Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff

SHOW CARS I’VE DRIVEN—MORE OR LESS

CONCEPT CARS are the icing on the auto show cake. These cars embody the latest trends of auto styling. They often hint at products coming soon from automakers. They can make magazine covers. And, last, they may even be drivable.

That is, not every concept car has an engine. Within their heavily tinted greenhouse, some have no interiors. Even the drivable ones don’t necessarily operate very well; their mechanicals are far from optimized, maybe just capable of getting the car off its transporter and onto location in the exhibition hall.

There are, of course, exceptions. During my years at R&T, I drove several show cars. Whatever the extent of the drive, these cars remain memorable.

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The Dome P-2, R&T, September 1979. This and the following covers from coverbrowser.com.

Not long after joining the magazine in 1979, I drove the Dome P-2, a Japanese concept car, for its action photos around Orange County International Raceway, where I did the magazine’s track testing back then. I got in some highway miles as well.

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“… it wasn’t long before I felt sufficiently at-one to probe a few limits, my own and the car’s.”—your author’s comment, 1979.

This Dome was the second prototype of a proposed exotic that never made production. However, it was most definitely drivable, indeed, enthusiastically so. Mid-engine power came from a 2.7-liter inline-six sourced from Nissan, essentially the same engine as the Datsun 280ZX’s.

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The Dome cockpit was a press-fit for me, but acceptable.

Alas, Japanese homologation was never forthcoming (the Dome possibly perceived as “too sporty”); plans for export sales fell through too. Minoru Hayashi, its developer, took a pair of Ford-Cosworth Domes to Le Mans in 1979, where both DNF’d. A year later at Le Mans, a sole Dome finished last of 25 cars; 31 others failed in a race of high attrition. Enthusiastic to the core, Hayashi continued with cars of his own design for six more years at Le Mans; car enthusiast/Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason was one of the drivers in 1983.

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A pair of Saabs made the May 1984 cover of R&T, one of them traveling very quickly—and low.

Another drivable concept car of memory was the 1984 Saab 900 Turbo 16 EV-1, as in Experimental Vehicle, first iteration. The magazine got a World Exclusive of this Saab show car prior to its international debut at the Los Angeles Auto Expo. I traveled to a wintry Sweden with R&T Contributing Photographer Jeff Zwart. Jeff was known back then for having spent his childhood on the rear shelf of a Porsche; he’s renowned today for his Porsche mastery of Pikes Peak.

The EV-1 photo shoot was one I’ll never forget: “The Saab Viggen fighter began as barely a dot. We—and another Saab of an entirely different sort—were at the other end of the runway and, for reasons not entirely rational, we had carefully aligned ourselves directly in the path of the approaching jet. The dot grew better defined, larger and louder as it lifted off.

But instead of pulling upward, its pilot retracted the gear, lit the afterburner and bore past us at 250 mph at an altitude of 35 ft. Hell’s own fury followed, redolent of kerosene and a flash of heat in the sub-zero temperature.”

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The EV-1’s interior was leather-lined and heated.

Photographer Jeff lay sprawled out on the tarmac; I was comfortable within the EV-1’s heated leather-lined cabin. Swedish Air Force Captain P.G. Hogbäck understood Jeff’s predilection for multiple takes, and I believe he flew lower on each one.

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The shoot completed, Captain P.G. Hogbäck checks out the EV-1 from yet a little closer.

The April 1992 cover shoot of the Monte Carlo GTB was another World Exclusive. Yet, given the month, in retrospect it could have been R&T’s April Fools test. Contributing Editor Phil Hill and R&T shooter John Lamm made the trip to Monaco for this one; I was merely on the editorial receiving end in Newport Beach, California.

Monte Carlo GTB,

Monte Carlo GTB, April 1992.

Phil had hopes of blasting across the Grande Corniche in this mid-engine V-12 exotic, accompanied by pal and famed Italian engineer Carlo Chiti. However, as Phil wrote, “Chiti attached his lap-top computer to the engine-management system by umbilical cord, the V-12 roared into life, and we can report that his V-12 makes a wonderful and powerful noise…. Chiti punched a few more characters into his lap-top; the engine stopped. Ecco! Was that not magnificent?”

Terrible weather in Italy had forced Italian Formula One teams to Barcelona for pre-season testing. And the engineer responsible for the Monte Carlo GTB’s engine management went with them. Thus, the engine wouldn’t run without that umbilical cord linked to Chiti’s lap-top.

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Fingerprints on aft portions of the Monte Carlo GTB were evidently wiped off before its beauty shots.

Fortunately, Monaco is hilly and John Lamm was able to get his action photography. However, Phil reported, “So what can you learn from driving a car that’s rolling down a hill?” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016

7 comments on “SHOW CARS I’VE DRIVEN—MORE OR LESS

  1. lureofspeed
    March 25, 2016

    Great stuff, and the Dome looked superb.

  2. Jeff Zwart
    March 25, 2016

    great memories Dennis… thanks for recounting.

  3. David Rees
    April 3, 2016

    Good stuff Dennis – thank you.

  4. simanaitissays
    April 4, 2016

    And thank you, lure, Jeff, David, for your kind words.

  5. carmacarcounselor
    January 11, 2018

    Dennis
    I sat in on Denise McCluggage’s Santa Fe Car Table back in the spring of 2008, and she mentioned a plan to tour Europe with you in a new Rolls-Royce. I think it was a Phantom DHC – the one with the teak deck like a yacht.
    Like those who knew her far better than I, I miss her greatly. Do you have any recollection of an event like that?

    • simanaitissays
      January 12, 2018

      I surely do. Denise, rest her dear soul, and I co-drove a Phantom Coupe on its press-trip intro. As I recall, the adventure included driving the left-hand-drive car (destined for delivery to the Middle East) to the Chunnel and then across France to Geneva. See R&T, November 2008, and also http://wp.me/p2ETap-6dR.

  6. carmacarcounselor
    January 12, 2018

    I doubt my diminishing stacks of past issues extends ten years back so I will have to imagine your scintillating prose. I now regret that so much of my correspondence and conversation with Ms McCluggage was limited to automotive topics. Her interests and knowledge extended so much wider, and we originally connected on the basis of more meditative subjects.

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This entry was posted on March 24, 2016 by in Classic Bits and tagged , , , .
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