I’m Jim Donnelly, and thanks for stopping by my new website, Jim Donnelly On Wheels. Some of you already know who I am. I was previously the senior editor of Hemmings Motor News in Bennington, Vermont, and before that, I held a bunch of positions at a daily newspaper in the Philadelphia area, including automotive and motorsport writer. I hold more than 50 journalism awards and have been in this life for more than 40 years. My home base now is Daytona Beach, Florida, down the road from the House that Bill France Built. My current list of writing clients, besides Hemmings, includes Speed Sport, PRI Magazine and Crankshaft, where I serve as senior editor. I’ve written books about my friend Don Miller, the former president of Penske Racing and a mega car guy; and one on the history of automotive advertising. What I hope to accomplish here is to share some of the stuff that I consider so worthy, inspiring and, really, life-changing. The automobile unhitched us all from the pieces of dirt we once called home. Going fast brought us thrills. Watching others compete in cars made us marvel at people with such limitless skills, determination and fortitude. Cars upended our whole existence totally and irreversibly, the same way that computers are doing today, so it’s entirely appropriate to marry the two of them here. What you’re going to find here is fresh info on what’s going on in the world of cars, what’s innovative, history that’s worth remembering, roads worth driving, races worth attending, books worth reading, cars worth buying, and maybe even some places to dine that are worth a stop when you’re out on the highways. No politics. I’ll leave that sordid topic to those who claim to know it. Let’s get rolling, because this is going to be a hell of a ride we’re going on together.
Before we tell you what this book is about, let us explain why it’s important. Books on auto racing tend to focus on drivers because they’re the stars of the show. You have to look long, and hard, to find a story that tells how the spectacle of motorsport actually takes place, which is due to the labors of a lot of people who don’t necessarily wear helmets. This wonderful volume is exactly that kind of book. If you don’t know who Roger Bailey is, he’s a longtime mechanic and team manager in top-level auto racing who, along with the late Pat Patrick, founded an organization called the American Racing Series for would-be Indy drivers looking for reasonably affordable seat time. In 1991, the ARS was reborn as today’s Indy Lights series, the top tier of the Road to Indy program that Bailey ran until his retirement in 2012. The Indy Lights program is one of racing’s premier training grounds; its champions that have gone on to INDYCAR stardom include Tony Kanaan, Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward.
Boost! Roger Bailey’s Extraordinary Motor Racing Career is the brainchild of acclaimed motorsport journalist Gordon Kirby and bears the imprint of Racemaker Press in Boston, which stands nearly alone on these shores when it comes to publishing meticulously researched works on racing history like this one. Boost – it’s both the title and Bailey’s nickname – takes you through his early days in England where he labored on tube-chassis formula cars before he made his way to America, first gaining acclaim as the boss of Roger Penske’s team effort in the wild Can-Am series. This book, which runs to 210 beautifully produced pages, is also the definitive Indy Lights history, augmented with a full rundown of champions and race winners. At $60.00, it’s a delight for serious fans of American open-wheel racing.
Sure, it’s immediately recognizable. What first-generation Mustang isn’t? Only this one is linked to Ford mostly through inspiration. Very little that you see on this 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang convertible arrives by way of Dearborn. Instead, this show-quality Mustang, known as “CAGED,” is a ground-up effort undertaken by Ringbrothers of Spring Green, Wisconsin, which produces billet specialty components for vintage Mustangs but has obviously gone considerably further by creating CAGED from scratch.
Astonishingly, virtually every component on CAGED – except the basic body – is a custom piece crafted by Ringbrothers, the only actual Mustang components supplied by Ford being the center caps of the billet wheels. Metalwork included converting the Roadster Shop frame underneath the car into an actual unitized body structure, which was widened and lengthened by 1 inch over stock dimensions, with the grille sunk 2 inches deeper in the bodywork. Power comes from a 5.0-liter Ford Performance Coyote engine linked to Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission. Everything rides on a chassis with a tuning job based around the use of Penske Racing Shocks.
Mecum auctions has been hammering some big bucks this year, leading with the highest-dollar car auction ever held down the road in Kissimmee, Florida, this past January, and seguing on to Mecum’s most recent big sale in Pennsylvania’s capital city, Harrisburg. What started out as a fairly modest sale has gone all-the-way bonkers, with Mecum ringing up a record $40 million in business in Harrisburg, blowing away the previous event record of $31 million by more than 30 percent, a genuine eye-opener. And while it wasn’t the top sale at Harrisburg – that distinction went to a 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT Black Series that rang the bell at $473,000 – we were more impressed at one of the other Top 10 sales.
The third-highest sale at Harrisburg, after the AMG GT and a very sharp 1985 Lamborghini Countach LP5000S, was what you see here. It was a fully loaded 1977 Pontiac Trans Am with snowflake wheels and the prized “Bandit” color scheme, which had just 14 actual miles showing on its odometer. This amazingly original, untouched Trans Am ended up selling for an outstanding $440,000, just behind the Countach and ahead of a brace of collectible Corvettes. Given its no-miles status, it’s hard to make this a hard-and-fast barometer for future F-body sales, but golly, what a number.
Mercedes-Benz USA is in the process of dividing into separate business units depending on the type of vehicles being created, with Mercedes-EQ being the new moniker for the company’s segment that sells and services electric vehicles. In the firm’s North American manufacturing base of Alabama, a new educational program is just being launched that will help everyone in the chain of command, from dealership staff to corporate executives, to familiarize themselves with the new world of marketing EVs. At Mercedes-Benz, the process is called the Mercedes-EQ Experience, and it provides three days of immersive training on just how the new generations of EVs will be engineered, sold and serviced.
The training days – they’re called, in order, Connect, Charge Up and Electrify – will include both virtual and hands-on training about the EV experience, encompassing, as shown here, real-time education on the linear nature of electric power and the way it transforms vehicle dynamics. Since they’re on the front lines of automotive retailing, the Mercedes-Benz dealer workforce will be set aside for special attention on conveying to buyers why this technological leap is so fundamental to all of us. Team-based competitions will be part of the EV curriculum.
In the world of international racing on road circuits, SRO Motorsports is a major player, especially near its home base in Europe, where it presents events for GTs and touring cars that culminated in its 24-hour race at the historic Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. That was where the group announced a very busy 2023 schedule for its arm on these shores, SRO Motorsports America, which will present seven race weekends next year capped by a new, eight-hour endurance event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in early October.
As the graphic indicates, SRO Motorsports American presents four separate series stateside for both GT and touring cars. We profiled this organization very recently for PRI Magazine, where the organizers discussed their formula of offering well-regulated classes for production-based race cars and drivers who have expressed the goal of moving up to more advanced classes. The categories allow future pros to work out with everything from basic touring sedans all the way up to the much more demanding, and expensive, GT3-type machinery
The SL-Class of two-seat roadsters from Mercedes-Benz has swung over the past 70 years or so from the brand’s most exclusive performance roadsters to succeeding generations of open-top cars that succeeded most at letting their monied owners be seen while cruising, generally slowly. At Mercedes-Benz, the pendulum of performance for its open two-seaters – dare we use the Jaguar term? – is about to swing back toward going fast in a very big way, as the firm reveals pricing and equipment levels for the 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL, which is going to be about a lot more than tousling your hair.
The biggest change here, technologically speaking, is that the new performance SL will be the first such roadster from Mercedes-Benz offered with an AMG-massaged 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system. The new AMG-SL also debuts a delightfully interesting multi-link front suspension, with five individual small control arms for improved kinetics, all arranged within the confines of each front wheel’s inner rim, with a similarly organized five-link setup at the rear. Pricing will commence at $137,400 for the AMG SL 55, with the AMG SL 63, the big kahuna here, upping the ante to a base of $178,100. Each model will be offered in Touring and Performance variant, with the level of individual personalization options that you’d expect at this lofty level.
Chattanooga, Tennessee, is the home of one of the United States’ pioneering speed shops as first opened by Honest Charley Card. It’s currently the site of a very welcoming and well-attended concours for vintage automobiles. And between all this, it’s become the home of a cutting-edge assembly plant where Volkswagen builds a variety of vehicles in this country. This week, that number of Chattanooga-born Volkswagens was boosted with a new model, as the first domestic production version of the new all-electric ID.4 exited the line. As Volkswagen of America makes clear, this pioneering ID.4 is going to be joined by a lot of company very soon.
Initially, the ID.4 will be built and sold as a rear-drive vehicle or with all-wheel drive with 82 kWh battery capacity. Volkswagen says the first customer cars will reach showrooms from Chattanooga in October, with production ramping up to 7,000 units monthly in the fourth quarter of 2022. To this end, Volkswagen is in the process of hiring 1,000 new assembly techs to staff the ID.4 line in Chattanooga. Production is expected to escalate still further as 2023 unfolds. Up next for Volkswagen: the 2024 debut of the ID.Buzz, the all-electric reinterpretation of the fabled Samba microbus.
This is big news: BMW hasn’t fielded a car in the premier class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans since 1999, when it captured the overall victory in the French endurance classic. A year after debuting the car and its V-8 hybrid powertrain in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship on these shores, the corps from Bavaria has announced it will contest both Le Mans and the FIA World Endurance Championship beginning in 2024. The first prototype chassis with the V-8 hybrid powertrain turned its initial test laps this week at the Dallara test track in Italy.
BMW’s performance partner in the U.S. is Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which took part in the Dallara test and will be doing more work stateside before the engine and chassis concept makes its debut next February during the Rolex 24 at Daytona. For those of us who remember the 3.0 CSL “Batmobiles” that uncorked their thunder at Le Mans and elsewhere during the 1970s, this is a welcome happening indeed.
Maserati had already offered an extreme, track day-only supercar to its faithful, the Maserati MC20, and it isn’t stopping there. To satisfy those at the pinnacle of all-out performance, the house of the trident has announced a new, even more exclusive screamer for the monied faithful. The name of the car is Project24, and it will be built in an ultra-limited production run of just 62 units for worldwide sale.
Project24 takes the basics, if that’s the right word, of the MC20 and elevates them from there. The process begins with its Nettuno-named V-6, which gets a pair of new turbochargers that will boost the Project24’s output to 740 horsepower. Added to the mix are a new carbon-ceramic braking system, race-only tires and a full suite of internal safety technology mandated by the FIA, the governing body of international motorsport. To repeat, this is a non-road car only, with a projected fighting weight of less than 1,250 kilograms, which works out to 2,755 pounds by our non-metric measure.
Chronic chip shortages and distribution headaches notwithstanding, the auto industry is moving ahead secure in the knowledge that there’s still going to be a market for new cars in the future, which is right now. A relevant piece of evidence comes from Cadillac, which this week unveiled its newest design study, the CELESTIQ, which will be making appearances at high-end automotive salons and providing a glimpse of what Cadillac will likely produce in some form in coming years as a flagship sedan, with electric power centrally designed into the concept.
With four doors and an obviously broad stance, the CELESTIQ is intended to evoke past Cadillacs such as the V-16 leviathans of the 1930s and the later, handbuilt Eldorado Brougham of 1957 and 1958 with its signature brushed stainless-steel roof treatment. And is it just us, or is there a strong hint of the Porsche Panamera in there someplace? Riding on a modified version of the General Motors Ultium EV platform, the CELESTIQ also reportedly draws inspiration from the architecture of Eero Saarinen, who designed the current GM Global Technical Center campus where a lot of work on this concept is taking place. One such advance is its smart glass roof, which makes use of suspended particle technology to constantly adjust the roof’s tinting level.