Thursday, January 31, 2008

Progress: '49 Ferrari 166 vs. '08 Mazda Miata

By Martin Swig

I'm about to take delivery of a new Mazda Miata, because I think it's the best new car out there. My conclusion is based on the idea that it offers so much and asks so little (price, fuel, maintenance) in return.

Sports cars always were lean and lithe, with wind-in-the-hair, small dimensions and tossability. Then something happened and they got bigger, heavier, overaccessorized, and very expensive. Many became more an object to be seen in rather than to be enjoyed.

The Mazda redefined sports cars by incorporating all the good stuff in a bullet-proof, low-maintenance, long-life package. Its designers did everything right; more importantly, the car's greatness was determined by all those things they could have done, but didn't, in misguided efforts to make it "better".

The original Ferrari 166 Barchetta that won the 1949 Mille Miglia redefined things in 1949 terms. It occurred to me to compare my Mazda to two early Ferraris. Look at the table below, and you'll see a good definition of "automotive progress."

There's no denying the greatness of the Ferraris and the huge influence they had on the automotive world. That probably balances the joy that the Miata has brought to hundreds of thousands of owners.

So, on I.P.U.P, or influence-per-unit-produced, maybe the Ferraris win. But side-by-side in Del Monte Forest or Torrey Pines, I'll bet the Mazda would leave either Ferrari for dead!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bonus Video: In-Car Night Racing From Thunderhill!

There are times in life when you break out in a cold sweat due to pure, uninhibited terror. Like when you find out you knocked up some cougar you had a one-night stand with 15 years ago. Or when you rack up $5,000 in credit card advances and lose it all in one night at a Vegas craps table during SEMA. Or when you're about to get your face ripped off by a Siberian tiger at the San Francisco Zoo. I'm happy to say none of those apply to me.

No, friends, my idea of terror is racing into a pitch black darkness in a shitty old car with virtually no lights whatsoever. You might encounter a crushed Datsun B210 resting unnauturally on its passenger door, just off the racing line. Yes, that's scary.

We thought we were so clever: Yeah, just put those dinky foglights in, those will pass tech. They're "lights", right? Right?

We never thought we'd need them to actually, you know, see.

So there we were at the 24 Hours of LeMons in the balmy 34 degree foggy darkness. I had planned my exit strategy well in advance. I drove the first stint of the race (during the day) specficially so I wouldn't be the jerkoff running off the road in the middle of the night. Darkness came, so I sent out driver #2. 5 minutes later, he's back in the pits. "What's the problem?!" The answer: "This is a fucking joke! I'm not driving this piece of shit! You can't see a god-damned thing!".

OK then, time for driver #3. Five minutes later, same scenario. So there we are. Four drivers, car still running, nobody willing to risk life and limb for a sackful of nickels. Which, honestly, we had no chance in hell of winning, having been classed as "NPF" - that's "No Prayer of Finishing". A fine designation, indeed.

Of course, as Bob Lutz once said, "Common sense, in fact, is not very common at all". True? You be the judge.

P.S: Video is from the 2nd place finishing "Latch Key Kids" Dodge Neon. Watch for the Gold Leaf Isuzu from 3:15-5:00!

LeMons Disaster Forces Isuzu Out Of U.S. Market

You asked for chapter 2, and boy, have we delivered.

We haven't posted anything about the December 24 Hours of LeMons at Thunderhill, because, frankly, we failed miserably. The Jalopnik guys cheered for us, and even chronicled our exploits here, but alas, they were the only ones. Nobody else seemed to care much (though everyone liked our tow vehicle!).

After 11 hours of racing, at least three in terrifying pitch darkness, the old I-Mark's right front hub suffered a catastrophic failure while young Howard Swig was at the wheel. Howard had pulled into the pits complaining of a "horrific noise" emanating from the right front corner. Ever the optimist, and as the team captain, I told him to go back out there and drive the damn car: "What's the worst that can happen? The wheel isn't gonna fall off!"

It did.

The fallout from our miserable 43rd place finish has been more than we ever could have imagined. Our misguided efforts with the Gold Leaf Team Lotus I-Mark have made for some uncomfortable silences in the break room at Isuzu HQ. Due to our pathetic failure, Isuzu has announced that they are pulling out of the U.S market completely. They will continue, apparently, to provide parts and service, but if getting a new set of front brake pads for an '89 I-Mark RS is any indication, that infrastructure is, well, non-existent. If you have any Isuzu product, I suggest you unload it immediately to the first dumbshit who offers cash. That said, anyone want a LeMons-prepared I-Mark twincam in Gold Leaf livery? We'll even put the wheel back on for you!

Farewell, Isuzu. I'll remember you as fondly as I remember my $200 Renault LeCar. And that's a compliment.

Jalopnik 24 Hours of LeMons Thunderhill Full Gallery

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Panties in a Twist: Alfa Guys Debate the '71 Trans Am

Some excitement lately over at this thread on the Alfa Bulletin Board. A fine chance to watch some Alfisti debate the finer points of the '71 Trans-Am 2.5 Challenge, and rehash the coulda/shoulda/woulda of 35 years ago. I'm into it.

A quick recap: At the final Trans-Am race of 1971 at Laguna Seca, John Morton finished 2nd on track to Horst Kwech's Alfa GTV, which was later disqualified by the SCCA for racing with an oversized fuel tank. The BRE Datsun team, and specifically driver John Morton, went down in the record books as the 1971 Trans-Am 2.5 Liter Champions.

I really suggest reading this thread, as it's loaded with interesting historical info pertaining to this age-old Trans-Am debate. There are some truly knowledgeable and objective participants who can see both sides of the story.

Now, I love Alfas, and I love Datsuns too. At home my '72 BRE 510 is parked proudly next to dad's '71 Alfa GTV 1750. But I must admit I get a kick out of a few delusional Alfisti trying to knock down the efforts of Peter Brock and the BRE racing team.

Delusional? Think I'm being a bit harsh? Let's take this gem from the original poster:

"Every dog has it's day, I can see a brighter future for Alfa than Nissan."

Um....yeah...whatever you say, buddy. Actually, it warms my heart to know there's someone who actually believes that.

That said, here are some truths:

1) A stock Datsun 510 isn't even 1/3 of the car that a stock '71 Alfa GTV is. I know. I have them both. The stock Alfa shames the stock Datsun in the same way that a Z06 might compare to a Chevy Aveo.

2) The Alfa GTV of Horst Kwech DID beat the Datsun 510 of John Morton on track in the '71 Laguna Seca Trans-Am. His fuel tank didn't meet SCCA rules, the SCCA impounded the car and disqualified it on this technicality.

3) Peter Brock and his team at BRE built spectacular race cars, and any comments made to belittle his efforts are truly uninformed. (Yes, I'm referencing you, the AlfaBB commenter who noted that "Peter Brock has always been overrated". You know who you are). The Alfa guys (Horst Kwech and others) also built great race cars and were fierce competitors, which is what made the T/A 2.5 Challenge so damn interesting!

4) Winners cheat. The Alfas cheated. The Datsuns probably cheated too. Cheating in SCCA is nothing new, wasn't new in 1971, is still going on in 2008. Debate all you want. If you're not bending the rules, you're not trying hard enough!

To paraphrase one level-headed poster, being an 'Alfista' (or an enthusiast of any particular marque) should never preclude you from appreciating other cars. Variety is the salt of life. Enjoy it!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

New Year's Day Anti-Football Run 2008

In the early morning dusk of New Year's Day, while most of us were nursing hangovers or still wandering the empty streets after the debauchery that is New Years' Eve, 70 vintage sports cars and their drivers converged on the small town of Sausalito.

The point? A brisk drive on open, untrafficked, windy two lane backroads in our favorite cars to "start the new year right". Put on our sister organization, the Amici Americani della Mille Miglia, the New Year's Day Anti-Football Run has been an annual event since the early 1990s.

This year, Datsuns and Toyotas rubbed shoulders with the elite, as most of the New Year's Day entries are classic European makes with names like Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and Maserati. Of course, there were many oddballs - Citroens, Saabs, an aluminium-bodied Triumph TR6 hotrod...what a way to start '08!

Thanks to Michael Emery of Lucha Libre Racing for the photos!

California Mille '08 New Year's Day Photos