Monday, December 30, 2013

"Biscuits Are In The Bin"

One more video from last October for my Dragoneering buddies.

The buttered biscuits (wrapped in napkins) were in the bin because they had been sliding around on the passenger seat on the northbound pass.  Breakfast biscuits from the DGMR are an excellent mid-morning snack.  Note To Self: bungee everything in the trunk before leaving home next time.

Nothing new in this vid, but this pass is a bit more aggressive than the other southbound one previously posted.  Again, Vimeo limits the time--but I got blocked by a van just about when this one stops at Parsons Branch.  (The van was considerate and used the first available pulloff, at Catchall.)

If there is a more fun way to spend a day than making Dragon passes, I don't know what it is.  And thanks for another fine pic, Jason of!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Singer 911

I understand precisely Rob Dickinson's explanation of what Singer was going for.  And, having driven some early 911's, it's clear to me that Jay Leno "gets" the car.  Contrasting the Singer with a Bugatti Veyron is apt.  Another way to put it is that if you'd just as soon have a 930 Turbo or a 959, you're not on the Singer wavelength.  Here's Leno's video:

The Singer has had a lot of internet coverage lately, often as "the ultimate 911."  A better way of understanding it is Dickinson's explanation: "We wanted to optimize everything [all components of the air-cooled car]."  One could make a case that it's ridiculous to spend 4000 hours remanufacturing a 20-year-old 964/911.  The Singer folks seem to have a case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Regular readers know that Pilote takes a rear jump seat to no one in his affection for the air-cooled 911. When Dickinson waxes poetic about surface development of the body (for example, the original Butzi Porsche long-nosed trunk and the careful blending of the rear fender flares with the early cars' narrow tail), he has my full attention.

I'm of two minds about this.  The Singer is a tour de force, a carefully cut and polished jewel.  Is it worth $100,000 more than a Ferrari 458 Italia?  Yeah, if you have the money and must have one.
It's probably the ultimate 911.  ;-)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

TR-6 Restoration (#13)

Well, the TR didn't get done in time for a hoped-for seacoast tour late last fall, and it didn't make it for Mrs. Cuz's Christmas stocking either.  But it's getting close.

The final (pre-color) coat of grey primer is on the body.  Color coats and final assembly yet to go.

Cuz chose Michelin Defenders, 205/65/15 for the new wire wheels.  Tall and skinny, just like we used to be.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Nostalgia (Again)

I've posted pix of the '62 Chevy bubble top before, but this one gives me a major case of nostalgia:  My favorite Chev, after the '55.  Ugly, round-edged, painted, gas pumps with no canopy.  Soft drinks in returnable glass bottles (2 cent deposit).  Where was the closest pay phone if you needed one?  Usually at the corner gas station.

I watched cars like this compete at the local drag strip for a couple of summers before making my first trip to Mid-Ohio for the sporty car races.  Fond memories of the fine 409, the Pontiac 421, the Ford 406, and the Dodge "max wedge" 413.  At first glance, I thought this car was Bill Jenkins's Super Stock, but closer inspection shows that it's an A/Stock driven by Dave Strickler and tuned by Jenkins.  This must have been just before Jenkins got a national reputation as a driver (and his "Grumpy" nickname), and the NHRA had to come up with a class higher than A/S.

And this era--the early '60's--was just before drag racing (and sports car racing) turned pro.  It was still possible for a good mechanic/driver to win, even a national championship, in a truly stock car.  Quarter mile passes in the 13-second range were fast.  Not long after this picture was taken, you needed factory support (selectively supplied--Grumpy got it) to mount a national championship effort in Super Stock. And not long after that, Super Stock morphed into Factory Experimental, which morphed into Funny Cars.


Watchtower: before you ask, the blue one is a '58 Ford and the red one is a '58 Buick.  ;-)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Blue Train Bentley

Woolf Barnato's Blue Train Bentley--but not his the Blue Train Bentley.

In my previous post I decided not to include a paragraph on high speed trains.  But if I had to make an inter-city trip of 500 miles or less, I'd take a high speed train before I'd fly.  If there was one...  A train cruising at 120 m.p.h. could do 500 miles in under 5 hours.

In the 1920's and 1930's, racing cars against express trains was an occasional publicity stunt.  When Rover claimed that its Light Six matched the speed of le train bleu from Cannes to Calais, Woolf Barnato was unimpressed.  Barnato was a wealthy sportsman who had rescued Bentley financially in the mid 1920's and would, with the help of his pals "the Bentley Boys," win LeMans three times.  Over dinner on the Riviera in March of 1930, he said "You'd have to make it from Cannes to London by the time the train pulled into Calais to make your point, and I could do it." He bet 100 British Pounds: $6900 in 2013 money.

He made the run in 15 hours, 40 minutes, arriving in London 4 minutes before le train bleu pulled into Calais.  He'd reached Calais in 10 hours, 30 minutes.  MapQuest says that today, on Autoroutes, the Cannes-to-Calais run is 789 miles, requiring 18 hours: a very conservative 44 m.p.h. average.  Barnato averaged about 75 m.p.h. across France on worse roads.  (Le train bleu averaged 60 m.p.h.)

His feat quickly became public when his times were vouched for in the press by friends who had noted his arrival at checkpoints.  He was fined by the French government after the fact for "racing on public roads."  The fine was bigger than his winnings.

Barnato had turned the Bentley Speed Six into a GT before the idea of a Grand Touring car was invented.  The car in these pictures certainly has GT style to go with its pace.  Or, with its 6.5 liter engine, you could say it was an early muscle car for the wealthy.  This was Ettore Bugatti's passive-aggressive take when asked about Bentley's LeMans wins: "Monsieur Bentley makes excellent lorries." GT, muscle car, or truck, Barnato's Bentley was a fast road car.

The Blue Train Bentley has floated in and out of my consciousness for 50 years without making much of an impression.  (I come down on Bugatti's side: given a choice between a drive in one of his Type 35's or a Bentley Speed Six, I'd take the Bugatti.)  That is, until I saw the Autocar video linked to below.  And it turns out that the car pictured here, a Speed Six with a one-off lightweight body by Gurney-Nutting, isn't the real Blue Train Bentley.  Barnato took delivery of it after his run and nicknamed it to commemorate his feat in his "standard" Speed Six sedan.  Both cars still exist, so there are two Blue Train Bentleys, both owned and driven by Barnato: the "real" one and the "GT."

Here are links to the Wikipedia page where most of the above information came from, and the Autocar video:

Another view of Barnato's Bentley Speed Six Sportsman Coupe.  If it's a truck, it's a very fast and stylish truck.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fly Or Drive?

Gear down, final approach.  Normally, peering out of one of those tiny windows, this would be a time of relief.  Except
that you know you have another half hour of waiting and aggravation to go--more, if you're not being met by friends
to provide ground transportation.

A cable news channel did a segment on air travel.  The point of departure for the discussion was a column by an industry observer which said "It's incredibly safe, cheap, dependable, and on-time--get over your complaints, even if the FAA soon allows passenger cell phone calls.  Show me the complainer who meets his deadlines 90% of the time."

He also defended the airline practice of segmenting passengers by how much they pay ("unbundling" the levels of service).  But he admitted that other service providers (restaurants, for example) don't tell their customers "Oh, you're not a big-tipping regular here, so we'll give you the crappy menu and service."

No sale to the other panelists and the host.  One panelist was amused at how boarding attendants "call every mineral known to man: platinum, gold, silver, copper, brass; and then finally say 'OK, the rest of you cattle can board.'"  She was angry about how many times she'd heard cabin crew say "no" when she knew for a fact that regulations allowed a "yes."  She vouched for her own expertise as a passenger: "I fly 7 times a month on average--because I must."

The host wanted to know how airlines can operate at a loss, year after year, and continue to fly.  I shouted at the TV: "I know, I know--call on me!  They offloaded their losses over the past 30 years onto their employees through bankruptcy by downsizing, merging, outsourcing maintenance, and dumping their pension plans."

Another panelist said he could understand how flying has become more disagreeable over the decades. "It's a commodity now, like anything else sold cheaply in bulk.  A lot more people fly, more often, than in the 1960's and 1970's.  So you're gonna have some disagreeable seatmates with bad manners from time to time."  Nobody stood for the proposition that flying is agreeable.

The airport experience itself was off the table.  As someone observed on a different show, "If your choice is between inconvenient packing, long lines, delays, and indignities--and falling to your death from 30,000 feet, you're gonna put up with stupid rules, lines, delays, and indignities."  Safety, or perceived safety, trumps all else.

I haven't flown (trans-Atlantic excepted) since I retired.  My problem is that I remember flying in the pre-hijacking, pre-terrorist, days.  Check your bag and walk onto a plane in Philadelphia, take off on-time, walk off the plane, claim your bag, and snag your ground transport in Pittsburgh.  Total flight time: 40 minutes.  Total travel time, including ground at both ends, 1.5 hours.  Zero lines and security.  As compared to 6.5 hours to drive it on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Now, to fly the same distance, the total travel time approaches 4 hours while the driving time is unchanged.  If you drive, you can pack as you wish (and take a lot more, including bulky or awkward "stuff").  Depart when you like.  There's adequate leg and spread-out room, a choice of where and what to eat, and an enjoyable drive with scenery.  If you have a seatmate, he or she is a good friend or loved one.  If you drive aggressively, as a National Safety Council self-assessment test assures me that I do, handling the car and traffic engages your mind and skills.

For me, if the distance is 700 miles or less, the call isn't even close: drive.  A day in the car is far more agreeable than a half-day in airports and stuffed into an airliner's coach seat.  Flying is statistically safer than driving; there's that to be said for it...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Architecture / Touring: Unity Temple

The structure of Unity Temple is reinforced concrete, poured into forms on-site in 1906.  Revolutionary material and
technique for that time.  Among other things, Wright was interested in maximizing the efficiency of the long, narrow
lot and shielding the interior from street noise.

Not a twofer: driving to Unity Temple on Chicagoland's surface streets ain't fun touring.  It's bumpy tedium.  Any time, any season, but especially on a pre-Christmas Sunday.  Swimming like a shark among the fishes on the Interstates in light traffic has its moments--but that can be done anywhere, any time.  So this run was about the destination, not the journey.

My former Minister has been with Unity Temple in Oak Park for several years.  I try to get into town to hear her in the Pulpit, and reconnect with her and her family, once or twice a year.  Unity Temple, an icon among Frank Lloyd Wright's many icons, is always a treat.  Here's a link to the Unity Wikipedia page for fellow architecture enthusiasts:

Unity is one of the most peaceful spaces I know.  Besides designing the building, Wright "decorated" the interior.  He had the stucco walls painted in cream and pastels, and used warm-colored wood strip appliques liberally.  One of Unity's several unusual features is pews arranged in a  |_|  shape.  So you're always looking at fellow congregants as well as the speaker.  It's an intimate, social, people-oriented setting.

Looking "across" the pews on the main floor toward twins of the ones you're sitting in.  More pews, arranged similarly,
are out of this shot to the left.  Pulpit to the right.  This picture provides a sense of the light, airy feel of the space.  But
the ceiling is skylights, and it's even more bright and open than the picture suggests.

A "detail" shot of some of the decoration and lighting that Wright provided.  He did some
very innovative things on a tight budget.  Unfortunately, like all of Wright's buildings,
Unity Temple is "high maintenance" and expensively so.  Deterioration, especially
leaks which threaten even interior structural walls, is a constant battle.  Inexpensive
to build; not to own.

Above and below: The recently renovated Mens' Room at Unity Temple.  Besides the
considerable costs of renovating and maintaining the building, the Foundation which
owns it and the Congregation that uses it must negotiate problems Wright didn't have
to consider.  How do you conceal a modern P.A. system and upgraded electrical
capacity?  The layout and space allocation are not ideal for the activities of
modern congregations.  When the Foundation renovated the bathrooms,
pains were taken to finish them as Wright might have.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Thoughts On Watching "LeMans" 40 Years On

Let's face it: it's hard to make a good feature film about car racing.  It may be impossible.  There hasn't been one yet.  (I haven't seen Rush.  The trailers didn't make me want to rush right out. ;-))  For me, LeMans is still the best.  For the racing scenes, which have nothing to do with what normally makes a good film.

It's said that Steve McQueen was going for authenticity.  He certainly achieved it in the action footage. These are the parts of the film I fast-forward to.  (I fast-forward past the rest of it.)  They were achieved without modern technology like lipstick cameras and computer-aided-graphics.  And with such common (and usually lame) props as fake race cars.  (Much, but not all, of the "exteriors" footage was shot at the actual race in 1970, before "scene" production for the movie began.)

The racing scenes are convincing and capture the feel of LeMans.  It's a special treat, now, to see cars on the Mulsanne Straight before the chicanes went in, and between Arnage and White House (long since replaced by the Porsche Curves).  The audio is fine--sometimes excellent.  The opening scenes, where McQueen drives his 911 through the French countryside and past the LeMans Cathedral, are more meaningful to me since I've been there.

But, like all racing films, the plot is lame and the characters are flat.  The wisdom of putting a racing buff (and accomplished driver) in charge of his own film as Producer/Director could be argued.  LeMans took longer to make than expected, went over budget, and had to pulled together by a turnaround Director.  McQueen couldn't stop fooling with it in the production phase.

Some of the minor characters have their moments.  Fred Haltiner's Johann Ritter, contemplating retirement from racing, is poignant and convincing.  Ronald Leigh-Hunt's David Townshend is a not-so-thinly-veiled David Yorke, John Wyer's real team manager.  (The importance of team managers usually gets short shrift in racing films.)

But these characters and insights interest only racing geeks.  The main characters in LeMans are not engaging.  A good movie is about sympathetic (or at least interesting) people in interesting situations, who's "interior space" is explored.  Vinny Gambini and Mona Lisa Vito will always be more interesting, and funnier, than a racing driver, racing.  (I picked My Cousin Vinny because Marisa Tomei is brilliant in the climactic scene in the witness box.  She passes muster with car buffs--and other viewers don't care.)  In LeMans, the disembodied "announcer voice" with the Olympian tone, used to advance the plot and explain the obvious to non-buffs, is extremely annoying.

The heros in a racing film are the cars and the courses.  For a racing fan, they can make for an absorbing half-hour film.  But there's not enough meat on the bones to sustain feature length.  It's painful to watch the main characters in LeMans because, in this modern era, we all know of racing drivers who lead interesting multi-dimensional lives away from the track.

Just the same, I still pop LeMans into the DVD player now and then.  McQueen's perfectionism resulted in some of the best racing footage ever put into a can.

Thanks, Steve.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bill Stephens And Me: A Rant

My question was in '58, and remains, why would you pay good money for this?  Any money for this?  Gawdawful.

Hotshoe continually reminds me that there are different strokes for different folks, and we're all car buffs in the end.  His question to me is Rodney King's: "Can't we all just get along?"  Hell, no!   

A restored numbers-matching '58 Chevy convertible that looked like the one above went for $100,000 at a Mecum auction.  It had a 348 engine with Powerglide (that's a 2-speed slush-o-matic for you youngsters).  I drove cars like this.  They were awful: huge, ugly, boring.  Bad brakes and worse handling.  Poor engineering and worse quality.  There's a reason they're called "parade floats."  I wouldn't give $5000 for it in 2013 money.  Bill Stephens, a Mecum Auction commentator for Velocity Channel, loved it.

Within 2-3 cars of the Chev, a silver-over-white '32 Ford roadster with a modern Ford fuel-injected engine and an exposed, chromed, quick-change rear end went across the block.  It had a Tremec 5-speed and the usual other goodies, including modernized suspension and brakes.  It was a well-engineered, great looking car.  A lot of money and thought had gone into the bodywork.  For example, a perfectly raked and chromed windshield.  I'd have chosen different wheels, but it was a stand-up triple, if not a home run.  If I were a street rod kind of guy I'd have bid.  It didn't meet its reserve price at $20,000.  Bill Stephens didn't like the car, and hated the exposed rear axle, which charmed me.

Stephens is an expert appraiser: I've seen his TV work and trust his judgement.  But he's also for me a reliable vector of taste.  If Bill loves it, I will hate it.  And for the same reasons.  If I'm in doubt about a car going across the auction block (which is rare), I need only refer to Bill.  He wouldn't know a good car, in the soul-stirring sense of the term, if it ran over his toes.  (In fairness to Stephens, the rest of the Velocity broadcast team shills shamelessly, and vacuously, for Mecum.  At least Stephens is sometimes funny.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

TR-6 Restoration (#13)

Report from Cuz (paraphrased): "I'm buying some missed parts.  The dash is done.  I rate it fair, but saved $600."  Such are the considerations when you're doing a project on a budget and reaching the end.  He hopes to have the finish coats on the car this week, with final assembly to follow.

The body is "straight:" rust-free, dings filled, shut lines checked, in primer, and ready for the finish coats. 

The engine bay, trunk, and door jams are painted.

Monday, December 9, 2013

"C'mon, Baby, Don't You Want To Go..." that Sweet Old Home, Tus-can-y..."

Apologies to Robert Johnson, and to regular readers who've seen this clip above before.  But it's undeniably winter in Chicagoland now: 23 degrees and our first snow of the season.  Pilote needs an Italian summer pick-me-up.  Thanks for the 250 Testa Rossa, Enzo.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Sport & Specialty

(Left to right:) Hotshoe, Steve, and John talk restoration in front of the paint booth where Steve works his magic.

In October I raved about an Aston Martin DB2/4 restored by Sport & Specialty.  The firm was owned and operated by a friend of John Saccameno's who moved it to a farm in Durand, IL, 20 years ago. Steve Messer joined him 11 years ago.  Steve had previously operated his own shop specializing in Corvettes.  He's Sport & Specialty's Foreman, and is personally responsible for the outstanding paint on the Aston.

John Saccameno is well-known to Hotshoe and me as a wheel-horse of our sports car club.  He races a vintage Alfa Romeo GTV that's a special favorite of mine.  He often helped out at S & S and used the shop for his own cars.  Two years ago, the owner died suddenly and unexpectedly.  John continued to help to keep the enterprise going.  A year ago, he took the plunge and bought it.

Sport & Specialty was known for its restorations of British cars, including Jaguars and especially Austin Healeys.  But John and Steve are using their knowledge of Alfas and Corvettes to widen that range. They can work on anything, and have.  In addition to full restorations and freshenings, they do maintenance.  Here's a visual tour of Sport & Specialty, snapped on a recent visit.  For me, it was a "kid in the candy store" day.  And here's a link to the S & S website:

Above and below: I thought I knew Alfas fairly well, but this one was news to me.  It's a special body by Ghia on a
1900 C Super Sport chassis.  Less than 10 were built.  This one was a Turin Show car in the mid 1950's.

Another First (for Pilote): this Alfa has "five on the tree," plus reverse of course.  Steve rebuilt the shift linkage,
which wasn't easy.  Restoring Giuliettas and Giulias is Old News to Sport & Specialty.  There was a Giulietta
Spider in the shop when we visited.

Above and below: this Ferrari 330 GT 2+2 is a major project, currently awaiting the interior from the upholstery shop.
The original body was rear-ended and had its left-front wiped out in the same collision.  The donor body was right-
hand drive.  Sport & Specialty is converting the "new" car to left-hand drive.

Engine in the 330.  Is there a prettier engine than the Columbo/Lampredi Ferrari V-12's?

Sport & Specialty's previous (and continuing) bread-and-butter: a "ground-up" XK-E.

This is a rare car: one of 640 factory-prepared Austin Healey 100 M's.  (Most were dealer-installed upgrades).  The
previous shop used Bondo in the footwells and failed to remove all dents and rust from the frame.  Sport & Specialty
is taking it down to bare metal for repair before repainting the frame (and entire car).  S & S is also rebuilding the
power train.  Healey restoration requires care because the factory combined steel and aluminum panels, which
must be separated to forestall electrolytic corrosion.

 Above and below: John's corner of the shop: the engine disassembly/reassembly bench.  Steve rebuilds engines too.
John had disassembled a Healey 100-6 engine just before we visited.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Regression Analysis

Once upon a time, I had a very good plastic 1:24 scale model kit of a Porsche 917K.  Somewhere along the line in several moves, it was lost.  I looked for it in a halfhearted way for over ten years but couldn't find it.  In my most recent move, a never-used cabinet was explored and viola: unbuilt kits of a Ford GT 40 Mark II (the 1966 LeMans winner) and the 917K.

I think I will build the 917.  Not in the Wyer-Gulf livery intended, but plain German Racing White.  This will involve razor blades, glue, cans of spray paint, little bottles of enamel, and brushes.  I haven't built a plastic model kit in 40 years, and shouldn't have built one in over 50 years.  Most boys give up plastic model kits around the time they discover girls and drivers' licenses.

But I've been on a quest for a good diecast model of the 917K.  It turns out there isn't one, unless you count some master-modeler who might do a one-off on commission for you for $4000.  (I think that's the price the guy who owns The Motorsport Collector quoted me.)  A well-modeled K should have correct diameter frame tubes and a highly detailed drive train, both of which are clearly visible on the real car.  Since I can't buy a good model of a K, I'll try to build one.

No color change is needed, although I might apply clear-coat.  I wonder if I have the patience, vision, and fine motor
skills required to build a good-quality 1:24 scale kit?

917-025 at an Interserie race at Hockenheim in 1970, before its owner painted  blue accents on the nose, mid-level
doors, and the tops of the rear fenders.  Porsche would paint your customer 917 in any livery you wanted, and most
were.  But the factory race cars were white in 1969, as were some customer cars delivered in 1970.  Besides being
the German national racing color, white was the natural color of the car's fiberglass body.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Cudda Been Worse...

source: Road & Track

This Road & Track graphic explains the consolidations of classes for 2014 in the new United Sportscar Championship better than paragraphs of text.  It could have been worse.  The jewel of ALMS (in my opinion), GT, becomes GT LeMans.  The "lower" GT classes of both former series, which were confusing anyway, are consolidated into GT Daytona.

Prototype 1 goes away, which is no big loss.  It had pretty much gone away anyhow with the departure of the major European manufacturers from the ALMS a few years ago.

Prototype 2 from ALMS and Grand-Am's Daytona Prototype are combined into--Prototype.  This is easy to understand and the performance of the cars is "equalized."  These cars will no longer be eligible to run at LeMans.  It will be interesting to see what the USC does with this class, rules-wise, when the grandfathered cars are older and some clean screen designs are done.  With turbos now allowed, we could see some small engines from Europe and Japan.  That would spice it up.  There is no reason why the USC couldn't write rules that would emphasize the "high tech" vs. the "low cost" side of the equation.  It could allow cars that would be eligible to run at LeMans with minor modifications.  This would permit teams to contest the championship in North America and LeMans, as the ALMS rules did.

The main point is that the relatively high-tech and fast GT (now "LeMans") class remains undisturbed. The rules on both sides of the pond are the same.  So Corvette can continue to contest LeMans itself, and factory GT's from the Europeans remain legal for the championship over here.  I smell General Motors (and perhaps Ford and Chrysler): if Porsche or Ferrari had told USC "don't mess with the rules or we're out," USC might have said "See ya..."  But Corvette has a 10+ year investment in LeMans and, apparently, G.M. told USC the same thing.  Good on 'em!  I want to see American teams, factory or otherwise, continue to contest LeMans.  Viper went last year, and it would be a thrill to see Ford return with the new Mustang.  It's past time that you went back to LeMans, FoMoCo.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Purdy Car, Purdy Picture

Earlier I mentioned that the Alfa Romeo 6 C 1750 is my favorite prewar car--so it gets a picture post. Various versions were produced 1929-1933, and it had a notable competition history.  This resulted from its light weight and good handling combined with a supercharged 1750 c.c. 6-cylinder engine designed by the legendary Vittorio Jano.  (Google him if he's not legendary to you.)  But the reason for this picture is that the 6 C 1750 is such a good looking car.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Free To A Good Home

Or this post might be called "What are the odds?"

When I sold my house I also sold my snowblower and power washer to the guy who bought it.  The o.e.m. wheels for my Honda Civic Si came with me and turn out to be a fine table for the trickle-charger hooked up to the Mustang.  (There's no workbench in my new garage.)

I'd previously tried to sell the Panasport 15 X 6 wheels from my long gone RX-7 in my club's newsletter. No takers.  A fair number of Gen. I RX-7's remain, but most of them around here have been turned into Improved Touring class race cars.  My wheels are unacceptable for racing.  (That street runs both ways: consult the websites for aftermarket alloys and you'll see disclaimers that racing wheels are unsuitable for road use.)

The guy who bought my house is a bit of a buff: he drives a VW Passat diesel and pays attention to performance cars.  So I sent him an afterthought email: "BTW, those Panasports in the garage will fit a Gen. I Mazda RX-7.  In case you decide to restore an RX-7 and terrorize Chicagoland's offramps. ;-)"

He emailed right back: "My brother has a 1979 RX-7.  Is that a Gen. I?"
"Yes, it is, and those Panasports will fit without interfering with steering lock or modifying the fenders."

I could be "glass half empty" about not having found a buyer for premium rims in excellent condition. Or I could be "glass half full" about having found a home for them: a 34-year-old street-driven RX-7, on which they will look and perform as fine as they did on my car.  Believe I'll go with "glass half full."

There were few things you could do to a Gen. I RX-7 to improve its appearance.  One was to replace the o.e.m. wheels
with Panasport "Minilite look-alikes."  And if you upgraded the stock 13 X 5.5 inch wheels and 70-series tires with
15 X 6 wheels mounting stickier 50-series rubber, the RX-7 became a go-kart.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Fun With Search Terms (#7)

This (until now) recurring post may have to be given up.  Lately the blog is getting search queries like "correct TR-6 valve cover restoration color" and "Porsche 962 spool differential." Oh, you're no fun!  They're a far cry from "What did Joan of Arc look like?"  But here's the latest harvest of searches that brought me a smile:

"crown vic front suspension on mustang"  Really!?!  Seriously!?!

"los angeles used car ford gt 40"  Good luck with that...

"jackie stewart short wheelbase"  Well...he was called 'The Wee Scot...'

"prisca taruffi hot"  Was that a query or an affirmation?

Prisca Taruffi

"fat man in a cobra 289"  Thanks for asking...  I'd like to be one...

"yellow porsche on scenic highway"  Desperate for wallpaper, are you?

"drag anti-roll bars in car"  I think I know what you're looking for, but what first came to mind was a bar with a boa wrapped around it, dusted in sequins, and lubed with heavy eyeshadow.

Not Prisca Taruffi.

Monday, November 25, 2013

True That!

"I'd say Fernando Alonso had about an 8 season with us."
                                                      --Luca Motezemelo, Chairman of Ferrari

"I'd say Alonso had a 10 season and the car had a 7 season."
                                                      --David Hobbs

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Goodwood / Lister Jag / Chris Harris Video

The Lister-Jaguar "Knobbly" was the hot setup in sports car racing in 1957, but it inspired Lance Reventlow to
 build the Scarab ("we can do better").  The one-off Lister-Jag coupe in the video didn't make any impression
on FIA GT racing back-in-the-day.  But at Goodwood in modern times, the ante has been considerably upped
with demon-tuned engines and retired professional "ringer" co-drivers...

I don't need much of an excuse to post another Goodwood video, especially when it includes an Alfa Giulietta Sprint Veloce.  Or, for that matter, the GT racers that stirred my blood back-in-the-day and still do. The video runs 18 minutes.  It tells a story, and is therefore best watched from beginning to end. (Sorry, you thumbnail-scrolling, race-footage seekers...)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Two More Great Circuits

Earlier I posted that I try not to miss the Monaco and Belgian Grands Prix.  Monaco for its ambience, but more for its nearly unchanged layout.  And, although Spa-Francorchamps was radically shortened in its new layout, it still has the daunting Eau Rouge, Raidillon, and Blanchimont corners.  For that matter, the new infield segment of the circuit respects the character of Old Spa and adds the equally daunting Pouhon.

Lately, I find myself trying not to miss Suzuka in Japan and Interlagos in Brazil as well.  And for the same reasons.  Both courses challenge even the best drivers.  I missed Suzuka this year, but won't miss Brazil this weekend.  It matters not that the World Championship was decided a month ago and that Sebastian Vettel will probably win again.  Racing on these courses is interesting compared to the cookie-cutter venues that have come on line in the past few years.

Until it was pointed out on TV, I failed to note that Suzuka has almost the same number of right and left-hand corners
because of the underpass in the middle.  It has a couple of famous corners too: Spoon, in which multiple and
decreasing radii feed into an off-camber exit leading onto the long Back Stretch; and 130R, which is flat out
or nearly so in a modern F-1 car.

Interlagos has a lot of swoopy elevation changes too.  The turns 1-2-3 complex is easy and tempting to over-drive,
with Turn 1 being off-camber into the bargain.  So there's a lot of "over-under" passing when a lead car gets into
Turn 1 too hot.  The long uphill run from Bico de Pato to the pit straight provides some fine video too.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Affinity Groups

Last spring, I worked corners at one of my club's events with a 20-something employee of Autobahn Country Club and a 30-something who was there to watch his father autocross.  They fell into a conversation about Jay Cutler.  The employee vouched for Cutler being a jerk.  The 30-something said "Yeah, I could understand that from what I see of his TV interviews."  They continued speculating about why Cutler dumps on his perceived inferiors, and I finally got the idea: he must be famous.

"So, who's Jay Cutler?"
"He's the quarterback for the Chicago Bears, man.  Where have you been?"
"Well, I did watch the Bulls when Jordan, Pippin, Rodman, and Kerr were playing..."
"Cubs or Sox?"
"So I guess we won't ask about the Blackhawks or soccer."

In my old neighborhood, I went for 20 years without a mailbox conversation about football.  Any stick-and-ball sport, come to think of it.  Nobody had logos on their cars (with the exception of my own discreet Tail of the Dragon sticker, which was not noticed or inquired about).  My former next-door-neighbor and local best friend is interested in history and farming.  (The guy across the street was teaching his kids baseball and basketball.)

In my new neighborhood, there's a pickup truck with a large Indianapolis Colts logo on the tailgate, and a classy-looking black late model Chevy Impala with a small "Dallas Cowboys Girl" sticker in the rear window.  A 20-something who lives across the way informs me that my cars are "Sick!  And I mean that in a good way, sir."  He works at Best Buy but doesn't know what a GoPro is.  So I'm wondering about across-the-decks conversations here next summer:

"How about those Sox!?!"
"How about that Fernando Alonso!?!"
"Who does he play for?"
"Ferrari has a baseball team?"

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ferrari 458 Italia (Speciale)

Better In Black: who knew?

OK, I admit it: I'm in the tank for the 458 Italia.  It's the first Ferrari in many a decade to stir my pot.  It looks and sounds like a Proper Ferrari, not a Boy Racer F-40, or a Porsche-wannabe 360 Modena, or the recent "...meh..." 12-cylinder cars.  Here's an Autocar driving impressions video of the Speciale:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hope Springs Eternal (Well...For A Few Years...)

Much improved racecraft.  Could it be the aviator sunglasses?  ;-)

My boy Romain Grosjean had a pretty good season.  Unlike 2012, he no longer punted championship contenders off course to earn grid penalties and suspensions.  And he's finishing on the podium more often. He legitimately led some races.  He even outraced his Lotus #1 driver, Kimi Raikkonen, a couple of times.

With Kimi going to Ferrari, maybe Romain has a better shot at the championship in 2014 (surely he will be the #1 driver at Lotus).  That is, if a small-budget team like Lotus can develop a competitive car for the new 1.6 liter turbo formula.  This would be a considerable achievement against the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes.  On the other hand, Renault wrote the book on high-output turbos 40 years ago.  Romain and the rest of the grid need to find that one-second-per-lap with which the Vettel/Red Bull combo is burying them.  That's a lot of if's.  But Grosjean is fast and now seems to have the computer between his ears de-bugged.  The aviator sunglasses mojo is workin', Romain!

Note: The dominance of the Vettel/Red Bull partnership 2010-2013 is undeniable: it's like Juan Fangio (four teams) or Jimmy Clark/Lotus or Michael Schumacher/Ferrari.  But I still say that Fernando Alonso is the best racer in Formula 1 today.  Nobody gets more out of his car on race day than Fernando.  So, of course, harking back to days of yore, Ferrari will probably fire him or make him so mad that he quits.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Tata Nano

This is a remarkable car.  The short Autocar video is worth watching:

And here's the Wikipedia page, from which many of the facts below are drawn:

Whether the Nano's top and cruising speeds are 70 and 60/65, or 65 and 55 is irrelevant.  So is the 50% price increase in India.  So is the fact that unit sales in India have not met projections.  So is the possibility that it might, or might not, be marketed in Europe and the United States.  So is the fact that it lacks pollution controls--they can be added.

This car can put India, Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa on wheels.  China too, if the Chinese would let Tata sell it there (doubtful).  The Tata can carry four people and one small suitcase, protected from weather, economically.  It has twice the capacity of a Smart ForTwo in the same dimensions, but with half the engine size.

Public transportation is the obvious answer for moving people around in urban environments, worldwide.  And, when people in the States get used to the idea, here too.  I took the train into downtown Chicago for two years.  It was far preferable to, and faster than, being stuck in rush hour traffic.  In France and Belgium, almost everyone walks in towns and cities.  It's much more convenient, and faster, than being stuck in traffic on narrow, congested streets.  But cars like the Nano have a role too.  Most people, everywhere, need to get across town, or to the airport or train station, now and then.

Crashworthiness is an obvious problem.  It is hard to see how the Nano could be sold in Europe and North America, even if it had potential buyers.  (That's why a Smart ForTwo costs five times what a Nano does, and carries only two people.)  But there's no reason the Nano couldn't be re-engineered as an electric car, with crashworthiness waivers for low-speed urban use.  Or Tata can go upmarket with a bigger, heavier, more crashworthy car: "The all-new Notso Nano."  ;-)

The Ford Model T put America on wheels (and made the horse obsolete).  The Austin, Beetle, Fiat Topolino, and Renault 2CV put Europe on wheels after World War Two.  Cars like the Nano go back to those roots, and will put the Developing World on wheels.

This is the "LX" interior.  In Japanese marketing, that means stripped.  I wonder if it means the same in India?  The
Nano reminds me of the Beetles and Fiats imported into the States in the 1950's.  And of VW's famous ad campaigns
"Think Small" and "Less Is More" that flipped the expectations of what a car should be and do for the "reverse snobs"
of the World War Two generation and the soon-to-be-car-buying counter-cultural Baby Boomers.

With Seth Meyers in his SNL days, I have to ask "Really?!?"  Seriously?!?