Full disclosure: I’ve had to have my vision corrected since I’ve been about six years ago, and about 20 years ago, I put down some serious cash when I was getting new glasses for some carbon-fiber frames. It was super trick, utterly weightless and tungsten-tough, just like the myriad of components made of composite filaments that are used in virtually every genre of professional-level motorsport for its extremely high shear resistance and minimal poundage. The glasses were cool and a lot more discreet than the poseurs who used to strut around with carbon-fiber briefcases that probably cost them a couple of grand and were just as probably empty. Let’s look at an exercise that has legitimate meaning.
At a very appropriate location, Texas Motor Speedway, and in the sprawling state where Carroll Shelby first worked his magic, Ford Performance Parts debuted a quartet of add-on, aftermarket carbon-fiber accessories for the inordinately robust Mustang Shelby GT500, introduced last year, and which you can buy through any Ford dealership. For truly dedicated go-fast people, Ford is offering a hood vent and rain tray kit, rear decklid trim panel, front bumper insert that slots between the upper and lower air intakes, which is prominently featured in the image along with a new front splitter with integrated belly pan. Besides a strong dose of personalization and, yes, bragging rights, the accessories have practical value. The hood vent and tray weighs four pounds, about half the stock unit’s poundage. None of this is easily bought – the kits’ MSRPs run from $575 up to $1,820 less installation. But when you’re talking about a sport coupe with 760 supercharged horsepower from just 5.2 liters and a base price just under $73,000, everything’s relative.
A second major manufacturing facility for EV battery production has been announced by General Motors and consumer giant LG Energy Solutions, which will ante up an estimated $2.3 billion to tool up their jointly operated Ultium battery cell plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee – where GM used to build Saturn automobiles – with a projected opening date in late 2023. It won’t be a repurposed Saturn assembly line, but instead a wholly new production site occupying about 2.8 million square feet. Ultium battery cells will be made there, via an anticipated 1,300 new jobs, and then shipped to the former Saturn factory on site. It joins another GM/LG alliance on batteries, where their first plant, on the historic GM site in Lordstown, Ohio, is currently under construction. The first vehicle on tap for EV assembly at Spring Hill is the forthcoming Cadillac LYRIQ crossover, while production of the ICE-powered Cadillac XT6 and XT5 continues at the existing Spring Hill plant.
The announcement late last week by GM and LG prompted Big Labor to weigh in on its implications for autoworkers. The Associated Press reported on Saturday that the United Auto Workers is now calling on GM to pay full union wages at Spring Hill, the same money it pays to line workers building non-EVs at GM plants, which can typically run now to $31 hourly. In announcing the imminent Lordstown deal two years ago, GM said workers at the new plant would be paid as component manufacturers, compensated at a lower hourly rate than line workers already building vehicles at existing GM plants. The AP speculated that the wage issue may draw the attention of the Biden administration, which has pushed strongly for an industry-wide switch from ICE propulsion to EVs, promoting the changeover as a potential source of high-paying union jobs.
Formula 1 is launching its 2021 season today at Imola in Italy, but the bigger news to emerge from F1’s opening round is the news that after years – or is it decades? – of speculation, the premier series of global motorsport has a 10-year deal to race on a new street circuit in the city of Miami Gardens that will snake around the perimeter of Hard Rock Stadium, home to the Orange Bowl, the University of Miami Hurricanes and the NFL Miami Dolphins. The Miami Herald reported today that F1 chief Stefano Domenicali issued a statement confirming the agreement earlier today from the track at Imola. The announcement caps a multi-year effort by Dolphins executives Stephen Ross and Tom Garfinkel, who own the Hard Rock facility, to build interest in an international race. According to the Herald, preliminary plans call for a temporary 3.4-mile course with 19 corners to encircle the stadium.
It’s difficult to adequately express just how big an event this is likely to be in Miami, perhaps the United States’ most “international” and diverse metropolitan area outside Los Angeles and New York City. Hard Rock Stadium is already a serious contender in the soccer universe to host the 2026 World Cup, possibly even including the championship match. With apologies to Homestead-Miami Speedway, the metro Dade County region has been looking for an extravaganza like this ever since the late visionary Ralph Sanchez ended the terrific run of the Miami Grand Prix, which dated back to the 1980s, even getting its props in the opening credits of Miami Vice. This will be F1’s second venue in the United States, joining the Circuit of the Americas outside Austin, Texas, and the 11th locale for F1 on these shores since the modern era of the sport began in 1950.
This is a discussion about a great racing series that’s recently had a sensational new work of history written about it. Through 1970, dirt tracks, nearly all of them a mile in length, were part of the United States Auto Club’s national championship series, which was crowned by the Indianapolis 500. For a variety of reasons, USAC broke the dirt tracks into their own standalone series beginning in 1971 and dubbed it the Silver Crown series. They’re big, beautiful open-wheel racing cars, pure in their lines, that now run a variety of tracks, dirt and pavement. They form a direct linkage of purpose with the Big Cars from the earliest days of American championship racing. The races have strong historical significance. Ask any race driver whether winning the Hoosier Hundred is a big deal. This is the story of Silver Crown racing during its standalone years. The story took four authors to adequately convey, and three of them are enshrined in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa, as media members.
The trifecta of Hall of Famers are Bob Mays, Dr. Patrick Sullivan and John Mahoney, the latter one of the greatest open-wheel photographers to ever sling an SLR, ably assisted by USAC media whiz and statistician Richie Murray. With that lineup, how can Rolling Thunder miss? Its 370 hardcover pages dotted with dazzling images by Mahoney and Mays, and with an achingly detailed narrative that misses absolutely nothing, this is a gotta-have book for any serious racing history aficionado. The stats alone run to more than 130 pages. It’s 50 well-spent bucks and one place to find it is at Coastal 181 in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
Very recently, I penned a retrospective for Speed Sporton the legendary Air Force general Curtis E. LeMay, who did a great deal to make sports cars popular by letting them run organized races on Strategic Air Command bases. You could say that old Bombs Away LeMay largely invented the need for sports cars in the United States. A terrific guy, and a fantastic interview, deservedly gets just as much credit for providing the cars to scratch the itch LeMay discovered. Kas Kastner, who passed away this week in California, was an icon whose experience reached back to when import roadsters first started arriving here in great numbers. A native of upstate New York, Robert W. Kastner became enamored of Triumph sports cars early on because they were the only British crocks capable of cradling his 6 foot, 4 inch frame.
Almost immediately after arriving in Los Angeles, Kas got himself named service supervisor for the distributor who handled Triumph sales on the West Coast. He was immersed in the wild world of California sports car racing, attending the first events run at Pebble Beach and later winning a regional SCCA championship in F Production aboard a TR3, plus a prized Cal Club title. He later went on to work as a team manager in Indy cars and Formula 5000 before captaining Nissan’s full factory effort in IMSA GTP during the 1980s. I was lucky enough to interview this terrific guy for Hemmings, and you can read the story here. Rest in peace, big guy, and thanks for everything.
With about 630 dealers nationally, Mazda is in what might be called the second tier of auto manufacturers in the North America market from a volume standpoint. Which means that proportionally, any investment in new technology or a redirected marketing thrust inherently involves more risk. When you’re smaller, bad decisions can have weightier consequences. So it’s gratifying to know that Mazda is getting on the right side of technical advancement, buyer demand and plain old social responsibility by announcing its first fully electric vehicle, the MX-30, extending the firm’s Kodo theme of product design to a new category and propulsion mode. The MX-30 will go on sale this fall, first in California, with a powertrain that delivers the electric equivalent of 144 horsepower and a 35.5 kWh lithium-ion battery that can be fast-charged to 80 percent capacity in 36 minutes.
There’s more to come from Mazda on this front in the future, one of which will be a hybrid variant of the MX-30 that incorporates the company’s SKYACTIV internal-combustion powertrain portfolio with a rotary generator that will replenish the battery rather than powering the drive wheels, as hybrids have been commonly defined to this point. A more traditional hybrid powertrain will go into Mazda’s forthcoming U.S.-built crossover and its large-vehicle platform, which is also in the works. Mazda North American Operations is partnering with ChargePoint to offer recharging capability in the United States, starting with the MX-30.
Its appearance newly freshened, the wildly successful Ford Explorer is growing its selection of models for 2021 by a round number of three, led by a new Enthusiast ST, which Ford flatly bills as the most powerful Explorer since the all-conquering SUV first arrived in 1990. Ford already markets a performance version of the Explorer, the ST, which has been so popular that it now accounts for about a fifth of total Explorer sales. Buying an ST means you get the 3.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged V-6 that makes an even 400 horsepower, the same six on steroids that goes into Police Interceptor versions of the Explorer and Taurus. It’s mated to a 10-speed SelectShift automatic transmission. Of course, performance underpinning star in this show, as well.
The Enthusiast ST takes all those mechanicals and makes them the new Standard Equipment Group for the ST range, a realignment that Ford says has created a lower-priced performance Explorer, albeit with an MSRP that’s still north of 48 large. Ford advertises a top track speed for the Enthusiast ST of 143 MPH, combined with a standard towing capacity of up to 5,600 pounds. Leather seating with Miko perforated inserts, the Ford Co-Pilot360 technology suite, heated steering wheel and a 12.3 digital cluster. Interestingly, Ford is also rolling out a rear-drive-only Explorer Platinum, and even bigger, a Platinum Hybrid.
Volta Trucks is based in Sweden is firmly convinced it’s got a solid product in the Volta Zero, the world’s first purpose-built, all-electric truck aimed at making local deliveries in congested urban areas, with a 16-ton load capacity. We noted last year that the Zero was about to start a real-world trial on the streets of London. Volta now operates offices in the United Kingdom and France, and is in the process of a serious expansion of its footprint. Full details will come later, but Volta last week disclosed that’s evaluating a former Nissan manufacturing facility in Barcelona, which is now designated as an element in that city’s Decarbonisation Hub project.
We consider the Volta Zero to be hugely appealing ergonomically for its drivers: Check out the center seating position in the cab, and the positioning of the side-view mirrors. The announcement about the Spanish plant comes as Volta is expanding its cross-Europe introduction of the electric truck. Setting up operations in Spain could provide Volta with a beachhead for emerging EV markets in southern Europe. Along with the Nissan site in Barcelona, Volta is also evaluating sites for manufacturing expansion in the U.K. and elsewhere on the Continent.
I need to make it clear here that I have a relationship with Mecum Auctions, a good one, which at various times has involved me writing about some of their auction offerings, or getting background information on notable cars from Dana Mecum and his staff. Most recently, Dana, in his role as an authority on Miller race cars, provided a game-winning assist on a story for the inaugural issue of Crankshaft on a Miller 122 from the 1920s. So around here, we pay attention to what these guys do. The latest entry on that front comes as Mecum disclosed plans to add a new sale of collector vehicles and memorabilia at the second edition of the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival, set for October 15th through 17th after the 2020 edition was kayoed by the coronavirus. While details of the sale have yet to be worked out, Mecum notes accurately that the host city is within a day’s drive of half the U.S. population. The current framework looks to 600 vehicles being sold over two days.
The other big news on the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival involves the guy on the left of the photo above. It’s Corky Coker, whose real first name is Joseph, and who has been one of the old-car hobby’s most influential figures over the past 50 years. Corky, whose father founded Coker Tires in Chattanooga, has been named grand marshal for the 2021 festival, succeeding the guy on the right, the racing legend from Lancashire, Brian Redman, who did the same duties at the inaugural event. Corky sold the tire company in 2018, but has been active in the administration of The Great Race, the annual rally for historic vehicles. He also operates Honest Charley Speed Shop, also based in Chattanooga, which was one of the first major American retailers of performance gear back in the 1940s.
Automotive history will tell you that the biggest factor in the death of the electric car 100 years ago was that using it for anything but around-town driving wasn’t feasible. For one thing, there were no provisions for replenishing its supply of electricity and for another, improved roads didn’t very far beyond America’s cities. To varying levels, that’s been part of the rap on EVs ever since, that they couldn’t function as realistic options for long-distance transportation. The auto industry has invested heavily in technology to correct that impression after all this time. Creating the need for electric power through marketing will be another part of that campaign. Here’s an example, from Volkswagen, which went on a coast-to-coast demonstration drive – another thing that automakers did 100 years ago – to demonstrate that electric cars are indeed workable.
The all-electric ID.4 EV began deliveries to dealers last month and reservations are still being accepted. Taking a mostly southerly route, Volkswagen engineers took 18 days to wheel an ID.4 from New York City to Sacramento, California, by way of Chicago and Orlando. The trip encompassed a total of 6,700 miles and also included stops in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.; Cleveland, Nashville, Atlanta, Savannah, New Orleans, Dallas, Austin, Marfa, Texas; El Paso, Tucson, Phoenix, Joshua Tree National Park, Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco. The ID.4 was refueled, if you will, at 32 charging stations operated by Electrify America, plus a few overnight hotel recharges. Electrify America now operates more than 560 charging stations and more than 2,400 DC fast chargers, including dedicated cross-country routes from Washington, D.C. to LA and Jacksonville to San Diego. Those numbers are forecast to climb to 800 and 3,500, respectively, by December.