Friday, February 28, 2014


Above and below: Tesla Model S

A news item said that Tesla will build a battery factory in the American southwest.  Panasonic currently makes batteries for Tesla and can't keep up.  The new factory will employ several thousand people (I think the report said 4500).  If you want to buy a Tesla, currently you go to the back of a 3-month waiting list.  This is for a car that costs $71,000-95,000 (the Model S) or more.  What car manufacturer wouldn't love to have these problems?

Last summer I saw a black Tesla Model S "in the flesh," in a suburban park.  Apparently the grandparents were there to watch grandkids play soccer.  The Model S is a beautiful car, beautifully made.  It matches the best in fit and finish.  It also appeared to be comfortable with fine ergonomics and a stylish cockpit.  In other words, competitive in its price class.  I haven't looked into range and charging issues involved in owning a Tesla, but it's clearly a practical car for short-trip urban and suburban use.

The news report was a self-awareness check for me.  I would love to know the demographics of Tesla buyers.  I'm a social fossil.  I will never own an electric car, even if mainstream manufacturers can get the cost of a subcompact down to the mid-$20,000's.  (Here it's important to say that the Tesla Model S gets from zero to 60 m.p.h. in around 6 seconds, fast enough for me.)

Humans are doubtless contributing to global warming, which is a fact.  Seven billion people, each driving around in his own 4-passenger internal combustion car is, as the cliche has it, unsustainable.
But for me, there's something about bringing an internal combustion engine to life that's wired deeply into my brain.  One of the tipping-points that got me into my Mustang was the sounds it makes when the key is twisted, or when I bury the throttle.  A practical electric car may be... practical... but it's no fun.  I'm glad I won't be around to hear the sound of American V-8's and Italian V-12's replaced by nearly silent electric motors.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sting Ray: Present At The Creation (Pete Brock)

Meadowdale, 1959: Dr. Dick Thompson in Bill Mitchell's Sting Ray (barely discernable as such, in second place)
chases Lance Reventlow's Scarab into the braking zone for Little Monza.

I've posted about Bill Mitchell's Sting Ray before, but didn't know that Pete Brock had a hand in it. Brock has one of the most impressive resumes in American sports car styling: a major contribution to the Sting Ray race car, an "assist" on the Corvette Sting Ray street car, and his own Cobra Daytona coupe.  Here's the link to Brock's discussion of his new book with Jay Leno:

Personally, I prefer the '65-'67 Corvette Sting Ray to the Split Window.  It has a cleaner look: vertical side vents on the front fender, no fake hood vents, and the rear window is cleaner too.  But let it pass, let it pass.  The Corvette Sting Ray could hold its head up in the company of Europe's best.  And the great look of the car wasn't approached by a Corvette again until the C 6.  The Sting Ray race car and the Cobra coupe were among the prettiest race cars of the '50's and '60's.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Two Kinds of Memory

...square-a wheel...

Finally, rain here cleared the salt and the roads dried.  So I got a chance to warm up the Mustang's fluids by taking it for its emissions test.  Not exactly a fun run, on suburban surface streets that I knew would be clean, but the car hadn't been out in over three months.

The tires develop "memory" if the car sits for longer than three weeks, so the first five miles were whump-whump-whump.  And, although I was going for an Italian Look when I ordered the car (red with tan leather), those initial miles reminded me of an Italian snark from 50 years ago--and made me smile.

The imported car store I worked for had an Italian mechanic who worked on the many Alfas and some Fiats that we sold.  He was unimpressed with our British offerings.  When a BMC car had to be pushed into the shop, which wasn't unusual in those Lucas Electrics days, he would peer out from under the hood of the Alfa he was working on and raise his voice in a sing-song chant: "...square-a wheel... bicycle-a brake...  falf-a job...!"  The rest if us joined in if there wasn't a customer standing at the Service Desk, who might own a British car.  Good times.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Bargain--Of Sorts

As usual, Killboy captures one of the car's better angles perfectly.

Hotshoe and I visited a Nissan dealership before our Monthly Pasta Blowout.  We were struck by how boring the offerings are, compared to the excitement around the Datsun 510 and 240Z years ago. Nissan stores used to have interesting cars--at least one or two.  Even in the '90's.

The store we visited had one, tucked away in a corner: a GT-R.  Last fall at an Autobahn Country Club HSAX, I watched a GT-R mop the floor with Corvettes.  None of the 'Vettes was a C 6, but one was a        C 5 Z-06.  At the corner I worked, the GT-R was faster on approach, ridiculously faster thru, faster on exit, and faster down the next straight.  It was, by far, the fastest street car that I've personally seen driven in anger.

Besides the 3.8 liter twin-turbo V-6, a GT-R comes with a 6-speed transaxle, paddle-shifted via a twin clutch, and all-wheel-drive split 60-40 via three differentials.  Plus "the usual:" 3-piston calipers up front gripping huge ventilated discs inside 20-inchers.  The car we saw had high-performance Dunlops. I don't know if these all-singing, all-dancing techno-cars are fun to drive.  We seem to have a hung jury of video road testers on that question.  But at $110,000, the GT-R is the cheapest supercar you can get.   

Which raises an interesting point: how do you buy a GT-R in Chicagoland?  The salesman we talked to said they're on a kind of allocation from Nissan: "Sell this one and we'll send you another in due course."  Some dealerships aren't excited about floor-planning a car worth five Altimas.  "The GT-R we had before this one sat for three months until one day an MD just walked in and said 'I'll take it.'"

So bring $110,000 and it's yours.  The one Hotshoe and I looked at was a nice shade of dark metallic blue with a black leather interior trimmed in red or orange.  I'd have preferred a different interior.  But don't worry about color or a different interior: what you see is what you will buy.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Full Circle?

Speaking of Miata-based cars (previous post), the new Alfa Romeo Spider looks to be close to final pre-production specification.

This is the joint Mazda-Alfa project in which the basic architecture and power train of the next MX-5 is tweaked and re-skinned as an Alfa.  Presumably, if the MX-5/Miata remains a $25-30K car, the Alfa will come in at $35-45K.  Hopefully with some Italian style and engine/suspension upgrades to Veloce-ness.

That's a lot of money for a car similar to a Miata or a Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ.  For that matter, it's the same or more money as a Mustang 5.0 V-8.  But then, that's about where the Spider was priced 50 years ago compared to an MGB or a Mustang.  The old Spider was a great driver's car, a few notches above the B.  Let's hope the new one is a few notches above the Miata.  We could do with some Italian flair in the mid-priced rear-driver market segment.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sweetie (Frontline MG LE 50)

Saw a Fifth Gear piece on the MG LE 50.  The "occasion" for the car was the 50th anniversary of the MGB.  You can buy an MG LE 50 for $99,000.  That's a lot of money for a tribute to a four-cylinder car with a solid rear axle.  And apparently you can get a good "driver quality" original MGB GT in the U.K. for 10% of the price.  In the States, for 20% of the price.  Potential buyers, of course, are MGB GT lovers, not those looking to tear up the roads or a track day with a Nissan GT-R or a base Porsche 911.

So what do you get for your $99K?  A 2-liter (all-aluminum) Miata d.o.h.c. engine with 200 horsepower and a 5-speed Miata gearbox.  (The original B had an iron pushrod engine with 95 horsepower.)  In a 2000 lb. car, that'll get you to 60 m.p.h. in 5 seconds.  And some other goodies.  Tiff Needell says the MG LE 50 is "a sophisticated, small, light car with great balance."  (My kinda car!)

A modern (and tuned) power plant and tranny, ditto coil-over tubular shocks front suspension, and "tribute" alloy
wheels.  And air-conditioning!  That works!

This was, and is, a great cockpit.  And I hope the new seats have eliminated the need to bring an iron butt for a day in
the car.  Looks like the traditional steering wheel now hides an air bag behind the MG emblem.

Above and below: I thought then, and still do, that the B GT was one of the best-looking cars of the '60's, second only
to the XK-E among the Brits.  Note the lack of creases and "character lines" found on current cars, about which I
complain loudly and often to Watchtower.  Oddly, Aston Martin Green, which flatters most cars (notably
Austin Healeys) doesn't flatter this one.  I wonder why?

Back in the day, the MGB was my second-favorite "affordable" sports car, after the Alfa Giulia Spider.
My main complaint was that the ride was a bit choppy (but way better than the cart-sprung MGA). The gearbox was very good.  It took the Miata, 25 years later, to improve on the linkage and feel of the B's box.  It had great driving ergonomics.  And a comfy cockpit, except for those seats that would wear your butt out after an hour or two.  I wouldn't spend this kind of money on an uber-updated MGB GT. But I can see how some people would.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Fountain Of Youth

Yeah, that's about the way the Tail of the Dragon makes this Grampa feel.  The April trip with my car buddies is locked in.  In August, my extended family's every-three-years reunion is in Pigeon Forge.  If he wants to go, I'll take my superhero grandson to inspect dragons and souvenirs.  And lateral G's, if he's cool with that.  And I'm hoping to get back again in October for an autumn color run.  Dragon Trifecta!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Fear And Loathing From Detroit (And Bavaria, And Turin, And Honshu, And Seoul)

Saw a cable news item about "cars that talk to each other" to avoid collisions.

According to the report, airbags have reduced accident fatalities by 20%.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration believes that cars that can talk to each other will reduce traffic deaths by another 80%.  That would take them down from 1.08 deaths per million vehicle-miles-traveled to 0.22.  Which, I suppose, is about as close to zero as we'll get.

If that's an excessive claim, its a very impressive claim, and the report said the NHTSA wants the technology in showrooms for the 2024 model year.  The report showed aerial video of a Ford test involving lots of cars (more than 10, less than 100) interacting with each other and lane-defining cones on a giant skid pad.

In addition to anti-lock brakes and stability assist, with which we're all familiar, the new technology will alert drivers that they are about to change lanes into the potential path of another vehicle, or are approaching one in their lane too fast (adaptive cruise control), or if they are about to back into something.  The alert is an audio warning tone, doubtless an annoying one, supplemented (in some cases) by vibrating the driver's seat.  In some systems, the car "takes over" and makes its own avoidance maneuvers.

Some of these features have already appeared on high-end cars, with the manufacturers touting how safe and secure they make you feel.  "Forgot to check your mirror or your blind-spot?  Not to worry, our car does it for you and will alert you when you're about to screw up."  Great: the inattentiveness for which American drivers are already noted is reinforced.  The data is stored and uploadable (as speed, yaw, acceleration, and braking now are).  For, as one cable panelist pointed out, criminal prosecution or tort litigation.

Currently, most supercars have stability control that can be partially to fully disabled when the driver wants to have fun.  I wonder if future affordable cars with sporting pretensions will allow the driver to do the same, and to override whatever the on-board computer says is a safe distance and closing speed?  If so, that feature will no doubt find its way into the after-incident upload and lawsuit discovery.

The era of the highway Nanny State is upon us.  And here's Dr. Jennifer Healey of Intel, telling us how much we'll love this Brave New World:

This looks like Phase One of progress toward the goal of a self-driving car, which I'd bet Dr. Healey would like even better.  Maybe she should go to work for Google.  (And here's my rant about that):

In the driving enthusiast corner of the world, prices of cars with No Box On Board are gonna go up some more.  "Classics: they're not just for nostalgia any more."  Now, if the NHTSA would just insist on programming code that moves left lane bandits into the right lane when a No Box On Board car approaches rapidly from behind...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Alfa Romeo 6C2300 MM (Replica) And Descendants

Thanks to the Automobiliac blog for this link.  What a great car!  And another in the spate of replicas of rare and historically significant cars that have sprung up in recent years (Bugatti Type 35, Alfa P3, Ferrari 156).

But it's a big car, like its own big brother, the 8C2900.  You can see why Phil Hill decided his 8C2900 was too much car for the tight circuits he was racing on in California in the late 1940's.  Phil started racing in an MG TC.  When he bought the Alfa, he had been looking for the biggest, baddest, car around.  After mixed results, he sold the Alfa and bought his first Ferrari.  From little acorns...  And, for that matter, it's not too much of a stretch to think of 1950's Ferraris as spiritual descendants of 1930's Alfas.

Above and below: Phil Hill's Alfa 8C2900 was one of the biggest, baddest cars in the early postwar California road
racing scene: 3 liters, supercharged.  A little too big, and expensive to maintain, for amateur road racing.  Phil is
facing the camera in the shot below.

Phil in his own Ferrari 212, the first of several he owned, or drove for other owners, with much success, including big-
bore models and a second place in the Carrera Pan America.  Which got him a contract to drive for Ferrari in major
international sports car races and, eventually, Formula 1.  Ralph Poole photo, Ron Kellogg collection.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Positive Mental Attitude

Killboy seems to be dealing with winter better than I.  And having more fun with it.  This vid puts me in mind of teaching my then-teenaged son to control a slide on a frozen lake in Minnesota in the RX-7. Rear-drivers are more of a chore in winter traffic than front-drivers.  But they're a lot more fun on empty roads.

Go to and click on Highlights for a demo of his new quadcopter.  It has some exciting potential for motorsports videos.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Purdy Car, Purdy Picture

Killgurl's Honda S-2000, photographed by Killboy on the Cherohala Skyway, January 2014.