Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pure Class: Jaguar XJ-6

Leave aside "Lucas, The Prince of Darkness."  Leave aside oil on the garage floor.  If you wanted to exude style and comfort in the late '60's and early '70's, the best luxury sedan was the Jaguar XJ-6.  It wasn't a road-burner--too much weight for the 3.8 liter six to cart around.  It was too big and softly-sprung to carve canyons like a Mercedes.  And you'd be making some three-point turns in close quarters.

But if you wanted to do a couple of long days sensibly above legal limits, the XJ-6 would get you there unfrazzled.  I had a few rides in one, on freeways and curvy two-lanes.  With quick steering and i.r.s. (borrowed from the XK-E), it was sporty enough for a sedan.  Its burled walnut and leather screamed Traditional British Luxury at you, quietly.  And the XKJ-6 had a sleek stylishness about it that that boxy Mercedes-Benz's couldn't match.

The Series I cars, with their pre-crashworthy chrome bumpers, were the best-looking.

Great visibility and sight lines, and enough gauges to keep you engaged in what we now call "the driving experience."

A trunk that could take the luggage of 4 people for a week, and a back seat that a 6-footer could stretch out in without
his feet touching the front seat.  The standard chromed, stamped, slotted wheels looked better than the competition's.

If I had one, I'd be sorely tempted to put wire wheels on it for The Look.  Rudge-Whitworths, though, with the
"traditional" two-eared knock-off hubs.  These look like Daytons, with cheesy three-ears.  In black, this later car
makes the crashworthy bumpers look almost good.


My daughter-in-law drives an Infiniti M35x, and I recently had my first ride in it.  It reminded me of the Mazda Miata: "a British sports car done right," except that the M35 is a British luxury sedan done right.  It isn't as big as an XJ-6 (the trunk may be close; the back seat doesn't allow spread-out room). But it has the same feel: fast, smooth, and refined.  It's enough of a driver's car to keep you engaged, but comfy and quiet enough for long days behind the wheel.  Maybe some Lexus models are the same. Taking the long view, it's a shame the Brits got the concept right but the quality control and reliability wrong.  I admire the way the Japanese car industry has gone from funny to world-class over the past 40 years.  But it has been sad to watch the decline of Jaguar.

"Honey, they shrunk the XJ."  Not so much classy as it is very pleasant.

Real wood and expensive leather, and a good set of gauges, set the tone whether it's 1968 or 2008.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Piazza della Loggia (Mille Miglia)

When I pulled these pix from the 'net for my own enjoyment, I failed to note who shot them.  All I can remember is that he participated in the modern Mille Miglia Rally last year as a mechanic.  Props to him for capturing the feel of the square; I would credit his pix properly if I had his name.  (The fourth pic is from a Mercedes-Benz promotional website.)

The Piazza della Loggia, in Brescia, Italy, was where the cars were scrutineered before the Mille Miglia. It's also where the modern Mille Miglia Rally cars are checked-in.  Scrutineering in Europe wasn't as rigorous as "tech inspection" was in the States.  For example, there were no brake checks. Basically, only one question was answered: was the car legal under the rules?

Scrutineering was usually done in a secured area of a race venue's paddock.  But at the Mille there was no paddock.  Race fans and Brescians (?) wandered freely among the cars while officials checked them.  (The teams operated out of garages in and near Brescia, as shown in the bottom pic, and drove the cars from there to the starting platform.)  The Piazza della Loggia was and is the coolest place in motorsports to have your car "teched."

Courtyard of the garage in Manerbio, outside Brescia, that Ferrari rented for the 1957 Mille Miglia.  Among other
activities, body damage, from practice, on the car facing away from the photographer is being repaired (note primer).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Return Of The Sharknose (& The 1961 Belgian GP)

Three videos here on two of my favorite subjects: old Ferraris and Spa-Francorchamps.  Each runs 10-12 minutes:

1) Re-creation build of the Ferrari Dino 156 used by Olivier Gendebien at the 1961 Belgian G.P.
2) The re-created car being warmed up in the garages at Spa in 2012, and a bit of on-track footage.
3) Film of the 1961 Belgian Grand Prix.

Enzo Ferrari famously said that he wanted his cars to look the part, not just act the part.  The Dino 156 was surely one of the most badass-looking 1.5 liter race cars ever made.  At Spa in '61, Gendebien used the old 65-degree V-6, not the new (more powerful) 120-degree engine used by Phil Hill, Wolfgang Von Trips, and Richie Ginther.  Enzo had the sharknoses destroyed after the 1962 season.

Finding 1.5 heads (which would have been useless without modern laser welding technology to repair them) and, separately, a usable 1.5 short-block is astounding.  This is an amazing build: not a "tribute," but as close to the Real Deal as documentation and craftsmanship can make it.  A true re-creation.

As for the Belgian GP of '61: the re-creation video says the Dino 156's 9500 r.p.m. rev limit was good for 149 m.p.h.  The race video says Richie Ginther set the fastest lap at 131 m.p.h. and Hill's winning speed was 128 m.p.h.  Close enough to flat-out all the way around, except for the La Source hairpin.

Thanks to The Chicane Blog for bringing the build video to my attention.

Olivier Gendebien in his Ferrari Dino 156 at Spa in 1961.  He came 4th behind the Ferrari team cars.  Gendebien was a
factory driver for Ferrari in sports cars but was never given a regular Grand Prix ride.  Ferrari "lent" him the old version
of the '61 GP car for his home Grand Prix, and did him the favor of painting it in Belgian national colors.

The Gendebien Ferrari Dino 156 re-creation at the Goodwood Revival in 2009.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dragin' On The Dragon

Found these stills under "The Dragon In The Movies" tab on the Tail of the Dragon website.  Hadn't noticed them before, so here's a post to highlight them (to the huge readership of this blog  ;-)).  Stills from The Fugitive and other films shot on and around the Dragon are under the same tab.

Saw Two Lane Blacktop twice (on TV, years apart).  Not the most memorable of movies, i.m.o.  Of course  the scenery was lovely, but I didn't connect it with any particular place.  I'm in the tank for '55 Chevy gassers; can't think of a place where it would be less fun to drive one than on the Dragon.  But it's a great backdrop...

The '55 gasser on the old, one-lane, "Fugitive Bridge."  Pilings for this one are visible from the new one.

Double-yellow Fail at "Fugitive Dam."


Action shot on the Little Tennessee, near Tallassee TN, west of Calderwood Dam.

Exterior scene-setting shot of the yellow Goat/Judge, the '55's bete noir, in front of "Crafton's."  This was the Deals Gap
Motorcycle Resort several iterations before it became the DGMR.

Above and below: two shots of a Two Lane Blacktop tribute car on the Dragon.  Great car, nicely done,
but the wrong sword for Slaying.  As he so often does, Killboy slays the images.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Square-Rigged Dragon Slayer ("Built" Datsun 510)

What a nice job the owner has done on this car!

It brings a smile to my face, and a tear to my eye, now that my own 510 is long gone.  The video brings back fond memories: the engine sounds just like mine would have, had it gone to the gym.

One could quibble here and there (I don't care for the color), but he went exactly the right ways on the mechanicals and the interior.  Some of the touches he came up with are superb (like the black crackle finish for the engine compartment).  And it didn't cost a fortune to build the car with so many 280-Z parts that bolted right in.  Notably the limited-slip diff/i.r.s.

With 67% of the weight and power of my Honda Civic Si (and more torque), and 4:11 gears, there is no doubt that Greg Elliott's 510 would wax most of the current hot imports in a drag race.  And with its lowered suspension and sorted camber, it would take us to school on the Tail of the Dragon too.  I wouldn't want to drive it on a day-trip.  Box-stock, the 510 was a noisy car.  But it would be an absolute hoot around town.  Grin after grin.  I loved the look of this car when it was new, and still do: functional and classy.

Long gone, never forgotten.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Does It Matter? (Gasolines)

My Dad would go out of his way to save a few cents on a tank of gas.  He watched station prices closely, and filled up wherever it was cheapest.  When I was a teenager, I found a ledger sheet under the front seat of his car filled with odometer readings (to the tenth), gallons (to the tenth), intervals, and his mileage calculations.  This was before we had pocket calculators: he did long division, sitting at the pumps, I guess.  He didn't just check a new car against the manufacturer's claims, he tracked it for months.  He compared alternative commuting routes.  He hated waste--especially wasting money.  It annoyed him that he had nothing to show for buying a tank of gas other than getting around.

I, on the other hand, am a brand loyalist and will go out of my way to refill the tank with what I "always" run.  I can't prove it, but believe that my cars "don't like to be surprised" by a change in additive formulation.  I also believe, absent evidence, that the refinery chains filter their gas more carefully up to and including the station pumps.  Years ago I persuaded myself that Amoco's advertising was true: that it had superior detergents.  Amoco became BP.  Never had a problem.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  I plan road trips around BP station stops.

But I got into an email exchange about this with my Porschephile pal recently.  "Don't you realize that BP is 15% ethanol, which is bad for injectors?"  Yes, I knew BP had ethanol, and no, I didn't know it was hard on fuel injectors.  I thought ethanol was good: it tends to retard gasoline deterioration, to reduce carbon build-up, and to burn cleaner than gasoline.  But "bad" makes sense if you think about it: gasoline is more lubricious than ethanol (fuel injectors have moving parts), and ethanol can have a corrosive effect on fuel system parts, including aluminum, but especially some plastics.  Maybe my affection for BP amounts to piling inference on top of inference, on top of misoverestimated decades-old advertising.

My Porschephile pal went on to point out that ethanol has about 85% the energy release of gasoline.  BP contains up to 15% ethanol (some other brands stop at 10%).  15% less energy from 15% ethanol is 2% less bang-for-the-buck than 100% gasoline.  I am perfectly happy to emit 2% more CO2 if I can get 2% more power and gas mileage.  But how would I know?  I can't feel 2% more power under hard acceleration, and my mileage calculations get rounded to the nearest whole gallon (when I bother to do them).  Still, if my injectors are 15% happier, I'm happier.  Inference on top of inference again...  

He runs Shell in his classic Porsches, having done some comparative research on brands.  He says the best way to know what you are buying is to check the pumps at your station.  Ethanol percentages change from state to state, city to city, even within brands.  My local BP station's pumps say "up to 15%."  My local Shell station's pumps say nothing about ethanol.  So, as of my most recent tankful, I "always" run Shell.

Things that make you go "hmmmmmmm."  (The Stuck/Ludwig/Bell Porsche 962C came 2nd at LeMans in 1988.)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Hotshoe Goes To The Chicago Auto Show

Pilote received this report from Hotshoe Wannabe:

Two days, free admission, $42 to park, hours on foot, a few cars sat in, one hotdog, and a purchase decision not yet made...

Quite surprisingly, the typically choked freeway traffic was absent.  Very unusual for me not to get caught up in yo-yo stop-and-go, hoping the dude behind me puts down his cell phone and quits texting.  Not sure why the runs into town were that clean, but I'm happy.

My brother-in-law and I went to the show on Monday afternoon with two main objectives:  check out the new Corvette, and do some think-tanking over the Focus ST.  A brilliant red C7 rotated slowly on the turntable so we could see all the nuances of body creases and overall form.  I think they'll sell 'em all!  We'll all get used to the back end (well, most of us) because the rest of the car is pretty attractive.  It is a Corvette, after all, and based on all the ogling, the overall mood was one of acceptance.  Yeah, it's overstyled, but so are Ferraris and the other exciting cars in this l.e.d.-laden world.

The interior definitely favors the driver, makes changing radio stations more difficult for the passenger.  But the passenger gets enough "shut up and hold on" room.  As it should be.   The roof taper toward the rear high-mount stoplight pleased me, but the add-on spoiler...spoils the look.  Brother-in-law mentioned it ought to be integrated into the body better.  We can critique all day, but in the end, it's a winner.

The Focus ST should never be seen in white.  Never.  It's dumb.  Has no pizzazz.  The other ST was in (you guessed it) Tangerine Scream.  I did confirm that I need to drive the base car to give the base cloth sport seats a chance.  And the only question I asked the young salesman was not answered: "Is this a drive-by-wire or does it have a throttle cable?"  He had multiple empty earring holes: trying to fit into the establishment now.  I believe I found a servo-motor on the throttle assembly on the display cut-out motor on the floor.  Damn.

Mine--if there is a mine--will be a silver base model.  I don't want the weight and complexity of the sunroof, or any of the other electronic wizardry, and if the base seats hold my fat middle then we'll be OK.  Or maybe Deep Impact Blue.  Or maybe I'll wait until 2014--perhaps they'll make 'em in that beautiful dark red metallic...

Tuesday, I went back again with my son and grandson.  The show is giant.  It goes on and on.  Showmanship is at a minimum until you walk into the Sham-Wow/Vegematic/gimmick aisles--a good place to find overpriced diecast metal models.  And Monster Truck-sized wheels.  Illinois Secretary of State (always get a new Illinois map!), State Police, Marines pull-up competitions, and Ryba's Fudge.  Sometimes someone pours lighter fluid on a recently waxed hood and lights it.  Drama!  Not this year, though.

The manufacturers try to find a theme.  One had all white cars.  One had all the cars' lights on.  One had individual presentation kiosks for each displayed car.  Some had driving simulators--my son and grandson and I blew half an hour waiting in line, giving up our precious personal information, for a chance to "drive" the Lime Rock track in a Cadillac ALMS(?) sedan.  Yeah, it was cool, but embarrassing, because no one can do a good job on a video game simulator the first time he tries it.  My son was first: crashing, spinning repeatedly, making me wonder if I should trust him to drive us home.  I was last, with a pitiful showing.  But my grandson, the 12 year-old electronic toy savant, stayed on the track better and showed remarkable recovery skills when the tail end slipped out.  Geez...  We should let him drive home!  I have great hopes for that kid.

There were shiny, impressively clean cars everywhere.  It was mesmerizing.  I even liked the Kia's.  Grandson was taking phone picture after phone picture.  My son was trying out all the high-end convertibles.  I really liked Jaguar's XK-E-like cars.  The Aston Martins were in the same cordoned-off area as the AMX-3 (a rare Detroit Iron experiment).  The  Lamborghini Aventador, also prominently cordoned off, was a cool 1/2 million.  Every manufacturer had his "halo" car, and if he didn't have one for the floor, he had a custom version on a turntable.  I tried not to stare at the girls on the turntables.  It's not polite.  They sure had their presentations down!  They knew everything about the cars!  Cool.

Then we left the smaller arena and went across the hall to the large display area.  All of a sudden, you realize that you're less than halfway through the show.  So, legs and hips hurting, you plow ahead to the next set of manufacturers with great cars, more brochures and shiny colors.  And we loved every minute of it.

When I got home, my lovely bride asked me what car was my favorite.  I considered for a long time, and came up with "I can't answer your question.  I don't know."  There's so many nice cars out there and the Auto Show so unfairly presents them in such beauty.  That's why we go every year: to be fascinated by the industry that stole our hearts.  But Monday, as my brother-in-law and I drove home in my humble old Focus, I was happy.  That has to mean something.

Complexity Caricatured: The BRM V-16

1949-1953 BRM 1.5 liter V-16 Formula 1 car, hoodless, at the Goodwood Revival.

This has turned out to be Multi-Cylinder Week on the blog.  It's interesting that, since the earliest days, the most successful Formula 1 engines have had 8, 10 (recently) or 12 cylinders.  Sometimes a 4 has been a winner, usually when other attributes of the car were more important than maximum power.  Never has a 16 been competitive--and BRM tried it twice.  I'm no engineer (although I sometimes play one on this blog...), but the evidence seems to be that 8 to 12 cylinders are the best compromise between piston area, friction losses, and mass.

I've mentioned "that distant sportbike in the night sound" that sends shivers up my spine.  On summer evenings, I often stop what I'm doing to savor it.  No car sounds more like a crotch rocket than the BRM V-16.  The first link is to an audio track illustrated with still photos.  It runs 7:30.  The first part is 3 laps of the car being demonstrated on a short course.  From 5:40 on, it's in-car, with gear whine.  The second link is to a much shorter video which shows the car well in HD.  The audio isn't as spine-tingling, but features some blower whistle.

"Caricatured" in this post title comes from the design and development history of the car.  This BRM seems to have been conceived as an uber pre-war Mercedes W-163 or Auto Union (but half the size).  Each cylinder had a bore and stroke of 1.93 inches and displaced 5.7 cubic inches.  As in small.  Instead of Roots blowers, BRM used centrifugal superchargers, like the ones developed for the Merlin aircraft engine by Rolls Royce (and donated to the BRM project by Rolls).  Centrifugal blowers work fine at high altitude: the faster they spin, the more they boost.  But in race car application they don't boost much at low revs, and come in with a wallop at high revs.  This made the BRM V-16 very hard to control from mid-corner through exit.  On straights, it could spin its tires at well over 125 m.p.h., even when the driver tried to modulate power.

BRM was poorly managed in the 1940's and 1950's.  The V-16 never completed an international race, and was DNS in most of them.  Once, the half-shafts of both cars snapped as they left the starting grid.
BRM was the first Formula 1 team to adopt disc brakes, but the car was so unsorted that they never got to test the brakes at race distances.  The chassis was a similar story.  The car suffered from massive understeer, but retained its trailing arm front suspension long after other designs had migrated to double A-arms with more balanced handling.  Trailing arms had been used by Mercedes and Auto Union before the war.  It seems that BRM, in the V-16 era, never quite got over its fixation with out-technologizing "those bloody German cars" that hadn't raced for over 10 years.   Juan Fangio and the best British drivers of the era tested it, offered suggestions for improvement, and took a pass on racing it.

Taken altogether, it seems the V-16 was doomed from the start.  The design was over-ambitious and ill-considered.  Many suppliers donated parts, usually on an "as time permits" basis, which played havoc with schedules.  BRM couldn't stop tinkering, and the team was managed more like a collection of amateur fiefdoms than a racing enterprise focused on winning.  But if engine sound equals winning, the  V-16 should have been a world-beater.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Complexity Misses The Mark: 1967 BRM H-16

On paper, the BRM H-16 engine might have seemed the ideal solution to the new 3-liter unsupercharged rules for Formula 1 for 1966.  If an eight's piston area was ideal for the 1.5-liter formula, wouldn't 16 be best for 3 liters?

Multi-cylinder, small-displacement, designs were in the European tradition--and BRM's.  Three liters was in Ferrari's wheelhouse: Enzo had been doing V-12's
around that size for fifteen years.  A 16 could make more power, in theory.

But a V-16 was too long for the small monocoque chassis by then dominating Formula 1.  Why not stack two flat-8's, one atop the other?  Along with other engine makers, BRM was late to the party in 1966.  Jack Brabham stole a march on them by using a production-based Repco V-8 in his own chassis to win the championship.

Everyone was ready for 1967: Ferrari's V-12, the BRM H-16, and the Cosworth V-8 in the back of the Lotus 49.  The latter design was revolutionary:
4 valves per cylinder at a narrow angle, which minimized the size of the heads, with its ancillary parts alongside the sump.  And it was a load-bearing chassis member.  This lowered the center of gravity and the weight of the car.  It was remarkably compact, thus keeping the engine and its accessories out of the air stream.  The Cosworth proved to be the solution to the 3-liter rules.  By the early 1970's, everyone but Ferrari was running a Cosworth in his own chassis.  It was dethroned only when Renault figured out how to make a 1.5-liter turbo produce more power and last the length of a Grand Prix while doing it.

What were the problems with the H-16?  It was massive for a 3-liter, and its center of gravity was high because of the "dead space" between the crankshafts.  The 90-degree bend between the intake and exhaust ports was less efficient than a crossflow cylinder head (the H-16 never produced the power it was theoretically capable of).  Single-plane 8-cylinder cranks, whether for a flat or a V configuration, are notorious for secondary harmonic vibration.  Porsche's flat 8's and Cosworth's V-8 both suffered from this.  BRM's solution, gearing the cranks together in 90-degree phase to each other, did not solve the problem.  (Porsche and Cosworth both eventually made conventional crankshafts, with throws and cylinder firing order optimized for smoothness.)

There is a saying, "If it looks right, it is right."  While the saying isn't always right, it's opposite almost always is: "If it looks wrong, it probably is."  You can see the elegance of the Delage V-12 in my previous post.  You can see the complexity to no purpose in the BRM H-16.  It lasted only one season and was replaced with a V-12.  Here's a video with audio (sounds a bit like a big-bore V-8 at low revs...)

The H-16 suffered from several foreseeable problems.  Inadequate clearance between the exhaust ports and the water
pipes led to overheating (note insulation).  Ancillaries like the fuel injection pump and lines to the injectors had to be
hung off the sides of the engine, vulnerable to road debris.  The intake trumpets themselves were likewise vulnerable,
and in a high-turbulence area without good air flow to and through them.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Complexity Foreshadows The Future:1924 Delage GP Car

There's not much more to say, except that I love this car.  Well...maybe a few things.  I first saw a picture of it as a teenager and was blown away.  A small V-12!  And it looked so modern.  But I never learned much about it.  In pre-internet days, you couldn't just look it up, and even the magazines with a historical bent didn't do spreads on it because the Delage was not successful.  In racing, reliable and fast trumps complex, innovative, and beautiful.  And there's this:

1) Everybody else was trying to figure out how to do a better straight-8.
2) The car was conceived around a low center of gravity.
3) Delage's reach may have exceeded their grasp, but they had the right idea.
4) And, of course, that 12-cylinder sound...

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Another Reason To Love Honda

I have not received a notice like this in 43 years of car ownership, including 8 new ones (4 domestic, 4 foreign).  I've received "free recall" notifications for 3 cars (1 used), involving mechanical items that were potential mechanical/safety issues.  Granted, recall notices have tightened up since the old Audi "unintended acceleration" days.  (That's in quotes because it was the loafer behind the wheel that was the problem.)

Never have I received an extended warranty or recall notice for a cosmetic item.  My Civic Si is almost 4 years old and shows no signs of a cosmetic issue on the trunk or anywhere else.  It is driven almost daily, in road salt for 4 months of the year.  The car has 35,000 miles on it, and has been flawless so far.  Not to mention bringing a smile to my face every time I turn the key.  Mazda (and others) could go to school with Honda on "zoom, zoom."

A gearhead pal and I often discuss questions of national and nameplate loyalty, design and manufacturing engineering, assembly fit-and-finish, and customer service at dealerships.  For the sake of conversation, the debate will continue.  But in my own experience (Volkswagen, Ford, Mazda), nobody does it better than Honda.

Photo Essay: Summary Of Formula 1 Engine Regulations

Reading Tony Brooks's autobiography Poetry In Motion got me to thinking about how much Formula 1 regulations, and changes to them, influenced car design.  Also there are a couple of posts about unsuccessful Formula 1 cars upcoming: this one provides some context.  For some, this post may be a snoozer.  For those who can't get enough, here's a link to a Wikipedia page that told me more than even I wanted to know:

The list reaches back into the 1930's (again for context), but the text covers only 1950 to the mid-1980's, when I stopped paying attention.  (I began watching Formula 1 races again after Michael Schumacher retired.  But in the modern digital/aero era, it's hard to get interested in year-to-year tweaks of the regulations.)  To summarize the summary, the regulations were as follows:

(pre-1938)  750 kilogram (1650 lb.) minimum car weight; engines unrestricted
1938-1939  4.5 liter unsupercharged or 3.0 liter supercharged

1950-1951  4.5 liter unsupercharged or 1.5 liter supercharged
1952-1953  2.0 liter unsupercharged
1954-1960  2.5 liter unsupercharged or 0.75 liter supercharged
1961-1965   1.5 liter unsupercharged
1966-1987  3.0 liter unsupercharged or 1.5 liter supercharged
1988           3.5 liter unsupercharged, 1.5 turbocharger boost reduced
1989-2005  3.5 liter unsupercharged, turbochargers banned
2006-2013  2.4 liter unsupercharged V-8 mandatory, turbochargers banned
2014-           1.6 liter turbocharged V-6 mandatory

The 1950 regulations ratified what was already available to race after the disruption of World War Two.  The best cars were the prewar voiturette class ("small engine" Grand Prix cars).  Alfa Romeo had some prewar voiturettes to fill the starting grids: the 1.5 liter supercharged Tipo 158 (developed into the 159), won almost all the Grands Prix 1948-1950.  The rest of the grids were filled with also-rans using larger production car-based engines.  There were a couple of stillborn efforts to develop new 1.5 liter supercharged cars. Ferrari proved just before the regulations expired that a 4.5 liter could beat a 1.5 liter supercharged car.

The Alfa Romeo Tipo 159: a 1.5 liter straight-eight with two-stage Roots blowers run from the crankshaft.  Alfa got
450 h.p. out of this set-up--and less than 2 miles per gallon on alcohol blend fuel.  BRM tried a centrifugal blower on
a 1.5 liter V-16 (!), which delivered even more power, unmanageably and unreliably.  The Porsche-designed Cisitalia
1.5 liter V-12 ran out of development money before it reached a starting grid.

The Ferrari 375 F-1: how to beat an Alfa Tipo 159.  Its 4.5 liter V-12 had 80% of the power of the Alfa but twice the fuel
mileage.  When you're not that far off the pace, half the pit stops over a 300-mile race equals a win.  This is Froilan
Gonzales winning the 1951 British Grand Prix.  I love this pic: "When the drivers were fat and the tires were skinny."

A rules change was announced at the end of 1951 to take effect from 1954 to 1960: engine size would be limited to 2.5 liters unsupercharged or 750 c.c.'s supercharged.  It was intended to stabilize Formula 1 for a long period, thus attracting major manufacturers to enter the fray.  Alfa was owned by the Italian government and asked for funds to develop a new car.  They weren't forthcoming, and Alfa pulled out of Formula 1 at the end of 1951.  With potentially empty starting grids, promoters said their Grands Prix would be for Formula 2 cars: two liters, unsupercharged.  Smaller manufacturers could develop such "stopgap" cars.  Major manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz and Lancia stayed on the sidelines for two years while designing "clean sheet" 2.5 liter cars for 1954.

The Ferrari 500: the low-tech (4-cylinder, unsupercharged) interim "solution" to Grand Prix racing while major players
developed cars for the new 2.5 liter formula to take effect in 1954.  Although simple (and reliable), the Ferrari had more
technical pedigree than most of its competitors, and carried Alberto Ascari to two consecutive WDC's.  This is Ascari
exiting Eau Rouge at Spa-Francorchamps. 

The dominant cars in the first years of the new 2.5 liter regulations were the Mercedes W-196 and the Lancia/Ferrari D-50.  Between them, they won three consecutive championships (1954-1956).  Even a technical powerhouse like Mercedes took a pass on 750 c.c.'s supercharged: blower cars were legislated out of existence by specifying an engine size too small to be competitive.  But the variety at 2.5 liters was impressive.  Mercedes used a straight eight with desmodromic valves, Lancia used a V-8, Maserati used a straight six, and Vanwall a straight 4.  After taking over the Lancia V-8's for two years, Ferrari designed his own V-6.  There was variety in rear suspensions and drivetrains too.  It was a delicious technical era: no two cars the same, and they all won races.

The Maserati 250 F: longest-lived of the 2.5 liter cars.  On the grids in '54, it finally took Juan Fangio to a WDC in '57.
It lacked the technical sophistication of its competitors, but it was a sweet-handling, well-balanced chassis with lots of
room for development.  Most of the front-rank drivers used it at some point, and they loved to drive it.  In its later high-
-sided cockpit version (shown above) it was the prettiest 2.5 car, in my opinion.

As previously posted, when the rules were tweaked for 1958, they opened the door to rear-engine cars. Alcohol fuel was replaced with gasoline and race distance was reduced from 300 to 180 miles.  Fuel with more energy per unit of volume could be carried in a smaller tank.  Cooper already had a race car that outperformed its front-engine competitors at 1.5 liters, and beat the 2.5 cars with 2.0 liters a couple of times.  It was lighter, more compact, and handled better.

With the 1.5 liter rules (and no supercharging) in sight for 1961, it was evident that a rear-engine car was the way to go.  But nobody had done a rear engine car in the postwar era.  Enzo Ferrari famously said in the late 1950's that "the horse pulls the cart."  So Cooper stole a march on its competitors by winning the World Championship in 1959 and 1960.  Lotus built a rear-engine car for 1960, but the Cooper was more reliable.  Nobody else raced a rear engine car until the end of 1960.

The Cooper Type 45: it could do more with 240 h.p. than its front engine competitors could do with 280.  No elegant
4-wheel drifts, but you could kick the tail out with the throttle in tight bends.  And, as developed with fully indepen-
dent i.r.s., it had adjustable suspension at both ends.  Minus aerodynamics, the modern era had arrived.

Enzo turned the tables on the Brits for one year under the new rules.  And he did it "the Ferrari way," with power.  The Tipo 156's new 120-degree V-6 had at least 10% more power than its competitors, Coventry Climax and Porsche.  (Porsche had said to themselves "Hey, we do 1.5 liter rear engine cars--why not Formula 1?)  The British cars handled better, though, and Colin Chapman's Lotus made the next big breakthrough with a monocoque aluminum tub inspired by aircraft design instead of a tubular space frame.  It was lighter, and lightness was king when power was limited.  All of the major technical breakthroughs in the 20 years Colin Chapman was an active designer were pioneered by him: the monocoque chassis, use of the engine as a stressed chassis member, "wedge" aerodynamic design with tightly packaged components, and ground-effects aerodynamic downforce.  Chapman was the most innovative chassis engineer in the history of Formula 1.

Ferrari Tipo 156: the last Ferrari to dominate a season of Formula 1 racing until the Michael Schumacher era 35 years
later.  The 156's V-6 with the banks angled at 120 degrees gave it the lowest center of gravity and the most power.  But
its handling was inferior and the Lotus 25's monocoque quickly offset the Ferrari's power advantage with low weight.
This is Phil Hill winning Spa-Francorchamps in his championship year, 1961.  In '62, Jim Clark burst upon the scene.

Formula 1 left "the go kart era" behind with the rules for 1966-1986 (a remarkably long run): 3.0 liters unsupercharged or 1.5 liters supercharged.  This gave forced induction a shot again for the first time since 1950.  But the dominant engine starting in 1967, the Ford-Cosworth V8, went from 400 to 500 horsepower over its 20-year lifespan, producing more than enough to challenge chassis engineering.
The aero era had begun: first with wings, then with wedges, finally with ground-effects suction.  Some V-12's and flat 12's were competitive, but their power to weight ratios failed to overmatch the Cosworth.

The Lotus 49 (1967): first of the new/last of the old.  It pioneered use of the engine as a stressed chassis member, but
was the last of the "cigar cars."  Formula 1 cars still use the engine as a chassis  component today.  But the 49 sprouted
wings to counter aerodynamic lift.  By 1970, Formula 1 cars were on slicks, and 60 years of sliding cars around on tires
operating at high slip angles was history.  This is Jim Clark in the pits at the Nurburgring.

The Lotus 79: Colin Chapman's last breakthrough design.  He abandoned the 78's wing-section side pods for venturi
tunnels with a suction effect, sealed off with side skirts.  The front and rear wings were used mostly to trim-out front
and rear grip.  Modern F-1 cars with their rear diffusers and air-management bells and whistles at the front and around
the side pods are a refinement of the Lotus 79.  This is Duncan Dayton's ex-Andretti 1978 WDC car at Laguna Seca.

The McLaren MP 4/1B (1981): stiffer is better.  Three years after the Lotus 79 did ground-effects, this McLaren did it
in carbon fiber.  When the tub doesn't distort, the suspension and aero engineering function as designed.  This picture
was taken at a Modena track day for historic cars in 2009.

With the advent of carbon fiber ground effects tubs, chassis engineering could again handle more power.  But it would take a manufacturer with major resources to explore the potential of a reliable turbocharged 1.5 liter engine capable of exceeding the Cosworth's 500 horsepower.  Renault, who had not been involved in Formula 1 since before World War One, tackled the challenge.  After many engine explosions, it came right for them with the RS-10.  And their success caused another tectonic shift in the way teams went racing.  No longer could a "botique" manufacturer stick an over-the-counter Cosworth in his chassis and expect to win.  Formula 1 teams began pairing up with major manufacturers: Porsche, Honda, BMW.  Eventually the BMW in-line 4-cylinder twin turbo produced over 1000 horsepower in qualifying trim, with plenty of room left for ground-effects tunnels.  Side skirts sealed chassis to the road, spring and shock absorber rates went through the roof, and drivers suffered from blurred vision and the risk of blackouts from g-forces.  (It was around this time that Pilote began to lose interest in Formula 1 racing: drivers were not driving the cars, they were hanging on for dear life.)

Starting in 1987, the regulations were again fiddled to slow the cars down and reintroduce driver skill into the equation.  Turbo boost was restricted to 4 atmospheres, and in 1988 to 1.5 atmospheres.  At the same time the size of normally aspirated engines was permitted to increase to 3.5 liters.  In 1989, turbos were banned altogether.  The V-10 turned out to have the optimum piston area vs. friction losses.  Since then, aero and engine regulations have been fiddled from time to time: current engines are required to be 2.4 liter V-8's, producing an astonishing 750+ horsepower, unsupercharged.  Permissible wing sizes have been reduced, and trimmable "overtaking" wing slats permitted.  The cars run on spec tires.

But this long train of tweaks, from 1987 to 2013, have been a reaction to the success of the turbocharged, 1.5 liter Renault in solving the power problem, and the nearly undriveable "slot car" ground effects turbos by Brabham, McLaren, and others, that refined it.  Technical developments, for example in materials and technologies used in engines, are closely guarded proprietary secrets.  No longer can a fan look at a cutaway drawing of a Formula 1 car and gain some understanding of why it dominates a season.  Teams rise and fall for no obvious reasons.  The best drivers are those who perform well in a consulting role, in setting up the car in practice.  In the modern era, no racer can win by "driving around" an inferior chassis.  He's part of a technical juggernaut.

In 2014, we will have the first new regulations in 30-odd years, in the sense that they are non-reactive to technical developments immediately preceding them.  The rules specify a 1.6 liter V-6 turbo with an energy recovery system.  While this is a spec engine (in configuration) and the cars will run on spec tires, there will probably be more variety in engineering approaches than we've seen in many years, to solve the energy efficiency equation.  Formula 1 is supposed to be, in part, about cutting-edge technology.  The new rules will make it interesting again.

The Renault RS-10 (1979): the precursor to the modern era in Formula 1.  Developments since the early 1980's are a
series of reactions (by authorities) and counter-reactions (by designers) to the 1.5 liter unlimited boost turbo in a
chassis with venturi side-pods sealed with skirts.

Modern Formula 1 cars: butt-ugly, mostly boring, rolling billboards.  Hello, 2014 regulations!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Bring Back Real Road Racing! Well, Maybe Not...

Readers of this blog know how much Pilote admires the old, "real," road races like the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio.  The only thing that comes close to them in challenging a modern racer are the pavement stages of World Rally Championship events.  But Special Stages are much shorter, and a driver can learn them because they repeat.  Not to mention modern aids like radio communication between driver, navigator, and base.  And video and computer tracings from previous runs.

But I digress...  I've often thought it would be great to bring back real cars on real roads (and the WRC comes close).  If crowd control could be...controlled...which it can't, wouldn't it be fun to bring back 10 laps of the 44-mile Targa Florio course?  That would separate the drivers who can read a road from the ones who can shave the last .001 second from laps and laps of a 3-mile closed course as smooth as a billiard table.

But this video shows why we should savor the past for what it was--and leave it there.  Thanks to Watchtower for alerting me to it.  He said it made him nervous just to watch it.  Me too.  A ton and a half of WRC car crashing through somebody's living room window at 100+ is a price I'm unwilling to pay for the return of real road racing.

Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson in their legendary Mille Migla win in 1955: 99 m.p.h. for 1000 miles.  "Jenks" pre-
figured modernity by putting his route notes on a long strip which he wound around two shafts in a waterproof case.
He scrolled through the notes as the race progressed, communicating them to Moss with hand-signals. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Progress (Highway Engineering)

Only a couple of my rural runs incorporate twisties (which is why I try to make it to the Tail of the Dragon as often as I can).  Most of the Upper Midwest is rectangles of corn and soybeans, with the odd chicane where surveyors adjusted their lines 150 years ago or more.  Or a County Road jigs and jogs near a creek.

One County Road I use regularly tees into a State Highway, where you turn right for a quarter mile and then turn left on a different County Road, which esses around a creek bed and a small hill, posted for 35 m.p.h.  You can take the esses at north of 50, but one is tighter than the other, so this little segment is  challenging and fun: down and up through the gears four times with curves thrown in.

A problem with the T-junctions is that the State Highway curves over a brow at one of them (the other has clear lines of sight).  A close look is necessary to gauge if you have enough room to pull out.  How fast is that vehicle on the State Highway really going?  The intersection is not notorious, but it can be deceptive if your brain is on autopilot.

Last summer, new storm sewers and curbing were going in.  I thought they were for another new subdivision or two.  Subdivisions pop up like mushrooms in my little corner of exurbia.  But it turns out that the intersection is being fixed.  The County Roads will no longer jog for a quarter mile.  There will be a conventional crossroads, possibly with a stoplight.  They will then proceed on gradual, banked turns, eliminating the 35 m.p.h. squiggle.

The change is better for highway safety.  Traffic in the area has increased from "hardly any" to "more than occasional." A tricky crossroads has been made safer, and an ess that actually makes you drive your car has been eliminated.

But I will miss this short curvy relief from long stretches of straight roads.  We don't have that many challenging roads hereabouts, and another little segment is about to go under.  Bless the Allegheny Mountains.  Bless the Nantahala National Forest.  Bless the Great Smoky National Park.  Bless US 129, NC 28, and the Cherohala Skyway.  Bless the other roads in eastern TN and western NC that I haven't discovered yet.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Answer To An Unasked Question (Mustang 4-Door)

Let me see if I have this right, FoMoCo.  You just threw the Crown Vic out the front door, and now you're bringing a Mustang 4-door sedan in through the back door?  Have you taken a tape measure to the Taurus?  It's as big as a house.  Who needs a 4-door Mustang?  Is Ford is running out of ideas to run past focus groups?

Focus me!  Over here, Mister!  I want crisp steering feel with good feedback.  And a gas gauge that doesn't read 7/8 full until it reads 1/4 full.  While you're at it, multiply the Mustang's dimensions by 0.875 and lose the jump seats.  And add independent rear suspension, and stiffer springs and shocks.  Oh... and bring it in for $35,000.  Oh...and lose what Watchtower calls "that saggy diaper rear end."  Along with the faux diffuser and the overstyled exhaust tips on the concept car.  Over here, Mister!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Thinking About Supercars

My posts about the Lexus LFA and the Lamborghini Miura got me to thinking about supercars.  I hadn't thought much them about for decades, after it was clear that I would never own one.

The Miura had lots of problems.  And I remember reading about how the Ferrari 512 BB, Lambo Countach, and Porsche 930 Turbo were less than super, each in its own way.  Hard to live with daily, to see out of, to get out of, and to drive.  The Lexus LFA has none of these problems.  Like other supercars today, it comes with a superwarranty.  And EDOO (Electronic Driver Oops Override).

Once upon a time, supercars did not exist.  More precisely, before World War Two, the Duesenberg SJ, Mercedes SSK, and the Alfa Romeo 8C2900 were supercars, with prices to match, but nobody thought to call them that.  In the postwar era, cars like the Jaguar XK-120 and XK-E, Mercedes Benz 300 SL, and Ferrari 250 GT were "top of the tree" cars, but nobody called them super.  They were called Grand Touring cars because you could cover long distances in them, fast, with luggage.  They were affordable compared to my prewar list or today's supercars.  In Europe they could be used as intended because traffic was light and speed enforcement was relaxed outside of towns.

Maybe the Miura was "the first supercar" because it was impractical.  You couldn't use its big mid-engine power on public roads, or take more than a toothbrush and an AAA card (which you would likely need) with you.  Also, by the time of the Miura's heyday, road and racing cars had diverged so much that dual-purpose cars had disappeared.  Not many people raced Miuras, fewer successfully.  It made a "statement."  But, with hindsight, what that statement was, other than your ability to indulge your taste for an objet d art, is hard to understand.

Twenty-first Century supercars have mostly solved the first problem.  The LFA and its competitors are dependable and practical in the real world (if you travel light).  Their performance is exponentially above what you can use on public roads, unlike '50's and '60's GT's.  The solution to that problem is track days.  The cars themselves are viceless, and you can learn how to drive yours in safe conditions under professional supervision.

The variety in nameplates and specifications is impressive.  It seems that every major firm has a "halo" car, or had one in the last decade.  Or will again soon: Honda and Porsche have new supercars in the works.  You can have your engine in the front or the back.  It can be enormous, big, or small; turbo or not.  You can adjust the performance of the car from boulevard cruiser to track demon, without wrenches: just push a few buttons from the driver's seat.  Don't want a coupe?  Order a convertible.  Some of them have raced and done well: Audi, Corvette, Ferrari, McLaren.  So they have street cred to the extent that track cred confers it.

But there's one kind of enjoyment supercars can't deliver: using it near its potential on the road.  I'm with Jay Leno on this point.  In everyday use, a normal car with a good chassis and power train is more fun than a supercar.  It is pedaling harder at a given speed or g-force, and needs to be shifted more often, which challenges your skills and brings smiles.  (Yeah, I still prefer a lever and a clutch pedal to paddles.)  Lest this sound like sour grapes, I'd own a supercar in a heartbeat, and use it at track days, if I could afford one.  But even if I had one, I'd want a daily driver that was 2 to 3 liters and stiffly sprung. Take it to the store.  Take it to the twisties.  After all, you can only do a few track days per year.  And, as Killboy says, "You do know you're not the fastest guy out there, don't you?"

Scion FR-S: 2 liters, 200 h.p., rear-wheel drive.  Maybe not super, but super fun.

Lamborghini Countach: how to give supercar a bad name.  In the fun department, "...not so much..."

Porsche 960: green-lighted for 2017 or before.  Boxster-based, but with exotic design engineering, power train, and
materials throughout.  Some of the fun of a Scion FR-S in daily use at 10+ X the price.   But a killer car at track days.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Purdy Car, Purdy Picture(s)

After all these years, the Lamborghini Miura remains for me the prettiest supercar.  Yes, it had problems with front-end lift.  In the side elevation view, it's a wing section!  And reliability, overheating, and air-conditioning.  And yes, the ergonomics could have been better (especially the highly raked steering wheel).  And yes, the headlights could have been done better, and the front grille made narrower.  Faired-in headlights with plastic covers were illegal when the Miura was done.  And body-color fascias covering 5 m.p.h. bumpers were still in the future.

On the other hand, the side vents, cabin, and overall proportions are just about perfect.  I love the plain sides, with no "character lines."  If I were fortunate enough to own one, I'd just keep it under take-off speed, rather than add front dive planes and a rear spoiler.  With better air-conditioning, the Miura could lose the rear window slats.  Oh... and do the wheels and rocker panels in the original silver instead of the gold used on later S versions.  Or maybe "anthracite," to color-coordinate with the bumpers.