Berlinette Bébé

“Our French friends had the idea to wrap two lying men with fiberglass and put them on wheels. The skin consisted solely of blue paint, and they were so light, the wind had already dented them.” So starts the @petrolicious video on the Alpine Renault A110 ‘Berlinette’, the very first World Rally Championship winning car. 

Alpine began as a standalone manufacturer and tuner of Renaults, with company founder Jean Rédélé successfully campaigning his Renault-based creations in races around Europe. As with AMG and Mercedes, the larger company took interest in Alpine’s success and bought the smaller out to provide Jean with more money to do his thing. The A110 was produced and updated between 1961 and 1976, and its rear-mounted engine never exceeded 1.8 l. It featured a steel chassis with a fiberglass body on top, and was licensed for production around the world. In Brazil it was sold by Willys (yes that Willys) as the Interlagos, and was built in Bulgaria under the very sexy name ‘Bulgaralpine’. 

Through the early 1970’s the Berlinette was an extremely successful rally car, but by 1974 the Lancia Stratos (the first car designed from the ground up for rally racing) had joined the fray and the Berlinette, along with many of its pre-1974 peers, was in decline. Engine and suspension updates failed to produce any meaningful increases in performance or points, and the A110 was retired from active racing duty. Its elegant styling make it a crowd favourite at historic rallies around the world to this day.

Posted @Whippstagram on Instagram, Wednesday July 27th 2016.

Berlinette Bébé

Danger and Glamour: Mille Miglia

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The original Mille Miglia is one of motorsport’s legendary races, run at a time when health and safety came second to excitement. The thousand mile race over open public roads was conceived by an Italian Count in protest of the Italian Grand Prix being moved from his hometown of Brescia to Monza. The track was set as a lap of Italy from Brescia to Rome and back, and entry was restricted to unmodified production cars. Out of 77 starters only 51 made it to the finish line of the very first Mille Miglia. The race cemented the legendary status of marques such as Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche, Mercedes, BMW and Alfa Romeo, regularly attracting 5 million spectators along its route. Who wouldn’t want to see beautiful cars tear by on open beautiful roads?

Unlike modern rallies, the Mille Miglia sent the slowest cars out onto the course before the more powerful factory-backed competitors. Each car was given a number based on the time at which it started the race, so Sterling Moss’s legendary #722 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR set off at 7.22 am. He and navigator Denis ‘Jenks’ Jenkinson set the absolute record for the thousand mile lap with a time of 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds. Their average speed over that time was an eye-watering 97.9 mph/157.6 km/h. The race was held twice in its original format after that record-setting run, but the time was never beaten.

While probably for the best, it’s a shame that there aren’t many races left that match the drama and danger of the Mille Miglia. Holding it on public roads was divine madness. One year, German driver Hans Herrmann at the wheel of a low-slung Porsche 550 Spyder saw the gates of a railway crossing begin to lower as he approached. Tapping the back of his navigator’s helmet to tell him to duck, he floored the nimble little Porsche and flew under the barrier just before the train passed. That was the kind of race that the Mille Miglia was. Unfortunately, you’re only lucky so many times. At the 1957 running Spanish driver Alfonso de Portago, desperate to win, waited too long to change tyres on his 4.2 litre Ferrari. He lost control and crashed, killing himself, his navigator, and nine spectators. Five of those were children. The race was subsequently banned, and is now held as a timed rally at legal speeds open to pre-1957 cars which attended or raced in the original Mille Miglia.

Posted @Whippstagram on Intsagram, Wednesday June 29th 2016

Danger and Glamour: Mille Miglia

Drunk on Horsepower

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Spen King designed the original Range Rover with cloth seats and an interior that could be cleaned out with a garden hose. He stated that the now iconic looks of the first Range Rover used up about 0.1% of the total development time, hastily sketched to produce a shape for his clever off-road wizardry to sit inside. A lovable old curmudgeon, King was furious when his creation became a leather-clad luxury vehicle and stated that using one in town was pompous and completely stupid. Safe to say he probably wouldn’t like the bonkers Range Rover Sport SVR with its racing seats and Nurburgring-honed handling.

Let’s not mince words; the SVR is a ridiculous proposition. A 5400 lb performance SUV. A speed machine whose pilot sits five feet off the floor. A company renowned for class and elegance building a body-kitted, monstrously shouty beast. 4 (4!) mpg around a racetrack. Yet the more I read about the SVR the more it grows on me. If you can suspend rational thought long enough it starts to seem like a good idea. Not a good idea like sensible investment, but a good idea like doing something dangerous that scares and thrills you and makes you feel alive.

The impressive thing about the SVR is despite all its performance bits and bobs it still provides Land Rover’s exemplary off-road capabilities. The only different between the SVR and its Sport Supercharged sibling in that respect is a diminished approach angle thanks to its front bumper. Its 550 horsepower, 502 ft/lb supercharged V8 shoots it to 60 mph in 4.5 ear rending seconds. Yes, it’s unnecessary, but its competition from M, AMG, and SRT have proven that there is a market for obscenely powerful pseudo-offroaders. Let the loud times roll.

Posted @Whippstagram on Instagram Wednesday June 15th 2016.

Drunk on Horsepower

King of Imprezas: 22B

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Often referred to as the holy grail of Imprezas, the 22B is a very special car. Created to celebrate both Subaru’s 40th anniversary and their 3rd consecutive WRC Championship, it’s a rare beast. Just 400 were built for the Japanese market and all were sold within (at conservative estimates) 24 hours. Another 24 were built for export markets (Europe and Australia, sorry America) and were so valuable that rally legend Colin McRae had to pay for his even after bringing Subaru their third consecutive WRC title.

The 22B was the closest that mere mortals could come to driving the unstoppable cars that McRae and Richard Burns piloted to WRC glory. 22Bs came with engines enlarged to 2.2 litres, widened (and now likely irreplaceable) body kits, a massive adjustable wing, Bilstein dampers and Eibach springs. Under the skin a whole host of rally magic was at work to make the 22B rocket ship on 4 wheels whatever the road surface. Subaru rated the cars at 276 horsepower, but there was speculation that this was a little modest. Japanese manufacturers at the time had a voluntary agreement not to produce cars in excess of 280 horsepower. The 2.2 litre turbocharged four in the 22B actually made around 300.

When I asked a friend of mine who really knows his Subarus how much a 22B would cost today, he laughed and stated simply: ‘You can’t find them’. You’ll likely never see a 22B grace the pages of Autotrader, as the ones that do come up for sale easily command auction prices. Costing three times as much as the next Impreza down the food chain when it was released, Subaru knew what they were on to. Boxer Prince Naseem Hamed’s 2500 mile example recently went to auction and brought £73,000, or about $108,000. Finding a 22B is one thing, affording one is another altogether.

Posted @Whippstagram on Instagram Wednesday June 8th 2016.

King of Imprezas: 22B

The Jewels of Monaco

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The Monaco Grand Prix is the race that best embodies the glamour, danger and money of Formula One. Each year the tiny principality in the South of France plays host to one of the greatest spectacles in motor racing, with cars tearing past multimillion dollar yachts atop the glittering Mediterranean Sea in Port Hercule. Drivers vie for space on a track carved from public roads that’s altogether too small for them. The many elevation changes and light-dark-light tunnel never fail to throw a spanner into carefully laid race strategies.

The Circuit de Monaco first played host to a race in 1929, long before the advent of Formula One as we know it today. Early supporters/competitors included Louis Chiron and Baron Phillipe de Rothschild with Chiron being the only native of Monaco to win the race. The 1929 running was won by William Grover-Williams driving a Bugatti Type 35B. The race has been part of the F1 world championship since 1955, but had no crash barriers whatsoever until 1969. That quirk lead both Alberto Ascari and Paul Hawkins to take unplanned swims in the Mediterranean. During the 1960s Graham Hill became known as Mr Monaco thanks to his 5 victories at the race. That record stood until Ayrton Senna reached 6, with five of those coming consecutively. Michael Schumacher matched Hill, but unsurprisingly nobody has matched Senna.

People say that were it not a beloved jewel of a race, Monaco would never be allowed to be added to the roster of modern, purpose built racetracks in the Formula 1 season. It’s too dangerous. It’s too much work to shut down public streets. That’s one of the things that makes it so special. Take the playthings of the fabulously wealthy and race them through the streets of one of the ritziest places in the world, past the casino and the harbour where the rich come to play. This is where Formula 1 belongs.

The Jewels of Monaco

The Mazda 787B is a Japanese Banshee

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The 787B was Mazdaspeed’s weapon in the World Sportscar Championship’s Group C, as well as the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship. Designed by Nigel Stroud with a carbon-kevlar monocoque built in the UK, the car was Anglo-Japanese teamwork at its finest. To this day it’s the only Japanese car to take overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, achieved with a screaming rotary engine that produced 900 horsepower or 700 in race trim for the best possible reliability. Its engine is also unique amongst Le Mans winners as the FIA outlawed rotaries at the end of the 1991 season.
Despite lacking the outright lap time pace of its competition the 787B was very a reliable car. Due to this reliability, Mazdaspeed arrived at Le Mans quietly optimistic about their chances.

In addition to being reliable the 787B enjoyed better fuel economy than the offerings from Porsche, Jaguar, and Mercedes. Team principal Takayoshi Ohashi abandoned his usual conservative strategy and instructed his drivers to race as if they were in a short sprint race. Mazdaspeed meant business at Le Mans 1991.

The #55 787B driven by Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler, and Bertrand Gachot started from 19th position and moved through the field as rival cars retired with mechanical problems. With six hours remaining and the #55 car in second place, the leading Mercedes C11 was forced into the pits with reliability issues. Johnny Herbert was driving at the time, and at the last pit stop demanded that he be allowed to stay in the driver’s seat. He completed the final 40 minute stint and brought home victory for Mazda. After his final pit stop, Herbert had taken off without having his drink bottle refilled. As a result, he was so dehydrated by the end of the race that he had to be helped out of the car and missed the podium because he was receiving medical attention. Gachot and Weidler were more than happy to celebrate in his stead. The #55 787B was immediately retired from racing and shipped back to Japan to be displayed at the Mazda museum in Hiroshima, where it lives to this day.

Posted @Whippstagram on Instagram, April 7th 2016.

The Mazda 787B is a Japanese Banshee

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.

The Little Jeep that Could