MMR Blog

Enzo Likes a Ringer

Posted on April 9, 2014 Comments (1)

By S. Scott Callan

As director of the newly minted Alfa Corsa, he had the full foundry and fabrication team at his disposal. He put together a new series of Tipo B (P3) engines, welded up some widened Tipo C GP chassis, they needed a second seat, slapped on some fenders, a couple of lights, some tools might be necessary, made some available to customers in bare chassis for the Carrozzeria to body, and called them sports cars. They were GP cars. And everyone knew it. The Mille Miglia in the late Thirties... for Alfa it was like O’Toole, Harris, and Burton on stage (or in the bars), everyone else was merely supporting cast.

Two Alfas

MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on March 28, 2014 Comments (0)

This week we cover the final day of the 2014 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. As ever, the event was memorable and we hope we have conveyed the experience that awaits those of you who have never been. Consider driving your favorite vehicle to Amelia next year.

Brett Lemoine, MGB enthusiast, member of The Boston Cup management team and budding photographer won our Amelia Photo Contest and several of his images are featured this week. Brett wins a copy of Michael Furman’s most recent book Automotive Jewelry. Congratulation Brett! Well done!


Denise McCluggage thanks you all for your good wishes and advises that she is getting stronger by the day. Her comments last week on the “green drive” in F1 struck a responsive chord.

Peter Brock writes:

Denise… what a fantastic, beautiful column on F1. Bravo! The incredible stupidity of trying to cram opposing philosophies into a subject like racing started creeping into our sport a few years ago when the ALMS tried going green… It’s never been satisfying and the additional effort to make it all “fair” by “performance balancing” has made it even worse. Since when is it right to penalize success for superior skill, strategy and innovation? Your coda on hearing really made a point as well… I’ve lost about 40% of my hearing, so your comment on hearing aids really resonated… what I miss most is music. Best, Peter Brock

Brian Redman writes:

Great article Denise! Costco have great hearing aids—under $2,000 for the pair! All the best, Brian

Evi & Dan Gurney write:

Hello Denise, we read your perceptive and beautiful piece on the present Formula 1 scene, could not agree with you more but cannot express it as nicely as you did. Lots of love, Evi and Dan

On that note we ask: Is it unreasonable to believe that the F1 establishment is terrified to hang its existence on the fact that F1 could be ENTERTAINING! Must racing have a redeeming social value to survive? 

Racing on TV

2014 Moto GP First Race – Yes! The Doctor IS in the House! At a night time race in Qatar (WHY?), Marquez and Honda won but the veteran Valentino Rossi was a close second on a Yamaha GP bike that was definitely not as quick as he made it. These guys really race.

NASCAR at Fontana. The Auto Club Speedway is a joke. IndyCar are courting a disaster if they go back.

F1 resumes at Malaysia this weekend and IndyCar is at St. Petersburg, Florida for their season opener. Check your local listings for times.

Last Week’s Leak

Several of you commented on the part of the Road to Amelia Article that mentioned the WASRED Ferrari’s leaky Targa top. A friend wrote:

Cars that leak in interesting ways can be entertaining. I think it was my black TC that dripped dripped dripped on my right foot. Then it would suddenly pee in a steady stream. Then nothing for a while. Could never figure out its pathway though.

BMW at Amelia

BMW was the dominant factor at this year’s Amelia event. The Gooding’s Auction offered a brace of them from a private collector, the Calder BME car that began the whole Cars as Art series was there. On Friday they offered a relatively small dinner to honor David Hobbs, one of their most successful drivers. See Dinner with Heroes. On Saturday, several of their successful ‘80s race cars dominated the Cars & Coffee event and on Sunday the same cars drew just as much attention. Bravo BMW! And thank you for doing it.

Your assistance is requested to grow our readership. You are our greatest source of new readers. Please share this with a friend and consider subscribing so you never miss a newsletter.

Have a great motorsports weekend.

Peter Bourassa

BMW Dinner with Heroes

Posted on March 27, 2014 Comments (0)

BMW hosted a small party on Friday Night at Amelia to honor David Hobbs. The guests were the press and other race drivers, some of whom actually drove BMWs. David was very successful driving their race cars in the ‘80s and he and his good friend Sam Posey, who have developed their own version of the Punch and Judy Show, supplied the end of evening entertainment. They were very funny. At the end of the evening all the drivers gathered for a very informal photo op and we thought you might enjoy these images.

My Word: “Brrr” and “Whew” Hard on Batteries

Posted on March 27, 2014 Comments (0)

By Denise McCluggage

Anyone who lived 13 winters on a northern Vermont hillside as I did looking across to ski trails cut on Lincoln Mountain (known to the world as Sugarbush) has experienced what deep cold can do to a car battery. Just the usual car battery that urges your engine into a welcome roar sending a steamy shawl of exhaust to wrap your salty Land Rover. Or. Or grinds in a string of decelerating AR-Ar-rrrrs into silence. Every morning is an unwrapped present. What will it be today?

Most Vermont cars had peeking out from under the hood the prongs of an electric cord ready for connection to something they are apt to call a charging station these days. Then I called it my house. I had a heavy-duty red extension cord which at 50 feet was twice as long as needed but I liked seeing the extra length coiled beneath the outdoor outlet. Safe from snow because my deck with the curving wrought iron stair was over it.

Of course the Land Rover was plugged in every night, but I didn’t have an engine heater – just a heated dipstick to keep the oil more like soup and less like Jello and easier for the starter to churn it up. In the darkness of midwinter the dipstick heat might not be enough as the temperature stayed sub-zero for weeks. Fifty below overnight was not uncommon at the mountain. And if I was trying to stretch the battery’s life expectancy – costly damn things – I might get the AR-Ar-rrrrs and not the roar.

So I give up. To Kingbury’s Shell station for a new one for sure when the day warms up to three or four degrees. Or I opt for a jump start. Some folks just removed their battery and took it inside every night. Some had more serious plug-in devices, some had – Lord blessed ‘em – heated garages. But all of us well knew that cold was cruel to the electrics.

Now we have a new study from the AAA telling us just how cruel to these things called plug-in electrics. And it’s worse than they expected.

Using the three most popular pure electrics in the country – a Nissan Leaf (2013), a Mitsubishi i-MIEV (2012) and a Ford Focus (2014) -- the AAA Automotive Research Center in Southern California ran simulations to determine what extreme temperatures did to battery performance. The test started with fully charged batteries to no charge in “city traffic” in a climate-controlled room. The temperature of 75 degrees F was dropped to 20 degrees F for cold (that’s cold?) and raised to 95 degrees F for hot (not in summertime Phoenix.)

The results: more degradation than expected, according to Greg Bannon, the director of automotive engineering for AAA. The cold temperature reduced the range by 57%; the heat by 33%. (In miles that would mean cold cutting an expected 105 mile range to 43 miles and heat from 105 to 69 miles. Did you make it home?)

Not part of the study was how rather necessary accessories – heating and cooling, for instance – might add to the reduction in range. But keeping the car’s occupants comfortable costs miles too. As do headlights and electronic gadgetry like a radio.

Nor did the test include any other temperatures. I wonder what one should expect from, say, another 10 degrees in either direction. Is the slide a steady one or does performance step off a cliff at true extremes?

In any case it is probably safe to warn any Tesla owners not to take their lovely car skiing in Vermont or summer sight-seeing in Death Valley. I know they didn’t test Tesla, but lithium-ion batteries are affected by temperature variations too.

Do I sound pleased by this bad news? I don’t mean to. Electric is an important part of the power mix in our rolling stock. But I think to make electric cars work you have to live where the following applies: places you drive are rather close together; you have a number of choices in cars you can use, and you can match the choice to the task at hand with ease and delight. And you don’t mind having a car dictate when and where you, say, have lunch while it charges enough to get you on your way again. Electric cars are as needful – and dictatorial – as children.

I think an electric car at this stage of development needs a dinghy. GM learned that with its first brush with electric cars when precious few people actually wanted to buy an EV1 but everyone wanted GM to make them anyway and said nasty things about the General when he collected them up and crushed them. That 1980s experience is why GM in its later experience with electric vehicles designed the Volt and the Caddy ELR using a right clever system that will get most people to There and Back on electric only. And in case it doesn’t – or minds get changed as to where There is – GM throws in a dinghy. It’s an onboard, gasoline-fueled generator. It makes There any place a road goes and gas can be found.

As cold as it got in Vermont I could fill the Land Rover with gasoline. The problem was keeping the battery capable enough to spark the engine and get me down the hill to Kingsbury’s where the gas pumps were.

Did I mention deep cold is really unkind to batteries?

My Word: Keys, Switches and Megabucks

Posted on March 27, 2014 Comments (0)

By Denise McCluggage

Must be a guy thing. I've seen more than a few toss this handful of jangle on a cafe table with a cool pleasure and a metallic clatter that delights something deep inside them.

What is it about keys? I suspect the bearers carry every key they ever use from one for the tool chest in the pick-up bed to another for an obscure drawer in the cellar. Certainly a key to the riding mower and every car they own and some they don’t any more. The key that opens access to the spare tire on the wife's SUV -- either the wife or the SUV before the current one. And probably at least one key that doesn't open anything.

All these, and maybe a piece of bone wrapped in copper wire that serves as a key fob, dangles from the ignition as they drive. It's a wonder any ignition switch survives the first month of its use.

And now General Motors is in deep trouble over failed switches in some of their cars. As someone most certainly should be. The problem was known about for far too long -- a bulletin about them might date back to 2001. Certainly 2004. And the risks are serious. An engine suddenly dead in fast-moving traffic, power steering gone, power brakes -- not circumstances intuitively dealt with. And airbags, meant to be protective in emergencies however created, rendered useless by the absence of power.

The figures usually mentioned are 31 crashes, 12 deaths in Chevrolets, Pontiacs and Saturns. Other estimates run far higher.

The thought crossed my mind. Did someone say; "That isn't our fault. It's those fools with the heavy keys." But abused parts aren't supposed to fail any more than properly used parts. How could GM have let the problem go on so long? Sometimes that outfit can be so obtuse.

Law suits are lining up, possibly criminal as well as civil. Stock holders have filed theirs claiming GM's inaction damaged the value of their holdings.

Now because of GM declaring bankruptcy midstream in the matter car owners who suffered problems before 2009 cannot sue the "new" GM. Their problem is with the old GM which means problems lining up with a bunch of others before the bankruptcy court. Possibly GM could all but choose to pay in chalk and cheese, if at all. It becomes a public relations dance. They must look benign and properly contrite doing more than they "have" to.

But then again they could be up the creek far farther than anyone suspected. After all, if the government decides GM knew about the troubled switches and the company's possible liability before the bankruptcy then fraud might be involved. That's not a good word in a law court especially if someone is pointing at you.

And then something more ominous appears in a Georgia case in which a pediatric nurse died in 2010 in her five-year-old Cobalt on her rainy 29th birthday. She had the day before retrieved the car from her dealer where she had taken it because the engine had inexplicably died on her in traffic a couple of times.

GM settled this case. This was not one of the 12 deaths mentioned above but an additional one.

A particularly savvy lawyer for the young women's family had discovered that the ignition was indeed not on. The power had shut down. But more than that he investigated a number of Cobalts and discovered something that could really bode Ill for the General. He found that some Cobalts had beefed up parts in their switching mechanism. A definitely different switch. Yet the parts number was the same. Odd.

And GM had not informed any of the complaining car owners -- nor the government -- about this apparent effort to fix the switch. Something required by law. Was it a shhh, we'll make it go away move just a few guys at the plant would know about? Is that a yellow-feathers-on-the-chops way of dealing with a problem or what?

Is that a smart lawyer who did deep research to uncover the switch switcheroo. That's one thing for sure in all this tangled web.

Everyone watching what they call "Switchgate" notes familiar faces on the government side that just extracted 1.2 billion bucks from Toyota for that company's awkward handling of the so-called unintended acceleration claims against Toyota brands. A record fine. Observers see something in that range for GM -- or even more. In Toyota’s case no electronic flaw was ever determined to have caused the "runaway" cars. Maybe a misplaced floor mat under the accelerator.

GM might be more vulnerable. Toyota is known for keeping lots of cash on hand. GM just emerged from bankruptcy. And this might be another record fine. Could this send them back into bankruptcy? Could it change the whoops culture at GM? The new CEO Mary Barra is a change in the gender of top management. She will have to mean a major change in the way management handles problems too. It's not the switches, it's the way their failure was dealt with -- or not -- that really matters. Try two really different approaches for a start: transparency and speed. Trying to save money by not facing up to a problem can cost much more in dollars and in hard-to-restore reputation.

But about those keys. Can't all be guys driving those cars. Particularly those cars. So what's the appeal of all those keys in one weighty mass? Must be a metaphor in there somewhere.