The Drive to Philly

Pennsylvania Concours

The Day and the Destination

Saturday. Mid May, sunny, low-70s. The eventual destination is the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia. More precisely, we are meeting friends for dinner near the Museum which is near the airport. With slight detours, we will travel 360 miles.

Sunday. We attend the Pennsylvania Concours d’Elegance at the Simeone Museum. This is an all Ferrari show celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the 308. We feel that is worthy of note and so we are making the trip.

The Vehicle

The car is the WASRED 308, a black carbureted 1978 Euro spec Ferrari. While cosmetically as flawed as one might expect a 37-year-old car to be, mechanically it is solid. And with the addition of an Accusump and upgrades to the brakes, lighting, and cooling systems, it is probably better equipped now than when it left the factory. This is Saturday afternoon traffic and, though rarely sparse, driver Michael Ricciardi uses all three lanes and finds the spaces to maintain a healthy pace. When they are not there he waits. Though old, the car is new to him and at various times he tests various functions and comments. This is something I have asked him to do because I have adapted to the vehicle’s idiosyncrasies and I am numb to its minor peculiarities. The brakes have been upgraded to Audi S4 front calipers and he mentions that the original early 308s were underbraked. I remember thinking exactly that the first time I drove the car almost 20 years ago. In the time it took to drive the car from its then home in Chicago to its new home in Boston, I adapted.

We recently installed a waterless engine coolant product made by Evans Cooling Systems and this was our first long and high speed drive. Since its installation 1500 miles ago the temperature gauge has not shown any perceptible difference during short to medium length drives at legal or slightly above legal limits. I mention to Michael that upon installation my first impression was that the engine actually seemed quieter. He seemed as skeptical as the Evans people were when I told them the same thing. But that is definitely my impression. What think you? Is that possible? What are your experiences?

We are using Royal Purple 20-50 engine oil and have been for over three years. I ask Michael which oil he prefers. He likes Mobil 1. Yesterday another knowledgeable friend said he always uses Red Line Oil. Each contain different properties which might affect older engines. None is bad. It’s really a matter of what you feel comfortable using.

Since the change, this is our first trip at consistently high speeds, I am curious to see what effect higher engine RPMs will have on coolant and oil. We installed an auxiliary three quart Accusump unit a number of years ago and the extra oil has done wonders for both the engine and our peace of mind. It is essentially a low pressure container and pump that pre-oils the engine before starting and adds oil to the system. As a result, the oil temperature remained steady at just under 100°C and the coolant temperature actually dropped noticeably from 90°C to about 80°C, a drop of approximately 20°F. A few caveats before anyone begins writing. We have changed the original radiator and water pump for a updated versions from NicksForzaFerrari.com. These consist of a modern, lightweight, aluminum radiator with 50% more coolant tubing and fin area. It is estimated to be 36% more efficient than the OE unit. And 37 years younger! Nick’s Forza also offer several high performance variations of the 308 engine. In the development process, they felt the OE vane style water pump could be improved. Nick's Forza Ferrari produce a product whose design is more contemporary. That is the unit we are using. In subsequent discussions with the tech people at Evans Coolant, who have worked with Nick’s Forza Ferrari, they felt that our results were consistent with what should happen as a result of the improvements we made to the cooling system.

The Driver

Michael Ricciardi, the owner of European Motorsports of Lawrence, MA is a trusted friend and excellent travelling companion. We did Monterey Week together last summer and we both enjoyed the experience. He is also an excellent car and bike technician and a former racing driver and rider. Unlike many former race drivers, he doesn’t feel the need to remind passengers of past glories with every shift or direction change. His movements are quick, precise, and smooth. We all have driven with other drivers on fast rides and quickly known within the first few miles whether we will be comfortable. We make the judgment based on our experience and our expectation. Smooth is a key factor. Think of a full glass of water placed on the dashboard and the best driver being the one who goes quickest and spills the least. That involves using as much road as necessary, keeping a steady rhythm of acceleration and braking and not upsetting the passenger or the other people on the road. Driving fast on the street is a matter of talent and experience. Michael obviously has both and I am being given a driving clinic in my own car.

The Trip

There are only two traffic lights between our point of departure and Philadelphia. The electronic convenience of modern toll roads never ceases to amaze. 

Michael drives quickly and we are above the speed limit, sometimes well above it, at every opportunity. On most occasions we are passing cars that are totally unaware of our presence until we are past them. To some extent, the car’s color allows this to happen. It is proven that people are emotionally affected by color.  My experience in this low, black, not-often-seen, car is that to many it appears menacing when seen in a rear view mirror. Black Police cars have a similar effect. Hanging back until noticed generally encourages people to move out of the way without drama.

Michael never crowds or threatens other drivers. This is important to us because one assumes every car on the road is cell phone equipped, our “WASRED” license plate is easily remembered and there is little sympathy for road bullies in Ferraris. In most places the left lane is clogged up with cars traveling at the maximum legal speed. Inhabitants of that lane consider being passed at a higher speed on their right is both wrong and illegal. In the 360 miles we drove nobody honked a horn or flashed their headlights. I was taught a lesson in patience and courtesy.

We reached our destination with a minute or so to spare after what might be termed a spirited drive in an exciting automobile. We had a good dinner, with good company, and good conversation and retired early, convinced once again: Life ain’t bad.

On Sunday: After attending the Pennsylvania Concours and revisiting the wonderful Simeone Foundation Museum's familiar exhibits, it was time to begin our journey home. We left the Concours in mid-afternoon, encountered both a short shower and heavy traffic and arrived home safely after dinner. No drama. Traveling in an old Ferrari lacks many of the little conveniences we have come to expect in modern cars. Then again, the loss of the sound, smell and feel which belong to cars of the sixties and seventies is the price one pays for modernity. Driving an old sports car adds a different dimension to the expression, 'traveling back in time'.