2004 Jaguar XJThe new, seventh-generation Jaguar XJ range reaffirms the sedan's flagship status. The new XJ comes with two engine choices: the new 294-bhp 4.2-liter V8 (XJ8) or the new supercharged 390-bhp 4.2-liter V8 (XJR). Power is transmitted to the wheels via a six-speed ZF automatic transmission. The new body is manufactured almost entirely from aluminum, making the bodyshell approximately 40% lighter, yet 60% stiffer than its predecessor-the use of rivet-bonded joining technology and a magnesium cross-car beam and seat castings contribute to chassis rigidity. Even though the new model is longer, taller and wider than the previous version, its weight has been reduced by 440 lb.
The new XJ's larger dimensions translate into more headroom, legroom and shoulder room for all occupants. The driver's environment-fascia, seat and controls-has also been ergonomically enhanced. The seat is 16-way adjustable with four-way lumbar support. The electrically adjustable steering column is complemented by the electrically adjustable pedals. JaguarVoice, a voice-activated systems control, is also available. The interior comes in a range of styles, from a traditional burr walnut finish on Classic models to a warm charcoal fascia and gray-stained bird's-eye maple veneer on the sportier versions. New is PianoBlack trim, a highly polished finish reminiscent of a concert grand piano.
An enhanced version of Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS), combined with self-leveling air suspension, is standard on all models, as is Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Adaptive Cruise Control with Forward Alert (ACC), an electronic parking brake and the Adaptive Restraint Technology System (A.R.T.S.).
The all-new 2004 XJ sedans made their debut at the Paris Motor Show this past September and go on sale in the U.S. in late spring of 2003.
Aston Martin DB7 ZagatoAt the 2002 Geneva Motor Show, Aston Martin announced its intention to work with Zagato to create a new, limited-edition model: the DB7 Zagato. Based on the current Aston Martin DB7, designer Andrea Zagato and his team have incorporated many of the styling cues inspired by the original DB4GT Zagato to create a classic body design. These cues include the long hood, shortened tail and the famous "double-bubble" roof. In addition, the large, distinctive radiator grille and accentuating rear wheel arches are unmistakably Zagato.
The aluminum body sits on a shortened DB7 Vantage Volante wheelbase, and weighs 132 lb less than the standard car. Other visible exterior differences include the unique 18-in. Zagato-styled wheels with revised offset to give a wider track (8x18 front, 9x18 rear). Uprated, anti-lock, ventilated discs are fitted all a round and are equipped with Pagid RS4-2-1 pads. The front and rear suspension has been developed specifically for enhanced performance and optimum handling.
The DB7 Zagato retains the all-alloy, dohc, 48-valve, 6.0-liter V12 engine and the original manual six-speed close-ratio transmission but with a different differential and a short-shift gear lever.
There will be three standard exterior colors offered: Mercury Grey, Aqua Verde and Zagato Nero. The hand-stitched leather interior is unique in design to the DB7 Zagato and has been trimmed in Dark Chocolate aniline leather.
If there is sufficient interest in the DB7 Zagato, Aston Martin intends putting the car into production from the first quarter of 2003. The aluminum bodies will be made in Italy and the car finished in the U.K. at Bloxham, the home of the Aston Martin DB7 Vantage.
Smart CrossbladeIt's mid-morning in central London, the traffic has ground to a halt and, this being England, it's started to rain. Under normal circumstances this would be a source of inconvenience, but in a Smart Crossblade, it's rather more than that. This car has no roof, no doors and no windscreen. When God turns on the tap, you get wet.
All around us people are stopping to point and stare. Some are even starting to laugh as the raindrops chase themselves down the lenses of my new pink "Crossblade" sunglasses. This is fascinating: Five minutes ago, when the sun had been doing its thing, we'd been heralded as the height of urban cool.
Now we're the butt of jokes. A delivery van pulls alongside and the driver waggles an umbrella in our direction. He's laughing at his own joke, and we're forced to admit that it was actually quite funny. English van drivers are notorious for their cynicism, so his positive, mocking attitude is intriguing.
The Crossblade costs a profligate 15,990 ($25,200) and is undeniably a show-off's car, but everyone finds it genuinely amusing. I can remember driving one of the first Ferrari 360 Modenas through similar streets, and the gasps of admiration were mixed with sneers of disgust at its ostentation. The Smart has no such problems.
It began life as a concept car shown at the Geneva motor show in 2001, but production was confirmed after a favorable reaction. Two thousand will be built worldwide, and each car carries a chrome plaque on the fascia displaying its production number.
The Crossblade is derived from the Cabriolet version of the Smart City Coupe that's been populating Europe's urban centers since October 1998. Developed by DaimlerChrysler as an answer to congestion and parking problems, the tiny two-seater, which is significantly shorter than the original Mini, had a troubled conception. Early stability problems-the Coupe famously fell over in front of a press photographer-combined with a high price meant that it failed to meet initial sales targets.
But the brand has recovered-116,000 Smarts were sold across Europe and Asia last year, and Smart is about to launch the larger Roadster and Roadster Coupe. DaimlerChrysler is also expected to announce shortly whether Smart will enter the U.S. market. This decision was originally due late last year, but it was postponed following the events of Sept. 11.
Smart is now marketed as a stylish, lifestyle alternative and is to DaimlerChrysler what MINI is to BMW. The arrival of the Crossblade fits easily with this revised philosophy. Although it's ostensibly a Smart City Cabriolet minus the body panels, the Crossblade has been comprehensively re-worked.
At the front, a new chin spoiler is joined by a narrow, tinted wind deflector, which seems to direct the wind into my face. At speeds above 40 mph it becomes downright painful, and anyone hoping to reach the 85-mph top speed would be well advised to don a helmet.
The absence of doors may also concern the self-conscious. In their absence, the Crossblade employs two steel safety bars at shoulder level that pivot, Lamborghini-style, upwards from the front, and double as an armrest. Stepping inside is easy, and occupants are greeted by a fascia that differs little from the Coupe.
There's a stereo, a heater and a pair of airbags, and the whole structure has been waterproofed. A quartet of drainage channels in the floor is joined by two more in the seats, which disperse excess water. The Crossblade can also be supplied with a tonneau cover; this is stored in the surprisingly spacious and lockable trunk. But, of course, there's no protection for the occupants.
The Smart features a tiny 599cc, three-cylinder, turbocharged engine, which sits in the rear of the car, under the trunk, and is mated to a six-speed sequential gearbox. A fully automatic mode is also available, but this makes for jerky progress and is best avoided. For the Crossblade, the engine's power has been increased from the base model's 44 bhp to 70 bhp and there's 80 lb-ft of torque.
While it's still far from quick-0 to 62 mph takes 17.0 sec.-it's nippy about town. Fabulous 16-in. alloy wheels and larger tires provide additional grip compared with the Coupe, and the center of gravity has been lowered by 65mm, making it more nimble.
The Crossblade employs wishbones all around with the addition of a de Dion tube at the rear. But the revisions to the Smart's set-up that rectified its stability problems ruined the ride-the Crossblade's suspension is stiff enough to bring fear to the face of an osteopath. The steering, which lacks power assistance, is also hard work and undermines its city-car pretensions.
The Crossblade is clearly a heavily compromised and expensive car, but to judge it by conventional parameters is to miss the point. This car is all about taking it easy, cruising and soaking up the adulation of your peers. It feels ludicrous in the UK, but as a plaything for the California coast, it would be terrific.
Waterfest 2002Where Watercooled Fever Is The NormFour years ago, maybe five, the crew at Rapid Parts had a simple plan-let's have a watercooled-only VW show. In the modest parking lot of a local community college, Peter Bohrman and company set up a few tents, a small autocross and an area for enthusiasts to display their rides. A few hundred people showed up and about half as many cars-from a numbers perspective, it wasn't all that impressive.
The gears were set in motion, however, as an increasingly hungry VW community rallied around Waterfest. Despite a few hiccups (remember the sod farm?), Waterfest has grown with the fury of an Atlantic hurricane. This year, at New Jersey's Englishtown Raceway Park, thousands upon thousands braved the N.J. Turnpike, bad road food and hellacious traffic to mix with their fellow Volkswagen brethren. They came from the depths of Southern Florida and the tip of the Western Seaboard. They came in Rabbits, Dashers and Foxes. They came in Sciroccos, Corrados, New Beetles, Jettas and GTIs. And they brought their Audi friends, too.
For one day in mid-July, Englishtown Raceway could be better described as Volkswagen Nation-I have never seen so many fine VW cars in one place. Ever.
"The VW community is rife with extreme fanatics," said Waterfest's event coordinator, Garry Gleason. "These people came from all over-all over North America to be with other Volkswagen owners-that's impressive."
Although there are several other watercooled events in the U.S., none has come close to rivaling the popularity of Waterfest. "I don't know, maybe it's the name," commented Gleason.
I think it's a bit more involved than that. Besides being one of the first to organize a watercooled-only show, the Waterfest crew puts on a damn fine event. Waterfest includes a huge collection of show vehicles, an autocross, drag competition, a sizable collection of VW vendors and a swap-meet area. The Englishtown facility is host to NHRA racing and features a great dragstrip, a newly designed road course, tons of parking and good amenities. It sure beats the heck out of a dusty field!
And while the event's promoters and organizers did a stellar job, it was the folks in attendance who made it a real success. Great attitudes coupled with superb cars-what a fine mix.
For 2003, Waterfest organizers are planning on booking Englishtown again, an excellent idea given the event's exponential growth. In a few years, Waterfest may even grow into a full weekend, although most of the tuners in attendance were absolutely wasted by Saturday's end.
"I don't think we could handle another day," commented Yosh Hakutani from AWE Tuning. A pile of computers teetered dangerously as Hakutani deflected wads of money being thrown by anxious VW/Audi owners. "It's official...this is crazy."
But it's a good type of insanity, and given the success of Waterfest 2002, I think we can look forward to much more high-powered lunacy.ww.waterfest.net
Glorious GoodwoodThe World's Fastest Garden PartyNowhere else can you find such a collection of cars than in England. And someone lets you drive them in their garden." And so Erik "On the Roof" Carlsson summed up the spirit and uniqueness of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the world's biggest historic racing event.
It's the most unlikely racetrack. In fact, it's not even a racetrack. It's a 1.16-mile driveway on the grounds of a stately home in the south of England, owned by the Earl of March.
But it's not just the setting for the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed that makes it unique. This quirky stretch of uphill tarmac, bordered by distinctly non-crash-friendly beech trees and, at one point, an 8-ft-high stone wall, has the ability to attract the biggest names in the history of motor racing year after year.
Bathed in glorious summer sunshine, visitors to the 2002 event were treated to driving displays from such enduring track heroes as Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Derek Bell, Jackie Ickx, Jack Brabham, Phil Hill, Hannu Mikkola and Emerson Fittipaldi, as well as young pretenders Ralf Schumacher, Jenson Button and Alan McNish, taking time out between the French and British Grands Prix.
The featured attraction for 2002 was dragsters-not something usually associated with the English aristocracy! Lacking the prerequisite straight track with which to show off their stupendous acceleration, the GM-powered Chevys resorted instead to crowd-pleasing (and crowd-intoxicating) burnouts. Not to be upstaged, the young Formula One types opted for the same approach, stopping several times in one run up the hill to lay rubber on the track. Darren Turner, in last year's McLaren Mercedes, surely won the environmental activists' prize for the most extensive release of rubber-based compound into the atmosphere.
One of the most appealing things about Goodwood is its accessibility. The F1 circus has long since made it impossible for motor racing fans to get in among the hardware. But at Goodwood you can wander freely through the paddocks, watching the race teams prep their pride and joys.
As Class 4-75 years of the Mille Miglia-made their way from the Cathedral Paddock to the start line, I gawped at the fantastic array of '50s Ferraris as they growled past, a 166 Barchetta from 1950, a '51 340 America, a '53 375MM Berlinetta. The air filled with the most fantastic orchestra of classical internal combustion as well as the heady perfume of fuel and carbon monoxide. In the background Stirling Moss hovered around his Jaguar XK120 alloy-bodied roadster, while Audi engineers tinkered with the screaming powerplant of the Audi Quattro S1 Pikes Peak to be driven later by Harald Demuth.
Earlier in the day, we witnessed Demuth lending his helmet to Audi colleague and three-times Le Mans winner Frank Biela. With the 16 cylinders of the 1939 Auto Union Type C already running, the "late" Herr Biela had to change into his overalls, while standing on a towel, at the start line.
Most of the drivers aren't there to get fastest time of the day; they want to have fun and to please the crowds. Many, such as Jean Ragnotti in a 1973 Alpine Renault A110, tempt sideways slides at the first bend, before wheelspinning up the hill to rapturous applause from the stands.
More than 200 classic racers, and some 50 or so world-class racing drivers, not to mention 138,000 visitors. I've got to hand it to you Lord March, there's not many who could get that lot into their front garden.
Water wagens 2002The second annual Waterwagens show reminded me why, when you live in the Northwest, if you wait for it to stop raining, you'll never do anything. In spite of on-and-off torrential downpours, the show held August 4 on the campus of St. Martin's College in Olympia, Washington, was a great success, building on the enthusiasm it generated in 2001. The rain may have actually helped vendors, as their tents filled with captive audiences whenever the faucets turned on. Neuspeed's Greg Woo, who tracks show results by weather, told european car that catalogs disappeared at the same rate as a dry show. Enthusiasts who came for the cars weren't discouraged much, either. The first big pour chased away a few of the weaker constitutions, but from then on, every time the sun came out, so did the chamois.
Joining presenting sponsor Evolution Sports, european car was again a major sponsor of the event, organized by Northwest European. The show was bigger and better, with 178 cars registered for judging and more vendors. There seemed to be at least one of everything, from a Vanagon-era Transporter with a Formula Ford Lola on the back to a sub-5,000-mile Mk2 GTI for sale. The fliers on the windshield weren't exaggerating when they said it was "like a time warp." Even the spectator parking area was loaded with well-maintained examples of German engineering. We're looking forward to the continued growth of this event supporting die-hard Volkswagen loyalists in the Northwest. See www.europeancarweb.com for more photos from Waterwagens 2002.
Northwest European5806A 119th Ave. S.E., #321Bellevue, WA 98006www.waterwagens.com
We Hear....* Safety FirstVolkswagen and Audi of America have launched a child passenger safety program called Sit Safe(tm). The ongoing, dealer-based program provides comprehensive training (the curriculum is approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) to dealership employees, making them certified experts in child passenger safety. Sit Safe allows parents to learn proper installation techniques and have their child safety seats inspected by the aforementioned certified professionals at Audi and VW dealerships across the country. All vehicle types and brands are welcome.
* Best Residual ValueFor the second year in a row , the Automotive Lease Guide (ALG) has selected Mercedes-Benz vehicles as the recipient of the Luxury Brand Residual Value Award. The selection signifies that Mercedes-Benzes have the highest predicted resale value of all luxury vehicles sold in the U.S.
* Chaparral Designer Chairs ConcoursJim Hall, engineer, race driver, team owner and manager, will serve as Honorary Chairman of the 2003 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, to be held March 7-9 at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Fla. Hall, whose racing career spanned more than 30 years, is renowned for his Chaparral race cars. The Amelia concours had 40,000 attendees this past spring and has raised $1.2 million for the local hospice since the show began in 1996. For more info, visit www.ameliaconcours.org.
* Million-dollar CarsThe World's Most Valuable Automobiles are on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum, now through Jan. 26, 2003. Thirty very high-dollar cars have been gathered under one roof for you viewing (and coveting) pleasure. The exhibit includes examples from Bugatti, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Rolls-Royce, Talbot-Lago, Hispano-Suiza-they're all here. The Petersen Automotive Museum is located at 6060 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p. m., Tuesdays through Sundays. For more info, log on to www.petersen.org
Alfa Romeo Owners Club Annual ConventionAlmost 300 Alfa owners registered for the 2002 Alfa Romeo Owners Club convention, which took place this year at the Costa Mesa Hilton in Orange County, California. That means well over 500 people (adding in families and friends) gathered for the three-day July 4th weekend festival called "Alfiesta" and symbolized by an Alfa Spider complete with surfboard.
Orange County comprises the southern half of the Los Angeles sprawl, and the event took advantage of this by spreading the festivities all over the area. The first day's Time Trials and Autocross competitions, for example, took place at the California Speedway at Fontana, about 50 miles from the convention hotel. More than 40 Alfas took part in both competitions, and more than a dozen non-Alfas competed in their own Class N. Awards in the shape of miniature Oscars were given to class winners in the six Alfa classes. Non-competing Alfas got to drive the track at a more sedate rate during a special parade lap.
The next day's main event was a leisurely driving tour that incorporated the lovely San Juan Capistrano Mission before winding up onto less-well-traveled mountain roads. That night the cars gathered at Huntington State Beach for a beach party barbecue. Some were worried that it might be crowded with several hundred Alfisti all roasting their weenies over the same fire pit, but those fears were allayed when they discovered the meal would be catered by a beach-front eatery. The fire pits did come in handy later, though, when the coastal fog rolled in; it does get cold in SoCal when you're standing on the beach late into the evening!
Day three offered a Gimmick Rally that covered some of the same territory as the prior day's tour, but complicated matters by requiring correct answers to some 23 questions as well as incorporating a poker run. The cards served as tie-breakers when six crews answered all the questions correctly.
For spouses and kids and others not as thrilled about driving around in their Alfas, the organizers offered tours to the Getty Museum and the Petersen Automotive Museum. For those hanging around the hotel, a good selection of vendors offered Alfa wares-everything from hats and apparel to taillamp assemblies and complete exhaust systems-in one of the side conference rooms. Once everyone was back in the hotel, the Saturday night banquet pulled in 257 diners. Throughout the evening, a wide variety of awards was given, recognizing everything from 25 years of membership in AROC to the traditional prizes offered for farthest-traveled.
This year's conference attracted a significant number of long-distance visitors, with a whole pack of antipodal Alfisti from Australia and New Zealand, one fellow from Southampton, England, a visitor from Japan, and at least one brave soul who drove his Alfa all the way from Alberta, Canada. He didn't drive the farthest, however; that prize went to a fanatic from Long Island, N.Y., who didn't hesitate to add 3,000-plus miles to his 164S's 158,000!
Though club business prolonged the banquet almost into Sunday, hardcore Alfisti (caffeine addicts and iron-butt champions all) were rewarded for their perseverance with a slide show of David Gooley's photographs accompanied by my account of Alfa Romeo's history at the Mille Miglia.
The third and final day of the event offered a concours at Mile-Square Park, not too far from the convention hotel. Registered competitors numbered only about 70, but at least 30 more joined in the concours as exhibit-only. It was a fabulous display of Alfa machinery, with special appearances by a rare 8C 2300 Monza and a race-ready T33/3. Among competing cars, a gorgeous 1956 1900 Zagato "double bubble" won People's Choice, while a pristine 1961 Sprint Speciale earned Best of Show. As with the track competitions, miniature Oscars went to winners in the ten separate concours classes.
Alfa Romeo Owners Club(877) 399-AROC(973) 285-9338Fax: (973) 285-9343www.aroc-usa.org
Tweeks.com Funfest 2002The thermometer at the 1910-era gas station hovered around the century mark as an outbreak of Corvette fever afflicted the Porsche pushers attending last July's 4th annual Tweeks Funfest for Porsche. The crowd had forsaken the 400 or so German sports cars on hand to roam down the aisles of Mike Yager's museum that is a shrine to America's sports car. It's amazing how interesting those plastic cars become in an air-conditioned environment.
Mike Yager, who bills himself as chief cheerleader at Mid-America Direct Inc, started his mail-order auto-accessory business in 1974 catering to the needs of Corvette owners. Yager purchased Tweeks a few years ago and is working hard to build up the same camaraderie with Porsche people that he enjoys with the 'Vette set. For Funfest weekend he even shoved over some of his Corvette collection to make room for a beautiful selection of Porsches owned by Bob Ingram. These included a 356 Carrera GT, a Speedster and a 1973 Carrera RS. Despite their pristine condition, Bob and his son Cam believe in regularly exercising their collection, making them true Porsche aficionados.
Speaking of diehard Porsche owners, the people who showed up for Yager's sweltering soiree drove as many as 500 miles through searing Midwest heat and humidity. They were rewarded with door prizes, a low-key concours and excellent technical seminars. The latter included Porsche technical guru Bruce Anderson, memorabilia maven Prescott Kelly and the PCA's John Crosby, expounding on the joys of club racing.
Emphasizing the fun aspect of Funfest, unlike the PCA, judging for the concours was based more on an owner's relationship to his or her car than the amount of time spent toothbrushing the underside of the spare tire.
"We like to reward the person who may not have the rarest or most expensive car, but who loves his car even though he knows it ordinarily wouldn't be eligible for an award at a traditional car show," said cheerleader Yager.
All the cars were immaculately clean, and there were some rarities like a 1996 Targa and a 968 cabriolet. The Midwest seems to be particularly enamored of the front-engine Porsches with a number of 944s, 968 and a very nice 924S in attendance. As usual, the majority were 911s, although some pristine 914s and 356s also made the show. The vehicle that put the most fun in the Funfest combined both the Porsche and Chevy aspects of the event. It was a 1961 356 powered by a 1965 Corvair Corsa engine. Technically, according to its owner/builder and a chrome nameplate on the rear, a Porschair.
Robert LaFollette first built the car in 1964. We asked him about his inspiration for the project. "I was sitting in a bar and declared that I could put a Corvair engine into a Porsche," recalled LaFollette. "Some guy I didn't know stood up and said he knew where I could get a wrecked Porsche for a hundred bucks, and that was it. It took me six months to build. Once I got started, I couldn't stop."
Turns out this was not the first hybrid built by the retired Ford employee. LaFollette worked at Ford racing during the 1960s, where one of his assignments was to mate a 427 V8 with the GT 40 chassis. The Corvair-Porsche was a piece of cake after that. "I grew up just down the road from here and would hang on the fence at the Speedway dreaming of how to get into pit lane. When Ford hired me to work on the IndyCars, it didn't know I would have done that job for free," LaFollette confessed.
The Porschair is in its third iteration. The 140-bhp chromed flat six is mated to a Corvair Powerglide transaxle and rear suspension. LaFollette made everything for his car, including the wheels. They are VW center hubs welded to Ford pick-up truck rims that are 14 in. in front and 15 in. at the rear. LaFollette admitted that the drive to last year's Funfest wasn't much fun-the draft from big rigs would blow his car around the highway. He went home and devised a rear sway bar. During this year's 500-mile trip, LaFollette claimed, "I went looking for semis to pass."
As for next year's Porsche Funfest, Yager and his 130 dedicated employees are already planning a bigger and better event, including a fall weekend date when hopefully the temperature will also be more hospitable.
Tweeks.com Porsche Funfest 2003www.tweeks.comE-mail: email@example.com
Bondurant School Of High Performance Driving I hate to become another lawsuit lemming in our litigious society, but I'm about to go Class Action and you're invited. My high school Drivers Ed. teacher and the DMV are next on Court TV.
Courtesy of Mr. Bob Bondurant and his car-control gurus, I discovered that the months spent in high school studying the perfect three-point turn and parallel parking numbed my mind and feet and duped me into believing I was a good, safe driver.
What opened my eyes was a seat in Bondurant's excellent Advanced Road Racing school, which I attended at Firebird International Raceway in the Arizona desert. My lawsuit will seek to establish a fund good for a class at the Bondurant School for anyone who suffered through a mediocre Drivers Ed. experience and endured a 4-hour visit to their local DMV. Once the case is settled and Bob and his instructors make the world a better place to motor, I will begin solving world hunger and/or fixing the hole in the ozone layer.
Class at Bondurant was startlingly simple, simply because the schooling is so well thought out. Each morning an instructor leads a session that breaks down the day's subjects and goals. A chalk talk, a brief Q and A, and then a ride-along in the instructor car to learn the nuances of the exercise set you up for the actual driving. And then you drive a lot. Seat time is a big attraction at Bondurant.
The concepts of car control, vehicle dynamics and accident avoidance are woven throughout the program. Basics such as proper seating position are followed by more elaborate topics, such as heel-and-toe downshifting, trail braking and finding and driving the proper racing line. The instruction is presented in a manner that helps build confidence and skill simultaneously. I would recommend the Bondurant program to anyone who wants to be a better driver on the street or on the track.
People from all over the U.S. attended my class, and the skill level ranged from a driver with a total of three weeks of seat time to Porsche and BMW club racers to returning Bondurant graduates. I was impressed to learn that a new Porsche owner had driven his 3.2 Carrera from the Bay Area to Arizona so he could do the school in his car.
Bondurant instructors are not football coaches, Home Ec. teachers or others roped into teaching high school sophomores how to pass the DMV test. They're actual racers competing in ALMS, ARCA, ASA, Grand Am, IRL, NASCAR Busch and SCCA racing series. When I needed a little help with heel-and-toe downshifting, the instructor assigned to my group of four students, Chris Cook, jumped into my car and watched my every move, reinforcing what I was doing well and helping me through the parts where I was deficient.
The beauty of Bondurant's methodology is how layers of skill are acquired and applied. This is the same approach to its 1.6-mile road course. Starting with an oval section and then adding downshifts, trail braking and various apexes, we practiced executing and building skills. As you master a technique, you experience how it dovetails with the next, to build, as they preach at Bondurant, smoothness, consistency and concentration. These stunningly straightforward words were never uttered in any combination in Drivers Ed. anywhere, I don't believe.
The class is conducted with Ford products, including an Econoline 10-passenger van (you wouldn't believe what they do with it). Crown Vics serve as instructor cars, and Mustang GTs and Cobra Rs are flogged by the students. Bondurant has over 200 cars in its fleet, and with the boss man's extensive racing background, he chose vehicles that could be modified for increased performance-and stand up to student abuse and the Arizona desert. Bondurant's stable also includes Formula Fords and SuperKarts, and by the time you read this, he'll have added new Corvette C5s and Z06s as well as Caddy CTSs for his instructors. All of these vehicles are modified and maintained in-house by Bondurant's mechanics and are chock full of go-fast goodies from American Racing, B&M, Borla, Eibach, Goodyear and Performance Friction to name a few. Safety is another Bondurant hot button, and all school vehicles are equipped with Recaro driver seats, racing belts, six-point cages, fuel cells and Halon fire-suppression systems.
Bottom line-being able to keep your bumper off the car in front of you does not make you a good or safe driver. Knowing how to find and keep your car on the racing line, driving smoothly, aggressively and consistently fast, is what car control is all about, and that's good driving. The Bondurant School is an excellent place to learn new driving skills as well as identify and eliminate bad driving habits-if you happen to have any. Plus, graduating from a Bondurant course paves the way to competition licenses for SCCA and VARA, so you can blow your settlement racing!
Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving(800) 842-7223www.bondurant.com