FBI Alerts America to the Dangers of Car Hacking

Earlier this week, the FBI issued a public service announcement warning drivers of the dangers of car hacking. The announcement tells drivers how to prevent cybersecurity attacks, and what to do if the vehicle is hacked.

According to the statement, vehicles have become “increasingly vulnerable to remote exploits” thanks to connectivity features. What connectivity features? Keyless entry and ignition, tire pressure monitoring, infotainment, navigation and diagnostic systems. All of these allow the bad guys to easily access cars. The FBI cautions drivers about the dangers of connecting a third-party device to ports in their vehicles.

The FBI also tells you to be on the lookout when installing updates recommended by the manufacturer. Criminals may send illegitimate emails to owners and trick them into downloading malicious software. This happens with computers and phones, so it should come as no surprise that automotive computers are just as vulnerable. How does one prevent this? Be very careful downloading software from third-party websites or file-sharing programs. Always check the manufacturer’s website to ensure that a software update is truly needed. It’s always a good idea to use a trusted USB or SD card when downloading and/or installing software on a vehicle. Basically, the same precautions you would take with your computer.

What happens if you believe your vehicle has been hacked? First of all, don’t take it lightly. If you think your car has been hacked, check for outstanding vehicle recalls. You should also contact the vehicle’s manufacturer or an authorized dealer. You should also contact NHTSA and the local FBI field office.

Several security scares have come to light in the past few months. A pair of hackers has already demonstrated how they were able to remotely control a Jeep Cherokee via it’s Uconnect infotainment system. Different hackers also were able to hack into a Tesla Model S. Both Jeep and Tesla have taken steps to fix these vulnerabilities. Another security scare was with the Nissan Leaf. The mobile app for the Leaf was shut down by Nissan after a massive security breach.

I guess the solution is to build an old-school hot rod without any electronics on it!

Who Was Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins?

For those of us who grew up watching drag races in the 1960’s-early 1980’s, the name Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins should sound more than familiar to you.  It would be like asking a politics addict who was the president at the time of the Watergate scandal.  Grumpy Jenkins is just that legendary.

While Grumpy Jenkins may have won ONLY 13 NHRA titles as a driver during his lengthy, legendary career, you’ll be hard-pressed to find somebody who had a more lasting impact on Super Stock and Pro Stock drag racing.  He was voted the 8th-best driver in the NHRA’s Top 50 list, because “no other individual has contributed more to the advancement of normally aspirated engines for quarter mile competition.”

William Jenkins was born in Philadelphia on December 30, 1930.  Bill quickly got his start turning wrenches on a neighbor’s tractor after his family moved to the more bucolic city of Downingtown, Pennsylvania.  By the time he reached high school, he was running the occasional drag race at the local drag strip, but it was more pastime than passion for him.  After graduation, Jenkins studied mechanical engineering at Cornell University, but dropped out after only 3 years in a 4 year program, after his father died.  By his own admission, he wasn’t much of a student.

While he may have lacked an aptitude for test-taking, it is eminently clear that he learned quite a bit during his time at Cornell.  When the Chevy small-block V8 debuted in 1955, it didn’t take long for Bill to realize that the engine had tons of potential for drag racing.  By the early 1960’s, he’d developed something of a cult following back east.  East coast drag racers knew that a Jenkins-built car with a Jenkins-built engine practically guaranteed you going home with a big, nice, shiny trophy strapped into the seat next to you.

His talents weren’t overlooked by GM, either.  In 1963, Bill and his partner, Dave Strickler, received the first factory lightweight Z-11 427 cubic-inch V8 Chevrolet Impala.  Carrying the same Old Reliable nickname worn proudly by the team’s previous Ammon Smith Auto Company-sponsored Chevrolet, the Jenkins-tuned Impala helped deliver a big, shiny trophy home in the Little Eliminator class at the 1963 NHRA Nationals.  The team’s relationship with Chevrolet likely would have given Chevrolet more trophies if it weren’t for the 1963 corporate ban on motorsports.  That ended what likely would have been an extremely-promising career with GM for Bill Jenkins and Dave Strickler.

In 1964 with GM out of the picture, Jenkins and Strickler turned to Dodge and their newly-released 426 HEMI.  They delivered Dodge a win at the 1964 Nationals at the A/FX class.  Jenkins then backed this up with an S/SA class win of his own at the 1965 Winternationals, behind the wheel of the Black Arrow, a 1965 Dodge that marked his transition from tuner to driver.  When he approached Chrysler in 1966 to extend the deal, neither party could come to terms with each other on a deal, so he returned to drag racing a Chevrolet (specifically a 1966 Chevrolet II) for the 1966 season.

Since GM still wasn’t sanctioning motorsports, Jenkins funded the effort on his own, via whatever sponsorships he could scrounge up.  The car was the first to carry the Grumpy’s Toy moniker.  It wasn’t long before his efforts came to the attention of Chevrolet’s Vince Piggens, then the head of Chevrolet’s performance efforts.  Racing was still forbidden fruit, but nothing in the company’s rulebook prohibited Piggens from financially assisting Jenkins in the name of “Product Promotions Engineering.”

His Chevy II was a four-speed manual car, which meant that Jenkins had to turn his engineering prowess towards improving shifting and getting the power to the ground.  As he explained to the audience at his Top 50 induction, “We applied a lot of slick-shift technology to the transmissions and made good use of the slapper bar style of traction device originally used by Stahl and Frank Sanders. By the end of the year, I could dump the clutch at 6,000 RPM when most of the other guys had to feather the throttle on the seven-inch tires that we were restricted to.”

Such innovation became a hallmark of Jenkins-built cars and engines, and it was often said that he was happier winning races as a constructor and tuner than as a driver.  By the late 1960’s, he was active on both fronts, fielding as many as four team cars while driving a car of his own (usually a Camaro), and heads-up match races against drivers like Ronnie Sox and Don Nicholson became so popular with spectators that the NHRA created the Pro Stock category for the 1970 season.  Out of the gate, Jenkins won against Sox at the Winternationals and Gatornationals, but Chrysler closed the gap and became the brand to beat in the 1/4 mile.

When rule changes in 1972 allowed cars with small-block wedge engines to run at far lower weights than before, Jenkins was the first embrace the rule change.  He built his first Pro Stock Chevrolet Vega, which turned out to be the car to beat.  By the end of the 1972 season, Jenkins had won 6 out of 8 NHRA national events.  Factoring in race winnings and sponsorships, Jenkins earned $250,000 in income that year, rivaled only by NBA star Wilt Chamberlain.  This feat was good enough to earn Jenkins coverage in Time magazine, and suddenly the sport of NHRA drag racing had gone mainstream.

His second Vega, a 1974 Vega, dubbed Grumpy’s Toy XI, didn’t enjoy nearly the same success as his previous Vega, but went on to have a far more lasting impression on drag racing.  It featured Pro Stock firsts such as a full tube chassis, a dry sump oiling system, rack and pinion steering, and a MacPherson strut front suspension that added weight transfer to the rear tires, and it became the car that most Pro Stock cars are based off of today.

Accepting that he gained greater satisfaction as a constructor than as a driver, Jenkins hung up his Nomex in 1976 to focus on research and development. He remained a team owner through the 1983 season, but then shifted his attention to his Jenkins Competition business full-time, where he and his crew built engines for motorsports ranging from drag racing through stock car racing. Even into his mid-70s, Jenkins was said to be active building engines, undoubtedly running younger employees ragged with his focus and determination to address every detail, no matter how small. Eventually, even Jenkins’s tank ran dry, and he died of heart failure in March 2012 at the age of 81.  The nickname “Grumpy” came from a summer intern who called him the nickname because of his all-work, no-play attitude.

For me, it’s hard to imagine somebody who’s more legendary in that area of drag racing.

Ferruccio Lamborghini – a Biography of the Man Who Wanted a Better Ferrari

When you see a Lamborghini for the first time, you are probably wondering if an alien owns it.  It looks otherworldly.  This blog post is going to delve into the story behind the man who created Lamborghini Automobili, Ferruccio Lamborghini.  I hope you find his life as interesting as I do.

Ferruccio Lamborghini was born on April 28, 1916 to Antonio and Evelina Lamborghini in the beautiful region of Northern Italy.  Not much is known about his childhood, other than the fact that his parents were viticulturists.  What we do know is that Ferruccio Lamborghini was fascinated with farming machinery, rather than the farming lifestyle.  Following his passion for mechanics, Ferruccio went to the Fratelli Taddia technical institute in Bologna.  In 1940, Ferruccio was drafted into the Italian Royal Air Force for WWII.  He started off as a vehicle mechanic at the Italian garrison on the island of Rhodes.  He eventually became supervisor of the vehicle maintenance unit there.  When the island fell to the British in 1945, Ferruccio was taken prisoner.  He was unable to return home until 1946.  Upon his return, he married, but his wife died in 1947 while giving birth to their son, Antonio Lamborghini.

After that, Ferruccio opened a small garage near Bologna.  In his spare time, Ferruccio modified an old Fiat Topolino that he had purchased, one of the many that he would own over the years.  He took his extensive mechanical abilities to the tiny city car and turned it into a thundering, two-seat, open-top, 750-cc, roadster.  He entered the car in the 1948 Mille Miglia.  His participation in the tiny Topolino ended after 700 miles, when he ran the car into the side of a restaurant in the town of Fiano, in the province of Turin.  As a result of the crash, Lamborghini lost all enthusiasm for racing, a bitter sentiment that would last until the late 1960s.

In 1949, Ferruccio started Lamborghini Trattori, a small tractor company that would eventually become the European equivalent of John Deere.  His increasing wealth allowed him to buy more expensive, faster cars than the tiny Fiats that had provided with reliable, albeit slow, transportation for many years.  In the early 1950’s, he owned such cars as Lancia’s and Alfa Romeo’s, and at one point, he owned enough cars to drive a different one for every day of the week.  He added a Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing, a Jaguar E-Type coupe, and two Maserati 3500GT’s.  He once said of the latter, “Adolfo Orsi, then the owner of Maserati, was a man I had a lot of respect for: he had started life as a poor boy, like myself.  But I did not like his cars much.  They felt heavy and did not really go fast.”

In 1958, Lamborghini traveled to Modena to buy a Ferrari 250GT, an early Ferrari with a Pininfarina body.  He went on to own several more 250GT’s, including a Scaglietti-designed 250 SWB Berlinetta and a 250GT 2+2.  He thought that Enzo Ferrari’s cars were good, they were too noisy and rough to be proper road cars.  He categorized the 250GT’s as repurposed track cars with poorly done interiors.  Ouch.

He found that Ferrari’s had bad clutches, requiring frequent, expensive trips to Modena to replace them.  Ferrari technicians would squirrel the cars away for hours on end to perform the service, which immensely dissatisfied Lamborghini.  He had expressed his dissatisfaction about Ferrari’s after sales service multiple times before, which he perceived to be extremely substandard compared to other auto manufacturers.  He brought this to Enzo Ferrari’s attention, but was rudely dismissed by the pride-filled Ferrari.  He eventually successfully modified one of his personal 250GT’s to outperform stock 250GT’s, he decided that he was going to start an automobile manufacturing venture of his own, with an aim to create the perfect touring car that he felt nobody could build for him.  His belief was that a grand touring car should have attributes lacking in Ferrari’s, namely high performance without compromising tractability, ride quality, or interior appointments.  Being a clever businessman, Lamborghini knew that he could triple the profits if he used tractor parts from his tractor company.

The 1970’s OPEC Oil Crisis caused a large financial crisis for Lamborghini.  Lamborghini Trattori, which exported about half of it’s tractors, ran into trouble when the South African importer cancelled all of their orders.  The Bolivian military government cancelled a large shipment of tractors ready to ship from Genoa.  Since all of the Lamborghini Trattori employees were unionized, they could not be fired or laid off, which put immense financial strain on the company.  Lamborghini sold his entire share of the company (72%) to SAME, a rival tractor company, in 1972.

Not long after that, the entire Lamborghini franchise found itself in dire straights.  Development at Lamborghini Automobili slowed as costs were cut.  So, Ferruccio started negotiations with Georges-Henri Rossetti, a wealthy Swiss businessman and close friend.  Ferruccio sold Rossetti a 51% share in the company for US$600,000, which was enough to keep Lamborghini Automobili alive.  He continued to work at the factory even though he had no official controlling share in the company.  Rossetti rarely involved himself in Lamborghini Automobili’s affairs.

The 1973 OPEC Oil Crisis didn’t improve financial matters, either.  Consumers flocked in droves to smaller, more practical cars with better fuel economy.  By 1974, Ferruccio had become so disenchanted with the automobile manufacturing business that he severed all connections with the automobile manufacturer that bore his name.  He sold his remaining 49% share of the company to Rene Leimer, a friend of Rossetti.

After departing the automotive world, Lamborghini started an industrial valve and equipment manufacturer, as well as a heating and air conditioning company, Lamborghini Calor.

In 1974, Lamborghini exited the industrial world and retired to a 740-acre estate named La Fiorita on the shores of Lake Trasimeno, in Central Italy.  Returning to his farming roots, Lamborghini took delight in hunting and making his own wines.  He even designed a personal golf course.  At age 58, he fathered Patrizia Lamborghini.

At age 76, Lamborghini died on February 20, 1993 at Silvestrini Hospital after suffering a heart attack 15 days earlier.  He is buried at the Monumental Cemetery of the Certosa di Bologna monastery.

Bullfighting is an integral part of the Lamborghini identity.  In 1962, Lamborghini visited the Seville ranch of Don Eduardo Muira, a renowned breeder of fighting bulls.  He was so impressed with the raging bulls that he decided to adopt a raging bull as the emblem of Lamborghini Automobili.

After producing two cars with alphanumeric designations, Lamborghini once again turned to bullfighting for inspiration.  Don Eduardo was filled with pride when he learned that Lamborghini had named a car after his family and their legendary line of bulls.  The fourth Lamborghini Muira was unveiled to him at his ranch.

The Lamborghini Islero was named for the bull that killed the legendary bullfighter Manolete in 1947.

The Lamborghini Espada was named after the Spanish word for sword, and sometimes used to refer to the bullfighter himself.

The Lamborghini Jarama had a special double meaning – it was intended to refer to the historic bullfighting region of Spain, but Ferruccio was worried that there would be confusion with the also-historic Jarama motor racing track.

After naming the Lamborghini Urraco after a bull breed, Lamborghini broke from tradition and named the Countach, not for a bull, but for a rather rude expression used by Piedmontese men to describe a beautiful woman.  I don’t know why either.  Legend has it that designer Nuccio Bertone uttered the word in surprise when he saw the Countach prototype.  The Lamborghini LM002 SUV and Lamborghini Silhouette were the other exceptions.

The 1982 Lamborghini Jalpa was named for a bull breed.

The Lamborghini Diablo was named for the Duke of Veragua’s bull that fought an epic battle against El Chicorro in 1869.  It also means “devil” in Spanish.

The Lamborghini Murcielago was named for the legendary bull whose life was spared by El Lagartijo for his ferocious performance in 1879.  It also means “bat” in Spanish.

The Lamborghini Reventon was named for the bull that killed the young Mexican bullfighter Felix Guzman in 1943.

The 2008 Lamborghini Estoque concept car was named for the estoc, the sword traditionally used by matadors.

The Lamborghini Aventador was named for a bull that was bred by the sons of Don Celestino Cuadri Vides.  The bull was killed in a particularly gruesome fight, and after the fight, the left ear was cut off of the bull and given to the matador for good luck.

The Lamborghini Gallardo was named for one of the five ancestral castes of the Spanish bullfighting breed.

The Lamborghini Huracan is named for a bull that fought in 1879.  Huracan also means “hurricane” in Spanish.

All of Lamborghini’s companies are still around in some form or another today.  Lamborghini Trattori is still a subsidiary of SAME.  His son, Tonino (Antonio) Lamborghini designs a line of clothing and accessories under the Tonino Lamborghini brand.  His daughter, Patrizia Lamborghini, runs the private winery on his estate.

A museum near the factory honoring Lamborghini, the Centro Studi e Richerche Ferruccio Lamborghini, opened in 2001.  The museum is located just 25 km (15.2 miles) from the factory in Sant’Agata Bolognese.  Tonino may even be there to greet you, as you have to write ahead to get in, as conferences often happen and the museum is closed to the public.

Paul Walker, the Star of the Fast and Furious Franchise, is Dead

The Fast and Furious franchise co-star, Paul Walker, is dead at age 40.  Paul Walker was riding in the passenger seat of his friend’s 2005 Porsche Carrera GT.  Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials say that speed was clearly a factor in the death of Walker and his friend.  Walker’s friend, Roger Rodas, also died in the crash.  They were travelling at a high rate of speed, lost control of the car, hit a light post, and the car burst into flames.

Walker was riding in the passenger seat of Rodas’ 2005 Porsche Carrera GT for a quick spin after his charity event for the Philippines relief effort, when the car crashed about 500 yards away from the charity event.  About one minute after the horrific crash, the car burst into flames that would have made it impossible for Rodas or Walker to escape.  A preliminary autopsy report from the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office stated that Paul Walker did not die from the trauma from the crash, it was the flames that killed him.  It is not known whether Rodas died immediately, or if he died the same way as Walker.  A full coroner’s report released in 6-8 weeks will tell what killed both men.

Walker was not married, but he had a 15-year-old daughter.  His father, Paul Walker, Sr. declined to comment to CNN and FOX News about the status of Walker’s daughter, Meadow Walker.

I will give you a brief biography on Paul Walker’s acting career:  His first movie was Monster in the Closet, but his breakthrough happened with Varsity Blues.  When he started the Fast and Furious movies, he and Vin Diesel became icons.  Hollywood is stunned at Walker’s death.  Vin Diesel, the co-star of the Fast and Furious franchise, said “I will always love you Brian, as the brother you were… on and off screen.”  Diesel gave a public address at the crash site by using the public address system from a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy car.

The car, the 2005 Porsche Carrera GT, is notoriously difficult to handle.  It has a top speed of 208 mph, an engine that revs to almost 10,000 RPMs, and it has over 600 horsepower, according to Eddie Alterman, Editor-in-Chief of Car & Driver Magazine.  Alterman stated, “This was not a car for novices.  Acutally, the Carrera GT program began as a racing program.”

Todd Trimble, an exotic car mechanic based out of Las Vegas, Nevada, said the car is very hard to drive.  “It’s (a) pure racer’s car.  You really need to know what you’re doing when you drive them.  And a lot of people are learning the hard way.”

Brand new, the car cost $450,000, and it’s becoming extremely expensive to maintain.  An oil change alone costs $900, according to Trimble.

Because the high-revving V10 is in the middle of the car, the car is extremely agile, and turns much quicker than a car with a front or rear-mounted engine.  Eddie Alterman, who had originally driven the Carrera GT at it’s debut in 2003, said “The Carrera GT is able to change direction very quickly, much like a race car.  It was beyond a super car.  It is what we call a hyper car.”

Randy Pobst, one of my favorite race car drivers (I had the opportunity to meet him at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where I was invited to watch Randy drive around the track in a SRT Viper and Chevy Corvette ZR-1), coached the Fast and Furious crew for the second movie.  “Stability control is really good at correcting slides, keeping the car from getting out of shape.”  The Carrera GT doesn’t have stability control, so it has an unforgiving reputation.  He said that “Paul was by far the best driver — a natural car guy.”

The Carrera GT has a steep learning curve.  It doesn’t have many electronic nannies to help correct drifts and slides.  It also delivers power at extremely high RPMs, as well as a manual transmission.  This means that you have to constantly rev the engine and blip the throttle to shift without stalling.  That’s not a problem on a racetrack, but it certainly is in day-to-day driving.

Since the Carrera GT was a failed racing program from the late 1990s, it was designed to crumple around the driver, and not injure the driver.  With Walker and Rodas’ case, they were probably going too fast for the car to save them.

Paul Walker was known as an extremely generous, loving, kind man who felt that everybody was his family, and that everybody deserved a second chance.  He was a gearhead from Day 1, and he amassed a car collection that anybody would be proud of.  Paul Walker, Sr. declined to comment on the status of the car collection.  He stated, “”Every now and then I’ll really break down. Talking really seems to help…there’s just such a tremendous amount of stories,” he shared. “I was just told that my son gave a marine a diamond ring to give to a gal he was going to marry. I never heard that story. He did stuff like that all the time.”

Paul Walker, Jr., you will be remembered as a cool-headed, kindly individual.  Your legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of every car and movie enthusiast, as well as your friends and family.  Your untimely death was extremely sad, but we will learn to cope.  I wish your family and friends well.  To those of you that knew Paul as a brother, friend, co-actor, or even a business acquaintance, my thoughts go out to you at this grief-stricken time.

Roger Rodas, you were a good friend to many, as well as a fellow petrolhead.  You will be remembered as a level-headed, caring individual, who had a head for saving the Earth, racing, business, and helping other people.  My thoughts go out to your friends, family, and those you helped.  You were considered a friend to many, including those you helped.

Alive at 25…And Beyond!

Jerome Cobert is an all around a great guy.  Currently, a Berkeley police officer with a cheerful and outgoing personality, he also runs the Northern California branch of Alive at 25.  I interviewed him, and he graciously gave me all the information I could possibly need.  Thanks a lot, Jerome!  Enjoy the interview!

A number of years ago, Jerome was a Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy assigned to Sonoma Valley High School.  He knew that there would be enforcement, but he also wanted safety for those of us who were driving ourselves to school, and are younger drivers.   While attending a nationwide conference for cops, and he learned about Alive at 25 through the Colorado State Patrol.  Eventually, Jerome got permission to start the program in Santa Rosa, CA.  Jerome started this amazing program in 2006.

 The purpose of Alive at 25 is to try to change driving behaviors and get younger drivers to be involved in less risky driving behavior.  Ultimately, it will reduce collisions and citations that young people are in.  The class is offered at the Contra Costa Community College or the Los Medanos College.

How can the class/course help me with my driving skills , you ask?  Excellent question. The class helps young drivers to identify and hone their driving skills by having participants examine why they partake in risky driving behaviors and the civil, criminal and emotional repercussions of their actions. The course content includes a review of current traffic laws, problems with driving under the influence of both alcohol and drugs, teaches defensive driving techniques, and has the participants make a commitment to change. This is all accomplished through the use of a wonderfully creative curriculum that includes consumable workbooks, group discussions, videos and case study.

Jerome loves the Alive at 25  

program, and knows it to be crucial in keeping new drivers safe.  Jerome finds the most enjoyable part of teaching the Alive at 25 program is the rewards; seeing students come to the realization on their own that they should reduce their risky driving behaviors and take the task of driving very seriously.   Group discussions are a great way to get to know the students, and he loves the positive feed back that he always get from the students. He has even been approached a number of times in the community from former students who told him how much impact the course had in changing their attitudes to driving.

 Class size varies, with Jerome teaching small private classes of 12 students and helped as many as 31 court ordered students through on time (those are the procrastinators).  Typically  student enrollment hovers at 25 students. A larger class makes for lively group discussions!

Alive at 25 is designed for students ages 15 to 25. I think that it has the most impact when a student has had some driving experience.

A few details in Jerome’s words:  “All of our instructors are current or retired law enforcement officers who bring a lot of credibility with them to the classroom. They have all both enforced traffic laws and reported to serious traffic collisions. These instructors have all attended an intense training course to earn their National Safety Council Certification to teach this course.  I love teaching the Alive at 25 Course and I know that all of my instructors do as well. It is truly a very rewarding experience to know that you may be helping to save the life of a young person. As I said many times, traffic collisions are the number one cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 25. I can’t tell you how great it makes me feel when at the end of the class, students share with me their commitments to changing a driving behavior.

As far as the future, we are hoping to reach more communities with both Alive at 25 and our 8 hour course called Attitudinal Dynamics of Driving. But let’s save that topic for our next interview. Thank you Candler for the opportunity to be interviewed by you and be included in your very impressive blog. Keep up the good work young man.”

No, Jerome, thank you!  It was an honor to interview you about your amazing course, and I hope to conduct another interview soon about Attitudinal Dynamics of Driving.  I learned a lot about Alive at 25, and I am looking forward to seeing Jerome and my faithful readers at least one of the Alive at 25 courses!  Remember, check out Jerome’s beautiful website that will give you all the information you need (not like I didn’t cover everything!) to register, and other things.  Thanks again, Jerome!

Is This the World’s Fastest Riding Lawn Mower?

I’m sorry for the delay.  Editors can be finicky.  The editor apologizes for her tardiness in getting you this article.  But, this article is worthy of being late.

Many of us know that Honda makes some pretty nice motorized gardening equipment.  But, for Honda UK, a riding mower with a top speed of 8 mph simply wasn’t fast enough.  This mean mower makes 109 horsepower at the wheels, which gives it an estimated top speed of 133 mph.  That will certainly allow you a lot more time to do other chores.  The mower reportedly gets to 60 mph in 4 seconds.

Of course, Honda UK needed help to build this monster machine.  Honda UK’s British Touring Car Championship partner, Team Dynamics, the stock 2013 Honda HF2620 Lawn Tractor was re-engineered and redone in every mechanical way possible.  The chassis was custom-built to take the stresses of zooming around at speeds over 100 mph and mowing at 15 mph.  The engine is a 109-horsepower, 1000 CC engine that was pulled from a 2013 Honda VTR Firestorm motorcycle.  The suspension and tires were pulled from a Honda ATV.  The seats are custom-built Cobra Racing seats, a Scorpion exhaust system, and a steering rack was pulled from a wrecked Morris Minor (a 1960’s British economy car).  Tipping the scales at a relatively light 308 pounds, the surge of power is sent to the rear wheels via a custom-made six-speed automatic that features paddle shifters.

Even though it has a lot of cool modifications, the mower can still mow – kind of.  Thanks to two electric motors on the cutter deck, the steel cutting cable will spin around at 4000 rpm.  Earplugs are advised.  So is a helmet.  I’m not sure of where the grass will go – the fuel tank is inside of the grass bag.  While it can reach an estimated top speed of 133 mph, mowing can only happen at speeds up to 15 mph (twice the speed of the stock unit!).

All in all, the mower is an interesting mix of Honda, British economy car, and custom racing components.  It’s simply diabolical.  I want it.  Make that, need it!

Shop Talk

Ron Luongo is a diehard car lover. He is the auto and ROP instructor at a local high school, and has been for many years.  Through our local office of education, he put together a middle-school auto-shop class.  I took it, and had a great time!  At the end of the last class, I asked him if he was willing to be interviewed, and he generously agreed.  Please enjoy another look into careers in the auto industry.

Mr. Luongo was always interested in cars.  He wanted to drive a fast, good-looking car from the very beginning (like me, Mom!).

He started his first job in the automotive industry early on.  When Mr. Luongo was about 19, he worked part-time at a local gas station in Southern California.

 Mr. Luongo has had many jobs in the Service Department of the Automotive field including: Automotive Machinist, Automotive Technician, Service Advisor, Service Drive Manager, Call Center Supervisor, Corporate Service Trainer, Corporate Curriculum Developer, Warranty Clerk, Dispatcher, Technical Consultant, Lube Technician, Tire Salesman/Auto Manager, and Automotive Teacher at high schools, colleges, and technology schools.  He has enjoyed many of them.

Mr. Luongo started teaching young people about automobiles at the Don Bosco Technical Institute in Southern California, way back in 1980.  He enjoyed working with young people, and explaining about cars.  Being an Auto-shop teacher requires oodles of patience and the knowledge that one is working with very young, inexperienced students.  All of which Mr. Luongo has in spades. What  he really likes about being an Auto-shop teacher is working with the students that really want to learn.

There are many careers in the automotive industry for many different types of people.  There are various jobs involving teaching, computers , working with all types of people, talking a lot, writing and reading technical information, art and cars. Being very neat and organized is necessary when working with cars.  If you are drawn to any of the above, than there is at least one automotive job for you.

Mr. Luongo has owned about twenty cars.  His favorite car was a brand-new 1969 Vitamin C Orange Plymouth Roadrunner with the optional four-speed manual and potent 383 cubic V8.  The fastest car that he has ever owned was a 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle with a four-speed manual and a built 350 cubic inch engine (which he built up himself!).  If Mr. Luongo could, he would buy a 1969 Vitamin C Orange Plymouth Roadrunner, all original with the 383 and four-speed.  VROOM!  For prospective young (and older…) buyers, Mr. Luongo has some words of wisdom: buy a car you can afford to regularly maintain!

When asked if he liked to work on cars during his off-time, Mr. Luongo said that no, he does not like to, and yes, he HAS already tried out that route.

When it comes to cars being donated to the ROP/auto shop where Mr. Luongo teaches, Mr. Luongo isn’t too picky about what type of cars are donated, they just need to be running…

I would like to give a HUGE thank you to Mr. Luongo for giving me his time and thoughts  about his career and the automotive industry in general.  I would also like to give a big thank you to my editor (named Mom…) for editing this post.  Tune in Friday for an interesting (NOT photoshop) article on two-wheeled Japanese tow trucks!

Maserati to the Seventh Power

Beautiful, fast, and sporty.  The definition of a Maserati.  As we all know, Maserati is one of the best automakers in the world that offers cars that you can actually afford (all right, maybe not in our current economical state, and if the comparison occurs with a Fiskar-KArma, Bugatti or high end Ferrari).  They are more fun to drive and ride in (personal experience) than some Porsches, and are really cool.  They have cars ranging from $120,000 to $170,000.  Are you ready to hear about the long history of Maserati? Well, I’ll take that as a yes.

Rodolfo and Carolina Maserati had seven sons (!) : Carlo (1881), Bindo (1883), Alfieri (1885-1885).  Since poor Alfieri died at only five months of age, Rodolfo and Carolina decided to  name their next son Alfieri (1887-1953) after him.  After Alfieri #2, they had Mario (1890), Ettore (1894), and Ernesto (1898).  All of the Maserati brothers except for Mario (who was the artist that designed the iconic Maserati Trident) were involved in the engineering, design, and construction of cars.

Carlo moved from his hometown of Bologna, Italy to Affori (near Milan) to work in a bicycle factory.  During his free time, he designed and built a small, single-cylinder engine.  Carlo was wooed away from the small factory to Carcano bikes.  There, he raced Carcano bikes with the engine that he designed.  While there, he won a few races and set a record for 50km/h (31 mph).

In 1901, Carlo moved from Carcano to Fiat, and two years later, he landed a job for the rest of his life at Isotta Fraschini.  Because he was a test driver and a mechanic, he was able to get Alfieri #2 a job there as a backup test driver, despite the fact that he was only 16.  Carlo had a brilliant, yet short career, dying at the young age of 29 in 1910.  But, by that time, Carlo had worked and raced for Bianchi, become General Manager of Junior, and started his own workshop with Ettore, where they made high and low voltage electrical transformers for cars.

In 1908, Alfieri #2 soon emerged as Carlo’s spiritual successor.  He had the same extroverted personality, and the same (if not better) skills as Carlo as a driver and technician.  Also, Isotta Fraschini gave Alfieri a car of his own to race.  Alfieri did well, taking 14th place overall in the 1909 Grand prix for Voiturettes in Dieppe, despite his carburetor leaking gasoline.  In the meantime, Bindo and Ettore had also joined Isotta Fraschini.  In 1912, Alfieri was put in charge of the customer service division of Isotta Fraschini, after having represented the company in Argentina, England, and the USA.  He soon hired Ettore as assistant manager of the customer service division of Isotta Fraschini.

Because of the wide-ranging experiences that he had accumulated through his career, Alfieri convinced himself that it was time to start a company of his own. He wanted to explore his talents and creativity to their fullest extent.  It worked.  Officine Alfieri Maserati was founded on December 1, 1914.

After WWI, Maserati moved from their bombed-out offices in Via de Pepoli (in Bologna) to brand-new offices in the suburbs outside of Bologna.  The Maserati brothers’ main activity was making Isotta Fraschini cars better (more power, better handling, etc).  Of course, to earn more money, they worked on other cars.  Since Alfieri had begun his career as a race-car driver, he kept on racing tuned Isotta Fraschinis.  Diatto offered him a chance to design and race cars with them.  He took them up on the racing part.

Unfortunately, in 1924, after having dominated the San Sebastiano Grand Prix, he was banned from racing for five years, even though he had retired from the race the day before.  The ban was to last five years, but Alfieri begged hard enough, and the ban was lifted after only four months.

When he wasn’t racing, Alfieri could be found in the shop tuning a Isotta Fraschini for a customer or simply building his own cars.  In 1926, the grueling 18 hours every day in the shop payed off, and the first Maserati, the Tipo 26, proudly bore the Maserati Trident.  Just to prove how good his car was, Alfieri Maserati drove the car himself for the 1926 Targa Floria.  The Tipo 26 won in its class.  The Maserati was born and out in the world.

The following year, Alfieri was sidelined after a serious accident involving a Mercedes-Benz.  But, even with the great driver sidelined for that race, Ettore won the Italian Constructors’ Championship.  Two years later, just to stick their tongue out at the Germans, the Maserati V4 was created.  With a massive 10.3 liter V16 producing in excess of 500 horsepower, the V4 dominated the Italian Grand Prix while setting the the world Class C record at 152.5 mph for 10 km.

In 1931, the 4CTR and the front-wheel-drive 8C 2500 came out.  The 8C 2500 was the last car to be designed by Alfieri Maserati, who died on March 3, 1932.  A crowd of well over 15,000 attended his funeral in Bologna, including factory workers, race-car drivers, friends, family, and just ordinary people who came to mourn the great man who had done so much to promote his company and himself.  However, Alfieri’s death did not even come close to discouraging the Maserati family.  Bindo quit his job at Isotta Fraschini to race at Maserati.  His brothers Ettore and Ernesto took care of business, production, and management.

The following year, in 1933, one of the world’s greatest racers, Tazio Nuvolari joined Maserati as head of the racing division.  He made a significant technical contribution to Maserati – adapting the current chassis to the characteristics of the new 3.0 liter in-line eight cylinder engine.  To prove just how good it was, he drove it to three first place victories at: the Belgian Grand Prix, Nice, and Montenero.  Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union weren’t happy with just second and third-place finishes – they wanted first.  So, they started an assault on the racing scene that lasted until WWII.  This assault was backed by the Nazis.  Of course, this made life very difficult for Maserati, yet they kept winning smaller, national races.

Even though the Maserati brothers didn’t need the extra money, they sold all their shares to the Orsi family in Modena, Italy.  The company moved from Bologna to the now quite historic headquarters on Viale Ciro Menotti in Modena, Italy.  The Maserati brothers stayed on as chief engineers until 1948.

In 1939 and 1940, Maserati won the Indianapolis 500 with Wilbur Shaw at the wheel of the Maserati 8CTF.  To this day, Maserati is the only Italian automaker to have ever won the Indy 500 once, let alone twice.

During WWII, Maserati helped with the war effort, making machine tools, electrical components, spark plugs for tanks, and electric vehicles for the Axis.  Maserati also attempted to build a V16 car for Benito Mussolini, but the plans were scrapped when Ferry Porsche of Volkswagen built one for Adolf Hitler, and Mussolini never got his V16 towncar because the Volkswagen factory was bombed.  However, Maserati returned to their original activities after the war, making the GT race-car; the A6G CS.  The car did well on the post-war racing scene, bringing in some important victories such as the: 1949 Modena endurance race (where it debuted), and some local races on dirt tracks.

Maserati was desperately in need of a new Chief Engineer, and Gioacchino Colombo was the man for the job.  He retuned the A6GCM, making it THE car to beat for the 1953 racing scene, despite tough competition from Ferrari, Talbot, Mercedes-Benz, and other racing companies.

In 1957, the great Maserati racing driver won the fifth World Title in a row (the first time for Maserati), in the Maserati 250F.  This historic win at the Nürburgring in 1957 is considered by very many racing historians to be one of the greatest drives in the history of auto-racing.

Even though Maserati officially announced that they were retiring from racing in 158, they kept making iconic race-cars like the Birdcage for private teams.  They also supplied Formula 1 racing engines to other companies who had bodies and transmissions, but not engines.  The Birdcage was such a good race-car that the Camoradi racing team with such legendary drivers as: Sir Stirling Moss (when he was still Stirling Moss), Carroll Shelby, Masten Gregory, and Dan Gurney all taking turns behind the wheel at different races.  A little-known fact about Carroll Shelby is his last race was at the wheel of a Birdcage!  He then went off to start a world-known performance company.  Maserati would encounter stiff competition from the Shelby Cobra.

In 1958, Maserati came out with their first road car ever; the 3500 GT.  This car helped start a very important, new era for Maserati.  Because of this, Maserati’s main goals were sales of road and race-cars, and the plant was consequently expanded by 20,000 square feet.  In 1962, Maserati decided to dive into these new waters, and the Maserati Sebring was born.  The following year, the first modern sports sedan, the Quattroporte, was on lots.  Soon after the Quattroporte, the Maserati Mistral Coupé and Mistral Spider were introduced in 1963, and 1964, respectively.  In 1967, Maserati introduced the Ghibli Coupé, and two years later a convertible was on dealer lots.

The year 1968 brought big changes for Maserati.  Citroën bought Maserati.  Three years later, Maserati introduced the first mass-produced mid-engine Maserati; the Maserati Bora.  The same year, a Maserati-engined Citroën SM won the Morocco Rally.  Soon after, the Maserati Merak and the Maserati Khasmin came into production.  Maserati’s were in high demand then, but the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the resulting oil crisis almost killed Maserati.  However, Maserati had enough courage to build the Merak SS.  Citroën signed a deal with Peugeot, but announced the Maserati had gone into liquidation.  Italians were enraged.  On May 23, 1975, Maserati was taken over by GEPI, an Italian government program.  For two long years, Maserati was propped up by government funds, but on August 8, 1975, Maserati was bought by the Benelli company, and Alejandro De Tomaso, a former race-car driver from Argentina became Managing Director.

With some difficulty, De Tomaso was able to get Maserati going again.  The Maserati Kyalami and Quattroporte III, were both in production in vast quantities.  In the 1980s, a new era came for Maserati.  Maserati basically abandoned the mid-engine idea to produce chunky, agressive, fun-to-drive, cheaper cars.  Thus, the Maserati Biturbo was born.  For almost 13 years, the Maserati Biturbo was in production, with over 30 different variants built, the last being a milestone for the next Maserati’s: the Maserati Shamal and the Maserati Ghibli II.  During this time period, a major recession hit the U.S. economy, forcing Maserati and other storied Italian automakers to withdraw from those markets and hone their skills in on Europe.  It was in 1993 that Maserati was finally thrown a lifeline.  Fiat Auto bought the entire share capital of Maserati.  Unfortunately, Fiat “had” to sell Maserati to Ferrari.

In 1997, Ferrari was the new owner of Maserati.  Up until a year before, Maserati and Ferrari had both been hotly competing on the street and track.  It seemed like they had gotten over their differences, and were lending each other a helping hand.  To celebrate, Maserati temporarily shut down their plant in Modena, and reopened it within six months.  The new facility was state-of-the-art, with some areas where visitors could literally touch the cars!

Since the calendar year 2002, Maserati’s have been sold in the U.S.  The cars that Maserati decided to sell in the U.S. were the Maserati Coupé, and the Maserati Spyder.  The following model year, Maserati unveiled the Quattroporte sport sedan.

In 2007, Maserati unveiled the GranTurismo, which has gone on to be one of the most successful Maserati’s of all time.  Since then, Maserati has exceeded sales by over 50%, introduced three new models, won many racing championships, and now employs 696 people in 60 different countries.  Now THAT’S what I call good!

A Goodbye to Ferdinand Alexander Porsche.

On a snowy December 11, 1935, Ferdinand Alexander Porsche (known as F.A. to the business world, and Butzi to family and friends) was born to Ferry Porsche and Dorothea Reitz.  He was the grandson of the legendary Ferdinand Porsche, who started the company.  One of his closest cousins was Ferdinand Piëch, the renowned VW Chairman/Engineer.  From kindergarten to his senior year in high school, he attended the Waldorf School in Stuttgart, Germany.  For his college years, he went to the Ulm School of Design.  But, he was rejected by the board of directors because they doubted his talent.  He immediately found a job at Porsche’s design department, which was then run by Erwin Komenda.

In 1961, he started bringing sketches of cars to Komenda.  In 1960, he brought in the sketch of what we now know as the Porsche 911.  Komenda did not like the design and went ahead designing some unapproved changes to the the project code “901.”  F.A. and Ferry Porsche both complained.  So, Ferry set the main attributes concerning: wheelbase, power stats, suspension, and interior space.  Still, Komenda would not allow the design to go to the engineering department.  So, Ferry and F.A. took their plans across the street to a well-known coachbuilder, Reutter.  Within three years, the car was ready for production.  Just four months before the car was about to be shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show, Peugeot intervened because they had a trademark protection for any production car that had a “0” in it.  Ferry immediately paid the fine, and the car became the Porsche 911.  His two door, four-seat, rear-engine creation is now one of the best-selling sports cars in history.  Production began in October 1964.

In 1972, he retired from his job as head of Porsche’s design section, and he went out with a bang that was heard on racetracks all over the world.  Thus, the Porsche 904 was born.  The 904 didn’t need to be the 914 (that came later), as it wasn’t a production car.  It was a race car built to win.  And win it did.  In just three years of racing, it won 130 podium wins, and only suffered two major crashes.

After F.A. Porsche left Porsche’s design section to start his own company;  Porsche Design . He started the company in Stuttgart, Germany, but after two years, he moved the company to Zell am See, Austria.  While he was CEO of Porsche Design, he designed a chronograph wristwatch that was produced for almost twenty years by the Swiss watchmaker, Orfina.  It was totally different from other chronograph wristwatches by being made out of matte black chromed steel.  As Porsche Design grew, the product range completely diversified.  Washing machines, nine bathroom designs, various furniture, kitchen knives, television receivers, desk lamps, cool tobacco pipes with air-cooled engine-inspired fins, pens made out of the wire-cloth stuff that is still used for oil lines in racing engines, computer monitors, computer external hard drives, coffee makers, and even a grand piano for the Austrian piano maker, Bösendorfer.  What a slacker…

In 2005, F.A. “Butzi” Porsche retired due to health reasons.  A few years before he retired, he was asked by a journalist about his design work.  His reply was, “”A product that is coherent in form requires no embellishment. It is enhanced by the purity of its form.  Good design should be honest.”

On April 5, 2012, Ferdinand Alexander Porsche died.  The causes of his death were not provided from the Porsche family, Porsche AG, or Porsche Design.  Also, Porsche AG and Porsche Design declined to give more information about survivors when making the announcement.  Butzi Porsche was 76 years old.

Here is a picture of him in 1999, while he was waiting for a brand-new Porsche Boxster.  And he was at the factory!  Picture from January 22, 1999 shows Ferdinand Alexander Porsche next to the logo of German car maker Porsche in Stuttgart.

I Just Can’t Seem to Stop Talking About Michelin!

Hi there, my injuries and whatever else that I had are pretty much gone, so hi!  Shall we get down to business and learn so more about Michelin? Sorry, I didn’t quite hear that! I thought you were ready…

In 1905, Michelin opened up it’s first official branch of business, Michelin Tyres, Ltd, in London, England.  Michelin also opened it’s first plant outside of France, in Turin, Italy.  This was just a baby-step compared to what Michelin has done over the past 100 years…

In 1907, Edouard travelled across the Atlantic for the first time, to open a plant in Milltown, New Jersey.  The plant remained in operation until 1931.  Three years later, Edouard published the first Michelin Road Map.  Just three years later (I’m beginning to notice a pattern here!), Michelin invented the detachable spare wheel (and tire), so I guess you can thank one of the world’s largest tire companies for inventing the spare wheel and tire.

In 1914, just weeks before WWI was declared, Edouard Michelin offered aircraft building services to the French government.  The first 100 planes were given free of charge to France; the rest were sold.  The total of planes that Michelin built during 1914, a whopping 1,884 units.  Two years later, Edouard got an idea into his head.  The idea was that there was a runway, very much like a concrete road, that could be used for planes to take off and land on.  Yet another useful invention.  Six days later, the world’s first concrete runway was built.

In 1923, the first low-pressure tire, the Michelin “Comfort” was invented.  It could go up to 15,000 kilometers without air needing to be added.  In 1925, Michelin bought 22,230 acres in Dautieng, Indochina, and 13,600 acres in Thuan Loi, Indochina to operate it’s own rubber plantations.

Three years later, in 1928, Edouard Michelin appointed his son, Ettienne Michelin vice-president of Michelin.  In 1929, Ettienne invented the “Micheline” railcar and the first train tire.  The following year, Edouard filed a patent for a tire with a built-in tube; the ancestor to the tubeless tire.  In 1930, Ettienne filed a patent for a tire with a built-in tube. This was the ancestor to the tubeless tire.  Just two years later, the Supercomfort tire was invented and it had a lifespan of 30,000 kilometers.  In 1933, the Bella Vista factory was built in Argentina to produce the Supercomfort tire.

In 1934, the Michelin “Stop!” tire introduced skid strips to the world.  Skid strips were strips built into the tire that helped the tire find traction on slippery roads.  The tire turned out to be a huge success.  in 1935, Michelin bought almost 95% of Citroën Motor Car Company.  Pierre Michelin (Edouard’s younger son) became CEO of Citroën, and appointed Pierre Boulanger vice president of Citroën.  Citroën also built the first prototype of what we now know as the Citroën 2CV.  Also, the Michelin run-flat tire was invented.  Today, many cars have run-flat tires for safety, as they can go for many thousands of miles with a leak and not endanger the driver and passengers in any way.

In 1940, Michelin took the name of Michelin Rubber Manufacturing, Ltd.  Five years later, the Clermont-Ferrand plant, bombed by Allied bombers in 1944, was rebuilt and modernized.  The following year, Michelin invented the radial tire.  Edouard Michelin (then almost 80) had filed one of his last patents on June 4, 1946.  Two years later, the Citroën 2CV was introduced at the Paris Auto Show.  Even though it took three years to iron out the kinks, Edouard Michelin had invented something amazing, the radial tire.  It was marketed under the name Michelin “X.”

In 1959, Michelin invented the first radial tire for earthmoving equipment (if you don’t believe me, call up the local equipment rental store and ask what type of tires they use on their largest equipment).  In 1965, the first Michelin tire testing center, the Ladoux was opened just a few minutes north of the Clermont-Ferrand plant.  Just three years later, the first Michelin Green Guide was published for a North American location; New York City.

in 1974, Michelin sold all its shares in Citroën to Peugeot.  Three years later, two new testing centers opened: one in Laurens, South Carolina, the other in Almeria, Spain.  Just two years later, Michelin was the main sponsor for Ferrari in the 1979 Formula One World Championship.  Ferrari won.

1981- Michelin invented the Michelin Air X, the first radial tire for aircraft.  This meant that aircraft no longer needed to have solid rubber tires, which meant that the aircraft could lose up to 200 pounds.  The following year, Michelin opened a new plant in Waterville, Nova Scotia, Canada.  The plant produces the Michelin Air X tire.  In 1990, Michelin bought the Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Company, North America (Uniroyal Australia had been bought in 1980).  This ensured Michelin’s future in North America.

In 1991, Francois Michelin appointed his son, Édouard Michelin II co-managing partner.  Just four years later, Michelin saw a new plant open in Manila, Philippines.  Also, the Space Shuttle landed on Michelin tires the same year.

In 1998, Bibendum (the Michelin Man) celebrated his 100th birthday.  In honor of that, Michelin started the Challenge Bibendum.  Challenge Bibendum is an online global clean vehicle and sustainable mobility forum.  The following year, Michelin developed and started producing the Delta Radial performance motorcycle tire, which rivals Michelin’s finest modern-day racing tires in technology.

In 2003, Michelin developed the XeoBib; the first agricultural tire to run at a constant low pressure.  Seven years later, in 2010, Michelin was inducted into the Sebring Hall of Fame, because of it’s 11 years of undisputed supremacy in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS).  The same year, in honor of Michelin’s first road map being published, Michelin came out with an interactive DVD road map that is almost as interactive as using SiRi on a brand-new iPhone 4S.

Today, Michelin sponsors three racing teams, sponsors tires for the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup,  has 23,000 authorized retail stores around the world, and employs well over 100,000 people.