Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Art of the Classic Sports Car: Pace and Grace, book review

by the numbers

205 pages,
4 categories of cars
27 cars
most cars have 6 to 10 photos of each

1st impression... damn, the author knows these cars. Who made them, why, how, and so much more. Which is no doubt the reason he's writing car books.

The photos are fantastic, all studio, and wonderful.

Only two minor complaints, as this is a top notch book. The selection of cars could be a bit more complete, as there are more Italian and American cars that I would have liked to have seen in this, like the Iso Rivolta, Morgan, O.S.C.A. etc. And where is the GT 350? Shelby Cobra 289? GT 40? The author instead features an AC Ace. Not a Cobra.

And the introduction? It's clear the author is an elitist snob. Clearly a trait common among the F1 crowd, and huh... the author has been part of F1 in TV, Radio, and F1 Magazine. Snobbery's not cool, and I think it might be easy to reign in that impulse when writing an intro to your book.

Here is likely the reason for snubbing the Fords, in the authors own words:
"In the last decades of the twentieth century, it became fashionable among volume car manufacturers, to offer "sporting" variants (the author doesn't see the hypocrisy of shaming American car makers for this, and ignoring Ferrari for doing the same) in their model ranges, usually distinguished by a mildly retuned engine, some hurriedly designed plastic bodywork addenda, and that great aesthetic horror, the "go-faster stripe." (maybe the author isn't aware that was first invented by Cunningham, race car team owner/driver/maker in 1950 ) Buyers of secondhand machinery followed that lead, and soon the inner circular roads of most great cities were thrumming at night to the beat of strained low-capacity engines howling in agony through aftermarket mufflers"

Arbarth says "WTF ou talkin' about Willis?"

Get what I'm saying? Snob, and slamming Italian cars, not the cars he intended to criticise -  the Camaros, Scat Pack Dodges, GT 350s... you know, the big displacement American muscle cars.

The author does see the reality of luxury car makers going out of business (name one that is still owned and operated without having been bought and sold, bankrupt etc.) and points out "Many of the cars they built were commercial flops in their time, or built and sold in small numbers - whether because of world events, changing trends, or, more often than not, simply being too expensive. We remember these carsromantically, but in a century bedeviled by world wars and boom and bust economic cycles, actually being in the low-volume sports-car business was akin to a taking a flight with Icarus"

Car companies that couldn't hack it in business, (Ferrari, Lamborghini, Rolls Royce, Jaguar) and are now owned by other car companies that made cheap cars (VW and Ford)

Here's an example of the good writing you can expect in this book, quite superb writing... "The 911 of today is as machine-built as a atypical Volkswagen, but each new generation has been sweated over just as the original was. It has become an iconic sports car precisely because of the pains surrounding it's conception, the fear of imperfectly following up on the 356 model on which the company built its reputation. Even in the twenty first century, every engineer coming to the 911 project knows that they are taking temporary custody of a baton they must not drop"

"Equally, Ferrari is now owned by Fiat, and it's modern factory has a largely automated production line with health-and-safety mandated "green zones" and breakout areas, but even a cursory tour reveals the still beating artisan heart of the company. A team of workers custom stitch the find hides used for upholstery. As you walk in you pass a line of classic Ferrari models that stand like finely polished sentinels, scrutinizing the next generation as each new car is wheeled out. Emerging models are only approved at the development stage after a good thrashing at the Fiorano test track across the road."

Because every car book is a new source of cool stuff to learn, and this one is too, as always in my book reviews, here is the stuff I learned because this author knows his shit, and I haven't learned about these things yet:

The AC company, was making a good Ace in 1957, it came in 2nd in class to a Ferrari in the 24 hours of Le Mans. Then the co-driver, a car dealer/racer, made a decision that changed the sports car world. He put a small Ford engine in the AC Ace. This resulted in the best AC Ace for racing, and he was selling more of his ''Ruddspeed" Ace than AC was selling of their Ace. Then Shelby one upped Rudd with a small Ford V8, and the rest of the world started putting American V8s into European sports cars, and now, as good ol Paul Harvey said, "you know the REST of the story".

Back to the expensive cars will put a company out of business theme, the BMW 507 was so expensive, costing more than a house, that they only sold 251 of them. That doesn't break even on the costs of engineering, r and d, part supply and logistics, distribution etc. Only the very rich could afford them, and that put BMW on the verge of bankruptcy.... and only the fast thinking to license the ISO Isetta kept BMW from going out of business. The Isetta, the world's first mass-production car to achieve 3 L/100 km - 78 mpg, and it was the top-selling single-cylinder car in the world.

Ferdinand Porsche spent 22 months in a French jail for working with the Nazis.

In 1947, Aston Martin was for sale in the newspaper classifieds of the Times. David Brown bought it and the Lagonda assets, put the Lagonda twin cam into the Aston Martin and made a better car. Then Brown dropped the in house styling, and outsourced to Carrozeria Touring, and the DB4 was a hit for it's looks and increased handling achieved by the fabrication by Touring, a tube frame work covered with aluminum body. It all resulted in the world's fastest production car, 0-100-0 in less than 30 seconds.

The 1st cars Enzo sold as commuters were old race cars which he had made street legal by adding turn signals and headlights.

Pre WW2, Enzo Ferrari was working for Alfa Romeo, but after WW2 he was competing against them, against all the improvements he had made to the Alfa racing team, engine, etc etc

When making the Marcos, the design was inspired by the de Havilland Mosquito, because the co-owner of Marcos had just been an engineer for de Havilland, and consulted for Lotus, and designed the bodies on the Vanwall Formula 1s. The successful design was a plywood monocoque chassis, and with a Marcos, Bill Moss won 9 consecutive 1000cc races in 1960

Jaguar was so panicked by the 300SL that they redesigned the Type C, and screwed up by making a nose for higher speeds when they didn't factor in increased cooling, and they lost the Le Mans

The company president of Datsun was at the theater, enjoyed the play, but was so impressed by the sound of the title, he called his next sports car the Fair Lady, from My Fair Lady (1958)

The 1967 Toyota 2000 GT was so expensive to make and import, it cost more in California than a Porsche 911. They only sold 351.

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