Sunday, 5 October 2008


I'm pleased to report that the search for winter wheels has proved fruitful, and after a mixed track record in this area I even seem to have come up trumps. So here is the Golf. Its a 1997 VR6 Highline, which is the one with airconditioning and leather - in this instance a purple to match the 'Mulberry' paintwork.

Better than that, this is a one owner from new, 30,600 miles examples, that came complete with a 2inch stack of history including the original invoice and brochure...!

The owner looked after car really well, althought he wasn't a polisher it was filthy in and out! However, my once over showed that everything worked, and that apart from a dent in one door, the bodywork was excellent - and even the interior plastics were perfect, saved from the usual u/v ravages by storage in a garage from new. It sailed happily through the MOT, but the rear tyres (fitted in 1998!) need replacing.

I collected it from the owner in Leicestershire, a good 200 mile drive from home. The run home along the M1, A43, A34 and M27 was uneventful, although the continuous rain varied only between drizzle and torrential. The car hummed along showing 32mpg on the 'puter, the ancient VW branded Sony cassette radio worked fine and the a/c pumped out cold, dry air. The only weakpoint was the dampers, which have given up the ghost. On slightly lower springs, even on the short test ride it crached into bumps and lurched on low frequency bumps, but after 3 hours on the motorway it really was all over the place.

Young SS3.5 and I spent a couple of hours cleaning it today; and its all good. Under the dirty rubber mats are the original over-mats, hardly used, and the leather responded to a bit of cleaning. We even got most of the grass out of the boot floor.

In fact, its almost too good to use.....


Tuesday, 16 September 2008


Here's an advert from Pistonheads. Just to remind you, this is the language of Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, Churchill, Lennon and Beckham. God help us all:

"For Sale: 1994 VW GOLF VR6

Here im selling this golf vr6 for a friend its not my car, its bin a good car and only selling due to not being able to insure on my own policy so it must go as im stil 17.
The car itself isnt standard it has bin lowered and a set of deep dish alloys have bin fitted, also has duel exhaust system and flushed bootlid, kamei grill with mk4 headlights. car is moted til next year but no tax. im awaiting v5 to return but wil supply full reciept. any questions just call me. cheers"

I've got a stiffy....

From press coverage in Road and Track at the time of the Cayman S’s launch:

“Compared with the Boxster, the big difference of course is that the Cayman is a closed car. Porsche engineers have retained the Boxster’s strong floor-pan without modification, with the result that the close car is only 11lb lighter that the comparable Boxster.

On the other hand the Caymans S's torsional stiffness is 2.5 times higher that the Boxster S (which ranks as one of the structurally stiffest contemporary open cars) and only 5% lower that the 997 series Carrera. The beam stiffness is also doubled compared with the roadster’s.”

Keyed Up

When I decided to take KNoB to the office for one last run the other day, I also took the Cayman keys to the garage with me. This was a bit of a fall-back, just in case the poor old thing didn’t start/wouldn’t go/exploded in a ball of flames etc.

At some point, while messing around with KNoB’s keys, the garage door opener, my PC case, phone and waterproof jacket, I put the Cayman key (in its little leather ‘Porsche Zentrum Hamburg’ pouch) on the 924’s rear spoiler.

Later in the day, after returning from work and enjoying one of the dowager Mrs SS7 chillies con-carnes (certificate U), I went out to the garage to wash months of accumulated dust and crud off KNoB.

I’d parked it outside the garage for this purpose.

The first thing I noticed when I approached the car was the Cayman key, still sitting on the rear spoiler…… It had remained there for the whole of the 12 mile journey to work, and the whole of the 12 mile journey back again, as well as 8 hours in the office car-park, and an hour in the drizzle outside the garage.

Sometimes we are blessed by the Gods.

The King is dead, long live the King

So, the saga of KNoB (the Carlist trackday Porsche 924S) is over. The first serious buyer spent 20 minute looking the car over, and then took it away leaving a small pile of cash.

An expensive lesson for all.

Now looking for a late, low miles Golf Mk3 Gti 16v with leather and air. Interested applications to the usual address.


Wiper Fetish

Now I know this sounds a bit anorakish, but I’ve always had a bit of a thing about the way 911’s windscreen wipers move. There’s a beauty and purpose and precision about the way they slash from side to side, especially on the fast speed, that is unique to the brand.

It always reminds me of the big Porsche 935’s racing in the rain at Le Mans in the 80’s.


Knife Crime, then and now

I was reading an Enid Blyton tale to young SS2.0 at the weekend. It was called 'Treasure Island', and was about those bad boys the Famous Five. I suppose Enid wrote this in the 30's.

Anyway the four homies (aged I guess between 11 and 15) and the dog are given parental permission to spend a night on an island.

In their possession, they had pocket knives, a sheaf knife, an axe and matches (amongst other things), but no Mack 10 as far as I can tell. Even in my youth in the late 60's, a pocket knife was something that I used to carry around. However I used it for whittling, cutting string and general boy scout stuff. At no point did I think of sticking it into someone for offending my fragile sense of self-worth.

One cannot help noting that our attitudes to kids and knives have changed. Or at least the perception; total number of knife deaths in my county in 2006 was zero.


A Modern Morality tale

A bloke posts on a well known forum complaining about his (female) flatmate, who works in bar and brings home different bloke every night for horizontal folk dancing that keeps him awake. She also has other annoying habits to do with possessions.

Other posters tell him to get rid of the flatmate. The bloke posts pics of his easy-on-the-eye flatmate, taken from her website and adds suitable epithets. Lots of posters lech after the female. The female then appears on the thread with threats of violence. Bloke not looking forward to going back to his flat. There follows a fracas at home, and the bloke moves out.

Another modern morality tale brought to you by Pistonheads.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Gratuitous 968 Pics

Collection Day...

A Silverstone track day

PS: Chasing clones at the Nurburgring

Oversteer hero! (Or how to drive when the rears have gone off...)

Friday, 1 August 2008


A few years ago I had to travel to Australia on business. Leaving the UK in a grey, cold, wet November, it was difficult to remember what decent weather felt like, so as I emerge squinting like a new-born kitten into the bright Sydney sunshine I realised I had not brought sunglasses with me.

The first opportunity I had, and it was off to the local sunglasses ("sunnies" in the local vernacular) emporium for some cheap jobs to last the 10 days or so I was there. Blame the glorious southern hemisphere's summers day, the jetlag, or the charming company I was enjoying, but rather bewilderingly I walked out with the most expensive pair on the shop.

Four years later, I'm convinced I had actually chosen the best sunglasses know to man, made with love by a company I'd not heard of until then. They were effortlessly comfortable, had superb optics, wieighed 11 grammes and even suited the SS7 facial features.

So imagine how I felt when last weekend, 4 years later, I lost them while messing about off 'our' beach in the kayak. Young SS3.5 managed to tip me out, and as I clutched the paddle I felft the glasses slide off my face and into 6 feet of water.

Attempts to find them proved futile, especially with the tide coming in, and although I returned a couple of times to search the foreshore later in the evening, I returned to work the next day knowing they were lost for good, and wondering where I was going to find £160 for a replacement pair.

I got a phone call from SS3.5 at around lunchtime. The family had gone down to the beach at low tide "just to see", and within 2 minutes he had found my Maui Jims, apparently none the worse for 20 hours immersion in the English channel!


Tyre Kickers Welcome

Old Smokey's for Sale

Alas that time has come when we must be parted. One careful owner* and literally never raced or rallied.

*I don't know about all the others

Tuesday, 29 July 2008


I took SS2.0 along to collect his big brother from cricket practice the other evening. We had taken his bat (size 1) and a ball along to play with while we were waiting for the older boys to finish.

The truth of it is that SS2.0 is showing signs of having more talent than his dad ever did.I especially enjoyed the moment of stunned silence from the practising adult crickets as SS2.0(aged 4 ¾) picked up a stray ball and hurled it accurately 30 yards in return - “Oi Gary, ‘e’s got a better arm than you!”.

Its his party trick, honed by hours of pebble chucking on the beach.


Thursday, 24 July 2008

Gay and non-Gay

So, my mate Little Nomad, young SS3.5(aged 10) and I were driving into Le Mans for the Classic 24hr race. Its a huge petrolhead festival and the roads were crammed with classics and enthusiast's car of all types, many with passengers. Alas we already felt like spectators, as due to the unfortunate skill/ friction co-efficient failings of Mr Nomad ( whoops... ) we had been reduced to taking the trip on the family Honda.

I don't quite remember who started it, but we fell into a light hearted conversation about the image issues of blokes in sports cars, specifically 2 seater cabriolets.

Over the next two days we developed 'rules' which I thought I'd share. BTW I was very surprised how nuanced young SS3.5's contributions were!

Cabriolets: The Rules:

Two blokes in a Ferrari 328 Gts: Gay
Two blokes in a Ferrari Daytona Spider: non-Gay*

Two blokes in a Ferrari 360 Berlinetta: Gay
Two blokes in a Ferrari 599 Berlinetta: non-Gay

Two blokes in a Mid-engined Ferrari: Gay
Two blokes in a Front engine Ferrari: non-Gay

Two blokes in a F40: Non- gay
Two blokes in a F50: Gay

Arnie Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris in a Mazda MX5: Gay
Two gay blokes in a 1930 4½ Litre Bentley Le Mans Rep: non-Gay

* with a pastel linen suit exception


Please Note: The CarlistBlog is a non-homophobic Blog. In fact, some of my best friends are gay (probably). For further information on this cultural touch-point please read U and non-U and the SS7 humour dictionary

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

New motor..

I picked up the new wheels the other day.

I was a bit irritated as I’d told the dealer I was going to be there at 9am, but when I did arrive the thing wasn’t complete. So I had to wait while the final set up was finished, which was annoying.

Anyway, once ready it looked great, sitting in the brief sunshine, deep Seal grey paint gleaming and carbon trim looking very tech. Once on road, it became clear this was a very different ride from the last one. Its much more track-orientated; the ride is hard and you can literally feel every slight ridge or ripple in the road through the stiffer chassis. It’s a fair bit faster than the old one, especially on the straight and level where I’m running about 20% faster. The turn-in is also good and you can feel the benefits of the weight loss over the more touring spec. models. The gears (none of this auto-box nonsense here) are quick and slick, the change levers falling easily to hand.

So far the only fly in the ointment is the brakes, there’s a distinct vibration coming up from the front brakes somewhere, I need to get some miles on to see if it will settle down before going back to the dealer.


Taking a bath

From a contact 'in the trade': a year old Porsche C4S cabriolet with a list price of £90,000 and less than 2,000 miles was bid to £62k last week.

The original buyer has lost nearly £30,000, or £20 for each mile travelled.

PS Now advised that the bid is only £55k........

Taking Abarth

I spotted these tucked away at the last Goodwood Breakfast; the new Fiat 500 Abarth.

Its good to see Fiat stop sodding about with the Abarth ‘brand’ (how I am beginning to detest this term, speaking as it does so often of the distortion of reality to fit some 25 year old marketeer’s short term sales objective), but once they had seen how successful BMW are with the MINI Coopers it really was a no-brainer.


Compromised Position

I took SS3.5 to see the F1 cars testing at Silverstone last month.

I'd arranged a '24hr' test drive for the day; a Carrera C4S Cabriolet.

My first drive-down-the-road impressions were of the obvious weight of the thing felt through the controls and the bump crushing ride, but 30seconds of electric roof lowering later and we were cruising north towards the M40 in the sunshine, while SS3.5 fiddled with the SatNav and stereo controls. I’m not sure what Porsche’s ergonomics experts think, but being 10 years old clearly helps with the more complex system interfaces.

‘Our’ car had a delete badge option, and it took me a while to be convinced the full 350bhp were present and correct. I guess that’s the effect of 1600kgs on 3.8 of Stuttgart’s finest litres. But what it lacked in grunt it made up for in noise - the baritone howl from the engine at 7000rpm was glorious and the lack of a soundproofed metal roof meant you really were in the front row of the auditorium. However it only took the first bit of good old English tarmac to reveal that chopping the roof off had noticeably reduced the strength of the body shell - the tremors could be easily felt through the wheel as well as the seat.

At least on the motorway the site of a fast moving Carrera in rear view mirrors was persuasive, so we made good progress up the M40 and along the dual carriageway A43 towards Silverstone, enjoying the acoustics of a quick 3rd gear blast after each roundabout. A further compromise became quickly apparent on the motorway; the (very effective) wind blocker sits immediately behind the front seats but makes the rears unusable. So that’s 2 seats only then (much like a Boxster…)...

We could hear the sound of screaming race engines long before parking up, and headed towards the nearest section of track from the parking area. It was the turn in point for Bridge corner and the first cars past were Hamilton, then Raikkonen, flying through the right hander without a lift, the aero grip available manifest even to a casual trackside spectator. In fact its now a flat corner in any old F1 car (at least in the dry) as the preceding high speed Abbey curve I remember from old is now a slow fiddly chicane called Farm.

The next 4 hours we spent walking around the section of circuit open to us from Club to Luffield, watching the different lines the drivers used. Apart from Bridge and the fast section on the far side of the circuit, the corners are mostly slow, so dragster-like acceleration out of one is followed by the staccato rip of downchanges, then a slow apex before dragging off to the next. It can’t be a great drive in a F1 car; it wasn’t that brilliant on my old 968CS either.

The Ferraris and McLarens were visually faster that the others but we also saw Williams, Force India, Red Bull, BMW and Torro Rosso - pretty much the whole field then!

It’s clearly an opportunity to see the F1 heroes without the expense and hassle of the GP so was a real family affair. SS3.5 and I weren’t the only father and son combo bunking off a day’s work/school, but unlike some I’d draw the line at bringing the wife and baby.

The noise of the current cars is like a physical force, that threatens long-term damage to tender ears – and leaves old ones temporarily ringing. But it is curiously non-mechanical, somewhere between the shriek of an electric motor and the scream of a fast jet’s engine. SS3.5 reported the ear 'fenders I’d got for him (pukka Peltor, Screwfix:£9.95) worked well, while I relied on some old ear plugs left over from my biking days. He also spent some time behind the view finder of his video camera at each viewing spot so we have a recording of the day for posterity.

And the pride of old age was upheld when I whupped the over-confident youngster on the giant slot car circuit, setting FTD in the process!

We left at around 4 in the afternoon. At first it was roof up for the dualed trunk-road sections, revealing another downside of the soft top; wind and road noise at speed is considerably increased even at sensible UK motorway speeds. Then it was roof back down for the last section, heading home across the south downs in the late afternoon mid-summer sun, a stretch and which included a section of one the last great driving roads in the South. And there our fat, flexible friend really did its thang, blasting past slower traffic in third with a switch of throttle and a blare of exhaust.

We did nip out with SS2.0 in the back when we got home; he fitted in the rear seat behind SS3.5 without problems; and would probably do so for another 2 or 3 years. In fact SS2.0 thought it was "awesome", but he's 4.....

Next day it rained. The run up the A3 back to Guildford was uneventful, a shiney, tightening, on-slip showed the car would understeer before the ASC gathered it all up again.

So, very nice, but just not my bag I’m afraid. As a sports-coupe, the Cab’s compromises, weight, noise and lack of strength, move it too far from Porsche’s sweet spot and squarely into the Mercedes’ SL’s. And it was really difficult to see any value over a £40k Boxster 'S'.

Talking of price; I asked the list price of ‘our’ C4S cabriolet. The answer? Eighty four big ones; or 2x Boxster S's or 1x GT3. At that price it made no sense at all; maybe a £25k 996 cab for weekend cruising would find a place in the SS7 garage but not as a Daily Driver; its a Porsche for Californians.

But a quick look around the showroom and read of the launch material of the '09 cars, and it seems a white 997/2 coupe, with the ‘little’ 325bhp 3.6l engine, small wheels and PASM/S_C would be interesting; and my salesman friend’s going to call me when he gets one in….


Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Box Box Box!

The last time we took ‘KNoB’ out on the road (its MOT test earlier in the year), the passenger side electric window stopped working. Needless to say this was in a down position, and has hampered use of the car ever since.

Suspecting the motor, I checked out new prices (“It must be some cheap generic Bosch part, right?”) to find it was a whopping £160- even from GSF.

A week or so later I had a go at stripping down the 924’s door and window. Things came apart pretty easily thanks to good quality 70’s plastic and screws, and within an hour I’d fiddled the old motor out of the door, along with the glass, the mechanism, and a boot’s worth of screws, clips, fixings and door trim, including the flimsy (and falling apart) anti-drip skin. Sure enough the motor looked sad, neglected and seized.

Ebay came to the rescue, a bloke not far from me was breaking a 924 and would sell the correct side’s motor for £30. Much more like it. After another 10 days of two and fro I picked it up, the friendly seller even demonstrated it worked on his Ford Ka battery!

Two weeks later (spot a pattern?) I had a go a re-assembling it. As I rather suspected it needed a knack and four hands, so although I thought I’d got the knack sorted, I was a pair of hands short. Annoyingly I’d put some clamps aside that would have been just the ticket, but didn’t bring them up from home.

So last night (two weeks later…..) I finally managed a couple more hours garage time. With the help of a couple of clamps purchased last week from Homebase, I pieced together the window winder mechanism and all the door trim. The good news is that the glass now goes up and down by elastrickery, the bad news is the door doesn't unlock. This would be because I knocked the locking button down putting the trim back on, and now it must all be removed again to fix it. Bah! But at least I'm cutting the time needed down on each repetition, and soon will be the speediest 924 door stripper in the Northern hemisphere.

That's a point. I wonder if McLaren F1 need a speedy door trim fitter, as well as a Director of Common Sense? I can hear myself on the radio; "Guys, its still p*ssing down and the Boy Wonder’s tyres are worn to the canvass, better bring him in. I'll do the doors while you're at it", or "Guys, everyone else is pitting under safety car, shouldn't we be bringing TBW in for tyres, fuel and a quick check of the armrest?" and "Louis baby, the red light’s on, don’t forget to stop at the end of the pitlane - and I've put a Snickers in the door bin ".


PS sure enough, last night I had the door trim off, the locking t*t unjammed and the trim replace in the time it takes for Max Mosley to read the front page of the News of the World and phone his lawyer

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Sith Lord in Search of an Author

A couple of weeks ago, Mrs SS7 and I undertook one of our regular trips to the Chichester Festival Theatre. The production was and adaptation of Pirandello's "Six Characters in search of an Author" and starred Ian McDiarmid amongst others.

There followed one of the most intriguing and fascinating theatrical experiences of my life. I'm not going to attempt a plot summary (this is why wikipedia was invented) but it was one of those expereinces that leaves you wondering for days afterwards.

The critics loved it too; The Telegraph said

"Like Goold's Macbeth, which went on to triumph in the West End and on Broadway, I suspect this brilliantly inventive show has a long dramatic life ahead of it."

Go see it.


Increased Congestion?

Last February, Tony Blair wrote to me (and 1.7m other folks) explaining that action on congestion was necessary as

"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."

Meanwhile, the
Department For Transport published figures stating that traffic for the first quarter of 2008 had fallen 2% based on the same period last year in response to large increases in the price of fuel.........

Somehow I can't see the price of fuel coming down significantly, has this altered the Govt's planning assumptions around road charging I wonder?


Monday, 16 June 2008


Porsche should hang it's head in shame. At this year's Le Mans 24hours race, scene of many race victories since 1970, Porsche were beaten by Ferrari (who were placed 1-2-3-4) in the GT2 category, and only won the 'small' prototype class (LMP2) against fragile garagistes and essentially amateur teams. The best LMP2 Porsche, run by a customer team, just made it into the top 10.

Its probably their worst Le Mans since the 50's; I wonder how many of their new customers in the East realise Porsche once had a glorious racing heritage?

Meanwhile, in city news, Porsche's CEO, Wendy Weidekind, is having to scape by on a total 2007 package of $89m.


"But Father's day is different..."

Last Sunday morning dawned. After the previous evening's festivities I was betwixt hangover and headache, but I dragged myself up to make the drinks, get the boys dressed and fed, get an update from the Le Mans 24hr race on the PC, feed the cat, and sort out four lots of two wheeled transport for Kirk.

At this point (10.15am) a voice piped up; “Isn’t it father’s day?”, at which point a card was hurriedly produced along with a small slab of chocolate.

Compare and contrast with Mother’s day, which involved, for Mrs SS7, multiple cards, breakfast in bed, flowers, expensive handmade choccy’s and lunch provided. When challenged on this point Mrs SS7 made the comment above.

Bloody Hallmark.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Funny Girl

I got dragged along to a production of Funny Girl at the CFT on Saturday. Generally musicals are all rather too metrosexual for this old petrolhead, but this was captivating, largely due to a simply magnetic performance from Samantha Spiro (even though one kept expecting La Streisand to appear at any moment).

PS The Telepgraph loved it too:


After a long weekend the deck is mostly finish, and we celebrated (that and the arrival of decent weather) by having the first barby of the year!

Black & White II

Some pics taken at the Bay Estate after washing the car. The dias on the beach in the back-ground is the estate's millenium memorial> Its a sun-dial, with distances to various cities - Le Havre is 88 miles to the south west. The house is one of the few modernist houses in the area. Unhappily, the current owners have ruined it when they 'restored' it, the curved Crittal windows have been replaced by God-awful cheap UVPC rubbish.

An hour later, at low water, we picked up two WW2 era bullets, probably Lee Enfield .303 rounds left by the Canadians who trained in the area in 1944.


Monday, 28 April 2008

Black and White

Had the wheels powder coated black last week, now just needed to figure out what to do about the centres; keep them silver or paint them black?

PS Another photo here

Deck Part Deux

After another weekend of toil, I've finally finished the joists (simple once I'd figured out the best way to do it), fixed fascia boards (which will probably be stained later) and have started laying the decking (in between showers of rain).

The latter task is taking a while, I estimate I will have used near 600 screws once it is complete.


Friday, 18 April 2008

Want to Buy.....

….a winter hack while the SORN’d Cayman takes a rest from the salt, rain, ice, dark and general sh*teness of winter motoring in the UK. In its stead, I plan to run another car from November to March/April, something cheap to buy and run, practical, but still offering a decent level of reliability and performance.

By ‘Cheap’ I mean less than £3k, and ‘cheap to run’ means can be fixed with parts from GSF by a local garage, and is capable of achieving 30mpg or more on a decent run. By ‘Practical’ I mean it should be a hatch or estate (so I can bung children and bikes in), which offers decent comfort and has working a/c to help demist in winter rain.

And by ‘decent performance’ I mean enough grunt for ‘A’ road overtaking.

And nothing later than March ’01 because I already contribute enough road tax to our miserable and ineffective government’s coffers thanks.

Plus points will be awarded for greasy road friendly 4wheel drive, stability control, Xenon headlights, and the possibility of finding a cheap spare set of wheels with winter tyres.

My current short (but ever expanding) list in possible order of preference contains:

- Volkswagon Golf Mk3 VR6/2.0 16v
- Subaru Impreza GX estate (the 2.0 n/a one with bug eyes)
- MG ZS 180 (the Civic bodied V6 one)
- Audi A4 1.8T Quattro (hmm, maybe I should push this up the list)
- BMW (E36) 325i (but difficult to find one that hasn’t been ‘improved’ by some chav)
- Saab 9-3 turbo (although I don’t understand the ever-changing turbo range line-up)
- Ford Mondeo ST200 (not the very first series)

Regretfully rejected for cost reasons are:
- Civic Type R (the flying iron one)
- Audi A2tdi 90 (I know, it misses some of the points above, but I like ‘em)
- Fiat Panda 100hp (still £7k for an early one)
- Audi A8

Regretfully rejected for other arbitrary reasons are:
- Subaru Legacy (just too much like some Toyota minicab)
- Vauxhall Vectra V6 (God no, and do they still put the brake pedal 3” above the gas to prevent the hard of thinking pressing both at once?)
- BMW 5/7 series barges (barges)
- Mercedes 190e 2.3/2.5l 16v (I’d love it way too much)

So, if anyone in Blogland has any suggestions I’d be up for it.


Old Banger

The sun was shining when I left the house, and the car’s temperature gauge showed 8 degrees, so I was hoping for dry grippy tarmac for the run north.

On leaving the A27 I spotted an old 50’s sports racer in the mirrors–– cream with black race roundels. It was C type Jag-ish at the back with a cut-away Aston DB3S style front; and just a low aero-screen to protect the driver.

The speed rose as I climbed over the downs; the old racer showing it wanted to keep pace as we passed slower traffic. Its driver was taking it easy on the corners, but was more than able to keep pace on the straights, in fact on one full noise overtake up on the weald he clearly demonstrated his old banger had the legs of the Cayman, at least up to the screaming top of my 3rd gear…..

I pulled away again through more fast sweepers and was heading down into a valley when I looked up to see the surrounding fields still full of frost.. Under braking for the 2nd gear left hander at the bottom of the hill, the Cayman wriggled and the ABS cut in – at which point I did feel very lucky I wasn’t in some ancient 911 heading straight towards the scene of the accident with the front wheels locked.

Shortly after I stopped, waiting a few moments for the old car to catch up, and then pulled in pulled in behind for a closer look; exchanging waves as we did. It was obviously Jag powered, and had an aged patina, but the ‘Q’ plate it was running on jarred somewhat.
After that we caught traffic, passed another accident, and he turned off with another wave just after Petworth.

Nice way to start the week.


Facebook Etiquette

So what’s the ‘U’ thing to do when some cutie you’re sure you’ve never ever met (at least definitely not when you were sober) wants to be your Facebook buddie?
There’s not a “You look cute, and I’m damned if I know you, but hey, lets be friends anyway” option I can see.

Oh wait; “Cute”…

I guess I know the answer to this one….

World Car

The booted Focus Hertz gave me on the last trip is comedically awful, basic US spec, which excludes remote locking, T/C and, I suspect, ABS…*

The thing wallows above 65mph, spins its inside wheel at every junction, and it's only saving grace is that the bright blue paint makes it easy to spot in a car-park. Amazing to think that this is the same vehicle as the brilliant chassised Euro spec car.


*Proven by a smokey stop in the hotel's car park.

Hate Something, Change Something

Here’s a thing: I wrote this weeks ago, decided I was being a bit harsh and parked it. Then I decided perhaps I wasn’t being so harsh so here we are:

So after a false start, the Civic was finally delivered a few weeks ago and has immediately been pressed into service as family taxi, due for a life of hundreds of suburban middle-class family-life type trips.

First impressions were that the ‘revolutionary’ Euro Civic design isn’t as revolutionary as it seemed to be at launch two years ago, and that it really isn’t far removed from other current mainstream hatches. Ok, front light/trim strip is striking, and the multi-level dash is unusual, and the way it sweeps around either side of the wheel does put the varied minor controls close to hand, even if you have to make sure it doesn’t kneecap you on entry. The start button also works better than you might think: put key in, turn one click, push button (handily close to the key) and away you go. The wheel, unusually for an entry level spec. mid-size hatch, adjusts for reach and rake. And its just as well it does; the flip side to putting the fuel tank under the front seats to give the spacious rear compartment a usefully low, flat floor is that the driver’s seat is higher than you really want.

Although there does seem to be a modern trend of adjusting one’s seat height to the top most position available (judging by the number of folks you see around with their scalps pressed against the roof lining) I’m more of a sit-on-the-floor-wheel-in your-chest-like-in-the-DTM sort of bloke. I'm sure Ralph the Shoemaker isn't going to have to sit on the fuel tank of his Merc.....

The Civic is another modern that suffers from an intrusive ‘A’ pillar, and moving the seat around doesn’t make much difference to the view out, so you develop a head wobble at junctions to allow you to spot on-coming 40-tonne artics that would otherwise spoil your day. The rear view is also problematic; a combination of large C pillars, a split rear screen and rear head restraints reduce visibility to that of an early KdF-Wagen. Oh well; retro-fit beepers are available.

A longer cross country run to a children’s activity zoo presented an opportunity to get acquainted with the chassis. In 16” wheeled SE form, it’s on a par with peers – competent, but not much more. The ride, however, is mercifully compliant in comparison with peers equipped with ‘Sport’ suspension, and body roll is not going to produce sea sickness in the children.

And yet the overall Civic driving experience is overwhelmingly dominated by two features, one excellent, the other excruciatingly what-were-they-thinking-of? bad.

The Good
Sing it Like you Hate it - that damn motor is tremendous. For a 4-pot diesel, its also very quiet – from cold there’s no clatter like two Navies banging in an iron spike with their spades, and at any kind of speed the whisper of turbulence around the A pillar has a far higher decibel count than the engine. The thrum-free power deliver is also much more linear that the VAG oil burners I’ve experienced; torque builds steadily from 800rpm through to 3000 rpm, without that nothing-nothing-WHAM! big bloody thump its so difficult to drive around in the VAG cars. At less than 400 miles, its still very tight, so I’d expect to see the 44mpg improve as it loosens, and the slight reluctance to run a much less than 40mph in 5th also improve.

Sometimes its good to hate something.

The Very Bad
Like I hate this. It was Honda’s stated aim that the ’06 Civic was to reduce the average age of their buyers from the 70’s. Funky non-fogey friendly design appears to have achieved that objective, so why on earth does the steering has so much assistance that a withered 90 year old spinster could happily turn it with her little finger?

And not only that, but so feel-free is the thing in use that the family’s Logitech PS2 wheel (ok, it has 'Force Feedback') gives you a better idea of what’s happening at the front wheels. So you drive around trying not to constantly overcorrect, holding the anesthetised wheel between finger tips, and forcing yourself not to lean on the rim for the remotest of support in corners, lest you spear off into the verge.

I know that even the Type R version suffers a little of the inevitable electric-assisted numbness, and that the diesel lump will add to the nose weight, but never has my experience of any car been so dominated by such a misguided dynamic feature. So much so that I really do think Honda needs to get a dealer retro-fit fix out.

Anyone listening in over there in Datchet?

PS Be very careful searching for 'Camel' on ebay images......

Nail Therapy

I had last week off work. After the past month or so at the office I decided I really had to bang something hard with a hammer, so rather than assualt one of the local coffin dodgers I bought £500 of timber and have started to build a deck.

Highly satisfying.....


Thursday, 31 January 2008


Notwithstanding its ‘Wrong Wheel Drive”; layout, the SS7 family car dilemma has finally been resolved in the form of a new Honda Civic 2.2 cdti. The Civic is a small-medium 5-door hatch-back, but appears to be big enough for family duties.

I was intrigued, therefore, to compared its dimension with those of a 1967 Ford Cortina 1.6 Delux - as it happens the first new family car my father owned. I was 6, my brother 4, and as a family we toured the length and breadth of the Malay peninsular in it for nearly 5 years.

Cortina: Length: 4267mm, Width: 1648mm
Civic: Length: 4245mm, Width: 1765mm

Or in old money, the modern hatchback is an insignificant 7/8 inch shorter, but 4 ¾ inches wider than the 60’s family car.

So perhaps the Civic’s front-wheel drive architecture gives it a longer wheelbase?

Honda Wheelbase: 2330mm
Ford Wheelbase: 2489mm

Hmm, interesting, contrary to expectation, the Ford has a longer wheelbase. My guess is that the lack of fwd and crash zones means Ford could stick the front wheels right in the corners.

But Honda must have found some more interior room, inspite of the lack of room between the wheels?

The site: quotes something called ‘Passenger space’ for both.

The Cortina is given as 4,280litres, but the Civic is 5,260l, or an additional 23%. It explains the room in the modern car….

But in many ways, most revealing is the weight figures:

Ford Weight: 857kgs
Honda Weight: 1400kgs

Now the Ford figure is probably dry and sans everything, and the Honda will be a DIN number (plus ½ tank fuel, 80kg driver), but you really have to wonder what they built those things of, Walkers crisp packets?


Wednesday, 30 January 2008

My Bugatti

At the recent Autosport show at the NEC, I got the chance to sit in a Pur Sang T35 and make tearing calico noises*. The Pur Sang is an Argentine built tool-room copy of a Bugatti T35, and is where I’d put £125,000 of my lottery-win pounds without hesitation.

As it happens, I have a Bugatti copy sitting in the hallway at home.

Ettore Bugatti applied a magical combination of artistry and technology in the design and construction of his cars. Some of them, such as the T35, were amongst the most lovely of all car shapes, and arguably amongst of the most perfect forms industrial man has ever produced.

His company didn’t survive the 1939-45 hostilities and the death of his beloved son, Jean, but such is the legendary power of the name it has since been resurrected, in the 50’s, again in the 80’s, and now once more by VW.

In some ways the current Veyron is a travesty of the Bugatti tradition; most of the original cars were pure-bred lightweight sports cars using the same designs and technology as the then current GP cars. In fact it was Ettore Bugatti who referred to the rapid, but big and heavy Bentleys, as "Fast truck’s". It seems odd, then that the fastest truck of them all is the current €1M, 2000kg, 1000bhp, Veyron 16.4.

On the other hand, Bugattis always were cars for the very, very rich, so maybe not much has changed.

Ettore’s artistry ran in the family. His brother, Rembrandt, produced superb sculpture, and his father, Carlo, was a furniture maker. It is even said that the trademark horse-shoe Bugatti radiator’s shape was inspired by one of Carlo’s chair designs. Such was the reputation of the creativity and quality of work produced by the family, that in 1979, there was a successful exhibition held at the Design Council in London entitled ‘The Amazing Bugattis’.

Carlo’s work was heavily influenced by Levantine and North African native artwork. The exotic Art Nouveau furniture he produced at the end of the 19th Century was decorated with ivory inlays, silk tassels, beads, copper, and often upholstered with skins or parchment. One piece in the exhibition really caught my eye, a sculptural chair known as the cobra. More simple than his other work, it was a beautifully elegant shape, with a seat that seemed to float on a curve that ran from the legs to the high seat back.

Some years later, I noticed that the Conran Shop in London’s Old Brompton Road had a reproduction of this chair. However the price was huge, much more than an impecunious young database marketeer could afford, so I regretfully had to pass. However, it was still there the next time I walked past the window, and the next, and by this time ownership of this object was becoming something of an obsession. Could it possibly be included in the shop’s January sale?

I arrived outside the store on the day of sale early, and was delighted to see ‘my’ chair in amongst the discounted sample sofa’s and other remnants. A hour later it was in my Clapham flat, and it has been a prized possession ever since.

Several house moves later I discovered what the material used for the drumskin-like upholstery was. A visiting relative decided to try the chair out; a second later he was dumped on the floor – the material on the seat had split completely.

Many furniture restoration specialists later I eventually discovered someone who identified what it was; a vellum made from goat-skin. Fully restored, the chair is again in place, and this time no-one dares to actually sit on it!

straight eight supercharged T35 engine note is reckoned by fabric-rippers to sound like this

White House

This the house Mrs SS7 and I built in 1998.

It was a candidate for the first Grand Design Channel 4 TV series, but they chose a water tower conversion to feature instead. I'd like to point out that, unlike the water tower, ours came in under budget and on schedule so probably wouldn't have made great TV....

However both schemes planned to use a form of building technology known as ‘permanent polystyrene formwork’. This is more commonly known by the name of the most well established manufacturer; Beco, and resembles giant hollow white Lego blocks.

Once in place – and the ground floor walls of a modest home might only take a morning to construct – concrete is poured into the hollow centre of the wall. When it has set, you end up with an insulated concrete structural wall.

Builders are notoriously conservative when it comes to new ideas and materials, so using Beco did narrow the field somewhat. We eventually found a contractor more used to putting up agricultural buildings; where apparently Beco is used for pig-sheds all the time. He did ok, although his people skills were a bit, well, agricultural....

In use, the house was very warm and quiet (important as it was built under Heathrow's flight path), which wasn’t surprising as each wall is a single piece of steel re-inforced concrete.

Practical considerations include the placement of windows, which ideally need to match the Beco dimensions (anyone who has ever used Lego will understand), and we had also to be a bit careful mounting heavy items like kitchen units on the walls as some wall sections were pure polystyrene. The exterior was finished in self-colouring epoxy render whilst the interior was dry lined and plaster skimmed. I built the deck and a 35m2 double garage myself.

We sold the house when the arrival of SS7 Jnr #2 esulted in a serious shortage of bedrooms (as well as 6 months without sleep, the little sod) . We had over 30 viewings the first weekend it was on the market and it sold for the full asking price.

We then moved to one of the few mid-20th century modernist private houses in the UK, but that's another story...
BTW, Here’s a plug for the lovely Tim, our architect. A more decent bloke and skilled practitioner it would be hard to find. You can reach him at


Wrong Wheel Drive

In these days of the almost universal use of front wheel drive there’s a lot to be said for proper wheel drive. Packaging and cost considerations aside, the linearity of response and steering clarity is something you notice even just driving down to the shops. Trust me, I’ve been driving rear wheel drive vehicles exclusively for more than a year.

But I also remember my past experience of the downside of the combination of turbo-diesel muscle and front wheel drive.

Imagine you’re on the way to work, and are in a queue at a busy roundabout.

And its raining.

The sequence of events goes like this: :

Spot gap in busy roundabout

1.Endeavour to accelerate briskly off line into gap
2. Turbo lag means nothing happens
3. Lots of throttle then applied; gap disappearing fast
4. Turbo spools-up; 200+ lb/ft of torque heads for front wheels
5. Head snaps back; steering goes oddly stiff
6. A nano-second later, the front wheels give up the traction battle, and the inside wheel spins, compliant suspension bushes allow spinning wheel to flail around in wheel arch
7. The Bosch ‘Traction Control system spots the spinning wheel, and cuts throttle
8. Head snaps forward, the turbo spools down. Now 20 lb/ft at front wheels.

Progress so far: 6 ft.

9. Gap almost gone, and disaster looming fast.
10. Throttle pedal now mashed to floor; turbo spools again, front tyres vapourise under the onslaught
11. Repeat steps 3 to 10 until field of view completely taken up by Seddon Atkinson badge

And breath...

….for 14 milliseconds until engine reaches end of 1200rpm power ‘band’ then frantically search for 2nd gear



So the other night after work I headed for the coast, leaving the office at 7.30. I was tired and wasn’t in a hurry, but the roads were very quiet and on the open rural section after Northchapel the pace inevitable quickened. Just before Petworth I overtook a couple of cars in what I recall was the approved IAM fashion, one of which was an early Golf cabriolet driven rather gently by what I took to be an old boy. I must have been ½ mile or so ahead before slowing for the 30mph limit through the town.

The road south of Petworth was also quiet, so I made good progress and arrived home around 8.40.

As I walked in Mrs SS7 announces “Sarah says you overtook Chris and her in the Golf doing at least 120mph driving like a lunatic.!!” and then proceeded to accuse me of planning to deprive the children on their father in a fiery death crash, and generally raged on in a similar vein for most of the rest of the evening.

Now I happen to know our friend Sarah (whose partner Chris drives a Mk1 Golf Cabriolet) has never reprogrammed her phone with my new mobile number after I swopped my old one with Mrs SS7.
So she was probably trying to call me, ended up speaking to Mrs SS7 and couldn’t resist a little embellishment of the truth……


Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Log Store

This is the result of several weekend's labour, £100- of wood, and the skin from most of my knuckles: a store for a load of wood for our stove that will allow green wood to season over the summer.

I am oddly proud of my efforts, but now convinced that carpentary is a not a career option I should consider seriously.



So there I was, minding my own business amongst the hurly burly of lane 4 on the M25 one Thursday lunchtime, when the 80-odd mph ‘fast lane’s’ progress was interrupted by the sight of a jam sandwich joining the carriageway.

Within a few seconds, the whole of the motorway was travelling precisely at an indicated 70mph, keeping station with the police car, which had chosen this speed for it’s journey in lane 2. One at a time, the occupants of lane 4 slowly drifted left into the other lanes, intimidated by the unusual sight of an officer of the law driving at exactly 70.

Now, in my experience, well trained police officers in traffic cars rarely behave like this, exactly to prevent the situation I was in: four lanes of motorway traffic with no speed variation at all, It becomes difficult to move across the crowded lanes to an exit, and makes a nasty incident more, not less likely. My suspicions were also confirmed by the fact that this particular police car wasn’t the type of high-powered saloon favored by the Motorway patrols, but the sort of small estate car (a Focus) more typically used by local bobbies.

So once all the law abiding (and paranoid) occupants cleared lane 4 in front me, I gently increased speed to exactly an indicated 78mph, an the basis that this represented a true 73mph or so, and wouldn’t trouble the Buzzies.

Imagine my surprise therefore, when the aforesaid sandwich immediately left lane 2, and joined lane 4 about 100m meters behind me. Now, I’ll admit this was unexpected: the officers appear to have been affronted by my refusal to keep station with them at ‘70mph’ (more likely to be a true 65mph or so) and were going to make my life a little uncomfortable. That seemed fair enough, I’ve driven at more sporting speeds without sanction often enough….

So we progressed for several minutes in this fashion; I could see signs of activity in the car behind, and I suspect my registration, tax and insurance were being checked out. Meanwhile I stuck to a precise 78mph, changing to a lane on my left when it was possible, but only after indicating in a scrupulously correct fashion. Yet at the same time I was rehearsing my lines should I be stopped ( “Does something appear to be the matter with my driving officer?” “And was the speedometer in your car calibrated recently officer?”) I also continued to gamble that these regular bobbies were not going to risk a ‘stop’ on a busy section of the M25, and that they were endeavoring only to persuade me to “Stop the bloke in the Porch [sic] taking the p*ss” (See? I’ve talked to policemen before!).

Sure enough, as we approached the exit for the A3, the police car suddenly slowed and moved back into Lane 2, allowing me to take the slip in approved Roadcraft fashion. I watched carefully as I joined the A3 south, but once it was clear I was no longer being followed, I rejoined the train of cars making progress in lane 3, wondering what had just been proved.