Friday, February 27, 2015

Rant: Ugly Car, Picture Doesn't Matter

Two ugly car posts in a row!  Who wudda thunk?!?

MotorWeek: "The 2015 Nissan Murano is all about style."  ...Um... no.  The Gen 1 Murano struck me as distinctive and stylish, if big, for a crossover SUV.  Gen 2, not so much. 

This Gen 3 Murano reminds me of the wretched excess of Detroit-styled cars in the late 1950's.  The fault, dear Nissan, lies not with you: give the customer what he wants.  No doubt market research tells Nissan that this is where the Murano should be headed.  And it weighs over 2 tons while seating only 4, with no pretense to performance.  Epic fail.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Whupped With The Ugly Stick

Below is a link to Jay Leno describing and road testing his Daimler SP 250, and admittedly it sounds good.  I never heard an SP 250 run, and couldn't get past its astonishing ugliness back-in-the-day.  The dealership I worked for in the summers in the early 1960's took a red one in trade and parked it prominently by the front door: "FOR SALE, notice me please."  I washed it; the quality and finish of the fiberglass body was poor.  It was around for a while, and I can't remember if it was sold or wholesaled (because it couldn't be).

In its defense, the SP 250 was designed in the late 1950's and introduced in 1959.  I didn't know that until seeing the Leno video.  I first saw one in 1963.  By then, the Jag XK-E, Corvette Stingray, and Porsche 911 were on the market or just around the corner.  Three designs that became iconic: stiff competition in the styling department.  But then, much lower-pirced sports cars like MG's and even Triumphs looked better.

Another reason I dismissed the SP-250 was that hemi engine.  It may have been as fast as a Jag XK 150 (as Leno says), but pushrods?!?  Even in the early 60's overhead cams were entry-level for my personal pantheon of engineering.  What I didn't know about then was chassis flex sufficient to open the doors.  The SP 250 was worse than "...meh... "

Monday, February 23, 2015

Twofer Post: Whither FoMoCo?

Above and below: not your grandfather's Ford GT--aero management reminiscent of, but more radical than, the Ferrari
458/488.  The new Ford GT looks like it was designed to go FIA GT racing with the addition of a rear wing and a
revised front splitter.

One of my gearhead pals said of the new Ford GT "They can always stick a V-8 in the back if they need more power."  I doubt that Ford will, or even contemplated a V-8 in designing the car.  The twin-turbo V-6 is said to make 600 h.p.--more than the current LeMans rules allow--and a 5 liter V-8 would be hard to fit in the engine bay.  My customary "Pilote hates creases" complaint is moot because the styling is aero-functional.  I like the cues from the GT 40.  Let's hope it's true that Ford plans to go FIA racing racing with this car.

Design considerations aside, the reason the new Ford GT will never see a V-8 can be found in Levi Tillemann's new book The Great Race: The Global Quest for the Car of the Future.  Tillemann is not a car buff--far from it.  He's a public policy analyst and advocate, and the end of the internal combustion engine can't come soon enough for him.  He had some interesting things to say (in a book talk that I saw) about how various manufacturers and nations--notably China--are working toward electric cars. There are some possible new players, like Google and Apple.

Tillemann interviewed Ford executives for his book, and they said (I paraphrase): "Ford believes the electric car is a generation away, 2035-ish.  So our  research into electric vehicles is long-term.  What we are working hard on is Eco-Boost technology."  I take this to mean smaller engines with higher boost, advanced materials, and "smart" power train management.  The current 4-cam in the Mustang may be Ford's last high-performance V-8 in a car.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"Fully Restored"

Above: a Gulf-Wyer 917 leaving the pits at Spa-Francorchamps in the 1970 1000 Km race: durty girl.
Below: a restored ex-Porsche Salzburg/Martini & Rossi 917 leaving the pits at Spa-Francorchamps circa  2012.
It's a pretty safe bet that no 917 ever left the factory in a condition as pristine as the one below.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Brought A Smile Of Recognition

"Haarrrd a-starboard!"  "All she's got, Cap'n!  She's a light cruiser, not a destroyer escort."

Top Gear's Richard Hammond on Jeremy Clarkson trying to beat the TGV train across France:

James May: "You had Mustangs, didn't you?"
Hammond: "Still have one.  I like them.  But it's a straight-line car.  You know how people who don't ride bikes think Harleys are fast?  It's like that."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Last Mille Migla

I've posted about details of various Mille Miglias several times, including the last one in 1957.  But the mastery of the drivers who competed in this epic open road race keeps calling me back.  This post is partly an excuse to put up some pictures that give a flavor of the event.

The pictures are mostly from Louis Klementaski's "navigator" seat beside Peter Collins in his Ferrari. Ferrari's reputation, which made it an iconic brand by the early 1950's, began with Luigi Chinetti's LeMans win in 1949.  Then, as now, LeMans got a lot of press coverage.  But Ferrari dominated the the Carrera Pan-America and the Mille Miglia (winning 8 of 11), and was competitive in the Targa Florio--all the great open road races of the postwar era.  But Ferrari itself is not the point of this post.  The pictures are.  You can Google "Klementaski Mille" for more pictures or his website for a broader selection of his work. The account of the Collins/Klementaski drive comes from Chapter 50 of Chris Nixon's dual biography of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins, Mon Ami Mate.

The postwar Milles were, just about, 1000 miles.  In 1955 and 1957, the winning speed was about 100 m.p.h. (dry or mostly dry roads both years).  Most of us have done 1000 mile trips, if not in one day.  For this thought experiment, supply your own experience.  Mine is from Buffalo NY to Minneapolis MN (1020 miles) or from Cleveland OH to Tampa FL (1100 miles).  They require 15+ hours, pushing hard on Interstates, to average 70 m.p.h.  When you consider that the Mille was run on 2-lanes and crossed mountains twice, it puts 100 m.p.h into perspective.

Route of the later postwar Mille Miglias.  You can use this map to follow along with the text below if interested.

In 1957, the Ferrari team consisted of Collins/Klementaski and Alfonso DePortago/Ed Nelson in 335 S's and Wolfgang Von Trips and Piero Taruffi driving solo in 315 S's (identical cars with slightly smaller engines).  The 335 S had a 4.1 liter V-12 red-lined at 7500 r.p.m., giving a theoretical top speed of 170 m.p.h.

Top speed was reached before the first Control, and pit stop, at Ravenna.  Near Ancona, Collins passed Von Trips, putting him two minutes to the good as far as he knew.  At the Pescara Control and pit stop, Collins learned that he was definitely in the lead, averaging 116 m.p.h.  Popoli began the climb into the mountains and there was a Control-only stop at L'Aquila.  At the Rome Control and pit stop, Collins was averaging 107 m.p.h.  Viterbo was the fourth Control and pit stop.  At the Siena Control, Collins was averaging 101 m.p.h.

At Radicofani Pass he began to catch the slow-moving early starters in batches, reducing his average speed.  After the Florence Control there was a long climb into the mountains again in 2nd and sometimes 1st gear; around Futa Pass the transaxle began to make noise.  By Raticosa Pass, the grinding noise from the transaxle was bad.  Bologna was a Control and 5th pit stop.  From there the road was flat and straight through Modena.  Parma was a Control and final pit stop.  Collins coasted in with a broken transaxle.  DePortago and Nelson and several spectators were killed in a crash which ended the Mille.   That crash has been thoroughly documented so I won't dwell on it here.  Taruffi won, followed home by Von Trips.

Klementask shoots Collins chasing Von Trips on the long straight roads that characterized the first stages of the Mille.
From the sun's angle, the picture appears to have been taken between Ferrara and Ancona.  "Run as fast as you dare."  

Passing Von Trips.  Shirt and tie?  Well, Mike Hawthorn wore a bow tie when he raced.  Collins wore polo shirts.

Klementaski shot of Collins taking a hairpin on what looks to be the morning climb into the mountains, heading for Rome.

Another '57 Mille hairpin shot.  This is Olivier Gendebien in his class-winning Ferrari 250 GT LWB, one of the earliest in
the 250 GT's long string of wins.  The big bore cars were averaging close to 100 m.p.h. with stretches like these?

Taruffi leads Von Trips across the finish line: 1000 miles in a few minutes over 10 hours.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Strange, Short, Career of Porsche 917-003

Apologies up-front for a post that can interest only other Porsche 917 freaks.  In its day and in retrospect the 917 became famous for four things: 1) Porsche's first "big league" racing sports car, 2) the audacity and financial risk of building 25 prototypes to turn them into FIA-homologated "production" racers, 3) a very unsuccessful first season, 4) complete dominance when it was finally sorted.  The story of 917-003 is a footnote to that lost first season.

Walter Naher's Porsche 917: Archive And Works Catalogue is the botany book when you want to get into the weeds of the 917.  Most of the facts in this post come from Naher's book.  Chassis 003 had two small aerodynamic tweaks, one unsuccessful and one apparently immaterial, that appeared on no other 917's.  (None of the pictures here are from Naher's book, although it has many previously unpublished photos.)

917-003 at the LeMans Test Days, March, 1969.  If Porsche didn't already know the 917 was unstable at high speeds, it
was learned here.  On the L tail, fins angled about 5 degrees from the centerline of the car were tried (as shown here)
for the first, last, and only time.  The car lost 1000 r.p.m. on the straight, and the drivers reported no improvement
in stability.  (The original, standard, short tail was also tried, with even worse directional stability.)

Porsche learned that the original 917 was unstable at racing speeds at the LeMans Test Days in March of 1969.  After the Test Days, wind tunnel tests were scheduled, but Porsche couldn't get a date in Stuttgart's wind tunnel until May.  The tests validated that the stabilizing fins tried on 003's L body in March were worse than useless.  But there was not enough time to design and test aero fixes before LeMans, in June.  So the 917 L (but not 003) ran at LeMans as originally designed.  (The cars were a handful, and DNF.)

Similarly, the Spa-Francorchamps 1000 Km race in early May did not allow time for validated changes to the K body.  Jo Siffert tried 003 (with a short tail) and set a time that would have put him on pole for the race.  But he was so skeptical of the car's drivability that he chose a 908 instead.  003's race number was transferred to 024/002, to be driven by Gerhard Mitter and Udo Schutz.  Having brought two 917's, Porsche was determined to get some actual racing experience with the car.  This did not work out well: 024/002 retired on lap 1 with a broken valve spring.  (It probably worked out fine for Mitter and Schutz.   ;-) )

The other interesting aero tweak on 003 at Spa was the fairings behind the front wheels and in front of the rear ones.  The fairings are clearly visible in the picture below and also if you look closely at the picture above at LeMans (six weeks earlier).  These fairings, very similar to those that appeared on the 908/2 "flounder" body in 1970, were used on no other 917 as best as I can discover.

003 was disassembled at the end of June.  Some parts were apparently used for the prototype Spyder (027) and chassis 003 was scrapped in December, 1969, after a crash.  Naher doesn't explain the crash, so I hypothesize that what was left of 003 was still being used as a test mule after the June disassembly.

Above: A clear view of the lower wheel arch fairings on chassis 003 at Spa in May, 1969.  Below: chassis 024/002 at
the same Spa event (shown for comparison purposes).  024/002 has the standard lower side bodywork used on the
917 from prototype 001 through the end of its career and the conclusion of the 1971 season.

This picture shows the wheel arch fairings used on the 908/2 "flounder."  A higher hood and sill profile, along with the
wheel arch fairings, were used to clean up--streamline--the bodywork of the original 908.  Ever-widening tires were
also accommodated.  The flounder's configuration was very successful and Porsche did not fool with it.

After the 917 K's aerodynamics were finally sorted out by the Horsman tail late in 1969, the car also received a new wider, squared-off, nose for 1970.  It provided for bigger brake ducts and wider tires. The Horsman tail was faired around the upper sides of the 917's now much wider rear tires.  The slippery L body wasn't sorted until the late spring of 1970, after a car with higher upper rear fins was crashed in testing.  The solution, which led LeMans for hours in June (but was DNF), was a larger rear wing.  After that, the L's bodywork was tinkered but basically unchanged: problem solved.  

But, aside from 003's, the lower side pods on all 917's remained the same from beginning to end.  Naher does not mention 003's fairings in his remarkably detailed history.  We are left to wonder why they were tried at all, only once, and abandoned.

Friday, February 13, 2015

2014 Spa Classic: Short Video

One of the things that keeps me going in the off-season is artistic YouTube videos.  Here's a nice, short, flavor-of-the-event video that combines two of my favorite things: Spa-Francorchamps and classic race cars.  One of my minor regrets is that I never heard a Formula 1 Ford Cosworth V-8 at full song.  This vid supplies that deficit, barring hearing one "live."  The McLaren Can-Am car is just as I remember it: get it around the corner and straightened out before applying full throttle.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Early 1960's Ford school bus.  We weren't cute little elementary school kids, we were rowdy high-school kids.  And I
never saw Smitty in a tie.  He favored plain shirts with collars, open at the neck, and work pants.

An acquaintance of mine recently took a job driving school busses.  Her training and experience is teaching in a Montessori school, but she lost her job and couldn't find another one in her field.  A few weeks ago she said "I'm going to swallow my pride and take a bus-driving job."  Yesterday she was wearing an authentic smile and seems to like it so far.

She put me in mind of Smitty, the bus driver who got me to and from high-school.  Not that they look anything alike: Smitty was a wiry 50-something guy with close-cropped grey hair and a bald spot.  We never messed with him.  I think it was as much because we liked him as much as it was fear of consequences.  Smitty had presence, and a quiet dignity.  But he was also a sunny guy who liked kids. Even teenagers.

I usually sat right behind him, watching him handle the bus.  His route was a long one that went up and down the hills of the river valley it wound through.  He wrangled a 4-speed box behind the 352 cubic inch (I suppose) Ford gasoline V-8.  He had, and needed, a tachometer: Smitty wound the hell out of that engine to get up hills, and to make time on the state highway his route centered around.  The tach had green, yellow, and red zones on the dial.  Smitty kept the needle in the high end of the yellow zone. He was a master of matching the gear to the (varying) load, and of smooth shifts with a truck clutch that was either in or out.  It was a joy to watch him work.  If we had thought to nickname him, it would have been "A Gear Lower Smitty:" always a gear lower than the rest of the fleet's drivers.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Dragon Envy

"Roof cam," Tail of the Dragon Store, date and time as shown.

There are times when I envy Dragoneers who live in Atlanta, Nashville or Lexington.  The picture above shows why.  Last week the road was a mess and the weather was unpleasant.  The weekend forecast was for dry roads and light-jacket temperatures.  Look at the place on Sunday (above)!

If you live in Atlanta or Nashville or Lexington you can be on the Dragon in three hours.  That's a looong day-trip, but doable.  A two-day overnight trip doesn't bust your budget or burn vacation time.  If it weren't for the fact that my roots and branches are all in the Great Lakes area, I'd consider moving to Knoxville or Asheville.

Friday, February 6, 2015

"Oversteer? Got it covered."

This HD vid has some good sound.  But what struck me most was Patrick Long tossing the car into corners and catching it.  He has no problem getting the car to rotate--staying on top of it is the problem. Early 911's, including the race cars, were notorious for oversteer.  "Not a car for the unwary," as the Brits say.  (For 1969, Porsche increased the wheelbase by 2.25 inches, making it less tail-happy.)

Long has years of experience with modern Porsche GT 3's.  He chases this "In The Beginning" 911 S through corners with quick hands and fistfuls of opposite lock.  An added bonus is his helmet cam: we're looking where Patrick is looking.  The video runs 15 minutes, and he doesn't lose it, so click out when you've seen enough:

Patrick Long.  Let's say you're a Porsche factory driver (the only North American
so-employed), with 10 years of experience in GT 3's, have won your class in just
about all the major endurance races, including being a 3-time ALMS champion.
What could make you a very busy boy for an afternoon?  A 1967 911 S racer.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

"Market Price" At Auctions

Duesenberg SJ Dual Cowl Phaeton: $750,000 at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale 2015.

In 1960 I tried to persuade my father to buy a Duesenberg out of the classified ads in Road & Track.  The asking price was $12,000, about the same as a new Ferrari 250 GT, and six times what he paid for the Plymouth he was then driving.  I justified the proposal as an investment.  He chuckled and declined. If the proposal had come--seriously--from someone other than his adolescent son, he would have laughed and laughed.

But if he had had the interest, facilities, and knowledge to maintain a Duesenberg,  Dad might have made out OK on his $12,000 investment.  In the 1980's and later, Duesies were going for north of $1 million.  Some had less than perfect provenances and were not previously owned by Clark Gable or another famous person.  Nor were they the most desirable SJ (supercharged) dual-cowl phaeton model like the one above.  Duesies just aren't bringing the money they used to.  Quite a few other classics from the '30's failed to meet their reserves at the same auction.

On the other hand, I never thought I'd see muscle cars from my youth go for $500,000 or more.  Or an Amphicar go for $100,000.  Or Fiat Jollies go for $60,000.  Some of us Baby Boomers are rolling in money, and voting with our Letters of Credit.  What 60-something of today remembers Duesies fondly? Classics from the '30's have not just peaked--they're seeking a new floor.

The TV guys who cover car auctions like to speculate about the next "coming cars."  Gen 3 Camaros?  Gen 3 Mazda RX-7's?  Of course the point of this speculation is to get in on the ground floor and ride the market up.  Buy that immaculate Gen 3 Camaro or RX-7 for $20,000 now.

Whatever the "comers" turn out to be, I doubt that 60's muscle cars will be going for the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $500,000 in 2035.  We Boomers will have shuffled off this mortal coil.  What 60-something, then, will remember COPO Camaros and Hemi 'Cudas fondly?  A Super Mario Brothers game still in its shrink-wrap might be a different matter.  Apparently many people now in their 20's aren't even getting drivers' licenses unless they must.  My guess is that Gen 1 iPhones will go for big bucks in 2045.  Maybe pristine Teslas too.  Aston Martins, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis, not so much...

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Off Topic: Birds Of A Feather

Mark Twain

Kurt Vonnegut

Joseph Heller

These guys have a lot in common, and not just their hair or the fact that they lived in New York City.

I'm reading Volume II of Mark Twain's Autobiography with delight.  It's not for the faint-of-heart: 600 pages, the same as Volume I.  But it's easy to see why Twain was Kurt Vonnegut's favorite writer.  He shares a sensibility with Vonnegut and Joe Heller, both of whom I read--and still read--with the same delight.  And it's probably no coincidence, either, that Joe Heller and Mel Brooks were friends.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Purdy Car, Purdy Picture

Olivier Gendebien in the Ferrari 250 TR 59 he shared with Phil Hill, Karussell, Nurburgring 1000 Km, 1959.
Not that it matters to this lovely shot, but they finished 2nd.  If it weren't for the competition numbers and
his helmet, Olivier could just be out for a fun run in his fast car.