Monday, June 30, 2014

Video Antidote

Watched the so-called Indy Car Grand Prix of Houston.  A mistake: another street course crashfest. Why do I keep doing this?

My refreshing video shower (so to speak) was a summary of the 2013 Targa Newfoundland, which seems to have lost its TV contract.  Of course it was fun to get glimpses of the overall-winning Mustang S-197: one for the home team!  But just the general ambience, scenery, cars, and entrants was a pick-me-up.  Here's the link (20 minutes):

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Have Cruise Nights Peaked?

1965 Pontiac GTO: when is an old car no longer an icon, but just an old car?

Looking for some blog content, I checked my town's website to see if we'd repeat last summer's experiment with cruise nights.  No.  This year it's "Music And Movies In The Park."  The music is local bar bands and the movies are kid-friendly.  The town is looking to promote community-building.  The cruise nights were not well-attended.

It's not surprising that local cruise nights are history.  You can attend cruise nights in many Chicagoland towns and see car counts of 150-200.  If you go to Anytown on Wednesday night, and Othertown on Thursday night, you see mostly the same cars.  Almost all of them are American; almost all of them were made between 1955 and 1970.  These are the cars of my youth, the cars of American Graffiti.  Go find a modern tuner car at a cruise night.  Or a young tuner car enthusiast.

Four things are in play here:

1) Demography: the number of young families interested in a free kids' movie is larger, and growing faster, than the number of empty-nesters towing their grandchildren around to look at old cars.

2) Decline of the Car Culture:  The number of today's young singles who want to be on smart phones and tablets (vastly) outnumbers those who see cars as symbols of freedom and personal autonomy.  Watchtower first pointed this out to me.  A Pontiac GTO isn't iconic even to a 40-something: it's just an old car.  I saw a car buff show that asked some teenagers what it would take to get them interested in cars.  Their answer: "Ain't gonna happen."

3) "You Are Now What You Were When": This is the title of a management training film I saw 40 years ago.  The point of the film was that time freezes, or at least begins to settle into the mud, for each generation, before it reaches the age of 30.  My generation will be rockin' out to the Rolling Stones in our assisted living facilities, not big band swing music of the 1940's or rap music from the 1980's.  Songs by the Beach Boys about muscle cars, once part of a burgeoning youth culture, are quaint trivia now.  Two and a half generations have passed.

4) Cars of the 1970's and 1980's were mostly forgettable, or worse: There was an actual generation gap.  Cars were interesting in the 1960's and got interesting again in the 1990's.  Not much put on the road between those decades is likely to make someone now 50 to 60 years old weep with nostalgia.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Maserati's Hot Rod

Maserati does a muscle car: the 450 S.

Stirling Moss has said that the 3 liter straight six Maserati 300 S was his favorite racing sports car of the 1950's because it was such a balanced, tossable, car.  It punched above its weight, but couldn't contest overall wins with the Ferrari 290 MM or the Jaguar D-Type.  The 450 S was Maserati's hot rod for 1957.  It was intended to win the Mille Miglia, LeMans, and the unlimited sports car championship.  A target competitor was the (specialist) LeMans-winning D-Type.  But the real target was Maserati's cross-town rival, Ferrari.

How would Maserati beat Jaguar's 3.8 liter six and Ferrari's 3.5 liter V-12?  With 4.5 liter V-8 powah.  I searched the internet for a claimed horsepower figure for the 4.5 and didn't find one.  But certainly it was over 400 and, if Maserati followed Ferrari's 1950's practice of optimistic claims, it might have been 450.  Either way, the 4.5 had a 10 to 20% advantage over its competition.

The Maserati d.o.h.c. 4.5 liter V-8: one of the largest postwar European race engines.

The 450 S was essentially a super-sized 300 S.  But something was lost in translation.  While it had a top speed of 190 m.p.h. (important for the Mille Miglia and LeMans), it handled poorly with that big
V-8 over the front wheels.  But it got Enzo Ferrari's attention: he punched the 290 MM's 3.5 liters out to 3.8 liters (the 315 S) and then 4.0 liters (the 335 S).  On paper, the 450 S remained a Ferrari-killer, especially with Juan Fangio and Stirling Moss behind the wheel.  But in an era when race cars were unreliable, Maserati had an unusually star-crossed season, leavened with both Keystone Cops and gallows humor.  Here's the record:

Buenos Aires 1000 km's: Fangio/Moss retired when the clutch and then the gearbox failed.  The Ferrari 290 MM of Masten Gregory/Eugenio Castellotti/Luigi Musso won in a trot from a Maserati
300 S driven by Jean Behra/Carlos Menditieguy.

Sebring 12 Hours: Fangio/Behra did 190 m.p.h. on the long straights, winning easily from Ferrari 315 S's.  Everybody ran out of brakes, but the Ferraris ran out sooner.  And a lot of people were surprised when the 450 S lasted so long on Sebring's bumpy runways.

Mille Miglia: The Moss/Jenkinson 450 S challenge fizzled when the brake pedal pad snapped off the pedal lever at the weld, only 7 miles after the start.  But Ferrari would have given them all they could handle.  The Peter Collins/Louis Klementaski 335 S led early and was beating the legendary Moss/Jenkinson time of 1955 when the differential failed late in the race.  Piero Taruffi won in a 315 S. The best Maserati could do was Giorgio Scarlatti's distant 4th in a 300 S.  Alfonso DePortago's fatal crash in a 335 S ended the Mille Miglia.

Nurburgring 1000 km's: The 3 liter Aston Martin DBR1, driven by Tony Brooks/Noel Cunningham-Reid, won easily.  This was the DBR1's first major international victory, foreshadowing its dominance at the 'Ring and showing that superior handling could beat big power there.  The Aston was followed home by two Ferraris.  Moss's 450 S broke a wheel while in the lead, having chased Brooks down from 4th place.

LeMans: Jaguar swept the first four places in the D-Type's last appearance at a major international race.  Fangio refused to drive Moss's brainchild (below) and was paired with Behra in a 450 S Spider. Behra muffed the start and had to work his way forward from mid-pack to second.  Moss's coupe could only manage 4th in the early going with a duff engine.  Both 450 S's retired around 10% distance with broken differentials.

Sweden 1000 km's:  Jean Behra won in a 450 S, followed home by Phil Hill in a 335 S.

Venezuela 1000 km's: The Collins/Hill 335 S won, followed home by the Mike Hawthorn/Musso ditto.  Moss had an accident in his 450 S.  He took over Jean Behra's 450 S after it suffered a minor fire, but burned his butt because the seat was still smoldering.  This car had another accident with Harry Schell at the wheel.  Two more DNF's for the 450 S.

Ferrari won the sports car championship again in 1957 with 48 points.  Maserati was a distant second with 28, followed by Jaguar with 17, Aston Martin with 8, and Porsche with 7.  Sports cars would be limited to 3 liters in 1958, so 450 S and the big bore Ferraris were obsolete at the end of the season.

Above and below: the Stirling Moss-inspired, Mike Costin-designed, Zagato-built, one-off 450 S LeMans coupe.
Costin already had a reputation for slippery shapes like the Lotus Eleven and the Vanwall Grand Prix car.  Moss
was looking to capitalize on the 450 S's power on the long Mulsanne Straight.  But the coupe proved to be a
turkey.  Costin said that Zagato failed to follow his drawings, and cut holes in the bodywork, increasing drag.
This may have been true, as far as it went, but the sauna-like cockpit needed better ventilation than Costin
had provided.  Also, as these "before and after" pictures show, the as-designed windshield wiper failed to
clear the screen.  So Maserati's LeMans mechanics added a supplemental wiper pivoted at the top of
the screen and a "bug deflector" to the cowl to disturb the airflow and let the wipers do their job.

The 450 S coupe as restored in recent years.  It was converted to a road car after the 1957 season, substantially as it
appears here.  That is, the compound-curved windshield, quarter windows, bright metal side vents, and enclosed/
muffled exhausts.  It was offered for sale out of Toledo, OH in the early 1960's, apparently without takers, because
classified ads for it ran in Road & Track off-and-on for several years.  Since then the color has changed (from red)
and the interior may have been upgraded.  I hope it has air conditioning.

Despite its wins at Sebring and Sweden, the 450 S was not popular with its front-rank drivers.
Two 450 S's went on to some success in big-bore sports car racing in the States, driven most notably by Carroll Shelby.  But in 1958-59 the hot set-up over here was Lance Reventlow's new Scarab, with a 5.4 liter small block Chevy doing what the 4.5 liter Maserati V-8 had been intended to do.

Carroll Shelby had successes in a 450 S imported and entered by Temple Buell in road races in the U.S.  This picture
is of a win at the Virginia International Raceway inaugural event in August, 1957.  Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Jaguar
were financially secure compared to Maserati.  So their factory racers typically had a technical edge or two, and were
not sold until the end of the season.  Maserati was sometimes in the position of selling one race car to finance the
building of the next one.  Thus a front-rank Maserati showed up in Virginia in the middle of the '57 season.

Scarab at a modern vintage race.  The entire point of the Scarab, from Lance Reventlow's viewpoint, was that the
Southern California hot rod engineering and fabrication traditions could build a better unlimited racing sports
car than the Europeans.  And he was right, at least when it came to sprint races.  But another way to think of
the Scarab is a Maserati 450 S done right.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Touring: Batavia, IL

My sister is the Keeper of our family's haute culture, and the Keeper of our Family History.  So when she visited, it was a foregone conclusion that we would "do" the Art Institute, and gravesites.  To be fair, it doesn't take much persuading to get me to visit the Art Institute repeatedly.  Especially the new Modern Wing.  And of course we took my Mustang, top down, to the gravesites.  It's an excellent way to visit long-dead ancestors.  ;-)

It turns out that our family has a long, but mostly incidental, connection with Chicago.  We seem to circle it like a Sioux war party.  We have approached it from St. Louis, New York State, Michigan, and Ohio.  Sometimes we stay for as long as a generation, but then we leave again.

My father and his sisters were raised here.  That's because my grandfather, who was raised in Michigan, got a job and married and settled in Chicago around 1920.  My grandfather and grandmother are buried in Chicagoland, but they retired to Chapel Hill, NC, and came back only to visit.  My father and his sisters left when they went to college.  One aunt and her husband lived here for a few years after World War Two, but he moved the family to the Atlanta area in the early 1950's to start his own business.  My extended family is now scattered across the U.S.  I'm the only one in Chicago, and am here only because my employer sent me 25 years ago.

But Amelia Ann and her daughter, Helen, four and five generations removed from me, are buried in a Batavia, IL, cemetery.  Why?  Because Helen had some kind of mental illness and was sent to the Bellevue Sanitarium by her husband from their home in St. Louis.  Amelia, widowed early in New York State, later moved to Batavia to be near Helen.  Her move may have had as much to do with being lonely as with caregiving.  We don't know.  They lived out their lives in Batavia.

We found the graves of Helen and Amelia in a Batavia cemetery without difficulty.  The layout of the cemetery and
locations of graves are clearly marked at a Visitors' Center kiosk.

Bellevue Sanitarium in Batavia, IL.  It was one of the foremost facilities for the mentally ill in the U.S. in the last half
of the 19th Century.  This was where Robert Lincoln had his mother, Mary Lincoln, involuntarily confined after a
trial that fell far short of modern procedural safeguards.  She was eventually released and spent her final years
with a Todd sister in Springfield.  My sister has been unable to learn more about our distant aunt's time here
because all of Bellevue's records were purchased by a private collector to get Mary Lincoln's file.  My sister
advises that Bellevue was more a "rest home for women with any kind of affliction" than a mental hospital.
Its current, local, reputation has been the latter.  Which may have a lot to do with Mary Lincoln being,
so to speak, its Star Patient.  Today Bellevue is part of an upscale apartment/condo complex.

Amelia Ann in middle age.  My own daughter has the same name, not because of family
tradition, but simply because my ex-wife and I both liked the name.  Anne as a middle
name has family tradition behind it--on the other side of my family.  Six generations
separate the Amelias, with no namesakes in between.  What are the odds?

There is no shortage of good Mexican restaurants in Chicagoland.  Including, of course, Chef Rick Bayless's nationally-known Frontera Grill downtown.  You can get an indifferent Mexican meal here, but it's pretty hard to get a bad one.  My sister and I took a chance on a small storefront in a strip mall in downtown Batavia, and hit the jackpot:

El Sazon in downtown Batavia.  It's short on ambience (formica tables, for example) but the food is outstanding.
Like Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator, "I'll be back."

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Red Bull Ring

The Red Bull Ring, nee A-1 Ring, nee Osterreich Ring, nee Zeltweg

What a neat little course!  Only 8 turns in 2.6 miles, but with lots of elevation change and off-camber bends.  (Some teams count 9 turns because of a throttle-lift between turns 3 and 4.)  David Hobbs says it is a medium-speed circuit, with a lap speed of around 140 m.p.h.  But it looks high-speed to me.  There was some chatter about the Red Bull Ring being a "point and squirt" circuit, hard on rear tires (which it is), but the complex from turns 3 to 8 is anything but.

I don't remember being impressed with this course when it was the A-1 Ring.  And I wasn't aware that it went all the way back to the Osterreichring (a fine course) until the NBCSN broadcast team mentioned it in practice on Friday.

Compare this track map to the 12-14 turn, 3.5 mile, flat but pretzel-twisted, courses that have become part of the Formula 1 schedule in the past decade or so.  The lovely mountains and history make for a great venue.  Tradition is a no-cost option.  But I'd have been impressed with the Red Bull Ring even if it was a new.  Which it is, in a way, due to configuration changes from the A-1 Ring.  This is what Formula 1 is all about.  Here's an on-board video lap in a slower Formula BMW car:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

"You Could Have A Ferrari, Or A Corvette Stingray"

The car I knew looked like this, but with the standard wheel covers that Leno's car has.  And a 327 with a single
four-barrel carburetor.

Jay Leno says that in the video linked to below.  I knew of a guy who took it literally.  A few years before, he'd sourced and bought a used Ferrari 250 GT through the dealer I worked for.  He was a personal friend and sometime race crew member for my former employer.  My own ride in that car was one of the thrills of my automotive life.  The audio we hear on the internet doesn't do justice to the sound of a Ferrari V-12.

When the Stingray came out, John sold his 250 GT and bought a new, red, Stingray coupe.  I was an 18-year-old kid working a summer job, and John was a 30-something engineer, so I didn't feel comfortable asking him why he made the switch and what he thought of each car.

But, as Leno says, it's hard to overestimate the impact the Stingray had when it came out.  It looked terrific--and like nothing else on the road.  And it had power to match the most exotic European GT's  And it had independent rear suspension.  It was the beginning of the reputation Corvette has to this day: world-class performance for less than half the price of its exotic competition.

There's an error in the video: the C 2's independent rear suspension was fully-articulated, with universal joints at both ends of the half shafts.  It was not a swing axle.  Even so, as the video shows (on-ramp seconds), the Stingray  could be a handful, when you gave it the boot, on those narrow cross-ply tires.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

More Oldies Pix: VSCDA Blackhawk Farms 2014

The Vintage Sports Car Drivers' Association meet at Blackhawk Farms has become a "must see" for me, because of the cars.  It's not important who wins or loses, but I always take my camera.  The standard of car preparation is high.  The color schemes are nostalgic.  The owner/drivers are glad to chat about their cars and how the weekend is going for them.

I may go again to Road America for a pro race.  It's a glorious course.   And, from a spectator's viewpoint, a long, fast, glorious, course needs fast cars, professionally prepared and driven.  But the VSCDA race at lil' ol' Blackhawk (2.0 miles, 7 turns) is 300% of the fun at 5% of the cost.

Above and below: all the way from Iowa!  Well... the Quad Cities is about the same distance from Blackhawk as Chicago.
It occurs to me, as a former owner of an Old Mini and the current owner of a Civic Si, that there is a direct line of
spiritual descent.  Small, stiffly-sprung, agile, front-drivers with a big smile factor.   But I wouldn't want to take
an Old Mini on a road trip...

"Race Group C" had a good representation of what used to be B Production Mustangs.  The exhaust note of these cars
didn't rumble.  It snapped, crackled, and popped, like The Rice Crispies Of The Apocalypse.  There was some serious
high compression and valve-timing overlap going on.  

This Lotus Super 7 was one of the fast Race Group C cars.  Big Webers on a twin-cam.  The driver had no trouble
staying ahead of a Jaguar E-Type V-12, and was chasing down the Mustangs.  He managed this while lifting his
inside front wheel in Turn 1.  One of the fastest, best-driven, Super 7's I've seen...

Above and below: continuing with Lotus, human shown for purposes of scale.  "Izzat a Lotus 22 Formula Junior?"
"No, it's a Lotus 51 Formula Ford."  Almost indistinguishable, to my eye, from the 22 or, for that matter, the last
Lotus Grand Prix car with a space frame, the 24.  Beautifully turned out in spot-on Lotus factory colors and
number roundels.  Shades of Jimmy Clark.  Except for a roll bar that actually works.

Above and below: if it's Pilote's blog, you know you're gonna see a well-turned-out Datsun 510.  Yummy!

And a well-turned-out Alfa Romeo GTA/GTV.  Like the 510 above, there were several at this  Blackhawk meet.  But
this one was the best-looking, with the exception of John Saccameno's Fly Yellow car, pix of which I've posted
before.  Reason for the rear-facing Go-Pro?  No idea.

Here's a historical footnote: the largest Volvo racing paddock I've ever seen, or expect to see.  Maybe it's the Swedish
racing paddock if you include the SAAB Sonnet at the far right.  Is he on probationary membership status?  ;-)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Touring: Meridians, Rivers, And Chapman KS (Road Trip Post #2, And Final)

Missouri, along US 36, looks like Iowa on I-80: lovely, rolling, hills.  The flora remains mostly green and familiar to eyes accustomed to east of the Mississippi.  Not my cup of tea, compared to the Appalachians, but prettier than the flatlands on I-80/90 between Toledo OH and western Illinois.

It's said that the true West begins around the 100th Meridian: halfway through Nebraska and the Dakotas, where the High Plains start and the climate becomes arid.  I have a modern tourist's definition: it's where you need to think about planning your stops.  This is east of the 100th Meridian, not far west of the Mississippi.  It's where you can't count on a gas station at the next exit.  US 36 is the most direct route to Manhattan, KS, from Chicagoland.  It may be a Federal highway, but it ain't crowded.

Speaking of Meridians, a duh... moment came to me on this trip.  The 90th Meridian, 1/4 of the way around the globe from  0 degrees in Greenwich, England, is near Chicago.  We're 6 hours behind London and Paris.  Six hours = 25% of 24 hours.  As I say, duh...  The 90th Meridian is actually west of Springfield and east of Jacksonville in Illinois.  For that matter, it runs through St. Louis, and is a bit west of Memphis and New Orleans.  You could say with passable accuracy that the Mississippi River Valley is 90 degrees west.

Ninety degrees west of Greenwich, England, in Illinois between Springfield and Jacksonville.

The Oregon Trail has long captured my imagination.  So of course I had to make a flying stop in St. Joseph, MO.  Along with Independence, St. Joe was the jumping-off point for the Oregon Trail.  They were where emigrants bought their oxen, wagons, and "outfits" if they were headed for the Far West in the 1840's.

US 36 in Kansas is "The Pony Express Highway."  I saw numerous signs for sites where the Oregon Trail crossed 36, or US 75 or 77, or a river or a creek crossed by both the Trail and modern roads.  The Wolf, Big Blue, Little Blue, the Republican.  Most were forded going northwest, "cross lots" toward the Platte River.  There's not much to see.  Maybe a marker for some incident in Trail history, or wagon ruts.

The Missouri River as viewed from a bluff overlooking it in St. Joseph, MO.  St. Joe hasn't done much with historical
tourism.  I had to look hard for this site, without benefit of signs even to the small local park in which it's located.
The downtown waterfront is a tangle of aging industrial sites and freeway ramps.

US Highway 36 in eastern Kansas.  It's still green, but distances can be deceiving.  The horizon and vanishing point in
this pic is not what it first appears, but a bit above it.  That's not a gap in the trees where the road passes through, but
yet another rise in the gently rolling landscape.  The true horizon is where the green stops and the blue begins.

My ex-neighbor's family has been farming land near Manteno, IL, since the 1840's.  He grew up on the farm and his younger brother still owns and operates it.  He didn't expect to live out his days in Manhattan, KS, where his son-in-law is a professor at Kansas State University.  In one of those really odd coincidences of life, his father was born in Chapman, KS where his grandfather farmed a 160-acre
"quarter section" northeast of town.  Chapman is about 35 miles west of Manhattan.  We found the quarter section--and almost got stuck.  The gravel road turned out to be about 1/4-inch thick, below which was a few inches of thick, clay, gumbo.  When I was sure we'd make it out, the line from the movie My Cousin Vinny came to mind: "Ya got muuuud in yo taaars."

We visited the Chapman Public Library to see what information it might have on the family.  None, it turned out, even though there's a street in Chapman that shares my neighbor's name.  The library had a very good local history collection.  We tried the County Historical Society in Abilene, too.  It had a plat survey from 1909 showing the name on the quarter section, and who it was bought from and sold to, but that was all.  Just the same, here's a shout out to local archivists who really know their stuff and are very helpful.  The lady at the historical society spent the better part of an hour combing through her records.

Probably the reason there wasn't much of a paper trail was because my neighbor's grandfather and father (who was born in Chapman) were on the land for a only few years.  They returned to the Manteno homestead when the opportunity arose to take control of and expand the farm there.  I can see why.  The land around Manteno is rich, dark, loam.  The land around Chapman is hilly clay with scrub growth, used mostly for grazing.

Above and below: the Quarter Section (160 acres) farmed by my ex-neighbor's grandfather, northeast of  Chapman, KS.
The name on the Quarter Section is Walter N. Wilkins et al.  The picture was shot from the north-south road, across the
Quater Section owned by Henry Krinhop.  This was as close as we could get, and we almost got well and truly mired in
the clay road where the picture was taken.  It had rained heavily, all day, the day before.  I now have a better under-
standing of why farmers drive pickup trucks. 

The main drag in Chapman, KS.  The cafe in the middle distance (bright red, street level) was newly opened.  The hours
were posted as from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. six days a week, and 5:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.  This doesn't quite
reverse the hours of Chicagoland eateries, but it comes close.  For that matter, I've recently stayed in motels on
Interstates that don't start serving breakfast until 7:00 a.m.  The day starts and ends early in Chapman.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Touring: Boyhood Home Of Mark Twain (Road Trip Post #1)

My ex-neighbors and friends of over 20 years moved to Manhattan, KS, to be close to their daughter for reasons of age and health.  I jumped at the chance to visit them, and the trip turned out to be another fine river-oriented trek.  A bonus was spending a half day in Hannibal, MO, boyhood home of Mark Twain.

All the buildings pictured below are part of the self-guided tour, which begins in an excellent Interpretive Center.  The Center covers Twain's youth thoroughly, and plays well to both kinds of Twain fans: the sentimentalists who revere Twain's "Norman Rockwell" Tom Sawyer, and the cynics who revere his irony and sarcasm.

Hannibal, MO, seen from the Illinois side of the Mississippi.  You bet it's wide, and fast.  The main channel here is on
the Missouri side.  The backwaters in the foreground were roiling.

View south from the same location.  Shuck Island to the left.  Could Shuck Island have been the inspiration for the
location where Jim was hiding out in the opening chapters of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

Sunrise on the Mississippi as seen from Hannibal.

Levee protecting Hannibal from floods.  I 72/US 36 bridge in background.  The railroad is a heavily used trunk line.

Boyhood home of Mark Twain.  The stone building to the left is unrelated (it's the administrative offices of the
Museum complex).  Twain's home feels even smaller inside than it looks here.  Most of us still live this way,
although with modern conveniences on a larger lot.  By comparison, the Lincoln home in Springfield is
a McMansion and Mt. Vernon and Monticello are palaces.

The "law office" of Mark Twain's father,  John Marshall Clemens, across the street from
the boyhood home.  Both spaces were rented.  John Clemens died when Sam was 12.
John was really a Justice of the Peace, an honorary office.  He had already failed in
land speculation, farming, and keeping store.  After his death, Jane Clemens kept
the family together with piece work.  But Sam was apprenticed to a printer at
an early age.  Sam's favorite job was river pilot on Mississippi steamboats.
That employment ceased with the Civil War.  But printer's apprentice led
to newspaper reporting and "the rest is history."

Grant's Drug Store at the corner of Main and Hill Streets.  John Clemens's office behind it, and Becky Thatcher's house
behind that.  The boyhood home is across Hill Street.  "Mark Twain bought his candy here."  The building's foundation
has been stabilized, but it is not structurally sound.  So it is closed to the public.  Restoration will proceed, I gather, as
funds permit.  Main Street in Hannibal is tourist-trappy, but engagingly so.

A 1950's Packard, parked in front of the restaurant where I had lunch.  Speaking of tourist-trappy nostalgia, I believe
the owners of the restaurant arranged to have it parked in front of the restaurant all day.  It was there for hours.  And
it worked, at least in my case.  The Packard caught my eye, I stopped to take a picture, and thought "Why not try
the restaurant?"   The pork barbecue was fine.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"1" (Movie Review)

I liked this movie a lot--enough to buy the DVD.  Probably that's because it's a documentary, with plenty of old footage and modern interviews.  Basically it's a history of the passive safety movement in Formula 1 from (roughly) Jim Clark's fatal accident in 1968 to improvements made after Ayrton Senna's death in 1994.

For those of us of a certain age, Jimmy Clark's death remains a touchstone.  He never overdrove and never made mistakes: "If Jimmy can die at the wheel, nobody gets out alive".  It was the end of the notion that because the best never make mistakes, only those driving over their heads get killed (Somehow, Stirling Moss's two near-fatal accidents "didn't count".)  It was the end of innocence.  Make that the end massive denial.

It's interesting to see how attitudes toward risk, on the part of both drivers and fans, have changed.  The film posits a theory that driver fatalities were acceptable in the early postwar era because racing drivers were in heroic individual combat, like fighter pilots.  Maybe.

Individual driver attitudes are not so different, now, from what they were at the time.  Jackie Stewart, then and now, sees no reason why racing shouldn't be made as safe as it can be.  Mario Andretti thanks his lucky stars that his number didn't come up.  Jacky Ickx still says (I paraphrase), "It's a dangerous sport.  A driver know the risks when he straps in.  If putting your life on the line is too high a price to pay, find another career."

A point the film makes in overall context is that TV changed everything.  Gruesome crashes and deaths were one thing when reported, usually in a glossed-over way, in the print press with black and white photos (if any).  But fans don't want to see their heros die in their own living rooms, in color, in real time.

Regarding what I will call "active passive safety" Mario Andretti made an interesting point.  He believes that if his Lotus teammate Ronnie Peterson had received the kind of emergency and triage care that is now routine, after his fatal accident in 1978, he'd be alive today.  The kind of emergency medical response that I've taken for granted for the past 30 years was Dr. Sid Watkins's pipe dream 10 years before that.

The film's interviews are comprehensive: from Max Mosely, Bernie Ecclestone, and the late Dr. Sid Watkins to some of the drivers who were household names in the '70's, '80's, and '90's.  (See the illustration above for a small sample.)  Some of the grainy film footage from the 1970's is particularly compelling--for me anyway.  I love the look and sound of those cars.

My main complaint about the film is the over-use of quick cuts.  On the plus side, the music is first-rate and the dubs are evocative of the decade they portray.  A very effective video tool is "fade to black" when a fatality occurs.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Class / No Class: A Rant

Watchtower tells me that, if I want to appreciate the precise handling of my Mustang, I need to drive a pickup truck.  I've never driven a pickup, that I recall.  And I certainly don't intend to start now.  Doubtless a pickup drives like a small U-Haul van, which I have driven.  Or, more to the point here, a Chevy Tahoe.

I watched some of the D-Day celebrations on TV.  France hosted the observance at the eastern end of the invasion beaches, at Ouistreham.  It had a more pan-European flavor than the observance at the American Cemetery in Colleville.  I've visited the American Cemetery and it's very moving.  But the Brits and the Canadians and the French Resistance fought in Normandy too.  Ouistreham is near Pegasus Bridge, which was taken and held by British paratroopers, at considerable cost, on D-Day.  Even the Germans got a shout out yesterday for having endured their own Nazis (Angela Merkel was there).

At Ouistreham all the dignitaries, save two, arrived in Citroen C 6's.  Vladimir Putin looked distinctly uncomfortable.  Not because he was in a C 6, I assume, but because he was sticking his head into the mouths of the lions of constitutional democracy.  Evidently a C 6 was good enough for Europe's political elite, or the heads of state didn't want the expense and aggravation of schlepping their own limos to the Normandy coast.

The exceptions were Queen Elizabeth & Prince Phillip, who arrived in a single Land Rover, and President Obama, who arrived in a phalanx of Chevy Tahoes with flashing strobe lights.  Maybe the Brits were making a commercial point.  The logistics of shipping one Land Rover across the English Channel are not great, in any event.  Obama's convoy was embarrassing.

The only thing that could have made it more "Here come the Americans!" would have been loudspeakers on the Tahoes blaring Stars & Stripes Forever.  Yes, the "Leader of the Free World" may require extra security arrangements.  But do we have to be so obnoxious about it?  I've been watching variations on this theme, at various summits, for decades.  It reminds me of the Empress Nympho sedan chair scene in History of the World, Part I.

Above and below: the Citroen C 6, a classy-looking, roomy, aerodynamic, Executive Express with a 3 liter V-6.
And it has the supple, quiet, ride for which Citroen has been world-famous for decades.  This is the kind of limo
that any sensible head-of-state needs.  Maybe, if he drives himself, an Autobahn-burner would be better.
But if there's a chauffeur in front, the C 6 is comfortable and adequate. 

The Chevy Tahoe: the engineering brilliance and subtlety of a steam locomotive.  I didn't look up the specifications
because I already know what I need to.  They're a pain the the ass to see around in any traffic situation.  They're
always driven too slow, or too fast.   Add strobe lights and Men In Black: viola!  Ummurican comin'!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Let's Hear It For "Driver Quality"!

I admire a meticulous restoration as much as anyone (and a well-preserved original even more).  But there's this to be said for a driver: you can drive it!  These pictures were taken about a year apart, in 2013 and 2014.  And Killboy vouches for it being the real deal, not a replica.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Shout Out To The Porsche 914-6

Here's a link to a Petrolicious video that captures the feel of the car well:

As Porsches go, the 914-6 was unloved--but not by me.  Lots of people have problems with its styling.  I liked it, and still do: nothing on the car that doesn't need to be there.  But it's a fascinating contrast to the svelte lines of the 911, penned by Butzi Porsche only six years earlier.  The 911 has been so successful that fans won't let the company stop building it.  Not until the Boxster and the Cayman was the firm able to develop models with staying power compared to the 911.  Goodness knows they tried: the 928, the 924, the 944...

The 914 wasn't originally intended to be a Porsche.  Volkswagen had commissioned Porsche to design a replacement for the Karmann-Ghia.  It would use the new engine from the also new VW Type 4.  The car was designed to be built down to a price point.  But it was a breathtaking idea: the first mid-engine sports car at non-supercar prices.  An upmarket version would be sold as the entry-level Porsche, replacing the 4-cylinder 912 (which had a 911 body).

Volkswagen cancelled the project.  Porsche was so invested in it that they decided to make the car themselves.  But Porsche had to underwrite all tooling and production costs, with no VW model to defray them.  In Europe the 914 would be sold through VW dealers as a "VW Porsche".  But Porsche didn't believe that would fly for a prestige brand in the States.  So it was sold only through Porsche dealers as a 914-4 (with the VW Type 4 engine) or a 914-6 (with the base 911 engine).

The VW Type 4 "Porsche" 914-4 engine.  Beginning as a 1.7 liter, it was eventually punched out to 2.0 liters when
the real Porsche 6-cylinder engine was dropped.  In larger form, it had plenty of torque and made the car as fast as
the 914-6.  But...
...this was the engine you wanted: the glorious, high-revving, s.o.h.c. Porsche six...

Alas for Porsche, the car arrived in the States just in time to go head-to-head with the Datsun 240 Z.  In 1970, I worked as a salesman for a Porsche/Audi dealership, trying to sell the 914-4 against the Z-car. They were almost equal in price.  But the Datsun came with many amenities; a radio cost extra in a 914-4.  The Z-car had 151 horsepower, the 914-4 had 80.  If you wanted 911's lovely overhead cam six, you'd pay 43% more, only 25% less than a base 911.  And you were still down 40 horsepower on a 240 Z.  And the radio was still extra.  There was a Datsun dealership next door.

As might be expected from a mid-engine configuration and light weight, both 914's had excellent handling and fine braking.  The 914 was a low car, and you sat low in it, with your legs nearly horizontal.  This further enhanced the handling, but wasn't comfortable for long-distance cruising.  My main complaint about the 4-cylinder car was vague shift linkage.  It had taller gears than the 6-cylinder, which made it feel even more underpowered.  Both cars were underpowered compared to the Datsun. The Z car was a game-changer: nobody had packed so much power, standard equipment, sophistication, and refinement into an affordable sports car.  The 914-6 was more fun to drive, but it wasn't even close on bang-for-the-buck.  Porsche pulled the plug on it in 1972.  The 914-4 soldiered on through the 1970's, very much in the shadow of the Z.

In 2014, for a road trip, I'd take the Z (with air-conditioning).  For an afternoon in the twisties, I'd take the 914-6 (with the top down).  I'd love to have either in my garage.  The 914-6 was a fine sports car.  It's a shame Porsche couldn't make the numbers work to bring it in for 20-25% more than a 240 Z, and horsepower within shouting distance.  It might have had a fighting chance at that price point.

What might have been: the 916.  Based on the 914-6 as modified for GT racing, it had wider tires and rims inside
flared fenders, ventilated disc brakes, and a bigger, hot-rodded flat six with lots of power.  But it would have
come in at a premium price--maybe even above that of the range-topping 911 S, which already had its own
mystique going.  Selling an "ugly" car that's faster and costs more than your existing range-topper is not a
winning strategy.  So Porsche pulled the plug on the 916 after building a few pre-production prototypes.