Saturday, August 9, 2014

Turbine New Yorker - How the World's Most Unappealing Car Was Almost a Hero

Automotive history is scattered with experimental oddities, technically intriguing engineering exercises, mechanical oddities, bizarre engine configurations, over-the-top, blue-sky novelties of design and construction—pure engineer's dreams unfettered by the cold economic realities of a manufacturer's bread and butter product lines.

Many of these experiments—fixed crankshaft, rotating cylinder radials, opposed piston engines, double sets of counter-rotating reciprocals (what?), sleeve valves, rotary valves and moredate from the dawn of the industry. Like with any nascent technology, these were times for wild experimentation, when nebulous ideas had only just begun to deposit their best attributes, sediment-like, into the soil of impending rules and standards.

Not all of them, though. Born on the drafting tables of one of the world's largest car builders during an era when the norm had already been cemented for nearly four decades, arguably the most ambitious design experimentation of them all still resonates 30 plus years after its unceremonious cancellation.

Chrysler began experimenting with turbine-powered cars as early as the first years of the 1950's, with engines ran on test cell dynamometers and in stock-looking sedans racking up thousands of largely trouble-free hours and miles of operation.

Encouraged by an unexpectedly straightforward and successful development program—including the small, glorious run of now-legendary semi-production cars—Chrysler came within what was likely weeks of building turbine-powered New Yorkers on a large scale in 1981. Design was complete, tooling was underway, and Iacocca had given the green light. 

Unfortunately, continuing government oversight put in place two years earlier as part of Chrysler's first once-in-a-lifetime financial bailout thought it too risky, putting the kibosh on the most exciting and ground-breaking development in wheeled transport since the advent of mass-production itself.

The poster car for the Malaise Era came within striking distance of being one on of the most important and desirable automobiles ever built, anywhere, at any time. Marinate on that.

You can read much more about this, as well as the Mopar turbine's near 30-year long development program here on Allpar's excellent history write-up.

picture a world where this is a desirable classic

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tamerlane's Thoughts Interview - All About My RX-7

Friend and The Truth About Cars/Hooniverse writer/lawyer/world traveler/good food eater/NY Times featured adventurer and all-around cool guy Jim Yu recently asked me some great questions about my old Mazda. 

Check out the full interview here on his excellent personal blog, Tamerlane's Thoughts--one of the major inspirations behind the foundation of this site.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Graphical Representation of My Wrenching Skills & How it Solicited Jalopnik's Comment of the Decade

So I saw this on Facebook and laughed, and thought it might evoke a similar response from appreciative Jalops over on Oppositelock.

This is my favorite response. To anything, ever:

"If I related this to my car, it would show me pouring the milk in a glass, but then the glass leaks. So I pour it into a tupperware bowl instead. I open the fridge and grab the chocolate syrup, but the bottle is empty. So I go to the store to buy more, but they don't make that syrup anymore, so I have to buy another bottle, but it's organic gluten-free, kosher, and 'fair-trade' chocolate syrup that costs $2.89 per ounce. It's the only syrup available, though, so I suck it up and buy it.

Then I go back home and find a fly and six ants floating in my bowl of milk. So I pour it out and go to pour more milk, only to knock the tupperware bowl off the counter and in my surprise I stumble and step on it and it shatters. So I pull out a small metal pot to pour the milk into while on the phone with the tupperware lifetime warranty no-break department. I pour the organic, gluten-free, kosher, fair-trade syrup into the pot of milk and reach for a spoon, only to find a drawer filled with nothing but forks and used chopsticks.

I grab a fork and start stirring, listening to the smooth jazz hold music. It's so soothing and I'm on hold for so long that I begin to daydream and doze, still stirring the entire time. When a representative comes back on the line, I get startled, which makes my arm twitch, which causes the pot to fall off the counter, landing on my foot and causing milk to splatter all over myself and the kitchen. I reach down to grab my foot in pain, only for the phone to fall and somehow land in such a away that it turns onto speakerphone mode.

I try and step over to grab the phone, but step on the tines of the fork in the process and begin yelling and screaming because one foot has been smashed by a pot of milk and the other is now copiously bleeding from a grievous fork-wound. The phone representative hears me swearing in the background and calls me an 'impossibly rude asshole youshouldbeashamedofyourself' and hangs up on me. 

At this point I throw the phone across the room- straight through a weak spot in the drywall. I yell "Oh fuck it!" and grab the now-half-empty gallon of milk, pour $5.00 worth of fair-trade kosher chocolate syrup into it and an proceed to shake it, only to realize I forgot to put the lid on, resulting in half-mixed chocolate milk spraying me in the face.

30 seconds later, after much swearing and blaspheming, I'm huddled in the corner, drinking half-mixed chocolate milk out of the jug, weeping, sobbing "At least I made it myself!" between swallows."

Bravo, Desu San-Desu, Bravo.

Monday, July 21, 2014

ANF Fleet's Latest Addition - 1979 Mazda RX-7

So I bought an old RX-7. Took a 400 mile round trip to the desert for a 23,000 mile, rust and accident free original in excellent mechanical and cosmetic condition. Paid about 10 cents for every mile it's traveled since leaving Hiroshima the year of my birth.

Plans are to tend to a few minor needs and flip it, but I'm damn tempted to keep it for myself. We'll see. Enjoying the hell out of it in the meantime, quirks and all.

Photos and video from Instagram (@franzkoviak), excuse the quality.

#Mazda #RX7 #1979 #Wankel #rotary #startup

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Dakar Sand Trap Rescue - Tatra T815 Rally Truck

While researching this short BaT piece about a similar tribute truck, I stumbled across this video of what appears to be an authentic Tatra works racer extracating itself from some loose Senegalese sand.

Shockingly simple but ingenious, I'm not sure if this is a unique or novel idea, but I've never seen anything like it before. Super-cool.

excuse the poor resolution video still

And here it is in action. Skip ahead to 0:13 if you like, but then you'll miss out on the air-cooled turbodiesel V12 soundtrack and hard working swing axle action.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

ANF's Growing Fleet - Practical Automatic Sedan Hunting

Wifey has decided she no longer wants to drive a stickshift, so it's now time to add a boring old automatic sedan to the ANF fleet. I'm thrilled to say that we're now in the market for a nice, used, 2009-ish C63never thought I'd find myself in this situation, but here I am, and I'm not complaining.

Too bad we never got the estate!

Here's Chris Harris' excellent send-off for the W204 AMG, whose imminent replacement will sadly be much more polite and well-mannered. Below it is a video of the hand assembly process for the car's M156 6.2 liter V8.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Looking for Interviewees - 2000GT Repost

Do you or someone you know own an interesting car? Would you/they like to be interviewed on ANF? Please get in touch at or below in the comment section.

The following is a repost of an interview originally posted to the site on October 13th, 2012.

I've been a fan of the site for many years. It's a treasure trove of information on Japan's first exotic sports car, and the kind of site you can lose yourself in for hours and not notice time pass. The owner and editor, Luc, operates the site from Switzerland. It's in French, but is easily translated with built-in browser tools for us typical monolingual Americans. Luc's 2000GT has been in the family for more than forty years - below is my interview with him.

ANF:  You inherited your 2000GT from your parents, could you please tell us a bit more about that?

Luc:  My father bought it in 1971 from the importer. This man was a sports cars dealer in Geneva and he imported three 2000GT's to Switzerland. He sold two of them and kept the third as an executive car. When he went bankrupt he sold it to my father. In 1999, when my father passed away, he left me the 2000GT because he knew I was nuts about cars.

ANF:  Were your parents enthusiasts?

Luc:  My parents were both enthusiasts. They started first with a Messerschmidt, my mother got a motorbike licence for it. During all their life they drifted through various cars at once. My father had a BMW 700, 3.0CS, 635CSi, Simca 1000 and 1200S, Celica 1600, Subaru Justy, XT, Mazda Miata. My mother had a DKW, Ford Taunus, Opel Reckord 2.0 Sprint, Alfa Romeo 2000GT, Honda Civic VTEC, Mazda RX-7 first and turbo generations… there was always four or five cars at home, and when I started driving, it was up to seven or eight. I myself have owned cars from Mazda, Peugeot, Renault, BMW, Subaru, Opel and Hyundai.

Luc's car in April of 1972

ANF:  What are your childhood memories of the car?

Luc:  I was five years old when the 2000GT arrived at the house. My father was using it as a daily driver during nice weather, and sometimes he brought me to school in it. I was very proud but I remember I was too small to even see the road over the dashboard. When young, my favourite cars were Lamborghini, Lotus or Corvette, but the 2000GT was very appealing and comments from other people were always outstanding.

ANF:  Are there any other 2000GT's in Switzerland?

Luc:  Yes, from the three officially imported in Switzerland in 1968, mine is the only one remaining but there are at least two others in private collections. One is on display in the museum of the main Toyota importer. Another one is going to be in a private Toyota Museum soon to be open.

a more recent shot

ANF:  As I understand it, it's quite difficult to be a car owner in Switzerland - are there any
particular difficulties related to owning such an old, rare machine?

Luc:  No, there are many car collectors in my country, as there are many rich people who can afford it. In my case, I have no particular difficulty except paying insurance!  But it’s not a myth, the periodical technical inspection is very strict. There are two ways to register an old car - you can register it as you would a normal car with inspection every 3 years, or you can register it as a veteran with inspection every five or six years, but then the car must be in perfect state, and I mean like new!  A particularity of Swiss regulation is that the insurance (and the plates) belong to the owner, not the car - this means when you change your car, you keep the number plate. You can have up to two cars using the same insurance and plate, so we play a game of one plate for two cars with interchangeable supports. Of course we can drive only one at a time and we need a private parking to keep the second car when it is without plates. We pay insurance for the most expensive of both cars, and my Previa costs more than the 2000GT anyway.

ANF:  What's it like to drive?

Luc:  I wish you can ride in a 2000GT once in your life. The ride is very enjoyable and leaves nobody indifferent. To drive it, you must be no taller than me (180 cm) or you won’t fit. The big steering wheel falls right between my knees, touching them. Even if the steering column is adjustable, space around the body is very limited. You are in contact with the car’s interior all around, roof top is 2 cm over my head. It’s cosy but comfortable and practical. The 2000GT is a GT, meaning it’s made for the road, and that's where it's in its element. Driving on the highway at 200 km/h holding the wheel with one finger is no problem, it goes straight, with perfect handling. The first ever rack and pinion steering from Toyota works perfectly. The double wishbone suspension is soft, with long travel when compared to modern sports cars. The windscreen is so curved, driving with the side windows open at high speed does not increase turbulence in the cockpit. One must be careful as the brakes are from another era!  Another thing you enjoy all the time in the 2000GT is the fantastic sound of the exhaust. It’s much more luxurious than a Porsche, you feel a lot more secure than in a Jag and finish is far better from what you find in a 'Vette.

2000GT veneers were made by artisans normally employed by Yamaha's grand piano division

ANF:  How frequently do you drive it? What is the furthest you've driven it?

Luc:  I used to drive it once every month or so, but since I renovated the engine, it’s awaiting a new exhaust before I can go back to inspection. I went to northern Holland for a Japanese car meeting in 2006, and it was a real pleasure to drive long distance. The luggage space is very limited so you must travel light, especially when you bring a mate with you.

ANF:  Is it reliable, as one would expect from a Toyota? Or is it true to its exotic roots,
needing constant attention?

Luc:  It’s no exception to the legendary Toyota reliability, and considering its age, there has been little to fix. Hand constructed by Yamaha, the body and engine are made like works of art. The three double-body Webers need adjustment sometimes. With age some electrical components like alternator or radiator fan have been serviced, but no big trouble. I can say there is no defect in manufacturing at all.

ANF:  How are parts sourced?

Luc:  Finding parts is a problem when you need it. Some parts are available in USA, but you must look to Japan to for others. I went to Japan for that purpose and found it very difficult to purchase any parts, the market is in the hand of very few people, and they are not willing to sell to a foreigner easily. Some parts have been remade in Japan but their price is very high - for example the magnesium rims have been remade in aluminium but they go for sale on auction and get very expensive. One day Toyota Switzerland contacted my father to say they would be sending a stockpile of various parts back to Japan, and offered him a last chance to buy them. So I have a little stock for clutch, head lamps and so on. When I had to change the brake calipers, it was impossible to find original Sumitomo parts made under Dunlop licence, so I substituted similar original stainless steel Dunlop calipers. Even for the air filter, I can’t find a replacement in the size of the original one.

ANF:  Is it difficult to work on?

Luc:  Working on my car is easy as any normal car. The engine bay is a bit narrow but everything is reachable. Adjusting the double switch ignition is not simple but a friend of mine managed to fix it.

all photos are of Luc's personal car

ANF:  How do people react to it? Do they know what it is or do they assume it's a Jaguar or Ferrari?

Luc:  Usually people don’t know what it is, they think it’s a unique car or a prototype. When I say it’s a Toyota, they then ask me if it’s a new model. It always brings a big interest in car connoisseurs, as it’s often the first time they've see one in the metal. Because of its shape and noise, it’s not a discrete vehicle - one must be prepared to make new acquaintances at every stop. Women are seduced by its style and Bond heritage.

ANF:  The market for classic Japanese cars in the US has grown substantially in the past
few years, with 2000GT values rising well into six-digit territory. How is the Japanese
classic market in Europe?

Luc:  I've heard interest is growing on the other side of the Atlantic. The younger generation is more open-minded than the old collectors who only believe in well known classic cars. Nowadays a collector, an amateur or a museum curator will show interest in any kind of historically important car, regardless of heritage. This is true for all kinds of cars but I think it’s more obvious for Japanese cars that were totally ignored in the past. Eastern European cars have shown a similar increase in interest over the past decade or two, but the market is still not as strong as it is for Japanese classics. There are so few 2000GT's for sale, and the market is international, with Americans playing with the prices and Japanese who want to repatriate their heritage.

ANF:  How does it handle modern traffic?

Luc:  It’s definitely a small car but visibility is good, considering you’re sitting very low. In traffic, you should be aware of others because they don’t see you. Bumpers are virtually non-existent, and you must anticipate braking distance and keep an eye on every other vehicle in traffic. Another eye must pay attention to the temperature gauge so as not to overheat the engine. The clutch is heavy and the precise gearbox changes demand your constant attention. It was OK in the traffic of the 60’s or 70’s, but today it’s not the car to bring downtown - you’ll get frustrated to stay in first gear most of the time.

ANF:  I recently read that the Japanese are snapping up rare examples of their automotive
heritage from overseas - have you had any offers from Japan to purchase the car?

Luc:  As we discussed before, it’s true the Japanese are looking for nice examples to repatriate. But maybe you know the Japanese are shy with communication, it’s a very big deal for them to establish contact with western people. And in the Nippon way, you never ask for something that is not yours, you wait for it to be offered. So, no, I've never received an offer from Japan.

ANF:  Your website is an exhaustive resource for detailed information on the 2000GT and
seems to be quite a labor of love. How do you find all your pictures, figures and

Luc:  Because I have a bad memory, I wanted to concentrate all information I can get about the 2000GT to find out easily the right thing when I need it. I started this website in 1999. Of course, it was also a way to meet other owners and to inventory all existing 2000GT's. It was without knowing Japanese people at this time and their lack of enthusiasm about what is happening abroad (in my opinion).

In 2002, Shin Yoshikawa published his reference book that became the bible of the 2000GT. I contacted him and he was kind enough to allow me to use the material that he collected over the decades to fill up my pages. I translated the text into French and scanned the pictures, then added a lot more material from my own collection and from other donators.

At the beginning, for the purpose to place the 2000GT in context, I compared the Toyota
to others sports cars of the era like Porsche and Jaguar, but there are many other GT's I
mentioned so I started to make a page for each of them. As I became more versed in Japanese automotive history I added pages to cover this subject as well. I made a true investigation as there was no information available in French, and soon got a big interest in all the unknown cars from Japan that I was discovering and documenting. After a few years it grew to hundreds of pages covering all Japanese makes and their history, including racing and prototypes.

It has grown a lot and the original structure is not used anymore, with many pages only
accessible by through the sitemap. My eventual wish is to split the site in two, with a website purely dedicated to the 2000GT and another one for all other Japanese cars.

ANF:  Are there any other classic Japanese cars you particularly admire or would like to own?

Luc:  A big classic is the Honda NSX for its conception and its performance; it’s a piece of
automotive history by itself. For a contemporary and reliable car I would like a Skyline or the new Toyota GT-86. I really appreciate pre-80’s cars, too - a Nissan Silvia or a Fairlady SR311 will be an elegant choice but are both hard to find. More reasonably, a Honda S800 is a smart option.

ANF:  If money, availability or other constraints weren't an object, what is your ultimate dream car?

Luc:  If money wasn't a matter, I’d probably buy a lot of cars. A BMW Z8 or Audi R8 for a daily driver, a Miura to give a change to the 2000GT and maybe a Maybach Exelero to go out in at night. But you know, a good old Mini Cooper is so much fun!

ANF:  Is there anything I haven't asked that you'd like to add?

Luc:  I'd like to say if I have a special interest in Japanese cars, it’s not only because I own a Toyota, it’s also because information was scarce and I wanted to complete my automotive collection. I’m an all sportive car nut guy, and I have enough material to make a website about many cars, including the Countach, DeLorean or the Puma GT.

Many thanks to Luc for agreeing to be interviewed and for his thoughtful and thorough answers!