Monthly Archives: April 2014

Ferrari 360 Modena Millennium Marvel

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At the turn of the century Ferrari introduced the 360 Modena. It was the latest chapter in its storied line of two seat, mid-engine V8 sports cars which began with the 308 GTB in 1975. With a base price of around $150,000 Ferrari’s entry-level model was hardly inexpensive. But in the world of exotic cars it was a relative bargain.

Automobile Magazine said, “The Modena’s performance envelope is too huge for mailing” (Nov. 2003). Such a statement was understandable for a car with zero to 60 mph times of 4.3 seconds, lateral acceleration of 0.95g and a top speed of about 185 mph.

The design adhered to the classic formula of more power, lower weight and better handling. Compared with the outgoing F355 model, Ferrari extended the wheelbase, increased chassis stiffness and reduced weight some 200 pounds. This was accomplished in large part through extensive use of aluminum in the chassis and suspension.

Brakes are 13.0” vented and drilled discs all around, mounted inside 18” wheels. In addition to standard anti-lock brakes and traction control, electronically controlled shocks offer standard and sport modes, with settings varying with vehicle speed and input from three accelerometers.

Styled by Pininfarina, Ferrari’s long time design firm, the body was sculpted to reduce the drag coefficient to 0.335 while increasing downforce to some 400 pounds at 180 mph. A contributing element is the lack of a front grill. Instead one radiator is mounted on each side of the nose. The resulting center channel enables air to be better directed along the flat underbody and through the rear diffuser.

The heart of the car is a 3.6 liter aluminum V8 featuring five valves per cylinder. Redline is a dizzying  8,500 rpm. The 40 valve unit produces 395 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque at 4,750 rpm. Its red intake plenums are visible through a tempered glass cover on the rear decklid.

A dry sump oil system, titanium connecting rods, drive-by-wire throttle system, variable intake valve timing and servo controlled variable length intake runners round out the longitudinally mounted powerplant.

Output is channeled through either a six speed manual transmission or a semi-automatic version with paddle operated shifters. In automatic mode it was reported to be clunky in city driving. But the electro-hydraulic system can execute shifts in as little as 150 milliseconds and precisely blip the throttle on downshifts.

The 360 Modena formed the basis for several variants including the 360 Modena Spider, 360 Challenge and 360 Challenge Stradale. The Modena Spider, while similar to the hardtop berlinetta, features a power operated canvas top and chassis reinforcements which increases weight by about 400 pounds. In 2000 the Spider’s starting price was about $165,000.

The 360 Challenge was built for the one make Ferrari Challenge race series. At approximately 2,800 pounds it weighs 260 pounds less than the standard 360 due to the use of carbon fiber door panels and bodywork front and rear, and the absence of air conditioning, power windows and much of the interior trim.

A roll cage and associated safety equipment (e.g. fire extinguisher) were added. The semi-automatic gearbox received its own oil radiator and a beefier clutch. Brakes were upgraded to larger 14” discs in the front, and four piston calipers front and rear. Shocks are non-adjustable but camber, toe, and ride height are. Pirelli P Zero slicks, combined with lower and stiffer suspension were the finishing touches  for the track. Sticker price was in the region of $185,000.

The 360 Challenge Stradale, the ultimate roadgoing 360, was introduced for the lineup’s final year of production in 2004. A revised rear spoiler and bodywork increased downforce, while larger 19” wheels and carbon ceramic brakes all around and a stiffer suspension – offering sport or race settings – help translate that to mechanical grip.

The cylinder heads were ported and polished and the exhaust system was tuned for lower back pressure, bumping power up to about 425 hp.

The Challenge Stradale is about 240 pounds lighter than the standard coupe through the use of carbon fiber inner door panels, seat shells and center tunnel, and Lexan instead of glass for the engine cover. A racing stripe and sliding Lexan side windows were optional. Really. Some 250 units were allocated for North America at about $200,000 apiece.

Significantly, Ferrari’s utter dominance of Formula One between 2000 and 2004 largely coincided with production of the 360 Modena, which was replaced for the 2005 model year by the F430. The advancements made with the F430 reflect the racing lessons learned during Ferrari’s racing hot streak.

2014 New York Notables At the Auto Show

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As one of the world’s major auto shows, New York always has its share of new vehicle introductions, and 2014 was no different with the new Nissan Murano, Toyota Camry, and Ford Focus sedan. Our interests, however, center specifically on sports car events (and non-events). Below is a summary of this year’s notable moves.

Alfa Romeo is returning to the States. It’s for real this time with the mid-engine 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C. Sporting a 237 hp four cylinder turbo and a twin clutch six speed semi-automatic transmission, this is a big deal. Little else in sports car land pairs approximately 2,000 lbs with wait… wait… wait… manual steering! Yes, it’s true. There will not be any power assist filter between the front wheels and the driver. With 258 lb-ft of torque and 80 percent of it available at a diesel-like 1,700 rpm, count on this to be loads of fun and the purest sports car since the Lotus Elise.

Aston Martin rolled out an “entry level” V8 Vantage at just a hair under $100k. Aside from the lower price, power increased to 430 hp and additional styling tweaks were made. The power upgrade certainly helped it avoid regular Special Ed status below. Aston also launched the DB9 Carbon Edition but we’ll let that one slide.

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S2000: Honda In A Hurry

Honda S2000 Roadster (AP2)

Honda S2000 roadster

As the world was about to party like it was 1999, because it was, Honda introduced a real, honest to goodness sports car for the year 2000. Its designation followed the nomenclature of the company’s previous S600 and S500 models, indicating it was a sports car and engine displacement in cubic centimeters. In this case, S2000 also coincided nicely with the new millennium. An S2K for Y2K.
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The Two Most Powerful Formulas In Finance

Time is money

Photo courtesy David Niblack

As a 19 year old college student caught somewhere between the fog of textbooks that explained nothing clearly and professors who did little better, whether they had English proficiency or not, I found myself in a lecture hall for something called Engineering Economy. The purpose of this course was to prepare engineers, of which it was quite uncertain at the time if I would later be counted as one, to analyze and allocate resources. In other words, how to spend money better and why.

Until then my real-world financial experience consisted largely of making quick judgments in the grocery store about which size and brand of mac-and-cheese was a better deal. This class had real-world relevance, and it turned out to be worth more than all four years of tuition.

I immediately recognized its value and could put what I learned to use in contrast to say, boiling off a pot of water to determine the molecular weight of salt. Since then I’ve continued to benefit from variations of two formulas referred to as “A given P” and “F given P”.

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Petersen Automotive Museum: Worth a Visit?

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Last time I was in Los Angeles I happened upon the famed Petersen Automotive Museum on a Sunday afternoon. The museum was founded by the late Robert Petersen, founder of the company that originally published magazines such as Motor Trend, Hot Rod, and Motorcyclist – all staples of my teenage diet. It was hard not to notice the car mounted on the front wall, so I decided to check it out.

Right in the middle of the lobby was a 1953 Bosley, one of two cars built by a Mr. Richard Bosley. He reportedly had a Jaguar XK120 and an Oldsmobile Rocket 88 Coupe, and apparently decided he would design and build a world class sports car just because. At the time he was a 21 year old horticulturist and… well, have a look at the photos for the result of his amazing feat.

The variety of vehicles on display included antiques, vintage sports cars, pickup trucks, hot rods, motorcycles, and movie cars such as Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters. Old Bugattis also continue to impress. It’s amazing what artisans were able to accomplish with the technology of their day.

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Porsche 911: The Quintessential Sports Car

Porsche 911 Type 996 coupe

Type 996 Porsche 911: Quintessential Sports Car for the New Millennium

Porsche shook up the U.S. sports car scene for the 1999 model year by replacing the previous 911 model (Type 993) with a new 911 (Type 996). It possessed sleek new bodywork with a drag coefficient of just 0.30 in a package that tipped the scales at just over 2,900 lbs.

The Type 996 shared its front end, seats and dashboard with the recently introduced Boxster, and its steel unibody was equipped with aluminum subframes, suspension links and brakes. Seventeen inch wheels were standard, and eighteen inch wheels optional.

Distinctive “fried egg” shape headlights were a departure from the traditional round lights. The rear spoiler would automatically deploy above 75 mph for additional stability, inadvertently signaling to sharp eyed cops if the driver was speeding.

The big news, however, was under the rear decklid. For the first time the engine was water cooled instead of air cooled, as it had always been since its 1963 introduction. Propelled by a 3.4 liter flat six with VarioCam valve timing, with output of 296 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, the Type 996 offered buyers the choice of Getrag six speed manual or ZF five speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, similar to that found in the Boxster.
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