Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Off Topic: "The General Diffusion Of Knowledge"

That's a Thomas Jefferson sound byte, I think.  He was for it.  (Not everyone is, these days.)

I'm downsizing my household, a well-known byproduct of ancien-ness.  One category of things I have way too many of is books: car books, biographies, histories.

I'm in the mood to donate, so I called my local library.  "Actually, we can't use 'em," the librarian said.  "We don't blow donors off, because it's not good community relations.  But, truth to tell, we recycle [shred] anything that comes in our front door from the general public."

So I called a prison.  "The few books we have are in terrible shape," the librarian said, "so we're not looking for more."  I'm still trying to understand that.

So I called my local middle school.  "Most of the books I want to donate are car books, which I think would appeal to middle school-aged boys."  "Oh yeah," the librarian said.  I continued: "But the rest of them are very adult stuff on history and politics, maybe more suitable for college-aged kids."

"No problem.  I know this guy who has a program to donate books to underserved areas of Appalachia.  What I do is go though your stuff, keep what I or the high schools can use, and give the rest to him.  He packs 'em up and drives 'em down there a couple of times a year to outfits who want them.  Phone me before you come and I'll meet you at the front door."

I guess nobody reads books any more--at least that's what I see on TV.  ;-)  But my middle school librarian and I, we're gonna go down on the Good Ship Gutenberg, with our colors flying.

Last Of This Season's Car Show Pix

There's no particular justification for this selection from among the 250 cars or so that I saw in September, other than I liked 'em.

'65 at the Meadowdale show.

'64 at my local show.  There seems to be a pattern here.  Is Pilote a bigger fan of the Sting Ray than he knew?

I'll have one from Column A and one from Column B, please.

The Porsche is an original, unrestored '73 (except for a repaint), all the more remarkable for having spent its entire
life in the Milwaukee-Chicago area.

If your TC's this pristine, you can wear whatever clothes and hirsuteness you like to a car show...

  Does anyone besides Pilote remember Judson Superchargers of Conshohocken,
Pennsylvania?  Bolt-on, driven by an extra V-belt from the crankshaft pulley.
About 15 lbs. of boost, as I recall.  MGA and VW Beetle applications were,
I think, the most popular applications.  Love the vanity plate!

Pilote's monomania: minimalism.  I think that I think this is the prettiest Ford 3-window I've seen because of the great
looking metallic pewter paint and the lack of flames and pin-striping: Nothin' But The Car.

The fuel injection (Hilborn?) cleans up the top of the engine.

Old-timey circular pedal pads, but they're suspended like modern ones (not pivoting below the floor).  Have you ever
seen a 3-window that looked like it had a comfortable driving position?

Monday, October 28, 2013

"Best Of Summer Shows"

This Aston Martin DB2/4 Mark III wins my "Best of Summer" car shows nomination, pulling away easily.  It was restored by Sport & Specialty of Durand, IL, using a donor car.  More correctly, the best of two very rough donor cars were combined.  Their website shows some details:

Until I looked it up on Wikipedia, I didn't know there was a Mark III.  It turns out to have the usual upgrades for a car built in the late 1950's: a bigger, more powerful engine, front disc brakes, and a more svelte body (borrowing the front end from the DB3S racing sports car, which has since become the "traditional" Aston Martin grille).  The Mark III was the final iteration of the DB2/4 and was succeeded by the DB4 ("James Bond") Aston.  So it was a kind of stopgap (1957-1959) while the new car was readied.

The engine was punched out from 2.6 to 2.9 liters, with horsepower ranging from 162 to 180, depending on the induction and exhaust system.  (Ten cars were made with wilder camshafts and Weber carbs, raising horsepower to 195.)  These were not ground-pounding numbers, even in the late '50's, and a     0-60 time of 9.3 seconds with a top end of 120 m.p.h. wasn't in Jaguar or Corvette, let alone Ferrari, territory.  Yet its $7450 list price was well above what you'd have paid for a Jag or a 'Vette.

Road & Track complained about heavy steering and a stiff ride, according to Wikipedia, and the Mark III got no credit for its innovative rear hatch with fold-down seats (which made it the most user-friendly GT).  It also lacked rack & pinion steering.

None of this seems to matter much 55 years on.  The Mark III is almost as pretty as a Ferrari (with a top-of-the-line interior too), and prettier than contemporary Jags.  Who cares about heavy steering and a harsh ride if the car is a weekend toy?  Just enjoy the revs from the d.o.h.c. straight six and the needles on those Smith's analog gauges moving around.  This car is so mechanical.  Thought bubble: "The Red Baron climbs aboard his DB2/4 Mark III and..."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Hotshoe, Indeed!

Time to watch my butt on the Dragon: "VTEC?  VTEC?!?!?  We don't need no steenkin' VTEC!"

Friday, October 25, 2013

Dragon Tales:10/13 Visit, Post 6 (And Last)

This is just to show off the new dragon at the Tail of the Dragon Store.  In m.h.o., it is not just a tourist attraction, but high-concept metal sculpture.  It seemed a stunner when I, stupidly, assumed it was stainless steel (think of the cost!).  But it's plain old carbon steel, and will be rusty brown some day.
Even more cool!  It's already starting to rust at some joints.  I love the details.  You can spend 20 minutes studying it and not get bored.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dragon Tales:10/13 Visit, Post 5

This post is just to make a couple of my Dragon videos available.  The first one is cockpit field-of-view. The run time is 8 minutes (to which Vimeo limited me, but about the same time I ran out of clear road anyway).

The second one, of similar length, is a hood-mount.  I'm posting these for friends and relations.  If you're looking for useful driving tips, watch Killboy's videos.

Being new to in-car video, it's amusing to me that camera placement makes such a difference.  Same car, same driver, same road.  The cockpit video makes a pass look slow, compared to how fast I thought I was going.  The hood-mounted video makes a pass look (and sound) faster than it really is.

Speaking of speed, I'm a slow learner, and will still be learning the Dragon many trips hence.  I have a full pass learned maybe 20%.  By 20%, I mean than when I set up for a bend, I know what's coming, and in the next two or three, well enough to drive it hard.  Northbound and southbound passes look and feel completely different.  Here's what I've learned so far:

2011: Do not try to shorten corners by apexing pull-outs.  It gets you into deep trouble at the exit.

2012: Power is needed, in a modestly powered car.  I use 2nd gear for a hard pass (3rd gear for a cruise).  You need to be high in the rev band to pull strongly out of the apex.  What I don't know yet, consistently, is where all the straights are, that are long enough to upshift into 3rd and bury the throttle again.  That's as opposed to leaving it in 2nd, and floating the car into the next (somewhat distant) bend.  On the most recent trip, I was into the rev limiter too much.

2013: Respect your brakes.  I've learned to slow up at the end of a pass to let them cool down.  My front wheels are no longer hot to the touch.  But even when they've cooled, the brake calipers will burn your fingers.  I learned this in the parking lot of the DGMR, having backed out of the pass after the State Line.  This gives you some idea of the amount of heat being transferred to the brake fluid.  We're all driving our street cars at the Gap.  Give your brakes a thought before you pack for the trip.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dragon Tales:10/13 Visit, Post 4

So, it turned out on Saturday that the Dragon was even more crowded than it had been on Friday (surprise!).  My experience, and that of others, is that if you want unobstructed passes, it's best to be at Deal's Gap in the middle of the week.  But on this trip I wanted to meet Darryl "Killboy" Cannon, who, at present, shoots on the Dragon only on Fridays.  And I wanted to watch the "fiddy races" at the DGMR on Saturday night.

To make a long story shorter, I bagged the Dragon after lunch on Saturday for a 45 m.p.h. run on the Cherohala Skyway over to Bald River Falls and back.  After the intensity of the Dragon, it was relaxing.  I used pulloffs to get out of the way of bikers on cruisers!  I'd had a chance to chat with Darryl on Friday, but ran into him again on Saturday.

To repeat myself, I admire Darryl not only for his photography, which captures the feel of his subjects so well, but also for his affection for the Dragon itself.  He came (from Middle Tennessee), fell in love with the road, and stayed.  He wants others to enjoy it too.  This is clear from the Tips For Riders And Drivers and his Twelve Minutes videos on his website.

I discovered the Dragon during a family reunion in Gatlinburg in 2011.  I've been back four times since then, and hope to go again as often.  Thanks, Darryl, for making a great driving experience even better.

Chez Killboy, on the Cherohala Skyway.  Darryl is patient with fans who want to gas on (and on) about this or that.  He
is also a walking encyclopedia of performance car knowledge.  Some of his mastery comes from buff magazines, which he consumes and digests like food while waiting for potential customers to drive by.  Some of it comes from personal
experience.  From Darryl I learned that a brake job on a Ferrari 458 Italia costs $28,000!  Not only must the carbon
fiber pads be replaced, but also the ditto discs.  Where else are you going to get the discs but from Ferrari?  The 458
has a reasonable sticker price as supercars go.  Talk about a Loss Leader!

Tellico Lake from the Cherohala Skyway.  The Skyway's overlooks are a fine alternative if you want to decompress
from the intensity of Dragon passes.  For that matter, it's a good alternative if you brought a big car with big power.
Just remember that those fast sweepers have drop-offs too, and that people are strolling around at the overlooks,
not expecting you to bomb around the corner at a high rate of knots.  The speed limit is 45 in NC, 40 in TN.

What I miss most about the east, where I grew up, is the reds.  We get changes of season in Minnesota and northern
Illinois, too, and people make "leafer" trips to Lake Superior and along the rivers in Illinois.  But we get shades of
yellow, not much red.

I miss the mountains too.  But I'll be back.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Dragon Tales:10/13 Visit, Post 3

Jay Totino (left) and friend.

So there I was at Kamal's shooting spot, changing a tire.  A couple of sportbike riders stopped to chat with him.  I was listening to them with half an ear, trying to refine my poor-to-bad replacement tire options, when the name "Jay" floated out of the ether.  I stole a look at his helmet.

"Jay, as in Killboy's 'Jay Multistrada' video?"
"The same," he replied.
"You are an awesome rider!  I'd be honored to shake your hand."
"Thanks.  Darryl said 'How about we do a video shoot at the end of the day?'  I said 'fine.'  It was my first day on the Dragon on that bike, which I've since sold.  I've teased Darryl about that video.  He's famous, and I'm not."

Jay is appropriately modest, but no fool.  He knows how good a rider he is.  Apparently he has no problem with my posting his full, real, name.  "That's T-O-T-I-N-O, like the pizza."  He owns a bike shop in (I think he said) Alabama, but lives in Robbinsville.  So he knows the Dragon well.  Now he's famous, thanks to this blog, read by "up to" 25-100 people a day.  ;-)

Maybe us fans should take up a collection for a shirt: "Killboy Is Famous, But All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt."  Or maybe Jay could do one of those American Express commercials: "Do you know me...?"  As for Killboy being a cult hero for his camera and video work, he deserves it.  Here's a link (again) to the video of Jay's ride.  (And watch Darryl's driving, you cagers.)

Still shot of Jay on his Ducati.  If you're standing by the Dragon when he goes past, don't blink or you'll miss him.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Dragon Tales: 10/13 Vist, Post 2

Or, The Saga Of A Trip Almost Ruined But Saved By Kamal.  Thankyou, Kamal, and Discount Tire in Maryville, TN!

I arrived on the Dragon late on Thursday morning, after driving through rain of Biblical proportions on I-75 all the way down from Lexington, KY.  It stopped raining on the other side of the mountains (Knoxville), but the Dragon was still damp--wet in places.  That checked one of my boxes--I've always wanted to make hard-ish passes in the damp (but not in pouring rain).  But the road was crowded, so I packed it in after six passes.  After all, I had two more days to play.

I was back at 8:00 on Friday morning, and thus begins my tale of woe and redemption.  The Dragon was already crowded-ish, with touring bikes and mini-SUV's.  Great Smoky National Park had just re-opened, and some of these folks may have been "leafers."  So it was tough to make an unobstructed pass, even when I used pull-offs.  Rule Of Thumb: you need to give your Obstructor two minutes or more to avoid catching him again.  And I spent part of the morning learning how to use my GoPro video camera by making mistakes.  (GoPros are easy enough to use unless you are ETC, Electronic Technology Challenged, as I am.)

The real "fun" began just before noon, when I was making a northbound pass.  I heard a loud sound, a kind of pop/crack, which made me think I'd just run over a walnut shell about the size of an orange. Of course I got out of the gas as soon as I heard it.  The left rear tire began to deflate rapidly, and the TPMS light came on.  Props to Michelin: the tire did not fail explosively.  The Dragon Gods were on my side, and I reached the pulloff where Kamal was shooting for about 1/8 of a mile later with a "whump, whump, whump."  He waved me in.  (This is a "thumbs up" that nobody is approaching from the opposite direction, so you can cross the road safely).  Being lazy, and not wishing to be impolite, I sat and chatted with Kamal for 20 minutes before pulling out the jack.

Chez Kamal.  If you are going to pull across the road to stop, get an "all clear" signal from the photographer before
making the turn.  Kamal's Civic is a Dragon-slaying beast.  Most of his mods are in the four corners of the wheel
wells, but he's also got "forged everything," from the pistons down, in the engine, too. 

When I got the tire off, this was what we saw:

I thought my day was done, and maybe the whole trip was down the tubes.  What were the chances that anybody in Robbinsville handled Michelin tires?  Kamal thought for a New York Minute and said "I've got you covered.  Go to Discount Tire in Maryville and tell them I sent you.  You'll be back here before the sun goes down."  He gave me street directions that even I could follow.  I mounted the space-saver spare and motored slowly into Maryville.

Kamal was dead right.  Discount Tire could get my Michelin in a day.  I opted instead for a Yokahama of identical size and similar construction (a 4-season tire like my Michelins, with a similar tread pattern), which was in stock.  They had me in and out in under 1/2 hour.  I was back on the Dragon, making passes, in under two hours.  That does not include 40 minutes of fine gearhead conversation with Kamal.

My savior, Kamal, doing what he does when he's not building engines or working on his
Demon Civic.  If there is any "local" involved in the hospitality and tourist trade who's
not friendly and helpful, I've yet to meet him/her.  But Kamal went way beyond that:
he turned a trip that could have been toast into French Toast with extra syrup.

My Willie Nelson shot: "On the road again, so glad to be back on the road again!"

The Culprit: this is what blew my tire.  The chromed piece has a counter-sunk hex head on the closer end.  It looks to
be an accesory piece from a cruiser bike.  I have no idea how or why the softer end was the one that punctured the tire.
Killboy's theory is that the front tire threw it at the back tire at an angle which barely "worked," so to speak.  The
Tech at Discount Tire, who saved it for me, said that the soft end scored the inside of the rim.  So it obviously
went in deep and hard.  It's 3-7/8" long--a bit longer than the height of the tire.  Killboy's theory is at least
plausible: the incident occurred in a tight left-hand bend, with the left-front tire unloaded and thus
positioned to kick debris toward a dropped-down left-rear tire.  But the physics involved in
this puncture still boggle my mind.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dragon Tales: 10/13 Visit, Post 1

What are the chances you might meet some middle-aged guys (mostly Italian), from your home town, driving middle-aged semi-exotic Italian cars, on a rainy Thursday morning on the Tail of the Dragon? Pretty good, apparently.

At first glance, from the red Risi Competizione t-shirt I was wearing, they thought a fellow acolyte had parachuted into the Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort parking lot.  But they were polite when they learned I was only driving a Honda Civic Si.  (I in turn refrained from offering to wax an Alfa GTV on a Dragon pass.)  Besides, as a point of privilege, I insist on honorary status as a lifetime Alfiste.

'Nennycase, no matter what ya brung or what you're runnin', the parking lot at the DGMR is full of mellow smiles.  Bikers of all tastes, car freaks ditto, we're all just glad to be there and to chat for a few moments between passes.

If you happen to be from Chicagoland, and have a passion for Italian classics, here's a link to their website:

Not their first rodeo: this is (as you can see) a shot from several years ago, one of 60-odd Killboy pix I've pulled from
his archives for screen-savers on my computer.

My second-favorite Alfa (after the Giulia 1600 Veloce), the GTA/GTV Bertone coupe.  Prettier, and faster, than the
Giulietta version.  DGMR lot, 10/17/13.

Above and below: '70's and '80's Italian pulchritude: Ferrari 308, Alfa Duetto, Ferrari 348 Spider. 

Fantasy Drive

It looks like a high-res video game, but it's 917-021 at Spa-Francorchamps.  I want to be this guy!  But at 7/10's.  On
the liner notes for John Wesley Harding, Bob Dylan has one of the Three Kings ask Frank how far in he'd like to go.
"Just far enough so's I can say I've been there," replies Frank.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

No Middle Ground

Saving the planet, 3 miles per gallon, net, at a time.  (Video reference.)  

The post title comes from the two, and only two, kinds of passengers the video Presenter gets in supercars.  Regular readers know that Pilote isn't overawed by supercars, and that I'm even less impressed with Gee Whiz videos (usually featuring drifting) of super or any other cars.  It's more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.  But this video is funny and fun.  (McLaren MP4-12C)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Ross Fosbender: Great Gearhead Guy

Ross in 2011
When I first met Ross Fosbender in 1991, he was a legend in our sports car club.  His own sports car story is typical of racers our age.  What made him a legend was his driver coaching and service to the club.

Ross was born in 1940 and grew up next door to a charter member of the Chicago Region of the SCCA.  He spent a  lot of time with gearheads next door as a kid, which fueled his interest in things mechanical and competition.  Although his college degree was in liberal arts, his interest in technology remained strong.  His business career was in technical sales of precision instruments.

His first car was a '41 Ford with a blown hemi, which he drag raced.  In 1961 he bought a Triumph TR-3 that was "already a half-assed race car" and went road racing.  Then the "first of my sixteen Alfas (some were parts cars)."  He still has a '57 Veloce Spider, which he's owned twice.  He raced a "stick axle" Corvette.  And a Formula V.  "I was never fast--I was a journeyman driver."  His last wheel-to-wheel event was in 1997.  Then he ran HSAX in his Toyota Supra twin-turbo street car and Cressida station wagon.  He retired from HSAX in 2008.  If a Cressida wagon makes you smile, consider that Ross took himself to school on car classifications: it was a consistent winner.

His favorite course was Meadowdale "because it was so damned fast."  His favorite race was in his E Production Veloce there.  He raced mostly at Meadowdale and Blackhawk Farms, with forays to Road America, and Grattan and Wilmot Hills in Michigan.

He rarely goes to club events today.  "I'm a doer, not a watcher."  While his race wins are still recalled by old timers, it's as a driving coach that 40-somethings remember him best.  His was patient and encouraging with newbies.  "Speed comes with confidence, and confidence comes with experience." Ross was the author--in our club anyway--of this excellent rule: "Both Feet In When You Spin."  For many years he was the major presenter at the club's Indoor School.  He did the "How To Drive" segment, in which he  talked newbies through a video lap of Blackhawk Farms.  Until all questions were answered.

Most importantly, he has logged a lot of right seat miles as coach.  His coaching method was simple and effective: hand signals.  He demonstrated turn-in points and proper apexs by pointing where the car should be going.  As a driver improved, he augmented hand signals with audibles.  "Brake!"  "Gas!" Ross was glad to debrief at the end of a session, but while he was in the car, the instruction was nonverbal, intuitive, and easy to follow.  Of all the students he's had over the years, Ross is most proud of one who started in a Sprite and wound up being competitive in a Lotus 23: "He was so smooth!"  

Ross's other major contribution to the club was "what needed to be done."  He held several offices, including President.  If he wasn't racing, he was working a corner, tech inspection, or timing and scoring.  As with drivers, he trained many a corner worker.

Ross's major contribution to the sport outside of our club was his role in resurrecting his beloved Meadowdale.  After the course closed, it was an illegal dump for many years.  Along with other racers who loved the course, fans of open space and outdoor activities, and local governments, Ross helped build a coalition to get Meadowdale purchased by local governments and turned into a Forest Preserve: Raceway Woods.  Raceway Woods is now cleaned up.  A paved bike path follows the original course uphill and down dale.  There are signs at each corner featuring track maps and pictures.  Ross also developed one of the "go to" websites for Meadowdale history.  Meadowdale would not exist as it does today without his efforts.

Ross co-owned and raced this Guilietta successfully for several years in the mid-1960's.  This win was at Madison (WI)
in 1967.  The string came to an end when his co-owner rolled the car at Blackhawk Farms.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mo' Mille, Mo' Moss, Mo' Mercedes

I've posted before about the Mille Miglia and Stirling Moss's opposition-crushing victory in 1955, but this "Epic Drives" video is good enough that I had to put up a link.  The Moss interview relates a few factoids about Denis Jenkinson's route notes that I hadn't heard before.  It runs 20 minutes.  And, as the Presenter Angus MacKenzie says, the Mercedes SLS is a fitting car in which to retrace the route. Maybe not the most fun, but appropriate: it is a big beast, and the 300 SLR was too.

And here is a link to a site that reprints Jenkinson's gripping (and long) account of the 1955 win, along with his pieces on far less successful outings in 1956 and 1957, in Maseratis.  (You can find good maps of the Mille with a quick internet search.)

There has been a lot of Moss video on this site lately.  He's a good interview.  He was an effective self-promoter from the beginning of his career.  Some say he created the model for the modern professional driver.  He himself has said that being the best driver of his era never to win a World Championship helped to make him more famous than some who did.  In his eight full seasons in Formula 1, Moss finished 13th, 2nd four times, and 3rd three times.  In the same period, Juan Fangio won the championship 4 times, Jack Brabham twice, and Mike Hawthorn and Phi Hill once each.  Nobody, save Fangio, won as consistently as Moss did.  Vintage racing and Moss's website have kept his reputation evergreen 50 years after his last professional race (in 1962).  And, at age 84, he's the only driver from his era doing regular interviews.

Hype notwithstanding, Moss remains the most accomplished road racer of his era if your standard is all-arounder.  In Grands Prix, Fangio was almost as dominant then as Schumacher and Vettel have been recently.  But, like them, Fangio didn't enter sports car races, except for Mercedes in 1955.  Moss reminds me more of Mario Andretti (actually, the other way around, as Mario is a good 10 years younger): he could win in anything, anywhere, any time--or the car broke under him in trying.

Beast: A few weeks before he won the Mille, Stirling Moss co-drove to a win in the Targa Florio in a 300 SLR with
Peter Collins (seen here).  Collins hit a stone wall--hard--in his stint.  Asked about the damage in the pits after Moss
had jumped back in, Collins said "I hit a wall.  But it couldn't have been a very good wall--it just crumbled."

Friday, October 11, 2013

Speaking Of New Alfas...

Alfa Romeo 4 C

...the Alfa Romeo 4 C could easily get me out of a Lotus Exige...if I could afford either of them.  And it's Stateside-bound.  Here's a video driving impression more informative than most:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Fun Killboy Pic And A Dragon Meditation

Amen, Ontario trailer.

I'll be on the Dragon next week, and have been antsy for about a month.

And I owe Watchtower an apology.  Last winter he said "You should get a GoPro--it would be fun."  I blew him off: "Who wants to document his driving mistakes?  And does YouTube need another Dragon video to go with the gazillion already posted?"

Well...  Last March, Hotshoe brought his hand-held and shot a pass, panning into the corners.  Panning is a definite plus; the shaky video and low-res not so much.  (He had his camera on the wrong setting.) Just the same, I found myself watching Hotshoe's video every few weeks, to relive our pass and that glorious road.

In September, an insistent little voice entered my head: "You should get a GoPro for October.  You should get a GoPro for October."  So I did.  The field of view is wide enough to take in the shift lever and steering wheel if you hang it from the sunroof with a suction cup mount.

The battery lasts for two hours (I'm told), so I got a card to match.  That's eight Dragon passes.  Enough to bore even me.  So I might try hood-mounted and roof-mounted passes too.  Save the best ones and watch them this winter.

You were right, Watchtower.  I'll enjoy reliving this trip.  I might even learn the road better.  Which would make for a funner trip next spring, which I'll video, which...

Rare Factory Racing Corvette

Many of us geezers know that G.M. ran Corvettes at LeMans in 1960.  Fewer know about the "SS" sports racers than ran at Sebring in 1957.  Fewer still know that production Corvettes ran in the same race (it was news to me).  The production cars were a lot more successful than the 1960 LeMans effort.   The car below was at the Meadowdale Car Show, an annual affair, held this year on September 14.

These posters tell much of the story.  Click on the pic for larger text.

There were four Corvettes at Sebring in 1957.  It was a factory effort, the brainchild of Zora Arkus Duntov, although the entrants of record were Lindsay Hopkins and John Fitch.  Two cars were "SS's," entered in the sports racing class (prototypes in modern terms).  They did not do well.  One was DNF with suspension failure.  The other came 17th overall and 7th in class, behind the overall (and class-winning) Maserati 450 S.

The production Corvettes did just fine at Sebring, which amounted to Beta Testing for the C-1's that dominated SCCA's B Production class for six years.  So the car pictured below deserves to be at least as well known as the 1960 LeMans Corvettes.  Later in 1957 the Automobile Manufacturers of America ban on racing went into effect.  Which was why the SS Corvettes went under car covers, undeveloped, and General Motors's development of the B Production racer was very limited and off the books.  (One of the SS's was rebodied by Billy Mitchell of G.M. Styling as a "Sting Ray" and driven by Dr. Dick Thompson to the SCCA C Modified champion in 1960.  It was the styling exercise that became the C-2 Corvette.)

  This car came 15th overall and 2nd in class, driven by John Kilborn and Jim Jeffords.  The sister GT car (#4) came
12th overall and 1st in class, driven by Dr. Dick Thompson and Gaston Andrey.  Jeffords and Thompson went on
to winning seasons in B Production Corvettes.  They, and Andrey, also won big-bore Modified championships.
Thompson capped his career driving Ford GT 40's for John Wyer in Europe.  Corvette's '57 Sebring glory in the
GT 5000 class was slightly dimmed by the fact that they were the only cars in the class.  But finishing a major
endurance race was in itself a major achievement.

The formula for dominating SCCA's B Production class for over a decade: Rochester fuel injection atop a small-block
283/327, coupled to a Borg-Warner T-10 4-speed gearbox.  These features made the Corvette a respected vehicle for
the first time in sports car circles, and the "'57 fuelie" remains today the most collectable of early Corvettes.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Return Of The Alfa Spider?

The PininFarina-styled concept car as it made the rounds of auto shows in 2010 and after.

Apparently this car is "on" for the 2015 model year, in the sense that it hasn't had its plug pulled yet, and is well-along in development.  Fiat and Mazda signed a joint deal which will result in an upscale car for each marque.  Both cars will be based on the architecture of the next-generation MX-5 (Miata) and thus front engine rear-drivers.  They apparently will also share a twin-clutch sequential gearbox controlled by a central lever (not paddles).  But each will have its own proprietary "powerful" engine and distinctive exterior sheet metal.  The Alfa Romeo is "said to closely resemble the concept car."  (I wonder how the concept car's great-looking front end will translate into crashworthy bumpers.)

Normally I do not get excited about concept cars.  Too many of them are just teases for focus groups, or stillborn, or badly compromised as production models.  They tend to be more attractive than a car that can be certified to regulations in major world markets.  Consider, for example, how much more attractive the Porsche Boxster concept car was than the car that eventually went on sale.  The Boxster concept had a strong 550 Spyder vibe.  It turned into a ho-hum but crashworthy production car with long and awkward overhangs.  The concept's "integrated" look was lost.  But if the Alfa is built on the small (yet crashworthy) MX-5 unit body's internals, it should be light, agile, and agile-looking.  Like the Giulietta/Giulia.

The Alfa Spiders of 1954-66 sold for about 2.25 times the price of a Chevy, or about $60,000 in today's Impala money.  That sounds about right: in the Boxster's power and price territory.  With CAFE standards tightening, I'm guessing there won't be a 2+ liter turbo V-6 but probably a high-revving, advanced-materials, 1.5+ liter turbo I-4.  And, while this post uses the Boxster as a market-segment benchmark, I suspect the new Alfa Spider (which I seem to insist on calling it  ;-) ) would not compete head-to-head. A potential Spider customer would more likely be looking at a Lotus Elise or Exige.  Or lamenting the departure of the Honda S-2000.  Or have been waiting for decades for a worthy successor from Alfa to the 1954-1966 Spider.  Welcome, son-of-Giulietta-Spider-Veloce!  Welcome back, Alfa!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

TR-6 Restoration (#12)

The first coat of primer is on.  Then another coat of primer, then 3-4 coats of green, then several coats of clear.  The
tail will be matte black (per original), and an undercoating of flexible black will be applied.  Then reassembly.

The engine/powertrain are getting there.  Should be ready for installation about when paintwork is done.

Poignant Moment In Time

Ferrari Dino 246's, French Grand Prix, Reims, July 4-6, 1958.

Have you ever been this close to the cars at a major race as whoever snapped this picture?  I haven't, or, if I was, there was a rope line to keep me from going closer.  Even if this picture was shot early on Friday morning, before the first practice, it's still amazing.  And the rear of Peter & Louise Collins's Ferrari 250 GT appears to be peeking into frame at the left.  Imagine that!  A front-rank driver arriving in his personal car and just parking and walking around the paddock!

The picture captures not just a moment in time but firsts, lasts, and soon-to-be's.  Reims '58 was a kind of marker, although few (maybe nobody) knew it that weekend.

Mike Hawthorn's car was #4, Luigi Musso's was #2, and Wolfgang von Trips's was #6.  Von Trips? Where's Peter Collins's car?  Enzo Ferrari was convinced that Collins had prematurely abandoned his car at LeMans a few weeks before.  So Collins was being punished by being entered only in the Formula 2 race.  Collins prevailed upon Team Manager Romolo Tavoni and Enzo to let him start the Grand Prix, in another Dino wearing #42.  (It must have been shipped from Maranello after the weekend began.) Mike Hawthorn won the GP, von Trips finished 3rd, and Collins finished 5th after recovering from car trouble.  Musso was killed when he went off in Muizon, the very fast sweeper after the pits, trying to catch Hawthorn.  Collins was killed at the Nurburgring a month later.  Hawthorn died in a road accident that winter after winning the World Driving Championship.

This race was Juan Fangio's last Grand Prix, and Phil Hill's first.  Fangio, by then a five-time World Champion, retired from racing after finishing 4th in a Maserati 250 F.  Hill finished 7th in a similar borrowed car.  He had arranged the drive because he was disgusted that Ferrari wasn't letting him race in Grands Prix.  (He had a much better record in Ferrari sports cars than von Trips did.)  After Collins's death, Hill became a regular Grand Prix driver for Ferrari.  One source says that Olivier Gendebien also lost a start in this race to von Trips, which is at least possible.  That's because von Trips started at the back of the grid with no qualifying time: Tavoni did not nominate a driver for #6 until qualifying was over.  1958 was a height, if not the height, of the team politics and driver deaths for which Ferrari was famous in those days.

If you look closely at Hawthorn's car, you can see that it is 4 inches longer in the cockpit area than the other Ferraris.  Enzo did this to accommodate Hawthorn's height.  You can also see subtle differences in the nose cones of the three supposedly identical cars.  Racing cars were truly hand-built in those days.

The Collins 250 GT Spider is itself a notable car.  It was a one-off, done for the 1957 Geneva Auto Show by PininFarina.  Enzo Ferrari personally arranged its sale to Collins at a friendly price because he wanted Collins to stop driving his own Lancia road car and "represent."  Collins had the car fitted with Dunlop disc brakes in England, some say in an effort to demonstrate to Ferrari that they would work and were superior to the drum brakes Ferrari still ran on his racing cars.  So Collins's Spider was the first Ferrari with disc brakes.  But Enzo had nothing to do with it.  By the end of the 1958 season, Ferrari sports cars were being retrofitted with disc brakes.  And his 1959 Grand Prix cars were introduced with discs.

Source: Mon Ami Mate, by Chris Nixon, Transport Bookman Publications, 1998.

The ex-Collins Ferrari 250 GT Spider, as restored to original specification (without disc brakes).  This one-off body
for the 1957 Geneva Auto Show was noted for a header-less windshield (the top attached to the side frames) and its
British roadster-style  cut-down doors.  Compare the rear of this car with the one in the left edge of the photo above.
Collins may have been one of the first of a long string of British "tax exiles," like the Rolling Stones.  He and Louise
lived on his yacht in Monaco harbor in 1958.  It was said that the sight of Louise backing this car down the quay after
a grocery trip into town brought all activity to a halt.