Hennessey Venom GT is Now the World’s Fastest Convertible!

Ever since 2013 with the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport smashing world speed records for a production car, legendary Texas tuning firm Hennessey, and Bugatti, have been duking it out on runways with the world’s fastest “production” cars. Why “production?” Because these cars are made in extremely limited quantities.

Does that make them any less impressive machines? No, of course not. It just means that there is a very small customer base for these cars, and those who do own them rarely, if ever, exploit their full potential.

The Hennessey Venom GT Spyder won the latest battle in the speed war. It hit 265.9 mph on a 2.9-mile runway at Naval Air Station Lemoore on March 25. Who drove the Venom GT Spyder to such a high speed? None other than the Ford Performance Racing School Director Brian Smith. The feat was recorded by the independent speed testing firm, Racelogic.

The Venom GT Sypder proved to be much quicker than the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport Vitesse, which hit a still-impressive 254 mph back in 2013. That was a record-breaking run. Think that’s impressive? It is. The Bugatti Veyron Super Sport hit 268 mph in 2013 as well, and held that record for a year. The Venom GT hit an incredible 270.49 mph during a record attempt at Kennedy Space Center in 2014.

The Veyron is now out of production, and the much-hyped Chiron replacement should be out in the next year or so, according to Bugatti. Bugatti claims much higher speeds than the Veyron, along with a host of improvements. A blog post about the Chiron and all of Bugatti’s promises is in short order.

Anyways, this means that Hennessey can sit on their throne for a while. Don’t worry, Bugatti – or someone else – will come along and snatch the title.

The Venom (both versions) is powered by a twin-turbocharged 7.0-liter V8 with a dynamometer-proven 1,451 horsepower and 1,287 horsepower. That’s the kind of power you’d see in something meant to go down the drag strip. Hennessey claims a 0-60 time of less than 2.4 seconds. If something that’s RWD and has almost 1,500 horsepower can do that, put my name down for it!

Also, Hennessey’s timing couldn’t have been better. This year is Hennessey’s 25th anniversary. To mark the occasion, Hennessey will be selling three limited-edition Venom GT Spyder “World Record Edition” cars. How much are they asking? A paltry $1.3 million.

That’s the video of the world record for the world’s fastest convertible being smashed to pieces. Congratulations, Hennessey. Celebrate, and make the Venom even faster. Somebody is going to get that trophy soon enough.

What it Takes to Build a Private Race Track

Any desert traveler should be relieved to see palm trees.  A large grove of palm trees along 62nd Ave. in Thermal, CA, signals the automotive kind of oasis.

A brand-new state-of-the-art race track spanning 4 and a half acres with three different courses, not including go-kart and autocross courses sits behind

This track is so nice and new that BMW recently signed a multi-year contract to hold driving schools here.  If you’ve got several hundred thousand dollars gathering dust in the bank, you can play race car driver here.

While building my own private race track would be pretty damn cool, I didn’t have much of an idea as to how I would pull that off.  Then I heard about Tim Rogers, whose personal $85 million has gone into making this track, the Thermal Club, a reality.

You could safely say that building a race track is much harder than building a strip mall.  Rogers said in an interview with Hot Rod Magazine (where I got all of his quotes from, so credit is given fully to Hot Rod) that even in the middle of the California desert, he still had to do a lot of paperwork and grading before he could even start pouring concrete and asphalt.  He told Hot Rod, “We had to build the highway out here.  We had to put in the structure for all the utilities.  The hardest part was that the water table was eight feet down, so we had to raise the ground before we could dig.  Who would have thought there would be a water-table problem in the desert?”

He estimates that the final cost of building the Thermal Club will be about $120 million, and so far all of the money put towards the track has been used to satisfy all of the city requirements, relocate the palm tree grove that originally was on the land, grade and pour the main tracks, build a 24-hour gas station (that sells race fuel), and put up a “clubhouse” complete with a restaurant, locker rooms, a car wash (in the middle of a drought?  Seriously?), and multiple garages.

One of the requirements of being a member at the Thermal Club is that you have to purchase land and put up a structure that meets rigorous and various aesthetic criteria. No, a quonset hut does not count!  Rogers said, “The property starts at about $375,000 and goes up to a little over a million.”  My dreams of two shipping containers and a travel trailer as a structure are on hold until I can raise sufficient funds to build a house that meets the criteria (hint hint!).  Should you donate money to my cause, you will get unlimited visitation rights!

But seriously, if you had a nice car collection and a desire to go fast, chances are this kind of money is just waiting to be spent.  Membership at the Thermal Club could pay off.  The track was designed to be both fast, safe and fun, with famed track designer Alan Wilson giving feedback about the curves and Roger Penske consulting on the exact chemistry so the asphalt could survive the grueling summer heat (the town was named Thermal for a reason).

If the rest of your family isn’t interested in bombing around a race track, maybe the thought of a nice restaurant, a spa, a pool, and various other luxuries will entice them.  An added bonus is the track is close enough to an airport that you can simply fly in whenever the racing bug bites.  It’s the ultimate rich Californian dream.  Thermal is close enough to Coachella that the kids can go there.  Plus, Thermal is about two hours from Los Angeles, so it’s really not that far from a big city.  Rogers told Hot Rod that most of his 40 available lots.  Since I don’t have enough money to buy a lot and build a house there, I can only hope that I’ll be invited to a private event there.  The sample house is used to house journalists and VIP guests, so the Thermal Club doesn’t have to worry about hotels and logistics.

If you’re really keen on getting a look at the track, the BMW Driving School is a good start. You can visit the BMW Driving School website at http://www.bmwusa.com/performancecenter.  It’s much cheaper than membership, but you don’t get 365-day track access.  However, several large Los Angeles-area car clubs do book the track for meetings and events periodically.

You can visit the Thermal Club’s website at http://www.thethermalclub.com/

There you have it.  That’s how one very rich and determined man built a race track.  Or, you could just become a member of your local track, which might be cheaper.

The Thermal Club is located at 86030 62nd Ave, Thermal, CA 92274.  Their phone number is 760.674.0088.

What Makes the Monaco Grand Prix So Special?

Monaco has been called the casino capital of the world.  It’s got a lot of wealth squeezed into just 499 acres.  For reference, that’s almost five times the size of Disneyland.  It’s also the oldest circuit of Formula 1, having been a track since 1929.  The route is essentially the same as it was in 1929, which gives you a unique opportunity to see cars with nearly 1000 horsepower blasting around for first place.  It’s also one of the few tracks where race cars get to run through the tight streets of a city.

For those of you who watch motorsports, you’re likely going to agree with me that the reason that people are drifting away from watching various races is that it doesn’t seem as exciting anymore.  I think it has to do with the fact that the tracks are wide (they can usually take well over three cars at even the narrowest corner), and that the cameramen are getting pushed further away from the action.  This last fact might seem trivial and stupid to you, but think about it for a second.  Thanks to GoPros (I have nothing against them), automotive enthusiasts are getting used to punching in a search term into YouTube (again, nothing against it) and seeing POV videos of some motorcyclist or crazy driver blasting their way through traffic.  You can put a GoPro on just about any surface on a car or motorcycle so that everybody can see the action.  That’s all fine and dandy, but we need to do this in the professional racing world.

Many Formula 1 races are actually quite exciting, but they don’t seem like it on your TV. The tracks are so wide that it’s nearly impossible to get a cameraman close to the action.  It just doesn’t seem quite as exhilarating as hearing that unearthly shriek coming towards you, the whirs and pops from the turbocharger, and the crackling downshifts sending flames shooting out of the back of the car.  There’s only so much action a camera can capture when it’s 100 feet away from the action, instead of ten feet away.

I look forward to Monaco for this reason: it’s one of the few races left where I can feel like I’m right there, even if I’m several thousand miles away from the action.  It’s the closest we can get to seeing a modern car whip around one of the most historic tracks in the world.

I feel that Formula 1 has turned into what NASCAR used to be.  Think of NASCAR as the WWE Raw TV show, while Formula 1 is like watching a street fight.  I know this might seem ridiculous, but if you were into watching wrestling, would you want to see a scripted and pre-ordained fight, or would you want to watch a fight where nothing is scripted or agreed to other than the fight itself?

NASCAR used to hold a special magic for me, and I only watch it at Watkins Glen and Sonoma Raceway now, as most of the drivers are inexperienced on road courses.  I’ve talked to several friends about the boring, pre-ordained spectacle that NASCAR has become, even though it’s got just enough reality to make it somewhat worth following.

Formula 1 now holds that magic for me.  NASCAR and Formula 1 used to be the bleeding edge of technology, and now it’s up to Formula 1 to do that.  NASCAR today is this: you have a larger-than-life personality, put the pedal to the metal, and let Dale Earnhardt., Jr. or Jimmie Johnson take the win.  It was a shocker to me when Kevin Harvick became the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.  It was completely unexpected, and it helped me somewhat re-kindle my interest in NASCAR.  Formula 1 is now truly a test of a driver, his team, and their car.  If you want to make a big splash in the racing world, become a Formula 1 driver.  I know that what I’ve said has been repeated by many automotive journalists, but it’s worth rehashing.

One last thought (promise!): Monaco is a place that should be high on the bucket list of every automotive and racing fan.  It’s incredibly high on mine.  I’ve always wanted to do a road trip through Europe of all of the great European tracks (Brands Hatch, Silverstone, Goodwood, Le Mans, Nurburgring, Hockenheim, Monaco, Monza and Imola) in a Pagani Huayra.

I’d love to hear your experiences of NASCAR/Formula 1, and why you agree or disagree with me on this.  If you watch another form of motorsport that holds this kind of magic for you, please tell me in the comments section.  I enjoy watching all of the off road racing in Baja and the desert.  It’s entertaining, and it’s truly a test of a driver.

One of my friends from school wrote an excellent article about the loss of magic in NASCAR for him, and it’s worth a read, as well as this article. http://www.theoakleafnews.com/sports/2015/05/12/is-nascar-fading/

Monaco 2011

Monaco-GP-05

The Evolution of Crazy

Pro Street is a popular form of hot rodding nowadays.  It’s also incredibly easy to define, unlike rat rods or Pro Touring.  Pro Street is classic cars with the rear wheeltubs dramatically enlarged for insanely wide tires.  However, defining Pro Street gets a bit more difficult from there.  Is it a fairgrounds car with big dirt tires?  A street-optimized race car? A race-optimized street car?  Or is it a full-on race car?  It can be any and all of those.  Pro Street has evolved throughout the years from essentially fairgrounds cars to street-optimized race cars.  I’ve taken the pleasure of outlining important years and cars in the evolution of Pro Street.  While your idea of Pro Street might differ, or not be there, I hope this helps.

1972: Grumpy Jenkins Pro Stock Vega:  Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins essentially ushered in Pro Street with the advent of his groundbreaking NHRA Pro Stock tube-chassis Chevy Vega in 1972.  Nobody had ever seen massive tires tucked under a production body before. Yes, the extreme Funny Cars had been using the look for a few years prior, but they had fiberglass body shells, so let’s not count those.  Grumpy went all-out groundbreaking by using a completely tubular frame, which allowed him to run those massive 14-inch-wide and 32-inch-tall drag slicks previously reserved for Top Fuel.  Every single Pro Stock car borrows heavily from that groundbreaking Vega in 1972.

Grumpy Jenkins Chevy Vega

1979: Scott Sullivan’s 1967 Chevy Nova:  No, this beautiful 1967 Chevy Nova was not the first Pro Street car.  Not by a long shot.  However, it was the first car to get massive attention past a small magazine feature on it.  It thundered onto the scene in 1979, just a year after the Car Craft Street Machine Nationals were launched to tire-burning success.  It created the perfect test-and-tune environment for Pro Street.  Sullivan has been known for setting hot rodding trends with just about every car that he builds.  His 1967 Nova was no exception.  It may not have been as innovative as his other cars, but it doesn’t make it any less beautiful, thanks to it’s highlight stripe and color-matched bumpers.  It even had the perfect stance.  Sullivan sold the car in 1984 to Pro Mod racer Ron Iannotti.

Scott Sullivan 1967 Chey Nova

1980: Some Tubbed Street Machines: Many street rod builders of the late 1970s became brainwashed by Scott Sullivan’s beautiful 1967 Chevy Nova (see above), and completely redid their cars.  Just about every car from this era had the back half of their chassis tubbed, and many builders simply moved the leaf springs far inside the chassis to fit the massive drag slicks.  Seeing a car with a Roots blower sticking out of the hood was a must well into the 1990s.

Pro Street Pontiac GTO

1985: Fully Tubbed Street Rods: The cover of the July 1985 ‘Hot Rod’ magazine announced the “Fat Attack” of fully tubbed street rods.  One of the cars on the cover was “Fat Jack” Robinson’s 1946 Ford coupe, painted in a vivid Coast Guard orange.  The car was tubbed like a true Pro Street car, but it was intended to thunder down the drag strips of America.  His car was the result of the first round of the nostalgia drag racing scene of the time.  His car inspired several other pre-1948 fully-tubbed cars.  Those cars on the cover of ‘Hot Rod’ showed how the Pro Street look merging into the vast world of street rods.  It wasn’t long before you’d look around at a hot rod show and see a bunch of 1940s Ford coupes sporting massive rubber.  Unfortunately for Fat Jack Robinson, his car ended up being totaled in a crash at Fremont Drag Strip.

Fat Jack Robinson 1946 Ford Coupe

1992: Trailer/Fairgrounds Queens: Dick Dobbertin’s nutso Pontiac J2000 Pro Street car arrived on the scene in 1986.  You’re probably wondering why I said 1992.  That’s because the trend of taking a lowly late-model FWD car being converted to a fully-tubbed, RWD car started then.  It made it OK to build an over-the-top Pro Street car that only looked good, which have now been dubbed Pro Fairgrounds.  Why Pro Fairgrounds?  The show venue was the only place where these cars could really shine.  I mean, who would really want to drive a car with more than 1,000 horsepower and a short wheelbase down a dragstrip?  If you want that kind of crazy, buy a vintage Fuel Altered car.  This radical Pontiac J2000 started the Dare to be Different movement in the automotive world, by starting battles to see who was able to build a bonkers Pro Fairgrounds car that nobody else had built yet.  Soon thereafter, builders came to their senses and started the Dare to be the Same movement, which leads us to our next section.

Dick Dobbertin Pontiac J2000

1992: C.A.R.S. Camaro: Many of the builders of Pro Fairgrounds resented building cars they couldn’t drive.  They wanted truly functional rides, not simple street rods with a big block, but cars that had gigantic rubber, big wheelies, and low drag strip times.  Detroit and Ohio even started a large movement to build cars that were all-steel-bodied, fully tubbed, go eight seconds in the quarter mile, dress them up with bumpers and various trim pieces, cruise them up and down the iconic Woodward Avenue in Detroit with license plates, and then race them head-to-head all weekend.  One of the first cars featured in magazines was the C.A.R.S. Inc.-sponsored Chevy Camaro of Rick Dyer and Danny Scott.  That iconic Camaro served as the main inspiration for the ‘Hot Rod’ 1992 Fastest Street Car Shootout.

Rick Dyer Chevy Camaro

1993: Mark Tate’s Chevy Camaro: That little Fastest Street Car Shootout gained so much popularity so quickly that it couldn’t sustain itself.  The heavyweight champs, the Pro Street cars, were losing to flat-out Pro Stock-chassis cars.  Those Pro Stock chassis cars were never meant to be driven on the street, unlike the Pro Street cars.  Mark Tate joined the fray in 1993 with his stock-bodied Pro Stock-chassis 1967 Chevy Camaro.  Then it was Tony Christian’s 1957 Chevy 210.  After Christian, it was Bob Reiger and his radical Pro Stock Chevy S-10.  Appeal for Pro Stock/Pro Street cars started to wane.  These weren’t cars you could build in the garage for $10,000 anymore.  These were cars racking up bills well over $100,000.  People wanted fast cars that they could drive on the street for not much money.

Mark Tate 1967 Chevy Camaro

2011: “Modern Pro Street:” This is a total niche created in the Pro Street world by those wanting a fast car with all of the modern mechanicals.  Cars of this look have a Pro Fairgrounds look, street machine behavior, and sometimes a late-model body.  These cars usually have the newest engines, turbos, EFI, and the wheels are usually gigantic with incredible tread.  The beautiful Mustang shown here is the 2007 Ford Mustang from Fastlane Motorsports.  It has a 2010 5.4-liter V-8 with an old-school Weiand 6-71 blower showing out of the hood.

Fastlane Motorsports 2007 Mustang

2012:  Larry Larson’s Chevy Nova: This is where Pro Street is now.  Larry Larson owns a stunning 1966 Chevrolet Nova that has truly incredible performance.  He’s run 6.90 seconds at well over 200 mph in the quarter mile after driving 80 mph on the highway all day.  How does he do it?  Modern technology.  He’s got a bored and stroked Chevy big-block motor with twin turbochargers, EFI, and lots of other amazing technology.  He’s able to drive it all day to a drag strip, run incredible times, turn around and go home without killing his car.  He’s had a LOT of experience in the drag racing world, so he only uses the best parts.  If Grumpy Jenkins were alive today, his mind would be absolutely blown.  Mine is.

Larry Larson 1966 Chevy Nova

That’s where Pro Street is, and where it’s come from.  These cars have state-of-the-art technology, and they are actually quite streetable cars.

Why Legislation A.B. 550 Matters to Car People

California has recently proposeda new legislation.  While that might not mean all that much to us, it should.  Legislation A.B. 550 would allow for the owner of a motor vehicle subjected to the rigorous California smog check program to pay a $200 smog abatement fee instead of having to go to the trouble of smogging the car.

This bill would require the payment to go to the Air Quality Improvement Fund.  The measure will be considered by the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Currently, the smog check program requires an inspection of all motor vehicles when the car is initially registered, then biennially upon registration renewal, transfer of ownership, and various other circumstances.  You can find all of that on the DMV’s website.

The law currently exempts all cars manufactured prior to 1976, and certain other vehicles.

What’s so special about A.B. 550 is that it would allow the owner(s) of a motor vehicle that is required to take a smog test to pay a 200 dollar smog abatement fee IF the car meets the following criteria:

  • The motor vehicle is 30 model years or older
  • The motor vehicle was manufactured during or after the 1976 model year
  • The motor vehicle fails a smog test
  • The motor vehicle fails a subsequent smog test after necessary repairs were performed

This could mean a lot to hot rodding.  Newer cars are easier and cheaper to insure, parts are more plentiful and cheaper, and, since newer cars have the necessary smog equipment, hot rodders can start to build killer smog-legal street cars.

It’s extremely important to me and many others in the automotive industry that we (as in auto enthusiasts) contact the California Assembly Transportation Committee to voice your opinion of A.B. 550.

Here’s how to do it.  Email Steve McDonald at stevem@sema.org a copy of your letter. Also, send this to your automotive enthusiast friends! The more people who voice their opinions, the more likely the bill is to pass.

Here is a (very) long list of the committee members’ contact information:

Assemblymember Jim Frazier (Chair)
Phone: (916) 319-2011
Email: assemblymember.frazier@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian (Vice Chair)
Phone: (916) 319-2035
Email: assemblymember.achadjian@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Catharine B. Baker
Phone: (916) 319-2016
Email: assemblymember.baker@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Richard Bloom
Phone: (916) 319-2050
Email: assemblymember.bloom@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Nora Campos
Phone: (916) 319-2027
Email: assemblymember.campos@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Kansen Chu
Phone: (916) 319-2025
Email: assemblymember.chu@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Tom Daly
Phone: (916) 319-2069
Email: assemblymember.daly@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Bill Dodd
Phone: (916) 319-2004
Email: assemblymember.dodd@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia
Phone: (916) 319-2056
Email: assemblymember.eduardo.garcia@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez
Phone: (916) 319-2051
Email: assemblymember.gomez@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Young O. Kim
Phone: (916) 319-2065
Email: assemblymember.kim@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Eric Linder
Phone: (916) 319-2060
Email: assemblymember.linder@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Jose Medina
Phone: (916) 319-2061
Email: assemblymember.medina@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Melissa A. Melendez
Phone: (916) 319-2067
Email: assemblymember.melendez@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian
Phone: (916) 319-2046
Email: assemblymember.nazarian@assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell
Phone: (916) 319-2070
Email: assemblymember.odonnell@assembly.ca.gov

Thanks for listening to my rambling about how this could turn the hot rodding hobby around.  If the bill passes, there will be people who abuse the system, but they already do that.  I wouldn’t worry that much about it.

I think these cars that are only slightly customized could greatly benefit from A.B. 550:

This bone-stock 1976 Camaro could benefit from an LS-motor swap.  Chevy Performance even offers an LS3 E-Rod engine that is smog-legal in all 50 states.  You just install the engine and slap on a couple of stickers that let the smog guys know.  These second-generation Camaros are popular among hot rodders, and one could throw on aftermarket suspension pieces and nobody would notice.

This is a simply tasteful C-10 stepside.  The wheels go well with the dark blue/black paint on the truck.  The big visor over the windshield is a cool touch from the 1950s.  It would be even better if the owner could put a thundering big-block with EFI on it.

This 1985 Fox-Body Mustang is an early Saleen Mustang.  It looks better than the flashier late-model Saleens.  It was a performer in the day, but my Mazda3 could beat it to 60, through the quarter mile, and in just about everything but looks.  If somebody bought a Fox-Body, got a body kit (Saleen rip-off body kits are common in drifting), put in an EcoBoost V-6 found in the Taurus SHO, this would look amazing, and go like stink.  If there was an aftermarket suspension kit on it, even better.  This would be a holy terror at autocross and track day events.  Plus, it would be a fun daily driver.  OK, I’m going to rein myself in now…

The last car on this little list is one I really want.  It’s a Chevy C3 Corvette.  Let me explain. It has stunning good looks, and would be quite the performer with a modern LS engine under the hood.  It’s already been done, and that’s the car in the picture.  It’s got an LS3 E-Rod under the hood, and even though it’s a 1972, one could very easily do the same thing to a 1976 or later model.

Why You Should Road Trip in 2015

Gas is cheap.  You’re going to see more classic and high performance cars out on the road because of this.  Most of us like to drive.  It’s fun.  Road trips with family or friends are a lot of fun.  You don’t need an exciting, fancy car to road trip.  You could go through California in a Kia Rio and still have fun.  Here are some tips to make the most out of a road trip.  You probably know most of these, but some you probably won’t.

  • Have travel companions.  Whether it’s your spouse, sibling(s), friends, co-workers, or a boyfriend/girlfriend, other people make road trips more fun.   Even your dog can make it more fun.
  • Know basically where you’re going.  Unless you have some sort of deadline, or specific place to be, know where you’ll end up within the next couple of days.  Let people know where you’re going, and when you expect to be there.  Let them know when you arrive.
    • That being said, explore some.  Don’t stay on the interstate.  Take some backroads, explore local towns, and have a good time.  If you’re travelling around, say California, and you want to end up in Palm Springs by the weekend, let somebody close to you know, but explore some.  The California desert has plenty to offer.
  • Tell people where you’re going, and when you get there.  Don’t be a total loner when it comes to road trips.  Call your parents/siblings/significant other/friends/whoever you know well.  It’s a simple 2-minute call.
  • Try out the local delicacies.  Most small towns have something that the locals enjoy. For example, Gilroy, California, is the garlic capital of the world.  Try garlic-themed food there.  You get my point.  Try what the locals all recommend.  It’s usually in the specials section of the menu.  Or, you can ask the wait staff what they recommend.
  • Check out museums if there are any where you stop.  It’s a simple, quick Google search. You’d be amazed at what you can find.  Most of the museums are quite interesting.
  • Talk to the locals.  Chat the people who seem nice up.  They might tell you where the good places to eat are, or where a fun or scenic road is.  It’s worth your time, and most people will be nice enough to talk to you.
  • HAVE FUN!!!!!  That’s what most road trips are meant to be.  Make it memorable.  Do burnouts, donuts, drifts, or go off-roading if you want.  Just make sure you won’t cause trouble when you do it.

 

What Era of Motorsport Was the Best?

This idea is simple:  What era of motorsport was/is the best?  What drivers were/are the best?  What motorsport was/is the best?  What cars were the best?  What track was the best?

For me, I can’t choose just one.  1960s Top Fuel drag racing was the best of the 1960s.  There were plenty of big names competing against smaller names, many of whom have been lost to the sands of time.  Some of those names we are familiar with – Don “Big Daddy” Garlits, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen (anybody who’s ever had a large collection of Hot Wheels has/had models of their cars).  Their cars were spectacularly fast (Garlits was the first to break 200 mph in his Top Fuel dragster), and they always put on one hell of a show.  I’m going to say that Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach, CA was the best.  While I never visited it (it closed in 1972), it is rumored to have been one of the best drag strips ever.  If you’re into Facebook, look up “THE GLORY DAYS OF DRAG RACING.”  It’s a closed group, but they will let you in.  It’s got a lot of great vintage photos.  Read their rules before posting something.

Another great one for me was 1980s Formula 1.  Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Mario Andretti, and the late Clay Regazzoni.  It was a fierce era of turbocharged cars with well over 1,000 horsepower duking it out on the fastest tracks on the planet.  BMW had cars with 1,400 horsepower and manual transmissions (yes, you had to take your hand off of the steering wheel in a tight corner in a powerful car to shift).  Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost simply dominated the sport until the tragic death of Senna in 1994.

Finally, I’m going to say that 1980s-current off-road racing is great.  I mean, who doesn’t like watching Ivan “Ironman” Stewart bombing around Baja in his Toyota trophy truck?  Or for those American car fans, how about Robby Gordon and his HUMMERs from a long time ago?  To me, it’s the most entertaining form of motorsport, and I’ve been hoping to travel to Baja to watch the Baja 1000 for a while.

Here are some of my favorite pictures to prove it.

California Man Accused of Stealing the Same Ferrari Twice!

Cars are stolen a lot.  It’s an unfortunate reality, but it’s life.  It’s just pretty much unheard of when the same person steals the same car twice.  But, that’s what apparently happened recently in Fontana, CA.

I don’t know what his motives were, but Earnie Hooks stole a certain black 2014 Ferrari 458 Italia Spider.  According to police, Hooks was intoxicated when he pulled up to a roadside checkpoint.  When the police ran the plates, they found out that the car was reported stolen.

Hooks managed to evade the police (given the car at his disposal, probably not too hard to pull off) and later abandoned the car, which was found and taken to impound.  However, about 3 a.m. the next morning, a special somebody broke into the impound lot and stole the car…again.  He was found five days later in Studio City, still driving the stolen Ferrari.  The LAPD arrested him, and Hooks somehow found the gall to plead not guilty to both the charges of car theft and resisting arrest.

Twice Stolen Ferrari

Here’s the Ferrari after Hooks was arrested.  I guess that if you’re going to steal something, go for the nicest possible car in sight…

Twice Stolen Ferrari

Here’s Hooks.  I don’t know where he got so banged up, but my best guess is during his arrest.

All I can say about this is wow.  For somebody to steal a Ferrari while drunk, evade police, BREAK INTO the impound lot, steal the car, and drive it around Los Angeles for 5 days and not be noticed is pretty amazing.  Don’t do this, kids.

 

Out and About in Sonoma County and Oregon!

It’s been a while since I published an Out and About in Sonoma County.  However, that’s because I got some great pictures from Oregon AND Sonoma County!  I hope you enjoy them!  I will provide commentary on ALL of the cars – basically fun facts on them!  I also got some pictures from Mother’s Day Weekend up in Redding, CA.  Those are included as well.

This is my 300th post, so next week, I am doing a giveaway of a Roadkill hat!  Every reader or subscriber MUST leave a comment saying that they wish to be entered in the giveaway.  Remember, leave a comment to get a chance to win!

Oregon:  

The Ashland, Oregon ACE hardware store has this simply stunning 1950-52? Chevrolet 3100.  It's absolutely stunning.
The Ashland, Oregon ACE hardware store has this simply stunning 1950-52? Chevrolet 3100. It’s absolutely stunning.  The thing popping up right in front of the windshield is for the air conditioner.  It’s like the air grabber hoods on the hi-performance 1960’s Mopars – it pulls air in when the switch is flipped on.
I'm simply in love with the Harley-Davidson themed paint!  It really helps accentuate the beautiful lines on these old trucks.
I’m simply in love with the Harley-Davidson themed paint! It really helps accentuate the beautiful lines on these old trucks.
Are you a fan of a classic Vespa?  This stunning 1968 Vespa was for sale for a meager $6,000!  I was working on going 50/50 on it with my sister.  It didn't work.  It  has a 1971 engine for a bit more poewr and reliability.  The sidecar gives it a practical side...
Are you a fan of a classic Vespa? This stunning 1968 Vespa was for sale for a meager $6,000! I was working on going 50/50 on it with my sister. It didn’t work. It has a 1971 engine for a bit more poewr and reliability. The sidecar gives it a practical side…

20140606_123559

This is probably the best Jeep badge that the world has ever seen.  It may be a direct BMW rip-off, but whatever!
This is probably the best Jeep badge that the world has ever seen. It may be a direct BMW rip-off, but whatever!
This simply amazing Jeep Jeepster Commando was probably the nicest Jeep that I have ever seen - I don't care if it's 2WD or not!
This simply amazing Jeep Jeepster Commando was probably the nicest Jeep that I have ever seen – I don’t care if it’s 2WD or not!
How's this for cool?  I've never really seen a '32 Ford dirt track racer before, so this was a cool first for me!  I wasn't able to get closer to it, otherwise I would have done a separate blog post on it!  It was a very cool '32 Ford, though!
How’s this for cool? I’ve never really seen a ’32 Ford dirt track racer before, so this was a cool first for me! I wasn’t able to get closer to it, otherwise I would have done a separate blog post on it! It was a very cool ’32 Ford, though!

Sonoma County:  

 

How'd you like this to be in your rearview mirror?  Sorry if I just gave you nightmares...This 1971 Dodge Charger R/T is equipped with the 426 HEMI.  It doesn't get much better than that!
How’d you like this to be in your rearview mirror? Sorry if I just gave you nightmares…This 1971 Dodge Charger R/T is equipped with the 426 HEMI. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Man, this is just one of THE best engines in the world!  Let me tell you a funny story about this car and another car.  Somebody in a 1949 Chevy lowrider tried to do a burnout.  All he did was send a bunch of smoke out of his tailpipes.  The owner of this fine triple-black '71 Charger proceeded to do a burnout without really having to try too terribly hard right through an empty intersection!
Man, this is just one of THE best engines in the world! Let me tell you a funny story about this car and another car. Somebody in a 1949 Chevy lowrider tried to do a burnout. All he did was send a bunch of smoke out of his tailpipes. The owner of this fine triple-black ’71 Charger proceeded to do a burnout without really having to try too terribly hard right through an empty intersection!
If this doesn't make you drool, then I don't know what will!  This stunning 1970 Plymouth Superbird was SOOOOO cool!  It was in the Limelight Green color, along with the Super Commando 440 cubic-inch V8.  More to come on this iconic car.
If this doesn’t make you drool, then I don’t know what will! This stunning 1970 Plymouth Superbird was SOOOOO cool! It was in the Limelight Green color, along with the Super Commando 440 cubic-inch V8. More to come on this iconic car.
Yes, the Superbird really does make the iconic "meep-meep" from Looney Tunes - as does the Plymouth Roadrunner that the Superbird is based off of!
Yes, the Superbird really does make the iconic “meep-meep” from Looney Tunes – as does the Plymouth Roadrunner that the Superbird is based off of!

Redding, CA:  

How's this for nice?  This is probably one of THE nicest Corvettes that i have ever seen!  It was all-original, so it has the punchy 283 cubic-inch V8 and a four-speed manual.  Plus, it's got absolutely amazing looks.  The only thing that isn't original is the wheels, but they went perfectly with the car.  This would be an excellent car for touring the country with.  One of these days I will do that in a classic car - I promise!
How’s this for nice? This is probably one of THE nicest Corvettes that i have ever seen! It was all-original, so it has the punchy 283 cubic-inch V8 and a four-speed manual. Plus, it’s got absolutely amazing looks. The only thing that isn’t original is the wheels, but they went perfectly with the car. This would be an excellent car for touring the country with. One of these days I will do that in a classic car – I promise!

The Top Movie/TV Show Cars

Many movies have cars that we love.  Famous cars with famous actors – it goes together.  Le Mans had a Porsche 917 and a Ferrari 512LM with Steve McQueen doing all of the driving in the 917.  It also had a Porsche 911 Carrera S that went for $1.75 Million dollars at auction last year.  The Ronin remake had Robert De Niro, a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, a BMW M5, and a nitrous-huffing Audi S8.  Vanishing Point had Barry Newman, a 440-powered Dodge Challenger R/T Magnum, and a Jaguar E-Type V12 Convertible.  Well, you get the idea.

While I know that last weekend was Oscars weekend, I still thought that the cars from famous movies deserve a proper recognition.  Enjoy my list.  I have also attached videos of the cars in the movies that they were in.  I hope you enjoy the list and the videos!

  1. 1968 Dodge Charger “Bullitt”:  While it’s a shame that I haven’t seen Bullitt yet (one of these days!), I’ve seen the epic car chase scene on YouTube countless times.  I know.  It’s not the same.  The 1968 Dodge Charger from Bullitt is undeniably one of the most iconic cars ever to be used in a movie.  Anybody, I repeat, ANYBODY, can watch the chase scene and then see a 1968 Charger in real life, and say, “I saw a car that looks similar to that one in Bullitt!”  The two cars that really defined the words “muscle car” tore up the streets of San Francisco for real (no CGI, just a couple of sped-up shots).  Both the Ford Mustang GT with the 390 cubic-inch V8 and the Dodge Charger R/T with the 440 cubic-inch V8 needed some modifications for the chase scene.  Ex race-car builder Max Balchowsky modified both cars for film use.  The Highland Green Mustang needed a TON of mods for the chase scene.  The Charger, however, only needed heavy-duty shocks and springs to cope with the jumps.  Both cars used prototype Firestone tires, but it’s possible to see different width tires multiple times on the Charger.  According to Balchowsky, the Charger with it’s big 375-horsepower 440 cubic-inch V8 outgunned the 325-horse 390 cubic-inch V8 Mustang (pun not intended) so much that it required the stunt driver to slow down the car so that McQueen’s ‘Stang could keep up.  Score for Mopar!  While (spoiler alert!) one of the cars met a fiery demise at the end of the movie and was subsequently scrapped, some say that the other Charger is still around…somewhere.  I’d sure like to think so!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Lbs_nYW3-o
  2. 1955 Chevrolet 150 “American Graffiti”:  Arguably one of the most iconic cars for hot rodding, let alone movies, the 1955 Chevrolet 150 from American Graffiti remains the benchmark for modified ’55 Chevy’s.  Three 1955 Chevrolet 150’s were used for the filming of the movie.  Two of said cars were used in 1971’s Two Lane Blacktop.  Transportation supervisor Henry Travers picked the two cars up from the Universal Studios lot and painted them black.  One car was a fiberglass shell, and it was used to film exterior shots and the actors inside the car.  The other car, the stunt car, was used for the climatic drag race crash.  Travers, who drove the car stunt Chevy for the Paradise Road finale couldn’t roll the car as directed by George Lucas – the car had to be heaved onto it’s roof by the crew.  A third, non-running 1955 Chevy was picked up, spray-painted black, and a fake B-pillar was welded on to resemble to other two cars.  It was burned to film the crash’s aftermath.  The burn car was returned to the junkyard – it would have been impossible to get the car in running condition!  Only the main camera car remains today.  It has traded hands a few times and some dubious modifications have been made to it.  In 2012, it was sold privately to a private buyer who plans to restore the car to it’s original American Graffiti appearance.  Prior to the deal, the buyer apparently barely avoided acquiring his own burn car, built by George Barris.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOgqUHk-zDY
  3. 1976 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 “Ronin”:  While the chase scene from Bullitt deserves lots of ink, the multiple chase scenes from the 1998 remake of Ronin make the leaping American stallions chase scene look about as exciting as a segway tour of Los Angeles.  John Frankenheimer, the same speed junkie who directed the 1966 movie Grand Prix, directed Ronin.  He hired a gaggle of stunt drivers, including F1 champion Jean-Pierre Jarier and sports car champion Jean-Claude Lagniez, and let them loose throwing muscular German sedans around Paris, Monaco, and parts of Souther France at opposite lock drift angles and mind-blowing speeds – on closed-off public roads.  An Audi S8 and BMW rightfully grab a lot of attention in the movie, with Frankenheimer cleverly using right-hand-drive cars with fake left-side steering wheels so that the actors including Robert De Niro and Natascha McElhone could “drive” while one of the Frenchmen terrified them just a couple of feet away.  Not to be outdone are the guys from Mercedes-Benz who sent a 1976 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, arguably the first German muscle car.  Robert De Niro “drives” for a while, while French actor Jean Reno actually drove.  The absolute mayhem begins with a Rockford pulled off in the Benz, and then De Niro and Reno chase down the bad boys who happen to be driving a Peugeot 406.  The Peugeot and and Benz hurtle through the French countryside at speeds well over 100 mph, and then De Niro stands up in the sunroof and blows the 406 to smithereens.  Post-explosion, the 450SEL 6.9 hurtles into the seaside village of Villefranche-sur-Mer, an outskirt of Monaco, where a good half of the movie was filmed, where it hurtles through tiny city streets trashing market stalls and cafe tables in search of whatever is locked inside of that mysterious locked case everybody wants.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMaG5WAmHvY
  4. 1980 Lamborghini Countach “The Cannonball Run”:  If you can, keep your eyes ON the car, not IN the car!  It sounds easy, but Tara Buckman and Adrienne Barbeau are inside.  When Hal Needham and Brock Yates (arguably one of the most iconic auto journalists ever) thought up the plot for The Cannonball Run, a highly fictionalized version of the illegal cross-country Cannonball Run races of the 1970s, they knew that only one car could keep a teenager’s eyes off of Buckman and Barbeau – a 1980 Lamborghini Countach.  The entire opening sequence of the movie focuses entirely on the Countach.  The V12 shrieks up and down through the gearbox, and the two ladies stopping just long enough paint an “X” across a 55 mph speed limit sign before the car screams off onto the American prairie highway again.  The car taunts a police cruiser by coming up extremely close in the rear view mirror, pulling alongside, and then disappearing into the horizon.  No wonder this movie, which Yates himself calls “a pretty lousy picture!” grossed more than $72 million dollars – in the U.S. alone!  Of course, Burt Reynolds and Victor Prinzim are the official stars of the movie with their fake ambulance, but don’t tell that to any teenage boy who saw the movie in the 1980’s.  After filming, the car was used by Hawaiian Tropic as a promotional vehicle for 28 years.  Then, a private collector in Florida bought the car in 2009, and restored the car to factory condition.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nh9L6LrpmTQ
  5. 1970 Porsche 911S “Le Mans”:  Most of Le Mans focuses on a frenzy of screaming prototypes, howling sports cars, furious air wrenches, and cheering crowds of adoring fans.  Not for the opening sequence, though.  Before reaching the Le Mans circuit, McQueen’s character, troubled racer Michael Delaney, gently pushes his 911S across the French countryside and a quiet village.  Soon, he will strap into a howling Porsche 917 for 24 hours of 240+ mph battle against a Ferrari 512LM.  But, for now, it’s just the man and his steed.  The Slate Gray 911S stands out in it’s timeless, understated elegance.  Kind of like McQueen himself.  It’s no wonder that he took the machine back with him to California to join his rapidly growing sports car and motorcycle collection.  Since he owned a nearly identical 1969 model, the 1970 911S was soon sold to a Los Angeles-based attorney who kept the car hidden away for the better part of 30 years.  The car changed hands two more times before going up for auction at RM Auctions Monterey, where it fetched a tidy $1.375 Million dollars, the most EVER paid for a 911 at auction.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JlyQsWXrqA
  6. 1966 Jaguar XKE V12 Convertible “Vanishing Point”:  Most people my age today probably wouldn’t understand the tagline from Vanishing Point: “Tighten your seatbelt.  You never had a trip like this before.”  But in 1971, the phrase fell on plenty of knowing ears and cars.  Enter Barry Newman as Kowalski, Congressional Medal of Honor Winner, ex-cop, ex-istentialist, as well as ex-race-driver.  His mission is the stuff of any Hollywood movie legend, or any car buff’s legend – drive the car from Denver to San Francisco in record time.  Hollywood being Hollywood, Kowalski encounters everything from rattlesnakes to sun-hardened old-timers, pre-“Bette Davis Eyes” Kim Carnes music, and deranged religious prophets.  But, his most memorable meeting was against a goggles-wearing, giggling desert rat hell-bent on some hoonage in his Jaguar XK-E V12 Convertible.  Said Jag driver literally begs for it – he even bangs his car into the Challenger to get Kowalski’s attention.  Since this is Hollywood, Kowalski takes the bait.  Big time.  It’s wire rims against mag wheels, Dover Sole versus Alaska Salmon, tea cakes versus beefcake.  A one-lane bridge looms ahead.  Kowalski gives the big 440 full throttle, fender swipes the Jag, and the Jag flies off the road in a splendid, um, horrifying fashion.  After several barrel rolls and a gigantic drop, the Jag ends up on it’s side in a mud-caked riverbed.  Since the driver of the Jag was a stunt driver, he’s OK.  Kowalski gives him a quick check, and is back on his way.  I can’t say the same for the Jag – it ended up as a total write-off.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBTup5WH0a0
  7. 1963 Apollo 3500 GT Thorndyke Special “The Love Bug”:  When was the last time you saw The Love Bug?  It’s a cute movie, and the support vehicles are, well, spectacular.  In any given racing scene, cute little Herbie the Love Bug is surrounded by all sorts of cars you’d expect to see at a period SCCA road race, from Triumph TR6’s to Shelby Cobra’s to MG TC’s.  The most memorable supporting vehicle is the black and yellow car driven by that crook Peter Thorndyke in the final El Dorado race.  Thorndyke drives everything from a Jaguar E-Type to a Ferrari 250GT (a replica car that long ago disappeared) Tour de France on his way to campaigning the Thorndyke Special.  The Thorndyke Special is, for all of it’s Italian looks, is an Apollo 3500GT.  It may have Italian styling, but it was made in Oakland California.  The Apollo cars started life in Italy, where the bodies and chassis’ were made by Intermeccanica.  They would then be shipped to Oakland, where the engines and transmissions would be installed.  Most of the engines were 350 cubic-inch Buick V8’s mated to either a Muncie M-22 “Rock Crusher” transmission or a Buick three-speed automatic.  42 cars were built between 1962 and 1964, when the company ran out of money and closed.  Max Balchowsky specifically modified two cars for the movie with their well-known paint scheme.  At least one car still exists today, with the restoration in Toronto, Canada started many years ago.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCmUQo2r33g
  8. 1969 Lamborghini Muira “The Italian Job (1969)”:  For us car lovers, the opening scene of the 1969 The Italian Job starring legendary British actor Michael Caine is beautiful and haunting.  An orange 1969 Lamborghini Muira P400 is making its way through the beautiful Swiss Alps with the actor Rossano Brazzi behind the wheel, cigarette dangling like they are in commercials.  He’s wearing driving gloves, a perfect suit, and designer sunglasses.  Matt Monro crooning “On Days Like These” accompanies the scream of the 3.9-liter V12 of the Muira.  What could go wrong?  Everything, as the Muira enters the tunnel at high speed, and comes out crumpled in the bucket of an earth mover at the other end.  A roadblock set up by the bad guys takes the blame.  And, the once-raging Muira is dropped over 100 feet into a river.  Was the orange Lambo actually destroyed?  Yes and no.  Two Muira’s were used for the scene.  The running and driving one was not wrecked, as it was a press car for Lamborghini; that honor goes to a crash-damaged frame of a Muira with new bodywork and no engine.  Rumor has it that when the crew came down to the river the next morning, not a single piece of the wrecked Muira was to be found.  Creepy.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQIRbV_noi8
  9. 1964.5 Ford Mustang GT Convertible “Goldfinger”:  While the Aston Martin DB5 seems to get all of the credit (rightfully so – it’s AWESOME!), the first Ford Mustang ever in a movie co-starred with the Brit.  Tilly Masterson’s gold 1964.5 Ford Mustang GT Convertible was a preproduction model, and was run off of a Swiss mountain after Bond’s tire slicing hubcap sticks out.  Ford REALLY wanted the Mustang to be part of Goldfinger, and had originally specified for a fastback to be used in the film.  Unfortunately, the fastback Mustang would start production too late in 1964 for filming purposes.  Ultimately, the Goldfinger Mustang fastback was built with special gold metallic paint, and it featured a roof panel with 007-inspired switches.  It was used as a promotional vehicle for both Bond and Ford for many years, and it still survives in private ownership.  As for the Mustang GT Convertible used in the film, it is believed but unknown by either Ford or anybody that it was sold after the film and repainted and currently with somebody.  Who that somebody is beats Ford and everybody else.  I’d sure like to know.  Other Ford vehicles were used in Goldfinger:  A 1957 Ford Thunderbird was used by Secret Service agents, a 1964 Lincoln Continental was driven to the junkyard and crushed by Oddjob, Goldfinger’s lethal assistant, and a 1964 Ford Ranchero was used for Oddjob to drive away from the junkyard with the crushed Continental in the bed.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLuNstLjP1c
  10. 1967 Ford Mustang GT500 “Gone in 60 Seconds”:  The menacing-looking 1967 silver-grey Ford Mustang GT500 from the 2005 remake of Gone in 60 Seconds is a 1967 Ford Mustang GT Fastback.  It has body panels and GT500 badges to make it look like a GT500.  It had a hopped-up 390 cubic-inch V8 made up to perform and sound like the 428 cubic inch Cobra Jet V8 found in the GT500.  Three cars were made for filming, and one was scrapped.  The other two survive in private ownership.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMv-X0tG2KQ