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.
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Car Commercials: When Cars Started… erm, Talking

January 19, 2012

The 1980’s were undeniably desperate and challenging times for the various American automakers. Ever since the previous decade’s fuel-crisis and the follow-up onslaught of frugally economical (and lightweight/well-built) cars from Japan, Korea and Europe showing up on Dealer forecourts (and eventually owner’s driveways), the American automaker was forced to change and adapt with the times or be left out wondering what happened to their once-burgeoning command of the home-market.

K.I.T.T. made it alright for cars to voice-up their opinions and concerns.

Yet as the 80’s wore on and the ‘Big-3’ of the North American auto-landscape caught on (sort of) to the public’s desires and wants and subsequently dished out lines of wheezing, comically-sprung and legislatively-enforced under-powered vehicles, the overall mood of the automotive arena (as mirrored in the advertisements of the day) started to… shift…. in a rather strange and almost unsettling way.

Herbie the Love Bug - Genesis

Suddenly, cars from all walks of makes were awarded oddly bespoke identities and even started voicing their way into owner’s daily-driven rituals (step forward, yappy Nissan 300zx of the late-80’s). The car commercials of the time even went one step further with this odd phenomenon…

Here we have two shining examples of this ‘new and playful identity’ via Ford in 1986 when vehicular advertisements were cresting the brink of becoming absolutely ridiculous…

-Blake J.
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BMW ///M-Diesels: Frugal Mass For The Performance Poser

January 16, 2012

It was not too long ago that I lightly bemused with a BMW upper-management employee type at one of our city’s annual Auto Shows over how the used-to-be-motorsport-derived ///M Division had now been (seemingly) handed over to the brand’s Marketing Division, full-stop. He admittedly hinted that ///M has indeed ‘expanded’ its overall outlook and that, yes, the X6M and X5M were designed and marketed towards ‘a certain type of landscape navigator’. But when I (somewhat jokingly) asked how far this open throwing about of M-badges will go (seeing as how it was/has already damaged the ///M brand from a driver’s/petrolhead’s point of view) if the Marketing heads keep having their way with the family silver, it was at that exact moment when he freakishly morphed himself back into Company Robot Mode and started spouting off the familiar company-line commercial BS about ‘joy’ and ‘excitement’ and ‘no limits’ and other such robotic drivel…

After he was done, I half-laughingly said, “So, I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised then to see M-Diesels on the roads one day… eh.. ? Hardy har har…? ?”, as I chuckled, smiled, shook his hand and walked away… He just shrugged his shoulders and smirked.

That shrug and smirk made me feel uneasy back then for a reason… It’s official now folks: BMW ///M is now doing tri-turbo Diesels. Granted, this Diesel nonsense has been widely known/threatened for a few months now, what with ominous paper printouts and ‘mysterious’ BMW ads with chunky X6’s being hauled around in a ‘sportingly economical’ way, whatever that is…

...Because all X6 SUV owners readily pound the racetrack... mm, hmm.

The entire Diesel project has been unimaginitively dubbed ‘BMW Performance Automobiles’ (seriously) and will make its grand unveiling at the Geneva Show in March of this year. On tap to roll out will be the 5-series derived M550d xDrive followed by the much-maligned X6 M50d SUV of which both will feature 4-wheel drive and BMWs new 381hp, 546lb ft tri-turbo diesel engine. Combined fuel consumption for the 5-series variant is a quoted 44.8 mpg, but as we all know, those figures are never real-world figures.

The X6M - the answer to a question that no one asked.

Seeing as how these two new ‘Performance Automobile’ leviathans will weigh in excess of 2000 kg, it simply baffles the brain as to who, exactly, these cars are aimed at… Obviously, the none-too-bright and (as BMWs Marketing Division is well aware of) those that fit nicely within the ‘There’s one born every minute’ frame… and die-hard one-arm-stretched-out-over-the-wheel posers… of which there are many of in this confusing world.

The man helping to put the ///M into Marketing

Or, as M Division boss Dr. Friedrich Nitschke plummets – “We are targeting our efforts at customers looking for more emotionality and more performance, but who don’t want to forgo the everyday usability of their cars.” Riiiiiight…. thanks robot.

Well done BMW ///M – cha-ching..!

-Blake J.
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Motoring Humour: Miata ‘Not Gay’ T-shirt

January 10, 2012

I saw this yesterday on the interweb during my usual combing-thru process and I couldn’t help but share it with you all…

And the best part is, it’s REAL…! You can buy it for your Miata-aficianado friend (or for yourself) direct from the Touge Speed Shop.

We need more motoring-humour like this in life please and thank you…

-Blake J.
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Video: A Christmas Car Taken Too Far

December 23, 2011

Every Christmas season we all bare witness to extravagent light arrangements on suburban homes that (sometimes) impress and usually fill the young ones with glee. And every once in a while you’ll spot the staple red-nosed SUV adorned with the requisite fuzzy antlers jutting from the window edges. All very cheery and such… ’tis the seaon… yes indeed… Oh tannenbaum.

But then there are those that decide to take things to a level that almost borders on the, well, ridiculous…. with a slammed (and wrapped) Honda Civic. Or is it…? Maybe I’m just being a grumpy Grinch…? ? If I was 9 again, I’d probably dig this…

Happy Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone…!

-Blake J.
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Photos of the Day: Jackie Stewart vs. The Nurburgring

December 19, 2011

Today’s POTD focuses on Sir Jackie Stewart and his nemesis: The Nurburgring Nordschleife.

Flying at the Nurburgring in 1969

It was Sir Jackie himself who coined the famous term ‘The Green Hell’ towards the demanding and terrifying circuit, yet it was also Sir Jackie who studied it, mastered it and conquered it. And nowhere was this most impressively evident than in 1968 during the German Grand Prix held at the Nurburgring amidst simply appalling weather conditions…

Starting grid at the rain-soaked/fog-blinding 1968 German Grand Prix

The notorious heavy rain and thick fog of the region had descended upon the Eiffel mountains with a vengeance that day and, even then, teams and spectators were surprised that the race wasn’t cancelled.

Accidents were a-plenty and many cars retired within the first few laps of the race, but Sir Jackie drove on throughout the rain-battered, fog-engulfed mellee with exquisite, precisional concentration – almost ‘feeling’ his way around the course lap after lap, usually relying on his memory of the endless dips and cambers as the blanketed fog prohibited any real view of what lay ahead… Incredible.

Stewart 'feeling' his way around the terrifying circuit

As the chequered flag fell, Jackie crossed the finish line a full 4 minutes ahead of the next car and soon after offered-up his descriptive ‘Green Hell’ tag that has stuck with the challenging circuit to this very day.

Brave brave man...

A short vid from the ‘Murray Walker F1 Greats’ series…

-Blake J.
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The Saab Story: It’s Over Now

December 19, 2011

A sad day today in the motoring world: Saab has officially filed for bankruptcy after former owner, GM, refused to allow the sale of the company to Chinese investors. GM big-wigs had previously noted that they were concerned about protecting the technology that they were still licensing out to the Swedish automaker.

The original Saab - the 1946 92001 Ursaab

Saab CEO, Victor Muller, personally handed-in the bankruptcy application himself, of which is expected to be approved by the district court in Vanersborg.

In a statement from Saab – “After having received the recent position of GM on the contemplated transaction with Saab Automobile, Youngman informed Saab Automobile that the funding to complete the reorganisation of Saab could not be concluded” and added, “The board subsequently decided that the company, without further funding, will be insolvent, and that filing bankruptcy is in the best interests of its creditors”.

It’s sad to see this as the official end for the struggling firm as it has been responsible for creating some of the most intriguing cars on the planet. Saab started building automobiles over 60 years ago and for myself (and many others), their most memorable moments were found on the various Rallying stages of motorsport where it shined for many many years – just ask Stig Blomqvist or Erik Carlsson.

Below, is a hodgepodge of just some of their unique creations and some rallying moments, mostly involving the iconic Saab 96…

The iconic Saab 96

Saab 99 enjoying a forest stage

 

Erik Carlsson - Monte Carlo Rally

 

Carlsson again - a familiar scene, often found pushing the 96 to its limits

 

The uniquely quirky Saab Sonett

 

Saab 99 - still a cool car

 

The Saab 99 Turbo - good fun

The iconic 96 doing what it did best...

...and shone when in the hands of this man

-Blake J.
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