Thursday, 20 December 2007

Mars and Venus

Mrs SS7 got a bit of a shock the other day when it cost her £70 to fill the family shed (our BMW 520i Tourer) with unleaded, at £1.09 for every litre. Now she normally reckons on doing this 3 or 4 times per month, so suddenly it has been decided that a more economical replacement is needed.

To be fair the BMW now spending most if its time on local runs, however an arbitrary £10k budget has been assigned and the hunt is on.

Unfortunately, based on the conversations we’ve had so far I think we’re some way from agreement on the BMW’s replacement.

Or maybe not…..

Venus “Our priority is a safe 5*NCap car with lots room for the boys”
Mars “Our priority is a safe car that’s great to drive”

Venus “It needs to be really economical on fuel - more than 45mpg”
Mars “Its needs to have good residuals depreciation is the real killer – we should really look at low total cost of ownership”

Venus “Its needs to be front wheel drive”
Mars “It needs rear wheel drive for steering response or 4wd for all weather traction”

Venus “It needs to look smart on the drive”
Mars “Its needs to get knowing nods at the Goodwood breakfast”

Venus “Leather seats would be nice”
Mars “Based on the fact that inside of the BMW resembles a cross between a skip, a dressing table, and Toys R’Us, we need to be able to hose down the interior”

Venus “I like blue”
Mars “Silver would be better for residuals”

Venus “I like those Renault Scenics”
Mars “No French cars”

Venus “I also want a 6 cds player”
Mars “You want parking sensors..”

Venus “I’d like a nice Golf”
Mars “How about W124 Merc TE 300D?”

Venus “The 1.9tdiGolf looks like the most economical”
Mars “The 2.0tdi Golf has 30% more torque and 140bhp”

Venus “Lets go and see the VW dealer in Chichester”
Mars “Let me have 10 mins with Pistonheads classified”

Venus “I can’t be bother to sell it privately, lets see what trade in the dealer will give us”
Mars “Let me have 10 mins with Pistonheads classified”

Mars, “Blue Golf 1.9 Tdi it is then (and p-ex the BMW)”

Monday, 19 November 2007

Murk Taxi

A quick write up on the 2007 Mercedes E220 CDi Avantgarde (170bhp, £32k); the car you should buy yourself if you were a responsible family man, and didn’t keep buying menopausal sports-cars.

An illuminated engine check warning light event meant that the Cayman had to return to the dealer for ministrations. The recovery service included the supply of a ‘premium’ courtesy car, so I was looking forward to trying a Cayenne Turbo for a couple of days. However, the local agents turned up with a Mercedes E Class…

This one was hearse black with 16” alloys lost in the arches, and only 2,400miles on the digi-clock. The interior was also black hide, the quality of which Mrs SS7 suggested was a bit ‘World of Leather”. Other than that, the dash was competent - but it was difficult to see what was so ‘avant-garde’ about it all. As usual for a Mercedes the front seats went miles back, but even at a comfortable reach for my 6’2”, there wasn’t a whole lot of leg room behind.
Cold starts produced the usual 200k-mile-Transit-death-rattle, but on the move it was quiet. Mrs E-H used it for a 100 mile motorway run with her MU grannies with no real complaints, so I was curious to see how it would deal with the down-land roads up to Guildford.

Not well really. The steering is Honda-light with zero feel, and ignorance about what was going on at the front tyre’s footprint didn’t encourage pushing on. Road noise is well suppressed, and ride is comfortable on the straight and level, but with a combination of a hard driver’s seat and soft ride, it does fall apart a bit in the twisties, often with a lurch as the lateral forces start to act. It did really feel like I was sitting on top of, not in, the car – and my seat was on the lowest setting.

The motor had the usual deseasel mid-range thump, and usually the many-speed auto box kept up well, slurring through the gears in normal use. But even in ‘Sport*’ mode, full throttle was needed to produce a lag-clonk-jerk kick-down, and that wasn’t cool. Surprisingly, braking into a corner or roundabout, then getting back on the gas also produce a thump-jerk as the combination of turbo-lag, mid-range heave and dumb gearbox stopped working in anything close to perfect harmony.

Frankly it really wasn’t fun, and having no compulsion to overtake at all, I found myself following all the traffic like a numpty. Even when alone didn’t really exceed 60mph or so.

I did expect that all this self-control would pay off at the pumps, but the car’s trip consumption showed 42mpg, not a world away from the Cayman’s 32mpg in similar (but 15mph faster) running.

I don’t see the point; buy a black Mondeo.

Who can still change gear better than ZF


Montague’s Gaff

One Saturday recently, Mrs SS7 had to take her Mother’s Union old dears (a long story for someone elses’ blog) to a meeting in the borrowed Merc, leaving the two boy’s and I with the Shed* – running much better after a long trip to Manchester and back the weekend before.

We decided it was an opportunity for a long-promised trip to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.

It’s around 50 minutes drive from the house, and we arrived at 11.30am after an easy magazine-reading-in-bed start. Our trip began with replica open London bus ride around the park, and after disembarking, we first walked through the Victorian kitchen garden, and then enjoyed a bit of grub at the Brabazon cafĂ©.
After decent fish and chip lunch, went to into the main galleries. Nick Mason keeps some of his mobile eye-candy at the museum, so a Ferrari F40 and Big Mac were waiting at the doorway to universal small boys’ delight. The rest of the Museum contains lots of interesting stuff in an eclectic collection, some hum-drum, some really exceptional.

Personal highlights were the pre-war Sunbeam GP car, and the Golden Arrow and Bluebird land speed record cars, part of a large LSR display. I hadn’t realised that Thrust2 reached a simply staggering 760mph when it broke the sound barrier, and the LSR, in 2005.

The later Grand Prix kit includes some proper 80’s F1 cars - knee high to a grass hopper, bloody great wide slicks and 900bhp – unlike today’s F3 c/f rubbish. Nice too see also the big banger 240mph Jaguar prototype from my Le Mans heyday. There are bikes upstairs too, plus a big display of motoring ephemera.
I could have spent hours watching the AV monitors at most of the collections, and was very tempted to do so, but the museum only looked small boy proof up to a point, so I had to keep one eye on the Heir and another on the Spare. The 9 y.o Heir got £2’s worth of ride in a karting simulator; a box on computer controlled hydraulic rams that produced G-forces to match what was happening on the screen. His efforts were complimented by the staff, as were 4 y.o. Spare’s run in the electric karts outside.

The Playstation marquee was the next stop, and in hindsight I could have just left the little b*gger’s there for four hours and done the museum properly, but you live and learn. However, the lack of a PS3 was disappointing, so after a run through the Museum’s shop (F50 poster, small blue purse, Paul Frere Boxster/Cayman) we headed home.

Folllwing a sausage & mash dinner we all went to the November the 5th Fireworks at the local Footie club.

After Sunday God-bothering we went for a gentle stroll to a pub we’d heard about. It turned out to be the best eatery we’ve discovered since moving down to the coast, so a pint and sarnie turned into good grub all round and a decent Sancerre.
To make room for supper, the Heir and I walked home; 6 miles around the harbour and along the foreshore. The afternoon November weather was stunning, and at times there were just us, huge empty blue skies and the sound of birdsong. By the time we’d arrived home the fire had been lit and a large whiskey poured. A good day.

*Our elderly BMW 520i touring, which will suffice for family transport until the young SS7’s cease their car interior destroying food and crayon habits.

RIP: Black 968 Sport with Air

A couple of weeks ago I met my Ring-buddy Mikey for one of our regular dinners in a local Chinese restaurant. It’s our chance to put the world to rights, and talk a lot of bollocks about cars. Or it used to be - nowadays we share Dad’s angst: kids education, idiots at work, wives, that sort of stuff. It used to be a bigger group, but geography favours Mikey and I, and we don’t spend as much time in Devon/house-husbanding as the other car-listers.

Afterward a pleasant evening I headed home, and spent a couple of hours watching Billie Piper being all grown up on TV. At around 11.30pm I noticed a text message from Mikey, announcing that he’d managed to crash his lovely Porsche 968 Sport on the way home, and when I spoke to him minutes later he was enjoying yet another RAC flat-bed ride home.

He’d been exiting a local roundabout with a little squirt of power, when without warning the back let go, and he pin-balled the Porsche down the Armco. It’s a notorious local accident spot, and I’ve seen plenty of incidents there. Its partly because the Shell-grip on the roundabout ends, and also I think partly because the road crosses a bridge over the Thames at this spot , which encourages slimy condensation to form on the road.

The damage didn’t sound too bad, so as Mikey was unhurt I retired, expecting to see pictures of a slightly dented 968 the next day.

I did see the pictures. The Porsche’s a right old mess. A friendly local Porsche body-shop quoted more than £20k for repairs, roughly double the market value. Mikey took the trouble to have it taken to the guys at EMS for a more realistic quote, but even at Brummy labour rates and using second hand parts it’s a no go.

So sadly another fine 968 will be laid to rest. The numbers sold in the UK were small enough, and I’ve heard of a number of write-off over the last couple of years, so the numbers are dwindling. The Porsche 968 is a fine sports coupe, and has aged particularly well. Even in its middle-age can it hold its head up high as a drivers weapon of choice..

Mikey’s had too many trips back home on an AA transported recently (“Guilty as charged m’lud”) so understandably wants a new car with ESC, ABS, ASC etc. The hunt starts now!


Friday, 19 October 2007

Swindon Screamers

The second day of the conference above was an old fashioned jolly. It involved heading off to what I think was once called the Armoured Vehicles Research Establishment at Longcross, Surrey; a group of large grey buildings next to the M3 that didn’t used appear on the OS maps of the area. Nowadays they’ve been privatised as QinetiQ Chobham, but it is still a group of large gray buildings next to the M3. In addition to a lot of large tank-testing obstacles they also have a 2.6mile road circuit and acres of rough heathland. It makes a great playground for anything powered by internal combustion engine!

Honda are using the facility as part of their strategy to stop grey haired coffin dodgers from buying all of their cars, and as young(-ish) thrusting marketing types we’re ripe for conversion to the Honda way.

Laid on were most of Honda’s toys; from bikes, scooters and quadbikes to the Rrrrr’d Civics, S2000 and HR-V soft-roaders. The 35 or so of us in the group were split into groups. Mine started with quad bikes, and after a quick presentation we were off. To a very slow start as one of my group was the nervous type and didn’t fancy much beyond a walking pace. Noticeable was the soft ride of the quad on its balloon tyres even over ferocious surfaces. I also discovered while 2wd was more fun, with 4wd engaged the little beast would climb a wall, and full noise in 5th gave you 50kph. All research completed while loitering at the back out of eyesight of the instructor.

Next were bikes, and while the others rode around in circles in a scooter, I put my hand up when ex-bikers were asked to identify themselves. Its been 12 years since I’ve been on a bike, so my re-introduction was 10 mins on a 125 Varedo before the main event, a CBR1100XX Blackbird/Widowmaker. With 150bhp, it was by far the fastest thing I’d ever ridden. The only space available for my test-flight was a ¼ mile section of wide runway, good enough for a wrung out 45mph on the Varedo.

After refreshing myself on the hand-eye co-ordination needed to ride a bike, and taking my brave-pill, I managed 95mph on the Blackbird in the same space before hitting the brakes as hard as I dare. One obvious difference with big bikes, is that whereas any keen throttle jockey can floor the pedal in the lower gears of a 150bhp car, try that in a 150bhp bike and it’ll just spit you off the back. Time was called after 20mins, and after parking up and removing the borrowed helmet, gloves and jacket I climbed into a CR-V for some very gentle off-roading a bit weak at the knees.

After lunch in the sunshine it was onto the high-speed stuff. The Chobham circuit is broadly oval shaped; a long banked left hander, a short straight, then a fast right and fast left, another short straight past the speed police (“70mph please gents”), and then a banked left hander down to a very long fast left hander and down a 1/2mile long shute to the first corner. There was also the option of a route across the oval, which had some entertaining slower corners and some steep drops and climbs. The Chobham circuit is also different to a race track, in that there are no run-off’s or Armco, just trees and this supposed 70mph limit.

Without much ceremony I introduced myself to Caroline, one of the instructors, and dropped into the passenger seat of an S2000 for a ride around the circuit, first the outer oval and then the cut through. She was very neat and tidy, didn’t try and frighten me, and talked through the car’s abilities. Then it was my turn, and I tried to follow the same lines and just gently flowed the car at first, pushing once I was a little more dialled in.

I was impressed by the car; its age shows (no ESP, legroom or adjustable steering column for example), but the little 2l engine belting away at 8000rpm like an F3 car was great fun. The snappy gear-change, light flywheel and pedal positions really leant themselves to some racy h&t downchanges.. After 4 or so laps we pulled in - Caroline was nicely complementary of my driving – and found myself a Civic Type-R accompanied by Instructor Slow. Two laps of being asked to slow down left me with no impression of the car, and a desire to land one on Instructor Slow, so I bailed out and found another S2000. The additional lappery had helped the track learning, so the next few laps went better, I was enjoying the car more; steering and general control response were excellent and there was no sign of the twitchy car of web-jockey reputation, even leaving the fast left-hander flat chat in 4th at 8000rpm.

After that I found a Civic without the additional brake, and took that out. The contrast in steering response after the rwd S2000 was immediately noticeable; there is a wooliness when you need feedback, and the additional weight of the car blunted performance too. Pushing harder, the initial understeer on turn-in changed into a neutral stance as the back wheels came into play. It was great fun, and impressive for a quick hatch. Downsides are the higher driving position, a digital speedo that sat exactly behind the steering wheel rim for me, and a relative lack of guts in the mid-range. But if you need grocery and child carrying ability in a rewarding to drive performance car with similar ‘go’ to a 968, its got to be on the shortlist. I also understand that fwd motors don’t swop ends the same alacrity as old-skool rwd motors!

The final session was billed a bit of wet skidpan tomfoolery. Unfortunately, the morning’s soaking of the skid pan wasn’t repeated, so the thing was bone dry. The tomfoolery was replaced by some blindfold driving nonsense. Shame. I made my excuses and headed down to south coast in the Cayman. Which was stil the best thing I’d driven all day.

PS: I slept like a baby, and woke up on Saturday aching in my arms and thighs. I guess it was either levering the quad around, or hanging onto the Blackbird for grim death!

The Stig

I recently attended a conference run by a Software vendor. The highlight was probably one of those inspirational presentations by the Yo Sushi Dragon, Simon Woodruff. For somewhat spurious reasons (well the CEO is a club racer..) the day had a motor racing theme and they’d engaged ‘The Stig’ as the after dinner speaker.

I was introduced to the ‘Stig’ at the bar in the early evening. He's a fit looking mid-forty year old with little in the way of hair, and like a lot of racing drivers is a compact 5' 8" or so. Understandably his favourite subject is ‘The Stig’, but he had some amusing tales none-the-less and was kind enough to sign my copy of his autobiography.

Highlight of his after-dinner speach was some ribtickling versions of Kimi Raikkenen as a SatNav unit : [in disinterested Scandinavian drawl] “So, for sure, in 500metres you turn left. Or go straight on, I don’t really give a damn* its up to you." His other mimic was Schuey&Rubens as Dastardly & Muttley : “Zo Rubens, you vere vaster zan I vos in qualifiing, but in zee race you vill let me past, correct?” Rubens: "Hee hee hee hee”.

His other favourite subject is females, and alledgedly soon after dinner he made his excuses and left, in the company of a cute doe-eyed Argentine client of my hosts. There was some gentle ribbing the next day about the special driving tuition she’d received….

*He didn’t say Damn…..”

Monday, 1 October 2007

No Limits

I was reading about some bloke who basically nicked a customer's 997 turbo and went for a blast on some inappropiate local roads. The Busy's nabbed him at 172mph, and he got 10 months in the gaol. Not for taking a £100k car without the owner's permission but for driving very very fast, which according to the press, was the most serious offence.
I've not driven at 172mph, but I've been close, and it was entirely legal and on public roads.
In 1998, on the quiet Autobahn heading towards Belgium, I maintained an indicated 265kph (~165mph) in a Porsche 964C4 for 5 mins on the way back from buying it in Hamburg. I eased off a little when passing traffic, so never really got to the point where the needle stopped edging around the dial. My main impression, apart from the speed of approaching trucks, was the incredible wind noise, and how 180kph felt very slow afterwards.

Six month later I hit a mere 255kph (158mph) in a 968 I bought from the same dealer after some scumbags nicked the 964. I remember being a little dissappointed (but not surprised) not to reach the 260kph mark.
And I'm still alive to tell the tale.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Please be seated

We finally got Knob (Knackered Old Banger) , the car-list 924s, to EMC Motorsport in Dudley. They confirmed that our diagnosis of a failed head gasket was correct, but thankfully there appears to be no damage to the bores, head, pistons etc.

In fact they repeated their view that it was a good solid old car, so it made sense to replace all of the coolant pipes and the cam-belt while the head was off. And Mikey completely failed to resist the temptation to get some seats and 4 point race harnesses installed.

Fair enough, the standard drivers seats was in a bit of a state, and you really were hanging onto the steering wheel for grim death when the Pilot Sport Cups were on, but right now my bank balance is in the same state as the old head gasket.

Anyway, a certain amount of wheeling and dealing was done, and Knob will be returned with two Sabalt GT2's for driver and victim. Oddly enough, EMS also found an early 944turbo rear anti-roll-bar in the boot. For only a small consideration they matched it with a front, and they will also be put on the car. I think that probably only leaves a roll-cage and another set of 16" D90's from the original wish-list.

Roll on the next track-day; currently a mid-October Bedford date.

PS: Seats not available so look for a repeat of the b*ggers death grip at Bedford!

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Still Loving it!

Pictured near Goodwood house recently, I'm 4,000 miles to the good and still enjoying every mile!


Monday, 16 July 2007


I'm always a bit surprised at how hard these airfield days are on a road car (its much easier on a 6-700kg Elise or Seven). There were a number of casualties on our day at Abingdon; a Noble with engine woes, a Radical-alike kept overheating, a 250bhp turbo Hyabusa engined Caterham broke its diff, and KNoB's engine decided it preferred retirement in Anglesea to being thrashed around an old airfield.

Mikey put it better than I could:

"I'm not sure we had quite the day SS7 and I planned on Friday but it certainly lived up to our intentions as a shakedown run for Kn0B. I got to Abingdon around 9:25, just in time for the drivers' briefing. Our mate J was already there in the RS4 so I had some company whilst C waited in a traffic jam somewhere on the A34.
After the briefing, we had three sighter laps to get a feel for the circuit. It consisted primarily of 90 degree left-handers with some little coned left / right chicanes dotted around to keep you honest. There was a lot of run off in areas where you needed it although SS7 and I both collected a small shrub in the same spot on the nearside front during an early outing :-) There was an interesting mix of cars, from a new Radical-a-like to a racing Mini Cooper (original one, not the small house on wheels), via things like a Noble M12 GTO, K plate M5, new FocuST, couple of Boxsters (one a lease car whose engine expired in the afternoon), lots of se7ens of various forms, a few Elises and VX220s, a Scooby, Evo VIII (I think), 997 S, and older 930 Turbo with very interesting bodywork.
SS7 arrived after the sighter laps but had to wait to have a briefing so J and I went back out for a few laps. I was pretty messy at first, not really getting the lines right and still trying to go too quickly in all the wrong places. I put it down to lack of experience driving on a circuit, although others may blame incompetence!! At least I didn't hit anything, spin or do anything too stupid.
After my initial outing with J, we switched to the white 16" wheels fitted with lightly used Pilot Sport Cups. It took a while to fit them so we didn't have a great deal of time before lunch. SS7 was about to go out but found the throttle was sticking open, which was hardly ideal. We enlisted the help of a friendly mechanic supporting Team Mini but it took a while to get the throttle to the point where it was usable, albeit still a bit sticky. SS7 bravely took the car out with James to warm the tyres and get a feel for the heap. He seemed reasonably happy with it after a few laps so came in and let me have another run.
The PS Cups were a revelation after the rubbish PremiumContacts that I used for the first few laps. It was very kind of SS7 to clean up the wheels and get rid of the marbles first :-) The grip levels were phenomenal; you could pretty much lean on the tyres as hard as you dared and they just stuck. Hugely impressed but I'm not sure I could see the point of them on the road. You'd have to be going foolishly quickly to unstick them but if you hit a patch of something greasy, I'd imagine you'd be stuffed.
By this point it was lunchtime so we headed out in J's RS4 for a spot of lunch at the Ock Mill pub in Abingdon (more of which later). Got back just after 2pm and SS7 went out for another run. On his own (iirc) 'cos J and I weren't looking. He was pushing a bit harder and locked up the brakes in the final corner a couple of times (evidence above). He said the traction levels seemed lower without a passenger! I had another run with J and started to feel a little happier other than the frequent bodged heel & toe downshifts.
After leaving the car to rest for a bit, SS7 then took over again with J. He seemed to be having a ball at this point, going much quicker and pushing the car harder. I was really looking forward to a further session in the afternoon 'cos SS7 seemed to have the car working really nicely. He locked up on the way into the final corner on a quick lap, claiming a car fault rather than driving fault (hmmm...) so took to the pit lane and went for a little trip down the runway to cool the brakes.
The car started to billow white smoke from the exhaust at this point, suggesting it might have had enough for the day. The verdict seemed to be head gasket failure. Now this might explain why the PO had about 5 litres of coolant in the boot!!
Throughout the day, I was rushing my driving, going too quickly before getting my lines sorted out. J offered some good advice, telling me to leave the car in third and get my lines sorted. I started to get some of the corners reasonably consistently but I found it hard to judge the correct line into the chicanes. However, I did start to feel more comfortable in the final session before SS7 temporarily wounded Kn0B. I was actually managing to keep people behind me when I wanted to although J accused me of being "too nice" by letting people past me and messing up my own rhythm. That's probably true so I'll have to be a bit firmer next time. I was able to lose a new FocuST and hold a VX220 and Megane Trophy thingy behind me, which isn't too bad considering I haven't done a track day other than the NS since 2003. SS7 was able to chase the Noble through the twisty bits but then he's a better driver and was trying a lot harder than me. I guess he didn't have to worry about how he was going to get home if Kn0B expired.
After the poor thing did give up, we had a "now what?" kind of discussion, deciding to switch the wheels and see if the car could make it anywhere near home. OK, so I was feeling particularly optimistic, but that's just the way I am! Removing the white wheels proved much more challenging than expected 'cos the enamel had almost melted onto the hub. After a lot of tugging we'd managed to remove three of them and replace them with the balloon-tyred 15"s. However, the driver's front wheel was proving unwilling to move until J came up with the brilliant idea of pushing the car with the lock on to see if that freed it up. It did, and rather more quickly than I expected so we only just stopped the car before the wheel fell off. Which would have been funny, in an ironic kind of way.
Anyhow, wheels replaced, car loaded up, and I then tried contacting a few friendly specialists to see if I could leave a sick 924 with them. I tried Northway, Machtech and Autofarm. The former two claimed "no room at the inn" whilst the latter offered a price of around £1,500+VAT as they really didn't want to do the job in the first place. The car was really not happy about going far, spewing clouds of smelly white smoke. We agreed that SS7 may as well go home while J and I set off for Abingdon to (try to) return to the Ock Mill pub so I could ring for a rescue vehicle from somewhere less suspicious than an airfield track day!!
I'm not sure how much damage I did in the two mile journey, but the car was really not happy. As my breakdown cover only covers me in the 968, I had to take out a policy with the AA to cover me in Kn0B and any other car. I'll ditch my other policy if I can as I don't really need two breakdown policies. So £170 lighter, I was told that a man with a van should arrive before 7pm. He did, which was impressive. Unfortunately, it was a new transit with a fold-away trailer built in and the AA man ("Mike") didn't seem that keen on loading a lowered 924 onto the trailer so he called for a low loader and left us to wait. I sent J home at this point and settled into the Ock Mill pub with a Leffe and a bit of work I needed to do.
The low loader arrived around 8:45pm and we hit the road around 9pm. Unfortunately the bl00dy thing was speed limited to 89kmh so the trek down the M40 / M25 / M1 took about 2 hrs instead of an hour if I'd been driving :-( I finally got home at 11pm and deposited Kn0B outside the house, where it will stay until SS7 and I agree what we're doing next. We have a number of options to consider, only one of which doesn't involve spending any money, unfortunately. J did a fantastic job as pit crew, lunchtime taxi service, ballast to assist the handling on the circuit, and company whilst awaiting the arrival of the man with a van. A big "thank you" for not deserting me (unlike some we could mention :-D ) Rose has had a brief explanation of the day, and the car belongs to SS7 :-) "
PS No it doesn't!

Thursday, 5 July 2007

No Paddles

I suppose its about time I mentioned more about the accidental 924S.

After a bit of too-ing and fro-ing, the boys at EMC Motorsport in Birmingham collected the car from its far-flung corner of the British Isles and checked it over. Their prognosis was that it had a few more miles yet, so bullets were bitten and they got the go-ahead to fit their Gaz race suspension, and fettle the brakes. 'Fettling' turned out to be 4 new discs, two 'new' callipers, race-spec pads, steel flexible hoses and good old ATE Blue race brake fluid. At the same time we were shamelessly tempted by the offer of some 16"x7" D90 wheels and faintly pornographic Michelin Pilot Sport cup track-day tyres. Funnily enough they fit inside a 924 perfectly.......

During this time, my mate Mikey somehow convinced me to let him make a financial contribution to the project, in return for seat time. Which was an excellent idea all-around as it meant we could share all the costs and general hassle. I'm also able to deny ownership should it become strategically necessary.... The other potential candidate for our co-operative had to decline, as in his dotage he's realised he's now unable to drive anything without gear paddles and a queerbox.

In addition, the thing appears to have now been Christened 'KNoB' for very good reasons I can't recall at the moment. [edit: Apparently this is to save us typing Knackered Old Banger everytime we want to curse it in writing]

The EMC boys did a good job; in addition to the coil-overs, they set the suspension geometry and re-indexed the rear torsion bars. As a consequence the ride height went from "You could limbo under the b*rstard" to "Its running lower than a snake's belly'. Mikey bravely collected the car and brought it down the M40 to the Great Wen. This highlighted another practical issue that you don't consider when buying a car after 1/2 a bottle of red; where to keep an old Porsche that wives don't exactly know about. However, it appears that we're not the only ones to face that problem; in the large underground car-park of Mikey's employer lurk a number of dusty old motors, so it made sense to quietly add to the collection until we sort out something more permanent.

His initial driving impressions were encouragingly positive, but did report 'bouncy' suspension on the fat 15" wheels and balloon tyres. This has since been resolved by changing the suspension setting to about halfway stiff. I did make a brief acquaintance with KNoB on a short ride around local roads and first impressions were that it went quite nicely for a tired old nail.

We had discussions over a beer later, and plotted our campaign for the season; an airfield day shake-down, then Bedford, then possibly some 'real' circuits if we still feel good about the car, with the ‘Ring for pudding in the Autumn if there was any car left to take.

It was very tempting to also think about ways of making it faster/lighter/better/safer, but as all these would have the effect of making us poorer we'd put ambition on the back burner for now. Carbon seats, cages & harnesses will have to wait: the CG Lock is a decent 1/2 way house & we do need to get some miles on it; right now total costs/mile are (purchase price x 3)/zero.

One feature we did feel needed addressing urgently was the driving position. The 924S retains the original '76 interior of the 2litre 924, and with that comes a steering wheel positioned low down between the knees of a normal shaped human being. In an effort to improve this by lifting the wheel up and towards the driver, I've acquired a tasty Momo steering wheel with a 90mm dish, plus a suitable hub.

Other than that it was simply a matter of collecting together the usual bits & pieces you needed (you know the type of thing: new lightweight trolley jack, spare oil, water, wheel brace, various tools, tank tape, more tools, something water proof etc) and we're ready for the first track-day.

Which is tomorrow.

Friday, 8 June 2007


After months of garage time, the A2 is finally sorted. It appears that there is a common fault with the early generation Audi Fuel Stratified Injection ('FSI') engines, which can caused cokeing of the cylinder heads and inlets. The remedy was an old fashioned de-coke and gasket set, which my good friends at Slough Audi jointly funded with Audi UK.

It now runs like a good 'un, giving nice smooth power and 45mpg's as it used to. Slightly annoyingly, it then lunched its alternator, but once that was replaced and the radio aerial sorted out its back to 100%.

But sadly, as I can't run to a 3.5 car fleet at the moment, the A2's for sale. Linky here



Well after the initial enthusiasm it looks as if I haven't posted on the blog for a few weeks.

Oh well, I'm the victim of a well known syndrome; the hype cycle :-)
"Gartner's Hype Cycle, introduced in 1995, characterizes the typical progression of an emerging technology, from over-enthusiasm through a period of disillusionment to an eventual understanding of the technology's relevance and role in a market or domain."
Here's looking forward to the slope of enlightenment and more posts in 2007!

Friday, 30 March 2007

Play Time

So I’ve now done the ‘Porsche Driving Experience’ at Millbrook.

After an uneventful run up the M25/M1 from work, I arrived at the Hotel meeting point with time to spare. Out front there were a couple of 997’s, two Caymans (‘S’ and vanilla), and some huge off-roader with a 996 front. I met my instructor, Jeremy, over a light lunch and chatted – I took the opportunity to ask about the Band G issue of the 6 speed 2.7* - and we planned our afternoon.

It involved driving their red Cayman 2.7, first on an extended road run, then to Millbrook – which is just a gigantic playground for petrol heads! The other three PDE ‘guests’ were a young guy with a 997S on order, and older guy with something called a ‘KN’, and an attractive woman from Cheshire who arrived in a 997 cab/tip.

Heading off, I was surprised when after 5 minutes Jeremy asked me when and where I’d had driver training. Perhaps the clue was in that moment when we’d screamed through the ‘S’ bends at 140mph, braked, blipped down to 3rd and drifted around the roundabout at 90.

Actually, it was all pretty sedate; I did get a bit of chance to make progress, but there was plenty of traffic around, and he just gave me a few tips (rather esoteric ones; e.g. out of town a lot of overhead power and telephone cables into a property follow the line of a driveway, so can give warning of a hazard should you see one in the distance). BTW he told me only 0.3% of UK drivers have had any professional training after taking their licence. If this government really gave a sh*t about road safety this would be changed.

After following a convoy of 7 AM V8’s into the Millbrook, we first headed to a large open area, and played at sliding the car around, inducing over and understeer, with PSM on and off. I’m surprised how much latitude the system gives you, but enjoyed wearing out someone else tyres, although as it was damp it wasn’t too bad. Jezza noted that the 19” wheels do give more grip but he prefers the cars with smaller wheels. I was using my left foot on the brakes which he spotted. He’s a part-time rally driver, so when I told him I’d been taught by Pentti Arikkala to lfb he was rather impressed! After that we had a blast down the 1 mile straight; the Cayman reaching 134mph or so at the ¾ mile braking point – 997tt’s hit 170! Then some emergency braking and avoidance stuff on the return trip, but from 80mph, not 40mph as you normally get.

After that we headed to the banked 2 mile bowl, where I was encouraged to take my hands off the wheel in the top lane at 100mph. That took a bit of nerve! It was strange to see the ‘130’ signs in the red circles – and to find that was mph, not kph. So we ran to 130mph and-a-bit, but it was very bumpy and pretty boring. The thought of 170mph+ up there is frankly terrifying! Oddly, after the top speed run, we dropped back down to the lower section of the bowl, and ran around looking for the exit. At 75mph it felt slow enough for me to step out and walk!

Finally we ran a number of laps on the hill route. This is what happens when your favourite ‘B’ road is squashed across the side of a mountain – it was incredibly steep, with blind switch backs, hairpins, fast dipping corners and blind brows; even better/worse than the ‘Ring and no Armco! Slamming into a blind cambered corner with a blind exit at 60mph purely on the say-so of the guy sitting next to you takes real faith, but on the final lap I had all 4 wheels off the ground over the blind brow, and reached 75mph down the dip. BTW it was all 3rd gear in the Cayman, so I was able to lfb again, which really helped. A final demo from Jezza on the outer handling circuit, and it was time to return to the hotel.

As we arrived I saw their 997 GT3 RS parked outside, and asked for a ride. Jezza went in to find the keys, and as he came out he said “Fancy driving?”. Does the Pope sh*t in the woods???! The thing is an animal; I’m still digesting my impressions, at first it felt pretty familiar; an interior just like the Cayman’s (albeit with Satnav) seats like the 968, and a rollbar like Jimmy’s climbing frame. But it was all man-size compared to the Cayman; heavy clutch and gear linkage, and an engine with what seemed like no flywheel at all. The ride was ok; first we bumbled along the main-road until we reached a turning onto a quiet back road with little traffic. Full throttle in 3rd, and the world just exploded; within a heartbeat I was looking for 4th, and the speedo reading began with a ‘1’. A couple of ‘S’ bend were despatched and then another longer straight in 3rd and 4th, before we caught back up with planet earth and other traffic at normal speed.
All I need then is £95k….

BTW The last section of road to the hotel was around 3 miles of broken, patched, rough old tarmac, with manhole covers and various other lumps and bumps. In fact just a regular UK road.

The PDE car, which was a red, on 18's but without PASM, and 30 minutes later I was driving back down the same road. Without any shadow of a doubt, the ride, particularly over the larger bumps was worse; there were more shocks through the seat & wheel, more noise and the car was moving around more, I was consciously trying to steer around the worst of the impending obstructions to save my spine and the car.

So there you have it conclusively; red cars don't ride as well as white ones.


* The 6 speed gearbox put the 2.7 into band G because the test are run in 4th gear. As 4th is lower in the 6-speed box, the revs are higher and the car uses more fuel and emits more CO2.
So for a stupid technical reason I get to give £200 more to that robber Brown.

Space on Car Available

It seems like I’m an inadvertent 2 Porsche family. It goes to show that ebay and ½ bottle of wine don’t mix, but my low, just-for-a-laugh-how-can-I-go-wrong bid was enough to snaffle up a 1988 924S. It certainly gave my work ‘mate’s a cheap laugh on Monday.

The thing’s in Anglesea too, so its much closer to Dublin that Sussex. Anyway, I’ve found a willing Porsche specialist to go and collect it, and give it a good look over.

The description from the seller is promising, its had the expensive things (clutch, belts, water pump, brakes) done, and apart from a knackered drivers seat and leaky clutch reservoir he reports no problems. Its also the later 160bhp model.

If the specialist tells me its solid I’ll get them to put in a seat and race brake pads, maybe fresh suspension, and try it at an airfield day. If it looks like being a pit I’ll give it a polish and move it on. Hopefully I’ll find someone to help me share the costs too, so who knows, we could be looking at the ‘Ring part deux!

Old Boy Racer

I drove to Basingstoke last week for a meeting, across country via Petersfield.

It was the finest 90 minutes I had in a car for a long, long time. Turning off the main road, I found a fantastic open stretch of B road; warm dry tarmac, no traffic, and visibility for a mile or more. Then it carried on, running on up the side of the downs and through the woods, then twisting down hairpins to Petersfield. After a gentle potter through the town, the paced picked up along dead straight A roads followed by 25 more miles of twisty stuff.

The Cayman was stupendous; I couldn’t tell you what speeds I reached but at one point I was deep into 5th gear looking for 6th, and at another I’d felt I was practically at a standstill and looked down to see the speedo reading 70. When I arrived at the office I had to spend 5 minutes in the car while my nerves stopped buzzing. I remember thinking that if I’d lost my licence that morning it would have almost been worth it.


Tuesday, 6 March 2007

The Lost Generation

I’m reading The Lost Generation by David Tremayne at the moment. It was bought for me by a good friend in an attempt to cheer me up after a run of bad luck.

I greatly appreciated the thought, but the subject is not really very cheery!

The quality of writing in books on motor racing is very variable, but in this case that is not the issue. Tremayne has done his work well; there’s a wealth of original material, he’s interviewed lots of people who know this trio; other driver, managers, designers & mechanics, as well as friends and family, and his writing has engagingly brought alive their life and times.

No, there’s just a horrible sense of foreboding about the book, probably more so than any other biography of a racing driver I have ever read. I think it’s because you know the drivers all died in such pointless, unreasonable, wasteful, tragic and even bizarre ways, just as each was on the cusp of fulfilling enormous talent.

The F1 cars of the mid-70’s were fast, even by our standards, with fat slicks and bog wings. But they were built around flimsy aluminium monocoques, not incredibly strong modern carbon composite tubs, and they were racing at racetracks that were literally death traps.

And yet not one of them died as the result of making a fatal driving error.

Roger Williamson, crashed when a front tyre failed. The car burned, but none of the poorly equipped and trained marshals attempted a rescue, leaving only the heartbreakingly futile efforts of another driver; David Purley, to try and right the car. Meanwhile poor Roger was burning alive, trapped under the car. Tony Brise died in a light aircraft crash, with Graham Hill and the rest of his team. And most tragically of all, Tom Pryce was practically decapitated by the fire extinguisher of a marshall crossing the track in front of, just over a blind brow.

That were all of James Hunt’s generation, probably even more talented that Hunt, and all sounded like the type of chap you’d like to share pub-time with.

It’s a moving and gripping read, in spite of the sadness. Go buy it.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Reply to the Prime Minister

Well no-one's going to read it in the PM's office, so why not any lingerers on Blogger!

Dear Prime Minister,

Thank-you for your email. I’m fully aware that this reply will probably just go into an in-box like the 1.7m others, but on the off-chance that somewhere, sometime, a human might glance at it here is my response.

I’m not an expert in these matters. However, I am a reasonably intelligent voter and tax-payer who has been using the roads for 25 years and I think my views have some validity. Here are the points I’d like to make:

1. There is a fundamental disconnect in government planning policy, increasing demand for road use just as we’re being told congestion is costing billions and CO2 emissions from the increasing usage is causing devastating damage to the environment. In my local area on the south coast:-

a/ A major local hospital A&E unit is closing. It is somehow more ‘efficient’ to centralise to another hospital, 15 miles away, accessible only by travelling through two of the area’s worst traffic bottlenecks.
b/ In the last 5 years, several out-of-town retail parks have been built. I’m sure it’s theoretically possible to travel there by bus and travel home again with a week's shopping, but no-one with any option would even consider it when the alternative, to use a car, is so much more comfortable and convenient.
c/ Also in the last 5 years, several commercial office and industrial unit have also been built on the edge of local towns, each with a large car-park, and near major roads.
d/ Several thousand new houses are going to be built on the edge of a nearby town. There will be no school, shops, leisure facilities, or significant employment opportunities in this development, all it will lead to is thousands of additional road journeys as the residents travel to school, work, etc
e/ Our local post-office will close. The nearest one is two miles away.

Each of these developments, all controlled by central or local government, will lead directly to increased demand for road traffic. The alternative, a strategy encouraging self-contained communities with integral work, education, health, leisure and retail facilities, safe bicycle routes and cheap, clean, safe public transport just doesn’t appear to be part of government thinking at all. Surely that’s where the answers lie, not in taxing travel?

2. We, the tax payer, just don’t trust government not to start with a zero-net gain tax level on these schemes, and then just ratchet it up to feed the bottomless maw of Treasury spending. Sorry Gordon, this means your lot. We’ve seen this on every indirect tax set by your and previous governments, including stamp duty, inheritance tax, Community taxes, personal allowances. We’ve also seen direct taxes climb to near 50% of our salaries, and I don’t want to think of indirect taxes I pay.

3. In addition, we don’t trust the Government to run this scheme efficiently. Your track record of large-scale IT projects in the public sector is abysmal, and the experience of London’s congestion charging scheme shows that the costs of running the scheme may just outweigh the revenues.
Neither do we trust you to spend any net revenue on public transport. Sorry, but we just don’t, only a fraction of the billions currently raised by taxes on fuel, road-tax and VAT on related services go towards roads or public transport, and we don’t expect this to change.

4. And we don’t trust you not to miss-use the personal data that this scheme will generate.

5. In the past ‘simple’ technology led solutions to complex issues just haven’t worked. In the last 10 years, >5,000 ‘safety’ camera’s have been placed on the UK’s roads, ostensibly to prevent deaths and serious injury in road collisions. Yet, KSI numbers haven’t dropped in those 10 years. However unintended consequences include a growing lack of respect for the Police Service, erosion of driving standards, and creation of a large number of self-serving quangoes. None of these are to the long term benefit of society.

6. And by the way, I strongly suspect that the ‘£30B’ figure quoted as the cost of congestion is one of those number dreamt up by a treasury economist with a political objective to meet. Much like the ‘£1M’ cost quoted for every road collision fatality, where in reality <£100k are costs for damage, Emergency services and medical care, and the >£900k balance are vague opportunity costs.

7. And lastly, no-one is able to demonstrate how tax revenues from road pricing are going to be used to alleviate global warming.

In your last few months of office I hope you will bear these comments in mind as you continue to develop strategy in this area.


From the Prime Minister

Here's Tony's response to all the 1.7million irritated Brits who asked him to re-consider his plans for nation-wide road pricing. It's certainly got a ring of truth about it - you can even hear him saying it....

Thank you for taking the time to register your views about road pricing on the Downing Street website.

This petition was posted shortly before we published the Eddington Study, an independent review of Britain's transport network. This study set out long-term challenges and options for our transport network.

It made clear that congestion is a major problem to which there is no easy answer. One aspect of the study was highlighting how road pricing could provide a solution to these problems and that advances in technology put these plans within our reach. Of course it would be ten years or more before any national scheme was technologically, never mind politically, feasible.
That is the backdrop to this issue. As my response makes clear, this is not about imposing "stealth taxes" or introducing "Big Brother" surveillance. This is a complex subject, which cannot be resolved without a thorough investigation of all the options, combined with a full and frank debate about the choices we face at a local and national level. That's why I hope this detailed response will address your concerns and set out how we intend to take this issue forward. I see this email as the beginning, not the end of the debate, and the links below provide an opportunity for you to take it further.

But let me be clear straight away: we have not made any decision about national road pricing. Indeed we are simply not yet in a position to do so. We are, for now, working with some local authorities that are interested in establishing local schemes to help address local congestion problems. Pricing is not being forced on any area, but any schemes would teach us more about how road pricing would work and inform decisions on a national scheme. And funds raised from these local schemes will be used to improve transport in those areas.

One thing I suspect we can all agree is that congestion is bad. It's bad for business because it disrupts the delivery of goods and services. It affects people's quality of life. And it is bad for the environment. That is why tackling congestion is a key priority for any Government.
Congestion is predicted to increase by 25% by 2015. This is being driven by economic prosperity. There are 6 million more vehicles on the road now than in 1997, and predictions are that this trend will continue.

Part of the solution is to improve public transport, and to make the most of the existing road network. We have more than doubled investment since 1997, spending £2.5 billion this year on buses and over £4 billion on trains - helping to explain why more people are using them than for decades. And we're committed to sustaining this investment, with over £140 billion of investment planned between now and 2015. We're also putting a great deal of effort into improving traffic flows - for example, over 1000 Highways Agency Traffic Officers now help to keep motorway traffic moving.

But all the evidence shows that improving public transport and tackling traffic bottlenecks will not by themselves prevent congestion getting worse. So we have a difficult choice to make about how we tackle the expected increase in congestion. This is a challenge that all political leaders have to face up to, and not just in the UK. For example, road pricing schemes are already in operation in Italy, Norway and Singapore, and others, such as the Netherlands, are developing schemes. Towns and cities across the world are looking at road pricing as a means of addressing congestion.

One option would be to allow congestion to grow unchecked. Given the forecast growth in traffic, doing nothing would mean that journeys within and between cities would take longer, and be less reliable. I think that would be bad for businesses, individuals and the environment. And the costs on us all will be real - congestion could cost an extra £22 billion in wasted time in England by 2025, of which £10-12 billion would be the direct cost on businesses.
A second option would be to try to build our way out of congestion. We could, of course, add new lanes to our motorways, widen roads in our congested city centres, and build new routes across the countryside. Certainly in some places new capacity will be part of the story. That is why we are widening the M25, M1 and M62. But I think people agree that we cannot simply build more and more roads, particularly when the evidence suggests that traffic quickly grows to fill any new capacity.

Tackling congestion in this way would also be extremely costly, requiring substantial sums to be diverted from other services such as education and health, or increases in taxes. If I tell you that one mile of new motorway costs as much as £30m, you'll have an idea of the sums this approach would entail.

That is why I believe that at least we need to explore the contribution road pricing can make to tackling congestion. It would not be in anyone's interests, especially those of motorists, to slam the door shut on road pricing without exploring it further.
It has been calculated that a national scheme - as part of a wider package of measures - could cut congestion significantly through small changes in our overall travel patterns. But any technology used would have to give definite guarantees about privacy being protected - as it should be. Existing technologies, such as mobile phones and pay-as-you-drive insurance schemes, may well be able to play a role here, by ensuring that the Government doesn't hold information about where vehicles have been. But there may also be opportunities presented by developments in new technology. Just as new medical technology is changing the NHS, so there will be changes in the transport sector. Our aim is to relieve traffic jams, not create a "Big Brother" society.

I know many people's biggest worry about road pricing is that it will be a "stealth tax" on motorists. It won't. Road pricing is about tackling congestion.

Clearly if we decided to move towards a system of national road pricing, there could be a case for moving away from the current system of motoring taxation. This could mean that those who use their car less, or can travel at less congested times, in less congested areas, for example in rural areas, would benefit from lower motoring costs overall. Those who travel longer distances at peak times and in more congested areas would pay more. But those are decisions for the future. At this stage, when no firm decision has been taken as to whether we will move towards a national scheme, stories about possible costs are simply not credible, since they depend on so many variables yet to be investigated, never mind decided.

Before we take any decisions about a national pricing scheme, we know that we have to have a system that works. A system that respects our privacy as individuals. A system that is fair. I fully accept that we don't have all the answers yet. That is why we are not rushing headlong into a national road pricing scheme. Before we take any decisions there would be further consultations. The public will, of course, have their say, as will Parliament.

We want to continue this debate, so that we can build a consensus around the best way to reduce congestion, protect the environment and support our businesses. If you want to find out more, please visit the attached links to more detailed information, and which also give opportunities to engage in further debate.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Blair

Thursday, 8 February 2007

What's a 'Real' Porsche?

There's a lot of debate about this in the on-line Porsche world. Here's the definitive answer:

'Real' Porsches were built by old man Ferdinand Porsche and young Ferry, his son, in an old sawmill in Gmund in Austria in 1949 and early 1950. They wielded the hammers and spanners themselves, beat out the panels over wooden bucks, raided the British VW factory for parts and built 60 cars.

Anything built after that is a commercial sell-out.

(possibly with tongue firmly in cheek)

Let me tell you the tale of my Audi A2. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin……

Here’s another mid-atlantic blog entry.

I purchased my A2 in early 2005. It was less than 3 years old, had around 26k miles and only two owners. This was my second A2, I was attracted by the concept of the lightweight aluminium construction, the superb packaging, the modern efficient FSI engine which promised 45mpg, & it had all the usual Audi mod-cons and premium car feel.

At the time it was the only current Audi with decently resolved steering feedback and control weighting, and with 110bhp and only 960kgs it was a pretty good drive. The downsides were mainly the ride – this is a ‘Sport’ with 17” wheels and 35% tyres.

Poor ride is the A2’s weakness & the big wheel’s unsprung weight and stiff sidewalls made it even worse. Recently I drove a non-Sport spec. car. This was actually a much better car over-all (although it had the smaller engine), because it didn’t ride like a 1957 Landrover.

Anyway, back to my A2 purchase. After buying older cars and squaring up to pretty big repair bills, I thought at least this one is new(-ish) and should be reliable and cheap to run!

In Autumn 2005, just before the end of the three year warranty period, I arranged for it to go to my local dealer, Aston Green (nee Slough) Audi in Slough, for a service. I wanted any problems to be identified while the car was still under warranty. Sure enough, there was a fault with the front suspension which was causing a knocking sound. However, it appears that while the correct service schedule had been carried out by the original selling dealer in Dulwich and the service book was fully stamped, some central computer system had not been updated. As a consequence Aston Green were unwilling to carry out the repairs.

Dulwich Audi were brilliant though, and accepted full responsibility for this mix up, arranged to collect the car and carried out a full service and the necessary suspension repairs.

A high point of my year…..

A few weeks later, I started to notice that the car was losing power in the low and mid-range. The ECU warning light also lit intermittently. I arranged for my wife to bring the car in for a check by Aston Green in December. They were unable to locate a fault and asked us to bring the car back again for further diagnostics.

This we did, but were told the error codes in the car’s ECU did not appear to be correct & that a package of information had been sent to Audi UK in Milton Keynes for advice. I was also informed that I’d be contacted when a reply had been received.

Now taking the car to a dealer in Slough was a blessed inconvenience. Each time we had to juggle work, school runs, nannies etc. and it was always a nuisance.

I heard nothing from Slough Audi.

Meanwhile the car continued to run poorly and the ECU light was lit permanently. Eventually, it stranded me, and I had to be recovered by AA Relay. The AA technician diagnosed that two of the coil packs had failed. He replaced them, and the car at least ran, but the performance was still poor.

The continuing poor running then started to be accompanied by a rattle when the car was started from cold. Girding my loins for another encounter with Aston Green Audi, I again arranged to bring the car in. This was around March 2006. On this occasion I was told that the catalytic converter had failed, and that this was the cause of the noise and probably the poor running too. Unfortunately it seemed a cat failure on this car was so rare that there were none of the necessary parts in the system and I’d have to wait several weeks for them to be sourced in Germany. Meanwhile it was strongly recommended I didn’t drive the car. This wasn’t practical for us, so I rang around the Audi network and located a cat in Audi Portsmouth, which I had fitted at a total cost of over £500-.

Naturally I enquired why the cat had failed after just 30,000 miles – judging by the lack of availability of the cats it clearly isn’t at all common – but was informed that it had “probably received a shock or impact”. I’ve driven the car almost exclusively for nearly 10,000 miles and was unaware of any shocks or impacts.

However, replacing the catalyst still failed to improve the poor low and mid-speed running. This had now reached the stage where I was unwilling to allow my wife to drive the car with our children, as the response to the throttle was now so erratic it was a liability, for example trying to pull out onto a busy roundabout. And a rear tweeter had started to buzz annoyingly.

So in June I faced up to yet another round with Aston Green, and organised to bring the car in for more diagnostics. This still failed to identify the fault, although at least on this occasion after I demonstrated the problem, the technician acknowledged that there was a mechanical issue. Once again, information was sent to Audi UK, and this time I was asked to bring the car back in again for more diagnostics.

At this point, I was told that a £30- charcoal filter has broken up, needing the fuel system to be cleaned out & parts replaced at a (discounted) cost of £600, in addition to the £300 already paid for the diagnostic work. Again, I was told that this fault is unheard of in an A2, but it should “probably” fix the poor running problem. Although I mentioned the tweeter, it still buzzes annoyingly.

At this point, I wheeled out the PC and drafted a ‘I’m not happy..’ letter to Slough Audi’s gaffer (dealer principal) and the head of Audi UK.

To be fair, Audi Slough’s response was good. The head of their customer services got in touch, and once again the car went in – this time it was collected from my office and I got a nice A4 courtesy car.

After about 3 weeks I was told they’d fixed it. Hurray! They delivered it all nice and clean and I looked forward to the drive home.

After 20 minutes I was cursing Slough Audi, as the poor thing struggled to climb a moderate incline – fixed my arse!

So it was back to Slough Audi for visit number 5. Or 6 - I’ve lost count. Again I got a nice courtesy car – this time a brand new A4, and waited two more weeks when the call came again – they’ve fixed it, all it needed was a new ECU…

But this time I wasn’t going to take their word for it and insisted on an accompanied test drive. Their technician, Ian, was nice bloke, but I could tell that it was really down on power as soon as I headed up the road. Sure enough, after 25minutes of running, the poor thing stated running like a knackered Trabant. Rather embarrassedly, Ian agreed, and back it went, and this time it stayed for 9 weeks!

At this point it’s December 2006, the Cayman had arrived, we’ve moved to the south coast, and whole forests have grown up and been cut down for timber. All I wanted was a running A2 and I’d be happy.

Now to be fair to Slough Audi, they’ve picked up the costs for all this failed diagnostics. This amounts to 36 hours, £1000 of parts, and car hire. I estimate the total cost is nearly £5000 so far.

Finally, I got the call. “We’ve isolated the fault!” they said. Apparently; it was contaminated fuel all along, all caused by the failure of the £30 filter. It’s just that the first attempt to clean the system hadn’t been entirely successful.

So the big day came and I went to try it out again. Well, it now goes better than a Trabant, but guess what? Its still not 100%. In fact it isn’t even 70%. Sometimes I put my foot down and it pulls clean & hard to the redline in 3rd and then 4th. Try it again 60 seconds later and it feels like someone’s shoved a potato up its exhaust.

So after more than a year of a poorly running A2, more than 8 visits to Aston Green, probably £1500 in unscheduled repair costs, as well as fuel consumption that now struggles to reach 35mpg instead of the normal 45mpg. And at the time of writing the issue is still not resolved.

I chose an Audi because of its premium brand & reputation and because I wanted an efficient, high quality & reliable car with an excellent ownership experience and dealership back-up. Had I wanted to enjoy poor dealer support and unreliability, be assured I would have chosen something made in Italy or France.

PS Feb 2007 and the A2 is back with Slough Audi. There’s a part of me that wishes it would go away, but fingers crossed its in Slough for the final time.

To be continued….

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Sunday Drivers

I’m doing a coaching course at the moment. It involves three full Sundays, not great timing as it means another day per week away from the family. I have to be in Slough at 9am too, necessitating an uncomfortably early start.

Last Sunday’s was a lovely drive over the south Downs, taking it easy in the corners because of the frost. There wasn’t much traffic around, but what there was ran smoothly at the speed limit or a little above, and was generally being sensible. Then a quick run up from Milford to Slough via the A3/M25 all without incident, not having exceeded 90mph, but making the 70 miles in a little over an hour..

After the training, I left Slough at around 4pm in the afternoon. From the M4/Slough West exit to Datchet is a long straight stretch of road that used to be 3-lane, but is now 2 lanes with the centre section crosshatched (broken white line) because there were some nasty Darwin crashes in the middle last year.

After the roundabout at the start of the straight there were two vehicle in front, both doing 40mph (it’s a NSL). Neither seemed interested in picking up the pace, so I pulled out to overtake – there was only one vehicle approaching in opposite direction – and slowly drifted past, no more than ½ throttle in 4th as there was plenty of room Mr 40mph saw me coming past and accelerates hard in his V6 auto 406 Coupe. Once its clear what’s happening I decide he’s not worth it and fall in behind.

A few minutes later, I reached Windsor Great Park (now a 50mph limit, but generally a fast open stretch of road). I was in another queue of 40mph traffic, probably a dozen cars following a struggling white transit van. I slide past a couple, but there was heavy on-coming traffic.

After the Ascot ‘peanut’ roundabout, the queue is still doing no more than 40mph along the two long straight sections of the A329 towards Ascot, this time all NSL National Speed Limit, or 60mph in this case). There was no on-coming traffic so I safely overtake about 6 cars on the first section, at no great speed in 3rd gear. On the second straight section, there was still no oncoming traffic (visibility at least 1 mile to the junction ahead, and no side turnings) and I pull out and slide past the rest, all strictly IAM one-at-a-time stuff.

Four folks flash their lights and wave their fists. Presumably in appreciation of my fine driving, as it surely can’t be in impotent rage and avarice.

Later on, I bang the Cayman up to 7200rpm in 3rd, having now run it in for 1100miles. This was on a deserted section of quiet open road next to Ascot racecourse. It used to be a NSL, but is now inexplicably a 40mph limit.

Then head ‘home’ to tea and biscuits & read the paper.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

The Autosport Show, Jan 2007

Aha, the Autosport show has come around again! Winter must be nearly over! My mate Mikey and I have been going for a few years now. We usually try and go on the Friday ‘Trade’ day, which costs more, but at least isn’t unbearably busy. I hate crowds at the best of times, and the NEC heaving with (mostly male, mostly 20-something, mostly northern, mostly hygienically-challenged) racing fans is the wrong sort.

The day started for me with a (6am) early start (after cramming 5 days working hours into 4 days) feeling knackered, but I drove our Audi A2 (as it was once of the rare times last year I actually had it in my possession) up to meet Mikey by 7.30am at the M40 Oxford services for a rubbish £12 breakfast.

Then it was my turn to be passenger in the comfy heated Volvo seats as we moseyed up the M40 to the NEC, to see the usual suspects at the show.

Maybe it was because I don’t have a project going right now, but frankly there wasn’t really much that caught my fancy. Certainly it wasn’t a clutch of faux F1 ‘show cars’ in a dummy grid. In the old days, these were usually last year’s race cars that the team would use at publicity events. Then they figured that it‘d be much cheaper if they took out the expensive bits first, like the engine. So you’d see the car & if you peered under the engine cover you could see a hole where the engine should be. But at least it was the real thing.

Of course, as F1 got more pointlessly expensive, the ‘expensive’ bits encompassed the whole car. So the teams decide they’d build a copy out of re-cycled coke bottles, sticky backed tape & egg-boxes, and the fans wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. So now the ‘race cars’ you see – unless you’re actually at a GP - haven’t even seen a race track, let alone Shuey/Ferdie/Kimi’s arse.

The show’s a whole lot bigger than before though. But there were some noticeable absentees, including Porsche. Some of the hi-tech widgets in the ‘industry’ section are simply amazing, but I didn’t trawl around looking for bits for my Caterham or Westfield as I have done in the past. I also like to see the student section. Studying racing cars for 3 or 4 years and ending up with a degree sounds a right laugh. lt has to be more fun than spending the time trying (and failing) various careers like I did. Perhaps one of the master SS7’s would like to do it when they’re older.

There were several funny points; being interviewed by a Danish sportscar company on TV and telling them Denmark is famous for bacon, walking behind two pitlane popsies who trying to stop their tiny lycra leggings heading for the floor leaving nothing but the teeniest cheese-wire knickers, watching a group of 14y.o boys ogling more pitlane popsies, and Mikey trying (and failing) to resist the allure of the KW stand. We also plotted a CarList Ring return….

I can’t say there was anything there that really rang my bell, but it’s a good way to get a petrolhead fix in mid winter. I rather liked the Guigiaro Mustang, but my bringer-homer was an old skool Group 4 365GTB/4*. BTW had my mate Mr Shiney had put his £70k into a nice road going version a year ago when I told him to, he’d find its worth £100k now.

Long drive home afterwards, arrived in Sussex by 7pm, completely knackered. But I was rather pleased to hear my journey not as bad as Mikey’s congested slog to North London. I’m still not convinced the A2 is 100%.


*a racing version of the early 70’s front-engined Ferrari ‘Daytona’

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Running In

The Christmas break (“Winterval”? A pox on you, ignorant heathen!) was a good one for the SS7 household. We entertained family (in the right sort of quantity), and enjoyed time with friends old and new.

Christmas day bought transport solutions aplenty; SS7 minor received a pedal powered kart, and SS7 major a skateboard - unfortunately for his elbows without protective gear. SS7 minor needs a reality check; following the family car to your grandparents in a pedal-powered kart isn’t really viable when you’re 3 years old.

We have had a house full for the last 3 days, good fun but wearing & it was good to get away for a few hours yesterday to clear the garage, give the Cayman a quick wash (in the dark…) and put it away for the week.

Last week’s 120 mile trip up to work and back was enough for me to acclimatise to the car’s controls and feel. The muttering rotters who commented on the lack of torque are right, its not viable just to squeeze the throttle and breeze past bumblers on a fat mid-range; the 968’s 4-pot 3litre is better in this respect.

Its clearly an engine that produces it’s best higher up in the rev-range, so with this in mind I’ve revised my running-in strategy. I’ve been giving short rides to various family members, and on New Year’s day, I popped over to the other side of town to pick up a ‘new’ Roksan amp.

I came home the long way; on quiet holiday roads, ‘running-in’ could easily have been mistaken for ‘giving the car a good thrashing’. Once everything was good and hot I was using more like 6000rpm than 4000rpm as a limit (in 5th on a quiet A27…), and pretty much all of the throttle travel. As a result, the tyres have come in, the brakes are getting better and the gear linkage is freeing up nicely.

I also found I’m already leaning on the PSM; full bore in 2nd out of roundabouts and letting the electrics sort out the wiggly rear end.

On sober reflection I may need to re-think the wisdom of this latter approach.

Mrs SS7 also had a go. After 20 minutes her summary was “It’s very nice”. I guess that’s female priorities for you. She also ran full bore in 2nd down our private estate road leading to the house (the one with a 20mph limit) on the basis that “If anyone see’s me they’ll blame you”.

More on Mrs SS7 to follow…..