Saturday, May 15, 2010

Turn Z: 40 Years of the Nissan Z at the Sonoma Historics

Turn Z, Celebrating 40 Years of the Nissan Z Car
at the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival

In Association With the Z Owners of Northern California and Motoring J Style

For immediate release. April 21st, 2010 – Sonoma, California – The Z Owners of Northern California (ZONC) and Motoring J Style are proud to announce “Turn Z”, a celebration of the 40thAnniversary of the Nissan Z Car and Japanese motoring culture at large, which will take place at Infineon Raceway during the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival on Sunday, June 6th, 2010.
Race fans are encouraged to visit the ZONC/Motoring J Style display at Turn 7, which will welcome all Japanese car enthusiasts, with a special focus on the 40th anniversary of the Nissan Z Car.

Race fans can expect more than 50 Zs on display, as well as more than 100 Japanese classics in the area designated as "Turn Z". There will be several categories for judging by ZONC, with prizes going to owners of selected cars.

In addition to the festivities at Turn Z, sports car racing legend John Morton will be in attendance, competing with several cars in Sunday’s historic races. Z fans will be thrilled to see Morton, the man who famously won the 1970 & 1971 SCCA C-Production National Championships in Peter Brock’s BRE Datsun 240Z, as well as countless other victories for Nissan.
“We are delighted to be involved with this spectacular event,” said Tiffini Clark, President of ZONC. “It is a distinct honor for us as Japanese car enthusiasts to be recognized at the premier historic motorsports gathering in the United States.”

Attendees can purchase their discounted ticket and spot on Turn Z for $35 at this website. The password to use after linking to the website is “zonc”.

You can also enjoy a lap of the track at the end of the day with a $15 donation to Speedway Children’s Charities, the charitable arm of Infineon Raceway.

The Z Owners of Northern California is one of the oldest Z Car clubs in the nation, embracing all enthusiasts of Datsun and Nissan automobiles. ZONC is an active club with hundreds of members engaged in many aspects of the car hobby, from shows to driving tours to historic racing and track days. In existence since 1972, ZONC today carries on the tradition for an entire new generation of Z drivers.

Motoring J Style is dedicated to Japanese car culture at large, a product of Marin County residents and car enthusiasts David and Martin Swig. The Swigs have been Japanese car enthusiasts since Martin acquired a Datsun dealership in 1969, shortly before the original Datsun 240Z hit the streets. They also organize the annual California Mille historic sports car tour.
The Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival at Infineon Raceway, June 5-6, is a true celebration of the Wine Country and historic racecars. Nearly 400 historic cars will grace the road course, including machines from Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette and Lotus. Race fans will also be treated to the Wine Country Pavilion, featuring some of the best food and wine from Sonoma and Napa, headlined by notable Bay Area chef Victor Scargle. For more information about the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival, please visit

Emails concering the event may be directed to or

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Shades of yesterday and tomorrow.

What's the simplest way to create a distinctive automotive exterior? With an interesting pallette of paint! Today, automotive fashionistas are working hard on new hues that captivate the individualists among us. Low gloss levels, color-shifting metallic flakes, light-reactive and even light-emitting shades will hit dealer lots someday soon -- but many manufacturers have already bravely pushed the envelope by bringing interesting, experimental colors to market.

1997 Porsche 911 Turbo: Arena Red. I was 10 or 11 when I saw my first Arena 911 on the San Antonio Riverwalk. Bless my patient mother for not dragging me away from such a formative moment. I remember tracing the front fenders... watching the light pour into the soft curves toward the headlamps, where the rich paint seemed to swallow the light entirely.

1996 Dodge Copperhead Concept: Copperhead Orange. Is it cheating to include concept cars on this list? After all, they're almost all coated in moonshot hues far from production. No matter: the Copperhead's iconic orange paint received new life twelve years after its debut, when the 2006 Dodge Viper Coupe was available in a similar shade with the same name.

1996 Subaru Legacy: Cashmere Yellow. Like many awesome home-market trends, the Subaru Legacy's Cashmere Yellow hue was only available in Japan -- never in the United States. Cashmere's near-fluorescence begs a question: could Day-Glo sheetmetal be tomorrow's color trend?

1993 Honda delSol: Samba Green. My brother -- and many others -- called this "booger green." From an early age, I called it beautiful. Bright as it was polarizing, Samba served a niche market. For a certain breed of owner, Samba was destiny. If only today's thousand-beige Accord offered shoppers even a semblance of individuality.

1993 Mazda Miata: Montego Blue. One of the first mass-production color shifting paints was offered on this attainable everyday sports car, gifting trends to the masses instead of reserving advances for the elite. Want a closer look? Take a trip to any autocross -- Montego Miatas fight it out all across the country every weekend.

1995 Toyota Paseo: Light Iris.
Anyone raised in the era when magenta and teal reigned supreme won't admit that these pastel shades are a guilty pleasure. Trust me: they are. Toyota's tiny beachcomber was carefree enough to wear this shade. It goes without saying that this era has passed.

2003 Nissan Skyline GT-R: Midnight Purple III. Special metallic flakes brought green and gold hues forth from the purple basecoat. The shifting colors brought a dynamism and humanity to the Skyline's otherwise clinically angular sheetmetal. A Midnight GT-R is in motion, even when lying in wait.

2004 Mercedes-Benz SL: Almandine Black.Nothing may be more stately than a blacked-out Benz, but this special ebony added a slight violet tint to the mix to keep things interesting. The dramatic effect was more pronounced on MB's larger models, and the SL sedan wore Almandine well.

1997 Honda Civic Type-R: Championship White. What's more satisfying than a self-aggrandizing coat of paint? The Type-R was billed as the purist's Civic. Championship White alluded to that purity, but the shade was tinted with a hint of gold -- a statement of purpose; a promise to the competition.

1993 Toyota MR2: Steel Mist Grey. Today, Toyota's dismal greys are devoid of personality and flatly vapid. Back in the firm's heyday of fun cars, even the grey hues had a sense of purpose. SMG's bluish-purple tint aged well, and the color is now highly prized among buyers and collectors.

Color choice is subjective. My picks probably don't match yours. What colors catch your eye? Does the car you drive reflect your taste?

Many happy miles,

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Notes from comparing the 2008 Mitsubishi EVO, Subaru STI, VW Golf R32, and BMW 135i

On a recent comparison article for Sports Car International Magazine written by Alex Palevsky, I was tapped to drive the cars and offer my input. Here are my thoughts:

As a “driver’s car” the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X MR delivers the most positive feedback of the bunch, and despite the efforts to add a little refinement, the soul of the EVO is left intact. The razor sharp steering, the overall grip, the chassis’ willingness to change direction puts the EVO squarely on top. That said, it lacks a little of the EVO IX’s explosive feel – a tradeoff clearly made for everyday drivability. The styling is controversial – it seems more cluttered than the concept, and the front end suggests a fish with an overbite when viewed from the side. At the limit the chassis balance tips from neutral to rearward, making it easy to place, slide, and gather up. The sport-auto mode on the transmission is very intuitive, and does a good job of keeping the revs right where you want them when attacking a curving road – when operated in paddle mode (Ferrari-style with fixed paddle locations that don’t get lost with a turn of the wheel) the shifts are quick and positive. The car feels far more nimble than a trip to the scales would suggest.

Subaru WRX STI
The flares and optional wheels turn the otherwise bland WRX into a smoothly aggressive package – worthy of its WRC heritage. I desperately want to like the car – the power is definitely spot-on, and like the EVO, the ride has been refined to deal with everyone’s inevitable interaction with freeways. The problem here is that softening the suspension has amplified an issue I’ve always had with the STI (on the road) with the front differential. On and off throttle produce different turning arcs – step on the throttle and it wants to straighten out, lift off and it tightens up. This STI’s steering feels more numb than previous versions, and with a softer platform underneath it, it amplifies the effect to the point it impedes my ability to place the car accurately on the road. From previous experience, had off-road ability been on the menu for our test, the new STI will cover ground like no other car, and the front diff issue doesn’t rear its head off the tarmac. When pushed, the default is understeer – surprisingly the best way to combat it is to allow the DCCD computer to make it’s own decisions about where to distribute power in the AUTO- setting.

VW R32 Golf
For me the competence of the Golf was a huge surprise. This was by far the easiest car to bring to the limit, which was unexpectedly high. When cornering hard, the chassis is totally consistent no matter what the surface, or road camber. Drive it like a front driver with a heavy right foot – if you overcook it, a slight lift of the throttle will tighten the line and noticeably pitch the rear end a few degrees. Unlike the EVO, you can feel the car’s weight working the shoulders of the front tires hard when really hoofing it, and it was clearly the least powerful of the foursome. The DSG transmission is the smoothest of the paddle-auto shifters here, but I tend to get lost on the wheel-mounted paddles. The Golf also had the stiffest freeway ride of the bunch. The exhaust note is the least refined of the bunch.

BMW 135i
The motor is the class of the field – I was blown away by the powerplant and its lack of turbo lag when I last drove the 335i in Austria, and it’s just as smooth and silky in the 1 Series. It howls like a straight six, and has a little less weight to pull around than in the 3, making it even better. Driving to our showdown from Northern California, we thought this might be the ringer – it feels so right on the open road and around town – tight, crisp, and balanced but not harsh. With rear wheel drive and near 50-50 weight distribution, editor Eric Gustafson thought it might be like bringing a gun to a knife fight, but it turns out there are a few compromises that make it more tricky to drive near the limit. The suspension tuning that makes it so good on the open road and around town can seem unsettled long before you reach the adhesion limit of the tires. In long corners, especially when on even throttle with the weight of the car evenly balanced, it seems like the shock valving creates a slightly unstable feeling front-to-rear oscillation, and if you proceed further it funnels into understeer. In playing with it, the chassis (with this shock valving) wants the weight to be transferred to the rear on the throttle, or to the front under braking. So the closer you get to driving really hard with no compromises – you’re either accelerating or hauling it down – continually pushes that instability further into the background. When you lose grip, it will be at the front, and the BMW is slower to respond to throttle changes to pitch the rear and tighten the line than the other three. While I found it tricky at first, it was also rewarding to figure it out and make it work. I like the looks, and the size – it feels like the E36 BMW, and it has a simple, straightforward interior that you can reach across and almost touch the passenger’s door panel (like the original 1600/ 2002). There’s room for improvement in the suspension tuning.

Ranking –
1 Mitsubishi EVO MR
It does it all, it’s still razor sharp, with a little comfort. The motor sounds a little like a miniature UPS truck – but who cares? Fast, and fun.
2 BMW 135i – Love the motor, and silky daily driving experience. Despite the handling nuances, I enjoyed figuring them out and always wanted back into the BMW…
3 Golf R32 –Totally consistent chassis with high approachable limits – surprisingly fun to drive, and how often will you be drag racing these other three anyway?
4 Subaru WRX STI – wanted to love it, it’s got the power and the looks, but the steering made it feel like I was sailing instead of driving.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Motoring J Style: 3rd at 24 HOURS OF LeMONS!

In-car footage from one of the VW Golf GTI's. A great battle between our MR2 (#64 green/yellow) and the #34 Alfetta GT of the California Mille team. Motoring J Style fought hard and finished the race 3rd overall...a personal best for the team. 89 cars started the race (though the lone Fiero only lasted ten laps).

As you've probably read by now, the race was tainted by the untimely death of Court Summerfield, driver of the #39 Team "Cant Am" Volvo 242. This has been covered extensively on Jalopnik. Witness accounts and a CHP investigation lead us to believe that Court lost consciousness in the car due to some medical problem, causing him to hit a concrete wall head-on. This occurred Saturday afternoon at approximately 2PM, and racing was called off for the rest of the day while an accident investigation took place. This was a very disturbing event, and it proves that even in a carefree race like LeMons, the age old adage remains true: "Motor Racing is Dangerous". We express our heartfelt sympathy to Court's family and his teammates for the loss that they suffered. It is uplifting to know that Court's teammates are looking for another Volvo to build as a race car for Thunderhill in December. We didn't know Court personally, but from all accounts, he was a true gearhead and he would have approved.

Jay Lamm, founder of the 24 Hours of Lemons, made the extremely difficult decision to resume racing on Sunday. We think Jay did the right thing, and we applaud him for his composure and for the heartfelt words he delivered during Sunday morning's drivers' meeting. As he said, quoting another competitor, "racing brings us the best, and racing brings us the worst". Thankfully today, with modern safety equipment, we endure the worst only infrequently. Saturday was one of those days. We dedicate our race to Court's memory.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Scion News Bulletin

from the PR department...


Troy Sumitomo, leading-edge automobile stylist and fabricator, will make a personal appearance along with 5 of his customized Scion Five Axis showcars at the 2008 Motoring ‘J’ Style Japanese car show, Saturday, May 24th. Sumitomo and his Five Axis team will meet enthusiasts at the Exposition Pavilion at the Solano County Fairgrounds in Vallejo, CA. Also on display will be the matte-black modified Lexus Project IS-F which debuted at the SEMA show in Las Vegas last November.

Drivers and passengers arriving in a Scion should check in at the Scion Kiosk located the Scion owners' preferred parking area and show their Scion car keys to receive a hand stamp good for $5 off the $20 admission price. The first 50 Scion owners to arrive and register at the Scion Kiosk will also receive a Ridemakerz xB customizable model car (Limit ONE per carload).
Show hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
For additional show information go to
or call (415) 479-9930

Press contact: Justus Dobrin

Early Black-Plate Toyota FJ40 in SoCal

One of our favorite stops every morning on the computer is Bring A Trailer. It's great to spend hours looking at eBay, Craig's List, Auto Trader, and others, but sometimes it's nice to let someone else do all the work. Our friend Randy N. of Bring A Trailer scours the Internet looking for old/interesting/unusual vehicles for sale. His site can be addictive and we find ourselves longing for many of the cars he discovers.

Yesterday he featured this deliciously-patina'ed 1962 Land Cruiser FJ40. While we generally focus on sports cars, we really like the vintage feel of this early FJ, which still sports its original paint and California black plates.

FJ40s are relatively plentiful in the marketplace as they have a strong collector following and many of them have survived through the years, but it's rare that such an early example comes on the market. This '62 dates to one of Toyota's more difficult periods, in between the failure that was the Toyopet and the launch of the wildly successful Corona. During this period, the Land Cruiser was the only thing keeping Toyota afloat in the US market.

It's a non-runner at this point and restoration costs can be astronomical. However, the $5500 asking price doesn't seem out of line with the current market for FJ40s, which is very strong. If it were ours we'd like to preserve as much of the original feel as possible while making it mechanically sound.

Find it here on TLC!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dream Car One: the Ford Airstream.

If I had one automotive wish, I’d beg for a car so futuristic that I’d never look to the past again.

Every generation of enthusiasts has a heyday to look back to. Fifties kids had brightwork: chrome tailfins framed the Push-o-Matic hopes of a spacebound generation. Sixties kids knew muscle; hands were burned on towering carburetors and elaborate valve covers in this era of engine-over-all. The ‘70s drained gas pumps and horsepower figures, leaving the then-grown children with stale memories of a better time in cars.

I began my work in automotive journalism at the age of four. My first issue of Motor Trend arrived in late 1989, and thus began my research in the field. I grew up in an era when Detroit still held a majority of market share against perceivable reason. Burgeoning Japanese companies were producing similarly innocent two-door subcompacts. I was a proponent of the fun-sized imports, and at an early age solidified a rhetoric shared with most enthusiasts my age: “American cars cannot compete. The Japanese have won.” As the attitude gained momentum, my family’s driveways filled with evidence: I was the driving force behind six import purchases by 2000.

I watched Toyota showrooms shift. In 1994, Toyota produced six sport coupes. Three were intimate two-seaters. Two were turbocharged. All were painted in polarizing, love-it-or-hate-it hues. Only the world-class high-tech Supra was priced over $25,000.

Today, Toyota produces only one two-door coupe: the Camry-based Solara, which is about as exciting to drive as its four available shades of grey paint would suggest.

My generation’s heyday ended at the turn of the century. Enthusiasts never suspected that the once-humble purveyors of two-seat sports cars would grow to become monoliths – and abandon their endearing qualities altogether. I grew cynical in tandem.

Bitter words heralding the past and berating the state of the industry filled my columns, but brought only momentary solace. My view of the market was so wistful that I couldn’t see beyond the status quo.

The Ford Airstream changed my outlook forever.

the preludes

From the late 1980s until the mid 2000s, most mainstream domestic vehicles lacked the attention to design and engineering necessary to compete with globally-built competitors. In the mid-1990s, Ford’s Taurus lost its vaunted status as America’s best-selling car, ceding the title to the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The telling slip was indicative of changing market trends – but it wasn’t enough to stifle Ford’s creativity.

In 1995, Ford introduced the GT90 concept car. The mid-mounted V12 engine used unprecedented quad-turbocharger technology to boost output to 720 horsepower. However, the GT90’s advanced power train was overshadowed by exterior design that abandoned curvy bodywork in favor of structured polygonal panels. This “New Edge” design philosophy allowed exterior elements such as headlamps, taillamps, and air intakes to stand autonomously – to stake out their own space, rather than flow cohesively into the body. New Edge’s departure from design norms gave enthusiasts a glimpse into the future.

One year later, the Indigo concept punctuated Ford’s passion for design-focused supercars – even if they existed only in dream realms. The topless two-seater showcased technologies that would reach mainstream series production more than a decade later, such as LED headlamp assemblies, composite body panel construction, and simplified controls that encouraged drivers to stay focused . Mass-producing the Indigo was never feasible, but the car’s purpose transcended feasibility: it was a test bed for design ideas that would serve the company through tumultuous times to come.

By 1999, nearly every lightweight Japanese sports car had left American shores – the Mazda MX3 and RX7; the Toyota Supra, MR2 and Paseo; the Honda CRX and delSol. Ironically, Ford chose the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show to debut the diminutive 021C concept. As its name suggested, the 021C was created to appeal to people from the ages of 0 to 21. Famed industrial designer Marc Newsom channeled children’s simplistic view of the automobile when penning the car. “In many ways, the 021C is a familiar and comfortable object,” Newsom said.

At the turn of the century, forward-looking companies realized that consumers raised in the Information Age would demand a host of data-centric technologies in a variety of devices. Ford’s trio of 24.7 concept cars presented the automobile as a media hub – a gathering space where friends and family could surf the Internet or share photos. The technology was sometimes ungainly – a flat-panel television added bulk to the cargo bay and forced viewers to stand outside the rear of the vehicle – but the mere inclusion of “social technologies” in a concept car was thoroughly unprecedented.

By 2000, New Edge’s jarring intersecting lines had been largely displaced by more straightforward cues, but Ford’s emerging next-generation design ethic was similar to its preludes: its simplicity inspired a sense of future.

the hero-car

Japanese firms found tremendous success in supplying vehicles that served transportation needs without stirring drivers’ souls. As niche vehicles made way for mass-market commodity cars, mid-2000s concepts from all comers became grounded in realism. Even General Motors, which historically dazzled the world with its visions of tomorrow, had not produced an unabashedly impossible concept car since the late 1990s.

The 2007 Ford Airstream concept is a lighthearted laugh at logic – and a reason for car enthusiasts to maintain faith in the future.

Wally Byam designed the first Airstream travel-trailer in 1936. Aluminum shortages subsided by the end of World War II, and the national climate of conservation at all costs gave way to a rekindled interest in exploration and travel. In the 1950s, Byam rallied Airstream owners to form the Wally Byam Caravan Club, dedicated to help satiate their collective wanderlust. The Airstreamers’ movement paralleled frontier pioneers’ craving for discovery.

It was only natural for Ford to forge a partnership with Airstream. The collaboration leveraged Ford’s futuristic outlook against Airstream’s iconic design and interior packaging to create a vehicle for tomorrow’s wayfarers.

The way forward begins with a look back to New Edge roots. Though the Ford Airstream’s silhouette nearly matches that of an Airstream trailer, automotive elements such as daylight openings and exterior lighting were Ford’s work. Driver’s-side windows outlined in daylight fluorescent orange aircraft paint are of an interlocking parallelogram shape with defined, beveled edges that directly descend from New Edge ethic.

LED headlamp clusters, once previewed by the Indigo, are framed by a backlit matte polycarbonate tube reminiscent of the 021C’s singular headlamp. Ford’s Director of Advanced Engineering Design, Freeman Thomas, explained the history at work in a December 2006 interview.

“The 021C was the first use of a digital box on wheels; it was probably too extreme for some people in its simplicity,” Thomas said. “The Airstream is really five steps beyond, because the outside of the vehicle has a humanity about it.”

Special emphasis is placed on the importance of adventurers’ togetherness. Two front passengers sit on swiveling chairs that can be turned toward backseat passengers. Up to five rear occupants are seated laterally, facing each other. Standing midship is a cylindrical DynaScan LED screen that provides passengers with a 360-degree view of interactive entertainment. Classic video games, including Pong, are pre-loaded into the display. The Ford Airstream’s rearview cameras are detachable, and can wirelessly stream video feeds to the display. It’s an elegant evolution of the 24.7’s approach to in-car entertainment.

Airstreamers of yore traditionally placed essentials at the rear of the trailer. The Ford Airstream pays homage to that tradition by employing an efficient essentials management system at the rear of the vehicle. Digital video production equipment and Firewire connectivity ports are installed next to first aid and roadside emergency kits.

An integrated rechargeable flashlight hints at the sense of exploration Airstreamers crave – and the machine’s ability to provide safety in an unknown situation. Indeed, the brazen bare aluminum exterior finish could be a beacon in itself – a bright icon of safety for uneasy retreating wanderers. Subtly opulent B&B Italia interior upholstery adds to the comfort of this “home away from home” – and increases the ability of the Ford Airstream to refresh those exhausted by their travels.

In triumph, the Ford Airstream becomes complete through the most honest of means: its powertrain. Arguably the most futuristic element of the vehicle, the zero-emission hydrogen propulsion system is also the most feasible for production. Ford’s Hy-Series Drive system uses a hydrogen fuel cell to power an electric generator which then recharges a battery pack that drives the wheels. The generator is optimized to operate at peak efficiency, maximizing the amount of power that is derived from the hydrogen fuel cell. Drops of pure water flow from the three triangular tailpipes – and comprise the Ford Airstream’s only emissions.

Hy-Series drive has already been installed in a prototype vehicle, and may see series production. Unfortunately, other aspects preclude the possibility of mass production. That is the genius of the Ford Airstream: it is an unapologetic thrust forth into the future that inspires enthusiasts to question what is possible.

I am but one person inspired by the Ford Airstream’s innocence. Several quiet moments after sitting in the driver’s seat, I arrived at a realization that I have come to live by.

Living in optimism of what the future might bring is intensely more satisfying than reminiscing about the past.