Saturday, October 31, 2009

Car seats as a symptom for technology evolution

Modern car seats are engineering masterpieces. The difference between what you get in a modern BMW or Audi to what you had in a Jaguar or BMW in the 50ies or 60ies couldn't be more striking. In the old days car builders did the minimum to allow the drivers seat somewhat comfortable. In sportscars they did even less, often the driver sat basically on the floor of the car or in very rudimentary bucket seats. Since then a lot has happened. Modern seats support the driver by moving electrically, storing seating positions (of more than one driver), can be heated and cooled, and some even do offer a massage to the driver. But there's more. Modern seats also have airbags built inside and they track whether actually somebody is sitting on them. And in some cases seats vibrate to wake up the driver or make him aware that he is leaving the road.
No wonder that modern seats have become much more heavy, probably many hundreds of percentages heavier than seats in the old times. A modern seat can easily weight 30, 40 or 50 kg, or even more, compared to 5 or 15 kg in the past.
But would we want to go back? Probably not, as today we sit much longer in these cars and our back is glad for optimal support. Maybe there's a way to get a bit more from both worlds, some of the lightweight racing seats available in super cars are good examples.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The best 14 car movies ever?

I do love movies, I like watching movies in good quality, looking at the pictures and listening to the sound and noise. So what would be more logical for me than to combine my passion for cars and movies? I collected quite a few of these movies over time and maybe it's valuable for you to share my top 14.
A few of these movies are very well known, for example "Le Mans" (my favorite, never before and after have more car scenes with less dialogues been wrapped in a cinema movie), "The Italian Job" (I have the original version and the remake on the list, but the original beats the remake 5:1, just watch the opening scene with the Lamborhini Miura in the Alps), of course "Bullit" (watch the famous pursuit scene with the Ford Mustang) and "Grand Prix" (many really fascinating formula one scenes).
But there are also a couple of movies rarely shown, such as "Rendezvous". The idea behind Rendezvous was to drive through Paris in about 12 minutes (as the camera hooked onto the car couldn't capture more without changing the film), regardless of speed limits, other cars or people walking over the street. Another very rare movie is "La Passione". Chris Rea made this movie about Graf Berghe von Trips and his racing career (you'll love the shark nose Ferrari formula 1 car that they built to make this movie) and it's so rare I haven't even been able to find a copy myself. But I am sure I will love it.
But if I have to pick the best of the best, "Le Mans" is my choice. And, I will comment on memorable TV series another time.
One comment for TVR fans, both the remake of the Italian Job and Sword Fish feature a TVR Tuscan Speed 6.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ferrari 512 BB - design icon and supercar

The Ferrari 512 BB and its predecessor 365 GT 4 BB were true design icons. Despite being very much behind Lamborghini adopting the mid engine scheme the car was quite a success. "BB" stands for Berlinetta Boxer but the engine actually wasn't a boxer design but a V-12 with an angle of 180 degrees. Ferrari built 387 365 GT4 BBs, recognizable because of the six exhaust pipes, 929 512 BBs and 1'007 BBIs between 1973 and 1981/82. Power output was always claimed to be around 340/360 HP depending on the way measured and the honesty.
What made the car special was the fact that you basically could unfold it (see second picture). For a 70ies sportscar the BB was quite heavy with more than 1'500 kg. And it felt like this. Best driving speed was in the range between 130 and 200 km/h and on the highway. This was clearly not a car built for the race track of the alps. The seating position was quite okay and even the visibility was quite good for a mid engine car. The engine of course was spectacular and so was the noise it produced, especially the carburetor versions 365 GT4 BB and 512 BB. Fuel consumption was impressive and you knew very soon why the petrol tank was so large. I loved the sound and the look of the car, but didn't fully enjoy the driving. That's why I sold it and swapped it against a 246 GT which clearly was a much more engaging car to drive. But the design of the 512 BB was really spot on, thanks to Pininfarina.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Kicking off the TVR Grantura Mk2 restoration project

I have talked about the old TVR Grantura Mk2 before. And about the plan to restore it. Well, soon the work will start. As this is not something that you do very often in your life combined with the fact that the experiences will be interesting for quite a number of people, we decided to properly document the restoration. So we started with a professional photo session of the car before the restoration. The picture shows the setup. We will document each stage of the restoration process and submit the resulting article to one of the classic car magazines if they are interested. If everything goes well, the work will be completed by next summer. Let's keep the fingers crossed. I will post updates on the progress on this blog from time to time.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why is there no "KERS" in supercars? Where is the hybrid supercar?

Despite the fact that often supercar manufacturers copy wrong or right decisions from Formula 1 cars, i.e. 10 cylinder engines, none of the recently presented super cars featured a KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System). This is somewhat surprising! By adding some 40-50 kg you can add some extra power (80 HP in F1) and torque to your car and at the same time reduce the fuel consumption if done rightly. Adding a KERS could mean to power the car with a smallish turbo enhanced six cylinder engine instead of putting a 10 or 12 cylinder block into the car. But not even Lexus thought about this when building the LF-A. Neither has Audi (R8), Ferrari (458) or Mercedes (SLS). Maybe it's because of the marketing guys. You don't want to have your customers think about a Toyota Prius when picking a supercar. But calling it KERS this might be a different story and it would help the buyers to justify buying such a car.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lexus LF-A - have we really waited for this?

Lexus has announced the new Lexus LF-A just recently and it has been covered extensively all over the world. This is a 375'000 Euro supercar with a high revving V10, 560 HP, 1'450 kg weight and impressive performance and road handling (we assume).
It took them 11 years to develop it and the first cars only get shipped in a year or so.
While the car looks impressive (although the design almost looks like a retro modern car) and there's certainly a lot of technology and engineering going into this car, I really wonder whether we have waited for this.
Some of my readers may remember my post on the Connaught D-Type GT V10. Yes, you see Tim Bishop, the Chief Engineer at the steering wheel on the picture here. Well, the team around Tim developed something that I would reckon is more creative at probably a small fraction of the project cost of the Lexus LF-A. There are similarities though. Both cars have a V10 in the front, though the engine in the Connaught is much more in the center of the car, basically between the driver and the co-driver. Both try to to build a lightweight car. The Connaught is 850 kg while the Lexus weighs 1'450 kg. While the performance of the Connaught may be a bit less impressive due to the smaller engine and "only" 300 HP, they achieved to actually seat four people and still have a boot. And what is most intriguing for me, the Connaught has a built-in hybrid module (kind of a KERS) while Lexus, the mother of the hybrid technology, doesn't. Last, but not least, the sticker price for the Connaught is 100'000 GBP, while the price tag for the Lexus LF-A is supposed to be more than 3 times of this.
So, this brings me back to the point, that most of today's supercars and this includes the Lexus LF-A lack creativity and are just evolutions of concepts from the 80ies and 90ies.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The BMW 5 GT, a new category or just another retro failure?

When I recently walked through the streets I spotted a car that I thought is the new BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo (BMW 5 GT). Well, in reality it was a Citroen C5 (2nd picture) and of course I discovered my error when getting closer to the car. And of course the two cars are not really looking like twins but at least not that different from the back neither. And, for a car that is supposed to define a new category, at least that's what BMW and the motor journalists are claiming, the car should look more unique.
Well, if you take one more step back, you will actually find out, that similar cars did exist in the past. I only pictured two of them, the first and second Audi 100 Avant and the Tatra 613. Do they look familiar to you?
Now, there's one problem. These cars were all not very successful, to not say they were a failure. No wonder, that for example Audi decided to build a proper station wagon as a repacement fo the pictured Avant. So, BMW might well face a problem. At least for me, it's very unclear why I should buy the 5 GT instead of the better looking coming BMW 5 Series Touring. But, let the market proof whether I am right or wrong.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

We still lack some good online sites focusing on classic cars!

Recently I was thinking on where to really find good information on classic cars online. So I started to summarize the different information sources. Here's what I found as categories and examples:

Online Pure Plays
Focusing on sportscars they do a good job in organizing a community, a car ad market and good editorial content around typical british sportscars and some others.
German speaking online car magazine focusing on mainly new and common cars.
Mainly an online car market for classic and modern sportscar. Some editorial content (“Magazine”) such as car of the week and driving reports.
Content and specifically picture rich website focusing on international classic car events, but centering around Ferraris and Maseratis.

Car Club websites
Many around, some quite good, some quite boring. Here’s a good example with lots of information:

Brand/car type dedicated online resources
There are many specialized sites out there gathering and distributing information on one specific car or car brand. Here’s an excellent example focusing on the Lotus Eleven:
Here’s another showing all the known TVR Granturas:

Online discussion forums
Some of the online forums are extremely well maintained and really helpful when you run into issues with your classic car, i.e. the one focusing on Mercedes SL R107:

Online print magazine offsprings
Octane is a print magazine. The site gives some of the content of the magazine and of course a car sales market place. No link between offline and online subscription. Compared to other car magazine sites quite a bit of content. Nicely presented but not as good as the print magazine.
One example of a print magazine with online channel. Quite a bit of content (mostly re-use from the print magazine).

Many out there, sometimes quite difficult to find, when you don’t know where to start looking for it. Here’s an excellent example
A blog focusing on Australian sportscars mainly. Lots of good photos and background information on Bollwells and other rare (Australian) cars. Well done, John!

I probably have only scratched the surface with all of this. But I still feel I haven’t found a really well done online classic car site. I would be interested in other people’s insights!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Appreciating other people's classic cars

Often, when I walk through the streets, I spot rare cars I would have never thought about owning them. It's not because these are bad cars or ugly, it's just that they wouldn't fit my preferences and ideas. Just like this Bristol I discovered yesterday in Zurich. I had to smile and take a closer look when I walked by this car. It's probably one of very few Bristols in Switzerland. And it looked like being in good shape. I appreciate people buying these cars and keeping them well maintained. How boring would our streets be if there were only Volkswagen Golfs and Audis. Keep on, fellow petrolheads!

Monday, October 19, 2009

One of the better innovations in cars - the head-up display

I have been talking a lot about all the things that make driving more boring or create distraction for the driver. But there's one innovation in modern cars that I really like - the head-up display. When I search for a 5-series BMW this was a requirement high up on my list. And I loved it from the the first day on. The head-up display gives you your current speed or the direction (arrow) you need to take to reach your destination. And you can see all of this without taking your eyes from the street. This is really practical and increases road safety I think. However there are a number of things I wasn't fully happy with. Firstly, you couldn't program that thing. I would have loved to also see the current gear for example or the ABS indicator. Secondly, I can't understand why it's only available with the 5-series but not with the 3-series I bought after. And thirdly and most importantly, I don't understand why you have to pay more than 1'800 USD for this feature and even have to take an automatic air condition with it on top. The cost to produce the TFT screen unit and the controlling computer must be close to or lower than 200 USD, so everything else is margin for BMW? Isn't there a thing like price elasticity? Wouldn't they be able to sell 100% or 300% more of these units if they offered them cheaper?
And last but not least, if you would design a car with a head-up display in mind the whole dashboard could be structured and modelled very differently. So, here again, is a great chance to come up with something new and different. Go for it!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Modern cars causing more accidents because it's so easy to get distracted?

I just read a newspaper article summarizing the problems caused by people using mobile phones or writing SMS while steering a car. Apparently people drunk (0.8) drive better than people using the phone. And writing an SMS increases the risk of an accident by the factor 23. Research teams observed truck drivers moving for 140 m without watching the street while writing an SMS. It's proven that talking on the phone reduces the driver's awareness for the things happening on the street.
What is interesting is that the article points out that one reason that people think they can manage talking on the phone or writing SMS while driving is the fact that operating a car today is so easy and can be so boring. This comes back to what is a regular topic on my blog. Modern cars do so many things on their own that the driver isn't involved anymore into the real driving. The only thing you do in a modern car is steering and pushing break and throttle pedals. Maybe you switch on the indicator now and then but that's it. You don't need to switch on lights or wipers. You don't need to monitor water temperature or oil pressure. You don't need to switch gears or use a clutch pedal. And you don't even need to think whether the next curve actually can be mastered at the speed you are doing because there's a speed limit and that's low enough. And so on. You get the point. And all the driving assistance systems that get added to the cars now make it worse. Soon the only thing you do in a car is deciding when you want to start it. It couldn't be more boring. No wonder people start to use their mobile phone. And modern mobile phones are full-function computers....
So, maybe one of the reaons why there are less accidents caused by classic and vintage cars is that drivers actually focus on what they do, driving the car.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why I prefer to change gears manually (*)

Soon most people will not remember the time when shifting gears in a car meant pushing the clutch pedal, manually changing from one gear to another by moving a lever and the releasing the clutch pedal, all in a subtle and well controlled way. More and more cars come with automatic gearboxes or robotized manual gear boxes and less and less cars actually do have a clutch pedal (the third pedal on the left side in the car).
But, myself, I still love to shift manually and that's why my 1987 Mercedes 300 SL has a manual gearbox. And with this it's a rarity as roughly 90% of all the 300 SLs were delivered with an automatic gearbox and offically the manual version wasn't even imported into Switzerland. Selecting the manual gearbox in the 80ies made sense though. The hand shifted 300 SL was not only quicker it was also more fuel efficient (8-15% depending on the driving cycle). Also the automatic gearbox only had four gears while the manual gearbox had five. Since then a lot of progress has been made. Modern automatic transmissions and even more the now fashionable double-clutch-gearboxes beat the average driver with a manual gearbox both in terms of acceleration 0-100 km/h and fuel efficiency. So there's no reason to pick a manual gearbox today, you would say. Well, wrong. In my eyes there are at least three reasons to still go for manual. Firstly, only the manual gearbox makes you really feel involved into the driving and the process of switching gears. Clutching and de-clutching and double-clutching, this all makes you experience what's happening between the engine and the wheels. Secondly, it's about being in control. Most (if not all) of these new gearboxes will only do what you ask it to do, if it makes sense for the "system". So you can't change to fifth gear for example if the speed is to low or the gearbox will automatically change gears even if you are in manual mode, if the driving conditions make the control unit think that the gear should be changed. So, you don't really have full control. It's like if you were walking into a Davidoff-shop, order a box of cigars and when you want to pay your wallet tells you that you can't have the money because smoking is bad for your health (which is true, but you get the point, don't you?). The third reason for not selecting the DSG or automatic box is the extra weight and the extra money that comes or goes with it.
So, I made my case. But you may have noticed the "*" in the title. Yes, there are situations where I prefer automatic gear boxes and my everyday car has one too. But if it's about fun, involvement and control I prefer the manual one. Except I probably would take the Ferrari Scuderia with the F1 gearbox as on the track it is so much easier to drive. But I am only on a track so often, which means for most of the other cars I am going to buy in the future a manual gearbox is going to be it, or not?

Friday, October 16, 2009

A true lightweight sportscar - Supasse V

Here's finally a new sportscar that actually is truly lightweight, the Supasse V, just recently announced by the vendor at the Tokyo motor show and going on sale in 2010.
It weighs roughly 850 kg and is powered by the Mazda 3 MPS engine with 265 HP. This should guarantee good performance and fun on the road. The price is supposed to be similar than the Lotus Exige, so below 90'000 USD. We'll give it a warm welcome despite the somewhat suboptimal design. And I am sure we can still do better, what about 800 kg and 300 HP? This should be possible, even with a small KERS module on board to add torque and lower fuel consumption. Try harder!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

60 years of car testing history and stories - what a wealth of information

What a wealth of information, what great stories! I just received my copy of the "Chronik des Automobils". It basically is a collection of articles (or mostly pieces of them) from Auto Motor und Sport (German car magazine) since 1946 in six books, each covering 10 years. I love old car magazine articles. I have a collection of magazines covering now 30 years on my own. But having the best articles summarized in six books is absolutely fabulous. Examples?
In 1951 the Dyna Veritas had 32 HP, was 116 km/h fast and had to be fed with 7.4 liter per 100 km. The DKW Monza of 1958 was faster with 135 km/h, accelerated in 21.9 s from 0-100 km/h and could be driven with 10 liters per 100 km. Only 20 years later the Porsche Turbo 3.3 took 5.4 s to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h, reached 261 km/h, but took 23 liters from the gas station for every 100 km driven. And another 20 years later the BMW M5 was pretty much as fast as the Porsche 20 years earlier, but could seat 5 people and "only" drank 14.8 liters per 100 km. And in 1994 AMS tested the awesome McLaren F1 with 3.4 s for 0-100 km/, 370 km/h top speed and 18.6 liters fuel consumption for 100 km. People say the internet will replace magazines, newspapers and books. I believe there's a good argument having compilations like these six books in print.
For people interested, it's on

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Challenging the tire dimensions found at today's cars - shouldn't we go back?

One thing that has changed a lot over the last years when you look at supercars are the tire dimensions. As an example I take the Ferrari 512 BB that featured a fat Michelin 215/70 VR 15 tire. Now compare it to the tires that are mounted to the rear wheels of a Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, P305/35R20. What a difference. And even regular street cars today are equipped with these huge and "flat" tires! It's not even so clear whether this really helps the balance of the car that much. Certainly, if the tire doesn't "walk" that much then the driveability improves. But at the same time the comfort decreases and the wheels get heavier because you compensate air with aluminum. There's no return to more "normal" tire dimensions though as people think these wide wheels are cool. But we pay the price, be it in destroyed rims when parking to close or when we have to replace these wide wheels as they cost a fortune.
Now one additional thought: look at the formula one cars or other race cars. Do they have tires with similar dimensions as modern cars? No, they haven't. From a ratio width/height they actually look much more like the tires from the 512 BB, designed 25-30 years ago. Interesting, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How about a little bit more creativity when engineering your next supercar?

Looking at the recent announcements of new supercars arriving (i.e. Ferrari 458, McLaren MP4 12C, etc.) I wonder whether their designers and engineers do not lack a bit of creativity. Of course they add power and improve handling and overall performance with each new car, but compared to what is happening in the compact and economy car segment, these are baby steps. Look at the Nissan Land Glider for example, isn't this impressive? I would really appreciate if Porsche, Ferrari, Maserati or Aston Martin would come up with a truly creative approach on how to combine performance, handling, usability and economy in a next generation supercar.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Are modern cars really better than what we had many years ago?

When you read test reports in car magazines it seems clear that every new car model is better than the car it replaces. The new Golf VI is much better than the V and of course much much better than the Golf I to IV. Same with sportscars. But is really everything better? Of course modern cars are safer, consume less gasoline (most of the time), offer more driving assistance and make using a car more convenient. But aren't there a couple of things that got worse, not better? Yes, there are!
Visibility is one of them. You barely can see out of a modern car these days, it seems. You even need park distance control systems to not damage your car. And it's much easier to damage your bumpers because they are painted and there's nothing to really protect THEM. Usability also got worse due to all the stuff they put into modern cars. But that's probably fair, giving all the convenience you get with it. But one more thing I think got worse - gear change precision. Many modern cars use complex mechanics to connect the transmission with the gear change lever while some cars we had in the past actually had the transmission between the seats and the lever directly operated the transmission. Look at the Alfa-Romeo Giulia or the Fastback Spider. I rarely have enjoyed so much precision changing gears. And now compare it with modern front wheel drive cars, especially when they are a bit more worn. What a difference. I am sure there are many many more things that actually haven't been improved over times. And yes, that's why some of us love to drive old cars ....

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Apline-Renault A110 1600S - a true lightweight car

The Alpine-Renault A110 1600S is one of the most famous rallye cars in history, winning the Monte-Carlo Rallye and the Rallye World Championship twice. The A110 was built between 1961 and 1976 and it is what I would call a truly light car.
The specification of the 1600 S reads:

Engine: Renault (R16), 1565 ccm, with 138 hp SAE (103 kW) gross (125 PS DIN (93 kW)) power output

5-Speed Manual

Chassis: Steel backbone with fiberglass body panels

Dimensions and Weight
Weight: 620 kg
Length: 4.04 m
Width:1.50 m

The result is impressive. More than 210 km/h top speed (assuming the right gearing) and 0-100 km/h in less than 7 seconds.
Alpines were very successful in all kinds of events, including hillclimbs and slaloms, but also on the track. But most rememberable of course was their track record in rallyies. Rear wheel drive and an engine mounted in the back meant good traction and the low weight made it almost unbeatable in winter conditions.
Mine was an original Group 3 car with all the right bits and pieces. I probably shouldn't have sold it after all.
And, if you have read my blogpost on the Mazda MX5 Superlight, well, the Alpine A110 is what I would call a true lightweight car.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Mazda MX 5 Superlight - lightweight?

Mazda has built a lightweight version of the MX5 to indicate how much sportscar is in each MX5. They took off the windscreen, lightened many bits and pieces and added quite a number of racing and tuning accessories. The result is the Mazda MX-5 Superlight version. It's a prototype, production isn't impossible though. The result: 980 kg, 0-100 km/h in less than 9 seconds and a truly open and sporty feel when you drive the car, I reckon. So far so good. I am disappointed though. What this experiment shows is that you can't take a modern car and make it REALLY light. 980 kg for a small simple car is still heavy. Let me compare it with some other small simple cars from the past, what about the Lotus Elite with less than 550 kg, Lotus Elan with roughly 650 kg, Austin-Healey Sprite Mark II with 696 kg, Fiat 850 Spider with 720 kg, Alfa-Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA with 845 kg, or even the more luxurious cars like the Fiat 124 Spider with 907 kg, Porsche 356 S90 with 920 kg or VW Porsche 914 with 940 kg? They all were lighter than the Superlight MX5. Now, of course modern safety regulations and crash tests impact the weight, but by that much? I strongly believe to be able to build a lightweight car you need to engineer and construct it to be one, not to take stuff away off from an existing (heavy) car. And the Mazda MX-5 Superlight version is a clear proof for this.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Picture of the week - Aston Martin DB3S

Old race cars with "patina" are some of the best objects to take pictures from. Here's an Aston Martin DB3S and it proudly shows the traces of many years of racing. It's so much better to look at a car like this than to watch over-restored race cars with barely any part having remained. This picture makes a great desktop background also ....

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Would you put an engine in your living room?

Some people actually do buy car engines to exhibit them in there living room. Certainly they don't take modern engines to do this, but engines from classic cars as these engines have more to show.
The engine pictured here usually powers the Ferrari 308 GTB /GTS. It's an 8 cylinder engine with multiple carburetors. Yes, actually, it's quite nice to look at, but in all honesty, I prefer to have the engine in a car and listen to the sound it produces.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Confusion around Winter Tyres

Every year I wonder when to mount the Winter Tyres to my everyday car. There are confusing messages out there and even experts seem not to agree on all the aspects. Rarely when ever can you see full comparisons of capabilities of summer and winter tyres under different conditions. What I have seen so far would indicate the following:
(a) In dry conditions even at low temperatures summer tyres outperform winter tyres (i.e. breaking, acceleration), despite the softer compound of the winter tyres.
(b) in wet conditions there's a temperature threshold at around 7 to 10 degrees celsius where winter tyres become superior to summer tyres.
c) if it's snowing or frozen then winter tyres always win

So, that would tell me that if I never drive under wet or snow conditions I could stick with the summer tyres. As you can't predict the weather this is not really an option. But for all my cars that I only drive in dry and salt free conditions I can drive them during summer and winter without needing winter tyres. If anybody has something to add to this assessment, please don't hesitate as I am eager to learn.

Monday, October 5, 2009

20 years of Mazda MX-5 Miata - what an impressive track record!

A couple of days ago, Mazda celebrated the 20ies birthday of the Mazda MX-5 / Miata. When it was presented in 1989 it was an instant sensation. It was quite a good amalgam of Lotus Elan roots and 90ies car engineering practices. And it was a pretty simple car with almost no electronic gismo. First only available in the US and Japan it came 1990 to Switzerland. Mine was one of the first ones sold here, it was red with a black interior and I loved it a lot.
I can well remember the trips I did with it, chasing Alfa-Romeo Spiders, and being quicker thanks to the very efficient convertible top mechanism, giving me an edge when it started to rain.
When it appeared it was basically the only car of its kind, but later Fiat and other makes copied the concept. It was clearly a success, with roughly 900'000 cars built it is clearly more than the fashion of a summer. Mazda did a very good job in keeping the car updated, I especially like the latest versions while I wasn't too keen on the ones between the MK1 and the current cars.
The MX-5/Miata has all it takes to become a classic and it only takes another 10 years until the first examples turn into the "oldtimer" age. Today it's a "youngtimer" and it's a "classic" I could well imagine giving my son one of these as a present when he turns 18. I wonder whether my "own" MX-5 has survived ....
(more information for example on wikipedia)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Do we see a decrease in commonality in car control?

You may wonder what the aircraft picture to the left has to do with this car centric blog. Well, here's the point. When you are a civil aircraft pilot at an airline you are typically certified for one aircraft type, for example the B747 (Jumbo Jet). As knowing your aircraft is crucial for safety, the same pilot cannot fly a B747 on one day and let's say a B737 the next day. Because the pilot training and certification process is expensive and the aircraft type orientation reduces flexibility, aircraft manufacturers such as Airbus started to build "commonality" into their aircraft and created groups of aircraft where the same certification applies. So, the same pilot now can fly the Airbus A319, 320 and 321 without being retrained. And even the large A380 follows the same control principles and retraining can be substantially reduced. Aircraft type certification is supposed to make flying more safe because if there's an incident then the pilot knows exactly what to do and doesn't have to think about how a certain procedure works in the specific airplane he is currently steering.
Over 100 years of car manufacturing the commonality between different cars has greatly increased. While some cars had the throttle pedal in the middle in the past, some on the right, today you can take it for granted that the throttle pedal sits on the right, the brake pedal in the middle and the clutch pedal, if there's one, on the left. That's good, as it makes traffic a lot safer. Few people also may remember that Peugeots had the indicator switch on the right side of the steering wheel (LHD car) in the 70ies (and 80ies?) while most other cars had it on the left side. The knob to turn on the lights usually is on the left side of the steering wheel (LHD) for most cars and heating and air control sits in the center console. And the handbrake sits in the middle of the car in the center console usually. At least that was the case in the 80ies and 90ies. There were some exceptions of course, as for example the Porsche had the ignition key on the left side of the steering wheel (LHD) and Saab had it in the center console behind the gear lever. Mercedes didn't use a "handbrake" but rather a foot operated version. But mostly you wouldn't have to read a manual to operate somebody else's car. Now, lately things have changed. Electronic handbrakes, starter buttons and controls in the steering wheel have reduced commonality between different car makes in my eyes. Some of these differences do not affect safety, but some do. It's a step into the wrong direction. Usability has something to do with learning transfer. The smaller the difference to what people are used to the better the usability.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Honda NSX - did Honda succeed in building a supercar?

When Honda introduced the NSX in 1989/1991 this was their first attempt to compete with the performance car and supercar league. Direct competitors were the Ferrari 348 and the Porsche 911 (964). From a pricepoint it probably was in between these rivals. The NSX had an all-alluminium chassis, suspension and body. The engine was a 3.0 liter V6 VTEC, delivering roughly 270 HP. What Honda tried to achieve was to find the perfect compromise between usability, driveability and performance. So they even had to change the design to fit a bigger boot (on the cost of the design/shape) and to allow so for more luggage space. Compared to other supercars it was quite easy to enter the car and the interior was quite spacious. The performance was comparable to the NSX peers, but to drive fast the engine needed to be revved. The handling was very good for a mid-engined car, also thanks to the contributions of Ayrton Senna. The car was built for durability, maintenance costs were low compared to its competitors. So, basically what had been produced was a supercar with the low maintenance characteristics of a Honda Civic - well almost at least. The interior was a bit "plush" and instruments and dashboard maybe were not really up to the standard. But it clearly was a good car. Honda sold about 18'000 of them and they also made some appearances in racing, for example in the 24 hours race on the Nurburgring. It could have been even more successful if the economical conditions at the time of the launch would have been better.
I actually owned two NSX, a black and a red one, both built 1991. The black wasn't as good as I had hoped, but this was more because of the specific vehicle than the car as such. The second one proved to be very good, but finally I sold it because better and more beautiful cars came along. But I still consider this car as one of the best 90ies compromises between convenience and performance.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Why on earth would you need more than one car?

Modern cars are more versatile than ever. With an Audi RS 6 Avant you buy performance, space and usability. The engine comes from the Lamborghini Gallardo and therefore the performance is almost in the supercar league. And as it's still a station wagon you can transport a family with luggage and pull a trailer. Or if you need more air, why not buy a Volkswagen EOS that offers a good compromise between a solid convertible top, four seats and a trunk big enough to bring the luggage of all the passengers? Again performance is sufficient if you pick the right engine. So, all your needs are fulfilled, why owning a second car?
Well, at least for myself, driving different cars is more than just fulfilling different needs. Cars do have a personality of some sort. A Mercedes SL breathes German perfection, an English roadster like a TVR transports British tradition and is admirable just because it's not perfect at all. And so on. Different cars for different moods and different experiences. That's what it's all about. Modern cars can be quite versatile but they have to be a compromise and will never be able to give the final experience. The engine from the RS6 may be the one from the Gallardo, but the car still feels like an Audi and misses all the Italian extra points.
By the way, the two pictures were created with, quite an entertaining site to convert pictures to canvas or comicbook like illustrations. Try it yourself!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Picture of the week - Aston Martin DB 7

There are cars that are bought because they are fast, show unmatched performance or are just well engineered. And there are cars that are being bought purely for the sake of their design. One of the latter group was the Aston Martin DB7. It was a really gorgeous car and so much nicer to look at then its predecessors. It looked good from every angle and the details, such as the air intake on the side (see picture) were beautifully crafted. Technically it wasn't that exciting with its Jaguar based chassis/floor unit and the compressor supported Jaguar V6 that sounded more like a tram than a car. It wasn't even that great to drive, especially if you are more than 1.8 m tall. But to have one standing in your driveway made you feel really good. The car was improved over its long life by adding the V12 and improving many parts, the design gladly was left pretty much untouched.