Spied! Mitsubishi's Next Eclipse By displaying its Eclipse Concept at the 2004 Detroit Auto Show, Mitsubishi removed all doubt that a new version of its sport coupe was on its way. These spy shots indicate the Concept was indeed a direct indicator of the next production Eclipse.Scheduled to enter production early in 2005 as a 2006 model, the new Eclipse doesn't differ much from the current car in terms of absolute size, but the proportions have shifted, with a shorter hood and the wheels pushed to the far corners of the car. The side windows now slash down at their leading edges to produce visibility and apparently necessitate fixed quarter windows. The lack of framing on the side windows also indicates that a convertible Spyder version is inevitable ... though not likely before mid-2006. You can't see much through the camouflage, but the fenders and door shapes are vastly more voluptuous than the current Eclipse. Look for the rear quarter of the car to be dominated by a tiered hatch incorporating the third brake light along the seam.
Underneath the new body is the same basic "Project America" platform that underpins the Endeavor SUV and Galant sedan. While the Endeavor is available with all-wheel drive, don't expect the glory of the early AWD Diamond Star cars to return with this Eclipse. Instead expect the Galant's 160-hp, 2.4-liter four and 230-hp, 3.8-liter V6 to be churning the front wheels in this coupe-there'll be no turbo on that four either.
As conventional as the next Eclipse's mechanical package is, its styling promises to be aggressive. Will that be enough?
Honda Swamps Swampy Indy Despite rain delays that sucked the vigor out of the most rabid race fan, the Indianapolis 500 was in fact run on Memorial Day weekend and the winner was Honda. Others involved include driver Buddy Rice and team owners Bobby Rahal and David Letterman.
But the real story isn't just that Buddy Rice won the Indy 500 with a Honda powerplant doing the pushing, but how thoroughly Honda dominated the entire event. In qualifying, Honda-powered cars filled the first two rows (including pole-sitter Rice) and eight of the first nine starting positions. In the race itself, Hondas took the seven top spots and eight of the top 10. May wasn't just a good month for Honda, it was a spectacular month-so good, it may want to think about not coming back next year so as not to spoil the memory.
Much of the credit for Honda's success goes not just to the engineers at that fine company, but to Britain's Ilmor Engineering, which developed the Indy V8, services it at the track and effectively managed the transition from the Indy Racing League's 3.5- to 3.0-liter displacement. Ilmor also builds V10 engines for the McLaren Formula One team under the Mercedes-Benz logo. In fact, Ilmor, which also used to build Indy engines for Chevrolet and Mercedes, is now partly owned by DaimlerChrysler. So though Honda gets the glory this time, Mercedes can claim some too though they ought to keep quiet about it as long as Honda is still writing checks.
Honda is reportedly bringing Indy engine development in-house next year. Here's hoping they can match the standard set by their contractor.
Team RTR And SCC Finish 3rd The middle of Ohio has the sort of weather that can best be described as "predictably unpredictable." Even in the middle of June, it's not unusual for there to be both scorching sunshine and a hail storm on the very same day-or heck, within the same hour. The racing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course isn't much different from the weather.
With practice dodging intermittent showers, just which cars would prove dominant at June's Mid-Ohio Speed World Challenge Touring Car round wasn't apparent even after qualifying. For Peter Cunningham and his TeamRTR, putting their Nissan Sentra SE-R (flying Sport Compact Car's colors just below each front door) third on the starting grid was encouraging as their best qualifying effort of the three-race-old season. The big surprise was that Bill Auberlen, who was carrying a three-race winning streak (dating back to last season) into Mid-Ohio, would be starting his BMW 325i fourth. A slightly smaller surprise was that Matt Plumb had put his RealTime Racing Acura TSX on the pole just ahead of Nic Jonsson in a BMW 325Ci.
With nothing but solid cars and solid drivers heading up the field, it was almost inevitable the top four would pull away from the other 30 cars that started. While Plumb and Jonsson stayed in first and second at the start (and maintained those positions throughout the race) a strong launch by Auberlen propelled him past Cunningham and the real battle would be between those two.
"He was better than I was at the start," says Cunningham about Auberlen. "But as it settled down and I burned off some fuel, it evened out. This is the fastest this hot rod has ever gone, but all the other hot rods have been getting faster at the same time. I had as good a start as I've ever had with this car."
Cunningham was obviously eager to pass Auberlen as the race progressed, with the Nissan nudging the BMW from behind a few times in a bit of "bump drafting." But that was actually an effective driving tactic, says Cunningham, rather than a release of on-track aggression. "The two of us working together could go faster," says Cunningham, "than if we were arguing with one another." If he had slowed to avoid nudging Auberlen, all he'd have done was sacrifice momentum. This way, they both maintained their pace.
Finally, on lap 22 Cunningham out-braked Auberlen going into Turn Six just as the BMW was coming up on some lapped traffic. The pass completed, Cunningham's Nissan maintained a comfortable margin over Auberlen's BMW for the last five of the 27 laps. "I was hoping the BMWs would fade as the race went on," says Cunningham, "and Bill's did a bit. But we never got bunched up behind traffic so it was hard to make up ground. The finishing order was the same as the qualifying order, but that's not what happened in the race."
Matt Plumb's Mid-Ohio win was the first for the Acura TSX and the Nissan's solid performance indicates that whatever advantage the rear-drive BMWs had is diminishing as the season wears on. And clearly, TeamRTR has one advantage over the entire field: those Sport Compact Car stickers.
"On most tracks, those stickers are worth half a second," reports Cunningham. "Unless, of course, Scott Oldham is around to offer driving advice. Then they're only worth four-tenths."
Just Driven Mini Ragtop Although the new MINI convertible is available only in the base Cooper model, it held its own on our drive through the fast and windy roads of Southern France.
Like its hardtop sister, the Cooper convertible is powered by a 1.6-liter, 16-valve, inline four-cylinder engine that's rated at 115 hp at 6000 rpm and 110 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm. MINI says it pulls from 0-to-62 mph in 9.8 seconds. If that's too slow for you, just wait a year; for 2005, a MINI Cooper S convertible will be available.
The soft top, available in black, blue and green, folds down electro-hydraulically via a button above the rearview mirror. It takes about 15 seconds for the roof to retract, the windows to roll down and the last bit to fold over in a neat, three-fold, Z formation. The Z formation, which was first used on the BMW Z4, is cool because the hard leading edge of the top acts as a hard tonneau cover when the top is lowered.
MINI added some elegant chrome bling across the redesigned front and rear bumpers. Newly reconfigured headlights and taillights in clear glass portray "go fast" a little better than the previous conservative arrangement on the hardtop. The new look is subtle and tasteful.
MINI insists the soft top doesn't deny its owner much trunk space. The engineers designed a trunk door that not only opens, but widens when the top is down so as much space as possible can be utilized. MINI says back seat passenger room isn't compromised, either.
As with all convertibles, keeping it all together is a big concern. MINI makes sure the convertible chassis is stiff enough by integrating high-strength steel into the A-pillars and sturdy aluminum bracing in back and by increasing the thickness of the side sills. Additionally, extra crossbars and stiffeners near the floor pan and the rear lend support under the body. We wouldn't pull any "Italian Job"-style mid-air stunts in the Cooper convertible, but cowlshake was not an issue, even on some of Europe's cobblestone roads.
Prices for the ragtops are about $5,000 more than the cost of hardtop models.-Ella Ngo
Just Driven Skyline Coupe S-Tune That impact of video games has now spread from the virtual to the real. NISMO and the folks at Polyphony Digital, the creators of Gran Turismo, have teamed up and created the Skyline Coupe S-Tune (aka the G35 Coupe in America). No area of the vehicle remains untouched, from a stunning aero package to the guts of the engine.
The heart of it all is the NISMO VQ35 S1 V6. Engine upgrades include new camshafts, conrod bolts, reinforced valve springs, a bigger throttle body and intake pipe, a carbon engine cover and iridium spark plugs. A specially tuned NISMO ECM unit not only keeps all these new bits working in harmony, it increases redline to 7200 rpm. Last, but not least, is a lightweight, high-flow engine-back exhaust system. Nissan says these changes add up to 18 additional hp. It feels like more.
The 3.5-liter now whoops and howls its way through the powerband with a beastly roar. It's still plenty strong down low, but now it literally explodes when it comes on cam at 3500 rpm. The noise and fury is so sweet, you find yourself slowing down just to run up through the rpm range again and again.
Brake upgrades are a bit more low-key, with stainless mesh brake lines and brake pads front and rear. Firmer springs and dampers were carefully selected by NISMO. No quickie slam job here, with impressive ride quality over bumps and no skipping about in mid-corner maneuvers. Surprisingly enough, it felt better than the standard setup. Front and rear hollow anti-roll bars with heavy-duty bushings kept an even keel when pushing it hard through the switchbacks.
The interior benefited from some tasteful and performance-oriented touches, with a NISMO instrument cluster, sport seats with NISMO logo and a titanium shift knob. We especially appreciated the ability of the seats to keep you in place during cornering.
As with any great car, the S-Tune shrinks around you as speeds rise, raising your confidence levels to unknown highs. Your toes and fingertips feel the pebbles in the road, a degree of involvement missing from the stock car. It's quite easy to keep a rapid pace despite the car being nearly as wide as the road itself.
Gran Turismo is my favorite game and my favorite tool for learning the tracks of Japan. However, cars of this caliber are better in real life. It may be a bit too loud for some, and a bit too stiff for others, but those people suck. This car is cool.-Paul Hansen
"The Dukes Of Hazzard- The Complete First Season" - DVD Review In the annals of American literature there are giants like Twain, Steinbeck and Hemingway. If any of them had to sit through an episode of "The Dukes of Hazzard," they'd instantly develop an aneurysm the size of a grapefruit. See, "The Dukes" isn't about great writing, great stories or great filmmaking. What it's about is a '69 Dodge Charger that flies through the air at the slightest provocation. And on those terms, it's still wonderful more than a quarter century after it debuted on CBS.
Buy "The Dukes of Hazzard - The Complete First Season" three-disc DVD set and do yourself the favor of skipping straight to the stunts. Because the dialog is universally lame, the acting is more wooden than a Home Depot lumber department and the humor is discernible only after you've downed a case of Hamm's and a couple of pounds of jerky.
On the DVDs, these first 13 episodes at least look good (if slightly muddy), and they haven't been chopped apart to insert commercials. The stunts really do hold up very well, so we wish there was some exploration of them as a special feature. Instead, all we get are a dippy commentary track from John Schneider (who played Bo Duke) and Catherine Bach (Daisy Duke) accompanying the first episode, an utterly dopey documentary where a bunch of NASCAR drivers say how much they liked the show, and a tedious reunion of some surviving cast members eating barbecue (Tom Wopat, who played Luke Duke, is conspicuous in his absence).
The set has a suggested retail price of $39.98 and Amazon.com is selling it for $27.99. If Warner Brothers wants us to pop for the second season set, it needs to invest in more substantial extras.
But, hey, we grew up with this show and will defend it with our lives.
Rumors &Lies * In June, GM announced it will invest $3 billion in China over the next few years to expand production capacity there from 550,000 to 1.3 million units per year. It's only a matter of time before they start passing laws over there to curb the burgeoning street racing scene.
* Nissan is planning to expand the Infiniti luxury brand across the planet now that its products are finally finding some success in America, according to the Web site www.thecarconnection.com.
* Audi has revealed its small A3 will go on sale in America around May of next year in both three- and five-door versions. They will be powered by a new 200-hp version of the 2.0-liter FSI turbo four backed by either a six-speed manual or DSG gearbox.
* In South St. Louis County on February 10, 2003, Jeremy Ketchum was racing his Mustang against Christopher Smithson's Camaro along Lemay Ferry Road when, according to the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch," the Camaro drifted into oncoming traffic and struck a car driven by 17-year-old Megan Landholt.
Landholt was killed, and in June of this year both Ketchum, 18, and Smithson, 17, were convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Ketchum, who pled guilty and testified against Smithson, was sentenced to 120 days in prison while Ketchum faces a three-year term.
Stillen Opens Up For The ZStillen is in the business of selling Nissan go-fast stuff, and one of the ways it keeps its customers happy and spending is by opening its doors once a year for 350Z & G35 Day. This past June, the latest edition went off hitch-free.
Literally hundreds of 350Zs and G35s from around Southern California descended on Stillen's Costa Mesa shop. The cars ranged from showroom-fresh stockers to cars that had been through the Stillen facility with an electro-magnetic Visa card.
But beyond just parking and admiring each other's machinery, the day was filled with music, dyno runs, raffles, tours, seminars and that guaranteed crowd-pleaser, a free lunch. But the highlight, according to Stillen, was the unveiling of Stillen's new, red, supercharged and freshly decorated 350Z. That car is due to show up in this magazine soon, thoroughly thrashed, comprehensively dissected and exhaustively tested.
Information on future events at Stillen, and all the stuff they want to sell you, is up at www.stillen.com.
Web SideIf you're stuck at the Courtyard by Marriott in Romulus, Mich., with nothing to do but listen to the jets flying directly overhead onto the runway at Detroit Metro Airport and surf the free high-speed Internet, hey, come on down to room 118 because we just ordered from Domino's! Or at least send us an e-mail at SCCNews@Primedia.com and suggest some sites we should wander into.