Saturday, September 29, 2012

Birdcage Maserati Video Walk-Around

This is a good video tour (although the image quality is so-so) of a car I've posted about before.  Adam Carolla plays the fool;  he knows vintage cars very well and races his own Datsun 510.

Gaston Andrey was the driver in this particular car's winning season.  He was a Swiss immigre (thus the color scheme and emblem on the car) who owned an imported car store in Framingham, MA.  He won the SCCA C-Modified championship.  Roger Penske won the class a year later using two cars:  another Birdcage and his Cooper Formula 1-based "Zerex Special."

Scale model of the Tipo 60/61 Maserati Birdcage frame.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jump On In, Version 2.0

Well, P.A. members, I'm out of interesting things to post about until something comes up.  (Some may say the 'interesting" point was passed a while ago!)  Possibly not until October 8, or later.  The blog is not going dark, but P.A. may go silent for a bit.

 So...if you've made an interesting run, or want to talk about a favorite bike or car, or your own Dragon experiences, or get just something off your gearhead chest, jump on in.  A blog partly devoted to the Dragon should have rider voices.  Members can easily be set up to post.  Just give me a shout in any Comments box.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dragon, Thy Name Is Notorious (And TPMS)

Took my Si to the Honda store to have the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) "re-initiated."  This is necessary even if your wheel/tire upgrade is the same size as the o.e.m. stuff.  In Honda's arrangement, the TPMS dash lite comes on (not the "low pressure" lite) and the software switches on the VSA (vehicle stability assist) permanently.  You cannot switch VSA off until you take the car to the Honda store and get the TPMS re-initiated.  And (did you see this coming?) a dealer is the only one who can do it.

As my car was being finished up, I saw one mechanic pointing toward its cowl and explaining my Dragon logo to another one.  With enthusiasm.  My pal Larry says that, if it comes up in gearhead conversation that you have been to the Dragon, you will get one of two, and only two, reactions: 1) "What's that?"  2) "Jeez...," with a wistful stare into the middle-distance.  Any curve freak who's heard of the Dragon wants to go.  Any curve freak who's been wants to go back.

Maybe mechanics in Knoxville, Maryville, and Robbinsville are blase about the Tail of the Dragon.  But get a few hundred miles away, and they point and talk.

A Dragon sticker doesn't say who slayed whom, but it says that you at least strapped on your armor.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tire Rack Customer Reviews

I read a couple of dozen customer reviews before making my purchase.  Was inclined to re-up (which I did), and was just grazing to see how my experience tallied with others', and what people had to say about a couple of possible alternatives.  The reviews were amusing--even hilarious--but not valuable in making a decision.  So of course I posted one of my own.  :-)

My review appears near another because they went up around the same time.  My tires had 30,000+ miles on them; his around 22,000.  I live in the upper Midwest; he lives outside San Francisco.  My self-reported driving style was "spirited."  His was "average."

I reported no issues with punctures, noise, or aquaplaning (other reviewers had).  He was bummed about wear and punctures.  I gave my o.e. tires an 8.50 average numerical score (out of a possible 10) in the "pick a number" multi-category rating section, and consider myself a hard grader.  His numerical score was 5.82.  You can find lots of 9+'s; it's hard to find a score lower than the low 5's.

San Francisco has more hills, and maybe more road hazards than my neighborhood.  But both cars are front-drivers from the same manufacturer.  He self-reports as a non-aggressive driver.  Could his tires really be worn 41% faster to a similar tread depth?  If they are, wouldn't he have an alignment issue?

This is just a snapshot of what I found again and again in the customer reviews.  Other things to ponder:  Who buys a performance-oriented car and expects to get 50-60,000 miles out of his high- performance tires?  Especially if he self-reports as a "spirited" driver?  How can the same tire be fine in monsoons for one driver but aquaplane "worst I've driven" for another?

The reviews are entertaining.  But the reader comes away asking "Are you guys talking about the same tire?"  You are much better off, in my opinion, comparing UTQG grades (even across manufacturers and between "summer only" and all-season, which Tire Rack cautions against), tread patterns, and weights, than in putting much stock in customer reviews.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

THAT'S What I'm Talkin' About!!! (Porsche RSR Video)

The engine note, I mean.  "Turbo?  Turbo!?!  We don't need no steenkin' turbo..."  

A flat six Typ 901 racing engine should have a sharp, raspy growl, like this one.  It's sad to hear blatty-sounding ones at club events.  Cooling fan whistle on over-run is standard at no extra cost.  ;-)  The exhaust system in the video is not original: I guess they have noise-abatement racing in Europe now, too.

The iconic RSR in the States was Brumos Porsche's, which won Daytona outright in 1973 with Peter Gregg/ Hurley Haywood. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Last of the Nice Oldies Pix (For Now)

Above and below: Lola T-540 Formula Ford, old enough to run in the Classic class.  Would you drive it into a corner at 110 m.p.h.?  I wouldn't.  But at age 20, I would have.  Happily.  This one is a a rent-a-racer; the owner books drivers easily because they know his standard of preparation.

Bugatti Type 37A replica at a vintage race. 1.5 liter four-cylinder supercharged. 

Above and below: no idea.  It's a LWB Ferrari--that's not the hard part.  The nose and windshield say "Daytona."  The side vents say "330 GT."  The rear says "big-bore 1950's," like a 340.  The notchback roofline says...what?  Did somebody roll a 330 GT 2+2 and have it redone to taste?  If it's a re-body, it's exquisite: check out the surface development, panel fit, and shut-lines.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Some More Nice Oldies Pix

More snapshots from vintage car races, car shows, and museums.

1956 Austin Healey 100.  The folding windshield on these cars charmed me back-in-the-day, and still does.  I was told this car has been in the same family since new.  Yes, it's restored, not a "survivor" or "preservation"classs car.

I've always had a "thing" for the Jag XK-150 convertible.  It was bigger, heavier, and slower than the XK-120 and XK-140, and thus never a factor in sports car racing.  By the mid-1950's, Jaguar was doing very well, thankyou, selling luxury sedans in the States.  And the Corvette and the Thunderbird were available.  So this model was always a bit of a step-child.  But the curved windshield and surface development of the body make this car look "more right" to me than the XK-120.  This one has the old California "yellow plate."  I hope it had some memorable times on Sunset Boulevard,  its natural habitat.

Cockpit of the 1939 and 1940 Indianapolis 500-wining Maserati 8CTF. 

Well... Pilote is a pushover for 1950's-1970's Alfa engines, especially if they have big Webers hanging off them.  This is the engine bay of a locally successful GTV club racer.

And he's especially a pushover if an Alfa has a bundle-of-snakes exhaust system that delivers that ripping-canvass sound.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Some Nice Oldies: A Lotus Pix Post

In no particular order, and for no particular reason, the next three posts are snapshots of cars that elevate my pulse.  These pix happen to be Lotuses, save one.

A Lotus Eleven, replica/clone of the 1955 Le Mans 1.5 liter class-winning car.

I call these guys "Team Teal."  They call themselves "Puppies Racing."  There are two other cars; one is a Mazda RX-3 sedan.  All are turned out in teal and silver,  numbered 101, 202, 303, and 404.  Foreground: a Lotus Eleven clone street car with wire wheels and windshield.  Background: a small-block Corvette Singray.

Cockpit of the Lotus Eleven clone: "All Mod Cons."  I'd drag this one to the Dragon.

The original Lotus Elite.  It was a fiberglass monocoque with a metal subframe for the engine and transmission in front and a steel hoop at the A-pillar.  This made it extremely light, and also prone to the suspension pulling out at the attachment points. 

All-aluminum, SOHC Coventry-Climax engine in the Elite above.  The stock engine was 1.1 liters, but some cars were built with 1.5 liter race-prepped engines, of which this might be one.  Either way, these are the biggest Weber carbs I've seen on an engine this small.  Do you need this much carburetion on a non-crossflow head?  Purdy, though... 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

That Other Ride (Ferrari 250 GT)

OK, no need for a spoiler alert, because it was a ride around the long road-test block (about 3 miles) in a commercial-residential neighborhood.  And it was a customer car that had just had an oil change and minor tune.  So it wasn't pushed hard in the 4 street corners and one sweeper.  We didn't see over 100, and most of the time were around 60-70.

The 250 GT Coupe could be thought of as Ferrari's first production car, in the sense that Enzo asked PininFarina to design and build over 335 identical steel bodies in series from 1958 through 1960.  By Ferrari standards of the time, that was a long run.  Another way to think of it is the "entry-level" Ferrari, at $12,000.  Using Pilote's customary 10:1 inflation rate (for sodas from a vending machine, postage stamps, and basic transportation cars), a 250 GT Coupe would cost about $120,000 today.  Not again until 1975-1985, with the 208/308/328 series of V-8 rear-engine cars, would a Ferrari model be made in these (and greater) numbers.

The PininFarina steel-bodied, long wheelbase, 250 GT Coupe.  The one Pilote rode in was white, but an owner previous to the current one had painted the top metalflake gold.  This was a notably unsuccessful attempt to customize Italian Minimalism.

Rear view:  this is the much rarer 250 GT California Spider, even prettier (with faired-in headlights), but the back is the same.

The Office, almost: this is the cockpit of a 1962 SWB (short wheelbase), more compact, but otherwise nearly identical.

The engine: 3.0 liter V-12, SOHC, six carb throats, 260 horsepower.  This one lacks  an air cleaner, which street 250 GTs had. 

The power was smoothly and effortlessly delivered.  Although a V-12 is "two sixes," it feels (and sounds) smoother than a V-8.  I don't remember Ferrari's famous V-12 wail through the muffled exhausts, just revs.  The car was quiet.  With a 4-speed box and a tall final drive, we were easily doing 90+ inside of 3/8's of a mile, shifting up into third.  Braking was fine; the 1960 model I rode in had discs.  It was (of course) stable through the 80 m.p.h. sweeper.

Not long after my ride, the owner exchanged the 250 GT for a brand new '63 Corvette split-window coupe (in Arrest Me Red).  I believe the 'Vette had the 300 h.p. / 327 cubic-inch carbureted engine, and it probably had factory air, unheard of in early 1960's imported cars, including Ferraris.  I didn't get a ride in the 'Vette.  I'd guess that, although its power-to-weight ratio was higher than the Ferrari's, the 'Vette was quicker off the line.  And as much or more fun around town, even on those narrow whitewall cross-ply tires.  Both were big by sports car standards.  The Ferrari was more a highway car: extremely long legged, with a higher top end.  Not that you could use its potential much on speed-limited roads.  It was a classy, civilized, easy-to-drive, high-speed GT; and didn't feel racecar-y at all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Zen And The Art Of Car Washing

Many years ago, I read a book called Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig.  It was about a cross-country motorcycle trip, but was really a long essay on mindfulness.

Back in the day, I worked on my own cars: changed the oil and filter, adjusted the ignition timing, set the points.  ("What's a points?" I hear a 30-something ask.)  This is not to claim master mechanic status: my biggest projects were changing out brake pads and installing new engine valves.  I never rebuilt an engine.

Decades passed.  Electronics now rule under the hood and dash.  I'm not sure I could get up and down from a creeper.  So my cars have gone to a trusted independent mechanic for almost 20 years.  If he can't handle it, they go to dealerships.  (I still do my own walk-around when the car is up on his lift).

In winter, my everyday car goes to a drive-through brushless car-wash.  It has an undercarriage spritzer that does an OK job of getting the road salt off.  But in the other three seasons, I hand-wash my cars.

It is a little exercise in mindfulness.  Doing a thorough hand-wash can be a Zen-like experience.  You focus on careful execution of the task.  Time slows.  Your brain de-clutters.  Here's a blemish.  Is it a bug splat that needs a second pass, or a stone chip you're stuck with?  Are there new scratches?  How should they be dealt with?  Rinse thoroughly.  Redo the panel if necessary.

Let the doors hang open to drain as you dry their shut-lines and backside surfaces.  Pop the hood and trunk: wipe down the interior seams and the engine compartment.  Open the sunroof and wipe down the frame.  Windex both sides of all windows.  Leather treatment for the seats.  Vacuum the interior and trunk.  Slow but sure and steady.  (It takes me about 2 hours to do a thorough hand-wash.)

Anyone who is "into'' hand-washing has a series of steps that works for him.  You don't have to consult a checklist because one step leads to the next.  It's like driving in a familiar neighborhood: the auto-pilot in your mind takes care of "getting there," while your attention is focused on details.  When you're finished, you've re-connected with your car and feel satisfied with a job well done.  Stand back and admire your handiwork; maybe take The Annual Picture.  Then a drive to knock the rust from the brake discs.  One-ness with your car.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Virginia International Raceway

Oh, Joy... (to watch, not so much to drive unless you are good).

Watched the ALMS race here on TV.  V.I.R. was dimly in my conciousness in the '60's, but I never saw a track map.  It didn't host any of the big SCCA pro events then or into the early '70's.  When it arose from the dead, so to speak, a few years ago, I thought "what a neat little track!"

Well, it's not little: 3.3 miles with lots of elevation change.  And, in a fast car,  fast.  Turns 1, the 7-12 ess complex, and 14-17A are as challenging as can be found in North America.  Racers complain that V.I.R. is narrow, with few places to pass.  But its technical difficulty makes it a charmer.  It's also lovely to watch at, on TV or (I'm sure) in person.  Lots of green grass and those afore-mentioned elevation changes.  It deserves to be a regular venue for top-rank road racing, along with Laguna Seca, Mid-Ohio, Mosport, Road America, Road Atlanta, and Sonoma.

Off topic: the current C.E.O. of ALMS says that the merger with Grand-Am won't mess with the rules governing the GT class.  "It's a fan favorite, and a no-brainer: why mess with something that ain't broken?"  We shall see.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Baby Got New Shoes

The O.Z. wheel tags (taken out to 4 decimal places!) average 15.088, so Tire Rack's 15 lbs. per wheel was spot-on.  The lightest wheel weighs 14.848 lbs.; the other three are 15.167 lbs.   This is according to Sergio, who's employee number is 74.  I like that: reminds me of when each Porsche engine had its assembler's initials stamped on the crankcase.  That's a 2.2% (5 ounce) difference, for those of you keeping score at home, with 3 of the 4 wheels identical.  (No, I have no idea why the O.Z. website claims 13.9 lbs. per wheel.  But, as previously mentioned, I couldn't find a lighter 17 X 7 wheel.)

Dealing with Tire Rack was painless.  What I wanted was in stock, the tires were mounted and balanced before shipment, arrived overnight in damage-resistent packaging, with no missing ancillary parts (like lug nuts and centering rings).  You can probably buy cheaper, but you can't buy more hassle-free.  And Tire Rack has a broad enough inventory that you can get relatively candid advice from their phone sales people.

I asked my salesman what kind of tire pressures their people run on their own street cars.  He said "4 to 7 pounds higher than the car manufacturer's recommendation on the door jam.  But if you do, your wear may increase."  The tires were delivered inflated to 40 lbs.  I took them down to 37 front, 33 rear for baseline experimentation.  This compares with the 35/33 I was running before, and Honda's recommended 33/33.  So far, cruising around town, the ride seems more supple over joint strips and manhole covers.  The car has not been driven aggressively yet.

The O.Z.'s will be easy to clean.  No sharp ridges or corners.  Thanks to friends & relations who weighed in on the color choice between Anthracite and Black.  The vote was 2 to 1, with 2 abstentions, including me.  So when the sales rep. asked "What color," I said ""  Hadn't changed my mind by the time we rang off.  I think I prefer it.  Although the wheels are painted, they  look like aluminum, which is what they're made of.  That satisfies my taste for authenticity and minimalism.

Before: as delivered.

After: O.Z. Alleggerita HLT alloys, same size as the o.e.m. wheels.  The offset is unchanged, so hub bearing life should not be a problem.  Easy to see why they're 6-7 lbs. lighter: lots less metal.

 Ego self-stroke shot: closeup with my Dragon sticker in the frame.  The rust on the discs and hubs complements the body color.    ;-)    It would be pleasant but wrong to say that I thought ahead about open-spoke wheels when choosing the body color.  It's a daily driver, so what I see is what I get. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

2011 Goodwood Revival GT Race

For those of us of ...ahem... a certain vintage, this is about as good as it gets.  Goodwood even supplied rain!  The #25 Cobra Daytona coupe was perfectly geared for St. Mary's, and waxed the field.
Yes, please, I'll take the Ferrari 250GT SWB for weekdays and the 250 GTO for weekends.  ;-)

The video was shot looking toward St. Mary's, then panning into and through Levant Corner.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Baby Needs New Shoes

The o.e.m. Michelin Pilot HX MXM 4's on my Honda Civic Si will have maybe 35,000 miles on them by the time the wear-indicators are flush with the tread (31,000 now).  Many people consider this unsatisfactory, and I certainly would for a general purpose all-season radial.  But the they are grippy and I drive the car hard.  It has done track tours and the Tail of the Dragon twice.

So it's about time to replace the Michelins.  The Tire Rack website was helpful and easy to use for research.  I couldn't find a grippier tire without going to "summer only."  That's a non-starter because the car is a daily driver.  Both rear rims leak air at a rate of about 5 lbs. over 2 weeks (sometimes one, sometimes the other!).  And another Dragon run is coming up.  So the leak problem is a good excuse to upgrade the rims.

The O.Z. Alleggerita HLT wheel weighs 15 lbs. according to Tire Rack (O.Z. says it weighs 13.8 lbs.).   This is a significant improvement over other rims that typically weigh 18-22 lbs.  The O.Z.'s are pressure-cast and shot-peened, which should make them stronger than gravity-cast rims (and, I hope, less leaky).  Forged rims seemed too expensive: more than twice as much as the O.Z.'s, which themselves cost up to twice as much as some "name brand" gravity-cast rims.

I considered a 40 aspect ratio tire on an 18 X 7.5 rim.  This would have been a no-brainer back in the day when I upgraded from 13 X 5.5 to 15 X 6, going from a 70-series aspect ratio to 50.  But it's not so obvious when gaining only 10% in aspect ratio and at the same time adding weight.  It doesn't help with the goal of reducing rotational inertia.  A weight savings of 6 or 7 lbs. per corner is insignificant on a 3000 lb. car.  But reducing the rotating mass (and thus inertia) by 25% seems like a worthwhile gain.
Finally, I have learned over the years that o.e.m. suspensions are engineered for a narrow range of unsprung weight.  Increase unsprung weight at your peril if you want to keep the tires' contact patches in maximum contact with the road.  Reduce unsprung weight and you increase the suspension's stiffness a bit.

So my baby's new shoes will be the o.e.m. tires on lighter wheels.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Porsche Spyder 550-141 As Pilote Knew It

A blog reader suggested this post indirectly.  He wanted to know about "great rides Pilote has had."  Only two in iconic cars: this Spyder and a Ferrari 250 GT.  Both were short, and I can't say anything about what they were like to drive.  So there's not much to say but "wow!"

But I can elaborate on the Spyder a bit.  In 1963, my summer job was "gofer" for an imported car store that sold Alfa Romeo, British Motor Corporation, and Porsche.  The owner was already an SCCA National Champion in Alfas: in G Production with a Giulietta (1959) and in D Production in a Giulietta Veloce (1961).  He would go on to win two more in an Alfa Romeo GTZ in 1964-65.  Which brings me to his Porsche Spyder, chassis 550-141.

He was running a partial season in his Veloce in 1962 when he heard in the paddock at the Dunkirk, NY SCCA Regional that a Spyder was for sale.  This car had had a typical Spyder history, which is worth recounting here to give a feel for those days.  550-141 was first sold to Porsche Salzburg in March, 1958.  Salzburg was Ferry Porsche's sister's dealership in Austria.  They  raced it for a year, with Ernst Vogel driving, principally in the Austrian Hill Climb Championship, which he won.  He also made a flying kilometer speed record attempt on an Autobahn, averaging 136 m.p.h.

Ernst Vogel (suit & tie) with 550-141 at the Gaisburg, Austria, hillclimb, August 15, 1958.  Spyders were the weapon of choice for hillclimbs in those days, whether factory or customer-entered.  There are five in this picture.

Porsche Salzburg traded 141 for an RSK Spyder that winter.  The factory reconditioned the car and sold it to Harry Blanchard of the U.S.A., an already successful Porsche pusher.  He raced it for a year.  Blanchard was killed in a racing accident in Buenos Aires in January, 1960.  His estate sold 141 to Millard Ripley, another Porsche racer.  Ripley broke a half-shaft at Dunkirk in 1962, and apparently had lost patience with the car.  Thus its "short sale" (so to speak) to my then-employer.

My employer didn't have much luck with the car--especially compared to his prior and later success in Alfas.  The car was fast, but not as fast as the newest RS-60/61 Spyders.  At Road America, in the June Sprints, the engine blew.  "It had a roller crank, which just stopped rolling."  He ordered a new 1.7 liter engine from Stuttgart, which is where my personal connection begins.  (To tie a ribbon around 550-141's 1963 season, it came 4th overall in the SCCA's USRRC race at Mid-Ohio in September, and was sold in the spring of 1964.  Alfa Romeo had offered my then-employer a friendly price on a GTZ after he co-drove to a class win at Sebring in a factory GTZ.)

550-141 as Pilote knew it in the summer of 1963.  It had a 1.7 liter engine , Dunlop R-7 "Green Spot" (rain) tires,  lovely light blue metallic paint, and plexiglas blisters over the Weber intakes.  Spyders were so light that you could run rain tires in the dry for sprint races.  This picture was taken at the June Sprints, in Thunder Valley, where the engine self-destructed a few laps later. 

After his Road America ka-BLAM-o (apologies to David Hobbs), my employer ordered a new "short engine" from Porsche.  A short engine was complete and ready to run, except that it lacked ancillaries like carbs, exhaust system, and cooling fan.  These he moved over from the engine blown at Road America.  Then he let me "help" him test-run it before he installed it in the car.  It was the latest development of the Typ 547, the Typ 692/0, with square cam covers (as opposed to peanut-shaped).  He bolted it to an engine stand, bolted the "stinger" exhaust to the heads, and pointed it out the open door of the garage.  He then dropped the oil discharge and intake hoses that connected the engine to the dry-sump tank into a Rubbermaid pan on the floor, filled with fresh Castrol R.  He then touched the alligator clips from a 12-volt battery to the starter solenoid. "Whump!"  The engine settled into a clattering, whirring, 1000 r.p.m. idle.  Then the warm-up: he ran the engine up to 3000-4000 r.p.m. a few times, and then began blipping it to 5000+.  It was night-time, so each time he closed the throttles on the big Weber carbs, the engine backfired through the stinger exhaust with a pop!-pop!-pop!, sending spears of blue-and-yellow flame into the night air.  It was in these 5 minutes or so that I became a Porschephile.

The Typ 547 roller-crank engine (with the peanut-shaped cam covers), as installed in an early 550 Spyder.   This torquey engine helped the 550 dominate the 1.5 liter racing class for years.  Its main "issue" was the 4 cams driven by shafts and bevel gears from a layshaft in the crankcase.  Valve timing was critical and hard to set, and could and should be set individually for each valve.  Not a problem for factory-assembled engines, but a tear-down/rebuild had to be done by a 547-trained mechanic or carefully and patiently by a knowledgable owner.  The very existence of this engine is a"for want of a nail..." story: the original Porsche 356 crankcase was not big enough for 1.5 liters unless a built-up roller crank was used to clear the walls.  Later, Porsche cast revised cases and could take the engine up to 2.0 liters with shell bearings. 

To wrap up my 550-141 stories:

My former employer tells about when Interstate 90 was about to be opened.  One evening, he took 141 to the U.S. 91 interchange and drove it balls-out to the OH 306 interchange (about 4 miles).  I have no idea if he achieved 136 m.p.h. going uphill.  But "the guys at the dealership (about a mile away) could hear me."  When I hear a sportbike cranking it in the distance on a summer evening, I sometimes think of 141.

He once picked me up at my parents' house on another summer evening and drove me back to the dealership.  Over bumpy country roads.  Try that in your modern 1.5 liter racing sports car with a front splitter.  He was busted for "whatever we can find" by the local cop on the return run.  The officer hadn't seen 141 coming up the steep hill on the way to my place, but he sure heard it cresting the top at 4000 r.p.m. on the way to the rev limit.  The engine was blipped as the cop looked for citation potential.  After 2-3 minutes, my employer said "I haven't got time for this now, follow me to the dealership if you want to ticket me."  I have always wanted to have this kind of chutzpah in a traffic bust--and never have.

Then it was time to shake down the car before the September 1963 race at Mid-Ohio.  My employer, his service manager, his office manager, and I piled into his 1958 Pontiac Bonneville tow car and took the Spyder down to Nelsons Ledges.  He did a few laps to satisfy himself that everything was working properly and that nothing leaked.  Then we each got 2-3 glorious laps as passengers.

Nelsons Ledges, 2.0 miles around.  Leaving the pits (top), you are easily doing 90 m.p.h. into Turn 1 (top right) in a 550 Spyder.  As mentioned in an earlier post, I grabbed a frame rail as 550-141 cut in toward the apex, and held on tight for the rest of my ride.  My employer drove at 8/10's in the corners and less than that on the straights.  If you are only used to street cars, you have no idea how much lateral grip old race cars can maintain in turns like the "double carousel" at Nelsons Ledges.

As I've posted previously, all props to 550-141's current owner for a painstaking 25-year restoration.  He could have given up.  He could have cut corners.  He didn't.  550-141 has a period-correct "new" rebuilt Typ 547 engine, assembled from the best parts that came in the boxes, done by the acknowledged expert on this side of the Atlantic.

550-141 was, at best, a basket-case when acquired by its current owner in 1984.  To appreciate what you are looking at,  consider that the rebuild time on a Typ 547 engine is 120 hours at "expert" shop rates.  Or that the entire body had to be reconstructed (although the original deck lid still existed).  On a budget, over 27 years.  The owner did some of the work himself.  Some people make fun of Porsche fanatics.  I don't.  This car was brought back from the dead at a point where it was at risk for becoming a parts car for other Spyders .  So when contemplating the distinctions between restored/re-created/cloned/tributed, we need not elevate our blood pressure.  It is enough that 550-141 arose from ashes.

I cannot close this post without a bow to the owner of 550-141 when I knew it.  He is among the most expert Porsche pushers in the world.  As he tells it, he was captivated by a picture of the Typ 356 as a student at M.I.T. around 1950.  He's still carrying the flame.  He has seen 186 m.p.h. in his 917, and drove it fast as recently as 2007, before acquiescing to his spouse's wish that he retire from demo runs.  Back in the day, he was known as "Mr. Alfa Romeo."  That is an automotive life well and fully lived.

The former owner of 550-141, hauling the mail at age 77, in his Porsche 917.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dragon Silliness (Of The Verbal Kind)--Again...

On his Facebook account this week, Killboy posted a DGMR picture of a big rig being turned around by the THP near the Resort.  (It was also posted on the DGMR Facebook account.)  It's good news that the THP and NCHP are enforcing "no big rigs on the Dragon" more aggressively.

You would think this news would cause a flurry of "Likes" (it did) and a few positive comments (it did), and that would be the end of it.  Instead there is a thread 58 comments long (so far) that is sometimes funny but mostly silly.  Truckers claim they don't get no respect from an America that would shut down without them.  They point out that (Dragon aside) other drivers don't realize how much room a big rig needs, and routinely cut them off.  Or hide in their blind spot.  (True: you see it all the time.)  One or two truckers even claimed they could drive the Dragon safely.  And there were rants against sportbikes, and how they are even more dangerous than big rigs on the Dragon.  One commenter said "now that the big rigs are taken care of, let's sick l.e.o.'s on the sportbikers."

Pilote is long accustomed to gear nazis weighing in on Killboy's pictures, and the flurry of counter-comments, and then the flurry of debate on ATGATT.  Or whether or not a lap dog should be on a bike, and if doggles make it OK, or just cute.  And how doggles demonstrate the responsibility of the riding pet owner.  Then some peacemaker weighs in and says "to each his own."  (Of course you wear gear--especially when riding hard.  Of course you don't take your lap dog on your cruiser.)  These debates are boring, but they're over quickly, like thunderstorms.  They also pop up often, like thunderstorms.  So they don't annoy me like rants against sportbikes do.

The most interesting questions raised by Killboy's Highlights never get answered.  I am waiting for a Highlights subject to weigh in on them:
1) Why would anyone ride a chopper on the Dragon?
2) Why would anyone buy a Spyder?  Why not a cruiser or a convertible?
3) Why would anyone ride a trike?

Until then, do we really need a thread 58 comments long about how truckers don't get no respect and how sportbikers ride with attitude?  And should be thrown off the Dragon so cruiser riders don't have to put up with them?  Frankly, I'm tired of cruiser riders clogging up my river runs.  And 10-speed riders.  Maybe I should post a rant about it.

When Killboy started posting his 12-minute videos, he said one would be devoted to what we're supposed to learn in elementary school: how to work and play well with others.  I said here then that I hadn't seen evidence of poor social skills on the Dragon (and I haven't).  But you can find it in the Highlights comment threads.  And this one wasn't even a Killboy pic!  It was just a snapshot of a big rig being turned around, something we all could be grateful for.  You would think.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The I & M Canal Lock At Aux Sable Creek

One of my favorite places to pause on my river runs is the Aux Sable Creek lock on the I&M Canal.  It's a quiet and peaceful setting.  (Aux Sable is "with sand" in English.  Think "Sandy Creek.")  You may encounter a few other visitors, or somebody fishing, but usually you have the place to yourself.

Before there was the Illinois Waterway, there was the Illinois & Michigan Canal.  It ran from Chicago to La Salle, where it joined the Illinois River, which was navigable below there.  Along with the Erie Canal, the I&M permitted water shipment of goods from New York to New Orleans, or vice-versa.  Some historians credit it with being "the beginning of the beginning" of Chicago as a major city.

Partly due to the Panic of 1837 (which collapsed financing), the I&M required 12 years to complete.  It wasn't finished until 1848, just in time to be made obsolete by railroads.  Passenger service on the I&M ceased in 1853 when the Rock Island Railroad was completed between Chicago and the Mississippi.  The I&M continued in use for bulk cargo like grain and lumber even after the much wider and deeper Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal, and its companion Illinois Waterway, were completed in 1900.  The I&M wasn't formally closed until 1933, long after maintenance had ceased and silt had blocked parts of it.

It was a massive project for the 1830's: 17 locks and 4 aqueducts, dug by unskilled hand labor in unhealthy conditions.  Many Irish immigrants, who later became so dominant in Chicago politics, died  from cholera and malaria.  I am proud to say, as an adopted Illinoisian, that we sent the first of  several Governors to jail over I&M Canal issues.  His name was Joel Matteson; his crime was bond fraud.  Insider trading is not a recent invention.  

Restoration of segments of the I&M Canal began in the 1970's.  The old mule tow-path was turned into a gravel bicycle path.  Some old structures, like mule barns and lockmasters' homes, were still around, and they were restored too.  The full corridor and bike path now runs for 62 miles between Joliet and La Salle.

Aux Sable Lock, viewed from downstream.  The narrow structure at left is a sluice gate, which adjusts water level in the main lock.

The aqueduct over Aux Sable Creek, viewed from the lock.  Mule tow-path on the right.  The dimensions of the I&M were 60 ft. wide at water level, 30 ft. wide at bottom, and 6 ft. deep.  The locks and aqueducts were narrower.  Canal boats were 15 ft. wide
by 100 ft. long.  Mules or steam engines moved them at a walking pace.

Aux Sable Creek as it goes under the aqueduct.  The creek flows from north to south.  The I&M Canal runs east and west, parallel and close to the Illinois River.  The aqueduct was upgraded to steel and concrete construction in a recent renovation.

The Lock Master's house.  This was an early form of political patronage.  The lock master was responsible for operating the lock and collecting tolls.  In exchange, he got free housing and a cut of the take.  So he was a well-regarded or well-connected member of the local community, and a laid-back kind of guy.   Usually all three.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Photographic Ode To The Porsche 550 Spyder

Not that it needs one from Pilote.  It's been a legendary car for over 55 years.  But I was lucky enough to get a ride in one, and it made an indelible impression on me.

The first 550's were coupes with 1.1 liter production-based pushrod engines, intended to win their class at Le Mans.  Although the earliest cars were considerably revised, the Typ 550 number was retained.  The rear torsion bars were moved from behind the wheels to ahead of them and the headlights were faired into a tighter, more streamlined nose.

Then came the factory Spyders with the complicated and powerful Typ 547 1.5 liter 4-cam engine.  It made the 550 Spyder into a consistent class winner and sometime "giant killer" as the car was further refined throughout the 1950's.

Porsche 550-046 is claimed to be the most original Spyder in existence and sold for $3.625 million at the Amelia Island Concours in March of 2012.  Porsche had put the Spyder into "production:" a class-winning, turn-key, race car only one step behind the factory machines in development.  The 550-A update went into series production also.  Porsche pretty-much owned the 1.5 liter sports racing class from the mid-1950's into the early 1960's.

Rear view of 550-046, just because Pilote loves it so much.  Early Spyders had "banjo" steering wheels to reduce kick-back into the driver's hands.  Most of them had what he is pleased to call "proper" aluminum 3-spoke wheels with wood rims.

You could order a 550 in road-going specification, complete with windshield, top, hubcaps, and "Spyder" trim script on the front fender (no heater, defroster, or radio...).  This one doesn't have the full-width windshield (borrowed from the 356 Speedster).  You also got the 4-cam engine detuned for street use, putting out 110 h.p.  The car weighs about 1400 lbs. full of fuel.  Note the negative camber on the rear wheels: 550's had swing-axle rear suspension; the camber  dialed out some oversteer. 

550-141 (A-series), in which Pilote got a few laps around Nelsons Ledges Road Course in 1963.  The Dunlop R-7 racing tires were about the same width as a modern hot hatch's.  The driver told me "hang onto a frame tube."  I thought, "Yeah, right--I've driven street sports cars hard."  In the middle of the first, fast, right-hander, I grabbed a frame tube with both hands and held on tight for the rest of the ride.  The lateral grip was amazing.  After it left the then-owner's hands, this car went through some hard times.  It was purchased as a basket-case with an incomplete body in San Francisco in 1984.  A 25-year restoration was completed last year, including a rebuilt Typ 547 engine.  Good on you, Mr. Dedicated Current Owner.  

1958 brought enough changes that the car became a Typ 718 "RSK" Spyder.  The most significant change was fully-articulated, fully-independent rear suspension.  And the car continued to pile up class victories and to beat many a "big dog" for high top-10 finishes on both sides of the Atlantic.

Le Mans 1960: if the FIA hands you lemons, make lemonade.  Porsche faired the newly-mandated "real windshield" into Lotus-like side plexiglass and an elevated tail with an abrupt "chop" per Kamm aerodynamic theory: the streamlined Spyder. 

The RSK evolved into the RS-60 (#42, the 1960 Sebring winner) and RS-61 (almost identical) for the 1960 and 1961 seasons.  When it was stretched to take the Typ 771 8-cylinder Grand Prix engine, detuned for sports car racing, the car became the Typ 788 (foreground).  This was the last Porsche with a connection to the 550.  Ten years: not a bad run for a basic design for a racing sports car.  Porsche's next racing sports car was the Typ 904, for the GT class.  After that, the run of Ferdinand Piech designs began: the 906, 907, 908, and 917.  The silver GT car in the background of this picture is a 356 Abarth Carrera (an aluminum body on the 356 floor pan with a Typ 547 engine for GT racing).  Number 266 is the 1969 Targa Florio-winning 908/2.   

Friday, September 7, 2012

Good Times (The Von Hanstein Legacy)

1969 Targa Florio: when racing was insanely dangerous, but less intense, and more fun.  This picture was taken before the race, probably at the end of practice.  Maybe the team attitude had something to do with Porsche 908/2's finishing 1-2-3-4 in the race?  Have you seen a team having this much fun in the modern era?  (Yes, qualifying at the sharp end of the field doubtless had something to do with it too.)

Huschke Von Hanstein had been the Porsche team manager from 1951 to 1967.  A Prussian dispossessed of his lands by the East German Communist government after World War Two, he was an expert at making lemonade from lemons.  He was famously diplomatic, relaxed, and friendly, capable of charming even the Le Mans organizers.  He enjoyed shooting home movies in the pits.  His way of going racing permeated Porsche for 20 years, even after his retirement.  There are some big egos in the picture below, but they seem to be enjoying themselves as a team.

Left to right:

Umberto Maglioli: two-time Targa Florio winner for Porsche, with Von Hanstein in 1956 and Elford in 1968.
Richard "Dickie" Attwood: most successful in big-bore sports cars, he won LeMans for Porsche in 1970.
Brian Redman: won at Spa-Francorchamps four times; three-time F-5000 champion in the States.
Ferry Porsche: usually attended only Le Mans; here for some spring sunshine in Sicily?
Hans Herrmann: a career almost as long as Maglioli's; Attwood's co-driver  at LeMans, after which he retired.
Udo Schutz: co-drove #266 to victory in this race with Mitter.  Retired when Mitter was killed later in 1969. 
Unknown, journalist? (red pants)
Rolf Stommelen: won in Porsches in the 1960's and 1970's; killed at Riverside in a Porsche 935 in 1983.
Vic Elford: won in just about everything Porsche built from 1967 to 1971, including 911 rally victories.
Rudi Linz: the only driver in this picture without a Wikipedia page.
Gerard Larrousse: another former rally driver, fast in a 917, ran his own Formula 1 team in the 1980's.
Unknown, journalist? (far right on pit wall)
Gerhard Mitter (in car): 3-time hillclimb champion for Porsche, killed at Nurburgring two months later.

Von Hanstein's picture on the cover of his biography.  He had some minor success as a sports car driver before World War Two.  His only major postwar race was the 1956 Targa Florio, with Umberto Maglioli, in a Porsche 550 Spyder.  He entered it as a kind of vacation.  But Maglioli was an open-road race specialist and Spyders always did well on the tight Targa circuit.  So their chances were good--and they won.  Von Hanstein promoted Porsche tirelessly.  And the racing team worked as hard under him as it did later.  The difference was that he knew how to leaven tension and exhaustion with humor.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Track Tour Of New Spa In A Cobra Replica

This video runs 18 minutes (4 laps).  Following the 458 Italia on the last lap is especially fun.  The camera car is a Superformance, I think.  The speed range, from 160 k.p.h. to 220 k.p.h., is from about 100 m.p.h. to 136 m.p.h.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

That'll Do (Ferrari 315 S)

Two distributors, 3.8 liters 4 cams, 12 cyclinders, 12 carb throats, 24 plugs, 350+ horses.  Ferrari's big 4-cam V-12 sports cars (from 3.8 to 4.5 liters) had massive power but poor handling.  They disappeared after 1957, partly because of Alfonso de Portago's crash in the Mille Miglia, which killed 13 people including him and his co-driver.  For 1958, the FIA limited racing sports cars to 3 liters.  This change launched the careers of the most memorable front-engined sports racing cars like the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, the Aston Martin DBR-1, and the Maserati Tipo 61 "Birdcage." 

In 1957, Piero Taruffi won the last Mille Miglia in this Ferrari 315 S and retired from racing.  Two years later his daughter Prisca was born.  She has had a career in motor sports and journalism in Italy.  Taruffi's Mille 315 S is owned by John McCaw, the U.S. cell phone billionaire.  On the 50th anniversary of Taruffi's win, he invited Prisca to drive it in the modern Mille rally.

Prisca Taruffi with her father's helmet and goggles.

"I have found the silicone spray, Giuseppe, but where is the guest driver?"

Two months after the Mille, Enzo Ferrari shipped Taruffi's car to his Man In America, Luigi Chinetti, who entered it in the Road America 500 at Elkhart Lake.  Phil Hill drove the race solo, and led from flag to flag.  This drive launched his international career by getting him a Ferrari factory drive for 1958.

Piero Taruffi with Prisca's mother, probably after a Mille Miglia, but not his 1957 overall win.  He was one of those  drivers who's career was shortened by World War Two (another was the acknowledged pre-war "master," Tazio Nuvolari).  By 1952, when Taruffi won the British Grand Prix, his hair was white.  He was also the type of  driver who liked to see how the race developed before making his move.  Thus his nickname, "The Silver Fox."