Monday, June 29, 2015

Denise McCluggage 1927-2015

No fool she, young or old, McCluggage lived in Santa Fe NM from the 1970's to her death.  (I love Santa Fe.)

I learned from Stirling Moss's website, from which these pictures were taken, that Denise McCluggage died earlier this year.  She was a pioneer.  She started her career as a newspaper reporter in the late 1940's--unusual enough for the times.  The sports car bug bit her in the 1950's.  She turned to (first) racing cars and (then, simultaneously) automotive journalism, which was even more unusual for a woman.  She was still writing and blogging about cars a couple of years ago (when last I read her).  I devoured her writing in the 1960's--it was witty and funny.

Like her contemporary Suzy Dietrich, McCluggage was genuinely fast.  But she was better known because she wrote about the racing scene and her own races.  Her best-known win was a co-drive to a class victory at Sebring in a Ferrari 250 GT SWB in 1961.  Also like Dietrich, she raced everything from Sprites to high-powered production cars to Porsche 550 Spyders.

Fellow anciens: how many famous racing drivers surrounding McCluggage can you identify in this picture?  Five, for me.
The car they surround appears to be an MGB and the venue Laguna Seca.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

2015 VSCDA At Blackhawk Farms, Post #3 (And Final)

This is my obsession post: all pictures of the same car.  It is new to the owner, but not to vintage racing.  He is new to vintage racing--BFR was his first outing.  He was having a ball, grinning from ear to ear.  And he's a good novice driver too: he was not spooked by overtaking cars and he ran clean, consistent, lines.  If he outbraked himself into Turn 1 (a common temptation), I didn't see it.

The new owner had the car repainted medium green and had the leaping cat in silver added.  Very classy.

Refueling.  As usual in club racing, if you have a spouse along to crew for you, you're in high cotton.  I'll guess that
this car has been wrecked and rebuilt: there are no headlight buckets in the (new) nose and the windshield is Lexan
riveted to the frame.  It would be interesting to know why the car runs American Racing wheels in front and
Minilites in the rear, and I wish I had asked.

Checking tire pressures.  This view shows the somewhat unusual 3-into-2 exhaust pipes favored by the Jaguar factory in
the 1950's but which fell out of favor later (for 3-2-1).

The office.  A 6500 r.p.m. red line--that's a lot of feet-per-minute for the pistons in a long-stroke Jag engine.

Induction side of the engine: the Usual Suspects Webers and some beautiful cam covers.

Exhaust side of the engine: thermal wrapping on some very long pipes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

2015 VSCDA At Blackhawk Farms, Post #2

This is the track and "'Murrican Urn" post.  Blackhawk is a very agreeable place at which to watch racing.  Or, for that matter, to drive.  I enjoyed my HSAX days there.  BFR is not that fast in a low-powered street car (Turn 5 is the only fast corner) or, for that matter, that demanding to learn.  I was once told that the Newman-Haas CART team tested at Blackhawk.  I can't imagine why, or what they got out of it.  A CART race car could barely get underway at Blackhawk, and it's not especially hard on brakes.  Maybe N-H used it for initial shake down of a new/rebuilt car.

Turn 2 and, in the far distance, Turn 1, viewed from the entry into Turn 3.  This is a fine viewing spot.  It looks like an ess
from this angle, but Turn 2 is actually a more-or-less "throwaway" straight.  The main goal is to late-apex Turn 3 while
getting the power down early.  Some racers drive Turn 1 aggressively with a conventional exit fully to driver's left on
exit.  Others late-apex Turn 1 and hold the car closer to the center of the track.  Either way, you want to be driver's
right at the exit of 2, with the car settled for an easy shot at driver's left at the entry to 3.

A March Super Vee enters Turn 3A with the exit of Old Turn 3 in the foreground.  3A is a sharp right dogleg that slows the
cars down considerably.  It was deemed necessary because the race cars previously had a considerable head of steam
coming out of 3 into the very fast Turn 4, which is next to a main paddock/spectator area.  The March in this pic
was, by far, the fastest car at BFR this weekend.  Only the GT-350 below came close to its lap times.

This Shelby Mustang GT 350 has a glorious sound, which I suspect comes from an 8-into-1 collector exhaust.  If the
course was momentarily quiet where I was, I could hear it all the way around Blackhawk's 2.0 miles.  It sounds like
it is revving twice as high as it really is.  The car is running wider tires than when I saw it two years ago, and the
relieved wheel wells weren't relieved quite enough: it was trailing tires smoke for 300 feet into Turn 1.

Nowhere near as fast as the car above, but still fun.  The glory days of Trans Am still pull my chain.

Above and below: the first Corvair Yenko Stinger I've seen in the flesh.  The owner told me it was not an original build,
but a retro-conversion by Yenko Chevrolet.  He broke the left front stub axle in practice, so he didn't get much track
time.  The intake manifold is a log, cast integral with the head.  Part of the Yenko conversion was to mount four
single-throat carbs linkaged to act like a 4-barrel carb with progressive secondaries.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

2015 VSCDA At Blackhawk Farms, Post #1

We'll call this "the British car post."  And I'm sorry to say that this year that there won't be an Italian car post.   There was only one vintage Italian car there this year, an Alfa GTV.  And it was not the car of my local heros, John Saccameno and Barb Nevoral.  John found water in his oil earlier this year, and hasn't yet rebuilt his engine.  At Blackhawk, Barb's engine put con rods through both sides of its block on Friday.  She may be able to cobble something together to get through the season, but her regular builder can't turn an engine around until after it ends.  And her husband Bernie broke an axle on his Lotus.  John and Barb were smiling and laughing in the paddock on Saturday.  That's resilience.  Or the first stage of grief, denial.  ;-)

How small is a Lotus Elan?  Small!  Think of a Mazda Miata.  This car could fit inside it.

A yummy MGB.  It has an MGC (six-cylinder) hood, and I didn't catch up with the car to see whether a four or a six was
under it.  The man in the wheel chair is a false grid marshall for my club, which works race staff for VSCDA at BFR.

A lineup of (mostly) MG TC's and TD's.  These cars are amusingly slow compared to even the most basic modern road
race cars (say, Formula V's).  But the drivers are very busy, double-clutching downshifts on non-syncro gearboxes and
wrestling with pre-rack-and-pinion steering and sketchy braking from tiny drums. 

A Pilote post on vintage racing without a picture of a Mini?  Not likely.  ;-)   The preparation of this car was immaculate.
But I didn't see how well it did on track because I was chatting up the drivers of the preceding race group in the paddock. 

Above and below: speaking of pint pots, a 1965 Hillman Imp.  It was the Rootes Group's contrarian answer to BMC's Mini.
Instead of a cast iron engine in front, driving the front wheels, it had an aluminum engine in back , driving the rear
wheels.  It was imported into the States, but it was poorly made and unreliable, and an immediate sales failure.  I
hadn't seen one in forty years until I laid eyes on this car.  (The owners of #44 had some fun with this: "Is it Polish?
Russian?  A Fiat?")  The Imp was also spectacularly unsuccessful as a small-bore race car.  It's oversteer was hard
to manage.  This car provides another clue to the lack of success: the roll cage is, in fact, an entire and additional
frame, with a mounting point for the engine  Viola: chassis rigidity!  And why was this car the first Imp I'd seen
in decades?  Because it was a hillclimb racer, imported from England, where they've been improving Imp race
cars for a long time.  With the biggest Webers I believe I've seen on a 1-liter engine.

If racing hands you lemons, make lemonade: John Saccameno's Big Healey.  Without a car to race, he brought it to BFR
for fun and to promote his business, Sport & Specialty.  Restored twenty years ago, it has become a daily driver--at
least on sunny days.  He said he'd brought it from the shop, which is nearby.  I said "Well, that's a pretty good
freeway car--big engine, long legs."  John's reply: "Not at our age.  Too noisy, too harsh, too few amenities."

Above and below: MGA.  What do you drive if you're flagging a corner for the VSCDA?  A classic.  While this car is not
in rough condition, it is certainly one you can drive without worrying about it.  I well-remember the dash: just a hole in
it for the dealer-installed radio (this one has a cover plate), a tiny single center speaker, Smith's instruments with needles
that jumped around all the time until they just defaulted to a peg: "Time to fix me."  And a banjo-style metal spoked
steering wheel (this one has a better aftermarket wheel).

Friday, June 19, 2015

From The Fantasy File

Ferrari 488 GTB: aesthetically, everything I could carp about on the 458 Italia (which wasn't much) has been fixed.

The important part of the video, the technical part and road driving impressions, begins at 11:50:

One of the subtexts of Chris Harris's videos is "I'm the expert: here's the truth."  As he is a much better driver with personal experience with many cars, and I have never driven a Ferrari, I can't and won't quarrel with Harris's implicit self-assessment of his own credibility.

But I can quibble.  How Harris could feel "...meh..." about the 458 Italia escapes me when it followed the likes of the 355, 360 Modena, and F-430.  A Porsche 911 GT 3 was, for me, a clear choice over those cars.  Nor was Harris impressed with the looks of the 458.  I have seen a couple, and beg to differ.  The few styling details on the 458 that gave me pause have been fixed on the 488.  It is flat lovely.  And again, consider the Ferarris that came before: those were "...meh..."

He says a driver won't miss the sound of the normally aspirated 458 in the 488.  It didn't stir him that much anyway.  I would miss the 458's bark.  Harris says he sits too high in the 458/488.  I like good visibility (which he remarks on).  He wants a tighter seat.  I am the "larger gentleman" for which the seat in which he sat was made.

The 488's all-singing, all-dancing, electronically managed suspension and diff will keep average drivers like me out of trouble.  Mostly.  And thanks for Harris for applauding that.  As for the relentless drifting in the video, enough already.  That's not how the 458/488 were meant to be driven.  Show us a hot lap.  (The road driving footage was fine.)  The 488 is brilliant.  And the 458 was too.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Two Remain

Stirling Moss and Hans Herrmann at a Mercedes Benz demo at the Goodwood Revival in 2011.  The only time they were
in the same team was with Mercedes in 1954.

In doing the recent post on Porsche's first overall win at LeMans, it dawned on me that two drivers who did the great open road races are still with us.  Both did the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio several times.  Herrmann has the advantage of Moss in that he did the Carrera Panamerica too, which lasted nearly a week, and was even more insane than the Mille.  On the other hand, Moss's first big win was the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (a comparatively easy course) when cars still raced there.

The Targa Florio lasted until 1973, so many drivers now in their 70's who did it are still around.  Vic Elford and Brian Redman, for instance, who both won it.  But Moss and Herrmann are the last living drivers who know what it was like to race for ten hours or more over public roads.  Without a co-driver and usually without a navigator.  Over a course impossible to memorize--even the important segments of it.

I'm glad--grateful--that road racing is much safer now than it was in the '80's and earlier.  But, soon enough, nobody will be around who's earliest memories are not of red-and-white rumble strips and runoff areas.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Fine Old Home Movie Film

The Chicane Blog has again unearthed old film, this time from Southern California.  Sharp-eyed viewers will catch glimpses of a Scarabs in Meister Brauser livery and, I think, the big Ferrari driven by Phil Hill at Riverside the previous year.  And Stirling Moss and his Aston Martin.  But most of the footage is of production cars.  With a generous helping of what Moss used to call "crumpet" in those pre-gender-equality days.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Footnotes On LeMans 2015

The Nissan GTP "GT-R" was 20 seconds off the pace.  Holy slow, Batman!  That was a surprise and a disappointment.  And a lot of time for the engineers to find, especially with a "clean sheet" radical configuration.  But I hope they'll be back.

Jackie Oliver's lap record of 3:18.x in a Porsche 917LH in 1971, on the older, much faster, course, was finally beaten by both Porsche and Audi with 3:17.x's.  That's a 154 m.p.h. lap.  The LMP1 cars were routinely reaching over 200 m.p.h. between the chicanes on the Mulsanne.

It was more sentimental for me than I expected for Porsche to bag its first overall win since 1998 and Corvette its first class win since 2011.  I was almost as tired of their wins over the decades as I was of Audi's recently.  But it was great to see them back on form.

Colin Braun, the journeyman American road racer, is 26.  He was in the announce booth, rideless, schmoozing the Fox staff.  He said he never drove an H-pattern stick shift until he did a specialty "ladder series" formula.  His parents drove automatics and the karts and single seaters he first drove on his way up had sequential gearboxes.  I'm Old School: I like a conventional box for road driving.  But Colin makes me feel like a fossil.

Speaking of Fox, the Fox Go live-streaming of LeMans was superb.  No commercials!  Just blessed silence when the Fox TV networks were on commercial break.  Fox's shifting the race around between Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2 (which I don't get) and Fox Go was annoying.  But it was great to see the ACO provide full camera coverage in the night hours.

Jamie Howe was the broadcast find of the weekend.  I'm accustomed to her doing gratuitous driver interviews and and pro-forma pit reports on this side of the pond.  For LeMans, she was all over race control and team radios, right down through the entire field.  She salted her color commentary with pertinent facts.  There wasn't a hint of cliche or condescencion in her on-air talk.  Let Howe anchor the booth broadcast crew!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Driver Coaching (James May & Jackie Stewart On "Top Gear")

Once again, I can "relate" to James May.  Jackie Stewart jumps in a car he hasn't driven before and lays down a lap of 1:59.  May's baseline lap is 2:26--27 seconds slower.  Stewart says May can go 20 seconds faster.  It takes him an entire day of coaching, but May finally does a 2:06.  Still 7 seconds off Stewart's time.  That's the difference between the naturals and us mere mortals.

As one who has been coached, I can attest that the lessons taught make perfect sense. They're easy to understand.  The trick is consistent execution.  And when you get frustrated with your own inconsistency, you may think to yourself what May says outloud: "This is probably will happen to me in Hell: a TVR, a race track, and a pedantic Scotsman."  ;-)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Nissan Nismo LMP1 "GT-R"

Well... this is interesting...  I didn't realize the Nissan LMP1 car was a front-driver until Leno's Garage hit me over the head with it.  It's an interesting re-think of the hybrid rules for LMP1.  The need for unobstructed venturi tunnels reverses fifty-five years of rear engine/rear-drive design theory.

Driver visibility is nil (not that it's great in other current prototypes). Which makes close-quarters racing hard, not to mention nailing apexes.  So I'm guessing the team orders will be "Don't race wheel-to-wheel, run to our bogey lap time."  That's the old John Wyer theory about the route to victory at LeMans.  Everything old is new again.

It's hard to understand how this car won't eat its front tires.  But as a devoted (old) Mini and Civic Si fan, I'll be rooting for it at LeMans.  When I'm not paying close attention to the GT category, where the real fun and interest are.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

SERA And The Porsche 917

One reason I "go on" about the 917 is that it was a case-study in race car development.  When the aero lift was sorted at the end of 1969, the Wyer-Gulf team, under the impression that it was the factory team, said "Let's get on with refining pace and especially reliability.  This is about the World Endurance Championship and LeMans."  That was Ferry Porsche's idea too, and the reason why Wyer had been hired: to reduce the cost of Porsche's racing budget.

Ferdinand Piech, Porsche's Racing Director, was having none of that.  Every aspect of the 917 was continuously and relentlessly developed: weight-reduction, body, frame, brakes, power-train.  Up to and including the 12-cylinder turbo and 16-cylinder atmospheric engine for Can-Am racing after FIA regs made the 917 obsolete for the WEC.  Or, as Piech said when lifting a dust-cover to show Wyer the 16-cylinder, "Auntie doesn't know about this."  He meant his Uncle Ferry (and had mixed up his English nouns).

Most of the facts and illustrations in this post come from Walter Naher's excellent book, Porsche 917 Archive And Works Catalog.  From it we learn that SERA consulted on the 917's aerodynamics from the beginning, not just on the "Pink Pig" LeMans car of 1971.  SERA (Societe d'Etudes et de Realisations Automobiles) was an engineering consulting firm, specializing in aerodynamics, owned by Charles Deutsch.  He had started it after his (mostly racing) car-building partnership with Rene Bonnet was dissolved in 1961.

Before Charles Deutsch ran SERA, he and Rene Bonnet collaborated in building and racing DB-Panhards at LeMans.
With its small 750 c.c. Panhard engine, the DB won the Index of Performance (or Thermal Efficiency) several times
in the 1950's, primarily because of its slippery shape.  The Index itself was a complicated formula that boiled down
to going the furthest with the least expenditure of energy.  The car pictured is the 1955 winner.

A 1:5 model of the 917 as tested in various configurations in the SERA wind tunnel in
February, 1969, two months before the 917 was homologated by the FIA. 

For Porsche, LeMans had always been the crown jewel of the World Sports Car Championship.  While the 917 was built to contest the Championship, a LeMans win was as just as important.  And the key to winning LeMans was high sustained speed down the four-mile Mulsanne Straight.  The key to that was low drag.  So the 917's shape was copied from the very successful 907 (2-liter) and 908 (3-liter) long tail cars.

Even as Porsche was testing a 1:5 (and later a 1:1) model of the 917 in the Stuttgart wind tunnel, the 1:5 model was sent to SERA in February, 1969.  For stability, Deutsch suggested (and tested) a tall dorsal fin like a jet airliner's tail.  He also suggested two smaller fins (as shown in #4 above).  A tail configured like the 908 LH's, as used at LeMans later that year, was also tested (as shown in #3 above).  None of these configurations showed a conclusive advantage in the wind tunnels.  And, while the 917 LH was homologated with the 908 LH-like tail, it remained aerodynamically unstable throughout 1969.

Apologies for the crummy scan: the picture was next to the binding of Porsche 917 Archives and Works Catalog.  But the
important part is clear.  This is the "SERA nose," which was tested at Zeltweg in October of 1969 and later, but was not
used on 917's entered in races.  It slopes more and has bigger ducts than the "production" noses.

Although Walter Naher doesn't make it explicit, Porsche must have contacted SERA in the summer or fall of 1969, asking Deutsch to take a shot at a nose with better downforce.  The result was tested at Zeltweg in Austria in October.  Also at the Zeltweg test was the 917 Spyder Jo Siffert had run, and tinkered with, in the Can-Am series in the States.  For the last race, Siffert had come up with a McLaren-like "chisel nose" that came to a sharp point, with vertical splitters and large "dive planes."

The key to the 917's aero stability was at the rear, and was unlocked with the Horsman K tail (at the Zeltweg test) and a large wing across the full width of the LH tail (in the spring of 1970).  The "production" nose of the 917 was new but evolutionary, borrowing from both SERA and Siffert.  It had the flatter bottom and more squared-off corners of the SERA nose, but the smaller oil-cooler inlet of the Siffert nose.  Unlike either, the leading edge was "stood up" vertically with the brake ducts adjoining the oil cooler.

Above and below: the famous SERA-Porsche collaboration; the Pink Pig.  Also known to the Porsche mechanics as "Big
Bertha" and "The Zuffenhausen Truffle-Hunter."  Officially, it was 917/20.  Without sponsor livery for LeMans 1971 (its
only race), Porsche Design came up with this tongue-in-cheek cuts-of-pork livery.

Shortly after the 1970 LeMans win, Porsche scheduled a meeting with SERA to discuss body developments for 1971.  The goal was a short-tail coupe with the same downforce as the production K tail but lower drag.  A shorter nose, like the 908/3's, and other detail modifications were also desired.
It was decided that SERA would compete with Porsche Design, and they came up with radically different designs.  SERA's won the competition because its open wheel wells were better for tire changes.  It had slab sides below the centerline, rounded wheel-arch contours, and a vestigial front splitter.

At the 1971 LeMans Test Days, it was "deja vu all over again" for the Pink Pig: unstable at high speeds and under braking.  Between then and the race itself, the car was tested in a wind tunnel and found to have drag higher than both the LH and the latest finned version of the iconic K tail, doubtless due to the Pink Pig's larger frontal area.  The stability problem was solved with much stiffer springs and a much higher rear spoiler and "Gurney Lip."

In the 1971 race, the Pink Pig qualified with a time of 3:21, two seconds off the pace of the latest, magnesium-framed conventional 917 K and seven seconds slower than the latest version of the LH.  It retired from 6th place well into the race when it was crashed at Arnage Corner.  In the Porsche episode of his Victory By Design TV series, Alain de Cadenet, who raced at LeMans that year, said that the vortex of low pressure behind the Pink Pig nearly sucked him off the road.  It was way more pronounced than the conventional LH's and K's.

So the Pink Pig was a failure as measured against its design goals.  But it was a harbinger of aerodynamic features to come: slab sides, a front splitter, and contoured wheel arches.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

45th Anniversary of Porsche's First Win At LeMans

Porsche is coming back to LeMans this year, contesting overall victory with Audi (which has been winning LeMans for years, once even disguised as a "Bentley"), Nissan, and Toyota.  But after wins by the 935, 936, 956, and 962 in the 1970's and 1980's, I hope I can be excused for being a little jaded about Porsche's return.  Besides, Prototypes are so butt ugly these days...

I'm not jaded about Porsche's first overall win, in 1970--in my favorite big-bore sports racing car, the 917.  I was busy with school and establishing myself as an adult in '67, '68, and '69, when Porsche was racking up more class wins and Ford ruled the LeMans overall wins.  The 917 had escaped my notice.  It was a turkey in 1969 anyway.  So it surprised me to learn that Porsche had won overall in 1970.    "Wow--Porsche can play in the big leagues!"

Le Depart: 917 K's and LH's and Ferrari 512's as far as the eye can see.  The eventual winner is buried mid-field.

The 917 LH of Vic Elford/Kurt Ahrens was the "true" factory entry: slippery shape, 4.9 liter engine, and prepared in
Stuttgart although entered by Porsche Salzburg.  Elford and Ahrens were among the fastest drivers on Porsche
retainer, and Ahrens had logged more test miles than any other 917 driver.  This car contested the lead with
the Wyer-Gulf 917 K's until they all were delayed and eventually retired.

Hans Herrmann and Richard "Dickie" Attwood with 917-001 decades after their win (note the Goodwood Festival sticker
on the rear deck).  This car, done in LeMans-winner livery, is now in the Porsche Museum.  The actual winner, 917-023,
surely the most valuable 917 in existence, is privately owned in Brazil.  Attwood, as lead driver, chose Herrmann, who's
experience with Porsche went back to open road race days, as his co-driver.  He also chose the less-stressed 4.5 liter
engine over the 4.9.  After qualifying well down, Attwood later said "I thought I'd dropped the biggest brick of my
career.  With all those fast cars ahead of us, we were never going to get to the front.  But they all dropped out."
After this career-capping win, Herrmann immediately retired from 16 years of racing at age 42.

Could this picture have been taken on the old Mulsanne Straight?  Four miles, no chicanes.  Old Mulsanne was one reason
Old LeMans was such a car-breaker.  Drivers who wanted to be left standing after 24 hours breathed their engines on it.
Then there was another long, flat-out run on the other side of the course from Arnage to the Old Esses.

Mulsanne Corner in the rain.  The best LeMans races seem to include rain.  It wears everyone out even more.

Victory lap at Indianapolis Corner.

Friday, June 5, 2015

"If It's June, It Must Be LeMans."

...with my apologies to the romantic comedy movie "If This Is Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium."

LeMans is an excuse to do a couple of (upcoming) posts about the Porsche 917 which, in a larger sense, are about racing sports car development.  But first, a post about my fascination with LeMans itself.   It is of course the grand-daddy of endurance races.  Daytona also lasts 24 hours, and Sebring for 12, but most of them last 6 hours.  LeMans remains the toughest.

The first LeMans was in 1923 and the point of it, more or less, has always been to demonstrate  speed and reliability.  Before World War Two, the regulations limited entrants to bona-fide production cars. The Bentleys which dominated the race around the turn of the 1930's were four-seaters.  They also inspired the Brits' fascination with LeMans--right up to the present--in an era when England had nothing to offer for Grand Prix starting grids.  And thus the English-language sports car press, and thus (probably) mine.

Given its emphasis on (theoretically) streetable sports cars, LeMans has always been the playground of manufacturers, who wanted to improve and market their wares.  It established Ferrari more than his early Mille Miglia wins.  Besides Bentley, it established Jaguar and Aston Martin.  It was the first international race entered by Porsche, and class wins put Porsche on the map.  They turned the 550 Spyder into a series-produced race car, for sale to private entrants.  Everybody wants to win LeMans. Ask Ford.  Ask Corvette.  Ask Mazda, Nissan, Toyota, Audi, and Peugeot.

With the addition of the Ford Chicane, the Porsche Curves, the Mickey Mouse esses around the Dunlop Bridge, and the
chicanes on the Mulsanne Straight, modern LeMans is a shadow of its former flat-out self.  But still a car-killer.

The oldest, early 1920's course, went right into downtown LeMans to double-back onto the Mulsanne Straight at the
Pontieue Hairpin, seen here.  This was deemed too dangerous for spectators.  So the course was truncated to its still
long distance of over 8 miles by taking it through the fast right-hand sweeper at the Dunlop Bridge, through the
"old esses," to Tetre Rouge.  More than half of the current circuit remains public roads except for race week.

Can a 4-seater touring car win LeMans?  Yes, if it's a Bentley.  I'm not sure where this picture was taken.  It looks like
Mulsanne Corner.  If so, the houses were long-gone by the postwar era.

Speaking of production cars... Yes, Briggs Cunningham ran Cadillacs at LeMans in 1950.  In white-and-blue American
national racing colors (but no support from General Motors).  One was DNF and the other was well-back in the results
after mechanical problems, mostly brakes.  (Duh... )  Cunningham guessed that Caddy's big new overhead-valve V-8
might give the Europeans all they could handle.  Except for the brakes, he was very nearly right.

The once-famous "LeMans Start," in which drivers had to run across the road, jump in, start the car, and move off, wasn't
purely a gimmick.  The idea was that LeMans was for production cars that could self-start when the driver pushed a
button or turned a key.  For most of the history of the race, only consumables like gas and oil could be added.  The
cars had (and have) to be able to race through the night and in rain--effectively (if you wanted to win).  The
traditional Le Mans Start was abandoned only after 4-point seat belts became standard (because many
drivers would do the standing start and worry about fastening their belts only later in the first few
laps).  This picture is of 1964, the first of Ford's two debacles at LeMans.  Ford came back to
win the race for four years running, 1966-1969.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Harry Metcalfe Takes Us To School On The 911 Turbo

First, an apology for the first of a series of Porsche posts stacked up in the editing que.  It just worked out that way.

As regular readers know, in Pilote's World, there's no such thing as a water-cooled Porsche.  ;-)    The 911 Turbo (OK, purists, 930) is therefore a real Porsche, but I can't say this video helps to elevate it over the 2.7 Carrera as my favorite 911.  As James May put the lethality in Cars Of The People: "There goes another stockbroker..."

Metcalfe explains how to deal with turbo lag toward the end of this video.  ("Back the corner up" is always good advice...)  But in his comprehensive tour of the cockpit, he fails to mention the lock buttons on the forward edges of the doors.  In the days before automatic central locking, it was nice to just push the button instead of having to twist in the seat to reach over your shoulder.  He should dwell on the instruments--the dash and tach of the classic 911's are the best to be found anywhere.

I wonder if Metcalfe is about 20 years younger than I am?  He seems to be as imprinted with the (ridiculous, I would say) Ferraris and Lamborghinis of the 1980's as I am with those of the 1960's. Regardless, when it comes to 911's, Harry gets it:

Monday, June 1, 2015

Purdy Car

The Squire has always seemed to me the ultimate refinement of the lines of the pre-war sports car. Having, of course, never seen one in the flesh.  ;-)   The hood line is almost as low as the crowns of the fenders, the grille is raked and behind the centerline of the front wheels, the  placement of the headlights is just right, and there are no bumpers.  For those interested in the technical details and a short history of the marque, here's a link: