The Brazilian Champions. Part Three: Ayrton Senna.

“And suddenly I realized that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension.” – Ayrton Senna-.

Brazilians are passionate about speed and that passion produced a few names that became legendary; most of them are well known only within the country borders but others became legends all around the world, and sure enough, Ayrton Senna is at the top of the list.

Senna was born on March 21st, 1960, in a wealthy family that provided him with all sorts of opportunities during his childhood.

At a very young age, like all racing drivers, Ayrton was captivated by cars and speed. At the age of 4, his dad gave him a home-built “go-kart” powered by a lawnmower engine and it became his favorite toy for many years.

Senna in action, Brazil 1979

When he was 13, he started competing in go-kart races across the country. In 1974 and 1976, he won the municipal championship. In 1978, 1979, and 1980, he became the Brazilian go-kart champion, as well as the South American champion in 1977 and 1980. He would later recall this time as the most joyful of his career: “I only have good memories of my go-kart years. No money, no politics, just pure racing.”

It is a well-known fact that Senna had an extraordinary ability to race in the rain and that is more related to hard work than to raw talent. During his early years racing go-karts, Senna failed miserably to achieve a decent result in a race that happened in the rain, determined to never face this situation again, he decided to train hard on the wet pavement, every rainy day he would rush to the race track and drive hard for hours until he mastered the art of racing in the rain.

Could I be any happier? Ayrton Senna, the 1981 British Formula Ford Champion.

With all those titles under his belt, it was easy to find a position in the British Formula Ford, and in 1981 Senna was hired by the Van Diemen Racing and he completely dominated the season, winning 12 out of 20 races. Oddly enough Ayrton couldn’t find a sponsor for the next season and giving in to the pressure of his parents, he returned to Brazil to assume one of the family’s hardware stores.

The new enterprise didn’t last long, in 1982 Senna was back to the British Formula Ford and again he didn’t leave any room for the other competitors, winning 20 out of 27 races of the season.

Ayrton Senna is side-by-side with Martin Brundle, a scene that became common throughout the season. Photo: Primotipo.com

Ayrton Senna superb performance granted him a position in the “West Surrey Racing” for the 1983 Formula 3 season, but that year another talented rookie gave Senna a good fight, Martin Brundle secured enough points during the season to bring the battle for the championship to the last race, in Silverstone.

Senna leading the race that gave him the 1983 Formula 3 championship. Photo Primotipo.com

It was an amazing race, both drivers used the dominant Toyota 2T-G powered Ralt RT3/83, making their performance very close. At the end, Senna won the race and the championship. For the Brazilian, Silverstone became something like his second home, to the point the media nicknamed it “Silvastone”, in relation with Ayrton’s last name “Silva”.

Jumping into the Formula One Universe.

Senna at the wheel of a Williams FW-08. Photo courtesy of Motorsport.com

In the same year of his F3 championship, Frank Williams invited Senna for a test drive at Donington Park. The car that was waiting for him that day was the same FW-08 that gave Keke Rosberg his only world title, in 1982, the team got it ready with whatever they had at the moment, the tires were not the “qualifying” type and the engine was not running at 100%.

Right before jumping into the cockpit, Senna did something that became folkloric among his fans, he gently tapped three times the rear wing of the car and said: “Today is the day“; and in fact it was, driving a car that was in no way set up to be fast, he not only beat the time of the Williams official test drive but also broke the track’s record. Senna knew he couldn’t get hired by Williams since the team had already signed contracts with Keke Rosberg and Jacques Laffite, but he also knew his impressive performance would bring other teams to the table.

Ayrton Senna and Frank Williams discuss technical issues after the test drive.

Frank Williams was asked once if he regretted missing the opportunity to have hired Senna, which he responded: “I was actually relieved that Ayrton went to another team, our cars for the 1984 season were a total disaster and I would be very disappointed to see him wasting his first year in Formula One driving for us“.

Senna was also in contact with McLaren and Brabham but he ended up signing with a much smaller team, the Tolleman-Hart.

The First Season.

The strongest contender for the 1984 title was McLaren, the new MP4/2, powered by the Porsche turbo V6 engine was a superb car and the team had two brilliant drivers, Alan Prost and Niki Lauda. Nelson Piquet, the winner of the 1983 season, also had good chances with his BMW turbo-powered Brabham.

Ayrton Senna scored points at South Africa GP and also at the Belgium GP, which can be considered a big deal for a rookie driving for a small team, but it was at the Monaco GP that he showed the world he was not your average midfield driver.

On the day of the race it was pouring rain and the experienced Niki Lauda raised a very important concern, the pavement inside the tunnel was dry but covered with a thin layer of oil and grime, with the cars coming in with wet tires, spraying water all over it, the tunnel would become as slippery as a hockey rink. Bernie Ecclestone sent a fire truck to wash away the dirt as much as possible and to get the tunnel as soaked as the rest of the track, delaying the start by 45 minutes.

Formula 1 on Twitter: "#OnThisDay in 1984, Ayrton Senna's first #F1 podium:  a stunning P2 at a rain-soaked Monaco, driving a Toleman  http://t.co/Pyr2M3ycxw"
Ayrton Senna in his natural environment, the rain. Monaco GP, 1984.

The circuit of Monaco, under normal circumstances, can be a very challenging one, but on a raining day it becomes extremely treacherous, all the drivers were going around very cautiously, but Senna, who started the race in the 13th position, imposed an insane pace, leaving behind one competitor after another. All those long hours training in the rain during his go-kart years were paying off. Senna clocked the fastest lap of the race and the only driver between himself and the highest place on the podium was Alan Prost, who was leading the race since the beginning. At lap 29, Prost desperately waves his arm, begging the officials to end the race, alleging it is too dangerous to go on.

Senna celebrates the victory that was stolen from him.

At lap 32, Jacky Ickx, the race official, gave the order to raise the red flag, but Senna still had time to pass Prost and cross the finish line in the first position. The only problem was: according to the rules, the positions counted are those from the lap before the red flag, giving the victory to Prost with Senna in second.

Ickx was relieved of his duties as the race official for finishing the competition without consulting the track marshals but that didn’t change the final results. Jacky Ickx was at that time the number one driver for the Rothmans- Porsche GT Team with powerful links within the company, rumors say that his decision not only saved Prost of the embarrassment of losing the race to a rookie driving a far inferior car but also favored McLaren, whose cars were powered by Porsche engines.

The 1984 Monaco GP was a very contentious and exciting race and marks the beginning of the Senna X Prost feud, which is, perhaps, one of the most bitter rivalries in the history of Formula One.

The wall moved.

The mystique surrounding the 1984 Monaco GP perhaps overshadowed another interesting story about Senna’s debut season, during the Dallas GP, Senna crashed his car against the concrete wall, in what appeared to be a common rookie mistake, but Senna came to his race engineer, Pat Symonds with a different complaint. Here is a part of Symonds’s interview:

The car was reasonably competitive there, so we expected to have a good race, but Ayrton spun early in the race. He then found his way back through the field in a quite effective way and we were looking for a pretty good finish, but then he hit the wall, damaged the rear wheel and the driveshaft and retired, which was a real shame. The real significance of that was that when he came back to the pits he told me what happened and said “I’m sure that the wall moved!” And even though I’ve heard every excuse every driver has ever made, I certainly hadn’t heard of that one! But Ayrton being Ayrton, with his incredible belief in himself, the absolute conviction, he then talked me into going with him after the race to have a look at the place where he had crashed. And he was absolutely right, which was an amazing thing! Dallas being a street circuit, the track was surrounded by concrete blocks and what had happened – we could see it from the tire marks – was that someone had hit at the far end of the concrete block and that made it swivel slightly, so that the leading edge of the block was standing out by a few millimeters. And he was driving with such precision that those few millimeters were the difference between hitting the wall and not hitting the wall. While I had been, at first, annoyed that we had retired from the race through a driver error, when I saw what had happened, when I saw how he had been driving, that increased my respect for the guy by quite a lot“.

Niki Lauda won the 1984 championship just 0.5 point ahead of Alan Prost, making evident the superiority of the McLaren/Porsche cars. Senna finished the season in 9th position.

The Lotus Years

In 1985, Senna signed a contract with Lotus, replacing Nigel Mansell, who had signed with Williams. The team had a good car, the Lotus 97T, powered by a Renault -Gordini turbocharged V6 engine. The combo Senna + the 97T would give Lotus real chances to bring back the glory days of the 1970s.

For old fans like me, it was interesting to see Ayrton driving a Lotus wearing the legendary black and gold JPS livery, it immediately brought memories of Fittipaldi, in 1972.

Senna finally celebrates his first victory, Portugal 1985

Ayrton’s first victory came in the Portuguese GP, 1985, he started the race in the pole position, under heavy rain and once again he proved to be a hard-to-beat driver on the wet pavement. Senna set the fastest lap of the race, and by the end of the competition, he had already lapped every driver up to the third position. Senna received the checkered flag with over a minute ahead of the second-place, Michele Alboreto (Ferrari).

On several occasions, the Brazilian would remember this race as the best driving of his entire career.

Ayrton impatiently waiting for the technicians to fix his car, Mexican GP, 1987.

Senna drove for Lotus for 3 seasons, 1985, 86, and 87, he scored 48 races, 15 pole positions, 6 wins, 22 podiums and 150 points. The team helped him to reach his full potential as a seasoned, professional Formula One driver, not only on the track but behind the scenes well, but it failed to provide competitive equipment, the Lotus cars were fast and nimble but very unreliable.

Senna leading the Detroit GP, 1987.

Lotus finished the 1987 season in third place and that was the last time the original team, founded by Colin Chapman, was among the greatest constructors, thanks to Senna’s talent and the power of the Honda engine.

The team had signed with a new sponsorship, Camel, and for the first time in 14 years, the cars were not painted in the iconic black and gold JPS livery that became the image of the team.

Senna also had the honour to give Lotus its last victory in Formula One, in the Detroit GP, 1987.

The McLaren years

Those 3 years Senna spent driving for Lotus showed the world he was a superb driver and had unbelievable confidence in himself. When he finished the 1987 season in third place, everyone knew it was just a matter of time for him to win the world championship.

Ron Dennis, McLaren’s big boss, was trying to bring Senna to the team for 2 years already when the contract was finally signed by the end of 1987. The Brazilian was about to join a bigger enterprise, with a more consistent car, that would ultimately give him the chance to win the title but despite all the expectations, the biggest obstacle would be his teammate, Alan Prost.

Ayrton Senna at the wheel of the unbeatable McLaren MP4/4

By the time Ayrton joined McLaren, Prost had two world titles already under his belt and he was the number one driver for the team since 1984, but he knew (just like everyone else) that Senna would not accept being the number two, from now on both drivers would have the same equipment and the same opportunities within the team.

The feud between Prost and Senna became a very important chapter in their professional lives. Even after more than 30 years, it will still generate passionate debates about who was right and who was wrong.

The driving style of each one of them played a very important role during this battle, Prost was nicknamed “The Professor”, he was a strategist, cerebral driver that would patiently wait for the right moment to make a move, while Senna was the “road-warrior”, always driving by instinct and going flat-out at any opportunity. Most of the fans immediately picked Senna as their favourite driver since he provided the kind of material they were looking for: bold maneuver, crazy takeovers, and pure speed.

Senna’s McLaren without clothes, showing the fabulous Honda turbo-V6 engine.

The 1988 season started with some changes from the previous year, in an attempt to slow down the speed of the turbo-cars, FIA restricted the boost from 4.0 bar to 2.5 bar, bringing the power down to (still insane) 1,000 HP, and also reducing the fuel capacity of those cars. They were just paving the way for a complete ban on turbos for the next year.

Ayrton Senna won his first championship this year, with 8 victories and 90 points, against Alan Prost’s 7 victories and 87 points. The dominance of the McLaren team was flagrant, they have the best car, powered by the best engine and driven by the best drivers, but for those who thought the season would be boring, they were mistaken, the rivalry between Senna and Prost made 1988 an unforgettable year for Formula One. Here are some interesting races of the season:

Brazil

The Brazilian fans packed the Jacarepaguá race track, in Rio de Janeiro, (now named after Nelson Piquet, to honor his third world championship, won in the year before) for the opening race of the 1988 season. The fans were there not only to see Senna debut at McLaren but mainly to see Piquet debut at Lotus, the two Brazilian almost spoiled the event when they engaged in a ridiculous exchange of insults (even involving aspects of their personal lives) in the days before the race. Senna dominated the practicing on Friday and qualified as pole-position on Saturday, Nigel Mansel got the second position with a non-turbo Williams and Prost was in third.

Right after the warm-up lap, Senna got a broken gear shifter, he raises his arms to advise the officials something is wrong and the start of the race was delayed. The mechanics even tried to fix the problem while the car was still on the grid but they were not able to get it done.

Senna overtakes Ricardo Patrese. Rio de Janeiro, 1988.

What happened next was the kind of stuff that legends are made of, Senna jumps into the spare car and starts the race from the pits, in the 21st position, he muscles his way up at an incredible pace, and after 13 laps he is already at 6th place, and before the 20th lap was over he was in second and the fans were going crazy. At this point, Prost was leading the race and everybody was waiting to see the battle for the first position but at 30th lap, the race officials disqualified Senna for joining the race with the spare car after the green flag was waved. The team accepted the punishment and there was no appealing after that. Some people say that the decision to disqualify Senna was agreed upon at the first lap of the race but they let him drive just for the sake of the “show”.

Prost easily won the Brazilian GP, Gerhard Berger (Ferrari) came in second and Nelson Piquet (Lotus) in third.

Monaco

Senna qualified as pole-position and thanks to his “millimetric precision” driving skills, he was leading the race comfortably. On lap 54, Prost passed Berger to get the P2 but he was 50 seconds behind Senna. In an effort to close in on his teammate, he clocked the fastest lap of the race, not happy with that, Senna also dropped the hammer and both drivers started to compete for the fastest lap. With only 11 laps remaining, Ron Dannis radioed Senna and asked him to quit the foolishness and slow down, to guarantee an easy 1-2 win for McLaren. Ayrton even followed the instruction and Prost closed the gap to merely 6 seconds but at lap 67 the unimaginable happened, he lost control of his McLaren and crashed into the barrier at turn 8, called “Portier”.

Senna 🇧🇷 on Twitter: "@sennatheking Ayrton Senna crashes his MP4/4 at  Portier in Monaco(1988) with a 55 seconds lead over Alain Prost. Years  later he admitted that he wanted to put Prost

Extremely frustrated and embarrassed that his mistake had caused him to lose an easy victory, he left the scene and walked to his Monaco residence. It took a while for the team to find out what had happened, meanwhile, Prost had no problems winning the race. Senna only came back to pits later on, by the time the crew was already packing and getting ready to leave.

Portugal

At the Portuguese GP, the tension between Senna and Prost reached boiling point, the Frenchman who qualified as pole-position tried to block Senna right after the start, pushing him close to the grass, and later on, Senna paid back pushing Prost against the concrete wall at almost 300km/h.

Prost insisted that Senna should face some disciplinary action but it never happened.

Japan

The decision of the championship came down to Japan, the penultimate race of the season, a victory there would give Senna the title in advance.

Senna started the race as the pole position but he stalled the engine at the launching,  but Suzuka had the only sloping grid of the year and so the Brazilian was able to bump start his car and bring the Honda V6 back to life but he had already fallen to P14, giving all the fans at home a heart attack. What we saw after that was a performance that helped to give him the status of a legend.

It took him just 4 laps to pass nothing less than 10 competitors, at lap 19 he was already in the second position, and once again the only driver between himself and the victory was Prost. Halfway through the end of the race, a light rain had started and part of the track was getting wet, Prost was dealing with a failing gearbox and at lap 26 he could already see Senna on his mirrors.

On lap 27 Senna overtook Prost on a beautiful maneuver, the Frenchman even tried to block him but it didn’t work, after assuming the lead, the Brazilian then put in a succession of fast laps, finishing the race 13 seconds ahead of Prost; the battle of the championship was over in a race that many consider one of the most existing in F-One history.

Senna doesn’t want to just beat me, he wants to humiliate me”. -Alan Prost-

McLaren clinched its fourth constructor world title in an almost perfect season, winning 15 out of 16 races, Bernie Ecclestone, the FIA boss, said the team didn’t do anything extraordinary, “McLaren just accomplished what they were supposed to”, but he acknowledged that the Senna x Prost rivalry had brought new excitement to F-One and renewed the fans interest.

The 1989 season.

The iconic photo shows the unbeatable 1989 McLaren Team. The air intake above the cockpit tells that this MP4/5 is naturally aspirated or “atmos” in the F-One vocabulary.

The big news for the 1989 season was the ban on turbocharged engines, this decision finally brought the smaller teams into the fight for a place at the podium. McLaren was still the strongest contender for the title but the team no longer had absolute dominance on the grid. Throughout the season the Senna x Prost war was at full steam, but they shared the victories with Nigel Mansell (Ferrari), Thierry Boutsen (Williams), Gerhard Berger (Ferrari), and Alessandro Nannini (Benetton).

Once again the Japanese GP was the battlefield that would decide the title between Senna and Prost. To win another world title, the Brazilian needed to win here in Japan and Australia, Senna qualified in pole position but Prost jumped in front of him at the start and established a strong pace, not giving any chances to his teammate, who was in second.

The track marshals doing their best to “push” Senna back to the race. Japan, 1989.

After Senna got a fresh set of tires, the situation changed, the Brazilian closed the gap and was furiously looking for an opportunity to overtake Prost. Finally, at lap 47, Senna got his chance but when the two cars were almost side by side, Prost tried to “close the door” but it was too late, the crash was inevitable. While Prost left his car and walked back to the pits, Senna, with the help of the track marshals, restarted his McLaren and immediately took it to the pits, to replace the damaged front wing set. He came back in second, with Alessandro Nannini (Benetton-Ford) in first, with only two laps left before the end of the race, Senna passed Nannini and won the Japan GP.

This amazing “Senna-style” victory should have opened a clear path to his second world title but instead, it became a nightmare, Jean-Marie Balestre the FIA big boss at that time decided to disqualify Ayrton for taking a shortcut back to the track right after the crash but if that wasn’t enough, Senna was considered responsible for the accident with Prost, and deemed “dangerous”, he was fined $100k and suspended for 6 months, automatically giving Prost the championship.

Alan Prost won his third World Championship in 1989 but he had to deal with the suspicion that without the little help from his friend (no exaggeration here, Balestre was in fact a good friend of Prost) he wouldn’t have beaten Senna.

The Second Title.

For the 1990 Formula One season the big news was Alan Prost who left McLaren and became the number one driver for Ferrari. The Frenchman had the honour to give the Italian team a real chance to win the championship for the first time since 1983.

Once again the battle for the title of the season came to Japan, Senna arrived in Suzuka with 78 points, nine more than Prost, a victory there would either give him the championship or make things a lot easier for the last race of the season, in Australia.

In Suzuka, the pole position starts at the inside lane, close to the wall, which is the dirty side, with less grip, Senna knew he would probably be the fastest in qualifying so he started putting some pressure on the organizers to swap the pole position place.

Senna and Prost, milliseconds before the crash.

Senna’s request was denied, which made him furious, he got the pole position but Prost, who started on the better side of the track, jumped in P1, and a mere 800 meters later, the two drivers got entangled at the same turn they crashed in 1989 and once again both drivers were out of the race. Mathematically Senna won the championship even before the last race, but that crash would generate heated discussions for decades.

In 1989 Prost clearly threw his car against Senna, trying to stop him at any cost, but in 1990 it was the other way around, Senna went for a gap that was obviously too small, he knew the crash was inevitable and he did it anyway. It was payback time.

When questioned about the crash he just said: “Last year, I lost the title in a crash, this year, I won it. The only difference was that it happened at the beginning of the race”. When asked if it was sad to become champion without stepping on the podium Ayrton just said: “I’ve been on the podium more than any other driver this season“.

Senna celebrates the championship with his boss, Ron Dennis.

Senna had the machine and the talent to beat Prost cleanly, throughout the race but he chose revenge instead. For many fans, it was Senna being Senna, the hot-headed, determined driver that always performed by instinct, but for some fans (me included), just like the 1989 championship was tainted with shady negotiations behind closed doors, the 1990 championship was tainted with the dark cloud of vengeance.

The third title.

Michael Schumacher and his very first F-One boss, Eddie Jordan.

The 1991 season will always be remembered as the beginning of a new era as the guy who one day would be considered as the best Formula-One driver in history debuted that year, Michael Schumacher, the talented german racer was hired by Jordan when one of its drivers, Bertrand Gachot, was jailed for attacking a taxi driver in London.

Mansell at the wheel of his Williams -Renault, 1991. (GP-World.net)

The season also marked the reborn of Williams, the team emerged from the ashes, powered by the state-of-the-art Renault V10 engines. At this point, the car was still unreliable but they already gave the dominant McLaren-Honda a run for their money.

Nelson Piquet going for his last victory in Formula One, Canada, 1991.

The season also was the last year of Nelson Piquet in Formula One, racing for Benetton-Ford. His career nose-dived after his last world title in 1987 and he was never able to come back as a real contender after that. It was also the last season of the original Lotus Racing Team.

Ayrton Senna effectively clinched his third World Championship winning seven out of 16 races of the season, the runner-up, Nigel Mansel (Williams-Renault) won five races. The year was a total disappointment for Alan Prost, who failed to win a single race and was fired from Ferrari even before the end of the season for publicly criticizing the team.

Senna wins in Australia, 1991.

After winning in Australia and putting the world title in his pocket, Senna went to Suzuka for the first stress-free Japanese GP in years.

Right at the start, Gerad Berger jumped in P1 with Senna in second, Mansell, who was in third place and was the only threat to the McLaren’s duo, spun on lap 10 and abandoned the race.

Senna, Berger, and Mansell, at the 1991 Japanese GP.

Berger and Senna led the race with such an ease to the point that at the last lap, the drivers even “paraded”, driving in formation, celebrating Senna’s third world championship. The Brazilian didn’t fight for the P1, allowing Berger to win his first GP for McLaren.

The 1991 season marks the end of a very successful partnership between Senna, McLaren, and Honda. It was unlikely the team would be able to keep the supremacy for much longer, the wind of change was already blowing and everyone could see the next dominant team would be Williams-Renault. If Senna wants to keep winning titles, he must find a way to get hired by them.

Leaving McLaren.

The 1992 season confirmed all the predictions made the year before, Renault fixed the reliability problems the plagued the Williams cars during 1991 and Mansell became a more consistent driver.

Mansell celebrates his world championship with Senna and Berger, at the end of the Hungarian GP. Nigel became the first Briton to win an F-One title since James Hunt, in 1976.

The result was an absolute onslaught, Nigel won nothing less than 9 races, grabbing the title with five races in advance, his teammate Ricardo Patrese finished the season in second, and the young talent Michael Schumacher (Benneton-Ford) in third. Senna managed to win only 3 races and finished in fourth.

Senna’s former agent, Julian Jakobi, told in the podcast Beyond the Grid, that Ayrton had the chance to drive for Williams in 1992 but he decided to stay at McLaren for another year in loyalty to Ron Dennis but most of all to Nobuhiko Kawamoto, the president of Honda Motors at the time. Senna started a very good partnership with Honda while still driving for Lotus, and he always considered Mr. Kawamoto responsible for opening the doors of McLaren for him.

At the end of the 92 season, it was no secret that Senna was willing to drive for Williams but things got very complicated for the next year: Alan Prost, who took a year off in 92, replaced Nigel Mansell at Williams, and he simply blocked the Brazilian to be his teammate.

Fittipaldi gives some instructions to Senna, during the F-Indy test, Phoenix, AR, 1992.

To make his hiring process easier for Williams, Senna made himself available for the 93 season, not signing any contract, but when the news of the Prost’s blockade came, the Brazilian found himself with not many options left on the table.

McLaren had replaced Honda with Ford as the engine supplier and the team’s car for 1993 was very much behind Williams in terms of technology. To make the matter even worse, Ford, under contract, had to give Benetton the best engines, leaving McLaren with inferior ones. At this point, Senna also considered going to the American Indy Series, following the advice of his friend Emerson Fittipaldi, he even went for a secret test on 20th, December 1992, in Phoenix, Arizona. He was testing for the Penske Racing Team, one of the most successful and influential teams in the IndyCar Series, but in the end, he concluded that F-One was his natural environment.

In February 1993 McLaren appointed Michael Andretti and Mika Häkkinen as the official drivers for 1993, but under a lot of pressure from Marlboro, Ron Dennis agreed to offer Senna a third car and pay the Brazilian on a race-to-race basis. Senna was no longer jobless for the 1993 season.

As predicted, Prost won his fourth world title in 1993, but Senna, driving a clearly inferior car, put up a good fight for the title, but he came as the runner-up, showing that the Williams supremacy was short-lived.

1993 Australian GP – Last victory for Ayrton Senna and last race for Alain  Prost

Senna won the last race of the 1993 season, the Australian GP, and Prost came in second and that was the last time both drivers stepped on the podium, Alan extended his hand, in a gesture of friendship and Ayrton pulls him to share the highest place of the podium and embraced his rival warmly. That emotional act put an end to years of bitter rivalry, it was like both drivers knew that was the right moment, and they might never again have another opportunity like that.

Later on, during the interview, Senna couldn’t hold the tears, after 6 seasons and 3 world titles, he was leaving McLaren. It was an emotional moment for Prost as well since he was retiring from Formula-One.

The Closing Chapter.

The Brazilian GP 1994, the opening race of the season, fans from all over the country flocked to”Interlagos” to see Senna’s debut at his new team, Williams. In our minds, there was only one thought: nothing would stop Ayrton from achieving his fourth world title now.

The big news for 1994 was the ban on most of the electronic driving aids that the F-One cars had accumulated over the years. It was very good news for the smaller teams since it would make the cars more affordable to build, but it also made things a bit more complicated for Ayrton and his teammate, Damon Hill: instead of building a new car from the scratch according to the new rules, Williams decided to reuse the 1993 blueprints without the electronic paraphernalia, resulting in a very unstable car.

Ayrton Senna, Williams FW16 Renault during the Brazilian GP at Autódromo José Carlos Pace (Interlagos), March 27, 1994 (Photo by LAT Images)

Brazilian GP.

In Brazil Senna started in the pole position with Schumacher in second, and he kept leading the race until the first pit stop when the Benetton crew was faster putting Michael back in the race.

Senna was having a hard time keeping his Williams on the track, specifically on slow corners, and to make matters worse, his transmission was acting erratically. Schumacher opened a 7 seconds gap from the Brazilian but after a second pit stop, it seemed Ayrton had got back to his game and he was closing into the German, but on lap 55, he lost control of his car and spun on Junction Corner. Unable to restart the engine, Senna just walked back to the pits, putting a sad end to his first race for Williams.

Pacific GP.

Determined to redeem himself from the disastrous Brazilian GP, Senna got himself in a spectacular battle with Schumacher for the pole position at the Pacific GP, held at the Aida Raceway, in Japan, at the end of the qualifying the Brazilian beat his opponent by 0s222 and secured the 64th pole position in his career.

Not totally happy with the performance of his car, Senna sat with his mechanics and gave them a lot of feedback on how they could improve the car, the techs then spent the whole night working on the machine. The next morning Senna was impressed with the car, it was fast and well balanced, everything he needed to go for his first victory of the season.

But all the excitement was short-lived, Ayrton was involved in an accident at the first lap of the race, here it is an account of what happened in his own words: “Since Schumacher had a better start than me, I slowed down to avoid a crash on the first corner. But then, Mika Hakkinen [McLaren] clumsily rear-ended me and took me out of the race. I was already out of the track when Nicola Larini (Ferrari) t-boned my Williams, bringing my race at Aida to an end. Rubinho (Barrichelo) and Christian (grand nephew of Emerson Fittipaldi) were all I could be happy about”.

Schumacher had no problems winning his second race of the season, with Gerhard Berger (Ferrari) in second, Rubens Barrichello (Jordan) in third, and Christian Fittipaldi (Footwork) in fourth.

The cursed weekend, San Marino, 1994.

So far, the Brazilian fans were experiencing mixed feelings about the season so far, we were disappointed to see Senna failing to finish a single race but we were happy to see Barrichello in second place, in the championship.

Expectations were running high for the next race, the San Marino GP, in Imola, another victory would put Schumacher in a very comfortable position towards his first world title, Senna desperately wanted to turn the tide especially now that Williams have found a way to tune their cars and make them competitive, and Barrichello would try to be on the podium again and keep himself in the fight for the title.

But it didn’t take too long before the world realize that there was something very sinister about that weekend.

Rubens Barrichello

On Friday, 29 April, during the first qualifying session, Barrichello slid his Jordan and hit the exit curb at the Variante Bassa turn, then his car took off and hit the tire barrier at 225Km/h.

The Jordan flips in the air couple of times.

Barrichello landed upside down but the track marshals didn’t waste any time turning it, he was knocked unconscious by the impact, measuring at an incredible 95g. he also had swallowed his tongue which blocked him from breathing but the doctor Sid Watkins, the head of the F-One on-track medical team, quickly saved his life. Miraculously he suffered only a broken nose and sprained wrist, which kept him from competing that weekend.

Ten years after the accident, Damon Hill told during an interview, the general feeling after Barrichello’s crash: “We all brushed ourselves off and carried on qualifying, reassured that our cars were tough as tanks and we could be shaken but not hurt.”

Roland Ratzenberger

The 1994 season was the debut of the Austrian race driver Roland Ratzenberger, he had been hired by Simtek Racing, which was also debuting at Formula One that year. During the final qualifying session, on Saturday, Roland runs over the curb at the Acque Minerali turn, damaging his front wing, and then, making a typical rookie mistake, he decides to go for another fast lap instead of going to the pits and getting the front wing replaced. Engineers believe that going over 300Km/h at some points of the track, Ratzenberger further damaged the front wing of his car, making it uncontrollable when he came to the Villeneuve Curva, he crashed against the wall, full throttle, almost head-on.

The wreckage of Ratzenberger’s Sintek.

Ratzenberger was treated at the track hospital and later on, he was airlifted to Maggiore Hospital. The session was restarted approximately 50 minutes later, but several teams—including Williams and Benetton—took no further part. Later on, Bernie Ecclestone officially announced that Roland Ratzenberger had died, a victim of multiple injuries. He was 33 years old.

Ayrton Senna

Every driver was deeply shaken by the death of Ratzenberger, that accident marked the first fatally in Formula One in 12 years.

Doctor Sid Watkins recalled in his memoirs Senna’s reaction to the awful news:

Ayrton broke down and cried on my shoulder. I tried to convince him not to race the following day, asking “What else do you need to do? You have been world champion three times, you are obviously the quickest driver. Give it up and let’s go fishing.” Senna replied, “Sid, there are certain things over which we have no control. I cannot quit, I have to go on

Senna made the pole position for the race, with Schumacher in second, right at the start, JJ Letho stalled his Benetton and was rear-ended by Pedro Lamy (Lotus), the safety car came in and kept the grid formation for 5 laps until the debris of the accident were cleared.

The safety car withdrew on lap 6 and the race was resumed, with Senna at P1, but on lap 7, the tragedy struck again.

The Tamburello Corner.

“Tamburello was always a corner where your heart was in your throat,” because you knew, if you went off there, that how you hit the wall was simply a matter of luck, good or bad.” -Keke Rosberg –

In lap 7, Ayrton was trying hard to get away from Schumacher and as he went flat out towards the exit of the Tamburello corner, Senna’s Williams suddenly veered to the right and smashed against the concrete wall.

Inside the cockpit, the marshals found a folded Austrian flag that Senna planned to wave around the circuit, after the end of the race, in honor of Ratzenberg

The onboard telemetry showed that Senna crashed at 211km/h (131 miles per hour). The right-front wheel snapped, and flew back toward the cockpit, striking Senna’s helmet. He was airlifted to the hospital but after 5 hours he was declared dead. The accident was caused by mechanical failure, the skid marks on the pavement show that Senna slammed on the brakes as the last resort to avoid the crash. The Italian authorities launched an investigation and they found out that Senna had requested a shorter steering shaft and instead of making a brand new one, the technicians cut and welded the old one, making it weaker and unsafe. Quite a few people from Williams and from the Imola race track administration were prosecuted for manslaughter but they were all acquitted under Italian law.

Senna died two months after his 34th birthday, three days later his body was repatriated and carried on a firefighter truck through the streets of São Paulo, escorted by the Army Cavalry. Thousands of fans packed the streets to give the last goodbye to their idol.

The picture above shows Emerson Fittipaldi, Gerard Berger, and Alan Prost as pallbearers, Rubens Barrichello was also there, behind Berger. Brazilian government declared 3 days of official mourning.

Senna tragically left us way too soon, by the time of his death, he had accumulated 3 world titles, 41 victories, and 65 pole positions, for today’s standards it might not sound like a lot but keep in mind that Formula One was way more competitive back then. According to many, he was the most brilliant F-One driver ever, but I believe every F-One legend (Fangio, Clark, Moss, Stewart, Fittipaldi, Lauda, Senna, Schumacher, Hamilton) were the best during their own time, according to circumstances around them and the machines they drove.

How to create a superhero.

Besides Senna’s superb driving that day, in 1983, at Donington Park, when he test drove a Williams car, there wasn’t much else happening at the track; young talents test driving for F-One teams is quite common and it does not draw the attention of the local media, but the “Rede Globo”, the biggest Brazilian TV channel at that time, sent a popular sports reporter and a camera crew to cover Ayrton’s first contact with an F-One car. The company was determined to make the young race driver known to the Brazilian fans, who were at that time, focused on Nelson Piquet, fighting for his second F-One World title, in 1983.

Senna was nice to journalists and seemed to enjoy being in front of the cameras, the complete opposite of Piquet, and Rede Globo immediately started to build a “hero” image of him. By the time when Senna joined F-One, the Brazilian media figured it was the right time for a new sports idol, after all, the national soccer team failed to win the World Cup in 1982, and Piquet was doing well in F-One, but he was not charismatic at all. The scenario in the years that followed just helped to consolidate Ayrton Senna as a national hero, as he started to win races and championships, the soccer team didn’t win again in the next two world cups.

Almost 30 years after his death, Senna is often remembered by racing drivers around the country. (Brazilian Stock Car, 2021)

Senna became admired around the world thanks to his perseverance and extraordinary driving skills but in Brazil was a different story, he was worshiped, the Senna phenomena brought fans that didn’t even care about racing before. For us, living in a country with a systematic failure of its institutions (corruption, unemployment, inflation), Senna was our weekly dose of pride, he was the proof that we could be really good at something.

Toronto International Air Show.

The Toronto International Air Show is Canada’s largest and longest-running aeronautical event and it happens right in the heart of the city’s downtown, over Labour Day Weekend. Thanks to the Covid pandemic, the show was cancelled in 2020 but it was back for the 2021 edition.

Avro Vulcan, one of the participants of the TIAS, circa 1950s.

It all started in 1946 when the National Aeronautical Association of Canada organized the first event at the de Havilland Canada manufacturing plant, located at the Downsview Airport. In 1949 it was transferred to the Exhibition Place, in downtown Toronto.

The TIAS is a bit different from other air shows in North America since it is not held at an airport, which means there are no static displays, only the airplanes performing maneuvers above lake Ontario.

My wife and I went to see it for the first time on Sunday, September 05, and we concluded that the lack of static display is perfectly replaced by the charming Toronto’s Waterfront, the event’s attendees had 14 kilometres of stunning beautiful Lake Ontario beaches, adorned by well-trimmed gardens. We sat on our camping chairs in the shade of a tree, the day was sunny but not too hot, 26 degrees Celsius; a Sunday afternoon doesn’t get any better than this.

The show is a 3 days event, Friday is reserved for practice, from 10 am to 2 pm and Saturday and Sunday the pilots perform their stunts from 12 to 3 pm.

Here they are, the most interesting participants of the show:

Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

Perhaps the most anticipated performer this year was the controversial F-35 Lightning II.

The stealth fighter was piloted by major Kristin “BEO” Wolfe, she is the first female commander of the USAF’s F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team, leading a 13 member squad. The performance was breathtaking, it was truly amazing seeing the Lightning II in action, right in front of us.

Canada has a complicated relationship with the F-35, the country was invited to be part of its development and then to acquire it as a replacement for its ageing fleet of F-18 Hornets but when the Lightning II finally became operational, the Canadian government refused to place an order, alleging the high costs of maintenance and the fighter’s capabilities are much above the necessities of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The F-35 was born already bearing a huge responsibility, to live up to the name of its predecessor, the Lockheed P38 Lightning, one the most advanced and successful American fighters in WWII.

The F-35 is a single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole fighter, with a singular advantage, the main design can be modified to adapt the aircraft to the necessities of the three American military branches, the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines. The development has been plagued with all sorts of problems, from severe design flaws to ballooning cost and orders delay. The Lightning II is the most expensive weapons program ever, expected to cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion over its 60-year lifespan.

McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet.

No Canadian air show is complete without the presence of the CF-18 Hornet, the Canadian variant of the American Navy fighter AF-18. The plane has been performing the fighter duties for the RCAF since 1982, and now that its lifetime is pretty much over, the Canadian government is having a hard time finding a replacement, since they don’t want to spend a lot of money. Even second-hand Hornets from the Australian Air Force are being considered as a good option.

P-51 D Mustang “Quick Silver”

Scott Yokes the proud owner of the Quick Silver.

Probably one of the most beautiful P-51 you can find now a days, the Quick Silver is a father and son project, Bill and Scooter Yoak built this plane from over 200 Mustang parts and projects.

According to the website quicksilver mustang.com, Bill Yoak did all of the metalwork and a lot of parts are handmade. Unlike the hurried war effort parts, these are made with the skill and care of a master craftsman and obtain the utmost attention to detail necessary to restore this Mustang to a condition better than factory new in 1945.

It is impossible not to have goosebumps seeing the Quick Silver in action, the sound of the V12 Merlin and the powerful meaning of the black and white D-Day stripes make the performance one of the highlights of the show.

Canadair CT-114 Tutor

The Tutor was the primary jet trainer for the RCAF from 1963 until its retirement in 2000, generations of Canadian fighter pilots had their first contact with a jet plane at the controls of a Tutor, and for that reason, the little jet has a special place in their hearts.

The plane was chosen to equip the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron when it was created, in the early 1970s, the squadron, more popularly known as “The Snowbirds”, is a guaranteed presence at any Canadian air show, and the public just love them.

The CT-114 Tutor is a simple, sturdy and reliable machine but the RCAF can’t keep them flying forever, the avionics, ejection seats, and brakes are utterly outdated and on top of that, there is the natural difficulty of finding spare parts. The consensus among the military is that a jet plane designed in the late 1950s doesn’t reflect the image of a modern air force and the procedures to find a replacement began as early as 2003, but the Canadian government decided to modernize the Snowbirds Tutors instead of replacing them, pushing their life to 2030.

Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina

I am fascinated with old flying boats since I was a kid and seeing one in action that day was just amazing. The Catalina probably was the most widely used seaplane of WWII, thanks to its incredible long range of 4,000 plus km and its load capacity of 2000 pounds of bombs and torpedos. The Catalina fought extensively against the German U- boats in the Atlantic and also during the Pacific War against the Japanese Navy.

The Canadian Catalinas are known as “Canso” and they were built by either Boeing Canada or Canadian Vickers, the one that performed at the show belongs to the Canadian Heritage War Plane Museum which has an amazing collection of airworthy warbirds, including an Avro Lancaster. https://www.warplane.com/

A little history lesson

RCAF Canso 9750, 3 January 1942 | World War Photos

Cansos served with eleven RCAF Squadrons in WW II. They operated from both coasts and were employed in coastal patrols, convoy protection and submarine hunting. RCAF No. 162 Squadron, when stationed in Iceland and Scotland in 1944, accounted for the six German U-boat sinkings made by RCAF Cansos.

After the Second World War, Cansos served with the RCAF in photo reconnaissance and search and rescue roles, until they were finally retired November 1962.

The Museum’s Canso was manufactured in 1944, by Canadian Vickers in Montreal and served with the RCAF until 1961. It continued in commercial operations until 1995. The Canso was acquired in 1995 through generous donations from Canadians Resident Abroad Inc. It is now painted in the colours and markings of RCAF No. 162 Squadron and is dedicated to Flt. Lt. David Hornell, VC, who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. On June 24 1944, he and his crew sank the German submarine U-1225. During the attack, the aircraft was shot down and Hornell and his crew spent more than 20 hours floating in the cold Atlantic, before being rescued. Sadly, Hornell died from exposure shortly after his rescue.

The uncertain future of the show.

For those who crave speed and the sound of engines, air shows are like paradise, but for some residents of the downtown Toronto area, the TIAS is just a nuisance. Certainly, the noise and the traffic jam can be pretty annoying and during a time when the Canadian government is trying to cut down the carbon emissions, an event where hundreds of gallons of fossil fuels are burned in the name of entertainment really seems odd.

Another concern is that Toronto has a large population of refugees who came from war-torn countries and the sound of military jets blasting over the city can bring some painful memories and accentuate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

But for thousands of Torontonians, the show is a delight, undoubtedly it is an inspiration for the kids to one day become a pilot or an aeronautical engineer. The show can also be a history lesson, another opportunity to remember those who gave so much fighting for our freedom.

The Rat Trap

Between 2008 and 2015, I had the privilege to work for one of the most traditional speed shops in Brazil, Powertech, the company was founded with a noble mission: to bring performance parts from the USA to South America, helping a legion of gearheads who craved speed but had nowhere to go. Powertech’s founder, João Alexandre de Abreu, is probably the most knowledgeable car guy I ever met. He is also responsible for bringing drag racing to a professional level in Brazil, but this might be a story for another post.

Powertech garage.

During my time at Powertech, one of my responsibilities was to take care of the “classic cars” the boss had for sale. One can’t complain about a job that requires cleaning, fixing little issues and driving around a collection of classic cars, from the 1930s to the 1970s, including some cool hot rods too.

Even though I remember most of them (if not all), some stand out, such as this 1929 Ford Tudor rat rod

The car was pretty much finished when it arrived at Powertech and only a few changes had to be made to bring it up to the boss’s level.

Picture courtesy of Revista Hot Rods

The hot rod was first powered by a 318″ small-block Mopar but when it came to us, the engine had already been replaced by a more “classic” unit, a 221″ Ford Flathead V8. The engine is easily identified as a first-gen, by the two water pumps placed in front of the cylinder heads, built between 1932 and 1936. The mill is bone stock but the team installed a pair of Stromberg 97 carbs, mounted on top of an Eddie Meyer Hollywood aluminum intake.

The Flatty is bolted to a 3-speed manual tranny that was removed from Chevy pickup truck.

The spoke rims were custom built by the Powertech team, 17″ in front and 19″ in the rear, wrapped with Firestone whitewall tires (4.75 x 5” and 5,25 x 5.50″).

The radiator grille came from a 1934 Ford and the big headlights from an REO truck that we don’t even know the year, very rare indeed.

The roof was chopped 2 1/2″ and to give this ultra-low stance, the body was channelled but I don’t remember how many inches.

A little explanation for those not really into the Hot Rod universe: channelling is a process of removing the car’s body of the frame, cutting the floor loose and reattaching it higher inside the body. This modification allows the entire body to rest closer to the ground without messing up with the suspension.

Picture courtesy of Revista Hot Rods

The interior is very simple, as a hot rod should be in my opinion. The gauges came from a 1939 Ford and the steering wheel from a 1970s Chevy SS.

Ratoeira

Picture courtesy of Revista Hot Rods

Although the car is “too clean” to be qualified as a Rat Rod, the team considered it as such. After a while, it became known simply as “rato”, the Portuguese translation for rat. Old-timers like me called it “ratoeira” (rat trap), a term well known at race tracks, referring to a race car so poorly built that would most likely kill the driver.

I had the opportunity to drive the Rat Trap at our local race track, during a hot rod meeting in 2012. Picture courtesy of Dragsterbrasil.com

The Rat Trap took an awful long time to be sold, and during that time we drove it to many hot rod/classic car meetings that happened in our town. Naturally, the team became attached to the car.

Now I just wonder if the new owner is treating it with as much care as we did.

Note of the editor: “The Flatties have their own music so, let them sing“. Check it out the video below and listen to the Rat Trap sound.

The Brazilian Champions. Part Two: Nelson Piquet.

By the time when I began to better understand the Formula One universe, during my teenage years, Emerson Fittipaldi was struggling with the Copersucar race team and he naturally fell into obscurity. Fans like me were waiting for the next guy who would restore the Brazilian pride in F-One and that guy was Nelson Piquet.

Pique was born on August 17th, 1952, in Rio de Janeiro, and his career in sports started far from the race tracks, as a tennis player. At the age of 11, his father sent him to spend some time in California, to improve his game, training against American players, during this time he learned two very important things: first, the English language and second, he was not good enough to pursue a professional career as a tennis player.

At this point, racing was nothing more than a passion but now, free from his tennis obligation, he had more time to dedicate to his hobby. At 14 years old, he bought a Go-Kart in partnership with two other friends and he started to compete in the national circuit. Since his father was completely against his career as a race driver, Piquet started to used his mother’s maiden name Piquet (of French origin and pronounced as “Pee-Ké”) misspelt as Piket to hide his identity.

Piquet leading the pack in 1971.

Nelson won the Brazilian Go-Kart championship in 1971 and 1972 but since he had no financial support from his family, the beginning of his career was slow and painful when compared with more fortunate young drivers.

In 1974 Nelson dropped out the Mechanical Engineering course he was attending for two years and found a job at a garage. Eventually he saved enough money to buy a Formula Super Vee.

Nelson Piquet and his Formula Super Vee

Piquet was never afraid of turning wrenches himself, he extensively modified his F-Vee, especially the body. Going against the majority of the other racers, he eliminated most of the aerodynamic stuff that provided the ground effect for the car, making it fast on straights. When asked how he would drive a car that behaves badly on turns, he used to say: “Don’t you worry, I will deal with it.” Nelson won the regional championship in Rio de Janeiro in 1976.

The twice Formula-One World Champion, Emerson Fittipaldi, saw Piquet as the next Brazilian prodigy, he advised Nelson to pack his things and leave to Great Britain as soon as possible.

Piquet arrived in Europe with enough credentials to secure him a position at the British Formula 3, and a good sponsorship (Brastemp/Arno is a very popular appliance brand in Brazil). In 1978 he not only won the championship but also broke Jackie Stewart’s record of the most wins in a season. Now his career seems to be taking off.

In the same year Piquet was invited by two small Formula-One teams, Ensign and BS Fabrication, to do some tests and even before the end of the season, he had signed a contract with Brabham.

Nelson Piquet at the wheel of his Brabham- Alfa Romeo BT48.

The Brabham Racing Team drivers for the 1979 season was Niki Lauda, occupying the first spot, and Nelson Piquet as the second. The season proved to be a fiasco for the team, the BT48 was a hard-to-tune car, powered by the unreliable 3 litre, V12 Alfa-Romeo engine.

Even driving a problematic car, Piquet qualified in the top 5 several times, often out-qualifying Lauda, the big problem was reliability, he failed to finish 11 races out of 15 races participated that year.

Brabham had the new BT49 ready for the Canadian Grand Prix in 1979, now powered by the trustworthy Ford-Cosworth V8 engine. Unexpectedly, Niki Lauda quit Brabham right before the race, leaving Piquet as the number one driver.  

The Ford V8 powered BT49

In the final race, the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, Piquet started from the front row and took the fastest lap in the race, clearly showing the new BT49’s considerable potential.

It was in 1980 that the battle for Piquet’s first World title began. The BT49, designed by the South-African Gordon Murray, was at its peak performance, the car even had some very interesting features throughout the season, like water-cooled brakes and hydropneumatic suspension.

Nelson PIQUET - Models • STATS F1

The water-cooled brakes became very controversial during the early 1980s, it was used by most of the teams racing naturally aspirated engines because the water tanks helped to bring their cars to the required minimum weight, during the pre-race inspection, turbo cars didn’t need it since they are basically heavier. The trick here is, the water evaporates pretty quickly along the race, making the car a lot lighter, improving considerably the overall performance. In most of the cases, (if not in all of them) the brakes never needed the extra cooling and there was no need for the driver to pit-stop to refill the tanks.

Alan Jones being closely followed by Nelson Piquet, Monaco 1980. According to Piquet, racing in Monaco is like bicycling inside your living room.

The 1980 season will always be remembered by the fierce battle between Nelson Piquet, driving for Brabham and Alan Jones, drivinf for Williams. At the end, Jones won the championship 13 points ahead of the Brazilian.

The First World Title.

Nelson’s first World Championship came in 1981, in a very dramatic season, he fought not only against his old rival, Alan Jones but also against the Williams second driver, Carlos Reutemann, from Argentina.

The battle for the title was carried on to the last race of the season, the Ceasars Palace Grand Prix, held in Las Vegas. Piquet was only a point behind the leader Reutemann.

It was a dreadful race in many aspects, Reutemann had a failing gearbox as early as lap 2 and he was falling behind pretty quickly. On lap 17 Piquet was getting ready to pass him when Reutemann slammed on the brakes much earlier for the turn, but fortunately, Nelson was able to avoid the crash. There is the suspicion that Reutemann deliberately tried to involve Piquet in an accident; he knew with a broken transmission he had no chance to score points in the race and the only way to secure the World Title was stopping Piquet, but of course, this is just a speculation.

The race was no smooth sailing for Piquet as well, suffering from heat exhaustion he could barely keep the car on track, at the end he finished in fifth position, just enough to score two points. When Piquet stopped at the pits, he was so weak that the mechanics had to pull him out of the car. He became World champion by one point ahead of Carlos Reutemann.

The turbo era and the second World Championship

By the early 1980s, Renault and Ferrari were actively racing turbocharged cars and even if the Ford-Cosworth V8 was still the dominant source of power for most of the teams, (it won the 79, 80, and 81 seasons), everybody knew the glory days of the old Ford V8 were numbered.

In 1982 Brabham closed a deal with BMW to supply turbo engines for the new BT49 D. For the first 4 races of the season, the car was still powered by the Ford-Cosworth, and it was only in the Belgium Grand Prix that the Germans finally delivered the turbo engine. The remaining of the season was used for developing the car, with no chance of fighting for the title.

The Gordon Murray’s masterpiece, the Brabham-BMW BT52

For the next year, 1983, Gordon Murray presented the arrow-shaped BT52, a fully developed brand new car, powered by the 1.5 litre, in-line 4, BMW turbocharged mill. The unit was based on a production engine; some of them were even built with well run in blocks that had covered over 100,000 km and were sometimes retrieved from scrap yards. This controversial idea actually has a good point: a well-used cast iron block had gone through all the possible thermal stress; the expansion and contraction caused by the changes in temperature. The cast-iron block was fitted with a bespoke alloy head with four valves per cylinder. A KKK turbocharger helped to boost the power to 640 bhp in race trim and well over 750 bhp in qualifying mode.

Alain Prost, at the wheel of his turbocharged Renault F-one car.

Piquet won the opening race in Brazil, a second place in France and another second at Monaco also taking the fastest lap, but close to the end of the season, Alain Prost was comfortably leading with 14 points ahead Piquet, with only three races left in the season.

Nelson Piquet completa 60 anos | VEJA

Pique managed to win the next two races, Monza and Brands Hatch, closing the gap to only 2 points, bringing the decision to the last race, the South-African Grand Prix. Post retired at lap 35, and Piquet had no trouble finishing the race in third, winning his second world title. It also was the first time a turbocharged car won the championship and was BMW’s first and only title in Formula-One.

Nelson Piquet having some serious conversation with Brabham’s chief engineer Gordon Murray, Monaco GP, 1984. The picture was graciously granted by the author, Dale Kistemaker. Dale is a superb motorsports photographer and you can check out his work at: poeticsofspeed.com

For Nelson Piquet, Brabham was like his second family, he had a very good relationship with the mechanics, with the management, and especially with Gordon Murray, who was like a friend to him.

Right after his second title, Piquet was feeling the big boss was taking advantage of the situation, he was receiving one of the lowest wages in F-one and he was also frustrated by the fact that the team was making some decisions without consulting him, for example, the adoption of the controversial (at the time) Pirelli tires.

Mansell - Williams 1985.jpg
Nigel Mansell and the Williams FW10-German GP 1985. Photo by By Lothar Spurzem.

He was in contact with a few teams, like McLaren and Ferrari but was Williams who offered something impossible to refuse: a 3 times higher pay and a fabulous machine, the FW10 powered by the engine that would soon became dominant in F-One, the turbocharged Honda V-6.

After 7 seasons and 2 World titles, Piquet left Brabham at the end of 1985.

That is how they saw eeach other.

His start at the new team wasn’t easy, he was hired as number one driver, but Nigel Mansell, who was hired a year before, was already enjoying that position. This conflicting situation created a bitter rivalry between the two drivers.

The 1986 season became one of the closest and most fiercely disputed championships ever in Formula One, Piquet and Mansell went head-on against each other and this “inside war” was causing them to make too many mistakes, allowing Alain Prost, from McLaren to jump as the leader of the season.

However, Piquet was the best option to beat Prost, and Williams was under a lot of pressure from Honda to play “politics” on the track. The Japanese company wanted the slower driver to concede in favour of the faster driver, in other words, every time Mansell was to finish a race in front of Piquet, he should hit the brakes and allow the Brazilian to pass and collect the points.

The 1986 World Champion Alain Prost at the wheel of his McLaren TAG-Porsche.

Williams never did such a thing, even if this kind of politics was part of the contract signed by both companies. Prost became the first Frenchman to win a Formula One Championship, and Williams won the constructor’s world title.

The third championship

For the 1987 season, Nelson decided to leave the emotions aside and be more reasonable at the race track, even if the tensions between him and Nigel Mansell were still at the boiling point. Piquet played an important role in the development of the new Williams FW11 and the car was the best machine on the grid. The year was supposed to go by with no surprises and the title would be decided between the two Williams’s drivers.

The Brazilian suffered a severe accident at Imola, during qualifying, and following medical recommendations, he did not participate in the race. At the end of the season, Mansell won more races, but Piquet managed to collect more points and win his third world title.

Even before the end of the season, Piquet announced he had signed a contract with Lotus, to be the undisputed number one driver, a promise that was never fulfilled at Williams.

The beginning of the end

Nelson Piquet - Lotus 100T - 1988 - Italian GP (Monza): F1Porn
Piquet at Monza, 1988 Italian GP

Piquet debuted at Lotus in 1988 with great expectations, after all the 100T was also powered with the same unbeatable Honda turbocharged, V6 engine.

The season proved to be a total frustration, Piquet didn’t win a single race and he was completely overshadowed by another Brazilian driver, Airton Senna, who won his first World Championship that year.

The 1989 season was a little bit better but not enough to bring him to the “Top 5” drivers. In 1990 he signed a contract with Benetton with his salary based on the results, but the good results never came and he quit Formula One all together in 1992.

The controversial one.

Nelson Piquet was never an easy-going guy, he always had a complicated relationship with the media and not a lot of teammates have good memories of him, but things got way worse when his career took a downturn. Piquet started to fire insults at people he didn’t like, he called Nigel Mansell “an uneducated blockhead” and also made remarks about the looks of Mansell’s wife, saying she was “ugly”. He called Airton Senna a “taxi driver” and later he said Airton “doesn’t like women”. Piquet had to public apologize for those horrible statements when he was threatened with legal actions.

The Indy series

After his retirement, Piquet followed the steps of many ex-Formula One drivers and he tried the American Indy car series. He was hired by the Menard Racing Team, to compete in the 1992 Indianapolis 500.

The fact that Nelson Piquet survived this is incredible.: INDYCAR

He seemed comfortable on the oval and was doing quite well during practice until he run over some debris on the track and he decided to go back to the pits, that was the moment when he made a typical rookie mistake while going around turn 4 at full throttle, he abruptly took his foot off the gas pedal, to enter the pit lane and his car spun out of control, hitting the wall at 300km/h.

“A picture is worth a thousand words“, and that certainly is the case of the photograph above, it shows how horrifying the accident was. Surviving that crash was nothing less than a miracle but Piquet suffered serious foot and ankle injuries. Even after all these years and lots of physiotherapy he still walks with the aid of a cane.

He came back to Indianapolis in 1993 but had to retire at lap 38 due to engine failure.

Sports cars

Piquet at Nürbirgrin, 1980.

During his career as Formula- One driver, Piquet was also involved with Sportscar/GT competition. In partnership with the German driver Hans Stuck, he raced in the legendary 1000km of Nurburgring in 1980 and 1981, driving a (also legendary) BMW M1. The duo scored a victory in the 1981 edition.

Pique at the pits, during the Brazilian 1000 Miles, 1997. Photo courtesy of http://blogdojovino.blogspot.com/

In 1996, well into his retirement, Piquet competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving a McLaren F1 GTR, having Johnny Cecotto and Danny Sullivan as teammates, finishing eighth overall.

During 1996/97 he actively promoted the GT series in Brazil. In partnership with the Venezuelan driver Johnny Cecotto, they dominated both seasons, even winning the most traditional endurance race in South America, the “Brazilian 1000 Miles”. Always driving the McLaren F1.

Nelson Piquet at wheel of the McLaren F1 GTR. Brazil 1996.

“The last time I saw Piquet in action was in 1996 when the GT Series was brought to my hometown, Curitiba, in Brazil. What I saw that day was the Piquet like the good old times, not the retired F-One driver but the three times World Champion. He was bold but precise – no mistakes – leaving no room for the other drivers. Of course, the car he drove helped a lot, the gorgeous McLaren F1, powered by the sublime V12 BMW engine, a GT car made in heaven. At some point during the race, the guy driving in the second position was trying so desperately to close the gap that the engine of his Ferrari F40 exploded while he was going flat-out, right in front of the stands, 20.000 fans rose from our seats and we went like “wooooow” in unison!!!! “

“I have so many good memories of my hometown race track but that Sunday afternoon is one of the best.”

On January 20, 2006, Nelson Piquet won the 50th edition of the Brazilian 1000 Miles, in Interlagos, at the wheel of an Aston Martin DBR9. The driving duties were shared with the 4 times Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, the French race driver Christophe Bouchut, and Piquet’s eldest son Nelson Junior. At the end of the race, an exhausted Piquet was quoted saying to a friend he would “never sit in a cockpit again.

Now a days Nelson spends his time taking care of his businesses: fleet management software and GPS vehicle tracking and he keeps himself close to the race track managing the racing career of his two sons, Nelson Jr. And Pedro Piquet.

Vc não está vendo uma loja de carros extraordinários de coleção milionária.  É só parte da garage da mansão do Nelson Piquet... | Milton Neves |  Scoopnest

Piquet is also an avid classic car collector.

Nelson Piquet is the kind of character that inspires “love or hate” feelings among racing aficionados, especially because the Brazilian fans love to compare him with Airton Senna. For the majority of those fans, Senna will always be the “good guy”, the gifted driver that tragically died in pursuit of more titles and Piquet will always be “the jerk” who loves insulting people.

For me, he is the fellow Brazilian who won 3 Formula One world titles and remained a true gearhead ever after; the guy will always have my admiration.

Mad Max

When I went to see Mad Max for the first time, in 1985, the movie was already 6 years old and its two sequels had been released already. To be honest, the sequels never caught my attention, I was there to see the original. Even after so many years I still remember leaving the theatre in awe, the dark, dystopian, decaying society created by the director George Miller just blew my mind. At that time I had a pretty bleak vision of the future as well, I always imagined the big cities taken by hordes of criminals where the police had to use tanks to patrol the streets. In my mind, all the weirdness of the movie and its characters just made perfect sense.

The plot couldn’t be simpler: a decent cop, Max Rockatansky, goes on a bloody vengeance against the gang of bikers responsible for the murder of his best friend (Jim “Goose”) and his family. The trick here is not the plot, but how the movie was crafted, had it been done by Hollywood and it would have been a very cheesy one, but the Aussies worked out a not so brilliant plot, with a very limited budget and created a masterpiece.

Mad Max was a pioneer in many ways, it was the inspiration for most of the ultra-violent movies that flooded the theatres in the 1980s. The movie looks tame for today’s standards but it was pretty shocking back in 1979.

Another important point is: for the first time, a car was considered more like a supporting actor in the movie. The black Interceptor is considered more like a mythical creature, the last of the V8s, created by a weird scientist/mechanic and kept in the dungeons of the police precinct. The car became the perfect partner for Max to achieve his revenge.

Mad Max was also an ode to the Punk movement, which was at its peak in 1979. The complete disillusion with the future of society and, of course, all the black leather clothing seeing there are the two most important ingredients of the movement. Those ingredients would make their way to the cyberpunk genre, and, perhaps, the 1999 movie Matrix is the best example of it.

The production

Mad Max was a creation of George Miller, who not only directed the movie but also wrote the original story and the screenplay, in partnership with Byron Kennedy and James McCausland. The trio also produced and edited the movie; an indie enterprise at its best.

Mel Gibson (Max) and Steve Bisley (Goose) pose for a promotional photo.

The production worked on a very tight budget of only $350,000, and they got into trouble right after the shootings. “It was very low budget and we ran out of money for editing and post-production, so I spent a year editing the film by myself in our kitchen, while Byron Kennedy did the sound,” Miller told the “CraveOnline”.

George Miller, who has medical degree, started to work on weekends as a emergency room doctor to help pay for the movie expenses.

Miller’s medical training is all over the film: Max Rockatansky is named after physician Carl von Rokitansky, a pathologist who created the Rokitansky procedure, a method for removing organs in an autopsy.

The production did whatever they could to save money, the Mazda Bongo van that was destroyed during the opening chase was Miller’s personal car.

Most of the bikers we see in the movie actually were real bikers, from a Victoria based motorcycle clube, the Vigilanties. Close to the end, the cash level was so low that the production had to pay some of those bikers with beer.

The machines

When the Times reviewed the movie, in 1979, the title of the article was: “Poetic Car Nage”, which gives an idea of how important the machines are in the movie. For all of us with little or zero knowledge of the Australian muscle cars, the ones we see on the screen are just, well… cars, and that helps to blend them into the post-apocalyptic, comic-bookish scenario of the movie. Let’s take a closer look into those cars, and bikes as well:

The average cruiser of the MFP (Main Force Police) is the 1973/76 Ford Falcon XB 4 door, painted in a cool colour scheme that might be a little unusual for a police cruiser. The car shares its name with the American cousin but it is an exclusive product of the Australian Ford.

1976 Ford Falcon GT

The Aussie Falcon was a complete line of cars, with 2 and 4 doors sedan, station -wagon, 2 doors coupe and even panel van.

The powertrain options were: 200cid /250cid inline 6 and 302cid/351cid V8.

The most popular version was the 4 doors and Ford even offered it in a “GT” trim, equipped with the 351 small block paired with either an automatic transmission or a 4-speed manual. Some of the yellow interceptors that appear in the movie are not GT but they had to be dressed to look like one.

The last of the V8s

Halfway through the movie, Max is introduced to the car that would become the perfect weapon to hunt down those crazy bikers. According to the mechanic who put the car together: The last of the V8 Interceptors… a piece of history!

The sinister black coupe, with a Weiand blower that could be magically turned on and off, is a 1973 Ford Falcon XB coupe GT. The car was slightly modified with some aerodynamic body parts to make it looks like something from a “near future”.

Eric Bana’s 1974 Falcon XB

The Ford Falcon is, perhaps, the most beloved Australian muscle car ever made and a good example of this passion is the 2009 documentary Love the Beast, directed by the Hollywood star Eric Bana, where he talks about his 1974 XB coupe he bought when he was 15 years old. This documentary is another The Classic Machines certified recommendation.

The art director of the Mad Max movie, Jon Dowding, wanted a 71/73 Mustang to play the role of Max Rockatansky’s car but he had to drop the idea since the Falcon was cheaper.

The bikes

If you have seen the movie, you might have noticed that pretty much all the bikes there are Kawasaki and the reason for that is simple, the producers score a deal with Kawasaki of Australia: in exchange for some publicity in the movie, the Japanese company gave them 10 brand new KZ 1000s. The bike is powered by a in-line 4, 998cc, 16 valve, air cooled engine, able to produce 90HP, which was some serious power back then.

Kawasaki Z 1000 A1

The only problem is, the style of those bikes was not quite right for the movie, it looks too tame, too “1980s”. The actor Bertrand Cardant, who played the gang member Crank, received the task to bring those bikes to a more retro-futuristic looking. Cardant had some customizing experience since he owned a bike shop called La Parisienne.

22 GOOSE ideas | mad max, mad max movie, mad max film

Cardant even bought some molds and learned how to laminate fibreglass from a book. The fairings seen on Goose’s and Toecutter”s bikes are his own creation, inspired by the endurance bikes seen at the Bol d’Or. “It was amateurish stuff,” Cardant explains

Mad Max movie, Mad Max Motorcycle, Jim Goose motorcycle bike replica,  fairing kit, MFP seat, Kwaka, Toecutter, Johnny the Boy, Road Warrior,  Kawasaki Z1, KZ900, KZ1000, Zephyr, ZR550, ZR750, ZR1100, LaParisienne, La
One of the freakiest villains ever: The gang leader “Toecutter”

The actor Hugh Keays-Byrne , who played gang leader Toecutter, and several others rode the 550 miles miles from Sydney to the movie set, in Melbourne, all dressed in their costumes. “It was a good rehearsal,” Keays-Byrne remembers.

Local motorcycle club The Vigilanties provided the rest of Toecutter’s gang. Actor Tim Burns recalls working with the bikers: “They all wanted to ride the bikes as fast as possible, as often as possible, by their nature. Their riding was individually and collectively superb.” The Vigilanties also worked as stuntmen as well, participating in the making of some very dangerous scenes.

The long journey of the Interceptor

At the end, the producers still had a lot of bills to pay and the black interceptor was sold to stuntman Murray Smith, who brought the car back to its original appearance. Eventually they bought the car back for the sequels.

At the end of the third movie, the only surviving black Interceptor was sent to be scrapped but was saved by a guy called Henry Warholack, who later sold the car to a collector named Bob Fursenko in the mid-80s. Fursenko restored the manacing coupe to a showroom standard and it became a popular attraction at car shows around Australia. In 1993 the Falcon was sold to the Cars of the Stars Museum in Keswick, England.

The car remained in display until 2011, when the entire collection of the museum was bought and transferred to the US by real state mogul Michael Dezer.

If you want to see this legend up close, you must go to the Orlando Auto Museum, where the car is on display. The black Interceptor is once again for sale, but Mr. Dezer has already refused a 2 million dollars offer.

As for the bikes, the seven surviving Kawasakis were offered as a lot for 5 grand. Byron said: “One day they will be collector’s items”, at that point he was just joking, he had no idea his movie was just about to become cult. Some of them were scraped and some were sold, if any of those bikes has survived to this day, nobody knows.

Final thoughts

Mad Max is still considered one of the most profitable movies ever made, it was a box office success, grossing over $100 million worldwide, with a cost of only $400.000,00. With some serious money in their pockets, Miller and Byron went on producing two sequels, the 1981 The Road Warrior and the 1985 Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. George Miller even directed the 2015 Mad Max reinterpretation Fury road.

Mel Gibson wasn’t even supposed to play the role of Max Rockatanski, he was merely accompanying a friend who was auditioning for the part. When Miller saw him it was like love at first sight, Gibson was the perfect guy for the part.

The three Mad Max movies propelled him to become one of the most popular action-movie actors of the 1980s. He began a solid career as a movie director in the 1990s but after some homophobic statements he made in the early 2000s, Hollywood put him on the blacklist for a decade.

I always thought Mel Gibson was Australian but he was born in Peekskill, New York.

Mad Max is the kind of movie that the making of can be as exciting as the movie itself. There are a few websites that will tell you the whole story. A book could be written about it.

George Miller wraps up the adventure: “Mad Max is obviously very special to me. It was the first film, and after all these years it still means something to people. So even though it was a very hard film to make, we must have done something right!”

Does the movie still mean something for the fans? You bet! When my wife Estela bought her first car, a 1990 black Chevy Cavalier Z24, she inevitably named it Max.

Note of the editor: If you haven’t seen the movie, please do it, but be advised, Mad Max is a kind of weird movie, made more than 40 years ago, by Australians. This is not your average “Fast and Furious” stuff by any stretch of the imagination.

The Brazilian Champions. Part one: Emerson Fittipaldi.

Brazil, if there is one sport that defines the country is soccer, after all, they won the World Cup 5 times, but there is another sport that the country won even more titles: Formula One. Brazilian drivers won nothing less than 8 F-One World Championships. Sir Jack Stewart once tried to explain the phenomena: “Must be something in the water they drink”. 

The more contemporary Formula One fans will certainly remember the name of Airton Senna before anybody else but the Brazilian tradition in the sport began way before Senna, with the guy who paved the road for all other Brazilian race drivers, his name is Emerson Fittipaldi.

Fittipaldi was born in São Paulo, in 1946, son of a prominent Italian-Brazilian motorsports journalist and radio commentator Wilson Fittipaldi, also known as the ” Baron Fittipaldi”. His father was deeply involved with racing, Mr. Wilson was one of the founders of the “Mil Milhas Brasileiras”, in 1956, and the race became the most traditional motorsport competition in South America.

 Emerson’s passion for speed started at a very young age, when he was 11 his father took him to watch a race in Interlagos and at the end, he convinced his father to ask one of his race driver friends to take him for a lap around the track. The little boy was exhilarated with the sound, the wind coming through the window, and with the thrill of the speed. Emerson was hooked for life.

Emerson racing a “Mini” Go-Kart. Later on the Fittipaldi family bought the company and started to supply chassis for the race teams.

At the age of 15, he was already racing motorcycles and at 16, he and his brother Wilson Jr. were racing hydroplanes. During one of those races, Wilson Jr. narrowly escaped death when he crash-landed his airplane and the duo agreed to give up air races and dedicate their time entirely to automobiles.

At the age of 17 Emerson won the Brazilian Go-Kart Championship, racing with a kart he had borrowed from a friend, and for the next year, the factory Renault/Willys race team hired him to be one of the official drivers.

In the early 1960s, the recently created Brazilian auto industry was heavily investing in competitions, race tracks were popping up all over the country, racing quickly became the second most popular sport in Brazil, in that scenario the young Fittipaldi blossomed. 

In 1965 Emerson started to drive professionally for the Renault/Willys Racing Team, at the wheel of the race-specs Renault R8 (picture above), imported from France.

Emerson at the wheel of his Formula Vee, 1967. Photo courtesy of Formula Vee Brazil.

The Fittipaldi brothers abandoned the touring car races in 1967 in favour to the single-seater Formula Super Vee, with a car built by themselves. In his second season Emerson won the Brazilian Championship.

Not only a driver.

Emerson was not only passionate about speed but also about the machines. The Go-Kart he used to win the championship in 1964 was tuned by himself and he did such a good job that other competitors hired him to take care of their Karts.

In the same year, Wilson Jr. visited Europe and brought something that he couldn’t find in Brazil: a custom steering wheel for his mother’s car. The brothers quickly saw it as a business opportunity and soon they decided to produce something similar. The name of this new steering wheel was Formula 1.

In 1966 Wilson Jr. Bought a Porsche 550 1500 RS chassis that was abandoned in the back of a repair shop. To fix the powertrain and get the chassis ready for action was a no brainer, the real problem was to find a body in a good condition. Emerson, who at that time was studying automotive design, draw a new GT body and in a matter of 3 months the two brothers, with the help of the metal artisan Francisco Picciutto, hand-built a new aluminum GT body for the chassis.

The brothers called it “Fitti-Porsche”; the car was not only gorgeous, but it was pretty fast: at its first race, the 1967 edition of the “Mil Milhas Brasileira”, Wilson Jr. broke the 7 years standing track record, during qualifying.

The car was fast but, unfortunately, not reliable. The Fitti-Porsche led without difficulty every single race it entered until something broke down. Emerson won just one race with it, but the car was a good “hands-on” experience nevertheless.

Next stop: Europe.

Around 1968, Emerson and Wilson Jr. came to know the European Formula Ford, an affordable single-seater category that was the first step towards Formula One.

Emerson sold his Formula Vee, some other race-related junk, and with some extra help from his father, he gathered enough money to buy a second-hand Formula Ford and to support himself for 3 months in the UK.

Emerson Fittipaldi power sliding his Lola T2000 Formula Ford. Photo courtesy of Mike Dixon / Historic Racing News.com

Emerson finished the 1968 British Formula Ford Championship with 3 wins, 2 seconds, and 2 third positions out of 9 races; not good enough to win the title but good enough to catch the attention of the Jim Russell Racing Driver School; later on he was enrolled as a student but he also became one of the school’s official drivers.

Emerson and his Lotus 59 F3 at the pits of Montlhert, October 1969.

In 1969 the young Fittipaldi was already at the wheel of a Formula 3, driving for the Jim Russell Team and he destroyed the competition that year, with 8 victories out of 11 races, easily winning the championship.

His impressive first season at Formula 3, immediately opened the door for a position at the Lotus/Bardhall Formula 2 Race Team for the 1970 season.

After a few races in F2, Emerson was spotted by Dick Scammell who convinced his boss, Collin Chapman, to offer the Brazilian a position as the third driver at the Lotus F-One Team.

At the pinnacle of motorsports.

Jochen Rindt | Formula 1®
Jochen Rindt, at the wheel of his Lotus 49C.

The Team Lotus arranged a test for Emerson, in Silverstone, Chapman was there to see the test up close and so was the number one Lotus driver, Jochen Rindt. According to some people who were there that day, Rindt was not so happy to spend his day off at the track, teaching a rookie that could barely speak English. The Austrian drove the Lotus 49C for a couple of laps, to warm up the tires and then he “tossed the keys” to Emerson. After a couple of awkward laps, the Brazilian stopped at the pits complaining about the cockpit, which was still fit for Rindt, and also about the overall dynamic of the car. Rindt came to Emerson and said: “The faster you go, the better she will respond to you”.

Emerson followed the simple instruction to the letter and quickly he started to clock amazing lap times. Rindt who was distant in the beginning now was enthusiastically helping with the timing. At the end of the test, Collin Chapman said: “You start on the next race”.

1970 - Emerson Fittipaldi - Lotus 49C [1800x1205] : F1Porn

The next race would be in Brands Hatch, the 7th of the 1970 season. The car Emerson received was the same Lotus 49C he drove that day, a “hand me down” from Rindt, who was already driving the modern (and yet to be legendary) Lotus 72.

Two years ago, Emerson Fittipaldi was racing Formula Vee in Brazil and now, he was already part of the most prestigious Formula One team in the early 1970s; if that can’t be considered a meteoric career, nothing else will.

Pedal do Kusma: Os Carros que Emerson Fittipaldi Pilotou na Fórnula 1 - 01°  01-Lotus 49C

The 49C was already obsolete at this point but was, nevertheless, a Lotus powered by the Cosworth Ford V8; perhaps the most glorious combination in the history of the Formula One.

The year of 1970 proved to be full of surprises, Emerson managed to compete in both categories, in Formula Two he finished third, only behind the more experienced Clay Ragazzoni and Derek Bell but his debut in Formula One was a bit more complicated, in September Jochen Rindt tragically lost his life in a brutal accident during the Monza Grand Prix, he became the only driver to win the championship posthumously. John Miles also left the team shortly after the accident, he was under a lot of pressure from Collin Chapman because of his poor performances and to bear the responsibilities of the number one driver was too much for him.

All of a sudden Fittipaldi was promoted to be the Lotus No. 1 driver on his fifth F1 race at the United States GP.

The young Brazilian proved up to the task and won the race, his very first Formula-One victory. The road for the Championship was wide open.

The year 1971 was spent with adaptations, the whole team had to face the new reality of having a rookie as the number one driver and Emerson had to deal with the revolutionary Lotus 72, the car at that point was still a rough diamond that needs a lot of polishing. He finished the season in sixth place, with 16 points.

Formula 1 Images: Monaco GP (1971)

The winner of the season was Jackie Stewart, driving a Tyrrell-Ford. (picture above).

The Championship

1972 - Emerson Fittipaldi, Lotus | Classic racing cars, Formula 1 car,  Lotus f1

For the next season, the engineers delivered the new Lotus 72D, this updated model had all the reliability problems that plagued the early version fixed. For the first time, the cars were wearing the iconic black and gold John Player Special livery, a partnership that would last for decades to come. Emerson Fittipaldi was still a rookie but a more seasoned one, in other words, Lotus had all the ingredients for a terrific season.

All expectations proved to be true, Emerson won in Spain, Belgium, England, Austria, and Italy, he became the World Champion even before the season was finished (there were 2 races left).

His dominance that year helped to propel the mystique around the Lotus 72D being the most perfect Formula One car ever built.

The World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi and the big boss Collin Chapman.

At 25 years old, he was the youngest World Champion in the history of the competition, an honour he held for 7 years.

The 1973 season wasn’t so good, Emerson struggled with the development of the new 72E and with the rivalry with his new teammate, Ronnie Peterson. The Brazilian finished the season in second place.

In 1974, he decided to leave Lotus and go to a new and promising team: McLaren.

At the wheel of the fabulous McLaren M23, Emerson was once again the favourite to win in 1974 but that was a hard-fought season: his second World Championship only came at the very last race when he finished with only 3 points ahead of Clay Regazzoni. That was the beginning of the McLaren vs Ferrari feud that would last a few more seasons.

The next chapter of the war, in 1975, was won by Ferrari, with the unstoppable Niki Lauda at the wheel. Emerson finished the season in second.

Advertising like this made me, as a kid, spend every penny of my allowance on slot cars.

Fittipaldi was at the pinnacle of his career, a national hero, his face was everywhere. He was respected around the world and worshiped in his home country, Formula One became something like a fever in Brazil. At this point in his career, Emerson made the most controversial decision of his life.

The dream of a Brazilian Formula One race team.

The first Copersucar prototype.

While Emerson was in the spotlight, his older brother Wilson Jr. was competing for Brabham and at the same time, he was putting together the first (and only to date ) Brazilian Formula One team: the Copersucar.

Wilson Jr. and the “Copersucar” F1 car.

Wilson, who was the number one driver and the team manager, drove the car on its inaugural season, in 1975, with mediocre results. The Coperçucar race car wasn’t that bad, Danilo Divila, a famous Brazilian designer came up with a sleek, ultra-aerodynamic body, and the power came from the trustworthy Ford Cosworth V8.

The name of the team came from its main sponsor, Copesucar, a giant sugar and alcohol exporter; the flow of money wasn’t unlimited but was steady, in Wilson’s mind, there was only one thing missing for the team to succeed: the talent and the prestige of a two-times World Champion.

Emerson, still wearing the McLaren racing suit, poses with the Copersucar Team. The guy in the center, wearing glasses is Ricardo Divila, the team’s chief designer.

The official invitation was made and Emerson accepted to be the number one driver for the Brazilian team for the 1976 season. For him, it was a gamble, he was leaving a very successful team that would likely give him his third World Championship, on the other hand, that was an opportunity to revive the old partnership with his brother and do what they know better: building and racing cars. It was also a matter of national pride, I don’t think his fans would have ever forgiven him if he had refused to help the team.

Miraculously, Niki Lauda survived this “inferno”.

James Hunt was hired to replace Emerson for the 1976 season, which was, perhaps, the most exciting chapter of the war between Ferrari and McLaren. Niki Lauda was involved in a horrific accident during the German Grand Prix that year and had to quit the competition for six weeks to recover from his injuries. Hunt won the Championship just one point ahead of Lauda. Emerson finished the season at 17th position. (If you want to see more about the 1976 F-One season, please watch the 2013 movie Rush.)

The Copersucar team was a very enthusiastic bunch but with very limited know-how, the Fittipaldi brothers were expecting the team to grow as time passed and they gathered more experience but instead, they struggled with technical problems throughout 8 seasons and never achieved good results.

História Mundi: Imagens Históricas 30: Apresentação do Copersucar  Fittipaldi em 1974

Emerson’s best result was a second place in 1978, at the Brazilian Grand Prix, in Rio de Janeiro (picture above). In 1980 he quit driving and became team manager. His last two years in charge of the team were very unhappy: “I was too involved in the problems of trying to make the it work, and I neglected my marriage and my personal life“. In 1982, deeply frustrated and bankrupted, the Fittipaldi brothers shut down the team.

The CART years.

A talented race driver like Emerson wouldn’t spend much time away from the race tracks. In 1983 he received an invitation from WIT Racing, a small CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) team, for a test and for the next year he was again at the wheel of a race car. He spend the next two seasons adapting himself to a different kind of open-wheel car and mostly, how to drive on ultra-fast oval race tracks.

1985 Indy 500 Fast Friday

In 1985 Emerson won his first CART race, the Michigan 500, driving for Patrick Racing (picture above). He stayed with the team for five years, a partnership that would eventually give the Brazilian a championship.

Fast-forwarding to 1989, Emerson was at the wheel of a superb combination, the coveted Penske PC-18, powered by the Ilmor/Chevrolet 2.7 litre, turbocharged V8, cranking up 800 hp. Just like in 1974, he was once again driving a car with the red and white Marlboro livery.

Emerson collected some souvenirs, after his victory at the 1989 Indy 500

Emerson dominated the season, winning the championship with five victories and finishing among the top five in every race he completed. I took 15 years but “Emmo” (that is how the Americans nicknamed him) was once again a champion.

Among his wins, that year, was the Indianapolis 500. Emerson led 158 of 200 laps but close to the end, he got involved in a fierce battle with Al Unser Jr, making that race one of the most exciting Indy 500 ever. Check it out on the video above.

Emerson moved to the Roger Penske Racing Team in 1990 and continued to be among the top drivers in CART. Some unfortunate events prevented him to become some sort of the King of Indy 500: in 1990 he was comfortably leading the race went he got a blown tire and in 1991, the same situation happened, but at this time the gearbox box gave up.

In 1993 Emerson won his second Indy 500 when he passed Nigel Mansell, on lap 185 and managed to keep the lead until the end of the race. Mansell was another Formula One champion that migrated to CART.

The 1993 Indy 500 victory came with some unexpected drama: there is a decades-old tradition that the winner of the race must celebrate it by drinking milk instead of champagne, but that year Emerson decided to break the protocols and he drank orange juice instead. The reason for that is simple, Emerson owns orange groves in both Brazil and the USA but what was supposed to be a harmless advertising stunt, backfired enormously, the fans, the media, and the race organization never fully forgave him. Fans booed Emerson on several occasions even after he came publicly to apologize.

The end of his career.

Emerson Fittipaldi | Which other F1 drivers have tried to conquer the Indy  500 - & how did they fare? - Formula 1

The year was 1996 and Emerson was still driving for Penske and enjoying being among the CART top drivers. At this time, his car was powered by a turbocharged Mercedes-Benz V8, developing 1000 hp. Penske cars were dominating the season but during the first lap of the Michigan 500, Emerson was involved in a horrible accident, his car touched wheels with Greg Moore and he crashed against the wall at 320km/h. With internal bleeding and two broken vertebras he narrowly escaped death that day.

He fully recovered from his injuries but, at 49 years old, he decided it was time to retire. The accident was responsible for the end of his career as a professional racing driver but it also marks the beginning of a new life for him, Emerson saw his survival as an act of God and he became a newborn Christian.

Emerson reunited with his Lotus 72, during the 2019 Goodwood Festival.

Emerson Fittipaldi might be retired but he never left the race track, either managing teams or driving at special events.

Enzo Fittipaldi and his grandpa, at the Brazilian Grand Prix, 2018. Photo credit XPB/Press Association Images.

Perhaps his biggest project right now is mentoring his grandsons through the beginning of their careers as race drivers. A whole new generation of the family has already started the long way to Formula One.

The 1963 Aston Martin DB4 GT Lightweight.

The DB4 model, produced from 1958 until 1963, was the car that put Aston Martin firmly in the sports coupe segment and started the iconic look that would define the brand throughout the next decades. If you look closely, styling cues from this car can still be found in modern Aston Martin models.

Aston made the DB4 to last, the combo chassis/body is undeniably overbuilt, heavy and strong. No doubt the car has all the good qualities to be a reliable, and elegant coupe for the streets but on the other hand, it was too heavy for the race track.

The Brits knocked at the right door asking for help: Carrozzeria Touring of Milan transformed the heavy DB4 into a race track beast, applying its Superleggera bodywork, with a series of interconnected steel tubes supporting lightweight sheet metal made of aluminum and magnesium alloy.

The wheelbase was also reduced in comparison to the street version which resulted in many cars not being fitted with rear seats.

The engine was also a masterpiece: the in-line 6 cylinder was available in two slightly different sizes, 3.7 L (3670 cc/223 in³) and 3.8 L (3750 cc/228 in³), both equipped with two sparkplugs per cylinder and two distributors, modifications to the aluminum cylinder head brought compression to 9.0:1. No high-performance in-line 6 is complete without a trio of side-draft Weber carbs and the DB4 was no exception.

Power output was 302 hp. Maximum speed for the GT was 151 mph (243 km/h)[10] with a 6.1-second from 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h). It was the fastest road-legal production car at the time.

The Zagato DB4

 The Aston Martin has been tipped to sell as one of the most expensive British-made cars ever
This 1961 Zagato DB4 GT became the most expensive British car ever when it was sold in 2012 for £10,081,500

Carrozeria Touring built only 75 GT, making the car extremely sought by collectors. At the same time, other Italian coach builders also wanted a slice of the DB4; nineteen more were modified by the Zagato works in Italy. The unmistakable Zagato’s design can be seen all over it, always leaning towards a more aerodynamic concept.

The Bertone DB4.

1960 Aston Martin DB4 GT Bertone Jet sold for 4.9M USD
1960 Bertone DB4 GT

Among all the Italian coach builders that reworked the DB4, it was Bertone who created the most daring design of them all. They basically built a totally new body for the car, leaving very little (if any) trace of the original design. The result is a stunning coupe, perhaps the best exemple of what a partnership between the Brits and the Italians can accomplish.

Doesn’t matter which one you like better, those machines are timeless classics from an amazing era, masterpieces of engineering and design.

Cars will never be built with such passion ever again.

Norton-Wankel. The Victory of the Underdog.

Back in the 1970s, when the Japanese motorcycles started to take over the world, Norton was just another iconic, traditional British bike brand struggling to survive.

Geoff Duke, riding the Works Norton 500cc. Both rider and bike became the World Champions of Moto GP, 1951.

A mix of mismanagement and lack of innovation brought the company very close to bankruptcy, but it was in the late 1960s that Norton had a spark of brilliance, the engineering development team concluded that the best way to defend the company against the Japanese attack would be adopting a new and revolutionary technology, the rotary engine.

The Wankel Engine.

One can write a whole book explaining why the internal combustion, reciprocating piston engine is an absurdity in terms of fuel and thermal efficiency, but it was only around the 1950s the development of alternative engines started to pick up some momentum.

Around the late 1960s, the Wankel rotary engine seemed to be the most promising “revolutionary” engine. The original design was created by the German engineer Felix Wankel in 1929 but only became fully developed in 1957. Mazda was the only automaker to mass-produce a car equipped with the rotary engine, the RX-7, and on two wheels, Suzuki was another enthusiast of the Wankel.

Norton was somehow confident the new engine would give the company the advantage needed against the Japanese bikes, but the process was long and painful. It took more than 18 years to put a rotary-powered Norton bike on the streets. The development began in 1969, at the BSA Group Research Centre in Kitts Green, the Wankel engine was based on a Sachs air-cooled rotary used in the German-built DKW/Hercules model W2000. The Norton prototype was ready in 1972, at the same time the company finally got the license to use the engine from Auto-Union Group (the company that later on became Audi) the legal owner of the Wankel brand.

In 1973, Norton was absorbed by the BSA/Triumph group, and somehow the Wankel project survived all the complications of having 3 different brands under the same umbrella, but the problem is, the distance between the prototype and the final version can be very long.

The 1987 Norton P41 police.

It was only in 1987 that Norton unveiled the Interpol 2 police model P41, equipped with a 588cc, air-cooled, twin-rotor engine. A first batch of 350 bikes were sold to various police stations across England. It didn’t take long to realize that the project had a very poor development: rough idling, overheating, and blown engine seals were the most recurrent complaints by the police officers.

Norton Interpol 2 (1988) - MotorcycleSpecifications.com

In 1988 Norton released to the public the Commando 588 model P53, equipped with a liquid-cooled rotary engine, solving most of the overheating problem. The traditional customer didn’t receive well the new bike, sales were modest when compared with the regular “piston” engine Norton models.

The Wankel Wizard.

Among all the employees who participated in the development of the Wankel-Norton bikes, perhaps no one was more enthusiastic than Brian Crighton, he saw all the potential of the rotary engine and he spent countless hours of his spare time squeezing more horsepower out of it. At this point Crighton didn’t have any official backup from Norton in this idea of messing up with those engines, he found his “research material” from piles of junk police bikes and he never got paid for his after-hours work. During the first stage of this development, he increased the power output from the stock 85HP to 96HP, it might not sound much nowadays but back then it was good enough to convince the very skeptical CEOs that a rotary-propelled race bike could be a good idea.

Brian Crighton’s work at Norton was fueled by passion and that is easy to understand, he had been a hardcore race biker during the 1970s, the race track was his natural environment. He just wanted to be back there and do whatever it takes to make Norton a winning team.

In 1987 Crighton was invited to be part of the Racing Development Team, and in a very tight budget, Norton started its competition endeavour in the British motorcycle racing season. At this point, the Wankel engine had reached 125 HP while retaining the stock 9.2:1 compression.

Norton RC 588

1987 RC 588

For the 1987 season, the RC 588 was still considered a prototype but in many ways, it was a very good one: the air-cooled Wankel engine was producing a decent amount of power, 125 HP and the awkward steel chassis (derived from the police street bike) was replaced with an all-aluminum full race frame produced by Spondon Engineering, and the front fork was supplied by Suzuki.

Racing started in late 1987 with employee Malcolm Heath as the official rider, he scored one victory during the season. Things got more serious in 1988 when Steve Spray, the second Norton rider, won two major races for the team, first was the TT F1 British Championship race and then the Powerbike International open race. These two superb performances got the attention of the British tobacco brand John Player Special and the company became the main sponsor of the Norton racing team.

Norton RCW 588

Norton started the 1989 season proudly wearing the iconic black and gold JPS livery. The new sponsorship certainly gave the team some room to breathe but still, when compared with the mighty Japanese and Italian factory teams, Norton was like a little mouse going after a bunch of tigers.

The Norton guys knew they had something special, the new bike, the RCW 588, received the improved, water-cooled version of the rotary engine, and that means 10 extra “ponies” of power. The bike was light (268 pounds), powerful (135 HP), and well balanced, a killer combination that caught the competition off guard.

Retro Moto Planet
The original JPS team. L to R – Dave Hickman, Malcolm Heath, Trevor Nation, Brian Crighton, Steve Spray and Dave Evans.

What happened in 1989 was one of those stories that could well be the narrative of a movie: a small, underfunded team, streamrolling over way more powerful rivals and driving the fans into a frenzy.

Steve Spray won the 750 cc Supercup Championship and the British F1 title, Trevor Nation also had some awesome performances but 1989 season was definitely owned by Spray. On top of all the victories, he also set lap records at Donnington Park, Thruxton, Snetterton, Brands Hatch Indy Circuit and Cadwell Park during the season.

In 1989 Brian Crighton was promoted to Senior Development Engineer at Norton and the new responsibilities made it impossible for him to keep managing the racing team, at the end of the year, Barry Symmons the ex Honda Britain boss was brought in to run the works team.

Steve Spray, in action.

The success continued in 1990, the Norton boys were not only riding to win races, they were on a mission to show the world Norton wasn’t dead yet. Nation won the MCN TT Superbike Championship and Robert Dunlop won both Superbike races at the North-Weast league.

There was a surge in TV coverage, Norton/JPS merchandise was selling like hotcakes, and the fans were going crazy. It was a British bike, sponsored by a British brand, and ridden by British riders, for the UK fans it was a matter of national pride.

Trevor Nation

It was also in 1990 that the fairy tale started to crumble, the father of the Norton racing team, Brian Crighton, resigned from the company, alleging some serious disagreements with the new team manager, Barry Symmons. Later on Crighton started his own Wankel-powered bike project, The Roton.

The 1991 season was proof that many of the changes brought by Symmons were not working as planned. Perhaps the worst of his decisions was to switch the tire supplier to Michelin, throwing out of the window all the development done with Dunlop.

Most of the original team members were gone and so was the magic of the 1989/90 seasons, Norton was no longer the dominant brand in the British Superbike Championship and the CEOs were signalling that the end of the racing program was near.

The greatest Isle of the Man TT

In 1992, two of the brightest stars in the British bike racing universe, Steve “Hizzy” Hislop and Carl Fogarty, were the protagonists of, what is considered by many, the finest Isle of Man TT races in history.

The two riders were not bitter enemies, just bitter rivals on the race track, Fogarty was rude and a blabbermouth, always bragging about his talent. He made more enemies than friends on his way to the top. Hislop on the other hand was calm and well mannered, always willing to listen before saying something. Their distinctive personalities were reflected in the way they behaved on the race track.

For the 1992 Isle of Man edition, Fogarty had a comfortable position at British Yamaha, but Hislop was having a hard time finding a bike for the event. A month before the race, Barry Symmons offered him a chance to ride for Norton and with no better option on the horizon, he accepted, but he was sure that, at this point, the rotary machine had no chances against the big guys.

Phillip McCallen and his GP Honda, the winners of the 1992 Isle of the Man F1 race

On the first of the main races of the week-long event, the F1, Hizzy, even dealing with constant overheating on his Norton, was able to keep up with the two fastest riders, Fogarty on a Yamaha and McCauley on a Honda. The three riders imposed an insane pace, clocking laps with no more than 5 seconds from each other. Close to the end, Fogarty was forced to retire when the gearbox of his Yamaha broke down, leaving the first position to McCauley and Hislop in a close second.

Steve “Hizzy’ Hislop ridding the “White Charger” Norton RCW 588

Despite his amazing performance, Hislop’s bike wasn’t even completely set up for him. For the main race, the next morning: the Senior TT, the Norton team had to spend the night doing some critical changes. First, they installed a bigger windscreen, making it easier for Hislop to fit inside, improving the aerodynamic, then a wider handlebar for better control of the bike, and last, the front fender was removed increasing the airflow to cool down the engine.

At the start of the race, Fogarty was comfortable at the 4th position, but Hislop was 19th, it took him almost the entire race to get through the traffic but he did it masterfully, pushing his Norton to the limit but with elegance and precision, saving the machine from a possible breakdown.

Carl Fogarty and the Yamaha 750 GP.

Fogarty’s brutal ridding stile took a tool on his bike, it was literally falling apart but still in fighting conditions. When Hizzy finally closed in, one of the most intense duels in the history of the Senior TT race took place, they fought fiercely to the last lap but was Hislop and his howling Norton that crossed the checkered flag in first place. Norton was once again the winner of the Isle of the Man, the last time was in 1961. Hislop considers the 1992 Senior TT victory as “my greatest race ever”.

Hislop’s amazing performance at the 1992 Senior TT race was the swan song for the Norton Racing Team, the company was going through some serious financial crisis and it was time to end the program.

The official factory race team was over but that doesn’t mean the rotary Norton was gone from the race tracks.

The Wizard strikes again.

The official Norton-Wankel racing program wouldn’t have even existed if wasn’t for Brian Crighton, right after he left the company, in 1990, he started his own business, preparing rotary bikes for private teams and his team as well.

After the Norton works team left the competition, The Crighton’s machines started to shine, it was his turn to win.

Ian Simpson going airborne on his “Duckhams-Crighton” Norton

The Crighton Team was always among the top qualifiers but they reached their peak in 1994, when their two riders obliterated the competition, scoring 52 podium positions, with Ian Simpson winning the British Supercup Championship and Phil Borley taking the 3rd position.

As one can imagine, the big brands were not so happy with this rotary madness, as Terry Rymer, a Honda rider at the time, once said: “I am a bit fed up with those Nortons passing by and spitting flames on my face, but I guess this is what makes the crowd happy“.

Well, the fans were happy all right but the big teams were not and the 1994 season was the last straw. At the end of the year, they got together to put some pressure on the organizers and for the next season the Wankel engine was officially banned from competing in the UK.

Trevor Nation.

The Norton-Wankel era was short but intense, the fans will forever remember those years as the most exciting ones in British motorcycle racing history, after all, everybody loves to see the underdog winning.

The screaming, flame-throwing RCW 588 finished its career where it started: at the top.

But one guy wouldn’t let it go…

Brian Crighton never stopped messing around with the Wankel Norton bikes and after so many years of development, he might have reached the rotary nirvana. Here it is, his latest creation:

Crighton Racing CR700P.

For this new beast, the Crighton Team solved what was, perhaps, the most annoying problem of the rotary Norton: overheating. They created an ingenious hybrid cooling system that works with liquid and some sort of gas; sounds complicated? You bet, but he won’t tell us how it works, it a well-kept secret. The 700cc, twin-rotor Wankel engine can make 200 HP without the fear of melting internal components. The CR700P is scary fast and on top of that, it is gorgeous. Well done, Wizard.

Have you ever heard the howling of a rotary GP bike, flat out down the straight? Me neither, until I saw this video. Enjoy.

Atlanta Dragway in 2000 -Video Blog.

The official drag strip of Atlanta, GA isn’t exactly in Atlanta, the venue is located in a small town called Commerce, a little bit over one hour driving, from downtown Atlanta, via I-85 North.

The dragway opened its doors in 1975 and has been hosting the Southern Nationals since 1981. In 1993 it was bought by the National Hot Rod Association.

In October, 2000, my wife and I had the opportunity visit the strip, during the National Muscle Car Association-Power Tour. Over the weekend we took quite a few pictures but keep in mind we used an analog camera.

This is how drag racing was, 20 years ago. I hope you will enjoy.

Pablo Escobar’s Porsche.

It was during the crazy 1960s that cocaine started to become popular; at that time the drug was still expensive and hard to find, the kind of stuff reserved for celebrities. It was only during the 1980s that the drug became readily available to the average consumers and the responsibility for this social disaster is Colombian organized crime. It took 20 years for the Colombian drug lords to find contacts in North America and organize the logistics of the operations but once it was up and running, the cocaine traffic became the most lucrative criminal activity in the world.

Among all the drug lords in South America, no one was more powerful and, consequently, more popular than Pablo Escobar. He was the founder and leader of the Medellin Cartel and at the peak of his activities, Escobar was smuggling between 70 to 80 tons of cocaine per month into the USA. Naturally, he became one of the wealthiest men in the world.

As we all know, every super-wealthy villain must have some expensive hobbies and car racing was one of Escobar’s passions.

The Renault

It was in the late 1970s, when Pablo Escobar (already the leader of the Medellín Cartel) started his racing driver career, competing on the recently created Copa Renault 4.

The “King of Cocaine” was an enthusiastic but mediocre driver but that didn’t prevent him to finish the 1979 season in second place. Most of his fellow race drivers will tell that Escobar’s cars were completely out of the regulation but, obviously, nobody ever complained about it.

The Renault 4 is an iconic car in Colombia, it played a similar role as the VW Beetle played in Brazil, (https://theclassicmachines.com/2021/02/23/the-vw-beetle-and-how-we-raced-it/) but at this point, the need for speed pushed Escobar into something faster.

The Porsche

A.J. Foyt battles with All Unser during the 1974 IROC Series, USA.

Escobar later on bought a Porsche 911 RSR that was originally raced on the very first edition of the IROC Series, in 1973/74.

Before we move forward, it might be interesting to talk about the IROC Series: IROC stands for International Race Of Champions, which is a short series of races where a selected group of drivers race identically-prepared stock cars from a single brand, set up by a single team of mechanics

The idea of the series is to bring Champions from different categories of motorsports, like Formula 1, NASCAR, Indy, Rally, and so on, to test their skills on the race track, driving identical cars.

The 911 RS was the chosen model for the first season, in 1973/74, but for the next year, Chevrolet stepped in as the main sponsor of the event; consequently, the Camaro became the official car for the IROC Series until 1989.

The Porsche bought by Escobar has a very interesting resume, during the IROC inaugural season it was driven by the Brazilian F1 driver Emerson Fittipaldi, who had just won the 1974 World Championship. After that, the car was sold to a few different privateer racers in IMSA. In 1978 the 911 was entered in the Daytona 24 Hours and that was precisely when Escobar bought the car, using Konrad Racing as an agent for the purchase

Buying old race cars from the USA and Europe is nothing new, what Pablo Escobar did was a common practice among racing teams in South America. As soon as he got the 911 delivered he replaced the front fenders, making it look like a 935 slant nose and he painted the car with the iconic Martini livery.

Escobar competed with this Porsche in a series of races around South America but perhaps the most famous event was a hill climb in the outskirts of Medelin when Pablo bet he could finish the course in less than 15 seconds behind Ricardo “Cuchilla” Londoño, then Colombia’s most famous race driver. Escobar was being extremely generous to himself, after all, 15 seconds is an eternity in car races and sure enough, he did finish the climb within the time to win the bet, an accomplishment he bragged about until he died.

LONDOÑO-BRIDGE : PLATA O RACING - FORMULE MOY1

Cuchilla (knife, in Spanish) was the first Colombian to come pretty close to start a career in Formula One.  In 1981 he even drove for the English team Ensign in practicing for the Brazilian GP. His career was cut short when Bernie Ecclestone found out that the Colombian driver was being sponsored by “narco-dollars” and denied him his F1 superlicence.

The Escobar’s “career” on the race tracks was also short-lived, during the 1980s his narco activities grew immensely, not giving him enough spare time for hobbies.

His narco empire reached its peak by the end of the decade and Pablo Escobar became the most wanted man in the world. In 1991 he struck a deal with the authorities: in exchange for his peaceful surrender, the Colombian government granted Escobar wouldn’t be extradited to the USA. He was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment in a luxurious, self-built prison called La Catedral. In 1992 when the police tried to relocate him to a regular, state jail, Escobar escaped and went into hiding, triggering a nationwide manhunt. A year later, in 1993, Pablo Escobar was killed during an exchange of fire with the Colombian National Police. That was the end of the Medelin Cartel.

As a notorious car guy, Escobar had a small collection of classic cars. Most of them were destroyed in 1988 when soldiers of the rival Cali Cartel invaded the Escobar’s farm.

Somehow a few cars were spared from the rage of the rival family and later on, they were seized by the authorities and auctioned. Among those cars was the IROC Porsche 911.

The infamous Escobar’s 911 came to the spotlight once again when in 2021 it appeared for sale on the pages of DuPont Registry. The car was professionally restored to its original glory as the IROC race car driven by Emerson Fittipaldi.

To the untrained eyes (including mine) the 911 RSR looks like a regular street Carrera adapted to perform race track duties, but in fact, Porsche developed the car as a purebred racing machine. It was equipped with a 3.0 litre, flat-six, air-cooled engine, capable of 300HP, but this power output could be easily doubled if properly turbocharged.

The RSR became the darling of the GT cars in the mid-70s and early 80s, but Porsche only built 1,580 units, more than enough to homologate the car for the FIA group 4 GT class but surely, not enough to meet the demand at the time. As a result, the RSR became a very rare car to find and a prized possession for the collectors.

In 2016 Porsche honoured the legend of the RSR, when the company revived the nametag with a modern interpretation of the car, aimed once again at the professional and amateur GT class competition around the world.

If you have 2.2 million dollars to spare, you can be the next owner of this controversial RSR and the fact the car was once owned by the most infamous drug dealer of the 1980s is not inflating the price tag. The value lines up with another 1974 IROC 911, sold by the comedian Jerry Seinfeld, in 2016, for 2.3 million dollars.

According to the ad, the car is even ready to see some action on the race track once again.

BMW. The Rough Beginning.

The BMW is one of the pride and joy of the German auto industry, the brand is well known around the world for stylish cars and cutting edge technology applied to them, but before becoming one of the most desirable automobiles in the market, BMW had its fair share of bumpy roads.

The origin.

The BMW name stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH or Bavarian Motor Work in English. The roots of the modern BMW goes back to 1913 from the Munich firm Rapp-Motorenwerke, then this company was incorporated to the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG in 1916, after that, there was another restructuring process that brought the company to be incorporated into Knorr-Bremse AG in 1920 before being finally renamed BMW AG in 1922. A bit complicated? You bet, after all the company changed its name 4 times in less than 10 years, a clear indication that the founders had either little money in their pockets or their product had a very limited market acceptance or both, in BMW’s case.

The BMW IIIa, Photo courtesy Wingnutwings.com

BMW was born to produce aircraft engines and at this point, it seems the company had finally hit the jackpot, Germany was deeply involved in World War I (1914-1918) and the demand for this kind of engine was at its peak. The company’s very first product was the BMW IIIa, an in-line 6 cylinder, water-cooled, 230 HP engine.

The IIIa was a superb engine, designed by engineer Max Friz. Production started in the spring of 1917 and it was the chosen engine to power the Fokker D.VII, one of the finest German fighters of the war.

The profitable marriage between BMW and the Luftwaffe was short-lived, in November 1918 Germany capitulated to the Allies and all contracts with the government were cancelled. In the years that followed the end of the war, Germany dived into an unspeakable economic depression and BMW had to find ways to produce more useful products than engines for military airplanes.

For a while, the company managed to stay afloat mainly producing brake components for trains and even steel office furniture.

It was only in 1923 that BMW released its first motorcycle, the R33. The bike was a good seller, considering the hard times Germany was facing, in total 3,090 units were sold between 1923 and 1926. The R32 was equipped with a 494cc flat-twin that was good for 8.5 horsepower. Speedometers were optional but you didn’t even get a choice with the front brake, at least in the first year of production.

Showing that BMW holds dear its traditions, the twin boxer engine and the drive shaft transmission from the R33 can still be found in modern BMW motorcycles, like the 2021 R18.

The British roots.

1930 BMW/Dixie 3/15 cabriolet.

After some success building motorcycles, by the end of the 1920s, BMW decided to venture into the automobile field. Since the company had zero expertise in this enterprise, they found a smart shortcut: in 1928 BMW acquired Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach, the third-largest German automobile manufacturer at the time. This company had a license from the British automaker Austin Motor Company to build the Austin Seven in Germany. Instead of spending some time developing their own car, BMW immediately slapped their logo on the cars being built by the acquired company.

Officially, the 1928 BMW 3/15 was the very first car produced by BMW, even if it was nothing more than a rebadged Austin Seven.

In 1932, BMW unveiled the 3/20, an updated version of the 3/15. It is pretty noticeable the new car still holds a strong resemblance to the 3/15, but the new model was entirely developed by the BMW engineering team.

1932 BMW 3/20 Roadster.

The tinny 3/20 was offered in many different models: 4 doors sedan, 2 doors coupe, roadster, convertible, and even panel van. It was powered by an 800cc, 20HP, 4 cylinder engine.

Interesting fact, since BMW didn’t have the means to provide the tooling for the new car, Mercedes-Benz was hired to produce all the body panels for the 3/20.

The controversial BMW logo.

There is a theory about the meaning of the BMW logo that is widely accepted among the gearheads around the world, it goes like this: since the original BMW business was aircraft engine, the circular emblem with different colours in the opposite quadrants represents the blurred image of a spinning aircraft propeller. This rather interesting story has been around since 1929 when BMW starts advertising its new aircraft engine, using the illustration you see above. In a time when the German industry was still strictly forbidden to produce any aircraft-related stuff, BMW was allowed to build this engine in a partnership with the American company Pratt & Whitney.

In 1942 a similar advertisement was run in magazines, and that helped to seal the myth over the years. The real meaning of the logo couldn’t be more simple, the circumference divided in four quadrants is a very common sight in any technical drawing and the blue and white is a tribute to the national colours of Bavaria.

1936 BMW 328

Throughout most of the 1930s BMW seemed to have found the right path, the company had a nice lineup of cars, motorcycles and aircraft engines.

The BMW race team at Le Man’s, 1939.

Probably the most iconic BMW from the 1930s is the 328, the car that started the company’s long tradition in the sports car arena. With 328 the BMW racing team won in its class the 1939 edition of Le Mans.

The War Efforts

The triumph in Le Mans happened on June 18th, 1939; on September 1st, of the same year Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II and once again BMW would be dragged into the dirty business of war.

BMW had 100% of its industrial capacity shifted to help the Nazi war effort, the production of aircraft engines was at full steam, so was the motorcycle assembly line but the automobile production was cut altogether.

Quite a few different models of airplanes were equipped with BMW engines but the one that the allied pilots feared the most was the Focke-Wulf FW190, considered the best Nazi fighter of WWII. The airplane was powered by the BMW 801, an air-cooled, 41.8 liter, 14 cylinder radial engine, able to produce 2,000 HP, more than enough to pull the fighter to a top speed of almost 700Km/h.

Hitler and his officials visiting the BMW facilities, circa 1940.

It was the most produced radial engine of Germany in World War II with more than 61,000 built. Being such a powerhouse to the Nazi war machine, the BMW facilities were a prized target for allied bombers, at the end of the war there was not much left of the original factories.

The post-war

Right after the surrender, the Allies took control of every aspect of German society and BMW was banned from producing motor vehicles, at least for a while. The company survived making pots and pans, and later on, bicycles.

1952 BMW 501

In 1948 BMW resumed the motorcycle production and finally, in 1952 they unveiled their first automobile since the beginning of the war, in 1939, the 501. The car was also the first luxury-oriented model of the brand.

1957 BMW 600

In 1955 BMW acquired the license to produce the interesting Isetta, an Italian microcar with a futurist design. The car has no side doors; instead, the whole front facia opens to give access to the interior of the vehicle.

The BMW produced 3 different versions of the Isetta, the 250, the 300 and the four-seater 600. The code names are related to the size of their engines: 250cc, 300cc (mono cylinder), and 600cc (flat twin) ranging from 10HP to 24HP.

The idea of producing the 501, a luxury model, in a country still struggling with the hardships of post-war, wasn’t a wise one, the car never was a good seller. The affordable Isetta helped to keep the company afloat for a while but in 1959, the rival Mercedes-Benz came real close to acquire BMW.

The company was saved from extinction by the two German industrialists, Herbert and Harald Quandt, who dumped a truckload of money into the company. It didn’t take too long to prove it was a clever investment.

Conclusion.

A race prep 1962 BMW 700

It is safe to say that BMW only found its way in the 1960s, first with the 700, the car that has the credit of saving the company and then with the 2002, the BMW’s first worldwide success.

The legendary BMW 2002.

Those cars are well built, with superb handling and decent performance, all the qualities and character that won the hearts and minds of fans all over the world.

Nowadays, when looking at any magnificent BMW dealership, with all those beautiful cars, it is hard to believe all the challenges the company overcame in the past; a true sign of determination and resilience.

The McLaren Mustang

The Ford Mustang needs no introduction, after all, the car has been around since 1965; in the sports car universe, only the Chevrolet Corvette (1953), and the Porsche 911 (1963) can rival the Mustang in longevity.

Words like icon, and legend, have been loosely thrown around to better describe the “Old Horse” and we all know those words are true but the Mustang had had its fair share of bumpy roads throughout these years. Thanks to the oil crisis of the 1970s Ford tried very hard to detach the Mustang from the gas-guzzling, performance car image and bring it to the compact, fuel-efficient car field.

In 1974, Ford released the infamous Mustang II, the car the Mustang enthusiasts love to hate. In its first year, Ford went too far: for the first time in history, the Mustang wasn’t offered with a V8 engine. It didn’t take long before the company realized the number of customers that wanted the Mustang to stay as a performance car was too big to be ignored and the 302 V8 was brought back for the next year. During the 1970s, the 302 was severely detuned to make it a little more fuel-efficient and to make things even worse, a primitive emission control system chocked the engine down to a ridiculous 140 HP. Terrible times indeed.

Ford had a real conundrum at hand, how to keep the speed freaks Mustang customers happy and at the same time create this new image as an efficient car?

1976 “Charlie’s Angels” Mustang Cobra II

I believe History one day will give a fair trial to the Mustang II, even if it wasn’t anything more than a Ford Pinto in different clothes, I think it was the right car for the right time and it helped to keep the Mustang nameplate alive. Nevertheless, in 1979 Ford replaced the Mustang II with the car that became one of the most beloved Mustang platforms ever, the Fox Body.

1979 Mustang Cobra

With the Fox Body Ford gave the Mustang a more European look, and the company was determined to divert some of the Mustang customers away from the V8, giving them the option of a much smaller displacement as a performance engine and the perfect candidate for the task was the turbocharged version of the 2.3L, 4 cylinder, OHV Ford engine.

The engine was created as a 2.0L by the German Ford and at that time, it was a modern marvel: overhead camshaft driven by timing belt and crossflow cylinder head. For the North and South American market, the displacement was increased to 2.3L and the original aluminum head was replaced by a cast-iron piece.

The engine was code-named “Lima” but in North America, it is known as “metric engine”, since not a single bolt is in the Imperial system, or simply “Pinto engine”. At this point the 2.3L was already a veteran among Ford cars, it started its career in 1974, powering the Pinto, and later on, the engine could be found all over the Ford line up, powering cars, minivans, and light trucks.

The 2.3L is a sturdy little machine, that works comfortably “under pressure”, in other words, turbocharged and Ford was taking full advantage of this.

The 1979 special edition Indy 500 Pace Car, also offered with turbo four engine.

In 1979 Ford unveiled the Mustang equipped with the turbocharged 2.3L engine able to produce 132 HP, pretty close to the V8 version, with 140 HP.

All the turbo Mustang needed at that point was a little advertisement and Ford knew exactly what to do.

The plan was simple, the Blue Oval wanted to build a racing 4 cylinder Mustang to go against Porsches and BMWs, using, once again, the race tracks as an advertisement tool. To get it done properly, Ford brought some serious partners into this mission: The American tire company Firestone, Ford’s own parts division Motorcraft, and the British race car maker McLaren.

1970 McLaren M8D- Can Am. Photo by Pete Lyons/ Petrolicious.com

During the 1970s the partnership between Ford and McLaren had already won two Formula One World titles, 1974 and 1976. The brand was also very popular in North America while competing in the Cam-Am series.

The McLaren Mustang received the code name M81. The Brits had their headquarters in Livonia, Michigan, where the team prepared the little 2.3L with head-porting and balancing the internal components. The original cast pistons and connecting rods were replaced by forged units, the engine was then bolted to a 5-speed manual transmission; no option for automatic was offered. The final touch was the Garret T-3 turbocharger with variable boost control. The result of that hard work was 175 horsepower (and as much as 190 on full boost), 145 pound-feet of torque, and a 0-60 mph time of just under 10 seconds.

To keep the car glued to the pavement, Koni adjustable shocks were installed front and rear, working together with heavy-duty sway bars and springs. Race specs disc brakes in all four corners also were adapted.

All the body modifications were done by Creative Car Craft. Inside the Mustang was fitted with Recaro seats, a Racemark steering wheel, Stewart-Warner instrument gauges, and for the street-legal version, an optional air conditioning system was offered. Closing the package, BBS alloy wheels wrapped with Firestone tires, of course.

This picture, taken at the 1981 edition of the 24 hours of Daytona was extensively used by Firestone to advertise performance tires.

There isn’t much information about the racing career of the McLaren-Mustang, apparently the best result was 21st position overall at the 1981 24 hours of Daytona.

Picture thanks to Barrett Jackson Auctions.

The media praised the car as a real competitor to the European and Japanese sports cars and Ford had plans to build 250 units, but the production was abruptly cut much sooner than expected. Of course, the price tag didn’t help much to push the sales numbers, the McLaren-Mustang was 25% more expensive than a regular “GT”, but the biggest nemesis of the car came from inside the house: The Ford’s SVO team (Special Vehicle Operation), apparently didn’t want to share the credits for the creation of the high-performance turbo-four Mustang with McLaren and they pressured the Ford’s top CEOs to end the program.

Between 1980 and 1981 only 10 units were produced, most of them received the official McLaren Orange colour, but the car could be ordered in white, black, or blue.

The SVO team released their version of the turbo Mustang in 1984 and they tried to push the design as close as possible to the European cousins, like the Ford Sierra. The SVO Mustang was in production for 2 years only and Ford sold almost 10,000 units; not too bad for a high-end 4 cylinder Mustang.

1995 Mustang Cobra

Although the 2.3L accompanied the Fox Body during its 15 years of production, Ford dropped the engine for the next generation of the Mustang. By the early 1990s, the unimaginable had happened, the world emerged from the oil crisis, and the price of gasoline was once again affordable for the middle class. In 1994 Ford unveiled the new Mustang platform, the SN-95, the car was bigger and bolder than the Fox-Body and also had some styling cues from the classic models of the 1960s. In this new scenario, there was no place for a 4 cylinder engine.

Picture thanks to Barrett-Jackson Auctions

The McLaren-Mustang became one of the rarest “Special-Edition” Mustangs of all time and the car is getting the attention it deserves from the collectors, especially now that the stigma of the four-banger Mustangs is slowly fading away.

The VW Beetle, and how we raced it.

The year is 1985 and Brazil is facing terrible times, the mismanagement of the economy by the military government brought an imaginable inflation rate, something around 250% a year.

Stock Car Brazil, circa 1988

As one can imagine, racing wasn’t exactly a priority in this kind of scenario; only those categories backed by the automakers were surviving, like the Brazilian Stock Car, sponsored by General Motors.

But necessity is the mother of invention and a new hope for the amateur race teams was being conceived.

The idea couldn’t be simpler: let’s bring the VW Beetle back to the race track, after all, in the mid-80s they were still plentiful, affordable and parts could be found anywhere, even brand new since the Beetle was still in production (its last year would be 1993) and the Brazilian VW kept the faithful flat-four engine in production for another 2 decades or so, powering the VW Kombi.

The guy on the right, in the racing suit, is Expedito Marazzi, a brilliant automotive journalist and an accomplished race driver who also drove the VW Beetle on the “Division 3”.
Marazzi’s work inspired a whole bunch of people to start writing about cars, including myself.

The last time the VW Beetle was officially racing was in the 1970s, in the extinct “Division 3”, a category reserved for highly modified production cars. There, the teams had the freedom to extract the last drop of power from the air-cooled engines and to transform the Beetle with a fiberglass body kit, extra wide rims wrapped with slick tires, and 5-speed Hewland transmission. Those little monsters were adored by the fans and they affectionately called the cars “Atomic Potty”. Thanks to the oil crisis of the 70s, Division 3 had a very short life, and 1980 was its last season.

Those cars were not cheap to build but a well-balanced “Potty” in the hands of a seasoned driver would be a pain in the neck to the way more powerful Chevy Opalas and Ford Mavericks.

The “Atomic Pottys” were a crowd-pleaser, everybody loved to see the little Beetles giving a hard time to bigger cars, but they also were unpredictable on the track, mechanically unreliable, and very expensive to build.

This new category should be exactly the opposite, to make it affordable, the cars should be as close as possible to a stock VW Beetle.

Pedro “Garrafa” going  flat out at Interlagos race track, on a rainy day. Garrafa was one of the biggest Speed 1600 enthusiasts

In 1985 the “Speed 1600″ was born and the regulations were very strict:

*The cars should keep all the original steel panels and no cuts on the body were allowed, other than the one on the rear skirt to make room for the exhaust system and the other one on the front to make room for an additional oil cooler.

* Only the side windows could be replaced by plexiglass.

* Wheels should be 14″ no wider than 6”. Aftermarket alloy rims were permitted . Tires only “street use” radials, no wider than 195 and  and the profile no lower than 60.

* Front suspension: stock with lockers to lower it. Rear suspension: stock with free camber adjustments. Shocks should also be OEM.

*Engine: stock (alcohol) 1600cc. Only a little “grinding” on the heads was allowed. Dual original “Solex” carbs with a little internal polishing. Free choice of jets. Free choice of exhaust, free compression ratio.

* Transmission: stock with free choice of OEM gears.

* Brakes: stock front discs and rear drums.

As far as I remember that was it.

The “Speed 1600” begun as a regional tournament in the city of São Paulo and became an instant success. It was cheaper to race a Beetle than a Go-Kart.

The category not only brought veterans drivers and mechanics back to the race track but also opened the door to a whole new generation of gearheads. Together they made the Speed 1600 the most popular racing category in São Paulo, grids with 40-plus cars were the norm.

In June 1988, the most popular auto magazine in the country, “4 Rodas” published a 5 pages article about the “Speed 1600” and then, the rest of the country suddenly got bitten by the bug.

The southern cities in Brazil (the ones with functional race tracks) immediately started organizing similar tournaments and since they tried to copy the same rules as the ones in São Paulo, it made things easier to have interstate tournaments in the future.

In 1987, in Interlagos, Sao Paulo, the Speed 1600 set the record of the biggest grid ever in Brazil, with 63 cars. The record still holds today.

My family returns to the competition.

My family always tried to stay involved in racing as much as the budget allowed them. My grandpa worked as a mechanic for a race team in the late 50s, not much for the money but mostly for the fun of it. My dad started his “career” at local rally tournaments and so did his brother. The picture above was taken in 1975 and shows dad at the wheel of his daily driver 1972 VW Beetle, during the Rallye da Graciosa, our version of the Monte Carlo Rally.

The #44

After a long hiatus away from the competitions, both, my dad and his brother saw the “Speed 1600” as the perfect opportunity to come back. My father found the right candidate for his next race car, his brother-in-law was selling an immaculate 1976 Beetle, already stripped for the track, and he bought it on the spot. The car was born as a 1300cc and the engine was quickly replaced by a 1600cc from a VW Kombi.

It took only a month to get the “44” ready for racing but then, the 1989 season was almost over and dad only had a chance to drive his car on the two remaining races.

Mostly, the “Speed 1600” drivers were also sponsors, crew leaders, and mechanics, all at the same time. Amateur sports at its best.

The official race track in my hometown was going through some renovations at the time, for this reason, the 1989 season happened on a dirt track located on the outskirts of the city.

For the next year, our track was ready and dad raced the entire 1990 season, and even after being disqualified for two races (for having the intake manifolds out of the regulation), he finished the season in third position.

In 1993 my father sold his car and the new owner kept the same livery and number. I remember seeing it in action a couple more times but after that, we lost track of the “44”

The #12

At the same time, my uncle also got his Beetle ready, a 1972 model, but unfortunately, he was not very lucky with his car. The “12” broke down in the first two races of the 1990 season, not finishing either one.

He became very frustrated and decided to bring the car back to his garage and he never touched it again. The “12” sat dormant for 28 years.

Unfortunately, my uncle passed away in 2017, it was a shock for the whole family, he was a super nice guy, always cracking jokes and making people smile.

He left a small collection of cars to my cousin, his only son, and obviously, the “12” was part of it.

For some reason that I still don’t understand, my cousin decided not to keep the old Beetle. Selling it would be complicated since the documents were pretty messed up and the car was badly rusted. So instead of selling the car for peanuts, he offered it to my dad, for free.

Dad, at right, chatting with the tow truck driver.

My father was blown away with this gift, he and his brother had been partners in business and hobbies since the 1960s, and having his race Beetle would be more than an honor.

Father retired in 2015 and he has been looking for something to occupy his time ever since. He immediately embraced the task to restore the “12”.

My cousin Sergio, making sure the engine was still in the car.

These pictures here show the day the car was relocated from the city of Curitiba to my dad’s home in Barra Velha beach, 200 miles away.

In April 2019, my wife and I finally took a couple of weeks off and we went to visit family and friends in Brazil. We haven’t been back home since we moved to Canada, 5 years ago.

Obviously, I was dying to see the old Beetle up close.

I even brought a little present, a VDO tachometer, pretty close to the one that originally equipped the “Super Fuscão”, the sports version of the Brazilian Beetle.

The 1974 Super Fuscão.

Dad is restoring the car on an extra tight budget and he is doing the job mostly on his own. He is 70 years old and for sure he is taking his sweet time to get it done.

When we got there, the bodywork was done and even the floor pans had been replaced.

He lowered the compression ratio enough to make the engine run on gasoline and replaced the dual carb system for a single one. He says: ” I want peace of mind, I am not going to race it anyway” .

He loves to take the chassis for short test drives; for sure I had my share of fun driving it. Without the weight of the body, the chassis can be pretty brisky.

In 2020 the mission of restoring the “12” was accomplished. At this point the car is halfway to be street legal, it has all the necessary lights but dad is refusing to install the bumpers, which is mandatory in Brazil.

Some people say a vintage car will never be completely done, so I believe that old Beetle will keep my father happily busy for a long time.

In Brazil, the VW Beetle is more than just a car, it is an institution. Simple, affordable, and reliable, it was the obvious choice as the first car for generations of Brazilians (mine was a 1966 model). The Beetle thought us not only how to drive, but also how to fix it, how to modify it, and ultimately, how to race it.

For my family, the “12” is much more than just a hobby, it is a beautiful homage to my uncle, a gentle guy that will live forever in the hearts of family and friends.

The Runaway Drone

Nowadays, flying drones are such a common sight, from the harmless ones we use to shoot videos of our vacations to the deadly ones used by the military to kill enemy troops on the ground, drones are pretty much part of our daily lives.

The drone technology was born in the military and later on was granted to us, the civilians. The US Air Force has been developing it for quite a while; the first successful drones date back to WWII when adapted B17 Flying Fortress flew unmanned, “one-way ticket” missions, bombing heavily defended nazi targets.

After the end of the war, both the Navy and the Air Force converted hundreds of surplus airplanes to fly as drones, to be used as targets for weapons development programs, and that is precisely how this bizarre story begins.

A drone Hellcat getting ready for its last mission. Although it was a fully operational drone, a serviceman was required to start the engine.

The year was 1956 and the Cold War was already in full swing, at 11.34 am on August 16th, a bright red Grumman F6F Hellcat drone took off from Point Mugu Naval Air Station, in California, and according to the plan, the old fighter would fly peacefully over the Pacific Ocean before being destroyed by a missile.

The Hellcat’s baptism of fire happened in September 1st, 1943, when they left the USS Yorktown for their first combat mission in WWII.

Before we go ahead, let’s take a closer look at this plane: the Grumman F6F Hellcat was the most successful US Navy fighter of WWII, of course, it shares this reputation with the F4U Corsair, but the Hellcat was better suited to operate on carriers.

It was powered by the Pratt-Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp, air-cooled radial engine, capable to crank up 2,000 HP, more than enough to pull the plane to a top speed of 630 Km/h. The Hellcat’s armament consisted of 6 Browning 0.50 cal machine guns. The F6F finished the war with an impressive victory ratio of 19:1. Grumman produced 12,275 Hellcats and since not a lot of them were lost during the war, the US Navy had a whole bunch of them to convert to drones.

Now, back to the story: Soon after the drone took off towards an offshore missile test area, it stopped responding to the command of the ground crew. The situation wasn’t, at first, much of a big deal, the plane should fly steadily over the Pacific Ocean until it runs out of gas and ditch itself into the water, but instead, it gracefully turned southeast, towards the city of Los Angeles.

Now, the Navy had a much bigger problem: Point Mugu air station didn’t have a single fighter that could be quickly dispatched to intercept the rogue drone. They immediately called Oxnard Air Force Base, home of the 437th Fighter-Interceptor Wing. This base was 8 km north of Point Mugu.

They quickly scrambled two F-89D Scorpions and flying at full afterburner the fighters soon caught up with the drone at 30,000 feet (9,100 m), northeast of Los Angeles, and that is the point when the story goes sour, but before we move forward, let’s take a quick look at the Scorpion fighter.

The Northrop F89 Scorpion was a high altitude, all-weather interceptor, designed to protect the USA from the threat of the Soviet nuclear bombers. It was powered by two Allison J36 turbojet engines producing 7,200 lbs of thrust each in afterburner mode, able to push the fighter to a top speed of 1,035 km/h.

The Scorpion was one of the first fighters built with no machine guns or cannons, following a new Pentagon policy that attested this kind of armament was becoming obsolete in modern air combat; instead, the fighter was equipped with the “Might Mouse” unguided rockets, kept in pods, located on the tip of the wings.

The Battle

The Hellcat drone was circling Los Angeles, flying in a wide radius curve pattern, when the Scorpion pilots got the drone on visual, it was flying over Santa Paula, so they waited until it entered some unpopulated area to start the attack. As soon as the Hellcat reached the mostly inhabited Antelope Park, the first fighter got in position to shoot it down. The “D” version of the Scorpion was equipped with the state of the art Hughes E-6 fire control system, that integrates the plane’s radar and an attack-plotting computer; in other words, killing that drone should be a no brainer… Or so they thought.

First Lt. Hans Einstein was the first one to give it a try, he put his Scorpion in position, pressed the fire button and, nothing happened, he tried a couple more times until he gave up and called his wingman, First Lt. Walter Hale. Hale repeated the procedures of his colleague and again, not a single rocket was fired. The automatic fire system had jammed in both fighters.

They switched from automatic to manual and now it was time to get the job done in the old fashion way, WWII style, but there was another problem: the US Air Force had put so much faith in the electronic fire system that all the Scorpions “D” had their gun-sight removed from the cockpit. The crew’s job now was pretty much like firing a gun just pointing it to the target, but not aiming.

At this point, the drone had changed its course and it was once again flying towards LA. Lt. Einstein positioned his plane as best as he could behind the drone and fired a burst of 42 rockets, completely missing the target. The second interceptor moved into position and unleashed another salvo of 42, a couple of rockets even bounced against the drone’s fuselage but none detonating.

The artistic rendering of a Scorpion firing a salvo of Mighty Mouse rockets.

A single rocket would be enough to bring the old Hellcat into pieces but the pilots couldn’t fly too close to the target because the debris from the explosion could damage their fighters. Close to the town of Newhall the pair of jets made a second pass, launching 32 rockets each; again none found the mark. As the drone headed northeast toward Palmdale, each pilot fired a last salvo of 30 rockets at the target with no hits. Running low on fuel and out of ammunition, the Scorpion pilots had no other choice but to abandon the mission and go back to the base.

The Hellcat at this point was also running out of fuel and it crashed at a desolate section of the desert, 14 kilometers east from the Palmdale Regional Airport. Before hitting the ground, the drone severed some power lines along a rarely used road.

Military and local law enforcement personnel examine the crash site of the drone near Palmdale (Credit: Los Angeles Public Library collection

The aftermath

The “Mighty Mouse” used by the Air Force on that day was already a veteran of the American military, it is an unguided rocket, fuelled by solid propellant and its warhead is packet with High Explosive. Its dimensions are 6 ft long x 2 3/4 inch in diameter. It was named after a cartoon super-hero, very popular in the 50s, a flying mouse with superpowers, small but powerful. The two Scorpions fired a total of 208 of those rockets against the drone and if they failed to destroy it, they surely caused havoc on the ground.

The first set of rockets started brush fires 11 km northeast from the city of Castaic (northern LA) which burned 150 acres of bushes.

Some of the rockets fired on the second salvo hit oil sumps owned by the Indian Oil Co. The fires reached within 300 feet (91 m) of the Bermite Powder explosives plant. Other rockets started fires in the proximity of Soledad Canyon, near Mount Gleason, burning more than 350 acres of rough brush.

The final set of rockets were fired while the Scorpions faced Palmdale; many landed within the town. As the drone passed over Palmdale’s downtown, Mighty Mouse rockets fell like hail. A considerable amount of shrapnel damaged a few houses and cars within the city limits.

Two workers in Placerita Canyon had been eating in their utility truck; right after they left it to sit under the shade of a tree, the truck received a direct hit from a rocket and it was destroyed.

It took 500 firefighters two days to bring the brushfires under control. More than 1,000 acres were burned. Other than the pride of the US Air Force, no one got seriously hurt.

Conclusions

The incident, which became known as “The battle of Palmdale” brought even more controversies to the rivalry between the Navy and the Air Force: How come, not one but two, well trained Air Force pilots, flying modern jet fighters failed to bring down a WWII era, piston-powered Navy fighter… With NO ONE on board? Jokes aside, I believe the incident has a few points to analyze.

The US Navy can be excused for “losing” that drone, after all, this kind of technology was still in its infancy in the 1950, but then, we have to excuse the Air Force as well for the fail of the automatic fire system in both fighters, after all, the electronic guidance for missiles/rockets was also in its infancy. What is appalling is the decision of the pilots to fire the rockets while flying above a well-populated town. There is no register if the crew or the Air Force received any kind of prosecution.

Another important fact is the stubbornness of the military in ordering some fighters with no guns. It is clear if the Scorpions were equipped with a pair of the faithful Browning 0.50 machine-gun (and gun sight, of course) they would have shot down the Hellcat pretty quickly and with minimum damage to the ground.

This picture shows a Sidewinder missile being launched from an F4 Phantom. More than 80%/of the Sidewinders fired during the Vietnam War missed their targets.

This concept was pushed well into the 1960s, for example, the “superstar” fighter during the Vietnam War, the F4 Phantom, was put in combat with no guns and equipped with a very unreliable missile system.

Perhaps the real issue here is how big the American military was becoming during the Cold War and how often it would clash with the civilian population. Miraculously there were no fatalities during the ‘Battle of Palmdale”, but this incident is just one example of a series of events when mistakes made by the military brought real danger to the Americans.

The Monte Carlo Rally.

As I started to write this post, right after Christmas day, 2020, the teams and drivers were getting ready for the kick start of the 2021 season of the World Rally Championship, or simply “WRC”.

A Ford Fiesta WRT at the 2020 Monte-Carlo Rally.

As it has happened since 1973, the opening round will be the most traditional and important race of the calendar: the Monte-Carlo Rally. For this year, the “Automobile Club de Monaco” will be celebrating the 110th anniversary of the first Monte-Carlo Rally; the race, which is the oldest competition of this kind in the world, helped to immortalize the popularity of “Rallying” around the world and also helped to shape the image of the City of Monte-Carlo as a place forever connected to motorsports.

The First Edition

In the early 1900s, the automobile was considered more like a hobby than a necessity, something like a toy for the millionaires. The car owners were even considered as sportsmen and as such, they were constantly in search of new challenges and for this reason, rallies were very popular among them.

In 1909, Prince Albert I, of Monaco, came up with the idea of a rally competition that would not only promote all the technological advances of the recently created automotive industry but above all, attract wealthy car owners to the country and present Monaco as an amazing destination in the glamorous Mediterranean coast.

The First Edition

The official poster of the first edition of the Monte-Carlo.

The Automobile Club de Monaco received the task to organize the competition and to turn it into reality. They didn’t wast any time and the first edition of the Monte Carlo Rally happened in 1911. The core of the rally was very simple, 23 cars left from different cities across Europe, towards Monaco and their start was staggered according to the distance to the capital city Monte Carlo. The competitors followed the rules of the regularity rally, also called time-speed-distance or TSD rally, which is driving each segment of a course in a specified time at a specified average speed. Competitors set off from Paris, Brussels, Geneva, Vienna and Berlin, arriving in Monte Carlo on Saturday, January 28th.

The most powerful car in the competition: the double phaeton La Buire 6cyl. 
54 HP. The team finished in the 6th.

Seven cars failed to finish the rally, due to the harsh conditions of the roads during wintertime and the overall winner was the German sportsman Von Esmark, from Berlin, but thanks to a few controversial rules, he was disqualified.

Rallies in the early 1910s were quite popular among the adventurous car owners who were in pursuit of new challenges for themselves and their machines as well, but the Monte-Carlo Rally had a different approach. Since one of the main purposes of this event was to promote the city as an affluent destination in the French Riviera, some of its rules were related to the elegance of the cars and crew, and what would be considered laughable in modern times, were very important back then; important enough to push Von Esmark to the 6th place.

Points were given not only based on the skills of the driver but also based on the elegance of the car, the comfort of the passengers, and the condition in which the car arrived at the principality. At the end of the rally, the racers had to go on a parade around Monte Carlo and the machines were supposed to be clean and with the least possible amount of visible damages, and apparently, Von Esmark’s car wasn’t in “tip-top” condition.

Another participant at the 1911 Monte-Carlo Rally, Lieutenant Knapp and his Fiat 16/18 HP. He covered 1,320 km from Vienna.

Since the competitors were very wealthy people, some of them didn’t even bother to drive their cars throughout the rally, leaving the job to their chauffeurs and the comfort of the passengers was also an important aspect to collect points toward the victory.

Henri Rougier and the victorious 25HP Turcat Merey.

In the end, the winner was the French airplane pilot Henri Rougier, who was among the nine competitors who left Paris, to cover 1,020 Kilometres (634 mi) route. Von Esmark, who finished the rally 14 hours before Rougier, considered himself the legitimate winner and he didn’t take lightly his disqualification, he refused his prize and also didn’t parade his car around Monte-Carlo at the end of the rally.

The Second Edition.

For the next year’s edition of the rally, the number of cars increased to 60, and there were ten different cities all over Europe as starting points.

The Russian team’s car, stuck in snow.

Certainly, the most thrilling route that year was from Saint Petersburg in the Russian Empire to Monte-Carlo. It took more than 8 days for the Russian adventurous duo Andrej Platonovitsj and Vagym Mihajlov, to cover 3.257 km (2.024 mi) of treacherous winter roads.

Plaonovitsj and Mihajlov arriving at Monte Carlo.

They drove a 1911 Russo Balt model S24-55; the brand was well known for manufacturing military vehicles for the Russian Army and that might explain how the car withstood so well the punishment of the trip. The low average of 16.7 km/h (10.4 mph), and reputedly the less-than-shiny appearance of the car upon arrival and inspection by the judges, dropped them back to ninth place.

The picture above shows the winner of the 1912 Monte-Carlo Really: Julius Beutler, from Germany, and his French-built Berliet 16HP.

Female drivers were encouraged to participate in the Monte-Carlo Rally, not in the name of diversity but to bring charm and beauty to the event instead; quite sexist indeed. The picture above shows Mademoiselle Cabien, ready to start the parade, at the end of the 1912 edition. Cabien, at the wheel of her 2 cylinder Peugeot, had an admirable performance, finishing the competition with an average speed of 32Km/h. Very impressive for the 1910s standard.

The public and the media couldn’t understand how a few elitist rules, about elegance, comfort, and cleanliness, prevented the Russians to win the rally. After all, they overcame a much bigger challenge and they did it with gallantry. Just like the year before, the 1912 Monte-Carlo Rally ended in controversy.

After only two editions, the rally was failing to conquer the hearts and minds of the public. The sponsors of the event were pressuring the officials to change the rules, fearing the Rally wouldn’t have much chance to survive.

The economic uncertainties in Europe prevented the 1913 edition of the rally to happen and in 1914, WWI dragged the whole continent into 4 years of bloodshed and later on, into economic depression.

The 1920s

It would take 12 years for the next edition of the Monte-Carlo Rally to happen. For 1924, the Automobile Club de Monaco implemented some well-received changes, like eliminating most of the elegance rules and including a 90Km route throughout the Alps.

Jacques Edouard Ledure & Madame Ledure, the winners of the 1924 Monte-Carlo Rally. A friend couple traveled with them during the rally

This mountain circuit gave the unique opportunity for the public to see the cars in action in the vicinity of Monte-Carlo, helping to popularize the event. Later on, this Alpine section became the core of the rally, even if, in the beginning, the French police almost ruined it because they didn’t allow the competitors to go over 30 km/h.

Of the 30 participants, only one failed to finish the competition. That year even motorcycles were allowed to participate.

The Lancia Lambda, owned by Madame Mertens, finished second in the 1925 edition of the rally. The team started from the city of Tunis, in Northern Africa, with a direct length of 4,467 kilometers via Casablanca.

The picture above shows the winner of the Women’s Cup of the 1927 Monte-Carlo Rally, Mildred Bruce, impatiently waiting for the refuelling of her AC “six”. Mildred, who was already a reputable adventure seeker at the time, received financial support from AC (the same British maker that gave the world the AC Cobra), to drive an AC car during the competition. Another clear sign that the rally was moving towards professionalism.

During the 1920s, the Automobile Club de Monaco started to reshape the rally towards a more professional competition. New rules were implemented, regulating the power and the weight of the cars and also the maximum number of passengers.

The 1930s

The Romanians Zamfirescu and Cristea and their Ford V8, participants of the 1936 Monte-Carlo Rally.

By the 1930s the automobile had evolved quite significantly, it was faster, safer, and quite reliable. If the cars had improved, so did the highways. Crossing Europe towards Monte-Carlo was a much easier challenge now than it was 20 years ago.

Lucy Schell-O’Reilly and Laury Schell finished second in 1936, in their six-cylinder Delahaye 135 18CV Sport

The organizers implemented a series of tasks to be performed at the end of the rally, meant to evaluate the driving skills of the participants, and on top of that, the Alpine portion of the competition was increased to 160Km.

By the mid-30s, the Monte-Carlo Rally was well established as one the most popular automobile competition in the world, attracting not only wealthy car owners but also, aviators, professional race drivers, and celebrities as well. Every year thousands of tourists would flock to this “fairy tale” principality to see the drivers and their machines and most of them also enjoyed everything Monte-Carlo has to offer, like the gorgeous beaches and marinas, and also luxurious hotels, and casinos. The mission given to the Automobile Club de Monaco to open the doors of the country to the world, was fully accomplished.

 Jean Paul and M. Contet and the number 31 Delahaye 135M, the winners of the 1939 edition. Two things we notice in this picture: first is the traditional Rally Monte-Carlo plate, that helped to advertise the event around Europe and second is the elegance of the competitors was still very important.

The last Monte-Carlo Rally of the decade happened in 1939, in that same year the Germans invaded Poland and started World War II.

Europe and the rest of the world were pushed once again to the horrors of a total war and it took 10 years for the organizers to put together another edition of the Monte-Carlo Rally.

The Modern Era.

The official British Ford team: Gastsonides and Worledges and their Ford Zephir, arriving in style back to England, after the victory at the 1953 Monte-Carlo Rally.

After WWII, the rally steadily shifted to a more professional event. Since the highway part of the competition was no longer a challenge, the treacherous mountain course completely replaced it, and there was an ever-growing involvement of the automakers, with official factory teams.

Stretching the limits of the Citroen 2CV, during the 1954 edition of the rally.

During the 1950s and 60s, the rally experienced a surge in the number of small, affordable cars. Thanks to the evolution in technology, an average car was not only able to withstand the punishment of the rally but also able to fight for the first position.

The Mini-Cooper dominated the Monte-Carlo Rally in the 60s. The tiny British car won in 1964, and again in 1965, driven by the legendary Scandinavian duo Rauno Aaltonen and Timo Mäkinen.

Timo Mäkinen and Paul Easter, cutting the darkness with the “forbidden” headlights, in 1966.

For 1966, the Mini-Coopers finished the rally in a smashing 1-2-3 position, but unfortunately, the organizers had imposed a draconian new rule for that year, stating the cars must be 100% factory original.

The Automobile Club de Monaco was firmly decided to put an end to the British winning streak. After the end of the rally, the technicians spent more than 18 hours, dismantling the cars, measuring and checking every single part. Everything seemed fine when they finally found something wrong: the original headlight bulbs had been replaced with a more powerful ones, and that was enough to disqualify all three winner Mini Coopers. The drivers, the team managers, and the fans were furious, they vehemently protested against the judge’s decision and even the press joined them putting as much pressure as possible to reverse the decision, but it was all in vain. Once again the Monte-Carlo Rally ended in controversy.

The BMC team, the winners of the 1967 Monte-Carlo .Rally.

The stolen victory in 1966 was just a small set back, in the next year, Rauno Aaltonen, driving for the British Motor Company official team, brought the Mini-Cooper once again to the highest place on the podium. There is no doubt the Monte-Carlo Rally immensely contributed to the Mini’s popularity around the world.

The supremacy of the small cars in the rally was short-lived. During the 1970s the competition was dominated by sports cars like the Renault Alpine, Porsche 911, and the legendary Lancia Stratus.

Here it is, all the winners of the Monte-Carlo Rally, during the decade.

Lancia Stratus: 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979

Renault Alpine A110: 1971, 1974.

Porsche 911: 1970, 1978

Lancia Fulvia: 1972

The 1970s were amazing years, not only for Monte-Carlo but for rallying in general. The heavy participation of the automakers plus some solid sponsorship, allowed the teams to bring to the battle amazing professional drivers and the best sports cars the auto-industry had at the time.

The decade set the perfect scenario for the introduction of the infamous Group “B” cars, during the 1980s, but that might as well be the subject of a future post.

The legend of the Monte-Carlo Rally lives on, it is impossible to imagine a WRC season without it in the same way it is impossible to imagine an F1 season without the Monaco GP. The evolution of the event helped to make rallying as we know it today, so demanding for the competitors and so passionate for the fans.

Triumph Motorcycles; and a little story about passion and brotherhood.

During the year of 2014, I had the opportunity to work for a big restoration shop in Brazil. Among many different activities we performed there, one of them was selling used “premium” motorcycles.

The Studio Phoenix, showroom, during its heyday, in 2014.

This little story happened on a hot summer afternoon. I was almost asleep on my desk when I saw an old guy coming through the front door, walking slowly, a cane in his hand. I would say he was on his eighties.

He passed by the Harleys and BMWs and he didn’t pay attention to the Ducatis either, but the Triumphs caught his eyes.

I got up, walked over to him, shook his hand, and even before I could introduce myself he asked:

“Do they till make Triumphs?” 

“Yes, they  still do. Brand new if you want”, I said.

He laughed, tapped gently on the gas tank of a Daytona 675 that was between us and said:

“Oh no!!!  I don’t ride anymore”

“But I had quite a few Triumphs, long time ago. I think my first one was back in 1960.

Then he started telling me about a time when paved roads were rare and the broken bikes had to be fixed on backyards. Parts had to be adapted from other bikes or even built from the scratch.

He also told me about details of the machine that only a guy who tore them apart and put everything back together could possibly know.

He was the kind of guy who rode Triumphs not to show off, but because he loved them.

He even told me that he and his pals used to race their bikes on the back roads, outside of town.

“ We wore no helmets, no gloves… Just a bunch of reckless kids”

I tried to convince him that the bikes have changed a lot, but the kids… They haven’t changed that much.

– “Perhaps…” he said. “Perhaps…

Steve McQueen

Sometimes he would stare at the Triumph logo and be quiet. Maybe he was trying to remember more stories.

I would have gladly listened to them all.

I accompanied him to the door and before we parted, he looked at my left boot, with the leather worn out by the bike’s shifter.

“A biker  yourself ?”

“Sure”, I said.

He smiled, shook my hand as strong as he could, wished me luck and left.

Bob Dylan

No, I never had a Triumph and most likely I’ll never have one, but it doesn’t matter; we are all bikers.

That handshake is record of a brotherhood. We can find our “brothers” anywhere in the world, in different situations.

We are bikers and we’ll always be; even if the weariness of time forbids us to keep on riding.

The American V8. Part Four: The Chrysler HEMI.

For all those gearheads who, in one way or another, have been involved with American V8s, the world HEMI means something special: the one engine that stands apart from the crowd; the “king” of the pack. But what makes this engine so special? Well, great ideas are, generally speaking, simple ideas, and the “HEMI” engine is no different. “Hemi” is the short for “Hemispherical Combustion Chamber” and that is exactly where the magic happens.

Basically, the difference between a Hemi and an ordinary V8 resides on the heads, everything else is pretty much the same. The shape of the cylinder head’s combustion chamber is approximately half of a sphere. This allows the intake and the exhaust valves to be placed one in front of the other, creating a direct, straight flow of the gases (fuel and exhaust in the picture above).

Hemi Heads Make 426 the Undisputed King of Muscle • Petrolicious

Another important aspect is the position of the spark plug, located at the top-center of the chamber, which shortens the burn distance of the air/fuel mixture. Those simple solutions make the Hemi engine extremely more efficient than a conventional one. The picture above shows a “flat-top” piston, which does not happen in real life, due to the hemisphere shape, flattop pistons could not produce sufficient compression, so domed pistons were used to make up the difference.

Well, if the Hemi design is much more efficient, why not all the brands have adopted it at the time? The answer is pretty simple: the greatest advantage of the HEMI can also be its biggest inconvenience, which is its physical size. Having the valves (intake and exhaust) lined up one in front of the other requires a considerably wider cylinder head and a complex rocker arm geometry, making the engine not very practical in an assembly line, unless if installed in full-size cars.

In a regular V8, the valves are placed side-by-side, allowing the engineers to design more compact engines and fitting them into smaller cars.

Chrysler didn’t invent the Hemi engine, the design had been around since 1901 and a few European companies like Alfa-Romeo, Jaguar, and Aston Martin had produced engines with this configuration before.

 P-47 Thunderbolt powered by the first Chrysler Hemi

The first Hemi engine built by Chrysler was actually a massive 36 liter, water-cooled V-16, intended to power one of the most famous American fighters of WWII, the P-47 Thunderbolt. Later on, during the development, the Chrysler engine was replaced by a Pratt-Whitney radial engine and the Chrysler Hemi never went into production. On the other hand, the engineers who worked on the project gained valuable experience with the Hemi concept which they later applied to somewhat smaller engines.

Chrysler

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1951 Chrysler New Yorker

In 1951, Chrysler unveiled its three most luxurious models, the New Yorker, the Imperial, and the Saratoga, all of them equipped with the all-new, 180HP, 331CI Hemi V8. At this time, the badge “HEMI” was yet to be adopted and the company named the new engine “FirePower”.

DeSoto

Barrett-Jackson To Offer 1954 DeSoto Adventurer II Concept
The power of the new Hemi inspired the Mopar brands to create some stunning concept cars, like this 1954 DeSoto “Adventurer”

DeSoto, which was the second most prestigious brand in the Chrysler universe, received its Hemi in 1952 and named it “FireDome”. The DeSoto’s Hemi was a bit smaller, 276 CID, and able to crank up 160HP.

Dodge

3-1953 Dodge Hemi 098
1953 Dodge Coronet,

Dodge was the last one to receive the Hemi, in 1953. It was the smallest of the gang, with 241CID and with only 140HP. Dodge wasn’t seen as neither a performance nor a luxury brand at the time and for that reason they got the most “tamed” version of the Hemi.

Dodge Vehicle History 1950 - 1959 | Country Chrysler Dodge Ram Jeep

Oddly enough Dodge named the engines: “Red Ram” for the cars and “PowerDome” for the trucks.

Plymouth

Plymouth was the only Mopar brand that didn’t receive the Hemi at that time, but Chrysler had more daring plans for the company: in 1951, the Engine Research Division was developing a Dual Overhead Camshaft, Hemi V6, displacing 235 cubic inches.

The new engine was meant to replace the venerable Plymouth “Flathead” in-line 6 that was in production for decades.

Compact, powerful, and fuel-efficient, the new Hemi V6 was way ahead of its time; when you think about it, the Overhead Camshaft concept would only become popular during the 1980s. Unfortunately, the project was scrapped due to the unusual design and the high production costs.

Competition

The Hemi engines produced between 1951 and 1958 are generally called “First Generation” and they range from 241CID (Dodge) to 392CID (Chrysler). The race teams across the USA quickly took advantage of the qualities of the Hemi and also learned how to squeeze even more power out of them. Soon those engines became dominant on the race tracks.

NASCAR

The American automakers have always been using the Stock Car races as an advertising tool and Chrysler didn’t waste much time before offering its new engine to the teams along with all the necessary factory support.

The Chrysler 300C, driven by Tim Flock, the winners of the 55 NASCAR season.

The results came quickly, in 1955, the new Chrysler 300-C, powered by a 331CID “FirePower” engine, completely dominated the NASCAR season. It was the first American car to break the 300 HP mark, more than enough to push the car to an astounding 27 victories and to give Chrysler the Constructor Championship.

LE MANS

To homologate the “C” prototype to compete in the GT class in Le Mans, Cunningham had to build and sell 25 “street legal” units, like this gorgeous 1951 C2.

When we think about a European roadster powered by an American V8, the first car that comes to mind is the Shelby Cobra, but 11 years before the first Cobra left the assembly line, the American entrepreneur and sports car enthusiast Briggs Cunningham, built a series of European style roadsters, powered by the Chrysler Hemi engine.

1954 C4 “R”

Cunningham’s ultimate goal was to win Le Mans with a car 100% made in America and the team’s performance during those years was nothing short of a success.

In 1952 the C4-R driven by Briggs Cunningham himself and Bill Spear finished fourth overall at Le Mans.

The Cunningham Team, in front of the pits, Le Mans 1953

The best year for the team was 1953, a C4-R won the Sebring 12 Hours, and at Le Mans, the C5 R driven by Phill Walters and John Fitch finished first in the GT class and third overall. The two other Team Cunningham cars finished seventh and tenth.

The team returned to Le Mans in 1954 to its last attempt to win the race. They took third and fifth place overall. All those cars were powered by the 331CID Chrysler FirePower.

As we can see here, the American challenge to bring down the European dominance in Le Mans had started way before Ford vs Ferrari, in 1966.

DRAG RACING

Vintage Drag Racing & Hot Rods | Drag racing, Drag racing cars, Racing

At this point, the Hemi had already proven to be an amazing engine on race tracks, but, perhaps, in no other place, the engine had a greater performance than on the drag strips.

A Hemi powered 1940 Willys Coupe.

The drag teams quickly learned that the early FirePower engines had lots of room for improvement, with some internal rework they could substantially increase the already massive torque of the engine.

In 1958, Chrysler unveiled the biggest of the early Hemis, the 392CID and immediately it became the engine of choice for most of the drag race teams.

Topped with “roots” supercharger and fuelled with nitromethane, those Hemis could easily reach 1500 plus horsepower.

This picture captured the exact moment when the main caps of this 331 Hemi gave up, bringing down the whole assembly: crankshaft, connecting rods, and pistons.

The Chrysler Hemi is a very sturdy engine but it has its limitations, in the beginning of the 1960s, the teams had already reached the structural limits of the factory cast-iron block and cylinder heads of those engines. That was the opportunity for some high-performance parts companies like Keith Black and Donavan to start the production of extra reinforced aluminum engine blocks for competition purposes.

The video above shows a Top Fuel dragster, powered by a Keith Black 3000HP HEMI engine. The car belongs to Powertech, a speed shop in Brazil, which I worked as a parts consultant, for more than 8 years.

The numbers of a modern-day Top Fuel dragster are nothing less than stunning: The 500CID, all-aluminum Hemi V8 burns a mixture of 90% of nitromethane and 10% of methanol and can crank up between 7,000 and 10,000 HP.

It takes 0.84 seconds for a Top Fueler to accelerate to 160 Km/h from standstill. At launch, drivers are subjected to up to 4.75 g–more than a space-shuttle astronaut.

Brittany Force going flat out to break the Top Fuel World Record

The fastest speed achieved in a National Hot Rod Association in the Top Fuel class is 338.17 mph (544.23 km/h), by Brittany Force at the NHRA Nationals on 1 November 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Force’s record-breaking run came during qualifying. She took only 3.659 seconds to run the 1,000 ft drag strip.

In an attempt to curb the insane top speed of those cars, the length of the strip was reduced to 1,000 ft from the traditional 1/4 mile, 1,320ft.

All those crazy numbers are achieved with engines that still hold the same basic design of the 1951 Chrysler Hemi.

The Second Generation.

After only 8 years in production, Chrysler decided to pull the plug on the Hemi; it was an arguable decision indeed, the engine was efficient and powerful but it was also complicated to build and awkward to fit in the engine bay. But this hiatus didn’t last long, in the early 1960s, it was clear that the “Horsepower War” between the American automakers would be gruesome, and Chrysler decided to bring back its big gun.

Picture courtesy of Allpar.com

Initially, the idea was to build the new Hemi exclusively for competition. Once again Chrysler was aiming at the two most popular forms of motorsports in America: NASCAR and drag racing. This second-generation brought two important features: first, Chrysler finally trademarked the brand “HEMI”, making it the official name of the engine, and second, they unceremoniously increased the displacement to 426CID, well into the “Big Block” territory. The new engine became so physically big that the technicians quickly nicknamed it “Elephant”.

It is not easy to precisely tell the specs of the racing 426 engine, but it is somewhere around 500HP, with 490 ft-lbs of torque at 4000 RPM.

radracerblog: “ 1964 Plymouth Belvedere ” | Nascar cars, Vintage cars,  Muscle cars
The car that dominated the 1964 NASCAR season, proudly wearing the famous # 43 that belongs to The King, Richard Petty. Photo courtesy Hot Rod magazine.

If Plymouth was denied the opportunity to have its own Hemi back in the 50s, now Chrysler granted the brand to be the first one to receive the “Elephant”.

Richard Petty leads the pack at the 1964 Daytona 500.

The 1964 Belvedere was the chosen model to represent the “Mopar Nation” in the NASCAR season.

On the third race of the year, in Daytona, the Plymouth finished on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th positions, giving an idea of how things would be throughout the season.

The HEMI powered Plymouth crushed the competition so easily in 1964, that Ford and Chevrolet joined an effort to pressure NASCAR officials to change the rules for the next year, in an attempt to ban the new Chrysler engine. The pressure from the two biggest American automakers worked and NASCAR came up with a new rule, forbidding “purpose-built” engines. In other words, if Mopar wanted to keep the HEMI on the tracks, they need to sell to the public at least 500 “street legal” cars equipped with the 426.

For the 1965 season, Chrysler decided to withdraw its team rather than equipping the cars with some other engine. The company spend the year rearranging the assembly lines to receive the 426 HEMI.

THE '66 DODGE CHARGER | MY FIRST TRUE LOVE/WHEELS | The Selvedge Yard
1966 Dodge “HEMI” Charger add.

For 1966, a few mid-size Chrysler models were selected to receive the street HEMI: the Belvedere, the Coronet, and the much anticipated “Sports-Fastback” from Dodge: the Charger.

The HEMI-powered street Mopars were not, by any means, your average Muscle-Car: they were expensive, the customer paid extra US$ 718.00 to have the 426 under the hood, equivalent to US$ 4,700.00 today, and they were not so easy to find, since Dodge and Plymouth built, all together, only 3,300 units that year, just enough to homologate the engine to compete in NASCAR.

2013 Dodge Charger Rt Wallpaper - image #135 | Dodge charger, Charger rt, Dodge  charger rt

On top of all those “inconveniences”, the extra powerful and torquey engine made them too “rude” to be used as regular daily drivers.

Hot Rod Editor and the star of the “Roadkill” TV show, David Freiburger, warms up the tires before another pass down the drag strip. David bought his 1970 HEMI Dodge Super Bee when he was 15 years old.

The HEMI-powered cars feel more at home on the drag strips than on the streets and there is the place where most of those cars ended up.

David Pearson, the 1966 NASCAR. Champion.

What, at first, seemed to be an unfair game played by Chevy and Ford, turned out to be a blessing in disguise: the new NASCAR rule pushed Chrysler to make the new 426 HEMI available for the public, helping to perpetuate the legend of the engine.

In 1966, the 426 was again at NASCAR. Dodge failed to win the manufacturer’s title but David Pearson won the driver’s championship at the wheel of his HEMI Charger.

The 1969 Boss Mustang that once belonged to the Fast and Furious star Paul Walker.

The “Elephant” became so dominant in NASCAR and drag racing, that in 1969, Ford came up with its own version of the hemispherical heads engine: the 429 “Boss” V8. Just like Chrysler did 3 years before, Ford had to put on the streets 500 units of his new engine to homologate it for the race tracks. The chosen car for the task was the Mustang, even if the Ford engine wasn’t as successful as the HEMI, the 429 “Boss” Mustang became the “Holy Grail” for the Ford collectors around the world.

A 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda, in “Plum Crazy” color. That is the kind of wet dream for any Mopar fanatic.

According to Allpar.com, only 10,904 426 Hemi-powered street Mopars left Dodge and Plymouth assembly plants from 1966–71. The engine was available for pretty much all the Mopar Muscle Cars during those years but the production was very restricted.

Not only the raw performance but also the scarcity of those cars that sealed their status as legends.

A scene from the 1971 movie, “Vanishing Point”

Perhaps no other brand captured the “badass” attitude of the Muscle-Car Movement, as well as Mopar, did, but just like everything else in life, good things don’t last long.

The Final Duel.

A scene that became too common during the 1969, 70, and 71 NASCAR season: the “Aero Mopars” neck to neck with the Torinos “Talladega”

The design of the 1968-70 Dodge Charger made them one of the most desirable Muscle Car ever produced but, aerodynamically speaking, they are a disaster. Dodge had been working hard to fix this flaw and make the car more competitive for the superspeedways of NASCAR, and after the fiasco of the 1968 Charger 500, Dodge decided to go to the extreme.

1969 Charger Daytona

For the 1969 NASCAR season, they unveiled the most unorthodox Muscle Car ever, the Charger Daytona. The car, which is a “B” body Mopar (either a Dodge Charger or a Plymouth GTX) with some radical body modifications, was designed to cut through the air more easily at high-speed. A huge 23-inch-tall (584 mm) stabilizer wing on the rear deck keeps the rear end glued to the pavement and a special sheet-metal “nose cone” that replaced the traditional receded front grille, drastically increased the aerodynamic coefficient.

Besides a good start in the season, The HEMI Charger Daytona wasn’t able to stop the Ford Torino “Talladega”, now equipped with the hemispherical 429 “Boss” V8, to win the Championship. It seemed that the Chrysler HEMI had finally met its match.

1970 Plymouth Superbird Richard Petty NASCAR | S96 | Harrisburg 2019
The Richard Petty’s 1970 Plymouth Superbird.

 For the 1970 season, Plymouth presented its own version of the “Aero car”, the Superbird. The fans called both cars, the Daytona and the Superbird “Winged Warriors”.

The feud ” Ford vs Chrysler” continued full throttle, on March 27, 1970, during the Talladega 500, Buddy Baker, driving the No. 88 “Chrysler Engineering” Dodge Charger Daytona, was the first driver in NASCAR history to break the 200 mph (322 km/h) mark.

Dodge won the constructors championship that year and the fans were pretty excited about the next season since Ford had an “aero” version of the Torino ready to join the fight.

1969 Dodge Hemi Daytona | F180 | Kissimmee 2015
A total of 503 Charger Daytona rolled off the Dodge assembly line and only 70 of them came equipped with the 426 HEMI.

But the NASCAR officials decided to put an end to this party. They were (rightfully so) concerned about the extreme speeds those cars were able to reach and in the name of safety, new rules were imposed to slow things down a little bit. First, they lowered the maximum displacement for the Aero cars to 305CID, and later on, they banned those cars for good.

Pin on Fast 'n' Loud
It doesn’t get much more “badass” than this: The 1971 HEMI Plymouth Road Runner.

In 1971, Richard Petty decided to drive a Big Block “regular” Plymouth instead of a small block “Aero” and he proved to be right; that was the last time the venerable HEMI 426 won a championship

After 1971, both Chrysler and Ford phased out their hemispherical V8s, it was a wild but short ride. At the same time, the whole Muscle Car Movement was slowly dying, thanks to high insurance costs and the oil crisis from the 1970s.

Th legend didn’t die completely, Mopar maniacs still can buy a brand new, crate 426 HEMI, as Chrysler keeps a small production of the engine as “performance part”.

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The Chrysler HEMI represents the peak of the Golden age of the American high-performance cars, and all this respect and admiration hasn’t faded away even after 70 years since the first one hit the streets.

Note of the editor: Although I had the intention to write about the third generation of the Chrysler HEMI, I decided to leave it out of the post. The writing had gotten already too long and I didn’t want to break the post into two parts. Maybe I will address the subject in the future.