Formula 1 and technology

March 29th, 2009

Alonso's Steering Wheel

Luddites tend to get annoyed by all of the electronic intrusions on our driving experience these days.  They say take me back to the days of the AM in car radio.


I guess, then, a sign of the times is the attached view of a Formula 1 steering wheel.  The video game enabled among us are not intimidated  by these things, and technology in general makes Formula 1 racing uniquely interesting.  And this year, as the first race proved today, the driving looks like it’s going to equal the technology in interest.  The Speed crew had to work overtime to fit all of the technical tidbits in between the action on the track.


Note the big orange KERS button, F1’s version of  “push to pass”.   Driver feedback is pretty positive and I think you could notice a few times during the race where it was used to advantage.


It will be fun to watch the rest of the season and see how all of the technology plays out and how it affects the driver standings.

Sebring 12 hour race, my favorite

March 17th, 2009

         Most of us gearheads have a favorite automobile race; probably impressed on our beer fogged memories sometime in the distant past.   And probably at a time when we were more concerned with whether we had packed in enough ice than we were for the great cars and drivers who were circulating right in front of our noses.  About this time of year, as most of the racing series are getting underway, those memories flood back.


         The Sebring 12hr., scheduled to run next weekend, happens to be my favorite race.  It will be run this Saturday, March 21.  And although I won’t be there in person, I look forward to watching the Speed coverage.


         Sebring, for me, serves as a link to the greatest race series ever: the CAN-AM.  Vestiges of those all powerful, no limits, machines remain in the LMP1 and LMP2 classes today.  I really enjoy the technical innovation that shows up in these classes.


         Like the Daytona 24hr., Sebring appears on the racing calendar before many of the other racing series are underway, so great drivers from all over are often attracted to the race.


         What could be better: great drivers and great cars.


         Twelve hours also turns out to be a perfect length for an endurance race; at least from a spectator point of view.  The Goldilocks length, not too short, not too long.  One gets the flavor of watching night racing without needing to stay up all night.  And the race is still long enough to severely test the endurance of man and machine.


Look for some personal experiences at Sebring in a future post.

Ford GT 40 at Sebring

Ford GT 40 at Sebring

Marlboro Raceway memories

March 1st, 2009

For those of you who missed visiting Marlboro Raceway in Marlboro, Maryland, I found a taste of it for you.


The article at this website from the Washington Post .com is a nice reminiscence of what it was like at Marlboro in the 50’s and 60’s.  There is also an excellent film clip from a race in 1957 and additional links to other early racing.


I remember attending several races there; and in fact catching my own “I wanta race virus” there.  My best memory is of warding off freezing temperatures at the Refrigerator Bowl, run in January, with a flask of Apple Jack.


Marlboro was a very tight track, more suited for time trials than racing, but it did produce some exciting races.  The longest straight ended in a sharp left turn; and that turn claimed many race cars.  A straight off took one thru trees and brush and eventually into a creek!  The start/finish line was located in a tiny oval bowl (maybe 1/16 mi.).  Entry and exit from the bowl often included airborne moments.


After racing ended in the 60’s, it was still used occasionally for time trials/autocrosses.  I remember the first Hurst Shelby Mustang renta car showing up there and being thrashed within an inch of its life.  My own experiences of autocrossing at Marlboro in a Corvette and a Sprite are treasures.  Think I still have a trophy or two around.


Some of the early racing greats like Roger Penske. Mark Donahue, and Bob Tullius raced there.  Marlboro doesn’t quite evoke the same public memory as Riverside, but, for sure, it was equally important to the development of popular sports car racing. 

Learning to love the new performance specs

February 15th, 2009

Learning to love the new performance specs is going to take some doing.  Horsepower has always conjured up an image of dozens of stampeding Mustangs (the four legged kind) and Torque reminds me of a giant wrench levered by one of those muscular laborers you see in statues at the Commerce Department.  Now we need to consider Cells!  Makes me think of an Amoeba!  Voltage?  How about a flashlight.


Road and Track recently reviewed a handful of “Eclectic Electrics” and introduced a bunch of new categories in their Specifications box.  Things like Number of Cells, Voltage, Recharge time, and Energy capacity now appear along with the more traditional items like Cooling, Weight, Brakes, etc.  But even these familiar terms sometimes take on new meaning when they refer to battery care and feeding rather than internal combustion.


Somehow I am having difficulty picturing a garage collection of vintage battery packs and electric motors, volt meters, and recharging stations as something that will invite “Garage Envy”.  On the other hand there are already individuals who collect old Macintosh computers; so who knows?  For now, I think I will do my best to OD on existing collections of vintage cars and memorabilia and hope that the era of electrics brings an as yet unrevealed charm to the car collector world.


Dodge EV

Dodge EV



Washington DC Autoshow and Henrick Fisker

February 7th, 2009


Henrick Fisker and the Karma

Henrick Fisker and the Karma

If Barack Obama can say, “I screwed up”, so can I.  A couple of missives ago, I lamented the boringness of being green.  Basically I felt that “green” cars were technically interesting but boring from a driving excitement point of view.   The Fisker automobiles may change that opinion quickly.  The models displayed at the Washington Autoshow certainly created the aura of driving excitement just sitting on the display floor.  These are totally sexy looking automobiles, and if all of Henrick Fisker’s enthusiasm and charm translates into driving excitement, we have a great start on a green revolution that will light the fire of any “Garage Envy” fan.




I was totally impressed that Fisker himself was on the floor of the Convention Center and willing to talk to all who visited about the features of his great looking cars.  If he can actually deliver these cars for the $88K that he is quoting it will be one hell of a deal.  The fit and finish of the models on the floor (a Karma sedan and a Sunset convertible) was first rate.  Fisker stated that he penned the exterior design.  The interiors were excellent as well.  Fisker out sources all of the components and will do the assembly of the early models in Finland.  He claims that this manufacturing method is what allows him to price it at $88K and also has enabled him to get the car to market so quickly.  Fisker is developing his own US dealer network – about 40 dealers.  Very interesting car and manufacturer, I can’t wait to read some driving impressions.


There were many other green production and concept cars at the show and their presentations were very interesting.  There were lots of cutaways, component displays, and talking heads to inundate one with information about green options.


From a Garage Envy point of view, one had to look hard for interesting driver’s cars.  Many of the exotic car manufacturers like Ferrari and Lamborghini were not there and manufacturers really had toned down the performance models in their lines.  For example GM lined up their Corvette Z1 with all of the rest of their Corvette models and didn’t even highlight it.  I would have thought they would have put it on a rotating dais.  Guess they were afraid of a congressman blasting them for misusing taxpayer bailout funds.


My bottom line is that the autoshow in your neighborhood is worth going to this year.



Truth in 24 – watch it

January 31st, 2009

Google “Truth in 24” and watch the trailer.  This looks like a great movie for gearheads.

Too bad this won’t air on ESPN until March; I need a racing booster right now.  The real racing season will be in full bloom by then, but now all we can get are a couple of ticklers from Florida.

And what do we get at the car shows this season, but a bunch of mostly boring (from the drivers seat) “green” cars.  Don’t get me wrong.  I find the new propulsion technologies endlessly fascinating, but in their present form there is not much to offer from a driving excitement viewpoint.  Not much Garage Envy there.

January, a crappy month for car nuts.

Car Collector silly season

January 18th, 2009

How can this Garage Envy blogger resist tuning in to at least a few minutes of a Barrett- Jackson, or a Russo Steele auto auction?  He can’t.  This is Garage Envy in full bloom.  These enthusiasts are living out each or our fantasy’s  of owning a piece of our own automotive past.


Car auctions go on all year long, but without major racing series events to distract me, now seems to be the time that I pay most attention to auctions.  I was first dismayed to see the continuing trend of emphasis on American  muscle cars in the broadcast auctions.  If you read the collector rags, the full gamut of cars are changing hands, but muscle cars are apparently what draw the TV audience.  It’s really awesome to watch the prices some of these cars are pulling down this season; there seems to be no recession in the car collector  community.

One thing I am having trouble sorting out is that many of these cars are too nice.  They get pushed onto the auction block with gloved hands, doors and hoods are gently opened and closed, polishing cloths are always at hand.  These cars are “garage queens”.   They deserve to be driven.  Maybe only gently and on sunny days, but they need to be out there burning up some miles.  Preferably at yours or my hand.  That’s why Jay Leno’s brand of collectorship is at the core of Garage Envy’s  focus; his cars get driven.

I have a personal prescription for the “too nice to be driven” restorers, emulate the ancient Navajo rug maker strategy of allowing a small mistake to remain in the finished work.  That way the result isn’t too perfect to use.  My own  Navajo experience at restoration included an Austin Healey with a “perfect” paint job that had a rocker panel rust breakout shortly after completion and a Karman Ghia that nicked the door jam when being backed out of the paint garage.   Believe me, those restorations rolled up plenty of miles after completion; probably aided by their lack of perfection.

So I stand by waiting for a call from any of those successful auction bidders.  If they want a bit of that perfection to be rubbed off of their “garage queen”, I’m their man.

Less than "perfect" Austin Healey

Less than “perfect” Austin Healey


Kimi vs Deweycheatumnhowe

January 7th, 2009


This news clip from the New York times this week was irresistible.  The text reads roughly as follows:  The Hambletonian winner Deweycheatumnhowe voted trotter of the year, while record earner Somebeachsomewhere voted top pacer of the year.


How lucky we automotive race fans are!   Can you imagine David Hobbs describing lead changes between Icemankimipartyboy and Orderofthebritishempirelewish.  Or even more ludicrous, Darrell Waltrip moderating a punchout between mandmsnickerbush and cousincarlaflac.  The possibilities make my head hurt.


So next time you view a Formula 1 race or the NASCAR circus think about the possibilities. Suppose racer agents/promoters get in on the game and  sell naming rights to the racers themselves; they could surely come up with even more novel names than the horseracing industry.  And now consider how really, really, really lucky we are that right now we live in an era where that idea has not yet caught on.




Ferrari and a ho, ho, ho

December 29th, 2008

I am contemplating the end of the year and yet another Christmas morning lacking that giftbow topped Ferrari parked in front of my door.  All of us gear heads must have some fantasy of that sort that creeps into our car dreams.  The one facilitated by imagining a previously unknown rich uncle who has watched our development from afar and finally decided that we are worthy of a very special gift as a reward for our hours, days, or perhaps even months of “being good” in anticipation of the big day.  We all likely out grow Santa, but I bet I’m not the only one who has not out grown that gift wish.


The “gift wish” can probably be viewed as just another form of Garage Envy.  So what better thought to prompt my beginning of the lay out of my  “personal favorites” list.  You may recall (or if you wish, search the archives and read it) that I divide my favorites into three categories: retro, runner, and racer.  I thought I would “envy” some retro’s today, since that plays directly into my Ferrari fantasy.


Any twelve cylinder Ferrari would make my retro list.  The sound of one at speed is orgasmic and even at idle they make wonderful mechanical noises.  I lost a noticeable bit of my hearing cozying up to race versions of these machines at Sebring. Maybe, I should just settle for a sound track.  A 250 GTO would probably be my first pick and not coincidentally I have included one in my Automotive Sculptures Gallery at Might as well wish big, as these rare beauties go for well into the 8 figures.


A Lamborghini Miura has always been at the very top of my retro list.  And it is just for the pure beauty of its form.  I have yet to catch one during my photography expeditions in a pose that warrants entry into the Sculpture gallery.  But this auto paparazzi will eventually catch it.  The Miura was one of the first, if not the first, mid-engine sports cars, and it’s radical design caused a sensation in 1966.  Coincidentally, in 1966 Raquel Welch stared in the movie “One Million Years B.C.  The movie was crap, but the resulting classic poster hung in my bedroom along with a Miura poster for many of my bachelor years.  One on the wall and one on the ceiling over my bed; I’ll let you guess which was where.


I’ll end with a more practical/affordable favorite, the Series 1, Jaguar XKE coupe.  A truly passionate enthusiast could probably get a nice driver for the price of a new car.  The first models had the best lines and even had clear headlight covers to further smooth the look.  I never understood why the convertible sold better.  I saw the really sexy lines of the coupe overcoming the coolness factor of the convertible.  The clamshell hood opened to display an equally beautiful straight six engine.  Lots of complex mechanicals and bright metal surfaces, and an engine that your could actually see; none of those styled plastic covers that obscure the engines of today.  After I finish restoring my “67 Vette, the XKE may be my first retro purchase.


My list is long and continues to grow, but these three would keep me happy driving, wrenching, and polishing for a very long time.


Happy New Year everyone.  

Two hundred fifty three miles per hour – Where are we going with this?

December 10th, 2008

Automotive one-ups-manship has undergone a not so subtitle evolution in the last decade or so.  Used to be that 0-60 time was king, but with the introduction of the McLaren F1 in the 1991 and the setting of the fastest street legal top speed in 1994, things have changed.  Top speed in now king and 0-60 time is just another statistic.  And I think the world of the car enthusiast is poorer for it.


 Take a look at this Youtube video  Two hundred and fifty three miles an hour in the current fastest production car in the world, the Bugatti Veyron!  That is an insane speed.  The best I have ever done is a hundred miles an hour slower than that!  Now I think most enthusiasts would like to give it a try, but how?  That youtube run took an unbelievable amount of coordination and preparation to pull off.  Not the kind of thing you do on any sunny afternoon.  Lots of other cars, even Corvette, now have bragging rights for an over 200 mph top speed.  And car magazines are constantly churning out features on 200 mph match-ups.  Test drivers comment that everything changes for a production car when you get over something like 170 mph.  Of course everything changes at a much lower speed if you are on a public road; which is what these cars are built for.


 Bragging rights are nice; but, as with owning a Rolex or a Mont blanc pen, what more can you do with it than you can with a more ordinary model?  On the other hand, 0-60 time is something an enthusiast can exercise practically everyday they are behind the wheel.  And how exhilarating is that?  There is nothing like nailing it and hanging on for the few seconds it takes to get to 60 mph; and most places you can do it without even attracting the attention of the authorities.  Try that with  200 mph.


 So, rise up enthusiasts and demand that car makers and car mags bring the emphasis back to a “go fast” capability that us ordinary folks can relate to.  I’ll even settle for the metric version of that, 100kph.