventions, be it Levi’s or Lady Gaga.

Occasionally a car of rowdy youths will pull up and pump their fists and yell for me to “rev it”.  I do so obligingly, which engenders from them an eruption of delight and celebration.  A new ritual to me, it is now one that I consider part of the duty of owning the car.

And that is central to its allure for me: the fact that it’s not the typical midlife-crisis, dentist-trying-to-forget-he’s-a-dentist status symbol. It brings smiles to faces.

Is this thing your everyday drive? Anything else in the garage worth noting?

It’s my only ride, though I’ve been yearning for a Bronco from the 60’s, like the kind Flea uses to zoom to Anthony Kiedis’ rescue at the end of this Chili Pepper video:

And if anyone out there knows of a good deal on a Wonder Bread truck, I’m all ears.

Before El Tigre you were the proud owner of an Alfa Romeo Spider.  These are two totally different animals.  Do you ever miss the simple pleasures of the Alfa?

I really do.  It’s like loving two very different people for two very different reasons.   The Alfa was a little vessel of pleasure, a paragon of Italian sprezzatura, a Rosselliniesque sunsplash to El Tigre’s McQueenian thunder, Roxy Music’s dreamy, synth-laden Avalon to classic Van Halen’s ferocious Fair Warning.

When people inquire as to whether the Lilliputian Alfa was a deathtrap, I’d point out the pleasure it imparted would actually add years to my life, that is if I didn’t get squashed, monster-truck style, by a distracted soccer mom in a Ford Expedition.

I was so into the Alfa that I outfitted it with a racing steering-wheel, chrome wheels, and a special horn.  Having spotted the horn in an accessories catalog — with its three small trumpets and Maserati label – I assumed it issued a stentorian, regal echo fit for a supercar hurtling through the Italian countryside.  Once it was installed, however, I realized it warbled like a wounded sparrow, eeking out a delicate cascade of chirps that was anything but a warning to fellow motorists.  Lesson here: never buy a horn from a catalog without hearing it first.

My girlfriend at the time lived on one of the many dodgy streets in Berkeley, California, so as a theft-deterrent I created an alarm sticker for its windshield.  If you inspected the sticker carefully, however, you might realize that the alarm name I invented, the “NCP Thermonuclear Sensor,” was a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the movie War Games.

I sold the Alfa to my friend “Hernie” for a song and he still taunts me that he is “making time with my ex-girl”.  I content myself with an Alfa baseball hat.

I recently discovered that Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson is also an Alfista, as Alfa enthusiasts are called in Italy.  He contends that “you cannot be a true petrolhead until you’ve owned one… it’s like having really great sex that leaves you with an embarrassing itch.”

Not many people even know this Parnelli Jones edition exists.  Did you seek this car out, or did it seek you out? Were you deciding between any other cars?

I learned about it when I was a member of New York’s Classic Car Club, which has Manhattan’s only other “PJ” in its fleet.  For me, it was love at first ride, but when I first spied it, I wondered: “Can I handle this thing?” I remember noticing the black louvers covering the back window and asking if there was a way of pulling them up as you would Venetian blinds. Pearse Daly, the club’s bookings manager and a muscle car enthusiast himself, was patient with me, explaining that no, the louvers are screwed in.  But once I hit the open road, it quickly became evident that this was a singular driving experience (on which I elaborate below).

Sometimes I’ll drive my “PJ” – a.k,a. “#480 “ — over to the one at the Classic Car Club – “#177” — just to allow these brothers to visit with each other.

The color is “Grabber Orange” which is just about the same color as NYC taxi’s (don’t worry no one is confusing this for a taxi).  How many speeding tickets have you blamed on the color?

Not a single ticket.   The fascination and appreciation that NYPD officers seem to have for it seem have (so far) outweighed its speed-gun-attracting tint

So what is it about this car that you love so much?

I love that even in neutral, its raucous rumble stirs every molecule.  It doesn’t just drive; it responds, both acoustically and tactilely.  In a world where transportation is getting smoother and more docile, where so much converges to lemony fresh and politically correct and digitally directed and velvety smooth, this beast channels a more bare-knuckled era.

I love that its appearance is also an unapologetic anachronism, as much an avatar of the 70’s as a Moog synthesizer or Dan McKay’s Wide World of Sports jacket.  Its cannon-like Shaker hoodscoop and Stegosaurusian window louvers, thankfully, have zero to do with greenhouse gases or baby-seat safety.

One of my favorite sensations is punching from second to third, hearing the exhaust change octaves and feeling the thrust slam you back as the revs soar.  When you carve into a turn, it hugs the pavement like it loves it.

I’ve returned from day-long road trips so exhilarated that I can’t bring myself to return it to the garage, and so I’ll drive it around the block for a few more minutes just to ease the separation anxiety. Like Lou Reed sings of his motorcycle in “New Sensations”: “I Iove that GPZ so much, you know that I could kiss her.”

What does your girlfriend think about it?

She kindly indulges my affection for it.  It should be emphatically noted, however, that there are far better babe magnets out there.  Its uncompromising power, menacing demeanor, and race-history significance is mostly lost on the fairer sex.  For broader female appeal, may I suggest a luxury SUV or a nice cushy Beamer?

As an author you must sometimes experience writers block.  Is the open road a remedy for this?

It is a rare opportunity to live in the present, completely absorbed, senses on high. It is even better with Rush’s “Red Barchetta” cranking in the background.

Being a wine expert means a lot of “tastings.”  How much tasting can you do before you have to put away the keys to 400hp?

I put the keys far away before I even think about touching a drop of alcohol, even if it’s just one glass.

You’re newest book Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine has had great success thus far, was called “perfect” by the Wall Street Journal and one of the best culinary guides of 2010 by Apple iTunes.  Are you working on anything now?

I’m working on several projects and have a slew of exciting appearances coming up, including the Boston Wine Expo, the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, and the James Beard House.  Folks can get the latest at my website or by following me on Twitter and/or on Facebook.

What’s a better investment, art or wine?

I view neither as financial investments but as down payments on soul satisfaction. The luminaries I interviewed in Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine really underscore this point.  Everyone from Hilary Swank to Sammy Hagar to Antonio Banderas talk in the book about how wine feeds the creative spirit.

One important difference between art and wine is that being a consumable, the world’s supply of wine diminishes over time, whereas art persists, unless of course it is lost or destroyed.  While both feed the soul, the question nevertheless must be asked: does a painting also have the power to banish care?

Along with wine, your passion for art is growing.  Who are some artists you are interested in now?

I love Walton Ford, whose etchings of animals look like 19th-century Audubon renderings until on closer examination they reveal themselves to be anthropomorphic allegories of beauty and horror.

Musician Dave Stewart is actually the photographer of my Mick Jagger portrait, which bristles with bravado and panic.

That chair is by Boris Bally, a super-talented metal artist who refashions traffic signs into wall art and furniture.

The “How Will I Die?” piece is by a young, arch Los Angeles artist named Donny Miller.

The wine portraits are from a rare French wine book from the 1920’s.

Best bottle of wine you’ve ever had?

La Tache 1962, with my friends Burt and Deedee.  The bottle was so good that after we drank it, it rolled around in my car’s trunk, shattering the bottle’s neck.  It was as if it self-destructed because it was too good for this world.

You must want a beer every now and then?

An appreciation for beer and a love for wine are by no means mutually exclusive.  My new passion is an Italian beer called Baladin “Isaac,” which I was introduced to last week afterhours at Eataly with its founder Oscar Farinetti and a few friends.  It is a wheat beer with wonderful aromas of orange and citrus and a long, spicy finish.

Ok, if you had to compare your car to a wine, what would it be and why?  Please use your most descriptive wine analogies.

It is like the wine type Petite Sirah, as both buck with intensity and are Californian in origin. This video explains it all.

To conclude with a quote that integrates cars and art, I’ll leave it to the Italian Futurists, an influential group of early-twentieth-century artists who glorified speed, power, and technology.  They declared in their Manifesto of 1909: ”We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.”


Leave a Comment

4 responses so far ↓

  • Hey, great pony… but I really love that Alfa.
    Both very pretty. Salute.

  • Hey……..enjoyed the quick flash of Cougar. That was my first car; a 1967 Cougar XR7 snot green with black vinyl top and a Jaguar-like dashboard. Quite studly.
    Haven’t forgotten my plan to do a photo op on the Triumph TR3 but waiting for good weather to shoot it. Took it out yesterday for a ride to the local airport where I filled up with Aviation fuel……..she loves it! Say hey to the old man…Z

  • Great interview with a very cool guy.

  • I just got the same car.. #25.. An interesting read about a truly great car.