Sad to chronicle the demise of Sears. Many of you aren’t old enough to remember the Sears glory days, that peaked in the late 1800s leading into the 50s and early 60s. Sears was the 50s equivalent of Amazon.com. They sold absolutely everything except it was through a mail order catalog as thick as the (former) New York City phone book. You just filled out the coupon, sent it in with a check and your purchase arrived later by mail. There were no credit card
Amazon.com also sells absolutely everything but through it’s connections to other companies. Sears had everything in its warehouses. Sears sold kids baseball gloves signed by Ted Williams. Ultimately cars made by the Lincoln car company of Chicago in the early 1900s (No relation to the Ford line). But my current point is that Sears produced a line of motor scooters, branded as “Allstate” in the 50s and my dad had one.
They were a knockoff of the Vespa line made by Piaggio In Italy (Photo 1). They had a two-cycle engine and produced ~ 4.9 horsepower as I recall. So, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 13-year-old adolescents could get licensed to own and ride motor scooters powered by less than 5 horsepower. I lived in Albuquerque at the time and I was barely 13 but my father refused to even discuss my acquiring one. However, he decided that his personal use of one was downright practical.
He was the Chief Resident in surgical training at what was technically an off campus site of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Two hospitals in Albuquerque involved, the VA and the Bernalillo County Indian Hospital. This was a very early training program. The County Indian Hospital was a “residents Hospital”, much like Bellevue, Charity and Cook County. None of the surrounding Indians, mostly Navaho and Pueblo, had any monetary resources and much health care at the time was financed by cash. Those unfortunates were relegated to tax based indigent care and the taxpayers weren’t much interested in financing it so they opted for as cheap a care as could be had. Resident physicians were cheap and they got a lot of experience there.
It was 1957. Our family had only one car and my mother mostly needed use of it. So my dad decided that a motor scooter would be a cheap, practical vehicle to get back and forth to the two hospitals, both near where we lived. The big VA hospital was right next to the Randy Lovelace Clinic where the Mercury astronauts were examined for the first flight into space. This freed up the car for my mother to shop and do housekeeping chores. She also traded with the local Indians for just about everything, which doesn’t happen anymore, especially since the tribes discovered gambling dens.
When my father rounded at the County Indian Hospital on Saturday mornings, I begged and wheedled until he agreed to take me, perched on the tiny rear seating area. So off we went, powered by 4.9 horsepower and a three-speed transmission. Seemed at the time plenty of power. I sat on the scooter for a couple of hours while he rounded, then when he finally came out, he let me ride the scooter by myself around the back parking lot of the hospital, an experience burned into my memory.
The County Indian Hospital was an incredible training experience for housestaff. Indians at the time had lousy living conditions on reservations managed by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) on a federal shoestring and they had lots of health problems. Many had COPD from inhaling smoke from their teepees or mud dwellings. Indians at the time had very little resistance to ethanol and many had severe liver disease and were the victims of vehicular trauma on Saturday nights when the bars closed. To this day, a car trip out north of Albuquerque will show you billboard after billboard of personal injury lawyers specializing in defending ethanol abuse and drunk driving.
But the really big cultural deal for me was licensure for 4.9 hp scooters, ideal for home to middle school commuting (but not for me- I got the school bus which made me a third-class citizen). The across-the-street mesa from Woodrow Wilson Junior High School was literally filled with scooters owned by kids that could afford them and whose parents acceded. Each cost about US$200 and there were three classifications:
3. The Lambretta (Photo 4). The Italian scooter equivalent of a Ferrari. Lots of curves and a back seat where your girlfriend could sit side saddle and cross her legs. Riders wore striped shirts and scarves. As you might imagine, I was a Lambretta guy. They were all a strong enough influence that I rode two wheels the rest of my adult life.
David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Department of Critical Care
Every year, we host the Formula One Powerboat racing series on the intersection of where the three rivers meet to form the Ohio River, a direct conduit to the Mississippi. The highest class of inshore powerboat racing in the world, similar to Formula Onecar racing. Each race lasts approximately 45 minutes following a circuit marked out in a selected stretch of water, usually a lake, river, dock, or sheltered bay.
The boats are actually shallow catamarans weighing about 860 pounds. They’re 20 feet long and 7 feet wide. The boats are all powered by Mercury V6 two-stroke engines generating over 400 horsepower. Zero to 60 miles-per-hour in less than two seconds and a maximum speed of 155 miles-per-hour. Sanctioned races occur all over the world with multi-national drivers.
These boats remind me of my youth when similar powerboats raced on the lake in the center of my town. This would have been about 1960. The light wooden boats were of two varieties, longer “Runabouts” and flat “Hydroplanes”. They were all powered by smaller 10 or 15 horsepower Mercury engines, modified for more RPM with “Quicksilver Lower Units) and racing propellers. There were probably other modifications. They were pretty fast for the time. The throttle controlled by a “dead man” lever that must be held together by the driver. If he was flipped out of the boat, the lever relaxed and the engine stopped.
Pre-race warm-up was accomplished by two guys holding the back of the boat up out of the water just high enough that the spinning prop would get some water into the cooling vanes. When warm, the boat was simply dropped with the driver leaning forward to maintain balance as the boat took off. The boats were loud and fast and flipped often; rarely an injury. It was “real” racing. If Satan had dropped by with a bargain to put me into one of those boats, I’d have to think about it.
In order to understand the passion for Formula One you have to understand the Passion for Ferrari (demonstrated massively at Monza,
the Italian Grand Prix). Ferrari is not a brand, it’s an obsession. The proprietary passenger automobiles are not motorized vehicles; they’re living beasts that envelop their drivers who become integral parts of the car. Their owners/drivers are insanely passionate about them. The cars rarely diminish much in value with age and some of the older ones enter the upper ionosphere of value, with no end in sight. A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO became the most expensive car in history, selling in a private transaction for US$38.1 million.
This race at Monza marks 70 years of the Ferrari badge in motorcar racing. The first Ferrari-badged car was the 1947 125 S, powered by a 1.5 L V12 engine. Enzo Ferrari’s only real interest was racing so in order to finance these efforts, Enzo developed and sold proprietary automobiles to fund “Scuderia Ferrari” (Ferrari Stable). Ferrari is the most successful racing team in Formula One history, holding the most constructors championships and producing the most winning drivers.
That design originally graced the fuselage of a WW I Italian fighter plane flown by Italian Ace Francesco Baracca. After his death, Francisco’s wife asked Enzo to use this horse on his cars, suggesting that it would bring him good luck. Ferrari chose to have the horse in black (as it had been painted as a sign of grief on Baracca’s squadron planes after the pilot was killed in action) and he added a canary yellow background, as this is the color of the city of Modena, his birthplace. All racing Ferraris and most of the passenger cars carry this badge on the front flank of the car by tradition.
Only a few American drivers have consistently driven for the Scuderia, most notably of whom would be Mario Andretti, pound for pound maybe the most skillful driver still living. Through the years, Phil Hill from the 50s is included in the thin Americans list. I ran into Phil Hill at Leguna Seca in the mid 80s during my tenure as an assistant medical director of CART and we spoke a bit about the old days. He was a fantastic guy and I was lucky to know him. I have an autographed photo somewhere.
At any rate, Formula One has evolved to be one of the most popular and best-attended sporting events in history, commanding a total global television audience of 425 million (in the 2014 season). Many of the incredible technological advances are handed down to passenger cars including tire design, disc brakes, aerodynamics and many safety issues. It’s said that the engines in Ferrari passenger cars are essentially retired F1 engines.
Formula One cars are the fastest road course racing cars in the world, owing to very high cornering speeds achieved through the generation of large amounts of aerodynamic downforce. Formula One cars race at speeds of up to 233 mph with engines currently limited in performance to a maximum of 15,000 rpm. The cars are capable of lateral acceleration in excess of six g’s in corners. The cars are very dependent on electronics and are said by some to be computers chauffeured by humans. They have radically evolved and changed through the history of the sport. I have always suspected that Ayrton Senna was killed at San Marino 1n 1994 simply because his ability to out-think the on-board computer lapsed for an instant and the computer made a bad decision at speed Ayrton was too slow to correct.
Posers competing with Formula One include NASCAR and the reconstituted IndyCar Series (from CART- Championship Auto Racing Teams). I have never understood the lure of a huge pack of cars traversing an oval track in a mob, but that’s just a personal observation. I know Indy Cars well but it isn’t your father’s sport anymore. Many of the drivers came from Formula One or other foreign venues and all the guys I used to know are retired so it’s lost it’s interest value for me. It’s a very “American” endeavor where F1 is a truly global sport, encompassing races in 42 countries.
There are two things wrong with Formula One right now that really need addressing.
- Current World Champion Lewis Hamilton (UK) is winning too many races and it’s bad for the sport. The real competition in F1 occurs after the usual 4th place finish, back in the pack where there are some really excellent drivers. Watching Hamilton (and his team mate Bottas at Mercedes) win all the time is starting to get tedious, but the history of this kind of thing is replete in F1 (Michael Schumacher). Eventually the rest of the pack will catch up but the Hamilton era isn’t without controversy.Louis isn’t a particularly well-liked competitor and routinely gets boos from the crowd. Unclear why, other than his “jet set” lifestyle off course. Also unclear is whether Louis is really “that good” of a driver, his car being the winning component. The Mercedes “Silver Arrow” is clearly the fastest and most reliable car on the circuit. If Louis is on the poll, it’s very difficult for anyone else to pass him. It would be interesting to put some of the really strong middle-of-the-pack talents into Hamilton’s car and see how they did. Especially Max Verstappen (Holland) and Dan Ricciardo (Australia). It would not surprise me in the slightest if either of these drivers walked away from the pack in Hamilton’s car. That said, the two Ferrari drivers have done well, Sebastian Vettel (Germany) holding the lead in the points until Monza, but the Ferraris are simply not as fast as the Silver Arrows. They made a lot of advances from 2016 but not good enough. So Ferrari is still faster than Red Bull but they have to come up with a better car for 2018. Also, we’ll also see who’s sitting in what car during the “Silly Season”; drivers signing contracts with teams. Sometimes big surprises.
- The strict FIA rules regarding changes in the cars after qualifying and before the race need to be looked at because they’re unfairly penalizing the younger teams, still sorting out their cars. This race, outstanding driver Daniel Ricciardo got a “grid penalty” (dropping his previous line in qualifying) because his team had to change a gearbox. This is ridiculous. Daniel is an excellent driver and had a really good shot at the podium (finishing first, second or third). Instead he dropped to the back of the pack, as did hot shoe Max Verstappen for a similar technical offence, an out of place engine change. These rules hurt the sport and should be re-thought.
That’s it for the European races. Next race is Singapore Sept 17.
As many of you might recall, I predicted a long time ago that within five years or so (as of that prediction), American highways would be replete with electric cars. At that time I really wanted the Lotus Ethos, but Lotus fell on hard financial times and it never came to fruit:
Complaints and sour grapes that the current lithium battery technology is inadequate for widespread use and potentially dangerous have not stopped innovation and the proliferation of all-electric cars. Now virtually all the major car companies have a model either in production or on the drawing board.
The first was the Prius Hybrid that simply used electric power to augment its pretty standard engine. Mainly what it did was shut off the engine during stops, a huge gas savings. The early Prius got nearly 50 mph which was a big deal in the age of four dollar a gallon gas. Later iterations of the Prius were more efficient but it still ran mainly on a gas engine.
When the Tesla first came out in 2008, it was an electric engine in a Lotus Elise body. It was heavy and ponderous but went over 200 miles on a charge, a radical departure from the hybrids. Then the expensive model S came along in 2012 and sealed the deal. The only car Consumer Reports in it’s history gave a 100% rating. The more affordable model 3 is due for wide distribution in about a year.
Tesla has done two things, they proved that wide use of all electric was feasible and they’re leading the charge in recharging innovation. What’s coming down the road, so to speak, with Tesla is a wide network of 90-second battery changes. Down with the spent battery, up with a new fresh one. But when considering Tesla, one must remember that their re-charging hardware is proprietary. Only works with Tesla, which would be a bit of a logistics problem as standardized connections proliferate across the country.
So I have a car coming up to the end of the lease and I will be turning it in. My wife started to develop an interest in electric cars. She would be the perfect person to use one. She rarely makes long trips (can use another car if needed) and there are dedicated recharging stations at the hospital where she works and they’re free. Technically, she could use those stations every day to keep the car charged. She’s never seen another electric car parked at those stations and at the time she arrives (6:30 am) she would always have one available.
After much research, she decided to purchase a new Chevy Bolt (with a “B” not the Volt). Chevy’s new all-electric, said to have (all other things equal) a range of well over 200 miles per charge. The price was reasonable, under $40,000 with all the trimmings and safety equipment. Side mirror blind spot indicators, backup warning, “all around the car” camera that shows the entire circumference of the car, back up camera and most interestingly, the rear view mirror isn’t glass, it’s a camera that shows a wide view of the rear of the car when underway. Said also to carry a $7500 tax break for purchasing one.
When I looked into this, what surprised me most was the exploding number of re-charge points around the country. Most at restaurants and hotels but most along major highways. You really can go 150 miles, plug in somewhere and continue this indefinitely, even in lesser States than California.. There’s one at the Dunkin’ Donuts right down the road from us. Free. Google Maps now shows charging stations nationwide.
But it turns out that understanding charging points is a bit of a learning curve. One would think that the connectors for charging stations would be standardized, but noooooo, there are three different female receptors out there. One for “Asian” cars, one for American and European cars and one for Tesla. They are not interchangeable. Nissan one only works installed the charging center down at the local “Drunken Donuts” for the Nissan Leaf. The manager of the facility knows nothing about the charging station. Nissan just used their property.
So in planning trips, one has to specifically look for the “right” kind of connector. At home, the car plugs into any normal two-prong 110 wall receptor and takes about 20 hours to fully charge on 110. Much faster on 220 but an electrician has to set that up. My wife charges every day at the Receptors located where she works at UPMC St. Margaret, where she’s never seen another car charging there. Yet. All the hospitals now have plug-ins.
When I got to drive this thing, I was also surprised at how quick and quiet it is. There is virtually no sound other than some minimal road whine. 0 – 60 mph in about 6 seconds, which is pretty quick and instant, torque. That works for me as I’m constitutionally incapable of getting to 60 in more than 6 seconds, four is better. But my wife is worse which is why I carry a lot of insurance on her. The dash has a huge computer screen where everything can be viewed. Car has Bluetooth, a rolling WiFi hotspot, pretty good radio, comfortable seats and adequate creature comfort. There is no routine maintenance. Rotate the tires once a year.
There is a handle on the left side of the steering wheel that when applied as the car goes down a hill, applies the brakes progressively and re-charges the battery, extending it’s road life somewhat.
Like I said before, this is an idea that’s time has definitely come. This car, the Bolt, has won both Car & Driver and Motor Trend car of the year. There was a minor crump of some of the batteries recently affecting less than 100 cars and it’s been fixed. Battery warranty is 8 years.
Look for a massive splash of these cars, and dramatic improvements in road-ability, as the technology gets better in time.
I’m a car-guy of the first order and I’m definitely impressed with this car. Check it out if you have an interest.
David Crippen, MD, FCCM
“Collector Car” nuts are rarely happy with their wares for long. It’s part of the craziness. There’s always the next desirable one. Great ad on cable, a guy standing next to an immaculate ’60 Jaguar XKE asked what his dream car was. ’67 Ferrari 275GTB. Jay Leno is said to have one of every vehicle ever built, including motorcycles and he’s still looking for more barn finds.
Some history: Back when the World War II ended, a lot of young men with extensive military training in welding and fabrication came home to find a fairly boring life in the Eisenhower administration. White picket fences. The cars of the day were boring as well, so these guys began to look at these vehicles with a different perspective. Older cars from the 20s and 30s could be purchased cheaply and re-built for lightness and simplicity. Engines extensively re-engineered for speed.
Check out this fascinating brief show of some classic rods:
California had an extensive racing culture for years and abandoned airports throughout the state were perfect for marked courses. Of course, “street rodding” became popular as well and the stage was set at that time for the “muscle cars”. The era of “drag racing” began on ¼ mile asphalt tracks. All this was popularized in the early 60s by the musical exponents of the car (and surf) culture including the Beach Boys & Jan & Dean.
Typical hot rods were chopped up 1932 Ford bodies containing huge modern supercharged V-8 engines capable of 600 horsepower. They go in a straight line only and few are legally road worthy. They are, of course, frighteningly instable and dangerous. Modern nitromethane burning “top fuel” dragsters are earth shaking beasts, the engine of which can reach 10,000 horsepower and can reach speeds of 335 mph (in 3.7 seconds) on a ¼ mile track, which is why the National Hot Rod Association has recently shortened the length of their run to 1000 feet.
But hot rods don’t necessarily have to be earth-shattering beasts. The hot rod feel and technology can be scaled down to relatively tiny vehicles without the fear and danger. Such a beast now resides in my back garage, and an interesting beast it is if you have a bent toward this sort of thing.
It’s a 1959 Austin Healy Sprite, with a 948 cc engine, not as big as modern Harleys and BMW motorcycle engines. It’s previous owner, however, hot-rodded this car to the bursting point, then got tired of it and went on to start restoring a Porsche 356. This guy lovingly put a TON of money into this car to discover that his three kids all wanted to ride in it at the same time and it would hold only one kid at a time.
So, to make a long story short, this car started life in 1959 as a 42 horsepower 2-seat mini-sports car, the power of which fell off dramatically over 4000 rpm. About comfortable 65 mph cruising speed. The previous owner, a very handy guy with a huge garage who loved to work on cars. He decided to create the maximum power and performance possible for this little engine just to see what he could get out of it.
Disclaimer: Esoteric technical details follow:
Cylinders bored out 40 thousands of an inch, increasing displacement. New balanced flat top pistons and rods. Chrome-Moly rings. Engine “ported and polished”, a trick right out of the hot rod age. Intake and exhaust ports drilled out to increase their diameter, then polished to a mirror finish to decrease gas/air flow turbulence. New valves and valve seats (for gas containing ethanol nowadays), strengthened valve springs.
Then an “Isky” camshaft (right out of the 50s) the legendary Ed Iskenderian sold “3/4 cams” in the 50s- held the valves open a little longer and closed them a little later, Increasing horsepower. New high-pressure clutch and reinforced transmission, rear axle and differential. Four wheel disc brakes to replace the old drums. New Bilstein shocks. Aluminum radiator, electronic ignition and alternator.
Then….the piece de resistance…..a period correct, completely rebuilt Judson supercharger with water/methanol intercooler (cooler air improves octane and decreases pre-ignition at hot temps). The supercharger creates about 9 psi pressure “boost” behind the air/fuel mixture through a new Weber carburetor. The engine now probably doubles it’s output (pushing a 1300 pound car) and will easily reach 7000 rpm still creating torque. There is also no “check valve” on this setup so the supercharger will continue to create boost as long as the throttle is pegged right up till it blows the engine up, which it will, so the driver must have a grain of common sense in driving this car.
Back in the late 50s and early 60s, Judson superchargers were relatively popular for Volkswagens, cheap, easy to install and increasing the normally miserable VW performance dramatically (blowing up more than a few of them). Some were also made specifically for period Sprites and MGs. They are virtually impossible to find now and if one is found they are extremely expensive. They require very little “tuning”. This one is immaculate.
So…..the classic car mania strikes again. Like Leno has said before, no one is ever really satisfied with what they have. There’s always something more interesting out there. This one is exceptionally interesting and you’ll see me hot rodding around with it come spring.
Here’s a neat (quick) video of what a supercharged Sprite typically feels and sounds like on a car identical to mine:
The soul in the machine
Everyone is a “car guy” of some variety. It’s just a matter of taste, or lack thereof. Some care so little about style or substance that they purchase the rock bottom minimum that will get them from point A to point B. That’s a choice. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Jay Leno who cares nothing about anything but cars and motorcycles. He has no other interests or hobbies, no kids, a ton of money and owns probably one of every car or motorcycle ever built stashed in warehouses around LA. He works on them and drives them all. Somewhere in the middling are guys (and less frequently women) that have a preference for style and substance, and that preference usually matches their basic personality. Mercedes, Audi, BMW and all the rest of the “high end” automobiles as a show of their taste and frequently their economic status. Fords, Chevys, Kias, Hyundais dressed up to appear more exotic than they are.
One of my colleagues heavily lusts after a Bentley. Another of my colleagues has a “Volt”, the electric car and he’s more of the “I’m interested in technology” type. Another has a red 1979 Porsche 911 he continually restores. Others drive plain vanilla SUVs with kid seats in the back. Myself, I’m the kind of guy that likes the driving experience, and I also like to go back to find things that bring me back to my youth, and I have a short span of attention, so I rarely keep anything for more than two or three years. I especially like motorcycling because of the pure driving (riding) experience (said to be close to that of flying) and because I can obtain machines exactly like those I loved in my youth. I’m exceptionally lucky to have the resources to possess some of these things (within reason). I’ll never be Leno but if I had unlimited resources, I would buy “classic” cars and motorcycles, warehouse them and drive/ride them every day. I would attend the Barrett-Jackson auctions and buy on impulse, like the rest of the car nut-cases there.
Now, speaking of Barrett-Jackson auctions (Vegas, this year), I mentioned before that I nearly jumped over the fence and demanded to bid (I wasn’t an authorized bidder) on a magnificent 1967 Pontiac GTO (photo) with three carburetors and a four speed on the floor. It was monumentally perfect condition, completely original. That car went for $32,000 and if I had been in place, I would have written a check for it on the spot. However, in retrospect, that might not have been a good thing to do as a practical matter. That’s a big car, almost 5000 pounds. The chance of that car fitting in my garage alongside my wife’s car would be pretty slim, and you can be sure my wife’s car goes in there first. Also remembered is the “premium”, 10% of the hammer price to Barrett-Jackson for their trouble, so the price of the car is actually $32k plus another $3,200. Then another thousand, fifteen hundred or so, probably more to get the car from Vegas or Scottsdale to Pittsburgh. THEN a mechanic going over the car to find out what’s wrong with it that didn’t show up in my auction-fueled fantasy. Of course, B-J takes no responsibility for any of that. It’s cash and carry.
If you watch an interesting car show on the cable Velocity Channel, “Fantomworks”, you’ll see that Dan Short takes in cars that look great to restore them to former greatness for their owners. I recall one 1967 GTO that looked great on casual observation. Then his mechanics got to work tearing things down and of course found all kinds of very expensive things to fix. The crankshaft was cracked and it took months to find another serviceable one. The parts for these old cars are getting harder to find and are more expensive when you find them. So as a purely practical matter, if you really lust after the dream car of your youth, you must have a pretty much unlimited bank account. And the dream cars of my youth are getting exponentially more expensive with every year that goes by. If you watch “What’s my car worth”, again on the Velocity channel, each car has a little graph under it showing what it sold for five years ago. Every one shows a big increase every year. Most are now pretty unaffordable and difficult to find competent service or parts for. They will remain the dreams of my youth.
I had a Ferrari in the 90s. It was an old 1980’s 308 and it was an “entry” car, sticks and bones to what’s out there now. It had a lot of engine problems. I kept it a couple of years and sold it. I wasn’t particularly impressed with it. Now comes the later iterations of Ferraris that I just happened to be reading about as I’ve become a big Formula 1 fan, an event that Ferrari figure prominently in. To make a long story short, I happened upon a doctor in North Carolina that had several Ferraris and had just purchased a new one. He was looking to sell one of his others for a quick influx of cash. He had, unfortunately for him, put a lot of money into this car before he had decided to sell it. New stainless steel exhaust, new black wheels to set off the yellow paint, new tires, a full (and expensive) service with changing out of the timing belt (every 15,000 miles). So after talking to everyone involved with this car, including the Ferrari mechanic that went over the car 500 miles ago, I got the car for a price about 20% less than most are going for right now.
This car is the 360 model, a 2001. This car is said by Ferrari to be a much more reliable and drive-able car than it’s previous model, the F355. Many of those previous issues were solved, especially the fact that the engine doesn’t have to come out for major service. The mechanic said he has one client with 80,000 miles on his 360. Many drive them every day.
Once started the car emits a classic Ferrari exhaust note, even better than stock since the previous owner recently installed a popular aftermarket free flow muffler system ($2,000) that’s all stainless steel, will last forever. For that matter, the entire car is aluminum including parts of the frame so it’s pretty light for it’s size. 400 horsepower is VERY potent for a 3000-pound car. It is totally the most comfortable car I’ve ever sat in. I can get in without dipping my head. Once in place, the seats are electric and fully adjustable for lots of lateral support and thigh support. Power steering makes it a lot easier to maneuver. Vision is good all around. It’s very, very comfortable.
The F1 shifter is a paddle on either side of the steering wheel; pull one to upshift and the other to downshift. It isn’t an “automatic” transmission. It has a clutch but a computer driven hydraulic to engage and disengage. Just like a Formula 1 car. Shifting is instantaneous and a little clunky at slow speeds since it’s really made to shift at full throttle, something not advisable to do anywhere in town since that high revving 400 horsepower engine doesn’t have any good sense. When asked, it goes to the rev-limiter at 8500 RPM in an incredibly short period of time and the acceleration of this car is startling. It is said to be capable of 180 mph.
Now, as I go down the road, so to speak, with this car, I’m learning a lot of new things. It’s taken me a few days to actually learn how to drive it. It’s not like driving anything else. I got stuck at a stoplight because it wouldn’t shift from neutral to first. I didn’t know I had to have my foot on the brake to do that. I’m also learning that Ferrari isn’t a car company, it’s a culture and an institution, like Harley-Davidson. You become embroiled in the culture quickly. The car stands out like a sore thumb and turns every head in its vicinity.
I also quickly figured out that not just anyone can work on this car. Much of what happens inside this car is computerized and the only guys with the Ferrari computers to access the stuff that work the car (cost a bundle) are factory trained and experienced Ferrari “technicians”. The computer inside the car talks to the technician’s computer and literally tells it what’s going on inside the car. To make a long story short, after much research, I settled on a Ferrari shop just outside Philadelphia, a four-hour drive for me. Their shop is bright and spotless (photo). Beautiful Ferraris hanging around the parking lot. (Photo) They went over the car completely, changed from fluids and pronounced the car in excellent condition. So I dumb lucked out purchasing a “used car”.
Driving to Philly on the tollway was an interesting experience. At 80 mph, the engine hums like a hummingbird at around 3500 rpm. The engine is inside the car, just behind the driver, under glass. It’s loud enough that most drivers wouldn’t like it much, but the driving experience so greatly exceeds the hum that you get used to it quickly. The driver becomes part of the driving experience, becomes part of the car, feeling everything that occurs. It’s difficult to explain. The car and the driver become whole. You don’t drive the car; you become part of the car. At 80 mph, giving the car gas results in an instant acceleration. The brakes are phenomenal. To my mind, 80 mph is the perfect highway speed, not enough to tempt most cops.
Interestingly, he Pennsylvania Turnpike, west-east (Route 76) has become the American Autobahn. The speed limit is technically 70 mph. But at 80 mph, everything on the road was consistently passing me: jeeps, SUVs, family sedans, small economy cars, all going at least 90 and most probably around 100. So, for a short while I kicked the Ferrari up to 100 mph, (in about three seconds). The hummingbird increased it’s wing flapping and I was STILL getting passed. Now, 100 mph on any highway is comfortable in this car but is a very bad thing as if you are busted for that speed. It isn’t speeding, it’s reckless driving and it comes with a huge fine and standing before a judge who has the power to put you in a jail cell for a while.
Many drivers (including me) are using an iPhone app called “Waze” (made in Israel) that allows drivers to signal things going on in their path: accidents, junk on the highway, traffic jams and the like, including police that are noticed. So for the entire trip from Philly, five cops location popped up. Two of those popups were actually police doing radar. So the police avoidance industry previously confined to radar detectors has evolved to real-time police location, and speeds on these highways are heading up toward Autobahn-land.
But it CAN (and will) be driven sedately by me. The 360 was really the first of that series that was specifically crafted as a car that can be driven like a normal car, even daily, and maintenance on the engine is easier and cheaper than the previous F355. It isn’t a “car”, it’s a machine with a soul that integrates itself into the driver. Not everyone would want one, certainly not many would want to pay the dues, but for the few, it’s a joy to drive, amazing handling and performance. Not so much a joy to maintain but that’s the price to be paid (in a manner of speaking) for being a Ferrari owner.
To the real nut-cases, there really is Ferrari and there’s everything else.
One of the interesting things about cable TV is its capability of creating a cottage industry. What’s happening now is an explosion of sites restoring “classic” objects that seem to be more desirable than those contemporary, certainly more valuable. “Ricks Restorations” (History Channel), will restore just about anything to pristine condition including old tricycles and kids wagons.
Nowhere is this trend more evident than in the restoration of “classic” automobiles. An increasing number of cable sites send guys out like zombies seeking brains. No garage or barn anywhere is safe from prying eyes and you’d be surprised at some of the cars found in such areas.
Amiable zanies from “Fast n’ Loud” (Discovery Channel) spend every day scouring the countryside for barn cars, even in pieces, to flip and sell for huge profits. Wayne Carini from “Chasing Classic Cars” (Velocity Channel) spends each episode finding incredible things. Check out the prices of his restored cars from his website:
Inconceivable though it may sound, there are a LOT of cars sitting in garages and barns simply forgotten until the original owner (always a male) died and their wives want to clean out the garage.
A 1974 Studebaker V8 parked in a garage with a cover on it. The recently deceased owner drove the car 40 miles a year and his wife could only enter the vehicles shoeless. Total 7,600 miles after 41 years. Other than stale gas, the car was pristine with all original paperwork. Wayne pulled out his checkbook and told the lady to name her price.
Wayne found a Ferrari 330 GTS parked in a garage since the 60s. The owner (a doctor) drove it for a while, then it broke something in the engine, so it sat for 40 years. Cost new in 1967 was about US$7,000. Price at auction after restoration, went for just under US$3,000,000.
In the 60s, the average Ford or Chevrolet cost under US$3,000. Most or all of the usually foreign “sports” models were twice that, unaffordable for most in that era. Now it has become incredibly profitable to find, fix, restore barn cars and sell them for incredible prices at the many auctions seen on cable TV. Virtually all are totally unaffordable for anyone that works for a living now.
If anyone ever thought they could have a 60s or 70s twelve cylinder Ferrari, they can forget it now. They’re all over a million dollars. A 250 GTS once owned by Steve McQueen went recently for just under ten million dollars. Pre-1974 Porsche 356 series now routinely go for over US$100,000. 60’s Corvettes fully restored cannot be had for anything under US$80,000.
I can’t afford anything like that, nor would I spend that kind of money for something that might cause me severe financial issues if anything untoward happened to it. Plus, I can forget about obtaining insurance for anything like a US$100,000 car even if I could afford it. I would be terrified to drive it in Pittsburgh traffic even if I could afford the maintenance and upkeep. These are toys for people that don’t pay enough taxes.
So what’s a “car guy” to do?
There are creative options for having fun with “classic” vehicles affordably. One is to collect “classic” motorcycles, all of which can be restored to near perfection affordably and ridden safely. But if you’re just into cars, there are affordable “classic” cars out there if one does the research, and I found one.
Forget about Ferraris and Porsches. I found a “poor man’s Porsche”, 1974 Karmann-Ghia convertible, completely restored from the ground up, a Southern California car (with papers) with no rust anywhere. I had an independent mechanic that does evaluations go over the car and he gave it an “A” rating. (PHOTO 1)
The Karmann Ghia is a true “sports car” built by Volkswagen but styled by Luigi Segre of the Italian designer Ghia and hand-built bodywork by the German coachbuilder Karmann. It has all the right curves and is a comfortable driving car but underpowered, a 50 hp Beetle engine.
The Karmann was not meant to be a hot rod, but more reliable and less expensive maintenance. A 15,000-mile service on a Ferrari requires pulling the engine and costs US$10,000. Service on the Karmann requires changing the oil and filter, under 50 bucks.
The price for the Karmann, especially the classy convertible hasn’t entered the ionosphere yet, but there is an increasing interest in them because the Porsche 356 prices continue to go up with no end in sight. There will be more of the Karmanns entering the market as they are found and restored and those prices will escalate as well. I’m starting to see some beautiful restored models advertised at prices around US$30,000. This for a car that cost $4000 new.
I got an excellent deal for this car, purchase price negotiated by a very knowledgeable professional car restoration friend here in Pittsburgh. The insurance for everything, liability collision and other damage or theft is equally affordable and I can get an “Antique” license plate, obviating the car from yearly State inspections. As you can see from the photos, the car is absolutely pristine. Original Blaupunkt radio and wood steering wheel.
Everyone that fiddles with these cars does something to increase the engine power. But there’s a limit thereof. Edward van Halen regularly blew up Marshall amplifiers by dialing a variac transformer to more voltage to the tubes. Similarly, it’s possible to get into trouble by overpowering a car meant to handle a paltry 50 horsepower.
These engines are frequently replaced with Porsche engines that fit perfectly. However, a serviceable 356 engine is increasingly hard to find and expensive. Porsche 912 engines triple the horsepower but they’re heavy, expensive and the suspension would have to be modified to handle the increased power.
I’m not particularly interested in those options. This car is not meant to be a hot rod. It’s a comfortable, cool, beautiful driving car. The engine just needs a little help.
Some of you may remember the “Judson Supercharger” from the 60s that was especially built for the VW engines. (PHOTO 2) It was a bolt-on device that doubles the horsepower while adding no appreciable weight. They don’t make them anymore and used, restored ones are very hard to find. I have some feelers out but it’s probably unlikely I will find one.
Failing that, the original engine is very little different than the baseline Porsche 356 (PHOTO 3) I can replace the stock single throat carburetor with twin double throat Weber carburetors positioned on either side of the engine combined with a low restriction exhaust system (PHOTO 4). This is basically the 356 setup anyway and would increase the horsepower to about 60, which the original Porsche 356A had as stock. That would probably do the job. If a Judson becomes available, it would actually increase the value of the car considerably.
A new track constructed specifically to lure the Formula 1 for the World Championship of Drivers circus back to the USA. The track is immaculate, beautiful and specifically constructed for fans to see and absorb as much as possible from any vantage. Very fan-pleasing.
My medical credentials allowed me pretty much full access, but not necessarily into the “seats” where I could sit, have food and drink. That was “extra” but I managed to finesse my way in, at least on Friday where there weren’t too many people.
My buddy Billy Fanstone of Brazil and I wandered around the track all day and each site was as good as the next, although we nor anyone else can never get too close to the actual track. Double levels of fence.
The track is huge, biggest track I’ve ever seen. Something like 3.5 miles from one of the six parking lots to the main gate. And of course, extremely expensive to get tickets US$1000.00 or so for the three-day race weekend including parking and a seat.
The Formula 1 circus directors liked this track and so the Formula 1 motorcycle series was a natural to add to its itinerary. There are paramedics on the track but not doctors. The safety director is my old friend from CART Lon Bromley and we had a nice reunion. Long time CART medical director Dr. Steve Olvey is the Medical Director and there are several other doctors around under his direction.
This is the big leagues of two wheel racing, three separate series- Formula 3 (250 cc engines), Formula 2 (600 cc engines) and finally the big boys at 1000 cc, 220 mph on the straights.
It’s difficult to accurately describe the phenomenon of a flat-out motorcycle on the front straight. It’s so incredibly fast it’s difficult to understand how a human can retain control. The rider tucked in behind the diminutive windscreen…..then sitting upright to catch wind (slowing down), followed by clutching the side of the bike like a spider as it tilts to an impossible angle in a corner at speed. And most of these riders are kids. It’s just ridiculous.
We wandered though the pits watching engineers and techs correlating virtually everything the engines do on a computer. On the actual track, each machine has a shack full of computer monitors that follow every stroke of the piston and turn of the wheel. Each rider has a tiny air conditioned apartment” for sleeping and resting during the day. They hang their tracksuits out to sun.
Then though the paddocks where T-Shirts and other memorabilia are hawked with a blood lust for money that would embarrass the Whore of Babylon. Of course I couldn’t resist picking up a couple of t-shirts, even at blatantly rip-off prices.
The state of motor racing in the new millennium continues to amaze me. When I was there in the 60s, we drove our MG-A’s, Triumph TR-3’s and Porsche 356’s to the track, taped the headlights, fitted a tubular roll bar behind the front seat, raced all day, uninstalled it all, then drove home. The few people that showed up had a good time and went home with full wallets.
Now it’s a big business indeed. Every square centimeter of space on a race bike is filled with an advertisement. Riders and drivers are forced into indentured servitude from their sponsors, the females, of course, encouraged to exhibit as much sexuality as they can pull off without looking “too” much like Playboy centerfolds. The money gleaned from everything and anything associated with racing is parceled out by intricate contracts.
Interestingly, the “fans” have little or no access to the really top riders. I had a medical pass which allowed me to go anywhere I wanted and I never got anywhere near Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden or Valentino Rossi. Their pits were carefully sequestered and closed to everyone and anyone not directly related to them. I got some shots of Rossi coming and going out of his pit. If they do address “fans”, it’s briefly and very meticulously orchestrated with lots of sponsor visibility.
The MotoGP speeds are difficult to process. Any accident at these speeds would be reliably fatal. Each rider on swinging around the final turn before the main grandstand goes out of their way to lift he front tire for a while just to show their control at over 100mph. Their control of the machine if phenomenal.
All this forces the question of whether MotoGP is a “Sport” or an exhibition. In order for it to be truly a sport, the skill of the rider must exceed the inherent performance of the machine. Of course, the more money put into the machine, the faster it goes. A skillful rider can theoretically overcome limitations in the machine’s performance by simply taking more chances than the next guy. This potential stoked by the sponsors’ demands to go faster presents a very dangerous situation indeed and transcends skill.
I think that nine time world champion Valentino Rossi is technically the fastest rider that ever lived, but is in the process of lugging a really uncompetitive machine. So, it’s unclear at this point how many chances he’s really willing to take before he cuts his losses and changes teams. .
Unclear also how any of this applies to open-wheel motorcar racing where driver’s ability is less than the car’s performance in a situation where passing is difficult or impossible. In Formula 1, the first cars on the grid usually finish first. Not so much in MotoGP as there is more room to pass.
This race was won by Spaniard Marc Marquez, who started from the poll, let the entire race and set the track record. The Honda team came in first and second, making them pretty much unbeatable so far. He looks like he’s ten years old and started shaving yesterday. Rossi finished 8th, complaining of tire issues.
The actual race is typically colorful and exciting. The fans can see much of the action from good vantage points. I think you have to see it live at least once to fully appreciate the unique ambiance. Then the best seat in the house is always in front of a nice, big high resolution TV screen. I was happy to have had the opportunity to experience this adventure.