Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dragon Ambience (October, 2012)

One of my favorite places, with a nice dose of scarlet in the trees.

The Tree of Shame has been well-fertilized with new bike parts since March.

Humor, or reassurance, in the men's room of the Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort.  (Click to enlarge if you don't see it.)

Little Tennessee River above Fugitive Dam, NC 28, headed for the DGMR.

Morning sun on the Little Tennessee at the Calderwood Dam Overlook.

Morning sun on the Little Tennessee at the Caldeerwood Dam Overlook.

A photo op for owners was a photo op for me.  These visitors paused for a Beauty Shot before heading home on Monday morning.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Self-Indulgent Dragon Photo Essay (And Killboy Caption Cribs)

TDOT's mile markers count up from the State line (south to north).  Names and spellings of corners vary
depending on the mapmaker.  After a few passes, your own "mental map" will begin to fill in with the most
obvious landmarks.  For instance, The (Stone) Wall, the large culvert and the only entering side road at
Parson's Branch, The (only) Guardrail.  On some maps, Mile Marker 6 and Rebels Revenge are The Horns
of the Dragon.  A Confederate veteran is buried in the small cemetery up the hill from the road at Rebels
Revenge.  If the Overlook's crowded, I go down to Calderwood Corner to turn around for the return pass.

Make a couple of slow passes to re-familiarize yourself with the road and get into a rhythm.  Say "Hi" to Killboy or his minions.

If your front wheel is hung across the white line, you don't have time to wave at anybody.  Be alert to traffic and focus, focus.

"About all she's got, Cap'n..."  The better among us may get a street car around a bend faster, but this is near the limit of prudence for a public highway.  When I stopped at the Calderwood Dam Overlook, the spokes of my front wheels were too hot to touch.  It took them a few minutes to cool down to "warm."  That's enough brake heat to transmit to the tires of a daily driver.  Take some time to enjoy the view before making another hard pass.

"Little Honda, lookin' good..."

"...Oh, no you DID-unt!"  This is a no-no.  If you cross the double yellow, you will eventually collect a sportbike mirror--or worse.  On this trip, I encountered a pickup truck towing a two-wheeled trailer that was 2 feet into my lane.  He barely got it back in his lane as I passed.  On another pass, I had to come to a complete stop when it looked like a 20-foot straight truck was not going to get it back into his lane in time.  And of course we all know about the semi trucks (or should).  When you see trouble ahead in the oncoming lane, stop before the corner.  But get going again.  A sportbiker told me that a couple in a car ahead of him, "leafing," stopped dead, in a corner, to take pictures. 

  I'll miss you, Dragon.  See you next spring!

Monday, October 29, 2012

2012 Petit LeMans And Dragon Run, Post 5

I rolled into Fontana on Sunday, October 21, around noon: early enough to make some Dragon passes.  Drove right past FVR to the Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort for lunch and some ambience.  The weather was gorgeous: sunny, low 70's, with a light breeze.  The parking lot at DGMR was a bit more crowded than it had been in March.  As in March, my estimate was 50% cruisers and 50% sportbikes or motards.  The mood was mellow: I had a nice chat with a Ducati rider who was going to find some autumn leaves for his wife before heading back home to Florida.

The Dragon itself seemed more crowded than the parking lot.  Trying as I do to visit twice a year, and with an unexpected half-day in hand, I felt no pressure to tear it up.  Made a low speed pass to the Calderwood Overlook to check road conditions and get into a rhythm.  The downside of slow passes (depending on your vehicle) is that you must unlearn some things when you start to run harder.  In my car, the Dragon is 3rd gear at moderate speeds.  It's 2nd gear, with occasional upshifts, when making fast passes.  The feel and reference points are different.

I saw one l.e.o., on Sunday afternoon.  He was stationary, at the state line, facing north, on the southbound berm.  Nothing sneaky about it.  He was gone when I made my return southbound pass, so he must have been from NC.  In 1.5 days on the Dragon, my radar detector never lit up.  If the l.e.o. I saw was shooting (and he probably was), he was using instant-on laser.  Here are my notes:

Pass 2: (after one warmup pass), blocked by a dense line of 4 cars.
Pass 3: blocked, not badly, by touring bikes; stopped to talk to Killboy's Jack Rose.
Pass 4: badly blocked by a pickup truck and a Toyota.
Pass 5: terribly blocked by leafers in a "new" Thunderbird with Alabama plates; they were clueless, or doing the "I have as much right to this road as you do" thing, or both.  This is when Killboy suggests you use a pull-off to gap yourself, and I would have, had the time for passes been limited.

Speaking of pull-offs, they work fine.  I used them to clear for sportbikes five times on Sunday.  A number of people used them to clear for me.  I always gave a puller-offer a wave (my sunroof was open) on the theory that acknowledged courtesy lubricates traffic.  Jack Rose (and others) told me that the Dragon itself clears out pretty well after 4:00 p.m. on most days.

Was back by 8:30 Monday morning.  The parking lot at DGMR was empty.  It started to show signs of life by 9:30.  Here are my notes:

Pass 1: a very slow Harley tourer cleared for me, otherwise I was alone northbound.
Pass 2: nobody but me southbound, only 4 touring bikes northbound.
Pass 3: used a pull-off to build a gap to a van; caught him again before the Overlook.
Pass 4: stopped to help at an accident site.
Pass 5: blocked by a 20-foot straight truck hauling a forklift; used a pull-off, caught him again.
Pass 6: blocked by a touring bike, used a pull-off to build a gap.
Pass 7: stopped to chat with Kamal, Killboy's photographer, for over half an hour (see below).
Pass 8: best, and fastest, pass of the day; no southbound traffic at around 5:00 p.m.

Viewed from Kamal's spot at "Sunset 2," traffic on the Dragon was light (just as in the Killboy videos from last spring).  But it often comes in clots of 4-6 vehicles.  Using a pull-off to build a gap is the way to go; the trick is to get underway again before somebody else comes through.  (On this visit, I saw one sportbiker cross the double yellow to force a dangerous pass.  I was last in line of a string of 4 cars that he took, and he was beginning corner-entry when he got around the first one.  He appeared in my mirrors quickly, and didn't wait around for me or anyone else to use a pulloff.)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Beck 904

Chuck Beck with my cousin and his Beck 904 at Road Atlanta.  That's Ray, who
swapped a VW 411 engine into his Porsche 911-E, in the background. 

Some readers may recall the Beck Spyder, a VW-powered replica of the Porsche 550 Spyder, from a few years ago.  It was a righteous car, a bargain, and Pilote considered buying one before he decided he wanted V-8 torque and "all mod. cons." (as the Brits say) in his toy.  With air-cooled VW engines in short supply, Beck sold the rights to that car when he moved back east from California several years ago.

The Beck 904 is what he's been up to lately.  One can be yours for a base price of $75,000.  Each Beck is custom-built to an agreed specification between Chuck and the prospective owner.  He has made about a dozen of them.  Chuck's son, Randy, races one.  Go to if you want to know more.  The car in these pictures had not turned a wheel until he brought it to Road Atlanta for the ALMS race last weekend.

Strictly speaking, the Beck 904 is not a replica.  The original Porsche 904 had a stamped sheet steel central backbone frame, bonded to its fiberglas body, and Porsche's 4-cam, 4-cylinder engine.  Chuck's 904 has a semi-space frame (the body bears no chassis loads) and a 6-cylinder Porsche Typ 901 engine (or its derivatives).  His fiberglass bodies are laid-up by hand and look like a 904, but differ in detail.  They have flared fenders for much wider tires (16 X 8 and 16 X 9, mounting 50-aspect ratios) and a more pronounced rear spoiler.

This view emphasizes the fender flares and larger rear spoiler on a Beck 904.

Not as far apart in spirit as you might suspect: the Beck 904 next to Chuck Keene's '32 Ford 3-window street rod.  The wheels on the Beck 904 are a "tribute" to Porsche-style Fuchs alloys, but they are wider and have Beck center caps.  Or you can install Porsche logo center caps.  Or you can specify BBS wheels.  Or...

The "standard" engine in a Beck 904 is a stock air-cooled 6-cylinder from a Porsche 993 (the last air-cooled "911"), as shown.  So we are talking 300+ horsepower in an 1800 lb. car.  How fast do you want to go?  How much money do you want to spend?  Spare a moment to absorb the fabrication craftsmanship you see here.  Visit Chuck's website to see more.

The office: VDO gauges would make any Porsche owner feel at home, and a "proper" wood-rim aluminum-spoke steering wheel.

Friday, October 26, 2012

My Cousin's 1966 Shelby Mustang GT 350

This picture was taken a few years ago at Sebring.  The car now wears narrower stock, steel, GT 350 wheels with period-correct radials, which make it easier to drive on the street.  (They are shown in the picture in my 10/25/12 post.)  I prefer the looks of the American Racing Torque Thrust wheels in this picture, which were a standard option in 1966.

This car is in original, unrestored condition.  It was purchased new in Iowa but spent most of its life in southern California, much of that in storage.  It has clocked 66,000 miles, most of them by two of the four owners, one of which is my cousin.

I love the sound of this car.  Goose the gas three times before turning the key and it lights up into a noisy, solid-lifter clatter.  I turned to my cousin after we'd spent about 20 minutes in it and said "This car is the sound track of our youth!"  Shelby installed low-restriction mufflers on GT 350's, and you get plenty of noise whenever you dip into the throttle.  And at cruising speeds.  My cousin has installed a Tremec 5-speed (the original Borg-Warner T-10 is on a shelf), but the car still makes more revs at cruising speeds than my 2008 Mustang.  The axle gears are about 3.90:1 ratio, I suppose, maybe even 4:11: 1 (my car is 3.73:1).  The Shelby feels 10% higher geared...

It is a beast to drive.  I had the impression that even the early, hard-core, Shelby Mustangs of 1965 and 1966 did not drive like muscle cars because they were small blocks.  Not so.  The clutch requires a hard push, and it pushes right back.  It modulates fine (the car is hard to stall), but the muscles of your left calf will be in good shape if you drive the car frequently.

No power steering or brakes--and I had forgotten how much I take for granted modern power systems with good feel for what's going on at the contact patch.  You have to haul on the high-geared steering to get the car around a street corner.  My cousin says the brakes will stop the car quick if you stomp on the pedal.  I didn't drive it that hard.  But I found myself consistently under-braking and running out of room: I expected a servo to kick in, but of course it never did.  The linearity of the brakes is fine, but you need to push on the pedal if you want to stop.

On the other hand, the M-1 Mustang is noticeably smaller than my S-197.  Visibility in all directions is great--I had forgotten how airy the cabins of 1960's cars feel.  Your eyes are well above the hood line and yes, you can rest your arm on the windowsill.  When my cousin was driving and I was following him, I could see most of his shirt above the back of the bucket seat.  With modern servo assists, a Shelby GT 350 would feel more maneuverable and agile than an S-197.

But not faster, in a straight line.  I believe my Mustang could stay with a GT 350 in a drag race, and probably beat it.  Apparently, overhead cams, 3 valves per cylinder, and port fuel-injection trump solid lifters and a 4-barrel on a hi-rise manifold.  The rated horsepower of the cars is close, 315 vs. 306, and my car is heavier--by 300 lbs., I'd guess.  But it feels faster, even with the taller rear axle gears.

The GT 350's noise is glorious, but a day behind the wheel would leave me frazzled.  It's not an around-town car: parking would be a chore, even if you didn't worry about dents in a very valuable car.  It's not a day-trip car: too noisy.  It's an afternoon on two-lanes car.  Fortunately for him, my cousin lives an hour or so from the mountains of GA, NC, and TN--the perfect environment for a GT 350.

The office: this is the way the car came from Shelby; the tach and its location are standard.  Flanking the speedometer is a full complement of gauges.  The gearshift throws are about the same as a modern car, but felt longer to me.  Everything takes effort.  On the early GT-350's you could get any interior color you liked--as long as it was black.

"Are we having fun yet?  Yes we are!"  My cousin is a big guy--6'-3".  He easily fits behind the wheel.  

2012 Petit LeMans And Dragon Run, Post 4

This is not a Petit LeMans race report--that would be old news to those primarily concerned with winning and losing.  And TV viewers (well...ESPN3 live stream viewers...) always know more about what's going on in a race than people at the track anyway.  As "everyone" knows, the Rebellion Racing Lola/Toyota had the Prototype field covered and won by three laps.  The Muscle Milk HPD Honda won the championship by completing 70% of race distance.  A Patron/Ultimat Vodka Ferrari 458 Italia won the GT class, with a Corvette and a BMW still on the same lap.  Corvette had already won the championship.

The point of attending a race, for me, is the sights, sounds, and smells.  To crib from Apocalypse Now, "I love the smell of Castrol R in the morning." Saturday morning.  Early.  I vividly remember an SCCA Regional race I went to 45 years ago at Connellsville PA, in which pouring rain gave a Porsche 906 a chance to battle a Ford GT 40 for the lead.  I vividly remember my first CART race at Road America 25 years ago (Mario Andretti's "game, set, match" covering of the field), and my last CART race there 13 years ago (Dario Franchitti's win in the "last of the real IndyCar racers").  I will remember Petit LeMans just as vividly because seeing a race there was on my Bucket List and ALMS GT is the best road racing going these days.

Road Atlanta track map.  Our base was toward the center of the infield near Turns 10A and 10B.  My own viewing was mostly there, with some time spent at Turn 8, and a lot of time at Turns 11 and 12.  Spent some time on Spectator Hill, between Turns 5 and 9.  As a younger man, in an earlier day, I'd have walked the infield from there down to Turn 1.

Assuming that you get the rest of the lap right, this braking zone into Turn 10A is key to a hot time at Road Atlanta.  Note the lines across the course (ignore the one near the top of the hill).  The GT cars were hard on their brakes at the furthest of the 3 lines.  The Prototypes generally used the second one.  The Last Of The Late Brakers were beginning to trail-brake across the closest line.  The Prototypes were truly amazing: they lost 100+ m.p.h. of speed in 200 feet.

A BMW GT demonstrates the right line out of 10A: stay to the inside upon exit so you can nail the apex of 10B.  Road Atlanta is a hard course to drive fast consistently.  It's tempting to crowd the braking zones in Turns 1 and 10A, which blows the lap time for that circuit if you get into them too hot.

The other Rahal-Letterman BMW GT demonstrates the wrong line: too much speed into 10A and ran wide at the exit.  This makes you slow through 10B, and up the hill into 11 and 12.  You don't want to screw up those turns because the downhill at 12 leads onto a straight.  From the exit of 10B you should be flat or nearly so all the way down to the braking zone for Turn 1.

The proper line through 10B.  Not as easy as it looks, especially if you over-drove 10A.

The proper line out of 11 into 12, illustrated by a string of mixed traffic.  In a Prototype, 12 is flat-out and, frankly, terrifying to Pilote.  Your suspension reaches full compression just as you begin the turn-in for the apex of 12.  Mess this up and you will collect some of those green and white tires in the background at a speed north of 150 m.p.h.

The exit of Turn 12 looking toward the braking zone for Turn 1.  If you've done it right, you've been flat-out since the exit of 10B, but plenty busy with steering angle.  Road Atlanta is a very challenging course, with no place to take a breather except, maybe, after Turn 7.  In a fast car, you have 12 chances per lap to mess up; opportunities to lose time are everywhere.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

2012 Petit LeMans And Dragon Run, Post 3

My cousin and his endurance racing pals have "done" Sebring and Petit LeMans for years.  And they do not do things halfway.  On the day I arrived, my cousin and I picked up his classic Airstream trailer from storage, towed it to Road Atlanta, dropped and leveled it, erected the "easy up" and buffet table, and set out the non-perishables.  This operation was quite a revelation to a guy who slathers on some sunscreen, eats track food (admittedly good at Road America) and hauls a portable chair around from corner to corner.

Chez Cuz: no half-measures in this equipe.  Cuz and I retrieved his Shelby GT 350 from storage the day after we towed the Airstream in.  Yes, it is the real deal, and yes, I got to drive it.  More about that in a later post.

My cousin's gearhead pals are an eclectic bunch, as shown by the photo below.  Also relaxed.  After setting up the perishables and icing down the beer on the morning of final practice, we split for our favorite viewing areas.  One of us, a professional photographer, was working the event.  My cuz and I and Chuck Beck took a golf cart (brought by yet another buddy) to the paddock--which suited me fine; it was exactly what I would have done on my own, on foot, slower.

We were intrigued and puzzled by the Nissan Delta Wing (making its first appearance since it crashed at LeMans).  It's nice to see new approaches and technologies.  Its front rain tires look like motorcycle tires.  On the other hand, Beck thinks it is inherently unstable and it seems to me an answer to a question that nobody asked.  (Yes, it may be more "streamlined" than a conventional Prototype, but it also has less front downforce.)  The rest of the grid was pretty much as expected, except that the Patron Ferrari 458 Italias were decked out in chrome wrap, not their customary black with day-glo green accents.  I miss the Risi Competizione 458 in plain old Italian Racing Red.

Ultimat, nee Patron, Vodka Ferrari 458 Italia in chrome wrap.  Does this work for you?
Maybe it helps with visibility in night racing?

The Rebellion Racing Lola took the pole in Prototype I (the big dog class).  A visitor from the European side of the endurance championship, it was noticeably quicker than the usual suspects in this class, the Muscle Milk HPD/Honda and the Dyson Racing Lola/Mazdas.  I don't much care for the looks of current Prototypes, but Rebellion does a good job of putting lipstick on a pig.

OK, maybe a bit better than lipstick on a pig: the Rebellion Racing Lola (sponsored by Lotus, go figure...) is in the classy black-and-gold colors of the old John Player Lotus Grand Prix cars.  If this car has a suspension, it was invisible to me.  It bounced over small bumps at low downforce areas of the course which were soaked up by other P-1 cars (not themselves know for a Cadillac ride).  Hard to drive, but fast.  Rebellion is a Swiss team: thus the white cross on a red background.

Eclectic bunch (left to right): Chuck Keene's '33 Ford 3-window street rod, Chuck Beck's Beck 904, Pilote's Honda Civic Si, Ray Don't-Have-His-Last-Name's Porsche 912-E, which isn't a 912-E at all.  Keene owns Georgia Hot Rods and the '32 used to be his lead show car.  Now he drives it all over the Southeast (it has a modern fuel-injected Corvette engine, air-conditioning, cruise control, tilt wheel, and a 5-speed).  More on the Beck 904 in a later post. 
"Got Air?"  Forty-millimeter dual throat Webers atop the VW Typ 411 2-liter engine in Ray's Porsche "912-E."  This is a transplant that Ray did himself, having owned the car since new.  The original 912-E used the same 1.7 liter engine as the Porsche 914/4.  Pilote was in way over his head with these guys: Ray engineered his own unusual engine swap, Chuck Keene does his own paint, and Chuck Beck engineers and scratch-builds entire cars.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

2012 Petit LeMans And Dragon Run, Post 2

The fastest way to get to Clarkesville, GA, where I stayed for the race, from I-75, is to exit at Cleveland, TN, and go cross-lots.  I discovered another delightful section of Highway 129.  The run from Franklin, NC to Fontana Village Resort on NC 28, where I stayed to do the Dragon, is not to be missed.  So, for readers interest in touring, I will combine my notes here--but take them in reverse order.

The Highway 28 run is huge fun, i.m.o., and Franklin is a good place to stop for lunch before retracing your tire tracks.  It is an easy day trip from Fontana or Robbinsville, with time left over.  Parts of it are extremely tight: Dragon like in their challenge.  But remember that there are entering driveways.  You cannot bear down like you can on the Dragon.  There are a few vistas too, so a good way to make this run is at near-normal speeds and pull off to shoot some pictures as the spirit moves you.

The 129 run, from before Blairsville, GA to Cleveland, GA (not to be confused with TN) is more problematic.  It is longer and there is no "destination" at either end unless you want to arrive in Athens, GA (still a ways off) or Cleveland, TN (to link up with I-75 to go to Chattanooga or Atlanta).  East-and-southbound, the run begins at Ocee, TN on US 64/74/TN 70 to link up with US 129 before Blairsville, GA.  This segment is mostly two-lane with three lanes for uphill passing, very scenic, and fast by Dragon/NC 28 standards.  The US 129/19 segment is two-lane and twisty, much like NC 28 as described above, but with fewer entering driveways and side roads.  Each segment is about 30 miles long.  East and south of Cleveland, GA, the roads flatten and straighten out, no matter which ones you take.

Tomorrow, I will finally get down to business with a Petit LeMans post.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

2012 Petit LeMans And Dragon Run, Odds & Ends, Post 1

The good stuff will follow later.  This post just collects some odds and ends of limited interest to anyone who doesn't know Pilote personally.

Tuesday, October 16, was comedy of errors day.  It must also have been Special Wide Load Permit Day in Illinois and Indiana.  I saw at least six of them.  The worst was so wide and high that oncoming traffic on the two-lanes we were on was stopped by the lead pickup truck.  We were accompanied by a cherry picker truck which would rush ahead when necessary, park on the road side, elevate the bucket, from which the operator would use a hook on a pole to raise the lower across-road cables.

We were met at the Indiana line by three IHP cars, one of which led and two of which followed.  I say we because I was the first "civilian" in line behind the low-boy trailer.  It was interesting to see how various obstacles and issues were negotiated, but I'd rather have saved the hour this chance encounter cost me.  When I got gas at the intersection of IN 10 and I-65, the enterprise was still stopped by the side of IN 10 when I jumped on the Interstate.  So I have no idea where they were going.  A good guess is the steel plants in Crown Point.

"Ashland," the home of Henry Clay, assured me they would be open by the time I stopped in Lexington KY for the day.  But I was greeted by sheets of paper taped to the doors saying "Closed For Repairs."  No staff was present in the remote office.  But a tall step ladder was visible through the main doors of the home.  Go figure.  I will try again the next time I stop in Lexington overnight; I was tired anyway and so not greatly disappointed.

My server at the Texas Roadhouse asked me how I liked Lexington.  I told her what I'd seen was beautiful (KY 421 is a boulevard with trees in the middle) and asked how she liked it.
"OK, I guess.  I'm in school here and can't wait to get back to Harlan (KY).  I miss my family."
"That's coal country.  Hard times.  What will you do for work?"
(Shrugging) "I'll be degreed in Special Education, but I'll take what I can get, in my field or out, full or part time.  Family comes first, then the job."

This was a young woman who would not do well in a big city like Chicago, probably knows it, and wouldn't even consider it.  My first impression of Lexington was "lovely, right-sized, small southern city: easy to get around in, friendly people."  Too big for her.  Mostly, I must say, I felt sorry for my server: went to college in the Big City, went home.  A life of missed opportunities and experiences, I fear.

My cousin noticed the fire extinguisher I carry in the trunk of my car (both of my cars).  He made an interesting observation I'd not heard before.  "If you can't get it out in 2 minutes, just stand back.  Let it burn to the ground and collect the insurance.  You'll never get the smell out, even if you get the fire out."  Plus, now that I think about it, the electrics and electronics will never work 100% right again.  If your car is rare and insured to "agreed value," start over with a full restoration.  If not, collect the check and walk away.

After establishing a baseline, I have not checked the gas mileage of my Honda Civic Si since it was new.  I know what to expect: 20 m.p.g. city, 30 highway, day-in, day-out.  But I thought this road trip would be interesting, and checked it again just for fun.  These are the results for the round-trip:

Tank 1: 31.8: held up by the above-mentioned Special Permit experience
Tank 2: 30.0: all Interstate in Indiana and Kentucky
Tank 3: 30.0: Interstate and 4-lane in KY, TN, and GA, including some to and from Road Atlanta
Tank 4: 26.9: some 4-lane, some mountain twisties, and four Tail of the Dragon passes
Tank 5: 22.0: eight Dragon passes, mostly mountain driving including some I-75
Tank 6: 30.0: Interstates from Jellico TN to Lebanon IN (north of Indianapolis)

The round-trip was 1931 miles.  Average: 28.5 m.p.g.  I can certainly live with this kind of mileage from a car as entertaining as a Civic Si.  It was "rode hard and put away wet."  Never missed a beat, the odometer clocked 33,000 miles on this trip, and everything on this car down to the smallest electronic feature still works flawlessly.  Honda For Life: when I'm in my dotage, and too old to drive a car like the Si, I'll just buy another Civic.

Finally, if you can manage better than a 60 m.p.h. average on "day's travel" runs, you're a better driver than I.  Whether it's the (non Dragon) twisties that were one goal of this trip or the endless left-lane-bandits encountered in four States, I had to run way above "reasonable and prudent" to make up for them.  Not to mention what l.e.o.'s will waive.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Aero Evolution Of The Ford GT 40

The story of the GT 40 is thoroughly documented and has been told many times (in many books), but I thought I'd recount it here for some regular blog readers.  Although the Lola GT was a brilliant concept, it went through several versions and two years of development before it was a race-winning car.  The inspiration of Eric Broadley of Lola (race) Cars was to put a 289 Ford V-8 in the back of a coupe suitable for endurance racing.  It was a viable idea because the FIA had de-emphasized racing sports cars, with their 3-liter engine size limit, and was emphasizing a GT championship for closed cars which allowed engines above that size.  When Ford's attempted acquisition of Ferrari fell through, Ford bought the project from Broadley and the car became the GT 40.

Eric Broadley (left) and John Wyer with Broadley's Mark 6 Lola GT.  Although the car was DNF at the Nurburgring 1000 km. and LeMans in 1963, it was very quick and got Ford's attention because a thin-wall cast iron Ford 289 V-8 was in the back.  When they bought the project, Broadley was retained as a development engineer and Wyer was hired to build 100 cars for homologation and to run the race team.  This did not work out well for either of them.  Broadley found it hard to work in a corporate environment and soon left.  He resumed a successful career in race car design using the Lola nameplate.  Wyer was spread too thin: the race cars and team were poorly prepared in 1964.  He was reassigned to finish the homologation build and support customer race cars while Carroll Shelby ran the factory team.  When Ford retired from sports car racing in 1967, the GT 40 project including rights and tooling was sold to Wyer.  He won the championship for Ford twice, in 1968 and 1969, with the now-famous light blue and orange Gulf liveried GT 40 and its Mirage derivative. 

Publicity shot of the Ford GT 40 as it fist emerged from Ford engineering.  It was a beautiful car, as stylish and classy looking as anything coming out of Aston Martin, Ferrari, Maserati, or Porsche.  But it suffered from aerodynamic lift, in part because the 4.7 liter 289 was pushing it to straight-line speeds higher than seen before.  The "light bar" (barely visible in this picture) was intended to work as a front spoiler.  It didn't.

The GT 40 as raced at the Nurburgring in 1964.  It had grown a rear spoiler to combat lift, but this created lift at the front.  As if aero development being attempted in both Dearborn, U.S.A. and Slough, England wasn't problem enough, there were problems with engine fires and the Colotti gearbox Broadley had specified.  Wyer got ZF to do a new gearbox, but it would not be ready until the season was over.

The GT 40 as raced at LeMans in 1964.  The front now has an air dam and a hole in the nose for cooling.  Although it sat on the pole, it was still unstable and unreliable.  All three team cars retired early.  The Dickie Attwood/Jo Schessler car burned to the ground with an engine fire.  Richie Ginther/Masten Gregory retired early with no gears.  Phil Hill/Bruce McLaren lasted the longest before their gearbox broke.  Here Bruce McLaren leads the Aston Martin "Project 214" GT coupe through the esses.  In its first year the GT 40 used Ford's 4.2 liter 4-cam Indianapolis engine.  Future factory cars and the "production build" used the 4.7 liter 289.  So, retrospectively, this car became the Mark I.

Two examples of the early 1965 GT 40 at the Goodwood Revival forty years later.  Only one or two open cars were built.  The green car is restored to its appearance as raced in the Targa Florio.  As can be seen, the Borrani wire wheels have been traded for alloys.  The 289 now resides in the engine bay.  The radiator exit vents have been enlarged, but the car still suffers from front-end lift. 

The GT 40's "final solution" nose, designed by a Ford engineering team in Slough, England, led by Len Terry.  This is the iconic configuration of the GT 40 and the new nose was made available to private entrants.  This car, also photographed forty years later at Goodwood, is an ex-Essex Wire (American) team car restored to as-raced colors.  Essex ran two GT 40's (and a Cobra roadster) in the States as well as in Europe.

A good view of the blunt "Len Terry nose" on a Mark III GT 40 street car.  Yes, you could order a car with front bumperettes, road-legal lighting, Borrani wires, vent windows, and several levels of engine tune.  This one is in the Peterson Museum in Los Angeles.

The final iteration of the GT 40 Mark II factory race car.  It had a 7-liter NASCAR engine, revised intake ducting, scoops for transmission oil cooling, and a single, larger, radiator outlet vent.  Although the Mark II was plenty fast, Ford gilded the lily with the 7-liter, which finally won LeMans for them in 1966 with a 1-2-3 finish.  This is the Ken Miles/Denny Hulme car that "should have won" but came second to Bruce McLaren/Chris Amon because Ford staged a photo finish and this car covered a few feet less because it was gridded behind the winning car.  (Miles was asked to back off so that the sister cars could catch up.)  Ford's stunt cost Miles a never-before (or since) accomplished hat trick: winner of Daytona, Sebring, and LeMans in the same year. 

The GT 40 as raced by the Wyer-Gulf team in 1968.  It was a standard Mark II car that grew rear fender blisters to cover wider rear tires and with Gurney-Weslake heads on the engine.  The Mirage was the same car with a narrower cabin designed by Len Terry (but not used) in 1965.  This is the David Hobbs/Mike Hailwood car in Eau Rouge at Spa-Francorchamps in 1968.  It came 4th behind the winning sister car of Jacky Ickx/Brian Redman.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Getting Antsy

Leaving for Petit LeMans at Road Atlanta in a couple of days.  Watching a race there has been on my Bucket List, and it's hard to imagine a better one than ALMS GT cars running into night time.  Of course I'm taking my camera: with luck, some flaming exhausts to go with the cherry-red brake discs.

Am stopping at the Henry Clay's Ashland in Lexington, KY on the way down.  I can't do 700+ miles a day any more.  And this stop indulges my interest in history.  Abraham Lincoln said Clay was his "beaux ideal of a statesman."  I've read biographies of both, and still don't know why Lincoln singled Clay out in such an important way.  They never met.  Some of it, I get: they had similar views on some public policy issues, and both were coalition-builders operating from a minority base.  But "beaux ideal?"  Maybe the docents at Ashland will give me some insights.

Am spending a day on the Tail of the Dragon on the way home.  That should be long enough to slake even my thirst.  I'll enjoy the ambience of Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort.  Buy a Dragon sweatshirt there or at the Tail of the Dragon Store for my grandson, who loves dragons of the fire-breathing kind.  Maybe shake Killboy's hand and thank him for those wonderful pictures.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Alfa Romeo Giulia Tubolare Zagato (GTZ)

The Alfa Romeo GTZ was the most significant car of my own youth.  The one I knew was raced by my then-employer to SCCA championships in 1964 and 1965.  Along with his regular, adult, sidekick, I crewed two races in which the car came 2nd (C-Production, Mid-Ohio) and first in class (USRRC race at Watkins Glen).  A couple of times, I helped with some light preparation work back at the dealership.  I cleaned and polished and observed while the owner went through his pre-trailer loading checklist.  (All you need to prepare like Roger Penske is a sheet of yellow legal pad with a list on it, taped to the windshield.  Oh... and a shop with lifts and machine tools in it.)

Alfa built the GTZ for the 1.6 liter class in FIA GT racing in Europe.  The stock Giulia engine was race-tuned to 175 horsepower and put into a tubular steel space frame wrapped in an aluminum body by Zagato (thus GTZ).  The car weighed about 1800 lbs. on the grid, so it was plenty quick.  As quick or quicker than the Lotus-Ford Cortinas it ran against, but not as quick as the 2-liter Porsche 904.

I loved this car.  The racing cams meant huge valve-timing overlap, with a brap-brap-brap idle.  At high revs, it screamed.  It actually was, marginally, street-driveable with suitable final drive gears (it was geared to top out just south of 150 m.p.h. at LeMans).  Alfa even catalogued, and sold, a few street-spec. cars with a detuned engine and a heater/defroster.  But most of them were built for racing.

The brief video at the bottom shows the same European car in 2011, 47 years after it ran at LeMans.  It has milder camshafts than I remember.

The GTZ I knew on its victory lap after winning its class in the Road America 500 USRRC race in 1965.  Factory racing cars had center-lock wheels with knock-off hubs; most racing GTZ's had a 4-stud attachment.

The office.  The 5-speed box was connected to a transaxle and fully independent rear suspension.  Richard Owen photo.

The factory-entered #41 Sala/Biscaldi GTZ came 2nd in class at LeMans in 1964.  Seen here exiting Mulsanne Corner late Saturday afternoon, ahead of its #40 sister car, which did not finish.

Here's a link to a short video of #41 at an RM car auction in France in 2011:

Friday, October 12, 2012

Alfa Romeo 8C2300 Replica (Jay Leno Garage)

This is a long video--30 minutes--but well worth the time if you have it.  Around the 15-minute mark, Leno takes the car on the road: glorious noise from the straight-8 exhaust, the blower drive, the straight-cut gears, and double-clutching the  gearbox.

I love these 1920's-1930's sports racing and GP cars, before the avalanche of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union technology from the mid-'30's on.  They are so mechanical.  They reek of car-ness.  Leno says its a perfectly good street car.  But you can see that it takes effort and will to drive an 8C2300.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Car Culture

Got an email from a fellow Dragon freak vacationing in Sedona, AZ: "The car culture seems a little sedate around here."  I knew exactly what he meant.

I grew up outside Cleveland, OH in the 1950's and 1960's.  Not everybody was a car nut, but boys could talk cars even if they weren't interested in them.  It was a topic of polite teenaged male conversation.  On the radio, we heard pop songs about cars by Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys.  There was a drag strip less than an hour from my house.  Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was two hours away.  My best friends were as car-nutty as I was.  Later, when I was a young adult, my neighbor two doors down ran a pro-stock Chevy Vega drag car.  His brother-in-law rode a Harley Sportster.

Cleveland was a car town: steel mills, parts suppliers to the Big Three, tool and die shops.  A Ford engine foundry was in Cleveland (still is).  Akron, "the tire capital of the world" was just down the road.  Toledo was the home of Jeep, and GM put up the Lordstown assembly plant (near Warren) when I was a teenager.  My own little town was home to a sports car dealership (fairly exotic in those days).

In 1980 I moved to Minneapolis.  It was like moving to Mars.  Cars just never came up in conversation unless you, the car nut, brought them up.  When you did, people listened politely and then changed the subject to the Twins, Vikings, golf, hockey, ice-fishing, or deer-hunting.  It seemed like everybody drove an American sedan, and those who didn't already drive Oldsmobiles aspired to Buicks.  Whitebread cars.  If you drove an imported car, you were an odd duck.  (Minneapolis was where I learned that normal people, without a business need, drove pickup trucks by choice.  I still don't understand that.)

Brainerd (the sports car course) was over two hours away, and seemed further.  Nobody I met in my new social circles had been there.  I went myself once (and saw David Hobbs win a Trans Am race in a Camaro).  It was flat and featureless, a pale shadow of Mid-Ohio or Watkins Glen.  Not an interesting place to watch sports car racing, and I didn't go back.  In 1987 I ran into a guy who said "You should try Road America in Elkhart Lake--I go every year."  I did--and started going every year.  But Road America was a day's drive away, on the other side of Wisconsin.  Minneapolis had Jerry Hansen, an SCCA multiple championship winner, but he was considered odd, and his home track was Road America.

In 1990 I moved to Chicago.  It was like moving back home, only better.  I again found people who's eyes brightened when you brought cars up in conversation.  Chicago had Lotus and Ferrari dealerships (it's a big town).  I quickly discovered my sports car club and high-speed autocrossing.  Besides Road America (which is both awesome and Chicago's road racing home track) there are three club circuits within a couple of hours of the Loop.  Chicago has a Ford assembly plant, Chrysler has one in Belvidere, and GM has one in Janesville WI just across the state line (now mothballed--it built SUV's).  While they're not my cup of tea, Joliet has a 1.5 mile NASCAR oval and a drag strip that runs pro NHRA events.  Whatever your taste in motorsports, it is easily indulged in Chicagoland.

My best car-nut pal these days grew up in Detroit.  His experience as a kid was the same as mine in Cleveland.  He doesn't know what it's like to be exiled to Mars, and never will (lucky him).  I've never been to Sedona, AZ.  But, climate aside, I know what it's like to live there.  It's worse than boredom.  It's ennui.

(From my desktop dictionary--"ennui: a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.  ORIGIN: mid-18th century French, from Latin; compare with ANNOY.")

Buick Ennui: Official Car of the Minneapolis/Sedona Sensibility, in that popular shade of washed-out metallic champagne.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

O.Z. Alleggerita Wheel Update

I still haven't pressed my Civic Si really hard, but can feel a slight difference for the better.  The car is lighter on its feet, so to speak: more willing to change direction.  The wheels do not leak air, even when there is a big drop in ambient temperature.  But then the o.e. wheels didn't either, for a year.

Chatted with my club's Autocross Chairman, who HSAX's his Civic Si (which is also street-driven daily).  He went to 17 X 7.5 wheels (vs. the o.e. 17 X 7 size which I retained).  He said the o.e. wheels weigh 23 lbs.  His replacements weigh 18 lbs.; mine weigh 15 lbs.  His replacements were less than half the cost of my O.Z.'s.  We are both well-satisfied.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Working Race Staff At Autobahn Country Club

Autobahn is a nice 3.6 mile club circuit, with a bit of elevation change in the longer, faster, 2.1 mile
South Loop. 

My club ran its annual event on Autobahn Country Club's South Loop last weekend.  (Sometimes we run two, plus the spring drivers' school.)  As usual, High Speed Autocross was on Saturday and wheel-to-wheel racing on Sunday.  I try work Autobahn every year because it's close to home (no motel) and I feel like a slacker if I don't.  Adequate event staffing is a concern in club racing, especially at longer venues.  Working Autobahn makes up for not working our vintage event at Blackhawk Farms, when I want to be free to roam the paddock and watch the races.  At least it does in my mind.

On Saturday two of us, both novices, worked the green light to start HSAX runs.  The trick is to release cars as quickly as possible.  This maximizes the number of both practice and timed laps for entrants, while minimizing the possibility that cars will encounter each other on course.  It complicates matters that each driver gets a cool-down lap after his timed lap, so up to half of the cars on track at any given time are going for a hot lap while the other half are cooling down.  Further complicating matters is the fact that cars within a "run group" vary in speed, and the next run group is available for release while the previous one is completing its runs.  Further further complicating matters is the fact that a fast Miata driver may be faster than a slow Corvette driver.  And that we had some race-prepared cars in the mix.  And that some drivers took "cool down lap" too literally and got in the way.

But this is in the nature of things for a relaxed, "run what ya brung" club that tries to maximize participation.  My club is more about fun on the track than winning, and I wouldn't have it otherwise.
We starters got some snarky comments (not to our faces) from flag stations to the effect of "What idiot releases such-and-such a car when this-and-that car is completing a run?"  I invite them to try it themselves.  Not all starters are good at leaving the line, and we had a few who were asleep at the green.  And estimating when a car leaving from a dead stop in the middle of the pit lane will reach Turn One compared to a car coming off the last turn is a lot harder than estimating who will overtake who when you're flagging a corner.  It was the most intense "fun day" I've ever had.  I was exhausted when I got home.  Temperatures in the 40's with a stiff breeze didn't make it any funner.  I would not willingly volunteer for this duty again.

*   *   *   *   *

On Sunday, I safety-flagged for the wheel-to-wheel racers in Turn 1 (the "carousel" on the map above).  I was (by far) the least experienced of the three workers.  My captain has flagged professional races for the SCCA and ALMS.  The other worker flags our club events all season long.  I was given the light duty of showing the blue passing flag to cars that were being overtaken, and looking for off-track excursions by oncoming racers.  The other worker watched from corner-exit down the track to Turn 4 (Turn 3 was not staffed).  Our captain ran the radio to Race Control and watched the center of Turn 1.

We had a more relaxed day than we expected.  Turn 1 is passing zone at the end of pit straight, so it is often lively.  This day the "bad" action was at other stations.  The competition in the Formula Ford/small-bore open wheel/small-bore sports racer class was fierce and race-long, but the driving was clean and even masterful.  I rarely used my blue "you're being overtaken" flag because the runners knew the other car was there--they'd been battling for laps.  We expected "the usual carnage" in the Miata-dominated classes with large car counts.  The cars are closely matched but driving skill is not, and sometimes the Red Mist overcomes a racer.  Somehow they sorted themselves out with minimal off-track excursions and even the novice drivers were using their mirrors.  My blue flag was furled most of the time.

 We took Turn 1 yellow maybe half a dozen times in 7 hours of racing, and never for more than a couple of minutes.  My club has rules that say no car-to-car contact is acceptable, "four wheels off" gets  you black-flagged, and "two wheels off" twice ditto.  Any two-wheels off is reported by corner staff to Race Control, including the "assist" by another driver (if there is one).  There were maybe 10-12 black flags all day, two of which were for mechanical issues.  The main reason for these rules is to minimize squirrely driving and maximize personal safety.  But it also makes life easier on race cars.  All of our members are owner-drivers and few of us are rich.  HSAX drivers run their daily drivers at speeds far higher than parking lot gymkhanas.

Sunday was fun and the drama was of the good kind: clean passes in the braking zone.  Nobody outbraked himself onto the grass although a few came close.  We saw two really good races, with up to 8 cars racing hard for half an hour.  My corner captain drives a Honda Civic Si too, so we had some high-fives when they did well in the small sedan race.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Killboy's British Roadsters

Shortly after I discovered Killboy's remarkable images, I searched his archives for cars and shots that I really liked, and came up with about 60 pictures.  Since then, I've added 2-3 pix from each week's highlights.  Every month or so, I cull the herd.  Sometimes a better image of an existing make/model shows up; sometimes I decide an image isn't as much of a keeper as I first thought it was.  The point is to use My Killboy picture file as a rolling screen-saver.

What makes his images so great?  One obvious answer is good equipment and a photographer's eye.  Beyond that, the background draws your eye back to the car: the Dragon is scenic, but neutral.  Most of all (I believe) it is because the cars are real, doing what they do, occupied by people having fun.  Just think back to the images you've seen of iconic cars parked on a putting green with an ocean behind them.  Or parked in front of a mansion.  The main reason Killboy's pictures work so well is that they bring the cars to life and give you a feel for what they're like to drive.

My collection is broad-ranging: old and new, supercars and and not-so.  Just images that I like.  It includes lots of makes and models, foreign and domestic.  And some bikes and hot rods.  A few  images were saved just because Killboy's captions were hilarious.  A couple of art shots were saved to remind me of what a great experience the Dragon is.

As an example of what I'm trying to say, here is a class of cars I know reasonably well.  I would not want to own an old British roadster, but they are huge fun to drive.  These pictures are a reminder of just how good Killboy's work is.

MG TC: prettiest and slowest of the postwar MG's.  They always look like they are going faster than they are.

Austin Healey 100: once again, Killboy slays the image.

Austin Healey 100-6 or 3000 (not sure which): what the 100-4 became when it grew up, or made too many concessions to creature comfort, depending on your viewpoint.  The charm of this car was its torquey in-line 6.

MGA: faster than a TC/TD/TF, the first "modern" MG.  But you still had to reach inside and pull a cable to open the door. 

Lotus 7: beginning of the legend.

Triumph TR-3: the car for someone who wanted something faster than an MGA: 2 liters of torque instead of 1.6.  But you had to stoop to reach the exterior door handle.  Roadsters were hard-core.

XK-E: without occupants, they look bigger in pictures than they really are.  This car was a sensation when it came out in 1961: almost as fast as a Ferrari 250 GT for half the money.  And (some say) better-looking.

Austin Healey Sprite: countless road racers got their starts in this car.  This one appears to be a Dragon regular: blue stickers on the windshield.

Triumph TR-4: do these people look like they're having fun?  Love the (non-standard) Minilite wheels.