Thursday, December 31, 2009

With the best wishes for a happy new motoring year!

Soon 2009 and a whole decade will be gone. Many things we will remember, even more we'll probably have forgotten soon. That's life.

I wish you all a happy new year!

P.S. The picture shown here is my this year's new year "card" ...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Being brave in car design doesn't (always) pay off!

Many people have been criticizing that each new Porsche looks like the model before. And they are right. But Porsche learned the hard way that it doesn't always pay off to be brave in designing cars. When they launched the Porsche 928 it was very different to anything they had done before. It had an 8 cylinder engine in the front, four seats, was wide and big and it really looked very different to even any other car on the road, maybe with the exception of the AMC Pacer. And you don't want to see this as a design icon. Well the car also suffered from some weaknesses including being very thirsty and having the aerodynamics of a Volkswagen Beetle. But most of these things got sorted out over time and the car actually became quite good. But not good enough to no being successful enough. And never since Porsche announced any radical car like the 928 any more.
Other examples needed? Look at the Bangle effect at BMW. Or look at the TVR Tasmin (called the Wedge). Or what about Pininfarina? Most if not all of his cars were more evolutions than revolutions and he know quite well why he worked like this. Beauty has to be accepted by the buyers and you can't stretch it too far.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hydrogen is not the answer to peak oil, Jeremy Clarkson, think again

In a recent blog post, TopGear Jeremy Clarkson makes the point that hybrid cars are the wrong direction to go and lean burn would have saved the world better than catalyst converters. He claims that Hydrogen cars should be the future. Now, I really like Jeremy Clarkson, but I think he is not really right in his entertaining article. Firstly lean burn wouldn't have brought the improvements in terms of clean emission than the catalyst did. A catalyst cleans about 90-99% of what the car produces while lean burn may lead to a 1.5-2.5 times improvement. Only the combination actually helps. Secondly Hydrogen suffers from many different problems that are difficult to solve and make the introduction very expensive. I strongly believe that improvements in battery technology will make the electrical car more viable than hydrogen powered cars. And if we don't think we need 400 HP and 2 tons to drive from London City Airport to Piccadilly Circus then efficiency should be okay. Hydrogen may make sense for certain types of usages, maybe even for powering the range extender, but I don't believe it's the future of motoring. As we have seen over the last 10-20 years there are many ways of improving already existing technologies. Cars today need probably 50-60% fuel of what they did for the same performance ten years ago. Electrical cars have substantially increased in efficiency over the last three to five years. Combining this with new technologies such as hybrid (ideally not with batteries but rather super caps) and hydrogen we still have a lot to gain before we are running out of affordable oil.
One comment to the blog was quite interesting as a thought - we may find other and better ways to fuel more and more cars, but there's a clear limit in terms of how many streets we can build and have. And that limit is given by the size of the earth ...
And as I am just on it, if you haven't watched the movie "who killed the electric car", then you should.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Volkswagen Golf VR6 - creating a new category in the 90ties

The Volkswagen Golf VR6 was in many perspectives a new type of car. It probably wasn't the first time somebdoy fitted a V6 engine into a small car, but it certainly was the first time that the result wsa so successful. The VR6 continued what the GTI had started, creating a new car category that attracted a very diverse owner audience. Whether you were a banker, an artist or a psychologist or whatsoever, the VR6 was both a compact car and a little racer as well. Since then many manufacturers followed and built top end luxurious hatchbacks for the affluent who still likes a small and not so shiny car.
The VR6 engine with 174 HP from 2.7 liter was introduced as part of the Golf III range. It was the most powerful engine to have in a Golf for quite some time. It sounded nicely as well, but it wasn't known for it's very economical fuel consumption behavior. Despite the additional weight the car still handled quite well.
My own Golf VR6 was a three door version, painted in a color called "dusty mauve", somewhere between violet and brownish. I liked the car quite a bit, but still part exchanged it against a Mercedes C280.
I owned it for a year and did roughly 12'000 km with it. It was reliable and good to drive, and it certainly helped to establish my love for six cylinder engines.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Are cars male or female or something else?

It's quite confusing that their is no consensus on whether a car is male or female, or even something else. Of course that's a language issue. Let's take French: It's "la voiture" and "la Ferrari". Same in Italian with "la machina" and "la Ferrari". So if you look at latin languages a car seems to be female. In English it's all unclear, because there's no such differentiation. In German things get really complicated as you can expect. It's "das Auto", so neutral, neither male nor female. But it's "der Ferrari" or "der Mercedes", so male if you call a car by its (brand) name. And you can even find "die Limousine", female for the four door car. My language skills don't go much further so maybe somebody could drop in what other languages do with cars? Anyway it's interesting. And maybe this symbolizes that great cars are compounds of male and female virtues.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Datsun 160B - first car I have driven on public roads

The Datsun 160B was the first car I have driven on public roads. It was my father's car and it was a typical child of the time. According to the spec it should have had 80 HP, but it didn't feel that fast and it was quite heavy too. But it was a car and it had everything you needed to practice for example double clutching. I took it for a spin quite often after I had received my driving certificate. And it was a very reliable car, something you couldn't say about the brown Alfasud 1.5 Berlina that replaced it. The 160B even became a rallye car, the SSS versions were quite famous at that time and won for example the East African Safari if I am not mistaken.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Mercedes C111 Wankel - 300 km/h in 1970

The car was a sensation, maybe that's not even the full story. 300 km/h was a lot, most people drove a Volkswagen Beetle at that time, with 30 HP from a four cylinder boxer engine, not 350 HP from a Wankel engine. The Mercedes C111 was the first German supercar after the 300 SL Gullwing. And it was quite revolutionary. Wankel engine, 1'240 kg, 0-100 km/h in 4.8 seconds - that was lighter and quicker than the Lamborghini Miura, the car that was to be beaten at that time. It probably was also the first fiberglass car built by Mercedes. And the first mid engine car as well. It was a race car for the road. 50 cars Mercedes wanted to build, some even said 500. The price would have been around DM 60'000, 10-15 of what a Beetle or Kadett was. The energy crisis changed these plans.
The car was never produced and it's only the prototypes that are left. Too bad, the car must have been damned good. At least when you believe what the journalists at "hobby" wrote in No 7 1970. They drove C111/70. If you compare this engineering highlight with the McLaren SLR or even the new AMG Mercedes SLS then you really wonder where all this creativity and innovation spirit has gone.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I didn't even think about trying to find a Christmas car picture ...

May all our wishes become true.

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The worst car I have ever driven

I have driven many good and some even excellent cars, but there's one car that really stands out in terms of mediocre handling and sub-standard performance: The Datsun 120Y. How could a manufacturer that was able to build such great cars as the Datsun 240Z come up with such a crap car? The handling was more than dangerous, I almost lost the car on a straight! Well the look didn't help either and gosh, the interior was horrible. Anyway I haven't seen one of these for ages and I am sure I would have to smile if I did.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Motoring in 2000-2009 - why there's so little to be remembered from that decade

In the previous post I talked about the cars from the passing decade that people will remember in 20 to 30 years. However, maybe more interesting than these memorable cars from the 2000 to 2009 decade is the very long list of cars that will be forgotten and why that’s the case.

If you have read my other list you will have missed a number of cars that you may have expected, for example certain models from BMW, Ferrari, Mercedes or Audi.
The Audi R8 didn’t make it onto the list, because while Audi being brave entering a new category with a new car, the R8 wasn’t really that innovative. BMW didn’t really present any remarkable model during and after the Bangle period. The Mercedes SLS is somewhat interesting, but will only really arrive in 2010 and even then it is somewhat of a Dinosaur. The Ferrari 458 Italia could have made it onto the list, but didn’t because it’s only shipped in 2010. However it’s an impressive and beautiful car offering Ferrari Enzo performance at half the price. The Alfa-Romeo 8C is probably the best repackaging gig, but is almost more of a showcar than a real production car. And what about the other manufacturers? Where is Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, Porsche, Bentley or Honda? None of these really brought something new and exciting that will be remembered in 20-30 years.

I even wonder whether people in 2030 or 2040 will remember any car of the passing decade. In all the decades before there were some really mind boggling cars, for example the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing in the 50ties, the Jaguar E-Type and the Lamborghini Miura in the 60ties, the Lamborghini Countach in the 70ties, the Ferrari F40 in the 80ties or the McLaren F1 in the 90ies.
Super and hypercar manufacturers totally missed the point in the 2000-2009 decade really. Where is the sub-1000kg 400+ HP rocket that could have made the difference combining performance AND efficiency? It is possible from an engineering point of view, it’s just a lack of imagination and passion hindering us to go there!

What we will remember though from the 200x years are the massive failures, such as Saab going down the drain, GM, Chrysler and Ford going after governmental help, BMW dropping models in in-existent niches, besides many other events.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Motoring in 2000-2009 - what will we remember in 20-30 years?

The Decade 2000 to 2009 was influenced by a rapidly increasing oil price towards the end of the period (for example the ratio between the highest and the lowest price per barrel was 5-6, peak was reached in 2008), by the inconvenient truth of a changing climate and global warming, by terrorism, tsunamis and hurricanes. Towards the end of the decade the whole world suffered from the consequences of the financial crisis and a global recession. At the same time the digitization of the world has continued and we couldn't imagine a life without mobile connectivity, Internet and flat screens.

So what where the motoring highlights of the years 2000 to 2009?

A Decade of Extremes
Super and Hyper Cars got faster and faster. The climax has been reached with the Bugatti Veyron, a car that really showcases what is feasible today. Whether anybody needs 1001 HP and 400 km/h top speed is another question.

The reinvention of the cheap car
Tata introduced the Nano, a really cheap car. But already before Renault has proven with the Dacia that there is a market for cheaper cars.

Supercar performance on a budget
When Nissan announced the GTR it was an instant success. Fast laps on the Nurburgring also helped to establish the image of a supercar on a budget. And the interior is designed for the PS3 generation. Four seats even make the car suitable for a small family.

The Hybrid Decade
With the Toyota Prius a new technology became both fashionable and consumer-ready, the hybrid car. While the Prius may neither have been pretty nor ecological it was sold very successfully thanks to Holywood and a brilliant marketing and it certainly proved that people can be motivated to save fuel.

Retro retro
The new Mini is a success, but the Fiat 500 was even more loved by the crowd thanks to its affordability and the really cute design. Revitalizing the Abarth brand at the top end of the 500 has also proven to be a clever move.

Electrical cars that actually are attractive
Tesla built a Roadster on top of a Lotus Elise chassis and loaded thousands of laptop batteries. Despite some getting quite hot this cars proved that performance and electricity don’t need to be opposites in the motoring context. Since the Tesla many manufacturers (i.e. Audi, Mercedes) and tuners (i.e. RUF) have followed and presented electrical sportscars.

In a next post I will talk about the ones that didn’t make it and why I think that from a motoring perspective the 2000 to 2009 decade was a disappointment after all.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why do you really need a 4WD car?

Recently we had a discussion on how superior 4x4 (4WD) cars (regular road cars, we don't talk SUV here) are in bad weather conditions. This is certainly true. But is it really worth the extra iron and engineering these days? As I just returned from the mountains where barely nothing else seems to be "en vogue" I thought it's worth some further investigations.
Besides the fact that I didn't have any issue at all with my RWD (rear wheel driven) BMW there's a lot more speaking against 4WD cars. Look at the comparison table where I listed two BMW and Audi, both existing in 4WD and RWD/FWD configuration. The 4WD models are clearly heavier, 105 kg in the case of the BMW 330i, 75 kg in the case of Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TFSI. But even worse, the 4WD cars consume at least 10% more energy and therefore emit more CO2 too. Even the performance suffers, mainly because of the extra weight I would assume. When I bought my current car I switched from a 4WD 5 series BMW to a RWD 3 series. I so much more love to drive the RWD 3 series car. The reduced weight makes a hell of a difference. While the 5 series felt almost like a truck the smaller 3 series convinces with a good handling and is a joy to drive. Now of course I will lose a drag race on snow and I might have an issue with a steep hill under ice conditions from time to time, but looking back, this has really rarely been happening. So why to carry 100 kg extra given all the electronics (DTC, PASM, etc.) on board? I don't see the point.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Comparing cheap sportscars in 1969 - Fiat 850 Coupé wins

Imagine living back in the 60ties, actually in 1969 to be specific. You had saved some money, let's say DM 7'000 (€ 3'500), which probably was quite a lot of money at that time. You were looking for an affordable sportscar, a Coupé. Well this could have been your choice:
Fiat 850 Coupé
Ford Capri 1.3
Opel Kadett Coupé 1.1
Daf 55 Automatic
The cars couldn't be more different. The Fiat 850 Coupé was really a sports car outperforming all the others with 18 seconds from 0-100 km/h (0-62 MPH). The Daf was following with 22 s, the Carpi with 22.7s and the Opel was the slowest with 26 s. Top speed was 148 km/h for the Fiat, 130 for the Kadett, 138 for the Daf and 133 for the Capri. Interesting the weight (empty): Fiat 749 kg, Opel Kadett 755 kg, Daf 55 795 kg and the Ford Capri 920 kg. The test in Hobby 10/69 revealed the Ford Capri as the family price winner, but the Fiat 850 was really the best sportscar in this round. An uncle of mine owned one at that time I was really impressed by the performance and noise of this car.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Good Bye Saab

Today GM has decided to close down Saab it seems. They haven't been able to sell the brand, while the engineering/construction rights for the 9-3 and 9-5 obviously have been transfered to a Chinese car manufacturer.
I have never owned a Saab, but I admire the older models such as Saab 96 or Saab 900 Turbo for their purity, partially the design and certainly for engineering quality. Lately GM has done everything to lose this spirit and character. The design got spoiled and the engineering was outsourced to Opel. But what is good for Opel doesn't have to be good for Saab. But the biggest mistake certainly was to not cherish the brand and the passion for individuality.
For us who love oldtimers this is not really a problem. The 900 Turbo soon will appear at rallyes and other events and owners will profit from the good build quality and the long term reliability.
The advertisement shown here is from 1982 and it says "Saab, one car length ahead". Well, if they hadn't been two car lengths behind recently we probably wouldn't discuss the end of Saab today.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

200 - exciting, impressive, and ....

Let's celebrate, this is the blog entry 200 in 2009 I am doing. But 200 was also an important number when I was young. Most cars at that time actually had a top speed lower than 200 km/h, so when a car was faster it was really fast. And almost every time it would help you win in "Super Trumps". Cars like a Triumph TR3 for example had 200 km/h marked as their top speed on the speedometer, but rarely were able to reach it. So, that's why 200 was such an important in the past and that's why it feels a bit special to post blog entry 200 for me.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If Aston Martin needs a Mini, is this the answer?

It has been around for quite a while, the small city car from Aston Martin. Now they have published "official pictures". Well, it hasn't changed much it seems, it's still a Toyota IQ with some Aston design elements. Now, I somewhat do like the IQ, as it's a clever package and offers some interesting engineering features. But if I like it for € 12'000.- or so it doesn't mean I would pay twice that money to have an Aston badge on it. Car history is full of such failures, remember the Austin Allegro Vanden Plas? So, my advice to Aston is, forget it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TVR Grantura Brochure and Price List 1961 - all the things you could have had

What you see here is a small budget brochure and price list for a TVR Grantura Mk2a of around 1961. £795 was the price to pay for a Grantura with Ford engine, £93 more you handed over for the MG A engine version and if you wanted the Coventry Climax version you the uplift was roughly 30% compared to the Ford version. That probably explains why so few Climax cars were shipped and why most of them received an MG engine during their life. It's also notable that only the MG version was homologated for racing. But even if you paid the £1045 for the Climax car, that wasn't the end. A full stage 3 race tune would add another £105 to the bill, but even the more moderate stage 2 engine conversion was £63. In comparison to this any other option you could order, like a heater/demister unit fresh air type (£15), windows screen washers (£2), leather upholstery (£10-12) or adjustable Koni shock absobers (£10) were quite affordable in comparison. Many people say the Germans have invented the car you can configure, but the TVR guys already had assembled quite a list of stuff to increase the price of your car. Interesting the fact that you could order a lightweight chassis/body combination, only the lightweight chassis or the lightweight body individually. But similar as today it was more expensive to get less. Adding all the bits you may have wanted together you easily could have ended up with a £1200 or 1300 Grantura, a car probably 5-8 times as expensive as a Volkswagen beetle.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Petrolhead's wishlist for 2009 Christmas

Here's what I would put on my Christmas wish list for this year:
  • Audi, please present and produce a V6 KERS enabled Audi R8
  • Ferrari, what about the rebirth of the Dino as a gorgeous V6 sportscar, probably KERS enabled as well, somewhat a mini 458 Italia at half the price?
  • Lotus, please build the Elise MK3, but lighter and faster. If done well, this could become the ultimate green sportscar
  • Mercedes, Audi, BMW or whoever is interested: what about a hybrid engine family car (i.e. a station wagon) that combines space, look and economy. Why have "green" cars to look like a Toyota Prius, why isn't there a station wagon or van offering both fuel economy and ecology?
  • I wish me an European answer to the Nissan GTR, but more beautiful while not being much more expensive
  • I also would like to have a race track close by to drive fast in a safe environment, so what about changing the legal framework, creating some jobs here in Switzerland and building a nice little track nearby?
  • And finally I would really love to play GranTurismo 5 on the PS3, but that's probably the only wish that will be fulfilled in the next months as the launch date currently is set for March 2010 (it was once 2007 for people who remember!)
So, Santa Clause or whoever makes the decisions here, go ahead, impress me!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

30 years ago - looking back to 1980 motoring events - the birth of the Audi Quattro

Soon we will have a 2010 on our calendars and therefore it's a good moment to look back 30 years to understand what actually 1980 brought to the motoring world and what cars qualify as "oldtimers" in the coming year.
The biggest sensation of 1980 most probably was the Audi Quattro. It was not the first 4x4 for every day (the Jensen FF was before), but clearly the one that made 4x4 relevant for the sportscar manufacturers. Interestingly the competition didn't see the point. Mind that it took Audi until 1984 to win both rallye world championship titles, in the two years before they won either the drivers or the manufacturers title, while the competition (i.e. Opel Ascona 400, Lancia 037, etc.) was still on rear wheel drive. Mercedes for example didn't at least see any reason to also build 4x4 street cars, as they claimed that ABS is good enough, 4x4 is not needed. Audi thought differently and not only created a brand (Quattro), but also did a lot of pioneering steps for preparing the market. By the way, only the Japanese followed immediately and partially quite successfully.
1980 was also a year where fuel economy and cheap cars were trendy, creating an open market for the Fiat Panda.
And 1980 also was the year were more and more manufacturers finally switched from rear wheel drive to front wheel drive. Opel had done it the year before already with the Opel Kadett, Ford was following in 1980 with the Ford Escort.
Also the Renault Fuego was front wheel driven and a successful attempt to replace the not really loved R15 and R17.
When you go through 1980 catalogs to see what (attractive) cars were sold in that year you will find also:
Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce 2000
Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint Veloce 1.5
Alpine-Renault A310 V6
BMW 323i
Citroen 2CV 6 Spécial
Ferrari 308 GTB/GTS
Lamborghini Urraco P300
Lotus Esprit S2
Maserati Khamsin 4900
Reliant Scimitar GTE
Saab 99 Turbo 2
TVR 3000 S (although they were only built in 1978-1979)

But it was also the time of cars such as:
Austin Allego 1500 Special
Datsun Cherry GL Hatchback 120 A
Ford Granada 2800 Ghia$
Lada Niva 1600
Mitsubishi Sapporo
Opel Senator 3000 CD
Zastava 1100 Super
Much fewer people will remember these cars and they rarely make it to classic car auctions, but maybe this now will change.

Anyway it is stunning that for example the Lamborghini Urraco was priced at 5 times the cost of a Volkswagen Golf GL 1500, and for the Lotus Esprit you could have bought 4.5 Golfs. Today, no Lambo is available below 8 Volkswagen Golf equivalents, while at least the small Lotus are in reach for a Golf buyer (at 2-3 times the Golf price).

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Buying a British Sportcar in the early 60ties ...

Buying cars in the form of a kit was very popular in the early 60ies. Not only TVR, but also Lotus and many other manufacturers shipped their cars a kits and were avoiding some taxes this way. This made a huge difference for the buyers, but also offered them the challenge to finish the manufacturer's job.

Well, this meant a lot of things. First, of course, you had to check whether the kit delivered to your home was complete. On the first picture you see the parts list and the attempt of the buyer to tick off the parts actually delivered.

But even if everything was delivered this didn't mean completing the car was a simple task. Obviously this owner of a TVR Grantura had to "reinvent" the wiring diagram (by hand, see second picture) to make sure everything was correctly connected. In other cases a serious amount of adjustments or welding may have been needed. Especially as many cars were delivered without the gearbox and engine.

The good thing though was that the owner really know what he was driving and probably was able to fix things better than people buying finished cars. A bad aspect may have been on the other side that unskilled owners made a lot of shortcuts or mistakes that had caused bad consequences later during the life of the car.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Group B Rallye Cars - unbelievably quick and powerful

Many people remember the Group B Rallye Cars, the Audi Quattros, the Peugeots and the Lancia Delta Integrales. Some with four wheel drive, some with mid engine, all with turbo, roughly 900 kg and 400+ HP. Rockets on gravel. Impressive. Have a look at this wonderful video!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

TVR Grantura Restauration - stage three - one step forward two steps backwards

Here's another update from the TVR Grantura Restauration. In November it looked like we made progress quickly. Now things have become more difficult. To set the context it needs to be understood that this is a fiberglass car where body and chassis are bonded together. Over fifty years many things have happened and it's not that clear whether you can just cut off the body from the chassis without totally braking it. So, to give the body more strength we added a number of support tubes. While doing this, it became more and more clear that a few things are terribly wrong here. The right side of the car suffers from serious stress.
Sometimes during its "career" the body must have "fallen down" a bit and since then it's not symmetrical any more. Many stress cracks clearly indicate that this has been a problem for quite some time. Also we found out that some fairly important pieces were missing, for example the rear end of the chassis and part of the rear end of the body as well, not to forget quite a few of the chassis tubes.
Other things were just not placed correctly or not really mounted. Looking back I have been really lucky to not having driven the car before taking it apart.
With all of these things missing and that many things being wrong there was an additional need to find information on how it should have been.
Luckily enough we were given access to a sister car, neither in pristine order nor "concours", but highly original. So, using this other car, we are able to "reconstruct" the missing pieces and making sure that at the end our car will look right. So quite some time was spent analyzing the sister car with a yard stick and a digital camera.
With all this experience we have now much better chances to rebuild our car correctly. So the next step now is to partially "reconstruct" the rear end of the body. After this finally we should be able to cut off the body from the frame. But this is another story and will most probably be told in January I hope.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How cars of other intelligent species may look like

There's only a limited chance that the conditions on any other planet than earth may have fostered live, evolution and the development of intelligent species. Now, let's assume the people there had a similar history to ours and finally came into the age of individual mobility. How would there cars look? Here's an example from Planet 51. Well, it's quite disappointing. Despite being light years away and having gone through a very different evolution cycle the cars of greenish Planet 51 people look pretty much like what we had in the 60ties, let's say with a Ford Thunderbird. Even the steering wheel is on the left side, so it can be assumed that they drive on the right side of the road. Is all of this caused by the lack of imagination of the film director or does evolution have to happen like this? Is there kind of a Darwin type of theory that intelligent species will always develop eventually colorful multi-seat convertible cars to be driven on the right side of the road with a steering wheel?
Think about it, I think we are up to something that might qualify for the Nobel price!

Looking for a car as a present and being on a budget?

Let's assume you still haven't got an idea for a christmas present for someone who is a real petrolhead and you are on a budget of let's say € 600k to 800k. What could you do? Well yes, you could take a look at one of these car sites such as and see whether there's something in this segment.
And yes, there is! Actually a good hundred cars or so would fit your budget, great. And there's quite a choice too. A range of Ferrari Enzos, a number of Maserati MC12s, many Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwings, some BMW 507, even Bugatty Veyrons still make it into that bracket. But there's also one exceptional car within this group, a Porsche Carrera 906. It may be a bit overpriced, but it's clearly distinctive! I certainly would know what of the lot I would prefer as a present. But sadly enough this is pure fiction and not a true story. Maybe next year, dear Santa?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Is there a difference between renovating your bathroom and restoring your car?

Being in the process of experiencing both, the restoration of a car and the renovation of a bathroom, I wondered whether there is really a difference between these two things. Well, to start with, there are clearly many similarities!

(1) In both cases you will find a lot of rusty tubes and major mistakes and shortcomings that were caused by people doing working long before you.

(2) In both cases you remove layers and layers of history to get to the real issues.

(3) In both cases you spend a lot (some people would say an insane amount) of money to establish a new base that should hold for the next 20+ years.

(4) In both cases a lot of the work done will be covered in later phases by paint or other cover materials.

There are some differences also, though.

Your family will love you more for what you do with the bath than for cherishing an old race car.

Talking to the car mechanic is so much more fun than discussing with the house renovation specialists. And finally, many more people will be able to see the result of the car restoration work than your renovation effort with the bathroom, for obvious reasons.
If you still need some good advise, then here's one: Don't try to do the two things in parallel and don't start the adventure if you aren't prepared for what may come up when you remove all these layers of history ....

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fiat 850 Sport Spider - a highly successful 60'ties sportscar

On today's streets you very rarely can spot a Fiat 850 Sport Spider, despite the fact that they built 124'660 of them between 1965 and 1973!
It shared most components with the family version of the 850 and the coupé produced in parallel. With this is had its 843 or 903 ccm engine mounted in the back and was of course rear wheel driven. Independent suspensions for all wheels, disc brakes in the front made it fairly safe and controllable (for the time).
What was though unique about this car was the shape designed by G. Giugiaro (working for Bertone at this time). The Sport Spider was a very lovely two seater convertible car.
With a bit more than 700 kg and roughly 52 HP it was not extremely fast (0-100 km/h in around 16 s), but it was fast enough to overtake the Volkswagen Bug or other mainstream cars of that time. And it was affordable, which was a key success factor. It was cherished by women and therefore often called the "assistant's Ferrari".
The 850 Sport Spider was the first "classic" I owned. The blue one was a real wreck, I drove it only for a week and had then to get rid of it. The second one (in red) was already much better, but even this was in need for a restoration. When I owned it in the early 80ies people still greeted each other from convertible to convertible. One of the best things about these cars was the engine noise. The blue one could be heard much before it actually could be seen, it was so noisy.
Today Fiat 850 Sport Spiders in good condition fetch serious money in the five digit range.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

It's Calendar season!

It's Calendar season again. Media companies, car manufacturers, tuners and many other organizations and companies have been presenting their 2010 Calendar. Some of them are really great. We all know the Pirelli Calendar. The 2010 version seems to go a bit back to the roots and focus on what it was always about. A nice calendar comes from Aston Martin showing the various models in a mostly wild and impressive environment. Cool stuff!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Picture of the week - Ford Thunderbird

The Ford Thunderbird was a direct response to the Chevrolet Corvette. With its elegant shape and the focus on luxury plus sport it was an instant success and sold much better than the Corvette. It came in many color combinations and even today they make a remarkable appearance in any oldtimer gathering. It's certainly not the type of car that would fit to the handling criteria mentioned in my last blog post, but they are great to look at. And for many that's enough.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What actually is Handling? And does it equal fun?

The other day I discussed with a friend of mine what Handling actually means. He did a bit of research and found a "definition" in a 1996 CAR magazine issue. They spelled out five criterias then:
1. Grip: absolute lateral grip does matter. Tackling a corner fast is more fun than tackling it slowly
2. Steering: A good steering gives crisp, accurate response at the start of a corner and then responds proportionally afterwards. As the front tyres get a greater cornering load, the steering should weight up, gaining more self-centring force. Then, as the front tyres begin to slide, the steering should get lighter, so you know what's going on. This is what "steering feel" is all about
3. Progression: The tyres should not grip completely and then suddenly let go. Their slip-angles should build up gradually to tell the driver what's going on
4. Controllability: Even at the limit, when there's no more grip to be had, the car should respond crisply to inputs from steering and throttle, and in the steady state it should be balanced - understeer or oversteer should not predominate. Throttle response should be progressive and predictable
5. Stability: the car should not be thrown off its line by bumps. Under braking the car should follow the bidding of the steering wheel, rather than tramlining, or being deflected by the road's bumps and cambers

A bit later in 2002 Road & Track described "handling" this way:
"Handling is really the sum of the driver and the vehicle. The driver provides the input and the vehicle responds with feedback. Without an easy way to characterize the driver, we are left to study the vehicle response, or the vehicle dynamics".
They also went back to a guru of handling of the 50s, who put forward the following criteria:
1. Steering response to be fast and well damped, with the car showing minimum roll angle and roll/yaw coupling
2. Steering ratio appropriate for the speed range and adequate for emergency maneuvers
3. Smooth steering control force with progression in normal driving, definite on-center feel and moderately fast return
4. Minimum steering backlash, springiness and shake
5. Minimum change in car direction, pitching and control response with road roughness
6. Modest aerodynamic and tyre/road steady-state stability over speed range
7. High side forces, or ultimate cornering adhesion
8. Satisfactory skidding characteristics: adequate skid warning, gradual rear breakaway and easy natural recovery
9. Minimum change in behavior with braking and acceleration

Now it's quite funny to read this when you think it comes from the 50ies and you mentally compare an early Austin Healey with let's say a Nissan GTR.

But this brings me actually to another point: We probably all agree that the handling of modern car is superior to what we had in the 60ies or 70ies, there's been a lot of progress and it's amazing how fast you can corner these days thanks to modern tyres, suspension design and electronics. But, does better handling also mean more fun? Does handling actually equal fun? Is a modern Audi R8 really more exciting to drive than let's say a Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA?
You know what I will say. My answer is "no". Old cars offer in my eyes much more entertainment at a fairly safe speed. Taking one of my older race cars on a track like the Salzburgring is great fun and cutting the lap time in half isn't making it really better.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The 2010 Alfa Romeo Giulietta - it's not called Milano

Alfa Romeo has just announced the 2010 Alfa Romeo Giulietta, formerly known as Milano (or maybe 149). I am very glad, they changed their opinion and actually didn't call the car Milano. As some of my readers may remember, the JWF Milano GT, built from 1962 to 1969 already used this name. And most people who know the car refer to it as "the Milano". So by Alfa changing the name, there's no confusion anymore. Good!
Looking at the new Giulietta - yes, we also had this name before, but at least with an Alfa - it looks quite okay to me, though I don't really like these headlights. From an engineering point of view it's yet another re-bodied Fiat-Lancia-something, as most of the recent Alfa Romeos have been. Sad. Well, at least most of them and specifically the 8C sitting on the Maserati mechanics are good looking cars. But why can't we have something that matches what was the Alfa Romeo Giulia as we loved it in the 60ies?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Top Gear on the car maker that made the highest number of great cars

Last Sunday night Top Gear presented the top 10 car makers coming from votes of their viewers (or so). Anyway the question was: What car makers made the highest number of great cars. Great cars means not just good cars, but cars to remember, cars that are exceptional. Well, the top ten Richard and Jeremy showed (see picture) were not what you would expect. Ferrari was on the tenth place, Ford on first. But Richard and Jeremy didn't agree neither. They themselves named Lancia (they were not able to pronounce it correctly of course) as being the car maker with the most great cars.
And they presented quite some evidence. You may not agree with all the (seven) cars they called great, i.e. the Monte-Carlo or so. But clearly they got some cars right, i.e. the all time icon Lancia Stratos, the Lancia Fulvia, the 037 and the Delta Integrale. They missed some of the others (i.e. Aurelia, etc). But they also showed some great rallye pictures and made the point that there's no other car maker winning the Rallye World Championship more often than Lancia. Also Lancia is responsible for many engineering's first in the car industry. Not all of them really made sense, but there was certainly a lot of creativity! Today Lancias are not what they were. Today Lancias are basically rebodied Fiats and some of them are pretty ugly on top of that. It's a sad story. But, hey, there are still Fulvias available at acceptable prices, and even good Betas are rarely beyond 20k. And for the same money you can also get a Delta Integrale with true rallye pedigree. So, get them, as long as they are affordable!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Investing in a BMW M3 E30? Think again!

Investing into a future classic car seems like a good idea. Let's take the BMW M3 E30, one of the best homologation specials on the market. It's an icon of the 80ies touring car scene. Awesome to drive, good to look at, even 20 years after its birthday.
And the value is increasing continuously. The cart shows (in green) how the money you have to put down for an M3 in good shape went up since 2000. And it can be expected that the value continues to increase.
So, this would be an ideal candidate to invest in, right?

Well, no. If you only assume reasonable cost to keeping the car in good shape (garage, basic maintenance, insurance, etc.) you will spend much more money on the car than what you can ever get back for selling it. That's the nature of car ownership. Doing nothing is not an option, storing it outside is a good idea neither.
So if you are looking for a good investment and you don't like stock certificates then maybe consider watches or stamps.
However, if you are also looking forward to having fun then owning a car like the BMW M3 might be one of the financially quite attractive hobbies and that's what it is meant to be. "Freude am Fahren" (driving with passion).

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Unknown car makers - the Australian Buchanan

Very few people know what a Buchanan is, but most historic racing car enthusiasts know the car that was used to mould the body of the first Buchanans - the Aston Martin DB3S.
Here's what you can find on

N H Buchanan Motor Co Pty Ltd was an Australian kit car manufacturer. It made sports cars in the 1950s.

The original body produced by Buchanan was a fibreglass item based on an Aston Martin DB3-S racing car. Buchanan borrowed a DB3-S and pulled moulds from it while it was in Australia. The styling was altered by filling in the scallops either side of the bonnet and reshaping the grille opening to be oval. Because the target market was for rebodying of early model MGs, the Buchanan moulds were cut and extended between the door openings and the rear wheelarches, adding several centimetres to the body length.

Racing car kits were also produced, consisting of this type of body plus a fabricated X-frame racing chassis manufactured from steel channel sections welded face to face to form box sections. The chassis used mechanicals from an FJ Holden, with the front suspension crossmember and rear axle assembly being shortened to suit the narrower body.

The second model, the Buchanan Cobra was introduced in 1958 as a production vehicle based on Standard 10 mechanicals. Only 7 were manufactured.

Buchanans were used on the road, but also raced quite successfully. You can see some of the cars pictured on the side. (pictures taken from "Buchanan Motor Company")

To some extent Buchanan can be compared with Devin or JWF. I like this breed of course and wouldn't mind owning a Buchanan.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Looking for an "Evolution" or "Special"? Go back in time!

A friend of mine recently told me that the latest "evolution cars" and high end spin-offs are neither exciting nor superior anymore. He illustrated this with the not really top rated Audi TT RS, but there are many other disappointing examples like the latest Mitsubishi Lancer Evo or Subaru Impreza.
Let's go back and look at some older offsprings and famous evolution and homologation specials. For example the unforgettable BMW M3 E30 in 2.3 and 2.5 liter disuise. BMW built this car as the basis for motorsports and when you drive one of these you can fell this is true.
Or take the Porsche 924 Carrera GTS. A true racing car with road registration. Hotter than the GT which already was a pretty exciting car.
One of the most famous homlogation specials probably was the Porsche Carrera RS 2.7 liter, built between 1972 and 1973. It was planned to build 500 of them, but demand was so big that more than 1'300 were built and the racing career was a long lasting one with many special versions built on top.
Ferrari build many evolution and homologation cars, i.e. the 250 SWB or the F40. All of them have been competitive and attractive as well.
What all of these have in common are a good amount of race pedigree and steep price developments. A very good evolution model of the M3 for example can easily fetch almost the price as "new", Porsche 924 Carrera GTS have already gone beyond that. And we all know how much a good Ferrari 250 SWB or even an F40 is worth today. The Porsche Carrera RS 2.7 is traded higher than USD 200'000 today, 4-5 times of the price for the new car.
So, as a summary, true homologation specials and evolution models are cars without compromise, designed to win on the track and to offer a minimum amount of comfort and convenience anywhere else. Collectors love these things and even when the car is not competitive compared to modern sports cars, driving one of them is awesome and very rewarding.
So, if you plan to buy a Audi TT RS, maybe you reconsider, buy a normal TT and an M30 E30 on top.