Saturday, July 2, 2011

Lamborghini Miura

Growing up in the 1980s and 90s, my inner gearhead was conceived by the exotic automobiles that defined a decade of conspicuous consumption. For me, one marque was the raddest of rad; coolest of cool; the Crocket beside Tubbs. Lamborghini.

At the time, I thought the Lamborghini Countach was arguably the pinnacle of exotic Italian motoring. The fact that the car was ludicrously expensive, unreliable, offered impossible visibility and just screamed "douchebag" was all overshadowed by sharp lines, scissor doors, slotted windows and an angry V12 growl. As far as I was concerned, Lamborghini and Countach were synonymous – I never knew of another raging bull.

But as I grew older, my tastes changed. My horizons were broadened. As my tape deck ejected White Snake for Led Zeppelin so went my taste in automobiles. I wanted to explore the heritage of cars like the Countach. Like Watson and Crick I started to uncover the building blocks of the [then] modern day Italian exotic. Enter, the Miura.

My first glimpse of the Lamborghini Miura was a lot like hearing the Beatles for the first time. I knew I was witnessing something special, something iconic, something new to me yet familiar at the same time; an amaranthine quality that I couldn't put my finger on.

The Miura's lines are beautifully simple yet astoundingly revolutionary in context. To think, a Lamborghini Miura P400 prototype first graced the stage of the Geneva Motor Show in 1966. Transcending all that was visionary of the time, witnessing the Miura's debut must have been akin to watching man first walk on the moon. Possibly so visionary, that if not for the fortitude of a few young engineers, the Miura may have never seen the light of day.

The Miura started life as a moonlight side project of Lamborghini engineers; Gian Paolo Dallara, Paolo Stanzani, and Bob Wallace. A side project because their vision of the future of Lamborghini was seen essentially as the exact opposite by the powers that be in Sant'Agata. At the time, Lamborghini thought the Miura would be too expensive and exotic, leading the company farther away from its anti-Ferrari, GT-centric business model. But to Dallara, Stanzani, and Wallace their creation was to be a car that could truly excel on both road and track, eventually earning a green light from management.

The Miura, originally referred to as the P400, was powered by a 350 horsepower, 3.9-liter V12 engine derived from the 400GT. Unlike the long-nosed gran turismo donor, the Miura featured a revolutionary, transverse mid-mounted engine layout. To make the tight squeeze, the P400's engine, transmission and differential were all essentially one unit (à la the Mini), sharing a single cast and oil supply. All told, the chassis and running gear were nothing short of jaw-dropping for the day.

With the heart of the Miura complete, a prototype rolling chassis debuted at the Turin Salon in 1965. The chassis received such an ecstatic response that orders were placed on the spot. This led Ferruccio Lamborghini to enlist the house of Bertone for the task of styling the P400. The design would be penned by a young designer named Marcello Gandini (if you don't know who he is, look up the name on Wikipedia).

Gandini would finish the Miura's design just in time for the 1966 Geneva Motor Show where the Lamborghini P400 prototype would make its indelible mark on automotive history. The overwhelming response from showgoers led the P400 to production the following year, in the process, earning the car its name – after a breed of Spanish fighting bulls, coinciding perfectly with Lamborghini's new logo – the Miura.

Like any other successful model, the Miura would evolve. The P400 made way for the P400S, P400SV and P400SV/J. What Ferruccio Lamborghini thought would be best suited as a low-production flagship eventually became the company's wheel horse.

I could easily delve deeper into the evolution of both the Miura and Lamborghini. However, the long and short of the story is without the Miura; the Countach, Diablo, Gallardo and Murciélago may have never existed. Bringing me full circle to where I began.

My early foray into automotive archeology led me to an exciting yet sobering conclusion. Had it not been for the Miura I may have never became the car guy I am today. What's more, had it not been for the Miura, many of my generation may have just as easily turned the pages of our buff books never feeling the petrol-fueled excitement that would mold our inner gearhead; diminishing if you will, our obsession with the cult of cars as we know it.My early foray into automotive archeology led me to an exciting yet sobering conclusion. Had it not been for the Miura I may have never became the car guy I am today. What's more, had it not been for the Miura, many of my generation may have just as easily turned the pages of our buff books never feeling the petrol-fueled excitement that would mold our inner gearhead; diminishing if you will, our obsession with the cult of cars as we know it.

tags: lamborghini miura

Friday, July 1, 2011

Alfa Romeo 105 Spider

The Alfa Romeo 105 series Giulia Spider as seen in the film The Graduate staring a young Dustin Hoffman and featuring the sound track by Simon and Garfunkel must be one of the most evocative cars that Alfa Romeo have ever made.

When it was released, in March 1966, it received very mixed reviews from the motoring press with Road & Track stating "We found almost no disagreement among members of staff about the appearance of the new model - no one liked it as much as the old Giulietta or the Giulia". The Car was styled by Battista Pininfarina and takes styling cues from the Super flow Disco Volante and was named the Duetto. The name has a very unusual origin in that Alfa Romeo decided to have a competition to name the car and this was won by Guidiobaldi Trionfi and the prize was the car.

The early Duetto's are now the rarest of the breed and as such fetch the highest prices. The car came originally with a 1600 engine these were very powerful in their day with the 1600cc engine producing 109 bhp In 1968 Alfa Romeo released a 1300cc version of the Duetto called the Spider Junior. Alfa Romeo marketed the Duetto from 1966 until 1969 and unfortunately demand for the product did not grow as expected, the car being still being overshadowed by the beautiful Giulietta Spider.

In 1969 the engine was enlarged to 1779 cc and renamed the 1750 in honour of one of the greatest cars in Alfa Romeo’s History. However plans were already afoot to change the styling of the car and 4 years after production started Alfa Romeo chopped the tail off the car and we got the series 2 spider, this is sometimes referred to as the camm tail spider. This also had the larger 2000cc engine with a power output of 132 bhp. Some Alfa enthusiasts still regard this as a backward step preferring the nature of the 1750 engine however the jury is still out on that one, and having driven some of the nicest examples of both I would not like to have to make a choice between them. Evolution of the chassis largely stopped at this point in the models history. The series 3 cars were characterised by the addition of a large rubber spoiler on the boot and a jutting chin spoiler, these cars are the most unloved of the models nowadays, however a nice car is still a good car to drive on a nice summers day with the hood down, and represents quite a bargain compared to the rest of the range.

Then in the late 1980s Alfa Romeo brought out the series 4 Spider, this is considered by most people to be a very nice evolution of the model, it got a very subtle lip spoiler incorporated into the boot and the chin spoiler disappeared. The bumpers became a rounded plastic that fits well with the rest of the design. Unfortunately the series 4 was never made in right hand drive so all the right hand drive cars are conversions and only the very best conversions are as good as the left hand drive factory models. The series 4 Spider had all the possible creature comforts that you could imagine with electric windows, electric mirrors, fuel injection as standard these luxury’s started to come in slowly with the series three cars but it was not until the series 4 that the model got power steering which does help the car to feel “modern”. The 105 series Giulia Spider is one of the classic Alfa Romeos and deservedly so being produced for over 25 years. This car should be on everyone’s want list, in the middle of summer nothing is as evocative as driving through a beautiful village with the bonnet sloping away from you and the wind in your hair.

If you haven’t tried it, you have missed an awful lot.

Mercedes-Benz 710 SSK 'Trossi'

The Mercedes-Benz SSK is a roadster built by German automobile manufacturer Mercedes-Benz between 1928 and 1932. Its name is an acronym of Super Sport Kurz, with the last word being the German for “short”, a reference to the fact that the car was based on the earlierMercedes-Benz S, but with 19 inches (480 mm) chopped from the chassis to make the car lighter and more agile for racing.

It was the last and greatest car designed for the company by the brilliant engineer Ferdinand Porsche, before he left to pursue the foundation of his own company. The SSK’s extreme performance—with a top speed of up to 120 miles per hour (190 km/h), it was the fastest car of its day—and numerous competitive successes made it one of the most highly regarded sports cars of its era. The S/SS/SSK line was one of the nominees in the penultimate round of voting for the Car of the Centuryaward in 1999, as chosen by a panel of 132 motoring journalists and a public internet vote.

Fewer than 40 SSKs were built during its production span, of which about half were sold asRennwagen (racing cars). Fitted with a supercharged seven litre straight-6 engine producing 200–300 metric horsepower (150–220kW) and over 500 lb·ft (680 N·m) of torque (depending on the state of tune), it was driven to victory in numerous races, including the 1929 500 Miles of Argentina, the 1929 and 1930 Cordoba Grands Prix, the 1931 Argentine Grand Prix, and, in the hands of legendary Grand Prix racing driver Rudolf Caracciola, the 1929 British Tourist Trophy race, the 1930 Irish Grand Prix, the 1931 German Grand Prix, and the 1931Mille Miglia.

Many were crashed while racing and subsequently cannibalised for parts, and as a result there are now almost 100 replicas using components donated from original vehicles. Only four or five entirely original models remain, and their scarcity and rich heritage make them among the most sought after cars in the world; a 1929 model was auctioned at Bonhams in Chichester in September 2004 for UK£4.17 million (US$7.4 million), making it the second most expensive automobile ever sold. Another SSK, a streamlined “Count Trossi”-bodied version owned and restored by fashion designer Ralph Lauren, has won best of show at both the 1993 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and the 2007 Concorso D’Eleganza Villa d’Este.

Lotus Elite

The Lotus Elite was first unveiled at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1957. Until the introduction of the Elite, Lotus and its founder (Colin Chapman) were famous for making racing cars to compete in road racing, hill climbs, or club racing. The Elite was the first attempt at a dual purpose car that could be truly road worthy as well as competitive in racing. The Elite would meet both objectives with six consecutive competition class wins at LeMans and an enthusiastic motoring public clamoring to purchase the car.
The car was very advanced for its day. It featured front and rear independent suspension, four wheel disc brakes, inboard disc brakes in the rear, and a very slippery shape with a .29 drag coefficient. However, the signature feature of the Elite was its highly innovative fiberglass monocoque construction. Mimicking the construction of a fiberglass boat with an upper and lower section bonded together to create a monolithic load bearing structure, a steel sub frame was attached to support the engine and front suspension. The resulting outcome was a feather light total vehicle weight of just under 1,200 pounds. This was a true manifestation of Colin Chapman’s fanatical mission of weight savings in pursuit of racing performance. The Elite was fast but at a sacrifice to strength. The cars were fragile and even a minor shunt could result in major damage.
The engine was a Coventry Climax four cylinder displacing 1,216 cubic centimeters. The history of this engine is interesting. The Coventry Climax engine was designed and used as a water pump engine on fire trucks prior to being discovered by British sports car manufacturers. The Coventry Climax engine was desired for its light weight aluminum construction and its overhead cam design. The racers found this engine superior in performance to the ubiquitous cast iron / push rod four cylinder engines of equal displacement from MG, Morris, and Ford. The engine produced an impressive 75 horsepower from 74 cubic inches meeting the benchmark of one horsepower per cubic inch. The light weight of the Coventry Climax engine helped the Elite to achieve not just a favorable overall weight but also a balanced front to rear weight distribution.
The body of the Elite was an absolute sensation. The actual body design was a collaborative effort between Peter Kirwin Taylor and Frank Costin. Peter Kirwin Taylor was an accountant friend of Colin Chapman who designed the original shape. Frank Costin was an aerodynamicist for DeHaviland Aircraft Company. It is ironic that one of the most beautiful and brilliant automotive designs of the 1950’s was created by an accountant / merchant banker. The Lotus Elite would be Peter Kirwin Taylor’s one and only automotive design. The car featured is a 1960 Lotus Elite owned by Brian Wertheimer and beautifully restored by Randall Fohr of Horton Restorations (just south of Tacoma). This car drew an admiring crowd at the All British Field Meet in Bellevue on July 24, 2010.

Citroen SM

It might be hard to imagine now, more than 30 years later, but in 1972 a French-designed and built automobile was widely regarded as the best car in the world. If one discounts the Panhard et Levassor models of the early 1900s this might be the one and only time a French vehicle was acknowledged as the best on the globe, and that is unsurprising since French cars usually enjoy the same esteem granted to Scottish cuisine and Mexican banking practices. How did the planets align in favor of the Citroen SM? Well, that is a story indeed.

It begins with a man named Andre Citroen, the son of a Dutch diamond broker. Born in 1878 into an upper middle class home, he attended technical college and, studious on new techniques, he obtained a license for a Russian process of machining gear teeth. Citroen's gears quickly gained a reputation for strength and silence, and his business became so successful a prominent French automobile manufacturer Mors asked him for technical assistance.

A mid-World War I visit to the gigantic Ford River Rouge plant moved Citroen to propose a post-war partnership with Henry Ford to build cars in France. But Ford said no, so Citroen decided to out-Ford Ford at least on the Continent. He teamed with Jules Salemon and together they began building cars in what had been the artillery shell factory on the Quai de Javel in Paris. Given Citroen's aspirations, it is not surprising that the enterprise's first vehicle was a tiny "people's car." Dubbed the A Model, the car had a 1.3-liter engine that produced just 10 horsepower.

By aiming low, the first Citroen was a success in the marketplace and the double chevrons that represented Citroen's gear-making venture became a familiar sight in France. The A Model was followed up by the 5CV "Trefle" and it, too, was a hit in the marketplace.

Not only did Citroen build inexpensive but reliable cars, Citroen also had a gift for promotion. A 1925 publicity stunt saw the Citroen name in lights on the Eiffel tower, but public endurance tests were his trademark. His C4 model was treated to a drive through the Canadian Arctic, but that was nothing compared to the B2, which was fitted with tank tracks instead of rear wheels and driven across the Sahara desert.

Through the Twenties Citroen, man and company, were on a roll, but the Depression following the 1929 stock market crash proved devastating to both. Sales took a huge dive, and Citroen was forced to turn to one of his major suppliers, Michelin, for help. Before the Thirties were over, Michelin would own 60 percent of Citroen.

The front-wheel-drive Citroen Traction Avant helped start a rebound. Introduced as the Citroen 7, the car was substantially re-worked and re-introduced as the Citroen 11 in July 1934, and the car proved to be so good that it remained in production until 1957.

Andre Citroen died in 1935 passing the baton to Pierre Boulanger, who found post World War II success with the Citroen 2CV, the fabled and much-maligned Deaux Chevaux. The 2CV was actually developed in the Thirties but the Second World War and post-war chaos conspired to prevent the car from reaching serious production until 1948.

The 2CV and the continued success of the Citroen 11 Traction Avant finally landed the company on a solid footing in the Fifties. Always willing to march to its own beat, Citroen then shocked and amazed the auto world with the introduction of its DS sedans in 1955. These spaceship-inspired cars used an astonishing complex hydraulic system to power steering, brakes, gear changes and suspension.

With the ever-ready 2CV supporting the company from the bottom of the market and the DS giving middle-echelon buyers something unique to spend their money on, Citroen posted decent results for its parent, Michelin, into the Sixties. But there the company came a cropper again.

President Pierre Bercot inexplicably decided to go on a merger-and-acquisition spree that netted the company Panhard, Berliet and Maserati. None of these acquisitions was a particularly good business decision, but gaining control of Maserati did have a positive benefit as far the as SM goes, because Maserati would eventually donate the engine to this esteemed automobile.

That, however, is a little ahead of the story. The SM resulted from a seemingly endless stream of development cars intended to prove to the world at large that performance and front-wheel-drive were not oxymoronic. Andre Lefebvre, who designed the Traction Avant, was the original leader of this charge, and by the time it was through respected engineers Jacques Ne and Walter Becchia also contributed to the project.

After the acquisition of Maserati, though, Bercot decided to turn his back on Becchia's various engine designs and look to the Italian company for a powerplant. Maserati's chief engineer, Giulio Alfieri, fulfilled the assignment by creating a small, reasonably light V-6 that could be wedged into the SM's confined engine bay.

When it came to the production vehicle, though, the hastily developed Maserati powerplant wasn't all that wonderful. Oh, it was small and tough, producing about 180 horsepower at a busy 6250 rpm, but because it was a 90-degree design rather than the preferred 60-degree configuration, it was a rattler. Power was, of course, routed to the front wheels via a front-mounted five-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission.

As you might guess, the SM had many other similarities to the DS as well. For example, the vehicle used the famous Citroen high-pressure hydraulic system to provide both springing and shock-damping functions. Fabulous when it wasn't leaking, the system also provided adjustable ride height and self-leveling functions. In fact, many SM drivers would raise their cars to the highest ride height to ford (you should pardon the expression) puddles.

Brakes also were powered by the central hydraulics. As in the DS, the front disc brakes were mounted inboard, which was strange enough, but the strangest part of the braking system was the mushroom-shaped bulb that took the place of the brake pedal. Foot pressure on this button activated the brakes. The more foot pressure applied the greater the braking action with front-rear bias adjusted by a proportioning valve.

Steering was as strange as the braking. The steering rack varied steering boost according to vehicle speed, which is relatively common these days, but uncommon was the SM's strong self-centering action and its super-quick two turns lock-to-lock. Because of this, driving the SM took a learning curve that often resulted in early uneasiness at the wheel.

Exterior styling also bore a strong kinship to the DS models, but the cars were penned by different designers. Flaminio Bertoni is credited with the DS, but he had the misfortune to pass away before the completion of the SM project, so Robert Opron took the reins. He drew up a car that was clearly a Citroen, but at the same time different than the DS if no less weird.

The 1970 Geneva Show was the place of unveiling for the SM, and it took the automotive world by storm almost before anyone could drive one. When magazine test drivers finally did get to test it, they loved the car, for all its oddities, immediately. As we said in the opening paragraph, it was widely proclaimed to be the greatest car in the world. 'Motor Trend' magazine named the newly introduced American version its "Car of the Year" for 1972.

But the seeds of disaster were already flying through the air like pollen in Kansas on a hot August day. Amazing as the car was technically it was just as complex to keep running properly. Like the Cord 810, a vehicle with which the SM had more than one similarity, the French car got a reputation as temperamental. Then the 1973-74 oil crisis hit, and even though the SM could attain 20 miles per gallon, the turn from performance cars quickly made the SM a has-been. In the end just 2,000 or so SMs made it to the United States, a sad conclusion for what for a brief time at least was a shining French star.

Bentley R-Type Continental

The R-Type was the epitome of British luxury in the 1950s and the first car to carry the Continental nameplate. Despite having a uniform style, each car was unique in detail. Unlike almost every car of the period, the Continental had an all-aluminum body.

The R-Type was the second series of post-war Bentley automobile, replacing the Mark VI. The front of the saloon model was identical to the Mark VI, but many had custom coachwork. The Continental model was produced specially for continental Europe, with many coachbuilt by H.J. Mulliner. This would be the first appearance of the famed Bentley Continental name.

All R Type models used an iron-block/aluminum-head straight-6 engine fed by twin SU carburettors. The basic engine displaced 4.6 L (4566 cc/278 in³) with a 92.08 mm (3.6 in) bore and 114.3 mm (4.5 in) stroke. The Continental had a larger bore of 94.62 mm (3.7 in) for a total displacement of 4.9 L (4887 cc/298 in³).

A 4-speed manual transmission was standard with a 4-speed automatic optional.

Chevrolet Camaro RS/SS

The inaugural 1967 Chevrolet Camaro was Chevy's four-seat "personal" car, turned out in responding to the limited but significant success of the bucket-seated Corvair Monza -- and, of course, the stunning popularity of the phenomenal Ford Mustang.

Demand for such "ponycars" was strong and growing, tightening the traditional Chevy-Ford rivalry into a Camaro vs. Mustang competition that spanned five decades and is about to be reignited with the introduction of the all-new 2009 Chevrolet Camaro.

Hardtop coupes and convertibles went on sale, both riding a 108-inch wheelbase. Not everyone realized that Camaros were based on off-the-shelf components -- shared by the modest Chevy II, no less -- with engines borrowed from Chevelle. Camaro's F-body was one of GM's first to be evaluated in a wind tunnel.

Early on, engineers decided to use a front sub-frame in combination with unit construction, sandwiching rubber inserts in between -- the first such application in a low-priced U.S. car. Back seats were strictly "for emergency use only."

Single-leaf rear springs resulted in "axle tramp" under hard acceleration with the larger V-8 engines, so those cars were fitted with traction bars. Chevy's 230-cubic-inch six was standard, with a 250-cubic-inch six op­tional. The V-8 selection started with 210- and 265-horsepower 327s, then stretched all the way to a big 396-cubic-inch, 375-horsepower V-8 with four-barrel carb and 11:1 compression.

Midyear brought an SS 350 edition with a 295-horsepower V-8 and "bumblebee" nose striping. Meanwhile, a Rally Sport (RS) package featured stylish concealed headlights.

Despite promotion of Camaro as a male-oriented machine, especially with a hot V-8 under the hood, one in four buyers was a woman. A lengthy accessories and options list let customers personalize the car. Vinyl-covered roofs were optional on coupes.

First-year production totaled 220,917 cars (162,109 with a V-8 engine). That was less than half Mustang's total, but all five other Chevrolet car lines saw diminished output. Chevrolet also issued 602 race-bred Camaro Z28s with a 302-cubic-inch V-8 nominally rated at 290 horsepower but capable of considerably more.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Valiant Chrysler Charger E49

The 1971 VH Valiant Charger was based on the Valiant VH, but was a short-wheelbase 2-door version. It could be equipped with a slant six, small V-8, or the "ordinary" 265 Hemi, an engine originally created for trucks, but abandoned in the US and developed to its full potential in Australia. The "ordinary" version had 203 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm, making it competitive with V-8s. The high-performance version was reserved for the Pacer - for now.

The Charger R/T had lower ratio differential; six-inch rims; front anti-roll bar; a tachometer and an oil pressure gauge. Stock, it could run a 15.7 second quarter mile. Optional was the "six-pack" package, using three two-barrel Webers to put the 265 up to 248 hp. The final option was the E38 engine, with a higher compression ratio, different gear ratios, and 280 hp - about 80 hp more than the standard 265! This brought the quarter mile down to 14.8 seconds, with a single gear change. Zero to 60mph was 6.3 seconds. Handling was "exceptional," possibly due to the light engine.

The 1972 E49 Charger was a significant move forward, and not just because it was the first to get a four-speed manual gearbox. The E49 pushed the 265 engine to a full 302 hp, and had the quickest acceleration of any Australian production car - 14.4 seconds, respectable even when compared to American big-blocks.

The 340 V-8 was Chrysler's last high-performance V-8 intended for cars. In the American Dusters, it was a match for many big-blocks, but was often underestimated in the US. The VH Charger was given the 340 as an option but it was used mainly as a status feature. It was only available in the Charger 770 E55, a full-luxury version of the Charger. With an automatic, its performance was better than the manual XA GT Falcon. Zero to 60mph was 7.2 seconds, and the quarter mile was an impressive 15.5; top speed was over 125mph! The camshaft was nonperformance and the exhaust was restrictive, so it was capable of much more.

The VJ (1973 - 1975) and VK (1975 - 1976) Valiant Chargers could be bought with the 318 or the 360. The 360 was only a little faster than the 318 (quarter mile in 16.2 rather than 16.7 seconds, 0-100 mph in 25 rather than 26 seconds) but was less fuel efficient.

The final model was the CL (1976 - 1978) Charger. The Valiant name was dropped.

The R/T Charger is a rare car these days. Clone R/Ts are also fetching good money these days. The later model Chargers are generally less desirable here as they are back in Australia so they have not appreciated as rapidly. There are some limited edition (White Knight/Drifter) are going to be good examples to hang on to. Not only do the Mopar fans love these cars here in the USA, the appeal is wide spread across all aspects of car enthusiast.

Dodge Charger R/T 440

The first Dodge Charger was the 1964 show car, based on the Polara and fitted with a 426 Wedge engine. Jim Rodebaugh created a convincing replica (though in silver rather than the concept’s ruby red), with a 413 V8 dressed to look like the 426 Wedge. This replica is currently for sale (Jim is at 918-333-5573), with a much lower asking price than the original, which went for $1.1 million in 2007.

There was also a 1965 Dart produced with the “Charger 273” name. 180 were made at the factory, and 300 kits were available to be dealer-installed. It was based on a Dart GT hardtop or convertible; all were yellow with a black top and interior, with the 273, 13X6 Cragar mag wheels, and Charger emblems. Lewis wrote that it had glass-pack mufflers for a nice roar, Cragar wheels, and Charger emblems for the engine bay.

Burton Bouwkamp wrote: “The Chrysler turbines had reached the point where production would be practical, and the decision to make a special, limited-production turbine car with different styling was reached. Tom Golec, supervisor of car development, said that low-volume tooling for a 500-vehicle production run had already been ordered, and a no-slip clutch unit was developed (but not used because of its cost). The project was cancelled, and the special body became the Charger (but with a different grille).”

The unique dashboard featured high-clarity backlighting at night, and a large tachometer sitting among the other instruments, rather than down in the console — where a clock sat. The standard engine was a 230 hp 318 V8 (roughly 150 hp, net), with an optional 265 hp 361, 325 hp 383, and 425 hp Hemi. Transmissions were the three-on-the-tree (318 only), four-on-the-floor, and three-speed automatic.

The Charger body was based on the Coronet, but with a fastback roofline and unique (if similar) front clip that resembled the Coronet, but had retractable headlights, giving the car a sporty look. A round Charger crest was featured in the center of the convex grille, and the Charger name was spelled in block letters across the full length of the single, full-width tail-light. The rear bucket seats - unusual at the time - folded forward individually - also unusual. The instrument panel was actually unique to the Charger (unlike the current Magnum/Charger), featuring four large, round pods directly in front of the driver (like the new Charger). Both sticks and automatics got a floor shifter in a full-length console between the front seats.

The Charger came standard with a sturdy 318 V-8, then still new and producing 230 hp (gross; about 170 net?) at 4,400 rpm. The 2-barrel 361 and 4-barrel 383 were also options; the Hemi came in mid-year. The 318 Charger came standard with a 3 speed manual, and the bigger engines came with either a 4 speed manual (with Sure-Grip differential) or the Torqueflite automatic.

For more photos, go to the bottom of this page!

The 1966 Dodge Charger was introduced on New Year’s Day, and it didn’t take long for the 1967 model to replace it, with few changes. The 318 lost 55 pounds of weight without any disadvantage; the 361 was replaced by a mild two-barrel 383; and the 440 Magnum became available with 375 hp. Trim was upgraded, with new chrome and fender-mounted turn signals, as well as a new center section in front and optional split seats. The Charger had all the Coronet 500 luxury features, and both years had fold-flat rear seats, for 7 feet of cargo area, as well as a tachometer and full instrumentation. More serious options included a heavy duty suspension with stabilizer bar, towing package, and big 11 inch front disc brakes.

Standard features included concealed headlamps and turn signals, backup lights, center console, lighting package, front and rear bucket seats, carpeting (in the trunk and cabin), security panel (to cover the trunk contents), lap belts for four people, self-adjusting brakes, front sway bar, internal hood release handle, tachometer, oil pressure gauge, and tinted rear window. Options included air conditioning, remote controlled rear-view mirrors, electric windows, trunk light, and other common items. The powertrain warranty was good for 5 years or 50,000 miles, provided stringent maintenance rules were followed; and it didn't apply to the Hemi cars.

The Charger did very well on the NASCAR circuit, winning the manufacturer's championship, but sales were poor, with only 37,344 1966 Chargers sold, a mere 468 with the 426 Hemi engine (which sold for about 1/3 of the car's base price!). In its second year, a mere 15,000 were sold, including 118 Hemis.

In 11 years of racing, the Dodge Charger — running in close to stock form — won 124 NASCAR Cup races and took three drivers to five championships. Richard Petty won three of his seven titles behind the wheel of a Dodge Charger, according to Dodge.

“Charger is a luxury car that is nimble enough and quick enough and challenging enough to make you glad you can't afford a chauffeur. It's a lot of excitement in a package 17 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 4 1/2 feet high.”

Audi Quattro

There aren’t many true landmark vehicles in the history of the car, but the Audi Quattro has a strong claim to be one of them. It introduced four wheel drive to road cars, and provided a way of harnessing very high levels of power to make high performance driving in all weathers and on all types of road more than enough excellent fists to make it a real contender for landmark vehicle status. The outcome of such innovation was a car that was both easier to drive and quicker point to point than a traditional supercar. It was also a huge success on the rally circuit. Not surprisingly, other manufactures could be seen making a very hasty and undignified rush to copy the format. The Quattro was based on the two door coupe version of the 80 saloon, and borrowed its transmission form the VW lltis military vehicle. Initially it was powered by a turbocharged 2.1 liter five cylinder engine, and divided the 200 bhp on tap equally between the front and rear wheels. Inside, the driver was provided information by the then futuristic digital instruments, adding a touch of science fiction innovation to the classically high standards of engineering and build quality that the ground breaking Quattro represented.

The Quattro concept was refined over the best part of decade, culminating in the 20V version. This had a new 2.3 liter turbocharged 20V engine, and the derivation had a ‘Torsen’ differential, the term is an acronym for torque Sensing, which could automatically send more power to the wheels to provide the most grip. It is still hailed as one of all time motoring greats, and its replacement, the S2 coupe could never deliver the Quattro raw edge thrills.

2011 Aston Martin V8 Vantage S

The Aston Martin Vantage secured its position as the automaker's sportiest model when it was introduced at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show for the 2006 model year. Like the DB9, the then-new two-door utilized the now common VH Architecture (the chassis is constructed with extruded and bonded aluminum panels). Today, the platform is also shared with the DBS and Rapide.

The four basic body styles in the Aston Martin lineup have much in common, but the Vantage holds the trump card when it comes to handling. Unlike its architecture-sharing siblings, the Vantage is shorter by a foot and its wheelbase undercuts the others by nearly six inches – the reduction in overall size translates to a lighter curb weight (3,549 pounds Coupe, 3,726 pounds Roadster) and greatly improved handling.

Aston Martin offers its Vantage in a dozen flavors these days, from the entry-level V8 Vantage Coupe($120,350) to the flagship V12 Vantage Carbon Black ($194,995). Following on the heels of the limited-edition sport-tuned V8 Vantage N420 models, introduced less than a year ago, are two new models both wearing the automakers coveted 'S' badge - the 2011 Vantage S Coupe and 2011 Vantage S Roadster.

While their aluminum platforms are virtually identical to the standard coupe and roadster models, the British automaker is targeting driving enthusiasts with these heavily upgraded Vantage S variants. Under the hood of each is a specially-tuned version of the familiar all-alloy 4.7-liter V8. Fitted with an adjustable air intake (engineered to open nearly unrestricted at 3,500 rpm), more aggressive spark mapping and the ability to take advantage of higher octane fuel, the engine delivers 430 horsepower at 7,200 rpm and 361 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm (its power rating tops the N420's output by about ten horsepower). We estimate the Vantage S will hit 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds (Aston Martin lists the maximum speed at 189 mph).

The Vantage S also boasts a new transmission. The six-speed Sportshift gearbox (a single-clutch automated manual transmission) fitted to the standard Vantage models and the N420 has been superseded by Aston Martin's all-new seven-speed Sportshift II. While it remains a single-clutch automated manual transmission (rumor has it a dual-clutch unit won't fit), Sportshift II is 52 pounds lighter than Sportshift I. Plus, it is at least 100 pounds lighter than a dual-clutch transmission, reports Aston. Specifically designed with the performance of the V8 Vantage S in mind, the transmission is engineered to operate automatically in Drive mode, or to be manually commanded via column-mounted magnesium shift paddles (the new transmission is reportedly able to select gears 20 percent faster than the older gearbox, in both modes). The rear-mounted gearbox is also now air-cooled, not oil-cooled like its predecessor, helping to shed an oil pump and other unnecessary ancillaries.

The exhaust system is also unique to the V8 Vantage S (it shares some commonality with the aggressive muffler system used on the V12 Vantage). Its overall capacity is larger, and the bypass valves are engineered to open earlier in the rev range to produce a throatier sound and more "crackle on the overrun," says the automaker.

The steering rack has been modified with a quicker ratio (now 15:1, as compared to 17:1 on the standard Vantage models), dropping the number of wheel turns (lock-to-lock) down to just 2.62. The suspension has also been overhauled with retuned passive damper valves, revised rear spring coil rates and revised bump stop rates and lengths.

The braking system delivers more stopping power, thanks to larger 15-inch slotted front rotors with six-piston calipers. While their overall diameter has increased over the standard Vantage, their weight has done just the opposite (credit an innovative two-piece system that uses a lightweight aluminum hub with a durable iron braking surface). The rear 13-inch rotors are cast iron, with four-piston calipers. The braking software has been refined to take advantage of existing brake-related systems (ABS, electronic Brake Force Distribution, Traction Control and Positive Torque Control), and the three-mode Dynamic Stability Control has been specially calibrated for its new enthusiast-tuned role. The Vantage S is also the first Aston Martin to be configured with Hill Start Assist (the brakes are automatically used to hold the vehicle stationary on a steep grade for two seconds, or until the accelerator is pressed).

Visually differentiating the Vantage S from its other siblings, Aston Martin has resculpted the front bumper and added a carbon fiber lower front splitter (its larger intake channels more air to the engine and brakes). There are larger side sills with styling derived from the GT4 race car, and a new carbon-fiber rear diffuser. Lastly, the rear decklid features the slightly raised "flip" shared with the V12 Vantage. All of the design elements contribute to lowering the coefficient of lift and drag, thus increasing high speed stability.

The wheels are also unique to the Vantage S lineup. Standard fitment is 19-inch "V-spoke" cast aluminum alloys, wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza RE050 performance tires (245/40R19 in the front and 285/35R19 in the rear - the rears on the Vantage S are 10 mm wider out back when compared to the standard Vantage). Forged 10-spoke aluminum alloy wheels, saving additional unsprung weight, are optional.

A glance at the interior reveals that it, too, has its own unique look. The cabin has been upgraded with distinctive three-track stitching on the door panels and seats (Aston Martin says the design element "echoes the gills of a shark"). The steering wheel can be covered in Obsidian Black leather (or Alcantara) with matching or contrasting stitching and there is an option to specify a Piano Black package, complete with a piano black center console, door handle surrounds and handles. The option list for both Vantage S models reads nearly identical to the other Aston Martin siblings, whether one is seeking a 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen BeoSound audio system, satellite radio upgrade or a boot-mounted umbrella. Track junkies overseas will want to opt for the extra-cost carbon-fiber and Kevlar bucket sport seats, with soft leather faces, saving nearly 40 pounds of weight (sadly, the DOT won't certify them for the States).

Aston Martin is offering the 2011 Vantage S in two body styles. The standard V8 Vantage S Coupe (with mandatory Sportshift transmission), starts with a base price of $138,000. The V8 Vantage S Roadster with a power-operated soft top (also only fitted with Sportshift) will set you back $151,000. The pricing puts the two new models comfortably mid-pack in the Vantage lineup. (All pricing includes gas guzzler tax, but exclude the $1,615 fee for delivery and destination.)

By luck of the draw, I'm on the track in the first round. My fortune is short-lived, however, as I quickly realize my dallying in the heated lounge has cost me first choice of vehicles – I'm left holding the glass key to a bright blue right-hand-drive model. The minor annoyance accepted, my six-foot, two-inch frame settles comfortably into the optional sport seats (as mentioned, the nice carbon/Kevlar buckets won't be offered in the States). Strapped in place with the standard three–point belts, I slide the white open-face helmet over my skull. I have plenty of wiggle room.

The new Sportshift II, like its predecessor, doesn't have a traditional PRNDL gate on the lower console. Instead, there are four round buttons ("Sport," "R," "N" and "D") high on the center stack. The Vantage S, like all Aston Martins these days, is started with the signature key held in place for a few seconds. The V8 fires over and settles to a tempered growl. I step on the brake and tap the "D" button, followed immediately by the "Sport" button – it electronically changes transmission maps so the new gearbox will shift more rapidly and hold each gear longer through the counterclockwise sweep of the tachometer. The sport mode also alters the flapper in the exhaust to give it a more aggressive note.

With an open track beaconing, and a flagman waving a bandera verde, I bury my right foot on the metal accelerator pedal. There is a very reassuring growl from the ass-end of the coupe as the 4.7-liter forces me back into the seat.

It takes about three full laps of the 3.1-mile circuit before I am comfortable with the layout. There are twenty-six corners, so much of the orientation is spent memorizing entry points (speed will come). With most committed to my internal RAM, I increase my velocity gradually. I immediately find the Vantage S very docile - it is nearly perfectly balanced (49:51 front to rear) and the steering is nicely weighed. I'm pleasantly surprised.

After ten minutes, I'm starting to really enjoy things. The Bridgestone Potenza tires are getting some good heat into them, as are the brakes. I push harder. At about eight-tenths, the Vantage S transforms from being a street car on a track to a showroom-ready racer. The back end starts to break free if power is applied on a lightened rear end (easily corrected with some opposite steering input) and a bit of understeer in the sharper corners becomes an issue. It's time to crank things up.

At nine-tenths, I'm grinning ear-to-ear. Diving into the hairpin corners, I use trail braking to help rotate the Vantage S (masking much of the understeer). Body roll is minimal, and there is plenty of low-end torque to control rotation and bring the coupe back to speed upon exit. The width of the Vantage requires some caution in the tighter areas (unless you enjoy unsettling impacts with curbs), but nothing overly distracting. That same low stance does contribute to ample, and welcomed, grip on the small and medium-size corners. On the larger sweepers, I find it easiest to keep my foot down until I feel the rear end get light. Then I just hang it there and enjoy the ride.

The Vantage S is truly one of the more enjoyable vehicles I have ever driven on the track. The engine pulls with gusto (it prefers to spin at the top of the tachometer, so be wary of the fuel cutoff), the exhaust sounds tremendous (even through a helmet) and the brakes are more than competent for the job. And one has to mention the chassis – it is a spectacularly stiff platform. Aston Martin takes some abuse for using the same VH architecture on all of its models. I say, who cares? It works.

Yet hold your applause.

Even with its sexy styling and eight-cylinder rumble, there is something working against the Vantage S. It's the darn brand-spanking new Sportshift II gearbox. While it is admirably lighter and quicker than its predecessor, it still trails the pack when compared against the dual-clutch offerings from the competition (there is no prize for inventing the ultimate VHS machine these days). Even when the transmission is in manual-shift mode, there is an agonizingly noticeable delay between gears. Aston Martin's redesigned single-clutch gearbox may finally be quickest of its kind, but the industry moved on. Several years ago.

With my helmet back in the lounge, I grab the keys to another Vantage S and depart Ascari Circuit on two-lane public roads for the small Spanish villages of Cuevas del Becerro, Setenil de las Bodegas and Arriate. In a relaxed manner, the transmission is left in "D" allowing the electronic nannies do the shifting. Once again, I find myself flustered with the slow gearbox, so it's back to manual mode (thankfully, it only takes a brief tap on the paddleshifter to kill the autobox and the system doesn't revert back to automatic without pressing the "D" button again). With my brain in control, and my fingers doing the work, the Vantage S is a fun scalpel to carve local Spanish roads. I am smiling once again.

The British automaker doesn't hesitate when asked to put the crosshairs on the Vantage's direct competition. It understandably comes from the volume-selling rear-engine Porsche 911. Granted, Aston Martin money ($138,000-plus) will buy every single naturally-aspirated 911 in today's lineup, and get you in a standard 911 Turbo – an established segment benchmark.

Aston Martin Vantage S verses Porsche 911 Turbo. That's a tough dilemma.

If asked to choose a weekend track car with those lottery winnings, I'd toss both aside and place my money on the Porsche 911 GT3 RS – that lightweight slot car is a no brainer. But, if asked to pick a sports car to fill the void in the third garage slot, one that would shuttle me to work a couple days a week, get front billing with the valet at the country club, provide me with an engaging driving experience up Mulholland Highway on days off and make me look over my shoulder each time I park, I'd choose the new Aston Martin Vantage S. But, really... can I get one with a manual transmission?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cord 812 Supercharged

In 1937 the 812 was offered with an optional supercharger and it became the ultimate Cord before the company closed indefinitely the same year. While the supercharged option didn't save Cord, the car was much better sorted then the first cars badged as 810 models.

Central to the Supercharged Cord was a Schwitzer-Cummins centrifugal supercharger that was attached to the L-head Lycoming V8 engine. With 6 psi boost, it produced roughly 185 to 195 bhp. This was good enough to propel Ab Jenkins at an average speed of 101.72 mph for 24 hours on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Like the 1936 models badged 810, the 812 had eccentric styling designer Gordon Buehrig which was matched by some unorthodox engineering choices. To allow for more cockpit room, a bespoke transmission was fitted aft of the engine which initially caused many problems with reliability.

Four different bodystyles were avalble directly from Cord including the Convertible Coupe also known as the Sportsman, Beverly Sedan, Custom Beverly, Custom Berline, Phaeton, and Westchester Sedan.

Facel Vega HK500

It’s been said that nothing succeeds like excess. It sure did in the Fifties -- which may explain why the second-generation Facel Vega, the HK500, was simply more of the same. Announced in 1959, the new HK500 retained the basic chassis design of the original FVS, but had updated running gear and a restyled body of altogether more “transatlantic” character. The result, said veteran Mechanix Illustrated magazine tester Tom McCahill, was “sexier than the Place Pigalle and throatier than a Russian basso...a sporting piece of equipment that looks like money, which is exactly what it costs [$9,795]...a car to be appreciated as a remarkable and wonderfully satisfying road companion.”

The HK500 continued on the 105-inch wheelbase of the last FVS, so accommodation remained more 2 + 2 than full four-seater. (One British scribe said it helped if you had very small friends for back-seat passengers.) Still, the new envelope was smarter and more contemporary. The FVS had been somewhat rounded, more Forties than Fifties, but the HK500 was crisper and more Detroit-inspired, right down to stacked quad headlamps and a fully wrapped windshield with “dogleg” A-pillars.

The HK500 also continued Facel’s fondness for Chrysler V-8 power. Early examples carried the 325-horsepower, 354-cubic-inch hemi engine as in the ’58 FVS, but this gave way within a year to the American firm’s new 383-cid wedge-head unit, with two four-barrel Carter carburetors and a rated 360 bhp in this application.

As the HK500 weighed little more than the FVS, the bigger motor gave truly formidable performance. Top speed was at least 140 mph, and the 0-60 mph sprint consumed less than 8.5 seconds. Fuel economy, though, was more dismal than ever: only about 14 mpg, a big drawback in Europe. Pont-a-Mousson 4-speed manual and Chrysler 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic were available as before. So were the Dunlop all-disc brakes, but Facel sensibly made them standard equipment from 1960 on, along with power steering.Though faster, more stylish, and more roadworthy than its predecessor, the HK500 was still mainly a grand touring machine a comfortable, lavishly equipped high-speed cruiser of obvious quality.

Holden Torana A9X Hatch

The Holden Torana A9X Hatch is possibly one of the most desirable cars for Australian collectors … after all there were only 100 of them built for sale to the public between August and December 1977.

The very first Holden Torana A9X Hatch for sale to the public … serial number J590981 … would have to be the most desirable of all the Torana A9X vehicles that are around today and you can have it if you’ve got somewhere between $270,000 and $290,000.

That’s what this almost pristine car is expected to go for at Meguiar’s MotorEx auction to be held at the Sydney Showground over the weekend of July 24-25.

This vehicle was originally acquired by Ron Hodgson … a well known car dealer in Sydney … and has only traveled 16,000 km since new. Back then the A9X could be bought off the showroom floor for a mere $10,600 … oh to have had ten grand back then to snap up a vehicle like this (I think I was driving a Renault 12 in 1977).

The A9X was actually a ‘Performance Equipment Package’ available on a range of LX models fitted with the 5.0 litre, 308-cid engine and was introduced in August 1977 to ensure that it was eligible for the Bathurst 1000 of that year.

Although the A9X didn’t win Bathurst that year it did go on to be the most successful Australian Touring Car ever built by Holden.

While race versions were equipped with the L34 engine, T10 gearbox, roll cage, wide wheels and long-range fuel tanks, new Australian Design Rules and Emission laws dictated that all A9X Toranas rolled off the assembly line in the same, more basic specification, fitted with Holden’s stock L31 5.0-litre V8.

Significantly, the Holden Torana A9X was the first Holden ever to be fitted standard with rear discs and its Salisbury differential also meant the extra tall 2.60:1 final drive ratio could be used to advantage on Bathurst’s long Conrod straight.

The cars were also clearly identified by their new rear facing, bonnet-mounted carburettor induction scoop, one of the 100 or so differences that set the A9X apart from standard LX Toranas.