Friday, December 26, 2014

Porsche 917: Archive And Works Catalogue (Book Review)

This newly available English language edition is identical to the German one.  Of course that includes the high quality paper, production values, and the comprehensive text by Walter Naher.  As a newly-minted engineer, Naher went to work for Hans Mezger in Porsche's Testing Department in 1969, just as the 917 was coming online.  (Mezger designed the 917's engine.)  Naher went on to a long career at Porsche and Sauber.  But the 917 made the earliest and deepest impressions on him.  This book was a labor-of-love retirement project for him.

The book is dual-purpose: a high-quality illustrated "coffee table book" and an exhaustive history of the 917.  With the English edition, I can instantly understand Naher without resorting to a German-English dictionary.  A Porsche expert told me this is the book on the 917.  Having seen many, I agree.  The chapters on, and pictures of, aerodynamic development (including blind alleys) are fascinating.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder with the 917, and yes, the English edition of this book cleared up my confusion about Wyer-Gulf chassis numbers 004/017 and 026/031.

There is a madcap consistency to 004/017.  004 was not raced by Wyer as 004 (it was raced by Porsche themselves in 1969).  Porsche rebuilt the car and renumbered it 017 before sending it to Wyer for 1970. Nevertheless, John Horsman backnumbered it to 004.  This was his usual practice for cars that had been raced by Wyer and then sent back to Porsche for rebuild.  His purpose was to maintain chassis number and history across all components of a car.  So 004 is consistent with Horsman's practice even though it was never raced as 004 by Wyer.  (Porsche practice with the 917 was to consider a rebuilt car, or a new spare frame used to rebuild a car as a new car.)

026/031 still gives me a headache, even after the Naher sort-out.  026 was built in 1969 as a spare frame (the first number after the 25 homologation cars).  In 1970, it was used to build car 026 for Wyer.  That car was crashed at LeMans and sent back to Porsche for rebuild using frame 031.  Horsman continued to consider the car as 026.  It was returned to Porsche in September 1971 and rebuilt by the factory over the winter as spyder 026 and sold to a customer for Interseries racing.  (The Interseries was Europe's version of the Can-Am.)  In 1973 the spyder was sold to Vasek Polak in Los Angeles, who reconverted it to a coupe in Wyer-Gulf colors, still numbered 026.  Repaired frame 026 was put into Porsche's spares stock as 031 (a switcheroo, by Porsche's standards).  It was used to build a new spyder Interseries customer car, 031.

The confusion over some chassis numbers would be of little importance if the 917, particularly the cars used by professional teams in FIA racing, had not become so iconic, and valuable.  But the confusion, and the reasons for it, demonstrates how sketchy the provenance of a race car can be.  In fact, Porsche and the pro teams it supported kept better records than most.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Porsche Spyder As A Comedy Prop

1958 Porsche Typ 718 RSK Spyder

It doesn't work for me--I can't stop focusing on the sights and sounds of the car.  But when Jerry Seinfeld summarizes the Spyder in Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, he nails it.  He did the same in the episode featuring his 911 Carrera RS (...well... maybe Seth Meyers was featured...).

Kevin Hart's reaction to his ride in a Spyder is exactly the same as mine was in 1963.  Here it is:

Women comedians do better than men in Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee.  They just roll with the car as a prop; they don't react to it as an artifact.  Ali Wentworth is hilarious riffing on the Mercedes 280 SE, as was Sarah Silverman on the XK-E.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Off Topic: Hail And Farewell, Stephen

This guy enjoyed his satire too: Petroleum V. Naseby.  The Cabinet thought it was unfunny
and was right about one thing: Naseby wasn't as funny as Colbert.  Not even Mark Twain is.

Hail and farewell to The Colbert Report, the best American political satire ever.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Slayer (If Tweaked): The Ronin RS 211

This car I get, without explanation from Jay Leno.  (The owner's explanation of the drivetrain in the video gilds the lily.)  I wish I had the skills needed to handle it near its limits and I'd love to drive it.  Once, at 7/10's.  Yes, it's only good for a sunny day in the California canyons, but what a day!

And I know of some people in Dragonland who are thinking about or executing parts of similar builds. Maybe less spendy.  And maybe they'd "turn it down from 11."  After all, as the "King of the Dragon" said in the Road & Track online piece about it (I paraphrase): 1) any more than 300 h.p. is wasted and, 2) the key is to get the front end to stick--then to keep the back end in line.

Here's the vid:

Monday, December 15, 2014

One More From The Ferrari "All Hat, No Cattle" Department

A footnote to my recent post about the Ferrari 312 Formula 1 car: apparently Enzo Ferrari once said "Aerodynamics are for constructors who can't do engines."  Or he might have said "Handling is for constructors who can't do engines."  He put so many cattle... er... ponies... into the 410 S that he needed the biggest hat seen then or since.

Above and below: the 1955-56 Ferrari 410 S.  When Ferrari punched his V-12 out to 4.9 liters, with twin-plug ignition on
the outsides of the heads, it required a 10-gallon Stetson to access it all.  The hood climbed over the fender crowns and
drooped down to the car's beltline.  When, in 1957, Enzo "went the other way" so-to-speak and punched the 3.5 liter
290 MM out to 3.8  and 4.0 liters (the 315 S and the 335 S), he managed to get it all under a conventional hood.
Even though those engines had 4 cams and twin-plug ignition in the centers of the heads.

It's interesting that Enzo Ferrari is quoted so often, a quarter-century after his death.  I recently saw the same quote in two different places by fans of the XK-E, that Enzo said it was the most beautiful car ever made.  The likes Colin Chapman, Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche, Ferruccio Lamborghini, David Brown, and William Lyons should be so lucky.  Of course Enzo knew how to turn a colorful phrase--perhaps better than any other auto magnate except Henry Ford.  Both said some outrageous things, but Enzo had the good sense to confine his pronouncements to cars.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Why You Should Always Be Aware at Deals Gap

This point has been made any times, but is always worth a reminder.  Especially in real-time video:

Now that the Dragon will be posted "No Trucks Over 30 Feet" at both ends, there should be fewer big rigs coming through.  But we can't depend on zero big rigs.  And I suspect some special-permit long flatbeds will continue to service the dams.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"RFM" (Run For, Or From, Money) Back In The Day

Augie Pabst (on the pole in a Scarab) leans in to talk to Gaston Andrey (Birdcage Maserati) before the start of the "big bore"
race at the Road America June Sprints in 1960.  Roger Penske's Porsche RS-60 is in the background (#6).  Pabst won,
followed home by Dr. Dick Thompson's Sting Ray, Andrey's Birdcage, and Penske's Porsche.  While the first 15 years
of the SCCA's existence weren't professional in the European or Champ Car sense, they weren't always as relaxed as
this picture might suggest.

This blog sometimes waxes nostalgic for the early 1960's days of the SCCA, when talented amateurs could win National Championships.  Well... in truth, the best of them had enough money, or leverage, to get the latest ex-factory cars (reconditioned or allegedly so), to make a title run.  And the best of them had engineering degrees or access to well-equipped shops, or both.  Roger Penske and Augie Pabst, for example.  So the level of competition was at least semi-pro, even if these drivers were not making their livings from racing.  Certainly it was several cuts above SCCA Regionals.

And some drivers had already been chafing under the SCCA's Strictly Amateur policy.  Cal Club (the California Sports Car Club) paid prize money, although SCCA license-holders who entered Cal Club events couldn't accept it.  (Cal Club, centered in Los Angeles, had a running feud with the San Francisco Region of the SCCA, and vice-versa, throughout the 1950's.)  Carroll Shelby and other notables had hats and t-shirts printed with "RFM"--Run For Money--to wear in SCCA paddocks in protest.  The best Americans went to Europe to try to make a living from road racing: Phil Hill, Masten Gregory, Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, Richie Ginther.

The SCCA finally relented and set up its own pro series; first Can Am and then Trans Am.  As a spectator, I missed the sturm und drang of the "transition wars" in the SCCA.  Before I went away to college, I enjoyed Regionals and Nationals.  After graduation, I paid more money to watch the pros.  The pros and their cars were faster, and more glamorous, and more shiny.

Was one better than the other?  For me, CART (IndyCar) at Road America in the 1980's and 1990's was the top of the mountain.  Blistering pace from top-ranked drivers in superbly prepared cars.  I still enjoy a fast pro race.  And club racing too.  Road racing has changed a lot in 50 years.  But in some ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

1967: Chris Amon, Scuderia Ferrari, And A Year Of Living Dangerously (Book Review)

This book was a gift; I wouldn't necessarily buy a book so narrowly focused for myself.  But author John Julian's approach has merits.  It looks at a cross-section of time, as opposed to taking the long view of a team or marque or driver's career.

The quality and aesthetics of "coffee table books" published by David Bull can be taken for granted, and this one is no exception.  The same can be said of the photos.  For some (certainly me), Julian's narrative style will suffer from purple prose.  And modifying clauses that wander away from their subjects.  His early chapters use foreshadowing and flashbacks that, to my mind are more appropriate to a novel than straightforward narrative history.

But his research is solid and his selection of quotes from "those were there" is first-rate.  They include (among others and besides Chris Amon himself) John Surtees, Dan Gurney, Howden Ganley, and Annabel Parkes Campigotto (sister of Mike Parkes).  Some of them provide superb illustrative color about "what it was really like."  Others provide a thoughtful look back from decades of perspective.  My favorite was Johnathan Williams (another Ferrari driver) regretfully telling Mauro Forghieri that he was unable to translate Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale into Italian.  Apparently all three of us love that song, and I'm still not confident of its meaning in English.

Appendix One is the results of the events contested by Scuderia Ferrari in 1967.  It was an enjoyable stroll through the past for me: "Oh, yeah--I remember that driver or this car..."

Julian provides perspectives and correctives to my own recollections of this most dangerous of motorsports eras.  Notably the appalling crash and death of Lorenzo Bandini (Amon's teammate) at Monaco in 1967, and how it advanced the cause of passive safety when Jackie Stewart's advocacy was stalled and Jim Clark's death was yet to come.

At the granular level, Julian provides some interesting figures.  The 1967 Ferrari 312 Formula 1 car weighed 1208 lbs. dry.  The V-12 engine weighed 419 lbs. or 35% of the total weight of the car.  So the chassis and running gear weighed only 789 lbs.  Assuming 7 miles per gallon and a race distance of 250 miles (most were shorter), 36 gallons of fuel would be required to complete a Grand Prix-- 225 lbs. Further assuming a driver weight of 170 lbs., the Ferrari 312 weighed less than 1600 lbs., sitting on the starting grid, ready to race.  It had 390 horsepower, for a weight-to-power ratio of 4.1 lbs. per h.p.

The Lotus 49-Cosworth doubtless weighed less and had over 400 horsepower, which is one reason the 312 was not a very successful car for Ferrari.  And while none of the early 3 liter Formula 1 cars were as fast as their 5 and 7 liter sports car counterparts on fast circuits, they were faster on tight ones or the most challenging ones.  And, as recently posted, the most beautiful racing cars of all time, to my eye.

Above and below: the 1967 Ferrari 312 Formula 1 car.  The engine went through various iterations of number of valves
per cylinder and porting (exhausts in center, or not; crossflow heads, or not).  The version seen here is the original one,
with three valves per cylinder and central exhausts in a non-crossflow head.  The picture below reminds me of the old
Texas saying "All hat, no cattle."  With a power unit at 35% of the total (dry) weight, the 312 was "all engine, no car."

Friday, December 5, 2014

Thoughts On The Thanksgiving Trek

Da Buddha, as he's called in Chicagoland.  Yes, he's using cruise control.  But mindfully.  ;-)

The temperature was in the 30's when I left Chicagoland.  On my first morning in Twin Citiesland, it was 12.  Of course the tire pressure warning light on the dashboard came on.  I've learned to ignore this, and just drive more slowly until it gets warmer.  On the run home, the temperature rose from 17 to the 30's again.  Sure enough, the warning light turned off.

Of course I forgot my snow brush.  But Twin Citiesland has industrial strength drive-thru car washes, with high-pressure and volume water.  I watched one blow three inches of icy snow off a big F-250 4WD pickup that was in line ahead of me.  Around here, this would be Misdemeaor Abuse of Paint and Rustproofing, punishable by, say, coffee and a super-sized muffin.  But 3 more degrees of latitude changes "best practices" a lot.

Often, I make this run to bookend a long weekend, to minimize traffic.  But this time I came back on Sunday.  Holiday travelers and their Designated Representatives, left lane bandits, could not be avoided. What is it about certain stretches of Interstate?  Like I-90/94 between the Illinois State Line and the Tomah split in WI?  Or I-65 in Indiana?  Always clogged, it seems.  The Indiana and Ohio Turnpikes aren't.  I-64 and I-75 in Kentucky aren't.  It's not just traffic density, but I've no idea what the other factors are.  It's puzzled me for years.

Nowadays, left lane bandits represent all States.  It used to be that a plate ahead of you from New York, Michigan, or Illinois would be a dependable bird dog, flushing radar and parting the sea of traffic ahead.  I still remember a Prairie Home Companion episode from the '80's in which Garrison Keillor said something like "Maybe Wisconsinites wouldn't resent Illinoisans so much if they didn't tear through the State at 80 m.p.h."  Now, left lane bandits from IL, MI, and NY are as common as those from MD, VA, IN, or WI.  I was embarrassed for the reputation of my State.  ;-)

There is something Zen-like about a long road trip.  You can approach one-ness with a good car and a good road.  It's a satisfying state of mind.  I rarely use the CD player or, perish the thought, the radio.  I like to focus traffic, the road, and interaction with the car.  People who won't learn to operate a manual transmission, or who by preference multi-task behind the wheel, are a mystery to me.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Not A Nash Fan...

1950 Nash Ambassador: I rest my case, Your Honor.

While I don't always agree with Jay Leno, I usually get where he's coming from, even on cars that have little interest for me: steamers, a hot-rodded Olds Toronado, his resto-modded Buick.  Often, he nails it from my perspective: his Lotus Elan, his Jags, etc.  (His aversion to Ferraris remains a mystery.)  Here's his video presentation of his 1950 Nash Ambassador, and I don't get it:

He describes his Nash as a Good Old Girl, capable of road trips at Interstate speeds, and a good-handling, nice-driving car.  Nope.  He says Nash built "strong, stout, cars" and certainly got that right: as in overweight.  He points out that "everybody collects tri-five Chevies, but not Nashes."  Right again, and there's a reason for that.

Offhand, I can't think of a turn-of-the-decade 1950's car that's uglier than this Nash, although some other marques and particularly other American Motors offerings gave it a run for its money.  I grew up in the back seats of cars like this.  My dad had a '48 Ford, a '54 Chevy, and a '57 Dodge--all with boat anchor straight sixes.  The Dodge's was a flathead to boot.  We drove on family vacations from Cleveland to Cape Cod, and one of those trips nearly finished the Dodge.  These cars could manage Interstate speeds, but they didn't like them.  Their handling was terrible, by the so-so standards of other American cars at the time.  This was obvious even from the back seat.

My Uncle George had a '50's Nash Rambler.  While it was better than the Ambassador (it was lighter), it didn't handle as well as, say, my dad's '54 Chevy.  For a year, in 1967-68, I myself had a 1960 Rambler, which was used mostly to commute on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on weekends.  It had passable, conventional, styling by early 1960's standards.  But it retained the trunnion-style front suspension that made the earlier cars handle poorly (and which was notoriously failure-prone).  Nash deserves the raised eyebrows and buyer indifference it earned in the 1950's.

1950's Nash Rambler like my Uncle George's.  It was a segment-creator--a compact car before the likes of Corvair, Falcon,
and Valiant.  But no better a car than the Ambassador.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Purdy Car, Purdy Picture

OK, Point of Personal Privilege here: it's my car, making a Dragon pass.  But Kamal nailed the car's lines from this angle.
The red Sumac makes for a nice picture too.  But I still wish I'd ordered wheels with grey spokes instead of bright ones.