October 29, 2010

ZAZ Zaporozhets 968.

Our apologies for taking a while to put up the answer to the mystery car, we ran into technical difficulties. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, here it is: a Ukrainian-built ZAZ Zaporozhets 968, once the USSR's cheapest car.

We got several correct guesses, including one reader from Hungary who recalled that his father owned one in the 1970s. "I don't have a lot of memories about the car", he wrote, "only that it was slow, loud, and we finally sold it for $50." Another reader sympathized with the owner of the blue car we featured who presumably threw the “horrid little thing” down a ditch in Sicily.

The ZAZ brand was founded in 1958 by the USSR's government. The idea behind the brand was to create a cheap and easy to maintain people's car for the USSR. The first car in the Zaporozhets series was the ZAZ 965, intoduced in 1960. It was a small rear-engined two door car whose design was influenced by Fiat’s 600, though the two shared no components. It had a rear-mounted air-cooled V4 engine that had a displacement of 748cc, giving the little car a scant 23hp. Little changed until 1966 – hardly surprising given the USSR’s vast allocation of resources to nuclear weapons during this time period – when the engine was upgraded to 887cc (30hp). The new engine gave the 965 extra power and extra noise behind the rear seats but more importantly it was also used to power a new model: the ZAZ 966.

To develop the new car ZAZ again looked to the west for inspiration: the 966 looks like the thoroughly illegitimate offspring of an NSU Prinz and a Hillman Imp. It consequently looked much more modern than the 965 and boasted the particularity of having two heating systems, one that ran off of engine heat and one that was independent of it, providing heat without the engine on. Later in its career the 966 was available with a 40hp 1196cc and renamed the 966B.

The next update in the ZAZ saga brings us to our mystery car, the 1970 968. The 968 was essentially a 966 with the 1196cc pushed to 48hp, making the car almost freeway-worthy. The 968 would be the ultimate evolution of the Zaporozhets series and stayed in production until 1994 with minor aesthetic changes. Our mystery car is likely from the late 1970s: the 968 series was imported to Italy in 1977 but sales ended quickly as the model was too late. Italy left rear-engined, rear-wheel drive cars behind almost ten years before the 968's arrival on their market.

For those who found the traditional Zaporozhets sedans too bland, ZAZ built three interesting variants of the 966/968.

The first is the ZAZ 970, a Fiat 900T-esque vehicle based on the 968:

The second is a pickup version of the 968. Oddly enough it doesn't appear that the engine was mounted differently than in a sedan so one can imagine how much that compromises the potential cargo space:

Lastly, in a valiant but futile attempt to export the 966 around certain European markets ZAZ introduced the Yalta 1000, a slightly upmarket 966 with a metal grille, metal hubcaps and a 956cc Renault 8 engine. It was assembled in Belgium. (It is worth noting that the 965 was also exported to the west under the Yalta name, creating confusion between the two models.)

Below: a ZAZ 965A, the first ZAZ:

A ZAZ 966 V4 engine:

Note: we did not take any of the above photos and do not take credit for them.

October 21, 2010

Mystery car.

What is this blue sedan parked in the remote hills outside of Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, Sicily? Email us at ranwhenparked -at- hotmail -dot- com if you know, we'll post the answer in a few days.

October 19, 2010

You don't see these too often: Honda Acty

Japanese "Kei" class vehicles will occasionally pop up in the States for institutional use. Penn State has several for example. It's not often, however, that they appear for sale at your local Chevrolet dealer. (Alas, it's sold "As-is. No Warranty") This happy looking fellow is perhaps one of my personal favorites since I have a fondness for Hondas. This is a 2nd generation (mid 1990s) Honda Acty sporting "Real Time" four wheel drive and a 4-speed manual transmission driven by a 660 cc inline 3-cylinder.

It can carry 770 lbs of stuff... not bad.  I wonder if you can put a snow blower on the front...

Granted, it's probably horribly unsafe on the highway, but you could probably never find a way to register it. (though they can reach highway speeds which is perhaps the scariest part) Regardless, it would be fun to have one of these around the house for yard work, or even as the ultimate urban winter car. New, these sell for around $10,000 in Japan. No price was given on this example.

October 15, 2010

Ka siebzig.

NSU was in trouble in the late 1960s. The Wankel engines it had spent a significant amount of time developing proved unsuccessful and unreliable, costing the company an astronomical amount of money. The company’s lineup consisted mostly of small, rear-engined cars that were in vogue in the beginning of the decade but quickly going out of style as the 1970s drew nearer. The bigger and more modern Ro80 was introduced in 1967 but its Wankel engine was notorious for leaking rotor seals, the same problem that plagued other rotary-powered NSUs. In 1969 Volkswagen acquired NSU and the projects the company was working on, including the near production-ready K70 (ka siebzig in German), a smaller sedan that would fill the gap between the Prinz models and the larger Ro80. The K in its name denotes that NSU developed a traditional piston engine for it - piston in German is kolben.

Volkswagen initially cancelled the K70 project, a move heavily criticized by both the press and potential customers. What was the point of turning down a new, modern, car to produce the ancient Beetle and other Beetle-derived cars? Volkswagen was not deaf to criticism and gave the K70 a green light for production. There was a catch: the car would sport a VW emblem on its grille, not an NSU emblem.

Designed by NSU, the K70 was diametrically opposed to anything that had previously come out of a Volkswagen factory: it was the first water-cooled Volkswagen. It was also the first front-engined Volkswagen. Under the front hood was Volkswagen’s first in-line engine. And to take it further, it was the first front wheel drive Volkswagen! The public was shocked, it was difficult to envisage a Volkswagen without an air-cooled boxer engine; it was like if Citroen had come out with a rear-engined sedan to replace the DS. Even more shocking to drivers accustomed to the Beetle’s questionable handling was that the car actually drove pretty well. Front disk brakes stopped the car efficiently, typically-German seats provided just the right amount of support and the car’s independent suspension gave it a comfortable ride. The boxy body, penned by Claus Luthe, prefigured the styling trend of the 1970s. (A bit of automotive design trivia: Claus Luthe is the same man who is responsible for designing the BMW E30.)

The 1605cc four-cylinder that powered the K70 was a distant cousin of the NSU 1200’s engine. Buyers could choose between a 75hp version of the engine and a 90hp version. An 1807cc four-cylinder (100hp) was available in 1973 on the top-of-the-line K70 LS, which had four round headlights instead of the two square units that other models had. The K70’s drivetrain is worth a mention: the engine was longitudinally mounted and the four speed manual transmission was bolted directly to the back of the engine; nothing to rave about here. However, to actually drive the wheels a differential was mounted in front of the transmission, so under the engine, approximately where cylinders 3 and 4 are. To avoid the whole setup being too tall the engine was tilted 32 degrees towards the passenger side of the car. Another neat feature of this engine is the possibility to adjust the valves without removing the valve cover. Instead, each valve had a removable cap on the valve cover, a setup also used in the NSU Prinz.

Available in either base, L or LS trim, the K70 was a promising package. The European motoring press liked it, too. Complaints about it from period road test include the car’s high fuel consumption, the noisy engine, its dim headlights and its ashtray which is too far to the right of the driver. The car lost the 1971 Car of the Year award to the Citroen GS but came ahead of the Citroen SM. The K70 could have had a brilliant career as an NSU but as a Volkswagen it had to fight for its right to exist. Wolfsburg didn’t want it, it was trespassing on the type 4’s land.

The type 4 and the K70 were completely different in architecture and design but competed against each other; their dimensions, performance and their price were very close. The K70 measured 442 centimeters long (174 inches) and weighed 1080 kilos (2380 pounds). On the other hand, the 412 was 455 centimeters long (179 inches) and also weighed 1080 kilos. The K70 went from 0-100 km/h in 13.3 seconds, a task that took the 412 (equipped with a manual transmission) 16.5 seconds.

In 1974 a 412 cost 18,800 francs while a K70 set a buyer back 18,920. By comparison, the Passat ranged from 13,990 for a base two-door model and 17,990 for a top of the range four-door model. A 911 Turbo cost 48,000 francs and a 1200 sedan (better known as the Beetle) started at 8,990 francs.

The K70 had another enemy from within the Volkswagen group: the Audi 100, launched in 1968. It, too, had the same basic dimensions, performance and price as the K70. It measured 462 centimeters (181 inches), weighed 1090 kilos (2,403 pounds) and sprinted from zero to 100 km/h in 12.5 seconds, all for 19,690 francs (price in 1974). The Audi 100 looked very similar to the K70 which created further confusion between the two cousins. The 100 didn't have rear independent suspension so the K70 had a more comfortable ride, arguably.

The K70 was overshadowed by the 411/412 range and the Audi 100 and failed to find its public, a disappointing fate for a modern, well-designed car. NSU had planned a station wagon version of it which Volkswagen nixed because it already had the 411 Variant. Had this version seen the light of day the K70 might have had a better chance of imposing its presence on the market. Production ended in February of 1975. The International K70 Club (based in Germany) claims that 210,082 K70s were produced while other sources say that 211,341 is the correct number. This number may seem fairly low for a high-volume manufacturer like Volkswagen but it’s very close to the 45,000 K70s NSU had planned to build each year.

It’s worth noting that the K70 wasn’t the only NSU project that wound up on showroom floors wearing a Volkswagen crest. The Volkswagen Polo was born as the Audi 50; the 50 project was started by NSU as a replacement for the Prinz.

Below, a diagram of the K70's drivetrain:

Below, the K70’s engine bay. Note the caps for valve adjustements:
All photos scanned out of period documents for Ran When Parked.

October 4, 2010

Watkins Glen Vintage Races - 2010

I've been attending the vintage races at Watkins Glen every September for many years now, and it's always an event to end the summer on a good note. There are always a nice assortment of both race and show cars on display, not only on track, but throughout the entire town of Watkins Glen, NY.
This year, in celebration of Alfa Romeo's 100th birthday, the Milanese machines were the featured marque. There were many varieties to be found from 1920s Ferrari team 8C Grand Prix cars to 1970s Can-Am racers, and even a few GT type Milano / 75s.
The Alfas were by far not the only vehicles to see, hear, and smell at the event. As the Glen's vintage event is one of the largest (if not THE largest) in the United States, there's always something for everyone.

Friday afternoon features the annual parade laps around the original race circuit through the streets of Watkins Glen. There's a concours d'elegance for road-going cars near Watkins Glen State Park followed by a street precession. Then, many of the race cars come out and offer a unique treat to viewers as they blast through the small town streets.

 When the day wraps-up around 7pm, there are several good places to get a drink and dinner right down town, though I personally suggest visiting the Seneca Lodge a mile or so up the road.

Back at the track, the main event(s) are held. The Glen played host to some fantastic professional racing in its heyday from the 1960s through the 80s with the United States Grand Prix, Six Hours of Watkins Glen, and also the Can-Am series. Many of the cars that raced there in anger 30 or more years ago return to this spiritual home of road racing in the States for a delightfully nostalgic time.
Classes vary from small displacement sports cars to extremely fast endurance racing prototypes and Formula One cars. Practice and qualifying races last most of the day on Saturday and the final standings are decided in Sunday's races. While many of the vehicles are far too valuable to race hard, it's still great to see them out on track driving fast and getting used.
Hard-core fans (myself and company included) typically drive their own classic and sports cars to the event and camp track side for the weekend. Below, is friend Pat's Caterham 7, next to our 914 and the trusty old Golf "support vehicle" at the campgrounds.

There are far too many unique and interesting cars to post all of them here, but to give you an idea, here are a few. Check out the full set of photos on Facebook here:
and here:

Above: A couple Can-Am McLarens, Below: Carlos Reutemann's Brabham Formula 1 car.

Below: Sports racers old and new. Alfa Romeo T33 and Audi R8.

Below: One of the oldest cars at the event, a 1908 Ford Model K.

Below: Not many tracks offer the sort of view that allows photos this close to be taken from your camp site... 

Below: Some of the more outstanding Italian cars on display in the Kendall tech center.

In contrast, a Peugeot 505 Turbo racing car:

And in case all those European cars left you longing for more visual audacity, there were a few American cars as well:

And finally, we must not forget one of the most successful vintage race cars around today, the Porsche 914:

For a digital copy or use of any large-sized photos shown here or on the Facebook pages, contact Ian at ranwhenparked -at- hotmail -dot- com