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. “