Wednesday, October 31, 2007

SEMA: Bigger is Better (Day 1)

When it comes to the American automotive ethos, it's pretty much like everything else out here in the Land of the Free: Bigger is Better!

Perhaps no other event exemplifies this mentality more than the annual SEMA orgy in Las Vegas....

From the bazooms on the models, to the dubs on the show cars, just about everything is large, chromed up, iced out, and in questionable taste.

The Halloween-themed WRX in the Subaru display was...ummm...whimsical:

But there are some diamonds in the rough. You just have to walk around all day to find them. This Lowrider-themed Camry, dubbed the "Camryder", was definitely one of the coolest concepts I saw yesterday...this thing was totally sweet. Check out the door detail!

And I even ran into X-Games superstar and Subaru factory rally driver Travis Pastrana, who was signing autographs alongside his brand new WRX rally car. Pity that I didn't have time to wait in line for the autographed poster! At least he was cool enough to pose for a photo.

And here's his new ride:

More to come...

OG: '76 Nissan Laurel SGX on eBay

I was surprised to see the Nissan Laurel SGX from the JCCS show on eBay this past week.

The guy who owns the car came all the way from Boise, Idaho, to show the car in Long Beach. Damn that's hardcore!

Well, now it's someone else's turn to be an original Japanese gangster. The bidding stalled at $10,100...I wonder how much money will buy it???

WORKS Grand Opening at Sears Point

Any time to party with our friends at WORKS is a good time, and this past Saturday was no exception.

WORKS, NorCal's finest Mitsubishi tuner, has just opened a new full service race shop facility at Infineon Raceway which will give them the ability to do a lot of track testing. and a great home base for their upcoming Touring Car racing season in the brand new FWD Mitsu Lancer race car (silver car in above pic).

It was great to see Mitsubishi corporate embracing the WORKS guys and providing factory support for the grand opening. They even brought out some sweet cars from their collection, including the above Starion that appeared at JCCS last month. Apparently this was a car built for road racing at Bathurst in Australia. Pretty sweet!

My friend Kirk Harper, Director of New Business Development at WORKS, is a serious car guy, and so there were a lot of different and unique cars that showed up for the party. Dozens of Evos, of course, but there were also some real gems. This 3rd-gen Supra was one of the cleanest ones we've seen in awhile (but frankly I was digging the 4-speed Falcon Sprint Convertible in the background!)
We'll be keeping tabs on their progress with the new '08 Lancer race car. These guys are determined to succeed, and they will!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

24 Hours of LeMons Arse Freeze: The Aftermath

Well, the 24 Hours of LeMons Arse-Freeze-a-Palooza is history, and it's taken me four days to fully digest. Words and static pictures just fail to capture the impact of seeing this event actually happen in real life.

The 24 Hours of LeMons just might be the greatest automobile race of modern times. It is the opus of Jay Lamm, irreverent automotive pundit, Berkeley resident (close enough), and sometime freelance journalist. This is a guy who once brought a Mazda RX2 4-door dressed up as a Tokyo police car on our Double 500 road rally. I heard he also reconstructed the Berlin Wall in his apartment for a recent Berlin: 1989-themed birthday party. Whatever the truth, he's an eccentric. But I'm not sure even Jay himself realizes how truly wonderful his spectacle of bullshite is. For example, witness the total destruction of a late-model 7-series BMW for none other than sacrificial purposes:

All this, of course, as 80+ out-of-control crapcans careen around the bankings and tight switchbacks of the appropriately dubbed "Altamonterring". The silver 7-series BMW suffered the "People's Curse" penalty, one of countless penalties awarded for over-the-budget cars or shitty driving. Believe it or not, it even came back after this punishment to finish the race.

LeMons is, of course, a parody of a race (the 24 Hours of LeMans in France). But make no mistake about it: this is a serious road race, with determined drivers vying for the glory, and, of course, the winning purse, $1500 in nickels. For an in-car glimpse of how intense the on-track action is, check out the following clip from Team Santa Cruz, who ran a Porsche 944:

We'll have in-car video from the MJS MR2 soon, but for now this will have to do!

The winning Black Iron (#65) team, fellow three-time veterans of LeMons, drove a BMW 5-series with most of the identifiable bodywork chopped off. In the closing moments of the race, the Circus Maximus team (formerly known as the Holy Rollers), who appeared to have had the race locked up, lost a tire and went parading around the track. The hard-charging Black Iron boys saw this last-minute vulnerability and upped their pace - at the finish line, after approximately 14 hours of wheel-to-wheel racing, Black Iron emerged victorious with a sub 8-second margin of victory! Spectacular job!

Here we see a typical 4-wide pack navigating the notorious back banking....better get in line before you get pinched at the ridiculously narrow Esses! If you don't, you're liable to run into a large tractor tire strategically placed to aid you in your destruction.

The Motoring J Style MR2/MeR deux Toyota MR2 made its second LeMons appearance, after a solid 12th place finish in July's championship race. We avoided behemoths like this quite terrifying Richard Petty themed Ford Thunderbird (above), and showed the "Canola Rolla'z" (below), how we roll...that's right, Toyota 4AG style and none of that vegetable oil business.

We managed to stay out of the pits for most of the race, which is essentially the key to success in endurance racing...gotta keep your driver circling the track at all times! We had a few incidents, but thankfully none compared to these:

The AMC Hornet's wheel decided it no longer wanted to be attached to the car....and rolled away...

Our friends from Fantasy Junction used this Mazda to run into a lot of things.

Conrad Stevenson's excellent Alfa Spyder benefitting from some late-night repairs.

This team brought an '80s 5-speed Camry, and spent most of the race in the pit next to us doing a clutch job.

And our sister car, the California Mille entry (#34 Alfetta) ran in the top 10 for the first half of the race before the car began a slow death on Sunday morning. They finished 35th. And hey, check out that Conquest TSi and the AE92 in the background!

Before July 2007 race:

After October race:

Despite some close calls (and, let's face it, many outright impacts and straight up crashes), the MR2 kept circling. The Motoring J Style team brought the car home 4th overall, a mere 29 laps down from the winning BMW!

We'll be back for the season finale at Thunderhill on December 29-30 to challenge LeMons once more. Is our MR2 bound for even greater glory that it has already achieved? We think so!

See more about the October race at:

24 Hours of Lemons Website
Full October Results

2008 Infiniti G37 S: gran turismo World Beater!

On any list of top-drawer enthusiast cars, the Infiniti G models, G35 sedan and G37 coupe, must rank at or near the top, and are priced at bargain levels.
A recent test car was the 2008 G37 S 6-speed coupe, in a perfect red with black leather.

Buttoned down, but never harsh, with performance that, only a few years ago, would have been in super car territory, plus the low cost maintenance and bullet-proof reliability, make this Infiniti a car you can live with easily.

And it never fails to feed your appetite for automotive excellence.
Nissan products have generally avoided being bland—think 510, 240Z, 300Z turbo, 240SX. Infiniti has found a clean, bold styling direction. Try one; I predict you’ll find it irresistible.
-Martin Swig

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Toyota's Motorsports Champions Saluted at NHRA Museum

As Toyota begins paying more attention to their history and heritage, it seems fitting that they'd want to honor their motorsports champions as well. Toyota as a brand has been an unfailing supporter of racing activites; in recent years, the company has launched major efforts in both Formula One and NASCAR racing. All gearheads should be thankful to them for that; Toyota is helping keep professional motorsports alive!

So it was that Toyota held a dinner dubbed the "Night of Champions" at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum on October 18th. There are currently six historic Toyota racing vehicles from the past 25 years on display at the museum. The exhibit runs through January 2008.

I was most struck upon seeing the IMSA Toyota Eagle MKIII formerly driven by Juan Manuel Fangio II.

This car brought back a flood of memories; I remember being six years old and attending the IMSA Camel GT race at Laguna Seca, where my favorite driver, Juan Manuel Fangio II, beat all the other competition driving a similar car. Fangio II is the nephew of the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, who won 5 Grand Prix World Championships during the 1950s.

The younger Fangio (left) even made the trip from Balcarce, Argentina, to attend the ceremony.

The fuel-sipping Prius record setter (below) was certainly the greenest vehicle displayed in the house Wally Parks built. It looked somewhat out of place against a backdrop of '32 Ford Lakes Roadsters, Bonneville Belly Tanks, and frenched taillights.

This very rare IMSA Celica was trucked out for the evening of the dinner only. Period driver Dennis Aase was in attendance, but Dan Gurney was conspicuously absent!

Even with Gurney absent, the guest list wasn't suffering too much! There were no shortage of Toyota champions (above), with almost one at each dinner table. Visible in the photo (among others) are "Ironman" Ivan Stewart, Steve Millen, Cristiano da Matta, Alex Barron, Chris Cord, and Frank Arciero. All in all, it was a spectacular evening which provided an opportunity to reflect on all that Toyota has contributed to motorsport in recent years. Thank you Toyota for all the racing memories!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Toyota Team Europe: A Rebirth

This one has been making its way around cyberspace for some time now, but we thought it was too good not to post here. Makela Auto Tuning of Finland brings us a 308-photo set of this immaculate restoration of a once-decrepit 1984 Toyota Celica Turbo "Toyota Team Europe" rally car.

Leave it to the Scandinavians to bring back forgotten rally cars...these guys seem to know what's up. Check out the link above!

Monday, October 15, 2007

CSRG: Bluebird Wipes Floor with Shelby, NASCAR Spins

THE 4th Annual CSRG Charity Challenge Vintage Races are in the books, and it was an epic vintage race weekend by all accounts. The field was eclectic as ever, including such rarities as a Maserati 250F Grand Prix Car, a Bugatti Type 59, and an 8C Alfa Romeo. Plenty of others filled out the eight classes, from the most famous and valuable Ferraris to super obscure cars like the French Rene Bonnet D'Jet.

There aren't too many car dealers out there who are also "car guys", but one serious exception to the rule is Gordon Walton of Walnut Creek Honda. That's him above in his gorgeous '67 Honda S800 in Turn 2. Check out his car below:

For once, we didn't have any of our own cars entered, so we got to relax and enjoy all the races from the stands... It was great not having to wake up at 6:30am!

We got to see the Historic NASCAR guys do their impression of a road course:

And there were a few things that made us look twice, like this Audi S5 parked in a fleet of RS4s out near Turn 5:

And a cool early 70s Alfa Romeo Berlina that was parked near all the Audis...

We love Alfas and if you don't, you need some knowledge. The Berlina is a sweet car, kind of like Italy's Datsun 510, with cooler instruments and a twincam motor. I want one.

But, wait, what's that over there?! We spotted this hakosuka Skyline in the Sears Point paddock:

In fact, this was the Skyline GT-X that appeared on the Bay Area craigslist site a month or two ago. Its new proud owner was none other than Jim Froula, who is well-known in vintage racing circles with his 1967 Datsun Bluebird, which he just happened to be racing this weekend:

This thing is immaculate...check it out:

That's one pretty sweet ride!

Don't be fooled: there's no Motoring J Style in the above photo. But the driver of the 912 is my friend Anne. Anne is cool because she actually races her daily-driven, black-plate Porsche 912. And here she's mixing it up hardcore with Alfas and Porsche gotta respect that!

Well, that's it for now. Next weekend, look for an update on a rather more degenerate form of racing, the 4th running of the now-infamous 24 Hours of LeMons. Cheers!