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.