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.