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Cars, some hot, some not...

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Tin tops.

  • Holden Commodore (my car).
  • Porsche 911.
  • Datsun (Nissan) 240Z.
  • Holden Torana XU1.
  • Mercedes Benz 300SL.
  • Jaguar E-Type.
  • Ford GT40.

Profile of my own set of wheels & other cars.

In no particular order...

My Holden Commodore VN S 1989.5 speed, V6 engine

 Holden Commodore VN S V6, 5 speed. 1989.(sold 2003)

Bought this car 2nd hand 1991 with about 30,000kms. Now (14/05/02) its on 185,000kms. Got my Commodore when I was doing the MX thing, so towing a trailer full of bikes & bikes shit was on the agenda. Space & power & perhaps the fact that I came from a Holden Family (the family driveway was a Holden showcase until cheap & comfortable jap 4x4s became commonplace) had a lot to do with the choice.

Ive had no problems at all with this car, only that now Im getting a bit of drive-train noise from the rear (worn upper control arm bushes) which is an easy fix. Being a manual Ive had no real reason to take it into a mechanic, Ive done all the work myself. At one stage my spark leads perished & had to be replaced when the engine ran very rough, took a week to fault find (I didn't realise that this would have been a problem at the time - we live, we learn).Its just my trusty day to day car & now-a-days I hardly drive it living inner city & using my pushie to work & Duke on weekends.   I change the engine oil/oil filter every 10,000kms or 6 months.

Good points:   Reliability; parts supply & parts cost; cheap to buy (in 2002 $6000.00 AUD$ approx for excellent condition); powerful yet relatively economical engine; Vast interior space.

Bad points:  Rough raspy engine; high theft; lack of quality on some interior appointments; fading paint and vague feeling at high speed (150kms+).

Below are some further comments about the 1989 VN Commodore S:

Holden V6 engine 1989.
Holden 3.8 litre V6 engine, multi-point fuel injection.

12th October 2002. At 187,000kms the Cam-chain cover oil seal failed. This is located on the crankshaft just behind the harmonic balancer (the fan belt runs off the harmonic balancer). It seemed like a pretty straight forward fix as the oil seal was pushed in from the outside, there was no need to actually remove the cam-chain cover to reinstall the seal. The only problem with this task was that the bolt on the harmonic balancer is torqued at 320nm !!! Together with the fact that the crankshaft which the harmonic balancer sits on cannot be locked into poistion (placing it in gear with the handbrake on doesnt work way too much drive train flex) to assist in removing this bolt with my tools available. This meant that I HAD to get a machanic with a racket-gun to do the job for me ($100 labour, oil seal supplied).



VN-VS Commodore

Despite its harsh six-cylinder engine, poor paintwork and cheap-looking interior, the VN Commodore is a good, economical all-rounder.

GOOD: Powerful but economical, durable, spacious, good all-rounder, insurance: low

BAD: Coarse, nasty instrumentation and trim, poor paintwork, uneasy high-speed handling.

3.8-litre V6 engine is harsh but durable, uses surprisingly little fuel.
Real suspension top arm bushes wear out easily
Paint lacks lustre, especially the light metallic colours.
Front end can suffer assorted woes. Uneven tyre wear can indicate bad alignment. Check for worn shocks, worn steering rack and damage to strut towers.     The VN Commodore may have lacked subtlety but it more than made up for it in performance and reliability.

Holden's big new V6 Commodore was an instant success when it was launched in August 1988. Unlike previous Commodores, this VN model was almost as wide as its Falcon rivals meaning there was now room for three adult passengers in the rear. Ford's EA Falcon had been on sale for just six months but had already developed an appalling reputation, and the VN raced pa st it to seize market leadership.

The lusty, if coarse-sounding, 3.8-litre V6 engine provided a level of performance unknown in previous six-cylinder Holde n sedans and there was a choice of five-speed manual gearbox or four-speed automatic transmission.

So strong was the initial acceleration that some unwary customers got themselves into trouble, particularly taking off on a wet road. Rarely do you hear of a car company moving to tame initial acceleration, but Holden did just that when the VN was superseded by the facelifted VP in October 1990.

Although the VN Commodore proved to be more reliable than the ill-starred EA Falcon, it wasn't trouble-free. Most problems were sorted out during the warranty period but a few occurred later. Premature front tyre wear was common. The only adjustment in the front suspension was a three-stage top mount, and if one tyre was wearing, you had to adjust the other side by the same amount to keep the car running straight, and then the other tyre would also wear out quickly. There are now adjustable suspension kits available which allow a proper wheel alignment to be carried out and solve the problem for about $330 (fitted).

Another rather curious suspension fault was in the rear, largely as a consequence of the jack-rabbit acceleration. The top arm bushes tended to wear out quickly. Universal joints and the centre tailshaft bearing can be other casualties of frequent use of the impressive acceleration. At about 60,000 km, the link rubbers on the front stabiliser bar are likely to chop out, resulting in metal-to-metal contact, but the cost of repairs should be no more than $60.

The low-quality standard front shock absorbers were usually past their best by 50,000 km and replacing them with a set of superior after-market items can be a cost-effective exercise which also results in better handling and stability. Hard use on rough roads can occasionally result in damage to the strut towers which will be easy for an expert to spot on opening the bonnet.

All VNs have power steering and four-wheel disc brakes. The power steering doesn't give many problems although when new it had an irritating vibration at parking speeds. Coils can give trouble as early as 50,000 km and there have been instances of water pump failure. Welch plugs can give up, too. At around the 130,000 km mark, a changeover steering rack may be indicated. Oil leaks from the engine are not uncommon and the rear main seal in the automatic transmission can also leak, but both the engine and transmission are very durable (ditto the five-speed manual gearbox). Instances of cooling system leaks occurred quite early in the life of some VNs. A few high-mileage cars (well over 200,000 km) h ave had differential problems but this is unlikely to cost more than $1,400.

Generally, the VN has proved to be robust in service and comparatively cheap to run. Fuel economy is outstanding for such a large and powerful vehicle.

There are some especially irritating aspects, especially the kiddy-car instrumentation, appalling paint quality, cheap looking trim in the Executive and the harshness of the engine. But generally, the Big New V6 Commodore just got on with business.

The VN was launched at a time when the Australian car industry was beginning to place greater emphasis on quality control . Throughout its three-year model life, quality improved markedly and a number of intelligent running changes were mad e to the car.

What this all means is that a 1991 VN will be a better buy than its 1988 or 1989 equivalent and well worth the extra money. Cheap repairability is one of the great advantages of the VN Commodore, even though the old theory about being able to buy spares in the local milk bar no longer applies.

Funky cars:

Porsche 911 , 1964 & 1984 models.
Porsche 911.

Porsche 911. Early models.

What does the Porsche 911 do for me? Well I have this thing for late 60s euro cars, you know, James Bond's Aston, The Saints Volvo, James Deans Porsche (yeah OK that was 50's). The 911 with its odd frog-type look may not appeal to many but I like the simple elegance & Endurance in its design. The rear engine with horizontally opposed cylinders being aircooled (water jackets followed) and hanging off the back of the rear axel may not make for text-book handling finesse, but thats what lay in its "charm", eh?

For me its the early 911 I dig up to about 1974. Anything after 1974 doesnt seem to grab me with the wide bodys & huge ducktail unless we go into the mid-late 90s with the later Carrers & Boxers, but thats big money (too big for this little black duck).

What's a 911?

In 1963 Porsche announced the 901, a car based on the venerable 356 model. The car was renamed 911 because Peugeot had a copyright on all 3-digit car model numbers with a zero in the middle. The 911 has gone on to become, arguably, the most popular car ever produced by Porsche. The 911 engine is an air cooled (or oil cooled) six cylinder opposed design (%). The cylinders bolt onto the crankcase such that displacement increases are often achieved by replacing the pistons and cylinders. The body of the car was designed by Ferdinand "Butzi" Porsche (Ferry's son) while the engine was designed by Ferdinand Piech (Dr. Porsche's nephew). A boxer engine has not only a 180 degree layout, but has a flat crankshaft arranged so that the matching pistons are at top-dead-center at the same time (so that the pistons move, alternately, toward or away from each other).

What are the differences between the various 911s? Body styles

Coupe. 4 seats (well, 2 and a couple postage stamps) and a hard roof.

Targa. Like a coupe, but with a roll bar and a removable top. The earlier targas had soft rear windows, but the later ones had glass.

Cabriolet. A full-on convertible.

Speedster. A version of convertible, but with a short windshield and a fibreglass tonneau (the 356 speedster was different, but we're talking about 911s here).

Several trim and tune options. T, E, S. The early years (the latest any of these were produced was 1977) cars in touring, injected and super (also fuel injected) states of tune. Carrera. For the earlier cars, this was the quickest standard customer car. After 1983, the Carrera was the standard customer car. SC. This was the standard car (there was also the turbo for some of theses years) between 1978 and 1983. H, N. Rare models: 911RS Homologation (20 made in 1973) and a Euro model in 1976. L. The one-year replacement for the 911S in the US.  R, RS, RSR. 911 in race trim. These cars are always rare and expensive. Turbo. This one is, well, turbo charged.

Model Year Differences. 1964-1968 short wheel base (SWB, 2211 mm to be exact). In contrast, the long wheel base (LWB) is 2268 mm long. 1968-1973 early power. These 2.0, 2.2, and 2.4 liter 911s (my personal favorites) saw either mechanical fuel injection or carburetors (actually, in 73.5, the 911 T was electronically fuel injected). 1974-1977 middle-year 911s. These cars had the 2.7 liter engines that had a notoriously short life span. This is the beginning of the crash bumpers (with the accordion sections at the edges) and K-Jetronic fuel injection. 1978-1983 911SC. These 3.0 liter SCs are powerful, luxurious, and nearly bullet-proof. 1984-1989 Motronic Carreras. Like the 911SC, but with a 3.2 liter engine and Motronic fuel injection. 1989-1994 964 (original 911 Carrera 2/4). These cars have the one-piece, all body color bumpers and the engine cover that raises at 50 MPH to form a wing. 1994-today 993 (today's 911) Note: Years given are model year. The model years start in August or September of the previous year (example 1972 model year starts in September of 1971).

Datsun Z cars.
Very nice 240Z, not stock though.

Why I like the Datsun Z:

Poor mans E-type? Maybe not. In a world where some sports cars cost more than the sum of their parts, its nice to have cars like the Datsun Z where the cost is less than the great pleasure that can be derived from diving them. Rear wheel drive, layout of many classic front engine sports cars, with great handling & good power/weight ratio, & itis a fun car to drive. Sure they are long in the tooth now-a-days but early Zs in good nick still retain some of that raw spirited feel of sports cars of the late 60s & early 70s. Later Zs tend to be a little more softcore with all those luxury appointments that they have been loaded up with, but for mine dollar for dollar the first lot of Datsun Zs are a pretty fun scoot.

The First Generation Z Cars 1970 through 1978: These are considered by many to be the most "sporting" of these Sports/GT machines. They are the lightest weight, and while they make very fine GT's, they are the most noisy and firm riding in stock form.

Being the oldest Z Cars you can buy, the first generation Z's can also be the cars that require the most repair or restoration work to put them in "as new" or fully serviceable condition. It is now becoming harder to find OEM parts for these models also.

However being the oldest models, and the first generation of the breed, they are also the most likely to hold their value or indeed increase in value over time.

It is generally agreed that the 1970 240Z is the most collectable and when restored to original condition it is the most likely to return the largest percentage of one's investment when resold. The 1970 240Z is now a recognized "Classic Car".

The 1972 240Z is considered to be the "best of the breed" in the 240Z series, and the 1978 280Z is likewise considered to be the "best of the breed" in the 280Z series. Both these models benefit from a few years of refinement based on the earlier cars and owner experience.

The Second Generation Z Cars 1979 through 1983: The 280ZX introduced the concept of something eXtra in the Sports/GT series. The eXtra was Luxury. The 280ZX built upon the success of the first generation Z's from a standpoint of being a true Sports Car, but added to it some of the refinement and luxury that the aging American car buyers of the 80's wanted. (many say the Z started to evolve along with the "baby boomers" as they both grew older:-). So if you are looking to maintain the original spirit of the Z Car but you want a little added luxury the Second Generation 280ZX's may be the model for you.

The 1983 Models of this generation are considered to be the "best of the breed". Again because of the continued refinement of the series. The Turbo models exibit good long term reliabiliey when properly maintained and cared for. And do provide some additional "spirit" for the driver that wants a little more performance.

The Third Generation Z Cars 1984 through 1989: The introduction of the completely redesigned 300ZX in 1984 brought with it the introduction of the first V6 engine for the Z Car. Again the move toward a more luxurious sports/GT was evident. The first generation 300ZX was yet another step toward the more refined and luxurious Sports/GT's of the 80's.

The Fourth Generation Z Cars 1990 through 1996: This model brought the Z Car fully into the "high tech" arena of the 1990's Sports/GT car scene. Again it was powered by the V6 however this time around it got a twin turbo option. The maintaince costs of this model are in keeping with it's up scale market targets, so if your looking at buying one on the used car market, make sure you can afford to fix or repair when needed.

More info on Datsun Z's

Jaguar E Type. Beautiful.

Jaguar E Type

Jaguar E type. I cant really say anything here which wont be topped by anyone else remotely interested in motorcars & fine art. The Jaguar E type is of an era, its form transcends time & motoring evolutionary development. If someone built the most beautiful car in the world it would have the same silhouette as the E type. Not sure about performance or handling though, some reports have been dodgy at best but they have been very good for its time which is what Ive heard some say. More the lesurely motor through back-country on the Sunday than a fang through the twisties. Love to get the chance to drive one......around a corner.

Jaguar E type lightweight

Introducation to the Jaguar E type.

In this age of stifling rules and regulations, and uniform little tin boxes on wheels everywhere, it is difficult to imagine the impact the E-type made when launched in March 1961. It was quite simply a sensation, mirroring the XK120's startling launch in 1948 - but perhaps even more so.

As is well known, Jaguar used international sports car racing as a springboard to worldwide recognition in the fifties. First the C-types and then the D-types humbled the opposition at Le Mans. With a desire to continue racing, but with changes of regulations in mind, the small engineering team, under William Heynes, began to plan and build a successor to the 'D' in the mid-fifties.

The car was intended to be a Le Mans winner which could also be sold in a more sophisticated form for use on the road, rather akin to the virtually still-born XKSS. But as time passed, the project, which would see light of day as the E-type, concentrated more on the road car aspect. There was a brief interlude in the development while a racing Version (E2A) really a cross between the D-type and E-type was hastily built and entered for the 1960 Le Mans. Being two years too late, lacking development and being let down by the ever unreliable 3-litre version of the XK engine, E2A was not a success.

The road car was finally launched in March 1961 at Geneva. Although the E-type was not ready for production, the reaction was without precedent. Very few cars were built in the first months as development was completed, parts revised, tooling produced and a pavé programme undertaken. When production did begin, most cars crossed the Atlantic to what was intended to be, and what very definitely would be, the E-type's main market. The waiting lists were lengthened by the E-type's successes on the track. In the car's very first race, Graham Hill took victory against Ferraris and Astons to prove that the E-type was not just a pretty face.

Powered by a 3.8 litre version of the XK engine in three carburettor form, as fitted to the XK150 'S', the E-type gave virtually 150 mph performance, its tremendous acceleration allied to great flexibility and torque. The new independent rear suspension gave excellent roadholding and ride, setting new standards for sports car comfort. Two versions, of course, were offered - the Open Two-Seater and the Fixed Head Coupé. The only major criticisms of the E-type were confined to the gearbox, which was slow and lacked synchromesh on first, and the brakes, which were barely adequate for the towering performance.

More info on Jaguar E type.

Holden Torana GTR XU1
Holden Torana GTR XU1


I love these Torana XU1s. Released in a time when power meant V8 (in Aust), the little Torana 6cl showed that power to weight ratio & handling was the key to success. Based on a 4cl Vaxual which had no intention to get flung around the racetrack, the XU1 was morphed into a mightily little challenger. Ideal for rally, road circuit & just about anything else. Now-a-days its more of a long-in-the-tooth bogan car but what the hell, I still reckon its got it where it counts & is synominous with the times it was created in.

The first XU-1 Torana was officially announced in August l970. To say the news shook the motoring world is an understatement, Suddenly all those 327 and 350 small block Monaro's looked like half-hearted exercises. They had far more incommon with V8 Premiers than these extra special Toranas had with any of their little brothers and sisters.

"Fitted with a three carburettor 186 ci engine, the XU-l is in fact a higher performance version of the successful GTR sports sedan. "The XU-l has been developed to meet strong demand for such a vehicle from motoring enthusiasts. "An initial batch of 700 cars will be built to meet immediate demand, to be followed by further production .I f subsequent demand re-warrants. The increased engine capacity of the XU-1 has resulted in numerous engineering refinements designed to improve overall handling and performance. "Front and rear suspension modifications, larger disc brakes with an increased capacity booster, front and rear spoilers and a greater radiator cooling capacity are the major items. " The XU-l is fitted with a l7 gallon fuel tank to increase the car's touring range. Principal external distinguishing features are the rear spoiler, GTR XU-1 decals, and exclusive bold colour range."

Nowhere is mention made of Mount Panorama. Nor does it say that many of the " motoring enthusiasts " would actually be wanting to race their XU-1s. While the XU-l was blatantly a limited edition purpose-built series production race car, GMH was not about to admit that this was the case. That was the way things were in 1970.

In 1993 if a car gets a new paint job or some tiny suspension mod, the manufacturer is likely to make a great capital out of this in the press release. Every aspect of the XU-1s design cried " Bathurst ", from the l7 gallon tank to the design of the front spoiler which not only aided stability but also channelled air onto the front discs for improved heat dissipation. The standard rear end was a slippery running 3.36 gears-ideal for the long pull up Panorama. A more relaxed 3.08 diff' was optional. In l970 GMH still didn't have its own four speed gear box so the original XU-l had to make do with the Opel box, which was prone to failure when used long and hard. If there was a weakness in the LC XU-l's racing armoury, this was it. But in practice the gearbox proved more durable than critics had expected. Ratios were 3.43 for first, 2.16 for second and third was tall at l.37. At the 640O rpm red line, the little rocket reached 36 mph in first, 58 in second and a marvellous 93 in third. With 20.4 mph coming for every grand's worth of revs in top , at it's maximum of an even l25 mph, the Xu-I was still 400 rpm shy of the red zone. Zenith supplied the triple 1.5 inch sidedraught carbs. Maximum power (gross) was l60 bhp at 5200 rpm, while torque peaked at l90 Ib/ft at 3600. But there was still heaps of scope for development. Harry Firth masterminded some mods for the LC XU-1 in time for the 1971 Hardle-Ferodo. These included a heavier duty clutch and thicker front brake discs, A reworked head, new pistons and trickier bump stick enabled the motor to produce an extra 20 horsepower at a sky-high (for a Holden six-pack) 6000 revs. Only five months after the introduction of the 1971 LC XU-1 Bathurst special, came the LJ model. Naturally it was changed in styling and interior details to match the other LJ Torana. Its exterior was cleaner, crisper and less " boy racer " than the LC's. The interior was also neater and you could even order hound's tooth check cloth trim. However the big news was all of a mechanical nature, In place of the 186, the LJ acquired the HQ's 202. But this application was some what more serious than in the family Kingswood. The compression ratio was 10.3 to one, which was 0.3 higher than the'71 Bathurst LC version. Triple 1.75 Strombergs were used instead of Zeniths. Straight out of the box, this model developed 190 horse- power at 5600 rpm and peak torque was 200 Ib/ft at 4000. There were head lines in the transmission department, too. Gone was the questionable imported Opel box. GMH had developed its own all Australian four speed gear box, known as the M-22. The additional power and torque of the 202 permitted taller gearing for the indirect ratios. First was 2.59 for a maximum of 46 mph at 6200 (down from the 186's 6400 red- line). Second was 1.83 for 61. Third was a nice long l.25 for an exhilarating 98mph, with the ton easily possible. Like the standard GTR, the XU-I came with a slippery diff' running 3.36 gears. Or you could order 3.08 gears. Outright acceleration was only fractionally better than the 186 engined car, but the work was easier.

In fact, the stock LJ couldn't equal the'71 Bathurst spec edition which could run a 15.6 quarter. But an ET of l6.l was still pretty formidable for a small road car. Thinking of the XU-l in this way as a road car rather than a purpose-built racer, it was a much nicer thing than its predecessor. Re-designed seats combined with lowered spring rates to provide something approaching ride comfort. The fact that the new spring rates did not adversely affect handling suggests that the engineers had made the LC too firm, OK for a nice smooth circuit. but awful for road use. In the early 70s many competitors still drove their series production racers to the track. The LJ XU-1 could tackle the trip from, say, Melbourne to Bathurst in relative comfort. It was more civilised, less rough around the edges, but just as fierce in performance handling and braking. It was a billy cart you could live with !

During 1972 Harry Firth worked with GMH engineers on the V8 Torana project. Contrary to popular opinion this car was NEVER going to be called XU-2. Its name was Always XU-1 V8, with the XU-2 tag reserved for the forthcoming LH version. XU-2 had been assigned to the Bedford truck division. Mean while the XU-1 V8 program floundered due to the media-Provoked super car scare. Although three V8-equipped XU-1s were built under Firth's guidance, production was still some way from being a reality when the shit hit the fan. Bathurst 1972, then, meant squeeze more magic out of the ever loved red six. The special limited production version used a wild " HX " camshaft, a light flywheel, aIloy wheels and a revised suspension. Once it was balanced and blueprinted, maximum power output was 212 horsepower. And, yes, Peter Brock did notch up his first Bathurst victory in just such a Torana. For l973, the XU-l received its last rework. GMH waved The magic wand over about l5O cars. Perry's developed a special tubular exhaust manifold. "Dyno Dave' of " Yella Terra " fame breathed once again on the cylinder head. Larger valves, Various beefed-up engine bits, heavy duty axles and improved brakes rounded out the picture for 1973 and the swansong of XU-l.

No matter what evidence is produced, there will probably be many Torana fans who continue to dream of an LJ XU-2. No car of that name would ever have come into being. No matter, those wonderful six- pack versions, that delighted Holden fans in particular and practically every one else as well as they out-cornered and out-braked the GTHOs at Mount Panorama and generally embarrassed them on tight circuits such as Amaroo, are legend enough it their own right. The V8 could wait for the LH and it did.

The GTR XU1 was a race-model used by the Australian based, Holden Cars. Harry Firth, Holden's team director, and a team of engineers tweaked the standard LJ Torana, resulting in a car that remains the most successfull touring and rally car to come out of Australia! This car, like every important sports car, was developed around touring and rallycross. The race program began in 1969 with Peter Brock as the primary driver. Three years later, the road-going version was offerred in 1972.

Three stromberg 150CD carbs combined with a race-cam, combustion chamber modifications, lighter flywheel and a larger exhaust maximized the potential for the Inline-6 engine.
Produced from 1972 until 1974, around 1600 examples of the road going GTS were made.

Torana GTR XU1 Engine bay
In-line 6, 202cubic inch (3300cc).

Mercedes 300SL.

Mercedes SL series. 

They are beautiful, they are German. Mercedes SL series beginning with a bang in 1954 with the 300SL & its gulwing doors have been and still are the measure to what other manufactures aspire to in 2-door convertibles/hardtops. In Australia these SLs are mostly autos which is something I am not too much a fan of but they are still a good cruise-mobile. Build quality is high with every version of the SL even though those churned out in the 70s dont seem to be going for much.

Mercedes 300SL.

Mercedes introduced its most famous and dramatic post-war model in 1954, the 300SL. The 300SL was a road-going version of a successful race car and only entered production after Mercedes received an order for 1,000 cars from one of its US dealers. The 300SL had an incredible mechanical specification which included a 3.0 litre dry sump, fuel injected engine capable of reaching a top speed of 140mph.

Perhaps the best known and most distinctive 300SL feature was the "Gullwing" doors. The driver and passenger doors were hinged in the centre of the roof and were supported by gas struts when opened. Despite this novel door design occupants had to climb over the wide sill to enter the car. Other inherent design flaws included the coupes poor ventilation and tricky handling characteristics, however despite these irritations the 300SL remains one the most desirable cars of all time. Production of the Gullwing 300SL ended in 1957 after 1400 examples had been built.

Following the successful, earlier SL models Mercedes launched a whole new range of sports/SL models in the 1960's, starting with the 230SL in 1963. The 230SL had a beautifully proportioned sports body which had two comfortable seats (a third, sideways facing seat was a popular SL option) and could be fitted with a distinctive (Pagoda Roof) Hardtop.

The 230SL used a 2281cc, six cylinder engine which produced 150bhp. The engine featured fuel injection and could even be ordered with automatic transmission. These attractive "SL" sportscars were highly regarded when new and are have remained sought-after classics ever since the last models were built in 1971.

A new range of Mercedes SL sportscars arrived in 1971 to replace the original 230/250/280SL range that had been in production since 1963. The new range included 350SL and 450SL V8 engined versions. Overall both cars were larger and heavier than the previous cars but retained the thoroughbred lines and classic style.

The 350SL used the smaller 3499cc V8 engine which was usually mated to an automatic gearbox. S-Class suspension was used for improved ride comfort in keeping with the overall shift towards luxury in the SL range. A convertible soft-top was standard equipment although a metal hard-top was once again available complete with "Pagoda" styling.

New Ford GT40 for 2003.
Ford's supercar for the masses?

Ford GT40.

Sure, the Ford GT40 has made its mark in times gone by as a full-on hardcore race car, but I reckon that the new road-going incarnation of the supercar would make an impressive driving experience so have included it here. There is still a lot to be told about what this car will really be like to drive (as at November 2002) but the pictures look stunning and Im eager to see more of lies underneath.

The new GT40:

Ford will build the GT40 to help celebrate the automaker's 100th anniversary in 2003. GT40, the modern version of the historic, two-door supercar, will help breathe new excitement into the Ford brand and support Ford Motor Company's promise of 20 new or freshened products each year.

The production announcement comes on the heels of the 2002 North American International Auto Show debut of the GT40 concept car less than 45 days ago. The award-winning concept was inspired by arguably one of the most recognized and loved cars in automotive history. In the mid-1960s, the low-slung, mid-engine GT40 was introduced to battle the world's best in endurance racing. Just over 100 of these historic cars were built, placing Ford in prestigious winner's circles worldwide, most notably, winning the Le Mans (France) 24-hour race in 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969. The new GT40 is more than 18 inches longer and stands nearly four inches taller than the original. Yet, despite being physically larger, it is unmistakably a GT40.

GT40 at Le Mans in 1968.
GT40 race car 1968.

GT40 history:

In the early 1960s, the biggest kid in racing was Ferrari. Almost everybody knows that Ford tried unsuccessfully to buy Ferrari in early 1963. The more common story is that Enzo realised at the last minute that, though the official plan was for him to continue to manage its racing operations, he would lose overall control of his company.

FIA had introduced new rules for 1963, eliminating any displacement limit for prototypes. Ford lost little time choosing to use its own iron fist, the Fairlane V8. Ford retained the services of Yorkshireman Roy Lunn to design a mid-engined chassis around the V8 but soon realised that Eric Broadley, the man behind Lola and a proven talent, had already raced a mid-engine car powered by the 260. In June, a 1-year "liaison" was negotiated in which Lola essentially came under Ford control, and John Wyer, the Aston Martin team manager under whom Shelby had driven to victory at Le Mans in 1959, was enlisted.

Separately, a new company, Ford Advanced Vehicles, was formed as a subsidiary of the British Ford Company the early development of the car. Ford used wind-tunnel testing to design a low-drag body that suffered from high-speed lift. A rear spoiler was fitted to good effect. Development continued in 1963 and 1964, but it was not until 1965 that the car was ready to be raced in earnest. At the end of 1964, Broadley took back his company and went his own way John Wyer took over FAV, and though he always seemed to have one or two cars entered in any given race, his primary task was building the 50 cars required to homologate the GT4O.

For 1965, the primary responsibility for racing was transferred to Shelby-American. Shelby's first task was to improve the car and solve some basic problems that remained. In this he had the assistance of Ford's Autonutronic Division, a pool of aerospace-caliber engineering muscle crucial to achieving the rapid results that were seen. A basic change was the substitution of the proven Cobra-spec 289 for the aluminium Indianapolis engine used by prototypes. Though the iron production block was heavier, eliminating the alloy engine's dry sump system made the car 75 lb lighter overall.

Roy Lunn was moved to Detroit to run Kar Kraft, a Ford-owned skunkworks, in early 1965, where he was charged with developing an even bigger hammer: the MKII. In short, the task was to fortify the GT40 by installing the 427 c.i. big block that was tearing up NASCAR in the fronts of Galaxies. The engine was huge, weighing 600 lb (production versions had cast-iron intake manifolds and weighed 50 lb more). Detuned from stock-car duty by 100 bhp to ensure all-day durability, it delivered 1 bhp per cubic inch at 6200 rpm and mountains of torque. To shoehorn this monster into the lightweight GT40, a rear bulkhead was moved, and the nose of the car was revised once more to make room for an engine oil tank and a larger radiator. A heavy-duty transaxle was developed, a new light-alloy case built around the gear clusters from the four-speed used in Galaxies--presumably Borg Warner's heavy duty T-10, also used in Cobras. The MKII was ready just in time for Le Mans, where it set a lap record and a new fastest recorded to p speed--199 mph.

Unfortunately, no GT40s finished that year. Big-block cars had ill-prepared transmissions, and eight of the nine 289-powered cars in the race (GT40s and Cobras) suffered head gasket failures due to a faulty batch of head bolts sent to Shelby-American. The one Cobra-mounted 289 that finished had lubrication problems that prevented it from running hard.

After Le Mans, Kar Kraft made further improvements to the MKII to ready it for the 1966 season, but changed the primary focus of its efforts to the J-car. Holman and Moody were brought in from the stock-car world, proven racers with 427 experience. The next year brought the first American victory at Le Mans. Attrition ground away at the eight MKIIs entered, with the infamous 1-2-3 photo finish containing all the cars that remained at the end. In a unique judgment, the finishing order was afterwards rearranged by accounting for the distance between the cars on the starting grid.

By that time the J-car was known to be a failure, but Kar Kraft spent the next year turning it into the svelte and fast MKIV, which Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt drove to victory at Le Mans in 1967. They led 22 of 24 hours, covering 3249.6 miles at an average speed of 135.483 mph. Almost immediately, FIA announced a displacement limit of 3 liters for 1968, and Ford turned its attention back to North America.

At that point, Ford had beaten the world decisively backed it up, and been uninvited to the next year's party. As far as it was concerned, the story was over. In reality, it was just getting good. John Wyer joined forces with John Willment to form JW Automotive Engineering, taking over the FAV facilities in Slough, England. Wyer continued to build small-block GT40s, including seven MKIIIs. These were MKIs modified for road use with a longer nose and tail, fitted with GT350-spec 306-bhp 289s.

Wyer had always advocated developing the small-block car for racing, and believed that regulations, though once again opened to cars up to 5 liters, favored the 3-liter cars. He set about developing a 3-liter Mirage while continuing to race the existing GT40s.

The GT40s thus fielded were improved with better lubrication and brakes. Rear fenders were flared for wider tires, and the bodywork was made lighter and stronger with the use of carbon fiber. Five-liter engines (289s were 4736cc) were fitted with Gurney-Weslake heads, giving 400 bhp and better torque. With Le Mans gearing, the revised cars were capable of 205 mph. Unlike Ford, which had striven just for the prestige of the big races, Wyer pursued the entire championship series. In the 1968 Le Mans race, the Porsches broke and left GT40 #1075 to lead 18 hours, winning the Championship of Makes as well as completing a hat trick for Ford when it crossed the line.

Wyer abandoned experimental vehicles for the 1969 season. At Le Mans, Porsches dominated the race, but the two leading cars again fell out, leaving one 917 to do epic battle for the last hour with the same GT40 that had won the previous year. At 4 o'clock, the Ford was ahead by 100 yards.

The preceding story has placed the GT40 among the most famous of all racing cars, and also among the most valuable. That value justifies almost any expense to repair a damaged car, ensures an ongoing parts supply and even encourages some scams. The number of chassis is limited, but the GT4O family tree can be as involuted as any south of the Mason-Dixon line. When they were new, standard cars were modified experimentally, while prototypes and experiments were rebuilt as standard. To add to the confusion, official cars were dribbled out from old and newly made parts by John Wyer into the 1980s. Only a handful of damaged cars have ever been scrapped. GT40 parts are rarely discarded, and major components are often used as the basis for assembling parts into a new car under the old number. At least three numbers are known to be represented by two cars each, and it is rumored that one number may be claimed by a third chassis.

In the 1980s, Peter Thorpe purchased from John Wyer the right to assemble the last 50 chassis numbers and engineered a faithful but improved car, which is called a MKV and has the blessing of most of the original players. Original tooling was used as much as possible, but the basic chassis is light alloy instead of high-strength steel. Many kit (reproduction, component, etc.) cars are built to have the appearance of the GT4O, and many even go fast and handle decently. However, Peter Thorpe's cars are considered the only legitimate reproductions because of their trueness to the original design and the fact they carry chassis numbers originally registered for production.

The Ford GT40's racing heritage is comparable to those of the Porsche 917s and 962s. Because the evolution of racing technology is very fast, most racing cars become outdated even if only a year has passed As a racing car, the GT40 was a heavyweight, because it had a steel frame and roof. J.W. utilized aluminum and carbon fiber (typically used only by aerospace in those days) for certain body panels, but still the car was not on a severe diet. It is amazing that such a car could run at the top of its class for 5 years.

...more to come....