Saturday, August 25, 2007

Japanese Super Fantastic Smokeys Caravan

While you try to fight those droopy eyelids and wait for the flag to drop for the Turkey GP, take a gander at what the Japanese highway cops have been driving.


The Killer Bs

1982 through 1986 will always be fondly remembered by rally enthusiasts. The ephemeral existence of Group B brought a level of excitement the sport had never seen before, and will never see again. When lightweight materials and no technological (read: boost) restrictions mix, you get lethal (literally) road rockets. The following are my favorites Group B cars.

1. Ford RS200. As a teenager in the late 1980s, I bought a large coffee table book creatively entitled The World's Fastest Cars. In it was a white RS200. I had never seen it before. It was beautiful. When I read that a 650hp version reached 60 miles per hour from a standstill in 2.1 seconds, I knew this was special. To this day, this is one of my top five favorite cars. Ever.

2. Lancia Delta S4. For some reason, whenever I think of 80s rally racing, the Martini Racing Lancia Delta S4 immediately pops into my head. Meant to replace the 037, infra, the Delta S4 was advanced in many ways. But most curious of all was the fact that it had a supercharger for low rpms and a turbocharger for higher revs. It was on course to dominate the sport when a Delta S4 crash killed its driver and navigator. This tragedy led to the demise of Group B, as safety advocates, and sane people, finally realized these cars were too fast and too dangerous.

3. Audi Quattro S1. Audi revolutionized rally racing, and treacherous roads to ski resorts in North America and Europe, with the Quattro all wheel drive system. Audi perfected its Quattro racers by pluncking down the most powerful engine in rally racing history-- a 2133 cc turbocharged five banger capable of 600hp-- and by chopping its wheelbase by more than a foot. One of these nimble and quick cars even broke a Pikes Peak climb record.

4. Lancia 037. The 037 was like nothing else. Though it looked cool and menacing, it was slow and rear wheel drive. It was not cutting it and was replaced by the Delta S4.

5. Renault 5 Turbo. 1983's unofficial Bond flick, Never Say Never Again, featured a red hot Renault 5 Turbo. Its ridiculously wide track and powerful engine mid-ship made it look, sound, and move like a beast, even though it's only slightly larger than a Yugo.

For the sights and sounds of Group B racing, go to youtube. The Group B tribute, with Metallica playing in the background, rawks.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Lambo S8 v. Ferrari Quattroporte

With my promotion to mailroom boy, I get to look at other people's mail, including their junk mail. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that the local Maserati dealer is luring the well heeled into its showroom by offering a box of Omaha steaks in exchange for a test drive.

Though most upper income bracket work-a-holics are satiated with the torque-crazy AMG S-class and the hyper-complicated M5, nothing says exotic sports sedan like shoehorning a northern Italian engine into the bonnet. Thankfully, the world currently has two such sedans on sale.

1. Maserati Quattroporte. A detuned 4.2 liter V8 from the Ferrari F430 provides the driver with 400hp. And finally, in 2007, a smooth manu-matic transmission is available (the new tranny's arrival was mentioned in the junk mailer). But what sets this full-sized sedan apart from all others is the Pininfarina body. Mama mia, that's-a spicy meat-a-ball!

2. Audi S8. The S8 gets a detuned 5.2 liter V10 from the Gallardo. But the engine's soul got lost in the translation. Even though the big Audi is chock full of aluminum, it weighs just as much as, if not more than, its 7-series and S-class competitors. And with it looking virtually identical to run-of-the-mill A8s, this car just ain't happening. An example of the Lambo-Audi synergy, this is not.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

1971 Super GT Comparo

During Concours week, I picked up a couple of compilation-style books on Lamborghinis that were put out by Brooklands. They included magazine articles about Lambos from 1965 through 1975. In a road test article about the 1971 Jarama, the specs page compared it to five other super, yet oft-forgotten, cars of that era.

1. Lamborghini Jarama. This was one of the first of a two decade-long line of forgettable Lambos. This has to be one of Bertone's worst designs. But according to Motor magazine, the 350hp V12 got it to go to 60 in 6.8 seconds and topped out at 168 miles per hour. No matter what the performance numbers, the dull styling relegated this model to the role of bench warmer.

2. Aston Martin DBS V8. That its most famous movie role was as George Lazenby's ride is emblematic of its obscure existence. Though the understated chaps at Newport Pagnell never disclosed the engine's specs, it was common knowledge that the 5.3 liter V8 was good for 350hp. But as the middle sibling between the classic DB6 and the more contemporary Vantage, the DBS is the equivalent of Jan Brady. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

3. Jensen FF. No, this is not the rusting Jensen Interceptor you saw last week in the Auto Trader. Years before the Audi Quattro climbed Pike's Peak, Jensen introduced the first all- wheel drive sports car with the FF. It was so advanced, it even had anti-lock brakes! Because the drivetrain was so complicated and unconventional, many pieces intruded into the left front seat. As such, no left hand drive FFs were ever made. Sorry, America.

4. AC Frua. Only 49 coupes were ever made. They were built on a stretched Cobra chassis. This Maserati Mistral look-a-like was expensive to build. The chassis was built in England. It was then shipped to Italy for the bodywork, then shipped back to England for the powertrain (which included the 428 c.i. engine) and trim. At a cost of 7600 British pounds, only the Lambo and the Jensen cost more.

5. Jaguar E-Type Series II 4.2. No early 70s GT comparo can be without the E-type. Enough has been written about this classic elsewhere. All that needs to be said is that in this comparo, it finished second to last in all the performance figures, just above the Franco-Italian SM.

6. Citroen SM. Ah, the SM. Faithful readers of this blog know that it is one of Tamerlane's favorites. He saw a beautiful, unrestored, rust-free specimen at a local Shell station recently. The "owner" just bought it in Orange County and was about to ship it overseas for a song. Pity, that.

Finally, I want to sum up my experience at Concorso Italiano last week. As spectators and participants left the grounds around 4pm, I was caught up in a traffic jam. In front of me, an Iso Grifo. To my right, a hulking black Lamborghini LM002. And behind me, a pedestrian Ferrari 308. It was heaven.


Monday, August 06, 2007

1970s Maserati Ugly Ducklings

In anticipation of the Concorso Italiano next Friday, I give you the ugly, oft-forgotten 1970s Maserati two-doors. I leave the aesthetic critiquing to my readers. I will just provide the facts:

Model: Merak
Meaning of model name: Star in Ursa Major
Years in production: 1974-1982
Layout: MR
Engine: 3.0 liter V6 (190hp)
Designer: Giurgiaro
No. of models expected at Concorso It.: 4

Model: Kyalami
Meaning of model name: South Africa's F1 circuit
Years in production: 1976-1983
Layout: FR
Engine: 4.2 liter V8 (255hp)
Designer: Carrozzeria Frua
No. of models expected at Concorso It.: 0

Model: Khamsin
Meaning of model name: Hot violent wind from Egyptian desert
Years in production: 1974-1980
Layout: FR
Engine: 4.9 liter V8 (320hp)
Designer: Bertone
No. of models expected at Concorso It.: 0

Model: Indy
Meaning of model name: Take a wild guess
Years in production: 1969-1974
Layout: FR
Engine: 4.2 liter V8 (260hp)
Designer: Vignale
No. of models expected at Concorso It.: 1

Model: Bora
Meaning of model name: Wind in the Adriatic
Years in production: 1971-1980
Layout: MR
Engine: 4.7 liter V8 (310hp)
Designer: Giugiaro
No. of models expected at Concorso It.: 6


Bitter Bitte!

As a child with undiagnosed OCD, I obsessed over my ability to identify every passenger car on the road. In that vein, I bought a Consumer Reports type guide which had a picture and description of every 1984 model year vehicle sold in America. One particular model was etched in my mind forever. It was the Bitter SC coupe.

Good Enough for A German Museum

Step Aside, 959...

Growing up, I thought: "Bitter? What a strange name." It turns out that it was named after a German ex-racer who decided to convert run-of-the-mill Opels into luxury sports cars. The SC was the most "successful" endeavor for Bitter. Between 1979 and 1989, a whopping 461 coupes, 22 convertibles, and 5 sedans were built. It borrowed the Open Senator's chassis and Opel/GM's 3 liter inline 6, capable of 177 horses. Bored out versions, at 3.9 liters of displacement which put out 207 hp, were also available. Many ended up State-side. Brand new, they cost $43,000 to $55,000. Exclusivity and eccentricity have their price, I guess.

Derivative Styling: Bitter SC or Ferrari 400/400i/412?

Guess Again: Bitter or Ferrari?