Monday, March 31, 2014

Finally, We Get The Video Post On Jay Leno's Lotus 26R!

As a fantasy toy, this car is right in my wheelhouse.  It has been finished for some time, but the final post on the build didn't go up until now.  What a Dragon-slayer!  If Jay trailered this car to Robbinsville and spent a week in the mountains, he'd have a ball.  Here's the link to the vid:

The epic Jim Clark drive that Jim Hall refers to in the video was in the debut of the Lotus 23, not an Elan 26R.  In May, 1962, Clark led the Nurburgring 1000 Kilometers (with a 1.5 liter twin cam), lapping faster than cars with four times that engine size.  The race started in drizzle, gradually drying out over hours.  At the end of the first lap, Clark led Dan Gurney's 2.0 liter Porsche by 27 seconds.  Both were in the Sports 2000 Class.  Clark continued to build his lead until he became woozy from fumes caused by a broken exhaust header.  Gurney then led until he had transmission failure.  The race was won on a dry track by the Phil Hill/Olivier Gendebien Ferrari Dino 246 (2.4 liter) running in the Sports 3000 Class.  But, while it was damp, nobody had anything for Clark in the little 1.5 liter Lotus 23.

Epic driver, epic car, epic drive: Jim Clark in the Lotus 23 at the Nurburgring in 1962.  This car had the same twin cam
 head (on a cast iron Ford Cortina block) as a Lotus Elan, but was a purpose-built racing car.  The 23 went on to a very
successful run as a customer race car, replacing Porsche (along with the Elva-Porsche) as "the giant killer" in the
sports racing classes. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Welcome Back, Williams And Martini & Rossi

It looks like Williams has a competitive Formula 1 car in 2014, in Martini & Rossi livery.  Welcome back to TV exposure to two famous names in racing!  F-1 cars aren't pretty, but the new, lowered, noses make them less ugly.

Predictably, Pilote's favorite Martini & Rossi liveried race car: the 1971 LeMans winning Porsche 917K.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Nothing New Under The Sun (Porsche Division)

                                                                                                                                    photo: Sports Car Racing Though Time blog

This is Johnny von Neumann in his Porsche 550 Spyder at the Santa Barbara Road Races in September, 1955.  He came second to Ken Miles in another Spyder, followed home by three more.  Which gives some idea of the dominance of these cars in the small-bore modified classes at the time.

But that's not my point.  Evidently von Neumann was looking for extra brake cooling, because he sawed holes in the nose--which remind me of the (equally ugly) side radiator vents on modern water-cooled Porsches.  These were the days when Spyders were just race cars, not venerated objets d'art worth six to seven figures.  But nobody copied Johnny's massive holes, so they must not have worked.  Or if they did, improved cooling was offset by increased drag and/or aero lift.

                                                                                                                                                                         photo: Julius Weitmann

And this is Michael May's Spyder at the Nurburgring in 1956.  May was a young Swiss engineer who believed that an elevated wing, mounted to the chassis, would improve rear tire adhesion.  But the organizers of the 1000 km race found the modification "unacceptable" and the car was not allowed to start with the wing.  May was DNF in the race.  He anticipated Jim Hall's winged Can-Am Chaparrals by ten years, winged Formula 1 cars by thirteen years, and the first winged factory Porsches by fifteen years.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Above My Pay Grade

Post-practice teardown of Richie Hearn's CART racer at Road America in 1998.

Watchtower has a bum tach in his Bullitt.  His choices are to buy a new gauge cluster from Ford (expensive) or to try to replace only one faulty drive motor himself (inexpensive).  The job can be done with screwdrivers, wrenches, and a soldering iron.  But it's not a simple swap-out: some mechanical skills are required.  Watchtower has them.  He hasn't decided yet which way to go.

Apparently instrument failure is not uncommon on S-197 Mustangs.  So I may face the same choice.   I'd probably buy a new cluster.   I used to enjoy routine maintenance work on my own cars in the era of points and condensers and mechanical distributors.  My skills were only fair, and I had the good sense to not attempt anything that required more than screwdrivers, wrenches, and a timing light.  Hotshoe is replacing the brake lines on his VW Scirocco.  I lack the tools, skills, patience, and confidence to tackle projects far more simple than that.  Even if my joints were still supple, which they no longer are.

All this put me in mind of the best mechanics I've seen: the pros who work on race cars at major meets. It's a delight to watch them work.  That's one reason to get a "superticket" paddock pass for three days for a major event.  When CART was at Road America, the cars were partially torn down after every practice and qualifying session, to the tub and power train--further, if there were problems.  Including data uploads and downloads. There's a job list, usually inside the hauler to protect it from prying eyes. Each mechanic has a specialty and primary area of responsibility, but he also backs up his colleagues. There's no wasted motion.  It's like watching a choreographed dance production.  Unless the car was damaged in the previous session, they usually have it ready to go again inside of an hour.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

My Club's 2014 indoor School

The Indoor Driving School signifies spring to me.  Usually we get to do speed-limited conga lines at Autobahn Country Club after classroom stuff.  Conga lines get my adrenalin above trace levels and are a skills and psychological tune-up for the Dragon.  This year, the winter was long and severe enough that we could not use the track yesterday.  It was still partly frozen, with frost heaves in the North Loop.  ACC didn't want us to "stress" a roadbed was was engineered for 6000 lbs., not 18-wheelers.  Sigh...

But I enjoyed the school just the same.  It's a chance to re-connect with gearheads not seen since last fall.  We had a small ceremony to recognize our first Lifetime Member, which was triply gratifying: we were pleased to honor him, he was pleased to be honored, and, typically, he did us proud again.  I went to the afternoon breakout session on working race staff.  It's time to up my game if I'm going to work corners regularly.  Hotshoe attended the breakout session on High Speed Autocross.  After taking several years off, his new Ford Focus ST has his adrenalin circulating, and he may HSAX this season. Nothing would please me more than to see him back on track and to provide him and others with a better corner staff...  It was a good day.

Any day that involves three Porsche 911 RSR clones is a good day for Pilote.  These are ACC member cars.  My club's
racers drive considerably less rarified stuff.  We rent ACC twice a year: pocket change for them.

Ross and Cheryl Fosbender with his Lifetime Member certificate, signifying his decades of contributions to the club.
This was Ross's first outing since heart bypass surgery in January.  He was touched by the honor, which we hoped he
would be and which touched us.  Cheryl's first date with Ross was when he asked her to be his pit crew at a Meadow-
dale race.  Her first big, "extra" paycheck, for teaching summer school, went for a rebuilt race engine for Ross's stick-
axle Corvette.  She worked event staff for 30 years.  That's "a racing wife."  Yesterday, Ross donated his 2-time
HSAX championship-winning Toyota Cressida station wagon "free to a good home."  He hasn't been able to
get it running right since he installed a turbocharger, and neither has a Toyota specialist shop.  He figures a
computer-savvy youngster can get it running, and he needs garage space to restore his Alfa Spider Veloce.

The Chicago contingent for our spring Dragon run is ready--more than ready after a seemingly endless winter.  I won't
speak for Hotshoe, but I've almost forgotten what daffodils and forsythia look like.  We'd be readier still if we'd have
been allowed on track for conga line laps.  On the upside, Hotshoe's Focus ST may see some HSAX laps this season.
The Spec Miata on the trailer in the background is just slumming.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Size Matters

Saw a TV car show promo featuring a customized monster truck with a badge on the fender that said SIZE MATTERS.  Yes, it does:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Old Greenur (Bullitt Tribute)

The Legendary Motor Cars Bullitt Mustang... let's call it a tribute, not a replica.

I watched an interesting Legendary Motor Cars episode on Velocity channel, with an interesting factoid buried in it.  Peter Klut's shop built a Bullitt tribute for a client.  Let's call it a tribute, not a replica, because while it appears identical to the movie car, it has full A-arm/coil-over front suspension and a ditto 4-link rear suspension, rack & pinion steering, and four wheel disc brakes.  So it's modern underneath.

The interesting factoid was that Max Balchowsky built the movie cars.  Warner Brothers had a product placement deal with Ford, which shipped two green 1968 Mustang GT's to Max in Los Angeles.  Max modified the cars for the film, which mostly involved strengthening undercarriages and removing body trim for the minimalist "Bullitt look."

Max in Old Yeller II
What's interesting is that Max Balchowsky was not involved in the Hollywood movie car scene.  He owned an independent garage and was involved in the California road racing scene.  Most notably, Max raced his own specials.  He used whatever was at hand to build the cars, which would not have won prizes for appearance or advanced engineering.  But Old Yeller I & II were fast cars.  Max built the only Buick nail head V-8 to stay with Europe's overhead cams--or Cadillac and Chevy V-8's, for that matter.   People as famous as Dan Gurney had guest drives in Max's cars.

Max racing Old Yeller I back-in-the-day.  Photo: Tam's Old Race Cars.

Old Yeller II, restored, at a modern vintage race.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hurray For The White & Blue!

Cunningham C4-R, Mulsanne Corner, LeMans, 1953.  Bill Spear and Briggs Cunningham came 7th in this car, behind
two Jaguar C-Types, another C4-R, a Ferrari 340 MM, and a Gordini 124S.  Cunningham never achieved his lifelong
goal of winning LeMans in his own, or another American, car.  But his teams were competitive and he came as close
as 2nd.  He took Corvette to LeMans for the first time (and last for a long time) in 1960.

A new, exhaustive, biography of Briggs Cunningham has been published.  Here's the link to "Jay Leno's Book Club":

Thursday, March 13, 2014

To Diesel Or Not To Diesel?

VW Jetta diesel: as good or better than gasoline for most of us.

Volkswagen is offering an additional $1000 fuel voucher as an incentive to buy a Jetta diesel (TV ad).  I don't get it--I'd have thought that VW could sell all the diesels they can make in the North American market.

Of course, as a performance-minded driver, I'm not a diesel candidate.  But if one had been available to my sister four years ago when she bought her Ford Fiesta, I'd have recommended it to her.  For her, inexpensive operation and low emissions trump all.  Neither of us is a typical new car buyer, but it mystifies me that a typical buyer would walk away from 25-40% better fuel economy.

1984 Oldsmobile Toronado (diesel): not ready for prime time.

In 1984 my father bought an Oldsmobile Toronado diesel.  He was a fuel economy freak.  He loved that car, although he was very annoyed when the price of diesel went from below to above the cost of gasoline.  My mother disliked the car.  She said it was smelly and noisy.  That was only partly true. When filling the tank the fumes were more noticeable than gasoline, but not in driving.  It had some of the detonation rattle we hear from big rigs and diesel pickups, but mostly in hard acceleration.

I've blogged before about how diesels are "all grown up" in Europe, where the Everyman Car is a 1.5 liter diesel sedan.  Not surprising when fuel costs $7-8 per gallon.  They get 35 m.p.g. in mixed use (over 40 on Autoroutes) and can manage 80 m.p.h. comfortably.  In two trips to France and Belgium, I drove three 1.5 liter diesel rentals and one 2.0 liter gasoline unit.

The best of the cars was a Skoda (VW) diesel station wagon.  The worst was a Peugeot 307 with a 2.0 gasoline engine.  We got it when I asked for something sportier than the Skoda.  There was nothing particularly wrong with the 307.  It just wasn't sporty enough to justify its thirst for fuel. The Skoda was more luxurious than the Renault and Peugeot diesels, and had better, stiffer, suspension too.  None of them smelled, smoked, or clattered.  They all had plenty of torque between 1500 and 3000 r.p.m.

It's only where things start to get interesting in a Honda Civic Si that they get dull in a diesel.  Most people, most of the time, drive their cars inside the boundaries of dull.  With a diesel, you get 33% better fuel economy, fewer grams per mile of emissions, and you don't have to worry about replacing a hybrid's expensive battery or disposing of its exotic metals.  Why aren't more people buying diesels?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Add To Bucket List?

Part of AZ Route 89A between Flagstaff and Sedona.

I was trying to explain the fun of the Tail of the Dragon to a non-buff friend who splits his time between Phoenix and Chicago.  (No dummy he: this was his first visit to Chicago since October.)  Actually, he sort of gets the fun road thing: his first (and only) sporty car years ago was an MGA he bought himself as a college graduation present.

"You'd like Arizona 89A between Sedona and Flagstaff," he said.  "It seems similar to the Dragon.  When I have out-of-town visitors, I take them up there.  We do Oak Creek Canyon and have lunch at Renee's in Sedona.  I stop at the scenic overlooks."

So I checked Google Maps.  Maybe I'll visit my pal in Phoenix.  There aren't that many great drives in the States that combine twisties with limited entering side roads.  Arizona 89A looks to be one of them.
Watchtower: did you drive this road?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Off Topic: Habit

Clocks that reset themselves to Daylight Savings Time this morning: TV, computer, cell phone.  Clocks I reset myself: bedside alarm, microwave, stove, car, and wristwatch.  Just as 30 years ago, I haven't a clue about setting the clock on the DVR/VCR.  It still blinks dashes.  I can usually see at least two of these clocks from any location in my house--or anywhere else I happen to be.

"So, tell me.  Why do you still wear a watch?"

"...Um... I might be standing 40 feet from my car in the Great Smokies, or half a mile from it, flagging a corner at a club event, and wonder what time it is.  Sometimes, when the sun is out and the top is down, I can't read the dash clock in my convertible.  Glancing at my wrist is easier than pulling my cell out of my pocket."

"Would it make any difference in the way you're managing your time?"


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Be Careful What You Wish For

You're joking, right?

I've complained, loud and long, about the softening up of the Honda Civic Si.  Maybe not so much on this blog, but my bilateral car correspondents are tired of my laments over the passing of the Gen. 7 Si.

Well, here's Autocar's quick peek at the next Civic Type R.  Granted, the (European) Type R has always been harder-edged and more Boy Racer than the (North American) Si.  But the new Type R goes more than a bridge too far.  What adult wants to be seen in a car that looks like this?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

1955 Belgian Grand Prix (Shell Film)

Stirling Moss in the rainy practice for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in 1955, in the all-conquering
Mercedes-Benz W 196.  He came second to team leader Juan Fangio in a dry race. 

I thought I'd seen about all the old film there was to see of Old Spa (make that Old Old Spa) on YouTube, but no.  This one is excellent.  It runs 30 minutes.  It alternately made me smile, and gape, and gasp, and cringe.  And then smile and gape and gasp and cringe again.

Thanks to Stirling Moss's website for the link.

Around 1955 Spa was locked in combat with Reims to be "the fastest real road course in the world."(Monza was excluded because it was a closed circuit.)  And so it was around this time that Stavelot was changed from a hairpin bend near the town to a banked sweeper that bypassed it.  "New Stavelot" is prominent in the film, along with the still-used Eau Rouge-Raidillon complex.  (New New Stavelot is the right-hander on the modern infield segment just before it rejoins the old course on the run up to Blanchimont.)

For still pix of Old Spa in 2010, here's a link to a previous post on this blog:

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Monty Python Worthy

I am not a fan of Top Gear.  It is, roughly speaking, Jackass For Brits.  To admit a personal failing, I watch Top Gear far too often and too much.  Maybe it's like a train wreck, or rubber-necking an accident on the freeway.  Jeremy Clarkson is a personal bete noir of mine: WHAT... an... um... rectal opening...

But if you have a chance, do not miss Season 17, Episode 4 (2011).  It features Monty Python-worthy humor, with each Presenter playing his own part (James May and Richard Hammond are quite good; Clarkson is excellent).

Bonus footage: Rowan Atkinson shows up to do "Star In A Reasonably Priced Car."  He is, as ever, brilliant.