31 October 2012

1975 Countach LP 400 - An Early Exclamation

We're not going to patronise you with the origin story of the Lamborghini Countach, fascinating though it is.There are plenty of books that have gone into detail over the evolution of this landmark supercar, the best of them probably being Jean-Marc Borel's fine tome (good luck in finding a copy; It was published in 1985 and is currently out of print). It's an outstanding narrative on every step in the building process of the Countach. Other books are available of course, kids. 
What we'd rather do is cut to the chase and show you this rather spiffing example of an early LP400. How early? Try the 28th ever production Countach to be unleashed from Ferruccio's Sant'Agata grotto. Let the excerpt below (from here) tell the story. Enjoy.

'The 28th Countach off the line, chassis 1120056 was built to custom order of wealthy Haitian Albert Silvera. A personal friend of Ferruccio Lamborghini, Silvera had previously ordered one of the Miura SV/Js and would later commission another Countach. To accommodate for all his special requests, this Countach was not finished by Lamborghini but by Bertone, who were better equipped to complete the custom work. Among the unusual features were the silver bumper, an antelope suede leather dashboard cover and the 'periscope' rear view mirror. The car also received a tweaked engine with a reported 60 or 70 additional horses and an open exhaust system.'

'Finished in a striking 'Rosso Dino', the car was completed in January of 1975. It was personally picked up by Silvera and his wife Gladys from the factory where Lamborghini himself handed over the keys. Braving the winter conditions, the proud new owner drove his latest acquisition through Europe to Paris. The custom Countach was subsequently flown to New York for the next leg of the journey, which saw the Silveras drive down the East Coast to their Miami home. Unlike his Miura SV/J, Silvera never brought the custom Countach to Haiti.'

'Little over a year later, on April 5th 1976, Silvera sold 1120056 to an American enthusiast to make room for a new Countach. In the following years, the unique Countach passed through several hands including those of American journalist and photographer Winston Goodfellow. By the time the current, Dutch owner acquired the car, some of its original features like the silver bumper were lost. Eager to uncover the complete story of the ex-Albert Silvera Countach, he dove deep into the car's history and managed to speak to most of the previous owners, including Gladys Silvera. He has since returned the car to its original configuration, while carefully retaining its highly original condition.

The result of this labour of love was first seen at the 2012 Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este, where the striking Countach was fittingly displayed alongside a Miura SV/J. Although forty years old now, the Countach still looks futuristic and was accordingly awarded the 'Trofeo Auto & Design' by the jury for the most exciting design. It also received a Mention of Honour in its class.'

Dreaming of Conquistadors

29 October 2012

3.7 V6 Alfa Spider - Demon Arachnid

"But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness."
The passage above describes Shelob, a fictional giant spider and from The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien's seminal Middle-earth saga; it's taken from The Two Towers, the second instalment of the saga, but could have easily been written about the 1991 S4 Alfa Romeo Spider above. An "evil thing in spider form...[the] last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world", living high in the Ephel Dúath mountains that border Mordor. There are numerous references to her being ancient, and is unrepentantly evil.
Well the Alfa Spider can be described as being ancient, as the Series I was launched in 1966. Evil? well not in standard form; a lot of positive adjectives for sure, but certainly not evil.
This one, on the other hand does. Not so much looking to munch Little Miss Muffets's curds and whey; more like gobble her up without a second thought. 
The spec of this car points to its demeanour to start with; it's powered by the classic Giuseppe Busso-designed Alfa V6 out of a 164 pushing over 300 bhp. Built by Glenwood Motors in South Africa (SA is an historic font for hot Alfa V6 action), it features such goodies as a long-stroke, 3.2 litre 156 GTA crank, an over-bore to receive brand new 120 mm OD steel liners to take it out to 3.7 litres, Ross Racing aluminium pistons, custom forged steel tapered wrist pins and double retainers, Total Seal Competition piston ring set, forged, chrome-molly steel connecting rods... Right, thats enough, we're getting all hot and sweaty just typing it. Breathing is taken care of by 6 individual throttle bodies and a Gotech PRO fully-programmable, standalone engine management system. Gearbox is a beefed-up 105 cog-stirrer feeding a GTV6 LSD at the rear.
Getting all that power to the road is critical and it's going to take the best suspension out there to tame this Spider. To this end the owner has fitted Ron Simons Racing Fully adjustable racing suspension for Spiders. Coilovers are used for the rear, while separate springs and shocks along with a 30mm anti-roll bar dial in the front. Extra bracing has also been attached to the chassis to cope with more power than Battista Farina had in mind.
The spec so far is truly tasty; but the body shell isn't about to be upstaged by the innards. The body kit is a one-off, designed by the owner; highlights include the rear diffuser, styled after the one on a Ferrari F430, the front bumper that apparently took multiples mock ups before he was happy with it and the bonnet, which has been cunningly reshaped to contained fully the beast living underneath.
Check out the 280+ page build thread on alfabb.com for all the details. Just beware of spiders that sit down beside you at the computer desk.

And it just wouldn't do to not have a sample of that 3.7 V6 clearing it's throat a little:

Augusta Southern Nationals, Augusta, July 21, 2007

Saturday afternoon at the 22nd Annual Southern Nationals speedboat races. Greg Tedesco's boat Loose Cannon sends the water flying as they head down the Savannah River during qualifying round 1 in the Top Fuel Hydro division. He qualified 4th with an ET of 5.350 seconds @ 231.14 mph. He made it to the semi-finals.

26 October 2012

Cars & Music - Tom Scott And A Striped Tomato...

Tom Scott is an American saxophonist, composer, arranger, conductor and band leader of The L.A. Express, member of which played on several Joni Mitchell albums. He is the son of prolific film and television composer Nathan Scott, who had more than 850 television credits and more than 100 film credits as a composer, orchestrator and conductor, including credit for composing the theme songs for Dragnet, The Twilight Zone and Lassie.
His best-known works are the theme songs for TV series from the 1970s and 1980s; The Streets of San Francisco, his collaboration with Johnny Mathis to write and record Without Us, the theme to the 80's sitcom Family Ties, a series best known to us Brits for launching the career of one Michael J. Fox, and his saxophone work on the 1975 song Listen to What the Man Said, for Paul McCartney & Wings.

He's performed on dozens of solo recordings for which he has collected 13 Grammy nominations and 3 wins. As well as the aforementioned film and TV scoring credits (and hanging with McCartney), he's worked with artists as diverse as (deep breath) George Harrison, The Grateful Dead, Steppenwolf, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, Joni Mitchell, Blondie, Eddie Money, Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, Quincy Jones, Carole King, Olivia Newton-John and Frank Sinatra.
He has many more achievements to boast of (being part of the Blues Brothers band for example), however, for the purposes of this article, we're interested in a particular track he did called Gotcha.
Never heard of it, you say? Oh yes; yes you have.
It's better known as the theme tune to Starsky & Hutch. Well, the one that people remember the most.

The first series of the show had a dark and ominous theme written by Lalo Schifrin that fitted the hard action and violence; the main title version was edited down from the chase climax score for the pilot episode (the climax contains the shot of Hutch leaping off a fire escape and landing on a car which appears in the opening titles of all subsequent episodes). The end credits featured a similar piece of ominous music. Sadly for Schifrin fans, his S&H work has never been released as a complete collection.
Boo, hiss, boo.


The first series theme was replaced for the series 2 by Scott's Gotcha. It's been subsequently covered by several acts, including the James Taylor Quartet and The Ventures. For the third series, a more dramatic theme, written by Mark Snow was used that highlighted the show's move to more socially-conscious and light-hearted stories. A reworked Gotcha, returned for the fourth and last series. The revamped version was the most easy going of the different themes for the series, reflecting the last series' increased buddy cop feel. Schifrin, Scott and Snow also scored several episodes; Alan Silvestri also worked on the series, scoring three episodes.
As well as that famous theme tune (it was used for the second & third series), the series is also known for a particular red 1974 Ford Gran Torino Sport, with The Stripe That Launched A Thousand Replicas.

The 1974-1976 line can trace its roots back to 1972, when the Torino was redesigned using many characteristics carried over from the classic '70 -'71 model. The 1972 Torino styling emphasised the long bonnet, short boot look as well as the classic 'coke bottle' styling more than ever before. The most radical change was at the front; a large egg crate grille in an oval opening on the Gran Torino. Motoring journalist Tom McCahill remarked in an article that it looked like Namu, the killer whale. The number of models was reduced from 14 models in 1971 to 9 in 1972. The convertible was discontinued, and the 4 door hardtops and saloons were replaced with 4 door "pillared hardtops"; Ford's term for 4 door saloons with flameless door glass. All other body styles remained, including the fastback, which Ford continued to dub SportsRoof. Plaoin old "Torino" remained the base series, but the mid-level Torino 500 was renamed "Gran Torino".

The Torino Brougham was reduced to an option package for the Gran Torino, and Torino GT became "Gran Torino Sport." The Torino and Gran Torino were available as a 2 door hardtop and a 4-door sedan; the Gran Torino Sport was available as a 2-door hardtop and SportsRoof. The station wagon line-up consisted of three models: Torino, Gran Torino, and Gran Torino Squire. Alas, the Cobra model was discontinued as the Torino line was refocused more toward luxury and less towards performance. The biggest change for the Torino was the switch to a separate chassis from the monocoque construction of the 1971 models. While sounding like a retrograde step, the new chassis helped to give the Torino a quieter and more isolated ride.

Front suspension used unequal length control arms, with coil springs and an anti-roll bar (a first for the Torino line) much like the full size Ford LTD. The rear used the "Stabul" four link suspension with coils mounted on a solid axle. Ford offered two suspension options: heavy-duty and competition, with progressively beefier springs, dampers and antil-roll bars. Front disc brakes now became standard on all Torinos, which no other American intermediate (other than the sister Mercury Montego) offered in 1972. Servo-assisted brakes remained an option for all models under 429ci ; they were standard on all station wagons and 429ci powered models. Power steering was also revised, while All Torinos now had 14" wheels, while 15" versions were used for police and fleet models. Separate wheelbases were used for both 2 door and 4-door models, a trend that followed the equivalent GM and Mopar models. Like it's rivals, Ford managed to spin out a full model range for the Torino for all tastes while still sharing many parts. Base engine was the 250ci straight 6 in all models except the wagons and the Gran Torino Sport which had a 302ci V8 in 2V trim as standard. Now read the next few sentences carefully, as Ford engine ranges in the 1970's get just a tad confusing.The Torino engine range included the 302ci 2V Windsor, a 351ci 2V Windsor or Cleveland (two different V8 engines, same capacity), a 351ci 4V Cobra Jet (CJ), a 400ci 2V, and a 429ci 4V. The 400ci 2V was a new engine to the Torino line-up, and was part of the '335' series engine family like the 351ci Cleveland, but with a taller engine block. Don't be confused by the whole 2v, 3v thing; it refers to engine tune, not number of valves.

The 429 4V was not a high-performance engine like the Cobra Jets of previous years; instead, it was a high torque, low revving engine. Emissions, low lead requirements and fuel economy requirements had begun to take their toll. All models were equipped with a three-speed manual transmission as a standard feature. The Cruise-O-Matic remained optional, but was a mandatory option for the 351 2V, 400 2V and 429 4V. The 351 4V CJ required either the 4-speed or the Cruise-O-Matic as standard options. With the only performance engine being the 351 4V Cobra Jet, performance was no longer at the "super car" levels of the old 429 Cobra Jet Torinos. Performance with the 351 CJ was still good though, and Car and Driver tested a 351 CJ, 4-speed Gran Torino Sport SportsRoof with 3.50:1 gears to a 0-60 time of 6.8 seconds. Car and Driver didn't publish its quarter mile times, but Cars magazine tested a Gran Torino Sport SportsRoof with a 351 CJ, C-6 automatic, and 3.50 gears to run though the quarter mile in 15.40 seconds. Overall, the '72 Torino was a great success and a total of 496,645 cars were produced, making it the best-selling intermediate for 1972. This was the first time Ford had ever outsold the Chevrolet Chevelle since its introduction in 1964. Incidentally the '72 model can boast it's own claim to fame, with a Gran Torino Sport SportsRoof featuring in the Clint Eastwood film Gran Torino.

In 1973 there were 2 grill/models available: the "base"  Torino (the green one) and the Gran Torino, that had the more familiar centre grille
The most obvious change for the 1973 model saw was the new front, required to meet new US crash regulations. The Torino's front end featured totally new sheet metal from the bulkhead (firewall) forward, with a blunt, more squared off face replacing the previous year's more pointed prow. These modifications added about 100 lbs in weight over the '72. Separate grille designs were still maintained for Torino and Gran Torino models; they mimicked the '72s in design. The Gran Torino maintained the rear bumper of it's 1972 forbear, with the lights inset into the bumper, albeit with minor changes to meet federal requirements. The model line-up for 1973 increased to 11 from 9 in 1972; The new top level Torino was the Gran Torino Brougham, available as a 2 door hardtop and a 4 door sedan. The 250 cube six remained as the base engine for all models, except for the 2v 302 for the station wagons and Sport. Other engine options also remained the same, but with their compression ratio dropped to 8.0:1, a result of ever-stringent emissions controls. As a result, power for all engines was slightly lower than had gone before. The 351 CJ continued to be the only high-performance engine option, thankfully little changed from the previous year, although performance was blunted due to the weight increase. Police package Torinos had all the engine options of the 'civvie' models while the "Interceptor" package featured the 460 4V (from the 385-series engine range) for 1973. Bigger, 11" brakes were employed to cope with the extra girth, an inch bigger than last year. Other than minor trim and engine induction changes, the Sport was unchanged from the 1972 model year, and continued to be offered as a 2 door hardtop and 2 door SportsRoof.

In the Car and Driver magazine road test of a 1973 Gran Torino Sport, the suspension received high marks for comfort and handling. Car and Driver wrote that the Torino was as "..quiet as a Jaguar, smooth as a Continental, the Torino's ride is exceptional...even with the competition suspension." Their test of a SportsRoof equipped with the 351 CJ, C-6 automatic, and 3.25:1 gears, resulted in a 0-60 mph time of 7.7 seconds while the quarter mile was dispatched in 16 seconds at 88.1 mph, slower than before, but still acceptable to most people. 1973 was another successful year for the Torino, with 496,581 units, even with the stiff competition from GM's new for 1973 "Colonnade" intermediates. Torino in fact outsold its main competitor, the Chevrolet Chevelle, by over 168,000 units.

The 1974-1976 model year are the ones that the S&H car is based on; the new grille was of similar shape to the 1973 but was revised, bumpers and trim were little changed to previous years. There were other more substantial changes, however; Gran Torino 2 doors now were available with opera windows, a popular option during the mid 1970s, while Brougham models had these as a standard feature. All 2 door Torinos had fixed rear windows unlike the 1972-73 models. The Torino was becoming more luxury oriented and new luxury features were available; these included a leather-wrapped steering wheel, split bench seat and an electric sunroof. Gran Torino hardtops and sedans had a new rear fender skirt option, to give the Torino a longer, lower look.

The competition suspension was no longer offered, and the only suspension option was a revised heavy-duty suspension package. The Gran Torino Sport no longer was available with the Sportsroof fastback roof line, and the new "Gran Torino Elite" was introduced. The Gran Torino Elite was developed by Ford to help respond to Chevrolet's ever popular Monte Carlo; it was designed as an entry level "personal luxury" vehicle, for those who couldn't afford a Thunderbird, and was in the same price range as the Monte Carlo. The Elite was described by Ford as "A totally new 2 door hardtop. ..with Thunderbird-inspired styling, sold engineering and personal luxury. ..plus mid-size economy." The Elite wasn't totally new, as Ford described, but it did have a number of unique features; it had unique front sheet metal, with styling that was indeed inspired by the Thunderbird. It came with the 351ci 2v as standard.

The 1974 base model saloon
Torinos were now even larger and heavier than ever before; all body styles were approximately 5" longer due in part to the safety bumpers. With all Torinos gaining weight and inches, the trusty straight 6 was dropped, although some cars were still equipped with it; the 'close-up car in the 2004 Starsky & Hutch film was a six. The 302 was the 'official' base engine for the range, backed up by the 3-speed; larger engines used the Cruise-O-Matic. The tide had turned against performance cars especially since the 1973 Oil Crisis; 1974 was the last year for the 351 CJ and four-speed. The Gran Torino Sport was only a shadow of its former self for 1974. With the Sportsroof model discontinued, Sport models were often difficult to distinguish from Gran Torino 2-doors. To add insult to injury, the Sport was even available with optional opera windows (on vinyl-roofed cars) and fender skirts. Performance was even more lacklustre for 1974, with power down and weight up. The 1974 Sport was a bit of a porker too; almost 400 lb heavier than the leaner 1972 Sport. The Torino range had another successful year in 1974, and continued to be ever popular. Ford produced 426,086 units, including 96,604 Gran Torino Elites.

For 1975 model year, the Torino  was for the most part unchanged; the Elite was now an independent model, marketed simply as the Ford Elite. The Torino's weight continued to climb, even though the exterior dimensions were unchanged from 1974. The Federal Clean Air Act meant Ford installed catalytic converters to help meet new emission standards; surprise surprise, power was significantly reduced. In response, Ford changed the base engine on all Torinos to the 351-2V engine; along with this change, the Cruise-O-Matic transmission became standard. No manual transmissions were available. Power for all engines, except the 460, was significantly reduced compared to 1974, and with the weight increase, fuel economy and performance continued to decrease. The 400 2V and the 460 4V were the only engine options, as the Cleveland 351 4V was of course no longer available, being replaced with a version of the 351M, which used the taller '400' block. Like we said before, Ford's V8 line-up in the 70's is confusing. The Gran Torino Sport was still available, and remained virtually unchanged from the 1974 model. The Sport continued to remain almost indistinguishable from a conventional Gran Torino, and customers responded with a lack of interest; only 5,126 were produced.

The 1976 Elite. The 'Torino' name was dropped the previous year
Sales for the Torino as a whole fell significantly from 1974. With the Elite now a separate model, the Torino lost a large portion of its sales; Ford produced only 195,110 Torino's for 1975. Even with the addition of the 123,372 Elites produced for 1975, total output was 318,482 which was still significantly lower than 1974. Sales decreases were likely due to the increased demand for smaller economical cars, while Ford's new "sensibly" sized Granada most likely also stole sales. The Ford Granada was classed as a compact by Ford, but ironically had dimensions close to that of a late 1960s Ford Torino. By '76, the Torino was firmly in decline; there were no major changes to the Torino line-up and the Gran Torino Sport was discontinued. Engine options remained unchanged; the 351 2V engines and the 400 2V had a power and torque increase, and the 460 4V had a power decrease. Which brings us to Starsky & Hutch.

Not one of the myriad 'fan' knock-offs - this one is an official Ford-produced replica
The producers (Spelling-Goldberg Productions) needed a flashy speciality car for the main characters to drive. Originally the show's creator, William Blinn, was to have Starsky drive a green and white high performance Chevrolet Camaro, because he remembered one that he had previously owned. When the production was being planned, the studio was unable to locate another green and white Chevrolet Camaro or order a 1975 Camaro from GM, because of their lease contract with Ford. It was decided - eventually - that a bright red 1975 Gran Torino two-door would be the vehicle of choice for the pilot episode. To make the Torino look less mundane, a large white vector stripe was added. Five-slot alloy mag wheels and larger rear tyres were fitted, and air shocks were added to give the car an aggressive rake. Paul Michael Glaser originally hated the car, stating that when he was first shown the Torino by Aaron Spelling, he sarcastically said to David Soul, "That thing looks like a striped tomato!" and the name stuck.

'This is gonna hurt...'
The show became quite popular with the public and much of that popularity was centred on the star Torino. Ford couldn't help but take notice to the public's interest in the Starsky and Hutch Torino, and decided to introduce a replica version. Ford built 1,000 replicas of the S&H car in the spring of 1976. Production of the replicas began in March 1976, all of which were made in Ford's Chicago Assembly plant. This limited production package was essentially a special paint option, but required the deluxe bumper and dual colour keyed sport mirrors as mandatory options. The TV car's slot mag wheels were not offered by Ford, and the only aggressive-looking wheel option was the Magnum 500 wheel. They were not a mandatory option though, and incredibly these cars came equipped with wheel covers as standard. When producing the replicas, Ford painted the entire car white, then masked off the stripe and painted the rest of the car the shade of bright red used on the 1972-75 models (and subsequently the TV cars); this colour had been discontinued for all other Torino models for 1976 in favour of a different shade of red.

The factory replicas were close to the TV show Torino, but had minor differences in the stripe, and did not have the aggressive rake of the TV car. Many replica owners installed slot mags and air shocks after purchase to give the car a more authentic look. The factory replica was available with all Torino engines. Seat colours were limited to black or white and were available with all seating trims and options. One of the factory replicas was leased to Spelling-Goldberg as a backup for the original Torinos that were created for the show.
Production total for the Torino in 1976 was 193,096 units, slightly lower than 1975. This was the final year for the Torino, as for the 1977 model year, Ford replaced it with the LTD II, created through a major restyle of the Torino sheet metal. The Torino chassis continued to live on under the LTD II, the Mercury Cougar, the Ford Ranchero and the Ford Thunderbird from 1977 to 1979, when it was replaced by the legendary Panther platform.

A red '74 Gran Torino, but without a white stripe? Jings, what would David Michael Starsky think?
Lookit! A Gran Torino Sport, with a vinyl roof!
This one's a completely different colour, and-wassat?
...oh, go on then
- Amazo doesn't like the stripe, does he?
- Nope, no he doesn't 
Starsky & Hutch - a very ordinary cop show idea, but an idea saved not only by the two main stars, but by an unlikely supporting cast. An ordinary car with an iconic (if now overexposed) paint job and a unforgettable theme tune by a largely underrated musical genius.
The whole was definitely made greater by the sum of these parts.