The Little Jeep that Could

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With the flames of war raging across Europe, the American military needed a light, cross-country vehicle to move troops and equipment over difficult terrain. The US government made a list of features that they wanted their new vehicle to have and sent it out to 135 American automakers. The three major competitors for the contract were American Bantam, Willys-Overland, and Ford. Bantam was the early frontrunner as its ‘blitz buggy’ fulfilled all the criteria and was ready for testing by the army’s deadline. Unfortunately for Bantam they lacked production capabilities and financial stability, leaving the contract open to Willys and Ford. In the end, Willys won because of their more powerful Go Devil engine, which soldiers loved, and the MB’s lower price to produce ($750/unit). The Jeep nickname most likely came from a monkey-like character named Eugene the Jeep from Popeye who was able to move skillfully through jungle

Willys began production of their MB Jeep but by late 1941 it was obvious that they couldn’t meet production demand. Ford was roped in to help build the MB and named their version the GPW. Between 1941-1945 Willys built 363,000 and Ford built 280,000 Jeeps. Interestingly, it was actually Ford who came up with the now iconic slotted stamped grille. Willys had been using welded steel, but switched to Ford’s design to cut costs. After the war, Willys changed the grille from 9 to 7 slots so they could trademark the design. Ford sued but lost the court case. The vehicle created from various bits of the original three companies’ prototypes was now solely owned by Willys.

The Jeep had an extremely long military service life before being replaced by the Humvee in 1984. Over the course of 43 years the basic design changed little from the original. Willys hadn’t just built a vehicle; they had created a culture. They provided the rural customer with a light, cheap, go-anywhere vehicle. From simple beginnings, recreational off-roading was born and is now a multimillion dollar industry. In the Philippines, surplus WWII Jeeps were sold or given to the locals who then converted them into colourful buses. ‘Jeepneys’ as they came to be known still operate as a form of public transport in the Philippines today.  Brands who now have legendary off-road prowess like Land Rover, Toyota, and Mitsubishi were all inspired to head off the paved track by the little American. The world would likely be a very different place without the Willys Jeep.

Posted @Whippstagram on Instagram, March 30th 2016.

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The Little Jeep that Could

Smokey and the Chevelle

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Smokey Yunick is a legend of American motorsport, especially NASCAR. He was born in Pennsylvania and served as a bomber pilot in the Second World War, before opening his Best Damn Garage in Town in Daytona Beach. Smokey occasionally raced, but was known as a master mechanic, engine builder, and car designer. He pioneered the study of aerodynamics in the early days of NASCAR, and was brilliantly talented at skirting the rulebook. To his mind, anything that wasn’t explicitly outlawed in the rules was fair game. He reasoned that every other team was cheating so his behaviour was simple self defence. His ‘67 Chevelle is a product of that mindset.

The infamous ‘7:8 scale’ Chevelle, was the second of three ‘67s that Smokey worked on (the first had qualified on pole, seriously embarrassing factory-backed teams from Ford and Mopar). It was built by Chevy and then modified at Smokey’s shop. One story tells that the car was a perfect 7:8 scale replica of a Chevelle built by Smokey to have less aerodynamic drag. In reality, a 7:8 scale car would have been blindingly obvious among the other full size cars. That’s not to say that Smokey didn’t employ his trademark trickery in modifying it.

The exterior of the Chevelle was modified to be as aerodynamic as possible. The bumpers were made flush with the fenders and all the door handles, turn signals, etc, were removed and smoothed over. To get around a rule banning flat belly pans on competition cars (introduced because of Smokey’s designs) he had tunnels installed in the floor to lift the headers and exhaust piping out of the air flowing under the car. A custom chassis was made and the body sat two inches further back than stock for better weight distribution.

Despite all the trickery and ingenuity, the Chevelle never turned a wheel in anger because NASCAR suppressed Smokey’s innovations. At the car’s planned debut, the tech inspectors removed the fuel cell to examine it. They then presented Smokey a list with ten items that needed changing before the car would be legal. At the top of the list was the removal of the custom frame and fitting of a standard one. Knowing he was beaten, Smokey threw the disconnected cell into the back seat of the car and shouted ‘make it eleven!’ before starting the car and driving it from the racetrack back to his shop. Adding extremely thick fuel lines arranged in coils had allowed him to sneak an extra 19 litres of fuel into the car.

At the time, stock cars were essentially road cars with roll cages, bigger engines, and tires. Sadly, there was no place for Smokey’s brilliantly altered race car Chevelle on the NASCAR grid.

Posted @Whippstagram on Instagram, March 23rd 2016.

Smokey and the Chevelle

Rally Legend: Lancia Stratos

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The Lancia Stratos is one of the most legendary rally cars of all time. It was devised re-invigorate Lancia’s ailing motorsport efforts, and was the first rally car that was designed as a competition vehicle from the ground up. The Stratos was a purebred rally car, and was by all accounts an awful road car. It had brutal performance, zero rear visibility, and a very uncomfortable cabin thanks to its tiny size. Homologation rules dictated that 400 road cars had to be built, but Lancia wanted to go rallying sooner than that could be achieved. When officials turned up at the factory to inspect the 400 cars, they were initially shown 200. Then, they went for lunch and returned to inspect the other 200. These were the same cars that they had inspected before lunch, which had been parked in a different place and order.

The Stratos was a tiny car, weighing around 2000 lbs. The engine chosen to power it was a Ferrari V6 sourced from the Dino. Enzo Ferrari was wary of releasing the engines for Lancia’s use, but the brutality of the Stratos convinced him that the road-going versions would be no competition at all to his luxurious GT cars. Road-going versions had 190 horsepower, while in competition trim they had 275-320. Two closed-circuit racing versions were also built and turbocharged up to 560 terrifying horsepower.

If the Stratos had an Achilles heel, it was transmission failure during competition. In spite of this issue, Sandro Munari and Bjorn Waldegard piloted the Stratos to victory in the 1974, ‘75, and ‘76 WRC seasons. In total the Stratos won 18 WRC rallies, and was the last car to win an event using rear wheel drive. Despite the competition brilliance, dealers found it difficult to shift road-going models due to their scary performance and terrible ergonomics. Underappreciated in their time, the road cars now sell for upwards of $500,000.

Published @Whippstagram on Instagram, March 16th 2016.

Rally Legend: Lancia Stratos

The 2CV is a Masterpiece in Minimalism

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The Citroën 2CV was designed in the 1930s for French farmers who relied on horse drawn carts for travel. The little car was tasked with carrying four small farmers and 110 lbs of their produce to market at 30 mph, over muddy, unpaved roads. It was supposed to do this while maintaining 78(!) mpg. It was given long suspension travel for carrying eggs through ploughed fields and simple stamped body panels to keep costs down. It had wipers whose speed depended on the engines revs and were hand cranked when the car was standing still. By 1939, the 2CV was ready to launch at the Paris Motor Show. Then World War II broke out.

With France occupied by Germany, Citroën’s staff were worried their creation would be misappropriated by the Nazi industrial war effort. The company’s VP, Pierre-Jules Boulanger, refused to collaborate and actively encouraged sabotage against the occupiers. To ensure the 2CVs secrecy, Boulanger had several of the prototypes buried around France, one converted into a pickup truck, and the rest destroyed.  Through Boulanger’s cunning the design was successfully hidden, and when World War II ended the public could finally meet the 2CV.

Although it was initially laughed at for its tiny engine by the motoring press, the 2CV was a massive hit with buyers. Within a few months of its launch there was a five year waiting list for one, so the car was sold only to the people it was designed for at first. Citroën performed occupation checks on 2CV customers, and preference was given to doctors, midwifes, priests, and farmers, who loved it for its mountain goat-like ability to go anywhere (very slowly) and its endless adaptability. 2CVs have been pickup trucks, four door saloons, cargo vans, and literal globe-spanning offroaders. It’s a masterpiece in minimalism.

Posted @Whippstagram on Instagram, March 9th 2016.

The 2CV is a Masterpiece in Minimalism

Racing Road Car: F1 GTR

wp-1456977585881.jpgWhen the McLaren F1 GTR debuted in 1995, it was the result of racing teams badgering Gordon Murray to let them compete using his road-going masterpiece. Original GTRs were very similar to the road cars and shared the majority of their parts. Carbon brakes, ducting, a roll cage and an adjustable wing were added, but apart from that the F1 GTR was shockingly similar to the F1. It used the same engine and gearbox as the road car to win the 1995 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans against prototypes designed and built for that very race.

By 1997, the big boys were tired of their purpose-built racers losing to a road car. Porsche had done well with the 911 GT1 the previous year, and Mercedes was about to introduce the CLK GTR. The elegant ‘Long Tail’ body shape was designed to increase aerodynamic downforce, allowing the car to corner at higher speeds. The engine was tinkered with and the road car’s gearbox was axed in favour of a sequential six-speed. McLaren was forced to build 3 road-going versions of the GTR Long Tail. Imagine that on the high street.

I chose to post this GTR Long Tail because its livery makes it look like it has a moustache, and I like that. It’s chassis #19R, and was used as McLaren’s competition development mule before being sold to private interests. It was raced in one form or another from 1997-2001, and is 1/10 GTR Long Tails ever built. As such, it’s worth $12 million. It’s very special indeed.

Posted @Whippstagram on Instagram, March 2nd 2015.

Racing Road Car: F1 GTR