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.