POTD/Spotlight: Alfa Romeo TZ (Zagato)

November 25, 2011

Our Spotlight/Pic-of-the-day comes courtesy of this gorgeous 1964 Alfa Romeo TZ (Tubolare Zagato) Racecar that was developed and built jointly by Zagato and Auto Delta (Alfa Romeo’s Competition Department). The TZ was a purpose-built racecar that utilised a tubular spaceframe chassis clothed in lightweight, all-aluminium body panels that assisted in keeping the overall weight down to a scant 660 kg – That’s nearly half the weight of a Mazda MX-5…

Freshly restored in 2010 and recently sold for $830,000.00

With such feathery weight to propel the TZ, ample power delivery was relied upon a throaty, twin-spark 1.6L inline-4 cyl. engine that chucked out a healthy 160 bhp and enabled the TZ to reach 135 mph. Independent suspension and disc brakes also aided in stability during the varying styles of races it entered throughout its competition-based life.

Le Mans 1964 with the other competing Alfas awaiting the start

This exact TZ (pictured) was the 2nd of the non-prototypes to be built. Completed on April 2 1964, just 24 days later it was entered into the Targa Floria where it finished an impressive 3rd overall. Two months later it saw action in the Le Mans 24 Hours where it finished 15th overall – not too shabby for a 4-cyl Alfa Romeo.

At Le Mans - 1964

From there it was raced throughout the late-’60s until 1967 when its owner, Giancarlo Sala, decided that even more weight could be shed from its shell in the quest for greater performance. How he went about doing this though, remains a questionable (yet characteristic) note on the ‘add lightness’ scale.

Action-shot from the Le Mans 24 Hours - 1964

After watching bare aluminium Porsches compete (and win) at the Nurburgring, Sala decided to completely strip this very TZ of its paint, both inside and out, exposing it right down to the bare aluminium. He even sanded down the aluminium itself to reduce the thickness in his quest for lessened weight. He probably shaved off a few kilos by doing this. Amazingly, the TZ pictured here remained in its bare-aluminium shell until July 2010 when it was completely restored back to its original Le Mans livery/colours.

Sala at the 1969 Targa Florio with the bare-aluminium TZ

In July 2010, the car won 1st-Place honours at the Le Mans Heritage Club Concours. On May 21st of this year it was auctioned off by RM Auctions at Villa d’Este for an astronomical 627,400.000 Euros ($830,110.000)

At the 1964 Le Mans - post-race cool down

Nice, sweet-sounding onboard footage captured here just after its complete restoration…

-Blake J.
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Reborn and Remembered: Jaguar D-Type ‘Long-Nose’ (video and photos)

November 21, 2011

When Jaguar pulled out of competitive racing at the end of 1955 (following the horrific 1955 Le Mans accident), it was left to the factory-blessed Ecurie Ecosse team to carry on with the Jaguar name within Motorsport realms…and carry on it did, as the short-lived Jaguar D-Type (introduced in 1954) was to dominate (and win) nearly every race it entered and subsequently become one of the great motorsport icons.

The D-Type captured outright victories at Le Mans from 1955 to 1957, with near misses in ’54 and ’58. On fast-flowing circuits the D-Type reigned supreme and took on all other comers with utmost ease. Here’s a video from 1956 featuring onboard footage and ‘live-mic’d’ commentary from Mike Hawthorn as he does a relatively slow lap of the Le Mans road-circuit whilst commuters and cyclists go on about their day…

Following on from where the C-Type left off, the D-Type was an aesthetic tour-de-force lavished with a truly impressive technical pedigree. The basic outline was penned by aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer (who later aided in designing the legendary E-Type) and featured a (at the time) radical chassis layout: a stress-bearing monocoque with two bulkheads joined together by longitudinal tunnels, all beautifully wrapped in a riveted aluminium outer-skin not unlike that of an aircraft’s fuselage.

For 1955, great care was given to reduce drag and assist with airflow underneath the car as it topped 180 mph along the legendary Mulsanne straight at Le Mans. The body was lengthened (known as the ‘long-nose’ version of ’55) and the driver gained a fin directly behind him to aid in stabillity. The D-Type also boasted disc brakes on all 4 corners at a time when all other competitors were using drums to halt the forces of nature.

Back in the Summer, the Harvington Motor Company had been entrusted by the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust to complete an engine rebuild on this classic D-Type from 1956 (driven by Hawthorn in the above video) in time for the Mille Miglia Classic. Since then, the D-Type has remained within the safe hands of the Jaguar Heritage fleet and only comes out on special occasions or if you have the required funds and acceptable reasoning to do so…

Engine removed for rebuild

This past weekend a good friend of mine in the UK – with amazing automotive ‘connections’ it should be noted – wrote to me detailing his epic drive behind the wheel of this very D-Type that was driven by Mike Hawthorn at the 1956 Le Mans where it placed 6th overall. Estimated to be worth in the region of $7-$11 million dollars, I am without words and beyond the realms of petrolheaded jealousy to describe my friend’s drive in this iconic D-Type from Jaguar’s past… It must have been absolutely incredible.

Here’s a video of those first few carefully-driven miles immediately following the engine rebuild by Harvington Motor Company…

-Blake J.
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Bentley: VW’s ‘hand-me-down’ Motorsport Brand…?

November 8, 2011

Bentley to enter the Paris-Dakar Rally – Sounds a bit daft, doesn’t it…? Like your Auntie dropping the knitting-sticks and taking up Bull-riding full-time… But in the case of Bentley’s situational outlook on parent-company VW’s radar, it doesn’t seem all that unlikely nor out-of-place. A few key (and historical) points to take into consideration:

1. Bentley is developing a new, gargantuan W12-motored 4×4 SUV based on a shared Audi/Porsche/VW platform that will see it rise to the cream of the price-crop when it’s unveiled in 2015 – and so it should be… It’s a Bentley for heaven’s sake. Yet, with all of this platform and technology sharing within the many halls of Poppa Veedub, a full-force rally attack utlising the Bentley badge could be considered perfect timing considering….

Coming soon..! A Bentley doing this...!

2. VW is re-focusing its sights on the WRC Rally stages now with a bespoke VW Polo to tackle it with. This means, in all likelihood, that the Touareg they’ve been successfully campaigning (and winning) with over the last few years or so (in the Dakar, etc) might be retired. In its place could be the new/next Bentley SUV which, as mentioned, will be based on a VW/Audi/Porsche platform yet badged as a Bentley… see how this is all working out…? Because…

3. Bentley has been here before… not long ago. Remember the 2003 Le Mans win with (from-out-of-nowhere) Bentley taking the chequered flag in the menacing British-racing-green Speed 8..? Said racecar was actually based rather extensively on the dominating Audi R8 race car… adorned with Bentley badges.

The 2003 Le Mans Winning Bentley... based on the *ahem* ...Audi R8

There we go – Brand engineering and exercising done with ease…!

Yet it does make one wonder how longtime Bentley employees and life-long devotees feel about the Bentley brand/name/heritage being utilised as a marketing exercise to prop-up and re-glitz the technologies and motorsport know-how that their parent company has already adopted and achieved prior successes with…? I’d feel like the middle/bottom kid in the family that eventually receives hand-me-downs from the siblings – it all works, but it was never really yours to begin with.

-Blake J.
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A.I Spotlight: Jaguar XJ13 – The Le Mans Racer That Never Was (+ video)

November 7, 2011

Jaguar’s prolific wins at Le Mans tally up to an impressive 7 outright victories, with the last one coming in 1988 via the XJR9 Group C ‘Silk Cut’ racecar. After Jaguar pulled out of competitive Motorsport in 1955 (following the horrific crash at Le Mans where 83 spectators were killed), it became the duty of various privateer teams to honour and preserve the Jaguar name, occasionally with unofficial support and assistance from Jaguar themselves.

The XJ13 of 1966 was essentially Jaguar’s attempt to return to competitive racing with a fully-fledged works racecar and was built specifically to race against the Ford GT40 and Ferrari P4 at the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours race. Yet, rather sadly, it never even made it over to France – rule changes for the year capped engine capacities at 3 litres and the XJ13’s V12 was a snip under 5 litres.

Designed by aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer, whose previously impressive creations included the C-type and D-type, the XJ13 was a race car through and through with styling taking a backseat to aerodynamic efficiency. In the case of the XJ13 though, it was a stunning creation of a flowing, aggressive sculpture where operative begets brutal elegance…

Only 7 of these experimental 5L quad-cam V12s were made - only 2 in XJ13-spec with gear-driven camshafts.

The whole project itself was overseen by techinical director Bill Heynes and noted engine designer Claude Bailey, who both shared a passion for seeing Jaguar return to racing after over a decade’s absence. The main highlight of the XJ13 project was its monstrous V12 engine – a quad-cam, 5-litre beast exerting 502 bhp. The 1248-kg XJ13 was extensively tested in ’66 by Jaguar’s legendary test-driver, Norman Dewis, at MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) and managed to set a new lap-record time on the MIRA circuit, helped along by hitting 175 mph on the straights alone.

As testing and tuning wore on though, the XJ13 was deemed unlikely to prove competitive against the Fords and Ferraris of the day (not least because of the engine-cap regulation change as well) and the entire project was eventually abandoned into a corner of the Jaguar factory. Though, not all was lost during this exercise, as lessons learned during the development stages of that brutal V12 eventually trickled down into the road-going versions – an engine constant within the Jaguar line-up from 1971 – 1996.

Dewis entering the XJ13 in '71 for a film crew shooting a promo-film...

It wasn’t to be the end of the story for the XJ13 though. After sitting for 4 years under a dustcover, the car was rolled out to MIRA in ’71 to be driven by Norman Dewis for a promotional film. Dewis was blasting past the cameras at speeds of 145 mph when the rear offside wheel broke away under load, sending the car into a series of dramatic somersaults before it finally came to rest. Amazingly, Dewis emerged alive and intact, the car not-so much. Despite the overwhelming wreckage, the XJ13 was rebuilt and its beautiful body panels were lovingly re-created by Abbey Panels.

...which ended rather horribly.

To this day, the lone XJ13 (there was only ever 1 built) remains one of the most stunning racing cars ever (and never) produced. It was simplicity and beauty resulting from the burgeoning aero-knowledge of the day and a reminding testament to those that designed with their pencils and dreamt with their hearts…

**Nice on-board clip here from the Motor Trend folks…

**And a beautiful short film documenting the inspirational importance of the legendary XJ13 when Jaguar was recently tasked with creating their gorgeous CX-75 concept supercar.

-Blake J.
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Onboard Videos: Porsche’s Legendary 917, 936 and 956

November 1, 2011

Riding on the shoulders of yesterday’s Ultimate 911 article, here we present you with a trio of scintilating onboard videos riding along with Porsche Motorsport’s various leviathans from the past.

Porsche 917

First up is the legendary 917/30 that managed to capture Porsche’s first-ever outright wins at Le Mans in 1970 and ’71 (amongst many many other wins). It featured an air-cooled (air-cooled!) Flat-12 engine ranging from 4.5 to 5.0 litres in size that delivered around 620 bhp. Later turbo’d 917 variants saw insane outputs of up to 1100 bhp and tuned to upwards of 1500 bhp in hair-on-fire qualifying-spec. Here we have the affable Derek Bell inviting you onboard for a rather detailed, personal view.

Porsche 936

Another Motorsport legend from the Porsche garages here. With a chassis based on the incredible 917, The 936 featured a (once again air-cooled) 2.2L single turbo-charged Flat-6 that churned out 540 bhp. In the 6 years that Porsche entered the 936 into competitive realms from ’76 – ’81, it came away with 3 outright Le Mans wins (’76, ’77 and ’81). Take an onboard blast around Le Mans in 1977 here with Jurgen Barth behind the wheel of his Martini Racing-sponsored Porsche 936.

Porsche 956

The 956 continued on with the successes trail-blazed by the former 936 and featured the same engine (though enlarged) to a 2.6L turbocharged Flat-6 that mustered up 635 bhp. It too entered Le Mans in 1982 and won the race outright (actually, Porsche placed 1-2-3 that year). Mostly remembered for having set the Nurburgring fastest lap record via Stefan Bellof in qualifying for the 1983 1000 KM of Nurburgring race, his time remains an outright lap-record (6 min 11.13 sec) that stands to this very day.

The speeds (and blurred sights) achieved down the Mulsanne Straight in this video are truly bonkers… There is also an ‘In Car 956’ video/DVD that Duke Video made available a few years back that I would heavily recommend…! I own a copy – it’s amazing..!

-Blake J.
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Toyota: Back to Le Mans 2012 with Petrol/Electric Hybrid

October 14, 2011

Back in 1999, things looked rather promising for Toyota with their high-profile Le Mans entry of 3 separate GT-One cars. They were the fastest in qualifying and appeared set to take a class win but come raceday, things didn’t quite pan out; 2 of them expired via accidents and the third remaining car heroically came in 2nd place behind a BMW.

Then...

Needless to say, Toyota has some unfinished business with Le Mans…

Enter the 2012 LMP1-spec petrol/electric hybrid racer set to “write a new chapter in the history of the Le Mans 24 hours through our use of hybrid technology,” states Tadashi Yamashina, Toyota Motorsport Chairman and  TMC Senior Managing Officer. Strong words there fella…

Now.

The engine development will be handled by Toyota at their home HQ while the chassis know-how receives attention from Toyota Motorsport in Germany… which is near some place called the Nurburgring, or something…

Toyota is aiming for an overall win with this new Hybrid racer, but with Porsche making its (welcomed) re-entry back to Le Mans (most likely with its own advanced Hybrid tech) and the diesels reigning supreme for the last 8 or 9 years, will this new Toyota have what it takes to become the 2nd-ever Japanese car to win top-honours at Le Mans after Mazda’s 1991 win with the 787B…?

-Blake J.
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