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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Art of the Engine

Exterior body contouring and brightwork, surfacing and intake openings, wheels and tires --are only parts of the full ensemble. Everything must work properly, mechanically, experientially, artistically. Enzo Ferrari understood this principle thoroughly, in stark counterpoint to how a car is typically considered: "I don't sell cars; I sell engines. The cars I throw in for free since something has to hold the engines in."

While forging a brand in the late 1940s, in developing the iconic Colombo Tipo 125 V12, Enzo brought into his own sphere of mythology and renown the influence of his predecessors: Packard, Auto Union, and Alfa Romeo --all with V12s at a time before Scuderia Ferrari constructed its own signature motor cars. Although not new in concept before being borne into the red cars, it was to become the most widely regarded engine identity when referring to a certain automaker: Hence, Ferrari = V12.

Continuing as iterations in the fabulously successful 250 series cars, lasting through Ferrari's 1960s heyday, up to the 412 series of the 1980s, the Colombo V12 depicted here (above) is being inspected for service under the hood a 250 GTO --a 2953cc Tipo 168. Like a string of pearls, the row of six 2bbl Weber carburetors dresses the 300 horsepower heart of the car --the functional jewelry and motive power behind the Art of the Engine.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Illustration Art for the Movies, Part 4

TAG Heuer sponsors the film "Carrera Panamericana," including illustration artwork of Chad Glass (seen above):
A tribute to professional motor racing with the inaugural launch of the legendary Carrera, the documentary Carrera Panamericana (1950-54) features the historic road races which ran in Mexico from 1950 to 1944. Probably one of the most dangerous road races ever run. DVDS (multi-region) and posters (18x24 inches) are available at:

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Yellow Journalism: Clear and Present Bias, Ferrari 550

From the basement archives: Rewind 2007

1st Ferrari driving experience, from 7/31/07:

I found it on ebay –exactly the one I wanted: a yellow on black 550M. I was just talking yesterday about how hard it would be to locate a yellow one and -bam- there was one on ebay the next day –and it was in Orange County– sort of local. It took a while to drive from North Hollywood to Costa Mesa but it was well worth the trip. As I turned into the office park of metal flat-roofed warehouses, there it was –facing out at me in yellow. I instantly wanted the car and hadn’t driven it yet.

The car looked WAY better in person than in any pictures. The car was big, and the coupe’ configuration was much more to my tastes than spiders. So it blew me away as to how much improved it looked over the 550 Barchetta at the Petersen I had just seen over this past weekend. I knew without doubt that this was the car. If not today, then at some point.

The owner/sales guy let me sit in it and look it over. I asked for service records and he produced them. It had the belt service done just last February; had only 13k miles (As of this writing, it’s on ebay right now so you can see it --presently, it’s the only yellow 550M in Costa Mesa available. There is another one in California on ebay, yellow, but it’s nowhere near here).

I immediately loved the feel of the interior. It was very comfortable but appropriate for spirited driving. The heater/air/vent control area looked, however, like any other car -very typical and non-exotic. Yet everything else was very spot-on. Everything was leather, even the headliner. And it smelled intoxicatingly aromatic.

Everything was class-A “sports car,” from the gated shifter and its gleaming polished metal, to the stitching around all of the leather. The gauges looked like a sexy chronograph watch that only expensive tastes call for. And I hadn’t driven it yet!

I popped the hood (bonnet) and saw the sexual V12 sitting in there. I checked as best I could for errant leaks or anomalies. It seemed fine to me but I’d have a specialist go over it were I to commit. I got under the car a little but found the entire undercarriage to be covered by aero-panels. So an underchassis inspection was useless. I noted that the paint job had more overspray than I thought a Ferrari would have. I checked to see if the car had been repainted but found no such evidence. I asked the guy and he said no, it’s original.

The car was not a garage queen. It had rock chips and scuffs but looked well kept, but used. I was happy to see the prior owner had actually used this car. It was not cherried or babied looking. It had been driven. That was a plus for me. I didn’t want some mint garage whore. The owner/seller got in the passenger’s seat and handed me the key. Wow. I had the key to a Ferrari.

I turned the key.

Nothing happened. I asked if I had to say a magic spell and he said yes. He pushed a button on the key fob and I turned it again. It fired right up. It was more understated a fire-up than I thought it would be. But I did notice that the music note was not what I was quite used to. It was foreign. It was of a V12 and I had never experienced that in such close quarters, from within the cockpit.

Initially I felt the clutch before starting the car and it was heavy. So I thought sh!t, this is going to be like a truck. But it wasn’t. After I got it underway and to the end of the driveway, the clutch didn’t feel heavy anymore. It particularly became buttery smooth out on the road. He directed me out of the immediate area and we made for the PCH.

The PCH is the Pacific Coast Highway. It runs along the ocean. Once I knew we were going there I was like -- "Holy cow. This is a dream. I get to drive a Ferrari on the PCH as my first time. Wow!"

He said that he’d direct me to a spot where I could stretch its legs a little. In traffic and surface streets the 550M was perfect. It was easy to drive. I noted the handling as well. It was tyte! I commented on how comfortable it was and how you could just drive it coast to coast and it’d be wonderful. The car handled like a fine-tuned razor but was not stiff or exhausting. It was the best blend of 2 worlds: handling and comfort, a GT car extraordinaire.

I already wanted to buy the car.

Having gotten a small taste of the lurking torque on some of the surface streets, we came to the magic spot, did a U-turn at the light, looked for cops, and I gunned it. On the PCH, for about half a mile, I jammed that b!tch hard and the thing just soared to attention. It was not initially very quick off the line like some of my other cars, but the lag didn’t last long.

First gear was not very good, then 2nd got good as I took it to redline. Waking up, the symphonic rush of the V12 and g-forces began to paint a grin so widely on my face that it nearly wrapped around to the back. I went to 3rd and then poured on the full monty and it was like a dragon awakening from a 70mph slumber. I took it to near redline in 3rd and went to 4th.

The feeling was so tremendous. I held back during my visit to 4th because I feared police and was running out of street before an oncoming traffic light. But milking the experience for what I could, I took it up to a buck-ten in 4th and could have gone much faster! I was alarmed as well at how nearly instantly this car could go from 70mph to 110mph –in the span of not much time at all!

I estimated at that rate, had I taken the 550 well into 4th, into redline area, I could have been going 130. And it would have done it willingly with plenty of headroom to spare.

I wanted this car like no other.

One must drive a Ferrari to fully understand it. Today was special. Viva Ferrari!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ferrari Design Overtones: Going, Going, Gone Asian? Part 3

(above: Ferrari 458 Italia -Dragon Edition, 1 of 20 units for Chinese market)

The sun does rise in the East and has been shining on Ferrari for years. In following suit with Aston Martin's Dragon 88 and Rolls Royce's Phantom Year of the Dragon edition, Ferrari, in a well-intended Maoist lockstep, steps up its game in a bid to further win over the burgeoning Asian market, namely with the cash-rife Chinese. After 20 successful years of sales in China (beginning with the 348 TS), Ferrari honors this milestone with 20 special editions of its latest mid-engined flagship 458 Italia.

If contemporary Ferrari Asian-skewed design overtones appearing in recent offerings such as the FF and F12 were not enough, it is the blatant evidence of targeted marketing to China that has revealed an obvious trend as the limited 458 Italia -Golden Dragon Edition overtly bids homage to the red and gold country. China is hot as Ferrari's passion races through the hallowed Silk Road  --leaving echoes of the 458's high strung, flat-plane crank, V8's intoxicating sounds, filling the fields and misty mountain passes of the continent.  

(above: Ferrari 312P Spider, 1969 S/N 0870)

No stranger to the color scheme, the stunning red and gold motif (first seen on the likes of the vintage Ferraris of the 1960s LeMans era such as the P3/P4, 312P, 512S, et al), is directly applicable to the tastes of the contemporary Chinese cognoscenti. Sprayed in a rare Marco Polo Red, the highly exclusive run of 20 units features a Chinese dragon atop the front panel, set within a gold and black racing stripe from tip to stern. The interior receives the same dusting of gold with embroidery and red carbon fiber appointments, including a dash plaque with inscriptions of Chinese characters. 

(above: interior appointments, Ferrari 458 Italia -Dragon Edition, 1 of 20 units for Chinese market)

Although evocative of the very American Pontiac Firebird hood graphic, the 458 Italia -Dragon Edition sends a clear message to the entire world of automotive enthusiasts --that China is the next territory to conquer, with money to be made. In that grand irony, too, the so-called "red" Statist-communism of China is clearly only conditional, with the capitalist trappings of luxury and wealth indeed part and parcel to its emerging future. Business is business. Paradoxes aside, nothing is really new in that regard and "hard to get" is what helps define exclusive branding. Few will ever own a Ferrari, fewer still a 458 Italia, and only 20 will possess the Dragon. Viva 法拉利 ! 

part 1 here:

Tom Meade Update: April 2012 -Part 6

On the Thomassima IV

Tom Meade comments on the pending Thomassima IV project: “The independent rear suspension of the Thomassima IV is of the F1 ‘pushrod’ type, formed of carbon fiber, with a rear transaxle. The gearbox with clutch, ring and pinion, will weigh 280 lbs. And actually the entire front and rear suspension is pressure molded carbon fiber. This will allow for the lightest unsprung weight possible.

“Everybody around me is sworn to secrecy to prevent information leakage. I am employing techniques and publicly unknown materials in working with Cal Tech’s metallurgy department. A large percentage of the materials used in the Thomassima IV are new. The bearings, some of the structural geometry, axles, are made of titanium or ‘300M,’ a material that is as strong as titanium but can be machined thinner and compete with the lightweight characteristics of titanium.

“For example, the YF-22 Raptor fighter plane has landing gear made of 300M. Los Angeles is the perfect location to work on the new car as it is a center for aerospace corporations. For example, certain parts of the car employ the same materials found in the Space Shuttle. For secrecy and intellectual property reasons, I can’t disclose at this time which parts on the car have these experimental materials.

Above: Front Suspension (this is a general layout for example purposes only, it is not an actual Thomassima IV suspension diagram): 1. Rocker Arm, 2. Coil-Over Dampers, 3. Bearing/pivot, 
4. Lower A-Arm, 5. Anti-Roll Bar
“The engineering characteristics and functionality have been R&D’d and proven to perform. The tires are being developed by Pirelli and are composed of proprietary compounds. The Brembo brakes are likewise bespoke and unique to Thomassima IV, being lighter than carbon ceramic compounds used in present-day discs.

“The car has a 3 ½” ground clearance in the front, 4 ½” in the rear. The front lifts up when needed to clear driveways and curbs. Not one component of this car has been bought off the shelf. For example, in my own kiln, I am making the glass emblems and lenses. I have found the glass makers in America to be incompetent, while the Italians are the glass making masters. The windshield is handmade and polarized to cool the interior temperature from UV.

“Every part has been given unbelievable consideration. It is for posterity and my legacy as a result of years of bloody hands and broken fingernails. It is a definitive mark of sweat equity, something that the il figlio di papas (sons of the rich fathers) have no clue about. The modern pupils of today, the new engineering students, have never worked on a car in their lives, never had blood and oil on their hands from working on an exotic car.

“Modern book and classroom training creates engineers who design things that require one be a Houdini or contortionist to fix. The parts inside cars today are now inaccessible and nearly impossible to work on.  The modern car is now hostile to the owner/user/mechanic both technically and financially.

“Charging the owner $150/hr or $8000 or more odd dollars for a major service, including having to change idiotic timing belts, is highway robbery. But it is known the owner will pay it as they bought the car in the first place. And the risk of destroying the heads, if the belt breaks, is too fearful an idea. So the wallets open.

“But this is why I’m using timing chains in the Thomassima. They are superior in durability and nobody ever complained back in the ‘60s over having timing chains. I could forego chains altogether and drive everything with gears only but this would be a bit too noisy. It is still a road car."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Alfa Male: The 8C's Pheromones of Design

Last night I was on Sunset Strip at Cafe Primo with the Elysee Wednesday group. With talk already going on as I arrived, one of the attendees remarked that there had been an Alfa 8C Competizione sighted in the lower parking deck. So I thought how wonderful and great, cool, neat-o, what nice conversation this is --but it didn't penetrate my mind initially that it was there right now. As it became apparent, I eventually got a clue as people began rising from their seats, getting up to have a look. I had just taken a seat and then found myself up again, as if I had not sat down. Alas, the night had officially begun. 

As I had liked the 8C in pictures since its inception, I was indeed excited to see one in front of me --a real car parked that I could touch (although I never did touch it). So down we went and I glimpsed it right away and recognized the nose peeking out from behind another generic-looking expensive car. I ran over to it. 

Being a limited-run/virtually European-exclusive market automobile, I had never seen an Alfa 8C Competizione in the metal before. If I recall correctly, the Alfa 8C was actually meant for the US market in 2008, even though only about 80 of the 500 Competiziones have ever made it here. And were I not in Los Angeles, too, I probably would have never seen one out in a public parking structure, in situ, driven for a night out on the town. 

Among the valet-parked cars of black and silver Mercedes, Audis, Jaguars, myriad other higher-end sport luxury cars --all of them seemed humdrum and commonplace compared to the deeply bejeweled red Competizione. It lit up the drab grey of the parking garage, inhabited by sport-luxury fleet-cars, the 8C becoming the center of attention without even trying. Its focus was self-evident, both in its form and presence. 

Up close and personal it's just a wonderful design. While beholding the shape you don't have to apologize for certain areas on it. As it seemed too good to be true, I initially marveled at it with the naivete' of a child, as if looking at a sports car for the first time and using that memory as a future benchmark. It was a visual magnet for me and particularly with females. As the few of us stood admiring it, snapping photographs, occasional cars would creep by to witness the spectacle, many of which were occupied by women looking at the men looking at the red car. The attention given to the car, too, attracted more to stop and stare at the ones who had stopped to stare --enhancing further its sex appeal.

In a world of ever-fattening and bloated exotic car designs, I was "well chuffed" to find that the 8C was not big or unnecessarily overblown in its proportions or surface features. Seemingly impossible to find today, tasteful restraint in this case was heeded, a nod to vintage sensibilities. It appeared very Ferrari Dino-like, the fenders curving and flowing back in a graceful but forceful way, creating a true body line. The eye was thence properly guided and fed all the way back to the rear, the roof gracefully rising out from the body and A-pillar without the expected seams or awkward retracements. Being so well done all around, my friend Stephen Mitchell remarked that "it makes the Ferrari California look like a 1974 AMC Javelin with those strange and arbitrary fender lines..."

To wit, both the Maserati GT and the Afla 8C, each with the same Ferrari F430 engine platform, rival in design aesthetic the F149 so-called "California," which is a generic passe' controversy at this point. How could Ferrari have, then, so lost the plot, particularly when the 8C's release date approximated the California's? And as the 8C's hood and snout appeared evocative of the front end of the eternally famous and overexposed supercar Ferrari Enzo, the 8C nonchalantly relaxed, tipping its hat tastefully to the otherwise bombastic and severe attempt on the face of that Ferrari's design. Viva Alfa Romeo.

As I write this, the day after my encounter, collecting my thoughts, it does seem that the Alfa 8C Competizione is (for me) one of the most successfully created recent sportscar designs to come along in a while. It has the elegance of the old world Italian era, hand-built, look. It is not overly-surfaced or gimmicked up with distracting or strange wind-tunnel dictated body elements. It is simple and flowing and restrained but aggressive, somewhat brutish, with its hourglass shape and beefy rear. With a quiet intensity, in harmony, the 8C's imposing form gives the impression that it had just been accelerated to high velocities, telling a story while parked.