Monday, October 2, 2017

Book Report: The Bridgebusters; the True Story Of The Catch-22 Bomb Wing

This is a well-researched and written book: Thomas KcKelvey Cleaver is a screenwriter and World War Two air war historian.  It was recommended to me, in part, for perspective on the novel Catch-22.

Most informative, for me, was Cleaver's writing about the Italian Campaign and the air war as fought by medium bombers.  His chapter on the Allies' backing-and-forthing on grand strategy in the Mediterranean is very good.  So is his account of slogging up the Italian peninsula.  Cleaver confirms something that Joseph Heller didn't write about but which is implicit in Catch-22, that Axis fighter opposition was almost nonexistent.  But B-25's bombed from lower altitudes than the heavies.  Heller does not overemphasize how much the bomber crews dreaded flak or the measures they took to avoid it. Cleaver lets the servicemen speak for themselves.  The first-person accounts from personal and unit diaries are vivid.

Air combat in the Mediterranean was not as predictably fatal as it was for the heavy bomber crews operating out of England.  That said, the Brenner Pass was.  A B-17 crew member operating out of England could rotate home after 25 missions.  The number of missions required of Heller's Wing went from 60 to 70 and then "for the duration" (right before the end of the war).  This was because of a shortage of replacement crews after mid-1944.

It had not occurred to me that a tight bomb pattern was mission-critical.  It was well-established, even during the war, that so-called strategic bombing in France and Germany was inaccurate.  In Catch-22, Colonel Cathcart insists on a "nice, tight, bomb pattern that will look good in the aerial photographs" so he can be promoted.  Actually, to take out bridges and rail lines, tight bomb patterns were a necessity.

And now, to fly into flak-infested skies:

Cleaver establishes that Heller flew "only" 60 missions, when the number had been raised to 70 (and later "for the duration.")  Devotees of Catch-22 will recall that never-ending increases in the number of missions drive the plot of the book.  Heller flew no missions in his last month on active duty, and was rotated home at a height of operational tempo in December-January 1944-1945.  Heller was eligible for separation based on the complicated "points system" the Army used: time-in-theater, number of missions flown, etc.  But Heller was 10 missions short of what General Robert Knapp required.

Cleaver says that Knapp was the model for General Dreedle in Catch-22.  Maybe.  Heller's sketches of "General Dreedle, who ran a fighting outfit..." and his bureaucratic wars with General Peckem are consistent with that.  But in Catch-22, it's Colonel Cathcart who continually raises the number of missions in an effort to impress Dreedle.  The characters in Catch-22 are inventions and composites. Further, Heller has observed that the themes, and tone and sensibility, of Catch-22 are more about the 1950's than World War Two.  And that his own experience of the war was limited and that he, personally, enjoyed everything about the Army until the last two months or so of his service.  He said that he didn't have the sense to be scared until the Avignon mission.  (Here's the link, again, to his appearance with Kurt Vonnegut and Stephen Ambrose.  Heller was 72 at the time and his perspective was retrospective.) 

In the appearance linked to, Heller says that he "arrived in the squadron at just the right time for me:" tough missions against Monte Cassino were in the past and tough missions against the Brenner Pass were in the future.  Fifty-eight of Heller's 60 missions were against bridges with no Axis fighter planes and little flak.  His first 37 missions were "milk runs."  He found his (much later) reading about the losses of the Eighth Air Force heavy bombers appalling: 60 planes (600 crew) lost on the Schweinfurt mission alone.

The mission to the Avignon bridges (August 15, 1944) woke Heller up to the fact that he was in combat. A fictionalized but realistic account of Heller's experiences at Avignon appears in Catch-22. Besides the pilots' evasive action, and his own mic jack being disconnected, a crew member received a leg wound from flak, which Heller helped to treat.  In the novel, this crew member is transformed in to Snowdon. The Settimo Bridge mission (August 23, 1944), which Heller also flew, to create a road block with a land slide by attacking a village, also figures in Catch-22.  Cleaver believes it was the pivotal point in Heller's disenchantment with the war.

Cleaver uncovered the fact that, for his last month or so in-theater, Heller was detailed to the making of a film to promote the Bomb Group's (and its commanding officer, Colonel Chapman's) record.  Training In Combat was about training replacement crews, the absence of which required increasing the number of missions.  The film-maker recruited Heller, a friend, to play the part of "Pete the bombardier."  He referred to his film as "the Colonel's boondoggle."  This sounds like the Colonel Cathcart we know from Catch-22.  Hyping the training of non-existent replacement crews is straight out of the novel's sensibility, too.

Cleaver speculates that Heller did make a deal with Colonel Chapman, the one that Yossarian rejects in the novel.  Heller would stop grousing about the increased number of missions if he didn't have to fly them.  He even got sent home.  Cleaver believes that Heller had "a well-developed personal conscience," which bothered him, and which (in part at least) inspired Catch-22.  Yossarian is Heller's avatar--the Heller who did the right thing.  Heller died in 1999, long before Cleaver uncovered the boondoggle film, so we can't ask him.

Having read biographical material about Heller, and contemplated his other novels and public appearances, I'm not persuaded that his personal conscience was any more well-developed than average, if that.  With the possible exception of Dunbar, the characters in Catch-22 are not stand-up guys.  Many of them are not even "characters," in the conventional novelistic sense: they don't "develop."  Some are two-dimensional personifications:  Milo Minderbinder stands in for capitalism, for example.  What Heller did have was a superb nose for hypocrisy.  He could smell it from miles away. For me, hypocrisy is the theme that drives Catch-22.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Off-Topic: Catch-22, Joe Heller, And Me

Joe Heller, circa 1983 (from the back cover of his novel God Knows).

Catch-22 has influenced me more than any other book I've read.  A paperback copy was given to me by a fellow college student in 1966: "I think you would enjoy this."  Boy, was he right!

What is Catch-22 about?  Is it antiwar?  Anti-capitalist?  Anti-"the system?"  Anti-tribal and anti-conformity?  Anti-authority?


Here's a link to a good panel discussion about Catch-22:

The first 12 minutes are the best: actor Scott Shepherd reads Chapter One.  In the rest of the 1.5 hour video, Bob Gottlieb (Heller's Editor) and Mike Nichols (who directed the film Catch-22) have some insightful things to say.  Christopher Buckley can be usefully ignored: use the slider.  The film was fine but, as Scott Shepherd's reading shows, it's Heller's writing that's killer.

Is Catch-22 funny?  It's hilarious.  But the book's brilliant "circular structure," which Buck Henry's screenplay for the movie mimicked, gradually reveals the dark side of what Heller is about.  (One of my favorite sentences is "And if that wasn't funny, there were lots of things that weren't even funnier.") Does Catch-22 have a Jewish sensibility?  Do I?  Maybe.  Bob Gottlieb says "Jews are not neurotic, we're just accurate."  My own son says, with a nod to my Mel Brooks obsession,  that, if reincarnation is true, that I'm "coming back" Jewish.  It's no accident that my other favorite books by Heller, God Knows and Picture This, rely on anachronism.  So do my favorite Brooks films: Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, and Robin Hood: Men In Tights.  The point of anachronisms, as Heller and Brooks use them, is "same shit, different century."  History is just (as Barbara Tuchman put it) "the march of folly."

Gottleib says that the only two books that "took a lot out of" Heller were his first two: Catch-22 and Something Happened.  The rest of his books were "notional."  Heller would get an idea, and develop it. Does this mean that the themes of his later books were trivial?  I don't think so.  In God Knows, King David is no longer on speaking terms with God because God is no longer speaking to him.  In Picture This, Aristotle contemplates 2000 years of Western Civilization.  Both books are as savagely funny as Catch-22.

Heller's position as an honored American novelist is far from secure.  He is not highly regarded by Lit Crits.  One issue the Lit Crits have with Catch-22 is "the problem of the ending."  After showing humanity at its worst, Heller suddenly goes all optimistic on us: Yossarian goes AWOL to try to join Orr in Sweden.  Maybe escape from insanity is possible?  Mike Nichols makes this even more explicit in the film.  In the closing scene Yossarian is paddling a little yellow life raft, alone, on a wide, wide sea.  I was in the audience in Chicago in 1994 when Heller was on book tour, promoting Closing Time. In the Q&A, I asked him about "the problem of the ending:" Did you wuss out, Mr. Heller?  That's what the Lit Crits say.  His response: "I don't see how I could have ended the book any other way."  (Nice dodge!)

Another Lit Crit complaint has been that Catch-22 is insufficiently edited, too repetitive.  Repetition is required by Heller's "circular" organizational scheme, but Gottlieb says, in retrospect, "I can see room for cuts."  Heller poked fun at himself in this regard in the book (I believe): ex-PFC Wintergreen threw General Peckem's memos in the waste basket because "they were too prolix."

Kurt Vonnegut is often mentioned in the next breath with Heller, doubtless because they wrote about similar themes.  But they were different.  Heller was known for a small, tight circle of friends (one of whom was Mel Brooks) and to suffer fools ungladly.  Vonnegut liked to go to the Post Office because he could meet people and get into conversations while waiting on line.  His relatives in Indianapolis agreed that Vonnegut was one of the most pleasant, considerate, people they knew.  They just couldn't read his books.  They found some of his words and most of his ideas offensive.

Both "played with" time.  Heller used conventional chapters.  He might even have been prolix. 😉 Vonnegut learned to write on the Cornell Sun.  He liked short sentences and paragraphs, written with punch, and to break up his text into bite-sized bits, smaller than chapters.  Both wrote about stupidity and cruelty.  But, where Heller saw them as willful and self-interested, Vonnegut was inclined to cut humanity a break.  Why was Dresden firebombed?  Vonnegut believed it was bureaucratic inertia: the planes were fueled and loaded with bombs and, "we gotta go somewhere on a mission today."  (Compare this to Heller's squadron's protest about the mission to Orvieto in Catch-22.)

Another trait they shared as writers was indifference to "literature."  Which may be another reason they are disrespected by Lit Crits.  They did not think that their writing needed to be deep, or profound, or subtle, or mysterious.  Gottlieb says that Heller was easy to edit.  If Gottlieb suggested changes, Heller was all in for revisions and trying to make them work.  No "writer's ego."  Vonnegut's history as an established author was only slightly different.  He says somewhere in Palm Sunday (I paraphrase) that "nobody edits me any more, and I don't want to be.  My publisher just relies on me to turn in stuff that will make the cash register ring."  Vonnegut's take on "literature" was that stories are like Model T Fords: you just tinker with them.  If a writer has to be "difficult," for his editors or his readers, to be great, Vonnegut and Heller fail the test.  All I know is that I vibrate like a tuning fork to the ideas and prose of Vonnegut and Heller.  Especially Heller.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Photo-documentation Of The History Of Porsche 917-025

There's no particular point to this post.  I just think an original car that's not iconic is interesting and fun.  Miles Collier Jr.'s choice to restore a car with no particular provenance is admirable.  So is the current owner's decision to keep it that way (with only a couple of mods, to help with track days).  There are many "Gulf" 917's around these days, and a few 917 parts bin recreations, and even a couple of "new" cars.

Porsche built an initial run of twenty-five 917's for FIA homologation, and a number of successor cars.  They were campaigned by the factory itself, John Wyer, Porsche Salzburg, and Hans-Dieter Dechent (Martini & Rossi).  But considering that a good portion of the initial build was intended for sale to private entrants, surprisingly few were campaigned by true privateers.  917-025 was one.

Apparently only five of the original chassis were initially sold to private entrants.  917- 005 was written off in John Wolfe's fatal crash at LeMans in 1969.  917-010 went to David Piper, and was probably the most successful 917 in private hands.  Piper placed well in some FIA races and won non-championship events.  917-018 went to Alex Soler-Roig who won the Spanish National Championship with it.  But its only FIA race resulted in a DNF at the Buenos Aires 1000 Km in 1971.  917-021 went to the Swedish AAW team (I have not researched its FIA record).  The subject of this post, 917-025, went to Zitro Racing.  Dominique Martin's best FIA placing with it was 9th at Monza in 1971.

917-025 has not changed hands often.  Zitro owned it 1970-1972.  Emerson and Wilson Fittipaldi owned it for ten years until 1982, and raced it in South America.  David Piper owned it 1982-1984 (I've found no pictures of 025 when Piper owned it).  Miles Collier owned it from 1984-2005, and restored it to original condition.  Since 2005 it has been owned by Peter Vogele, who frequently demonstrates the car in European vintage events.  Vogele is Swiss, as was Dominique Martin.  I'll guess that that has something to do with 025 remaining so original.

917-025 in its "plain white wrapper" at a non-championship event at Hockenheim in 1970--probably it's first race.

Buenos Aires in 1971: 10th overall and 7th in class, 20 laps down, driven by Dominique Martin/Pablo Brea.  The car has
acquired its signature blue blaze paint job and exterior-mounted central mirror. 

Practice, Spa 1000 Km, 1971.  This picture gives a better view of the central wing developed by John Wyer's team and
later made available for customer cars.  025 qualified 11th, 25 seconds off the pole pace.

On race day at Spa, the bodywork shut lines were taped.  The car was DNF (accident), driven by it's primary driver,
Dominique Martin, and Gerard Pillon (both of Switzerland).

At Monza, 1971: Martin / Pillon finished 9th (its best placing), 20 laps down to the winner. 

LeMans 1971: Martin / Pillon qualified 18th, 24 seconds off the pole.  Patino Ortiz owned 917-025, thus "Zitro Racing."
He had previously owned a Ford GT 40, also campaigned by Zitro Racing, also driven by Martin.

Pre-race (above) at LeMans 1971 and retirement (below): DNF, transmission.

LeMans was 025's last race for Dominque Martin.  Patino Ortiz may have written the checks, but clearly Martin ran
Zitro Racing.  $30,000 was a lot of money for an obsolete FIA Group 5 race car in 1972; one can guess that the
Fittipaldi brothers didn't pay the asking price.

I have no information on 917-025's career in Brazil.  Emerson Fittipaldi raced in Formula 1 well into the 1970's, and so probably drove the care rarely, if at all.  Wilson Fittipaldi may have driven it after he retired from front-rank racing.  But, because they owned it for such a long period of time, it seems likely that they used the car to showcase up-and-coming Brazilian drivers in a high-powered car.

In its earlier Fittipaldi days, 917-025 appears to be the same car raced by Dominique Martin (central mirror and wing),
with only a small front splitter added.

But later on in its Fittipaldi career, the car sprouted massive front and rear wings.

Although this picture is from the recent, Peter Vogele, era, it shows 917-025 as restored to its 1971 Zitro livery by Miles
Collier Jr.  The Collier Museum / Revs Institute has two rare and notable 917's, so parting with 025 probably wasn't
too difficult for Collier.

At the Goodwood Members' Meeting in March of 2017, Vogele has 025 restored to its LeMans appearance, right down to
the competition numbers.  Its tow hook is in a prominent location on the front deck, and Vogele likes to run large fender
mirrors, but his respect for the car's FIA racing provenance is nice to see.

At the LeMans Classic, 2017.

At a 2017 Monza vintage event.  Vogele seems to be experimenting with non-standard spoilerette adjusters.

But the cockpit remains bone-stock "customer car."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Another Porsche 917 "Who Knew?"

One of the fun things about the iconic nature of the Porsche 917 is that it must be one of the most documented race cars in history.  "Stuff" keeps popping up.  Apparently nobody threw anything away. Or maybe by the time they thought to pitch some files the car was already legendary and they thought again.  Thus the blind alleys and "...meh's..." of 917 development have been preserved.  They illustrate the fact that all race cars are constantly being developed.  ("No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.")  With most race cars, by the time secret tweaks that didn't work out might become public, nobody cares anyway.  The 917 is immune to that indifference.

The story of the Horsman (Wyer) K-tail for the 917 is fairly well-known because it transformed the 917 from a car with diabolical handling into an instant winner.  The story of Ferdinand Piech's development of the LH tail (and indeed, the entire car's shape) over three years are less well-known but available to 917 geeks.  So are accounts of "The Pink Pig," commissioned by Piech from S.E.R.A.  Finally, we know about the Wyer center wing[let] tail, which provided slightly more downforce with an acceptable drag penalty, and Porsche's 1971 fin tail, which provided slightly less drag, with acceptably lower downforce.  (Bonus trivia points for geeks who know about Wyer's "one race only" full-width spoiler tail used at Spa-Francorchamps in 1970.)

And now, the news (at least to me):  Here are three Wyer body configurations got up for testing in the M.I.R.A. wind tunnel, presumably in 1970, probably by John Horsman.  Evidently none of them measured up to the drag/downforce ratio of the center wing tail.  So they were not used, or passed along to Porsche.

This wing is twice the width of the "center wing," mounted on pylons to elevate it away from the body.  If it produced
more downforce (way more seems likely), it likely unsettled the balance of the car without balancing aero mods to
the front end.  obviously, the drag would have been higher.

Here the center "rear visibility slot" is filled in.  The rear edge is similar to the "one race only" full-width spoiler used
at Spa-Francorchamps in 1970 except that it lacks the slight spoiler upsweep.

Conventional rear fenders, added to the conventional ("production version") Porsche refinement of the Horsman tail.
Interestingly, this bite at the apple apparently didn't reduce drag as compared to the "open" production tail.  If it had,
it presumably would have been used.  Freaks for the bad-assed look of the 917 K can be grateful!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Alfa GTZ Racing In The U.S.A.

Vito Witting da Prato says in his mostly OK book Alfa Romeo TZ-TZ 2: Born To Win that the TZ was not raced in the United States (sidebar page, 77).  This is not correct.

The TZ was approved in 1964 for both the SCCA's USRRC U2L class and C Production.  The one in these pictures was the only TZ campaigned in the States in 1964 and 1965.  da Pratto is correct when he says that the TZ was expensive for its class (think: Lotus Elan).  Also, Alfa wanted to sell TZ's to competitors who had a good chance of advancing "brand image" in the States.  TZ's weren't available to someone who wanted to take a flyer at CP in the SCCA's amateur division.

Alfa leaned on, or finessed, the SCCA into approving the TZ as a production car (which was, at best, a reach).  The car featured in this post was sold at a "friendly" price to Chuck Stoddard, a driver with a winning record in Giuliettas in GP and DP, with the understanding that it would be campaigned in the USRRC manufacturer's championship in 1964.  In 1966 and later, a few TZ's (including this one) found their way into the CP class in the SCCA's amateur division.

Here is Stoddard's record with his TZ:

1964: 4th in SCCA Manufacturer's Championship (USRRC) and Central Division C Production Champion.

Sebring: 1st, GT 1600 class (13th overall), with Jim Kaser.  Chassis 750052 (factory car, entered by Scuderia Sant' Ambroeus).  FIA race.

Above: the Sebring class-winning chassis 750052, now in the Revs Institute/Collier Museum in Naples, FL.  It is my
understanding that this car went back into factory inventory in Italy after the race.  Below: Sebring sister car 750051
 at Thompson Raceway in CT for a Regional or National event.  It was DNS at Thompson and I know not what
happened to it after that.  It was not raced in the States in '64, at least not at the national level.  This picture is
from da Pratto's book; his source was George Fogg, who took it and had an association with the car.

SCCA National, Mid-Ohio: 2nd, C Production (I crewed for Stoddard at this race; won by a Porsche 904.  It was a shakedown for the USRRC events.)

USRRC Watkins Glen: 1st, GT 2 (6th overall)

Watkins Glen USRRC.  I crewed for Stoddard at this race.  His GTZ and Mike Gammino's Ferrari GTO (with race
with race number 23) made a fine-looking pair when they ran together, which they did because Gammino lapped
Stoddard at least twice, as did the factory Cobras, which looked squirrely as hell braking for the chicane.

USRRC Greenwood Raceway: (Indianola, IA): 3rd, GT 2 (15th overall)

Above and below: Stoddard's car at the USRRC at Greenwood, IA.  Note the three-eared knock-off hubs.  They were
typical of factory (Autodelta) run cars in Europe, but "never" seen on private-entrant cars (although available as an
option).  The Kaser/Stoddard Sebring car had two-eared hubs.  The car Stoddard raced in '64 and '65 had the three-
eared hubs seen here.  He was told that it was Sanesi's factory test mule, refreshed.  It arrived white; he repainted
it red.

USRRC Mid-Ohio: 3rd, GT2 (8th overall)

USRRC Meadowdale (IL): 1st, GT 2 (6th overall)

Meadowdale, 1964, I believe (this looks like "Serpentine").

USRRC Road America 500: 1st, GT 2, (8th overall, drove solo in the Road America 500)

Road America 500 (USRRC) 1964.  Stoddard also won his class at the Road America 500 in 1965, driving solo!
Although his TZ finished at the sharp end of the small-bore cars in '64, it was not easy to stay out of the way
of big-bore cars.  At this race, all cars ran together, including the big-bore modifieds like the Chaparrals.

Stoddard scored 35 points for Alfa Romeo to take 4th in the Manufacturers' Championship of the USRRC.  He towed to 5 races only in the midwest.  Shelby American's Cobras scored 72 points (contesting all races), Porsche scored 52 points in 7 races (with various 904's), and Ford of England scored 45 points in 9 races (with a two-car factory team of Lotus Cortinas, one of which was often driven by Sir John Whitmore).

Stoddard's bete noir in '64 was John Whitmore, in a Ford of Britain factory entry (one of two cars).  Later "Sir John,"
Whitmore passed away at the end of April, 2017.  "He raced me hard, but clean," Stoddard told me, "a good guy."
"They used to fly him over, with a fresh engine, for every race.  The Cortinas themselves stayed in the States."
This picture is one of the best I could find of a Lotus Cortina, at a recent Goodwood event.

1965: National Champion, Central Division, C Production

Sebring: DNF, accident (factory car, not the one pictured here).  FIA race.

Meadowdale (SCCA National): 2nd in C & D Production race

Road America June Sprints (SCCA National): 82.7 m.p.h. (no finishing position listed)

I don't know where this picture was taken; I just like it.  My note (pulled, like the pic, from the internet) says it was
Mid-Ohio.  But Bill Green does not place Stoddard and his TZ at Mid-Ohio in 1965.  I am sure that it was '65,
because Chuck didn't run the "Stoddard Racing Team" logo in 1964.  He is 6'-3" tall and the TZ was a tight fit.
He always drove "head down" in this car.  More chassis trivia: only "factory cars" had extractors for cockpit
ventilation, in the rear quarter windows.  Most TZ race cars had sliding panels in the side windows.  Some
factory cars had fixed plastic side windows, like the ones in Stoddard's car.  No configuration worked
well for driver comfort.  Stoddard raced with the vent wings held "full open" with rubber bands.

USRRC Road America 500: 1st, GT 2 (15th overall)

Road America 500, 1965.

Indianapolis Raceway Park (SCCA National): 2nd, C Production

Daytona Beach (SCCA Runoffs): 4th, C Production  (This was the first year of the Runoffs; it was possible to be one of several National Champions, by Region, as it had been in previous years.  In later years, a driver's finishing position in the Runoffs determined his national class championship rank.)

NOTE: Many thanks to Bill Green of the International Motor Racing Research Library in Watkins Glen, NY, for compiling Stoddard's racing record for me in 2007.  Bill's sources were periodicals from the 1950's and 1960's, principally the SCCA's magazine Sport Car.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Alfa Romeo GTZ's at Sebring, 1964-1966

I backed into this post partly because of my amusement (with the distance of years) at Chuck Stoddard's reversal of fortunes at Sebring, and partly because I hadn't realized that Alfa TZ 2's raced at Sebring in 1966.  Three class wins in three years: not bad.

In 1964, three cars were entered by the (Italian team) Scuderia Sant Ambroseus, but were, in fact, the factory team.  For the drivers of one car, Alfa chose three Italian mainstays including Consalvo Sanesi, its long-time race and go-to test driver.  The other two cars were offered to American drivers with successful SCCA records in Giulietta Veloces.

Chuck Stoddard behind the wheel of the class-winning '64 car here.  His co-driver was Jim Kaser.  The primary
competition at Sebring in '64 was the factory Lotus-Cortina team, led by Jim Clark, which failed to last the
distance.  Knock-off wheels on GTZ's were seen almost exclusively on factory-entered cars, although
they were a customer purchase option.  Cockpit ventilation was almost nonexistent in TZ's and the
extractor vents in the rear quarter windows didn't help.  Stoddard raced his own TZ in the States in
'64 and '65 with the vent windows held "full open" by rubber bands.

The American-driven sister car in 1964, by Bill Wuesthoff and Chuck Dietrich, who, like Stoddard, had stellar careers in
small-bore cars in the SCCA.  The exhaust shown here was the factory 4-2-1 race system, with a flattened final pipe,
exiting in front of the rear wheel.  Note the "New Jersey Manufacturer" plate.  This car was DNF, gearbox. 

The third car in '64 was driven by Alfa's factory driver European "regulars," Consalvo Sanesi, Roberto Bussinello, and
Giampiero Biscaldi.  Sanesi was driving a wounded, lightless, car slowly past the pits when hit by Bob Johnson's
Cobra, which was going a ton.  Sanesi might have been broiled alive but for the heroic effort of a driver
standing in the pits, Jocko Maggiocomo (an American).  He was painfully but not seriously burned.
Sanesi was by now a  middle-aged guy; unsurprisingly,  he ended his racing career after this shunt.

Alfa upped the ante in 1965 with four GTZ's, now entered by an undisguised factory team, Autodelta. This was the famous "gullywasher" Sebring rain race--the one of the iconic motorboating pictures, although, surprisingly, rain did not hamper Alfa's 1-2-3 class-winning results: Rolland/Consten (both French), Bussinello/de Adamich (Italian), and Deserti/Zeccoli (also Italian; Zeccoli was another regular FIA European driver).  In a role reversal from 1964, the only American drivers, Gaston Andrey/Chuck Stoddard were DNF.

Above and below: minor inconveniences for Roberto Bussinello and Andrea de Adamich (who went on to a career in
big-bore sports cars and Formula One) on their way to 2nd in the GT 1600 class in 1965's "gullywasher" race.

The Rolland/Costen GTZ follows the Maglioli/Baghetti Ferrari 275 P through the Hairpin en-route to a trouble-free
class win in GT 1600.  GTZ's typically ran with their Ferrari GTO-like supplementary radiator nose vents fully or
partially open, even in moderate ambient temperatures, except at high-speed circuits like LeMans and Monza. 

Above: the Reed/Gerber Cobra, already with nose damage, on its way to a three car DNF.  Below: the remains of the
Riley/Cone Volvo P-1800 after the three-car accident.  I've not found a picture of the Andrey/Stoddard GTZ.  The
Volvo blew it's engine in the Webster Turns and spun in its own oil.  The Cobra punted it, bigtime, into the infield
of the circuit and spun to the outside (the Cobra is barely visible in the picture below).  Chuck Stoddard in his
GTZ hit the oil, collected the wreckage, and was out.  From Hero ('64) to Zero ('65) in the Alfa team.

In 1966, Alfa again entered 4 cars, with consecutive race numbers, although one car was allegedly a private entry, driven by Americans Sam Posey and Teddy Theodoracopulos.  The factory cars were driven by Russo/Andrey, Ziccoli/Russo, and Bianchi/Casten.

Unlike other homologation specials of this era, the TZ 2 was actually a true "evolution:" a lower, wider, lighter, fiberglass-bodied version of the TZ on the same frame.  But time had passed it by.  Nobody was doing front engine, rear drive GT cars with tubular space frames any more, even in the small-bore classes.

As in 1964, but unlike the sweep in 1965, Alfa won the GT 1600 class (Russo/Andrey)--with the last car standing.  The other three cars were pfffffftt.  One blew its engine at 16 laps.  Another retired with an "oil leak" 6 laps later.  Let's call that a blown engine as well.  The last non-finisher ate its gearbox before quarter distance.

Above: the 1966 Russo/Andrey class-winner.  Below: remember suspension?  Body roll?  Theoretically streetable GT
cars?  The # 61 car was out early with an "oil leak" probably caused by a rod through the block.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Mini (And Me)

Alexander, later Sir Alec, Issigonis.  After the Suez oil crisis of 1957, Austin's management
green-lighted the revolutionary small car experimental design he had been working on.  It
wasn't, and hadn't been, developed as a successor to the Morris Minor.  Instead, it was
intended to be the smallest, most fuel-efficient "real" car that could carry four adults.
The Mini's small size forced some innovative packaging and technical solutions.
A sporty ginat-killer with brilliant handling was the last thing on Sir Alec's mind.

Here's a link to the Wikipedia piece on Alex Issigonis:

Automotive design history, as it pertains to compact cars, can be divided into Before Mini and After Mini.  Cars had existed for over 60 years until someone did a front, transverse engine, front-wheel-drive car.  After the Mini, for 60 years, there has one way to do a compact car: that way.  When Volkswagen and Honda did their first new "clean sheet" subcompacts in the early 1970's, they copied the Mini's architecture.  And so on.  The Mini was the prototype of today's World Car.

I was dimly aware of the Mini when it was introduced here in 1960, and completely missed its point. It struck me as an anti-Beetle: water-cooled, overly-complicated front drive "just to be different."  The Mini abandoned the body-on-frame construction of its conventional predecessor, the Morris Minor, for the unit-body construction of the Beetle.  But it retained the Minor's cast-iron engine, which was heavier and far less reliable than the Beetle's aluminum air-cooled unit.  The Mini's 10-inch wheels seemed ridiculous (which they were, for American Interstates).  It did not occur to me that the Mini was a "clean sheet" design.  I completely missed the point of the Mini's ability to carry 4 adults (and very little else) in a car weighing only 1400 lbs., with innovative and superb fully-independent rubber suspension, designed for Issigonis by Alex Moulton.  So I missed its sporting potential too.

It was all about the packaging or, if you prefer, shrink-wrapping four adults into a car.  The U.K. did not have many
motorways when the Mini was designed, so "B Road" capability was fine.  (In the early 1960's, European car firms
were still exporting whatever they had designed for their domestic markets, with no modifications, let alone doing
a car for the U.S.--or each other.)  Ten-inch wheels provided more cabin space and less weight.  Sliding windows
required no window-winding mechanisms and made room in the doors for storage pockets.  The original Mini
had an 850 c.c. engine when the V.W. Beetle had just been upsized from 1.1 to 1.3 liters: 50% larger.  The Mini
was, at bottom, a response to the very real possibility of petroleum shortages in the U.K.  And spartan.

The scales fell from my eyes at Mid-Ohio in 1961.  A brand-new Mini-Cooper (with more power from a 1.3 liter engine and front disc brakes) showed up at an SCCA Regional race.  It ran against the G & H Production Sprites (&c.) and won.  So the Stewards let it run against the F & E Production MGA's (&c.).  It won.  So the Stewards let it run in the C & D Production race against aging Jaguar XK 120's and Alfa Veloces (&c.).  It finished respectably.  Shortly thereafter, the Mini-Cooper scored several overall wins in the Monte Carlo Rally.  Having a lifelong weakness for giant-killers, I was enchanted.

When I was thinking about my first car--which had to be a cheap used car--I stumbled across a 6-year-old Mini that a young imported car mechanic had been starting to prepare for racing, but decided to sell to finance the purchase of a new Hillman Imp.  (I don't know how he did road racing the Imp, but it was a better bet than a well-worn 850 c.c. Mini with tiny front drum brakes.)  He had stripped out the Mini's interior (except for the passenger seat) and painted it battleship grey with a brush.  He had installed a racing seat belt and a big chrome Sun tach--just like the drag racers used.  He had installed twin S.U. carbs, and a big Alfa Romeo resonator at the end of the Mini's straight exhaust pipe.  Best of all, he'd mounted Dunlop SP 41 high performance radial tires on the 10-inch wheels.  I loved that car.  It felt fast, and it was fast--around tight corners.  I drove it for two years, until it burned an exhaust valve and I left for graduate school 600 miles from home.

This is Mini #1 off the assembly line, now in a museum.  Mine looked just like it--except for a red grille and silver wheels
with fatter high performance tires on them.  With a stripped-out interior, mine was surprisingly roomy: enough to haul
my stuff back and forth to and from college.  And noisy.  Which didn't bother me then and doesn't much now.  The car
was huge fun on back roads.  It's maximum cruising speed was a bit north of 60 m.p.h.  So it didn't see Interstates.

Since my those days, I've owned some interesting cars (and some real duds).  But none that I enjoyed more than the Mini.   I love to watch them race: 50 years of giant-killing.  Whenever I encounter one in a parking lot (oftener than you might think), it gets a good look-over and a chatted-up owner, if he's around.

The real deal (Mini-Cooper with modern modifications, done in Monte Carlo Rally style and colors.  With a Nordschleiffe
sticker on the trunk.  Seen in St. Hubert, Belgium.  I would have chatted up this owner too, except that he and his pals
spoke only French, and I speak only English.  Mini-mania can be communicated without words, however.  With
pointed fingers, gestures, smiles, and grins.

When I needed a new daily driver in 2009, I didn't consider a New Mini for several reasons, the most important being that it didn't come with four doors.  The Civic Si looked like a good bet because 1) it performed well on my "bang for the buck" spreadsheet 2) my son had had good luck with his Hondas.  I wasn't expecting a Mini feel.  And shouldn't have: the Si weighs twice as much as an Old Mini. Weight is the enemy, as we know.  Air-conditioning, cruise control, electric windows, rorty through-the-gears but quiet cruising...  Any resemblance between Honda's world-class engines and gearboxes, and what B.M.C. did with cast iron back-in-the-day, are purely coincidental.  A real trunk!  Seventeen-inch wheels!  I'd have expected the electric power steering to have far less feel than the Mini's brilliant unassisted rack-and-pinion.

Yet, although the Civic Si is huge compared to a Mini (what isn't?), it feels small and agile.  Steering feel and grip are Mini-like, especially on Michelin Pilot Super Sports.  In a straight line, it goes like a rocket compared to the Mini.  With my limited skills, I've never been comfortable pressing a rear-drive car to or past the limit.  But the Civic Si inspires the same confidence that the Mini did: I've learned to push it into a tight corner hard: slow in, fast out, with the front tires on the limit and a bit more.  Huge fun!  Without fully knowing it, I'd been looking for another Mini for 50 years.  Found one!

1960 Mini: "When I grow up, I want to be a Honda Civic Si."