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.