Category Archives: Cars

2017 F1 Season Preview

2017 Australian Grand Prix, Friday - Wolfgang Wilhelm

2017 Australian Grand Prix, Friday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Well, that didn’t seem to take long. Last season ended and this season is starting, and I haven’t posted anything in between. Not that I haven’t been writing, I just tend to forget to post things… some times for extended periods of time.

Anyway, Nico Rosberg took the F1 title on the last lap of the last race in Abu Dhabi last year. It was a real nailbiter. Then he promptly retired, surprising pretty much everyone including his own team. Continue reading “2017 F1 Season Preview” »

Betting On A Red Horse

Ferrari 458 Speciale

Courtesy Ferrari N.A.

I’m not one to bet on horses. I never play the lotto (even with the record 10 figure jackpot currently in the headlines), and I have never even made it to a blackjack table in Vegas despite a few attempts. I didn’t even pay much attention to Williams Grand Prix, another stalwart of the Formula One (F1) circuit, when the company went public. But this time, it’s a little different. Ferrari is now a public company following a spin off from Fiat Chrysler (FCAU), and I have some shares of stock in the Prancing Horse.

The Legend

You might say I’m long on the legend of the Prancing Horse, which began with Enzo Ferrari (1898-1988) as a racing driver for Alfa Romeo in the early days of the automobile. Upon the birth of his son Alfredino (“Dino”), he retired from driving to concentrate on running Alfa’s F1 team, and then eventually setting up shop on his own.

In that bygone era of racing cars painted in national racing colors rather than adorned with sponsorship livery, road going Ferraris were sold to fund operations of the racing team. Ferrari has always been a company that sold cars to go racing, which is quite the opposite of most every manufacturer that has been involved with the sport before or since. It is also the one with the most wins and championships in F1, and the only one that has been part of the sport all through the post-WWII era, starting with the 1950 season.

Unsurprisingly in such a competitive business, the company’s fortunes ebbed and flowed over the years. Dino Ferrari, whom Enzo had likely been grooming to eventually takeover, tragically died of muscular dystrophy in 1956 at the age of 24. Then in the 1960s Ferrari almost sold the business to Ford but backed out. “The Deuce” (aka Henry Ford II) was incensed and commissioned the creation of the Ford GT40, which eventually ended Ferrari’s dominance of the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, by winning four times straight beginning in 1966.

Fiat, under the leadership of Gianni Agnelli, bought a stake in the company in 1969 and later became the controlling shareholder. The company went on to some of its greatest successes after Enzo’s death in 1988, launching a slew of critically acclaimed and commercially successful models beginning in the 1990s and returning to its winning ways on the F1 circuit with a combined 14 driver and constructor titles between 1999 and 2008.

Green Pastures

Ferrari is a solid, if expensive investment. It is a trophy property after all. In the short term the share price is subject to fall due to the initial hype surrounding its IPO and the high Price/Earnings (P/E) ratio. However, over the long term I can’t think of many more solid investments in the “automotive” sector. Here’s why.
Continue reading “Betting On A Red Horse” »

Lost My AC and Some Self-Esteem

Junk in the Frunk

AC junk in the SW20 frunk: (A) Low side port, (B) Refrigerant sightglass, and (C) High side port.

Around April I turned on the air conditioning for the first time this year in my Toyota MR2. Have you ever had that experience where the initial result was lukewarm airflow?  Then you’re in denial. You wait a little longer to let it “cool down” thinking maybe it will take a few minutes. Of course it doesn’t.

Then you’re kind of sweaty and feeling a tinge of guilt for not having paid more attention to maintenance. Guilt gives way to remorse, “Oh, I should have… turned it on more often. Or had it checked. Or…”. Then you think the worst, “It can’t be fixed. It will cost too much. Parts aren’t available and no one knows how to fix these old systems anymore. I’ll have to buy a new car.”

You start shopping in your mind and mourning the loss of your car while you’re still driving it, “If I had to buy another car it won’t be the same. I’ll never find another car like this one. It’s the only one in the world for me.”

Finally, despair sets in when you see even the sorry excuse of a new econobox with the too high seating position in the next lane at the stoplight has cold air conditioning. And a cupholder.

Continue reading “Lost My AC and Some Self-Esteem” »

The Other Side of Mulholland Drive


A college buddy of mine, we’ll call him B-Dogg because that was his moniker, said to me during our undergraduate days he was going to do three things:

(1)   Get his PhD
(2)   Move to Hollywood
(3)   Drive a silver Porsche

At least that was the part of the conversation I remember most. The rest of it was about some homework assignment that I may not or may not have completed satisfactorily (that’s not a typo).

Fast forward a few years and he duly accomplished the three things he had enumerated. Since then I’ve come to visit on occasion when I’m in LA.

We’ve also been to a number of other places but they usually involve nondescript rental cars (a Hyundai i10 on St. Maarten’s twisties was a real gem) driven with reckless abandon. And strip clubs. B-Dogg loves his strip clubs.

In fact, there’s this strip club somewhere outside of Miami that’s nearly the size of a CostCo, containing a larger quantity of women and stages than one’s two eyes can see in an hour. Or three. But I digress.

Even though I had known about it since I was a kid, it wasn’t until last March that I sought out Mulholland Drive, that sinewy mountain road that winds through the Hollywood Hills.

I was there again recently, and instead of thrashing a rental, we took B-Dogg’s silver 2013 Porsche Boxster S (Type 981) for a brief Sunday excursion on Mulholland Drive with the top down before afternoon plans with his wife and some friends. Continue reading “The Other Side of Mulholland Drive” »

A Piece of Ferrari

Ferrari California T convertible

Ferrari California T

A few weeks ago Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), majority owner of Ferrari, announced it would spin-off the fabled Italian marque next year by floating 10% of the shares on a stock exchange and distributing another 80% to its shareholders.

While details explaining exactly how FCA will go about doing so have yet to be announced, reports indicate that one would have to buy them on the market or be an existing shareholder. How I understood it is if you want to get your mitts on a piece of Ferrari you will probably do better to buy Fiat Chrysler shares than wait to buy Ferrari shares next year, even if it means having to buy convertible debt.

Why Is Fiat Chrysler Floating Ferrari?

Basically they are borrowing on Ferrari’s good name because FCA needs to raise some $60 billion to fund product development through 2018. Various estimates have pegged Ferrari’s value at around $7 billion while FCA’s entire market cap (including Ferrari) is only about $18 billion. No wonder FCA wants to spin off the Prancing Horse.

Ferrari is worth more standing on its own than under the Fiat Chrysler umbrella. So separating Ferrari will more accurately reflect the value of the brand, increasing the amount against which FCA can borrow for product development.

So early last week I bought some FCA shares (stock ticker FCAU) not only because I’m a Ferrari fan – which is a terrible reason to buy stock – but also because I think it’s a good long term investment (even if I don’t view FCA in the same light). Here’s why.

Continue reading “A Piece of Ferrari” »

Ferrari California Dreamin’

Ferrari California. Photo courtesy Ferrari

Ferrari California

Whether through foresight or serendipity, the introduction of the Ferrari California – the Prancing Horse’s least expensive model – at the 2008 Paris auto show coincided with the start of the Great Recession.

What better way for the exotic car maker to expand its business than to launch an entry level model when most people were losing (or worried about losing) their shirt? Actually, the target market was certainly more likely people who weren’t worried about said shirt loss, but perhaps may not have wanted to rub it (as much) into the faces of those who were.

So it was that more than 50 years after the original Italian sports car named after a U.S. state arrived on our shores, the 2009 model followed, value-priced and packed with Maranello’s latest technology. Whereas the Ferrari lineup had previously consisted of front engine V12 Gran Turismo (GT) and mid-engine V8 sports cars, with a flagship supercar thrown in every seven to 10 years (e.g. F40, F50, Enzo), the California was the first ever front engine V8 Ferrari.

Described as a retractable hardtop two seat GT with optional 2+2 seating – the rear two passengers usually preferring the seats of the front two – it became one of the company’s volume models.

V12 x 2/3 = Engine

At the heart of it lay a variant of the Ferrari F430 engine, an aluminum 4.3 liter V8. But this was the first Ferrari to have direct injection. Churning out 453 hp, it produced less power than the unit in the F430 but more torque on its way to a redline near 8,000 rpm.

Power was directed to a rear mounted dual-clutch semi-automatic transmission featuring seven speeds. This partly explains why only 46% of the car’s hefty 3,900 lb. mass rides on the front wheels. Later an optional six speed manual version became available. But rumor has it that pretty much none were sold, making it nearly as rare as unicorns.

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Porsche Cayman Wizardry and Lizardry

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My first step in publishing each post is to write utter garbage. Whatever you may think of the final product, I just spill all my words out into something tangible – enough so that I can show it to someone else and have them tell me it’s crap.

Then after inhaling the waft of my printer burning toner or whatever it does while coughing up multiple drafts and revisions, I’ll arrive at something I am only slightly discontented with and ready to post, though not without trepidation. Typing up a first draft that’s polished enough to call a final product is not how I roll.

Perhaps some car companies operate the same way. They throw something together based on a concept and keep refining it until it finds its niche in the world or the scrap pile.

The process of launching a car involves a lot of trial and error, prototypes and fixing myriad problems. Possibly all because a couple of engineers debated the merits of one way or another of doing something while chowing down burgers, schnitzel, sushi or pasta during their lunch hours.

Then someone, after perhaps many sips (or gulps) of some inebriating beverage says, “Hey, why don’t we try that?”, and the others at the table nod in agreement. Or seem to nod because they’re plastered.

I mean, how else do you explain putting six cylinders without a radiator on the backside of something akin to an upside down bathtub that shared a bunch of parts with a VW Beetle and calling it a sports car?  Then, many brew addled lunches later turbocharging some version of it, slapping a giant wing on it and pretty much kicking the entire world’s collective sports car racing ass?

Anyway, my point is that if you want to get started doing anything, just throw something together and see if it seems like a good direction. Then keep polishing. That’s my theory on how the Porsche 911 became one of the world’s most, if not the most, iconic sports cars.

But this piece isn’t actually about that car. It’s about something that happened a generation after its debut, where perhaps another group of engineers may have revisited the rear-engine vs. mid-engine debate. One thing led to another and, hopefully without fisticuffs in the biergarten, they wanted to put things to the test and came up with the Porsche Boxster.
Continue reading “Porsche Cayman Wizardry and Lizardry” »

The Bugatti Veyron Is Twice the Car

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The Bugatti Veyron 16.4 is a car unlike any that has come before. Sure there have always been fast, luxurious cars. But the Veyron takes it to another level not just in terms of speed but in terms of, well, just about everything.

It was named after a relatively unknown Bugatti test driver named Pierre Veyron who teamed with Jean-Pierre Wimille to win the 1939 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a Bugatti Type 57C. While the Veyron bears the name of the company founded by Ettore Bugatti and is produced at the site of the company’s original works in Molsheim, France, the driving force behind its creation was Volkswagen Group and its chairman, the indomitable Dr. Ferdinand Piëch.

Dr. Piëch, grandson of Porsche founder Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, played a key role in a number of automotive developments including the Porsche 917 race car and the Audi Quattro all-wheel drive groundbreaking drivetrain. He was also voted “Car Executive of the Century” in 1999.

His goal with the acquisition of Bugatti was nothing short of the creation of the ultimate car. Following a series of concepts sporting a whole lot of cylinders and four digit power figures, the Veyron concept was initially shown at the 2003 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

The production Veyron arrived in 2006 with a price tag of about $1.2m, depending on exchange rates. Since then prices have edged as far as the $2m-$3m range. Yes, in the world of super cars inflation is real, and the sales tax alone can amount to the price of a very nice car.

Engine

At the heart of the Veyron is, of course, its engine. This engine is very different from any other. For one its displacement is 8.0 liters. Okay, so an SRT Viper has a larger engine. But the Veyron has four turbochargers. Okay, so the Bugatti EB110 had four turbos. But the Veyron has sixteen (!) cylinders. Okay, so the 1932 Cadillac Phaeton had sixteen cylinders.

But no other car has combined all of those attributes into one engine: Giant displacement, lots of turbos and lots of cylinders. Oh, and the cylinders are arranged in a W-pattern rather than a typical V-pattern. It’s a quad-turbocharged 8.0 liter W-16 engine that just happens to produce over 1,000 metric horsepower (987 SAE hp) and 950 lb-ft of torque. Those are the official ratings, which are rumored to be quite conservative.

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Ford GT – Forty Year Follow Up

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Enzo Ferrari was partly responsible for a lot more sports cars than he’s given credit for. The Old Man apparently had a way of, shall we say, inspiring others to go off in a huff to build their own cars in order to spite him. He reportedly insulted a customer who complained of clutch problems. That customer turned out to be Ferruccio Lamborghini who then started the firm that bears his name.

The Ford GT40 is another car that came to be in part because of Ferrari. Its development was commissioned by Henry Ford II after he was rebuffed in his attempt to purchase the fabled Italian company. The GT40’s mission was to race and beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It didso four consecutive times from 1966 to 1969 – including a 1-2-3 sweep in 1966.

The GT40 ended Ferrari’s streak of six straight Le Mans victories from 1960 to 1965. (Ferrari hasn’t won Le Mans since, concentrating on Formula One instead.) After that things quieted down as Ford became preoccupied with other things as the malaise of the 1970s set in.

It wasn’t until 2005 that the spiritual successor to the GT40, the Ford GT, was introduced to once again battle Ferrari. But this time the battle was not on the track so much as in the sports car marketplace.

While it certainly bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor the GT is a much larger car, its 106.7 inch wheelbase about a foot longer, and its 44.3 inch height about four more than that of the GT40.

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The Shortlived Saturn Sky

2007-2009 Saturn Sky sports car

Saturn Sky roadster

Once in a while events unfold that seem, however briefly, as if the stars are in alignment. It makes one think all is right with the world and that things are the way they should be. That’s just plain nonsense. The universe doesn’t care – it’s entirely impartial. But regardless the Saturn Sky might have been one of those that was destined for greatness in the car universe.

Based on GM’s Kappa platform the Sky arrived in mid-2006 as an early 2007 model, positioned as the more upscale cousin of the Pontiac Solstice, with a unique exterior and interior. Base price started around $23,000.

The Kappa platform also served as the basis for the Opel GT and Daewoo GX2 roadsters for international markets. All were manufactured at the GM plant in Wilimington, Delaware, which has since closed.

The Sky was like a junior Corvette with a front engine, manual folding top and rear wheel drive layout – roughly half the cost for half the cylinders.

Engine & Drivetrain

The base model came standard with an all aluminum 177 hp Ecotec four cylinder engine displacing 2.4 liters. While the all-aluminum design was not known for its smoothness, it did feature variable valve timing and considerably more power than its chief competitor, the Mazda MX-5 Miata.

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