Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Studebaker Avanti

Studebaker Avanti

The 'Avanti' was supposed to resurrect Studebaker! Company president Sherwood Egbert dreamed up the car - as a means to inject some much-needed vitality into Studebaker's veins. Egbert's choice of designer was astute. Raymond Loewy - who had penned the 'Coca-Cola' bottle, in the past - was brought in as stylist. Loewy went the minimalist route ... at least, as compared with many of his contemporaries. Typically, Detroit-built cars at the time were all chrome and fins! The Avanti, though, exuded 'European' restraint. Its glassfibre-forged lines were smart, but unshowy. On the inside, too, things were similarly sophisticated. Neat instrumentation - and leather bucket seats - were imbued with Italianate finesse.

But - just two years after the Avanti's release - Studebaker was no more! The firm went into receivership in '64. And that seemed like that for the new car. At the last, though, saviours stepped in - in the form of Studebaker dealers Nate Altman and Leo Newman. In no mood to see the Avanti die, they bought the rights to it - and set about re-starting production. With Studebaker motors no longer around, Chevrolet Corvette units were sourced. The car was re-christened the Avanti II. The first model had received rave reviews. Now, it acquired 'sought-after' status, too! Altman and Newman's faith was rewarded. Their 'Avanti Motor Corporation' thrived ... right up until '82.

The Avanti's V8 made 335bhp ... taking it to a top speed of 145mph. That 'poke' came with a comfortable cabin. 4,643 Avanti IIs were sold. In later years, there were more attempts to keep the car going. Like Loewy's coke bottle, certain products seem destined always to be with us. And - while not, perhaps, quite in Coca-Cola's league - the Studebaker Avanti will still be going strong somewhere. Last heard of in Mexico, apparently!

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Maserati Khamsin

Maserati Khamsin

No one can say that the car world lacks atmosphere. The Le Mans racetrack has a straight named after the 'mistral' - a cold wind, which blows through southern France. And, Ford's 'Zephyr' references a gentle breeze - which has meandered through many a piece of poetry over the years. But, there was another automotive legend, which played upon this ethereal theme. Maserati's 'Khamsin' was named after the scorching gusts, which sear through Egypt each summer. Marcello Gandini - of design house Bertone - was brought in, to draft the Khamsin's super-sharp shape. The fluid lines of the bodywork were fabricated from steel. Spanning the back was a glass panel - inside which, the tail-lights sat in 'suspended animation'.

Technologically, the Khamsin was a tour de force. Its four-cam V8 abutted the bulkhead. Front-engined, though it was - with a full tank of gas, weight distribution was 50/50. The motor was an all-alloy marvel. Its 320bhp gave a top speed of 153mph. Torque output was a splendid 354lb/ft - at 4,000rpm. The Khamsin's power-band stretched all the way from 800-5,500rpm!

When the Khamsin entered production - in '74 - Citroën were still a part of Maserati. A year later - and they were gone. The Khamsin, though, felt the full hydraulic force of the French giant. The steering, brakes, and clutch - plus, pop-up headlights, and driver's seat adjustment - were all Citroën-controlled. There was 'double-wishbone' rear suspension. Only the dashboard let the side down a tad. The haphazard array of dials and switches was in marked contrast to the simple elegance of the exterior. Mere nit-picking! Unveiled at the '72 Paris Show, the new Maserati was as stylish as you liked. And yet, it was also practical ... those huge torque reserves providing abundant carrying capability. And, on top of all of that - as its name implied - the Khamsin went like the wind!

Monday, 13 August 2018

Dodge Charger Daytona 500

Dodge Charger 500 Daytona

The 500 'Daytona' was a response to Ford dominance, in NASCAR racing. The Charger was competitive power-wise - but let down by too much speed-sapping drag. The Charger '500' was the first attempt to redress that balance. Aerodynamics were key. The nose was enclosed - and the rear window made flush with its surrounds. Those two changes alone made a big difference. The 500 won 18 races, in '69. Ford's 'Torino', though, won 30! More was clearly needed. The 500's nose grew 18″ - and a huge rear wing sprung up. This new version was 20% more efficient, in terms of airflow. It was dubbed the 'Daytona'. NASCAR's tables were turned!

505 production cars were built - for race homologation purposes. But, the road-going Chargers did not sell well. They were gathering showroom dust - when TV came to the rescue! The Dukes of Hazzard series turned the Charger tide. In the form of the General Lee, it was the star of the show. The sheriff was in perpetual pursuit of the Dodge-borne Dukes! Though, thanks to its engine - a GM 'Magnum' V8 - 375bhp kept the good ol' boys out ahead! For more law-abiding drivers, there was the choice of a 4-speed manual - or 3-speed TorqueFlite 'box. Suspension was by torsion bars, up front - and leaf springs, to the rear. And there were disc brakes fore - and 'boosted' drums aft.

Ironically, the new nose and rear wing hindered the roadster. The extra weight slowed it down. But, it was on the NASCAR banking, that the Charger came into its own. Buddy Baker was in a Daytona, when he recorded NASCAR's first 200mph lap. That was in 1970 - at Talladega, Alabama. Named after one of the world's most iconic race-tracks, the 'Daytona' lived up to the legend!

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Pagani Zonda

Pagani Zonda

As a boy, Horacio Pagani made supercars out of wood and clay. Later, his designs were fashioned from the most exotic of materials. They included carbon-titanium, and carbon-fibre. An early spell at Lamborghini did his career no harm at all. Pagani worked for them as a junior mechanic. While there, he helped develop the Countach Evoluzione - the first car to be built around a carbon-fibre chassis.

In 1988, Pagani set up his own company. But, the ties with Lamborghini were still strong. Pagani's new firm did some development work for them - on composites for the Diablo and Countach Anniversary cars. Increasingly, though, Pagani's thoughts turned to a product of his own. He and his team duly began work on a supercar. In 1994, Mercedes-Benz supplied it with a V12 engine. It was not until '99, however, that the prototype was unveiled - at the Geneva Motor Show. Pagani had intended it be called the Fangio F1 - after one of the finest GP drivers ever. Sadly - by the time it was finished - Fangio had died. Pagani then opted to call the new car the C12 'Zonda' - after a wind which blows through the Andes mountains.

The Zonda was cutting edge. The Mercedes-Benz V12 was placed behind the cockpit - to drive the rear wheels. It delivered 542bhp - after being tuned by AMG. Top speed was 220mph. 0-60 arrived in 3.7s. A carbon-fibre body - and slippery lines - played no small part in that. The Zonda retailed at $320,000. Pagani were selling ten or so units a year. There have been several additions to the Zonda range since - each refining, and improving on the original. Doubtless, those boyhood models Pagani played with have long since turned to tinder and dust. Most of his more mature creations, though, are still going strong!

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Bertone Carabo

Bertone Carabo

The 'Carabo' was one of the most influential concept cars ever created. Think Lamborghini Countach! The Carabo was the ultimate in wedge-shaped styling. As diagonal lines go, the one from the tip of its nose - to the top of its roof - was about as dynamic as it gets. That was in sharp contrast to its cute stub of a tail. Not only did that look cool - aerodynamically, it was on the money, too. Concept car, or no, the Carabo had a top speed of 160mph ... or so it was claimed. It was, after all, kitted out with a 230bhp V8!

The Carabo 'concept' was packed with real world parts. Many of them had been honed at the track. Its chassis, for example, was spawned by Alfa Romeo's 'Tipo 33' race-car. That meant double-wishbone suspension, all round - and disc brakes. For a car that was never really intended to be driven - at least, not in anger - the Bertone Carabo was pretty high-spec!

Marcello Gandini was chief designer. The Carabo's 'scissor-doors' would become a supercar trademark. Not only were they amazing to look at - when fully flung up - they were an engineering tour de force. The car's finish was fittingly flamboyant. Metallic green paint was set off by orange highlights. Light-weight glass - made by Belgian firm VHR-Glaverbel - was copper-tinted. As was to be expected, the Carabo wowed the '68 Paris Motor Show. Nuccio Bertone - and his Turin-based studio - had delivered! Lamborghini lovers, especially, will be forever in his debt.

Studebaker Avanti

The 'Avanti' was supposed to resurrect Studebaker! Company president Sherwood Egbert dreamed up the car - as a means to...