Spotlight: Graham Hill – A Racing Legend Unlike Any Others (video)

October 16, 2012

It’s a bit of an old cliche to say that ‘things were different back in the old days of F1’, but in the case of top-level/F1 motorsport and, more particularily, the drivers themselves and the people directly involved, nothing could be further from the truth.

The 1960s (and to some extent, the early ’70s) are often regarded as the golden age of motorsport and Formula One for many unique reasons. Most companies and manufacturers involved at the time were small independents and some survived race-to-race in the hopes of winning some prize money to further their livelihood and passion over the coming season.

Jackie Stewart and his earliest mentor, Graham Hill, at Monza in ’67

Comraderie between drivers was commonplace – everyone hung out with one another and most drivers became the best of friends. They all shared a common passion that few people could relate to. It was family, pure and simple as that. Families vacationed together, the wives of the drivers and team-owners assisted by time-keeping and keeping various things in line… It was people helping people that also cared about one another.

Graham and his son, Damon, playing around with reigning F1 world-champion Jim Clark at his home in ’66. Bette Hill threw Graham a party to celebrate his homecoming from America where he won the Indianapolis 500 in a Ford-Lola.

Whether you drove for Ferrari or Tyrrell or Lotus or Brabham, it didn’t matter… You were family. You looked out for one another… and also grieved together whenever there was a loss of life from an accident which, sadly, happened all too often.

Graham in his Lotus 49B during the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort in ’69

One man from that era of Motorsport that seemed to shine in his own irrefutably unique way though, was Graham Hill. If there ever was a man to be labelled ‘a true gentleman’ of the sport, then Graham would easily claim that designation. He was a charismatic, charming, highly-knowledgeable, caring and incredibly talented driver that won the World Championship twice (in ’62 and ’68) and earned the unofficial title as ‘Mr. Monaco’ after winning that Grand Prix 5 times.

Graham ‘Mr. Monaco’ on the cover of Motor Racing magazine in ’68

Last night I was watching a documentary DVD called ‘Jackie Stewart: The Flying Scot’ and during a section of the interview, Jackie took a moment to talk about Graham, and how Graham was his earliest mentor during his formative F1 years in the early ’60s when Jackie was driving 2nd-string below Graham for the BRM team. What struck me was when Jackie said that in all of his years/decades of racing and being involved in Motorsport, never had he known a more intriguing, intelligent, handsome, witty, talented, ruthlessly skillful (he was also a phenomenal mechanic) and charming personality than Hill. He was one of a kind… And, as they say, they ‘broke the mould’ after Graham was born.

Graham, with his son Damon – the only father/son combo to be crowned F1 World Champions

It would be impossible for me to write about all of the amazing stories and various idiosyncrasies that made Graham Hill such a treasured, respected and sorely-missed man. It was such a sad and undeserving end for Graham when his private-plane crashed in ’75, killing himself and all his teammates onboard. Moreso, it saddens me that top-level Motorsport (especially F1) has gradually become the exact opposite of everything that Graham and the drivers/families/teams involved from that golden era represented and genuinely felt, experienced and discovered with one another…

Graham, enjoying one his several lifetime Grand Prix wins…

This well-made BBC Documentary on the life of Graham Hill offers a fine glimpse into the man himself – the sort of man that we’ll probably never see the likes of ever again. Enjoy…

-Blake J.

McLaren P1: The Next Hypercar King Has Arrived… ?

September 18, 2012

After a couple of intriguing teaser vids, McLaren has officially released images of its forthcoming P1 supercar that is set to raise the bar for driving enthusiasts the world over. In McLaren’s own words, they are confident enough to proclaim that the P1 aims to be ‘the best driver’s car in the world on road and track’… Furthering that up, Ron Dennis has said “the P1 will be the result of 50 years of racing and road car heritage. Twenty years ago we raised the supercar performance bar with the McLaren F1 and our goal with P1 is to redefine it once again.”

And there isn’t much doubt that McLaren will hold true to these statements and performance claims when the P1 goes into full production within 12 month’s time. McLaren state that the P1 you see here (and at the upcoming Paris Motor Show debut) mirror a ‘design study’ that will preview the forthcoming McLaren supercar. What that really means is that they will use this first ‘design study’ model to gauge public reaction and potential customer’s opinions… But from where I’m sitting, this already looks a stunner.

Details on power and specs are still flying around inside the internet rumour mills but expect a modified version of their existing 3.8L twin-turbo V8 producing somewhere in the region of 800 bhp with a KERS system along for the ride developing an extra 150-160 bhp. All said and done, expect your P1 to hammer out something in the 950+ bhp region of insanity.

When McLaren claims “Our aim is not necessarily to be the fastest in absolute top speed but to be the quickest and most rewarding series production car on a circuit”, I look at what they’ve already accomplished with the (still developing) MP4-12C and expect nothing less… The P1’s in-the-metal Paris Show debut happens on September 27th.

-Blake J.

World Record: 964 Ferraris Gallop at Silverstone

September 17, 2012

A huge gathering of 964 Ferraris converged upon Silverstone Circuit in the UK this past weekend to assist in setting a new Guinness World Record for the largest single containment (?) of Prancing Horses ever seen. Although the turnout was shy of the expected 1000 cars, it obliterates the previous record of 490 Ferraris having a chat in 2008 at the Fuji Speedway Circuit in Japan.

The big event took place at a Ferrari Racing Days gathering and even a certain Felipe Massa F1 driver showed-up to lead the idling/crawling 964 Ferraris around the track… though, it appears that he was the only one that actually had any real motoring-fun doing so, as the video shows…

Along with the massive collection of Ferraris of all vintages to oggle at, Ferrari UK also brought along the new F12 for attendees to pore over and ponder. The event itself was coordinated by Ferrari and the British Ferrari Owner’s Club, who had a hand in bringing 60 Ferrari F40s together at Silverstone back in July of this year.

One of the promises Ferrari made this weekend was to donate 5 British Pounds to charity for each Ferrari that showed up. In the end, 4,820 GBP ($7,819) was raised. According to Ferrari, all of the pertinent areas were met with regards to scrutineering by the Guinness World Record-folk and the record should be confirmed by the end of this week.

Great job, Ferrari-owners of the UK..!

-Blake J.

Photo Album: Luxury Supercar & Concours d’Elegance Weekend – Vancouver 2012

September 11, 2012

This past weekend (Sept. 8th and 9th) marked the third annual Luxury Supercar & Concours d’Elegance Weekend, held on the grounds of the beautiful Van Dusen Gardens in the Shaughnessy region of Vancouver, British Columbia.

The size of the show this year nearly doubled in comparison to the previous year and, it must be said, the thought given towards the layout, open-space and ambiance of the swooping lawns of Van Dusen in displaying these vehicular beauties was an appreciated improvement over any other car-show I’ve ever attended at the historical garden. Well done, organizer(s)…😉

For this year’s event, special attention was given towards celebrating certain themes. Among those were: 50 years of James Bond cars, Classic Supercars, the 60th Anniversary of Porsche in North America, 50 years of Shelby cars, Mercedes-Benz roadsters, classic Italian motorbikes and (almost) 100 years of Aston Martin.

The weekend culminated with the Shaughnessy Concours d’Elegance, awarding trophies on Sunday to the Best In Class. And Sunday was my chosen day for attending the event, seeing as how the Saturday was absolutely jam-packed with loads of people at the event during one of our last days of blistering Summer-y sunshine before Autumn announces its arrival.

This turned out to be a smart decision on my part, as Sunday was forecasted with overcast skies and a noticeable cooling in temperatures. Less people and less sunshine = a more comfortable and relaxed viewing (and photographical) experience all around.

Some notable cars in attendance were the new 2013 Aston Martin Vanquish, the 1933 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 by Figoni, the 1951 Ferrari 212 Export Vignale Coupe (stunning), the return of the 1967 Toyota 2000GT (the only one in Canada), the Ferrari F40 and Enzo supercar, the wide assortment of Lamborghinis both old and new, the army of Shelby Mustangs, the 4 (or was it 5 ?) McLaren MP4-12C’s in varying trim and colour packages, the Mercedes/Mclaren SLR 722, the Spyker C8, the 1947 Humber Sedanca D’Ville (owned by King George VI)… and so on…

It goes without saying that this was one of, if not THE, most extraordinary vehicular event this fair, west-coast city has ever laid host to… So without further ado, let’s allow the photos to illustrate the extravagance and automotive rarities that were bestowed upon our region for one fine weekend in September… Hope you enjoy the photos.

-Words and Photography: Blake J.

McLaren P12: Teaser Before Paris Debut

September 6, 2012

The upcoming Paris Motor Show (Sept. 29 – Oct. 14) promises to be a monumental (and in all probability, exquisitely detailed) affair for McLaren Automotive. This event will mark McLaren’s first-ever appearance at an International Motor Show and aside from the showcasing of their updated 2013 MP4-12C (and its open-top Spider variant), all eyes will be keenly locked towards the unveil of the ‘spiritual successor’ to the incredible F1 hypercar of the ’90s – the new McLaren ‘P12’.

The above image is the only teaser-image that McLaren has offered-up prior to the unveiling and I couldn’t be happier about that – better to keep these things under wrap and the mind wandering. If anything, it definitely appears to be more dramatic than the slightly humdrum (yet efficiently purposeful) MP4-12C.

Slightly revealing/hinting spy-photo of the P12 prototype’s rear haunch.

Information regarding power and spec is also (understandably) scant at this point in time as well, but definitely expect a modified version of their existing 3.8L, twin-turbo V8 to power the new car (they now believe V12’s are ‘so yesterday’…hmm… Ferrari-jab anyone ?) along with a KERS-style energy recuperation system that could easily report combined power figures in the 750+ bhp area.

We await the official Paris Motor Show unveil…

-Blake J.

Video: Swiss Hillclimb Excellence – New..!!

August 28, 2012

I’ve been fixated with this European Hillclimb Championship video captured recently by FingerVideo in St. Ursanne, Switzerland. A broad range of sporting variants charge (and dance) their way through the town and up the Pass, posting truly incredible speeds in the process…


Car control: Europeans have it, and understand it.

-Blake J.

McLaren: Striking One-off X1 Debut

August 20, 2012

If you squint really hard, you’ll see it – the MP4-12C underneath it all.

Just last week McLaren unveiled their Can-Am Edition MP4-12C which paid a debt to their racing heritage and focused on their ideas/visions for the future of the company’s racing commitments. Yet then, this weekend at Pebble Beach they go and unveil this – the one-off McLaren X1. The words ‘shock’ and ‘awe’ only hint at what we’re left with…

What you’re looking at here is the result of the McLaren Special Operations unit (MSO) fulfilling the bespoke design influences (and assorted visions) of an unnamed/anonymous McLaren customer/aficianado that displayed an open-chequebook philosophy towards his/her idea of what constitutes ‘vehicular exclusivity’ in this world nowadays. Indeed, the array of chrome flourishes, classic lines, faired-in rear wheels and added-on adenda aren’t exactly in-line with the typical McLaren un-fussy design philosophies… but it’s that marriage of McLaren engineering know-how and one person’s open-wallet exclusivity that makes this entire project so intriguing.

The X1 project was undertaken by McLaren stylist Hong Yeo with design chief Frank Stephenson and MSO Programme Director Paul MacKenzie close by to oversee the progress. The X1 vehicular influences are listed as:  Buick Electra, Mercedes-Benz 540K, Facel Vega, Chrysler D’Elegance Ghia and the Citroën SM. Meanwhile, the architectural influences are listed as: the Guggenheim museums in New York and Bilbao, grand pianos, Airstream caravans, a Thomas Mann Mont Blanc pen and Audrey Hepburn (?).

Granted, those are some heady points of navigation and yet when all encompassed, seem to work, given their grandeur and societal poise. After all, one of the main objectives was to create a car that would look elegant enought to roll up to an opera in… As expected, there’s a lot to focus on with this daring Mclaren X1 one-off, so let’s allow the assorted photos and the official press release (below) to fill-in the necessary details.

-Blake J.

McLaren X1 (Full) Press Release:

McLaren Special Operations (MSO), the division of McLaren Automotive responsible for the delivery of bespoke projects, will present a breathtaking one-off supercar at The Quail, an exclusive event on August 17, 2012 that is a highlight of the Pebble Beach weekend in Monterey, USA.

Called the McLaren X-1 and based structurally on the company’s groundbreaking carbon MonoCell but with a totally unique body, it has been created for an anonymous car enthusiast.

X-1: the brief It’s not every day that a team gets to create something unique in a project that would take the supercar, even by McLaren standards, to a different level. The challenge began with a special brief.

‘One of our clients who already owned a McLaren F1, a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and now a 12C, wanted a unique car,’ says MSO Programme Director, Paul MacKenzie. ‘The conversation began with our Executive Chairman Ron Dennis almost three years ago – before the 12C was even launched. The client wanted a machine that had all the capability of the 12C but wrapped in a unique body that reflected his needs and personality.’

In a subsequent meeting, Paul Mackenzie and Design Director Frank Stephenson went to see him to start to explore the sort of car he wanted.

Says Frank Stephenson: ‘The key qualities the client desired were “timeless and classical elegance”. Which was some challenge.’

That meeting with Mackenzie and Stephenson lasted for almost three hours. From the pages of notes that were gathered, the design team brought together hundreds of images from the world of automotive, architecture, fashion, design and even film. These were then presented to the customer, and were then narrowed down to a mood book, full of inspiring images from which the design spirit of this unique car would be derived.

Inspirational cars included a 1961 Facel Vega, a 1953 Chrysler D’Elegance Ghia, a 1959 Buick Electra, a 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K and a 1971 Citroën SM. There were various examples of architecture – including the Guggenheim museums in New York and Bilbao – plus a Jaeger LeCoultre art deco clock, an Airstream trailer, a Thomas Mann Montblanc pen, a grand piano – and an eggplant. ‘The client liked the shiny texture of the finish,’ notes Stephenson. There was also a black-and-white photo of Audrey Hepburn.

‘The client wanted a competition between external designers – some outside the automotive world – and McLaren’s own designers,’ notes Stephenson. In the end, a design by McLaren’s Korean-born RCA graduate Hong Yeo was chosen, and completed under the direction of Stephenson.

One of the biggest design challenges faced by Yeo was that most cars that embody classic elegance and timeless values have front engines and rear-wheel drive proportions. This is the exact opposite of a mid-engined supercar. So a new visual language for the car had to be found which led to months of sketching and modelling to find that perfect visual balance.

Stephenson recalls: ‘From this design, we then produced a 30 per cent scale model, then a full-size hard foam model. Initially, we planned to do it all digitally but the client insisted on seeing “real” models.

‘The client was very clear in his own mind what he wanted. But the only styling feature prescribed were metal brightwork rails running from the nose, over the shoulderline and hips, to the rear of the greenhouse.’

In the words of Hong Yeo: ‘X-1 embodies the McLaren value that every part has to have a purpose. No details are simply visual cues, every one has a purpose. Although I like to think the wide body combined with pontoon style rear fenders will ensure the car glides when it’s moving just like a superhero’s cape…’

The styling took 18 months to sign off but the result is a design that in a few decades time will be hard to pinpoint exactly when it was created … timeless, therefore, exactly as the client requested.

X-1: the creation The X-1 is the most ambitious example yet of MSO’s expertise. It has a whole new body made of advanced materials. Everything is bespoke, even down to the lights and wheels, necessitating new testing and homologation meaning the car took two and a half years to build, a process that began before the styling was signed off.

The X-1 had its own development programme because crucially, this wasn’t to be a fragile concept car that would never see tarmac. It was to be a usable car, road legal and capable of travelling at supercar speeds. It also had to comfortably seat two adults so although the 12C was already as shrink-wrapped as it could be from a packaging perspective, the ingenious flexibility of the MonoCell allowed the creation of a completely different form while maintaining the engineering purity of a McLaren.

A full CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) aerodynamic testing schedule ensured high-speed stability, and the car also completed approximately 625 miles of testing including two intensive testing stints at the Idiada circuit in Spain with chief McLaren test driver, Chris Goodwin. After testing, the whole car was meticulously rebuilt, by hand to concours standard.

X-1: the detail MSO Programme Director Paul Mackenzie explains: ‘The X-1 showcases the skills of McLaren Special Operations. More and more luxury customers want bespoke or individual features. The X-1 demonstrates that we can provide the ultimate personalisation service. It also shows that MSO is not just a technology led company. X-1 demonstrates a commitment to perfection and to the highest levels of quality.’

All body panels of the X-1 are made from carbon, and are finished in a rich piano black, as specified by the owner. Body sides are lacquered visual carbon fibre. ‘The black paint has no metallic or colour tints and is one of the most challenging colours to paint, but the finish is absolutely exquisite and befits the car perfectly’adds Stephenson.

Components were tooled exclusively for the car. They even include unique head- and taillights, inspired by the McLaren Speed Marque logo. The brightwork is machined from solid aluminium, and a nickel finish is then applied. The McLaren logo in the nose is specially machined from solid aluminium then nickel plated. Wheels are also unique to the X-1, and are diamond turned with a tinted lacquer to complement the exterior nickel-plated brightwork.

The brightwork itself is all machined from solid aluminium, and then nickel finished to give the same hue throughout. Even the McLaren Speed Marque badge in the nose is machined from solid aluminium, then nickel plated.

The same brightwork is used for the over-the-shoulder rails (as specified by the owner), at the base of the windscreen and the back of the glasshouse, and for the ‘eyebrows’ over the bespoke headlights. The McLaren Airbrake rear wing is also machined from solid aluminium and nickel plated, to complement the rest of the brightwork.

Perhaps the most unusual styling feature is the enclosed rear wheels, an upshot of the owner’s desire to have a car reflecting ‘timeless elegance’. The wheels are accessed by carbon panels using, as Stephenson explains, ‘some of the most gorgeous hinges you’ve ever seen’. The styling, too, is in no way compromised by the opening rear wings.

He adds: ‘The attention to detail is astonishing. Neat styling touches feature throughout the design, such as the rear number plate illuminators finished in carbon, a gorgeous machined aluminium cap is used for the header tank, and carbon finishers line the engine bay.’

The doors have also been developed specifically for the X-1, although they retain the dihedral action and twin hinges, and the roof is also new. Externally, only the glasshouse is carried over from the 12C.

The unique body of the X-1 means most dimensions have changed. The X-1 is 4658mm long – 109mm longer than a 12C. Width is 2097mm (with mirrors) – an increase of 188 mm. Despite the revised roofline, the height remains the same, at 1199mm. Kerb weight is almost identical (about 1400kg), as the lighter carbon body panels compensate for the greater length and width. Light weight, as with all McLaren projects, was a priority.

While the basic architecture of the interior did not change, personalisation includes bespoke Harissa Red McLaren Nappa leather used for the seats, door and roof trim, and switchgear with machined nickel-coated, aluminium bezels. The carbon interior trim has a titanium weave, to give a magical 3D-like effect. Special Andesite tufted carpet covers the floor.

All these changes ensured the X-1 needed special homologation for road use. The car has been thoroughly engineered to be usable and road legal. The X-1 shares the same the major mechanical components as the 12C, including the twin-turbo 625PS engine, giving astonishing acceleration and top speed.

Stephenson explains: ‘The X-1 epitomises how we can not only create a truly unique product tailored to the client, but also enable the client to become a key member of the design team throughout the process. It has been a truly rewarding and unforgettable experience. And I think that we as a team have created a completely unforgettable car that is true to one man’s vision.’

Hong Yeo concludes: ‘We designers are often blinded by the sun and assume that whatever we see and understand is the only way forward: to see the stars, sometimes you need the absence of that blinding light … looking at a car from a different perspective is what X-1 stands for.’

After its debut, on the Monterey Peninsular, the X-1 will return to MSO headquarters in Woking and be carefully checked over before it takes a place in the owner’s collection.

‘But it’s certainly not just colour and trim,’ notes Paul Mackenzie. ‘A number of cars have had different front and rear bumpers, which has increased downforce and boosted performance. These cars had to go through full aerodynamic CFD testing before engineering sign-off.’

Adds Mackenzie: ‘We’re here to help the client personalise the car to their precise taste. They typically come to Woking to see us, or talk to their dealer, or we go to see them. We’ll sit down with them, listen to their requests, then come up with a new colour or mechanical components, or – as with X-1 – a new “tailor made” car. Of course we make recommendations but we’re certainly not here to be style police. Every client is different. Our main job is to listen and then to interpret the owner’s requests into a superb car.’

As Mackenzie concludes: ‘This is the first fully client commissioned MSO car, but it certainly won’t be the last. The carbon fibre MonoCell chassis used in the 12C, is not only stiff and light, it allows for great flexibility in body styling and provides an affordable structure from which MSO can develop unique cars, as is demonstrated with X-1.’

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