Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Fun With Fine Print, And The Warranty

Five Year Warranty!

It turns out that, in my new digs, I need a barrier to halt my Civic Si just short of the garbage bins.  If I estimate the distance, I may bump the bins or the garage door may close on the rear of the car.  I tried a short, flat, piece of scrap lumber but it was too flat and it moved.

Viola!  A catalog shows up from AutoSport Automotive Outfitters (outfitters?) offering a rubber parking curb for precisely my need.  It's heavy, high, and doesn't needed to be bolted to the garage floor. I've bought things like driving gloves and tire pressure gauges from A.A.O. for six years, off and on, and have not been disappointed.

Upon close examination, this high-tech device turns out to be made in Canada from recycled tires.  It comes with a consumer warning: "Your Home Park It is only a guide, not a barrier.  If you do not brake on contact, you can ride over it."  But what really made me smile was the Five Year Warranty.  Against what?  How could this product fail in any way in five years, or ever?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Brian Redman RRDC Interview

Brian Redman drove most of the race cars that made a deep impression on me in my youth, notably the Porsche 917 and the Lola T-330/332.  His talent showed best in long races on the most difficult courses: Nurburgring, Spa, the Targa Florio.  But I watched Formula 5000 races at Mid-Ohio in which he out-drove Mario Andretti, David Hobbs, Al Unser Sr., and several former Can-Am luminaries.

Race car drivers, generally, seem to me to be unimaginative and self-absorbed.  They have an empathy deficit.  And the more successful they are, the truer that is.  Brian Redman is an exception to the rule.  I love his skill as a story-teller: he humanizes the racing scene.  When you think about one of his stories, you sometimes see that there's a point that applies outside of racing.

Brian Redman in the prime of his racing career, with Jo Siffert at the Nurburgring, around the time he declined to test
an early version of the Porsche 917 and maybe "die for the Fatherland" (see interview).

Redman in his Hall/Haas Lola T-332-Chevy Formula 5000 car at Road America.  As a spectator, I recall these cars as
even more difficult to control than 7 liter Can Am cars--on the tight Mid-Ohio course anyway.  The difference being
that, in a Can-Am car the technique was to get the car slowed, roll through the corner, straighten it out, and nail the
gas.  With superior downforce, Formula 5000 cars could be driven hard through the corner.  But, with their short
wheelbase and big power, car-control was a knife-edge proposition.

BMW 3.0 CSL: not the most famous of the makes and models driven by Brian Redman, but his interview gives me an
excuse to post a picture of one of my favorite race car graphic schemes of the 1970's.  These are the factory BMW's
entering Turn 7 at Riverside Raceway in California.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Citroen 2CV Video

Citroen 2CV

Here's a serious video about the 2CV, unlike the Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee one previously posted.  I love the 2CV as much as Chris Harris does (and for the same reasons), and enjoyed this sympathetic take:

In an automotive culture far less international than it now is, the Citroen 2CV was "the French people's car:" their Volkswagen Beetle or Model T Ford.  Although a generation newer, it was far closer in spirit to the Model T.  The Beetle was intended to get mostly urban families down Germany's new Autobahns between cities.  The 2CV was intended to get French farm families into and out of their fields, and into town for market day.  Like the Beetle, it was delayed by World War Two and didn't become a cultural icon until the 1950's.

Although it was in production until 1990, I saw very few 2CV's in my two trips to France in 2002 and 2010.  The Autoroutes had made them obsolete.  People in France who can't afford modern cars ride motorcycles or scooters.  In the mid 1990's, a couple of guys who flagged a corner with me at Blackhawk Farms brought a restored one to the track.  In two-tone grey and maroon paint, no less.  With the sunroof open all day and doubtless on back roads only.  It must have been a 3-hour trip from Chicagoland.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Jim Hall RRDC Inteview

Above and below: the Chaparral 2J, possibly the most innovative of Jim Hall's designs (one hesitates to say probably).
It had a snowmible engine powering two fans, and skirts around the bottom of the chassis, which sucked the car down
to the road.  It was banned by racing authorities.  With the possible exception of Colin Chapman, Hall was the most
creative race car designer of the 1960's and 1970's.  The major difference being that Hall focused on sports cars and
Chapman on Formula 1.

This is the first of some links to interviews with people who were very significant in professional road racing in the 1960's and '70's.  The interviews run 40 to 50 minutes, so readers may want to save them for a weekend over morning coffee.

Jim Hall's interview leads off, mostly because of his engineering achievements, but also because I'd forgotten that Hall was the entrant for Brian Redman's dominant Formula 5000 seasons--and Redman's interview is next up.  (The Jim Hall/Carl Haas Lola Formula 5000 cars were some of the few he was associated with that were not technically innovative.)

Interviews like this, in settings like this, are double-edged.  I see them as like a politician's memoirs.  The Honored Guest is not going to be asked any truly tough or embarrassing questions.  He touches on the highlights of a long career, viewed through the lens of his own perspective.  It's not a complete and objective record, and it's not intended to be.  Just the same, we get fascinating factoids and insights we might not otherwise have had.  If you're into road racing history, these interviews are worth your time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

04/14 Dragon Run, Post 3 (And Final)

Hotshoe's Focus ST.  True as claimed in the buff press: amazing performance and value-for-money.

This post goes up mostly to provide Hotshoe a link to my GoPro video of half of one of his passes, from the Overlook to Parsons Branch:

Live and learn: there's far too much engine noise from my car with hood mount.  I was trying to get a clear field of view.  Next year, I'll hang the GoPro from the winshield inside the car.  And I managed to delete Watchtower's entire pass by mistake.  Just an electro-mechanical guy living in a digital world... But it gives us another excuse to return to the Dragon--as if we needed one.

The rave reviews the ST has gotten in the automotive press are true:

On the long uphill pulls over the mountains into Knoxville, Hotshoe maintained an effortless pace... in excess of... the speed limit.  My Civic Si was panting to keep up with a well-buried throttle.  Hotshoe drove most of the Dragon, most of the time, in 3rd gear.  If he needed more power, he just opened the throttle.  The boost gauge goes to 30 p.s.i. (which I guess is two atmospheres).  You don't need to downshift unless you want to.  Just push the pedal and the turbo responds instantly with 7 pounds or more of boost, even at low-ish revs.  The ST pulls out of the Dragon's low-speed corners brilliantly.

The clutch is light, the gearbox is slick, the practicality of a 5-door hatchback is obvious.  The Goodyear Eagle F-1 summer-only tires are grippy compared to the all-season Michelins I'm used to in my car.  My only complaint is an over-sensitive and hard-to-modulate brake pedal.  What a bargain the ST is!

04/14 Dragon Run, Post 2 (Indy Museum)

From (or to) Chicagoland, one can drive straight through to the Dragon in 10 hours.  But it requires matching rest stops to gas stops, skipping a meal, and running hard.  Hotshoe and I have done this in the past, to save a motel bill.  This time, we decided to take two days for the trip down and stop at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

It was a good thing we did.  An ice storm closed the northern end of I-65.  After misadventures on detours, we rolled into Indianapolis 3 hours behind our bogey time.  By day's end, in Lexington, we'd taken 11 hours to drive a distance that normally takes 6.  (The return run was "nominal" on a light-traffic Saturday before Easter.)

Anyway.  On to the Speedway Museum.  It's a convenient stop, just off the Beltway.  The collection of Indianapolis cars is, as one would expect, second to none.  The cars are thoughtfully preserved or restored, and accessibly displayed in good light.  Hotshoe was amused that I blew past 100 years of Indy 500 history to the Museum's small collection of road racing cars.  Which, of course, was what I went to see.

Above and below: a Lotus 38, which instantly obsoleted the Indy Roadster in 1965.  The 38 was essentially a Lotus 33
Grand Prix car, upsized to take the Ford 4-cam Indy engine and with the then-customary offset suspension which
moved the chassis closer to the left wheels.  I love the aesthetics of these "cigar cars".

Above and below: the original, "streamliner," version of the Mercedes-Benz W-196 Grand Prix car of 1954-1955.
When Juan Fangio complained that the front fenders obscured his vision into corners, causing him to miss
apexes (and hit haybales), Mercedes already had a short wheelbase, open wheel version, of the car in
the works.  Mercedes went on to crush the opposition in '54 and '55, including the lighter, more
innovative and clever, but less reliable, Lancia D-50.

The 1965 LeMans-winning Ferrari 250 LM (with a 275 engine), entered by Luigi Chinetti's North American Racing
Team and driven by American Masten Gregory and Austrian Jochen Rindt.  It won after the factory-entered Ford
Mark II's, Ferrari 365 P-2's, and Shelby Cobra coupes retired or were delayed by overheating or brake problems.

Above and below: 1966 Ford GT 40 Mark II B LeMans entry.  In a year completely dominated by the 7 liter Fords,
this car, entered by Holman & Moody and driven by Paul Hawkins and Mark Donohue, was DNF with gearbox
failure.  Another H & M car came 3rd (Ronnie Bucknum/Dick Hutcherson) and the third one was also DNF
with engine failure (Lucien Bianchi/Mario Andretti).  The Shelby American entires came 1st (Bruce
McLaren/Chris Amon), 2nd (Ken Miles/Denny Hulme) and NRF (water leak, Dan Gurney/Jerry Grant.)

A docent at the Museum told us a story that ought to be true if it isn't.  (All the docents at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum are old men or very young men--go figure...)  It concerns the Mark Donohue-driven 1972 winner, entered by Roger Penske.  This was the first of Penske's many Indianapolis wins.  The car is owned by the Museum--the only Penske Indy winner not owned by Roger.  According to the docent, the car was owned by Sunoco in 1972.  Roger wanted to keep it, but Sunoco said "We own the car and it's going to the museum."  Roger has offered to buy it many times in the forty years since.  No sale.

The One That Got Away: the only Indy-winning Penske entry not personally owned by Roger.  (This picture was taken
by me on a previous visit to the Museum, before I heard the story recounted above).

Monday, April 21, 2014

04/14 Dragon Run, Post 1

The usual suspects, with three getaway cars.  Hotshoe, Watchtower, and Pilote (left to right).

So... the big news this year was that we took three cars and three drivers instead of one car and two drivers.  We traded cars, for enjoyment and different driving experiences, but not on the Dragon.  This is a good policy in my view.  Hotshoe offered to take me in his new Focus ST.  But I would not be comfortable pushing hard on the Dragon in someone else's car, even if I knew it well.  As it was, I managed to abuse Hotshoe's clutch on a steep uphill start from rest on our "touring day."

It's fun making Dragon passes with people you know and trust.  Although, I must say, I don't want to be a car-length off the bumper I'm following, nor do I want the person following me to be that close.  No matter how good he is.  Watchtower and Hotshoe are good.  I had to pedal hard.  And have persuaded myself that what I really need is summer tires to keep up with them.  (If Watchtower gets summer tires too, I'm toast.)

Pilote pedals hard to keep up with Watchtower.  Everybody knows to not over-drive the Dragon.  Don't charge corners.
Don't overbrake.  Back the corner up, apex late, get on the power early.  So what did I do on Wednesday?  Charged the
corners.  I had a better day on Thursday, when I followed The Rules.

We managed to not contribute any door mirrors to the Tree of Shame.  Hotshoe was a bit put off by how close to the
yellow line some oncoming sportbikers were running.  He's used to making passes in March, when traffic is lighter.
I found the mid-week April traffic to be about the same as October--tolerable.  Most of our passes were mostly
unobstructed: people were using pulloffs.  Hotshoe's moral imagination is better-developed than mine.  He
does not want to be part of anyone's ruined day, even if he's in his own lane and not at fault.

Watchtower and I wanted to visit the Maple Springs Overlook, off the Cherohala Skyway, and Hotshoe was fine with
that.  The dead-end road to it includes a 2-mile segment used for the SCCA's Chasing the Dragon hillclimb.  Kamal
of gave us perfect directions.  The view is lovely and I'm glad we made the trip.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

AMAZING Bridgehampton Film

Thanks to Harlo of The Chicane Blog, which seems to be almost a regular expression of gratitude for the "old timey" stuff, for this link.  People our age have seen some fine old film (and more seems to come to light) of sports car racing in the '50's and '60's.  But this film, and not least the voice-over by an experienced driver, puts it all in perspective:

Can-Am cars raced at Bridgehampton, which seems scarcely believable now.  Some of the best road racing drivers in the world raced there in the late '60's and early '70's.  Bridgehampton is now a golf course that you can walk.  Riverside, in California, had an even more storied history.  Now it is now a shopping mall surrounded by tract housing.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lane-Crossing On the Dragon: Don't Go There

My fellow kn-nig-its (thanks, John Cleese and Monty Python) and I are donning our armor for the Spring Slayings.  When you've done the Dragon a time or two, you know the drill pretty well.  Pace yourself.  Keep a margin of safety in hand for two-way traffic and deceptive corners.  Darryl Cannon had useful Tips For Riders And Drivers on his old website: don't brake or shift too much, slow down at the ends to cool your brakes.  His cockpit video "Jay Multistrada" remains the best Dragon tutorial I've seen:

We use pulloffs to clear for faster traffic and hope slower traffic will do the same for us.  We watch for the rare oncoming 18-wheeler and stop before the corner he's approaching.  (I've not seen an 18-wheeler yet in my five trips to the Dragon.)  We back it down for oncoming vehicles bigger than a pickup because they may use part of our lane to get through the bend.  You can run hard and have fun if you're alert and keep a margin in hand.

We watch out for the very occasional lane-crossers.  Which was why the picture below gave me pause.  Most lane-crossers, most of the time, do it when they think they can see through a bend.  (Which is not enough: you need to be able to see past the bend.)  But even if you think you can see, lane-crossing is counter-productive.  Most of the Dragon's turns are banked.  Not scientifically, but banked just the same.  If you go in hot, lane-crossing, the suspension will unload as the banking returns to normal road crown: an invitation to loss of traction in a rear wheel drive car.  That is, if you haven't already blown the line by apexing too early: an invitation to understeering into the oncoming lane.

But it's really dumb to lane-cross entering a blind bend.  Anyone who's made a few Dragon passes knows that he may encounter very capable oncoming cars and sportbikes, running way faster than "normal."  They flash past.  If you're in their lane they'll flash into your hood.

Oncoming sportbikers might say "Semi's?  Semi's?!?!?  We don't need no steekin' semi's!!!  We got this guy!!"
The only reason this driver didn't collect a fast-moving biker and ruin at least two people's day was... luck.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A FINE Old Film: BRE Datsun

Thanks to Harlo of The Chicane Blog, and 'Craig" (who sent it to him) for the link!  This promotional film runs 26 minutes.  There is some great footage of Road America back-in-the-day, and glimpses of the fast uphill lefthand sweepers of the "Old Laguna Seca," long-since replaced with today's infield twisties.  And we get some voice-over commentary by John Morton and Pete Brock.

It was apparent to me (at Mid-Ohio) that BRE had power to match Alfa Romeo and BMW.  I thought then, and still do, that getting 170 ponies out of a s.o.h.c. non-crossflow head was quite an achievement.  This film shows a dyno run up to 8000 r.p.m., which is even more impressive.  No wonder the BRE Datsun 510 had such a great sound!  All the same, as the film shows, Horst Kwech's inside-front-wheel-lifting Alfa GTV gave BRE all they could handle.

Was Pilote in the tank for BRE and his own 510?  You betcha!

My BRE-Datsun-510-for-the-road fantasy: kidney-slot alloys, a BRE front air dam,  tape stripes, and a rear anti-roll bar.
Not enough to transform it into "a poor man's BMW."  For that, stiffer springs that also lowered the ride height and
decambered rear suspension would have been needed.  And perhaps more driver skill.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

TR-6 Restoration (#15)

Phone cam pic: the body trim, top frame, and some interior fixtures and upholsery are installed.  But it won't be ready for its hoped-for spring Dragon run.  Mrs. Cuz is rather bummed.  But she has out-of-town guests (a conflict) and won't be coming anyway.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Floppy Paddle Rumination

Maybe the best of both worlds would be a conventional 5-speed box in a high torque car and twin-clutch 6-speed with paddles in a low torque car.  With one of each in your garage.  I got to thinking about this the other day on a fun run in my Mustang.  Five gears for the wide torque band are plenty, especially in a modern pony car with an easy clutch and a well-sorted shift linkage.  It's fun to use and keeps one's mind and body engaged in the driving.

Driving "a proper 4-speed" (as the Brits would say) was one of the joyous discoveries of my youth.  There it was: a ratio right where you needed it, between 2nd and 3rd on an American car's manual box.  (The exception was the Volkswagen Beetle--4th on a Beetle was an overdrive ratio of about 0.80:1, useless except for "high speed" cruising on level ground.)  A 4-speed was symbolic, too, signifying that its user was interested in  high performance driving.  (It was around this time that the manual 3-speed was disappearing.  Buyers of American cars wanted automatics.  Only drag racers were interested in sporty-car 4-speeds.)

When the 5-speed came along, it was icing on the cake: four close ratios and an overdrive 5th for cruising.  I used all five speeds in my Mazda RX-7 when I was pushing.  Around town, I often skipped from 3rd to 5th.

Now, around town, in my daily-driver Civic Si, six speeds are an embarrassment of riches.  I often use 1st-3rd-5th.  Or 2nd-4th-6th.  The car is happy to start from rest in 2nd on a level or downhill grade. But I have yearned for a floppy paddle 6-speed in the Si when pushing hard on the Dragon.

The Dragon doesn't require much shifting.  The Si needs to be in 2nd to pull hard out of a 30-35 m.p.h. bend.  But there are short stretches where it's necessary to go up and then down again one or two gears. This is when I'm busy, busy, keeping the car on the cornering line and feeling the grip.  Rev-matching heel-and-toe downshifts adds another task my feeble brain can barely handle.  It's then that I would love to have a floppy paddle twin-clutch manual that rev-matches downshifts in milliseconds.  Click, click: the right gear for the corner, effortlessly selected without the possibility of blowing the shift.

I've driven only two floppy paddle gearboxes, both automatics.  They were short drives, not pushing it.  The boxes seemed...OK...   Shifts took a while (but not as long as a manual box) and downshifts weren't rev-matched.  On the other hand, a paddle automatic seems ideal for rush hour commuting.  Just let the box shift itself most of the time, but more ratio and car control is there when you want it.  Way better than wearing out a clutch and your own left leg in stop-and-go driving.

I wonder about the long-term reliability of a twin-clutch manual.  There are a lot more moving parts than a conventional box.  Would a self-controlled box be kinder to its own innards than a ham-fisted-and-footed human?  On the other hand, it would be a relief not to be concerned about an over-stressed throwout bearing or clutch disc wear.

Anyway.  I'm perfectly happy--joyous--with the conventional 5-speed box in my Mustang.  It's well-suited to the car's character and the kind of performance driving available hereabouts.  But if Honda brings back "the real Civic Si," as I'm pleased to call it, I'd sign up for a twin clutch manual with floppy paddles--especially for the Dragon.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Revs Institute / Collier Collection

Good news!  The Collier Collection, the premier road racing collection in the U.S., and one of the best in the world, is again open to the public.  Racing cars are best seen and heard on track, and vehicles in the Collier Collection are routinely seen and driven at concours and vintage races.

But if you want to see examples of the most significant cars in American road racing, in one place at one time, you can't do better than the Collier Collection.  Besides the cars featured in the link, a Scarab, a Maserati Birdcage, D- and E-Type Jags--on and on...  Here's the link:

Small-bore cars, many with a significant American racing history, are well-represented in the Collier museum too.
Besides this 1964 Sebring class-winning Alfa GTZ and a Porsche 904 in the background, Spyders and more.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Killboy's Porsches

It crept up on me that I finally have enough examples to put up a post on my favorite marque (usually) by my favorite photographer.  Pictures come and go from my "Killboy's Best" collection, which goes back to his own earliest Highlights, and now number over 50.  These are Keepers.  As usual, Killboy captures the best of a model's look and feel...

The 356 never impressed me much on a comparative basis: too much money for too little car compared to its peers in
the 1950's and early 1960's.  And its looks were not great (I know two car buffs, one a Porsche expert and one just
casually interested cars, who strongly disagree).  But a car I'd love to drive, especially on the Dragon, is a Porsche
Speedster, especially with a 4-cam in it.

OK, it's a Beck, not a real Porsche, but Chuck Beck captured the contours of the lovely 550 Spyder almost perfectly.
Killboy's angle on this one has the added merit of taking your attention away from the late-model VW Beetle
wheels and hubcaps.

I'll take a 911 RSR, original, clone, or tribute, any time.  Especially on the Dragon.  Never bettered, in Stuttgart or
elsewhere, for fun, character, and styling.

The 914-6 is almost universally recognized as the ugliest Porsche ever.  Not so: the SUV's and the Panamera give it
more than a run for its money.  "But those aren't real Porsches," I hear someone object.  OK, how about the 928 and
the 924/944?  The 914-6 is a great driver's car, made more so by wide rubber and more power.  And the R model's
fender flares complement the square shape, with rounded corners, of the base car.

Cayman S: the best-looking Porsche since the early 911's.  This driver suited up to play on the Dragon (and probably
track days) with a roll bar and OZ Alleggerita wheels.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Giant Killer, Version 2.0

Jim Clark's Lotus 23 trouncing the opposition at the Nurburgring in 1962 (recent post), including the then-latest Porsche Spyders, reminded me of the second lease on life as a giant killer granted to one of my favorite engines, the Porsche 4-cam 4-cylinder.  It wasn't long before people were asking themselves "What if I put a 2 liter engine in a car like the Lotus 23?"  Which they did, and began slaying giants again in the mid-to-late 1960's.

Above and below: George Follmer was United States Road Racing Champion in 1965 in a Lotus 23-Porsche he built
himself.  His car used the "old" vertical fan 4-cam 4-cylinder.  The fully enclosed rear tires of the original Lotus 23
did not last for long.  One reason flared fenders have become an icon of "the high-performance look" even down to
today was that tire widths increased so rapidly in the 1960's.  A car designed in Year X had to have its fenders
flared to take Year Y's rubber.  Follmer's car is pictured below much later in as-restored condition.

Follmer's success inspired others to copy his car (John Morton, for instance, as he pointed out in a recent Jay Leno interview).  Still others tried different 1.7 to 2.0 liter engines, notably the BMW inline
4-cylinder.  Elva Cars designed the Mark VII to take several inline 4's.  Many were successful, especially in the SCCA's amateur division.

Meanwhile, Porsche was moving on to its own series of 6 and 8-cylinder lightweight prototypes, starting with the 906 Carrera.  But the 904 GT had guaranteed a supply of the old 4-cam 4-cylinder engines. The success of the Lotus 23 and the Elva Mark VII inspired a demand.  Elva redesigned the rear frame of the Mark VII to take the engine and partnered with Porsche for a short production run of Elva-Porsches which were very successful in the Under 2 Liter class.  One more bite at the apple for the old torquey, powerful, giant-killing 4-cam 4-cylinder.

The Elva Mark VII, inspired by the Lotus 23, was designed to take a variety of 1.5 to 2.0 liter inline 4-cylinder mills.
This one has a BMW.

Bill Wuesthoff was notable among several drivers who had great success in an Elva-Porsche.  This picture shows Bill
and his car at Meadowdale Raceway in the late 1960's.

Above and below: a restored Elva-Porsche.  The car was a short production run partnership between the two firms.
Elva redesigned the frame of its Mark VII specifically to take the 4-cam 4-cylinder.  Porsche supplied the latest,
flat-fan, plain bearing, version of that engine and transaxle.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Purdy Car, Purdy Picture

Eagle E-Type

One way to think about the Eagle is that it has done for the XK-E what Singer has done for the air-cooled Porsche 911: ultimized it.  Like the Singer, the Eagle is not really a tribute.  It's a re-engineered, remanufactured car, with revised suspension to handle modern, wide, tires.  With an improved (but still Jaguar XK-based) engine, and a modern transmission and brakes.  Add the reliability of modern electrics and electronics, top-quality materials, hand-built assembly, and you have "the ultimate XK-E." With a price to match.