Monday, December 28, 2015

Pumpkin Bimmer

I love this car, its vibe, its history, and its owner.  I'd have done it exactly as he did (color excepted).  "Destroyed the resale value?"  I'd buy it from him in a New York Minute if it were for sale.

Friday, December 11, 2015

A Lap Of Spa-Fancorchamps, 1962

Lucien Bianchi was a fine journeyman sports car driver in the 1960's (Wiki him).  Here's a fine in-car video made from an Aston Martin driven by him at touring speed in 1962.  If you listen carefully, you can pick out the names of the corners in his description as he approaches/goes through them.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

"Steve McQueen: The Man & LeMans" (DVD Review)

It was surprising to learn, in the corners of the internet that I frequent, that some people think Grand Prix is the best racing movie ever made.  Others like the biopic Senna.  For me, LeMans is the gold standard.  Not that any feature film about racing makes much of a movie.  I've never held LeMans's   
lack of a plot or character development against it.   The point of the film is the racing footage.  The plot, such as it is, of Grand Prix is laughable.  When I watch LeMans (which I still do every couple of years), I just fast-forward through the non-racing footage.

So I thought a DVD about the making of LeMans would be a fun watch.  It was, one time.  And I'll probably watch it again.  But it's not gripping.  The producers say it includes footage from the film "never before seen."  There's a good reason for that: the best footage is already in the film.  Chad McQueen had a big hand in this project.  It's not so much a documentary about filmmaking as it is a hagiographic  look at his father.

For me, it was painful to look at Steve McQueen.  The "smartest guy in the room" and "I make my own rules" traits that make The Thomas Crown Affair and Bullitt so engaging are tiresome in a real person.  It is sad, sad, sad, to watch McQueen burn through his own money making LeMans (he was the Executive Producer).  And his friendships.  And his marriage.  Yes, McQueen had "a vision" of what he wanted to do with the film.  It turned out to be monomaniacal.  Or maybe "the loner hero" of my 20's became "just another self-absorbed jerk" in my 70's.

The interviews with Siegfried Rauch and Louise Edind ("Erich Stahler" and "Anna Ritter" in the film) were interesting.  Rauch, who does not care about cars, remembers driving a Ferrari 512 at 180 m.p.h.--with terror.  McQueen demanded even more of his "real" drivers, and himself.  David Piper (who lost his right leg below the knee making LeMans) is mildly interesting, as are the cameo appearances some of the other drivers who made LeMans possible.  McQueen has the respect of some.  But I didn't get the impression that he had the affection of any.

To sum up, McQueen: The Man & LeMans is a kind of ego project about another ego project.  It's a fine thing that McQueen made the film.  The racing footage still holds up, both technically and aesthetically, in this era of high-def lipstick cameras and GoPros.  Cinematically, LeMans was decades ahead of its time.  It's still more enjoyable than most of the racing footage we see, and McQueen nailed the ambience of the LeMans 24 Hour Race.  This DVD is worth a watch every once in a while, especially as a companion/chaser to the film.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

My Favorite Killboy Picture Of 2015

Normally, my favorite Killboy shots feature an unusual angle on the car and/or a slight twist on the background that frames it.  But this year, lights parting the gloom of a rain run captured my imagination...

Friday, December 4, 2015

Fine Phil Hill Film

This film is well-worth 20 minutes of your time.  Phil was one of the most thoughtful and introspective drivers of his (or any) time: multi-dimensional, deep.  And the film has the added advantage of him looking back on his career after he retired.

The film suggests that Phil just rocketed into his Formula 1 drives because he was so good.  This is not true.  Enzo Ferrari considered him "just" a good sports car/endurance race driver.  Phil had to buy a couple of drives in Formula 1 cars in 1958 (in a Maserati, which must have irked Enzo) before he was offered a full-time Grand Prix ride in a Ferrari in 1959.

I was 16 years old in 1961 when Phil won the World Championship.  We road racing snobs on this side of the Atlantic considered it remarkable than an American could beat the best Europeans at their own game.  Others had tried (notably Carroll Shelby and Masten Gregory); only Phil had pulled it off.  He paved the way for other Americans into Formula 1 (notably Dan Gurney and Richie Ginther).  Little did we suspect that Phil would be America's only World Champion for 17 years, when Mario Andretti repeated his feat in 1978.  They remain America's only World Champions, and it has been 37 years since Mario did it.  Several Americans have tried, all have failed.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

One-Off (Bertone) Porsche 911

"Undistinguished" of "bland" comes to mind when viewing this Porsche. 

While I'm something of a Porsche freak, I didn't know about this car until reading about it last week in Karl Ludvigsen's excellent Porsche: Excellence Was Expected.  I was most definitely around in 1966, and paying attention, especially to Porsche, when it was built.  If Road & Track published a picture, it sank from my memory without a trace.

The Bertone Porsche 911 Roadster was commissioned by Johnny von Neumann, the Porsche distributor for Southern California.  One can imagine him trying to sell 911 coupes without air-conditioning in L.A. in 1965.  Open Porsches had been available for over a decade, and the Targa was in development for 1967 availability.  But von Neumann failed to ask about Porsche's plans for a convertible 911 or, if he did, Porsche deflected him.

von Neumann was also well-connected in the Ferrari community, including Maranello.  He chose Bertone of Turin to do the open car (which was created from a coupe von Neumann had shipped from Los Angeles).  One imagines von Neumann hoped to sell some roadsters individually, or maybe have Bertone do a very limited production run.  Either would have involved a considerable price premium over the 911, which itself was expensive compared to the previous 356.

Bertone turned the car around quickly and put it on his stand at the Turin auto show.  One source says that Giorgetto Giugiaro penned this car when he worked for Bertone, before he went on to considerable fame in his own right.   Another source is silent on the individual(s) involved in creating the car.  Within a year, the Targa made whatever plans von Neumann and Bertone had moot.  von Neumann sold it in Los Angeles (one suspects at a considerable loss), where it remained in obscurity through several decades and only a couple of owners.

Going back 50-odd years, as the 356 and recent Cabrios have shown, it is very hard to do an open Porsche without giving
it a bustle-butt.  The 356 Speedster and the 911 Targa were somewhat, but not entirely, immune from this.

Above and below: Bertone went with concealed headlights.  The slats were for signaling ("flash to pass") when the
headlights were not in use.  The picture below (headlights in On mode) was taken when the car was introduced at
the Turin Auto Show.  This Corvette Stingray-like front end works fine for me on a C 2 Corvette.  Not at all on a
Porsche.  Butzi Porsche himself observed that a sloping front end between prominent headlights is "the face of
a Porsche," which was why he retained/developed that look when he did the 911.

Above: this angle illustrates the very low cowl line chosen by Bertone, which forced the relocation of the
instruments to a "center stack" between the seats.

Below: the car repainted and wearing cast alloy Porsche 914-6 wheels in the 1990's.  It is believed to
still exist in the hands of an unknown private owner.  Randy Leffingwell photo.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Swing And A Miss (The New Fiat 124 Sport Spider)

Above and below: To give it it's due, the car's best angle, and a cockpit that contains very little to complain about.  But
then the MX-5's cockpit has been acknowledged as a great place for decades.

I've been eagerly awaiting this car since the teaser show car version morphed from an Alfa Romeo into a Fiat.  Production cars rarely look as good as show cars done to hype interest and get feedback.  But Alfa and Fiat have been turning out some good-looking cars lately.  And the original PininFarina-designed 124 Sport Spider was such a benchmark car that (one would think) Fiat would take great care with its namesake.

What we got instead is a reskinned Miata.  This is surprising but not amazing, and a disappointment.  Fiat wants (and needs) to leverage its ownership of Chrysler into market penetration for its imports.  Mazda knows the American market well, and needs cash.  But the new car is an MX-5 rolling chassis with a Fiat engine and tranny.  It's not a joint venture on a shared basic internal architecture that will be taken in two different directions, amounting to two different cars.

It's hard to know who the targeted buyers are.  The new 124 Sport Spider isn't a hard-core sports car, but then, neither was the classic one.  It had an undeserved reputation--as has the Miata--as a girly car.  Presumably the Fiat will priced well north of the entry-level MX-5 on which it is based ($25K) but not way above what a "loaded" MX-5 goes for (slightly north of $30K).  And probably less than a (as yet nonexistent) fast, hard-core, MazdaSpeed Edition of the MX-5 (a bit under $35K?).  So why not just buy the new MX-5 that's to your taste?

Maybe because you don't get that "Italian flair?"  But that's exactly where the new 124 Sport fails.  At least for me.

Above and below: my Bill Of Particulars against the 124 Sport Spider: a stubby, chopped off, profile, a rear fender crease
line extending into the door, which is intended to echo the classic line in the same location, but which instead makes the
car look fat.  A front end that's too busy and dis-integrated (and another effort to "paste" detail elements of the sharp-
edged classic onto a rounded MX-5 shape).  Even the "power bulges" on the classic's hood (not clearly visible in
any of these pix) just make the new car look overly busy, with no unifying theme.

Above: the clean, partly creased, partly rounded lines of the classic 124 Sport Spider.
Below: when the concept car was an Alfa Romeo, headed in the right direction.
Add caption

Friday, November 13, 2015

Interesting Interview

The Vic Elford/Richard Attwood 917 LH at LeMans, 1969.  Led, but DNF.

Here's the "elevator pitch" version of Porsche racing history 1968-1975, according to Vic Elford and Hurley Haywood.  As far as I can tell, Elford is one of the few people--the only person?--who thought the original 917 was driveable at race pace.  Interesting interview:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Another Visit to Sport & Specialty

Why is this man smiling?  Because he's good at what he does, and loves doing it.

Long before I knew John Saccameno as the proprietor of Sport & Specialty, I knew him as a driving instructor, wheel-horse of our sports car club, and a fun guy.  Hotshoe and I know he has a business to run, so we don't pester him at the shop too often.  (Or at the track, for that matter.)  The cars that go through the shop are interesting (some fascinating), and the work is first rate.  So we have come to regard our visits as pilgrimages.

If interested, you can search this blog for previous posts about S & S.  Here's what we saw on our visit yesterday.  (And here's a link to the website):

Above and Below: This ground-up Ferrari 330 GT also includes a conversion from RHD to LHD.  This car was in the
shop two years ago when we visited, but won't the there next spring.  It's almost done, appearances to the contrary.

Lampredi V-12 in the Ferrari.  

Before coming to work for Sport & Specialty 13 years ago as Shop Manager (the dirty-hands kind), Steve Messner ran
his own Corvette shop.  He did the paint on this car back then.  Now it's at S & S for engine, suspension, and interior
upgrades and restoration.  Steve road tested the car last week and was not satisfied.  So it's up on jack stands for a

Can this crank be saved?  Steve was "packaging" this rusty Jaguar 4.2 crank for a trip to the machine shop to see if it
can be rebuilt.  I glanced at his handwritten punch list for another car.  Steve's approach makes me think of the
gospel preached in Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance: mindfulness.

Above and Below: Although these are two different cars, on the same day, you could think of them as "Before and After."
The car above is being taken down to bare metal again because it sat in a body shop for years.  Body filler absorbs
water, = possible rust.  The car below was painted the day before we arrived.

Above: engine top-end refresh with a mild boost to power (which runs fine on 91 octane
pump gas) and also seat modifications to make a very tall driver comfortable, on a car
previously restored by Sport & Specialty.  Below: Saccameno's own To Be Amenitized
Big Healey.  His red Healey 3000 is for sale.  Hotshoe asked John "Would you rather
be known as Healey specialists, or a shop with broad and deep capabilities across
several marques?"  Answer: "Yes!"

Some of the cars Sport & Specialty has worked on over the years.  While S & S does rebuilds and major repairs, the
majority of the work going through the shop is restoration, from high-quality "driver" up to concours show cars.

To close this out, a few random pix:

A rebuilt Jaguar XK-E differential/rear disc brake unit (with parking brake linkage).  Besides killer looks, the XK-E took
some state-of-the-art race car design--including fully independent rear suspension--to the street.  It was as breathtaking
in 1961 as the XK-120 had been in 1948.

Because Webers...

The Webers for John's Alfa GTA/GTV vintage racer, atop the box in which the new pistons and rods for his new engine
came.  An interesting description of the pistons is on the box.  But the important part is is in the caption below.  Guess
who will be rebuilding at least one engine personally this winter?

This picture is of the big-end of one piston/rod assembly, because it looks so cool.  And
because the piston was still plastic-wrapped.  The crown is configured with a lower
dome that gives "only" 10.5:1 compression, but propagates the flame front across the
combustion chamber much faster.  John can therefore back the ignition timing down
from an astounding 38 degrees BTDC.  He hopes for 175 reliable horsepower from
the new engine, which will have new cylinder liners and a leak-tested head.
 Live and learn.  ;-)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Old Spa-Francorchamps...

Graham Hill, Lotus 49, Burneville, 1969

...and why it was awesome, and why it had to go, all in one picture.  Do you suppose the farmer had to sign a waiver to milk his own cows?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Shout Out To Hans Herrmann

Herrmann, recently, with the Porsche Museum's 917-001 in 917-023's LeMans-winning livery.

To the extent that he is remembered much in the States,  Hans Herrmann is recalled as Richard Attwood's co-driver in Porsche's first overall win at LeMans in 1970.  Attwood said he requested Herrmann because he was steady and reliable.  Both were Porsche-nominated drivers for the Salzburg team.  Attwood's unspoken subtext could be "with nothing to prove...".  Herrmann was 42 years old and had been racing for 19 years.

It was a revelation to me to learn about (and sometimes recall) Herrmann's earlier career.  He won Daytona and Sebring for Porsche with Jo Siffert in 1968, in a 907.  He came second at LeMans in 1969 (with Gerard Larrousse), in a 908, to Jacky Ickx/Jackie Oliver is a Ford GT 40, in the closest finish in LeMans history.  And Porsche put Herrmann in the car for the last stints, in their effort to catch the Ford.  He came second in the Nurburgring 1000 Km three years running (1968-1970) in Porsche 908's.

But those results were not as impressive as Herrmann's early career.  As much as anyone, and more than most, he helped to put Porsche on the map.  He began racing in 1951 in his own, used, Porsche 356 1100.  In 1952 he used a new 1500 engine in the same car to win his class at the Nurburgring.  In 1953 he won his class in the Mille Miglia in his own new Porsche 356 1500 Super.

Also in 1953, he came 2nd in class at LeMans (with Helm Glocker), in his first factory ride, in a prototype 550 Spyder with a pushrod engine.  Actually, this was a tie, but, like the more famous "robbery" of Ken Miles's win in 1966, the LeMans organizers awarded the victory to the other Porsche.

Herrmann winning the 1500 c.c. class in the Mille Miglia in 1954 in a Porsche 550 Spyder.  Herbert Linge navigated.

1954 was a fine year for Herrmann.  In the Carrera Panamerica he won the 1500 sports class and came 3rd overall in a 550 Spyder, now with the 4-cam racing engine.  In the Mille Miglia he won the class again and came 6th overall.  He was DNF at LeMans with a blown engine, but fulfilled his assigned "rabbit" role by forcing the competing OSCA's into retirement to let a sister Spyder in for the win.  Two victories were in true road races, far more impressive (to me) that circuit racing.

A crash in the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix sidelined Herrmann for the rest of the season.  In 1956 he was DNF in the Mille Miglia in a Porsche factory drive.  By now, Herrmann was focusing on his (unsuccessful) Formula 1 career.  And Porsche had a new generation of sports car drivers coming up.

Herrmann was "uninjured" when the brakes failed on his BRM in the German Grand Prix at Avus in 1959.  The car flipped
and rolled several times, throwing him out.  After his career-capstone overall win at LeMans in 1970 with Richard
Attwood, Herrmann retired from racing because (he said) his wife had persuaded him that it was too dangerous.
This was well after he had produced outstanding results in open road races like the Carrera Panamerica,
Mille Miglia, and Targa Florio.  Herrmann's driving style was easy on the equipment and he almost
never went off the road due to driver error.

In 1960, with his Formula 1 career in decline, Herrmann returned to the Porsche sports car fold to win Sebring overall with Olivier Gendebien in a 1.6 liter  RS-60 Spyder.  In 1962, he and Eddie Barth won the 1600 GT class (7th overall) at LeMans in a Porsche Abarth coupe.  But Porsche left him out of their Formula 1 lineup in 1961-1962, using Dan Gurney and Jo Bonnier instead.  Gurney and Bonnier also headlined Porsche's sports car racing lineup.  Herrmann's career as a front-rank sports car driver appeared to be at an end.  

But in 1966, as Porsche was ramping up its now-legendary prototype racing program, Herrmann was again put on retainer at age 38.  This brings the story back to the second paragraph above: he still had a lot of co-driving wins left in him, in some of the fastest sports prototype cars of the era.  Herrmann won consistently for Porsche, in almost every sports model they built, for 17 years.

Porsche: Excellence Was Expected, by Karl Ludvigsen
Wikipedia, Hans Herrman page

This post gives me an excuse to put up a picture of the Porsche Carrera Abarth coupe, a little-remembered but very
successful car in the GT 1600 class 1960-1962.  It was a light-weight aluminum body on a 356 production car
chassis, with a 4-cam Typ 547 rear-mounted engine.  Herrmann used this car for a class victory at LeMans.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Hype Was Not Excessive

Lotus 49, Jim Clark, Belgian Grand Prix, 1967.

In 1968, the Lotus 49 sprouted wings and dive planes.  But I prefer to think of it as the last, and best, of the "cigar cars," as my sister calls them.  It was an elegant engineering concept by Colin Chapman and Keith Duckworth, brilliantly executed.  An off-the-transporter winner, not challenged until Cosworth made the dominant Formula 1 engine of the next decade available to other competitors.  When you watch the video, put aside the production values and script.  Focus on the car and the facts presented.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Dirty Penny

"Dirty Penny" is one of my favorite 911's.  One reason is its "Cocoa Brown" metallic brown paint.  This color doesn't look great on most cars--including my own Mazda RX-7.  But it works on the subtle curves of the 911.  Another reason I like "Dirty Penny" is because it's the perfect compromise between a track-day car and a street car: truly dual purpose.

A partial listing of the specifications of this Pelican Parts build:  some light-weight body parts on a 1978 911 SC, stripped interior, a "built" 3.2 short-stroke engine driving through a a 915 gearbox with special ratios to 15 X 9 rear wheels (15 X 7 fronts).

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Harley Earl Look

My choice of the 1958 Oldsmobile to represent Harley Earl is maybe a bit unfair.  But he'd like this angle.

Here's a link to an interesting Petrolicious piece:

While on the subject of great-looking (but under-appreciated) mass-produced cars, I'll return here to a pet peeve: Harley Earl's ugly designs for General Motors.  The 1958 GM lineup was the worst, and the '58 Olds was the ugliest of them all.  Lineal yards of chrome applique looking desperately for a unifying theme--any theme--to be hung on.

Consider the classic GM design of the 1950's, the "tri-five" ('55-'56-'57) Chevy.  I believe Earl's aesthetic input was minimal because he wanted its simplicity to direct attention toward his more garish Pontiac and Oldsmobile stable mates.  The "tri-five" itself got progressively less attractive as Earl hung gingerbread on it.  The '55 Chevy can hold its head up in any company.  The '56 and '57 were progressively less attractive.  When Earl finally turned his full attention to Chevy in '58 and '59, he created two of the ugliest Bowties to come off the line: finally, part of "his" GM family.

Consider other sedan designs available in the '50's: Jaguar, Mercedes, Lancia--even the low-priced Fiats and the V.W. Beetle.  More to the point in those pre-world-market days, consider what Virgil Exner did with American Gingerbread in the late '50's as he was chasing Earl's styling "lead."  Nobody did wretched excess better than Exner in the '57 and '58 Chrysler lineup.

The Earl story has a happy ending.  Upon his retirement, Bill Mitchell succeeded him as head of G.M. design.  It took two years to flush Earl's tortured sheet metal stampings out of the system.  But by 1961, General Motors was headed toward some of the best-looking cars to come out of Detroit.

This image choice is fair enough: from an Olds catalog.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Unsung Heros Of Mass Production, Great Lookers Category (#3)

Acura RSX Type S (2002-2006)

I believe I've posted about this car before--as The One That Got Away (from me--one of the ones  ;-)  ). I vividly remember seeing my first one in the flesh, waiting in the oncoming lane for the same red light I was stopped at: "Wow...that's a styling home run."  I still wish I'd needed a new car at the time.  One of the pix below shows an aftermarket tuner car wing.  Even that integrates successfully and inoffensively.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Seeing Is Not Necessarily Believing

Gordon Shedden and his Honda Civic Type R: 2015 British Tour Car Championship... Champions.

I have watched this video half a dozen times and still don't fully believe it.

A valid argument can be made against "equivalency series" which add and subtract weight depending on where the manufacturer finished in the last race, or strangle the engines with induction restrictors, or whatever.  I understand the gripe and often agree with it.  But the top series, including Formula 1, do the same thing, don't they?

The BTCC is brilliant racing and this is the most brilliant drive I've seen in many a day.  Suck it, Formula 1:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Who Wudda Thunk?

Among other things, the Mille Miglia was famous for hordes of Fiat 500 Topolinos which, as Stirling Moss said (I paraphrase) "had no business being in the event and mostly crashed and burned within the first few kilometers."

The Citroen 2CV was even more underpowered than a Topolino.  Henry Lobes and Yves de Faily were DNF on those baby buggy wire wheels.  The Beauty Part: they were only 30-40% down the list of DNF's, so they outran or outlasted many of the Topolinos.  Sacrebleu!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Unsung Heros Of Mass Production, Great Lookers Category (#2)

Normally, I'm not a fan of random creases and swoops to make a box look less boxy.  Just be honest: form follows function and, as Mies van der Rohe said, "less is more."

Not to mention wrap-around tail lights and other tricks to make a small car look bigger.  So I have no explanation for why the Generation 5 Hyundai Elantra appeals to me.  It just does.

And as always, reader nominees for this series are welcome.  (Or thumbs-down on this nominee?)