Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Inauspicious Beginning

Chassis 102 at the Hotel de France, La Chatre sur-le-Loir, before LeMans, 1964.  This hotel was, and remained, John Wyer's favorite base of operations for LeMans from his earliest Aston Martin days.  This is a rare photo I'd not seen before.

In 2016, the Ford GT dominated LeMans from qualifying on and won the race in its maiden outing.

In 1964, the situation was precisely opposite.  The build of the first GT 40 was frantically completed at the end of March.  Instead of being endurance tested prior to LeMans Test Days (three weeks away), to John Wyer's disgust, Dearborn insisted that the car be flown to New York City for the Auto Show.  The only two GT 40's in existence did only four short test sessions at Goodwood.  Chassis 102 did only 25 miles.

At LeMans Test Days (April 18-19), Chassis 102 was damaged when Jo Schlesser discovered aero lift at only 150 m.p.h. (he was uninjured).  So much for small scale models "extensively wind-tunnel tested."  A rear deck spoiler was added, which solved the rear end problem for good, and was used on all GT 40's thereafter.  Fiddling with the front end began too, with "Version 1.1" shown in the pictures here.  The front was fixed permanently only with the complete revision by the "Len Terry Nose" in 1965.  Terry's revision became the standard (iconic) GT 40 nose for both factory and customer cars.

Chassis 102 in the LeMans race, 1964.  Note the modification of the nose and radiator intake from the picture above.

LeMans itself in 1964 was a disaster.  Chassis 104 (Richard Attwood/Jo Schlesser) burned to the ground when a fuel line broke.  Chassis 102 and 103 (#10, Phil Hill/ Bruce McLaren, and #11, Richie Ginther/Masten Gregory) retired early when their Colotti gearboxes failed.  The Colotti had been specified by Eric Broadley in 1963 for the GT 40's mother, the Lola GT.  Adequate endurance testing would have exposed its weakness.

Wyer immediately commissioned ZF to design a gearbox that could handle the torque of Ford's 289.  And he recommended that the GT 40 be withdrawn from competition until systematic endurance testing could be completed.  Instead, Ford entered the Reims 12 Hour race (July 4).  The cars again failed.  Wyer was removed from race team management and told to get on with the GT 40 production build.  Carroll Shelby managed the factory race team in '65, '66 and '67.  With the ZF gearbox and Len Terry nose, the GT 40 became all-conquering (on longer circuits with longer straights).

This was the car Wyer wanted to race.  But Ford blew by it with the Mk. II (7 liters) and the Mk. IV (a new chassis/body), which were Dearborn-developed.  Ford factory teams contested only at LeMans in '65, '66', and '67.  (Daytona and Sebring were used as tune-ups, but no European races were entered.)  This resulted in failure again (in '65) and then complete dominance (in '66 and '67).  Meanwhile,  Wyer had reasonable success in supporting customer cars at LeMans and other FIA races.

And he had the last laugh, when it came to the small block GT 40.  When Ford bailed on LeMans (in particular) and sports car racing (in general), it sold the rights to the car and everything that went with it to Wyer at a very attractive price.  This included the design, tooling, parts, spares and the Ford Advanced Vehicles building.  He would be responsible for continuing support of customer race cars.
Wyer updated the GT 40 with wider tires and a more powerful engine that featured Gurney-Weslake heads atop a full 5 liters.  He won a championship (something Ford had not attempted or accomplished) and LeMans twice more, in '68 and '69.  Pretty good "proof of concept" for a design that was six years old (a lifetime in race car years) at the time of its last major win.  Makes me wonder what might have been achieved in late '64 and '65 if the GT 40 had been thoroughly developed and tested in early to mid '64.

The '68-'69 Wyer-Gulf GT 40: essentially the 1964 car with wider tires and the Len Terry nose.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Rolling Art: Jaguar XKSS "Continuation" Video (Jay Leno)

Above: Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar D-Type Short Nose; Below: Jaguar D-Type chassis (model)

Jaguar D-Type central (aluminum) monocoque and front (tubular steel) subframe.

Here's a link to the Jay Leno video on the new "continuation" Jaguar XKSS:

Return with me, now, to those thrilling days of yesteryear...

For much of its history, LeMans was a unique race.  The rules were written by the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (and still are).  Sometimes they accommodated cars built for the FIA's sports car championship, sometimes not.  After World War Two, the LeMans circuit was a special case too: smooth and flat with long straights and (mostly) tight corners.  Jaguar's solid rear axle worked perfectly fine there.  At longer, bumpier, circuits,  Jags were less competitive.

Doubtless because of Bentley's success at LeMans in the years around 1930, British sports car manufacturers were always more interested in LeMans than the FIA championship.  Before racing sports cars had bullet-proof reliability, the drama of a "last man standing" win in a 24-hour race gave British sports car manufacturers something to crow about when they (often) lacked the outright pace of continental race cars.

One reason I love postwar racing sports cars is that they were "freestyle," and so different from each other.  Ferrari (and Maserati) attacked LeMans with powah: 4 to 5 liter engines.  The Mercedes 300 SLR attacked it with technical sophistication and reliability.  Jaguar (and Aston Martin) attacked it with what they had in the parts bins for their road-going sports cars.

When the LeMans-winning C-Type became long in the tooth, Jaguar decided to put its proven (but underpowered) 6-cylinder engine into a radical new car: the D-Type.  The car's advantage would be light weight, a low-drag body, and improved disc brakes.  Malcolm Sayer, the designer, had a background in aircraft.

Sayer insisted on minimal frontal area and used an aircraft-style aluminum monocoque body/chassis center "tub"--an automotive first.  Tubular steel subframes hung from its front and rear to support the engine and suspension.  While this was no more rigid than the 300 SLR's fully-triangulated tubular space frame, it produced a lighter car.  The D-Type was both lighter and more rigid than Ferrari's twin-tube ladder frame.  Working with Jaguar, Dunlop developed a new (improved) brake/hub/wheel package that eliminated the brake fade of Mercedes and Ferrari drums while saving weight compared to the wire wheels customarily used.

The D-Type won LeMans in '55, '56, and '57.  Boom!  In fairness, it must be said that Mercedes probably would have won in '55 had it not withdrawn its team after the terrible accident: the 300 SLR swept the board except for LeMans.  When Jaguar decided to withdraw factory-entered cars from competition at the end of 1956, it had surplus chassis lying about.  What to do?  The XKSS.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Rant Re-Run (Driverless Cars)

State Senate President Cullerton of Illinois has introduced a Bill to tax drivers by milage driven.  He says this will help solve a problem--that the gas tax no longer adequately funds road maintenance in the State.  Cullerton blamed Toyota Priuses for the problem, which is just silly.  For one thing, the price of gas currently is half of its all-time high (so the tax take is half what it could be).  For another, I have not noticed Priuses selling like hotcakes over the past decade.  Full-sized pickup trucks, SUV's, and SUV crossovers are selling like hotcakes.

Cullerton's proposal would require more Nanny State (monitoring the location and use of vehicles), or a complex "apply for it" rebate system (to refund gas tax to drivers), or some (possibly less privacy-invading) combination of both.  This alone makes me confident that his idea will be a non-starter with voters.

But Cullerton raises some thought-provoking points.  Until now, point-of-sale fuel taxes have functioned well as user-fees for road construction and maintenance.  The more you drive, the more you pay.  As vehicles become more fuel-efficient, and as more alternative fuel and electric vehicles enter the fleet, fuel taxes become harder to collect, or avoidable.  The "automatic" revenue feature of user-fees dwindles while the need for road maintenance remains constant (or increases).  Something must be done to maintain the road budgets of the States.  And the Feds (also based on fuel taxes).

Of course enthusiast drivers resent the Nanny State.  We like to drive fast and sometimes aggressively.  We like to drive alertly, with situational awareness, and we decry those who don't.  If we're driving a late model car, vehicle dynamics are already monitored by continuous-loop data acquisition.  It's tamper-proof and admissible in court as evidence.  You can argue your own attentiveness and competence all day long in an accident case, but it will be an uphill battle against data that shows speed and g-forces.  I know an aggressive driver who runs his own dash camera continuously.  That way, he can at least introduce his data into evidence.  He's fighting fire with fire.

Insurance companies tout "apps" that allow parents to monitor use of a vehicle by their teenaged children.  Car companies tout "smart" cruise control that maintains distance, and automatic braking that "pays attention when you don't."  It's but one step from the current "lane drift alert" feature in some cars to a system that takes control from the driver.  And we're only a few lines of code, and some road re-striping, away from "intelligent" freeway merging and turn lanes.  How hard would it be to integrate Google Map smart phone technology with this?  You could program your destination into your car, and it would drive itself to your next destination.

For two years, I took the express commuter train from the far southwest suburbs into the Chicago Loop.  Compared to the aggravation of rush hour on the Stevenson Expressway, it was heaven.  The travel time was about equal.  I could read, or chat with a fellow passenger (noting his facial expressions &c.), or just look out the window and "decompress."  Many of my fellow riders used the time "productively" on their laptops.  If this flexibility were introduced into personal vehicles, you could arrive home with your work emails answered and your Facebook interactions updated.  Who wouldn't want that?

People are ping-able on their smart phones.  Some "check in" on Facebook regularly.  The social media culture is, often, an accusatory and shaming culture.  I am morally certain (can't prove it) that one of my own speed busts was caused by an Upright Citizen who used his cell phone to "drop a dime" on me.  Where is the evidence that average drivers, given the option of a Smart Taxi, would resent the Nanny State tracking their every move?

Thursday, March 24, 2016


This car pushes my buttons.  A Nissan Skyline engine is the perfect transplant.  Yes, it's too loud, and a bit too spartan, the body kit is a bit too aggressive, and white would not have been my personal first choice of color.  But it's a track day car, and it's not my car.  It's hard to quibble with a car "done to taste" when that taste is so close to your own.  Brilliant effort!  Here's the Leno's Garage video:

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Purdy Car, Purdy Picture

Dan Gurney, with his Eagle in 2002, in Burneville, reprising his 1967 Belgian GP win at Spa-Francorchamps.
"There was a big bump in the apex up there that unsettled the car."

Friday, February 12, 2016

Join Me In The Wayback Machine (Jaguar XK-E)

It's hard to overstate the impact that the Jaguar XK-E made on sports car buffs when it was introduced in 1961.  This is from its Wikipedia page:

At a time when most cars had drum brakes, live rear axles, and mediocre performance, the E-Type sprang on the scene with 150 mph and a sub-7 second 0-60 time, monocoque construction, disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, independent front and rear suspension, and unrivaled looks.[3]

Starting with the XK-120 in 1948, Jaguar had a reputation of value for money.  But Jags got heavier and more refined (and less track-worthy) in the 1950's.  And Jag went from cutting-edge technology to also-ran.  Little did the public know that, when the factory LeMans effort was shut down, William Lyons green-lighted a study of turning the D-Type into a road car.  The engineers figured out how to do the D-Type's aluminum monocoque in steel, and it was a rigid chassis for the times.

Which brings us to value for money.  These figures are from memory, and thus unreliable in preciseness.  But I'm fairly confident of my orders-of-magnitude.  The XK-E sold for about $6000 in 1961.  A Ferrari 250 GT cost twice that; the 250 GT SWB even more.  An MGA cost about $2500 (the MGB was two years away).  This was a bit more than a basic Chevy or Ford.  A Fiat 1500 roadster was about $3000.  An Alfa Giulietta was a bit over $4000.  Porsche 356's ranged from $4500 to $5000 (the 911 was 3 years away, and would cost as much or more as an XK-E when it arrived).

The Chevy Corvette, perhaps the XK-E's closest competitor, started north of $3500.  But by the time you checked the boxes to get the good stuff, it was over $5000.  And for 85% of the cost of an XK-E, you still got a stick axle and drum brakes.  Is it any wonder there was a long waiting list for an XK-E, even in the States?  (The initial production run was for export only.)

It was a engineering tour de force in 1961, at any price point.  At half the price and 90% of the pace of a Ferrari, it was brilliant.  And drop-dead gorgeous.  We all said so.  Today, we geezers tend to lump the XK-E in with 250 GT's and Corvette Stingrays (IRS, disc brakes) and Porsche 911's into a Golden Age.  But back then, for a few years, the XK-E was King of the Mountain.

I've not driven an XK-E, but had a long ride in a well-driven Series 1 car in 1974.  By the standards of the day, it was a sports car.  It was marketed as such and raced, including at the international level.  But it's not a sporty car.  That hood is every bit at long as it looks: visibility could be better.  Without power steering, parking and low-speed maneuvers are a chore.  With a 4-speed box and long diff gear, it doesn't scoot away from rest.  It shone as a road car--a GT--which was its intended use.

XK-E independent rear suspension, inboard disc brakes, and subframe restored by Sport & Specialty of Durand, IL.  The
availability of this state-of-the-art unit in a production car was a "first" in 1961.  It is the go-to assembly even now for
people building hot rods and custom cars with IRS.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

1969 Porsche 917 PA (1:18 Model)

Above and below: exposure increased in these pics to present better online.  As far as I can tell, the actual white and blue
are perfect.  Rear deck is not removable.  Actual car is in the Collier/Revs Institute Museum in Naples. FL.

Above: closeup of mirrors and struts supporting the "dive planes."
Below: closeup of the power train / rear part of the frame.

Manufacturer information for those interested.

This is the best 1:18 scale scale die-cast model of a Porsche 917 K that I've found.  C.M.C. is my benchmark, but doesn't make a 917.  Normally I don't have a problem with Autoart (and I have their 917 LH Martini & Rossi).  But the rear frame detail of Autoart's 917 K doesn't satisfy me.

The underside of the Spark model could be better, but there is nothing to complain about as the model rests on its wheels.  The detail is so good, and so delicate, that I got a plastic display case for it.  It's expensive.  But I doubt my own ability to improve on it (with limited and rusty skills) enough that the unbuilt Tamiya 1:24 scale plastic kit will remain, for now, in its box on my closet shelf.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Purdy Car

At Torrey Pines, 1954.

Before he was a factory shoe, and the go-to test driver for the Ford GT 40 racing program, and Carroll Shelby's Cobra team, and a hot-shot Porsche 550 Sypder driver, tearing up the small-bore modified classes on the West Coast--

Ken Miles designed, built, and raced two MG specials with huge success.  This the second one, the lovely "Flying Shingle."

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Aston Martin Mark III

There is something about the mid-1950's Aston Martins that really yanks my chain.  Ferrari was building much faster, as or more exotic, cars that didn't cost much more.  Jaguar was building faster cars that were better value for money.  But the DB 2 series and the Mark III had such character!

Monday, January 25, 2016

1971 Tans-Am U 2.5 Championship (Video)

This (no sound) 8 m.m. move film of the Laguna Seca race is worth a watch if you liked these cars.  I certainly did.  And still do: two of the area racers I'm a big fan of drive Alfa GTA/GTV's, and the VSCDA often has a good turn-out of Datsun 510's.

I was so impressed with the BRE 510's that I went right out and bought one.  Drove it for 8 years and loved it.  But it was not, as the saying had it at the time, "a poor man's BMW 2002."  I nearly spun mine chasing a 2002 through some twisties--could not keep up.  The stock 510 needed considerable rearrangement of its suspension geometry, both front and rear, to approach the handling of the BRE cars.

We remember things as we wish, not as they were.  The BRE 510's were dominant at the Mid-Ohio race I watched.  Horst Kwech's Alfa was nowhere.  And that was the way I remembered the championship fight.  Not so.  As the video poster's comment makes clear, the championship came down to the last race at Laguna Seca.  Which, itself, involved trading paint, Kwech punting John Morton off-course and, finally, being disqualified.

Above: John Morton and his restored 1971 Championship-winning car, photographed years later.  Both were fast.
Below: Pilote's 510, with amateur copy-cat hardware store tape graphics.  Both were slow.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Another Shout Out To Phil Hill And the Ferrari 156 Sharknose

Not that either needs one from Pilote.  But here's a short video of Phil's Spa win too--the best contemporary vid I've seen of the 156:¬if_t=like

Ambience shot: Ferrari pit, practice, Monaco, 1961.  Wolfgang von Trips drove car 40, Richie Ginther drove car 36, and
Phil Hill drove car 38.  Ginther was the only driver (of any car) who had anything for Stirling Moss (who won) at
Monaco, with Ginther right behind.  Hill was a distant 3rd and von Trips an even more distant 4th.  But, aside
from the Nurburgring (where Moss won again), the Ferrari 156 swept the rest of the races.

Phil in action in the Station (now Loew's) Hairpin.  The 156's 65-degree V-6, based on the original 2.0-2.4 V-6, was
replaced mid-season with an even more powerful 120-degree V-6.  Power was the key to Ferrari's dominance in 1961.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Hotel de France, La Chartre sur-le-Loir

This hotel is on my Bucket List if I get to France again.  John Wyer scouted it when he first took the Aston Martin team to LeMans.  (It is about 20 miles southeast of the circuit.)  He chose it because he liked Five Star food and drink--his teams never stayed anywhere else in the decades that Wyer raced at LeMans.

Wyer was famously tight-fisted with pay and autocratic in management style, but he never scrimped on accomodations and always insisted that the entire team, including the drivers, stay together in one hotel.  He felt it built team spirit, and it served his control-freak purposes.  The only driver to successfully rebel was Stirling Moss.  Some very famous people have stayed here, and partied in the restaurant.

Hotel de France, La Chartre sur-le-Loir, 1950's.

1953: Aston Martin DB 3 S's.  The entire team was DNF.  George Abecassis/Roy Salvadori
(26) were out with clutch failure, Dennis Poore/Eric Thompson (27) had ignition failure,
and Reg Parnell/Peter Collins (25) had an accident.

1954, Left to right: Paul Frere, Reg Parnell, Graham Whitehead, Carroll Shelby, Ian Stewart, David Brown, Peter Collins,
Roy Salvadori, and Prince Bira.  All four Aston Martin DB 3 S's were DNF.  The Shelby/Frere car broke its axle, the
Parnell/Salvadori car broke its engine, and the Collins/Bira and Whitehead/Stewart cars were out with accidents.

1957: Aston Martin DBR 1's and another miserable year.  Tony Brooks/Noel Cunningham-Reid (20) were out with an
accident and Roy Salvadori/Les Leston (19) were DNF with clutch failure.  Two years later, Carroll Shelby and Roy
Salvadori delivered Aston Martin's first win after years of trying (and some good finishes).

1964: Aston Martin had retired from racing and John Wyer was running Ford Motor Company's first year of racing the
Ford GT 40.  Phil Hill/Bruce McLaren (10) and Richie Ginther/Masten Gregory (11) were out with gearbox failure.
The Richard Attwood/Jo Schlesser car (12) burned to the ground on the Mulsanne Straight.

1965: Wyer had been demoted to running Ford Advanced Vehicle's customer support program (Carroll Shelby was running
the factory team), but was allowed to enter a car for "research."  John Whitmore is barely visible behind the camera man;
Innes Ireland is partially obscured, and John Wyer is hoping they don't say something Ford will object to.  The #14 car
was out with overheating, a chronic problem with the "dry deck" engine that Wyer didn't want to run.

1968:The first of two consecutive wins for the famous Chassis 1075.  This one was dominant, with Pedro Rodriguez/
Lucien Bianchi winning easily.  1969 was a nail-biter, barely ahead of a Porsche 908. 

1971: By now Wyer (and Steve McQueen's film) had made the Gulf blue and orange colors famous.  But both Wyer
Porsche 917 LH's were DNF, this Jo Siffert/Derek Bell car with engine failure.  Wyer's 917 K entry came second in
1971, but he never won LeMans for Porsche.

Dining room of the Hotel de France.  Some raucous victory parties were held in this room.  And some very quiet
drown-our-sorrows "Wait 'till next year[s]."

The Hotel de France is now a regular stop for historically-minded gearheads and car clubs touring France by car.  This is
Stirling Moss (seated) holding forth to the Aston Martin Owners' Club of the U.K.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Aston Martin LeMans 1959

This is some fun film, of reasonably good quality.  Winning LeMans had always been the goal of Aston Martin's owner, David Brown.  With the DBR 1, he finally had the car to do it.  The car's superb handling and John Wyer's ditto team management also won the sports car championship for Brown.  But Brown wasn't up for an attempted repeat.  Aston Martin sleeved and de-stroked the DBR 1's straight six down to 2.5 liters and put it into a very slow and unsuccessful Formula 1 car.  Brown lost even more interest, and sold Aston Martin a few years later.  LeMans had been at the top of his  professional bucket list.  Check.

Highlights (8 minutes):
Part 1 (15 minutes):
Part 2 (15 minutes:

Roy Salvadori in the winning DBR 1 he shared with Carroll Shelby.

Shelby in the same car.  LeMans was a power and aero circuit, not a handling one, and the DBR 1 lacked the power of
Ferrari's Testa Rossa V-12.  So Wyer faired in the front wheels and put spats over the rear ones.

Knowing that the DBR 1 did not have the beans of a Ferrari, Wyer hired Stirling Moss to be Aston's hare, to set a pace
that would break up the opposition while the other two Astons ran to a predetermined lap speed.  The engine in the
Aston broke too, a price Wyer was more than willing to pay: mission accomplished.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Art : Form Following Function

"32" designates the throat size, "DCO" designates side-draft, and "A3" designates a stock application.  Weber's side-draft
racing carbs were "DCOE's," up to a 48 millimeter throat size.  Downdraft Webers were common on racing engines as
large as the 7 liter American V-8's used in Can Am cars--also with two throats paired to a common float chamber.  And,
iconically, on Ferrari V-12's.  (Some Ferraris used 3 downdraft Webers with 4 throats sharing a common float chamber.)
Weber also made lots of "normal," cheap downdraft carbs, single throat or progressive secondary, found on
mass-produced Fiats.

When I was young, Weber carburetors hung on the sides of all respectable racing engines.  You could even get Webers on very high-end street cars, like Ferrari, Porsches with the Type 547 engine, and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta/Giulia Veloce.

They are beautiful because they look like they do exactly what they do do: feed a maximum amount of gas and air directly into the combustion chamber.  The "secret" of Webers was two throttle throats paired on a common float chamber.  Two Webers for a 4 cylinder engine, 3 for a 6, 6 for a 12.  This allowed the fuel mixture to be supplied directly to each cylinder, not through a manifold which potentially imbalanced it.

The float chamber and the float mechanism itself were designed to prevent fuel starvation in high-G turns.  Webers had complex internal fuel passages and jets, which optimized fuel/air mixture for engine speed and load.  I remember well the plastic jet tray of the dealership where I worked in the 1960's.  It was about 16 inches square, gridded into maybe 64 boxes.  It would have daunted any modern home health care nurse assisting a senior with the tray for his daily/weekly medication dosages.  The point was to get the fuel mixture exactly right for idle, mid-range low load, and high speed full load.  The ideal mixture was in turn dictated by application.  Street or race?  Mostly full-throttle or some medium speed part throttle?  Webers required precise set-up, but worked brilliantly when they were.  They still do in vintage racing.

And they're lovely to look at, compared to the black plastic, tangled pasta, manifolds that come on modern high performance cars (with electronic fuel injection).  Do Webers work as well?  No.  Did they work better than any other contemporary carb, or the early versions of mechanical fuel injection?  You bet!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

SERA And The Porsche 917, Part Two

Note: Almost all factual information in this post comes from Porsche: Excellence Was Expected (pp. 675-678 and 685-690), by Karl Ludvigsen, and Porsche 917: Archive And Works Catalog, by Walter Naher.

It was news to me that Porsche consulted with SERA on 917 aero before the "Pink Pig" that ran at LeMans in 1971.  (Search this blog on "SERA" if you're not familiar with the Pink Pig.)  SERA and Porsche collaborated on significant aero development for the 917 Langheck (LH) before, during, and after LeMans in 1970--and finally "fixed" it for LeMans 1971.

Before we get into development, some background:

The body shapes of the 907, 908, and the first 917 LH models were essentially the same.  The 907 LH was developed in wind tunnel tests.  It had the lowest drag coefficient of any racing Porsche, then or later.  This was why, with only 2.2 liters, it became another Porsche "giant killer."  The 908 LH was a slightly upsized copy of the 907.  It was not wind-tunnel tested until after its configuration was finalized.  At 3.0 liters, it suffered no stability problems at speeds approaching 200 m.p.h.  The 917 LH was again a slightly upsized copy of the 908, and it too was not wind-tunnel tested until after configuration was finalized.

The original 917 LH at the LeMans Test Days, 1969: essentially a 907 or 908 LH, but unstable.  The bell-crank operated
winglets didn't help, and were illegal under FIA regulations after LeMans anyway.  Back to the drawing board.  SERA
was not involved in shaping this body.

After the 917 was introduced in the spring of 1969 it quickly became clear that it was unstable at racing speeds.  But the problem was not conclusively established to be aerodynamics until October.  Porsche fiddled with spring rates and suspension geometry.  There was no time to change the LH body before LeMans, but soon after the race it went into Porsche's wind tunnel, and SERA was asked for a second opinion (looking ahead to LeMans 1970).  SERA was an aerodynamic consulting firm run by Charles Deutsch, who was noted for his low drag bodies on the DB Panhards raced at LeMans in the early 1960's.  While the 917 K's aero stability was sorted with the iconic Horsman Tail in the winter of 1969-70,  Ferdinand Piech never gave up on a low-drag "solution" for LeMans.

SERA made detail changes throughout the car before the spring of 1970.  Only the windshield, doors, and roof remained unchanged.  The rear window remained, but without louvers.  A transverse slot provided for the engine's air intake and cooling fan.  The tail was more "lush," with curved reliefs around the now partially-shrouded wheel openings, and upswept at the very rear to a small "spoilerette."  It was homologated with or without vertical fins.  The contours of the front fenders were similar to the finalized (more square-nosed) K, but with smaller inlets for the oil cooler and brakes, similar to the 1969 car.  Kurt Ahrens crashed this configuration in March, 1970, when it aquaplaned before the LeMans Test Days.  Willy Kauhsen crashed one again after Test Days but before the race.

This could be unloading for either of the two Langheck tests at the Volkswagen proving grounds, or for the LeMans
Test Days in April.  In any event, the car as seen here is the "first cut" at a 1970 LH.  Note the smaller rear window
without louvers.  For reasons unrelated to LH aero, 1969's side exhausts for the front cylinders have been lost in
favor of conventional 6-into-2-into-1 exhausts exiting at the rear.  SERA was heavily involved in this shape.

At the LeMans Test Days in April, Ahrens and Vic Elford reported nose lift above 150 m.p.h.  The LH reached 226 m.p.h. on the Mulsanne Straight, but the front jumped around.  But if the front was "pinned," the rear became loose. The car was unstable at speeds above 190 m.p.h., especially when coming off-throttle.  The Test Days configuration was deemed "not acceptable."

After further wind tunnel tests and for the race:
1. The lower lip of the oil cooler inlet was cut back to the cooler itself.
2. The brake cooling inlets were enlarged.
3. The front deck was changed to a concave shape.
4. The rear deck was made identical to the K's arrangement, with a small vertical window
     recessed into sail panels.
5. Scoops were added to cool the transaxle and rear brakes.
6. Most importantly, a rear wing was hung between the vertical fins. This configuration (when tested
    after the race) yielded drag 9% higher than the 1969 car.

Vic Elford said the LH as raced in 1970 was driveable "but still not dead steady" compared to the K.  It was only 1-1.5 seconds faster than the K's over a 3:20-ish lap, and in the race itself Wyer's K's sometimes lapped faster.  Elford and Ahrens led a contested and often wet race for 17 hours, with an assist from the 4.9 liter engine, until a broken valve spring put them out.  Porsche's first overall win at LeMans went to Richard Attwood and Hans Herrmann in a "box stock, customer spec." 4.5.  The only LH ever to finish LeMans, the "hippie car" of Gerard Larrousse/Willy Kauhsen, finished second, after several mishaps, 5 laps behind Attwood/Herrmann.

The 917 LH as raced at LeMans in 1970.  Vic Elford / Kurt Ahrens led off-and-on and never unchallenged, for 17 hours,
until a broken valve spring retired them.  This view shows the cut-back lower edge of the oil cooler opening, the
concave nose panel, the rear scoop for cooling the transaxle and rear brakes, and the wing.

For 1971, Porsche and SERA addressed the LH's issues immediately after LeMans.  Development continued in the summer and fall of 1970.  One goal was improved stability; Gerard Larrousse also felt that cornering grip could be improved.  Rear wheel widths were taken from 15 inches to 17, the same as the K's.  This had not been done previously because it increased the LH's frontal area.  A wider, flatter, tail that shrouded the upper half of the wheels was adopted.  A sickle shaped opening was cut in it to cool the tires.  Decreased suspension travel at both ends of the car and lowered wheel arches were adopted.  This "got back" some of the increased frontal area and was possible because LeMans was flat and smooth compared to other circuits.  NACA ducts replaced scoops to cool the transmission and rear brakes.

Porsche technicians were also looking for ways to increase the load on the front tires.  A lower, wider, oil cooler allowed for a bigger concave front deck panel.  The cooler was also placed closer to the road to lessen the amount of air passing under the car.  The headlights were moved rearward and placed more horizontally to allow for much larger front brake ducts.  The profile of the nose was flattened in plan view (even more so than the already-flattened K).  The trailing edges of the wheel arches were relieved and radiused to prevent air from "packing" in the wheel wells at speeds over 150 m.p.h.  SERA suggested and/or tested many of the changes described above, but not those described below.

Spring rates were stiffened to minimize changes in the car's aerodynamic angle of attack.  (Interestingly, John Wyer had always considered the 917's angle of attack critical to stability, particularly under braking, and his Gulf cars were set up to maintain a positive angle of attack as much as possible.  But even the Wyer K's had squirmy front ends under heavy braking.)

The new body was made of a special foam core material (used also for the 908/3's) that was thin enough to be translucent before it was painted.  This got the LH's down to an average weight of 1855 lbs. without fuel.  All the changes described here were tested by Jo Siffert at Hockenheim in November and became the baseline LH for 1971.

This view of the new 917 LH "body-in-white" at the LeMans Test Days in 1971 illustrates the changes described in the
text.  The car was so fast, and stable, that John Wyer reversed his decision of a year previous and agreed to run two
 LH's in his three-car entry for the race.  Martini & Rossi ran one too, in a livery that became iconic.

At the LeMans Test Days in April, 1971, a Wyer-Gulf 917 K was used to set a "bogie" time of 3:25.  The LH was clearly faster at 3:17, the magnesium frame K (which eventually won the race) was only 2 seconds slower, and the Pink Pig was well off the pace at 3:25.  Four different drivers could detect no difference in handling between the LH and the K.  Jackie Oliver got the LH down to 3:14, about 6 seconds faster than the best K time, and clocked 239 m.p.h. on the Mulsanne Straight.  He reported the car as "dead stable."  The only alterations for the race were to open the underside of the nose ahead of the front wheels and to move the louvers forward.  Success, in the third year of trying.

No cigar, but a great-looking commercial livery.

The LH's led the first 4 hours of the race easily, challenged only by the Penske Ferrari 512 M.  The Elford/Larrousse LH was out at 5 hours when the cooling fan flew off, cooking the engine.  Both Wyer cars suffered failed left rear wheel bearings.  This put the Siffert/Bell car out of contention.  It eventually retired with engine failure.  Rodriguez/Oliver got their LH back up to 2nd when an oil line broke at 18 hours; it too retired with engine failure.  The race was run in completely dry weather, unlike the rain-soaked 1970 event.  The blistering dry-weather pace set by the LH's probably had something to do with their retirement.  But, to this day (2006), John Horsman, Wyer's race engineer, believes that the LH was insufficiently developed to be confidently expected to last 24 hours.

The LH fascinates me because it struggled with lift at the dawn of the aero era.  Jim Hall was exploring downforce with wings on his "unlimited" Chaparrals, but nobody else was, in a rigorously experimental way.  The Ford GT 40 had solved its lift problem with high drag.  The "Porsche Way" was low drag, the Mulsanne Straight was the key to a fast lap at LeMans, and LeMans was always the most important race on Porsche's calendar.  Even though he (grudgingly) accepted the high drag Wyer/Horsman K solution aside from LeMans, Piech was not about to give up on the LH.  (When Porsche entered the Can Am's short sprint races on twisty circuits with the massively powerful 917/10 and /30, Piech quickly became "all about" downforce.)

Even after the rear wing partially sorted the LH's instability, Piech had SERA pursuing a non-wing solution: the Pink Pig.  Today, of course, airflow is managed over, under, around, and through racing sports car bodies.  And engineers have decades of experience in doing this.  The Porsche 956/962 was successful in part because of its high downforce/low drag body.  For that matter, the LH's reason for existence itself no longer exists: LeMans is now squiggly in the places it used to be straight.

Friday, January 1, 2016