In Praise of Older Cars – Part 2

May 22, 2014 Comments (4)

I awoke on Saturday morning at 4:00AM. I knew I had a hell of a day ahead of me. By 5:00AM I had pushed the 308 out of the garage and far enough away from the house that I would not startle the people and animals in the house when it fired up, I had topped off the gas tank and was on the Mass Pike headed for Trenton New Jersey.

The sun was up and, being a Saturday, the traffic was light. I was going to a photo demonstration by Michael Furman. He was shooting a collector car and invited interested and would-be photographers to attend. I was in the latter category. The location was a small aircraft hanger at the Trenton-Mercer Airport in New Jersey. Being a man, I didn’t look it up but I estimated the trip was about 230 to 250 miles. I had driven by the Trenton exit on the Jersey Turnpike a hundred times and I had 4½ hours to make it. Michael said it was right off exit 3A on 95. Easy peasey.

According to the manual, the WASRED 308 was originally equipped with 14” wheels and 205x70 TWX tires all round. It currently has 205x55x16s at the front and 225X50X16s at the back. And it looks better that way. The car does not have power steering and at low speed and around town it is definitely an upper body builder. Once past 40mph the steering is comfortable and once past 60mph it is pure joy. The speedometer on this car has an optimistic bent and despite the fact that it read 90mph I was running somewhere between 75-80 and some traffic was still passing me. Now for breakfast! A bottle of water and a PRO BAR meal in my favorite flavor, Koka Moka! This is unquestionably how the rich and famous live!

After three hours I crossed the George Washington Bridge and pulled over at the first rest stop on the NJ Turnpike to look at the map. It was now eight o’clock and (Surprise! Surprise!) Trenton was another 100 miles away and 95 was NOT the NJ Turnpike at Exit 3A. So I pedaled like hell and with the help of my cell phone arrived at the designated hanger at exactly 9:30AM. The odometer read exactly 300.1 miles. Cool.

Michael’s subject car for the day was a silver Ferrari 275 GTB. A lovely car. It sat on a dolly about 18 inches off the floor and for the next four hours the car was positioned and lit and highlighted in multiple fashions. Michael’s work is what a friend described as a study in the control of space and light. Just when you thought it was perfect. He made it better.

The clinic was excellent. Michael was very open about everything going on and took the time to explain both the physical aspect, the draping of the windows, the covering of the floor, the positioning of the car in relation to the light bank but also all the details of the camera and the software he uses to capture the image and then manipulate it to the finished product.

Sometime after noon, Michael took a break and ordered pizza. Things were getting down to the technical details about which I know little, or more precisely nothing, and so I bid everyone farewell and fell back into the Ferrari for the ride home.

In anticipation of the forecasted bad weather I had tucked a hand towel behind the passenger seat to block or mop up the inevitable rivers of rain that occur whenever heavy rain and the WASRED 308 meet. I filled up at the earliest opportunity and got back on the turnpike headed for the George Washington Bridge. About 50 miles from my goal, it began to rain heavily and rain dripped from the joint where the top, windshield and window meet. It dripped onto the window control switch located on the driver’s side armrest. Oh Joy! So I found the hand towel and put it over the switch. We were still maintaining a steady 50mph. As I passed the Newark exits and approached the end of the turnpike, the road became a series of very high bridges over the NJ wetlands and the wind gusts picked up considerably in intensity. This terrified drivers of the slab-sided SUVs surrounding me and they all slowed down to 15mph. The wind gusts also gave the gods of wind and rain attacking the 308 more impetus to find a way inside the car and, being determined as they were, they did. My poor little hand towel didn’t have a chance. I felt like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice for twenty or so miles. The wind and rain abated as we approached the GW Bridge and then the cheerful overhead signs indicated that there would be a delay of 45 minutes to cross the bridge. This proved a very optimistic forecast.

This delay and three subsequent ones in Connecticut, caused by various accidents, turned what was a one way 4½ hour journey into a 7 hour return trip. During these delays, other than the constant manipulation of the very heavy clutch, watching the coolant temperature needle rise and fall, and an excellent view of the hubcaps of the surrounding SUVs, I had little left to do but think. So, to the sound of the engine and little else, I began a review of my situation and what had brought me to it. I opened another bottle of water and another Koka Moka PRO BAR (my favorite drive ‘n drink road lunch).

As I sat in traffic inching along, I felt that the French expression “etre bien dans ca peau” to be “well in one’s skin” seemed to apply to my state of mind and that I should share that with you because I often feel that way when I am driving my 308. Like a number of our readers, I am well past the “poring over the latest auto magazine to see which new vehicle I should purchase next” stage. I frankly don’t see enough difference between them all. But I still get excited at a car show when I see certain cars from the ‘60s and ‘70s period. While it is true that today’s cars are far more reliable, comfortable, faster, safer, and unquestionably drier, the cars of the sixties and seventies, which is 50 plus years ago, were probably more fun and certainly more of a treat for the senses. Dealing with the visual first. It is difficult to find a car today as elegant as the 1961 XKE Coupe or the Ferrari 250SWB or the 275GTB. Or for that matter as muscularly attractive as the ‘62 and ‘66-‘67 Corvettes. And there are dozens more. You can fill in your own favorites here, but consider that these were Street Cars. Here at MMR World Headquarters, I am surrounded by images and models of beautiful race cars that I have collected for the past 30 years. Among the models, a recently arrived Ferrari 250LM, a Ferrari 250SWB and a 330/P4, a Chaparral 2A, a Maserati Birdcage, and two Ford GT40s. I’d love a Porsche 904. I also have a model of a Shelby GT350R that a friend once owned and poster size pictures of a Corvette Grand Sport and a McLaren F1. Today’s wing and winglet bedecked racers are a tribute to efficiency and down force but, all day long, I’d rather be looking at a lightweight Jaguar racer of the ‘60s.

Sound is very important to enthusiasts. The exhaust sound of a sixties Ferrari V12 street or race car is unmatched. Small block V8s with dual exhausts and glasspacks are also sweet. But my favorite engine sound is that of a big block Chevy. Bear with me here as I try my best to describe what is happening in the engine and exhaust systems. Exhaust sounds are pulses of air and burned fuel being expelled from the engine and channeled through metal pipes, sound modifiers (mufflers etc.), and away from the car. Eight cylinders being channeled through a single exhaust pipe forces the pulses together and the sound is rather homogeneous. The same eight cylinders divided into two tubes allows for spacing between the pulses and the different timing sequences for different engines gives each exhaust a distinctive sound pattern. Engine sounds, not exhaust notes, are affected by gearing. Much like a bicycle, the engine (you) needs to first turn the easiest gear to gather enough momentum to power the second gear and so on. The engine changes sound as it stresses to reach its optimum power band where, due in part to momentum, things become easier and faster and sounds different again as it reaches its maximum capacity to breath in and exhaust out. The more gears the easier the load on the engine. The driver of a 427 street Corvette with side pipes hears primarily the four cylinders exhausting on his side of the car and the passenger side exhaust is background. The engine itself has so much torque and power that when mated to the optional close ratio gearboxes, it provides the driver with consistently equal power and sound through all four gears. Every time you shift this car under power the engine virtually sounds like it is in first gear again. That is quite a thrill. And in the sixties this amazing package came from the factory at an affordable price. Today’s laws don’t allow those sounds on street cars. Score one more for the sixties and seventies.

I don’t like the musty smell of old, but I like the smell of the sixties cars. Leather seats were “all” leather, not simply the part you sat on. Door panels also were leather covered and all this leather imparted a certain odor which when mixed with the woolen rugs was very comforting and home like. For some reason the Brits were best at this possibly because they were the last manufacturers to abandon wood in the passenger cabin. Actually, I think that Morgans still use ash chassis frames. We use metal, plastic and carbon fiber these days. As I consider it, perhaps I do like the smell of old. I certainly miss the smell of Castrol R engine oil. And one became familiar with it because many engines leaked oil.

Today’s tires, stiffer chassis and suspension options make today’s cars clear winners in the turning a corner without leaning category. And in that respect the cars are also safer. Driving down a slightly bumpy road, the comfortably soft sixties-seventies suspension might be viewed quite favorably in comparison. My recent trip to the Delmarva Peninsula in a Ferrari 365GTC/4 and subsequent brief ride in an Iso Grifo reminded me that performance cars needn’t be skateboards with big engines.

It is important to note that within that twenty year window of 1960 to 1979, huge advances were made. Many of the cars discussed were virtually obsolete by then and much of their charm was sacrificed on the altar of progress. The early sixties 250SWB Ferrari whose praises we have been singing was, by the mid-seventies, supplanted by mid-engine V12s and V8s powered Ferraris like the one in which I was sitting. Think of the technical changes between the SWB and the first 308. Gone was the worm and sector steering, V12 - 3 liter 240HP front engine, 4 speed with overdrive transmission and solid rear axle, all replaced by a more sensitive rack and pinion, a slightly more horsepower V8 – 3 liter 250HP mid engine with a 5 speed transaxle, and an independent suspension. Completely different cars whose price points never met. But it exemplifies the technical changes which even a change-resistant Enzo Ferrari was capable of making in less than 15 years. Ask me which I would rather own if I had to keep it for life and given how I use a car, the choice would be difficult.

In our final traffic interruption of the day as we all crawled towards Hartford, a man in a big white SUV looked down at me and took a picture of the car with his sunglasses.

When I pulled into the driveway at home it was 9:30PM and the odometer read 593.

I need another long drive to figure out why I really want one of those big old touring beasts of the thirties. Huge engines and plenty of room for people and food and wine. Now that’s touring in style… unless, of course, they leak.


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Comments (4)

  1. mike rabin:
    May 23, 2014 at 07:27 AM

    Hi Peter


    BEST Mike

  2. Joe Hicks:
    May 23, 2014 at 09:34 AM

    How can the report on a drive to NJ be so much fun! Where does your mind come up with the perfectly descriptive "I felt like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice for twenty or so miles." Joe

  3. Peter:
    May 23, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    Thank you both. Joe, I am a product of an age when Disney did his best to terrify impressionable children in the name of entertainment.

  4. John:
    May 27, 2014 at 01:52 PM

    Hi there Peter,
    also found this quite an enjoyable (and must say at times a good laugh) read. Thanks.
    Even felt I could have been with you (memories of gone past times). You certainly still are having adventures, keep it up - take care.

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