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