Journalism is my life. I've been at it since the 1970s, starting in news and developing specialties in covering automobiles and motorsport. I hold more than 50 journalism awards for work in both newspapers and magazines. I have developed a global audience during my career.
Think about it: Those two great American icons of the automobile, Mickey Thompson and Carroll Shelby, never cooperated on a vehicle together, in large part because each man’s road map through the industry and racing took such very different courses. Shelby was a Le Mans winner and a folk hero of international sports cars. Thompson was a hardcore hot rodder and drag racer who attacked Bonneville, Indianapolis and later largely invented stadium off-road competition. If both these guys had sidled up to each other in life and decided to cooperate on a vehicle design, we have a reasonable idea of what might have resulted. Here it is.
You notice they even got the color right? This is the 2021 Ford Shelby F-250 Super Baja, a traditionist off-road that happily rumbles its way right on by current considerations about carbon neutrality and the like. That ain’t no game for this arena, hoss: To be produced in a limited run of just 250 units, the F-250 Super Baja mates the Navistar-built Ford 6.7-liter Power Stroke turbocharged diesel V-8 with a Shelby American-scienced suspension created in collaboration with FOX Performance, of off-road shock absorber fame. The Super Baja struts on 18-inch alloy wheels shod with 37-inch BFGoodrich mudder tires, including a pair of spares riding the custom steel chase rack in the cargo bed. Vents, steps, lights and powder-coated trim abound. The stance and vibe speak for themselves. All this and 475 Navistar horsepower. Click to get on line, and if you’re picked, the tariff will be $125,805.
Elsewhere in the industrial powerhouse of South Korea, Kia’s sibling, Hyundai, has had its own newbie to roll out. And more than a vehicle, it’s actually a whole new brand. IONIQ, all upper case as per Hyundai style, is its nameplate for in-house EVs, which it marked this week by introducing the IONIQ 5, using the corporation’s BEV platform that’s exclusively earmarked for electric vehicles. The BEV derivative it rides on is known internally as E-GMP, standing for Electric-Global Modular Platform, an architecture that allowed the vehicle’s wheelbase to be extended as you can see in the photo, which comes to the round number of 3,000 millimeters. That treatment is intended to remind buyers of the humble vehicle that led Hyundai to its present station in global industrialization.
Look analytically at the interplay between the front fascia – there’s no grille, obviously – the rounded wheel arches, and the angle of the rear backlight. The IONIQ 5 is intended to be reminiscent of the Hyundai Pony, which debuted in 1975, a good decade before Hyundai first arrived to do battle in the U.S. market. So let’s say here that the first Pony was a thoroughly conventional compact sedan with a longitudinal layout and rear-wheel drive. It used engines and transmission supplied by Mitsubishi (the Hyundai Excel that succeeded the Pony, the first car Hyundai actually brought to the U.S., was a knockoff of the Mitsubishi Precis and Hyundai’s first front-drive car), and rode on a chassis designed by the British icon John Crosthwaite, the same guy who created the Lotus Eleven sports racer and later, the Intermeccanica Italia, the handsome, Ford-powered Italian-American collaboration.
We ought to start out by declaring what the new Kia Carnival isn’t before we disclose what it actually is. Initial reaction aside, this is not a rebadged or repurposed Telluride SUV. Instead, the Carnival is a completely new vehicle, probing a segment of the market that’s still early in its evolution. The Carnival is Kia’s entry that replaces the longstanding Sedona minivan, About the only thing the Carnival shares with its predecessor is three rows of seats. The Carnival is described by Kia as a “multi-purpose vehicle,” and despite its decided SUV-ish two-box profile, we need to make clear that by the conventionally accepted defnitions, this is not an SUV.
First, the seven- or eight-passenger Carnival is front-drive only; the standard engine is a best-in-class 3.5-liter V-6 producing 290 horsepower, linked to an eight-speed automatic transmission, and with a standard towing capacity of 3,500 pounds. Styled at Kia’s design complex in California and sharing its new N3 platform with the Sorrento SUV and the K5 sedan, the Carnival boasts a lower-than-normal step-in height, removable bucket seats, and available reclining VIP seats throughout the interior. The center seat can be folded down to create a table inside the cabin. The dashboard incorporates a matched pair of 12.3-inch LCD screens; one for vehicle information, one for infotainment purposes, with the most comprehensive ADAS suite in its segment. Due in the second quarter, the Carnival will be offered in four trim levels.
General Motors has a long, rich and decidedly uneven history in Trumbull County, Ohio. The massive assembly plant it opened in 1966 in Lordstown was one of the domestic auto industry’s first geared solely to producing compact cars. It was tasked with building the crucially important Chevrolet Vega subcompact, but an assembly line speedup led to a bitter national strike against GM in 1972. We all know how the Vega turned out. I have a good friend whose father was then a GM worker and who described his family being forced to live on grilled Spam during the yearlong walkout. Skidding sales of compacts led GM to shut down Lordstown Assembly in 2019 after its final vehicle, a Chevrolet Cruze LS, came down the line. The main plant has been taken over by Lordstown Motors, a startup that plans to build EVs. Elsewhere on the property, GM is making its own moves in that orbit.
This past week, ironworkers at the Lordstown site bolted in the final beam during a “topping out” ceremony for the new plant that’s going up, in which GM and LG Chem will team up to produce battery cells under their joint venture, Ultium Cells LLC. The partners are investing $2.3 billion to build what will ultimately be a 2.8 million-square-foot assembly and shipping operation.When completed next year, the plant will cover the equivalent area of 30 football fields and will have the capacity to produce batteries with the combined capacity of 30 gigawatt hours, with room to expand. Given the Youngstown region’s recent economic history, it’s encouraging to know that GM and LG Chem envision that the Lordstown project will create 1,100 new green-technology jobs in northeastern Ohio.
When it comes to technology that bespeaks uncompromising powertrain sophistication, few concepts get it done as forcefully as a 12-cylinder engine. There’s a guy across the street from here who vintage races an E-Type and an XJS, both with unmuffled Jaguar V-12 power. It’s very enjoyable when he stretches the cats’ legs by blasting up and down the road. You get it. Twelve-cylinder engines have commonly used the vee configuration, meaning that to accommodate one, you usually need a long hood: Think about a 1934 Packard, or a Ferrari 275 GTB/4. Packing twelve cylinders hasn’t always been practical, but there are ways to get it done. Here’s a technically delicious solution from Bentley,
The delightful image from Bentley shows what we’re talking about. A relatively recent strategy for packaging 12 cylinders in compact confines, largely as defined by Bentley, involves adding a third cylinder bank. It’s not easy to pick out visually, but this new 12, earmarked for Bentley’s forthcoming ultra-exclusive Mulliner Bacalar, has a middle cylinder bank rising vertically from the crankshaft bore. Bentley has been doing this for a considerable while, having introduced its first twin-turbocharged W-12 in 2003, and refining the process ever since. So far, the world’s only W-12 to see volume production has been produced by the Volkswagen Group, which happens to own Bentley, and was the source of that 2003 powerplant. It resided in the short-lived luxury Volkswagen Phaeton sedan before being making its way to the Bentley Continental Flying Spur and then back to Volkswagen, where it was offered in the Tourareg. The Mulliner Bacalar engine displaces 6.0 liters and produces 650 horsepower, while also reducing emissions by 28 percent over previous W-12s. Bentley has produced some 100,000 engines of this configuration for Volkswagen Group use at its base in Crewe, England.
Porsche has been so dominant in world motorsport for so long, in so many categories, using so many cars, that its performance hegemony is a given to many of us. Head to any round of the World Endurance Championship and you’ll see how numerous Porsche is, particularly in the non-prototype GT categories. A big part of the reason why is that when the green is unfurled, Porsche is always ready to play. Its most prominent race offerings recently have been the 911 RSR and the 911 GT3, a car so popular that it’s inspired its own racing series. It’s inspired a truly ultra version of the 911, one that proves that you still can buy a genuine race-bred automobile for the road, with that level of capability, for your very own if you choose your manufacturer appropriately.
The 2021 911 GT3 is directly derived from Porsche’s production-themed racing cars. Its double-wishbone front suspension is lifted directly from the 911 RSR, and its aerodynamics, including the swan tail, as it’s now called – “ducktail” is relic of the 1970s RS and Carrera – is similarly sourced. The engine is, again, decisively race-bred. It’s a water-cooled 4.0-liter flat six with dry-sump lubrication and 510 horsepower, running off a compression ratio of 13.3:1 that ought to get your track day positively crackling. Porsche refers to this engine as “acoustically impressive.” Sounds good in our book. The standard transaxle is a six-speed manual. Deliveries, for those with the fortitude to accept them, commence in May.
For the record, it’s not our goal to engage in social commentary, at least of the serious variety. So you can make all the gags you want about people whose motorsport involves both left and right turns preferring fermented grapes to beer. True story: I was under the grandstands at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse one time, looking at the concession offerings for Super DIRT Week. One of the stands offered frozen upstate New York wine – a rose blush, as I recall – molded into a adult popsicle. Perhaps fittingly, given that the race was for Modifieds on a dirt mile, the frozen wine concession wasn’t open. Just saying. Other places, other things: Just now, the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association, an organization that warmly embraces racing cars of the past, has selected Adobe Road wines as the The Official Wine of SVRA, effectively immediately.
This ain’t no exercise for dilettantes, we’ll have you know. That’s because the owner and founder of Adobe Road Winery in Sonoma County, California, is Kevin Buckler, who happens to be a real race driver, not just a vintner (winemaker? winesmith?). Buckler is also founder of The Racers Group, motivating in a series of trick Porsche 911 GT3 cars, and winning the Rolex 24 up the street at Daytona International Speedway back in 2003. Since its founding, Adobe Road Winery has produced more than 90 handcrafted wines that have been peer-reviewed in influential industry publications such as Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. Very impressive, especially for those among us who grew up with an affinity for wines that came in screw-cap bottles and are now broadening our horizons.
Quick, come up with some icons of the 1980s. There’s Don Johnson, Madonna, Hulk Hogan, even Ronald Reagan. In the world of cars, that list from that decade also bristles with the name of Uwe Gemballa. Who, you ask? If you’re posing the question, you clearly were absent from the Porsche enthusiast world during the real All About Me Decade. Gemballa is the brainiac behind a line of epnoymous, wildly customized and painted takeoffs on the Porsche 911 and especially, its awesome turbocharged variant, the 930. If you’re still drawing a blank, think of an outrageously modified powertrain inside a 911 body stretched with straked side intake, gigantic wings, steamroller rubber on BBS wheels, and paint in shades of fuscia pink and the like. That was, and is, a Gemballa, because this faded name of glory is about to make a comeback.
When those Porsches of yore were cobbled together, it was usually the result of a collaboration between Gemballa and RUF Automobile GmbH, the famed Porsche engine specialist and vehicle manufacturer, which functions as kind of an AMG or Alpina for Stuttgart. It’s a fabled pairing in Porscheland, and it’s about to be revived. Marc Philipp Gemballa. the founder’s son, is teaming up with RUF for their latest joint effort, which now has the handle of Project Sandbox. As Marc Gemballa explains, it’s an effort to wildly modify a current 992-series Porsche 911 Turbo S and repurpose it as a supercar with legitimate off-road capability, inspired by the landmark all-wheel-drive Porsche 959 supercar that, in considerably modified form, won the Paris-Dakar Rally back in the 1990s. To keep up with this alliance, whose end result is guaranteed to be anything but visually boring, go here. We do know that RUF will be responsible for the Project Sandbox powertrain, as only it can be, and is already promising 750 horsepower right out of the box.
McLaren has been a lot of things in its existence including a dominant force in Can-Am competition, a revolutionary arrival at the Indianapolis 500, a champion in Formula 1 and to help pay the bills, the purveyor of million-dollar megacars. Like many manufacturers, McLaren, a wellspring of leading-edge British technology, is pivoting to embrace the growing market demand for carbon-neutral road vehicles. McLaren’s response is this week’s introduction of the Artura, the first in what McLaren posits will be an expanding High-Performance Hybrid series of supercars. The Artura is indeed a full hybrid, motivated by the combination of an all-new, twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 with four powertrain modes plus an axial flux electric motor, lithium-ion battery pack and a new eight-speed transmission powering the rear wheels. McLaren assures a 0-60 time of three seconds flat and an electronically limited top end of 205 MPH.
The Artura is the first McLaren road car to incorporate the British firm’s new McLaren Carbon Lightweight Architecture (MCLA) in its underlying design. McLaren operates a composites research center in Sheffield, England, which creates substructures specifically to accommodate the HPH line of powertrains as it develops. For the Artura, the MCLA strategy incorporates a central carbon-fiber safety cell for the occupants, with that monocoque fitted to alloy structures for the chassis/suspension components, with the other subframe dedicated to electrical architecture. The electrical structure incorporates ethernet capability that reduced the necessary amount of electrical cabling by 25 percent, while simultaneously controlling the vehicle’s HVAC system electronically. The narrow 120-degree V-6, with both turbos positioned in its valley for still better packaging, produces 430 horsepower on its own, not factoring in the electrical boost.
Based in Sweden, with major operations getting underway in both France and the United Kingdom, Volta Trucks is an ambitious startup designing fully electric rigs intended for larger-scale delivery use in congested cities. Replacing the conventional diesel engine and transmission allows the chauffeur of the Volta Zero truck, with its 16-ton loaded capacity, to sitting centrally in the cab and much lower than in an oil-consuming rig. Last week, the Volta Zero truck made its debut on the streets of Paris – anyone who’s driven there, such as yours truly, fully understands the hassle that can entail – teamed up with Swoopin, the globally oriented provider of urban-based transportation and logistics services, at a four-week run of customer and supplier events around the City of Light.
Swoopin has added the Volta Zero to its solutions for local deliveries that also include electric vans, cars and e-bikes, supporting the network of last-mile distribution hubs that Swoopin is establishing around Paris. Currently existing law calls for all commercial vehicles powered by internal combustion engines to be prohibited from Paris within two years. The government of France is offering fleet operators incentives of up to 50,000 euros to transition to zero-emissions vehicles for making local deliveries. The Volta Zero/Swoopin evaluation will continue through the end of this month.