I’ve been reading Charles Stross’ The Merchant Princes series since — I think — when I was in Zürich and had run out of available Iain (M.) Banks, and read Stross’ Accelerando, Singularity Sky, and Iron Sunrise, all of which predates when I started blogging about what I was reading. The original six-book series had definitely “Fantasy 4 Chicks” covers, and even by the standard of that mid-’00s cover-art genre was pretty awful. Nonetheless, nothing left to read and apparently it was the same Charles Stross, so off I went down that lot, the first two or three anyway — the last wasn’t published until I was safely back in Europe and living in Berlin.
And then they got a reprint and rewrite, turning the six into three, making those three the first half of a six-part series, with cover-art safe enough for The Menz who make up a large part of Stross’ readership. Empire Games was the first of the continuing trilogy, book 4 in the series, released early-2017; Dark State came out at the beginning of this year. Obviously I still buy Stross, pre-order even, but I haven’t enjoyed much since 2013’s Neptune’s Brood, the sequel to Saturn’s Children, largely because he’s been devoting the majority of writing time to his Laundry Files series, which he really needs to retire, but probably won’t cos it’s mad popular.
I’m not really in the “write 3000 words on every book you read” mode lately, so, yeah, solid but unremarkable middle book of the second trilogy. A lot of things happen, but primarily as set-up for the next and final novel, so nothing much gets resolved. Stuff happens in Berlin too, which, as Onyx said to me when I was blabbing about J.K. Simmons (aka Schillinger Tenzin — I swear knowing the Nazi from Oz is also the Airbender Tenzin messes with my head) in Counterpart, “The last thing I need to do it watch shows set in Berlin, talk about trigger warning. It’s like looking at an ex-girlfriend’s facebook.” Me: “They do ‘moody post-wall reimagining of 70’s Berlin noir spy thriller’ and I’m all oooosexy! and ‘Berlin why u not treat me like that?’” I just find something a bit off and troubling in his work these days, and not just the egregious stuff like when he played a trans woman for laughs in The Nightmare Stacks. When I first read this series, and Iron Sunrise and Singularity Sky, as well as some of his later books, I felt like him writing women was really believable, like he got it. These days it feels like he’s loudly blabbing queer and trans and brown women characters (including one in this novel who throws on a hijab to ‘pass’ as a Turkish woman in Berlin while on the run) but all I see is a white man. I keep reading him though, familiar but oh so problematic.
Two years of riding on Shimano PD-M540 pedals and the axles are destroyed. I seem to wear out bike parts like a grinder. And after my entire clipless pedal life being on Shimano, I decided to swap to crankbrothers. Which means I need to re-cleat my shoes. And need new shoes. My bike. Such a vacuum for money. But who cares? Let’s all enjoy the sublime engineering of a yet to be unboxed pair of Candy 3 pedals.
This piece of sci-fi has given me so much pleasure the last four years. Mark Webber and team driving it to the WEC championship in 2015 and 2016; Timo Bernhard this year; ripping Le Mans three years in a row; 1000 horsepower from a 2 litre V4 turbo hybrid. Listen to that spool up and down as it butchers the Mulsanne Straight, every time it kicks in under braking is the dirtiest physical pleasure. And it does this for 24 hours without a break, only pausing briefly to pit. It’s Live Art. Talk about durational and endurance art, this is it. Hypnotic, visceral technology and engineering. And this is the end.
This is the last race of the 2017 WEC season, and for the WEC in its current format, the last race for the Porsche 919 LMP1, and with Porsche leaving LMP1 for Formula E, that’s it for the category for now. LMP2 is banging it, GTE also (my love of Ford GT and its flying buttresses is well-known), but LMP1, the mad, mad experiments in technology (Audi hybrid turbo-diesel, anyone? Downforce like you can’t believe?), all this, is over. Killed by insane budgets, Dieselgate, and the global shift to electric.
Here’s the 919 de-pitting, with new driver, tires, and a nose change in about 1 minute, after getting taken out by another Porsche, and losing the #1 position. OMG MOR! as I like to say.
Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police.
Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da beast.
Yes, that’s a 1976 Porsche 911 SC Targa with its blues bolted to the b-pillar (twos are up the front, inboard from the low-slung fog lamps), plus a rough as guts wingnut for fine adjustment. Where its racing number should be, there’s a ‘SOS 901’, and it’s got a huge hazard orange stripe on its bonnet, which (I think) marks it as federal police, along with the white exterior.
I was pretty blasted after a couple of hours Ferrari-ing, and really didn’t do this glorious work of art justice in my photos, but because I’m in Mode: Hoonage! lately, here are some stats: It’s a rear-wheel drive (duh!) 3-litre flat 6, putting down a not-unimpressive for what it was 231 bhp, to mow down classy international thieves on the Belgian equivalent of the Autobahn at 242 km/h. The back seat (and I’m using that term loosely) was mostly replaced by a crate of emergency gear. As for why a Targa over, say, a normal 911, this was so the passenger cop could stand up, turn around, grab the massive b-pillar, and wave instructions at the following cars. Seriously. That’s why Targa.
After a couple of hours of Autoworld Brussels’ Ferrari 70 Years madness — where I spent an unholy amount of lust on the F40 (yes, Frances, yes, ‘Brutal’) — I was looking for a quick digestif in the form of a GT40. Who’d’a known Autoworld … Rotates. Its autos.
No GT40 for you, Mme Frances. How about a Porsche 906? In the exact same spot? How about fuck, yeah?
’60s sci-fi dreaming of a future they got and we didn’t. My, this is a pretty set of wheels. And it’s road legal. Yay to FIA’s homologation rules giving us something this bonkers you could drive to the shop in for morning milk. How about some stats to go with the smell of victory?
This is chassis-number 906-128, with the racing number 148, under which it won the Targa Florio on May 8, 1966, driven by Willy Mairesse (Belgium) and Herbert Müller (Switzerland). It’s a rear-wheel drive, 2 litre, flat-6, putting down 210 bhp at 8000 rpm for a top speed of 280 km/h, and weighs a mere 580kg. It looks like something from the Jetsons, if the Jetsons were brawlers and Jane ditched George. I like very much how the two times I’ve been to Autoworld, they’ve populated this one spot with automotive mayhem. Porsche 906, for when my other car is a GT40.
I only went to Autoworld Brussels’ Ferrari 70 Years to see the F40, so I could make a post quoting Kathryn from Iain Banks’ novel, The Business. I worked it all out in my head in the middle of the night. I would photograph the mad rear wing with ‘F40’ on it and have that right below, “‘I never drove the F40.’ He sounded like a disappointed schoolboy. ‘What’s it like?’ ‘Brutal.’” Brutal. I thought I was so fucking clever. It was worth it.
But if you’re coming here looking to perv on an F40, you’re in the wrong place: the F40 got its own, brutal gallery post, plus an extra special post ’cos it’s just so bonkers. You can find it here though, in the background of at least seven photos, if you’re desperate for some rear wing action; playing Spot the F40 is going to keep youse happy if all the rest of Ferrari hoonage does not.
I like the smell of Autoworld. I like the smell of cars and engines, fuel, brake fluid, oil and other lubricants and hydrocarbons, and the smell of all that being roasted and cooked when it gets raced. The biggest disappointment was no open engine bays. I could tolerate the lack of access to gated shifters — at least there’s glass to look through, but all those glorious engines and transmissions hidden away under metal and composite? Nope. I also wanted more supercars of the Enzo, LaFerrari or FXX K type — and they really should have just called it FUC K and be done with it. Ferrari FUC K. Probably more of a Lamborghini name. Also more track hoonage. Yes, it’s only 45 or so cars, but I’m petty and love seeing GTs slammed and grimed. I got some of my jollies with the burning yellow 430 GT 3 Scuderia and more with the intimidating red-and-white striped 308 GTB4. Also the silver Ecurie Francochamps 250 GT SWB with fat yellow number circles, which had pride of place in the hall.
I always — obviously — associate Ferrari with the colour red, Italian Rosso Corsa. It’s as beautiful and recognisable as British Racing Green or Bleu de France (of course Germany’s colour is silver, which is why I only remember it as an absence of colour amidst these other three). But Ferrari also does an unholy yellow, a black like the existential void itself, and occasionally, infrequently, sublime metallic browns, blues, and silvers, more often in the ’50s and ’60s, but occasionally returning later, like on the Testarossa with its ’80s dark, metallic steel-grey idea of a science-fiction future. And all this colour is so dense and deep. Light doesn’t bounce off the surface, it goes through the layers and comes back changed. It’s one of the signifiers of high-end cars, this paintwork, like the difference between laminate wood flooring and butchering an endangered, 1000 year-old Kauri for planks.
On light, Autoworld is a vast, arched, skeletal hanger full of natural light. Most of this is diffuse, and with the exception of some pockets on the wings, ridiculously easy to photograph in. The Ferrari exhibition though, at the far end where all the windows are curtained off, relies on artificial light, and being Ferrari, that meant bombing all that paintwork and metal with red LEDs, which rotated through a faintly sick yellow and lugubrious blue. Lucky, enough natural light flooded in, but it occurred to me that unlike art museums, where — in the best examples — light is so sensitively considered as to allow the work itself to be seen as it is, car museums seem to take the post-techno rave / chill-out room approach to lighting, as if all this monstrous and awesome machine art is in need of a boost. Which human eyes amazingly can adapt for, but cameras tend to freak out. So the reds sometimes look like a bloodbath dipped in a bloodbath, and the yellows lost all hope.
Unlike my usual museum-ing — which I admit has gotten way out of hand, and I’ve been trying to find ways to reel in while still giving large collections their due — I decided to do little to no editing of the photos. For a long time I’ve been committed to the camera doing the work, but accepting the necessity of post-processing to deal with lens distortion and off-kilter stuff, along with sometimes painstaking cleanup of glare and colour balance. Here, I’ve done some minor, rapid colour adjustments (yellows, I’m looking at you), on some photos, and left it at that. I’m not claiming the results are faithful to Ferrari or the museum, but it’s more-or-less what my camera and I grabbed on the day.
Speaking of yellow, the Dino 246 GT rotating on a turntable is beyond glorious, and I might even have designs on coveting it more than the F40. But the car that impressed on me the truly hellish nature of Ferrari and these kind of cars in general is the deep metallic night-blue 275 GTS from 1965, first owned by Raquel Welch. It’s a front-engined convertible, with a V-12 throwing out 260 bhp at 7000 rpm to the rear wheels for a top speed of 250 km/h. The photos don’t really convey how diminutive and delicate it is, a rag-top roof with seats that barely come up to shoulder-height, slung low on wide tires, how easy would it be for those rear wheels to cut loose and utterly destroy driver and car. “250km/h in that!” I laughed nervously. I’m still looking at it, 250 km/h an hour in that. It strikes me that the kind of driver capable of doing that to a car would never attempt it (outside one of those ‘… controlled conditions …’ type warning prefaces), and the kind of driver who would, has no idea what they’re getting themselves into. Glorious hoonage.
I admit, if it had been Lamborghini 54 Years, I’d have been way more excited than Autoworld Brussels’ Ferrari 70 Years. But I’m in Brussels, and Brussels has a car museum, and it’s been a while since I visited the church/temple/synagogue/mosque of hoonage. Plus there was a pretty high likelihood I’d get to see what all the fuss was about with those F40s.
There were plenty of pretty cars, from the curves of the ’60s to the wedges of the ’70s, the hyperbole of the ’80s, and the mad angles since then. All that’s for another post (as are the pair of oddities I saw in the revolving motorsport collection — no GT40 this time!). This one’s for the red, 1987 F40.
Ferrari doesn’t stir much enthusiasm in me. They strike me as the province of rich show-offs who aspire to being classy, but don’t get that in that price range, there is no classy, it’s all about fucking arrogance. Hence my love of Lamborghini. But hoons seem to have a requirement to love the F40. Like the GT40, it wasn’t until I saw it there that I really got it. They’re kinda similar, both hammers in search of a nail: for the GT40 that was Le Mans; for the F40, it’s not so succinct. Maybe to say that as Enzo Ferrari’s last car it had to represent Ferrari the man and auto designer and Ferrari his company.
It’s a beautiful, rough, violent, messy masterpiece. It’s fucking terrifying. It’s the kind of car that would kill you way before the limit, if it hadn’t already rattled you apart with its spartan expression of engineering. I would do quite a few questionable things for a passenger seat.
I went to Autoworld Brussels again today, to see the Ferrari 70 Years exhibition. I spent a lot of time on my knees before the F40. (Ever since I planned to see this exhibition, I was hoping there’d be an F40 there so I could quote Iain Banks as Kathryn on it in The Business: ‘Brutal.’)
‘I’d love a shot,’ I said between corners. ‘Would you let me drive? Just for a bit.’
‘Well, I don’t know. There’s the insurance …’ It was the most worried he’d sounded so far. ‘I’d love to, Kathryn, but—’
‘But, Kathryn, this is a Ferrari.’
‘I’ve driven Ferraris. Uncle Freddy used to lend me the Daytona when I was staying at Blysecrag sometimes.’
‘Oh? Well, yes, but that’s front-engined, you see, quite different handling characteristics. The 355 is mid-engined. Much trickier on the limit.’
‘He let me loose in the F40, too. And, of course, I wouldn’t be going anywhere near the limit.’
He glanced at me. ‘He let you drive the F40?’
‘A couple of times.’
‘I never drove the F40.’ He sounded like a disappointed schoolboy. ‘What’s it like?’