It was that time of year again, the Western Automotive Journalist (WAJ) Media Day, when auto manufacturers from around the globe bring their cars to beautiful Monterey, California. They give us media writers the chance to test their wares first on a ride-and-drive around the Monterey Peninsula, then on the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. On day one, there were 32 manufacturers and 89 cars to get a feel for, testing their hardware out on the open road. Day two, four of the manufacturers had dropped out and the number of cars tested around the track was reduced to 57. After a brief chalk talk and a Sedan around-track orientation with driving instructors, they basically turned us loose to choose any of the 57 cars for three laps around Laguna Seca!
Most of the manufacturers that had supercars there made you drive with either a driving instructor or a professional racing driver from the manufacturer. Now, I've been a Chevy guy all my life; I did own a very nice Buick GS convertible for several years, but other than that, it's always been a Chevrolet for me. But those German hot rods really opened my eyes. Anyone who would let a drag racer get in an all-aluminum, handbuilt Audi R8-a mid-engine, magnetic suspension, paddle-shifted street car (the closest to a F1 car I'll ever come)-is out of his mind! I'm still talking to myself after that ride. My son, Daniel, was in the passenger seat, and on our last lap, going into Turn 5 at about 120 mph, I stood on the brakes and downshifted two gears-he said it was slowing down so fast it blurred his vision. Enough said!
Two very cool cars that Chevrolet brought were the Cobalt SS coupe and the HHR SS. Both the Cobalt SS and the HHR SS were equipped with a turbocharged and intercooled, direct-injected with variable valve timing, 260hp 2.0L Ecotec engine. Behind the hot four-cylinder was a Getrag five-speed transmission, which was supported by a new calibration feature called Zero-Lift shifting. With the aid of an electronic throttle control, it allows you to leave your right foot planted during performance driving and modulates the throttle to keep the engine on boost during gear changes. GM claims it reduces the elapsed time during gear changes by 0.10 second per shift. The Cobalt SS rips off a 5.7-second 0-60, and the HHR SS was just a tick behind at 6.3 seconds. Both of them had a ton of beans around that 11-turn road course. Bringing all that speed to a stop on the Cobalt was a pair of Brembo front brakes. Finally, the Cobalt knocked down 30-mpg fuel economy, and the HHR was again right behind at 29 mpg out on the open road. Either car would be really cool to have in the driveway.
Until next year I guess I'll have to stick to the straight-line fun. Yes, it's a blast to drive around a circuit track, but for the dollars, I'll have to stick to my drag racing.
Don't Brake Me
Q I refurbished a '68 Camaro convertible cruiser last year. It was originally equipped with an inline-six and a Saginaw three-speed manual transmission. I have since upgraded the drivetrain to a mild 327 and a close-ratio Saginaw four-speed tranny. I'd like to update my drum brakes to discs and keep my original 14-inch Rally wheels, only it seems every outfit selling brake conversion kits requires 15-inch or larger wheels. My drivetrain is mild-mannered and the car is for cruising, so I don't need an aggressive brake system, just something that will reduce my stopping distance for normal street and highway driving. Who produces a brake conversion kit that would allow me to keep my 14-inch Rallys? Thanks.
A Rally wheels are the bomb! I had them on my '67 RS/SS Camaro, '68 SS Camaro, and '65 El Camino. Growing up in the '70s with all the Camaros, early Chevelles, and of course the Vettes running these wheels left a permanent impression on my brain. I've got some good news and some bad.