Gargling Gas loves Ken Block’s hooning abilities, especially his Hoonicorn ’65 Mustang. Yesterday’s post involved a nostalgic reflection on the tin boxes my Grandfather drove me around in, one being an Austin Metro, the other a MK2 Ford Escort. I recalled a video of Ken Block hooning a MK2, which led to a rather silly mind’s eye image of my Grandfather ragging his sandy coloured MK2 like Block style.
30 years on, the legendary MK1 and MK2 Escorts’ prices are soaring, and the simplistic and lightweight, RWD car is still the preferred choice of chassis to learn the art of rally in.
Check out Block and the 1978 MK2 Ford Escort rally car – I can’t remember where I read it, but I’m sure Block does this from time to time, man and machine stripped of computer aids, a pure way of honing reflexes and skills.
How many times have you sat at a red light and imagined gunmen spilling out from the back of a van and spraying your car with high velocity rounds? I know, all too often, right?
Well I have a solution that’ll leave the gunmen scratching the top of their balaclavas and you with a smug grin on your face.
Picture the Royal family in their Rolls Royce, the President in a stretched Cadillac or the Pope in his silly white cubicle car and you’ll know what I’m on about – armoured cars.
So unless you are royalty, the leader of a country, a religious figurehead, or a gangster rapper, here’s what you would have to consider if you were to go about turning your car into a impenetrable fortress.
I’ll cover the important upgrades:
To escape gunmen in a car you’ll obviously need a tyre that will take a few rounds. The answer is pretty simple: Run Flat Tire Inserts. These assure continued operation of the car despite ballistic impacts and prevent a total tire blowout.
The system used by the U.S. government is comprised from lightweight, high strength polyester elastomers that make up the roller and a runner. The runner is securely attached to the wheel in the drop centre, and provides a track or channel in which the roller is allowed to move or “rotate” about the wheel at the same speed as the tyre, thus reducing friction and heat build up.
Bulletproof lightweight glass-clad polycarbonate is used as multi-hit protection against those pesky bullets. The glass is seamed, edged and finished using a proprietary quality process that provides unprecedented UV and delamination resistance. All glass features excellent ballistic protection and superior optical quality with very minimal distortion.
Below you can see types of rounds and the velocities taken into consideration when building an armoured car.
This is one component you wouldn’t want punctured. Although a stray bullet is unlikely to cause an explosion (I saw this proven on TV program), a fuel tank resembling a piece of Swiss cheese will leave you stranded. A bullet proof fuel tank features a flame retardant coating, self sealing polymeric foam, insulating foam, and a Kevlar or ballistic wrap.
Bomb Proof Floor:
You can’t be too careful; whilst you are throwing your car around like Ken Block, trying to avoid gunfire, you may have missed the grenades rolling under your car. A bomb proof floor is comprised of multiple layers of Kevlar fabric that’s stitched together rather than bonded under heat, enabling the Vehicle Fragmentation Blanket more flexibility with a blast impact.
Depending on the level of protection – bullets or bombs – there are various materials that can be used for a car’s body and door panels.
As I’m avoiding bullets, a wise choice would be Kevlar armour panels. They are very durable, light and easy to install. Because they are so light as opposed to heavy bomb proof steel panels, you don’t have to go crazy upgrading your brakes and engine to cope with the added weight.
This is a little extra, an after thought inspired by a movie. To distract any menacing gunmen, give them a few licks of fire to deal with.
Now the dust has quite literally settled upon the sun-baked streets of Los Angeles, and Ken Block’s snorting ’65 Mustang is stabled and resting, I can reflect on Gymkhana 7 and how it turned back my metaphorical clock by three decades or so.
To elucidate on the actual driving that went on in L.A., I penned an article for Motorward magazine along with the video, ignoring all of the details such as driving techniques and listing reams of technical data, instead harping on about how Block and his fantastical machine took me back in time for 12 minutes, leaving me a little confused and angry at the fact I found myself back in 2014 as a 36 -year-old afterwards.
Rally purists may criticise Block and his Rally X/Drift hybrid style, but this is 2014 – if X Games dirt bike riders can get away with grabbing massive air, opening their legs and calling the move the ‘Paris Hilton’, then Block is doing the right thing here – it simply boils down to exciting and impressive viewing. Don’t get me wrong though; I’m a massive fan of the X Fighters bike format, along with all the X Games sports, and adding cars with 80’s Group B rally power to the list is obviously a recipe for success.
Big power and exciting viewing leads me neatly onto the superhero/stuntman angle I’m pushing here – for those 12 minutes I sat gawping as the Block’s Hoonicorn tore up the streets of L.A., miles of internal wiring fused inside my head, leaving me experiencing waves of nostalgia, seamless flashbacks of stars and stripes, bleating dixie horns, and a whole fleet of toys I put through a similar ordeal to the car on my computer screen.
Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle
Dukes of Hazzard Wrist Racer
007’s Underwater Lotus Esprite
The toys pictured above were my favourites, and I think it was the combination of terrific film producing, the smoking and squealing of tyres, that evil Mustang, and of course its superhuman pilot that evoked their memory.
Dressed in a retro style leather jacket and donning a glittery patriotic race helmet along with meridian goggles and skull face scarf, Ken Block was my childhood Bo Duke, my Evel Knievel, my James Bond, my Bandit, and perhaps even my Superman all wrapped up into one super-being.
So now it’s all over, do I watch it again and go back to 1982, or do I face reality and help my wife lay the table?
Last night I settled down to watch an automotive program on terrestrial TV that wasn’t Top Gear. From the previews I was expecting great things, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I didn’t want it to end. Top Gear is great for laughs and watching cars that are all shiny and bursting with horsepower, and whilst this program, For The Love Of Cars had its comedy moments, its main hook was the way in which it featured the car’s historic significance with a little mechanical knowledge, all in the name of resurrecting a rare Mk 1 Ford Escort Mexico.
Presenter and car fanatic, Philip Glenister (also an actor in various Brit flicks) and internationally renowned car designer Ant Anstead’s series mission is to scour the barns and lock ups of Britain for wrecks to bring to life.
Money wasn’t an object, so everything done was executed properly. The rusty barn find (just a shell with a rotten front end) set them back a whopping £8K, and after restoring it with a certain look in mind, the presenter goes on a mission and delves into the world of the Mk 1 Escort by hanging out with various owners and clubs. His initial mind’s eye finish ends up completely different thanks to some expert knowledge and advice. This is the part that made the show so great.
American’s may not know this particular Ford as it’s small in comparison with the Mustangs and other Fords produced in the US around that period. The Escort Mexico was and still is considered one of the best rally cars ever made, and if you’re a fan of the Fast & Furious franchise, you’ll know the car from the sixth instalment (pictured below).
The Escort Mk1 and Mk2 chassis is so good, four decades on and it’s still used by amateur rally drivers. Did I say amateurs? Forgive me, as Ken Block claims his Mk 2 is one of the best cars to Hoon in. Check out the video below and see just how good the Escort is.
For The Love Of Cars also featured the Harris family, a South London family thought to have started the whole ‘Boy Racer’ craze. One of the older members took on the job of hand building the barn finds Mexico’s 1800cc engine – it was fantastic witnessing the skill and care that went into it.
The whole program was pure entertainment and extremely fascinating. Of course, I was straight on eBay looking up Mk1 Mexicos… you’d need around £25,000 to secure a decent one 😦 Oh well, a man can dream…
If you haven’t watched it yet, For The Love Of Cars is aired on Ch4 on Sunday. Next week’s episode features a gorgeous Mk1 Land Rover.
Finally, after waiting too long after this Hoonigan tore up the streets of San Francisco in Gymkhana 5, Block is back for another instalment of rally/drift mayhem.
Ken is using his latest whip, a 650-bhp 0-60-mph in 1.8 secs Ford Fiesta ST RX43. I think you’ll agree that when Ken floors it and starts pulling his signature gold-plated handbrake, anything is possible in a car. If you are wondering what those garish blue hubs are, they are in fact bladed to act like fans in order to cool the front brake discs.
Following a teaser earlier this month, Block has officially unveiled Gymkhana Six: The Ultimate Grid Obstacle Course. You couldn’t dream up a course better suited to showcase the sheer speed and exhilarating driving such a small powerful car – it’s insane. Block throws his Ford Fiesta ST RX43 around a series of obstacles including cop Lamborghini Aventadors, a moving spiked wrecking ball and more cops on Segways.
Before I explain just what Touge is all about, I want to dispel the false claims that Touge is a form of drift racing. Some drivers will use drifting to negotiate corners, but like many know, drifting may be the slowest way around a bend, but it’s the most fun – Touge is racing, so slow won’t do here.
Japan has its unique methods of pushing a car to its potential, the most notable – thanks to the U.S. catching on and its eventual appearance in the X Games – being drifting and the highly technical gymkhana. I only discovered Touge through watching drifting DVDs and the legendary Drift King himself, Keiichi Tsuchiya. If you think Ken Block has skills, you have to continue reading and check him out in action. He is what Gandalf is to Harry Potter.
In Japanese Touge (峠, tōge?) translates as “pass”, as in mountain pass – you probably know where this going.
It’s on these Touge in Japan that racing began, the snaking downhill terrain the ultimate test of man and machine. Other locations, especially California and parts of Europe, caught on, and Touge has become more popular with the tuning and modified communities. Although there are official racing classes now, due to the lack of legal places to race and it’s high cost to compete, a lot of drivers take it into their own hands to race, often at night.
Touge consists of three types of races:
Cat and Mouse
This is where the lead car only wins if the distance between the cars is 60M or more. The other car wins if it manages to overtake the lead car. If the leader and following car are within 21-59 meters of each other when the leader crosses the line, the round ends in a draw. If the following car bumps/crashes into the leader twice over two runs, the round goes to leader.
If the pass is wide enough for both cars, whoever is in the lead at the end of the Touge is pronounced the winner.
These are like TTs (Time Trails), where a one car is timed over the course and the other car has to try and beat it. Often in the videos whilst a car is racing, a superimposed (ghost) version of the previous car’s run is placed over the top so you can see how the current car is doing in comparison.
Check out the Drift King showing off some incredible skills:
For those of you familiar with the concept ‘gymkhana’, the names Ken Block and Tanner Foust will automatically spring to mind, their glamorous smoke-fest performances used to promote big brand energy drinks during the X Games.
However, the original gymkhana has been taking place for years in the Eastern parts of the globe, particularly in Japan – other countries like South Africa and Europe also had their derivations, although it wasn’t called ‘gymkhana’ outside of Japan.
Gymkhana’s roots lie within the Japanese sub-genre drifting (balancing a car between over steer and correction so it travels sideways), only it’s more technical and complex. The sport originated in parking lots in 70s, something that could be done with an unmodded car, making use of the minimal environment.
Somewhat different to Ken Block’s exploits, the original gymkhana course could be considered a scaled down track littered with cones, tires and barrels (obstacles) that need to be negotiated using a series of manoeuvres. Put simply, a gymkhana event eventually evolved into a time/speed event with a start/finish line, everything in between an obstacle course for cars.
To negotiate the obstacles, manoeuvres such as 180s, 360s, figure of eight turns and slaloms need to be perfectly executed to complete the course in the fastest time. Drivers need an immense amount of car control, using techniques such as left-foot braking, hand braking, drifting and sliding. Not only do drivers need to execute the perfect moves, they also need the ability to concentrate and memorize the course.
We now see a much more evolved version of the concept thanks to other countries such as America and Australia catching on and their motorsport drivers bringing it back home with them.
WRC driver Ken Block started making videos and posting them on YouTube. He tagged his concept ‘Gymkhana 1’, and thanks to its incredible success, it spawned many more, and attracted a lot of worldwide attention.
So what’s different with Ken Block’s concept of gymkhana than that of its origins?
Well first up, Block uses a rally car with twice the horsepower and a much longer course. His first video was created with a budget, although he was supplied with a rally-prepped Subaru Impreza STI and a video crew. By the forth and fifth videos, he had a Hollywood budget and drove his WRC Ford Focus rally car boosted to 600-bhp.
Why the massive HP when the original gymkhana originated in parking lots with stock cars?
It all boils down to the entertainment factor. Extreme horsepower means manoeuvres can be performed with more flare and tire smoke. To spin tires on tarmac and get a car into such a state of unbalance as to perform these evolved manoeuvres takes serious power – to maintain momentum and link a series of manoeuvres together seamlessly also takes power.
The old school fanatics might not like this Block chap taking the name away, but the way I see it, it’s created a fantastic genre of gymkhana, bringing it to the attention of the media and shedding light onto what was an almost underground form of motorsport.
Thanks to the likes of the X Games and the big sponsors, we now get to see 600-bhp rally-prepped cars and world famous drivers providing some amazing entertainment. Before, we could only watch rally cars tear through a forest or kick up dust along rally stages; now we get to watch pro drivers perform on what is nothing more than a giant parking lot. Check out Gymkhana 5 below…
With a love of a certain Mr. Block, I delved deeper into his WRC rally exploits after being blown away by his Gymkhana Youtube posts, and whilst he has yet to really prove himself in that arena, I was intrigued by the differing set-ups.