Meet the Dark Knight—a Brooding, Souped-up Tesla Model S - Kanebridge News
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Meet the Dark Knight—a Brooding, Souped-up Tesla Model S

By Jim Motavalli
Wed, Sep 27, 2023 8:42amGrey Clock 3 min

The US$104,990 three-motor 2023 Tesla Model S Plaid Edition is among the fastest cars in the world, able to reach 60 miles per hour in just two seconds. It puts out 1,020 horsepower and 1,050 pound-feet of torque.

The Plaid is so quick it leaves its drivers gasping for breath, but can the car be improved? Unplugged Performance, a tuning shop in Hawthorne, Calif., that launched in 2013, thinks it can. So was born the Dark Knight, a tweaked Model S-APEX Plaid that has been extensively reworked to better hug the pavement. It sells for approximately US$230,000, including the donor car. But the many options could make it costlier.

The powertrain stays the same, but the car gets a 19-piece carbon fibre wide body kit that allows it to wear big 21-inch, lightweight forged wheels. Airflow is improved with “bargeboard” bodywork in front of the front wheels, a technique adapted from Formula One. Also directing air is the company’s Autobahn front carbon-fibre diffuser. The car meets the world with a sinister satin-black finish, featuring more exposed carbon fibre.

The car’s centre of gravity is lowered via a kit, and there’s a three-way adjustable rear sway bar and a rear-mounted GT strut tower brace. Also part of the suspension build are a series of billet-aluminium adjustable control arms that cut weight, increase strength, and allow some fine adjustments. For those choosing optimum track performance, there are full-race coilover suspension choices available. The Dark Knight needs to stop, so there are carbon ceramic brakes all around, cooled via a ducting system.

The interior was designed in collaboration with von Holzhausen, a company created by Vicki von Holzhausen (married to Tesla chief designer Franz von Holzhausen) that specialises in vegan leather products, including handbags. The tough-wearing interior fabric is in Serrano red and made from bamboo.

The Dark Knight interior uses vegan leather from von Holzhausen.
Unplugged Performance

Unplugged also makes over the other Teslas, including the S, 3, X, Y, and will also tweak the forthcoming Cybertruck. Brendan Sangerman, who directs marketing at Unplugged, says the Dark Knight is “the ultimate daily driver sports sedan.” Asked why the electric motors are left alone, he says, “You wouldn’t want it to be any faster than it is. Instead, we match the performance of the suspension and braking to the level of performance that the car already has.”

Sangerman emphasises that the Dark Knight is a bespoke product, and that the customer has a wide choice in the interior colours and fabrics. “We want customers to be very hands-on in the process,” he said. “If you tell us you like the interior shade in a specific Rolls-Royce, we can match it. Our parts catalog is pretty extensive.”

Unplugged is located close to the Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne. Its first Model S build was shown at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas in 2014, and the company exhibited at the Tokyo Auto Salon in 2016. Unplugged began putting its vehicles to the test on race tracks, and it set some EV records. It also won the exhibition class at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 2021.

There will always be a market for performance tuners, and Unplugged has found a niche market in making some of the world’s most exciting EVs be just that little bit more intoxicating.


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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”