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?!?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Parsing The Un-parsable (Car Styling)

"The Giugairo Look" as applied to a sedan, with special reference to the fender flares.  Which are called, I'm told,
box flares.  Ugh.  And lose the BBS-style wheels.  Hotshoe (and for that matter, Killlboy) could not disagree more.
It was this picture of this car that got our discussion rolling.

This post is just for fun.  Weigh in with comments if you like, or grab a gearhead pal and run the experiment yourself.  The title of the post comes from that cliche about not knowing art, but knowing what you like.  If not exactly why.

Hotshoe and I have been fooling with a "10 Best Looking Cars Of All Time" list.  We haven't agreed on a firm set of rules.  It's a work in progress.  One rule is that a car makes our lists on looks only.  "All show and no go" is fine.  Another rule is No Race Cars, Concept Cars, or Radical Customs.  It has to be a real, functional, road car, made in quantity for sale to the general public.

A rule that "just worked out that way" was that the car has to be Postwar.  Doubtless this reflects our Baby Boomer demographic.  Hotshoe snuck the '40 Ford onto his list as an Honorable Mention.  When he did, I threatened to put the 1932 Ford 3-window coupe on my list.  Or the 1932 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport (which happens to be my favorite prewar car).  As the saying goes, "this way lies madness," so we stuck to 1945-2013. This eliminates half the history of the automobile, but so be it.

We got onto this subject because our taste in styling is different.  Which surprised us, because we are interested in cars in the same ways (principally sports cars and road racing).  Our buttons are pushed in many of the same ways, and we generally like the same kinds of cars.  It took us a long time to discover our differences.  We might not have discovered them except that we happened to dissect the styling of the Ford Focus ST together, point-by-point.  Features of the ST that annoy Hotshoe, or that he finds downright ugly, bother me not--and vice versa.  When we started talking about other cars, and got deep into the catalog (and the weeds), we discovered that our tastes are way different.  We had no trouble establishing categories, but sometimes disagreed about which car belonged in what category.  I hold that the Audi Quattro is a sedan.  But let it pass, let it pass...   ;-)

The late, and mostly unlamented, Chevy Cobalt: a non-starter with Hotshoe but a winner with Pilote--even with its
bustle-butt rear end.

Although we're both inclined to deny it, one of our differences is that I generally prefer rounded shapes and Hotshoe generally prefers "the Giugairo [folded paper] look."  But that distinction can't be pushed too far: the XK-E was a no-brainer for both of us and the Mini (both old and new) is rounded only at the corners.  Our lists share only two cars, although the Lotus Elan and the Mazda Miata look similar. Some of our personal faves didn't make the cut.  For example, I think the Porsche 911 is one of the most beautiful cars of the past 50 years--but not as beautiful as the Ferrari 250 GT SWB.

Anway.  Here are our lists so far.  (A problem with this exercise is that it's subject to whim and revision. Or, as Hotshoe puts it, "emotional ties and mental defects.")  What have we overlooked?  Where do you agree/disagree?  Hotshoe even nominated some alternates.  (I was too exhausted from paring my list down to ten to do so.)  Here are his "almost made the cut" cars: '81 Scirocco, '72 Vega, '40 Ford, '88 Maserati BiTurbo, early Miata, '63 Corvette, Ford GT.

                                                      Pilote                                              Hotshoe
subcompact sedan                        New Mini                                       Old Mini (Cooper)
compact sedan                              Gen. 8 Honda Civic                       2003 Ford Focus ZX5
mid-sized sedan                            1986 Ford Taurus                          1993 BMW 525i
luxury sedan                                 1968-73 Jaguar XJ-6                     1991 BMW 850i                          

small open sports                          early Mazda Miatas                        1962 Lotus Elan
mid-size open sports                     Jaguar XK-E (Series I)                   same              
sports coupe                                  Acura Integra RSX ('01-'06)          1983 Audi Quattro
pony car                                        Gen. 2 Camaro ('70-'73)                 1967 Shelby GT 500

grand touring                                Ferrari 250 GT SWB                      same
supercar                                         Lamborghini Miura                       1972 DeTomaso Pantera

No disagreement here: we both think the Ferrari 250 GT SWB is the best-looking GT in the past 60+ years.  (The GTO
was a race car.)  Consider the GT's that didn't make our lists: Mercedes-Benz 300SL, any number of other Ferraris,
any Corvette coupe, and more recent/modern classics.  Poker Tell: we like long hoods and short decks.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Kenny Brack Wrestling A Ford GT 40 In The Rain

One of the two Essex Wire GT 40's at LeMans in 1966.  Both were DNF with engine failure.  This one was driven by
Jochen Neerpasch (normally a Porsche pusher) and Jacky Ickx (later to win championships in the GT 40's run
by John Wyer in Gulf Oil colors).  The other car was driven by Skip Scott and Peter Revson.  Essex ran
GT 40's in Europe and Cobras in the States with some success in the mid 1960's.

Here's a good video of Adrian Newey's ex-Essex Wire GT 40 in the rain at the Goodwood Revival in September.  And some commentary by Kenny Brack about rain driving.  Newey has made enough money, being the premier racing aerodynamicist of recent decades (most recently for Red Bull), to indulge his passion for vintage racing.  (He co-drove with Brack.)

And for those who want more, here's five minutes of nothing but in-car.  Kenny was a busy boy:

The GT 40 is one of the most beautiful GT racers ever built in the opinion of many (including me).  And, for us Americans, there was admiration and patriotism: "Ford can build a car capable of winning LeMans and stomping Ferrari in the bargain?  No kidding!?!"  (Ferrari dominated LeMans in the 1950's and early 1960's.)  To this day, I suspect that I bought cars as terrible as the Mercury Zephyr and as forgettable as the Ford Escort partly because of what Ford accomplished with the GT 40 and the Cosworth V-8.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Meep Meep

One meep, actually: this is the Road Runner brought up-to-date on the Dragon.  En Garde!, Fastest Foreigner and Killboy.  Those footsteps you hear are Leighann and Killgurl.  ;-)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Race Announcer Cliches, Translated

Here's a post that seems appropriate for the end of the racing season.

It would be a fine thing if there were a way to mute TV race reporters and color commentators without muting the sounds of the race.  Aside from breaking news, there is very little to say about a race that hasn't been said countless times.  Attentive viewers can suss out 80% of what's going on without being told.  Here's a Short Dictionary Of Hype & Dissembling: what announcers say, and what they really mean.

"This track is great if you get it right; but if you get it wrong, it will bite you."  We never describe a course as a boring turkey.  We're hoping to provide you with plenty disintegrating carbon fiber and bent aluminum.

"XYZ Racing is off the pace, but they've been working hard on getting more speed and reliability into the car."  They haven't got a clue.

"Whoa!  That was a brave move!"  The overtaking driver got away with it.

"Whoa!  That was a brave move!"  The overtaken driver was points-racing and gave the corner away.

"Well, as you can see from our pit lane interviews, Ricky Bobby looks at it one way, and Jean Luc sees it differently.  You've seen the tape.  So maybe it was just one of those racing incidents."  The overtaking driver didn't get away with it.  The commentator doesn't want to burn any bridges because he needs interviews from both teams for the rest of the season.

"Here's the in-car!  We've been talking about Cajones-Grandes's handling problems.  Let's ride along through these bends to telestrate and analyze."  The Director is about to cut to five mid-pack cars running like a train.

"We'll go side-by-side for this commercial break, so you don't miss a thing."  The window will be 15% of your home screen size, and something big, best seen in a tight shot, is about to happen.

"Well, as you saw while we were away..."  See above.  Sometimes we cut to a commercial just before scheduled pit stops, to aggravate you.

"Webber has driven a brilliant race, but he's losing half a second per lap to Vettel.  And he still needs to change to the super-softs to meet the rules.  I'd call him in now.  Would you call him in, Steve?"  AS IF Red Bull team management would call Webber in to improve his chances of winning the race, with Vettel's World Championship on the line.  We're just fooling with you newbie race viewers.

"Those Goodstonemichelellis are great race tires.  You'd love a set of their street tires on your car.  We haven't had a problem all season.  So I'm sure these failures are due to track conditions or debris."  Uh oh... the tire manufacturer brought the wrong compounds.  

"Well, you can clearly see a dry line developing, but it's still pretty wet out there and the clouds haven't parted."  Timing-wise, changing from wets to drys is always a crap shoot.  We don't have a clue.  Some teams will change tires before others, but none of them are about to tell our pit reporters.  Oh, and this would be a good time to cut to a commercial.

"The pit window is 18 to 19 laps."  It's 16 to 21 laps.

"Here's a clip."  Another yellow flag!  This race is boring beyond belief.  Our ratings are in free fall.  Maybe we can keep you from channel-surfing or mowing the lawn by running a canned, cliche-ridden feature.

Friday, November 1, 2013