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Classic Velocity Blog

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Don Garlits Museum

Classic Velocity

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Your eyes do not deceive you. You may be asking, what could the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing possibly have to do with a blog about classic and vintage German vehicles, and why is a Karmann Ghia the lead photo? Good questions, I am glad you asked. 

First, it has been our experience that museums in general often have surprising content despite their main theme. In fact, we have yet to visit a car or motorcycle museum that did not have some unusual items related in some way to this blog. Check out this link to museum posts, and you will see what we mean. Second, it is a museum about cars going fast, so there is an automatic interest. With that said, we did not have very high expectations about this unplanned stop. Going as fast as possible in a very short straight line, is not exactly where our motorsports interests lie. It is the conceptual and philosophical opposite of the Dakar, Formula 1, Moto GP, and World Rally. However, it is serious business, the speeds are ludicrous, it is dangerous, and the machines are incredible manifestations of brute force.

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The main theme of the museum is to provide a chronicle of the life and times of Don Garlits, who is probably the most famous drag racer period. From the late 1950s into the 1980s, he created and refined the most dominant machines in the sport. He started with a repair and service shop in Tampa, FL but soon started to build hot rods and that naturally lead to faster quarter mile machines and drag cars. "Big Daddy" as he came to be known, and his "Swamp Rat" machines as they came to be known has a long and colorful history, and his personal and political views have often been controversial. Like all forms of Motorsport, the early days had crude machines and astounding levels of risk. Steel frames from 2 street cars welded together to create length, highly volatile fuel mixtures running through rubber hoses secured by hose clamps, an exposed engine 12 inches from your face, overalls and goggles for safety gear, etc. Garlits began in those days and moved with the sport into the modern era.  However, he paid a price in losing half of his foot in an accident where his transmission exploded and cut the car in half. He went rear-engined after that and continued to race!

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The dragsters are the most ungainly looking masters of speed. They have massive engines originally in front of and now behind the driver. They have a 25ft wheelbase. Today they are estimated to generate north of 10,000 hp in top fuel form. In order to put that power down to the ground, the massive 3ft wide slicks run at 5-7psi !!  The top fuel runs are over in 3.7 seconds or less, but the driver is subject to 5.5g at the peak, 4g sustained, and speeds exceed 330mph !! Fan, or not, you have to respect the engineering and marvel at the spectacle that such numbers represent.  

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Tucked into one small area amidst two buildings of pure Americana, are a Volkswagen Beetle, a beetle chassis cutaway, and a pristine 1974 Karmann Ghia. The Beetle is one that Garlits restored, but the 1974 Ghia was purchased from a bank auction of a new car dealership, driven for 27 dealer test miles, and has never been titled ! Arguably, the best example in the world, located in a museum dedicated to the exact opposite of an under-powered non-american street legal air-cooled basic transport. Who would have guessed?

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A Bavarian Shoe

Classic Velocity

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Even from the official launch, the E36/8 has produced polarizing reactions. Love it or hate it. It is hard to believe that these cars are now 20 years old and already considered a classic, but there it is. At the time, the swoopy styling quickly gave rise to knicknames like the bread van, and then the clown shoe. Not flattering. However, just like the BMW GS, 2000 CS, and many other BMWs over time, this was an example of the engineers winning over the accountants and the sales people. The legend maintains (with plenty of evidence to back it up), that a group of engineers led by Burkhard Göschel, worked after hours an on weekends to turn the Z3 platform into a vehicle which would realize its full potential. They toiled away into the night, and developed a car with more than 3 times the torsional rigidity of the roadster, and with the M3 engine shoe-horned into the engine bay. They then asked BMW for permission to produce it. The answer was yes, with two big caveats: First, in order to control costs, it would have to share as much as possible with existing cars. Second, it could not outperform the mighty M3. 

The engineers were thankful, and with a wink and a nod, went off to figure out production. The result is a true driver's car worthy of the purist M label. The wink was that it did in fact outperform the M3 due to a superior power to weight ratio, and so gearing was altered to slow it down a bit. The nod was that from the nose to the A pillar, it shared sheet metal with the Z3, so costs were saved. Mission accomplished. The result is patently unique, and for some people, beautiful in its own way. Rear wheel drive, 0-60 in 5.3 seconds, top speed electronically limited to 155 mph, and a beast not easily tamed. Three engines were used over the short 4 year production life, eventually producing 321 hp and 253 ft/lbs of torque from a 3,130 lb car. The design of tokyo-born Joji Nagashima is officially designated a "shooting-brake", although it can also be considered a hatchback. Almost immediately upon production, the M Coupe began to rack up both design and performance awards and accolades. Road & Track, Automobile, Car & Driver, Top Gear, etc. All placed it in the top 5 or top 10 M cars of all time. All acknowledged a future icon. 

As is often the case however, sales were not as kind. While the regular Z3 enjoyed robust sales, the M Coupe struggled. It was already aimed at a narrow slice of the market, and the styling was enough to further limit appeal. 6,318 M coupes were produced over the 4 year production span from 1998 to 2002, with 2,870 of those being the US market version. It was replaced by a much less polarizing, and less insane, Z4 M Coupe. Regardless of how you view these cars, they represent perhaps the last time in modern times that the engineers at BMW were left in charge. As a driving enthusiast, however that happened, I am very glad it did.

  • ECE S50 (LHD): 2,178 built from 04/98 thru 06/2000
  • ECE S50 (RHD): 821 built from 08/98 thru 06/2000
  • NA S52 (LHD): 2,180 built from 07/98 thru 06/2000
  • ECE S54 (LHD): 281 built from 02/2001 thru 05/2002
  • ECE S54 (RHD): 168 built from 02/2001 thru 05/2002
  • NA S54 (LHD): 690 built from 02/2001 thru 05/2002
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Framo 2-3-4 Wheels

Classic Velocity

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Innovation in frames and platforms was the norm in the early days of the internal combustion engine, and many companies were simply trying to find the most efficient means to accomplish a task. One such company was Framo, founded in 1923, the same year as BMW. Although founded in Saxony, Germany, it was started by Dane Jorgen Rasmussen, who also founded DKW. The main idea was to use Framo to produce components for DKW motorcycles. After 3 years, that lead to the production of a commercial motorcycle-based vehicle, Basically, it was a trike with a cargo platform. This TV300 model emerged as a Framo vehicle in 1927. Variations for Framo included a single wheel at the front driven by an engine directly above it, a single wheel at the rear, enclosed cockpits, and open trikes with a covered rear. In other words, many permutations and configurations were tried.  Three-wheeled experiments in turn lead to the 4-wheeled Piccolo and Stromer models in the 1930s. All models were powered by 200cc-600cc 2 stroke motorcycle engines. Sales were simply ok in many instances, and weak in others, with no real sales successes.

Postwar, the factory was dismantled and shipped to Russia. Production resumed however in 1949 with what was essentially a pre-war model. Although there were further attempts at passenger vehicles, commercial applications were the only consistent sales. Even this was not to last very long, as the company became VEB Barkas and then concentrated on compact passenger vans. But that is a story for another time....

East African Coronation Safari 1953-1954

Classic Velocity

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With the Dakar underway, long distance endurance rallies are on the mind. Going back in time, these rallies were really extended reliability trials. If you finished on Sunday (winning was even better), it went right onto a poster for the sales department to use on Monday. Even today, I wonder how many manufacturers would send a bone stock production sedan vehicle off to race across sub Saharan Africa, wth just a couple of tires and a gas can strapped on the back. But I digress.....

The East African Coronation Safari was first run in 1953 crossing Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika. It was initially held to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, since She was in Kenya and became Queen, when King George died. It became widely regarded as the toughest Rally on the circuit, if not in the world. 3000 miles, punishing terrain, and unpredictable weather, all combined to cement the reputation of this Rally. However the first two instances of this Rally really set the stage. The initial rally had three starting points, although the majority started in Nairobi. It wound its way around Lake Victoria. Performance on the cars was required to be showroom, meaning no mods. Four classes were determined based on vehicle price. There were only 57 entrants for the first Rally, including DKW, Ford, Mercedes, Peugeot, Tatar, and Volkswagen. There were only 27 finishers, with the top spot (least penalties) going to the split-window Volkswagen Beetle of Alan Dix and Johnny Larsen. In 1954, Volkswagen triumphed again but this time at the famous hands of Vic Preston and D P Marwaha. Average speed decreased due to the increase in mandatory rest stops and control points. The following year, the Rally adopted FIA rules and an RAC permit was required, effectively ending the initial minimal regulations approach. 

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On Receiving Gifts II

Classic Velocity

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 A bit of recycling here from 2012, but it became relevant once again due to this quote we stumbled across this holiday season in Santa Fe, NM. "Always give without remembering and always receive without forgetting.”

The car sat under a tree, wedged in between a rusted out Plymouth Valiant and a tractor-trailer that was being used as storage. It was covered in that grayish greenish brown mix of pollen and dirt that renders all of the glass opaque. It also made it hard to tell exactly what color the car was. The final top had split in several places due to the ravages of sun and rain and tree sap. The engine compartment had more acorns and leaves than the tree under which it rested. The tires were remarkably round and still held some amount of air, but were dry and cracked on the side walls. The driver's seat was shot, and someone had cut the dash for a more modern stereo. The chrome was mysteriously pitted in random places as if to emulate some strange rash. It was a mess, and I had to have it. I mean, who would let such an icon just sit outside and deteriorate? This was a not inexpensive sportscar that was desired, acquired, and pampered at some point. Now it was just another case where eminent domain should apply (see The Theory of Eminent Domain)

I had stopped by a few weeks earlier and left a note, but no call. This time, I caught the shop owner, Steve. It was a typical case of a customer who had brought the car in for some repairs, and found that those repairs were going to be more expensive and extensive than he bargained for. The car sat. Steve vowed to contact the owner that night, and I left once again. Two days later I got a call. Yes it was for sale, but for more than it was worth. Today it would sound ridiculously cheap, but at that time, things were different. We haggled a bit, but the owner was sticking to his guns. I wondered if he had seen the car recently. No deal.

A few days later, I was about to call and up the offer, such was my craving. Before I had a chance, the owner called and accepted my initial slightly low offer. He had been to see the car and was surprised at the condition. He told me that Steve had promised to keep it inside, finish the work, etc, etc. I was at his place with the money the next day, even though it would take a few weeks to pick up the car. Then, with title in hand, I returned to the shop and took a more complete inventory. A lot of work, but doable. It even turned over with the battery from the shop, although it did not fire. I hauled my gift home and began the discovery process.

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Three weeks and an awful lot of work, diagnostics, and a few parts were required in order to get the car running. That first time it fired and ran was a gift worthy of a sacred garage celebration. Too bad nobody was around to see it. It became a rolling restoration, although I hesitate to use the word restoration as the intent was to make it a driver. The body and interior cleaned up remarkably well, and over the years, the ailments have been mostly addressed, while delivering the gifts of wrenching and the parts hunt, and the community of like-minded madmen. The stock 2.2 litre flat six engine has been solidly reliable and has taken the car on many trips and many hundreds of miles with nothing but oil changes and tuneups along the way. It has gone around the track at LimeRock and Watkins Glen. It has toured New England in the fall with a rebuilt targa top stowed in the trunk. It has attended many a club event with two small children in the back. It has given the gift of joy and laughter.

And more than a decade later, on the way to a breakfast one weekend, the car delivered more gifts. While I was getting gas, a woman smiled and said "That's a lovely car" as she walked inside to get coffee. On the way out she asked what year it was and we chatted for a minute. She never stopped smiling. A few minutes later, the car flew down a lonely section of interstate at 120mph. The speedo wavered back and forth between 120 and 125 as I kept going. The car always begins to feel good above 80mph, and it sees triple digits on occasion, but it is not usually up in the 120mph area. We were only there for about a minute, but the car did not feel strained, and I had more tach to go. I was not far away from the top speed of the car when new, and this car is 43 years old. Stock points and ignition, stock Zenith carbs, stock motor, stock wheels, stock steering wheel. I never stopped smiling, and I am pleased in this Holiday season to once again receive a gift from a vehicle which keeps on giving.

Goliath GP700 Sport

Classic Velocity

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Goliath was founded by Carl Borgward in Bremen, and has been mentioned in these pages before (see The Many Faces of Borgward and Maintaining Tempo). They are perhaps most well known for their three-wheeled vehicles with commercial applications.  After the war, three wheeled production restarted first. Their first postwar four-wheeled vehicle was introduced at the Geneva show in 1950, and it was a small 2 door coupe called the GP700.  It sported a 688cc two-stroke engine producing 25hp in carburetor form, and 29hp in fuel injected form. 

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At the Berlin show in 1951, Goliath introduced the GP 700 sport. The sport was front-engined, and front wheel drive! It featured an enlarged 845cc engine, capable of 32 hp and 44 ft/lbs of torque, but it only weighed 1753 lbs. It was equipped with Bosch fuel injection prior to the Mercedes which is often thought to be the first. Top speed was 78mph, and you did not get there quickly, but this was adequate performance at the time. The GP700 also featured a 4 speed synchromesh gearbox, which was again advanced for the time. The swoopy body was from Karosserie Rometsch, and had similarities with the Porsche 356 and the Borgward Hansa. In particular, the cabin profile, the wheel arches, the hood, and the sloping rear with a small trunklid, could easily lead you to believe that this was a Porsche product. The interior was elegant, with a painted dash and luxurious VDO gauges. 

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The Sport was a true hand built car, and was very expensive. offered from 1951 to 1953 in model years, but was really only in production from Mid 1951 to mid 1952. It's low production numbers (only 27-30 were believed to be produced) and unique features make it rare, and few survived. However, it introduced a number of features which went on to become standard in automobiles for the latter half of 20th century.

Anthropologic Vehicular Archeology

Classic Velocity

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I was searching for items for a swap meet which was only a day away. As usual, this had turned into a last minute need to rummage through plastic crates in storage. As mentioned in Hoarding for Gearheads, this should be pretty straightforward, but over time the organization system gets corrupted.  So there I was, searching for a particular item that I knew I had new in a box, but which so far had eluded my grasp.  However, the search had given rise to a number of sudden utterances ( to no one in particular since I was alone) like "Oh, so that's where this was", or "Why would this be in this crate", or "I forgot I had one of these". And then I was easily diverted and took long trips down memory lane as I came across parts for vehicles I had not owned in years, vehicles I had no intention of ever owning again, and in some cases, vehicles I am pretty sure I never owned at all.  I was struck by how many times I must have purchased items just because I could not find them, or because I forgot I had one. But that was not the most interesting discovery on this journey. and in some cases, vehicles I had no intention of ever owning again.

If you really want insight into the diseased mind of a vintage gear head, then you need to examine the used parts. There should be a full advanced academic degree devoted to the understanding of this sub culture by way of the stuff in their garages and basements and storage units. I call it Anthropologic Vehicular Archeology. If we can discern the workings of ancient civilizations by way of a few fragments of a clay pot and some cave paintings, imagine what we can reconstruct from the 40 year old vintage parts stored by a modern human. There are already esteemed faculty who can determine your right foot reflexes just from reading a fouled spark plug! Imagine what could be done with a used oil filter, a crank journal bearing, and exhaust pipe discoloration. It is a rich field of exploration. Oh, the secrets that would be revealed, the new buildings on academic campuses, and the passionate doctoral candidates, not to mention the insights gained for all of humanity. But I digress. 

The parts and supplies of interest fell into several categories. The rationalization is followed in parentheses by (the more realistic translation) :

  1. I may return the vehicle to 100% stock one day, so I need to keep this.  (this will never get back on the vehicle during my ownership, but will be good for the online posting and for the new owner)
  2. I have an extra one of these because they will be hard to find soon and I may need it one day.  (they will not be that hard to find in my lifetime, so it will probably be in this crate when they sell it all at the estate sale)
  3. I got this in a box of parts at a swap meet.  (I will forget how I got this and be periodically perplexed as to what this fits)
  4. I replaced this with a new one, but I keep this as a spare.  (I will never use this and will always buy another new one because I will forget why I relegated this to a spare)
  5. I don't need this, but I hear they go for good money online. (If I ever got around to finding this again, cleaning it up, and putting it online, I would make $7)
  6. I have a good one of these, so I can modify this one. (The modification went horribly wrong, and now it is worth nothing so I keep it) 

Ignition coils are one of my favorites. There were several among the crates with masking tape and words like "reportedly tested good", or "suspect", or "R50/2??". I have no idea under what circumstances I would ever put one of these into a vehicle, and it would be unethical to even offer them to someone needing a coil, so why keep them? Answer; There is something about the weight and substance of a coil, along with the fact that they can look brand new even when bad, that makes me reluctant to throw them out. I left them right where I found them. But the jewel in the crown, the icing on the cake, the capstone of this outing, was a pair of brake pads, lightly used, on which was written in big permanent marker, the words "WRONG PADS". They were in a crate of mixed items, so there was no telling what vehicle, what year, front or rear, etc. I actually sat down and laughed out loud, which startled a blackbird on a nearby fence. There was no clue as to whether I inherited these in a box of parts, purchased them myself some time ago, or removed them from a vehicle. Were they wrong for a particular vehicle, the wrong type of pads for the correct vehicle? I had no idea other than I had obviously decided to keep them. In the end, I put them right back where I found them, still chuckling to myself. I know I should just throw them out along with the coils and other suspect items, but perhaps I will wait for a better time to go through all of this...yeah, that's it....another time soon. And if not, it will at least confound the vehicular archeologists.

 

 

The Variant

Classic Velocity

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As covered here before, (see the rise of the type 3), Volkswagen was among the first automakers to really leverage a single chassis for multiple variations on a large scale. This was certainly true for the Type 3, where the Notchback, the Fastback, and the Squareback, were all manifestations of the same base. And that base, was the beetle chassis. The Variant (Squareback) was the Estate model, or the Station Wagon model in the USA. It answered the basic need for more room to carry people and/or goods. Just like the VW bus, variety was provided by two variations of the variant (ok, I promise to end this now). There was a two door passenger version, and a two door panel van version, which only had front seats with a large cargo area behind them. While the Type 3 was launched in 1961 with the 1500 Notchback, the Variant first saw production in early 1962, but did not make it to the US until 1966.

Of course, the key to the Type 3 cars was the flattened version of the 4 cylinder air-cooled engine. That engine weighed under 300 lbs, and was only 18 inches tall. The cooling fan was lowered and relocated, the gerator was relocated, and the oil cooler was repositioned. In total, it was a brilliant repackaging of the standard beetle engine. In fact, it came to be called the pancake. Power was not the forte of this engine, as it produced a mere 50hp, and was good for a top speed of 77mph. In later years, it gained the dual carburetor setup and then got the landmark Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection. Back to packaging, the engine fit below the floor in the rear allowing for a usable trunk. Coupled with a front trunk compartment, storage capacity was very good. With the additional vertical room provided by the "Squareback" body, it was excellent. The interior was relatively luxurious by VW standards. Pleated vinyl, headrests, full carpeting, an attractive gauge pod, more than spartan door panels, the option of an automatic, etc. 

Although sales were small in comparison to the mighty beetle, more than 1.2 million Variants were sold between 1962 and 1973, and that number climbs to 1.45 million if you include Brazilian production as well. This is well over half of the entire Type 3 production. The Variant remains popular today among air-cooled VW enthusiasts and is well represented on sites like www.thesamba.com and www.type3.org

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First Wankel

Classic Velocity

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In 1963 at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, NSU introduced the world's first production car with a Wankel engine. The Wankel Spider was designed by Bertone, but up front it had a passing resemblance to the Pinninfarina-designed Alfa Giulietta Spider. The car was basically an NSU Sport Prinz Coupe with the roof cut off, and a rotary engine mounted over the rear axle. This allowed for two trunks while maintaining the sporty shape and appearance, but the front trunk was small in order to make room for the radiator and gas tank. The rear sheet metal was modified from the coupe to allow for storage of the folding top, and the rear engine compartment. The two-seater interior was elegantly trimmed in two color leather. 

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The 500cc engine made just under 50hp, which was adequate at the time, given the 1500lb weight, but the high revving engine sounded like nothing else on the road. It was good for a top speed of 98mph. However, the materials used in building these first generation engines caused more rapid wear than anticipated, and problems began to surface once the cars were in the field. Engine rebuilds were common at 30,000 miles, although it took a while for most cars to get there. Handling, however, was superior. according to Autocar at the time, "The Spider is really most enjoyable on minor roads with lots of twists and turns, where its exceptional stability and cornering powers, together with the quick reactions of its rack-and-pinion steering, allow very fast averages to be maintained."

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Only 2375 were built, and only a paltry 215 made it to the US. Ironically, one of those 215 became the first Wankel race car, competing in SCCA H Modified. It is believed that the relatively high price, and low production numbers were evidence that NSU introduced the car more as a test bed for the rotary engine. An improved version was introduced in the NSU R080 sedan in 1968 (see NSU R080). 

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Limerock 2017

Classic Velocity

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For us, Labor Day weekend is synonymous with the Limerock Vintage Motorsports Weekend. The event has graced these pages many times before (see Lapping Limerock or Limerock 2014), and always delights. This year represented an abbreviated visit, as we were going to miss Monday racing (the circuit has a long time noise ordinance which effectively bans racing on Sundays), and the remnants of hurricane Harvey drowned out the Sunday car show. The auction that has now become part of the weekend took place under tent as the rain came down on all sides.

However,  Friday and Saturday were perfect, with temps in the seventies and a mix of sun and clouds.  We have been to this event when the sun was blisteringly hot, and we have been to this event when everyone was huddled up in winter clothing. Saturday's blend was great for walking around the paddock, and for watching the racing from multiple vantage points around the track. Indicative of the variety that you find at Limerock was one of their last run groups, which was an eclectic mix of machines together on track. It included a Ford GT, a few MGBs, a Lotus Elan, a few Porsche 911s, and a Tatra!

Of course like any great event, the parking lot can be almost as interesting as what is inside. No disappointment here. Something about New England brings out the anglophiles, so the early Jags, and Healeys, and Land Rovers were abundant. Even a nice Rover TC graced the grassy parking area. Clubs also showed up in force, so Porsches and BMWs were everywhere. A few interesting Italian cars were there, in addition to the Ferraris and Maserati ( is the plural of Maserati, Maserati?), including a rare Fiat 130.  The Fiat was large and wide, and could have easily been a product of Detroit Rather than Italy.

The paddock continues to expand, with the two areas now consuming most of what was the swap meet area. Sadly, there is less of a swap meet these days, but it is due to increasing numbers of on-track competitors. This makes the paddock more interesting, and the chance to see your favorite marque and model, greater. Limerock's mix of elevation changes, esses, and a long straight, ensure that you need a well sorted machine to dominate, and that the racing stays interesting each lap.  

Want to browse through our photos from the event? View the Full Limerock Vintage Weekend Album

Lancia ready to race

Lancia ready to race

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Green on green  

An impressive tape job on the headlights! 

An impressive tape job on the headlights! 

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A classic beauty in Motorsport livery

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Renault Alpine

Beetle with a Porsche engine at the auction

Beetle with a Porsche engine at the auction

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Ford Angelia with a Cosworth inside..

An Auto Union 1000 for sale

An Auto Union 1000 for sale

Mercedes 200D : Building The Diesel Legend

Classic Velocity

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 Mercedes Benz has always been a premier luxury marque, but they have also been a producer of basic workhorse transportation. Pick a movie from the sixties and seventies set in Europe, the Middle East, or the third world in general, and you will note their legendary role as the taxi cabs of the world. That legend started with the W110 in the early 1960s, and in particular with the Diesel variant. Mercedes was never the cheapest sedan, but in the case of the 190D and 200D, they quickly built a reputation for running millions of kilometers, tolerating heavy loads, and being generally indestructible. Those are the key attributes of a commercial vehicle, but in this case, they were embodied in a sedan.

The W110 series began in 1961 with the introduction of the 190 cars., replacing the W111 series and confounding the once logical Mercedes nomenclature. They were part of the Heckflosse (Fintail) series covered here before (see The Heckflosse Champion), and had the signature appendages in the rear. In the front, they looked like the preceding Ponton cars (see Ponton Production) with the round headlights and the snub nose. Inside, wood was replaced with Bakelite, and luxury seats were replaced with fixed back items. But the key gamble that Mercedes continued to take was in promoting the Diesel engine. At the time, diesel engines  were noisy and visibly produced soot out of the tailpipe. They also had extremely sluggish performance. The press was not kind to these machines, and the traditional Mercedes customer did not view them positively either.

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However, the taxi cab industry had quite the opposite view. These were robust, relatively fuel efficient vehicles with enough comfort to be the ideal conveyance. If it was good for taxicabs, then it was good for others desiring rock solid transportation, and sales grew along with the reputation. Between 1961 and 1965, the diesel variant outsold the gasoline version by over 95,000 units. In 1966, a second series of the W110 was introduced. The inline 4 diesel in the 200D now had a 5 bearing main crankshaft, twin carburetors, and increased bore to yield 1988cc. This produced a whopping 60hp, and a top speed of 130kph in a vehicle weighing 2794 lbs. This was not a performance sedan! However, it also went on to outsell the gasoline variant by over 51,000 units between 1966 and 1968. 

Overall, over 387,000 of the W110 diesels were produced by the time they were replaced by the W115 series in 1968. They cemented the legendary status of the Mercedes Benz Diesel engine, which also became popular in marine applications. It also provided a reputation for reliable, durable vehicles to complement the image of premier luxury automobiles. Remember the 600 Pullman was produced in the same timeframe, as were trucks and vans. No other manufacturer at the time had such an effective grasp of both ends of the spectrum.

On Driving On The Left

Classic Velocity

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I grew up driving on the left.  In fact, I'm not even sure at what point I learned that there was an alternative. I also grew up on very narrow roads that were pockmarked with potholes and peppered with patches.  And they were all twisty roads. My father used to joke that the road builders must have been paid by the corner. I am not sure at what point I came to know that these were not normal roads. I can remember being surprised and delighted at a long smooth stretch of road, and then promptly using it to pass everything that I could. So did everyone else, leading to a kind of crazy no man's land in the middle of an already narrow road. Exciting times ensued, but as I recall, there was rarely an accident from this scenario. Accidents came from top speed trials and misjudging the limits around mountain roads with no guardrail, and from a general excess of testosterone over wisdom. 

Fortunately for me, I had no access to speed, although I wanted it very badly. The 10 year old clapped out 175cc Honda trail bike, and the even older Land Rover that I learned to ride and drive on, were both philosophically and physically opposed to speed. Several of us tried to make them go fast, but all we could do was paint a racing stripe on the Honda's tank, and get a running start downhill on the Land Rover. The Land Rover in particular was hilarious, as it was geared in a way that the top speed could only be reached downhill coasting with the clutch in! The Honda was just done at about 47mph. By experimentation, we discovered that both could "feel" fast by going across a bumpy field at anything over 40mph. Fast forward some decades, and the billiard smooth highways of the USA make speed a mundane necessity. Driving on the right is the norm, and speeds over 80mph are routine and uneventful. Of course, countries and cultures have changed, but there is still a desire for some excitement getting from A to B. Exceeding the limits of the roads and the machines in this environment is relatively hard to do. Little or no challenge, little or no fun. 

A recent visit back to a place that drives on the left recently shook up the norms again however briefly. There were warnings for visitors who might normally drive on the right, but I was instantaneously back in my natural habitat and needed no signs. There were roundabouts again, and shifting with the left hand, and overtaking on narrow roads, and no guard rails on mountain roads, and no time (nor need) to glance at the dashboard, much less a mobile device. It rekindled that original need to pay full attention to the act of driving, and to be challenged to do it well in a somewhat unpredictable environment. And it rekindled that original fascination with probing the limits and trying to go fast. It was not about the absolute speed, it was all relative.  Blind corners, and using your horn, and 1st gear hairpins, and maintaining momentum, all returned to center stage. Driving was brilliant fun, even in a small economical non-descript compact car, on the way to nowhere in particular. BMW often used the term Freude Am Fahren in marketing campaigns to invoke The Joy of Driving. Man and machine in perfect choreography. We have explored it here before (see One and Moonbathing), but it bears repeating....

Whatever it looks like for you, go drive on the left.

 

The $800 CV Boot Revisited

Classic Velocity

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Some summer recycling here with a post from 2010 made relevant again due to a current S mall repair that turned into a much bigger bill. It also points out how prices have changed ;-)

The project started innocently enough. One of the CV boots on the Porsche 911T was torn and had sent grease all over the heat exchanger and everything else. Like many ailments to the early 911, a keen sense of smell is critical to early detection. With the pre-war VW heating system in these cars, you tend to develop a sense of what your engine smells like under normal circumstances. This is useful because by the time you actually see the flames shooting through the grill on the rear decklid, it is often too late. I detected burning grease, and shut things down. Satisfied that it was the boot, I nursed the car home.

Someday, I hope to hear a satisfactory explanation for this design, which is common to so many different vehicles from this era and well beyond. A complex and expensive flexible joint which has high speed rotating parts, which is under the car exposed to dirt rocks, etc, and which must remain lubricated, is protected by a $6 (probably 50 cents back then) rubber boot fastened by metal or hard plastic hose clamps. Anyone?……anyone?…..Bueller?…

The next day, I ordered some boots. A CV boot for an early Porsche 911 costs about $6, and I had ordered 4 just to be safe, and to get to the $20 free shipping limit. $6 and a few hours should have me back on the road. The next weekend I launched my assault. I got the rear of the car up on jackstands, and spent a good while cleaning up the mess. I had boots, tools, a can of grease to repack the axle, and I was all set. Except, I wasn’t. While cleaning up I discover that the driver's side heat exchanger has several holes and the outer housing is basically detached from the exhaust header. This would explain the rattling sound heard on occasion. Although work continues on the cv joints, thoughts have already shifted to heat exchangers.

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I do want to maintain heat in this car, so headers are eliminated. The next day, I search the forums, Ebay, and Pelican. I find a pair of heat exchangers in good shape from a fellow owner about 130 miles away. I decide that the budget will not withstand new SSI units, to I drive a few hours and come back fairly pleased with the parts, and fairly displeased with the magnitude of the unplanned expenditure. I also remember that I have a pair of heater control valves form the prior year’s Hershey swap meet. Better tackle them now as well.

During the following week, I remove the heat exchangers, and notice that one of the oil tubes is leaking. Well, with the heat exchangers out, now is the time to address them, and since we are tackling oil leaks, I need a pair of valve cover gaskets as well. So I order the items to arrive before the weekend. That weekend I dig in again. I quickly discover that a couple of the heater control valve nuts are rusty and seized. I leave them soaking overnight in penetrant. Of course, these two nuts are in the most inaccessible locations, so the next day it takes heat and a couple hours of contortionist positioning to finally get them off. I celebrate like I won the lottery.

During the next week, I finally get things back together. $800 and almost 3 weeks later, the $6 cv boot with 2 hours of labor is successfully replaced. Saturday afternoon I go for a drive. The glorious aroma of hot metal and a little paint seeps into the cabin when I open the heater control valve. Having your engine smell just right as you fly down a country road…..priceless. 

Neue Klasse Homologation Special

Classic Velocity

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In 1962, BMW broke even for the first time since the war thanks to a strategic infusion from the Quandt family, and some surprising success with a few models (see Birth of the Bavarian Sports Sedan and The Halo and the Hail Mary). This allowed them to introduce the Neue Klasse sedans in 1963 which immediately began to sell well. A 1500 model was introduced in various trim levels, all using the now famous "3 Box" design, and the M10 engine. The 1500 gave way to a 1600 model (except in countries where 1500cc was an important tax limit), and the a 4 door 1800 was eventually introduced. 

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A homologation special, the 1800 TI/SA, was introduced in 1964. It was produced to support the factory works effort, and took the TI (Turismo Internationale) production version and upgraded it to SA (SonderAusführung) specifications. This involved higher compression (10.5:1), twin Weber carbs rather than the twin solex TI, larger brakes upfront and rear disc brakes, a 5 speed gearbox, and a hotter camshaft. In the cockpit, there was a special tachometer and sport seats. On the exterior, there were no bumpers, and plain wheels without trim or covers. The end result was 150 hp compared to 120 hp in the TI. Only 200 of these specials were produced, and they were sold only to race teams.

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The TISA was successful in competition, winning the German national championship in the hands of Hubert Hahne in 1964, and coming second at the Spa Francochamps 24 hour race. In 1965, the TISA won Spa in the hands of Pascal Ickx (yes, father of Jacky Ickx). Today, you can still find the TISA at events like Goodwood and the Monterey Historics, but they are mostly tucked away in private collections and museums. 

Hershey 2017

Classic Velocity

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The weather forecast was not helpful. Not that this is unusual for an April event in Pennsylvania. We have attended this event in snow flurries, hail, 80+ degree heat, and torrential downpours (see Hounds of the Basketweave or Hooked on Hershey). However, as the value of the cars rise, the willingness to drive them in less than perfect conditions plummets. A shame really for arguably the best handling machines of the 20th century, and even the beginnings of the 21st. The weather also seems to have impacted the swap meet vendors. There were noticeable gaps in the rows and rows of vendor spots. Were they just no-shows on this gray day, or did less people actually sign up?

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In any case, none of this stops the die-hards. Hershey is an annual gathering of friends not seen since before the winter, or since the last Hershey. It means that spring is here in the mid-Atlantic region, and cars are back on the road. It was great to see members of the crew out and about, shopping, searching, browsing. As shocking as it is, it was great to see that the hobby supports $2800 tool kits and a $1200 seat that needed a complete refinishing. On the other hand bargains were still to be found on a nice 944 for $5000, and an early 911 deck lid for $200. This is the magic of Hershey, friends, bargains, non-bargains, and French fries.  

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And then there are the cars. Despite lower than usual turnout, there were great examples of the marque from its' earliest models, to the latest. Between the show field and the Porsche-only parking area, you could find whatever you loved. A Reuter-bodied 356 Coupe, to a few weeks old GT3. As always, you could find many examples of any given year and model. 968, 912, 928, 993, etc. If you like the vintage models, this is still the place to be in April, although there is increasingly more for the newer cars. We were reminded that 911SCs, and 944s, and even 928s are now 30 years old. 20 year old $80k supercars with reasonable mileage are now under $30k. Time marches on, old classics remain timeless, new classics are emerging, but the place to see it all is still Hershey Pennsylvania in April.  

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Weekend Warriors

Classic Velocity

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Being in the midst of building a street car that can go to the track and pass tech inspection, I am struck by the contrast of what this process was like when I last did it 20+ years ago, and what it was like 20 years before that. First a few obvious contrasts, so that you know this is not just another luddite diatribe about how much better things were back then... 

Racing is safer today. Despite having fewer tracks today, there are probably many more track miles driven per year, and with far fewer injuries and deaths per mile driven. Cars are better today. Even in the arena of vintage racing where my interest lies, we are running better tires, better brakes, and better lubricants than the original cars ever did. Tracks are better today. I ran the new Watkins Glen, and the new Lime Rock Park in recent years, and the historic sharp edges of those tracks have been removed. It is very hard to run into a stand of trees these days, or hit Armco barriers that have no energy absorption. The new tracks such as Thunderbolt in NJ are designed so that Indy cars are safe, much less your 1969 BMW 1600. That is not to say that vintage racing is completely sanitized. There are accidents every season, and there was an unfortunate fatality at Lime Rock in the last 2 years. Things are better on all fronts, but this remains a sport with risks. 

In order to participate in this safer arena for a few weekends per year, the current project car has to have some significant modifications. It must have a roll cage of specified thickness, which rises above head height, and which has an inspection port so that the thickness can be validated at tech inspection. It must have a cutoff switch and a fire extinguisher. It must have no leaks of any kind, a multi-point safety harness, and must have catchment bottles, etc, etc. In order to be competitive at the sharp end of the field, the car would have to be made virtually unusable as a street car.

There was a time, in the heyday of sports car racing, when you could drive your street car to the track, and race it after doing little more than placing a taped "X" over the headlights. Certainly a low barrier to entry, and the sport grew tremendously. The SCCA general competition rule (GCR) book for 2017 is 986 pages, up from 963 pages in 2016, and it is updated monthly! In 1985 it was 786 pages. Thankfully, vintage is only 542 pages today, up from 533 in 2012, but this covers machines which were last produced 40 years ago! Time marches on, and the SCCA is just one of many organizations that are in a constant battle to close loopholes, and improve safety, while not killing the racing. Not an enviable balance to strike at all. 

The perception that even the most basic form of amateur racing is expensive and complicated may not be entirely true, but a 1000 page rule book, and a paddock full of trailers doesn't help dispel that perception. In a litigious society, it is probably a pipe dream to expect cheap, easy, and legal competition, but it sure would be nice to have an option of driving to the track with just a roll of electrical tape, a helmet, and a 1 page disclaimer....

Ponton Production

Classic Velocity

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Mercedes had been slowly rebuilding its manufacturing capacity after the war, but in July 1953 they really regained that capacity with the production of the "Ponton" cars. These cars were so named because of the external body styling which resembled pontoons. They were really the first true postwar vehicle from Mercedes, as machines such as the 170D were really just postwar versions of prewar cars. The cars and the styling are thought to be the work of Freidrich Geiger who was later responsible for the 300SL. First up were the 4 cylinder W120 sedans, which were dubbed the 180 models. The following year a 180D model was introduced to provide a diesel model, and the legendary straight 6 was introduced to create the 220a sedan. 

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1955 introduced the 190SL coupe and then the roadster, and a year after that, new versions of the 6 cylinder were introduced dubbed models 219 and the 220S. There were also new versions of the 4 cylinder cars, the W180 II. A handsome cabriolet was introduced to round out the Pontons. Finally, 1958 saw the introduction of the 220SE, and production fuel injection. In 1959, a third and final generation of the Pontons went into production, which technically lasted until 1962. Overall, there were over 580,000 Ponton cars produced, firmly returning Mercedes to high volume production, and putting them in position to attempt a purchase of BMW in the late 1950s. But that is another story....

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The Era Error

Classic Velocity

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The Classic Velocity crew considers the postwar period from the late 1940s to the late 1970s to be an era. Why? Because it is a time when the engineers and the stylists often triumphed over sales and marketing, when the engineer's stopwatch beat the accountant's calculator. Is there any rationale to support why we might define this as an era? No, it is entirely arbitrary and capricious. It starts with recovery from World War II, and ends when chrome bumpers ended. Dictionary.com defines an era as "a period of time marked by distinctive character, events, etc". So there it is, we have defined and declared the Classic Velocity Era. 

But wait, hold on a minute, what if there are eras within eras? what if eras overlap? What if we have defined an era in error? Take Porsche for example. Within the classic velocity era, Porsche clearly has a 356 era and an early 911 era. So is an era equivalent to a model run? What about the 914? BMW had Baroque Angels, the Isetta, and the fabulous 507 all overlapping in the late 1950s. These could not have been further apart in character or in customer. Do they each have an era, or do they belong to the same era? Does the air-cooled VW Beetle define an era lasting half a century? Audi was about 4 different companies during the Classic Velocity era. Are these sub-eras, defined by ownership? Auto Union, Volkswagen Audi, the NSU-merged Audi? 

Periodically, you talk with friends who chop eras into very thin slices. They may say things like "The only true early 911s were the short wheelbase cars" or "The roundie 2002s are not the same as the squarelight cars",  These fans of slivers would have a really hard time with something like the Paleolithic era which lasted a few million years! Mercedes attempts to sort out this mess by the use of chassis numbers. The W113, or the R107 are clear identifiers of a model era. But wait, they also refer to the era of the Fintails, which spans the W110, W111, and W112. The Ponton cars preceding them had even more chassis numbers included. Just when you thought it was safe...

And then there are eras defined by people. The Quandt family at BMW, Albert Roger at NSU, Ferry Porsche designs, the Bertone era, the Max Hoffman era, etc. What about the whole era of the "3 box design"? What about engine configurations like the flat four VWs and Porsches, or the straight six BMWs? How about the era of the ragtop sunroof ?

You see how erroneous this error business really is. Is it an error to even define an era?