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.


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on May 9, 2014 Comments (0)

Tweaking Makes the Difference

Anyone who switched on the Tudor Sports Car Racing Series mid race last weekend must have thought they were in a time warp. Tremendous racing! The race was at Laguna Seca which is a great track with all kinds of turn radii and elevation changes, and a perpetually slippery surface. Perfect. The biggest difficultly in putting the two series together was insuring that there would be competitive racing for each class in both series. The most difficult to satisfy would be the Prototypes. The American Le Mans and Daytona Prototypes are simply very different beasts. The first races were not real road race courses. Daytona with its huge banking and Mickey Mouse infield section, Sebring, the forlorn airfield that has for decades seen historic races but little resurfacing, and Long Beach, one of the more interesting street circuits but none-the-less bumpy, have all favored the Daytona Prototypes and this was expected.

At the first real race course, the ALMS Prototypes came into their own. Thanks to minor rule tweaks and a format that split the field because the pit area couldn’t accommodate all the entrants, they made it a fight and eventually beat the DP cars to win. It worked! Huge sighs all around and great for them and great for American road racing!

The sports car racing was spectacular and it was fun watching Bill Auberlen drive through the pack in his BMW to catch, bump, and pass the factory Porsche to finish second behind the Corvette of Magnussen/Garcia. Want to catch up? Check out Mr. Energy Justin Bell’s pre-race program and year-to-date summary. Instructive and entertaining. 

Alfa Addendum

Last week we wrote (cynically) about how Fiat was setting Alfa Romeo up as a stand-alone company. We further assumed that the move was made to position the company to be sold. Yesterday Fiat announced that it will spend $7 Billion dollars to produce eight new models that will be designed and built in Italy and on the market in 2018. After years of feeling like Charlie Brown, we don’t want to believe that Sergio Marchionne and Fiat will pull the football away again. And once again we will live in hope. And wait. Again.

Toyota to Texas

Last week Toyota announced they would be moving their US headquarters to Texas from California. This week Denise McCluggage writes about pickup trucks in general and Toyota pickup trucks in particular and “Texas”. Enjoy.

Michael Furman News

Michael Furman's photograph of a 1927 Bugatti 35C and is from his book The Art of Bugatti – Mullin Automotive Museum

This week’s image is of a 1927 Bugatti 35C and is from his book The Art of BugattiMullin Automotive Museum. You can learn how he does his magic this Saturday. Michael is doing a photography demo at the Trenton-Mercer Airport in Trenton, NJ, from 9:30AM to 2:30PM. Learn more at the MMR Calendar.

F1 from Spain this weekend. Have a great one.

Peter Bourassa


My Word: TRUCKS ‘N TEXAS

Posted on May 8, 2014 Comments (1)

by Denise McCluggage

Once again the best selling cars in the US are trucks. That’s the norm, much to the surprise of city folk. For a while there, fuel uncertainty and price fluctuations put the Toyota Prius, a hybrid, in the top sales position. Now according to the report I read the Prius has dropped back to 20th. Sorry, P., you’ll simply have to carry more stuff, look more macho and use more fuel to maintain your standing with real Amurrican buyers.

Other news headlining pick-ups was the word Toyota is moving its national headquarters from California to Texas. A move I wonder about but I reckon it is economically appealing to Toyota. The announcement led “The Detroit Bureau”, an automotive news site, to wonder if maybe such a move would help boost the sales of Toyota pick-ups. “Not unless they return to building the T100,” said my young friend J.P. Gonzales. We were testing the Toyota Tundra that had darkened my driveway on a recent afternoon with its huge crewcabness. Several age-20-something guys I know, like J.P., have a deep fondness for early 4Runners and early Tacoma and T100 pick-ups. The ones that either now seem small or Just Right in size, depending on your druthers.

Toyota T100

The T100 was called full-sized thanks to its 8′ bed but the compact size V6 engine and a smallish cab appealed to only sensible folk in search of economy. Not the demographic naturally drawn to pick-ups in droves. The apparent failure of the T100 left Toyota puzzled and searching for the gen-u-wine secret of building a real pick-up. They are still doing that because it still eludes them.

Early on, like in the ‘70s, the Japanese car makers sent the US under-sized pick-ups with such names as the Chevy LUV. Later when Chevy offered its S10, Isuzu, maker of the LUV, just revealed its true identity and called their product the P’Up. Remember that?

The market was bubbling with these handy critters. I described them as “useful as elves.” Mazda had a lovely one and its Ford relative, the Ranger, kept on for a long time. Even appeared in an electric version a few years ago with lots of promise but mostly question marks from Ford dealers. Great fleet trucks for plumbing businesses, heating and cooling guys, electricians, I thought. They could roll out on the job all day then come back to snuggle up to pig-mama for the night and re-juice their batteries. Those batteries were spread out under the slightly shallower bed which put weight low enough to add neat handling tricks to this trucklet. I was right excited about that Ranger. But the idea took selling and apparently no one in a Ford shirt knew how so the whole line just faded away.

Now the demand for the elfin trucks is strong again but apparently not enough to make business sense to possible manufacturers. Instead potential buyers are having compact sedans converted to compact pick-ups. Surely someone will come up with the right size at the right time and price and grace the market with what it wants. But come to think of it, don’t count on it. Chevy has a smaller truck planned for 2015 but wanna bet it will be too big?

But let’s consider Texas for a moment. Or as I think of it—“Texas”. That means it is more myth than reality and more weird than sense-making. Having lived for so many years in New Mexico, which literally sits on the lap of “Texas”, I lean more to the less-than-favorable views many states have for their neighbors. That attitude began early enough when I encountered vacationers from “Texas”, or folks from there who had a New Mexico house as well (for escaping an essentially unlivable climate and partaking of pleasures nonexistent in “Texas” such as skiing.)

Too often such people begin to think that everyone in their second-home state worked for them and didn’t do a good job of it. They showed this in haughty demeanor and, worse, in voices louder than the norm and in an accent that really never traveled well. In those early days in New Mexico my mother might be visiting me from California. We might be shopping and a crowd, yes, crowd of two of these “Texas” visitors, pink cashmere cardigans over their shoulders, might sweep in. Mom would signal with a roll of her eyes and we’d amble out the door. My mother grew up on a farm in Kansas and felt superior to no one, and she preferred not to be near anyone who did.

All this made me particularly appreciative of a bumper sticker I saw early in my New Mexico residence: “If God had meant Texans to ski He would have made bullshit white.” I can make the usual disclaimer of having good friends who live in “Texas.” They might even think of themselves as Texans but I never could.

What has this to do with Toyota moving to Texas? (Dallas, generally. Plano, specifically.) Jim Lentz, the Toyota exec in charge, says exec things like the move is to do things like consolidate their leadership in one geographical spot, have direct flights to Japan near, etc. Business climate (read anti-union policies), tax incentives, and all those lollypops that “Gov. Rick Perry” (mythical like “Texas”) hands out to businesses have nothing to do with it. Lentz still hopes to sell Toyotas in California so he’s not going to badmouth the place. He didn’t say California has an anti-business attitude. But he wasn’t polite enough to give Torrance, where Toyota headquarters have been since 1957, any hint that the company was pulling out.

Though Toyota’s standing in vehicles sales has not been permanently damaged by all its recent recall experiences and public relation stumbles it has nonetheless taken a record blow in fines for the ham-fisted way it handled the recalls. And believe it—the company is enjoying a hearty welcome from “Texas” that benefits the company’s finances. Businesses are called businesses because their main business is benefitting financially. Toyota is a successful business.

But enough about all that courting and wooing and pretending. What about the people relocating to Texas. Or maybe simply losing their jobs. Actually when Nissan pulled the leave-California stunt several years ago relocating to Nashville far fewer of the people they wanted to take with them wanted to go. Wonder if Toyota will experience that?

And how will being a “Texas” company affect their quest to discover pick-upness and build a contender for the Ford-Chevy-Ram bouts? How much did joining the world of NASCAR racing help?

Totota Tundra 2014

J.P. sort of liked the Tundra and so did I. Sort of. The interior is better than it was but still not particularly appealing to me. We kept saying “It’s big.” Yeah. This is the CrewMAX which is like a full-size SUV with a shortened pick-up bed behind. It’s a challenge to get in and out but I rather like that in a pick-up. Clamber up—well-placed handles for pulling. Sliding out with a moment of free fall is easier. The optional running board is advisable.

The latest Tundra has a choice of two engines, one a 5.7 liter V8 that will get you and its ton-ship (5872 pounds) to 60 in 6.8 seconds. Is that important in a pick-up? A sense of adequate power and confidence. I like that. But I don’t need to know numbers. Anyway our Tundra had the 4.6 liter V8 which I found perfectly adequate and offered better mileage. (Not worth mentioning. If mileage matters to you get a truck with a diesel.)

Some big pick-ups manage to drive small. This Tundra did not let you forget “it’s big.” Unnecessarily I thought. As for the driving, I liked the steering. Probably because it is hydraulic which J.P. and I both (generally) prefer over electric. Good brakes, too. And it had a rather peaceful quiet while underway. I was told the big engine is not like that.

J.P. kept wishing it was a T100. I kept wishing it was, what? A Toyota Tundra has for me, even with this new one, left a question hanging in the air. What I said as I slipped to the ground. “Well, Toyota’s made a pretty good imitation of a pick-up truck.”

I don’t see how “Texas” is going to change that, but I’ll keep watching.


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on May 2, 2014 Comments (0)

Alfas

Alfa: A Glorious Past—An Unpredictable Future

Regular subscribers may have noticed that mention of Alfa Romeo occurs frequently in our weekly screeds. The history of this glorious brand provides excellent fodder for our constant railings against the plastic look-alike offerings of Maserati, Jaguar and Buick.

Alfa Romeo has had two lives; a full rich one in Europe where its successful racing and fine street cars engendered a passion which endures around the world today. And another in America where its European accomplishments were generally unknown but where Alfa race cars soared sporadically in the sixties and seventies. Truth be told, it is best remembered in America for being Dustin Hoffmann’s ride in The Graduate.

Alfa

This week it was announced that Fiat would be removing Alfa from under the Ferrari–Maserati umbrella and making it a stand-alone company. In fact, Ferrari is the premium performance brand, and a struggling Maserati is not a close second. Porsche has that. Glorious as its past unquestionably is, today there is no room for Alfa Romeo in the Fiat garage. This week’s announcement is not accompanied by a hopeful plan or an encouraging narrative. Rather it has fueled speculation that Alfa Romeo is being positioned for sale. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it found a loving home.

Alfa 3 wheel

Alfa: History Flash

In keeping with the Alfa theme, contributor S. Scott Callan has provided us a reminder of Alfa’s glorious past from his book, Alfa Romeo: View from The Mouth of the Dragon.

Ferrari 250 GTO in Motion

Ferrari 250 GTO 1964

University of Rhode Island Film Professor, one time actor, and MMR subscriber Hal Hamilton forwarded a great video of Derek Hill narrating the history of and driving the Ferrari 250 GTO that his father drove to victory in several major races. This is about as close as many of us will ever get to the view from the passenger seat of this most beautiful of the 36 GTOs ever made.

Senna and RUSH

Motorsports magazines are reminding Ayrton Senna fans that this month marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola. Autoweek carried Alain Prost’s fairly brief remembrance of their relationship in the most recent issue. As it happens, I saw RUSH last week and read the Prost piece shortly afterward. It occurred to me that the rivalry between Senna and Prost would have made a far better film.

Images

Our lead image and Alfa images this week are from Michael Keyser’s excellent book Racing Demons – Porsche and the Targa Florio.

And Michael Furman’s image this week is a great shot of the long tail 917 that lives at the Simeone in Philadelphia. Isn’t it stunning?

photo by Michael Furman, Porsche Long Tail 917

If you haven’t visited our Uncommon Classifieds recently, click here. There are a number of rare and interesting cars on offer at this time. Take a moment to dream, it’s good for you.

Have a great weekend and please share this with a friend.

Peter Bourassa


Alfa Romeo: View From the Mouth of the Dragon

Posted on May 1, 2014 Comments (0)

by S. Scott Callan

Alfa Romeo: View From the Mouth of the Dragon

“A note about the illustrations:

Some of the earliest automotive books received when I was young came from that great period of illustrated publications. These publications spoke of automotive design and engineering through the visual language of the pen and ink watercolor. These publications and their illustrations inspired my automotive enthusiasm and motivated me as a young artist. In the interest of taking the reader on a journey through the time period discussed, to fully appreciate the innovation of 1914 say, I have revisited this printing and graphic method dating from the turn of the 20th Century through nineteen forty.

For the engines I had a special interest in bringing alive the engineering; utilizing the printed page to bring forth the evolving performance of these engines in a method that inhabited the time, while animating them in third dimension representation. So here once again I revisit the period printing and graphic visual language of the pen and ink watercolor to bring forth an understanding of what Giuseppe Merosi, Vittorio Jano and Gioachino Colombo imagined and made metal.”

– S. Scott Callan

View the book on S. Scott Callan's website.