Sunday, 13 December 2009

A Small Island in the South China Seas

I find myself in Hong Kong for 6 months. It was an unexpected business opportunity, which arrived(as these things tend to do) all of 5 days after I collected the GS, which now sits in a Sussex garage.

So there will be little to report on the buying/driving/riding front, not helped by the fact that Blogger has decided that I must now be capable of reading Chinese, as the log-in page is now in Han characters and the 'log-in' button's whereabouts a total mystery.

However, I shall endeavour to share my thoughts of the place over the coming weeks.

After 4 weeks here I'm missing my two sons, the rolling downs and beaches of West Sussex, and driving - in that order. Its a crowded island, and parking is at an expensive premium, so there is little point in buying a car so six months. Public transport, and taxis are also cheap, and drinking something of a way of life.

However, so is conspicuous consumption. Hong Kongers like the latest and greatest in up-market Western branded merchandise - designer stores are on every street corner, and the roads are full of expensive imported motors. I've seen, plenty of premium saloons and SUV's; Maserati is big here, Cayennes are two a penny, and the Panamera is clearly selling well.

I've also seen lots of great 911s on the road, often in groups - clubs are another big local thing. I've spotted a few early IB's, a smattering of 964s, and 993's are more frequently sighted. There are lots and lots of 996/997s, and of those Cabs are probably the most common variant. Most cars here, including sportscars are have auto transmissions, either because of the traffic conditions, or because driving standards are poor.

Speed limits are low (50 - 80kph mostly), and speed camera's frequent, but pretty regularly I hear the bark of a Ferrari engine echoing between the buildings at weekends.


Friday, 13 November 2009

Rider Tek

Although the guys at BMW Bahnstormer did their best to sell me the brand's matching clothing, I found myself with an aversion to looking like catalogue man (or even Charlie and Ewan).

So last weekend I went to see my good friends at Grand Prix Legends to sort out some riding gear for the bike.

My requirements were pretty simple, I was looking for a 2 piece textile suit that would keep me both warm & dry but would also give good protection should I find myself sliding down the road.

In the 'old' days, leathers were the the only choice for safety, but at the cost of letting the water in. Soggy crotches weren't my fondest biking memory! Textile suits were around and would keep the weather out, but generally weren't as good as decent cowhide for protection, especially against the road surfaces. Abrasive tarmac vs sliding rider only ends one way, and as an instructor once reminded me "In hospital they clean gravel rash with a scrubbing brush".

In the 15 years or so since I last bought any gear, there have been a lot of development in this area. The best textile suits now combine the best in water, wind and cold proofing, with protection from impact and abrasion better than traditional leather. Armour is part of the equation, and protective back armour is de rigour.

Rukka make some of the best gear out there, although you do have to pay Rolls-Royce prices, up to £1500 for their top of the range suits. I was prepared to pay the cost of some of their more democratic equipment, until the GPL team pointed me at Halvarsson's range.

Made in Finland by people who know a thing or two about the cold, its lovely stuff, with a bunch of high technology fabrics and linings, and each one seems to come with its own tag. Its getting a good reputation even though there's not a whole lot of distribution in the UK. Better still, its much cheaper than Rukka's gear, so much so that the GPL people told me they're happy to have it in Rukka stockist as it makes it look great value!

I ended up snaffling up a 'Phanter' jackey and 'Zen' trousers (both having lost something in translation), to accompany the beautiful Racer gloves I bought the week before.

Alas, events overtook me, and I now find myself 6,000 miles from the bike and the English weather. More posts to come, it will be 6 months before I get back to the GS, but there's plenty to blog on about here in Hong Kong!


Friday, 6 November 2009


Sitting around SS7 towers are boxes containing every issue of CAR magazine from about 1978, when I at last had the funds to indulge regularly, to 2006, when I decided enough was enough and started chucking the latest issues away.

I picked one out more or less at random this morning as I was waiting for a call, and spent a couple of minutes flicking through it.

The 70's and 80's were CAR magazines' heyday. Nothing else on the market offered its combination of high quality (and honest!) writing, innovative photography & design, industry insight and access to the best and fastest motors in the world. CAR became the standard by which all others were measured, and I would always look forward to the monthly publication day.

April 1988 featured yet another fast but chronically underdeveloped de Tomaso era Maserati, the 'new' BMW E34 5-series, vs it's rivals, the Lancia Integrale & Ford Sierra Cosworth ('Europe's Great Supercar Bargains'), and the latest Suzuki bikes amongst others.

Two things struck me looking through the old mag.

First was that the quality of the journalistic line-up was epic; great writers all. Yet sadly I couldn't help being saddened by how few of them are still around.

Since 1988 we've lost the great George Bishop, the irrepressible old car guy Ronald Barker, the inimitable LJK Setright, Phil Llewellin and the so talented Russell Bulgin.

Of the rest, Gavin Green, then editor, is still involved with CAR 21 years on, Georg Kacher will last for ever, and Steve Cropley & Andrew Frankl still write columns.

The second thing that I noticed was how damned expensive cars were 21 years ago! The 'bargain' Sierra Sapphire Cosworth was £19,000, had 200bhp and ran to 143 mph. By contrast, the current Focus RS costs only £6.5k more and pushes out a storming 300bhp and 165mph.

The 'new' 5 series in 525i form was also £19,000 and offered 170bhp, compared to its nearest current equivalent, the £29,000, 190bhp 523i.

In 1988 a basic Porsche 911(Carrera 3.2) was £37k, the same as a 944 turbo. That compares pretty well to the current 911 at just over £60k, although £37k can still buy you an entry level Boxster.

However, should you have wanted to buy a Sport Edition 911 turbo with your city bonus , it would set you back £99,000. List price of a 2009 997 turbo? £99,000.......

By way of contrast I took at look at house prices. The average price of a UK house in 1988 was £45,000, or a quarter of current values.

Perhaps we don't have it so bad!


Thursday, 29 October 2009


Its half term this week, and I'm spending time with the two boys, SS7 jnr (aged 11) and SS3.5 (aged 6). On Monday we spent the day at the tank museum in Bovingdon, on Wednesday we travelled the Salterns Way on bikes, and today I took them on the 200 mile round trip to Buckmore Park for a day's karting.

Buckmore run arrive and drive days for youngsters during the school holidays and at half terms. Its well organised and run professionally, with quality safety gear, slick management, and offers children the chance to drive real karts on an outdoor track.

SS3.5 got his first chance to try a kart today; a mixed success. A generally sensible and coordinated 6 year old, he found the karts to be no more than electric buggies limited to a brisk walking pace, and probably more suitable to 4 year olds. In fact, after 15 minutes of slow speed circulation of a simple oval circuit, he announced it was "Really boring Daddy".

No such worries for his elder brother, who was with the 8-11's in 120cc, 20mph petrol engined karts on a more extensive circuit. I've taken him before, and his experience showed - he was smooth, committed and fast. In fact amongst the rather variable dodgem standards of the other youngsters in his group it was like watching a shark swimming with minnows. He gets a real buzz out of it, and next year he'll run with the 12-16 year old in some pretty serious 40mph machines.

Naturally he'd like to be the next Louis Button, but as I keep telling him; there are 16,000 UK competition licence holders, and less than 20 full time professional British racing driver's.

Enjoy it by all means, but realise that motorsport is an expensive hobby, not a career path.


Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Two wheels good

I can finally confirm my long awaited return to biking, when I collected a 2 year old, low mileage BMW R1200GS from those nice people at Bahnstormer in Alton today.

I tried a big BWW earlier in the year, and fell for the combination of practicality, performance and clever engineering, so was really just looking for the right bike to come along (and approval from the FD). Its s shame its the end, not the beginning of the summer, but carpe diem and all that...

One big change since the last time I owned a bike (1996) is the amount of tech. involved. The BWM has shaft drive, ABS, fuel injection, catalytic converters, alarm and immobiliser, traction control, trip computer, and aftermarket music and comms system and a tyre pressure monitoring system.

I've probably left something off the list - but thankfully as an approved dealer bike it also comes with a warranty should any of the tech. decide not to cooperate.

The weather was incredible; nearly 19 degrees at the dealer, so by the time the admin, customer briefing etc etc. was finished, I was surrounded by miles of warm, dry Hampshire tarmac.

Determined to take it easy, I did for the first oh, 2 miles. After that a loping 70mph seemed a natural pace, overtaking slower traffic as if I’d never been away from bikes, and leaning comfortably through the bends. The only rusty bit was slow speed riding but later on I even was able to get a little filtering practise as the A27 jammed up.

The route from Alton is a peachy combination of lightly trafficked A and B road, and apart from a section under trees along the downs, was all open and fast. A great way to get back to biking.

After a bite to eat, I later dropped in at Goodwood who were running an Octane track day. They get a better class of boy racer at their events, I counted 4 race XK’s, a real looking Jaguar C type, Cut 7 (the famous racing E-type), a very genuine looking D, and the Ford France GT40 and a rapid little Datsun 120Y.....

Great day.


Friday, 16 October 2009


I've a soft spot for the mk3 Golf (and modded VW's generally but we all have our quirks) so I wanted to share this with you here .

Its a mk3 Golf with a rear mounted aircooled engine, brought to you by those funny blokes at Type 3 Detectives.


Friday, 9 October 2009

Honda's dead-end sportsters

I noticed that during the summer there was coverage of the Honda S2000’s demise after 10 years of production.

I tried one at the Chobham test track a year or so ago; if any car ever came within a sliver of greatness this was it; lovely low scuttle, sublime great change and that paradigm of an engine red-lined at 9000rpm.

But at the same time you couldn’t help noticing the dated interior design, with mid 90’s UJM switchgear, a non-adjustable steering wheel and marginal cockpit room.

I found myself wondering why Honda hadn’t developed the car from launch, beyond a little fiddling with the suspension settings and a long-stroke motor for the ‘Merkins.

But this isn’t unusual for Honda, their history is littered with sportsters that were allowed to wither on the vine bereft of investment, before being quietly escorted from the premises without so much as a ‘Thanks for the memories”.

Looking at the sportsters, there’s clearly little in the way of product strategy, or even a consensus underpinining the nature of the sporty side of the range – odd in a company very like Ferrari or Porsche, created by a charismatic enthusiast for all things fast and fun.

You’ve got front engined sportsers with and without hard tops, front wheel drive two seaters, middies with either 600cc or 3000cc, coupes and roadsters, all sorely lacking a place in any long term view.

Its not as if Honda don’t know how to do it; the motorcycle division’s Fireblade has now run in 7 generations for 17 years, each one true to the light/manoeuvrable philosophy, yet each an improvement on the predecessor.

The Civic is another example; now in its 8th iteration in 35 years.

There was some mutterings about a ‘new’ NSX last year, but the concept hawked around the shows turned out to be a front engined behemoth, powered by a V10 engine, as far way from the jewel like original as it was possible to get.

Such a lost opportunity.


Wednesday, 7 October 2009


Originally uploaded by shoestring7
Spotted at last weekend's Goodwood breakfast this early Triumph GT6 is a rare survivor. A friend (who probably should know better) suggests the rear 3/4 window and styling line is a more resolved effort than Scaglietti's Ferrari 250GT SWB/GTO.

Hmm, not sure about that, perhaps I can't see past the general awfulness of swing axle independent suspension and 30's era chassis!


Tuesday, 6 October 2009


The usual hyperbole surrounding the launch of a new British (albeit foreign owned) sportscar has subsided a little, and its possible to get a more sensible perspective on the new Lotus' merits.

I think the styling is superb; it clearly retains Lotus DNA but moves the game on, looking fresh and contemporary. Its perhaps a lesson Porsche, constantly re-inventing the 911, should take on board.

Seeing the Evora in the flesh as it were, and its clear how big the new car is; dwarfing the Elise and looking everyone of its surprisingly porky (ho ho!) 1300kgs. While the addition of occasional rear seats will definitely open up the market for Elise-owners with children/a golf habit, it does land the car uncomfortably in between the market defined by the Boxster/Cayman and the 911's. The pricing reflects this; the fully optioned launch cars were £60k, well above the £44k of a Cayman, and even Lotus' basic cars will be near £50k.

Some initial road tests appeared to laud the chassis as some sort of physics defying combination of ground effect grip, Rolls-Royce ride and Lotus 7 steering feel. However more reasoned journalists look to have placed it as class leading drive; with more driver feedback than the Cayman, but with a little less refinement.

The use of the Toyota Camry engine/transaxle, something you might have expected to be a weakspot, isn't felt to be so at all. Loosing several hundred kilo's of Toyota avoir dupois reveals a smooth responsive peach of a motor; a sign of just how good mainstream Japanese production engine design currently is. You can certainly expect it to behave in service without any of Porsche's well known but unacknowledged 996 & 997 design weaknesses.

Talking of 911's brings me to my point; take a look at that Evora cross section. That big Toyota engine sits way up high, above not in front of the rear axle line. It reveals how Lotus squeezed in rear perches without a unwieldy long wheelbase; the thing owes a lot more to rear engined sportsters like the Renault Alpines than you'd expect. The cross section also reveals just how limited rear seat space is; note the poor (female?) passenger in the back has their knees by their ears, and that the driver is sitting in an invisible seat......

I read a piece by Mark Hales in a recent copy of Octane in which he analysed the handing of the similarly rear engined Elise on track. He pointed out the effect the high engine position had on the limit, especially in the wet, causing the cars to spin with little warning at high speed. In fact he likened it to the characteristics of old 911's. He did point out that most of the problem could be designed out with the use of modern suspension bush and tyre technology, and that 99% of the time 99% drivers would simply be unaware of the issue.

It'll be interesting to read track tests of the Evora, particularly if a high powered version is launched next year.


Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Wasted Opportunity..

..or high level irony?

Spotted on the road yesterday, a car with the registration 'V8 JON'.

It was on a Toyota Prius.


Tuesday, 22 September 2009


The Ferrari 250GTO; commonly accepted to be the ultimate roadable sports racer, the most beautiful of all Ferrari's line up, and should you want one of the 30 or so original cars in your garage you'll need north of £7m.

Except this beauty has a very obvious flaw; check out the area around the rear of the door, where the line of the front wing, that of the rear arch, and the door frame meet. Its little more than a nasty collision, and a long way from perfection. What's more, that other paragon of Ferrari's early 60's road racers, the 250 GT SWB, suffered in exactly the same fashion.

Check out the same area on a Zagato bodied DB4GT or even Bill Lyon's E-type to see a much neater treatment.

Perfection? Not in my book....


How guilty

So the FIA have come to a decision over the Renault team’s Singapore Grand Prix heist. Its difficult to find anyone who does not agree with the WMSC’s summation: "The World Motor Sport Council considers Renault F1’s breaches relating to the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to be of unparalleled severity."

After all, lives were put at risk.

But ‘Unparalleled’? Well if the ‘breach’ is so much worse than, say, Schumacher’s attempt to take the world title by driving his opponent of the road, or even ,dare I say, McLaren’s ‘economy with the actualite’ in Melbourne, then you’d expect the FIA to be down on Renault like a tonne of bricks, a long ban, and huge fine.

Didn’t happen did it. Renault blamed their guys on the ground and get a slapped wrist, and the world’s press reports “Renault escape with suspended sentence” and looks for the nasty political truth.

Its not hard to find. On the face of it F1 needed Renault; both entrant and supplier to engines, so some sort of deal was worked out which involved Pat Symonds and the colourful Flavio Briatore being the fall-guys.

Compare this to 2007’s 'spygate’ saga, which enabled the FIA (aka Max Mosley) to drive Ron Dennis out of F1. At worst McLaren were passive recipients of Ferrari information provided by a disgruntled Ferrari team member. No one’s life was endangered and in spite of the FIA trawling though terrabytes of data they were unable to prove any benefit to the team whatsoever. Only the Spanish drivers (De la Rosa and Alonso) and a couple of team members knew of the information source, they even kept it from Hamilton.

Now I and most of the F1 world are happy to believe Dennis was kept in the dark and only heard about it when the petulant Alonso tried to use the information to blackmail Ron into favouring him over Hamilton.

However, in this case Max Mosley's judgement contained the view that 'On balance' he 'suspected' McLaren management knew about this, and that the team owners were going to carry the can. To the tune of $100m, and all their points.

Of course it wasn’t that at all, it was simply the endgame in the despicable pervert Mosley’s destruction of anyone who dares ridicule him. Well someone spilt the beans to the News of the World allowing them to set up the sting.

To recap: Piquet Jnr, initiates and then takes part in the cheat. He says nothing until months later and then only as a revenge on Briatore for being sacked. But the FIA were told in October last year; the chief steward Charlie Whiting in particular but did or said nothing and Max bided his time. Its also pretty difficult to believe that other Renault team members didn’t know by that stage either; Flav and Symonds managed to blindside the FIA and snatched a race out of thin-air, I’msure they would have smugly told a few favoured teamates once they thought they were getting away with it. Certainly Piquet senior knew and kept quiet and at the time there were eyebrows raised over the serendipitous timing of Junior’s accident.

Against a background of dark threats from Flavio last year about Mosley’s dark secrets, he (Flav) makes the mistake of firing the underperforming and mentally shattered Piquet Jnr. The war of words is pretty unpleasant and growing in vindictiveness. Spanky spots his opportunity to put Briatore to the sword and that exactly what happens.

In reality it was a vendetta by the old pervert against Briatore, just as 'spygate' was a campaign to destroy Dennis. Don't underestimate Mosley's hubris - that is the real reason why F1's condemnation of Renault has been so muted.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009


I've been thinking again of looking for a set of wheels for the winter. I know this is deja-vu all over again but there you have it. the usual criteria are involved; a decent ownership proposition, respectable performance, practical and something that will be easy to sell on.

What's different this time is that I have a bit of an old Mercedes itch.

Earlier this week I’d arrange to meet a nearby dealer with a green Benz 280E estate, one of the classic mid-80's to 90's W124 models with the square headlights.

Like many small independent dealers, this chap used to work at a dealers, in his case Mercedes . He has obviously become the guy the local main dealers call when they need a trade-in price on an older model - he reckons he gets offered 3 or 4 W124’s a week and buys 2 a month.

Certainly this one was a peach; clean body work and an interior without a mark on it. Even the drivers seat still had crisp cloth, not worn smooth by a million miles of trouser seat. It was almost as if it had been clocked the other way, and had actually been run for only ½ of the 145k indicated miles. The only sign of age on the interior was a slight old plastic smell, that’s it, even the load bay looked like new.

Closer up, other than a little bubbling around the B pillar (alloy trim corrosion?) I could see very few bodywork faults. There were signs of kerbing on the wheel trims, and the big fat 65% profile rear tyres were on the wear markers. I couldn’t see the discs through the wheels, but the body panels all seemed to be the same colour, the gaps were all consistent and the side of the car was straight. The front screen was a little milky around the lower corners and the radio aerial on the C pillar was also U/S, but the under bonnet was clean, as was the oil (even though I spotted 2008’s stamp was missing from the service book).

The thing started with a rattle-free purr, although it had clearly been run earlier that day – the engine was a little warm – and drive in the 4 speed autobox engaged without a clunk or a thump. The dash structure is a bit dated as you’d expect; but its all there. This one had 2-zone climate, electric front seat, sunroof, electric windows and mirrors, and it all worked except the (original) radio-cassette – probably due to the lack of an aerial.

The first hundred metres also demonstrated the a/c didn’t work either, its surprising how much you miss it on a rare 24 degree day!

It took me a mile or so to figure out the exact location of the pedals; the ‘go’ one was way over to the right and had a strong return spring. And after a half-hearted attempt to use my right foot for both ‘go’ and ‘stop’ I reverted to my favoured 2 footed driving style. The car did that little trick well sorted ones do, shrinking around me as I drove. It certainly didn’t feel as wide or as long as initial impressions, the big steering wheel with its narrow leather rim proved an honest steer, and we wafted down the suburban roads with just the odd thump through the suspension to disturb progress. Certainly there was not the slightest squeak, rattle, clonk, moan or groan from anywhere in the structure. Remarkable.

I fiddled with the seat controls a little more and got a comfy position near the floor with the wheel an easy stretch away. The only ergonomic oddity was the single stalk on the right which controlled indicators, wipers, screen wash and headlight main beam. Its on the ‘wrong’ side and it took a while before I stopped looking for indicators on the left.

We reached the main road and as the limit change from 40 to 70 I squeezed the throttle to the stop. The old girl dropped a gear or two, and with a lovely smooth cultured howl from the engine it picked up its skirts and, if not exactly dashed, certainly hustled for the distant horizon. It has around 190bhp from the ‘new’ 24v motor, and with a relatively lightweight 16o0kgs to haul, it isn’t underpowered even by modern standards. A 70mph cruise was easy peasy, and after a couple of miles I took an exit for the trip back to the dealer’s. There was some rumbling from the brakes as it slowed, and the steering was slightly slow to respond.

Around the 180 degree slip road loop there was some roll, but no wallow. By the return leg along the busy coastal road I felt quite at home, and wafted along happily with the OAP traffic. I even had time to check out the switchable gearbox, the dealer put me right when I asked about the ‘Sport’ mode; its ‘Standard’ with E for economy. In ‘E’ gearchanges were gentler and I actually felt it suited the car better.

Back at the office I checked the paperwork. It had stamps for every year from 1995 to 2007 with a Mercedes dealerships. I’m told parts prices, especially for consumables are reasonable, and that Mercedes main dealers usually have staff experienced in these older cars and offer reduced labour rates, so most stay in the network.

All in all, a lovely old thing that supports those who say that Mercedes have never since been able to reach the quality levels of their 80's range. Certainly, if you were a buyer for a W124 estate, this is exactly the sort of thing you would be looking for.

Thinking about it since, it seems there are two ways to look at this;

Either £3.5 is a simply astounding bargain for a smooth, relaxed family carrier with an image that meant you could happily park outside your Holland Park gaff or weekend at the Quatre Saison, build quality most objects outside a crusader castle could only dream of, and with a similar life expectancy. In fact, you’re all completely mad not to have one.

Alternatively it’s a 15 year old barge with nearly 150k miles up, 20 year old safety standards and a load of potential rusty trouble to come.

Me? I'm going to sleep on it a bit more.

Racing lines...

Does anyone else walk on the racing line around the house?


Must just be me then.

At least I had stopped making engine noises by my late 20's

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Porsche under VW

The dust has settled, and the old independent Porsche has gone, they are now one of 10 brands under the VW umbrella.

While its easy to be sentimental about this, I'm not so worried. Just over a year ago I blogged on Porsche's 2008 Le Mans effort; a decent enough barometer of the organisation's spiritual health here. If anything, 2009 was worse. All of the 997GT3RSR's failed, their best effort was 10th in class. Of the only other two Porsche entries (there were none in LMP1 or GT2), one broke, and one came first in the LMP2 class, again against essentially amateur competition.

All in all, the company's worst performance since the 50's.

Meanwhile, they launched the Pamamera, which whilst it is a stupendous piece of technology, you really have to wonder at the relevance (in Northern Europe at least) of two tonne, 500bhp cars.

Now Ferdinand Piech's VW broom is sweeping through Zuffenhausen and Weissach. According to CAR magazine's sources, this is the new direction:

- Development of Porsche as a pure sports only marque; VAG has enough SUV's and large saloons
- As a result 2014 will see the end of Cayenne an Panamera production and just one generation
- A flat 8 engined supercar above the 997/911
- A flat 4 engined '356' replacement under the Boxster/Cayman, using VAG floorpans
- The pursuit of lightweight chassis architecture, including twin-turbo versions of the four
- Introduction of Clubsport versions of the 997/987
- Development of a proper motorsport programme

A younger Piech had enormous influence in Porsche's development in the 60's; he was behind the classic prototypes, from the 906 to the 917, an huge effort for the small company at the time. Don't let us forget he's also Dr Ferdinand Porsche grandson.

If the 74 year old has still the energy and drive needed, and even if only half of CAR's predictions are correct, in 5 years time Porsche is going to be in much better shape than it was as the end of the Wiedekind era.


The Murray T25

CAR magazine has published more details of Gordon Murray’s radical new project, the T25 city car.

The designer has focused on two main issues, traffic congestion and real environmental impact. His view on congestion is that cars are too large, and often have a single occupant, as a result the T25 is tiny; 30cm smaller than a Smart car.

Murray has also taken a realistic approach to reducing life-time environmental impact. There are no window dressing much fanfared hybrid drives, but a ruthless focus on designed-in lightness, and the simplification of the production process. It appears to have paid off; the basic version will weigh only 550kgs, with a more realistic equipment level (inc music, a/c, ) adding around 50kgs.

The engine will be a small 660cc normally aspirated or turbo 4, mounted in the rear, and with an estimated 75bhp and 600kgs that’s a similar power to weight ratio as something like a MINI Cooper. Crucially, the interior will allow three seats, like the Toyota iQ, making it practical for a typical 1 parent + 2 rugrats using it as the second family car.

The icing on the cake is that Gordon promises to make it fun to drive; “bike-like driver involvement” as well as low priced. That is great to hear; with his track record this could be really special.

He’d have a letter of intent from me tomorrow, if it weren’t for one point; Murray will not build this car. It is intended to be sold as a full design plus production package to a major corporation, who will then make the T25, plus some planned successors, reality.

Murray is on of the most influential designers working today. In some ways he reminds me of Alec Issigonis; he is an iconoclast with a very clear vision, only works with a small team, and has little time for corporations and the marketing reality in which they operate.

I hope there are enough money men who share Murray’s view of the world to make it happen.


Sunday, 30 August 2009


I cycled the 8 or so miles to the Goodwood breakfast meeting today. I bumped into a friend who runs a business related to motorsport and who has over the years built up a very nice collection of classic cars and bikes. He had brought along the Mrs’ Mercedes, a sweet restored 280SL, which shares garage space with a ’73 911 2.7RS and a 246GT Dino amongst others.

His daily drive is a mk1 Golf convertible, and we shared views of the detached driving experience moderns provide, although for a winters motorway jaunt to the other end of the country we both admitted a large comfy SUV would do the job nicely.

The vehicles on offer were the usual eclectic mix, with many regulars as the day's theme was very general. In fact many missed the 1966 age cut-off by decades!

My particular favourite was a late 50’s Ferrari 250 Tour de France tucked away at the back of the gravel paddock.

I took along the camera, there are some more pics on my Flickr page here

Roll on the Revival in two weeks time!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Old Skool

I was going through some old family photographs recently and found these shots of some of the first cars I owned. The pictures were taken around 1979.

The Morris 1800 was purchased to replace a Jaguar(!) as it had a boot big enough for a school trunk and a tuck box. My brother’s equipment then went on the roof rack for the run to school at the beginning and end of each term. The ‘S’ version of the 1800 mkII had big 2-pot brakes and an MGB spec. ‘B’ series engine offering all of 98bhp.

I remember acres of interior space, a floppy gear lever, a strip speedo and a handbrake that you pulled out from under the dashboard. No tacho was provided, you just changed up when it the power stopped increasing or it hit valve bounce, although I suspect the result was more noise than anything else. Shortly after purchasing it, my father replaced the bus-sized steering wheel with something sporty from Motolita.

I learned to drive in this car, building miles and experience on the 45 miles drives to school - probably to the horror of the other occupants! After the family had finished with it, it became my car, I think probably after the Lancia Fulvia coupe (that didn’t move off the driveway) and before the first MGB. The Morris was a big solid old thing, and I distinctly remember displaying to a girlfriend its ability to understeer across a wet road, over a verge and into a tree! It eventually went as a result, not because of the bodywork damage, which was minor, but the bodyshop's failure to re-attach an earth strap, which lead to engine damage when it earthed through the throttle cable causing it to stick open.

By contrast the E3 BMW was a sublime thing with 150bhp from its creamy small bore ‘six’, and capable of a comfortable 100mph motorway cruise. The BMW also became mine once it finished with family duty – my dad replaced it with the white Porsche 924.

It did have the old style BMW swing axles though, it would spin the rears under acceleration in a straight line, as a result the back would start to slide down the camber, somewhat alarming for the overtakee, let alone the driver. It would also exhibit roll-oversteer after turn-in on faster corners. I thought that was perfectly normal at the time, but in hindsight the damper were worn out.

You can also just see the front corner of a dark red Jaguar XJ6 series III. It belonged to a neighbour (and father of aforementioned girlfriend), and I used to chauffeur him up to London and back every day in exchange for a lift.


Thursday, 27 August 2009

On the continuing theme....

A Ferrari owning friend has just emailed me. After a succession of modern Maranello products in bright red with cream coloured interiors he’s just picked up a black 348 for a decent sum and has been enjoying the analogue experience:

"Really pleased with it. What a lot of car. On the road it looks great. Black is a good colour for it. However one thing is really bothering me. All the time I am thinking you would really like this car. Its got that pre electronic feel. The steering wheel is pure Momo, no bag, no paddles, no packets of sweets plastered on. Its a good old fashioned three spoke Momo just as God intended. Three pedals is very retro but they work, its pure driving.

Visibility is
also pure Ferrari, later cars actually allow you to see where you are going, this is guesswork. but that's some of its charm. It relies on some driving skill and judgement.

However much I hate to admit it and it really is hard to admit, the black interior is just how it should be. No gimmicks, just old fashioned Fiat. :-)

Your recent rantings
just keep playing on my mind with this car. Its a good old fashioned
sports car. Yes things have moved on a long way but this brings back the days of simple driving. You could argue it is not 328 pure but for me this is a happy middle ground. I want A/C that works and it does, in fact its excellent. You cannot find a 328 that has strong A/C.

The car has done 48K miles and it has worn it well. I was
concerned that 10 owners is high but as Terry Hoyle said last night, it means 10 people thought it was the best that they could find. It really does look nice and correct for the mileage.

So its not perfect, its not concours, but it was priced as such. I won’t worry about the amount of money tied up and hopefully I wont try to make it perfect as that would be wasted.

There is the chance of a big bill and that is always a risk. That's the price to play. If I only had £20K for a toy then this would be a top contender for keepsies."

Have we latched onto a trend?


Friday, 21 August 2009


I’ve set up some Autotrader searches for 911’s and this one popped up within 15 miles of SS7 Towers. As I was looking to kill a couple of hours on Saturday morning while SS7 Jnr was sailing, I thought I’d arrange to pop up to Fernhurst TVR in the cabby with SS3.5 and try out my first torsion barred 911.

Or it might be the first - I do remember frightening myself in what was probably an SC running wide onto a Windsor Great Park verge at huge speed when I was younger, but it was many moons ago and I’m (somewhat) saner and (much) older now.

On first sight it was like being in the Kings Road 25 years ago. Bright red paint, big rear wing, black pin stripe interior and a shiny Panasonic stereo were all present and correct. Rear seat belts were noticeable by their complete absence however.

The car had been owned by a polisher. He’d even got to the oil pipes in the front wheel arch, which gleamed a dull brass against the (no doubt polished) red under arches. No rust to be seen anywhere, the rear N spec Pirellis were new and the fronts had plenty of tread to go with the age related sidewall cracks. Hmmm.

Although it was Saturday morning, and there was a fair amount of traffic around, the sales guy was happy to let me take it out alone. Or at least, he would have been had it been taxed. So he had to come along with us with the younger SS7 unsecured in the back cuddling the trade plates. The targa top stayed in the boot, even though it was dull and threatening rain, and we headed south to Midhurst with the sales guy driving.

First impressions were of the small size of the car, particularly the anorexic width, but the inhabitants had ample room. The dash showed its age with hard plastics, tired looking switchgear and the classic shot-gun blast 911 ergonomics. Every hing seemed present and working though.

The ride was great, nice and compliant but without wallowing, with only a suggestion of scuttle shake over larger bumps. Certainly its nothing like as bad as the floppy cabby we’d arrived in. The sakes guy and I chatted about our shared dislike of the remote experience driving moderns gives, and he told me about his early Griffiths 500 and the woes of TVR's later straight 6 engines.

At Midhurst I took the (unassisted) wheel for the 10 min drive back up. The seating position with the power seats was high, and the steering wheel, an un-delightful 4 spoke Porsche job from the mid-80s, was a slight stretch away.

The over-centre pedal action and skewed position was also pure old skool Porsche, but within 30 seconds it didn't register. My first impression of the ride was correct; this is what we’ve all been missing in the recent pursuit of huge rims, pencil thin tyrewalls and granite suspension; the ability to float along the road at speed, not beat it into submission. If Porsche could do it in 1985 (and who knows what state this one was really in after 24 years with no major bills in evidence), what have they been doing since? Add pin sharp steering with real feel and feedback, the sound of the sky and wind rushing past the targa top, and you have a really great driving experience. At no point in the admittedly gentle 5 miles back did it feel like we were going to go through a hedge backwards, just great turn-in and traction allied with uncanny body control.

On the negatives, the 915 gearbox is the fly in the ointment; vague and slow no matter how you dress this up as 'character'. The car didn’t really feel fast either, not much cam effect, or 'bissen' as Porsche call it, at 4000 rpm when I did push, plus the interior was not a great place to be. The lack of rear belts would be a complete showstopper as far as Mrs SS7 goes.

Since the little drive my head’s been spinning. I’ve practically already spec’d a G50 3.2 coupe (I’m prepared to give up the targa for something more solid) duck tailed and chromed of window frame fitted with a late (plastic inlet manifold) 3.6 motor, a fresh interior and Tuthill suspension and brakes. All in a shade of seal grey with and trad. polished Fuchs and the best of 2009 tyre technology.

Someone talk me out of it.


Thursday, 20 August 2009


I had something of a Damascean moment the other day.

Or maybe its (another) middle aged crisis.

In any event, my recent experiences driving modern cars have brought it into sharp focus, but the more I think on it, the more I'm convinced. Here it is: for driving pleasure, car design peaked a few years ago.

That's it folks, things aren't getting better, they are getting worse, so enjoy things now, while you can.

Influence of the health & safety and the eco lobbies, the massive addition of electronics, plus financial pressures mean cheap, dumbed down solutions are now the norm. For the last 15 or 20 years, mainstream manufacturers have been headed up a development blind alley. Purity and integrity of response ("It does what you want it to") and anability to reward effort and skill have gone, and been replaced by, in no particular order:

- Massive weight gain, to the point where a small car weighs 1400kgs and a 'luxury' off roader 2600kgs
- Built in ‘flywheel’ lag for emission and usability reasons
- Drive by wire throttles engineered with artificial engine response and initial lag
- Brake+gas cut-offs to make left foot braking impossible
- Over-servoed brakes which make heel and toing almost impossible
- Over-assisted, lifeless electronic steering systems, utterly lacking in feel
- Massive ‘A’ pillars producing equaly massive blindspots
- Huge road wheels and ultra low profile tyres tuned for ultimate grip (and cosmetics) over steering delicacy and a compliant ride
- Granite hard suspensions tuned for the Nurburging Ring that make the rutted B2141 to Petersfield a nightmare
- ASC systems which cut power immediately at the slightest hint of wheelspin
- Automatic transmission systems that change gear better than a numpty, but worse than anyone who cares about their driving

So the next SS7 addition to the fleet will be built no later than 2001.


Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Abarth Time?

As part of my infrequent series of test drives I tried a Fiat 500 Abarth last week.

Although I'd booked by phone in advance, I'd not had great Fiat customer service experiences in the past so I was somewhat taken aback when I turned up at the dealer in Slough to find an enthusiastic salesman actually ready to answer my questions and take me out on a decent test drive.

In brief, it’s a nice little package. The ride (on £175 option non-RFT 17”’s) was firm but not harsh like the previous weeks' MINI. The driving position was high, the seat was short and the wheel adjusted for rake only – not as good as the MINI for sure. Some very neat lower c/f seats are a £2k option !!! The steering was better than the MINI (tyres again?) with more feel, yet feel and feedback are still not even as good as old fashioned hydraulic systems - even the one in my old Golf(what are manufacturers playing at???).

On the grunt front, there was plenty to keep you smiling, my seat-of-the-pants accelerometer suggested its not as quick as a MCS, but it is within striking range. As in the MINI, style over substance dictated the interior, the button quality on the FIAT is lower, and the rev-counter within the speedo is just as silly as the MINI’s ‘solution’.

The ‘up’ change indicator on the dash pod is just daft (black tape?) and it makes the turbo boost gauge almost impossible to see. I can’t really recall any great difference in gear change; both had that slightly remote cable feel (what are manufacturers playing at #2 ???), and the 500 only had 5 gears, but the ratios's seemed well chosen.

The numpties who represent the core market for these fashion-led sportsters have also been at the Drive by Wire throttle; in ‘Sport’ setting (I had to laugh – the salesman said this made it possible to rev the engine higher, bless!) the map ramped faster and the steering effort was reduced. Of course, the least sh+te solution (normal throttle/heavy steering) was not possible to achieve. (what are manufacturers playing at #3???)

Also in its favour, the Abarth didn’t rattle like the MCS over the poor surfaces of the roads 'round the back of Slough we tried, and everyone else on the road seemed to love it. Its also definitely got more rear legroom; enough to make it quite comfy my two youngsters behind me – to achieve this in the MINI would mean me moving my seat comfortably close to the wheel.

All in all, a neat little package and at £14.5k, a useful £4k or so less than a MINI.

And yet neither really snagged my wanna-wanna button. Hmmm.


A disappointing MINI adventure

Summer's proving to be pretty quiet on the business front as you'd expect.

So picking a morning without any meetings scheduled, I arranged a test drive in a Mini Cooper S. I'll be adding a daily driver to the fleet in the Autumn, and the Mini's ('MINI's') combination of quality, performance and low running costs makes it appear an attractive package. I've tried the old supercharged versions in the past, and loved the chassis BMW's engineers had bestowed on their little fwd speedster.

The dealer pulled a used car off his forecourt for me to take a spin in, a current model, 18 months old and showed 15k miles on the odometer.

I'm afraid I was disappointed.

The MINI has a great driving position and demonstrated a decent level of straightline performance, but the drive-by-wire throttle map was very non-linear, giving lots of throttle early on then flattening out. I imagine this is to give an impression of large reserves of performance, but in reality it shoots its bolt early.

Additionally, the brakes are the usual modern over-servoed mess, ruling out heel&toe down changes on the road. The steering was light and lacked feel, and the interior and position of the instruments was nuts; a giant useless central speedo and a tiny digital readout in the tachometer that disappeared if you used the drivers information system.

This car had the ubiquitous Chilli pack fitted and as I expected on the ride on its 17" runflats was harsh over broken tarmac, but what I didn't expect was a cacophony of squeaks and rattles around the interior.

And in my natural driving position rear leg room was non-existent, removing much of the point of the two rear seats. Its also expensive, a Clubman 's' in the showroom was stickered at £24.5k

I was hoping for a car that was practical and stylish, but with real depths of ability under the bling. But I’m afraid for me the compromises needed to appeal to its natural fashion-led non-enthusiast market ruin any claims it has of being a performance car.

A faint glimmer of hope emerged when I contact MINI customer services later in the week. I understand that non-runflats might become a factory option from September's build. Its a faint hope, I'll try some of the competition in the meantime, and try to get a longer drive on normal tyres. disappointing


Friday, 26 June 2009

Every cloud...

According to the Daily Telegraph, the government's proposals for road charging have been credit crunched.

In a rare outbreak of common sense, the Transport Minister said "I don't believe as Britain is coming out of recession and motorists are feeling under pressure, that this is the time to put road charging on the agenda."

Of course, the suggestion that an unpopular government is worried that the 1.8m people who signed the anti-road pricing petition last year might vote for opposition parties at the next election is just too cynical.


Old Spanky pt2

The FIA vs FOTA saga heads off into a wilderness that is beyond bizarre.

You'll remember that the sexual deviant and failed racing driver Mosley managed to retain his position as head of the FIA last year, it seems primarily by appealing to the special interests of representatives of small countries. What might be described as the 'major' motorsport nations all wanted him to go, as well it seems, as most of the F1 grid, sponsorship and manufacturers representatives, and the short Bernie Ecclestone.

But like some deluded 3rd world demagogue, Max hung on, convinced that the world of motor-racing needed him.

Roll forward to post-Credit Crunch F1 season, and the withdrawal of Honda from F1 gives Max the excuse he needs to start dictating the future of F1. Needless to say the F1 teams don't like it, reform their own body, FOTA, and produce an entirely different view of how F1 should be run. This view has a much smaller role for the FIA's 'governance', and went so far to suggest that the teams should get a larger slice of F1's pot of gold...

Various sub-plots grind on; Max wins a pyrrhic victory over the News of the World, so now we know that his well publicised sex-romp with paid help wasn't Nazi. So that's ok then (although Mrs Mosely might have a different view). In addition, the Max vs Ron battle that has been going on for years ends in the FIA forcing Ron Dennis' resignation from F1 over the porkies his driver and team manager told after the pace car incident in last year's Australian GP.

Most of this season has been spent in a growing escalation of hostilities between the teams and the FIA; threats made, insults slung (Max referred to the team managers as "loonies") , and the world watched and shook its head at the hubris and stupidity of powerful men.

It wasn't business, it was personal.

Finally, this week it seemed peace had broken out; the FIA and FOTA have agreed a framework for the next two years, and the 'rebel' teams have called off their threat to form a breakaway championship. Max will stand down in October, and we can all focus on watching the underdogs, Brawn, thrash the grandee teams on their way to a maiden world title.

You'd have to say, FOTO's announcement was a little triumphalist, and was portrayed as Ferrari's Montezemola beats the 'dictator' (oh, the resonances...) Mosley.

Now, bizarly it appears that was just a little too premature. Today Max announces that he didn't like the fact that the teams briefed journalists that his departure was part of the peace deal, and he's now reconsidering his decision to stand down. Like a spolied child, he's also demanding apologies from the teams, and will "thcream and thcream" until they show him a little more respect.

Clearly the man's pride has been injured, and now we're all going to suffer for it.


Wednesday, 10 June 2009

CAR magazine...

….has got its mojo back! I've been taking it through thick (the glorious 80's) and thin (some grusome 'celeb' moments provided by misguided editors recently) since 1979, so I'm pleased to see a return to form.

The last few issues have been great, so much so that I’ve cancelled my Evo sub. CAR has all the sexy kit, but also great in-depth coverage, a sensible attitude to eco/’lectric motors, as well as a good team of writers. Evo really has just been a bit too breathlessly Maxpower since Chris Harris at al left.

This month there’s the usual hyperpole about the new hot Lambo, as well as scoop’s on the possible 4-pot entry Porsche and a Box/Cayman vs competition piece.

Octane’s just arrived too, plus Performance VW is waiting to be digested.



The Quiet Champion

I watched an excellent hour-long documentary about Jim Clark on BBC4 recently. Its well worth finding on iplayer if you can.

Jim was a childhood hero of mine, and as a seven year old I slaved over an early Tamiya model of his Lotus in green with its distinctive yellow stripe. Even today I can remember my father gently breaking the news to me of his death in a minor F2 race. It was Easter 1968.

I watched the TV documentary with SS7 Jnr. He was touched to see footage of the man he was named after (don’t tell the current Mrs SS7, right?), and also moved by the difference in attitudes to disaster in F1 in those days. The programme included footage of the aftermath of von Trip's accident at Monza in ‘61 which involved Clark.

Von Trips' body was clearly visibly lying by the track, while the the race continued….



A couple of weeks ago I ended took up an invitation to try out a Gen2 Cayman at Porsche's new driving centre in SIlverstone. It meant an early start but I was well past the Chi jams by 8, and after stopping for a Little Chef heart-attack on a plate I was at Silverstone before 11. It’s a good long run from SS7 Towers, getting on for 140 miles each way.

The Porsche driving centre is very similar to Merc World. Its on a smaller scale but still impressive, and judging from the reaction of punters there I spoke to looks to be a be a very effective way of spending Wiedeking's marketing budget.

The track includes a number of different driving environments: two wet areas, a very tight ‘slippery’ circuit, and a slightly less tight ‘B’ road circuit. After a bit of a briefing we were ushered out to the cars. I’d heard that Richard Attwood was on the driving staff that day but alas he wasn’t with my group. The track stuff was the usual high thrill, low risk stuff for the moderately skilled. We started on the kickplates, which you’ve probably heard of. The plate is a computer controlled device that moves laterally as the car's rear wheels pass over it, putting it into "involuntary oversteer". The surface as as slippery as ice, so if you drop the catch you’ll still spin like a top; ESC or no! A heady 28mph sounds slow, but its still challenging on ice -as I discovered spinning at my second run over the traps.

Then it was onto the braking area, a similar slippery surface but on an incline, and the instructor altered the ESC modes after each run through from Sport to Sport+ to Off to show the effects on the car. Actually the surface was slippery enough to just mess around on!

At this point I changed cars from the 2.9 to a PDK ‘S’. It was difficult to form firm impressions without more road miles, but the regular car drove almost identically to my first generation car, although the extra torque was noticeable.

The ‘S’ I used on the ‘B’ road was a hoot; serving up some serious performance. The PDK+ active suspension + sport Chrono systems also made it a tight little racer. I was very impressed at how well the S on 19" wheels resisted understeer, and at the levels of traction, but the 'track' was tight and twisty so little chance to really let it rip through the bigger gears, although there was the space to give the thing 95% full berries in 2nd and 3rd! Additionally the surface was very smooth so there was no no real indication of how the big wheels would affect ride on a sh*te British 'B' road.

PDK was technically impressive; the range of settings might be useful and it let me focus on steering and braking (driving with two feet like a kart), but I kept getting involuntary up changes when I hit the buttons with the heel of my hand when putting some lock on. I know internet jockey's have already given Porsche grief over the wheel mounted buttons, but they really are nuts. .

I was in the cars for nearly an hour, and then enjoyed a very nice lunch and a chat with a couple of Lancashire lads (one of whom I’d beasted in the ‘S’ - but I kept schtum ). I did get the opportunity to introduce myself to Richard Attwood. He seems like a nice bloke, and clearly enjoys his ‘job’. We talked about his Goodwood Revival plans; he’s not sure as his BRM single seater is broke! I wonder how many of his pupils realise the nice old boy encouraging them from the passenger seat won Porsche’s first Le Mans in 1970 in a 245mph 917?

I know it’s a bit crass, but Attwood is one of my heros, so I decided to try and get an autograph – when I actually spoke to him I didn’t have a nything to write with, so once I’d found a pen I set off, unsuccessfully, to track him down. As I left, I spoke to one of the organisers on the off chance that she might be able to do something.

The following Saturday I had to sign for a parcel from Porsche in Reading. In it was a bundle of bits of branded merchandise, including a Porsche Driving Experience brochure, enscribed with the words "Shoestring7, Looking forward to meeting you again at Goodwood, Richard Attwood”.

How cool is that? Almost worth buying a 911 for...


Rusty Rider

I’ve been thinking of getting back into bikes for a while - although I have to say I get the itch every spring. However, this season the absence of an ‘interesting’ car in the garage makes it a lot more possible, particularly as I can make a case for needing transport into London (the business is taking off but any work is very likely to be within the M25).

As its been a while since I slung my leg over anything with two wheels and an engine, I thought I’d better get some practise in. A quick bit of internet research and I signed up for a ½ day’s refresher course with a local bike training outfit. The ride followed the usual format; the instructor had the radio mike and I had an earphone, he then followed on his own machine issuing instructions and advice, while I did as I was told. My bike was a Honda CB500 with 50k miles up, but the day was dry and after an hour or so it slowly started to come back. We’re blessed with some great roads over the downs, and after a while I was able to start to make some progress - although I have to say it was still pianissimo through the corners.

With those few miles (plus some nice positive feedback) under my belt I felt more confident about test riding some bikes, and the following week I headed up to the BMW bike dealership in Alton, with the intention of trying one of the 800cc parallel twins. I’d read good test reports, and it seemed to tick the boxes as a ‘sensible’ machine (alas I'm far too old for power-ranger suits and 180bhp hyperbikes) that could be used for everyday transport. My impressions were probably muddied by my lack of miles and the fact that I’d forgotten earplugs, but it was a nice little bike- quick enough, comfortable and confidence inspiring.

One thing the experience brought back from my early biking days was how just big and intimidating big bikes can be to a novice, so when the sales guy asked if I’d like a quick spin on a nice clean R1200R that had just arrived I was in two minds – the thing looked as big as a bungalow! But within 100m of setting off it had shrunk under me; the ride (which as a concept doesn’t seem to figure at all in bike journalism) was great with good tight ‘body’ control and little wallow and float. I’ve read that the parralever suspension can make the steering feel detached, but after years of cars it felt pretty good to me.

Thinking about it, the lack of pitch and dive, that slight lack of feedback, and the feeling of solidity was pretty car-like. Perhaps why I loved it so much. In fact enough to turn around after only a couple of miles, head back to the dealership and risk asking the current Mrs SS7 (who was waiting impatiently for me to finish) if I could buy it. At just over £6k for a 2 1/2 year old 9k miles example it seemed like good value.

Needless to say, her reaction was as if I’d suggested selling the kids, but it at least put the idea on the battlefield!

Dear Marj....

From: Porkerr
Sent: 10 May 2009 11:49
Subject: 968 CS

Hi Shoestring,

I'm looking to buy a 968, preferably a CS if within budget (max 9k£).

Would you say a Sport makes a good drivers' car too or is the CS really a must? (the car will be tracked)

I assume the cars without M030 are beyond reach with my budget, is the 968 still worthwile without this option?

Is the car reasonably bulletproof? I'm still a student and could not afford huge bills on a regular basis.

I'm sorry to bother you with this, but you seemed to know a lot about the subject..

All the best,


Hi Frank,

Thanks for the email. Not sure about being an expert, but I've had a couple of 968's as well as other Porsches.

The 968 is a proper old skool Porsche, without many complex electronics, and of a quality and solidity most brick out-houses would struggle to match. There are some well known weaknesses (pinions, cam transfer chain, brake callipers), but nothing really too serious.

They are also old skool in the way they drive, the controls are heavy, the gearchange feels like it has real metal at the end of it, levels of NVH are high, and the ergonomics aren't that great. I had a BMW E30 M3 at the same time as my 968CS. The BMW was delicate - and you drove it with finger tips. The 968 felt twice as heavy, and you drove that with your shoulders.

But the 968 was still quick enough to mix it with most moderns, both on road and track, the balance and handling (on new suspension and top quality tyres) was as good as anything, and it was so, so rewarding to drive fast and hard. And in my humble opinion, it’s looks have worn better than anything else of the period - the 968 has really earned its reputation.

But the problem facing all 968's is that they are now at least 15 years old, and susceptible to old car woes. In addition, although they are £8k - £12k cars now, they were £30k - £40k new and still have that appetite for expensive routine maintenance. So standard maintenance items such as belts+rollers, brakes, clutch, servicing, can easily run to £1,000p.a. over a few years without anything serious going wrong. And I suspect under those shiny bodies, a few are now beginning to suffer from corrosion around the crucial sill area. TO give you some idea, I spent £8k on mine in 18 months, which included a replacement gearbox, fresh suspension, and a brake upgrade.

So if you are thinking of one of these you have to feel comfortable about the likely running costs, and focus on finding a good car, not chasing colours or specifications. The fabled M030 spec. is great on paper, but its now 15year old technology. Standard brakes are fine on the road and for light track use (the alloy 4 pot callipers and vented discs are way better than any contemporary BMW), £500 Koni sport dampers are a good value upgrade, or a £2k KW set-up way better than anything that came out of the factory in 1993.

Sport, ClubSport or Coupe; look for a cherished car, with a comprehensive history, get a recognised specialist to check it over, and set aside a couple of thousand for any problems.

If this sounds a risk too far, in your shoes I'd be looking for a 944S2 (85% of the car, 60% of the money, or a ’89 2.7l 944Lux (70% of the car, 40% of the money), focussing on driving and enjoying the peace of mind.

I hope this helps.


Foggo and Thomas

Until 2007 we lived in one of the three Foggo & Thomas houses built in Holyport, near Maidenhead in Berkshire. Its a rare example of a mid-20th century modernist house built in England, and once modernised was a wonderful family home.

I noticed recently that another is currently on the market:

From what I know of it, it hasn't been refreshed as sympathetically as the other two, and and I doubt if it’ll sell for the £700k asked in the current market.

The three Holyport houses were an early project for the pair of young architects who went on to become directors at Arup Associates, and later to establish their own successful practices.

Peter Foggo and David Thomas met whilst studying architecture in Liverpool in the 1950s. The pair of them came together over a passion for the work of Mies van der Rohe, (indeed they even once persuaded the legendary architect to travel to Merseyside to give a talk to students).

Its also very easy to see influences from the 'Case Study' houses built in the US in the 1940's and and early 50's. Foggo and Thomas designed the Holyport houses in their spare time as both were then working in other architectural offices. It is said that they came home from their day jobs and spent between 8pm and midnight working on other architectural projects for themselves, such as this one. Another house designed by Foggo & Thomas at around this time, 'Sorrel House' near us in Bosham Hoe, nr. Chichester, is now Grade II* listed.

Foggo & Thomas both went on to work with Ove Arup at Arup Associates. Foggo, who died in 1993, was largely responsible for the design of the Broadgate complex in the City of London. Foggo's colleagues at Arup Associates – Philip Dowson, Ronald Hobbs and Derek Sugden – wrote the following about Foggo in a 1994 edition of Building Design:

"His work is marked by its clarity and directness, which was also the nature of his character. The plans and the sections of his buildings were always ordered and structured, both in concept as well as practical reality. Rigour in analysis and rationalism in practice invested all that he did and is perhaps the hallmark of his work".

The Holyport houses are three of a number of ‘H-houses’ (so named because of the shape of their plans) designed by Foggo and Thomas. Another example is the well known 'Space House' in East Grinstead, which also recently changed hands after a major refurbishment.

In a 1994 edition of the Architects Journal, Barrie Evans wrote the following about the houses:

‘[The houses] comprise a series of braced steel trusses supported from eight stanchion columns, with timber-frame walls, floors and roof slung between. This is supplemented with large areas of plate glass. The 'H'-shaped plan is made up of a central service core, opening onto front and rear terraces, with living and bedroom wings flanking on either side. “


Thursday, 21 May 2009


Last Sunday, the SS7 clan went carbooting.

Our chosen venue was the Beaulieu autojumble, one of the biggest events of its type, and the main mission was too offload some of the motoring books I've accumulated over the years.

We also sold some pewter tankards and cups that we found in a run down old wooden bungalow we bought a few years ago. It was in a lovely location next the the river Thames near Windsor, and we planned to demolish it to build our first house. The bungalow had been owned by an old widow, Mrs Dimond, who had recently died, and was being sold by her estate.

We had been intrigued by some old trophies and a portrait we found amongst the other stuff that had been left once the family had picked through them. When we asked the relatives about them this is the story we were told;-

Mrs Dimond had made a good match to the heir to a hotel owning family in the early 30's. The couple lived comfortably, owning the little holiday bungalow in Windsor amongst other houses. They were able to travel extensively, we also found in the house a number of souvenirs bought home after trips to Africa and the middle east.

Edmund Dimund, was also something of a sportsman and a car enthusiast. In the mid-30's he entered several of the long-distant trials then fashionable. They were in some ways predecessors to modern rallies, but were altogether more gentle affairs, with transit sections that crossed the country between stages, usually a muddy climb up a steep hill.

Evidently, Edmund had been quite successful, and collected a dozen or so tankards, cups and awards, most engraved. Several have an 'MG' badge on then, and I still have a few, one, a small tray with some shot glasses, is engraved "To E.H Dimond, as a token of appreciation, from Lord Nuffield, October 1934".

However, Edmund had a gambling habit, and over the years he lost the hotels and most of his fortune. Eventually he and his wife were reduced to living in the bungalow in Windsor. Clearly a lost cause, he started taking his wife's possessions to pawn for money for his habit. One day after taking the last of her jewelry he put everything he had on a complicated horse racing accumulator. It failed on the last race, and Edmund facing disgrace and utter ruin, suffered a fatal heart attack. They found his body still in his car, outside the bookies where he placed his last bet.

His rather gloomy portrait still hangs in the hallway at Shoestring Towers. The family don't like it, but it reminds me how fate can tempt all of us.


Let it Shine..

Its probably fair to say the jury is still out on the contribution that hybrids are able make to CO2 savings, especially as the best only match the fuel economy figures of a modern European turbo diesel. And that's likely to remain the case until an affordable plug-in is market-ready.

On the petrol hybrid's side, there is a case to be made around the provision of diesel-like economy without the nasty particle and NOX levels produced by compression ignition engines. And frankly I'm tiring of the rumbly vibes that a tdi generates; there really is nothing like a good petrol engine for raising the hairs on the back of your neck.

Having said that I've always had a soft spot for Honda. Even post Soichiro they appear to have retained engineering integrity, and have developed a great track record for commercials (even though their actual track record has been frankly a bit of a disaster recently). After breaking the market with their pre-CDDti Insight - a 2 seater coupe - Honda went pretty quiet and the current RoW based Civic hybrid misses the mark by a long way.

The new model looks to be much more successful, its a a lower price-point compared to Toyota, and is clearly defined seperate model, not a modified Civic. At least, until the next one!

Here's the commercial for the new Honda Insight* - enjoy.

*PS Wonder if I can borrow one for a weekend?

Monday, 18 May 2009

Goodbye boy Golf, hello...

.... lady-boy Golf?

Its been all-change in the SS7 garage recently. The VR6 has gone to a discerning buyer, as has the Cayman. Each buyer had a bit of a profile; that of the VR6 was the MD of a Porsche specialist dealer and expensive-wax importer. He was looking for an excellent VR6 to use as a show-car to advertise their wares. Mine met his requirements precisely, and what's more, inspite of the pesimism of the naysayers on the VR6OC website, he paid good money.

The Cayman went to the engine builder at a well know British sportscar manufacturer (think 4 wheeled motorbikes.....) within 3 days of me putting it on the market. And the agreed price was around 60% of what I paid - a pretty good result in today's market; I'd had the car for 30 months and 16k miles.

So that reduced the fleet to 1. I believe there are some families who can manage with one; ours can't, so the search was on for a replacement.

Now the SS7 forecast for summer '09, is Long, Hot & Sunny. The nippers (SS7 jnr and SS3 1/2) have also now reached the stage where they can be trusted not to launch themselves out of a roofless vehicle, and Mrs E-H and I have fond memories of driving a soft-top in the South of France.

With that in mind it made sense to look for a convertible - one with 4 seats. Once Mrs SS7 and I had rejected several offerings on the grounds of image(her) running and purchase costs(me) the usual suspects remained; BMW 3series, Saab 9-3, Audi, and Golf.

The search took a couple of weeks, and included the usual experiences of dodgy private buyers, and dealer cars described as 'mint' when in reality they were worn out and shabby. Then one evening ebay turned up a low mileage 2 owner Golf Cabriolet within 10 miles of us. This was in black (not my no. 1 choice I'll admit) and was a 2.0l Avantage with rare aircon and electric everything.

I did get a chance for a quick look-over even though the car wasn't taxed. Compared to the other cars I'd looked at this was nice and clean and obviously had been cherished and garaged for most of its life. The sellers, (about to drop sprog #1) were genuine, albeit not car people.

That evening we 'won' the ebay auction, and although we were the highest bidder, the optimistic reserve wasn't reached. However a deal was reached by phone afterwards, and next day the car was ours.

So far, after an over-due service and the addition of 6 months Brown tax, its been a lot of fun!