Friday, May 31, 2013

TR-6 Restoration (#4)

"To the untrained eye, this looks like a basket case.  But to the trained eye, it's much worse."
                                                                                                      --Cuz (with a  ;-)  )

Not mentioned below: the engine air-filter box bought on eBay arrived with surface rust but in otherwise good and unmolested shape.  It's a 1971 part but they are hard to find, so it will have to do for a 1972 car.  It needs only sandblasting and paint: the same factory spec semi-gloss silver as the valve/rocker cover.

The good news is that the rear half of the center tunnel is in good shape.  The bad news is that the interior sides of the
floor panels need media blasting, if they can be saved.  Too many cycles of  rainwater being trapped under the carpet?
Original-spec n.o.s. jute-backed carpet arrived from the U.K., "and it smells like real jute."  Needed: sun visors.

Removing the old top from the car.  Cuz took it to his own workbench where he removed about 25 pop-rivets, the glue
holding it to the frame-front that mates to the windshield header, and the dry-rotted seals "being held in by hundreds
of ounces of 3M weatherstrip adhesive."  Hand-sanded and now ready for sand-blasting and paint.  Now on order: $92
worth of miscellaneous top hardware from Moss Motors, which has been "a great company to work with."

Z-S carbs disassembled and ready for rebuild (rebuild kit in the blue and white box).  They cleaned up pretty well but
will be hand-polished by Cuz.  New water pump (in box) in background.  Pilote had to Wiki Z-S carbs; assumed they
were S.U.'s.  Zenith-Solex.  They operate on the same variable-venturi principle as S.U.'s, but Zenith-Solex had found
patent-nullifying detail changes in design by the late 1960's.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Off Topic: The Guns At Last Light (Book)

This book, by Rick Atkinson, is the last in his trilogy about the U.S. Army in Europe in World War Two. Atkinson fans have been waiting for it for a long time: the second volume was published in 2007.  The Guns At Last Light was well worth the wait.  It covers the period from D-Day to V.E. Day.

Atkinson is an exhaustive researcher and a fine writer.  He regularly brings in what the war looked like from the German side.  He doesn't just mention the Allies' difficulties with logistics and strategy, he explains them.  He gives a full account of the campaigns in southern France--something often glossed-over in Eisenhower-centric books.  His portrayals of Eisenhower's difficulties in "herding cats" (Montgomery, Patton, and Bradley) and Ike's own limitations are first rate.  His eye for vivid and telling detail is superb.  He moves back and forth with ease between the General Staff level and the experience of grunts and civilians.  The maps are excellent: legible, and everything mentioned in the text can be found on them.  (It's surprising how often that's not the case.)

Writing broad, deep, and readable narrative history is not easy.  Add Rick Atkinson to the short list of historians who's work is page-turning and first rate scholarship.  I used to buy anything Barbara Tuchman wrote: I trusted her instincts for a good subject, and knew she would make it interesting.  Now that Atkinson is finished with his World War Two trilogy, I'd love to see him try a subject other than, or only indirectly related to, military history.  But I'll keep reading him as long as he keeps writing.

Horch was one of the four rings of Auto Union--now Audi.  It was the pre-war luxury brand in the lineup.  And Horch
four-seater cabriolets, both two- and four-door, were the mode of transport favored by German generals: driver, general,
and two staff members in back.  The staff members were useful as spotters because of Allied air superiority.  It was a
strafing run against a Horch similar to this one that took Rommel out of the war in 1944.  Until I read Atkinson, I didn't
realize that Horch was the Wehrmacht's counterpart to the U.S. Army's Packards and Cadillacs. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

TR-6 Restoration (#3)

The frame looks just as sound from the top (yes, this was a body/frame car--must have been one of the last).

New bushing kit for the rack & pinion is on order.

104 raging horsepower from a 2.5 liter six.   When you think about it, that was
about what you could expect from an OHV non-crossflow head with siamesed
ports, at the height of the pre-injection desmogged days.  A carb rebuild kit is
on order.  High hopes for what's seen when the head comes off, because it
started and ran fine with no smoke before purchase.

Off we go for bodywork and paint!  Heavy lifting by Wolf (left) and Cory (right).

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Monaco Grand Prix

It seems to be generally agreed that Monaco is a ridiculous venue for a Grand Prix because it is so tight and passing is nearly impossible unless the passee gives way.  But it's a highlight of the season for participants and a special win for drivers.  I try not to miss it on TV because the background is lovely. Alas, because Monaco is a tax haven, many of the wedding-cake buildings have been replaced with high-rise cookie-cutter condos.  The Hotel de Paris and Casino still stand, but the train station became the Lowe's Hotel, now the Fairmont Hotel (it looks like a parking ramp).

Although the idea of Formula 1 cars at Monaco is just as dumb as IndyCars on street circuits in the States, the romance of the setting still captivates me.  And the tradition: Monaco has been around since 1929, largely unchanged.  The 2013 race was the customary combination of parade and crash-fest.  But there's no better place to watch a street race than Monaco.  The segment from Nouvelle Chicane through Noghes makes for an intense segment of an intense lap, parade or not.

Great venue, visually.  For actual racing, not so much...  The  Fairmont (formerly Loew's,  formerly Station) Hairpin
requires special steering arms, unique to Monaco, to get the cars around it. 

Above and below: Old Monaco and New Monaco.  Not much change over almost 90 years.  1.9 miles is pretty short,
even for a modern circuit.

The old Gasometre Hairpin was the first corner after the start-finish line when it was where the Swimming Pool Chicane
is now.  First lap crashes were routine.  You might think that moving the start-finish line and changing Gasometre to
Rascasse and Noghes would mitigate the problem, but it only moved it to Ste. Devote.  Monaco generally and the
Gasometre in particular were said to inspire Chris Pook's vision for a Long Beach street race.  Sure enough, the hairpin
at Long Beach results in the same traffic jam/accordion crashes.

Friday, May 24, 2013

TR-6 Restoration (#2)

The dash has been removed, and the instruments pulled for bench testing.  The body & paint man thinks the original wood veneer dash can be salvaged.  He re-laminated the separated pieces and will use a clear epoxy resin to seal the edges and back: now to see how well the front responds to refinishing.

Wires labeled and removed.  All fluids drained, hoses disconnected.  Radiator, front brace, and tunnel removed so the engine can be pulled.  It should be out by the time this post goes up, and the rolling chassis will go to the body shop.

The first potential delay has been encountered even before the engine is out of the car: the proper green-colored under-hood hose set is on back-order until "mid-summer."

My cousin and his body man inspected the car before purchase and believed it sound.  After they trailered it to the
shop and got it up on the lift, this was confirmed: frame rails and floor panels shown above. 

No rust, just minor dents and dings.  But a new gas filler neck and lots of trim pieces will be needed.  New set of brake
calipers found in a box in the car.

No differential drain.  Cousin checked with a TR Forum.  Apparently Triumph eliminated the drain around the time
this car was built, "to eliminate dripping."  Look how well that worked!  Anyway, the rear cover must be removed to
drain the diff.  The rear cockpit panel must be removed to access the filler plug.  This is normally where Pilote would
insert a hilarious snark about "British engineering."  But the filler plug for engine oil on my Civic Si is not a model
 of accessibility either.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fun With Search Terms (#3)

More from my ongoing collection of search terms that got readers to this blog, possibly to their surprise or disappointment, and the thoughts that came to my mind:

"Camshaft Ferrari"  Was he in Talladega Nights?

"Austin Healey laid back windshield"  The only part of the car that was.  Rorty!

"Alfa Romeo 156 blend door sticker"  Huh?  Sounds like an expensive coffee.

"Porsche 917 aerodynamics"  Flew pretty well right off the drawing board...

"1957 Renault Dauphine"  It turned out that the Mini was the future, not a water-cooled Beetle:

"Porsche 917 LeMans 1971 Zitro"  Another toiler in the vinyards of trivia...

"pilotes de Ferrari"  So many drivers, so little time...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

TR-6 Restoration (#1)

My cousin has a new project: restoration of a Triumph TR-6.  He's letting me blog the highlights; the pictures are his.  This is not a documentation or authentication of the restoration.  It's just a fun tour (I hope) through a TR-6 as it rises from "scruffy, running, but not driveable" to "ready for cruise night."

There are $4200 worth of parts on an Excel spreadsheet, mostly soft parts and consumables.  But stripdown has just begun.  The primary vendors will be British Victoria, Moss Motorsports, and The Roadster Factory.  "Add labor costs, stir, and season to taste."  (His intent is to restore the car to "factory correct.")

On May 11, money and title changed hands, a couple of tires were pumped up, and it was rolled out from behind a barn
and power-washed.  Triumph built about 12,000 TR-6's in 1972 and sold them for about $3500.  (Using Pilote's 10:1
"inflationator," it would be a $35,000 car in today's money.)  The body and frame are mostly straight and rust-free.

After sitting for five years, the engine started and ran fine with no smoke.  But it will be disassembled, and the rotating
parts checked and balanced.  Valves and seats will be hardened to run on non-leaded gas.  This is a restoration rebuild,
so the camshaft, carbs, and exhaust will remain stock or very close to it.  The radiator needs to be re-cored.  The tranny
will be disassembled, cleaned, and inspected.  It probably needs an overdrive solenoid.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Last Of The Privateers

Lord Alexander Hesketh, James Hunt, and the Hesketh 308

In an earlier post about Formula 1, I said that by the 1980's a boutique manufacturer could no longer stick an over-the-counter Cosworth-Ford in his chassis and expect to win.  I'm reminded of the one who did, in 1974 and 1975.

Hesketh Racing straddled a fuzzy boundary between boutique manufacturer and private entrant. Private entrants were not unusual in the 1950's.  Maserati 250 F's floated around the backs of starting grids from 1954 to 1959.  From 1959 to 1962, Rob Walker Racing entered Coopers and Lotuses for Stirling Moss.  The Walker-Moss partnership was successful because Moss was at the top of his game. But the team did not materially alter or try to improve the cars.  Walker retired from racing at the end of 1970, having soldiered on with customer cars but without a driver of Moss's caliber.

Hesketh Racing began as a lark in 1972 when Lord Alexander Hesketh and his pal Anthony Horsley entered Formula 3 events because they wanted to have some fun.  Horsley drove and Hesketh wrote the checks.  They were notorious party animals.  Horsley crashed a lot of cars.  They moved up to Formula 2.  He crashed some more.  Hesketh concluded that it wouldn't be much more expensive to race in Formula 1.  They remained party animals and the entire team, including mechanics, stayed in five star hotels.  They weren't taken seriously by the Formula 1 establishment.

In 1973 they rented a March 731 and hired James Hunt to drive a second car.  He was unemployed and came with a reputation: "James Shunt."  He was a free and independent spirit and a party animal too. Recently Steve Matchett and David Hobbs said that, among current drivers, Kimi Raikkonen reminds them most of Nigel Mansell and James Hunt.  Raikkonen himself has said that his role model was Hunt.  Hunt and Hesketh Racing were made for each other.  He was much faster and less crash-prone than Horsley, who climbed out of his car and began to be an effective manager of a single-car team (itself a handicap).  Hesketh hired Harvey Postlethwaite, March's Assistant Designer, to develop their 731.  Hunt's best finish was 2nd in the U.S. Grand Prix, but he had a 3rd and a 4th, and only one retirement.  Aero tweaks to the 731 made it faster than the March team cars.

For 1974, Postlethwaite designed the Hesketh 308.  While it was a conventional car, highly derivative of the March, it was fast.  Hunt scored three 3rd places but the team was plagued with retirements.  He finished 8th in the championship.  For 1975 the 308 was further refined into B and C models.  Hunt won the Dutch Grand Prix and finished 4th in the championship.  1973-1975 were remarkable seasons for a small, "unprofessional" team.  But the costs were high, even for Hesketh's resources, and the team was unable to find a major sponsor.  Hesketh pulled the plug.

The cars were sold to Frank Williams and became FW-05's.  McLaren hired Hunt for 1976 when Emerson Fittipaldi unexpectedly quit to start his own team.  Hunt became World Champion at the end of a very fraught season.  He refused to sign the clause in his McLaren contract that required him to wear a business suit to public appearances, and often showed up in jeans and a tee shirt.

Hesketh Racing was a throwback to the 1950's.  Hesketh himself was more serious about his racing than he was first taken to be.  Horsley developed into a good team manager--something that could not have been foreseen.  Hunt reminds me of drivers like Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins: sometimes brilliantly fast, but mercurial and temperamental.  Formula 1 hasn't seen the likes of Hesketh Racing in 40 years, and probably won't again.

Hesketh 308 at a vintage event: sharp-looking and fast enough.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Stirling Moss Video Biography

This is an hour-long video, but worth the time if you have it:

The main value of the video is the feel it provides for European road racing in the 1950's, particularly in the U.K.  (It was produced for the BBC.)  The sport was then much more a sport, and nationalistic, than it became later as it commercialized.  In many ways, its values were a throwback to the Edwardian Age.  In the modern era, a young Peter Collins would not turn his car over to Juan Fangio so the latter could win a championship "because he deserves it more than I do and my day will come" (1956).  Nor would a Moss try to reverse (successfully) the  disqualification of Mike Hawthorn that would ultimately cost him (Moss) the championship (1958).  Moss would not have won the British GP in 1955 but for Fangio lifting on the run to the checker because he knew a win in his home GP would mean a lot to him.

On the upside, the video is candid about some things that have been swept under the rug in the works I've read by and about Moss, like the anti-semitism he faced (not just as a school boy) and his girl-chasing.  "The man in full" is well-presented, and he's candid in his interviews with Patrick Stewart. Moss often comes across as more self-absorbed than other racing drivers (a self-absorbed bunch to begin with), but he may just less artful in disguising it.  The video also includes some fine old film.
On the downside, many of the talking heads exaggerate.  (Doug Nye is, as usual, excellent.)  And some dubious claims creep in.  For example, that a Moss/Ferrari partnership in 1962 would have been hard to beat.  (The 1962 Ferrari Formula 1 car was uncompetitive.)

Moss was (and is) a tireless self-promoter. He was the first professional driver in the modern sense--which is an interesting contrast with his otherwise Edwardian sporting values.  He's said that being the best driver never to win a World Championship turned out to be a blessing in disguise: it kept his reputation alive long after some World Champions have been forgotten.  Moss has also said that Fangio was better than he was.  This is debatable if sports car racing is included in the record.  What's not debatable is that he was the driver to beat between Fangio's retirement and Jimmy Clark's bursting on the scene after Moss's near-fatal crash.

Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson winning the 1955 Mille Miglia.  The video's presentation of this drive is compelling.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tail Of The Clermont-Ferrand

Original Clermont-Ferrand circuit (as seen in the video link).  It was later shortened and straightened.

Another belated Pilote discovery: the original Charade Circuit at Clermont-Ferrand.  The video is of the 1965 French Grand Prix, and high quality for home movie film.  It gives a fine feel for the course.  (The engine sound overdubbing is a bit off-putting in places.)  Clermont-Ferrand is in France's Massif Central--thus its Tail-of-the-Dragon-like configuration.  The tight curves and switchbacks are packed into 5.0 miles.  Its abandonment by Formula 1 was doubtless because of inability to provide adequate passive safety.  Difficulty in passing must have made it unpopular with competitors too.  But it looks like fun to drive.  Circuit aside, this race was one of those Jimmy Clark performances that left other drivers shaking their heads (pole, fastest lap, led all laps, 20-second margin of victory).

Here are a few stills for additional flavor:

See?  It's a high-speed Dragon.  The second car in frame must be a "Harley" (holding up traffic).   ;-)

This is a fairly famous picture of Colin Chapman giving Jimmy Clark a virtual "high five" upon victory.  It became a
trademark Chapman gesture: greet a winning driver at the finish line like this or, later, a toss of his black JPS cap.

Before racing cars were reliable: Richie Ginther gives Jo Bonnier and Innes Ireland a ride back to the pits on his Honda
RA-272, so they can all DNF in relative comfort.  This may be 1965, but Ireland is still doing it Old School: driving in
a polo shirt instead of a two-piece cotton fire-resistant suit.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Weekend's Racing

Watched the ALMS race at Laguna Seca on ESPN3 (live streaming).  Fewer commercials and more technically-oriented commentary than we get on TV.  It was a good race: the top 8 cars in GT were "line astern" with a car-length or so between them after the first round of pit stops.  The finish was marred by a long full-course yellow and  a "green/white checker," which could have been avoided.  So NASCARisms are already creeping in.   I'm really looking forward going to Road America in August for the first time in years to watch ALMS.  It will be fine to see the GT's in one of the last "LeMans rules" races on a great course.  Even though we'll know less about race developments than media watchers.

And I watched the Spanish Grand Prix on TV.  It is a joy to see Fernando Alonso get more out of a second-rate car than anyone else can, although, as the announcers pointed out, the 2013 Ferrari may not  be a second rate car.  (It races better than it qualifies.)  It was not surprising to learn that, with his win in Spain, Alonso has surpassed Nigel Mansell on the all-time wins list (behind Schumacher, Prost, and Senna).  Alonso's gritty determination reminds me of Mansell.  But he can do more with a so-so car.

Monaco is only two weeks away!  It still has some of the flavor of the old circuit, from Ste. Devote to the chicane after the tunnel.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ultimate XK-E?

Apologies to readers who may be getting tired of all the recent Jaguar posts.  But somehow, until now, I've missed this car in ransacking the Leno's Garage videos.  One reason it's interesting is that you can see what the builder was going for: the ultimate streetable XK-E, using only Jaguar parts.  ( has Wilwood brakes.)  You could think of it as a Pro Touring XK-E.

It took a lot of thought and craftsmanship to make it happen (I had to replay the video to take it all in). Whether or not it was worth it could be argued.  It's like those custom and pro touring cars that cross the auction blocks: one builder's vision.  But it yanks my chain.  I just wish he had done something about the plastic steering wheel, and will second Leno's motion to change out the rocker switches for toggles.

Short wheelbase, a hot-rodded V-12 with Webers, 5-speed, upgraded brakes and suspension, rare Dunlop alloy center-
lock racing wheels...what more could you want?  (Maybe a roll bar...)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Car Culture Multiculturalism

The Rocket Man at the Launching Pad diner on the north end of  Wilmington, IL on Old Route 66.  Today it's U.S. 53.
I've passed it dozens of times, but didn't take this picture.

Here are two guys, about my age, who drove Route 66 in a red Caddy convertible.  It was a Bucket List dream for them:

Because I'm a car guy and live at the eastern end of Route 66, people sometimes ask me if I've driven it or intend to.  Nope.  I've been on stretches of it in Chicagoland.  I don't associate them with romance.  I associate them with being stuck in traffic.  When my kids were in college, I drove past the diner in the picture above many times on our way to and from their schools.  It's a destination for local Route 66 buffs.  If you are looking for 1950's and 1960's kitsch, you can find plenty of it in Illinois.  And, as the guys in the video documented, plenty more, all the way to L.A.  I'm glad they enjoyed the trip.  But I have no interest in spending a week in a Caddy exploring kitsch.

"Show and shines" are all over Chicagoland in the summer.  Mostly, they're wall-to-wall '60's cruisers and muscle cars.  Been there, done that.  Once in a while, you can see an interesting Super Stock, or a gasser.  (Saw my first Mitsu Evo VIII at a "show and shine," though.  In the Miscellaneous/Overflow lot, off the main drag.)  For that matter, the British Car Show in Chicagoland was probably "one and done" for me, although I might try it again to see if unusual cars show up.  (A Bentley LeMans Replica was there the last time.)  Walking lines of MGB's and TR-4's is about as interesting as another muscle car.  I looked at the Cars & Coffee website for Chicagoland last fall.  Mostly late-model Lambos, Corvettes, and Shelby Mustangs, with a strong customizing vibe.  Ho, hum.

On the other hand, there are four road racing courses within a 5-hour drive of Chicago.  The Fox and Kankakee River Valleys are passable fun runs.  Stretches of the Illinois Valley are scenic and short sections of it are challenging to drive.  Fortunately, my Bucket List is repeats every spring, summer, and fall.  I work race crew for a few club events and don't work the vintage sports car race.  Instead, I wander the paddock, take pictures, and hang on the fence.  Watching a pro event at Road America may have crept back onto the list.  And of course a couple of road trips to the Tail of the Dragon.  Once you get into Kentucky, the scenery is fine all the way down.  Actual hills!  If you want to see interesting vehicles, you can't do better than the parking lot at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort.  Then there's the Dragon itself: the reason for going.  As for Route 66: love the song, forget the road.

A Killboy shot of the Tail of the Dragon Store's new dragon.  If you're gonna do kitsch, do it with flair. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

The World Turned Upside Down (In A Small Way)

The Dallara chassis's aero package makes it look fat and ugly.  But no worse than F-1 cars, I guess.  This is James
Hinchcliffe's Andretti Autosports car.  Andretti Autosports has won 3 of the first 4 races of 2013 (Hinchcliffe has
won 2).  Penske Racing appears to be clueless, and Ganassi Racing is struggling.  The world turned upside down?

I am not a fan of street racing between Jersey Barriers, but channel-surfed through the Sao Paulo IndyCar event yesterday.  Sao Paulo isn't much of a course, and on top of that, the 2013 edition was quickly on pace to match its full-course yellow flag record of 6.  (It managed to set "...a new track record!!!..." of 7.  Gauges nominal for a street course...)

But go figure.  The last 12 laps were some of the best IndyCar racing I've seen in many a day.  And by IndyCar racing, I mean to include CART in its road racing glory days.  Takuma Sato led, barely, with his tires going off, for Foyt Racing (a perennial also-ran team).  Josef Newgarden (who is a 22-year-old American despite his name looking and sounding German) had come from deep in the field to shadow Sato and his tires were in ready-to-pounce condition.  He was driving for Sarah Fisher's relatively new and underfunded Fisher-Hartman team.  Coming up fast was James Hinchcliffe for Andretti Autosports who's race had been star-crossed with no reasonable expectation to find himself in third. Fourth and fifth were contested too, and within a long camera shot of the first three.

Sato excepted, the driving in the last laps was clean (he blocked).  Newgarden faded only when he used up his tires trying to get around Sato.  Hinchcliffe got by Newgarden and, on the last lap, provoked Sato into outbraking himself and did a fine "over-under" move for the win.  Brilliant stuff.  IndyCar drivers deserve some real road courses and a sanctioning body that can get out of its own way.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Two More Oldies Snapshots

I'm tossing my old car snapshots and scanning the best.  There are better pictures of the BRM already on the 'net, but here they are for what they're worth:

Graham Hill used a BRM P-57 1.5 liter V-8 to win the 1962 F-1 World Championship.  This one is in the C.H. Motor-
cars  (Collier) Collection in Naples,  FL.  The interesting thing about that collection is that most of the cars are icons of
road racing and meticulously restored to either 1) representative condition of their most significant season (like this
BRM) or 2) their condition as a particular race-winner or technical significance.  Much of the interior space of the
museum is dark, with baby spotlights focused on the cars.  This is a good way to protect them from exposure to UV
rays, but makes it hard to photograph them with a snapshot camera.

The Reynard-Honda used by Dario Franchitti to win the 1999 CART race at Road America.  This car/driver combo still
holds the absolute lap record at 144 m.p.h., set in qualifying.  The record has stood for 13 years, which also surpasses a
previous record: the 11 years between Mark Donahue's 123 mp.h. in a Porsche 917/30 Can-Am car and the 125 m.p.h.
of Mario Andretti's Lola T-800/Ford-Cosworth DFX.  The inaugural race at Road America, in 1955, was won by Phil
Hill in a Ferrari Monza sports car at 80 m.p.h.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Lizard At Atanta

Watched one too many overly reverential classic-cars-on-the-lawn videos.  It was shot in Full Artsy Mode: engine starts, quick-cuts, and music.  Had to dig this video out again.  Watchtower sent me the link months ago.  It wears well.  Enjoy.  It was shot in practice for Petit LeMans at Road Atlanta last fall.


Kankakee River near Aroma Park, IL

Finally put the first serious mileage of 2013 on my Mustang.  On April 30!  Normally it has done some miles by mid-March.  Took a light jacket but it warmed up to shirtsleeve weather.  Looked for some twisties east of Kankakee, IL.  The map was promising: a 6-7 mile stretch of riverfront.  But the houses on the non-river side of the road were too close to each other and the road to boogie.  And it was a long way to go for a short stretch of riverfront.  Last summer, I crossed off a segment of the Fox River for the same reasons.  After a few years of exploration with hardcopies of Google Map, it looks like I've found all the good twisties in Greater-Greater Chicagoland.  Sigh...  Maybe a day-trip to Galena is in order.  West of Freeport, the terrain gets hilly.

Still fresh in my mind was the width, feel, and placeability of my Civic Si on the Dragon.  The Mustang is just too big.  It would mostly fill a lane, and the lack of steering feel combined with the car's mass make for handling too sloppy to attack the road.  The notion of "one and done, just to see what it would be like" has been in the back of my mind.  Really, I already know: taking it to the Dragon would be like taking a broadsword to a knife fight (as I've joked before).  But on a sunny day on County Roads hereabouts, a Mustang convertible is in its element: drop the top, and drop the hammer where you can.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Purdy Car, Snapshot Pictures

The Gen. II Corvair's killer "coke bottle" shape in side view.  De-chroming and  aftermarket wheels a plus.

The rear 3/4 view was its best angle.  Panasport wheels a plus-plus.

But the front 3/4 view was fine too.

By 1965, with the introduction of Gen. 2, the Corvair was a sorted car.  And its new body was a Billy Mitchell/G.M. Styling home run.  It deserved a better fate than being replaced by the Chevy II.

I was rooting for the Corvair when it came out in 1960: "hey, America can do a technically advanced car too!"  All props to Ed Cole for pushing an aluminum air-cooled rear-engine design from concept to production through G.M.'s conservative bureaucracy.  You need only compare it to its competitors, the Ford Falcon and the Plymouth Valiant, to see how far outside the box Cole was thinking.

Alas, the Gen. 1 Corvair was almost as much a turkey as Ralph Nader claimed it was.  I drove one once, and the father of a high school buddy owned one, so I had some shotgun seat time.  Steering feel was vague, even for an American car of that era.  Not good in a car with a heavy rear weight bias.  With swing-axle rear suspension, it oversteered like a Beetle on steroids.  It was really tail-happy in the rain. Proper pressure in its gripless cross-ply tires was critical, and needed to be checked often.  A set of good radial tires would have mitigated much of this, but radials on American cars were still half a dozen years in the future.

Its cooling fan belt changed direction from vertical to horizontal and back again over idler pulleys.  Belt condition and tension were critical.  It wasn't the kind of "drive it and forget it" kind of car Americans were used to (and wanted).  My own Dad had a 1960 Valiant.  Its 101 h.p. "slant six" would leave Corvairs and Falcons for dead in a drag race.  The Falcon, by far the most joyless car of the three to drive, would still be running and comparatively rust-free after Corvairs and Valiants had gone to that Great Crusher In The Sky.

In 1965, most of the Corvair's problems were addressed with the Gen. II.  It had fully independent rear suspension with good geometry.  The sporty models had a 4-speed and an available turbocharger. American cars by then had front disc brakes.  Owners looking for a driver's car mounted radials.  And it now had killer looks.  The only problem that wasn't fixed was oil leaks.  The Gen. II Corvair proved that the car's issues were in execution, not concept.  Its sales strategy was moved upmarket from basic transportation to "fun car," where it belonged.  Don Yenko of Yenko Chevrolet even turned the Gen. II into a winning SCCA racer.

If I'd been offered a free pick-of-the-litter G.M. car (Corvette excluded) in 1965, I'd probably have taken a 396 Chevelle or a Pontiac GTO.  Wrong!  If you were looking for fun on curvy roads, using most of the car's performance potential, the 180 h.p. turbocharged Corvair Corsa was the way to go.  In style, thanks to Billy Mitchell.

Yenko Stinger SCCA racer.