• PLYMOUTH SUPERBIRD: THE RICHARD PETTY CONNECTION!

    Our man on the track, Stephen Cox, talks with Richard Petty about his connection to the winged Superbird.

    It has been claimed that Plymouth’s legendary winged ‘70 Superbird was the brainchild of NASCAR champion Richard Petty. The rumor has been around for decades but I’ve never found anyone with first-hand knowledge who could absolutely confirm or deny that the car’s origins truly began with The King of Stock Car Racing.

    But opportunity knocked a couple of weeks ago when Petty was in attendance at the Mecum auction in Kissimmee, FL, which I co-host for NBCSN. I found him relaxing backstage late in the show and hollered, “Hey, King!” Although I don’t know him well, he looked up with his trademark smile and immediately held out his hand.

    I asked him point blank whether he was responsible for the development of the Plymouth Superbird. Petty paused and laid the back of his hand across his brow. “Well, let me get the dates right.”

    “We knew in 1968 that Dodge was building a wing car. So I went to Plymouth and asked if they were gonna build one and they said, ‘No.’ I told them that I’d like them to work on one and they said, ‘No, you’re winning all the races anyway.’”

    True, Petty had been dominant, winning 27 of 49 Grand National races en route to the championship in 1968. Rather than cough up the additional funds to stay current in NASCAR’s burgeoning aero wars, Plymouth was content to let Petty struggle against increasing odds.

    Undeterred, Petty tried another angle. He asked if he could stay within the Chrysler family and simply move over to Dodge and drive the new Charger Daytona winged car for the 1969 season. Plymouth flatly refused.

    “So I said, ‘Either build me a wing car or I’m walking across the street,’” Petty continued. “They said, ‘Sure, go ahead.’ So I did.”

    That same afternoon Richard Petty personally walked into Ford Motor Company’s front office. Ford executives took no risks, signing Petty to a one-year contract on the spot. Petty finished second in the points chase while winning ten races for Ford in 1969. It was enough. He didn’t have to return to Detroit to beg Plymouth for a winged car. This time, they came to him.

    “The head man from Plymouth came walking into my shop,” Petty continued. “He said, ‘What do we need to do to get you back? I said, ‘Give me what I’ve been asking for.’”

    Plymouth pledged to have a new winged car completed for Petty in time for the 1970 NASCAR season. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, they chose to use a modified version of the wildly successful Dodge Charger Daytona platform. Under NASCAR’s homologation rules, a limited number of Superbird street cars were built and sold through Plymouth’s dealership network.

    Behind the wheel of the car built specifically for him, Richard Petty and his Plymouth Superbird won 18 of the 40 races in which they competed in 1970, led nearly half of all laps and won nine pole positions. Despite being produced for only one model year, the road-going version of the Superbird became a legend in the annals of musclecar history.

    Today, a concours-ready Plymouth Superbird will routinely draw bids from $100,000 to $300,000 at auction. They remain among the most collectible musclecars ever built.

    “So there you go,” Petty told me with a smile. “That’s how it happened.”

     

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  • Ducati Grew Motorcycle Sales In 2016

    Claudio Domenicali will be a happy CEO, as Ducati grew motorcycle sales in 2016. The total for the year was 55,451 motorcycles delivered. That’s up 1.2% on 2015, which meant 642 extra bikes. “Ending the year of our 90th anniversary with yet another record is a source of immense pride and satisfaction”, commented Domenicali. “2016 was the seventh consecutive growth year for Ducati, clearly confirming the soundness of the Bologna-based group’s strategy and skills.”

    The growth came from a mix of existing and new models. Sales of the Multistrada range were up 16%, the renewed HyperMotards were up 15%, and apparently 5,200 of the new Ducati XDiavel were also delivered.

    Ducati Multistrada 950

    2017 Ducati Multistrada 950

    The Ducati Scrambler brand gained both the new Scrambler Sixty2 and 15,500 bikes shifted.

    In terms of location, America was the biggest market for Ducati, with customers receiving 8,787 bikes. Following up is Italy, which saw 20% growth, and Germany up 8%. There were also big gaines in Spain (+38%), China (+120%), Brazil (+36%) and Argentina (+219%).

    2017 Ducati XDiavel S

    2017 Ducati XDiavel S

    For 2017, Ducati will launch seven new bikes, including the Ducati Multistrada 950, SuperSport and 1299 Superleggera. The Monster range will see the new 797 and 1200, while the Scrambler brand gets the Cafe Racer and Desert Sled. For stats fans, Ducati currently employs 1,594 people, has a network of 783 sales and assistance centres and operates in 90 countries.

    Ducati Motor Holdings Factory in Bologna

    Ducati Motor Holdings Factory in Bologna

    What isn’t clear yet is how price rises in the UK will affect sales. Since January 1st, Ducati has raised prices by an average of 4.8% due to the devaluing of the pound following the EU Referendum, which means, for example, the Ducati Monster 821 has gone from £9,150 to £9,595. The increases haven’t been applied evenly though, as the HyperMotard 939 only increased by £300, and the Ducati Panigale R actually stays the same price.

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  • New Knox Nexos Sport Touring Motorcycle Gloves

    The new Knox Nexos Sport Touring motorcycle gloves look like a stylish way to protect yourself this year. They’ve got relatively subtle logos and details, so you’re not limited to wearing them on the latest sports bike or looking like a bit of a plank. But at the same time, they’ve got all the armour and specs that you might expect by now.

    Knox Nexos Sport Touring motorcycle gloves in Black and White

    The Knox Nexos are made from tough cowhide leather uppers, with softer, more flexible goatskin on the palms. You also get elasticated stretch panels at the finger joints. So there should be plenty of feel and flexibility. The fingers also have seamless, wrap-around ends, which means less pain from an annoying join digging into the end of your pinkies.

    To keep the gloves secure on your hands, you get the latest L6 Boa closure system and wrist support, which means they’re consistently fastened and micro-adjustable. So that means you can get them nice and comfy, but also shouldn’t have them come loose or undone if you’re unlucky enough to have an accident.

    Knox Nexos Sport Touring motorcycle gloves in Black

    On the top of the glove is a three-part kuckle guard built from memory foam and impact-absorbing honeycomb gel under a soft, deformable TPU kuckle shield. So you get protection without having hard plastic either making it hard to move your hands, or digging into them. And you also get the patented Knox Scaphoid Protection System to protect your wrist bones and prevent hyperextension when sliding – there are also sliders built into the top of the fingers.

    The Knox Nexos Sport Touring motorcycle gloves are available in either Black/White or solid Black. The plain colour in particular means you won’t stand out wearing them on any road bike, including a classic or a modern retro. The only real indicator that they’re a new glove is that closure system. And the problem of saying Knox Nexos quickly 20 times. The Nexos are available in sizes Small-XXL, and will cost you £129.99.

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  • INDYCAR: SO YOU WANT TO DRIVE THE INDY 500?

    We’ve suspected this for many years and now it’s official. The Indianapolis 500 is no longer a reasonable aspiration for most racing drivers, blogs Stephen Cox.

    Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) president Doug Boles was kind enough to talk with me briefly at the annual PRI trade show in Indy. I asked him what his plan was to increase the number of entries at the Indianapolis 500. His answer took me by surprise.

    “We grew up falling in love with the sport when you had that number of entries,” Boles said. “A lot of those entries were guys who sat around in December and said, ‘You know what? We’re going to build a car in our garage and we’re going to enter it at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500.’”

    “But first and foremost in my mind is just really safety. I don’t think it makes sense for us to get back to fifty or sixty cars just from a safety standpoint,” Boles continued. “I’d love to see fifty or sixty or seventy cars entering and guys just being able to decide that they have a driver who’s running at Putnamville and we’re going to give him a shot to run at the Speedway. I just don’t think it’s practical anymore.”

    Let that statement sink in. American short track drivers – who routinely filled the field until the 1980s – are now considered unsafe and incapable of running the Indy 500.

    Don’t ever go back to the speedway and expect to find the next A. J. Foyt or Parnelli Jones. There won’t be one. Nor will you ever see another Stan Fox or Rich Vogler claw their way up through the ranks and make it to Indy. For that matter, we’re also unlikely to ever see another Rick Mears or Robby Gordon. Those guys got to Indy through off-road desert racing, not Indycar’s current ladder system. They would likely be considered unsafe at the speedway today.

    Boles countered by saying, “We have the best on-track product that we’ve ever had in the history of the speedway with the last five years. The number of lead changes we have, the number of cars in the field that have a chance of winning it.”

    True, recent events have had a certain NASCAR-green-white-checkered-overtime excitement to them. However, this was not achieved by eliminating drivers of sprint cars, off-road trucks, midgets, late-models or amateur sports cars from the speedway. It was achieved – if indeed, this can be called an “achievement” at all – through regulation.

    More teams are in contention because everyone is forced to use the same spec car. The additional lead changes were artificially created through “push to pass” legislation and turbo boost mandates. Using this logic, even better races could be manufactured by enacting a rule disqualifying anyone who leads two consecutive laps, thus assuring 249 lead changes in every 500!

    The bottom line is this – SCCA drivers are welcome to compete at IMS in the Run Offs. SVRA drivers are welcome to Indy’s vintage event. Short track drivers are welcome to buy tickets and sit in Turn Three.

    But the speedway has no intention of enlarging the field past forty cars and creating space that could be filled by new drivers from other disciplines. That is bad news for thousands of very good racing drivers worldwide. And it is even worse news for the Indianapolis 500 itself, whose relevancy continues to fade.

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  • ‘17 JAG F-TYPE SVR: KITTY KITTY BANG BANG!

    It’s the latest supercharged cat from Jaguar, with a tiger under its alloy bonnet and an explosive snarl from its quad exhaust. Meet the F-TYPE SVR, which lives up to Jaguar’s claim of being the “lightest, quickest, most powerful” member of its line.The F-Type SVR’s supercharged 5-liter V-8 serves up 575-horsepower and 516-pound-feet of torque after and hooked to a recalibrated, fast-responding 8-speed ZF Quickshift transmission. Its Dynamic Mode gives it sharper throttle response with quicker shifting, staying in a lower gear for instant power on demand.

    Power is available at throttle tip-in, getting to the ground via on-demand all-wheel drive. That meant our 7,000-mile-old Jag pinned us in our seats en route to 60-mph in 3.3 seconds, and 100-mph in 7.8 seconds. All four tires grabbed and went, with no wheelspin, as the quad exhaust wailed a seductive battle cry. The gearbox executed neat, fast downshifts with a throttle blip before each in Dynamic mode.

    The Active Exhaust gave the sound exiting that sleek tail a sharper edge under power, and a loud and very addictive POP-pop-snarl overrun on deceleration. I loved it, as did most of my friends. But don’t try to sneak home with Active exhaust turned on, or even off – it rumbles and crackles even when off. Auto stop/start works on all settings, helping net an average 19-mpg.

    The F-Type also has adaptive dynamics, torque vectoring and dynamic stability control, with an upgraded chassis, new dampers and anti-roll bars, wider tires on lightweight 20-inch forged wheels and new, stiffer rear suspension knuckles. Add in forged aluminum double wishbone suspension up front and multilink in back with adaptive damping that reads the car’s body motion, roll and pitch to firm up or soften as needed.

    The result was a firm but comfortable ride in normal mode; the coupe quiet and supple at speed except for some tire noise. In Dynamic mode, the ride got very firm but surprisingly forgiving, each bump quickly handled, rebound at full compression nicely buffered. The SVR really carved its way into curves, both ends grabbing and going with super tight control. Power out of a turn in Dynamic, which backs off stability control, and some playful rear-wheel-drive tendencies would appear as the rear Pirellis came out a bit.

    On our skid pad, there was initial understeer. Then with a touch of power, the rears would work in a bit and grab. Engineers worked on the rear electronic active differential to make sure there was good torque distribution between the front and rear axles, and across the rear wheels. The result – a lithe 3,455-pound coupe with catlike reflexes in high-speed twisty bits and an admirably flat line around fast sweeping turns. The G-force meter’s data log showing it pulling a super-grippy 1.11 Gs in turns, and .89 Gs on launch.

    The electric power-assisted steering was scalpel sharp, no play dead-center, with a very direct feel. And with the huge (15.6-inch front/15-inch rear) cross-drilled carbon ceramic matrix disc brakes with six and four-piston monobloc calipers, the Jag stopped clean and straight from any speed, no brake squeak or noise. Hard repeated use on the street saw no fade at all.

    Since Jaguar’s birth in 1934, 2-seat coupes and roadsters have been its most memorable cars, like the 1960s E-Type. Then in 2013, there was its spiritual descendant – the F-Type. Jag’s Special Vehicle division went to work, and the F-TYPE SVR was born.

    If the base F-Type is sleek, the SVR is slick and even a bit evil looking, with hints of classic E-Type in the long hood, fastback rear roofline and rounded flanks. Its short front and shorter rear overhangs live on a relatively long (103.2-in.) wheelbase. But the SVR redesign adds 1.5 inches in width, while all the carbon fiber and carbon ceramic brakes subtract 110 pounds. 
The snarling cat’s face emblem lives on a gloss black grille. There’s a wider lower intake with carbon fiber air dams for reduced drag and added engine cooling.

    More SVR touches include carbon fiber bonnet vents so hot air can exit from the supercharged V-8 and slit side vents inside the wheel arches to smooth side airflow and reduce front lift. The front bumper was extended outward over aggressive low-profile P265/35ZR20-inch Pirelli P-ZERO rubber to also aid airflow. They roll on lighter 10-spoke satin alloy and black wheels framing those huge cross-drilled carbon ceramic disc brakes with yellow Jaguar-badged calipers. The side mirrors behind thin A-pillars are carbon fiber too.

    The rear fenders flare wide over meatier P305/30ZR20-inch rubber before wrapping around the short tail. There is where slit LED taillights with cat’s eyes mimic the classic E-Type. The roof panel is more glossy carbon fiber weave, part of a low roofline that flows down a small fastback rear window. The tail is capped by a huge carbon fiber rear wing that rises at 70 mph to help reduce lift by 15 percent, according to Jaguar. The sculpted gloss lower aero piece has a carbon fiber diffuser to aid underbody aero control.

    The cockpit is tailor-made for two, amped up with more carbon fiber, special leather and soft suede done in black with red seat belts. Driver and passenger have to duck to get under the low roof and over aggressive side bolsters of 14-way power bucket seats done in Jet leather with quilt pattern. Tap the black start button in the center console and the engine barks to life. The thick-rimmed leather and suede steering wheel has power tilt and telescope plus aluminum shift paddles behind it. It frames a straightforward gauge package under a double-curved suede cowl, with 210-mph speedometer and an 8,000-rpm tach redlined at 6,800 rpm.

    A color LCD screen in between offers trip computer with radio, time, outside temperature, digital speedometer and gearshift position. The wide center console’s carbon fiber face frames a color touch screen for navigation, audio, climate control, parking sensors, backup camera with cross-traffic detection and phone. It also displays performance gauges – engine/transmission/steering/suspension setup and a stopwatch/gas and brake force/4-way G-force. But no voice command for stereo and navigation, and simple things like vent position and radio station scanning require going into their menus.

    A base rear-wheel-drive Jaguar F-Type with 340-horsepower V-6 starts at $61,400 for the coupe and $65,400 for the convertible. But you basically double that for our 575-horsepower, all-wheel-drive SVR – $125,950, with the convertible version starting at $128,800. But that price includes everything we’ve mentioned here, including all the carbon fiber and carbon ceramic brakes, for a final price of $126,945 with destination.

    “Scratch the price,” says Scanlan. The Jaguar F-Type SVR is a dynamic sports car with all the right moves, enveloped in a sexy and aggressive body with the right pieces of carbon fiber.
    And that sound!

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