Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Porsche's Three Stooges: 912, 924, 968

The Three Stooges: Curly, Moe, Larry (left to right)

The Three Stooges have always been misunderstood. To most people, they are slapstick buffoons with limited range and just enough talent to entertain 10 year olds. But true fans, and there aren't that many adults who will admit to being true fans, appreciate their raw talent and the blood, sweat, and tears they put into every short film.

The public's perception of the Three Stooges mirrors the perception of Porsche's entry level models: the 912, 924, and 968. These cars are seen by most car fans as imposters that barely deserve the Porsche badge on the hood. They are weak, uninspired, and unsophisticated. But for a few dedicated devotees, they are just as good, if not better, than their peers.

Porsche 912, Moe. As the oldest of the three cars, the 912 is the elder statesman, relatively speaking. It carried a 356-based four-cylinder engine, a nod to tradition (sort of like Moe's Vaudeville influence). The 912 weighed 250 pounds less than the more powerful, six-cylinder 911, thus improving balance, gas mileage, and arguably, the fun factor.

Porsche 924, Larry. Larry is perhaps the most talented of the Stooges but is heavily underrated, even ignored. This is the story of the 924. With rear drum brakes and an engine from a VW van, the car's internals were not pretty. It was by no means a traditional sports car. People questioned its heritage and wondered aloud whether the front-engined, water cooled 924 was a "real" Porsche. Similarly, Larry Fine was not related to the Howard brothers, Moe and Curly. But with its simpler design and lower maintenance costs (than the 944), the 924 is finally getting some well-deserved respect from weekend racers and hobbyists.

Porsche 968, Curly. Plump performer. That perfectly describes Curly and the 968. They both weigh much more than their brethren and yet they seem to have more energy and power than Moe (912) and Larry (924). And as the last front-engined Porsche coupe, so dies a legend that may never see an equal. R.I.P.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Chinese Astronaut / Taikonaut Parade

Congratulations to the three Chinese taikonauts who just completed their spacewalk mission. Of course, there is reason to celebrate this improbable achievement. What better way is there to celebrate than with a parade? I've always been a sucker for convertible limousines produced by Communist and ex-Communist states.

I am not a Chinese car expert so I have no idea what these are. My guess would be Honqi but I'm just not sure. I love the derivative styling of the front ends (they look like massaged front ends of the Infiniti M35/M45. I especially admire the grill badge that almost looks like one belonging to Infiniti.

When China starts designing cars that are purely Chinese (and cannot be confused with anyone else), then it has become a true economic superpower.

Oh, and Happy National Day, Red China!


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Giotto Bizzarrini's Gift

Giotto Bizzarrini may have had more influence in the realm of Italian motorcars than anyone else. Right out of engineering school in 1953, he designed the chassis for the Alfa Romeo Giuletta. He moved to Ferrari and became a developer, designer, and test driver. His masterpiece was the 250 GTO, arguably the greatest Ferrari ever. Bizzarrini left Ferrari and co-founded ATS, which built, among other things, an F1 car. His other company, Societa Autostar, designed the V12 used in every Lamborghini from the 350GT to the Murcielago. Societa also helped in the development of ISO Rivolta models like the Grifo.

With a portfolio that impressive, Bizzarrini could have taken an early retirement and rested on his laurels. He did not. His motto is: "I am not a car designer, I am a worker." He went on to create the Bizzarrini 5300 GT.

These pictures show the Strada, or street version. The racing version was called the Corsa. This rear view shows the car's kinship to the ISO Grifo. The 5300 shares its chassis with the Grifo. The aluminum body was designed by Bertone.

The profile also evidences its connection to the Grifo. Both look bulky and a little out of proportion.
But it is the front that has made the 5300 GT the object of admiration and lust among car lovers around the world. The image above is the first picture of the 5300 GT I had ever seen. I was leafing through a magazine and I literally did a double take when I saw this. The front end is unreal. It is clearly Italian, yet somehow alien. The low, squat stance blatantly boasts the car's road hugging abilities. The multiple vents hinted at a large and heavy breathing motor underneath the hood. The 5300 denoted the 5.3 liter (327 cubic inch) Chevy Corvette V8 that powered the beast.

Although Bizzarrini's Giuletta, GTO, and Lamborghini V12 are more well-known, I am fairly confident that the 5300 GT is his favorite child.


Note: I included pictures from many angles because two-dimensional images of the car do not do it justice. It must be seen in real life to be appreciated. If you are in California, you may be able to catch sight of one at the Blackhawk Museum in Danville or at the annual Concorso Italiano near Pebble Beach every August.

The Yellow Headlights of France

While perusing my daily subscription to Bring A Trailer, I came upon this Bizzarrini being sold by a guy in Nice. Aside from the very distinctive styling of the front end, the yellow headlights hauntingly and menacingly stared at me.

Remember those yellow headlights from old movies? What happened to them? What was the story behind them?

The yellow headlights were introduced in France in 1936. Ever the military strategists, yellow lights were required of vehicles in France so that they could be distinguished from white-lit German invaders. Of course, during the war, the yellow lights just made the shooting and blowing up easier for the Nazis.

The French kept the yellow headlights after the war. The official reason was that the yellow lights gave off less glare, which was sort of true but only when it was foggy. The unofficial, and real, reason was that it represented stubborn, quirky Frenchness.

Alas, with the EU and full economic integration, cars registered in France no longer were required to have yellow headlights in 1993. No word yet on when Strasbourg is going to phase out the beret.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Heidfeld In Singapore Formula One Grand Prix

It's ON! The lights of Singapore, that is. Let's hope Quick Nick qualifies and finishes well (or at least above teammate Robert Kubica) so that he can keep his seat at Sauber BMW next season.


It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia Mailbags

What is going on up here?

Despite a slow start, Season 4 of It's Always Sunny is turning out to be just as zany as the previous seasons. The show may have peaked at Dayman/Nightman, but I have hope for the creativity of Rob McElhenney and the gang.

I came across these pseudo-official Sunny interviews of the quartet. They were not linked to the official Sunny channel on Youtube, so there were not that many views. I thought true fans would enjoy these candid interviews of the cast. Please, you enjoy.

Mailbag 1: Mac / Rob McElhenney

Mailbag 2: Sweet Dee / Kaitlin Olson

Mailbag 3: Dennis / Glenn Howerton

Mailbag 4: Charlie / Charlie Day

Mailbag 5: The Gang


2008 Election Media Pundit All-Stars

I wasn't always a political junkie. Before the primaries, I had never watched more than a minute of Hardball. But with the Hillary-Obama race and now with the Palin train wreck, I am certifiably hooked. So who do I like on the boob tube?

1. Chuck Todd. No one can deny the Rain Man-like number crunching abilities of the Chuck or his nice-guy-you'd-like-to-hang-out-with-and-ask-to-check-your-mailbox-when-you're-on-your-trip charm. He did the math and declared the race over for Hillary back in February. Everyone ignored him and kept describing the race as much closer than it actually was, thus weakening Obama's stance in the general election.

There's even an uber-fan club dedicated to him called Viva Chuck Todd. This guy was hand-picked by the late Tim Russert to join the NBC news division. Thank you, Tim.

2. Howard Fineman. The guy from Newsweek (but is constantly on MSNBC) has his ear to the ground. His little black book of sources must be the size of the Manhattan phone book. The inside information he gets before anyone else, and his succint and prescient analysis of each act or omission by the candidates, are truly breath-taking.

3. Jack Cafferty. The consumate curmudgeon has been a beacon of light in the black hole of soullessness and intellectual curiosity that is CNN. A fixture on the Situation Room with the too-neutral Wolf Blitzer, Cafferty has called out stupidity, hypocrisy, and outright dishonesty on the part of the left and the right.

4. Andrew Sullivan. He is one of the few honorable and intelligent conservatives out there. A true fan of Thatcher and Reagan, he understands that this election is not about right/left ideology, but about the fate of this world's future. He is a good person who wants a good person as our President. Oh, and he just happens to run one of the most visited political blogs out there, The Daily Dish.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

How Much Is That Fantasy Garage In the Window?

Without question, my Fantasy Garage post has been the most popular post on this blog. With the $800 billion bailout in the news, astronomical numbers are bandied about like it's chump change. I've never sat down and calculated the cost of my imaginary inventory. I would guess it's in the $2 million to $5 million range. Am I even close?

I've scoured the net for the cost. My primary source was Classic & Sports Car. It has a price guide. They are in pounds and I've used today's exchange rate (1 pound = 1.84 U.S. dollars). I opted for prices under "show" condition. For those cars not listed in the guide, I've used craigslist, ebay, RM Auctions (for the McLaren F1), the Imperial Palace collection (for the Ford RS200), and a used car dealership in Sussex (for the TVR Tuscan). So let's have at it!

1965-67 AC Cobra 427: $368, 500
1963-65 Aston Martin DB5: $110,500
1976-87 Aston Martin Lagonda: $37,000
1978-89 Aston Martin V8 Vantage: $73,500
1982-92 Bentley Turbo R: $50,500
1967 Chevy Camaro: $21,500
1970-75 Citroen SM: $22,000
1969 Datsun Fairlady Z: $7,000
2002 Dodge Viper GTS: $57,000
1984-87 Ferrari 288 GTO: $267,000
1988-92 Ferrari F40: $276,500
1986 Ford RS200: $225,000
1986-87 Ford Sierra Cosworth: $20,500
1993 Honda NSX: $30,000
1964-67 Lamborghini 350GT: $110,500
1982-85 Lamborghini Countach: $73,000
1987 Lamborghini LM002: $85,000
1966-71 Lamborghini Miura: $129,000
2006 Lotus Exige: $45,000
1996 McLaren F1: $1,800,000
1954-57 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing: $258,000
1975-80 Mercedes 450SEL 6.9: $14,000
1964-69 Mini Cooper: $10,500
1993 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo: $12,000
1990 Nissan Skyline R32: $14,000
1977-82 Porsche 928: $14,000
1974-77 Porsche 930 Turbo: $33,000
1987-88 Porsche 959: $221,000
1996 Porsche 993 Turbo: $66,000
1985 Renault R5 Turbo: $35,000
2004 Tuscan TVR: $44,000

The final tally?

Drum roll please.


The current bailout plan could buy this Fantasy Garage for 176,580 Americans.


My Take On The Chronicle's Bargain Bites

Today, the 96 Hour section of The San Francisco Chronicle rolled out its annual list of Bargain Bites. These are supposed to be the best restaurants in the Bay Area that serve entrees of $12 or less. I would have personally made the cap $8 or $9, but hey, we've got inflation these days.

As with all top 5, 10, and 100 lists, there is a lot of subjectivity. Here is my take on some of the "winners", in alphabetical order.
  • Bakesale Betty (Oakland). Overrated, trendy. The fried chicken sandwich (the restaurant's claim to fame) is above average, but it is nothing to write home about. The roll tasted store bought. The chicken itself was fresh and tender but the breading was stale. It tasted like it was fried and left out to dry for hours. The baked goods (scones and cookies) are no better. Oh, and by the way, the old ironing boards that have been converted into dining tables are like McCain's VP pick-- gimmicky. Yelp rating: 4.5
  • Fenton's Creamery (Oakland). I'm sure this was a great place to go to on a hot summer day, decades ago. But now, the food tastes anonymous, the staff is overworked, and the floors are always filthy. All I have to say is: Thanks, but no thanks. Yelp rating: 4
  • Kopitiam (Lafayette). This is currently my favorite restaurant. They just revamped their menu and I'm working my way down the list. The food is fresh. The flavors are comfortable yet bold. The staff is very friendly but not pushy. It is the most underrated restaurant in the East Bay. Yelp rating: 4
  • Koreana Kitchen (Walnut Creek). It's just cheap Korean BBQ in a box. Steve's BBQ in Berkeley, at its apex in the early 1990s, would put this place to shame. If you want large portions for low, low prices, Koreana is the place to go. If you want decent Korean BBQ, head to the Korean joints on Telegraph in Oakland. Yelp rating: 3.5
  • Old Mandarin Islamic (San Francisco). Authentic dishes, but crappy location, depressing atmosphere, and apathetic service. Yelp rating: 4
  • Pamir Afghan Cuisine (Emeryville). I discovered this place because I noticed the name-- Karakul Lake, the name of this blog, is at the Pamir foothills. Despite the great location at the food court, it does not get a lot of customers. Which is a shame. If I'm ever stuck in Emeryville, I stop here and get the chicken. It is by far the best restaurant in the large and talented international food court. It strangely shares a kitchen and cash register with a Korean family/stall. Yelp rating: 4.5
  • Petra Cafe (Orinda). This place has gone downhill. It is constantly staffed by third string help who cook mechanically, without an ounce of passion. Sad turn of events. Yelp rating: 4
  • Picante Cocina Mexicana (Berkeley). Seems to be popular with the hip 4th Street Berkeley crowd. Decent Mexican, but not memorable at all. Yelp rating: 3.5
  • Vik's Chaat Corner (Berkeley). Another Berkeley institution. Mass produced crap in an industrial setting. The market next door is worth going to for cheap spices in bulk. Yelp rating: 4.5

Colbert/Stewart Entertainment Weekly Cover

Entertainment Weekly's homage/lampoon of The New Yorker's infamous Michelle Obama- Barack Obama fist bump cover is hilarious. I highly recommend going to your dentist's office waiting room and looking at the details. The angle of Colbert's shoulder sway, the position of his left hand, etc. are scarily accurate. It is almost as funny-- almost-- as the Cindy McCain-John McCain Vanity Fair cover.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Vertical Tail Lamps of the Toyota Carina

My first memory as a child was of my folks' car. It was silver and had really odd looking vertical tail lamps. For years, I was bothered by the fact that I did not know the make and model of the car. So I finally googled "vertical tail lamps" and voila, it was the Toyota Carina.

Aside from the Lancia Thesis, there are no other passenger cars with such long, skinny tail lamps.

Enjoy these photos I found on Flickr. Apparently, they were a big hit in Holland.

Carina in Ethiopia


Nice Cars Towing Nice Cars

BMW towing BMW.

Lamborghini LM002 towing Lamborghini.

Porsche towing Porsche


Mercedes 450SEL 6.9 Truck, the Benz El

So far, we've covered a450SEL 6.9 in a cult movie, a W116 as a rally car, and a 6.9 station wagon conversion. The natural progression, of course, is the El Camino-ization of the 6.9 into a pick-up truck.

This conversion, known affectionately as the Benz El, is for sale. Strangely, it is licensed in Idaho but located in Wisconsin. The front, rear, and 3/4 views are magnificent, but the profile leaves much to be desired.


Mercedes-Benz C111 Prototype

When I was little, I had a 1/24 scale green Mercedes C111 with gullwing doors and a bonnet that opened. Oftentimes, I asked myself, why haven't I seen this car on the street?

The C111 was a series of experimental cars produced by Mercedes in the late 1960s and 1970s. The various versions tested Wankel rotary, diesel, and turbocharged engines. They produced incredible results for their time. A diesel version with a coefficient of drag of 0.191 averaged 200mph for 12 hours and got 14.7 mpg. A 500hp version with a 4.8 liter V8 with twin turbochargers reached 250mph.

The C111 will always be remembered for their gullwing doors and bright orange bodywork. It truly represented the innovation, research, and vision of Mercedes-Benz at its height-- and everything Mercedes-Benz is not today.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Lighting at Singapore Formula One GP

A night race in the tropics. Is that a good idea? Well, the good people at the Italian company Valerio Maioli are in charge of lighting. The lights (made by Philips) minimize glare under all conditions, including puddles of water on the ground and rooster tails from cars. At a brightness of 3000 lux, it is somewhere between an overcast day (1000 lux) and full daylight (10,000 to 25,000 lux).

1,600 lights and almost 70 miles of cables will be used. The lighting will consume 3 megawatts of electricity. The lights will be powered by a dozen generators stored in sound proof containers.


Olema Becomes Obama-- Only In Marin


Mercedes W116 450SEL 6.9 Wagon

This was supposedly the only wagon officially commissioned by Mercedes-Benz (the rest were converted by Crayford.) It was supposedly given to the head of MBUSA.