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 E-Type Jag is a Design Legend

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When the E-Type Jag went on sale in 1961 Enzo Ferrari called it ‘the most beautiful car ever made’. The Museum of Modern Art agreed, and exhibited an E-Type as part of a six car show of sublime design. (Watch this space for more on those cars) Jag’s designers certainly earned their paycheques on this one.

The Series I was a masterpiece with the legs to match its looks. For the money, it couldn’t be touched. The E was based on the tubular chassis with monocoque principle that had made the D-Type such a formidable racer. Powered by Jaguar’s venerated straight six XK motor, it was capable of 150 mph in a straight line. That’s what journalists reported anyway, as Jaguar engineers fettled the engines of press cars, raised the rev limiters and sent them out on racing tyres. Still, four wheel disc brakes and independent suspension made the E-Type an unbeatable performance car for its price.

The E-Type went through 3 series during its production-span, culminating with the 5.3 l V12 powered Series 3. The car became an icon of the 60s for its simple, beautiful cool and its spirit of having fun and living fast. It’s design still wins awards to this day. Makes you wonder which cars of today will age so gracefully.

Posted @Whippstagram on Instagram.

The E-Type Jag is a Design Legend

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 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

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