Monday, November 20, 2017

Newest Super Vette: The 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

Photo Credit: Chevrolet 

When 2018 arrives, the Corvette will enter its 65th year as Chevrolet’s sweetheart sports car. Living a lifetime marked by both prosperity and adversity, the Chevrolet Corvette underwent adjustments through seven generations as culture assesses the modern automobile.

The increase reliance on electrification, fuel management and customers favouring other vehicle types has resulted in a global auto market that may not be kind to a rear-wheel drive, V-8 engined sports car. When the 638-horsepower Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 was released between 2009 to 2013 there were even thoughts that classic American sports car philosophies would not translate into succeeding examples of the vehicle. Some of this concern was alleviated by the roll-out of the seventh generation Chevrolet Corvette and the Z06 featuring 650 horsepower of old-fashioned performance greatness. Proceeding into the 2019 model year, the future of the automobile will involve Corvette’s most treasured qualities extended to new levels with an all-new ZR1.

Photo Credit: Chevrolet

The 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 is a glorious, new centerpiece for the prime performance capabilities led by an evolutionary new engine. Operating through an intercooled supercharger, a 6.2-liter V-8 LT5 engine generates a quantity of power no factory production Corvette has seen. Serving as a performance record for the American sports car, a SAE-certified 755 horsepower of momentum will be on-tap with the new ZR1 model. Torque production of 715 lb-ft is also supplied to rear drive wheels when the driver presses the accelerator.

The 2019 Corvette ZR1 powerplant will also house General Motor’s first use of a dual fuel injection system. Low pressure port injection and high-pressure direct injection will push gasoline into the eight combustion chambers of the LT5 engine. This fuel injection combination concept has popularly been found with the powerplants of the Subaru BR-Z and Toyota 86 sports cars. On those vehicles, the dual fuel injection setup utilizes port injectors for improved performance under lighter load conditions and direct injection for enhancing the engine’s compression ratio. It’s unclear precisely how similar the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1's LT5 power unit will function with dual fuel injection. Finally, the high-performance LT5 engine and the ZR1's drivetrain are supported by a total of 13 heat-exchangers promoting extensive cooling efficiency.

A familiar manual transmission is once-again returning to the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 for the 2019 variant. The seven-speed manual provides the classic notion of sports car performance with the driver finding the challenge of harnessing 755 horsepower as a true reward. A first for the Corvette ZR1, customers are also offered the choice of an automatic transmission. Perhaps a tamer performance driving experience, the eight-speed automatic does include the thrilling sensation of paddle shifting.

Photo Credit: Chevrolet

With the drivetrain set to propel the Corvette to undiscovered heights in speed and acceleration, ZR1 bodywork enhancements builds up the sports car’s already aerodynamic shape. A unique front end facilitates improved air channelling for the array of heat exchanger units. Formed with carbon fiber, the hood of the 2019 Corvette ZR1 incorporates a unique ‘halo’ profile to provide room for the LT5 engine. Two aerodynamic packages will be offered for the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette. Generating 70 percent greater downforce than the base Corvette Z06, the Low Wing variant of the 2019 ZR1 edition underwent wind tunnel testing and is rooted to the Corvette Racing sports car competition program. Optional with the new Corvette ZR1 is an extensively engineered High Wing package. Delivering an estimated 950 pounds of total downforce to the sports car, the Corvette ZR1's High Wing configuration features two-way adjustability. The High Wing version of the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 will also receive additional race track-styled aerodynamic tuning through a front splitter, summer-only Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires and increased cornering performance with Magnetic Ride Control tuning. 

Photo Credit: Chevrolet

Of course, the appearance of the new ZR1 remains important. Through an available Sebring Orange Design Package, the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 receives added aesthetic attention. Coated with a Sebring Orange Tintcoat body color, orange brake calipers and splitter accent stripes are also included on the exterior. Inside the Sebring Orange Design Package-equipped Corvette ZR1 is orange stitching and bronze aluminum interior trim. Leather seating is standard on the 2019 ZR1 while heated and ventilated Napa leather seats are an option.

Actual performance numbers have been released on the 2019 Corvette ZR1 but predictions can easily scale any previous-existing model. Acceleration under the 3-second range appears possible while grip and handling can also be top-notch. The sport car does pledge a top speed potential greater than 210 miles per hour.

When the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 will go on sale for spring 2018, it will be the fourth time the special package would be available since its introduction on the 1970 Corvette. Many Corvette enthusiasts prefer to think of the ‘ZR’ lettering in these high-performance versions as ‘Zora Racer’ named after the man celebrated as the father of the sports car Zora Arkus-Duntov. While the reality is the coding was less poetically produced as a performance package code with no regard to the late Chevrolet engineer, Duntov’s name being memorialized through what is now the fourth iteration of a super-powered Corvette is just too perfect. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Formula 1-Inspired Supercar Badness: The Mercedes-AMG Project ONE

Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Formula 1 aficionados in recent seasons have been witnessing a renaissance of the Silver Arrows in a manner not seen since the 1950s. Returning to the series as a constructor in 2010, the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Formula 1 team hit a masterful stride in the prestigious open wheel racing tour in 2014 when a new series mandate for a hybrid gasoline/electric powerplant came to fruition. As of September 12th of 2017, the Mercedes-AMG team has taken victory in 60 of the 72 events since the current hybrid power unit specifications came into effect.

As is the case with any automaker who uses motorsports to define their brand, Mercedes-Benz’s performance division naturally wants to directly transfer success on the track to the street. A single-passenger, open-wheel race car designed to run a main feature race no longer than two hours is starkly different from a production vehicle seemingly limits the amount of technology that could be shared. Unveiled for the 2017 International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Mercedes-AMG and Mercedes-Benz undertook one of the more aggressive efforts to transfer current Formula 1 technology to a street-legal car. Classified under Project ONE, a 217-mile per hour Mercedes-AMG supercar is engineered to provide a sense of performance reminiscent to what drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas experience.

Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Featuring an electric/gasoline plug-in hybrid system constructed within a two-passenger show car, the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE major hint at Formula 1 inspiration is its power. Matching the displacement size as the turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine used in the Mercedes-AMG W08 EQ Power+ race car competing on the 2017 grand prix circuit, a direct-injected V-6 powerplant is billed as a high-revving, advanced engine. Designed to reach 11,000 rpms, the turbocharged six-cylinder used in the Project ONE concept is paired with a quartet of electric motors. Two 120-kilowatt electric motors are located on the front axle while the other two are found linked to the engine’s crankshaft and the final 120-kilowatt attached to the turbocharger unit. Achieving a maximum system performance of 1,000 horsepower, the electric/gasoline hybrid system is designed to function in a highly efficient fashion. Operating with similar lithium-ion battery technology as the Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 car, the component to the 800-volt EQ Power+ drive system touts improved everyday practicality and plug-in hybrid functionality. An electric-only driving range of 25 kilometers is also possible with the Project ONE show car.

The power unit for the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE insures fast and furious momentum for the hypercar through the use of a special 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive system. Acceleration from 0 to 200 kilometers per hour is performed in roughly estimated pace of 6 seconds. Power delivery is managed through an automated 8-speed AMG Speedshift manual transmission.

Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz


The Frankfurt show car incorporates a color scheme similar to the Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 race cars with silver and black accompanied by Petronas green paintbrush streaks along the sides. Like a Formula 1 car, carbon fiber construction is key to the composition of the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE. The lightweight monocoque is coupled with body panels conveying aerodynamic balance with a carefully-shaped front and rear as well as strength with large fenders. A two-section diffuser and grand prix car-inspired exhaust outlet is found at the rear. The front of the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE is defined by a sleek fascia comprised of massive air intakes and flat LED headlights. A large air scoop is also present on the roof serving as a functional intake as well as another grand prix car design trait.

Along with promoting Mercedes-Benz’s modern Formula 1 proficiency, this hypercar also serves as an anniversary marker for AMG. Originally operating outside of the German automaker, the entity now known as Mercedes-AMG was established in 1967 as a speed shop motivated in drawing race-bred performance touches from vehicles. AMG has been fully-integrated into Mercedes-Benz since 2005. The AMG nameplate is worn with as much prominence as Mercedes-Benz’s star badge on the front of the Project ONE.

Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Closer towards the ground, the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE concept car rides on Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. Forged aluminum 19-inch front wheels and 20-inch rear wheels include a carbon fiber semi-cover facilitating optimum airflow. Heavy-duty, high endurance AMG Carbon Ceramic braking is designed to perform under some of the most extreme driving conditions. Vehicle handling is accomplished mainly through an adjustable multi-link suspension system with a full array of electronic driving aids such as AMG’s three-stage ESP (Electronic Stability Program).

Billed as “Formula 1 for two” by Mercedes-Benz, the Project ONE show car two-seat interior is infused with functionality, technology and even practicality. Interior styling is refreshingly unique drawing some from the cockpit of an open-wheel racer. One most noticeable detail is the flowing seating positions where buckets are integrated into the vehicle’s monocoque in a supportive manner towards the occupants’ feet. Behind the seats, in-cabin storage compartments are suited for accommodating small items.

Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz

The wing-like dashboard design is actual a structural element inside the Project ONE hypercar concept. Visual readouts are located within a pair of 10-inch high-resolution displays with one located directly in front of the driver and the second within the center of the dash. A Formula 1-style steering wheel possesses a wide array of vehicle controls at the fingertips of the driver. Along with adjustments for the suspension and driving modes, a LED shift indicator incorporated on the steering wheel adds a dynamic sensation for the handler. Air conditioning, power windows and Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND infotainment system are all standard equipment on the Project ONE.

Premiering as a show car at the 2017 auto show in Frankfurt, the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE’s production reality appears to be somewhat possible if the German auto brand will want to sell a super-exotic, high-priced supercar. Mercedes-Benz has been more transparent in their intentions of transferring the technology of the Project ONE into future production cars.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Top NASCAR Greats Who Came Short of a Championship

Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series field was set on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway. In a reformed ‘playoff’ format, 16 drivers qualified to compete for an all-new trophy through the final 10 races of the season.

Announcing that the 2017 season will be his last full-time effort in the Cup series, Dale Earnhardt Jr would have been a fan favourite part of the playoff. While the #88 Chevrolet owned by Hendrick Motorsports has struggled through a large portion of the 2017 tour, there was still a longshot hope the driver could transfer with a win at the 400-mile Richmond race. Making a bold gamble in waiting for a caution to gain track position, the Hail Mary shot did not work. Out of the playoff fight in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Earnhardt Jr career will apparently not include an overall championship. Dale Earnhardt Sr’s record-tying seven Winston Cup titles remained a weight that many fans and critics used to assess his son. Presently owning 26 race wins including two Daytona 500 victories, a 2000 All-Star Race win at Charlotte Motor Speedway and two championships in the NASCAR Busch Series (now the Xfinity Series), does Dale Earnhardt Jr need a Cup title to exist as an NASCAR legend on his own credentials?

While a championship best cements a driver’s legacy, competition in NASCAR limits the number of racers able to capture the ultimate year-end award. Winners of dozens of events, Daytona 500 champions and stories of overcoming odds define a group of drivers missed out on a season title.

Keep in mind, Carl Edwards is excluded from this grouping. Edwards’ on-track achievements marked by 28 victories including Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 wins as well as a 2011 title contention where he lost in a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart would definitely qualify him but his undetermined career future has left the driver off the list.  

Fireball Roberts

Photo Credit: ISC Archives

Widely accepted as one of NASCAR’s first superstars, the man born as Glenn Roberts in 1929 would gain the name “Fireball” when he began competing as a pitcher in high school baseball. Stepping into a stock car in 1947, Fireball Roberts’ first win in NASCAR’s most elite series in 1950. The victory total would climb to 33 out of 206 starts including the 1962 Daytona 500. Roberts gained a reputation as a smart yet hard-charging competitor who could push the limits of equipment. In a time when auto manufacturers began to aggressively support NASCAR, the ace driver was highly popular achieving success with Pontiac and Ford. The career and life of Firebird Roberts ended tragically in 1965 following a flame-filled crash at the Charlotte’s World 600 race. Critically injured by burns, Roberts died after 39 days in a hospital at the year of 35. The death of the early NASCAR superstar led to improved measures preventing fuel tank explosions that led to the evolution of fuel cell currently used on Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race cars.

The point system in the time Roberts competed in the NASCAR series was considerably different from today by emphasizing higher-paying races. It seemed common practice for some drivers to avoid lower paying events through the 1950s and 1960s based on this factor with being Firebird Roberts no exception. Focused on running a partial schedule for most of his career, Firebird Roberts’ best year-end result in the championship was second place in 1950.

James Hylton

Photo Credit: Padraic Major/NASCAR

When looking at the career of James Hylton in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, some statistics would not indicate how close the driver was to being a champion.

Starting 602 race events between 1964 and 1993, Hylton won on just two occasions in the Cup series (at Richmond in 1970 and at Talladega in 1972). Despite few visits to victory lane in the top-level NASCAR tour, James Hylton consistently finished in the top-10 in the point standings. Hylton cracked the top-10 in the NASCAR championship for the first time in 1966 with a runner-up finish to David Pearson. The effort was enough to be recognized as Rookie of the Year in series. The next year, he finished second again in the points behind Richard Petty and his dream season run. Hylton would once more claim the runner-up spot to Petty in 1971. Although every result generally included a sizable point margin, the feat was considered extremely impressive since he competed as a driver/owner through much of his career without the same level of financial or manufacturer support teams like Petty Enterprises received.

James Hylton maintained a presence in stock car racing as a team owner in the ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) series. In 2007, at the year of 72, he attempted to qualify for the Daytona 500 but fell short of making the field. His final race behind the wheel of a stock car was at the ARCA Kansas Speedway event in 2013.

Fred Lorenzen

Photo Credit: ISC Archives via Getty Images

Though Fred Lorenzen’s NASCAR racing career could be seen as brief at just 158 races in an era where 50-race seasons were common, his skill behind the wheel of a stock car earned him the status of a legend. 26 race wins, 33 pole positions and the 1965 Daytona 500 are among the highlights for the Illinois native who shined as a member of the Ford camp in the 1960s. Nicknamed “Fearless Freddy and later “Golden Boy”, Lorenzen gained the latter moniker after the 1963 season when he became the first NASCAR driver to win more than $100,000 in a season. Lorenzen was rewarded with NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award twice in 1963 and 1965. Deciding to quit racing after 1967, Lorenzen returned to competition in the early 1970s. In 1971, Fred Lorenzen wore STP sponsorship a year before Day-Glo Red was mixed with Petty Blue on Richard Petty’s #43 racer.

In the 1990s, I picked up a wonderful NASCAR history book by D. Randy Riggs called Flat-Out Racing: An Insider’s Look at the World of Stock Cars that contained some great insight on Fred Lorenzen in the driver’s own words. Lorenzen said it was never his or his team’s intention to compete for a championship but did ultimately attempt one run. According to Fred Lorenzen’s statement, it appeared to have been the 1963 season where he finished third overall in the year’s title hunt. The only other season where he placed in the top-10 was 1963 with a seventh place ranking.

Davey Allison

Photo Credit: ISC Archives via Getty Images

A lot of the story of Davey Allison is what could have been if tragically was avoided. A second generation stock car driver who was the son of the great Bobby Allison, Davey’s Cup career was hitting a zenith in the early 1990s driving the #28 Texaco/Havoline Ford Thunderbird for Robert Yates Racing.

While his racing pedigree was known, Davey Allison’s road to the than NASCAR Winston Cup series was not instantaneous. First working for his father’s team, he would race locally in Alabama at the now-demolished Birmingham International Raceway before joining the ARCA series. Earning Rookie of the Year in the national ARCA series, Allison was eventually granted a handful of Cup series rides before receiving his big break with the Rainer-Lundy team in 1987. Replacing three-time champion Cale Yarborough in the #28 Ford, Allison won at Talladega and two races later captured victory at Dover. Taking the 1987 Rookie of the Year honours in NASCAR Cup competition, championship caliber pieces fell into place with when engine builder Robert Yates bought Davey Allison’s team ahead of the 1989 season and crew chief Larry McReynolds midway through the 1991 season. The young Alabama native won the 1992 Daytona 500 joining his father as a victor of the prized stock car event.

Coming off of career-best third in the championship in 1991, Davey Allison was part of a narrow point’s battle in the late part of the 1992 season. In fact, if he had finished sixth or better in the Atlanta Motor Speedway finale, he would have locked-up the title. In position to take the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup championship, Allison was involved in a late race wreck when Ernie Irvan suffered a blown tire resulting in a collision with the #28 Ford.    

A favourite for the title prior to 1993, Allison won the season’s third race at Richmond. The sadly short career and life of Davey Allison ended with the crash-landing of a helicopter he was piloting. His loss on July 13th 1993 deeply affected his family and the NASCAR community as a whole. Davey Allison posthumously won the IROC title.

Mark Martin

Photo Credit: Chris Stanford/ Getty Images

Mark Martin’s recognition for being a patiently aggressive driver made him willing to let other competitors go early in the race confident he could catch them later. Martin’s devotion to maintaining peak physical fitness was pioneering for its era and would serve as an example for current and upcoming professional stock car drivers. A once in a generation driver, Mark Martin path to NASCAR stardom was a lesson in perseverance that many of us can take to heart.

Beginning his career in the NASCAR Winston Cup series after winning the championship in ASA (American Speed Association) on three consecutive occasions, Martin entered a handful of races in 1981 before attempting a rookie run in 1982. Martin would finish second behind Geoff Bodine in the Rookie of the Year battle but found difficulty maintaining a presence in the Cup series. Returning to ASA to eventually capture a fourth series title in 1986, Mark Martin gained the recognition of car owner Jack Roush who was just entering NASCAR. The driver/owner pairing would become a potent duo.

Debuting in 1988, Mark Martin’s #6 Roush Racing Ford encountered difficulties finding consistency through the first season in a winless full-time campaign resulting in 15th place in the points. In 1989, Martin claimed his first Cup series win and catapulted to 3rd in the point standings. Gaining competitiveness at a rapid rate, 1990 saw the #6 Ford Thunderbird as a weekly threat. Finishing below 14th place on only two occasions in 1990, Mark Martin’s consistency and three wins made him championship material. Unfortunately, a hefty 46-point penalty handed to Martin following failed technical inspection after his win at the second race of the year was costly. Dale Earnhardt won the 1990 Winston Cup title by 26 points.

Arkansas’ Mark Martin would finish second in the points a total of five times with the latest coming in 2009 under a Chase format playoff. Obtaining 40 victories in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, he is currently the most winningest driver not to possess a championship in the top stock car division. While not winning a title personally as a driver, Mark Martin can claim a championship as a co-owner with Jack Roush when protege Matt Kenseth won the 2003 title. The championship-winning #17 Ford was part of Roush Racing but placed in the name of Martin who was also an investor with the car.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Automotive Classics That Concluded Production Well After Their Model Year

Photo Credit: Porsche AG

Typically when production for an automobile concludes, we can practically etch the number of vehicles assembled in stone. Especially with limited production vehicles, the final total is entrusted to be a key ingredient towards establishing the linage of a specific car. While it is possible to copy or imitate a popular vehicle (with varying levels of success), circumstances have also seen honest additions to the existing real-world count of the authentic automobile model comes years after a production wrap.

Think if you have assembled a puzzle your grandparents bought in the 1960s (assuming you'll have all the pieces available by some miracle). Would you classify the finished puzzle as an all-new product? Expressing the age of its pieces as the age of the final product, individuals reconstructing a unique unbuilt vehicle as well as even automakers themselves have expanded their original production canon. Often using original production parts or other elements left over from the original factory run, these special continuation models can be described as a type of new, old stock automobiles. Built using these older components, a recently-assembled vehicle could legitimately be recognized as a classic.

The following vehicles proved alluring enough to require production history to be rewritten years and sometimes decades after assembly lines were originally halted:

Shelby Cobra

Silver with Black Stripe AC Cobra
Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Perhaps one of the most celebrated versions of British-American fusion ever to exist, the Shelby Cobra was concocted in 1962 as a combination of a light British frame and body with American V-8 horsepower. Carroll Shelby dropped a number of Ford V-8 engines into the Ace roadster constructed by England’s AC Cars creating a performance icon. Becoming a sensation on the track and the streets, the original production for the Shelby Cobra ran from 1962 to 1967.

Referred to as the MK I, MK II and MK III designations with improvements made over the course of its initial production run, the Shelby Cobra would quickly become one of the most copied vehicles. After Shelby and AC Cars produced just around 1,000 original examples of the sports car in the 1960s, a number of companies began building replicas without . Starting in 1982, British company Autokraft began assembling faithful replicas to the original 1960s Shelby Cobra. Working to protect his ownership of the Shelby Cobra trademarks, Carroll Shelby’s company began producing ‘continuation’ machines allowing vintage sport car audiences to buy a new original classic. While the majority of Shelby Cobras are essentially all-new, history from the official builder also contains nine cars that were 26 years in the making.Called the Completion Cobras, the nine vehicles were controversially constructed in 1991 but wore unused chassis numbers belonging to 427 S/C models intended for 1965.

Today, Shelby American produces several versions of the classic Cobra as modern continuations of the popular 289 Roadster and 427 S/C. One Shelby-authorized version of the 427 Cobra sports car was also equipped to run on hydrogen.

Jaguar XKSS

A street-legal version of the D-type race car that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans on three consecutive attempts from 1955 to 1957, the XKSS were converted from unfinished race cars. Adding all the creature comforts necessary for road travel including side windows and a passenger seat, only 25 were slated to be produced. However, the number was reduced following a fire at Jaguar’s Browns Lane assembly plant that destroyed 9 chassis as well as most of the manufacturing tools. 59 years after failing to met the full order of XKSS sports cars, Jaguar pledged to complete the 9 unbuilt  vehicles in a special continuation.

Jaguar apparently has developed a knack for rediscovering lost vehicles in recent years. In 2014, the remaining examples for a 18-car Lightweight E-type were uncovered. A shortfall referred to as the “Missing Six”, the final six completed Jaguar Lightweight E-types were rebuilt to the specifications of its original time period.

Back in 2003, a Jaguar XKSS a deal was secured at the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction allowing the car to change hands for 1.1 million dollars. The continuation models of the XKSS will be sold for 1.4 to 1.5 million dollars to special customers and collectors. Originally intended for sale in the United States, the continuation Jaguar XKSS publicly appeared at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show. Being delivered through 2017, all nine modern examples of the XKSS will include a five-year warranty.

Tucker Torpedo

1948 Tucker Torpedo at 2015 CIAS
Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

In the wake of the Second World War, the race to build new, modern automobiles briefly opened the door to companies with either limited or no previous exposure to the auto industry. Preston Tucker was one individual who attempted to parlay his innovative engineering that resulted in the bubble canopy incorporated on allied bombers into an all-new car. Tucker built a sensational amount of hype around what was promoted to be the first completely new postwar vehicle called the Torpedo for 1948. Between the complexity for developing the radical automobile in a short time frame and Preston Tucker’s difficulty meeting demands of investors as well as the many planned dealers set to sell the 1948 Torpedo, the car was a magnificently beautiful failure as a consumer product.

The story of Tucker and the innovative car live in a handful of production examples of the 1948 Torpedo. In total 51 Tucker Torpedos were built with only 37 assembled in the company’s manufacturing facility. An additional 14 Tucker automobile were built after the auto company was shuttered. Chassis #1052 served as the basis for what would probably be known as the last Tucker Torpedo constructed using original factory components. The chassis was sold in a 1950 bankruptcy auction for the automaker along with other components but was adopted into an automobile until recently. Completing the final vehicle, John Schuler scoured the United States for original pieces to finish his 1948 Torpedo. It would be 2015 when the efforts presented an new old stock Tucker Torpedo.

Porsche 959

Photo Credit: Porsche AG

Porsche sought to climb up to a new performance plateau in the 1980s extending beyond their 911 line. Developed initially for rally car competition, the Porsche 959 was a technological milestone for its time, pursuing radical styling and technological elements for the German sports car builder. Created using lightweight components such as aluminum and other composite materials, the Porsche 959 propulsion came from a 444-horsepower, twin-turbocharged 2.85-liter engine. Porsche’s first all-wheel drive sports car and first production equipped model with a six-speed manual transmission, the car’s top speed was 197 miles per hour in Sport trim.  

In order to comply with homologation regulations for racing, a minimum 200 Porsche 959 needed to be produced for the street. Originally produced from 1986 to 1988, more than 300 street-legal Porsche 959s were assembled, snapped up by some wealthy and powerful individuals appreciating the advanced supercar. Perhaps it was inevitable that attracting such an elite clientele would compel an auto company to restart production for a fantastic sports car for its time years after initial sales ended. In 1992, six addition Porsche 959 supercars were constructed to 1988 specifications in order to fulfill a request made by one person and a friend.

DeLorean DMC-12

DeLorean DMC-12 with Doors Open
Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Underpowered, plagued with a lengthy development time and built for only a brief original production span, the DeLorean DMC-12 is still one of the most recognized sports cars to come into existence.

An auto company founded by a former General Motors executive John DeLorean, his vision for a sports car was originally seen as a potential disruptor in automobile production identified as the DMC-12. A stainless steel-bodied car with gullwing doors, the design was created by Giorgetto Giugiaro (who had sculpted vehicles with BMW, Volkswagen and Ferrari). Engineering expertise of Lotus Cars’ innovative founder Colin Chapman was also part of making the DeLorean DMC-12. Despite promise through the 1970s, this sports car lost some of its stainless steel shine. Budget overruns in the vehicle’s development and all-new plant construction in Northern Ireland were also joined by a somewhat compromised finished product. An original plan to use an Elastic Reservoir Moulding process for the chassis was dropped as was the plan to run a rotary engine. Instead, the 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 was powered by a mid-mounted, fuel-injected V-6 engine lacking the performance punch many expected. The car endured three uneasy years of production with conflicting totals of vehicles built ranging from just less than 8,600 to 9,200 according to sources.

The history for how John DeLorean’s auto company collapsed is worthy of a Hollywood movie. It would be a major movie franchise that allowed the short-lived automaker’s only product an immortalized status. Thanks to its starring role in the 1985 blockbuster Back to the Future, the DeLorean DMC-12 receives even greater notoriety than when the car was brand-new. As the car has since appeared on many wish lists over the decades, demand for new DeLorean sports cars appears to be strong enough to welcome a timely continuation to the vehicle that served as the basis for the ultimate time machine. With no corporate relations to the previous John DeLorean company, a new DeLorean Motor Company headquartered in Texas opened holding the trademarks as well as surplus parts relating to the original assembly of the sports car.

While the company boasted assembling up to 24 cars a year starting in 2008, production of  DeLorean DMC-12 thanks to the new Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act permitting up to 325 vehicles to be assembled by a company like DeLorean Motor Company. The first all-new old DeLorean DMC-12 models started production this year.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

VW OKs Production Version of I.D. BUZZ Concept Car

Photo Credit: Volkswagen AG

During the late 1960s, the classic Volkswagen Microbus was recognized as a staple with the Flower Power culture and the early figures leading to the current environmental-minded motions. Driven or ridden in by individuals of vision almost fifty years ago, Volkswagen Group has heeded calls towards greener motoring.

Intent to have one million of their vehicles per year sold powered by an electric powertrain by 2025, Volkswagen had already pledged to construct a production version of last year’s I.D. Electric concept car for 2020. Coming shortly after the unveiling of the compact all-electric vehicle, the German auto giant wildly imagined one of their most celebrated shapes adhering to their vision for the fast-approaching future. Premiering at the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the Volkswagen I.D. BUZZ concept car explored the versatility afforded through an electrified powertrain. Styling of the electric concept car  wisely made no effort of hiding its inspiration of the beloved Microbus. Auto show goers were teased by an eight-passenger cabin with the ability of turning the rear seating into tables as well as a bed. Welcomed by audiences as another mix of classic design and modern technology, the Volkswagen I.D. BUZZ concept was also most recently awarded with 2017 Concept Truck of the Year honours at the Concours d’Elegance of America at St John’s. At the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Volkswagen chose to again thrust their utilitarian concept design into the spotlight announcing its future as a production car.

Scheduled to hit showrooms by 2022, the road-going version of the Volkswagen I.D. BUZZ is coming to life thanks to a flood of demand according to company CEO Dr. Herbert Deiss. "After the presentations at the global motor shows in Detroit and Geneva, we received a large number of letters and emails from customers who said, 'please build this car’,” said Deiss who felt the announcement was well-placed in California.

Photo Credit: Volkswagen AG

Saying that the Volkswagen I.D. BUZZ concept car will retain many primary aspects exhibited since Detroit, the statement on the production of the vehicle implies a considerable transfer of ideas are coming. Flexible seating and sizable cargo space thanks to the I.D. BUZZ’s all-electric layout will be pivotal to the vehicle. Volkswagen also indicates a version of the I.D. BUZZ will be developed specifically as a cargo van.

The concept car’s all-wheel drive system will be an option on the upcoming showroom variant. It will remain to be seen how close Volkswagen will be able to match the performance specifications of their show vehicle with the production product. Applying Volkswagen’s Modular Electric Drive kit design, the modern microbus design promoted 369 horsepower from a pair of electric motors. The I.D. BUZZ concept car’s 111-kWh battery pack would allow the vehicle to travel an estimated 270 miles (470 kilometers) on a single charge. Connectivity as well as autonomous driving technology will also be coming to the 2022 production vehicle.

Since the Dieselgate scandal, Volkswagen Group has shifted focus from their TDI engines in favour of the electrified path much of the automobile industry is pursuing. Planning to welcome at least two dedicated electric vehicles to the Volkswagen brand within the next five years, the German automaker may become a strong player in the zero emissions marketplace if they can inspire the same customer passion that has existed with their diesel lineup.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Infiniti Prototype 9 Shares Modern Classic Racer in Pebble Beach

Photo Credit: Infiniti Motor Company Ltd.

How many of us have envisioned ourselves in a different time or place. To see or relive a moment in history in a manner you would not think possible or perhaps to be present with those we admire or love is to many the ultimate form of exploration. While time travelling is yet to be realized, many of us find ways to capture the essence of the past. This can be quite a difficult feat for those birth came after a time period.

Automotive design has been no stranger to recompile their past for a future creation. At the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, one corporate attendee chose to show up in a mid-20th century costume. A youngish brand born in 1989, Infiniti introduced a 1940s-1950s inspired concept car melding the past, present and future.

Photo Credit: Infiniti Motor Company Ltd.

Classical in appearance, the Infiniti Prototype 9 is a vehicle that adapts its own image to a historical era of motor racing. The Prototype 9's open-wheeled roadster design embodies the sleek shape, long hood and stance that may have roamed grand prix circuits such as Monaco or the Nurburgring.

An after-hours project featuring the investment of time of many Nissan/Infiniti engineers and designers in Japan, the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance show car’s form came courtesy of handmade craftsmanship. "The creation of the real world INFINITI Prototype 9 was entirely and coincidentally organic. As we started work on a physical model, word spread beyond the core design team, and other departments started checking in and offering assistance. Eventually, the production team became aware of the project – and brought with them the desire and skills to build it." said Senior Vice President of Global Design Alfonso Albaisa. Aerodynamically-tailored steel body panels set on a steel ladder frame chassis is constructed using traditional, low-volume manufacturing techniques such as deep-stamping production. The Infiniti Prototype 9's exterior features also include a double-arch grille and period-derived cross-ply race tires mounted to 19-inch wire-spoke wheels.  

Photo Credit: Infiniti Motor Company Ltd.

Conforming to vintage race car dynamics, the Prototype 9 utilizes a single-seat cabin. Lined in black leather, highly detailed touches include accents in contrasting red stitching. Infiniti Prototype 9's bucket seat incorporates extra touches in the form of Japanese flags. A minimalist cabin control layout is joined by a steering wheel that rotates on a fixed hub.

Applying to a classic design theme, Infiniti’s concept car actually harbours a high-tech fully-electric drivetrain. Powered by a single electric motor generating 148 horsepower, rear-wheel drive propulsion applies a considerable punch thanks to the Prototype 9's low 890 kilogram (1,962-pound) weight. Capable of a top speed of 170 km/h (105.6 miles per hour), the Infiniti Prototype 9 acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h is recorded at 5.5 seconds. The vehicle operates on a 30-kWh  lithium-ion battery providing enough energy for 20 minutes of heavy race track use.

Photo Credit: Infiniti Motor Company Ltd.

The name of the Infiniti Prototype 9 is a creative play between Japanese and English language themes. In Japan, the number 9's pronunciation is similar to the way “Q” sounds in English. The Q branding is of course paramount to Infiniti’s current model range.

There’s little chance the Infiniti Prototype 9 will ever be produced but the vehicle mostly impresses us with the ingenuity of the luxury auto brand.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sky is the Limit for Mazda’s SkyActiv Towards 2030

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Despite the fact many of us are still enjoying the second-half of the summer of 2017, auto companies have already geared themselves for the future. With months remaining, we are already setting sights on 2018 vehicles in dealerships and on the road. A brand-new Toyota Camry, the super-sleek Kia Stinger and perhaps the odd Tesla Model 3 are some of the centerpieces for a year yet to come. For manufacturers, realizing the technology and designs for 2018 involved several years of development prior to the customary auto show debut. During the same time the 2018 automotive reality is taking shape, Mazda is launching a profound vision for their brand 12 years beyond next year.

Described by the automaker as “Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030", long-term intentions of Mazda to flourish towards the end of the next decade through addressing environmental, safety and customer enjoyment factors. Systems adhering to the Mazda Proactive Safety philosophy aims to considerably reduce traffic accidents. Expansion of the brand’s existing i-ACTIVSENSE electronic safety features will result in greater standardization on all models in several markets for 2018. Future execution of Mazda’s KODO design language is also going to insure a driver visibility and seating position maximizing the safest possible vehicle operation. Along with a continuing emphasis of in-vehicle connectivity, Mazda’s technology suite is also set to include autonomous driving features. Inspired from the Mazda Co-Pilot Concept, a driver-assist system would be standard equipment on all 2025 model year vehicles.

Besides word of autonomous driving components, emission and engine efficiency planned for future Mazda models are another highly ambitious point of “Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030". Mazda’s plans include a drastic reduction to the carbon dioxide emissions produced by their vehicles over the next 12 years. Greatly cutting the environment impact for their vehicle range, Mazda targets to reduce half their 2010 fleet level of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. Mazda even envisions 90 percent reduction of carbon dioxide by the year 2050. Electric cars added to the vehicle product range will play a role in decreasing emissions alongside improved fuel-burning engines.

Planning a full array of design and engineering production feats scheduled for release through the end of the next decade, Mazda’s masterpiece will be the introduction of an all-new SkyActiv gasoline engine. Classified as the SkyActiv-X, the upcoming powerplant line is touted to achieve enhanced heights in performance and efficiency. A key feature of the Mazda SkyActiv-X engine is the use of an advanced function called compression ignition. Also known as Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition, creates an ultra-efficient fuel burn inside the engine by pressing the air-fuel mixture together to the point it could ignite without a spark plug. The Mazda SkyActiv-X engine will appear to use a combination of compression ignition with traditional spark plug-based ignition for maximum performance and as much as 30 percent greater efficiency over the current SkyActiv-G technology. A supercharger will also be incorporated on the upcoming engine for greater power optimization and fuel economy. The full details of Mazda’s SkyActiv-X engine are set to be unveiled in 2019.

In all its ambition, Mazda’s “Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030" plan will undoubtedly face the usual obstacles of any long-term visions. Exploration into new technologies requires engineers to iron-out any pitfalls. The compression ignition system has underwent significant research by several other automakers over the course of roughly 20 years including Nissan and General but have yet to employ the technology in a production engine. A relatively shorter term intention of Mazda to bring a diesel-powered product to the North American market proved to be a challenge that the company has now been able to meet. Mazda will also need to provide their overall vision in a manner that convinces a growing customer base.  

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Montreal ePrix Prepares to Generate Formula E Current in Canada

Photo Credit: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E

Since 1978, the City of Montreal has been known for showing hospitality to the global open wheel racing stars of the Formula 1 championship. A month and half later Lewis Hamilton won the 50th year anniversary edition Canadian Grand Prix, a new world auto racing tour prepares to put on a show unlike any other seen at such a scale in this country. Formula E makes its debut in Canada for what is the season three finale with the Montreal ePrix.

Consisting of all-electric open wheel race cars fielded by well-rated teams and some established professional drivers, FIA's Formula E first became a spectacle in 2014 when the series debuted in Beijing. Competing with an identical chassis designed by Dallara and built by Spark Racing Technology, Formula E teams have been permitted to develop their own electric power units since the second season. Electric powertrain options have opened the door to major automakers such as Jaguar and BMW currently involving themselves in competition. Over the course of three years, ePrix races have been held in locales such as London, Monaco, Long Beach and most recently in New York City. During July 29th and July 30th, Montreal joins the list of world-class cities staging the unique motor racing event.  

Instead of being held on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve track, the all-electric race cars of Formula E will compete on its own unique 14-turn temporary street course in downtown Montreal. Situated in the Ville-Marie borough, the 2.75-kilometer track will start on Rene Levesque Boulevard and wrap around the Maison Radio-Canada. A new race course, competitors predicting a bumpy ride over the start-finish line stretch and several elevation changes. Competition for the weekend will be split into two races over the weekend with an 35-lap feature on Saturday and another one on Sunday. 

Differing from most other auto racing championships, Formula E titles are not decided with the final race of a calendar year. For Canadian fans, the first appearance of the series provides opportunity to witness the 2016-2017 season champion being crowned. The end of this Formula E season has former Formula 1 competitors Lucas di Grassi and Sebastien Buemi fighting for top honours in a points fight that will have both Montreal ePrix races weigh heavily on the final outcome of the championship. The premiere of Formula E in Canada is being sponsored by energy supplier Hydro-Quebec.

The province of Quebec is continuing to promote automotive electrification on many fronts. Purchasing incentives for buyers of electric cars, a growing network of charging stations and incorporation of electric vehicles in fleets highlight Canada's most aggressive planning towards seeking alternatives to internal combustion engines. The Montreal ePrix provides a moment to showcase and celebrate elements of a lower emissions future the province is working to create. "Montreal has a great motorsport tradition and the local authorities, as well as its citizens are particularly receptive to a hot topic such as a new model for sustainable mobility. If there’s one single event that brings together these two elements, it’s definitely a Formula E race." said FIA president Jean Todt when the event was announced in September of 2016. 

Formula E has already affirmed the Montreal ePrix will return in 2018 at the end of season four.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sports Car Racing Powerhouse Joest Joins Mazda for 2018 IMSA Season

Photo Credit: Mazda North American Operations

While some races of the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule have yet to see a green flag, spectacular news items during July have pumped-up enthusiasm for the 2018 season. Before the month has ended, next season’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship promises two all-new, heavy-hitting DPi efforts guaranteeing to kick the level of sports car racing competition to new heights.

Last week, rumours were confirmed when heavy motorsport player Team Penske broadcasted plans to rejoin sports car racing in association with Honda’s luxury brand Acura in time for next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. Team Penske’s more than five decades of operations is notably celebrated by 16 Indianapolis 500 wins but also possesses success through previous sports car ventures including a 1969 victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. As impressive as a single win in the ultimate French endurance classic can be, Reinhold Joest’s race team perfected a winning strategy resulting in 16 wins. Almost 19 years since entering a manufacturing relationship that is remembered as a sports car racing dynasty with Audi, the German-based organization has found a new manufacturer partnership for future competition. The driver lineup for the Mazda Team Joest 2018 effort will be announced at a later date but it will certainly lure some excellent pilots in the sports car world.

Joest Racing and Mazda Motorsports have combined to create Mazda Team Joest in preparations for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The new DPi category factory-supported race team will operate out of a facility in Atlanta campaigning the existing Mazda RT24-P machine. Described as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” by the director of motorsports for Mazda North American Operations John Doonan, there is a tremendous amount of opportunism between both parties forming Mazda Team Joest. “The creation of Mazda Team Joest provides us a unique opportunity to partner with a team with proven success in the prototype ranks, and gives us the best chance to return Mazda to the top step of the podium.”

Engineered by Markham, Ontario’s Multimatic Motorsports, the Mazda RT24-P prototype race powered by a 600-horsepower Mazda MZ-2.0T engine is already undergoing chassis improvements for the 2018 season. Joest expertise is also cited as playing a part in the continuing development of the prototype sports car.  

From 1999 until the end of last year’s FIA World Endurance Championship season, the Joest name’s attached to Audi has been a dynasty. Exhibited first with the 2000 Audi R8 race car, Audi Sport Team Joest amassed not only victories in the top sports car races in the world but went back to wins on multiple occasions. The squad won the 24 Hours of Le Mans 11 times and the 12 Hours of Sebring 7 times. Prior to Audi, Joest Racing’s connection was with another German automaker. A former Porsche factory drive, Reinhold Joest remained loyal to his past employer through the 1990s. It was with the Porsche 956 the team won its first pair of 24 Hours of Le Mans events in 1984 and 1985. Joest Racing also campaigned the Porsche 962 in IMSA GTP competition highlighted by a Rolex 24 at Daytona overall in 1991. The team’s 2018 return to the Rolex 24 at Daytona with Mazda will be the first since the end of the IMSA GTP era in 1993. The pairing with Mazda is most notably the first time the Joest team will be associated with a non-German auto brand. Ralf Jutter, managing director for Joest Racing, commented “For us, this is not only a return to American Racing, which we have always enjoyed, but also great news to the big group of our Japanese fans, who have always warmly embraced us.”

Mazda’s recent efforts in the IMSA prototype category have been a turbulent time. Launched in 2014, Mazda and Speedsource turned to the category in 2014 after the GX Class was discontinued and the Mazda6 SkyActiv-D diesel race car was parked. Still attempting to promote the company’s diesel engine technology (the long-delayed application for production cars is finally being realized later this year), the prototype effort struggled with the basic goal of finishing races. After a 2015 season, Mazda Motorsports abandoned the SkyActiv-D diesel powerplant and opted to run a turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine for 2016. A third-place finish at the Detroit round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was an on-track performance highlight for the more reliable engine and served as a suitable launchpad for Mazda’s all-new 2017 RT24-P prototype race car. After a rough debut at Daytona, the Mazda Motorsports team collected a trio of third-place finishes through seven races. Emphasizing the Mazda Team Joest organization’s focus on a strong 2018 debut, Mazda Motorsports has withdrawn from the remaining three races of the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCarChampionship.

For 2018, Mazda Team Joest and Team Penske will be attempting to unseat the Cadillac DPi-V.R from its pedestal position in the current IMSA prototype category.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ram Introduces the Tungsten Touch for 2018 Pickups

Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

A highly dense element known for its high-melting, the precious metal known as tungsten probably does not receive the same attention for exoticness as gold or platinum. Tungsten has found its way into way applications in recent years including jewelry, electronics, high performance fields like auto racing and aerospace. For the 2018 Ram full-sized truck line, tungsten is set to join elite metal range with luxury vehicle status. The 2018 model year Ram Limited Tungsten Edition will represent the latest among the truck line’s growing premium trim options.

The Tungsten Edition is an upgrade over the Limited level for the Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 featuring some of the most opulent touches incorporated in a pickup truck. Employing an ample amount of Tungsten Chrome details for the grille and accents, the unique shine of the Ram Limited Tungsten Edition is accompanied by body-colour matching components. Tailgate lettering of the Limited Tungsten Edition model blends into the rear appearance with harmony. The 2018 Ram Limited Tungsten Edition pickup truck also uses sport inspiration for the exterior look. Ram added the black surround treatment found on the Sport trim version of the pickup truck while the Ram 1500 model receives a special hood. Air suspension comes standard on the Ram 1500 Limited Tungsten Edition while the Heavy Duty levels of the 6-foot, 4-inch truck bed includes a RamBox.

Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Adhering to a new high watermark for luxury, the 2018 Ram Limited Tungsten Edition’s cabin is the first in the full-sized pickup truck category to feature a suede headliner. The premium headliner is accompanied with genuine wood interior trim pieces as well as high-grade leather finished in “Natura Plus” Frost and Indigo coloring. Along with the special interior features of the Tungsten Edition, an 8.4-inch Uconnect radio system, heated and ventilated seating, heated steering wheel, power adjustable pedals and connectivity through Apple CarPlay as well as Android Auto is standard equipment.

Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

According to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, customers seeking high capacity towing and hauling is also widely adopting luxury-appointed versions of their popular Ram product. The automaker acknowledges that more than 40 percent of the one-ton capacity Ram 3500 pickup truck line is sold with the top-three luxury trim levels. FCA’s Head of Ram Brand Mike Manley explains, “The new Tungsten Edition is an example of how Ram directly responds to customer input by offering the industry’s most luxurious pickup. Premium truck buyers will recognize the attention to detail, surrounded by quality materials.”

Scheduled for release for the third quarter of this year, the Limited Tungsten Edition is a combination of two tough elements commanding respect among exotic tastes.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

An In-Depth History of Toyota’s Le Mans Curse

Photo Credit: Toyota Great Britain

Everybody loves a winner! The familiar title of a William Bell song of the 1970s, the words would imply Japanese auto giant Toyota attracts a great deal of affection. Residing either at the top or around the top for the world’s leading automobile seller, the company’s reputation is also bolstered by efforts in the competitive test of auto racing. Once again, Toyota turns focus towards the French town of Le Mans and the Circuit de la Sarthe in an effort to find love at a famous daylong sports car racing event. With a fleet of three TS050 Hybrid prototype race cars, Toyota looked to capture their highly-sought first overall win at the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Victors two big American races, the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500, Toyota’s racing credentials over the years are included past successes in rally car racing and desert off-road racing. Sports car racing also is an avenue of competition where the Japanese brand enjoyed triumphs. A collaborative effort with Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers, the Toyota MKIII sports car was a dominant force in the IMSA GTP class. From 1991 to 1993, the All-American Racers’ entry won 21 of the 27 races the MKIII entered including the 24-Hour race at Daytona in the latest year.

Entering the 2017 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota had a good sporting chance to claim its first-ever overall victory at the historic endurance challenge adding to the manufacturer’s motorsport clout. With only six total entries on the top-tier LMP1 category for 2017, Toyota’s three cars would contest against two Porsche 919 Hybrids and an Austrian-based ByKolles Racing Team running a Nismo-powered vehicle. As apparent by the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans field, no plans materialized for a customer-backed competition running the Audi R18 e-tron quattro race car that was parked when the German factory pulled funding for their Audi Sport Team Joest organization after last year.

Photo Credit: Toyota Great Britain

As I was proceeding to pursue my original intentions for this article, I intended to have it finished before or during the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, as the race entered 10th hour of competition, top two Toyota TS050 prototypes in contention to win the event was victims of the auto brand’s curse in the French endurance classic. After leading much of the early part of the event, the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing car has been retired after suffering a suspected clutch failure. Minutes later, the #9 team car suffered a left rear tire puncture after contact with a P2 class competitor. Catching on fire briefly as it limped back to its garage for serving, the #9 Toyota fell short of returning to pit lane on electric power. As of the 10th hour mark, the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing race machine is still registered as running but is well off from the lead lap. Sebestian Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson did last the whole 24 hour timed distance. Nine laps behind the overall victor of the 2017 race, The sole remaining Toyota race car picked up spots as the race progressed to finish 8th place overall recorded as one of two who has completed the event (other being the winning #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid shared by Timo Bernard, Brendon Hartney and Earl Bamber). The recently completed 24 Hours of Le Mans race only solidifies the curse for Toyota competitors.

First appearing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1985, Toyota was originally supported by the Japanese  Tom’s Team and Dome. In the final two years of the C2 class, Toyota won in 1992 with Trust Racing Team and with the Y’s Racing Team/SARD in 1993. The 1992 24 Hours of Le Mans would also be the first time a C1 class Toyota entry with a 3.5-liter V-10 engine competed for top race honours. Competing in the car called the Toyota TS010, the Toyota Team Tom’s racer finished behind the winning Peugeot 905 Evo 1B in the overall runner-up position (the first of five occasions that manufacturer would settle for second place with the latest coming in 2016). The third iteration of the car was also prepared for the 1994 24 Hours of Le Mans. The SARD race team entered the Toyota 94C-V in the newly-formed LMP1 category taking class honours as well as the runner-up spot. The 1994 effort featured the driving team of Italian Mauro Martini, future Formula 1 star Eddie Irvine and Jeff Krosnoff who died in a crash two years later at the Molson Indy in Toronto.

Photo Credti: Toyota Great Britain

While class victories would be enough to satisfy many manufacturers such as Chevrolet’s Corvette Racing program, Toyota has been coveting ownership of an overall win title at the 24-hour race since the first runner-up finish in 1992. After finishing in second-place again in the 1994 race, the automaker or its partners were led to the realization they needed a new kind of race car to win at Le Mans. The radical GT-One vehicle was developed for competition based on the GT1 rules at the time. An advanced closed-cockpit race car was styled by Dallara and ran a twin-turbocharged R36V V8 engine. The Toyota GT-One was campaigned at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in association with the Toyota Team Europe organization (now known as Toyota Motorsport GmbH). While intended to be a production car category for high-performance machines, GT1 regulations were heavily exploited by manufacturers to create a purpose-built race car. Toyota was no exception to creatively translating the class rules building just two road legal versions of the vehicle.

Debuting in 1998, the Toyota GT-One was without doubt a pure assault against the competition for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Entering a three-car team, Toyota Team Europe’s opening effort with the GT-One revealed tremendous speed and pace. In the final hour of the 1998 event, the #29 team car was in contention for the elusive overall victory for Toyota but suffered a transmission failure. The #27 Toyota GT-One driven by an all-Japanese driver lineup of Ukyo Katayama, Toshio Suzuki and Keiichi Tsuchiya finished 9th. Returning the next year again with three cars, the Toyota GT-Ones returned as an even stronger force. Claiming the top-two spots in qualifying for the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans, hard luck again fell for two of their vehicles in the race. Tire problems plagued all three cars with only one GT-One surviving for the end. Again, it was the Japanese driver squad that survived to finish second despite a late-race tire failure. Before the tire issue, that Toyota GT-One machine was gaining on the lead BMW V12 LMR. The 1998 and 1999 races were the only times the GT-One would compete at the track but cemented the early notion that Toyota may be cursed or jinxed at the sports car race. It would not be until 2012 that Toyota would again challenge Le Mans.

Photo Credit: Jack Webster

A competitor in the newly-formed FIA World Endurance Championship in 2012, Toyota revealed a gasoline/electric hybrid-powered prototype sports car. Represented with two entries, the Toyota TS030 Hybrid LMP1 machine’s debut at the year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans ended in a double retirement early in the event. The car performed better in the 2013 endurance race grabbing 2nd and 4th splitting the Audi Sport Team Joest organization’s three-car team. An updated TS040 Hybrid LMP1 took pole at the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans race but would again lead to speculation of the Toyota curse. Leading the race, the #7 car suffered an electrical failure prior to the 14-hour mark. After an unremarkable 2015 effort, Toyota reinvested into the TS050 Hybrid that mated a turbocharged 2.4-liter V-6 engine with an electrical power unit. Proving to be a fast race machine in  the 2016 race, the #5 Toyota TS050 Hybrid led into the very late going of the event only to be victim of horrible fortune. In the final minutes, the Toyota race car suffered a power loss that was later caused by a failed connector between turbocharged and intercooler. The #5 car failed to finish as a Porsche 919 Hybrid flew to the win. The remaining #6 Toyota TS050 Hybrid grabbed second place overall for the fifth time for the manufacturer.

Photo Credit: Toyota Great Britain

When two of the three Toyota TS050 Hybrid cars retired in the 10th hour of this year’s Le Mans, the anguish of the defeat was something that was felt beyond just the team’s personnel. After all these years, other teams and the general sports car racing following public sensed and expressed hurt for the Toyota racing effort. While auto racing doesn’t provide any guarantees for a victory to a well-deserving team, it’s obvious there would be a fantastic celebration if fortunes lift the Toyota curse at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2018.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The 1967 Indy 500: When An STP-Sponsored Turbine Almost Changed Racing

Photo Credit: Uncredited Photographer/IMS LLC

Racing has always been the ultimate proving ground for automobiles. Not only has competition promoted innovations big and small, race cars have also influenced overall vehicle appearance. At the 1967 Indianapolis 500, the STP-Paxton TurboCar fielded by the late Andy Granatelli provided a shocking example of how much racing at the speedway evolved over 56 years.

Ever since the first 500-mile event was held at the 2.5-mile rectangular oval Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1911, the winning Marmon Wasp with a rearview mirror paved the way for what would be a grand showcase of automotive development. Accompanying “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” advancements in automobile technology showed greater sophistication with every passing decade in the quest for more speed. During the 1920s and 1930s, American race car designer Henry Miller offered groundbreaking engines to the Indianapolis 500. Miller also gave front-wheel drive technology its first prominent exhibition to the world at Indy. For the early 1950s, Cummins diesel-engined vehicle disrupted the field of gasoline race cars. At a time where diesel power was only starting to gain acceptance mainly with locomotives in North America, the Cummins Diesel Special’s 1952 pole-sitting effort by driver Fred Agabashian occurred at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway more than 50 years before Audi found success at Le Mans with their R10 sports car. That same 1952 Indianapolis 500 saw Troy Ruttman as victorious using a Hilborn fuel injection system.

The 1960s history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was reshaped by a modern renaissance of rear-engined vehicles. The evolution started with a ninth-place run by the late Sir Jack Brabham driving a Cooper in 1961. Four years later, Jim Clark’s Ford-powered Team Lotus effort claimed the milestone Indy win that forever tipped the scale in favour of rear-engined machines at the Indianapolis 500. As front-engined roadster style racers were rapidly declared obsolete as the late 1960s approached, another presence was preparing to polarize motorsports. A group led by legendry team owner and STP president Andy Granatelli generated noise by competing with turbine power over a brief but memorable period.

Photo Credit: Image from Uncredited Photo Slide

Seen as potentially more efficient than typical internal combustion engine designs in automotive applications, turbine propulsion was strongly viewed as a realistic advancement in road cars through the 1950s through to the 1970s. Turbine engines would feature fewer moving parts and generate better fuel economy than the powerplants commonly associated in normal automobiles. The closest the propulsion system came to being accepted on the road was when  Chrysler created 50 purpose-built, Ghia-bodied turbine cars were offered for evaluation by the public. As the technology was gaining momentum, it was only natural for the propulsion style would be race-tested. A Rover BRM Turbine Car ran at the 24 Hours of Le Mans as an experimental entry from 1963 to 1965. After an attempt to compete in the 1966 Indy 500 failed by Granatelli and company with a turbine car, the STP-Paxton TurboCar would bring what some believed to be the future of automobiles to the Brickyard.  

The radical 1967 effort was fielded by an experienced team. Battling to win the Indianapolis 500 since 1946, Andy Granatelli along with his brothers Joseph and Vincent had one major advantage as they raced into the 1960s in the form of STP Corporation. An engine treatment company spun-off of from the Studebaker auto company, STP was skilfully managed by Andy Granatelli with the aid of exposure through racing at the 2.5-mile track. Attempting to take victory using various types of vehicles including Ferguson race cars powered by supercharged Novi engines, Granatelli brought the Day-Glo Red STP-Paxton TurboCar to the speedway anticipating to create a scene before, during and after the 1967 event. The vehicle made several appearances in popular car magazines as well as the cover of Hot Rod May 1967 issue. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the welcome for eh STP-Paxton TurboCar ranged from marvel to disgust by some identifying it as an unfair match. To certify the on-track effort, famed American racer and 1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones took the wheel for what could have been (and nearly was) a second taste of the milk at the track.

Photo Credit: Image from Uncredited Photo Slide

The STP-Paxton TurboCar’s movement at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came courtesy of a Canadian contribution. A modified turboprop PT6 engine supplied by Pratt & Whitney Canada served as turbine power for the 1967 Indianapolis 500 effort. Developed in the late 1950s and entered into production in 1963, the PT6 turboprop engine continues to be built to this day. Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PT6 engine remains known as a powerful yet reliable design. Known as the ST6B turbine, the STP-Paxton TurboCar’s 550-horsepower power unit was channelled through a four-wheel drive system (also an exotic mechanical attribute for its time). A transmission was specially prepared for the vehicle.

While the extremely unorthodox Pratt & Whitney-sourced powerplant was singled-out as technologically astonishing, the STP-Paxton TurboCar in its entirely was an advanced engineering and construction. For 1967, much of the technology behind the STP-Paxton TurboCar was cutting-edge. Recorded to have cost $28,000 at the time according to a Hot Rod magazine article, computers played a major role in the construction of the turbine-powered Indy car. Wind-tunnel testing was also an integral in providing the ideal layout for an advanced race car contending at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Beneath the heavily aerodynamically-contoured shape, the STP-Paxton TurboCar structure was a beam-type chassis where the driver’s compartment was positioned on the right and the turbine engine was on the left.

Photo Credit: Uncredited Photographer/IMS LLC

The month of May of 1967 served as the period of truth for turbine dreams. Andy Granatelli, Parnelli Jones and the STP-Paxton TurboCar convincingly cracked the 33-car field with a 6th place starting spot while Mario Andretti took the year’s Indianapolis 500 pole. When the green flag dropped, the Day-Glo Red race car stormed to the lead on the first lap. The 1967 Indianapolis 500 featured only three drivers at the front with Parnelli Jones owning the top spot for 171 of the race’s 200 laps. With four laps remaining, a failure of a gearcase bearing was enough to deny Jones and the STP-Paxton TurboCar of victory at the Brickyard. A.J. Foyt won the 1967 Indianapolis 500 in a Ford-powered Coyote race car. The Granatelli team settled for a sixth-place result as the super-expensive was ultimately defeated by a six-dollar part. Andy Granatelli would return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a new set of Lotus-based turbines in the following year (a story you’ll go into greater depth for another time).

The 1960s is cemented as perhaps the last decade where absolutely diabolical ideas and engineering could easily compete in at the speedway. After two years of threatening for the win at Indy, turbine cars were banned from competition in 1969. Four-wheel drivetrains would also be prohibited guaranteeing the continuing dominance of rear-wheel drive at the Indianapolis 500 shortly after the turbine. The STP-Paxton TurboCar made for a memorable chapter that almost turned into the start of a completely different book.