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Gathering brings back the glory days of muscle cars

Posted by donaldwhite on September 18, 2008


Gathering brings back the glory days of muscle cars

WASAGA BEACH, ONT. — As the haunting strains of Don Henley’s Boys of Summer wafted over Wasaga Beach’s main drag, various editions of that vehicular icon of summer — the Chevrolet Corvette — began to converge.


The Wasaga Beach gathering attracted every vintage of Corvette, most fully restored to showroom brilliance.They ranged from pristine originals to modified monsters, from high-tech late-model Z06s to little red Corvettes minted a halfcentury ago. The cars were polished to perfection, with chrome gleaming so vibrantly in the midday sun that admiring eyes had to squint.

As the coupes and convertibles began assembling near the longest freshwater beach in the world, Henley’s melancholy lament for both the passing of a season and of youth itself was drowned out by the rumbling chorus of idling motors. And, yet, at times it almost seemed as if the hundreds of Corvettes were revving in harmony, their big-block V8s playing a different kind of heavy metal song — one that whispered about the days of made-in-America muscle car glory and cheap gasoline.

Certainly, the scenario that unfolded on Wasaga Beach was the stuff of dreams. The fragrance of coconut tanning butter lathered on sun-kissed bodies mingled together with the mouthwatering aroma of gyros sizzling on a grill and the bittersweet scent of engine coolant dripping from a leaky radiator. In the distance, small white-tipped waves crashed upon Wasaga’s legendary sandy coastline.

As it does every August, the Wasaga Beach Corvette Club staged its weekend gala, reminding everyone why Corvette Summer is a season to cherish.

Indeed, for a while, this chunk of Ontario real estate resembled a piece of California, what with the bikinis and boogie boards and classic cars radiating in the 29C sunshine.

Vanity plates abounded, too, ranging from bravado (FAST 63) to the philosophical (LVN42DAY) to the suggestive (KLYMAXR) to the downright cheeky (TAX RTN).

Every Corvette has a story, such as the gorgeous 1962 beige roadster belonging to Tom Doerner.

Doerner owned a different ’62 Corvette back in 1976 when he started dating the woman who would eventually become his wife.

That Corvette had to be sacrificed when the couple bought a house, although Doerner vowed he’d eventually acquire another one.

Such an opportunity came in 1996. After nearly three years of searching (approximately 14,000 ’62 Corvettes were manufactured, and it’s estimated that fewer than 2,000 exist today), Doerner found a 1962 model in Oakville, Ont.

It was a dilapidated wreck, missing such incidental equipment as the motor and transmission.

Yet Doerner gladly wrote a cheque for $23,000 and began the long, arduous process of a fullon restoration. Step one involved sandblasting the body with crushed walnut shells — a substance that’s allegedly ideal for removing paint without harming fibreglass.

To date, Doerner has spent more than $250,000 on his summertime toy — with more work slated for the off-season. When will the car be finished?

“Never,” says Doerner — a reality that appears to be both a blessing and a curse for auto aficionados in their obsessive pursuit of perfection.

Still, in addition to looking as if it has just rolled off an assembly line, Doerner’s Corvette sports a fearsome 510-horsepower motor, more than twice the power generated by the original V8. The result: this roadster is capable of exoticar speeds. Doerner says his car can do the quarter-mile in 11.3 seconds, which compares favourably with the likes of a Dodge Viper or a Porsche 911 Turbo.

Doerner buries the accelerator. The result: the car bolts forward; necks whip backward. “We just put down six feet of rubber,” Doerner proudly proclaims, admiring his handiwork via the rear-view mirror.

Back at the beach, Max Rolph proudly displays his monster ’Vette. While it resembles a typical late-model Corvette from the outside, within the car’s mirrorlined trunk lurk three purple tanks containing nitrous oxide. Rolph insists he only employs chemical enhancement when he’s at the race track.

But when he does, the end result is 860 horsepower — enough muscle to raise the car’s front end several centimetres.

Still, Rolph laments that he tends to attract unwanted attention from law enforcement — all the while insisting it has nothing to do with a lead foot.

“You wouldn’t believe how many times I get state troopers pulling me over just because they want to check out my car,” he says.

Membership in Corvette Summer, it would appear, has both its privileges and its pitfalls.


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Austin Healey Sprite

Posted by donaldwhite on September 9, 2008

Simplistic design of 1958- 61 ‘ Bugeye’ was instant success

Although the AustinHealey Sprite was the essence of 1950s simplicity, it yielded driving enjoyment way beyond its basic mechanical credentials and low price. It resurrected the small, eager sports car spirit of its namesake, the 1930s Riley Sprite.


The 1960 Austin-Healey Sprite. The headlamps, which became its most distinctive feature, stood up like a frog’s eyes and provided its affectionate “Bugeye” nickname.A new element of fun had been introduced to North American driving in the late 1940s and early ’50s by English sports cars. The MG TC and TD roadsters arrived first and the MG became the quintessential definition of a sports car. The fabulous Jaguar XK120, Triumph TR2, AustinHealey 100 and others followed.

Then the trend was to gradually make cars — including the MG — larger and more expensive. By the mid-’50s, Sir Leonard Lord, head of the British Motor Corp. — which was formed in 1952 by the merger of Austin and Morris, Britain’s two largest automakers — saw a need to return to sports car basics for the entrylevel enthusiasts who formerly bought those MG TCs and TDs.

Lord contacted his old friend Donald Healey. Healey, a practical engineer and former competition driver, had established the Donald Healey Motor Co. in 1946, where he built sporty cars, notably the Silverstone model. He had worked with Lord in the development of the popular Austin-Healey 100.

To hold the price of his basic sports car down, Healey needed to keep its design simple and straightforward. The answer was to use as many existing components as possible.

The tiny Austin A-35 sedan provided the A-arm-and-coilspring front suspension, fourspeed transmission and rear axle. Power came from the 948cubic-centimetre, BMC A-series, overhead-valve, Morris Minor 1000/Austin A-35 four-cylinder, fitted with twin S.U. carburetors. It produced 43 horsepower, up from the Minor’s 37.

Steering was Morris Minor rack and pinion and the rear suspension was by basic quarter-elliptic leaf springs, also courtesy of the Austin A-35. These concentrated the rear suspension loads near the middle of the car; the rear end of the vehicle, thus freed from having to support much weight, could be kept quite light. The Sprite’s curb weight was only 662 kilograms.

This well-proven hardware was wrapped in a simple, steel unit construction — a first for British sports cars — envelope body with rudimentary but attractive lines. The only jarring note was the headlamps, which, although semi-recessed into the hood, stood up like a frog’s eyes. The Sprite was almost immediately given its affectionate “Bugeye” nickname.

The original design called for concealed flip-up headlamps, but cost considerations had eliminated them. As it turned out, those bugeye lights would become the Sprite’s most distinctive feature.

Further cost cutting was evident in the elimination of a trunk lid. This made it awkward to reach the spare tire and limited the luggage space behind the two bucket seats, but it contributed to a body that was more resistant to twisting, a common problem in open cars. A fabric top and side curtains provided minimal weather protection, although a metal top would soon be made optional.

Access to the engine, front suspension and steering was excellent because the whole front section of the body hinged upward, looking for all the world as if it were going to eat anyone working on the car.

The Sprite was diminutive, riding on a short 2,032-millimetre wheelbase, and being only 3,480 mm long, it stood just 1,219 mm high with the top up.

The Bugeye Sprite was built from May 1958 to April 1961, by which time almost 50,000 had been produced. It was an instant success both on road and track because of a reasonable initial price (less than $2,000), ease of maintenance, excellent yet forgiving handling and quick, precise steering.

Performance, according to Road & Track magazine (8/’58), could be termed moderate. It recorded a zero-to-96 km/h time of 20.8 seconds and a top speed of 126 km/h. But it at least felt faster — for the more serious enthusiast who wanted to go racing, aftermarket parts were readily available that transformed the Sprite.

Most Sprites were exported to North America. Bugeye production was discontinued in 1961 and it was replaced by the Mark II version, which had more conventional — although not nearly so distinctive — headlights.

As was typical of BMC, a badge-engineered corporate clone — the MG Midget Mark I — was also spun off at that time, so the Sprite lost its exclusivity.

While Sprite production continued until 1969, countless sports car enthusiasts still look back with fond memories at what many consider to be the “real” Sprite, the 1958 to ’61 Bugeye.

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