domino effect

Until recently, sports cars were road cars with sporting aspirations, being built for the road first with high-performance parts added after the fact. BMW’s Motorsport or Porsche’s GT department are basically well-funded tuners, and better motors, suspension, and aero can only push the underlying package so far. This uprated road car philosophy has started to come under serious fire.

Ford wanted to win Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of their much-heralded string of wins over Ferrari with the original GT40. Initially, they tried to modify the Mustang, but it quickly became apparent that the Mustang platform wasn’t going to be competitive. So Ford decided to develop a race car to win Le Mans and sell enough road variants to satisfy the FIA rulebook. The result was the 2017 Ford GT.

2017-Ford-GT-front-three-quarters

Ford GT in “track mode” aka default

It’s a term that gets thrown around too often, but the Ford GT is legitimately a race car for the road. The suspension, aero, engine, and packaging are all designed for racing, and Ford subsequently crushed the competition. It was such a convincing win that Porsche’s 911 RSR, which competes in the Ford GT’s class, has gone mid-engined (sacrilege!) in an effort to remain competitive.

A similar phenomenon happened in the late 1990’s. McLaren’s F1 won LeMons outright with fewer modifications than you’ll find on a Miata at a local autocross. In response, Porsche and Mercedes produced the GT1 and CLK-GTR respectively. Similar to the Ford GT, these entries were designed as race cars first and road cars second. The difference between this instance and today’s is that the Ford GT’s class consists of conventional road cars (Corvette, 911, 488 and V8 Vantage) while the F1’s era was composed entirely of limited production multimillion-dollar race cars with license plates. The performance first mindset has trickled downmarket.

Screenshot 2017-09-24 at 10.55.15 AM

GT1 and CLK-GTR make the F1 look tame

And yet, the Ford GT feels almost tame compared to the upcoming crop of super/hyper/ultra-cars that are in the pipeline. If you can buy the car that won LeMans for only $500k from Ford, what do the premium brands have to offer?

Aston Martin is in the midst of preparing to release the Valkyrie. Like the Ford GT, it is built from the ground up for performance (read: high aero grip). Unlike the Ford GT, there is no racing series rulebook to direct or compromise its design. Adrian Newey, Red Bull F1’s head aerodynamicist, has been given free reign. The car promises near F1 levels of performance, and it looks to share more with an LMP1 prototype than a road car. It will be absurdly fast.

Valkyrie

The Valkyrie eschew’s heavy complex hybrid turbo power for a naturally aspirated V12

While the Valkyrie focuses on low weight and high aero performance, Mercedes has decided to build a car (the Project One) around their winning F1 engine. This is not the conventional approach where concepts are borrowed from F1. This engine is the same unit used in the race car: a hybrid split-turbo 1.6 V6. It will rev to only 11,000 rpm vs the race car’s 13,000 limit, but two electric motors have been added to power the front wheels for a total output in excess of 1,000 hp. Think Porsche 918 with more power, more aero grip, and less weight.

The downstream effects of these cars’ arrivals will play out over the coming years as other manufacturers design their next generation of cars with this competition in mind. I can’t wait to see what those engineers cook up.

PS. I imagine driving the Valkarie or Project One on public roads to be something similar to this.

 

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low friction

Having fallen in love the Ariel Nomad, the Atom with off road suspension and tires, Evo decided to assemble quite the collection of vehicles to give the whole rally thing a try.

 

Chasing the dragon.

Perfect is predictable. Perfect is boring. Sometimes the most bizarre and fundamentally ill-suited car can produce the most memorable driving experience. The 911’s rear engine layout may be the textbook example but the seemingly top-heavy chainsaw-loud Bowler Defender stole the show. Just absurd. I want one.

Less grip equals more fun.

Most are of the mindset that you can never have enough grip (or horsepower) but too much grip robs the driver of involvement. If you have more grip than skill, it masks bad driving techniques by asking little of the driver. MotoGP and F1 drivers are known to participate a variety of dirt races during the off season to sharpen their skills. Having to finesse a car around a corner is coincidentally the most rewarding part of driving. Evo’s tagline is “the thrill of driving”. They just get it.

 

entry level

I recently drove the new-ish 5.0 V8 Mustang GT. Rather unsurprisingly, it is not a sophisticated and nuanced sports car. It felt more like a brute instrument, and I mean that in the best possible sense.

McQueen Bullitt green please

dark green in a nod to McQueen’s Bullitt Mustang

Serious horsepower and torque coupled with relatively soft suspension provides for a lot of drama. Step on the gas and the rear suspension squats, pushing the long hood even higher into your field of view while the engine’s wave of torque pins you back. Heavy braking does just the opposite, with the car pitching forward giving you a better view of the immediate pavement. Commit to a turn at decent speed and the car leans hard on its outside wheels. There’s a real sense of speed and momentum that makes the Mustang a genuinely exciting drive.

A shameless part of me really wants a muscle car because it’s just so much fun. For driving on the street, I’m betting the base Mustang GT is more fun that the hardcore GT350R model with its screaming 526hp flat plane V8 and ridiculously wide (305/315 front/rear) carbon fiber wheels. The reason being that you can’t push the GT350R to its limit often in the real world. It’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.

gross exaggeration

gross exaggeration

This notion of the entry level car in the ranks often being the most fun extends to a surprising number of cars. McLaren’s newest model, the 570S, is getting a lot of love. McLaren intentionally focused on driving enjoyment, leaving the lap record to the more expensive and less renown 650S. BMW’s 1M was more highly regarded than the corresponding generation of M3, and the upcoming M2’s seems poised to continue the trend. How about Porsche? The GT4 has too much grip and is effectively geared for top speed runs on the autobahn, leaving the base Cayman (not Cayman S) as the real driver’s car.

So if money was no object, do people have the self control to spend less and get the more fun but more basic cars? Probably not. Sports cars are about the theater, and it takes many forms. Is the GT350R’s fancy kit really necessary for a road car? Not even close but the appeal of a car is as much in the story behind it as anything else.

unconventional

If you were asked to start from scratch and design a purpose-built race car, chances are it wouldn’t be front-wheel drive or a front-engine layout. But Nissan has done just that with their front-engine front-wheel drive LMP1 GT-R LM prototype that will compete in the World Endurance Championship (and Le Mans) against Porsche, Audi and Toyota’s trio of mid-engine rear-wheel drive bias prototypes, and I’m hoping that Nissan destroys the competition.

This isn’t because I’m partial to Nissan or FWD, but because it challenges the status quo. Nissan has been on a bit of a roll with unconventional setups, first with the Delta Wing/ZEOD but that was more of a proof of concept than competitive challenger like the GT-R LM. Manufacturers understandably don’t take risks on this scale very often. It’s horrifically expensive to develop and race a competitive hybrid prototype in WEC’s LMP1 class, and Nissan’s gamble could totally backfire. Bottom line, you have to respect Nissan for the effort.

The ZEOD always reminded me of Tim Burton's batmobile

The ZEOD always reminded me of Tim Burton’s batmobile

It also doesn’t hurt that the GT-R LM looks absolutely insane. While its styling and packaging is all in the name of airflow and performance, it still ends up looking more hot rod than endurance car with the driver positioned low behind the long hood and the exhaust spouting flames in the driver’s field of view. Just completely ridiculous. FWD FTW?

it’s just a name

I’m not the biggest fan of Top Gear. The reviews border on painfully overzealous with comically quick transitions between the host screaming at the top of their lungs and the car drifting past the camera at 100 mph. But Top Gear is made with the jaded television viewer in mind, so it has to contend with the myriad of cop murder dramas and the endless race to the bottom that is reality TV. James May holds rank as the quiet mild-mannered host of the Top Gear trio. While the other two squabble to win the audience’s affection with the wittiest putdown of their co-hosts, May manages to put together some great insight with his time in front of the camera.

Model names are for the masses. 

Diehard owners never simply state that they drive an M3 or GT3. It’s always the generation designation first (e36 M3 or 997.1 GT3) because they understand that those distinctions matter. As I touched on in a post before, brands that carry a model to a successive generation are merely creating a modern reinterpretation of the original. The 991 911 shares nothing in common with the original besides the overall concept and that’s fine. Singer 911s, even if sold at a price point comparable to a 991, probably wouldn’t keep Porsche afloat today. There is no perfect iteration of the 911 anyways. Better to have it evolve than die.

Ferrari just does this better. 

I was set to write an article about how great Ferrari is with naming their cars. Then they debuted the LaFerrari, and I had to shelf that idea. But I’ve gotten over it. It’s not like I’m buying a LaFerrari so it’s really of little consequence to me. The point I wanted to touch on was that each new Ferrari bares a new name. While American (Mustang/Corvette) and German (911, S class, TT) are happy to continue their using their model name in perpetuity, Ferrari starts fresh with each model. The new model doesn’t have to be anything but better than the one it replaces. Mr Manzoni, the chief designer of Ferrari, shed some insight into the brand’s overall philosophy when he was asked in a interview about brand consistency when designing a new car.

this is the challenge we are faced with every time we work on a new ferrari. the challenge resides in coming up with a completely new shape while staying true to the values ferrari stands for. any repetition of design ideas invariably gets dismissed by our president mr. montezemolo as ‘déjà vu’. the basic rule is that a true ferrari must be immediately identifiable even without any badging. contrary to other brands we do not rely on a precise set of design guidelines which can be simply implemented across the model range. we instead call upon on a higher paradigm and need to come up with a fresh interpretation of it every time. with each new model we search for that subtle link with tradition and with the other models in the line-up. it is not a link that derives from the repetition of ‘graphic’ traits, but from the comprehension of the kind of plasticity and formal language a ferrari lives by.

This design approach is indicative of the entire brand’s philosophy towards building cars. Ferrari’s core values guide the design and engineering of their cars as opposed to the other way around, where design and engineering specifics define the brand. As a result of this approach noting is sacred at Ferrari. Look at turbo power for the California T or dropping the manual completely for paddles as far back as the 360 Challenge Stradale. They even went AWD and hatchback for the FF. How cool is that?

Ferrari FF, the rich man's Golf GTI

Ferrari FF, the rich man’s Golf R

While Porsche’s steadfast adherence to its past was the impetus for this article, BMW is actually the worst offender of the design by guideline approach. With Hoffmeier kinks, kidney grills, angle eyes, L shaped tail lights and most recently front fender vents constricting so much of the design, BMWs feel boring and fussy at the same time. The supposed design revolution that Chris Bangle started at BMW with the e65 7 series was not a success. Rather it only served to further emphasize these signature design cues and create an increasingly narrow window for design as more and more design cues became a necessity to the brand. M cars are even worse with their own set of design guidelines stacked on top of the already overstyled base model.

BMW’s i series (i3 and i8) demonstrate that BMW is well aware of the situation. These cars only carry the kidney grills while the rest of their design is left unrestricted. While it’s hit (i8) or miss (i3), it’s just what BMW needs to coincide with a dramatic shift in brand philosophy. We’ll just have to see how much of the i8/i3 aesthetic gets directly transplanted onto future models.

know your audience

 

F-Type Coupe

I want an F Type based on looks alone.

While aesthetics are rather subjective, the general consensus seems to be that Jaguar’s new F-Type coupe is the best looking car in quite some time, and I couldn’t agree more. The proportions are spot-on. It walks the line between elegant and sporty better than any car since Aston Martin’s DB9.

Yet the F-Type’s stunning looks also serve as a painful reminder of the sad state of contemporary automotive design. Jaguar’s designers certainly did their job. What’s every other manufacturer’s excuse? I ponder this question every single day. My completely unscientific theory centers around the notion that designers are too educated for their own good.

The general public has not studied automotive design. We understand and thus can only appreciate the basics. Part of the attraction of classic cars stems from their simplistic approach to design. There is an honest functionality to it. Their styling has purpose that is self-evident to even a layman.

straightforward design

straightforward design with Porsche’s 911

Contemporary automotive design stems from a much deeper understanding and appreciation of design. While there is undoubtedly aesthetic merit to contemporary designs, today’s seemingly overstyled and fussy designs are lost on the public. Best to keep it simple.

how’s your german?

So the video quality is crap, the music is tacky and the narration is in German, but I can’t get enough. Such a sucker for backroad hoonage. While the US spec 997.1 GT3 didn’t get the carbon fiber one-piece seats straight out of the Carrera GT or couldn’t be ordered without a sunroof, it’s probably my favorite GT3 variant. Free of all the unnecessary fluff now standard on GT3s, like active engine mounts (one more thing to break) and wearing 5 lug 18″s instead of those ridiculous center locking 19″s or 20″s found on later models, it’s a focused unfiltered sports car. Best part, you can find a clean example for less than the starting price of a fancy new Cayman GTS.