Monday, December 24, 2012


I wish I could share a really big car memory with you for Christmas, but the fact is that, then as now, I was part of a car-less family, and usually spent the holiday close to home, without the ritual drive in a present-laden auto over roads slippery with new snow to friends and relatives and their fridges full of beer and rec room bars laden with bottles of Canadian Club. I'm part of that last generation of kids whose parents and older siblings didn't see the connection between reckless driving and boozing, and would have likely ignored the connection since how the hell were you expected to get through the '70s without dulling the nerves a bit, anyway?

My lingering car memories from childhood Christmases past come bubbling to the surface, not when I think of a Chevy Caprice station wagon piloted by a dad blowing smoke out the window from the Kool he's just bummed off mom but whenever I see one of these:

I don't remember the year, but I definitely got the Hot Wheels rally case, and it was definitely a favorite gift, which I filled with a collection of little cars that included at least one first-gen Mustang and a Can-Am race car. Squinting at the photo above, I'm also getting a familiar vibe from the purple cab-over with the surfboards in the back. Years after Endless Summer came out, surfing was still the leisure activity of the young and truly free, even (or especially) if you were working class and landlocked. A friend's teenage older brother, after a vicious argument with his dad, would run away from home, hitching his way to the beaches of California but only making it as far as Wyoming or Utah before being forced to head back, humiliated.

I'm also getting a Proustian rush from the little tin badges that came with the Hot Wheels, one of which I'm sporting proudly here, on the carpet at my cousin Terry's fab '50s bungalow in Weston:

I'm digging the poly blend shirt in a dusty shade of avocado with the matching tie. Somewhere this holiday an assless hipster will try to rock this look at a New Year's party. The resolution on my scan of this slide is a bit kludgy, but it's definitely a muscle car on the tin badge, and since the presents under Terry's tree haven't been opened yet (I'm pegging this as the evening of Christmas day, well after the big present opening at home) I've clearly chosen to wear this Hot Wheels badge all day long, probably the last time I'd let myself wear my car obsession so openly.

The Hot Wheels - Can-Am race car and all - are long gone, as is the rally case and the tin badge. I'd convince my family to buy me the odd copy of Hot Rod magazine to read on the long car rides to whatever rented cottage or campsite we called home for summer vacations, but by my teens the car jones would be driven deep underground, submerged mostly by the weight of the certain knowledge that I neither had a car to learn on nor the money to buy one. Or at least that was my excuse. Somewhere between that Hot Wheels badge and today there's a long stretch of shame and poor choices that closeted my inner gearhead and reduced my love of cars to furtive glances in parking lots and a little shiver when I'd hear the rev of a tuned-out V8.

I'm hoping this is my last car-less Christmas, and with that I'll wish everyone a Merry one, with an admonishment that, should you know someone hiding their car jones deep under a bushel of rationalizations, you'll make their holiday brighter by coaxing their inner gearhead back into the sun and light. One of these would be a good place to start:
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Sunday, December 23, 2012


A couple of posts back, I wrote about Henry Ford and my self-diagnosed status as a bit of a "Ford man," based on my abiding love of a handful of Ford cars, including the (justifiably famous) Mustang and GT40, but also the Custom that they introduced in 1949 and sold with small modifications for three years after that. I don't know why I developed this fondness for the Custom, except that - in the context of its time - it was a somewhat sleek, simple, attractive car that didn't have the proportions of a battle cruiser or an excess of chrome and post-deco protuberance. Not as striking as, say, the Nash Rambler from around the same time, but a good-looking, middle-of-the-road car for the emerging middle classes in the post-war era.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was looking through some old family photos and came across this:

That's the house I grew up in when it was brand new, and the pram on the front lawn contains my sister, Mary, then an infant and as new as the house. And in the driveway, my dad's relatively new Ford Custom coupe.

I had to consult my copy of The American Auto to come to this revelation, and since was shot from the back, I can't tell whether it's the 1949 version with the single chrome bullet in the middle of the grille or the 1951 model with the "dual-bullets." Here's a photo of the earlier version, taken at Deerfield Village's Motormuster earlier this year - a beautifully restored example with whitewalls in a shade of green that I'll always associate with the '50s as it ramped up into economic cruise control.

I don't need to tell you what I'd give to own this car today. It would, to be sure, be a beast to own - constantly in need of costly repairs with parts that I'd be scrounging all over the internet. I doubt if it has power steering, and even for its size I imagine its handling might be less than elegant. And let's not talk about the mileage, or having to garage it for four months of the year so it doesn't shatter into shards of rust and scrap after one too many winters of road salt and slush. In my dreams, though, I'm driving it along the St. Lawrence on the way to the Maritimes to visit family, the trunk loaded with luggage, the kids in the back, the radio playing Perez Prado.

What I don't understand, however, is my instinctive love of this less-than-outstanding car. There's no way I'd have remembered it - by the time I came along, it had been replaced by the Buick LeSabre my dad bought around the time I was born, and which sat in the garage for years after he died, four years later. I don't recall anyone in the family talking about the Ford much, never mind telling me its make and model, but there it is, nonetheless, sitting on the concrete driveway at 41 Gray Avenue over a decade before I was born, and already worming its way into my car consciousness. A true mystery, and one I'll likely never be able to explain.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Joy ride

This video has been making the rounds on all the car blogs - Joao Barbosa taking his wife for a ride around Daytona's road course in what I presume is a Corvette Daytona prototype car. Those things will go 300 km/h, but I doubt that Barbosa ever got it close to that, preoccupied as he was with his wife losing her almighty shit in the seat next to him.

Car geeks have complimented Mrs. Barbosa on making her shrieks match the sound of the gearbox whine - though there was some debate about whether this was the box or the supercharger - but what struck me is how she keeps swatting at her husband. I'm no expert, but I don't think it's a particularly great idea to be hitting a man speeding around a road course at 150 mph, or flailing your arm around so close to the gear shift on a car that costs about a half million dollars. Also, nobody forced her into the Nomex suit and helmet, so I'm guessing she was in the car of her own free will.

Honestly, some days I don't understand women.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


I recently spent a couple of week going through some fat biographies of Ford, both the man and the company, and got a bit more familiar with the antisemitism that was among Henry Ford's most salient character flaws. I'm a bit of a Ford fan; if I had to list my favorite American cars, it would be Ford heavy - the '40 V8 coupe, the '49 Custom, the Thunderbird, the Mustang, the GT40 and the Escort and Sierra Cosworths would all be there. But the fact remains that the most important American car company in history was founded and overseen for its first four decades by a nasty, Jew-hating crank.

Henry had a lot of other flaws - his belligerent self-righteousness, poisonous management style and bitter treatment of his son, Edsel, probably clinch his nomination to the pantheon of world-class assholes - but his proudly professed antisemitism, promoted just as Europe was sewing the seeds of the greatest pogrom against the Jews in history, promotes him from mere rich crank to a kind of cultural accessory to slaughter. Attacks both in the courts and from public opinion forced him to mute his attack on the Jews and shut down the Dearborn Independent by the late '20s, but he was never really repentant.

Henry Ford receives the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from the German consul of Detroit (right) and the  consul-general of Cleveland (left) in 1938. That's right - just a year before World War 2 began. Three years later, you might have called this treason.
There was no shortage of antisemites all over America and Britain in the years before the war, but Ford's very public proclamation of his opinions with the publication of The International Jew he publicized the paranoid fantasy of the Protocols into nearly every garage, barbershop and parlour across the country. Ford was a figure as heroic and his friend (and fellow antisemite) Thomas Edison to a country in love with technology and industry in the years after the closing of the frontier, and his espousing of the grand unified theory of Jewish control of banks, government and culture made it that much more reasonable to people who might never have met more than a handful of Jews in their whole life.

Which is why this feature on his grandson and namesake's strenuously conciliatory efforts to ameliorate the damage Henry did on The Truth About Cars is probably the must-read car story of the week. Henry Ford II watched as his grandfather isolated and denigrated his father, Edsel, during the long years when Edsel was supposed to be running Ford, and as soon as he was able to wrest control of the company from the failing old man, he not only modernized it to better serve the U.S. war effort, he re-made it as a modern corporation able to grow and thrive in the booming postwar market.

He also did what would have been thought impossible two decades previous - he made Ford a friend of the Jewish state, but it would still be years before many Jews, remembering the Ford of the Dearborn Independent and The International Jew, would even consider buying a Ford. All I can say is that it's a good thing the old man was long gone before they made the Mustang.

(A footnote: Henry Ford's hometown, Dearborn, has gone from a sleepy country hamlet to a booming suburb of Detroit to a place where support for anti-Israel entities like Hamas thrives. Henry might be long gone, but his ghost still hovers over Dearborn.)

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012


This is the first year that I've let myself watch a whole season of F1 racing, and I was left with a deep sense of shame that I'd never given myself over to the luxury of watching grand prix racing before. (Something to do with not driving and thinking motorsport fandom was an absurd hobby for a non-driver and generally not wanting to be the guy slumped on the couch on a Sunday afternoon watching the game. I have no excuses for the first two, but as to the latter, I completely overlooked the fact that I'm married to a sportswriter's daughter, who has very quickly become almost as big an F1 fan as myself. Also, my children now know the names of the leading F1 drivers, teams and circuits almost as well as they know who Guy Martin and the hosts of Top Gear are.)

Of course, starting to follow F1 in 2012 has had one special feature: Kimi Raikkonen.

As someone who can trace most of his problems in life with the fact that I'd rather be away from people than around them, I have a lot of sympathy for Kimi, whose seems to regard everything in F1 that isn't a car - the bureaucracy, the traveling, the other drivers, his crew, the media - as an irritating distraction. As a result, he comports himself with what Jackie Stewart or Graham Hill might not have regarded as the apogee of sportsmanship, while becoming a hero for those of us who'd rather just be left alone to do our jobs, and whose perfect world is one where nobody asks stupid questions.

The most perfect example came when Kimi was interviewed after spinning out during qualifying in Japan:
Jennie Gow (Sky F1 pit reporter): Kimi, what happened?
Kimi: I spun.
Gow: And a bit of a disaster, then, for you and for a few others with the yellow flag.
Kimi: I don't care what happened to the others, uhhh...
Whatever else happened in F1 this year - and a lot happened - the takeaway t-shirt quote for everyone will probably Kimi's best line, delivered in the heat of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (which he won): "Yes, leave me alone I know what I'm doing." Oh, and here's the t-shirt.

No less than Jeremy Clarkson had Kimi spotted as a potential highlight of the season when he appeared on the last season of Top Gear, which probably guaranteed the tender place he holds in the hearts of motorsport fans all over the world.

We all know that Finland produces great racers, probably because it's full of all these looping, lethal country roads that breed rally drivers, and probably because it's full of suicidal alcoholics battling Seasonal Affective Disorder. Kimi does nothing to dispel this idea, which is why we love him. And he'd be here to thank us but he's off having a shit.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


They knocked down the Beach Motel the other day, and I had to be there. If you live in Toronto, you probably know that there is - or was - a strip of old motels occupying a stretch of Lake Shore Boulevard just west of the Humber River, and that they were once a good place to go if you were looking for trouble or trying to hide from the law.

Beach Motel, April 2011
Beach Motel, November 2012
They're gone now. It took a few years - thirty, to be precise - but they'll disappear beneath a curtain of condo towers, as part of a plan to redevelop what was considered a sleazy eyesore but was once a sign that Toronto, once regarded as a dull, joyless city you avoided if you could, was finally on the itinerary of places to see, connected by a lattice of freeways, highways and wide roads.

I wrote a feature about it for the city blog I work for, illustrated with photos I began shooting a year and a half ago for another (unpublished) feature I was writing for another (now defunct) city blog. The story talks about the last days of the strip, the long-delayed push to redevelop it, and the very optimistic plans the city and developers have for creating new urban density where there were once only crumbling, low-slung motels  catering to hookers, johns, and the sort of people who pay in cash and either leave early or stay on longer than they wanted.

What I didn't get to talk about was how the end of the Lakeshore motel strip marks a full stop of sorts to the first great period of the car, which began with cheap autos for the citizenry and well-paved, expansive roads built by the governments they elected. Motel, we all know, is a contraction of "motor hotel," and they were born in the 1920s, when time, money and inexpensive cars were suddenly available to people who, if they traveled at all, went by train and stayed at hotels clustered around railway stations.

The car let us explore and the motel gave us a place to stay that was (usually) cheap, clean and convenient. The Lakeshore motel strip was built just outside Toronto's city limits, on one of the main roads that led straight downtown, which made it a short drive to attractions like the Canadian National Exhibition. There remains another declining motel strip on the east side of the city that served the same purpose, and most cities developed these motel districts where the city met its rural fringe, where the land was cheap and an enterprising farmer with fields along the edge of the highway or main roads could set himself up with some extra income.

Motels became profitable and ubiquitous as they entered their postwar golden age, fed by the economic boom, hunger for vacations and leisure time, and families. Family-run motels had to either compete with or merge into chains and franchise operations like Quality Inn, Best Western, Ramada Inn, Howard Johnson's and Holiday Inn. The American Hotel Association changed its name to the American Hotel-Motel Association, and international hotel chains like Marriott got their start in the motel business.

This is the motel era that people over fifty remember fondly if perhaps sentimentally - the family sedan cruising slowly down a motel strip as the setting sun angles over the swaying faces of tired kids slumped across the bench seat in the back. Dad making his choice, pulling in and heading for the office, returning with the key and an ice bucket, driving the car around the motor court to a parking space in front of your room, where he rouses the kids out of the back seat still warm with an afternoon's sweat.

There's a tussle over places to sleep; a cot will be brought to the room if two double beds aren't enough. After trying out the Magic Fingers and cycling through whatever TV stations can be picked up, the family gets dinner at the nearest restaurant, likely one by the office, where the owner's wife runs the cash. Finally, as the headlights from late arrivals play across the curtains, the family nods off as the national anthem gives way to static.

Lake Shore Court, Miami FL, from Lileks' American Motels
"Nostalgia for old motels, like most forms of nostalgia, is selective and dishonest," writes James Lileks on the American Motels annex of his website:
"We like to imagine a pure world before the soulless hotel chains took over, a landscape of lovely neon, local charm, and individuality. No doubt this was the case, occasionally, in the 50s and early 60s, but it was only part of the story. Standardization has its benefits. Franchise outfits have their rules. Every Holiday Inn may feel the same, look the same, but you're reasonably sure there won’t be bugs in the mattress or Norman Bates peeping through a crack in the bathroom tiles."
The chains never came to the Lakeshore strip, and so when the corrosive winds of the '60s hit the place there was nothing to save them. Motels everywhere declined and closed and the American Hotel-Motel Association changed its name again, to the American Hotel and Lodging Association. The '60s didn't improve much besides car design and R&B music, so when that decade's long hangover began, the Lakeshore strip got to host it, and it became known as a place to get a hooker, or hide out from the law or your mom and dad.

When they knocked down the Beach, there weren't many people there to mourn it besides a handful of local historical preservation types taking a big, bitter gulp from the bottomless well of dismay that fuels and defeats them. In a strictly municipal sense, the death of the Lakeshore strip was inevitable, but what made me sad was the end of a kind of travel and all the local attractions - those hokey, cheesy, solemn or just plain weird places of interest - that benefited from a populace traveling at the speed limit, with bathroom stops and a guidebook and a week to kill before they were due at grandma's or Disneyland.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


By now every race geek has read about or seen the fight between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon and their crews after Gordon crashed Bowyer and Joey Logano out of the running at the Advocare 500 in Phoenix. As NASCAR brawls go it was pretty epic, if only because of the number of bodies involved.

Judging by the online commenting, reactions are split pretty much 70/30 between folks who think this is NASCAR as usual, and those solemnly disappointed in Bowyer, Gordon and their crews for reminding us why Talladega Nights can be watched like a documentary. The only people we haven't heard from are NASCAR fans who thought the Bowyer/Gordon dust-up was the best goddamn thing about the whole race. That's probably because the keyboard on the computer they bought from their cousin Tyrell is in French or some other goddamn language - what in hell's a qwerty, anyway. Hey - I kid!

(But seriously - did Gordon's crew chief really say "If you're going to mess with the bull, you're going to get the horns"? Shake and bake!)

It might have been epic, but it wasn't anywhere near as important as the 1979 fight that saw two good ol' boys lunge and flail at each other on the infield at Daytona. I'm talking about the fisty contretemps between Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison that made front page news across America, mostly because it happened at the conclusion of a race that was the first 500-miler to be broadcast in full, to a largely captive audience in a third of the country thanks to a snowstorm.

The prelude wasn't terribly different from the wreck that took Bowyer and Gordon out of their race - Yarborough and Donnie Allison were fighting for position when Cale's car lost control and collided with Allison, taking them both out of the race. Donnie's brother stopped to offer him a ride back to the pits, but there was bad blood brewing between Cale and the Allisons and they decided to turn the vast bowl of Daytona's infield into the late night gravel parking lot outside a roadhouse. And America got to watch.

Hell, it was such a big deal that someone wrote a whole book about the era - Yarborough and the Allisons, Dale Earnhardt, Darrel Waltrip and Richard Petty, and how nobody knew it at the time, but this was the moment when NASCAR went mega, expanding outside of its southern fan base and making the France family even richer than they were. All thanks to Cale and Bobby having a messy little slap-up in the muddy grass at Daytona. (It's a pretty good book, too.)

If you were going to compare NASCAR with F1, you might want to contrast Bowyer and Gordon with the aftermath of the first turn crash at the Belgium Grand Prix this year, where Romain Grosjean took out two of the race leaders before they'd finished a single lap. Here's a picture of Lewis Hamilton having very strong words with Grosjean just afterward:

Note: At no point did anyone call anyone else an inbred peckerwood.
I believe this was preceded by Hamilton pointing at his head in the universal gesture for "Are you out of your fucking mind?" This was followed by a very tense minute as Hamilton and Grosjean walked silently back to their pits. Silently. I can only imagine that Fernando Alonso might have been even more miffed, especially as Grosjean very nearly took off his head. Which he needs.

The first U.S. Grand Prix is running this weekend in Austin, and everybody is acting like there's never been a grand prix race in the United States before. (Like at Sebring or Riverside or Watkins Glen or Long Beach or Detroit or Dallas or Indianapolis, say.) Jalopnik in particular is making a big deal out of educating Stateside race fans with a primer informing them that while the rules might be a bit complex and the cars aren't supposed to make contact, you can still enjoy it anyway if you edumacate yourself a little bit and accompany it with a healthy snack.

Which is all a bit of an exercise in snobbery until you realize that, yes, NASCAR fans do tend to get a bit rowdy, drink perhaps a little too much beer, and relish crashes a bit more than is probably wholesome. But you can't blame them when you're faced with at least a couple of hours of "accelerate - shift - accelerate - shift - turn left - turn left - turn left" for the vast majority of the season. If drivers and crew monkeys want to liven that up a bit by making things physical, then at least you might have one of life's great questions answered: Can 5-Hour Energy Drink beat DuPont in a fight?

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Friday, November 9, 2012


Saw this the other day, idling at the kerb a block or so from my kids' school. Yes, it's the mid-90s Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, and even if this wasn't a kinda sketchy neighbourhood undergoing a long, slow gentrification, it would stand out.

First of all, they don't make them like this anymore. Like the Crown Vic LTD I shot the other day (in the same neighbourhood,) it's a land yacht (225" in length) that looks like a vast shiny barge in an era when the Chrysler 300 (198.6") is pretty much the biggest sedan you can buy. It's a car made for a man who doesn't mind if he takes up a bit of space - especially when he's parking. (Very poorly, in this case.)

You can't help but imagine the sort of person who drives this car, especially when they leave it running a couple of feet from the kerb. I imagine a man with an impressive paunch contained in an expensive shearling coat, sharp crease in the slacks, Florsheims. A guy with a big place in Aurora who follows the landscape gardeners around when he's home, bugging them about the Japanese maple they damaged five years ago.

Imagine my surprise when a scruffy dude in jeans and dirty trainers came out of the store opposite the car while I was on the other side of the street angling to get another picture with my cell phone. He looked like the sort of guy who should have been in a rusty Ford Ranger with bits of lawn mowers in waterlogged cardboard boxes in the back. All I could think was that the mob isn't all that picky about their bag men these days.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


On Thursday it had gone to join Stutz, Oldsmobile, Packard and Morris in the graveyard of dead marques, but by Friday it had risen, Lazarus-like. Lancia, which once produced some of the most interesting cars in Europe, was apparently a victim of Sergio Marchionne's re-organization of Fiat-Chrysler, killed in the interest of making the 500 the new Mini and Alfa-Romeo the new Aston-Martin. But then someone from Chrysler said that Marchionne was misunderstood, and that the good news was that Lancia would live on.

The bad news was that they'd all be Chryslers.

The other day I was begging Marchionne to make good on his promise to bring Alfas over here, and maybe a few Lancias while he was at it. I linked to Lancia's website, but only later nosed around and realized that they looked like perhaps the most boring cars in all of Europe. Probably because they're all Chryslers, without a single broad-shouldered 300 among them.

There was a lot of wailing and groaning on the car blogs, but mostly because of a lingering fondness for cars like the Integrale and the Stratos, which is a bit funny because very few people can own one of the former, and almost nobody will ever even see the latter. And to be honest, most of us here in North America only know about Lancias because of Top Gear:

They were, even among Italian cars, uniquely trying to own. But Clarkson and Hammond are right - even broken, they're better cars than almost anything you can drive today.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012


As if proof were needed that we live in the best of all possible worlds, news comes that Ford is offering brand-new bodies of its legendary 1940 V8 coupe for sale. Offered by Ford Restoration Parts, the bodies are made of new steel, with modern welds and factory rust-proofing, and they'll cost you about $15,000 US.

Here - I'll let this guy tell you about it:

This is the same program that offers brand new bodies for the '32 Deuce Coupe and the '65-'70 Mustang, and they'll be unveiling the '40 Ford at SEMA. All I can say is that if I were a rich guy, I'd be placing my order right now, and putting a call into the best shop in the city to help me fill it out.

This is a seriously beautiful car - the culmination of Henry Ford's no-frills pre-war design philosophy, only slightly softened up by his son Edsel's attempts to bring some aesthetics to the Ford line. It isn't a luxury product like the Packard or a unicorn-like showboat like the Duesenberg, but a utilitarian chunk of auto that epitomizes its time, as the Depression was ending and our vision of the future was still drawn with the sensuous curves of art deco and moderne.

The hood comes with the V8 chrome trim ornament, so it would behoove me to put a modern V8 into it, along with modern disc brakes, transmission, drive train and maybe an iPod jack as well. I'd finish it almost exactly like the beauty at the top of this post, right down to the red rims and whitewalls, with a bench seat and vintage instrumentation. It'll cost a fortune, but it would probably still be less than the Icon Derelict V8 I'd have commissioned in that alternate Rick-is-rich-as-Croesus universe that I don't live in, probably because I missed a bus in 1978 or stepped on a beetle in 1983. (Memo to alternate-universe-rich-Rick: get both.)

Of course, a modern V8 engine would probably be a monster compared to its pre-war equivalent, so my modern '40 Ford would put out serious horsepower, doubtless far exceeding the 90 mph a stock '40 coupe put out back in the day. (And which could be coaxed up to well over 100 by the bootleggers who made it a hit with the moonshine runners who loved this car just before they became the first NASCAR drivers.)

I don't know what this would do to the handling on the thing, which is why I'd splash out for as many modern updates as possible, and maybe even an airbag or two. And seatbelts. And a cup holder.

UPDATE: More on the '40 Ford body at Autoblog, which confirms that you can get it with the firewall configured for a new, bigger V8 than the original flathead. Not that this means anything to me in the real world, but I can dream, can't I?

Saturday, October 20, 2012


I had a friend in high school - it was a brief friendship, but whatever - who was probably the first gearhead under 18 I'd ever known. His name was Tom, and his prize possession was an Alfa Romeo that he said his father had given him, and which he was restoring to get back on the road. I visited his house once - the friendship didn't last much past that - and he took me to the garage several doors down the back alley from his house to show me the car.

At the time, something in me was saying "bullshit," but he sold his story well, and his somewhat pitiful context - the absent dad, the single mom, his virtual friendlessness at the Catholic boys school we attended - forced me to give him the benefit of the doubt. I wish I could have told you what kind of Alfa it was, but we just edged around the dust-covered car in the dim garage, and all I could tell was that it was a sports car, and shorter probably than the Datsun Z car my friend Debbie's sister had bought. (And which, so I've heard since, gave her no end of grief.)

I'd frankly heard of Alfas, but hadn't really seen many of them, especially in my neighbourhood, where everyone under 25 longed for any kind of American muscle car, and anyone over 30 had forged a lifelong committment to big sedans, Buicks or Cadillacs (if you were doing well, which usually meant you were a salesman with a company-leased car.) People between 25 and 30 probably just bought a Toyota and responded to the sneers by talking about the great mileage it got.

Tom and his dream Alfa always come to mind whenever I hear about the make, so when I actually saw one sitting in the parking lot of the Portuguese bar at the bottom of the street, I found myself wondering what happened to Tom.

I also found myself thinking that, sad as he might have been, he had pretty decent taste, since the Alfa parked there on that late summer afternoon was pretty fantastic looking, especially next to the late model BMWs and crossovers in silver and black that are usually parked there.

It's a GTV Spider from the late '90s, with the 2.0 Twin Spark engine, and I think it looks fantastic. Cars from the '90s are afflicted with a severe slope over the hood, pinching down at the bumper to create a pinched, almost vestigial grille that I consider a low point in car design. (See: Pontiac Sunfire.) The Alfa, while boasting the era's bonnet slope, manages to overcome it with the marque's signature triangular grille - probably the smallest example of the type in its history, and one that began growing back to healthy proportions with the 2003 facelift of the GTV.

Whoever owns it is clearly pretty committed to the car, since there hasn't been an Alfa dealership in Canada since before the car was made. It probably lives in the garage all winter, and gets driven gingerly, since spare parts will cost a fortune, and Italian cars in this part of the world have a reputation for unreliability that Fiat/Chrysler is working mightily to overcome. (See: Fix It Again Tony.)

Still, I want the Alfa to come back, and if you can rely on anything Sergio Marchionne says, it is, and not just in the form of the Giulietta that sits under the bodywork on the new Dodge Dart. Based on the GTV parked down the street, I wholly welcome this move, since Alfa is one of the European brands whose design language is almost wholly alien to the dreary gallery of hulking SUVS, beige boxes and overbulked sports cars that get sold out of dealerships here.

So to Fiat/Chrysler I say: Bring on the Alfas! And while you're at it, may we have a Lancia or two as well, please? And Tom, if you're out there, I hope you got your dad's car working again.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I could make a pretty long list of cars I'd love to own. Over the next little while, I'm going to try to list the cars I could own - modern, affordable autos that I'm hoping to actually drive once I'm a licensed driver. But then there's the dream garage, the long line of gleaming holy grails that sit, gassed up and ready to go, in the heated warehouse in your mind.

Kind of like Jay Leno's collection. I don't understand why people give Leno stick - he's as rich as Croesus, and he spends his money on something he loves, and which he's happy to take out and enjoy in public, at parking lot car meets and auto shows all over California, and God bless him for that. Also, one day he'll have to get rid of all these cars, and they'll be out in the wild again, beautifully restored, and ready for new owners to ride and enjoy (or hoard and display. Whatever - it's their money.)

He's an amiable soul, so pretty much anyone with an interesting ride wants to bring them to his garage to get immortalized, and I was happy to see that Jonathan Ward from Icon brought one of his Derelicts to Leno. I love what Ward does - re-building classic 4x4s with updated components and drivetrains to make them safer and better, but it's his Derelicts that really excite me.

If I was a rich man, this is the car I'd buy in a minute, before the Shelby Mustang and the Fiat Dino and the 1940 Ford V8 coupe. The Chrysler/De Soto bastard wagon that Ward brought to Leno - his daily driver - has a modern chassis and Dodge engine inside, with updated brakes and suspension. He's even put in new climate controls and a stereo/Bluetooth.

There are some eccentric touches all over the rebuild, but the interior is restored to look like your Great-Uncle Jim took really, really good care of the car he bought new in 1954. I'd love to see what he could do with a 1940 Ford V8 coupe, but since prices on the website are by inquiry only, I can't imagine that I'll ever have the cash for this sort of thing.

Ward took the Chrysler/De Soto Derelict to Adam Carolla's Carcast, and showed it off in a bit more detail. He's adamant that it's not a "rat rod," and while I think he's drawing an unnecessary line in the car geek sand, I can see his point. This is not a car meant to scare passersby or evoke some Mad Max gas-pirate future, but a shrine to the wistful possibilities we imagine when we walk through a junkyard and see some pitiful heap slowly returning to the earth.

Monday, September 10, 2012


Spotted on the street near my house the other night. It's a fourth generation Plymouth Fury, made some time between 1965 and '68 - I'm nowhere near car-geeky enough to tell you precisely when. (UPDATE: It's a '66 - I just looked at the vanity plate.) The name of this car probably wrote cheques its ass couldn't cash, but I still think it look fabulous, especially in the silver paint under street lights. It's like the opening chord of a Bruce Springsteen song - if Springsteen songs were anywhere near as good as his fans presume them to be.

That said, it did come with a 426 V8, and as my brother reminded me the other day, even my Dad's Buick had the sort of power you don't expect from anything but a muscle car or a tuner these days. This one hasn't been chopped or visibly modded, so I assume the owner keeps it stock. (And doesn't drive it between December and April.)

It bears repeating that the '60s - not the '50s, and certainly not the '70s - were Detroit's golden age. The age of tailfins and bulbous deco car bodies was over, and designers went about the business of making the cars look as fast as their increasingly powerful engines actually made them go. The zenith of this is probably the Mustang, but its design aesthetic - less chrome, long lines, agonizing thought put into key details like the grille and the silhouette - dominated the industry, resulting in a decade of cars that look like they want to be driven, not parked (the '50s) or rolled off cliffs (the '70s.)

The Fury in particular - could you imagine anyone giving a car this name today? - was Plymouth's top of the line, a spot which in almost any other car brand would be occupied by a full-sized luxury sedan or a big-ticket sports car. The Fury looked best as a coupe, however, and seemed targeted toward the suburban dad who hadn't quite given up yet - the guy who stuffs his son's little league friends in the back, and does a few white-knuckle runs down the side streets near the industrial park before driving them home. The guy who always drives the babysitter home and lets her choose the radio station.

"You know, Donna, the name's kind of stupid, but the Electric Prunes aren't all that bad."

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Transit Dad

Last May, New York City dad Greg Wetzel jumped on the subway tracks in Manhattan's 72nd Street subway station to save a woman who had fainted and fallen onto the tracks. He was, justifiably, treated like a hero for his actions, lifting the woman back on the platform just before a train rumbled into the station. "I had to make a decision and I quickly assessed the risks,” said Wetzel, a lawyer.

Most people probably assume that Wetzel acted on his convictions, and that he was, as he told ABC News later, trying to show his children that "that human life is valuable. There are rules, of course, but they’re circumstance-specific." (I mentioned that he was a lawyer, didn't I?) That might be true, but I have a suspicion that when Wetzel asked two women standing on the platform to look after his kids before he jumped down onto the tracks, he was trying to show them and the world that he wasn't just some pervert.

I've talked before about how public transit has been given the virtuous pole position in a trumped-up urban living contest, with car use as the moustache-twirling villain. After a lifetime of transit use, I'm still unconvinced by the argument, but the persistence of this idea inferred that transit use was the choice of decent, forward-thinking people, and that a family on transit - as opposed to a big, ugly minivan or a sinister, earth-hating SUV - were the urban equivalent of white-gowned missionaries handing out healthy snacks and new fingers and noses in a leper colony.

It would be nice if it were true, but it's not. A family on transit is more likely to be regarded as either tourists or unable to aspire to the base middle-class benchmark of car ownership, and unwilling to shield their children from facts of urban life both unsanitary (the thin marinade of germs and bacillus that coat every handhold of the average bus and subway car) and unsavoury (the guy openly reading porn on the packed morning commuter bus; the teenage boys bringing their vast familiarity with bukkake videos to hyperbolic descriptions of their fictional sex lives; the visibly insane.)

More severe, however, is the way a dad alone with his kids on public transit is regarded by his fellow passengers. They might be porn reading, shit-talking, visibly insane teenagers, but as soon as a dad ushers his kids to a few empty seats on a city bus, they'll give him a look that it's hard not to read as "I wonder if I can text the police and family services in time for them to nab this creep by the time we get to the subway?"

"I've got my eye on you, weirdo."

Every dad these days has had the unique experience of hearing the moms and nannies go silent when they show up at the swing sets in the park with their toddler, like the western saloon when the Man with No Name walks through the swinging doors. A full generation of parental hysteria has cleared suburban streets of kids playing unsupervised, but it's also made lone men suspect when they enter what have now become "safe" - i.e. female-dominated - spaces.

When it's not regarded as either tragic or potentially criminal, taking children on transit is actually considered heroic. Even after two years of ferrying my kids to and from school every day, I still hear fellow parents react to our bus journey of a scant twenty minutes (in good traffic) like I've carried my kids, book bags and all, on my back over an Alpine pass to escape the Nazis.

I don't doubt that Greg Wetzel had the best of intentions when he left his three children in the care of strangers on the 72nd Street subway platform before he jumped down to save an unconscious woman, but I'm also certain that, at the back of his mind, he was thinking to himself, "at least now they'll stop looking at me like I'm heading downtown to sell these kids to Mauritian white slave traders."

Part of me hates that, after years of complaining about over-parenting and the wild-eyed scheduling of playdates and t-ball games and dance recitals that's deprived our kids of both solitary moments and the pleasure of learning to live in cities, I'm planning to cram mine into the back seat of a subcompact so I can ferry them around town free from the glaring stink eye of my fellow citizens.

But there it is, nonetheless - years of inadvertent aversion therapy have made me look for an escape, or at least the chance of an alternative, a chance of choice that'll let me be the foursquare, car-driving, school drop-off and parking-space-hunting dad that I was told I didn't have to be. Which means that the next time somebody faints onto the subway tracks, there will be once less dad there to come to the rescue.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Grand Prix (1966)

Everybody likes to make lists, and if a car geek were asked to make a Top 5 Racing Films list, it's a fair bet that John Frankenheimer's Grand Prix would be there, alongside Le Mans and at least one Fast and Furious film. Which is all fine and good, until you're forced to wonder why most of these lists rarely include a really good film about the subject at hand; I mean, Citizen Kane makes all kind of "best of" lists, but it's probably not even the best possible film about William Randolph Hearst.

Which isn't to say that Grand Prix is a bad film, but nobody's ever been able to make much of a case that, if Frankenheimer's cameras avoided the track in favour of the plot, it would have been even remotely watchable.

It's probably an essential film, however, for the simple fact that it documents Formula One racing during its most exciting and archetypical period, with footage from actual races and cameos by most of the best drivers of the time, many of whom wouldn't survive the decade. Posterity would have been better served, though, if MGM had spent a fraction of the budget and simply sent out a really talented team of documentary filmmakers to follow Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt and Jim Clark around the Grand Prix circuit in the summer of 1965 or '66.

The film begins with a really spectacular title sequence at Monaco, where we meet the drivers in documentary-style close-ups while a clipped British race announcer gives us the backstory. Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand) and Nino Barlini (Antonio Sabato) are racing for Ferrari, and their rivals are Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford) and Pete Aron (James Garner,) driving for the very Lotus-like Jordan-BRM team.

Before they've left the starter's grid, we already know that Aron has a testy relationship with his team owner by the sharp, typically Garner-esque glare that he shoots him from the cockpit of his car. We hear voiceovers from the actors in character, being interviewed by the press that will be a composite character, lingering at the fringes of the action, lunging in to let us know that there's tragedy in the offing.

The racing sequence that kicks off the film is thrilling, which at first seems a function of the location - Monaco is probably the most exciting and glamourous of all the Grand Prix venues, then and today. What's really startling is how close spectators are allowed to the action, separated from the cars not by Armco barriers and twenty-foot fences but by waist-high hay bales draped with advertising banners.

A shot of the Grand Hotel hairpin has to be contrasted with the circuit today - here's a shot of the same turn from this year's race:

The hairpin has been safetied up and depopulated, and the crowds corraled into spots where they can follow the action on big screens after it's roared past them. The cars don't look the same anymore, and if Grand Prix has anything to tell us about what else has changed, it's how the drivers and spectators once put themselves in a position where the race was a potential threat to the lives of both - a mutual bargain that they'd had since the beginning of motorsport. Frankenheimer's film, more than anything else, is a document of the last moments of that dangerous relationship.

Frankenheimer hangs the structure of the film on six Grand Prix races - Monaco, Clermont-Ferrand, Spa, Zandvoort, Brands Hatch and Monza. Each race is a crucial moment for at least one of the characters, and Monaco sets the ball rolling with a near-fatal accident.

Bedford's Stoddard, we quickly learn, is the favorite of team owner Jeff Jordan (Jack Watson,) and when teammate Aron's gearbox troubles block Stoddard's pursuit of Sarti for the lead, the two men end up colliding somewhere between Tabac and Piscine. Aron is sent crashing through the hay bales into the harbour...

...while Stoddard has a spectacular collision with a stone wall that leaves him bloodied and broken. Jordan is furious, and fires Aron after calling him a liar and a coward, which seems a bit extreme. Sarti wins the race, and becomes the season favorite for his fourth championship.

Sarti is less than celebratory when Aron meets him at the hotel; they're both veterans, but Sarti is losing his love for the race, and asks Pete if he ever gets "tired of the driving." His world-weariness gets sidelined, however, when Montand's Sarti meets Louise, an American journalist played by Eva Marie Saint, at a tony party that night.

They have a wary, probing exchange in a private auto museum owned by the party's host, which establishes that Louise is mystified by the appeal of motor racing and horrified by the cavalier acceptance of injury and death by the racers, and the crowd's eagerness for blood. Montand is the perfect actor to counter her squeamishness with a weary stoicism, and a bitterly heroic insistence that "there is no terrible way to win. There is only winning."

It's a grim kind of meet-cute, but from my own jaded critical perspective, the most radical thing about it is the fact that the film's key relationship will involve two people clearly in middle age, attractive though they might be.

Frankenheimer's film will involve two other romances, one a triangle involving Stoddard, Aron, and Stoddard's estranged wife Pat (Jessica Walter - known today as the caustic snob matriarch Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development,) the other an embarassing youthful tryst between Sabato's Barlini and a beatnik racing groupie played by French chanteuse Francoise Hardy. (Bedford's Stoddard, with the tartan band on his helmet and his very pretty wife, seems to be based largely on Jackie Stewart; Montand's Sarti is a cross between John Surtees and Lorenzo Bandini; Garner's character is anyone's guess, though there's perhaps a bit of Phil Hill.)

If it were made today - and I can't imagine that it would be without Bernie Ecclestone making the producers pay a prohibitively high price for F1 involvement - I doubt that the youthful romance would be so tossed off compared to the tentative but adult consolations that Montand and Saint's characters offer each other, though I like to hope that a contemporary screenwriter would recognize the triangle as an ultimately pointless thing and abandon it in an early draft.

In any case, the only other relationship that matches Louise and Sarti is the one between Manetta, the Enzo Ferrari stand-in played by Adolfo Celi (Bond villain Largo in Thunderball) and his stable of drivers. After Monaco, we see Garner's Aron make the pilgrimage to Maranello to plead for a place on the team.

Frankenheimer was able to get unprecedented access to Ferrari's shop floor, and while Manetta tells Aron that he no longer trusts him as a driver who truly wants to win, our eyes are distracted by the long row of red F1 cars and a few of the curvaceous and ravishing 330 P3s that Ferrari was wielding in their ultimately unsuccessful battle with the Ford GT40 at Le Mans.

Ferrari's involvement in the film was hard won; Enzo originally turned Frankenheimer down, but when the director sent him a rough edit of his Monaco race sequence, Ferrari changed his mind and gave him complete access to the cars and the shop, and even turned a blind eye to the less-than-flattering portrayal by Celi of a controlling dictator indifferent to the emotional and physical cost of racing on his drivers. There was no mistaking who Celi was playing - actors even address Manetta as "commendatore," Ferrari's own honorific - and a Google search pulled up evidence that the men even met, highlighting their striking resemblance.

The next race is at the Charade Circuit at Clermont-Ferrand. Pete has been forced to humiliate himself by taking a gig as a racing reporter for an American news network.

While he wanders the pits looking for an interview, Garner shares the screen with actual drivers like Graham Hill and Joe Bonnier, who either played themselves or took on small roles as rival racers and camera car drivers. Many of these men - Hill, Bonnier, Jim Clark, Bruce McLaren, Jochen Rindt - would die on the track in a few years, underlining how real the film's portrayal of mortal risk actually was.

By this time Sarti and Louise have begun a very serene romance, and Frankenheimer captures the race at Clement-Ferrand with an audacious lyricism. Over a dreamy waltz by composer Maurice Jarre, the camera coyly shoots around the edges of the track, through crowds in the trees, and breaks up into soft-edged multiples and superimpositions.

If you knew what you were looking for, a title card way back at the beginning of the film revealed the inspiration for Frankenheimer's visual genius in Grand Prix:

Saul Bass, the designer of the shower sequence in Psycho and some of the most iconic title sequences in movie history, was the director's collaborator for the racing scenes in Grand Prix, and one day a special edition release of the film will allow viewers to skip the plot of the film entirely and simply take in all six racing scenes in sequence, like the karoke features on movie musical DVDs that just play the songs.

(Hopefully the same deluxe version will include samples of the 27 reels of footage Frankenheimer shot at the Nürburgring, and was forced in a contractual dispute to give to John Sturges and Steve McQueen, who were working on the racing film that would ultimately become Le Mans four years later.)

Sarti wins the race, and steps up his courtship of Louise by inviting her to stay with him at a place he keeps just by the track at Monza. Pete also begins his very guilty fling with Stoddard's wife Pat while Yamura (Toshiro Mifune,) the owner of the Honda-like Japanese team struggling for its first Grand Prix win, begins his own courtship of Pete to drive for this team.

Before the next race, a scene shows Garner and Montand with the other drivers, at an informal meeting of the driver's association where they argue about unsafe conditions at Spa.

Racing fans will geek out over the scene - besides Graham Hill, we recognize Rindt, Bruce McLaren, Phil Hill and Richie Ginter. Sharper eyes might pick out Dan Gurney and Jack Brabham, and there are persistent rumours that Lorenzo Bandini and Juan Manguel Fangio can be spotted in the briefest of cameos. You won't see this many racecar driver cameos again until Cars 2.

The camera at the Spa race begins high in the air and settles in the cockpit of the cars, first looking over the shoulder of the drivers before settling firmly behind the wheel, and a viewpoint familiar to anyone who's killed countless afternoons on Forza or Gran Turismo.

Pete trails Sarti until rain begins falling, and Frankenheimer's camera gives us the treacherous vision of cars lurching into view through the squalls. Sarti's car loses a wheel, and he crashes, killing two boys who had snuck past the nonexistent barriers closer to the track - an echo of a similar accident at Le Mans just two years before.

Pete wins while Stoddard looks on sourly from his crutches in pit lane, and Sarti is attacked by the father of one of the dead boys. After an intermission, we see Stoddard take delivery of a beautiful late '50s car in British racing green. His brother, a champion who died on the track, had raced in it, and while his anguished mother looks on he painfully folds himself into the cockpit and sets out on the road to recovery...

...which leads him in one quick cut to a record-breaking qualifying lap at Zandvoort. He's keen to make up for lost ground and win back his wife, and his painkiller-fuelled comeback has clearly unnerved Pete, who seems to be losing his appetite for both Stoddard's wife and driving.

After a glorious aerial shot showing the scenic seaside bleakness of the track, the Frankenheimer-Bass collaboration shifts into top gear, with a sequence where the screen splits into quarters, each quadrant focusing on a driver or playing off someone in the stands or the pits with a driver.

Sarti's car loses its throttle and as the camera focuses on Stoddard in victory lane in one part of the frame, another shows Montand arguing with his mechanic, then Stoddard in his hotel room massaging his scarred leg and filling up another syringe. It's such brisk, stylish and economical filmmaking, and it's the major reason why the rest of the film, away from the track, seems tame and conventional.

Stoddard's winning streak continues offscreen through Watkins Glen and Mexico City, but ends at Brands Hatch, a section of the film that begins with a fantastic shot of Lord Kitchener leading a Guards band down the home straight.

The drugs and the pace finally take their toll on Stoddard, who retires halfway through the race, and Sarti's winning streak seems to have deserted him - he loses the lead to his callow but cocky junior teammate, and ends up fighting with Pete for second place, which he loses as Aron literally drives past him on fire.

Garner did this stunt himself, and after narrowly escaping death when his car really did burst into flames, lost his Lloyd's insurance policy for the rest of the filming. Apart from the real drivers, the cast wasn't embarassed by racing talent - Sabato and Bedford apparently couldn't drive, and Montand was so scared that he did most of his scenes being towed by the camera car. Garner, like Paul Newman a year later on Winning, discovered that he loved racing, and became a team owner a year after Grand Prix came out, fielding cars in endurance races like Le Mans and Sebring and preparing race cars for AMC, but his place in automotive history would be assured thanks to the "Rockford."

By this point, you might have realized that Grand Prix is really just a re-make of an old World War Two flyboy picture; two hotshot aces fighting over the same girl while their grizzled squadron leader finds consolation in the arms of the frosty WAAF officer. Flight Lieutenant Stoddard, recovering from hideous burns, would find that Pilot Officer Aron, the Yank who left Chicago to fight the Nazis, had been making time with the lieutenant's querulous wife. Frankenheimer might have been innovating wildly with his cameras on the race track with Bass, but nobody had bothered to find a new way to tell the story.

While his teammate celebrates his first Grand Prix trophy, Sarti leaves the pub, which is located with thematic heavyhandedness right next to a quaint English church and its blue-lit graveyard. He tells Louise that his life is starting to become absurd. Of course it is - this was the '60s after all, and the fallout from postwar European intellectual self-flagellation had finally begun to fall through the brilliant sunlight of Hollywood.

Heroes no longer held their heads up, glaring defiantly past the camera in the final frames, but had became pensive and skittish, no longer certain that heroism could overcome fate or time or the malice of governments or fashion or their fellow man. He wasn't quite an anti-hero yet, but he was firmly on the path, and that's the reason why the films of the '50s and '60s, even if they featured actors who once made their name playing Algeresque optimists, played out like widescreen, Technicolor bummers.

The film climaxes at Monza, where just as in real life, the Ferrari boss makes his only appearance at the track; in Grand Prix, Manetta shows up in a lovely (and extremely rare) 500 Superfast, with Sarti's chillingly beautiful wife (Geneviève Page) riding shotgun. In a confrontation that would be a startling echo of John Surtees' own showdown with Enzo Ferrari at Le Mans months before the film was released, he threatens to quit. (It was apparently no coincidence that their names were so similar, if only so that track announcements recorded while Surtees was racing could be used on the film's soundtrack.)

His icy automotive executive wife tells him that he'll never quit with either racing or their loveless marriage; they're both business relationships that benefit him and everyone else, and she won't let him compromise this equitable arrangement. Sarti, it seems, is a man who has sold his soul to the devil, and we all know where that deal ends.

The film builds to a formal elegance at the climax; each of the four drivers is introduced by a close-up of the bracelet or necklace medallion engraved with their name and blood type. The screen splits in two to show them on the Monza track alongside a flashback to an earlier moment in the film. And while Grand Prix seasons in the mid-'60s usually ended in Mexico City, it quickly becomes obvious why Frankenheimer wanted to end the film at Monza:

The in-character interview voiceovers return as we see Sarti, Stoddard, Barlini and Aron blast down the straightaways and turn into the famous banking at Monza, as they explain why drivers hate the track, why it's the perfect place to slipstream your way into the lead, and how punishing the banking is on both man and car. Let's take another look at that banking:

Holy shit. The Monza banking hadn't actually been used since 1961, and it sits rotting away in parkland next to the track today, but Frankenheimer knew what a terrifying vision it would be in Cinerama with his cameras bolted to the cars as they barreled along nearly parallel to the ground. It's not surprising that it's where Sarti, fighting up from last place and within reach of the race's leaders, falls victim to an exhaust pipe that shakes free from a Lotus he's about to lap. He loses control, goes airborne, and...

He's rushed back at the grandstands in a hopeless condition, and while his icy wife departs in the ambulance with his body, Louise dissolves into hysterics, waving her bloody hands in front of the crowd and the photographers, shrieking that they finally got what they came to see.

Manetta/Ferrari pulls out a black flag and signals for Barlini to head for the pits and give up his lead. Pete and Stoddard fight for first place and Pete wins, but his celebration happens under the pall of black smoke from Sarti's burning Ferrari. While hardly the tragic hero - that honour probably goes to Montand's Sarti - Garner takes a lonely last walk down the grid and past the finish line before the credits roll, a hero diminished by tragedy.

I could probably watch the racing sequences from Grand Prix every day, but I doubt if I'd want to sit through its lifeless dialogue, mostly unappealing relationships or culturally depressive '60s fug again. The awkward break-up scene between Hardy and Sabato alone is enough to make you wonder why, precisely, anyone thought the depthless, frugging youth of the time were worth more than the odd beach party film or Pepsi commercial; surely the decision to shift the social and cultural machinery into the hands of these half-assed hedonists was some kind of clerical error?

For race geeks, Grand Prix offers another reason to sigh deeply and curse history, and the many appreciations of the film fondly recall it as a record of a time when cars "were unadorned and gorgeously streamlined, before wings and other aerodynamic devices uglified them and before sponsors turned the cars into billboards." So what if the sport had a body count that makes logging and crab fishing look like forensic accounting? Heroism just violates health and safety regulations nowadays, they're trying to make racing "green," and nobody can drive on the Monza banking anymore.