Monday, February 27, 2006

Will Ghosn leave Nissan?

It seems there are rumours floating around that Carlos Ghosn has been approached by GM & Ford to help save their sinking fortunes. Of course it makes sense. The man has singlehandedly turned Nissan around and now is positioned to do the same with parent company Renault. My own take on this? It's like a successful coach who receives a richer offer. GM and Ford both have their livelihood at stake and will probably offer some astronomical sum to gain his services. I bet he'll take one of them on.

Great quotes from racing

"When I raced a car last it was at a time when sex was safe and racing was dangerous. Now, it's the other way round."

Hans Stuck

Saturday, February 25, 2006

1961 US Grand Prix - Watkins Glen

Here is yet another cool bit from the '61 US GP at The Glen. This is the program for the first of 2 weekends which was for sports cars. Believe it or not, the entry list had 302 cars. The first driver on the list, was Mark Donohue in car #0 an Elva Courier.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Lotus Europa S

Those guys overAutoblog keep blowing me away with cool info! I seem to have a bit of a one track mind lately, but I'm becoming obsessed with all the new toys from Lotus. Some folks seem to think the car looks a bit cobbled together, but the shape works for me. At 2189 pounds, with 200 hp the car's performance should be pretty close to it's Elise sibling. With a planned production run of only 500, it seems that the Europa isn't destined for our shores. Pity!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

New contributor welcome

I'm excited to introduce our first contributor (other than me that is!) to The Garage. Petri Ranta is a lifelong friend with a motorsports career spanning 27 years. Not bad for a guy who's only 33! With 3 Canadian Grand National karting championships under his belt, this guy knows a thing or two about chassis setup, not to mention he's one hell of a driver. More recently, Petri has been using his talents in forming Bouran Data Services, a data aquisition company that combines years of experience with the most current technology to help racers find that extra edge. While the daily grind sees Petri battling it out on the technology side on the 407 toll highway in Ontario, his weekends are far more exciting. From local Kart tracks to the Grand Am cup, he covers lots of ground. If you look closely, you may even find his laptop hooked up to some guy named Tony's Busch series car a few weekends this summer.

Petri's posts in The Garage may cover highway news & stories, and I'm sure we may get to hear some first hand racing stories from tracks all over North America!

Welcome aboard Brother!!!

New blog review

I've just come across gear6 which is a nice clean looking blog set up by Casey. I like his shifter logo & title font. gear6 has a few neat items that i haven't noticed on other blogs.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Time for a challenge...

I'm sure this should challenge all of you. Who is that holding the checkered flag?
I would hope that the driver is a no brainer for most of you! Any thoughts dorri?

Carbon fibre electric supercar

I normally don't pay too much attention to ultra high end, independantly built cars. They have always seemed like expensive, impractical backyard built sports racers that don't hole their value. But I was reading Jalopnik this morning and came across the Mullen GT. It's not a car I'd ever even heard of, but it seems like they may have acheived the impossible. They've made an electric car that has performance equal to it's fossil fueled brother. Now that is exciting news. With 0-60 times in the 3 second range and a top speed of 180 mph, this is finally a beast that is also sorta socially acceptable. Could we see an electric car chasing the Audi diesels at Lemans soon? Could the famed 24 hour race become a legitimate showcase for alternative fueled vehicles? Let's hope so!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Tire positioning - A change in philosophy

For as long as I can remember, conventional wisdom has had the car industry making sure the best 2 tires are on the front of any vehicle that is in for service. This weekend, I had to think twice about my beliefs after reading a column by John Mahler in The Star's Wheels section.

The belief has always been that most driver's are safer with the best tires on the front, as that ensures that they will have the most control of their steering. Mahler however points out that there is more to the equation than front end grip. He reminds us that todays vehicles are designed to keep their occupants safe in a straight, frontal collision. Also, when a vehicle is braking hard, weight is transferred away from the rear tires, which lessens grip. This combination creates a vehicle which is more likely to spin in an emergency situation. Given that most vehicles are designed to hit things straight on, not sideways or backwards, it makes sense that you don't want a vehicle that spins too easily. Having more traction in the rear will create an understeer (pushing) condition, which in effect ensures that an out of control vehicle is more likely to hit it's target straight on.

Years of advice thrown right out the window! It just shows that no matter how long you work in your chosen industry, you can still learn something. Thanks John.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Random thoughts on VIP night

So VIP night at the Canadian International Autoshow has come and gone. First off, I think I was probably the only service type in the whole Rogers Center, surrounded by suited sales & industry guys. Overall, it was a bit of a let down really. I did make a few observations though:

Import booths vs. Domestic booths
The import booths were generally pretty mellow, with the Volvo & VW booths being very staid as one would expect. The Chrysler booth on the other hand was full of loud, obnoxious salesmen & drunk women falling out of their dresses. Not that there is anything wrong with spilling out of your dress, but it was a very different view over there!

Kia Booth
Was more or less empty all night. Either someone forgot to invite their dealer body, or Kia dealers can't afford the $160 complimentary(!!!) passes.

Lotus Elise
I must be beginning to sound like a broken record on this one, but I LOVE this car! Last night was the first time I've laid eyes on the car in person and I just couldn't take my eyes off the British Racing Green model with the hard top. It has been many, many years since I've been at a show and just stood and stared at one car. The guy in the booth told me that they are working on getting the Exige certified for Canada also.

Nissan Booth
While the current show booth is getting a little long in the tooth, Nissan had 2 of the upcoming cars that are showing the way that Nissan is hoping to go. The upcoming Versa hatchback is a stunning little car. A lot has been said about the interior space and it is indeed impressive, but what struck me was the level of trim applied to the dash. The dash & door panels look like they've shrunken a Maxima and I think that is good thing. The 2007 Sentra looks great also, finally they seem to have a grasp on style for this small car.

Dealers wives
I don't think I've ever seen so much plastic surgery & silicone in one place. Usually that might be considered a good thing, but when it applies to 55 year old women who've spent too much time in the sun.... well, you get the picture!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

2006 Porsche Cayenne

When the chance came yesterday afternoon to tool around in a new 06 Porsche Cayenne, I obviously jumped at it. I've like the shape since the Cayenne was introduced, so I figured it would be fun to take for a boot. I've gotta say that I came away unbelievably disappointed.

The truck I drove was a base model with "only" 250 hp, but I was blown away by how SLOW this this is. That's not to say that it isn't a nice ride, but my 06 Xterra would kick it's butt off the line! To get the truck to really move, one must put the pedal through the floor boards and then the engine sounds great until you realize that you are barely moving for all the racket. It sounds like a sports car, but sure doesn't drive like one. I'm sure the turbo version is quicker, I've been promised a drive in one so I'll let you know.

The interior left me with mixed feelings. The fit & finish, along with the quality of materials certainly makes for a pleasant environment. I especially liked the textured, leather look dash & door panels. They almost looked like they were clad in Roots Leather. The radio controls on the dash are tiny. The oddest thing is that the radio controls on the steering wheel are located so that you can't reach them when holding the wheel at 9 & 3. The truck also managed to make me feel a bit silly, because i couldn't figure out how to start it! It seems that one must insert the key, turn it and hold it until the ecm sends a start signal. Only then will the starter engage. Dumb.

Did I mention that this thing is SLOW! Maybe it's just me, but in my eyes any vehicle with a price tag of 60 grand and the Porsche name badge on it should be quicker that a workhorse Xterra. I nicked the picture above from the Porsche site as I found it a bit funny. Will any owner ever off road a Cayenne? I don't think so.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Yipee...I'm going to VIP night!

Ok, so call me a geek, but I'm all excited. After 18 years in the car industry, I'm finally going to VIP night for the Canadian International Autoshow. I know it may sound lame to some of you in the industry, but us lowly Service types are rarely invited. I think it has something to do with the stratospheric ticket prices.

For those of you who have never been up to Toronto for the show, I'll give you a bit of perspective. The big show in Detroit has 700,000 square feet as compared to over 850,000 for the Toronto show. It's a BIG show. That said, last year I went once the show opened on a snowy weekday, by myself and did the whole show in just over 3 hours! That isn't an indication of the size of the show, rather the fact that I've been to so many car shows over the years that I don't get IN every car on the floor. I actually didn't get in a single car last year, but I think my rotundness looked cool on a custom Harley bomber!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Canada wins A1 GP race in Indonesia

The actions of the sporting media in Canada just boggle my mind sometimes.

Yesterday, 20 year old Sean McIntosh from CoquitlamBC won the Indonesian round of the A1 Grand Prix nations cup series. But he didn't just win, he stormed through the field from last place to take the top podium spot.

Meanwhile, in Turin Italy Team Canada only managed to score a bronze medal in speed skating.

What images are all over todays papers? Of course it's all about the Olympics! Can somebody please explain to my why it is that motorsports always seems to take a back seat in this country? I just don't get it!

To Sean McIntosh and the rest of the team - Congratulations on a job very well done!
To the folks at , thanks for making me aware of this!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

1961 US Grand Prix promo flyer

Almost as cool as the Lemans stuff is this promo flyer for the 1961 US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. Notice that they ran 2 weekends, one for the sports cars and one for the Formula 1.

Eventual winner Innes Ireland in a Lotus-Climax. This shot is actually from Zandvoort in 1960.

The back of the flyer, including a map of The Glen & the town.

Friday, February 10, 2006

2007 Nissan Quest to receive interior work

Having realized that the current Quest interior is a bit too wierd for the masses, Nissan brass have decided that a major mid-model revamp was required if they hope to sell any of these capable minivans. Up here in Canada, we haven't been given too much insight into the changes, other than the fact that the instrument cluster would move back to the conventional place in front of the driver. Another important change is the third row seat headrests will now fold down into the seats. This is a great improvement over the current model which the big headrests store in a large hanging bag when the seats are folded down.

Nissan hopes these changes will draw people over from the Honda & Toyota showrooms.

Audi A1?

Thanks to Left Lane News for this one. There have been rumours floating around that Audi may build a mini-fighter called the A1. The car is actually a model, designed during for the Michelin Design Challenge.
Personally, I think it looks like a modern, squished Morris Minor. Just imagine a single make racing series for these things. The fans would go wild!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

More Great quotes from racing!

Today's quote comes from George Robson, winner of the 1946 Indy 500:

"All I had to do was keep turning left"

The neat thing about this one is that George was my grandfather's first cousin! Unfortunately, I've never met any of my relatives from that side of the family. I may have to look them up some day. I think they live somewhere in sunny California now.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The internet is nice, but....

It's so exciting opening a magazine to see your work in print! The folks at a little Canadian magazine called The Driver asked if I would write some articles for their bi-monthly. I did and then never heard back from them, so i figured they had decided not to print me. Until yesterday that is, when the new issue appeared on my desk! It's a page and a half of "get ready for winter" stuff aimed at the general public and it actually came out nicely. Now if I can just get some money for it!

Monday, February 06, 2006

1964 European Grand Prix

The Ranta Collection of automobilia includes the program for the 1964 European Grand Prix from Brands Hatch and a really cool promo book from Castrol. The program lists entries for the Grand Prix and support races, including Touring cars, Grand Touring cars and Sports Cars which are what we would call sports racers. There are cars from Cooper, Lotus, Repco, Crossle, Merlyn, Elva, Ferrari, Jaguar, A/C cobra, MG, Porsche and more.
The Castrol book includes a great history of Grand Prix, with lots of photos & a few cutaways, like the 1963 Cooper F1 shown above.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

I want to go racing, how do i get involved?

I can't count the number of times I've been asked this question. Sometimes it's someone who wants to go road racing or rallying, others want to get their kid started in karting. It's really a pretty easy question to answer. Just get out and visit some events! Regional club events are probably the best, as these are the regular guys off the street who are racing as a hobby. Pro weekends are when the teams are paid to win, not to socialize. While you are there, be sure to speak with some competitors. Racers love to talk about their car & are usually happy to share their love of the sport with anyone who is interested. The only thing to remember here is that you also want to be mindful of people's time. The guy who is covered in hot gear oil, or is pulling on his suit to get out on the track may not be the most approachable (who wants to chat in their underwear?)

Depending on where you live, finding an event may be a little tough, as many regular media outlets don't run listings for racing. Here, the internet is your friend. Check out the SCCA site for your local chapter in the United States and up here in Canada you can check out the CASC site for club & event listings. For rally in Canada check out Cars.

There are so many different styles of racing that it can be tough to choose. From oval racing to road course, from open road to performance rally, from autocross to navigational rallies, there really is something for everyone.

Over the coming weeks, I'll tell you about some of the ways you can get involved to see if racing really is for you before you start spending money.

The picture above is Sandy & I in the Tall Pines Rally back in 1995.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Just look at that droop!

I saw part of a show on OLN last night on the 2005 Score Baja 1000. These trucks have always interested me, but a quote from a truck builder just blew me away.

"We build 'em with 33 inches of clearance and with enough travel that they can hit a 3 foot whoop at a hundred mile an hour without blowin' the truck apart"

Imagine hitting a 3 foot berm at 100 mph and actually making it!! Now that's engineering.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

2007 Austin Healey????

Thanks to Autoblog for getting my imagination going on this one! There are rumours floating around that this "Tempest" concept might acutally be the base for a 2007 Healey. The conspiracy theory types have pointed out that the car is just a photoshopped Solstice and the argument could be right. The back half certainly does resemble the Pontiac roadster. Either way, I think it looks great. Let's hope that it's not like the many other British retro rides that haven't been built.

From the Archives: Long term test 2003 Xterra

Odd. Unusual. Different. Like a little Land Rover. These are some of the descriptions I heard people used when Nissan introduced its Xterra model in late 1999. Perhaps because my viewpoint on anything has never been anywhere close to mainstream, I really liked the shape. I still do like the shape, four model years later as the platform reaches the end of its life. My long range tester is a 2003 Xterra SE model with the optional supercharger. Due to it’s love it or leave it Orange color, it has become known as the Atomic Pumpkin around the Grant household.

Perhaps best known for its most popular colour, Solar Yellow, each year Nissan prepares a limited run of some bright, unusual colour. For 2003, they offered the truck in two of these limited shades. Early in the model year, we saw the bright orange truck arrive just in time for Halloween, and then later the next summer came green. And what a green it was! Officially named Camo, this could best be described at HULK Green. A comparison to the big green cartoon character may be a fitting one, as the Xterra has two distinct faces, one that many people may not expect. In many media comparisons, the Xterra is often tested along side of other small sport utility vehicles that really are sport – cutes. While Toyota’s RAV4 and Honda’s CRV may look rugged on the outside, underneath that skin hides the heart of a car. Under an Xterra however, it is all truck. Built on a full frame chassis, the Xterra follows traditional truck designs. This gives the vehicle a much different feel on the road, but also makes the vehicle more capable when carrying a load or venturing off the beaten path.

In showroom condition, the Xterra is a very capable off road vehicle. There really does seem to be a bit of that Land Rover DNA built in, because this thing climbs rocks like a Billy goat. Because of its’ truck construction, the Xterra has a tow rating of 5000 lb, which makes it a fairly serious tow vehicle for a stylish weekend warrior. As a result, the Xterra has developed a dedicated enthusiast following that is supported by an endless supply of aftermarket manufacturers. You can buy anything for an Xterra, from hard core suspension modifications to safari style roof racks to carry more cargo. These enthusiast groups embark on cross country trips all over North America, testing the limits of their vehicles and their own skills. The hard core types that Nissan uses in their ad campaigns for the Xterra really are the kind of people who drive these things. It’s not uncommon to see a heavily modified truck, covered in stickers, with bikes and kayaks on the roof heading for some adventure up north.

While the supercharged Xterra won’t break any records down the drag strip, it certainly has more guts than the base model. The non supercharged model has always felt inadequate when trying to merge onto the highway, so the extra power is most welcome.
All of this capability however, does not come without a price. In this case, that price goes up and down with the price of gas, but it’s never cheap! The Xterra’s gas tank holds about 70 liters, and in over 20,000 km my fuel usage has varied dramatically. In the extreme cold this winter, my worst tank was down around 280 km from a full tank! Now that the weather has warmed up, I think my best tank was a record 425, still horrendous when compared to a CRV or RAV4. Those vehicles don’t benefit from the extra power provided by the optional supercharger though.

The unusual body design is actually home to a world of functionality. With seating that is comfortable for a family of five, with the smallest one still in a booster seat, this became our vehicle of choice for family outings. The cargo area is large enough for all the stuff needed to take three kids away for a weekend at a resort. If we were camping however, we would need an aftermarket Safari basket to store more stuff on the roof. A friend who drives an Xterra discovered that, with the back seats down, an inflatable double bed fits just nicely in the back. It is certainly more comfortable for a couple than a tent when the rain starts coming down. There are three 12 volt outlets for charging cell phone, running air compressors or keeping that portable refrigerator powered up. In the back, there are what looks like steel coat hooks all around the ceiling. I found these to be very useful keeping the propane tank upright when rushing to the local station in the middle of a dinner party by stringing bungee cords between the tank and the hooks. Every car should have these. The stereo in the SE model has a six disc 300 watt Rockford Fosgate in dash player that is connected to eight speakers including a large sub woofer in the cargo area. The space taken up by the sub is a small sacrifice compared to having enough bass to embarrass your kids in front of your friends!

Other than its’ excessive thirst for Premium gas, I really can’t complain about the overall package. In just over 20,000 km the only problem has been a sticky speedometer needle. The power windows are a bit on the slow side, but this seems to be a common characteristic with the Xterra and its’ big brother the Pathfinder. Some owners complain about the lack of an intermittent setting for the rear wiper, but I haven’t found this to be a bother for me. One of the big selling features of the vehicle is the large storage basket on the roof above the front seats. I find it odd that the designers would include a sunroof that can only be used if the basket is removed. Also, due to the shape of the roof, the glass sunroof panel can only flip up to allow slight ventilation.

Overall, I found the Xterra SE-SC to be a fun, practical vehicle to drive. I just wish that you could drive a bit farther between fill ups. I think if I were to buy this truck, I would choose the better mileage of the non supercharged, 5 speed model. After all, it is a truck and not a sports car. For roughly $37,000 you get the quirks and practicality that comes with the Land Rover Discovery, with Japanese reliability for a third less money.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

How do you teach common sense?

Note to self: make sure new lot guys are properly trained!

I just came back from a road test to find our new lot guy had jacknifed our dumptster & ATV on the way down the ramp! It seems that he had attached the tow bar to the end of the dumpster with fixed wheels, not the end with casters. Talk about the cart passing the horse! The look on his face was priceless.