Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Coming to a website near you....

So the company I’ve slaved long and hard for through thick, thin, 6 years, and 11 changes of manager decided they could do without my services for the duration of the recession.

Lovely people, but at least they assuaged their corporate consciences by sending me a fat cheque. Of course, this will require a rationalisation of the fleet.

The regular reader may remember I've got a late model (1998) Golf VR6 Highline with like-new purple leather (those crazy Germans....), aircon, and only 34k miles.

The VR6 was never really intended to be a back-roads hero in the mk 2 Gti mould. Its a great A road and M'Way (autobahn?) q-car that's deceptively fast, has a lovely smooth 6-pot motor, weighs only 1250kgs, and is sensible money to buy and run.

It has very long gearing (>100mph in 3rd and geared for 160mph in top), and the engine only comes good at 3500rpm,. As a result mid-range isn't as grunty as you might expect, but I get 30-35mpg with reasonably fortissimo usage - although admittedly I don't do a lot of town driving. Brakes are fine for road use (inc ABS), the front discs taking up all the space inside a 15" wheel.

Mine came with utterly shagged dampers, even with the low miles – 30k at that point. They were ineffective to the point of making me feel seasick, let alone the effect on braking as the wheels flapped in the air after hitting any bump. I replaced these with std spec Bilstein dampers and the only thing that came into focus were those luke-warm contemporary road tests. The ride was still horrible– it gave an impression of uncontrolled weight over the front wheels, float, wallow and poor body control and it crashed against the bumpstops on lateral ridges.

So I bit the bullet and had £700 worth of Bilstein B12 suspension and bushes fitted by those wonderful people at G-Werks in Littlehampton. It transformed the car. It'll never be a one of the great chassis, but the urgent howl of the narrow angle V6 at 6000rpm is plenty of compensation.

However, two cars aren’t going to wash right now, so sadly the Golf is going to have to go. A couple of minor tweaks this week and expect to see it in the For Sale boards of Pistonheads, Edition38 and VR6OC. Look for the most expensive vr6 there…..

Right now the Cayman stays, but there is an overwhelming argument for having a car with at least +2 rear seats. Do I have a 993 itch to scratch?

PS Classic and Sports Car tipped the vr6 as a future classic last month

Two Tribes

Goodwood breakfasts start this Sunday, a pleasant harbinger of the summer to come. The theme, apparently, is ‘Mini Mayhem’. Power to the people and all that, certainly it has the potential to attract a different sort of clientele from ‘Ferrari 250 Competition cars’ or ‘Bentley – The WO years’.

I predict lots of modded Polo’s and Jap stuffs stuff bringing it with it the sniff of egalitarianism and the welcome sight of a tweeded old boy chatting to a youth clad in JB Sport’s finest next to the open bonnet of a superbly modified VW.


My Greatest Motoring Moments

1/ Driving a girlfriend's Alfasud. All of 1200cc, but a pure driving experience that a series of MGB's had never provided

3/ Taking my Escort RS turbo company car to Austria skiing, and hooning up and down some valley roads just for the hell of it. Until the native's complained. Oh, and winding the speedo past 140 and off the clock on the way home!

3/Borrowing the old man's Porsche 924 and emptying 2 tanks of fuel driving sideways around Oxfordshire in the pouring rain. Brought up on fwd, I hadn't really known what steering feel meant until then.

4/Hungover and knackered when I collect my 911/964 from the dealer in Hamburg. Twenty minutes later I was doing 165mph on the autobahn, hangover a distance memory and feeling more alive than I had done for months. I laughed all the way through Belgium.

Its Official

Reading [a major UK based internet car forum, lets call it Petrolheads] you’d not been blamed for forming the impression that every Official Porsche dealer was exclusively staffed by crooks solely employed for the purpose of swindling any idiot fool enough to enter the premises. Not only that, but their products are over-priced tat that self-combust and disintegrate no sooner than the stingy warranty expires.

I beg to differ. Before Christmas I took my Cayman for its first service at AFN Guildford. They invited me to drink their coffee and were happy for me to use their showroom as an office for a couple of hours while I waited for a lift. The staff were friendly and courteous, and in some cases very easy on the eye.

They cleaned the car's interior (I asked them not to do the bodywork) and threw in a bottle of screen-wash. Once the service was completed, I was advised that brakes had 6-8k miles in, and so did the tyres but that was perfectly normal and didn't need changing now. They noticed that one horn wasn't working, and removed the front PU to fix it under warranty. While the PU was off, they cleared out the leaves from the radiators and warned me to keep an eye on them. I paid the fixed amount.

After filling up with Shell SUL, I took the long way the 60 miles home, south through Surrey into West Sussex. The roads were deserted, the car was superb, with plenty of performance for the high speed downland roads, and the drive was utterly memorable.

I drive an old Golf during the week, and every time I get back into the Cayman its like getting into a GT3. It also does an easy 30mpg, hasn't cost me a penny in repairs, and I still turn around and look at it every time I get out and walk away.

Its easily the best car I've ever owned The List and I've thoroughly enjoyed every one of the 16k miles so far. Right now I'm planning a raid for next summer to the new museum in Stuttgart.

Porsche have produced a great ownership proposition, internet knockers can't ruin that experience for me.


Old Spanky

Incredibly, Max Mosley is making noises about staying on for a further term as head of the FIA. Apparently, the job is too big for any other mere mortal.

This, of course, is the man who:

- Insisted that Indy '05 be run as a total farce, when it so easily could have been remedied. This caused the world's biggest car market to drop out of Formula One.

- Raised the costs of F1 by imposing a mandatory switch to V8s. Did he really believe that the great expense of Formula One was because they were using too many pistons?

- Chased away one of the sport's most committed and competitive sponsors: Michelin

- Has not said one word to try to keep the sport in its traditional venues, which are still amongst its biggest markets: France, US, Canada, Italy, Germany, and instead has smiled away as races were taken to such mass-car-buying hotspots as Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Singapore.

- Allowed his pal Bernie to cash out and put the commercial rights in the hands of marginal operators with no motor sport experience or commitment. Then, when they went bust, he allowed that to happen a second time! This may, or may not have something to do with the multi-million dollar payment Max received from Bernie a few years ago.

- Brought the sport into disrepute through a despicable personal attack on Jackie Stewart, one of the sports greatest ambassadors, a survivor of an age when 300 drivers died, and a 3 times world champion.

- And last - but not least - disgraced himself and brought deep embarrassment to the sport through his personal debauchery. And when he was found out, instead of quietly stepping aside, he undertook a totally selfish, highly visible campaign to cling to his job - despite many calls for him to resign, including one from HONDA - which induced all of the sport's investors to ask whether they wanted to be associated with an organisation headed by such a dubious, tainted character.

What a great guy.



Why is it that today's cars, which bear almost no relation to those built a century ago in dawn of motoring, still share one single component; a seat covered in dead animal?

Don’t get me wrong, dead animals have their place; its just that covering car seats isn’t one of them.

The stuff is freezing cold in the winter, likely to give you 1st degree burns on a hot day, and is slippery all the year around. It was originally used because cars usually didn’t have roofs, and needed a seat covering that would stand up to the elements. By the time cars had roofs, we’d all moved on. Take a look in the back seats (where the owners sat) of an upmarket saloon from the 20’s and you’ll find rich fabrics; the skin was reserved for the paid help who did the driving.

I appreciate that previous attempts to find a replacements for the stuff haven’t been all that successful; the 50s gave us vinyl, and the 60’s leatherette. Those efforts simply recreated the weak points of cow skin, and removed the one good point; the nice smell. A 70’s velour in beige might not have been very much better, but at least you didn’t skid across it before hitting the (vinyl) door trim when engage in any enthusiastic cornering.

The motor industry is capable of building vehicles with complex hybrid drive trains and with carbon chassis. My nearest branch of Millets is crammed with high tech fabric clothing, surely, a seat fabric that cools or heats as required, feels good to the touch, and grips you comfortably is not beyond their ability?