MMR Blog

In Praise of Older Cars – Part 1

Posted on May 15, 2014 Comments (1)

On two consecutive weekends I drove an excessive amount of miles in two elderly cars. And loved it. Why? What made these two drives special? I wondered that myself and since on the final leg of this pilgrimage I was sitting in traffic for an inordinate amount of time I tasked myself with finding an answer.

On a recent Friday, I climbed aboard my friend Sam Hallowell’s 1972 Ferrari GTC/4 for a two day trip to the Delmarva Peninsula and the Richard Garre/Tom Yang car show in Reistertown near Baltimore. Since this story is all about cars let me take a moment to describe this one. The 365 GTC/4 was based on the 365 Daytona drivetrain with a 2+2 body weighing about 400 lbs. more. The body style is one of those love it or hate it things with an integrated front bumper that gives it a period Camaro kind of look. They made 500 between ’71 and ’73. I love the look and have from the moment I laid eyes on it. The engine is the same 4.4 liter V-12 as the Daytona only 12HP less and I think that is due to the fact that the side draft Webbers lay down on this engine (probably to fit the profile of the hood) and the downdrafts sit up in the Daytona.

In Praise of Older Cars

The GTC/4 has power steering. Sam’s car was repainted from lime green to muddy burgundy, and, while that was unquestionably a huge improvement, in my opinion it still has a way to go before people pin it up on their walls. I personally like it in black, but we have probably discussed that before.

In Praise of Older Cars

We left Sam’s home in Providence, Rhode Island, at nine in the morning and quickly climbed on I-95, the first of many such slabs (a very apt motorcycle term for superhighways) that would bring us to idyllic Oxford, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

The cockpit of this car is roomy by sports car standards but only adequate and typical of the GT cars of the period. Trunk space and rear seat room could only be charitably described as package space. This is for weekend jaunts, not let’s all visit Grandma in Omaha trips. The period seating reminds one that a bucket seat in 1970 had less in common with a bucket than it did with a park bench that had been cut in half, stuffed to bulging with horsehair, and covered in leather. The purpose of a seat, very much like the purpose of sports cars, has changed dramatically since the seventies. High end sports cars today, like the 458 Ferrari, the McLaren 12c, and the new Lambo Huracan, are more a form of personal thrill ride than transportation. Owners of these cars use SUVs or Bentleys for transportation. Sports car designers today engage occupants by heightening the cars feedback to all the senses. A quick ride becomes an exercise in aural, visual, and tactile overload. Today’s ergonomically perfect seat is an adjustable hard leather and foam receptacle that adjusts and embraces its occupant’s limbs and organs. They are visually attractive but designed not so much for comfort as for comforting. They are meant to assure the occupant that, once belted in, no matter how absurd the speed, tight the turn, or sudden the stop, the occupants will remember, if not treasure, every bit of the experience.

One more digression. All of us have either thrilled or been annoyed at the sound of a passing motorcycle. Whether you like the sound or not, all admit it can be loud. From an aural aspect, one of the biggest shocks, and to some degree disappointments, of my motorsports journey was my first motorcycle ride. As a passenger on a 250 BMW, the two sounds that dominated were the wind, (I had no helmet), and the sound of the engine clacking and whirring away just ahead of and beneath me. I hardly heard that wonderful exhaust note because the end of the exhaust pipe was two feet behind me and was lost in the wind. When I moved up to actually drive the motorcycle, I was then directly over the engine and even further away from that glorious sound. To race spectators and ordinary pedestrians, the sound of a street or a race tuned V-12 Ferrari can be music. The driver and passengers of an older front engined V12 Ferrari sports car sit directly behind the engine and are more likely to be the recipients of the sound of the clacking valve train and whirring pumps and fans than they are of the exhaust notes. To a degree this may explain the popularity of louder aftermarket mufflers which allow the driver to better hear that glorious sound which others get for free.

Sam’s GT (Grand Touring) car is 400 lbs. more than its sporty brother and suitably quieter. It was, after all intended for long comfortable drives and loud noises can be tiring. My companion is an interesting fellow and a good conversationalist. The noise level, even at highway speeds, was never intrusive. The sound of the V-12 at cruising RPM of just under 4K is actually quite pleasant. Under hard acceleration it becomes louder and is unfailingly exhilarating. It is nice to have the option.

At some point I took over the wheel and it was the first time I had driven a vintage V-12 Ferrari since it was a current Ferrari. The lack of a right side mirror required craning one’s neck to see the right rear portion of the car, but other than that, the car, equipped with hydraulic power steering was easy and pleasant to drive. At one point, on an off ramp, I got into a decreasing radius turn and a touch of the brakes and a increase steering input was called for. “It’ll lean” I heard Sam say, and indeed it did. There was never any danger of it breaking away or plowing but those 80 aspect tires did indeed roll and the comparatively soft suspension did allow the car to lean. The tires never broke away or squealed, they just took a set and we tracked through the turn. That reminded me that I was driving a 1970s car and that is what cars did in the 1970s. Today’s cars are far different and we will get into that in Part 2.

We traveled about 400 miles and arrived at Oxford in the late afternoon. It was a most enjoyable drive and having shared it neither of us was particularly tired. Our host, Brud LaMotte, is in the real estate business there and is a real car guy. He could appreciate the Ferrari and the journey. He has a very comfortable older home with an attached two car garage and several other structures housing vehicles on the property. After a casual dinner and a catching up on old friends conversation, we turned in and I thought to myself that was a very pleasant drive. Good roads, good company, and a car suited to the purpose.

Saturday was to be a busy day and we were up pretty early. Before we joined a group of local men in town for their ritual Saturday morning breakfast, our host opened his garages and we had an opportunity to appreciate his Sprint Corsa Corvair that John Fitch had prepared for him when he was in college. At some point he had sold it to Sam who also enjoyed it and passed it on. Several years ago, Brud found the car in a barn in the mid-west and restored it. He will be doing the New England 1000 with it later this month. Unfortunately we didn’t have a lot of time so we didn’t uncover the Corvair. I didn’t get any pictures of it but I expect to when the car comes though Boston later this month. Brud is an ISO fan and he pulled out his ride for the day, a 1971 ISO Grifo. This car had also been recently restored. I joined him for the ride into town in the ISO and I marveled at both the similarities and the differences of this car and the one year newer Ferrari in which I had spent the previous day.

In Praise of Older Cars

In common, they were both comfortable, though for some reason the ISO felt closer to the ground and both made you aware of the engine. Newer front engine cars have more noise insulation. Both also had similar tire and suspension roll in tight turns but the ISO’s 327 Chevy engine, though similar in HP output, seemed to be able to deliver it more quickly but less smoothly than the Ferrari. I have driven several corvettes of that period equipped with that engine and this car certainly felt a little heavier and more substantial. Brud’s habit of accelerating with power out of the turns gave the ISO’s back end an opportunity to step out but it never went beyond a slight waggle. The accompanying sound was also different from the Ferrari but equally pleasing.

Brud led Sam and me to the Reisterstown Events at Radcliffe Motors just north of Baltimore in his ISO and the two cars turned heads wherever they went. This was our second visit, we were there two years ago and although a number of the vehicles had been there before, the mix is eclectic enough to be interesting. Richard and Tom obviously put a lot of effort into getting vendors to display the products that are of interest to enthusiasts looking for do-it-yourself tips, special services and/or memorabilia. We met up here with Michael Keyser of Autosports Marketing. Michael is a good friend and supporter of MMR and his site offers excellent racing memorabilia at very reasonable prices.

In Praise of Older Cars

He also went to school with Brud and once again cars provided an opportunity for old friends to catch up.

We said our goodbyes and left at around two PM. We set some time targets to be home and Sam drove the Ferrari briskly to insure that we met them. This was different from our drive down and I was impressed by how well the car went at a steady and slightly illegal speed. It has long legs, as the expression goes, and always seemed to be happy to give a little more.

Despite the obligatory traffic delays in Connecticut, we hit our deadlines and felt that the Ferrari had served the purpose for which it has been designed very well. This was never a fragile car and a little age hasn’t changed that. Stay tuned for Part 2 and my following week’s adventure in the WASRED 308.