Monday, November 14, 2011

Is it possible?

Is it true? LeMons has published their preliminary list of dates for 2012 One of those dates is in the new Ridge Motorsports Park in our own backyard of Shelton, WA. A beautiful shiny new track, I would adore the excuse to go take a look at it. My personal biggest concern? That SCCA National Office uses that same weekend for our local Packwood National Tour. The schedule hasn't been released yet, in fact, I'm sure it's still under negotiation. But I can think of a few teams that would certainly have a hard time choosing between the two events. OK, maybe 3 at the most. ;) But it's worth a shot.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Announcement: A Cessation of April Fools Tomfoolery

I've been flattered and charmed by the response I received over the years to my April Fools gags. It has been fun writing them and seeing who, each year, falls for the link. However, I need to call an end to the fun tradition due to a new professional commitment. Some of you may have read the announcement posted yesterday to Jalopnik that Ray Wert has left the site following its acquisition by the Huffington Post. Well, I'm proud to say that starting next week I'm going to be stepping in as Editor-in-Chief of Jalopnik. I've been freelancing under a pseudonym for a few years and am excited to step out from behind the mask of anonymity.

Currently posted to Jalopnik is a snarky post with a mashup of Huffington Post's AutoBlog logo melded with the Jalopnik logo. The post implies Jalopnik is going away. This is not the case at all, Jalopnik will continue and is going to get even better. Not to worry, AutoBlog will continue informing the world about the exciting new shades of silver and beige available on the new Camry and Accord. Jalopnik will not. Huffington Post is freeing Jalopnik to be strictly an enthusiast site.

Jalopnik is rolling up its sleeves and baring it knuckles. We won't post any reviews of new crossover SUVs or the next Chrysler Sebring. You can probably tell I'm not heartbroken by this. Jalopnik will be where enthusiasts find reviews of new Porsches, Ferraris, and enthusiast cars like the Fiat 500 Abarth or Focus ST. We're going to differentiate Jalopnik reviews from the rest of the pack by actually reviewing the performance of the press fleet cars by throwing sets of Hoosiers on them and entering them in SCCA Divisionals, National Tours, ProSolos, or even track days.

We are not likely be invited to the luxurious PR flack controlled product intros where the manufacturers shower high end experiences on auto writers in exchange for favorable reviews. My integrity is worth more than a trip to a French chateau with a group of folks who say positive things about crap cars. We will call BS on the car companies that deserve it (plastic cladding and oversize wheels do not a sport package make) and laud the few companies that deserve it.

Jalopnik will be participating in events, not just watching and reporting. An example is an adventure we're taking this summer. I'm going to enter a 24 Hours of LeMons car in the Targa Newfoundland. That's right, Pujo!, the Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys' Peugeot 505 turbo is going to run an international tarmac rally. The right seat is currently open... (I'm driving). If you can read pace notes, or can learn by September, and want to join us in Newfoundland, drop me a line.

We're also going to feature, in Huffington Post tradition, user submitted content. Are you not seeing content on the web you want? Here's your chance, send me your ideas or even your articles. If it's good, we'll publish it.

I'm not allowed to post anything to Jalopnik until Monday, when the transfer from Gawker to Huffington Post is finalized. I want to hit the ground running. Please send me any ideas you have, even if it's the location of Abe's milk producing goat.

-Bret "a LeMons Monkey in Arianna's Court" Dodson

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Street Parked: Solid Axle TR4A

Wait a tick, what have we here?

This TR4A materialized one day just down the street from my office.
Parked in front of Seattle's former Model T plant

The TR4 and TR4A are instantly recognizable by their hooded headlights and cool fighter plane-esque hood blister.
The bulge scares the rain away

This appears to be a solid axle TR4A. Most TR4As have independent rear suspension. To appease traditionalist customers and dealers Triumph offered an optional live axle. Is there any other car that offered solid or independent rear suspension as a line item option?. This must have been a frustration to the chassis engineers since the TR4A has a different chassis from the TR4. You identify the live axle cars by the absence of an "IRS" badge on the boot lid and no discernible camber in the rear wheels.
No IRS tramp stamp means added simplicity

Elegant features abound, check out the side marker light!
It looks like a jet powered arrowhead

The headlight styling has never really worked for me. It's unique and stands out, but I have always preferred the look of the TR5 and TR6 headlights.
Did the hood melt over the headlights?

The dash is classic British sports car - Smiths guages scattered across a wood dash.
Love the banjo steering wheel

The profile of this car lived on in the TR5 and TR6. The blister on the door works well with both body styles.
Steel wheels are refreshing
I've only seen this car once and I'm glad I had my camera and caught some picture of it. I love that it is not over-restored to the point of being not drivable. As it sits, it car looks ready to drive to the coast for some surfing.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Street Parked: 1973 Dodge Dart winter driver

Seattle is blessed with relatively mild winters. The occasional paralytic light dusting of snow we get completely shuts down the city. The average Seattleite will only venture onto the road cloaked in airbags, traction control, antilock brakes, and all wheel drive, peering from the precariously fall-overy commanding view of their SUV. This makes today's feature car stand out even more! I spotted this lovely brown Dodge Dart on a sleet-filled trip to the video store.
This is a handsome car, even with the underbite

From the battering ram 5mph front bumper and the tight chrome panty of a rear bumper, I'm betting this is a 1973 Dodge Dart. You'll notice this impeccably kept survivor has a Michigan plate. Has it migrated west for a rust free retirement?
Such a spankably clean posterior
This is an honest, standard car; the sort we don't see anymore. Purposefully capable with no overt pretense of luxury. Gold kit Accord, I'm looking at you...

This car is 'just right', not too small, not too big

This is a Dodge Dart Custom, a mid-level model in the Dart range. The vinyl roof "Vinyl Roof Topper" in Mopar-ese was a dealer installed accessory.
Custom, one of just 62,626

My suspicion is the full wheel covers come with the Custom package, rather than the dog dish hub caps that would probably be seen on a base model car.
Look at all that comfy sidewall!

Also part of the Custom package was the snazzy vinyl and cloth bench seating. The cloth seating surface makes this a great winter car. There is no way to make a person more uncomfortably chilled than by forcing them to plop onto a freezing cold leather seat.
Bench seats: the cure for separation anxiety

This Dart was born with the legendary slant six backed by a Torqueflight automatic. In 1973 it made 95 horsepower from its 198 cubic inches (that's 3.2 seriously unstressed liters). This car is so original looking that I bet that same slant six is still living underhood. This car looks new, I'd love to know its story. Is it a survivor? Has it been restored? Is it a Hemi-packing Q-ship?

Regardless of its backstory, this is a very cool car to see being used - especially on a day that chased most drivers into hiding.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Street Parked: Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival

Washington's Olympic Peninsula is famous for being infested with vampires and werewolves. These creatures of the night apparently have good taste in cars. My lovely wife and I recently visited went last September to the scenic seaside town Port Townsend - PT is a must see for any visitor to the Olympic Peninsula. Our day trip happened to coincide with Port Townsend's wooden boat festival; we came for the quaintness, stayed for the boats, and I was distracted by the Street Parked classics.

No werewolf can catch this cat:
So curvy, so sensuous.Where is Austin Powers' video phone?
These cars are as strong performers as they are stunningly beautiful. What a great car; it's not too perfect to keep it off the streets. However it is clearly well loved and maintained to a good standard. The wheels look like newer 72 spoke chrome jobs - when new, this car likely had painted wire wheels. The shiny knock-off spinner nut is original, notice how it's a left hand thread? That's to keep the forward motion friction from loosening the wheels on the right side (the left side has normal right hand threads). How scary would it be to take a left turn and see a right wheel keep going straight?
Righty loosey?

MGA driver: Jacob's sports car?
Half a block from the Jaaaag this innocent white MGA was dwarfed by its neighbors.
This little fellow's grill won't stay dent-free for long.
This a 1959 or 1960 MGA with a 1600 cc engine and wing mirrors that appear to be from an late '60s AMC Ambassador.
Old guys rule.
With its rollbar car looks like it could have just come from hooning on Grizzly Peak. This is an MGA that is true to what having a sports car is all about. Hint: it's not about preserving the car's concourse "provenance". Need wing mirrors? This pair from an old AMC in the junkyard will do the job. Give yourself a scare halfway through a decreasing radius turn? Whip out the hole saw and weld in a roll bar.
From the Craig Anderson school of dash labeling.
The cockpit of this car features handy captions for the various bits and pieces. It has a "Strangler", "Starter", and a "Piddler" among others. Click the image for a ginormous version.

A bundle of snakes gathered by the curb:
This is what a motorbike should look like.
This Honda CB550 presents my favorite form of motorbike. The engine is visible and beautiful in its functionality with the most elegant headers this side of a Cosworth DFV. The rider sits upright and comfortable, not crouched like a croissant wrapped around a giant Skittle as on a present day superbike.


Early MGBs much lighter and more elemental than their later, taller, big rubber bumper shod brethren. This B, with its spots of primer, looks to be getting some cosmetic attention. These pre-smog-era cars are only slightly more complex than a hammer, which makes them great at being reliable old cars. No computers or byzantine vacuum systems means most problems can be fixed by the side of the road with a simple tool kit.

A banjo to steer her...
Rollup side screens and a heater are the only nods to luxury on this car. Ever have a car with one speaker?

Such a well balanced design.
The low back seats give this car a really clean profile. An early MGB is probably the best low buck entry into a cool classic that can be driven regularly.

Who let this guy in here?!?:
R package Miata: dripping with amenities geared to comfort.
Compared to these cars, my R package Miata is a luxury car!

Here's a slideshow of the day:
There be pictures of boats ahead.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

It's official, Packwood National Tour

The following letter is being emailed today to teams we actually have contact information for. There's no guarantee we have contact info for your team, feel free to include yourselves if your captain did not get this letter, we do not intend to leave anyone out intentionally. Please bear in mind this is still an "invitational" event and don't want to open it up to just everyone with a cheap-ass car, new or partially complete builds are, um, graciously discouraged.

Hello LeMons competitor!

We’re Sean and Brianne Green, captain (and wife) of the Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys’ Peugeot 505. We got your name from the Powers That Be at the 24 Hours of LeMons HQ, but beyond that, we in no way speak for them nor do we have any official sanction beyond a “have fun and try not to run anyone over.”

For the Monkeys, autocrossing was our first love; for several of us, it still is. Therefore, when we discovered that the 2010 Arse-Sweat-Apalooza was being held the same weekend as the SCCA Solo National Tour in Packwood, WA, it was easy for us to choose to autocross in our own backyard instead of towing to Thunderhill. This is where you come in.

We have been able to arrange through SCCA National office an exclusive LeMons Invitational Class, where we current and former LeMons competitors can play at a non-endurance event straight up against each other, and only each other. This is good for the Packwood National tour ONLY: the weekend of August 6-8th. Pujo! and the Monkeys will be represented by our own Bret Dodson, whom you may have seen in the gorilla suit at tech inspection. We’re ready to remind the SCCA crowd that we don't all have to be uptight glory hounds and can actually have fun at a race. Of course, if you’re already going to Thunderhill, we wish you the best of luck.

“Sounds like fun, what do I have to do?” Well, if you’re like us, you probably need to work on your car. You’ll need to present your car in a form that would pass BOTH a LeMons tech inspection (all requirements) and an SCCA Solo tech inspection. Remember, the folks teching your car in Packwood aren’t familiar with LeMons cars, and will need even more assurance than usual that your car will not eject large amounts of debris, fluid, or parts in high-g maneuvers. Watch especially for leaks, wheel bearings, and anything that might be loose in the cabin. Good throttle return springs, battery safely bolted to the car (no bungee cords), good brakes, good wheel bearings (mentioned twice because they really look at these). Same tire requirements as a LeMons race, etc. Like any race, failing tech results in being unable to compete. That would be bad after bringing your car all that way, wouldn’t it? So make sure your car is actually in good working order. They take tech seriously at the National level.

Second, if you’re not already familiar with the sport of autocrossing, make sure you at least browse the rulebook available online at, particularly tech and driver requirements. Remember that autocrossing is not a road race or endurance event, you’ll be getting a grand total of about 6 minutes of racing, and still perform a work assignment, probably on course.

Third, please make sure you send an email signaling your interest in competing to Brianne, who is coordinating the efforts:, this will ensure that you are kept apprised of any additional details as they come to our attention. If you’re on Facebook, be sure to “like” our car Pujo! and we’ll also update with news bulletins there. Those less familiar with autocrossing should be sure to ask for more links to videos and the various “what to expect at your first autocross” articles that abound on the internet. (Of course, your friendly search engines can help with that, too)

Lastly, the details for the event as well as on-line registration will be available at as well as on the Northwest Region website Register for the event as an “A Modified” car, then specify in the “notes to the registrar” section that you are a “LeMons Invitational Class.” Please note that only two drivers per car will be allowed, due to the event format and SCCA’s rules. If you’re not already an SCCA member, you will need to become one to enter, but weekend temporary memberships are available at the race site, it will just add to the cost of entry.

Participants are strongly encouraged to come in with all LeMony costumes and themes. We will probably have additional prizes just within “our” class that the rest of the event will not be eligible for. And we even promise not to crush someone’s car.

You’re welcome to pass this along to any other teams you know personally that might be interested and are not already competing at Thunderhill. We are, however, keeping this to an “invitational” level, and are trying to strongly discourage folks that aren’t already LeMons competitors. We needed to reassure SCCA that it’s not just a bunch of hoons coming up to leak fluids and jettison large car parts and plywood bits. So, this is not really a good place to test an unknown build. Thanks for your understanding.

Sean & Brianne Green

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A LeMons Monkey in SCCA's Court

What is the most non-LeMons-esque motorsport? National level SCCA autocrossing. While Pujo! has been to a few autocrosses in his life as a racing car, autocrossing was used as a tuning tool chance to discover failure points close to home.
A turbocharged French car should only be autocrossed in below freezing temperatures.

No LeMons car would ever be seen at an SCCA National autocross event. Until now. SCCA Solo Czar Howard Duncan recently suffered a bout of temporary insanity and approved an invitational class for LeMons cars at the upcoming SCCA National Tour event in Packwood, WA in early August.

Pujo! is entered and will be lowering the resale values of the best autocross cars in the country. stay tuned to this spot as we embark on this adventure. Will Howard come to his senses? Will we get the People's Curse? What sort of bribery works best in this arena?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Street Parked: 190SL

This head turner grabbed my attention one morning on the automotive portion of my commute. I yammered on about its coolness to my lovely bride until we reached our parking spot, and then beat feet up to Fairview to see if it was still there. It was; parked across the street from Inner Chapters Books.

Hey look! It's a 300SL! Oh wait, it isn't...

These cars look like the iconic 300SL. Those rain gutter-like fender flares never cease to grab my attention with thoughts of Stirling Moss, John Fitch, and stories of racing glory in the Mille Miglia. However, comparison to the legendary 300SL is not fair to this car. This little fellow is a stylish grand tourer in its own right.

Wide and low, it presented an aggressive and modern face compared to its European contemporaries, the Jaguar XK140 and MGA. It is perhaps similar in market mission to the Ford Thunderbird, as a personal luxury car. I think the styling of the 190SL roadster presents a more sporting flair than the Thunderbird, and more modern performance than was offered by the British.

So many curves in one sheet of metal.

The sleek 190SL shares its chassis with the upright and dowdy Ponton benzes instead of the bespoke tube-frame 300SL exotics. That doesn't stop these cars from having an arresting presence, perhaps in spite of the level of performance they offered.
That's too short to be a Ponton benz.

This car was not particularly athletic with a 1.9 liter 104 horsepower 4 cylinder engine saddled with toting 2600 lbs across Bavarian hills and dales. For its time (1955 to 1963) this level of performance was acceptable.
I'll show my tail lights to British cars and poorly tuned minivans.
This car is the quintessential sports model. Built on a sedan's running gear, it put its best face forward. And does so quite well. I can imagine this car idling stylishly through the pedestrian traffic of Florence, carting some ersatz supermodel to a gig.
What secrets remain untold under that canvas top?

Even with its saloon car roots, this nonchalant grand tourer is worthy of a longing glance when seen parked on the street.
Is an emblem askew similar to a beauty mark?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Street Parked: Mercedes W111 250SE Cabriolet

My daily work commute includes a 12 minute (each way) stroll through Seattle's hip and newly Amazonified neighborhood, South Lake Union. As I dodge SLUTs and try to avoid being squashed crossing Mercer, I sometimes notice interesting cars parked on the streets.

This car, a Mercedes Benz 250SE Cabriolet, was spotted in the parking lot of the Seattle Tesla dealership.
Fintail convertible!

Even for an old an Mercedes our subject is a unique car, being one of 954 250SE cabriolets made from 1965 to 1967. These W111 chassis 220/250/280SE coupes and convertibles were the last hand built Mercedes.

The W111 still had luscious curves between the hood and fender of its Ponton predecessor.

Beneath the curvaceous hood lurked a 150hp inline six backed by a four speed automatic transmission. Although this car is a boulevardier with no pretense of sporting intentions at all, it can cruise the autobahn (or I-90) comfortably at just over 100 mile per hour.
What stories lurk beneath that bonnet?

I've long been a fan of these Heckflosse (that's German for "fintail") Mercedes. I find the little tail fins to be a charming nod to the car style of 1959, when the first W111s appeared.
Shake those tail feathers.

The interiors of this era of Mercedes are wonderful places, with real wood adorning the dash and doors. The thin rim steering wheel is classy with its padded hub and chrome horn ring.

It's just missing a pipe smoking driver in Harris tweed.

While this car looks to have been bumped (the rear bumper is slightly askew) a few times in its life. I have no doubt this car will be motoring luxuriously along in another 40+ years as Mercedes of this era were built to survive a zombie apocalypse.
The best cars in the world.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Street Parked: The first GT350

The conventional wisdom among Seattle folk is that Opening Day of boating season heralds the start of summer, with the apogee of summer in the great northwet being Seafair. In my house, summer doesn't begin until the third weekend of May, when the University District Street Fair crowds "The Ave" with more blindingly white people in shorts and t-shirts than mankind was ever meant to see. My lovely wife and I always visit the Street Fair on Saturday morning in an attempt to beat the crowds. We make a point to devour the best Piroshky in the world and look for our favorite vendors before escaping the crowds.

Typically, we park our Miata and stroll through quiet streets to the freshly pitched easy-ups of the vendors. This year was different. As we were strolling down Roosevelt, approaching Scarecrow Video, I noticed an unusual car parked on the street.

Well, hello there!

My first thought was that this was a vintage race car out for a weekend joy ride. As we walked past, I slowed to check this car out. It quickly became evident this was a unique Mustang.

That signature looks familiar...

While Carroll Shelby has done other things, the 1965 Ford Mustang GT350 stands out in my mind as an icon in his portfolio. The GT350 is a more usable car for the average person to own than was Shelby's other project of the time, the AC Cobra. The GT350 enhances the great looks of the Mustang fastback with suspension tuning by Ken Miles (yes, the Ken Miles of GT40 fame at Daytona, Sebring, and Le Mans), a package of weight reduction and redistribution, and some good old hot rod improvements (big carb with Cobra intake and headers) which gave this pony 35 extra ponies to take dancing on a race track or curvy road near you.

Those oil cooler lines are original and have the original Shelby part numbers stamped on those aluminum bands.

This particular car is the first GT350 street car that was built, number 5S003.
That tag reads '5S003' - no, not '5S001', there's a story about that...
Wait, shouldn't this car be '5S001'? Well, it is, sort of. The first three Mustangs given to Shelby for the GT350 program had their numbers written on their firewalls. The plan was to build two factory racing cars and one street car. The street car was built using the chassis with '5S001' written on its firewall. However, when it came time to apply the number tags to the cars, the firewall markings were long gone. It has only been through the research of the car's current owner, who is a great steward of these cars' history that this story has been unraveled and this car verified as truly the first of its kind. Early photos taken at the Shelby shops show the first GT350 with a unique rear view mirror mounted forward of typical on the driver's door. While 5S003 currently has its mirror in the standard location, there are visible patch marks (awesomely of race car quality) on the inner side of the door that reveal this car's birth story.

Pete Brock photographed, designed, and produced these ads featuring our street parked subject.
This first street car was used to develop marketing material by Pete Brock. In addition to his work producing marketing material for Shelby American, Mr Brock is know for having designed the world's most beautiful racing car. I was not aware of Pete Brock's involvement with the GT350 program. He also has signed 5S003's hood.

Pete Brock's signature.  Next to the iconic stripe pattern and hood scoop he designed.

Another interesting Pete Brock touch on this GT350 is the vented back window. This is an aerodynamic device aimed at venting the cockpit and reducing the negative pressure, and ultimately lift, behind the car at speed. Note how the window dips down beneath the roof of the car.
Hey, that back window has a mail slot at the top!

This car has seen some significant race track experience. At one point it was a racing car and later, in 1985, as a vintage race car, participated in the Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca.

A picture of this car at the Monterey Historics.

I was at the 1985 Monterey Historics and saw this car racing on track. I remember it vividly, as I loved the GT350 then as I do now. Small world? The roll bar's collection of event tech inspection stickers reveal a little bit of this car's story.

The roll bar wears many notable event stickers.  This car has some interesting tales to tell.
This car is a piece of history. I feel lucky to have encountered it and gotten a chance to understand what it is. As a bonus, the owner started it up for us to hear its unmuffled, 12:1 compression voice. What a treat! This car idles with a deep cackle and revs with the quickness of a racing engine. The side exit exhaust smells lightly of racing fuel, some streetable fuel mixture clearly used to balance the engine's thirst with this car's occasional jaunts around town. The owner takes it out to give his kids rides, setting off car alarms along the way. He gets it; this car is loved and shared with the world.

The first GT350 Mustang.