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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Category: Motor Sports

Limerock 2014

Classic Velocity


Lakeville, Connecticut. A bucolic piece of New England. A Norman Rockwell painting come to life. And right there in the middle of it is Limerock Motorsports Park. A place I have been coming to around Labor Day Weekend for close to two decades. And I have been in the company of thousands of like-minded others. That is because every September, it is home to the Limerock Vintage Festival (See Lapping Limerock). A chance to walk around and see and hear and touch a prewar Alfa, or a postwar OSCA, or a seriously hopped up 911 race car. There is something very special about sitting on a grassy hillside, on a warm late summer's eve, seeing and hearing sports cars or Formula Junior cars, or Can Am cars fly down the Sam Posey straight, and dare to out brake each other into the esses. Then you can go down to the pits and talk to the owners, drivers, and mechanics. Sometimes, they are all the same person. The open wheel cars are my favorites, and these cars are both beautiful and genius in their simplicity. 


There are also two vendor areas witha swap meet area mixed in with the lower paddock. This area produced my first ever sighting of a BMW-powered Farmobil. Racing is banned on Sundays due to a noise ordinance, so there is a massive car show complete with a Concours. You can walk the track, which is lined on both sides with different marques and categories. Italian exotica along the straight, Bentleys in the braking zone, mercedes in the Esses, Citroens coming up the back hill, Triumphs at the crest, Porsches on the run down under the bridge to the infield, Brass cars to begin the main straight. Mixing vintage cars and exercise was never done so well. Pictures and sound are the only way to attempt to do it justice...

A Mercedes Victory In Germany

Classic Velocity


The Formula One German Grand Prix is set to take place on July 20, 2014. For the first time in decades, a Mercedes is a favorite to win the event. In fact, A 1-2 finish is almost expected, given the Mercedes dominance this season. The last Mercedes victory at the German Grand Prix took place exactly 60 years ago, in 1954, when the race was held at the famous Nurburgring. At the time, Formula One had no other race quite like it. It was 14.1 miles long as a circuit, and the race was only 22 laps as a result. It is hard to imagine today's drivers, or indeed any driver at any time, coming to grips with a circuit that long at Formula One speeds. Indeed, Maserati driver, Onofre Marimon, was killed in the practice session in 1954. It is unlikely today that the race would even have taken place, but this was a different time.

Mercedes brought their W196 to the race with new open-wheel sheet metal, and Juan Manuel Fangio put the car on pole. Hawthorn in a Ferrari qualified second, followed by Sir Stirling Moss in a Maserati. During the race, Fangio stayed up front, but he was heavily pursued by the Ferrari of Gonzalez, and was passed for a while by Karl Kling in the other W196. Hawthorn retired early with a mechanical failure, but ironically returned later in the race to take over the other Ferrari from Gonzalez and finish second. Karl Kling in the second Mercedes, lost positions while in the pits, and finished fourth behind second Ferrari driver Trintignant. The race lasted just under three hours and 46 minutes, and included rain during part of it. It was a torturous event in which only 10 cars finished, less than half the field. 


However, it was a successful race for Mercedes and their new W196, in this instance with its open wheel body style. Their championship leader, Fangio, extended his advantage over Gonzalez, and the efforts of Karl Kling resulted in the fastest lap of the race (which was also worth a championship point). Two of the three cars finished in the points, which only went down to fifth position in those days. Mercedes withdrew from racing the following year following a horrific accident at Le Mans, and have only returned to formula one in recent years. We will see if they can add to the legacy of wins and championships in Germany next week.....

The Faith of Fath

Classic Velocity


History is littered with smart people who thought they could do it better than the large manufacturers, who would not compromise on their ideas when presented to an organization, who went their own way. If truth be told, most of them did not succeed and blended back into some organizational fabric, or they tinkered away forever never really achieving any success or notoriety. A few, and only a few, have the determination and the ingenuity and the persistence to prevail. Helmut Fath is one of them. 


Born in Ursenbach, Germany, Fath became a successful sidecar motorcycle racer in the 1950s. He entered the Grand Prix sidecar circuit in 1956, using BMW R50 engines in his own chassis. He immediately had top-five finishes and podiums beginning in 1956 and continuing through 1959. He was third overall in the world championship in 1958. In 1960 he became World Sidecar Champion by winning the GP of France, British Grand Prix,  Grand Prix of Germany, and the Grand Prix of Belgium. In doing so, he beat the BMW factory teams.

Then the story takes an interesting twist. In 1961, Fath is off to another great start, but he has a terrible crash at Hockenheim. Fath is injured, and his co-rider, Alfred Wohlgemuth is killed.  He is out the rest of the year. Once he regains his health, he has some ideas for improving the motor, and approaches BMW. They are not interested, so Fath decides to build his own engine. He decides on a 4 cylinder which he names the URS after his hometown. After a few years of development, Fath dominates and wins the 1968 world sidecar championship again, and beats all of the factory efforts again!

While that concluded his own racing, Helmut Fath went on to combine forces briefly with Friedel Munch. The Munch-URS combination won the worlds sidecar championship in 1971 with Horst Owesle at the controls. In a string of sidecar championships for BMW from 1954 to 1974, Fath and the URS are the only exception.


Opel Ascona 400

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One of the phenomena that continues to amaze, is how good an otherwise plain (or even ugly) car can look in race trim. Few people were impressed by the styling and lines of the Opel Ascona B, but as the Ascona 400 rally car, it was transformed. The 400 came from the fact that 400 needed to be produced for Group 4 homologation. It also performed well, thanks to a problem, but back to that in a minute. The car had its racing debut in 1980, and produced a victory in the hands of Kleint and Wagner. The next victory was in the Brutal Himalayas Rally, also in 1980. This was enough for the factory to consider a full development effort. For 1982, Opel had secured the services of 1980 World Champion Walter Rohrl. He was a proven winner, in a number of different cars, and was looking for a ride fresh on the heels of deals that had fallen through with Mercedes among others. Opel had also entered into a contract with Cosworth to build the top end of the engines. It would be based on the 2 L Opel engines currently powering the 20S and the Manta GT. But there was a problem. The combination of the block and Cosworth head was down on power. In a scramble to get something more usable, they bored the engine and used the crankshaft from their diesel version of the Ascona to produce a 2.4 liter car that produced good power when combined with the Cosworth 16 valve head and pistons. More importantly, it produced a staggering 200 ft lbs of torque !


The Opels had become renowned for their understeering, but Walter Rohrl managed to conquer the beast. Even Rally champion Ari Vatanen admitted that he never really came to grips with the Ascona and it's understeering. The car was not blazingly fast, and with rear wheel drive it was not the greatest handler (remember, this was during the introduction of the 4 wheel drive revolution ushered in by the Audi Quattro). In the words of Rohrl, "The strongest point of Ascona is certainly its reliability and incredible toughness. In an accident the Ascona is like a tank. The accident in Portugal (in 1982 which broke the steering column) was really a hard thing, but to the interior nothing has come through, absolutely nothing. The engine is also one of the strengths of Ascona." He went on to win the Monte Carlo Rally and the Cote D'Ivoire rally on his way to the championship in the Ascona. Despite his struggles with the car, Ari Vatanen won the Safari Rally in 1983 before the 400 was retired from racing. It spawned high end versions of the Ascona and Manta road cars which remain popular today. 

Sampling Silverstone

Classic Velocity


Silverstone. Just the name suggests epic racing history. In 1948, Britain's Royal Automobile Club went looking for a site to resume motor racing after the war. The former airfield at Silverstone was the site they leased, and they employed a farmer, James Brown, to build the track. As the 1950s began, the British Racing Driver Club took over the lease, and the early Grand Prix featured the first win for Ferrari, breaking the virtual lock that Alfa Romeo previously had on the podium. The sixties were special times at Silverstone as it represented what might be considered the era of British drivers. Jack Brabham, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, and Jackie Stewart all roared around the circuit to the delight of British fans. In the following decades, Prost, Mansell, Senna, Schumacher, Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, all stood on Silverstone's top step. A highlight was the 1987 British Grand Prix in which Mansell stormed back from a huge deficit to beat Piquet by 1.9 seconds. 2 wheeled MotoGP victors at the circuit included Roberts, Spencer, Mamola, and Gardner. 


During our visit, skies were grey, and only a few track day activities were on the schedule. We wandered around the place unfettered. Even without the history, the vehicles laying about would impress. TVR, and Ferrari, and Lotus and Aston Martin were represented among other sporting marques. The circuit is also home to the Mercedes Benz Driving Experience, and we were envious of those taking part. A big Mercedes was parked near the gift shop and we were told that it takes special guests of the United Arab Emirates around the circuit at alarming speeds. We walked around the grandstands, looked at pit row, and wandered about taking it all in. It was amazing to stand in the same places and that we had seen in old race footage. The only improvement would have been attending an F1 race, or perhaps driving around the track. Perhaps we'll be back....


Against All Odds

Classic Velocity


The following are excerpts from Kevin Cameron's article King of the Boomers, which appeared in Cycle magazine in 1979. It was sent to me by friend and enthusiast Todd Trumbore, and then we added some links to round out the full story. The excerpts and the links tell one of those behind the scenes stories that often get overshadowed even at the time, and fade from memory unless they are retold...


"In a class dominated, at least on paper, by four-cylinder bikes and six figure budgets, the BMW of Udo Gietl and Todd Schuster almost bagged the Superbike Championship with a two-cylinder bike and hardly any budget at all."

"BMW is the most remarkable and vigorous dinosaur in motorcycling, with fifty years of history behind its boxer twin layout and drive shaft. Precisely made, well-mannered and durable, the BMW has always been valued as the finest of touring machines, but might not be your first choice for the hard world of AMA Superbike racing."

"Their $150,000 was money well spent. The race shop lights burned twenty-four hours a day, the dyno engines fired every evening at five, and an unending stream of refinements poured forth into the three team bikes. BMW dominated Superbike racing in 1976."

"That was that. The company sold the dyno, the flow bench, and the bikes. They would not be tempted further. For them, the decision may have been a wise one. For Udo, however, the decision was a catastrophe he could not accept. After ten years' work he could not just stop his emotional commitment as the company had terminated its program. It was inevitable that he would continue. In his notes and in his head were all the tests, everything that had worked and why."

Now, take some time to read the full story via the following links :

King of the Boomers

The Last of Udo Gietl's AMA Racers 

An Expat's Finest Hour 

Teutonic 2 Strokes

Classic Velocity


Motorraderwerke Zschopau (MZ) came into being following the war based on the remnants of the old DKW factory (see Muzings) in East Germany . The first products were branded IFA. When European motorcycle production resumed after WWII, four strokes were the way to go. They proved themselves into the 1950s for most manufacturers, and sold well. However in racing, the quest for the competitive edge, kept simple light weight configurations alive. After achieving good success off road and in trials, MZ wanted to make an impression on the track as well. an IFA racer was campaigned in 1950. That design was modified by privateer Daniel Zimmerman in 1951 to create a square (54X54) bore and stroke, and to use a rotary disc valve on their 2 stroke machine. A pair of these machines finished 4th and 5th in the 125cc German Grand Prix in 1951. The results impressed MZ, and they patented the design.

In 1952 and 1953, progress was made in increasing power output under the direction of engineer Walter Kaarden. In 1955 the German Grand Prix was held at the Nurburgring, and riders Petruschke and Krumpolz finished 5th and 6th behind the dominant MV Agustas. The machines now had doubled output to 15HP, and had a four speed gearbox. However, this was still down on the more powerful competition which was now showing up with 5 gears. In 1956 a new young rider by the name of Ernst Degner joined MZ, and in the 1957 German GP, the three MZs finished 4th, 6th, and 8th. This was enough to convince MZ to venture beyond Germany to compete. They also decided to launch a new twin 250cc machine which had been in development for several years. In 1958 at the Nurburgring, the four entries in the 125cc race finished 3rd through 7th as if in procession. The new 250cc machine enjoyed an impressive initial outing by finishing 2nd. Victory finally came in the Swedish round where Horst Fugner won the 250cc event.


Changes to shocks (they adopted Norton front forks!), and the addition of a couple of foreign riders generated more success in 1959. Swiss rider Luigi Taveri finished 2nd in the 125cc class at the TT, and Rhodesian Gary Hocking won the Ulster Grand Prix. Degner won at Monza in the final race, and finished a good year for MZ.  Although power was again improved in 1960, and the machines were equipped with lighter fiberglass fairings, reliability took a plunge. It was not until 1961 that wins began to happen again with Werner Musiol, and then with the veteran Degner and Hempleman finishing 1 - 2 at the Belgian Grand Prix. Then came a turning point event that impacted MZ and the industry as a whole. Following the Swedish Grand Prix, and while leading the 125cc world championship, Walter Degner defected with the help of the Suzuki Team. This cost MZ the championship, but also put critical knowledge into the hands of a previously ineffective competitor. 

MZ concentrated more on the 250cc machines after that, and enjoyed some continued success with wins by Lazlo Szabo, and an epic battle between the legendary Hailwood on an MZ and Brian Redman on a Honda. MZ swept the podium in the 1963 250cc Austrian Grand Prix, and Hailwood went on to score a victory for MZ at the Sachsenring in front of a wildly passionate crowd. Englishman Alan Shepherd won the US Grand Prix at Daytona, and went on to finish 3rd overall for MZ in the 1964 championship. Woodman and Grassetti continued with wins for the MZ two strokes into the early 1970s, when the Japanese four strokes clearly established domination. MZ carried the mantle of the two stroke long after others abandoned it, and helped get that technology to its zenith.

The Heckflosse Champion

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Many fans of vintage German cars will be aware of the success of the 300SLR in the immediate postwar era. They will probably also be aware of the terrible crash at Le Mans in 1955. The 300SLR driven by Pierre Levegh lost control, left the course, plowed into the stands, and ignited, killing 83 spectators and Levegh himself. It remains the most devastating accident in motorsports history. Hours later, Mercedes withdrew its remaining cars which were running 1st and 2nd at the time, and the factory withdrew from racing. The hiatus lasted 5 years. 

In 1960, the Mercedes factory returned to racing with an unlikely candidate, the W111 platform. It was an interesting choice because the new 220SE was a four-door sedan. Even more than that, it was one of the "Heckflosse" cars, or Fintails as they became known in English. Not only was this a relatively large sedan, but the cars were intended to serve an upscale luxury market, and to appeal to late 1950s American buyers in particular with the fins. The car was neither light weight, nor particularly fast. That hardly sounds like a recipe for a successful race car, but the whole idea was to show that a production car was tough enough to compete. Accordingly, in 1960, the factory decided to use this as their entry into the European Rally Championship.


The car was equipped with a 2.2 L six-cylinder engine which was fuel injected. The fuel injection was via a Bosch 2 plunger mechanical pump. The engine also featured a single overhead cam driven by a dual roller chain. This produced 120 HP at 4800 RPM. Walter Schock and Rolf Moll drove the car to overall victory in the famous Monte Carlo Rally. This was part of an incredible 1-2-3 finish for Mercedes. It excelled in the longer races, and Schock and Moll went on to win the Acropolis Rally and the Polish Rally. They complimented that with 3rd in the Tulip Rally and 4th in the German Rally. This allowed them to win the championship. A remarkable first year!

In 1961, Mercedes Motorsport director Karl Kling drove a 220SE to victory in the brutal Algiers-Lagos-Algiers Rally. Schock and Moll triumphed in the grueling 4600 KM (2860 miles) Grand Premio Argentina. Hans Hermann and Rainer Gunzler finished 2nd in another 220SE. In 1962, Eugen Bohringer piloted another 220SE to victory in the European Rally Championship, again winning the Acropolis Rally, the Polish Rally, and Liege-Sofia-Liege. They also repeated victory in the Argentine race. This three year run cemented the place of the 220SE in Mercedes Benz motorsports history. 

It turns out that the secret weapon of the 220SE was reliability. What it lacked in speed and handling, the car made up for in stability and endurance. It finished races, and was usually in the top five. When the race was long or hard, it ended up on the top step of the podium, or close to it. In 1963, the new 230SL came along which was a lighter car on the same platform. The 220SE retired, but in 2011, the factory built a replica of the 220SE Rally car which competed in a vintage event at the Nurburgring.

Porsche 959 Paris Dakar

Classic Velocity

2004-01-10 13.57.58.jpg

Let's suppose you had created an FIA Group B road race car in the early 1980s and then the whole focus of Group B changed to rallying? Well, you would simply transform your road car into an off-road car. However, suppose you were concerned about throwing a new car into that arena against competitors who were lighter and had a few years headstart on development (eg: the then all-wheel-drive Audi Quattro)? And suppose you didn't really want to spend the money for a whole season of WRC? Well, you might look to some other Group B venue for your new car, and that is just what Porsche did with its 959 in 1984.

A Modern Reproduction

A Modern Reproduction

Helmuth Bott is credited with pushing to see how far the 911 engine could go if married to an all wheel drive system. When the Group B rules changed, Porsche realized it would be hard pressed to compete with the WRC cars, but it still wanted to get the marketing benefit of racing. The solution was to use another form of competitive racing to advertise the car, and to use this new platform for technology development. Racing had always been a good laboratory for Porsche, so the new vehicle went ahead. They ran into a challenge right away as the homologation rules did not allow for the 959 to be entered as produced. You needed to build 200 cars. So instead, they modified a 911 to 959 specs in the first year out. Essentially it was a twin turbo charged 911 engine with watercooled heads. The alternate venue that they chose for racing was the Paris Dakar Rally. After all, what better environment could there be for harsh testing of a new platform and technologies?

Porsche added world Champion Jacky Ickx to the driver lineup in 1984, and the cars were victorious with a 1-2 finish. In 1985 they returned with a trio of true homologated 959 cars, but it was not a good year as all three failed to finish. 1986 seems to have been the magic year as the 959 finished 1st, 2nd, and 5th at Dakar. In Road racing form it was called the 961, and the car went on to win first in its class in 1986 At LeMans and seventh overall. An impressive year that accomplished the competitive and advertising goals. The 959 Rally car remains an interesting detour into the dirt, for a car and a marque renown for its excellence on the road. 



Design Number 22

Classic Velocity


In October 1932, the AISCR (later to become the FIA) announced specifications for a new racing class. It was incredibly simple. A weight limit of 750 Kilos (1653 lbs) without oil, water, and tires. That was about it. Any engine size, super-charged or not, any configuration, any shape. This wide latitude sent the minds of designers and engineers into hyperactive mode. A newly independent Ferdinand Porsche, along with partners Karl Rabe and Adolfo Rosenberger, decided to build a car to these specifications despite not having a customer. A bold move given the depression era environment.


Hans Stuck with the enclosed record-breaking versionPorsche and the team decided on a 45 degree V-16 mounted in a mid-engined configuration with independent suspension at all four corners. With the weight restriction, the engine displacement ended up being 4.3 liters. Getting 16 cylinders into a 4.3 Litre space and then getting high output was the work of Karl Rabe. The machine had a redline of 4500 rpm and produced 295 hp. The team also worked on a 3 seater sports car based on a detuned version of the same engine. However, it was never produced. The body of the racing car utilized the teardrop shape and later included innovative aerodynamic wheel fenders, and a removable coupe top.


Fortunately for Porsche, along came Auto Union which had been newly formed from components including DKW, Audi, and Wanderer. They thought that racing would be a good way to advertise and showcase the strength of the new company. They approached Dr Porsche, and yes, he happened to have a racing design they might be interested in. The design was transferred to Auto Union, and the car was initially called the Auto-Union-P to honor the designer. Porsche had simply called it Design #22. Auto Union approached the German government and convinced them to split incentive money and a stipend previously offered only to Mercedes. This set up the famous battles between the two auto makers, and the term Silver Arrows which applied to the cars from both. In March 1933, Hans Stuck set a new hour record with the Auto Union car at 134.9 mph. Despite the car being notoriously difficult to drive, Stuck went on to win the 1934 Grand Prix of Germany, the Grand Prix of Switzerland, and set several more world records. The slightly modified version of the car with enclosed rear fenders and top ran over 200mph in record attempts. The following year, he won at Monza and Tunisia, among other victories.


The car was a resounding success. Increases in output and evolutions of the chassis lead to more success in subsequent years, and of course there were the classic battles with the Mercedes, and the Alfa Romeos. Eventually, at the end of the 1930s, the war brought everything to a halt, but the legendary status of Design #22 was already established.


Classic Velocity

What is it about French people driving in the dirt? True, they invented motor racing back in 1894 when all of the roads were dirt. It is also true that the French swept the podium at that first race since it was in France (Paris to Rouen). But that was all a long time ago, and none of it explains the collective championships of three particular Frenchmen.

Championship number 5 in the bike division was claimed by Cyril Despres in the 2013 Dakar last weekend. He did not have arch rival Marc Coma as he did last year, but he had a field of worthy contenders and young guns nipping at his heels. Even if luck has been on his side occasionally, you don't win 5 of these that way. If any of you have ridden off road for even a few hours standing on the pegs, you know what an ordeal a multi-week ride must be. Now try that almost flat out every day. Oh, and read from a road book while doing it. A road book is to a GPS, as an Abacus is to a scientific calculator. Oh, and vary altitude from the top of the Andes to riding on the beach. Oh, and a mistake can mean death.

Sebastian Loeb just announced his retirement from the World Rally Championship after racking up his 9th consecutive championship.....In case you missed that, it was his 9th Con-sec-u-tive WRC championship. Let me put this another way, nobody else has won the WRC championship since 2003. He has beaten seasoned champions and young challengers. Even when others put in stellar performances rating 10 out of 10, Loeb turned his dial up to 11. Readers of this blog know that we feel the WRC is the ultimate championship for a driver, as you must win or do well on all surfaces in all climates from snow to gravel to mud to tarmac. A misjudgement can mean death. Therefore Loeb is among the greatest drivers ever.

Stephane Peterhansel has 11 Dakar championships. 6 on a motorcycle, and 5 in a car. They call him Mr Dakar, and for good reason. He has won the event in Africa, and in South America. He has won on a Yamaha motorcycle, in a Mitsubishi car, and two consecutive victories most recently in a BMW Mini Countryman. When he has not won, he has usually been on the podium or in the top 10. He can probably go to trucks next if he wants. He was also world enduro champion twice. If you need to get from point A to point B fast, and there are no roads, go with Mr Peterhansel and buckle up s'il vous plait !

A Chance Encounter

Classic Velocity

So there I was sitting in my local airport, waiting to board a flight to visit family for Thanksgiving. Waiting around in airports has often produced some interesting encounters (see Delayed Departures and Connections), and Thanksgiving has inspired some thoughts (see On Giving Thanks), but none quite like this one. The flight was full, and the gate area had the usual assortment of families and people waiting around for boarding to begin. Children running around, senior citizens waiting patiently, throngs of individuals checking their smartphones, carry-on luggage strewn about, frequent flyers pre-positioning themselves. The usual holiday travel melee. And in the midst of it all was a very recognizable traveler calmly checking his smartphone. Mario Andretti. I looked around at first, somewhat stunned that nobody else seemed to recognize him. You would think that he would be surrounded by a mob. And what was one of the most famous american racing drivers in history doing standing and waiting to get on a plane just like me? It seemed....well.....wrong.

I quickly realized of course, that outside of gearhead and racing circles, he might not be instantly recognizable to John Q. Public. Just a few days prior to this, I had been watching him on television as he commented on the inaugural Formula One Grand Prix race in Austin Texas. You would imagine that the worst nightmare for someone like Mario Andretti, is to be stuck in an airport having to have a conversation with perhaps dozens of individuals who would ask the same questions you have had to answer half a million times before.

"So what tires do you think I should put on my Camry?"

"... and then the trooper said who do you think you are, Mario Andretti?"

"Can you coach my slightly overweight nephew? He's pretty good on that Xbox thing"

"...I bet I can beat you to the men's room..."

I decided to go over and say hello.

What happened next was completely unexpected. Far from being dismissive or even forcibly tolerant, Mario Andretti was engaging and continued in a conversation about a variety of things. We talked about the return of Formula One to America with the Austin race and the upcoming potential New Jersey race. We talked about promising young drivers making it into Formula One. We talked about the difference between racing during his heyday and now; about jumping between racing series like Indy, F1 and Sports Cars. He said that he still enjoyed the sport and his involvement through his children and grandchildren. We chatted about going south and escaping the cold for a bit. I could have continued to talk with him for sometime, but I thought it best to leave while still welcome. I thanked him for his contribution to the sport and for his time. Minutes later, as if on cue, the gate announced the beginning of boarding. If he was bored, or bothered, he certainly did not give an indication of that during our conversation. In fact to the contrary, he seemed at ease and comfortable. I thought that was remarkable.

I saw him once again as I walked through first class on the way back to my seat. We smiled and nodded to each other as two old gearhead friends typically do. A few days later, despite a full Thanksgiving feast and leftovers, and despite renting a Toyota Yaris, I still feel faster ;-)

The Screaming Threes

Classic Velocity


DKW is no stranger to this blog both in two-wheel (see DKW 350) and four-wheel (see DKW 1000) versions. On two wheels, DKW was a competitive force in more than one era. Ewald Kluge rode a 250cc motorcycle to victory in the 1938 Isle of Man lightweight TT, and followed that up with a second place finish in 1939. Following the war, DKW (now part of Auto Union and headquartered in Ingolstadt), resumed the production of small bore two stroke machines and was eager to return to competition.

Once Erich Wolf assumed the leadership of competition machines, new 2 stroke works racers were developed in 125cc, and 250cc, displacements. After a disappointing 1951, the megaphone exhausts were replaced by expansion chambers, and a 3 cylinder version of the 350cc machine was introduced in 1952. The triple was developed by adding a nearly horizontal cylinder (75 degrees) to the nearly vertical twin cylinder arrangement previously in use. The machine also gained a four speed gearbox. The outcome was a 46 HP machine that would hit 140 MPH. The machine was thirsty though, and required a large alloy tank similar to NSUs and the AJS "porcupine". Despite this, results initially were not very good as reliability and handling issues prevented further successes.


Then in 1954, Robert Eberan Von Eberhost, a former assistant to Ferdinand Porsche, was placed in charge of racing efforts. He chose Hellmut Georg to work on the competition engines, and it is believed that there was a specific charge to make the 350cc machine competitive. A series of changes were introduced, including adding 38mm Dell Ortos, and a bevel-driven Bosch Magneto. Other changes included direct oiling, telescopic forks, and four drum hydraulic brakes.  This was ground-breaking innovation at the time. The result was that DKW finished 1-2-3 at the Nurburgring in the 350cc class despite being down on top speed.

In 1955, a revised version of the "screaming three", so named because of the sound and the fact that it made peak power at 9500RPM, emerged complete with streamlining. On the improved machine, August Hobl was able to win the German championship, and finished third in the World championship. In 1956, Hobl followed that up by finishing second in the world championship. However, with motorcycle sales in a major slump, racing efforts were cutback. Then Auto Union, controlled by Daimler Benz by share count, merged DKW, Victoria (see Victoria Ventures) and Express, into a combined motorcycle unit called Zweirad Union. The DKW motorcycle brand rapidly faded into history.


Vintage Racing Economics

Classic Velocity

Vintage Racer : Once I explain this to you, I'm sure you'll agree that it's pretty simple to understand. It is a very lucrative pursuit.

Businessman : I am always ready for a new rewarding idea, so fire away.

Vintage Racer : First, you need a race car. The typical thing to do is to find a well-worn or damaged example of some plentiful vintage vehicle like an MG or BMW 2002 or Porsche 914. It is not that expensive. Then you strip it of anything not essential to make the car go or stop. You can do this in a few minutes, just like on those TV makeover shows. Then you sell everything you took off and you are at break even.

Businessman : Sounds good so far. What's next?

Vintage Racer : Well, you're going to want to replace the wheels tires and brakes and replace them with something more performance oriented. You also need racing seats. That should run you about the price of the car, so at this point you are at break even.

Businessman : I am not sure that you understand the concept of break even. Let me expl....

Vintage Racer : I know where you are going, but just hold on, it will become clear shortly. Now, the fuel tanks in those vintage cars are like unexploded ordinance, so you will want to replace it with a fuel cell for safety reasons. You will also need a fire extinguisher, a battery cutoff, and a roll cage. A 17 point harness to keep you in the cockpit is usually required. You will also want a new wiring harness as 40 year old wiring is dangerous. While we are on safety, you need a full fire retardant suit along with shoes, gloves, and a helmet of course. Don't skimp on any of this stuff, as it can save your life. That should all run about the price of the car, so you are at break even again.

Businessman : Are you serious ?

Vintage Racer : We are about to get very serious, because the suspension has to be upgraded. Adjustable coilovers up front, new stiffer springs and performance shocks, urethane bushings all around. That should run about the price of the car, so...

Businessman : let me guess, you are at break even again!

Vintage Racer : I can see that you are beginning to grasp the concept, but this is where it gets tricky. The drive train. Building a high performance motor, gearbox, and rear end plus exhaust can run about twice the price of the car. However, you now have a running race car, so it is worth at least 3 times a non-runner. That means that you are ahead by at least the price of the car. Cool huh?

Businessman : Positively logic retardant.

Vintage Racer : Ready for more? You need a tow vehicle and a trailer to transport the race car around since it is no longer street legal. You needed a truck anyway to go to the hardware store, tailgate, and plow your driveway in the winter, so the race car activity is just a bonus. It is actually free.

Businessman: Of Course.

Vintage Racer : Now for the icing on the cake. Every race weekend, you buy gas for the tow vehicle, race fuel, beer, food, maybe motel, entry fees, oil, etc. And that is if you don't break anything. If you do you could add machine shop work, body shop work, hospital bills, etc. Add this to all of the other spending, and you are a small economic engine that any country, state, or municipality would love to have. You should be eligible for tax abatements, grants, and economic development awards. The chamber of commerce should come out to greet you as you pull into any town. As a bonus, most racing takes place in the summer, and sweating in a race suit on a hot race track is just like going to the Sauna. This prevents you having to build one, which is a tremendous savings. Of course it is well established that working out your aggression on the track eliminates the need for expensive sessions with a shrink, loss of employment due to anger management issues, divorce, etc.

Businessman : Brilliant, it is a wonder everybody is not doing this!

Vintage Racer : Exactly. But wait, there's could win a plaque, or even an old piston affixed to a wooden base !

NSU Missiles

Classic Velocity


Prior to WWII, Several of the German manufacturers, like many around the world, had discovered the allure of supercharging. NSU was one of them. Just as development was beginning to pay real dividends, the war interrupted efforts. After the war, supercharging became banned at the highest levels of international competition, but it was still perfectly allowable in national competitions within Germany. NSU applied its supercharging know how to the new 500cc version of its popular twin cylinder motorcycle. It was quickly competitive, and excelled in particular at high-speed venues. This caused a few people at NSU to think about developing a speed record breaking version of the motorcycle.


Work began in earnest in 1950 when a supercharged version of the 500cc  Rennmax was coupled with a full fairing. It produced 100 BHP, which was roughly twice the output of the works 500cc in normally aspirated form. In April 1951, Wilhelm Herz rode the machine to a new record of 180.17 mph on the Autobahn between Munich and Ingolstadt. Herz said he could have gone faster but the overpasses created tremendous instability ! In spite of this, it broke the record formerly held by BMW. NSU also set other records including the sidecar record with Hermann Bohm, and the 350cc record. Later in 1954, Gustavo Baumm broke 11 world records for small bore machines from 50cc to 100cc. Baumm was a commercial artist, and the machines were of his own design using a recumbent position within the fish-like alloy fairing. They were dubbed the "flying hammocks".


Following these records, rumors began to circulate that several manufacturers were going to attempt to break 200 mph. It was clearly within striking distance, but NSU was initially not interested, having several world records to its name already. However, NSU had also recently withdrawn from grand prix racing, and there was a change of mind (or some heavy persuasion) with respect to now pursuing another speed attempt. The idea was to combine the design of Baumm with the supercharged Rennmax engine developed by Walter Froede. In May 1955, NSU successfully broke 22 world records on the Autobahn once again, in classes from 50cc to 350cc using the new combination of engines and designs.  Unfortunately, Baumm was killed while testing not long after these records, which probably materially impacted the direction that NSU took in future years with its production motorcycles and cars.


Despite the loss of Baumm, and in the face of declining sales, NSU once again decided to assault the speed records. They produced a new fairing design which cut the coefficient of drag from .29 to .19. They decided to spare no expense this time around, fielding two different designs. One design was dubbed the Baumm II, while the other was the Delphin III, an evolution of the early 1950s work by the factory. The chosen location for the attempt was the Salt Lake flats in Utah. To emphasize the significance of this round of attempts, NSU chairman Viktor Frankenberger travelled to Utah. On August 4th 1956, with 46 year old Wilhelmina Herz at the controls, NSU established a new record of 210.64 mph for the 500cc class. This broke the existing record by 25 mph, and the unofficial record by about 15 mph ! When the speed trials concluded, NSU went home with more than 50 new records!  The victorious machines then went on tour to help prop up sales, which seems are rather undignified end to a brilliant era of achievement in speed records at NSU.

Bookend Mclarens

Classic Velocity


McLaren has been racing in Formula One since 1966. New Zealander Bruce McLaren was discovered by Australian Jack Brabham in the late 1950s and went on to win Grand Prix for Cooper alongside Brabham in 1959, 1960, and 1962. However, McLaren was the consummate driver, designer, builder, innovator. He founded his own team in 1963, and it survives to this day as Team McLaren. Along the way, McLaren have also produced a few ground-breaking road cars to help finance racing and satisfy some well heeled customers. And that is where this episode begins. At the Radnor Hunt Concours, the local McLaren dealership was on hand to show off the new MP4-12C road car. To help do that, they brought along the 2011 Formula One car of Lewis Hamilton, the MP4-26.


Readers will know that I am a big fan of F1, so the opportunity to get up close and personal with this car was a real treat. It is not the first time I have been near an F1 car, but each time I am struck by how complex they are even just to look at. You are cute you aware that there is nothing, repeat nothing, on the car that is not there for a purpose. There's also no part of the car that is exposed to air, that has not had a full makeover from an aerodynamicist. Air does not collide with a Formula One car in the same way that it collides with most of the cars we drive, rather it is directed across the surface of the car and into areas that need that air for cooling or downforce purposes.


Of course, that air is flowing over through and across a vehicle that is as light as possible. I was informed that without the drivetrain the vehicle weighs about 1300 pounds total! The Mercedes 2.4 Liter 8 cylinder engine only weighs another 210 lbs, which is the FIA minimum, and the 7 speed paddle-shifted gearbox is carbon fiber just like the monocoque. Using just a single finger on the top of one of the tires, I could rock the car back and forth with ease !! The cockpit was another surprise. It is obviously built for someone a lot smaller than me. The steering wheel is of course chock full of controls, and it would seem incredibly easy to push the wrong button or move the wrong knob while in the heat of battle. However, the driver is pretty confined, and actually moves in very limited ways during a race. The last area of surprise was the rear wing. You might expect it to be extremely stiff and wide using composites to ensure that the air forces it down. But you would be wrong. It is actually relatively flimsy and can easily be pushed side to side. However, viewed from the front as the air actually sees it, the side struts are almost invisible, and the actual top wing is very effective at F1 speeds.


All of this made me think about the older F1 cars. Aesthetically I've made no secret of the fact that the new cars just don't seem as beautiful to me. It is hard to disagree with the old saying that the fastest car is the most beautiful, but that is a hard concept for me to come to grips with on today's F1 cars. The first F1 McLaren was the M2B of 1966. It also had 8 cylinders and was a mid-engined open wheel car, but that is where the similarities end. It had an aluminum monocoque with steel (gasp) bulkheads. It had a 3 liter Ford V8, and a 5 speed manual transaxle. Brakes were 13" discs, and fuel was carried in rubber bags inside the monocoque! Suspension was wishbone and coilovers, the kind of setup you can now find in any 20 year old sedan. It produced somewhere in the region of 350bhp and it was rear wheel drive. It weighed 1610 lbs, so it was actually comparable to today's cars in that respect.


To look at though, there is a certain purity to the first McLaren as well. It too had nothing on it that was not functional. It looked seriously fast having just a sleek monocoque and 4 wheels. In fact, it was not that different in top speed compared to today's F1 cars. It looked powerful with those 8 stacks coming off the carburettors , and those nostrils, and those exhausts straight out the back. If you asked which I would want to drive if I could only choose one, it would be the M2B. Of course, I am somewhat biased because I could not even fit in the other.

Passing Schumacher and Rossi

Classic Velocity

Sebastian Loeb now officially has the greatest record in Motorsports. At the Rally GB in Wales, he won his eighth consecutive world rally championship !! Now I have stated here before that I am a big fan of World Rally, and that I consider the drivers to be the most talented in the world. You face every kind of surface from snow to gravel to tarmac, and you have to be at or near the top on every one of them to be champion. Seb has dominated this sport for eight years in a row, and has competed against former world champions (McRae, Solberg, Sainz, Grunholm) and talented newcomers (Ogier, Hirvonen). And lest we forget, he lost the championship in 2003 by a single point on team orders, so this should really be nine. With this 8th world championship, he passes Michael Schumacher and Valentino Rossi, both of whom will go down in history as among the greatest in their respective sports. In the WRC, Seb will not be among the greatest, he simply is. I am not sure what accolades he can earn that have not already been bestowed other than "He was smart enough to retire on top." however, for those of us who are fans, you can't help but hope that he is back in the car next year trying for number 9....

Motorsports Roundup September 2011

Classic Velocity

Motorsports posts have not made it into the blog much this year due to a lot of riding and driving. A good thing. However, that does not mean that we have not been following the action closely. So let's start with Formula 1. 
Sebastian Vettel has been on pole 11 times this season and has won 9 of the 13 races. The Renault powered Red Bull with Vettel at the wheel is consistently a half second per lap or more faster than anything else. Ferrari with Fernando Alonso at the wheel and McLaren with Button and Hamilton are the nearest competitors, but when I say near, I mean far. Vettel has all but clinched the driver's championship, and Red Bull has all but clinched the Constructor's championship. It is reminiscent of another driver/constructor combination that seemed unstoppable; Schumacher and Ferrari of just a few years ago. Speaking of Schumacher, his return to F1 has not been kind. Just driving these cars competitively at 40 is impressive, but he has been consistently beaten by his younger team mate Rosberg. In some ways the more interesting racing is among the rookies toward the rear of the field. It has been interesting to watch Diresta, Peres, Maldonado, and now Senna put on some interesting drives.
In Moto GP, Honda holds 3 of the 5 top points positions. Australian Casey Stoner is on top after impressive performances. 2010 world champion Jorge Lorenzo is not far behind on his Yamaha. Rossi and Hayden on the Ducatis are down in 6th and 7th. They are obviously fighting a bike that is not at the top tier yet. As usual, Rossi has put in some inspired rides. One Ducati that is working well, is the one belonging to Carlos Checa in World Superbikes. He is well ahead of Marcus Melandri on points in that championship. The top BMW is Leon Haslam in 5th, but the non-factory BMW Italia team is doing surprisingly well with Ayrton Badovini in 9th.
The WRC is always great racing to watch, and this year is producing a cliff-hanger again. Sebastian Loeb is leading the championship, but this is no runaway as in past years. Loeb and his Citroen lead by a mere 15 points over Mikko Hirvonen and his Ford. Only 14 points back from Hirvonen is the other Citroen of Sebastian Ogier. All this with just three rallies to go. The championship is truly up for grabs. Independent Petter Solberg is the best of the non-works teams in 5th place in the championship, which is pretty impressive. Sitting in 10th is the Mini of Dani Sordo, which has only entered a few races, so we look forward to a full campaign next year.

Limerock 2011 The Race Cars

Classic Velocity

The Vintage Festival at Limerock is built around the competitive cars. It begins and ends with a celebration of the racecar, which is fitting because after all racecar spelled backward is racecar. The racecar brings out the best in the subject of history. It celebrates epic tales of daring and bravado. Of triumphs and failures. Of technology and innovation. Of man and machine. Of larger than life characters. Of going fast. Some portion of that story shows up each year at places like Elkhart Lake, and Monterey, and Watkins Glen, and Limerock. Then there are more modern stories of people turning the most unlikely vehicles into racecars, and of people eternally in pursuit of going fast in an old car. You could try to describe the cars and what they mean, but in this case, I think the pictures alone tell the story.


ps: If your device does not display the slideshow, click this link to browse through the album.

Motorsports Roundup Jan 2011

Classic Velocity

Marc ComaAl-Attiyah FliesThe Dakar. Well another Dakar is over and it was eventful as usual. On two wheels, Marc Coma scored another victory, beating Cyril Despres by a comfortable margin. However, most of that margin was due to a penalty levied because of a silly technicality. It seems that in returning to the bivouac for the gloves he forgot, Despres used the wrong entrance. While this had no possible impact on the race, he was penalized 10 minutes. Like last year when Coma had a controversial penalty, it seems we were robbed of a true battle between the two champions once again. The highest BMW was Verhoeven who finished 16th. On four wheels, it was a story of two races. Prior to the desert, Carlos Sainz dominated and seemed on track to win the rally. Once they hit the sand, his team mate Nasser Al-Attiyah was dominant and a few mistakes by Sainz resulted in a comfortable victory for Al-Attiyah. Peterhansel in the BMW would almost certainly have been on the podium were it not for a host of punctures and mechanical failures. He drove a fantastic race to finish 4th. Alejandro Patronelli claimed the crown in the Quads, but his brother dropped out early so they were not both on the podium again. The "Tsar" Vladimir Chagin claimed an amazing seventh crown in the trucks. 
WRC. The pre-season heats up with unveilings and news of testing. Ford unveiled their new livery for the Fiesta RS. It looks great to my eye, but then again, I like the Castrol dominated livery on any race car.  The debut of the Mini Countryman in the WRC is much anticipated, and progress is ahead of schedule according to Pro-Drive. It will not campaign the whole season this year, but it will be good to see another manufacturer in the series. Monte Carlo Rally hero Paddy Hopkirk took a test ride in the navigator seat of the new WRC Mini, and said he enjoyed it. When I reach 77, I hope I am enjoying going that fast.  Lastly, after a rumor that he would switch to World Touring Cars, it seems that Petter Solberg will be in the Citroen for Rally Sweden. Good News.
f1onlive.comF1. The "silly season" is underway with the usual sense of circus. This despite no real shakeups in the drivers for the big teams. Lotus vs Lotus tops the entertainment list as the fate of Lotus Racing (green and yellow) that competed in 2010 is tied to the decision by Lotus the car company's decision to go racing itself as Lotus Renault (black and gold). This would end permission for any other entity to use the Lotus name. Hints that Porsche may jump into the F1 ring in 2013 are tempered by hints that it may be some other brand within the VW group. Paul Di Resta has landed the 2nd seat at Force India joining Adrian Sutil. New tire supplier Pirelli is completing testing and there are hints that multiple tire pit stops could be in the cards if you don't get the strategy right. Lastly, a slew of Unveilings of the new cars are coming up in the next several weeks. Stay tuned.