Friday, November 30, 2012

Off Topic: Fire The Ad Agency

Buick is running holiday ads for the "35 m.p.g. highway LaCrosse."  They show people delighted with their Christmas presents of Segue scooters or Smart cars, with bows on them.  Then a LaCrosse cruises by at 20 m.p.h.  They realize that they cudda hadda Buick.  Sadness and self-reproach descend upon them.

These ads made me think of how much more fun a Segue or a Smart would be than a Buick.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Stellar Season

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Brazilian GP, November 25, 2012

Great season, Fernando.  You did what you could with a second-rate (or even third-rate) car.  You got more out of it than anyone else could have.  You made no mistakes while your principal rivals made several.  You consistently finished higher than would be expected from your grid positions, and without any help from your teammate until late in the season.  You kept your cool, and gave Vettel and Hamilton as much as they could handle.  Sometimes second is first, and 2012 was one of those times.  You're my World Champion.  Honorable mention to Jenson Button, for his usual flashes of brilliance.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanksgiving Road Warrior

At Thanksgiving, half of Chicagoland visits Minneapolis-St. Paul and half of the latter visits the former.  So I forgot spirited Interstate motoring on the way up and saved it for the midweek return trip.  A new wrinkle on the near-north side of downtown Minneapolis this year was bicycle lanes on major arterial streets.

1) The two traffic lanes on the arterial road are narrower, sometimes clogging traffic.
2) It is now illegal to make a right on red from entering side streets, which also clogs traffic and wastes time.
3) You'd better not make a right turn off the arterial onto a side street without craning your neck, because the biker riding straight through the intersection will take the right-of-way, even though, technically, it's not his.
4) Take-out pizza is now delivered on bicycles, with pin-point headlights and no tail lights, on dimly-lit side streets; I wonder how warm it is at this time of year?
5) Apparently some bicyclists ride drunk because "you won't hit it as hard as you would in a car."  And see above, inadequate headlights and no tail lights.

As an added bonus, Pilote was reminded, as he made a mid-block left turn into a commercial driveway, that pedestrians don't stop for you.  Trying to beat oncoming rush-hour traffic by timing your move?  That's your problem, buddy.  I'm afoot, and I look neither right nor left, nor do I slack my pace, because I have the right-of-way.

As previously posted, I love the walkability of small European cities.  But they were built to be walkable, 1000 years ago or more.  You park your car in the center of town and proceed on foot for the rest of your time there.  Bicycles use the regular traffic lanes (which are tight and congested anyway).
Within minutes of arriving in Minneapolis, I missed downtown Chicago sorely, where bike messengers and pedestrians crossing against the light (not to mention jaywalking) take their lives in their hands.  Roads are for cars.

*     *     *

Somewhat behind schedule, I was reminded of why I didn't care much for Minneapolis in the years I lived there.  In 12 hours, the ambient temperature dropped from 55 degrees to 19, with a 10-knot wind gusting to 20.  We got a dusting of snow too, which was still there 6 days later because the ambient never got above the low 20's.  In Chicagoland, the snow doesn't stick until Christmas time, and we usually get a January thaw.  I began this paragraph with "somewhat behind schedule" because Minneapolis usually gets a big, wet, dump in early November.  

Spring doesn't come until May.  Trees turn green before then, and flowering stuff flowers.  But it doesn't get warm.  By July, the heat is awful.  There are no Great Lakes to perform a heat sink function; it just gets hot.  Until September.  May and September are lovely.  To be fair, I know people who have lived happily in Minneapolis-St. Paul their entire lives.  They love it.  They can't imagine leaving such a livable metropolitan area.  And I'll say this much for it: the automatic car washes stay open in winter, and they work.  (Yes, your doors freeze shut.)  In Chicagoland, go find a car wash that doesn't ice up, with an Out Of Order sign at the entrance, when it gets a few degrees below 32 F for a couple of days in a row.  It was 15 degrees when I ran the Civic through the automatic car wash in Minneapolis.

*     *     *

I've raved about how much I love my Si before, and will now do so again.  The TPMS dash lite finally came on for the new O.Z. Allegerrita wheel/tire package, but it took the aforementioned 36 degree overnight drop in ambient to do it.  It was way too cold to fiddle with a pressure gauge, so I just gave each corner a 4-second shot of air.  The light went out.  Now that I'm back in the land of reasonable daytime temperatures, I'll take a gauge to them.

On the run home, the roads were dry and the weather was clear.  You can buy more power than a Gen 6 Honda Civic Si has, but you can't use it without paying large fines.  I averaged 67 m.p.h. over 450 miles, including two quick gas/comfort stops, one of which included adding washer fluid and air to the tires.  And taking the "scenic route" down the Mississippi River with stoplights in towns.  The car is always right there with me: shifting up or down, braking, cornering.  And I can maintain very high average speeds.  Plenty of room in the trunk and four doors for adults, child car-seats, school backpacks, &c. &c. &c.  (It is amazing how much stuff a first-grader carts to and from school for gym class and a soccer program, along with a modicum of homework.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Eating Crow (2012 U.S. GP)

Well... Circuit of the Americas will certainly do, and I withdraw my "cookie cutter" post of a few days back.  The "uphill" into Turn 1 is very challenging, a sucker bend.  The decreasing-radius esses provide a like challenge.  (They remind me of Virginia International Raceway except way faster.)   The long straight puts a premium on top speed.  This circuit is hard to engineer a GP car for.  And, if need be, one or more turns can be removed from the twisty bits just before the pit straight, to make it an even faster circuit.  How the promotors managed to find or make as many elevation changes as this circuit has remains a mystery.

And it was a fine race.  Lewis Hamilton chased down Sebastian Vettel twice, and passed him once.  Fernando Alonso must have a Cuisinart.  He turned the lemons of a 7th-place qualifying run into a lemonade 3rd-place finish, keeping his hopes to win the WDC alive until next weekend at Brazil.  Go Fernando!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Two More Mille Miglia Pics...

...just because they capture the flavor of the Mille so well...

Peter Collins at the wheel of his Ferrari 335 S, shot by his co-driver, Louis Klementaski.  They led most of the 1957 race.

At the Bologna Control/pit stop, Collins points to the 335 S's differential, telling Enzo Ferrari (leaning on car) that it is
 making loud and unusual noises.  Klementaski is seated in the car.  They coasted into the next Control at Parma, DNF. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Mille Miglia Ferraris

The Postwar Mille Miglia was run for 11 years, from 1947 to 1957.  Ferrari won it eight times, with a wide variety of models.  The other winners were Alfa Romeo (1947), Lancia (1954), and Mercedes-Benz (1955).

1948: Clement Biondetti's 166 S (2-liter) Barchetta.  The first 12-cylinder Ferrari, and the first one built in quantities you needed more than one hand to count.  It was a good year for Enzo, and the beginning of the Ferrari mystique: Luigi Chinetti won LeMans for him too.  Biondetti had won the first postwar Mille, the year before, in an Alfa 8C2900.

1949: Clement Biondetti's 166 MM Barchetta: the same car, now called a Mille Miglia in honor of the previous year's win.  A car's racing number was its driver's starting time, in this case, 7:33 a.m.  This made it easiers for spectators to tell who was ahead as the field passed them by.  The fastest Mille took 10 hours, won by Stirling Moss in a Mercedes 300SLR in 1955 with Dennis Jenkinson co-driving,  giving Moss route notes from a rolling scroll.  Most Milles took 11+ hours for the "big dog" cars to complete.

1950: Giannino Marzotto's 195 S, coupe version of the 166, bored out to 2.3 liters.  Not to detract from the achievement of Ferrari and his drivers, but the Mille was a "specialist" race.  Even though foreign teams spent as long as two weeks in Italy practicing, it was impossible to learn a 1000 mile course.  Most drivers approached it as a rally, with a co-driver giving hand signals from route notes.  A co-driver was not required, however, and several Ferrari pilotes (and many others) drove the Mille solo.

1951: Luigi Villoresi's 340 America (4.1 liter), first of the big bore Ferraris to run the Mille.  Some of the body damage is from an accident that, not-so-incidentally, killed two spectators.  This picture was taken at a Control, where competitors got their Route Cards time-stamped by race officials.  The Controls were at locations to make it hard for competitors to cheat by taking short-cuts.

1952: Giovanni Bracco's 250 S.  This was the same small-block V-12 bored out to 3 liters.

Bracco's 250 S, restored, in the Ferrari Museum today.

1953: Giannino Marzatto's 340 MM (4.1 liter) , about to be flagged off from the starting ramp.

1956: Eugenio Castellotti's 290 MM (3.5 liter).  This was the "rain Mille."  Although it often rained during the race, it rarely rained hard or for long periods of time.  1956 was the exception: wet almost from beginning to end.  Castellotti is driving without goggles in this picture and seems to be casting his eyes heavenward, asking "how long, Oh Lord, how long?" 

A better picture of Castellotti's 1956 winner, taken when the road was merely damp.

1957: Piero Taruffi crosses the finish line ahead of Wolfgang Von Trips's identical 315 S (3.8 liter).  Alfonso DePortago's accident in a similar 335 S, which killed 10 spectators along with DePortago and his co-driver, ended the Mille.

2007 Mille Miglia Rally: Prisca Taruffi and Bruce McCaw in her father's winning car from 50 years before, now owned by McCaw.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Another Fine Killboy Dragon Video (Night Run)

This one is right up there with "Following Jay on his Ducati Multistrada" and "Rain Run in the Evo."  Some nice VTEC sound too, when into the cams in 2nd gear.  A guess: Killgurl turns her mirror down when Killboy flips on those auxiliary lights.

Scroll down to November 13 and click below the text "Coming home a couple of nights ago around midnight."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"Who Asked?" (2012 World Driving Championship)

For travel and cable TV access reasons, I thought I might miss the last two Grands Prix of 2012.  Now, it turns out I'll be able to watch both of them.  Not that anyone asked, but...

Despite the "uphill" into Turn 1 of the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX, the virtual laps I've seen are not impressive.  It looks too much like the cookie-cutter venues designed and added to the schedule over the past few decades.  Night racing in downtown Singapore?  Give me a break.  But I'm willing to be convinced by an actual event in Austin.  The circuit in Union City, NJ, looks more challenging and interesting.  Granted, a U.S. Grand Prix is better than none, and the investors in Austin already had a ton of money fronted when the potential Grand Prix of New York came on the radar.  But who would compare Indianapolis or Long Beach with Watkins Glen?  I'm talking optimal here.  (Road America is optimal but, alas, could not meet current passive safety standards.)

Anyway.  I hope (against hope) that the WDC comes down to Brazil.  For one thing, the Autodromo Carlos Pace is a natural-terrain "legitimate road circuit," as Emerson Fittipaldi calls them.  For another, Fernando Alonso deserves to win it.  Yes, I know that Red Bull has the best car, and the fastest natural talent in Sebastian Vettel.  When they don't shoot themselves in their respective feet.

But Fernando Alonso has clearly extracted the most from his car and race-craft in 2012.  He is the Formula 1 Overachiever of the Season.  (I'm sad that my favorite young driver, Romain Grosjean, gratuitously took Alonso and several others out of the race at my favorite circuit, Spa-Francorchamps, on Corner 1, Lap 1.  Had Grosjean not done that, Vettel might now have a taller mountain to climb.)

Normally, I'm not emotionally invested in the WDC.  The Ferrari/Schumacher years were impressive but boring.  The Red Bull/Vettel years are headed that way.  I tend to root for young up-and-comers, like Grosjean (or Lewis Hamilton), when they land a good ride.  Or improbabilities, like (Ross) Brawn GP and Jenson Button (who had never had a first-rate ride)--who turned years of BAR-Honda agony of defeat into victory in 2009.  But I don't get excited about it: too many decades of financial and intellectual capital crushing the opposition.

But this year I'm pulling for Fernado, against the odds.  Ferrari and Alonso as underdogs: imagine that!  Fernando has said that he must win in Austin to take the championship decision to Buenos Aires.  Fat Chance.

Go get 'em, Fernado!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Scarab: The Proximate Cause Of My Disease

Lance Reventlow, who's brainchild the Scarab was, getting ready to take the car on track at its first race at Palm Springs, CA, in the spring of 1958.  Reventlow had the cars sprayed in medium metallic blue with white accents, reversing the FIA's "national colors" scheme.  If this reminds you of the Shelby Cobra scheme of 6 years later, it should.  Scarab and Cobra both borrowed Halibrand alloy wheels with knock-off hubs from Indy Roadsters.

This is the car that inoculated Pilote with The Disease.  I remember the infection clearly.  It was in August, 1958.  I was in the habit of visiting a news stand in my small town to buy plastic model kits of airplanes and ships.  I was stopped in my tracks by the cover of Road & Track, which had a photo of the Scarab, with the body removed, on it.  I put the plastic fighter plane back on the shelf, bought the magazine, and began a lifelong love affair with road racing and sports cars.  I never saw the Scarabs run (except in a vintage event decades later), but have been smitten with them for over 50 years.

Lance Reventlow was, like a few (older) contemporaries, a cliche example of the "wealthy sportsman with more money than talent."  He was independently wealthy, heir to the Woolworth fortune.  He became interested in sports car racing in the mid 1950's, and, after some amateur racing in the States, spent 1957 racing in Europe.  Bruce Kessler, another American who raced with Reventlow on both continents, tells how they visited several  race car manufacturers at the end of the season, ending up at Lister in England.  Reventlow was looking for an "unlimited" sports car to run back home.  The Lister-Jaguar had been the hot set-up for sprint racing in 1957.  "We can do better than that," he told Kessler, and they flew home to Los Angeles.  Reventlow was 22 when he commissioned the Scarab.

He turned to Warren Olson, who owned the shop that maintained his road and racing cars, to build the new car.  Olson hired Dick Troutman and Tom Barnes to design and fabricate it.  They brought in Chuck Daigh, who had driven their own Special (1954), to build the engines and drive a second car.  The body was sketched by Chuck Pelly, a young design student, and made from .050 aluminum by Emil Deidt of California Metal Shaping.  Many of the names listed here are a "Who's Who" of the Southern California sports car and Dry Lakes hot rod scene.  Troutman & Barnes (by then  a business partnership) would go on to build the Chaparral I (largely a knock-off of the Scarab) for Jim Hall. Reventlow had little to do with the design details of the car, but it was assuredly his concept.

A space frame was fabricated from chrome-moly steel tubing.  Front suspension was by A-arms; rear by a De Dion tube.  The Ford brakes had special large finned aluminum drums cast for them.  Chuck Daigh used stock Chevy 283 cubic-inch iron blocks, bored and stroked to 331 cubic inches (5.4 liters), to build "blueprinted" engines with racing camshafts, Hilborn fuel injection and tubular exhaust headers.

The Scarab's 331-inch Chevy small block.  All 3 Scarabs exist today in restored condition.  The 331 did not have a dry-sump system, and tended (then and now) to pump oil out of the breathers installed by Chuck Daigh.  This engine has a tube out of the valve cover to a remote catch tank and absorbtive "wraps" on the breathers.  The 331 probably didn't develop much more power than the 3 and 4 liter European racing sports cars, but it had a lot more torque.

In 1958 the Scarabs cleaned up in the SCCA's B-Modified class.  If they didn't retire, they won.  After winning most of the events on the west coast, Daigh and Reventlow came east and handed Briggs Cunningham's team its head.  This was remarkable for an "upstart" team.  The most famous victory was when Daigh's car beat Phil Hill's 4.1 liter Ferrari (shipped over from Europe) in a straight fight at the Riverside (CA) Grand Prix at the end of the season.  The Scarabs were so successful that Reventlow decided to go Grand Prix racing.  How hard could it be?  He sold the cars at the beginning of the 1959 season and got his team to work designing a single-seater.  The sports cars went on to win consistently for two years in other hands.  (The Formula 1 car was a flat failure; it was the last "clean sheet of paper" front-engine Grand Prix car, unable to match the pace of the new Cooper and Lotus rear engine cars.)

Jim Jeffords at the wheel of the (ex-Daigh) Scarab, passing a Ferrari 250 TR at Riverside (CA) Raceway.  European sports racers could not overcome the 20 to 40 percent engine displacement they gave away to the Scarabs.  The nail in the coffins of the Scarabs and the Chaparral I was not a new generation of front-engine sports racers.  It was Roger Penske's rear engine single-seater Cooper and American V-8's in the back of Lotus 19's and Cooper Monacos.  When the FIA updated regulations in the early 1960's, a Group 7 unlimited category was created for racing sports cars in sprint races.  The Can-Am pro series was within sight.

There is a good book on the cars, Scarab, by Preston Lerner.  Some of the information in this post comes from another blog; here's the link:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What's Wrong With Formula 1 (While I'm On Rants)

This picture says it all, and better than I could.  I believe top wheel is from a late Schumacher Era Formula 1 car, and the bottom one is attached to an early 3-liter era ditto (1966-1971).

I would be the last to denigrate the skills of the likes of Michael Schumacher or Sebastian Vettel.  They are flat awesome, and much better race engineers than the pilotes anciens.  But I pine for the days when a driver had to drive around the limitations of a less-than-perfect car, or when his superiority was made obvious by beating better cars.  Stirling Moss comes to mind.

Of course, we are not going back.  The digital genie is long out of the bottle, and nobody can argue that computers have made modern road cars worse.  If you want to enjoy behind-the-wheel heroics, attend your local club races often enough to sort out the smooth-and-fast from the merely good and not-so-good.

Credit for this pic to the Chicane Blog; here's the link:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

No Clue Yet On The Sports Car Racing "Merger"

Checked the schedule for ALMS at Road America next August, because I want to be there and figure that early is better than late for motel reservations.  (Road Atlanta was packed with spectators in October, and I expect Road America to be no different next summer.  More on why at the bottom of this post.)

Friday is qualifying, Grand-Am runs on Saturday, and ALMS runs on Sunday.  Apparently, in 2013, the series will run some "double headers."  At Road America, this is no problem.  On a 4.0 mile circuit with 3 long straights, the prototype and GT cars in each series won't be too much in each others' way.  (Consolidated qualifying on Friday could be hectic if some drivers stuff their cars into the kitty litter at "dangerous locations," red-flagging their qualifying session.)

So Road America 2013 furnishes no clue about how the rules for the series will be integrated, post-"merger."  ALMS fans are skeptical about Grand-Am messing with the superb ALMS GT car rules.  So many opportunities, so little time: design specifications, technical inspection, and race rules.  After all, NASCAR--and by extension Grand-Am--is all about "the show" and keeping costs low for private entrants.  ALMS GT is about factory teams.  In my little circle at Road Atlanta last month, snarky comments and snorty laughs were in good supply about "debris cautions" and "lucky dogs"getting a lap back and "green-and-white-checker finishes."

(Nobody I've talked to seems to care much what will be done with either prototype series' rules.  The ALMS rules result in very expensive cars and team budgets, and the Grand-Am prototypes are so primitive that they make Can-Am cars look cutting-edge.  At least Grand-Am prototype cars are no longer flat ugly.)

Anyway.  Road America 2013 offers no clue about what professional sports car racing in the U.S. will look like in 2014.  Which is why I think the circuit will be packed with spectators.  We hope we will be attending a farewell to some great chapters in GT road racing, and hail to future fine chapters.  But we fear we will be attending a Wake.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Just Another Road? (Tail Of The Dragon)

"Roof Cam" image from the Tail of the Dragon Store.  I like to think of the Dragon as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  But maybe that's just a trick of the lens in my mind's eye.

Had an email from my cousin: "I drive on curvy stuff all week.  So making a big thing of the Dragon [doesn't impress me].  It's just another road."  He points out that it is often crowded.  I concede the latter,  which is why I try to go on weekdays in March and October.  (March is better; you don't get "leafers.")  But I can't quite concede the former.

If you want to run hard, the Dragon's lack of entering side roads is a big plus.  And most of those 318 turns are tight.  So if you make a small mistake, you aren't compounding it with big inertia values.   You can feel like you're going fast on the Dragon when, in m.p.h., you're not.  (It is a cliche that novices--and I are one--tend to overdrive tight corners and underdrive fast ones.) 

And 318 turns is a lot, and 11 miles is long.  I haven't found anything to compare with the Dragon in the river valleys I've explored in the Upper Midwest.  You can find stretches 2 to 5 miles long, but they aren't as twisty as the Dragon--and they're rare.  More often than not, you get blocked on them too.

Crowds are a double-edged sword (Dragon metaphor!).  I guess I'm willing to put up with being blocked sometimes to enjoy the gearhead ambience at each end of the Dragon.  The people-watching is as good as any mall or rock concert I've been to.  The conversations are mellow and sometimes interesting.  And, as my cousin points out, there are plenty of other fine roads nearby.  When I visit the area with my gearhead buddy from Chicagoland, we schedule two days.  We spend a half-day or a day on the Dragon, and explore another road and throw in some tourism on the second day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Restoration Rant

The car restoration subculture I'm least empathic with is the as-it-came-from-the-factory Detroit Iron sensibility.  (The one I'm most empathetic with is the Brits; more on that later).  Mostly, the people I'm
talking about favor American muscle cars.  But a good example of their sensibility is the judging standards of the Corvette Bloomington Gold folks: As It Left The Line, No Better, No Worse.

When a car restored to these standards goes across the block at Barrett-Jackson, it will be pointed out that all the chalk or grease pencil marks on the firewall or the suspension are "correct."  (Was it an "x" or a check mark or a number code?  Was it blue, green, or pink?  Where exactly was it?)  Not only do cars restored to this standard have the proper foil labels affixed to air cleaners, valve covers, and the radiator support crossmember; they have the proper paper labels on the inside of the trunk lid.  They have the proper subcontractor paper labels on parts like water hoses.  The hoses even have the proper, chintzy, one-use-only clamps.  Care is taken to apply paint overspray to engine parts that originally got it only because it was cheaper to do it that way than to take pains.

This goes beyond "numbers-matching" (which, itself, was once only an indication that the car had not been abused) to obsession.  But what is the point of doing a worse exterior paint job than you can, to replicate 1960's quality?  To be clear: I have no problem with using original paint finishes.  If the part came from the factory in flat black, paint it flat black.  If the restoration is to stock condition, the proper foil decals should appear on an air-cleaner housing painted as it came from the factory.  But if you are going for the mild custom look popular back-in-the-day, and throw a pair of chromed valve covers and a set of "mags" on the car, I'm fine with that too.  If the car will be driven aggressively, why not resto-mod it with rack & pinion steering, big 4-caliper discs, and a modern fuel-injected engine?  And a roll cage.

My problem with the "pink grease pencil crowd" is that they are Automotive Originalists.  They seem to believe that the car came off the line as Received Wisdom.  Perfection.  This would surprise the engineers who designed it to a price point and the line workers who used grease pencil marks as assembly and quality-control aids.  Of course, other marques have this problem too.  Throw a set of Fuchs alloys on a Porsche 356 and you are an Outlaw.  Some Big Healey fans gig Kurt Tanner for spraying a 100-6 in Aston Martin Green, even though the aesthetic result is stunning.

The Brits are famous for keeping old race cars running on a "whatever it takes" basis.  They race iconic cars hard at the Goodwood Revival; sometimes an irreplaceable original aluminum panel has to be replaced.  You don't want to be the guy who put a rod through the side of the last remaining original Connaught engine block, but if you do, try to patch it.  If that doesn't work, go looking for a Coventry Climax engine.  Better to keep the car running and used-as-intended than to stick it in a museum.  (If you own a race car with a 10-year competition history, what is the "correct" restoration specification anyway?)

My own view is that a restoration stands alone, on its own merits.  I myself would hesitate to put Fuchs's on a 356; I wouldn't hesitate to spray a Healey in Aston Martin Green.  Would I put an American small-block V-8 in it?  Probably not.  You have to respect the original, but not slavishly.  Every car buff knows where this line is--for himself.  Killboy recently photographed an old pickup truck painted Pepto-Bismol Pink.  It doesn't work for me, but it works for somebody.  I just wish the Originalists would give the car some room to breathe.  A 100-point Bloomington Gold Corvette is a boring Corvette.  A "survivor" Pontiac GTO is a fascinating car.  A nicely restored Plymouth Road Runner is...a nicely restored Road Runner.  You don't have to make it worse to make it better, and you don't get extra credit for defacing it with a grease pencil.

The right-rear corner of my 2008 Mustang.  This car has seen rain once, for 20 minutes, after this picture was taken.  No, I don't know how Ford got rain on the undercarriage.  (I wiped it down after taking this picture.)  Yes, it came from the factory with an axle housing and stabilizer bar bracket stored outside before assembly.  But note that it has all the correct paper bar-code labels and assembly paint daubs.  If this car is ever restored, I hope the rusty bits are painted the same color as the stabilizer bar and the Panhard Rod, and a full coat of red on the underbody wouldn't bother me either.  Fine by me if the alloys are in pristine condition.  No extra credit for nicking them up to "factory original" condition. 

Manufacturers of mass-market cars are no different from anyone else: they do what you inspect, not what you expect.  The visible fit and finish are fine, and above the standards the "pink grease pencil" school strives to attain.  Completely original?  No.  It has a Tail of the Dragon sticker on the front fender.  No harm, no foul.

Monday, November 5, 2012

My Favorite Killboy Picture of 2012

Every season, as previously mentioned, I pull a few shots from the Highlights for my rolling screen-saver.  This season, about 30, of which I'll probably save maybe 5 to 10 in my "Permanent Killboy Collection."

A Z-06, hauling the mail in the rain, trail-braking and counter-steering a skosh into the turn.  I couldn't manage this myself, and don't think it's a good idea to run this close to the limit on the Dragon, regardless of your skill.  Usually I like those crisp Killboy images from an angle that flatters the car.  But this is a great action shot.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What It Takes To Win At LeMans

Corvettes on the starting grid at LeMans, 1960. 

A friend lent me The Quest, the story of the rediscovery and restoration of one of the Corvettes that ran at LeMans in 1960.  I enjoyed it, and recommend the DVD to those who are interested in the sleuthing that goes into finding, authenticating, and restoring old race cars.

I well-remember the white-and-blue LeMans Corvettes from my youth.  I was thrilled that Briggs Cunningham was taking another shot at LeMans, representing the U.S.  As it turned out, this shot was his last.  He had tried to win LeMans several times early in the 1950's, in Cadillacs (!) and his own Cunningham sports cars, with results ranging from dismal to coming up just short.  His relationship with General Motors was arm's-length.  The LeMans Corvettes were his idea, not GM's.  No doubt, when Cunningham called Detroit, someone picked up the phone.  And Zora Arkus Duntov, Corvette's Chief Engineer, was at LeMans  in 1960--as a guest.  But GM's official policy was that it did not engage in or support racing.  Besides, GM knew nothing about LeMans.  Cunningham did.  The nearly stock cars were prepared at Cunningham's garage in Florida.

The Corvettes did poorly: 3 DNF's, with a class win by a whisker with an ailing car.  Their basic problem was that their drum brakes couldn't take the punishment LeMans handed out--especially compared to disc-braked competitors.  True enough, as the The Quest says, the sole remaining Corvette won its over-3-liter GT class--because it was the only car still running in its class.  It finished 8th overall.  But Ferrari 250GT SWB's finished 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th, and won the 3-liter GT class.  It was my introduction to just how hard it is to win LeMans.  In your class, never mind in your  category, or overall.

A Cobra roadster won its over-3-liter class in 1963--but finished behind the 3-liter Ferrari GTO's.  Only when Pete Brock's sleek body turned the Cobra into a coupe in 1964 was it able to beat the 3-liter Ferrari GT's.  It took a purpose-built racing car, a huge budget, and 3 years of trying, for Ford to win LeMans overall in 1966.  By then, national racing colors like the Corvettes' white/blue were a thing of the past.

Corvette has won its class at LeMans for several years now in the modern era with a "whatever it takes" approach like Ford's 40 years earlier.  And, to put a period on it, when the GT-1 class went away, Corvette built a completely new, production-based, car--and won again.

Corvette C6-R GT race car in the paddock at Road Atlanta: the product of 13 years of experience and development.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

What He Does, Not What He Says

Pilote's Autoart 1/18 scale model of the Porsche Carrera RS

My cousin and I visited Vendors' Row at Road Atlanta: manufacturers pushing their latest full-sized toys and technology, car clubs, expensive art and books for your Man Cave, model cars, and apparel.  Chuck Keener had already been to Vendors Row and said "Nothing to see there, people, move on, move on."  He was right.  But I was hell-bent on a souvenir.

Every time I work a club event at home, it seems like I get another cap.  There are more logo-ed baseball caps in my closet than I can wear out.  (The last time I worked, we got $25 Exxon-Mobil gift cards: much more useful.)  So I wasn't looking for something to wear.

Earlier, I posted my own astonishment that, based on nameplates purchased new, I am "a Ford Guy."  A regular reader of this blog thinks I'm a Porsche Guy.  I think of myself as a Ferrari Guy--if I only had the money.  Or an Alfa Guy.  Having owned zero examples of that marque too.

Well, at Vendors' Row, it came down to a choice between a very well-done 1/18 diecast model of a Ferrari 250GT SWB and the model pictured above.  By way of extenuating circumstances, I offer evidence that I already have 1/18 diecast models of the Ferrari GTO and the Jaguar XK-E.  And exquisite 1/43 models of the Ford GT 40 and Alfa GTZ. And a superb 1/12 model of the Birdcage Maserati.  But none of a Porsche 911.  (Should I mention the very good Fly slot-car models of the Porsche 908 and 917?  Probably not.)  I built plastic models of all kinds of cars from age 10 until I got my driver's license.  And yes, at my age, I still (rarely) buy model cars.  Mostly, now, I get them for my grandson and nephew--trying to hook them on The Disease.

So I must admit that Regular Blog Reader is probably right--I'm a Porsche Guy.  And an Alfa, Ferrari, Ford, Honda, Lotus, and Mitsubishi Evo Guy.  I'm still looking for a good large-scale model of the Porsche 917K.  Saw a very good 1/12 model of the 917LH in a hobby shop about a year ago.  But an LH is not a K.  The Autoart model of the 917K isn't good enough.  So on some days, I'm an Autoart Guy; on others, not.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Ford Festiva Shogun (Jay Leno Garage)

I was only dimly aware of this car when it came out and got lots of ink.  (Can a build of only 7 units "come out?")  My cousin reminded me of it when he introduced me to Chuck Beck.

Leno compared it a Corvette, which is more apt than one would first think: American-made, high-performance, two-seaters costing about the same.  At the time, I probably would have taken the C-4 over a Shogun: significant technical upgrades in a more modern chassis than the C-3, and a good-looking car.  In retrospect, no contest: what a hoot the Shogun is.  Born for twisties.  And engineered, not just swapped.

But I wish Leno wouldn't call its engine donor a "sho."  The old Taurus with the Yamaha engine was called the SHO, for Super High Output.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Dragon, Schmagon (Walter Rohrl Winter Skills)

Got home feeling pleased with myself about my Tail of the Dragon passes.  Then I came across this video of Walter Rohrl at a Porsche Owners' Club clinic on winter driving.  It seems appropriate for the first November post.  (The parking lot stuff, from the middle of the video on, is of little interest.)

Rohrl won the Monte Carlo Rally four times (for Fiat, Opel, Lancia, and Audi) and was World Rally Champion twice in the 1970's and 1980's.  Now he is professionally associated with Porsche.  Unsurprisingly, he was a competitive amateur skier before he was a professional rally driver who's best results were in winter and gravel road events.