Featured

Welcome to the world of going places and having a blast.

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 35 years. 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.

Kia K5’s prime-time strut

Assuming you find this somehow consequential, the Emmy Awards are on TV tonight; we’ll leave it to you to discover the telecast’s time and network. The 72nd annual exercise in self-validation will include some incidences of product placement involving the 2021 Kia K5 sedan, including, believe it or not, a ballyhooed ramp-to-ramp jump. That would seem to be appropriate, given the fact that the awards ceremony is dedicated to the medium that’s brought us The A-Team, T.J. Hooker and countless other performances where this type of stunt is commonplace.

Forgive the yawn and suffocating boredom over the awards fest. The more relevant news is the car itself, the highest-performance midsize sedan that Kia has yet offered. New for 2021, the K5 is obviously inspired thematically by the Kia Stinger sport sedan, and rides on the new N3 platform. While it’s only recently begun reaching the showrooms, the K5 (any car that shares its name with an Altoona Works-built Pennsylvania Railroad steam locomotive is a winner in our book) will be offered in four trim levels, including a pulse-punching GT version, with both available all-wheel-drive, a full lineup of turbocharged engine choices, and eight-speed transaxles in both automatic and manual configurations. Replacing the outgoing Optima sedan, which enjoyed an impressive decade-long run in this market, the Georgia-built K5 grows in wheelbase, overall length and overall width, parameters that can translate into a roomier passenger cabin. Enjoy the show.

Small-size VW SUV is coming

Want some proof that after 30 years (dating, admittedly arbitrarily, to the birth of the Ford Explorer in 1990), the world of the SUV has made a complete revolution of reality? Consider that it was once plain old passenger cars that came in every conceivable size. The SUV market has finally, fully caught up to that concept, as these rigs now come in every proportion from gargantuan (Chevrolet Suburban, Nissan Armada) to miniscule (Chevrolet Trax, Hyundai Kona). At the lower end of the size scale is the crowded array of compact SUVs, a pool from which you can pluck the Subaru Forester, Ford Escape and Honda CR-V, among numerous other players. Volkswagen wants to elbow into this dance, too, and is planning to announce a new compact in about month, slotted below the existing Tiguan. What, you ask, does Tiguan stand for? It’s a German noun that roughly translates to “iguana.” You know, Puerto Vallarta, Liz and Dick and all that.

The teaser photo discloses what Volkswagen has chosen to reveal so far, namely its name, which will be Taos, after the small city in New Mexico. As Volkswagen helpfully notes, Taos is also the hometown of John Muir, the engineer-turned-author who penned the serendipitous volume How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step procedures for the Compleat Idiot in 1969, a hallowed tome for Beetle enthusiasts. Taos was also the hometown of the Dennis Weaver character in the rotating 1970s TV mystery McCloud, a New Mexico marshal improbably transplanted to the concrete canyons of Manhattan. Didn’t resonate with yours truly, whose preferred Dennis Weaver performances include the grossly underrated 1980 antiwar TV movie Amber Waves and of course, his role in Steven Spielburg’s first film, Duel. The Taos will flip Volkswagen from its other SUV rollout this year, the three-row seating Atlas.

Triumph and a title for Toyota

Even without the half million or so souls who ordinarily troop to the Sarthe circuit each June, the rescheduled 24 Hours of Le Mans ended this morning when Toyota made it a threepeat in winning the world’s most fabled endurance race for sports cars. Toyota Gazoo Racing swept two of the top three spots in what was the final Le Mans appearance for the all-wheel0-drive TS050 Hybrid running in the LMP1 class. The winning number 8 Toyota was shared by the team of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley, who logged more than 5,000 kilometers en route to the victory. Sébastien and Kazuki scored their third straight win in the process, joining only seven other drivers who have won three races in consecutive years, a heritage that dates back to when the 24 Hours first ran in 1923.

T

The Le Mans win had an important side benefit: It allowed the Toyota team to amass enough points in the FIA World Endurance Championship to lock down the series’ season team championship for the third time (2014 and 2018-2019), ending up with an unbeatable 57-point margin over Swiss-based Rebellion Racing, which managed to split the podium with one of its Oreca Rebellion R-13s running in LMP1. The Le Mans pole winner, Toyota Gazoo’s number 7 car, suffered exhaust issues during the race but recovered, the lineup of Indianapolis 500 veteran Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López charging in the final hour to place third overall. The WEC drivers title will go down to the series’ final round in Bahrain, set for November 14th.

Hummer EV due next month

Don’t you just love this kind of stuff? Hummer, in its revived guise as a sub-brand of GMC (think LaSalle and Cadillac, Marquette and Buick, or Erskine and Studebaker, only this is anything but a price-positioning gambit), is getting ready to roll out its first – only – all-electric pickup truck and has been periodically issuing forth a series of teasers on what the vehicle will be all about. This latest entry sets the formal Hummer EV rollout for October 20th, while also providing a hint of some performance capabilities. The Hummer EV will come with both four-wheel steering and what’s being called Crab Mode, a feature that will allow the rig to move diagonally, guided by all four wheels.

That helps to explain why this Great Leap Sideways has the little guy in the corner of the photo as a prop. The Hummer EV, which will have the equivalent of 1,000 horsepower and a 0-60 time of three seconds flat, can move in a crablike fashion. Which brings us to crabs, a highly enjoyable dining experience, even if getting them in the shell can amount to a messy eating experience that involves a heap of spiced, steamed crustaceans, a mallet, a flat knife for prying the shell, newspaper spread over a butcher-block table, and a big roll of paper towels. Plus, for many of us, a bib. My favorite place is Phillips Seafood in the inner harbor of Baltimore, followed closely by the legendary Sambo’s Tavern along the water off Route 9 in Leipsic, Delaware. Haven’t gotten to sample the crab scene in Florida yet due to the pandemic.

Ford Ranger shakes it up

Under most circumstances, at least when you’re discussing human behavior, “tremor” doesn’t usually connote something good. Unless, of course, that behavior involves joyful bashing in the boonies. That’s the kind of edge, pun intended, that Ford has grabbed onto in announcing a new off-road option package for its reinvented Ranger midsize pickup. Take a look at the rig in the manufacturer’s photo. See some familiar themes? The Ranger Tremor’s high-ride stance and wildly aggressive tire-and-wheel combo is a page ripped from the playbook of the F-Series Raptor, a similarly themed option that turned the full-size Ford truck into an off-the-lot interpretation of the Baja prerunner that’s all ready to go right from the dealership.

Ford describes this as the most bush-capable pickup it’s ever offered in the long history of the Ranger, which dates back to when it was built in the Ford plant in Edison Township, New Jersey, that was razed closed to 20 years ago. So this is a long and proud segment of blue-oval heritage. The Tremor is all about stance, a characteristic enabled by FOX monotube shock absorbers and rear piggyback reservoirs, tuned front coilover and rear leaf springs, huge General Grabber tires under wider fender lips and skidplates underneath. The Tremor package will also include package-specific seats with Miko suede-like inserts. We especially like another nicety from recent F-Series practice, extensive power-exporting capability, manifested here by a six-switch, dash-mounted auxiliary power switch panel that can run lights, compressors and winches, just for openers. The standard powertrain is a 2.3-liter EcoBoost with 270 horsepower linked to a 10-speed automatic transmission.

50 years later, a new Z-car

You likely saw our review recently about Motorbooks releasing Peter Evanow’s 50-year history of the Nissan Z sports coupe. Nissan, we’re here to say, has gone a long stride farther by publicly declaring its intentions to reinvent this pivotal sporting automobile from Japan. This week, Nissan rolled out its Z Proto design study, one of 10 proposed vehicles that the automaker plans to begin building over the next 20 months. Nissan has a history of doing these sort of multi-vehicle teases in the past; this one took place at the 33rd annual International Z Convention, which is being held this week in Franklin, Tennessee, Nissan’s current U.S. home. To say this is a proud heritage is an understatement: The original 240Z was a sweeping declaration that redefined Japanese cars when it was introduced in 1970. More than 1.35 million Zs have been sold since then, raced everywhere from Daytona to the Safari Rally in Africa, and campaigned by racing luminaries ranging from John Morton and Bob Sharp to Sharp’s longtime racing sidekick, P.L. Newman.

We can make a couple of immediate observations about the Z Proto. First, it will clearly continue the thematic purity of the original Z, a front-engine, rear-drive GT coupe with a longitudinal powertrain layout. Next, we’ll bet that the pearlescent yellow color scheme of the prototype makes it to the showrooms, given that it was an available shade on the first-generation car. The sharp, arrogant lines, especially up front, do more than just hint at what this car is going to deliver when it arrives for real. While full specifications will have to wait, the limited stats Nissan has released so far for the Z Proto indicated that it’s going to be a serious player that will have the Toyota Supra squarely in its crosshairs: Twin-turbo V-6 power, a standard six-speed manual transmission, and 255-/285-series tires on huge, aggressive 19-inch wheels. Given the timeline involved, this ought to be reasonably close to the final product. Among the other forthcoming Nissans being shown at the Z gathering are new generations of the Rogue, Sentra, and the coming all-electric Ariya crossover.

Eight generations of Corvette lore

Did the world really need another book about the Chevrolet Corvette’s history? In a word, yes, because this year has seen the rollout of the American sporting icon’s eighth generation, this time as a true mid-engine car, a concept that’s been the topic of teases and design studies dating back to the 1960s. The coming of the C8 was enormous news, and the car utterly transformed what a Corvette is all about. It was a big happening, which deserved a big book, by a big-name automotive historian, to tell it all properly. This is a case of book whose heft matches up cleanly with the import of its subject matter.

The Complete Book of Corvette, by Mike Mueller, has been in the catalog of Quarto’s imprint, Motorbooks, since 2014. The arrival of the C8, to enormous acclaim, justified a reissuing of this title in an expanded and updated format. It’s very hefty, a large-format hardcover running to 320 pages, with 425 illustrations, whose text undertakes a year-by-year accounting of all Corvette models reaching from 1953 to, literally, the present day. The author is a long-established standby of Quarto’s portfolio of Chevrolet performance titles, including history works on the Chevelle, Camaro and the small-block V-8 engine. As a photo-rich, single-volume history, Mueller’s work on the Corvette squarely hits all the high spots, with strong attention paid to benchmark engineering studies such as the CERV Corvettes, the Mako Shark design studies, the stillborn rotary-engine cars, and the IMSA GTP and Corvette Challenge race cars. The underappreciated, Lotus-massaged Corvette ZR-1 of the 1990s rates its own section of the book. Each model gets its own data panel, engineering cutaways are liberally applied throughout the text, and the Corvette immortals such as Arkus-Duntov, McLellan and Thompson receive their due reverence. An appendix lists every Corvette option by code or RPO number from the very beginning. This is a useful, welcome one-volume history of an American automotive legend. The U.S. price is $55.00.

All dressed in blue at FCA

Lots of people, including yours truly, make a habit of memorizing the shape of illuminated headlamps installed on vehicles associated with patrol duties by law enforcement. It’s always kind of useful to know when it’s potentially one of the folks in blue (or gray, or brown, or green in these parts) is occupying your rear-view mirror. Most recently, you spend a lot of your time looking for the cat’s-eye shape of Ford Explorer headlamps and their surrounding bezels. It can pay, literally, to get acquainted with what more vehicles than the Explorer resemble. To that end, we offer the latest law-enforcement news from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which is rolling out the 2021 editions of the Dodge Charger Pursuit and the Dodge Durango Pursuit.

Yep, they’ve got distinctive headlamps that are worth memorizing, too, especially in Daytime Running Light guise. Both of the new Dodge-badged police vehicles exceed their previous performance parameters, even when powered by the standard Pentastar 3.6-liter SOHC V-6, a Chrysler powertrain staple that can trace its roots to 1993. With this engine, mated to standard all-wheel-drive an an eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission, the Charger Pursuit will still reach an electronically governed maximum speed of 140 MPH. The Durago pursuit adds an instrument panel-mounted transmission selector to free up space in the center console for communications gear and such, along with three-zone heating and air conditioning that will be ideal for Durango Pursuits assigned to K-9 duties. Naturally, Hemi power is available on both vehicles for those agencies looking to shorten long-distance highway chases.

Making the Mini into a marque

Today, the car’s name is spelled out in upper-case letters, an acknowledgement of its ownership by BMW since 2000. But in the early 1960s, the Mini, lower case, was a product of British Motor Corporation and had yet to prove its mettle on the field of global motorsport, despite hugely innovative advances in layout and packaging via its designer, Sir Alec Issigonis. Even in its high-performance guise as the Mini Cooper, the tiny Austin sedan still had a 1,275cc engine (and again, this was the big-displacement performance model) turned sideways in its front subframe, along with a transaxle powering the front wheels, a simplified hydrostatic suspension, and all four wheels forcibly pushed outward to the corners of the car. It rode on tiny 10-inch wheels. It was roomy, surprisingly agile and undeniably cute, but the Mini hadn’t proven itself in combat yet. Then along came the guy in this photo, Paddy Hopkirk, a native of Northern Ireland and hillclimb specialist who was hired by BMC to take the Mini rallying.

Then as now, Europe’s most prestigious competition for production-based automobiles was the grueling Monte Carlo Rally, contested off and on since 1911. By the time the Mini was introduced, the wintertime event had been recently been commanded by the likes of Hotchkiss, Sunbeam-Talbot and most recently, another front-drive curiosity, the Saab 96. For the 1964 running, BMC fielded a brace of Mini Cooper S sedans with Hopkirk as lead driver. Hopkirk started out from Minsk, the Soviet industrial city, where he snagged a can of Russian caviar to keep him fortified during the run. It quickly settled into a second-by-second struggle between the six-car Mini team and a stable of factory-backed Ford Falcon Sprints with V-8 power, engineered in part by Holman-Moody, which ran Ford’s NASCAR team out of Charlotte. The battle was joined for real at the icy, dead-of-night Col de Turini mountain stage across the French Alps, where the Mini Cooper’s superior control despite limited grip allowed Hopkirk to erase a 14-minute advantage that the lead Falcon held during that one stage. Hopkirk’s drive instantly became the stuff of Monte Carlo legend, and led to an overall win by the tiny, underpowered upstarts from Great Britain. Hopkirk was immediately lionized as a British national hero, earning a handwritten postcard from the Beatles welcoming him as the group’s unofficial fifth member. The Mini, the Beatles and Hopkirk all became British icons during the same unforgettable era, and Mini Coopers would sweep two of the next three Monte Carlo events, the sole departure being the 1966 rally, when the three leading Mini Coopers were disqualified for using non-dipping single-beam headlamps instead of production units, a regulatory bungle that stands alone among Monte Carlo Rally controversies. Now 87, Hopkirk is an elder statesman of both BMW-owned MINI and British motorsport, having eased the way for other Ulstermen in racing including John Watson and Eddie Irvine, both of whom enjoyed significant success in Formula 1.

Even more McLaren exclusivity

If you’re in a realistic position to acquire a McLaren 620R supercar – which means you’re already capable of throwing down a million bucks and then some – your bona fides as a player in the world of expensive cars are already firmly laid down. Of course, that’s never enough for some of us. That’s why McLaren Automotive, part of a three-element speed conglomerate in Woking, Surrey, in the United Kingdom, is coming up with a special edition of the track-ready rocket specifically for buyers in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The new MSO R Pack – it stands for McLaren Special Operations – includes a carbon-fiber roof scoop with a gloss finish, titanium exhaust exits, fender louvers and carbon-fiber interior trim fittings.

It’s not all visual, either, as McLaren claims the R Pack’s titanium exhaust will add five decibels to the 620R’s aural output, which ought to be considerable: The 620R’s M838TE twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V-8, a direct knockoff of McLaren’s race engine, produces 610 horsepower, enough to boot the carbon fiber-chassis supercar from zero to 62.5 MPH – that’s 100 km/hr – in 2.9 seconds, with an advertised maximum velocity of 200 MPH flat.