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) 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 passingby 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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, Kony 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
As one can imagine, car races wasn’t exactly a priority in this kind of scenario; only those categories backed by the automakers were surviving, like the Brazilian Stock Car, backed 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 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.
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.
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”
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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 FlyingFortress 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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”.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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, 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 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.
Oddly enough Dodge named the engines: “Red Ram” for the cars and “PowerDome” for the trucks.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
On top of all those “inconveniences”, the extra powerful and torquey engine made them too “rude” to be used as regular daily drivers.
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.
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 “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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
The popularity of the Oldsmobile 88 and the “OHV” V8, helped to push General Motors as the number one name in performance in the USA, but that wasn’t enough, GM had broader plans for those engines. The idea was to maximize the profits as much as possible, making the V8 even more affordable. GM quickly transferred the “OHV” technology to its most popular brand: Chevrolet.
Chevy V8, Power to the People.
In 1955 Chevrolet unveiled its all-new automobile line up: the Model “150”, the “210” and the top of line, the Bel Air; all of them equipped with the optional 265CID “OHV” V8, cranking 160HP. Chevy also made available the “Super Power Pack” V8, with 190HP, for those who wanted a little more punch under the hood.
The combination of the sleek design and the power of the V8 made the new Chevy a smashing hit and a turning point for the company. That year alone, Chevrolet sold 250.000 more cars than Ford.
The company repeated the recipe for the next 2 years, making the Chevys from 1955, 56, and 57 instant classics and propelled the popularity of the Small Block V8 for years to come.
Saving the Corvette.
The Corvette was released in 1953 and its mission was to compete with the British roadsters that were invading the American market at the time. It was equipped with a 150 HP, in-line 6 engine and a two-speed automatic transmission, in other words, the car had the looks of a sports car, but was far from performing like one. The Corvette became a disaster in sales and Chevrolet was ready to axe the car after only 2 years of production.
One of the Corvette’s chief engineers, Zora Arkus-Duntov, insisted that the car deserved a second chance but with something more spicy under the hood. Duntov’s request was finally heard and in June, 1955, the 265CID V8 Corvette hit the showrooms across the USA. To make things even better, a 4-speed manual transmission was made available as well.
Sales were picking up thanks to this new combo, but Chevy decided to go even further, in 1957 the car received a 283CID with 10,5: 1 compression ratio that could have been optionally equipped with a Rochester mechanical fuel injection. With this combination, the Corvette reached a new milestone: 1HP per cubic inch, proving how efficient the small block can be. Chevrolet also provided lots of “race-ready” components like brakes, shocks, clutch, and so on, making the little Chevy a superb sports car.
The small block V8 gave the Corvette the necessary boost in sales and also made the car unbeatable at the race tracks. It was only in the early 60s that Carol Shelby, in partnership with the British A/C and Ford, came up with a car that could face the Corvette in equal terms: the Shelby Cobra.
The Horse Power war between the American automakers had officially began
The most popular engine in History.
Throughout the next decades, the Chevrolet V8 engines would not only power the company’s high-performance cars but also the less glamorous cars and trucks. Those engines were also extensively used in the marine industry, powering boats and on a much smaller scale, they even powered airplanes.
Chevrolet produced the “OHV” V8s in a variety of sizes, from the small block 265CID (4.3 liters) to big block 454 CID (7.5 liters) but was the 350CID that became legendary. Cheap, reliable, and pretty easy to squeeze lots of horsepower out of it.
The 350 Chevy became the engine of choice for the blue-collar Hot Rodders for decades, not only during the Golden Age of American High-Performance in the 1960s but also during those terrible years of the oil crisis in the 1970s/80s.
In the beginning of the 1980s, in order to optimize production, meet emission standards, and cut costs, General Motors decided for all its “satellite” brands (Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac) to stop the production of their own V8s and adopting the “corporate” Chevrolet “small block” V8 instead.
General Motors phased out the “classic” small block from its vehicles in the late 1990s, replacing it with the “LS” V8 family, but they kept the legendary 350CID V8 in production as “replacement part” for the millions of vehicles that are still on the roads powered by this venerable engine.
Chevrolet estimates that over 100 million small blocks were produced since 1955, making it the most successful engine in the history of the auto industry.
In the last post of this series, I will talk about the most legendary of the American V8s: the Chrysler HEMI.
It took 17 years for General Motors to come up with an answer to the Ford Flathead V8. Right after WW II, two different brands from GM: Cadillac and Oldsmobile, were developing the next generation of the American V8: The “Over Head Valve” or simply OHV.
In this configuration, the engine valves (intake and exhaust) were placed in the heads, on top of the engine, diverting the heat of the gases away from the engine block, solving the most annoying problem of the Ford Flathead: overheating.
The OHV head provides a much better intake/exhaust flow, allowing a higher compression ratio. With a higher heat exchange and efficiency, General Motors could pack more power in a physically smaller unit. The new V8 also has the crankshaft held by 5 main bearing, making the engine extremely reliable.
Cadillac was heavily lobbying to be the only one to have access to the new engine, they even asked the top GM CEOs to shut down the Oldsmobile program. Obviously, the big guys refused Cadillac’s request and gave the green light for both brands to keep their development programs. GM wanted to see the new engine powering not only the luxury Cadillac cars but also the more affordable Oldsmobile; after all, Ford made millions of dollars selling V8s to the blue-collar customers so, why not do the same?
In a time dominated by the “space race” between the USA and The Soviet Union, Oldsmobile wisely named its new engine “Rocket” and after a while, the name became so popular and so attached to the brand that in 1960 Oldsmobile adopted it as its official logo.
The new age of Hot Rod.
In 1949, Oldsmobile finally unveiled the much-anticipated Model “98” equipped with the new 287 CID, OHV “Rocket” engine, pumping out 135HP. Releasing the new engine in the “98” was a predictable move, after all, the car was the top of Oldsmobile line up but the company had something more interesting up its sleeve: a couple of months later Olds delivered to the dealerships a winner recipe: They put a spiced up 160 HP, 303 CID (5.0 Litter) “Rocket” V8 into the new Model “88” which was smaller and lighter (and also more affordable) than the Model “98”. The new car immediately caught the attention of the younger buyers and quickly became a smashing hit.
The “Rocket” engine, with 160HP was already a phenomenal improvement when compared to the 125HP from the latest versions of the Ford Flathead, but there was something else that the race teams quickly learned: the new engine had lots of room for improvement, a mild prepared “Rocket” could easily reach 300HP and still be considered reliable.
Racers all over the USA started adopting the 88 model and the results came quickly: in 1949, the Rocket 88 won five of the Grand National races in the NASCAR championship. In 195I, the “88” won the first edition of “La Carrera Panamericana”, leaving Porches and Mercedes behind.
The first Rock’n Roll song.
The majority of the music researchers agree that the first Rock’n Roll song ever recorded was the 1951 single “Rocket 88” written by Ike Turner and sung by Jackie Brenston. For the first time in history, all the key ingredients that characterize the traditional Rock’n Roll were put together in one song, and yes, you guessed it, it talks about the wonders of the Oldsmobile Rocket 88. That is a good example of how popular the car was among the youngsters.
The Oldsmobile 88/98 became a huge success and for a while the brand became the number one name in performance, but GM had plans to make its V8 even more popular. In the next post of this series, I will talk about the Chevrolet Small Block V8.
The economic prosperity that blessed the USA in the decades after the WWII, helped to consolidated the American cars as the standard for the automotive industry, they were big, elegant, powerful, reliable and above all, affordable.
The engine of choice for the American automakers, at that time, was the V8, the only machine capable provide good performance for such large cars. Thanks to the wonders of mass production and cheap gas, the V8 became extremely popular during the 1950s/60s/70s.
The raw performance, the sound, and the simplicity of this engine influenced generations of gear heads in their need for speed, and helped to create some of the most beloved car movements in the History: the Hot Rod, the Muscle-Car, and the Pony-Car. These movements conquered the hearts and minds of the aficionados all over the world and it is still going on even after more than 80 years after it started.
The Affordable Performance.
In the beginning, automobiles were seen just as an expensive toy for the riches, owning a car was more like a hobby than a necessity.
Thanks to the ingenuity of the American industry and the advent of mass production in the early 1910s, cars became affordable to the lower classes and an important part of daily life.
Later on, the companies added a very import aspect to some of their cars: Performance, and consequently created the “sports car” segment. As one can imagine, high-performance cars in the 1920s were very expensive and once again, the American creativity stepped in to bring the thrills of speed to the masses.
American high-performance cars were very simple machines, to make them affordable, the brands didn’t spend money with famous designers and with cutting edge technologies. What made them so desirable was the rough power provided by the engine under the hood.
The “Big Three” (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) created quite a few remarkable V8 and if I have decided to write about them all, I rather have written a book. Instead, I picked one engine of each brand that was pivotal to kick start the Hot Rod movement and later on, to consolidate it.
The Ford Flathead and the birth of the Hot Rodding.
The Ford Motor Company is one of the oldest automakers in the world and it is better known for the creation of the assembly line in 1913, but it can also receive the credit for being the first car company to give to the average customer access to a High-Performance car.
In 1932 Ford created another revolution when the company unveiled its first V8 engine. The breakthrough here wasn’t the engine itself, but the manufacturing process.
Ford didn’t invent the V8, after all, this kind of engine had been around for quite some time when the “Blue Oval” guys released their own. Back in the 1920s engines in the “V” shape were very complicated to build, the automakers didn’t have the knowledge of how to cast the engine block in one single piece and the solution was to cast it in two separate “banks’ and weld them together. This was a long and costly process and for that reason, “V” engines could only be found in luxury cars. To make matters even worse, the welding technology at that time was still rudimentary and those engines could easily crack in half under severe use.
Ford was the first car maker to master the technique to cast the V8 block in a single piece and it significantly reduced the time and cost of the production, allowing the company to offer the new engine into more popular cars.
The combination of performance and affordability made the new Ford V8 a smashing success. Soon every Ford model was offered with this engine: cars, pick-up trucks, and even heavy trucks. The engine became known around the World as “Ford Flathead” and on its first generation, it was able to produce 65HP. Nowadays it might sound like the power output of a scooter, but 88 years ago, it was pretty impressive.
Racers quickly learned to make race cars on a budget, installing the Ford Flathead into older cars found in junkyards (usually 1910s/20s Ford model T). Soon, small companies started to develop a variety of aftermarket high-performance parts for the new V8 and that was the foundation of the Hot Rod movement; perhaps the most “grassroots” of all automobile trends in History.
The flathead engines (either V8 or any other shape) are fairly simple machines, easy to build in a mass production line, and automakers heavily relied on them during the 1930s/40s. Ford built the “Flatty” for the American market from 1932 until 1953 but kept the production going on around the world for a few more years. In the end, an estimated total number of 10 million units were built. In its latest versions, the Ford Flathead V8 was already producing 125HP and it could easily reach 200HP with a few tricks learned by the racing teams, but the little engine has some serious project flaws: the flathead concept has the intake/exhaust valves placed in the engine block, that means the hot exhaust gases have to “travel” around the combustion chamber to reach the pipes, generating excessive heat in the block. The second flaw is the crankshaft is held in place by only 3 main bearings, making the engine very fragile for anything above 200HP.
All those flaws are inherent in an engine that was conceived in the early 1930s. I have been involved with Flatheads quite a bit during my professional life and I have learned to love the engine for its qualities and understand and accept its imperfections. Nevertheless, the Ford Flathead is considered to be the first pillar which the Hot Rod movement was built upon and consequently paved the way for the Muscle Car scene of the 1960s, and for that reason, the engine is adored by Hot Rodders all over the world.
The history of the Honda CB 750, the machine that revolutionized the whole motorcycle industry.
Please check out the video version of this post:
At the end of World War II, the defeated nations started a slow and painful reconstruction process. Both Germany and Japan had their major cities wiped out by the relentlessly Allied bombing, and now friends and foes had to get together to rebuild those two countries from scratch. In Japan, the Honda facility was in rubbles and what was left of the machinery, that could still have some use, was sold to Toyota, at a bargain price.
With some money in his pocket, Soichiro Honda, the founder of the company, put together a small team of 12 workers and began to assemble the “Type A” motorized bicycles equipped with a two-stroke, 50cc engine, bought as war surplus, and originally designed to be used as an electricity generator for military radios.
Soichiro Honda’s dream was to start producing automobiles but there was little interest in cars in the impoverished post-war Japan. What they really needed was an affordable way of transportation and the “Type A” was exactly that.
The hard work and good ideas paid dividends for Honda, in a matter of 15 years the company had a nice line of small motorcycles and had already won the 1961 Moto GP World Championship in the 250cc class.( htt ps://theclassicmachines.com/2020/03/08/mike-the-bike/ ). Honda was officially challenging the dominance of the European bikes, not only on sales but on the race tracks as well.
Honda goes to USA.
Honda was the first Japanese brand to try selling motorcycles in the US market, but they had a long journey before gaining the hearts and minds of the North American customers. In the early 1960s, the Japanese economy was still in the process of recovering and that means there was no place for big, fancy bikes over there. But in the USA, the bike market was completely different: in the land of “bigger is better”, the economy was doing fine and gas was cheap. The big motorcycle segment was dominated by Harley Davidson with engines as large as 1200cc and the median bike sector belonged to British brands like Norton and Triumph.
Changingthe image of motorcycles
Back in the 1950s and 60s, motorcycles were firmly associated with troublemakers and outlaws, but Honda tried a different approach: with the slogan “You meet the nicest people on a Honda”, they started targeting the “Good guys” customers, with small displacement bikes.
By the mid-1960s, the American Honda dealers requested the CEOs in Japan, a new, higher class bike, that could compete “mano-a-mano” with British products. Around this time, Honda had already established itself as a winner brand in the motorcycle GP races and it was time to transfer all that expertise to a new, high-performance road bike.
In 1965, Honda unveiled the Dream CB450, intended to be sold in North America and Europe. Equipped with a state-of-art twin cylinder, double overhead camshaft engine, cranking out 45HP, able to push the new CB to a top speed of 180 Km/h and it could easily leave any 650cc British bike eating dust. Honda was pretty sure its new creation would be a huge sales success.
The CB450 sold quite well but it wasn’t the smashing hit that Honda was expecting and that was puzzling the minds of the Big Guys in Japan. After all, this new bike was high-tech, fast, affordable, and it looked good too, so what was wrong with the American customers?
To find the answer to this question, Soichiro Honda himself, accompanied with a few CEOs, traveled USA to see the American bike market with their own eyes.
It didn’t take long for them to understand what was happening: the CB450 was in fact an awesome bike, but it was born with the same DNA found in the Honda racing bikes: to fully enjoy it, one must shift gears with the RPM needle well into the red line territory and that was absolutely not the way Americans like to ride their motorcycles back then. Instead of having a lightning fast motorcycle, with a screaming engine, they rather have a big and comfortable bike for long and relaxing open road rides, prioritizing torque over speed.
And there is only one way to have lots of torque, which is with lots of displacement.
Mr. Soichiro was truly committed to winning the American market, and he quickly gathered a team of Honda’s best engineers to develop a “big” motorcycle. They were running out of time since Triumph was getting ready to present the all-new Trident 750cc, with a three-cylinder engine.
The new Honda had to be different from the competition, it had to stand apart from the crowd and the engineers knew exactly how to make the bike unique. Honda had a good experience with multi-cylinder engines, after all, the company was racing in the 250cc World Championship with a bike equipped with an in-line 6 cylinder engine. Ok, the market wasn’t ready yet for a 6 cylinder street bike but an in-line 4 would be perfect.
Honda created a “state-of-art” engine, high-tech but yet simple, 2 valves per cylinder, single over-head camshaft, and air-cooled. The requirements were: good source of power, torque, and reliability (believe me, Japanese bikes, in the 1960s, were not quite as reliable as they are today). The new 750cc in-line 4 was able to crank almost 70HP @ 8500 rpm and 44.3 ft.lbs of torque, enough power to shame any other 750cc in the market; just to give an idea, the main competitor of Honda, the Triumph 750cc had only 40HP. To overcome the lack of reliability, the engineers put the engine through thousands of hours of tests and the standards of quality control were significantly raised.
This new 750cc motor was also “oil-tight”, a quality that the British bikes never had.
The engine wasn’t only powerful and reliable, it was gorgeous: 4 chromed exhaust pipes adorned the unit, going all the way to rear of the bike (just like the racing Hondas) and to improve performance, it was fed by 4 individual carburetors. To complete the package, the bike was equipped with a “silk-smooth” 5-speed transmission and electric starter. The new Honda was also the first street bike to be equipped with a disc brake.
The final design resulted in a “badass” looking bike, something like a race-ready machine, but Honda wanted the 750 to be more like a “Touring” than a “GP” bike and for that reason, during its development, a great deal of time was dedicated to the “ergonomics” of all the components in order to make the “CB” very comfortable.
The new Honda was presented to the public for the first time at the 1968 Tokyo Auto Show and it was an instant hit. At this point, the front disc brake wasn’t even fully operational and the system still had to go through a lot of development and testing before making the bike available for the dealers.
The Honda Dream CB750 “K” hit the American market in January 1969 and it was a nice surprise to the customers: it was faster than a Triumph 750cc (190.4 km/h vs 200 km/h) and more powerful than a 1300cc Harley-Davidson (65HP vs 67HP).
In 1969, the price of a “big” bike in America was something in between $2,800 and $4,000″, and Honda started selling the CB 750 for $1,450. For the customers, it was like a dream come true, and quickly the dealers across the USA were flooded with orders. The original sales estimate of 1,500 units a year became a monthly figure and quickly it grew to 3,000 bikes/month.
With the demand growing faster than the production, it didn’t take long for the dealers to cash in on this situation: in order to “leapfrog” the waiting list, some customers were willing to pay 50% or even 80% more for the bike.
Suddenly, the dominance of European bikes in the American market was shattered, Triumph, Norton, Ducati, Moto-Guzzy, BMW, neither one of them had anything close to the 750 K
The picture above is a good example of how the competitors were caught off guard: When compared to the new Honda, the 1969 BMW looks like an antique from the 1930s.
Among all bike brands racing to put something new in the market in the late 1960s, Kawasaki was the one that came the closest to ruin the Honda “Dream”, in 1968 they had the prototype of an in-line 4, 750cc ready, but Honda was faster to put its bike into production. When the CB750 came to the showrooms in 69, Kawasaki decided to go back to the drawing board and change its project.
In 1972, Kawasaki unveiled the “Z1”, a 900cc, dual camshaft, in-line four beast, capable to reach 220 km/h of top speed. The “Z1” might be bigger and faster than the “CB” but it is obvious from where Kawasaki got its inspiration.
While the other brands were struggling with 2 and 3 cylinders engines (and even a “Wankel-Rotary” engine by Suzuki), Honda and Kawasaki laid down the foundations for the “Super-Bike” segment.
It was only 1975 that Honda officially adopted the name “Four” in order to emphasize the most important attribute of the bike. Between 1976 and 1978, an interesting optional was available: the automatic transmission.
The original CB 750 was produced between 1969 and 1978. In 1979, Honda unveiled the redesigned version of the bike, with the typical square-shaped gas tank that would become the signature of all bikes throughout the 1980s. But more important than the new design was the adoption of the 16 valves, dual camshaft engine, able to produce 77 HP.
In 1981 was released a more “Americanized” version, called “Custom” or “Night Hawk” in the USA.
The CB 750 was also a considerable success in other countries around the world, like Australia, South Africa, and Brazil.
After 34 years of production and a myriad of different versions and special editions, Honda decided to end the production of the CB 750 in 2003, only to bring it back again in 2007 but at this time, only for the Japanese market. Anyway, this last revival was short-lived and lasted only two years.
Some “scholars” will argue that the Brits created the first “Superbike ( and the Norton Commando is probably the chosen one), but what the CB brought to the customers was a collection of qualities in one single product: performance, reliability, style, comfort, and affordability. At that moment, the British bikes were light years behind this package. But the more important detail is the legendary transversally mounted, in-line four engine that became the signature of the Superbike segment, in the same way, the V8 engine is the signature of the Muscle car movement.
In 1969, the CB 750 revolutionized the whole bike market and the competition had to change and adapt to a new reality. It was a game-changer for motorbike consumers. From that point on this segment would receive the attention it deserved: each brand started offering its customers, products with better quality, and a wider variety of models to choose from.
*NE: The title: “Bike of the Century” was awarded in 2012 by the Motorcyclist Magazine, during its 100th anniversary celebration.
A quick look at the World’s biggest private collection of vintage airplanes.
Brazil might be well known for some things like soccer and carnival but not a lot of people know the connections the country has with aviation; from the pioneers like Santos Dumont to a thriving domestic aerospace industry, we are crazy about aircraft.
It is no surprise Brazil is home to the biggest private collection of vintage aircraft in the world, with more than 100 planes. In 2006 this collection became the TAM Museum, also known as “Asas De Um Sonho” (Wings of a Dream) museum.
In fact, this endeavor started as a dream: Rolim Amaro, the founder of “TAM” (the second largest Brazilian airline) was an aviation aficionado and in 1996, he and some of the company’s mechanics, finished the restoration of a Cessna 195. The job was so well done that Rolim fell in love with the hobby and the rest is history.
He and his brother João Francisco just kept buying and restoring old airplanes and at some point, they decided to share this passion with the public.
A short lived dream.
When the museum opened its doors, in 2006, there were 32 aircrafts in permanent exhibition, 10 years later this number had spiked to 120, but even with this amazing collection of rare machines, the enterprise was facing some serious financial challenges. The museum is located in the city of São Carlos, within the same propriety where TAM keeps its technology research facility, this arrangement was very convenient for the owners since there were no renting costs, but it was very inconvenient for the public, because the location is pretty far from major cities, resulting in a very low number of visitors.
In 2016 the TAM administration decided, with a heavy heart, to shut down the museum operations. Since then the collection has been kept in pristine condition by a small army of volunteers. The airplanes are in the very same position as they were when the museum closed its doors, just as if they are expecting a grand reopening at any moment.
The TAM museum has received some very interesting offers to relocate the collection to a big city and the most promising one is a partnership between The City of São Paulo and the Brazilian Air Force: The oldest airport in São Paulo, “Campo de Marte” (Mars Field) will be slowly phased out and a portion of the facility will be destined to receive the new museum.
In 2013, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the TAM Museum and obviously, we took a quite a few photos of the planes, you can take a look at the picks by clicking on the YouTube video above. Enjoy it.
June 14, 1970, on this day, for the first time in History, a Porsche received the checkered flag in front of everybody else in Le Mans. The brand debuted at this legendary race track with a class-victory (1,100 cc) in 1951, but it took almost 20 years for the team to achieve an overall victory.
From 1964 until 1969, the battle between Ford and Ferrari overshadowed the performance of the other competitors but Porsche was always among the favorites. Ford had officially retired from Sportscar competition in 1968 and by 1970, there wasn’t a single GT 40 among the participants in Le Mans (remembering the Ford GT 40 had swept Le Mans in 1966, 67, 68, and 69). Now, the favorites were Porsche and Ferrari, but, obviously, there were some other brands fighting for the victory.
Let’s take a look at the fastest prototypes:
The Stuttgart team brought to Le Mans nine Porsche 917 and most of them were the improved version called “K” (K stands kurzheck or short-tail). The 917 wasn’t exactly new, the car was ready for the 1969 season but it was beaten by the outdated Ford GT40 at Le Mans in the same year. For 1970, the Porsche Team had an obligation to win. The cars were distributed between the official factory teams and private racers. The “K” cars were not only prettier than the original 917, they also have better stability and better aerodynamic. The heart of the beast was a naturally aspirated, 5.0 L, Flat 12, air-cooled engine, capable to produce 620 HP. The total weight of the car is 1764 lbs | 800.137 kg. The fastest 917s were clocked at the Mulsanne straight at 350 plus Km/h.
For the 1970 Sportscar championship, Ferrari had the all-new 512s and for Le Mans, they brought 11 of them. At this time, FIAT was already the owner of more than half of the company and that means money was not a problem. Just like Porsche, some of the cars would be racing under the official factory support and others would be driven by private teams. The 512s was a very similar car to the Porsche 917, it was equipped with a V12, liquid-cooled engine, basically the same 3.0 L engine used on the Ferrari Formula 1 cars but with displacement increased to 5.0 L and “detuned” in favor of the reliability but still able to crank up 550 horses. The 512s also had a similar performance to the Porsche 917, with max speed around 340 km/h.
Alfa – Romeo.
The most Italian of all Italian brands, Alfa-Romeo, with a tighter budget than Porsche and Ferrari, brought only four cars to Le Mans. The newest version of the T33 proved to be an excellent race car, powered by a 3-liter, all-aluminum V8, developing 400 HP. The “longtail” version gave it a bump of 25 km/h (15 mph), pushing the car to a top speed of 300Km/h
Matra – Simca
Matra was facing some financial difficulties in 1970 and was decided to withdraw from the championship and focus exclusively to win Le Mans. The French team enrolled three cars, one brand new MS660, and two older version MS650. Extremely proud of their roots, Matra gave the new car to two French drivers, Henri Pescarolo and Jean Pierre Beltoise. Both models were equipped with a Formula-one 3 L, V12 engine, detuned back to 420 HP. The MS660 had an enormous potential and the next version, the MS670 dominated the Sportscar racing scene for the next few years, winning the championship in 1973 and 1975 and also scoring victories in Le Mans for three years in a row, 1972, 1973, and 1974.
Bellow the “Prototypes” there were the “GT” classes for production cars, divided by engine size: bigger than 3,000cc and smaller than 3,000cc, both categories were dominated by a massive number of Porsches 911 and 914. Among the “unusual” cars the most noticeable were the Chevrolet Corvettes equipped with 7L Big Block V8, cranking up 560 HP. The Corvettes were clocked at the Mulsane straight at 300 plus Km/h, but they have a hard time keeping up with the Porsches on tight corners.
Holywood Goes to Le Mans.
The 1970 edition of Le Mans became famous for a variety of reasons and one of them was the presence of Solar Productions Comp. owned by the American actor (and notorious gearhead) Steve McQueen. They were at Le Mans with the purpose to record real, on track, race footage to be used in the future movie “Le Mans”. McQueen bought a Porsche 908/2 and installed three 35mm cameras on it, one in front (as seen on the picture) and two in the rear.
The camera car was entered as a regular competitor and McQueen wanted to be one of the drivers, after all, he was an accomplished race driver (he finished second on the 1970 edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring) but his insurance company prohibited him to compete again. During the race, the Solar’s Porsche had to stop at the pits more frequently than the other competitors in order to replace the movie rolls in the cameras. To make matters even worse, the car was plagued by a faulty starter. At the end of the race, the camera Porsche failed to qualify but the team had gathered several hours of footage to be used in the movie.
Note of the editor: If you are a true car guy and haven’t seen this movie yet, do yourself a favor and rent it ASAP; but here is a friendly advice: “Le Mans” was a box office flop when it was released in 1971, basically because it has no plot; the movie is just a huge collection of stunning footage (both real and staged) of the Golden Era of Sportscar Racing.
In 1970, the traditional start in Le Mans, when drivers run from across the track toward their cars, was abolished and the “static start” was adopted, with drivers already buckled up in their cars at the dropping of the green flag.
As it was confirmed during practice, the performance of the Porsche 917 and the Ferrari 512 were pretty similar and for the first couple of laps, the cars were clocking lap times very close to each other.
The race had barely started and bad luck struck for both teams: after only 7 laps, Vaccarella pulled his Ferrari at the pits with a broken crankshaft and after 23 laps, Pedro Rodrigues also had to quit the race when the cooling fan of his Porsche failed. Both drivers were fast and experienced and real contenders for the trophy.
It always rains in Le Mans. *(a quote from the movie “Ford vs Ferrari”)
When the race started, the weather was overcast but fine, even if there was rain and possible thunderstorms on the forecast, all the cars began with “slick” tires. At 5:30 the rain came and suddenly the hell broke loose. Remembering, we are talking about powerful and lightweight cars, with no electronic driving assistance whatsoever, no ABS, no traction-control, nothing, and that can be a deadly combination on a wet race track.
On a quick succession of accidents, Ferrari lost four prototypes, Porsche one and Alfa-Romeo one, thank God nobody was seriously hurt.
As night falls the situation did not improve, at this time there were only three surviving cars from the top 10 qualifiers. Around 10 PM all three Matra-Simca had to retire with the same problem: compression leaking through the piston rings.
By midnight, the rain was pouring heavily and a couple more cars were involved in accidents. The Team Gulf-Oil Porsche #20 driven by Siffert and Redman was leading the race and another Porsche 917 driven by Elford and Ahrens in second and a distant Ferrari driven by Jack Ickx in third. Every driver was slowing down at this point, thanks to the horrible weather conditions, but the Ferrari driver saw it as an opportunity to close the gap. Ickx started to “drop the hammer”, imposing an insane pace. He was a very talented driver indeed (had won Le Mans in 1969 driving a Ford GT40) and he was using every bit of his skills to drive fast at night and in the pouring rain. After a few laps he was in fact getting dangerously close to the leaders, when Ahrens had to stop to change a flat tire, Jack Ickx assumed the second position and now he had a clear path to hunt down the leading Porsche driven by Jo Siffert.
Ickx (who was also the official driver for the Ferrari Formula-One Team) closed the gap at 1:45 AM, and during the fight to take over the first position, the rear brakes of his #5 Ferrari failed and the chasing came to a tragic end: he lost control of the car, hit a sandbank, was launched airborne and burst into flames when it hit the ground, killing a track marshal who was nearby.
All four 512 prototypes from the official Scuderia Ferrari were out of the race and Jo Siffert, driving the remaining Gulf Oil Team Porsche 917 was leading with a comfortable 10 laps lead over the second place.
After so many hours of constant pressure and battling the elements, it’s normal for the drivers to succumb to tiredness and that was exactly what happened with Siffert. At 2:00 AM, he missed a gear change, crossing the RPM red-line and irreversibly damaging the engine.
The Austrian Porsche-Salzburg Racing Team car # 23, driven by Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood jumped as the race leader. Not too bad for a car that started at 15th position.
In second place was taken by the Martini Racing Team “Long-Tail” Porsche 917, wearing the amazing psychedelic livery, driven by Elford/Ahrens. The car was affectionately called “Hippie Car” by the fans.
In third position came the Martini Racing Team Porsche 908 driven by Lins/Marko. The car was also first in its class (prototypes under 3L).
The race hasn’t reached the 12 hours point and it seemed no other team could take the trophy from Porsche. For the remaining last half of the competition, the first 3 cars didn’t change their positions, and at the end, the German cars finished Le Mans in a fantastic 1-2-3 victory. Porsche lost in one class only: the GT production above 3L, won by the Big Block Corvette #2 from the French Team “Greder”.
The best qualified Ferrari came in fourth position, the 512s #11 driven by Posey/Bucknum, from the “North American Racing Team”.
The victory at Le Mans in 1970 was just part of the Porsche’s amazing performance during that year; the cars from Stuttgart won 9 out 10 races of the season.
The race was a turning point in Sportscar racing, Ferrari started to focus more on the official Formula-One Team, to the point of completely quitting the Sports Prototype in 1974. The Italians would never overall win at Le Mans again while Porsche became the most successful manufacturer at this legendary race track, with 19 overall victories.
Recently, they won in 2015, 2016, and 2017 with its hybrid 919. Porsche also retains the longest winning streak with 7 consecutive victories from 1981 to 1987. It doesn’t seem that Porsche will abandon competition as advertisement tool any time soon and that means they have no intentions to let any other brand take this record away.