All 12 entries tagged Automotive

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September 10, 2006

Tevez, Spyker, and Formula One

I was extremely pleased when today it was formally announced that the remains of the old Jordan F1 team has been sold to Spyker, a small Dutch supercar manufacturer. Well, kind of. It’s a pretty bizarre transaction. Allow me a brief history lesson to set the scene.

As many of you will know, two years ago Jordan was sold to Midland, an obscure, but seemingly very rich, Russian company. Restructured and rebranded under the unevocative moniker of MF1 (Midland Formula One? Could they have come up with a more uninspiring name even if they tried?), they moved swiftly towards the back of the grid. MF1 took even less time in losing the affections of Jordan’s formerly very strong fan base.

It quickly became apparant that Midland weren’t quite prepared for trying to build a decent racing team, and were only in it to try and gain some brand exposure. I still can’t tell you what Midland actually do, and I’ve never heard of them outside the context of Formula One, so that hasn’t really happened. No-one will really notice you anyway unless you’re any good (like, pretty much all the other teams on the grid) or really cool (like Super Aguri). MF1 have been rubbish. I think this largely stems from a lack of motivation and funding, from the top of the Midland board, to get results.

When Midland realised that running a Formula One team is actually quite hard, they began to look to sell MF1 for a profit. They had bought Jordan for a knock-down price, and to give Midland credit they did make the team finacially stable. Rumors of the names of potential buyers circulated, Midland made token attempts at pretending to want to be staying in F1 for the long term, and life went on.

Stepping back a bit further in time to October 2000, the Birmingham Motor Show saw the world debut of the Spyker C8 Spyder. Having orginally ceased trading in 1925, the rebirth of Spyker was not one that many people really cared about, but the astonishing elegance of the C8 Spyder certainly grabbed attention. The car was full of gorgeous quirks, such as the gaping radiatior grill, the handbrake positioned in the passenger footwell, and the lush interior, sprinkled with toggle switches. Plus, and this is probably the most important factor, ‘Spyker’ is a really cool word.

C12 LaTurbie

Just for the record, this isn’t the C8 Spyder, but the most recent version of that model, the C12 LaTurbie.

The last ten years or so has seen many tiny startup supercar manufacturers arrive in a brief blaze of publicity, only to vanish into obscurity (and liquidation) in less time that it takes their products to do the 0-60 run. That’s not long at all. I expected Spyker to go the same way, but I’m glad to say that they quickly found their place in the market, and have recorded impressive growth since. However, they remain tiny in comparison to the traditional supercar names of Ferrari, Lamborghini and even Pagani.

This brings us back to the present moment. Rumors recently emerged that this tiny supercar manufacturer would be buying MF1. In a similar manner to the Tevez and Maschareno affair, this didn’t quite seem to make sense. Why would they do it? Where does the money come from? There are some pretty hefty manufacturers thinking about getting into F1, and plenty of existing teams are keen to start running their own ‘B-teams’. The easiest way to do this is by buying another team. Spyker are not one of these hefty manufacturers, and they don’t need to get into F1 to improve the quality of their business. Consequently the only reason that I think they’ve got into F1 is sheer enthusiasm. Evidence of this, and the source of the money, is provided by looking at the latest member of the Spkyer board.

Michiel Mol has been involved in Formula One for many number of years as a sponsor, largely through his Dutch media group Lost Boys. I don’t know much about Lost Boys, except that their simple typed logo looks insanely cool on racing overalls. They’ve backed a variety of teams and drivers, most notably Jos Verstappen and Arrows. Now, in a similar manner to Dietrich Mateschitz and Red Bull, Mol has decided to take an active role in F1 by buying into it, providing some major finance for Spyker’s deal.

I also suspect that Mol approached Spyker with the idea first, but no matter. Either way he’s helped to introduce a wonderful new name into Formula One, one that’s very far removed from the mainstream names traditionally associated with the sport. BMW, Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, Renault, and…Spyker? Cool. I think having the Spyker banner above the door will be a big help in transforming MF1 into a remotivated, interesting race team, and one that will be worth following. I hope they swiftly move to clear out all the lingering remains of MF1, and plaster the car in as many Spyker logos as they possibly can, as soon as possible.

They do, however, need to be careful to maintain the mystique surrounding the brand. It’s the mystique of the product that really bring in Spyker’s clients, so they definately do not need the mass-market appeal that comes with being a manufacturer in Formula One. If they can do that, and actually turn out a performance, then we have an excellent new team in the sport.

And in other news…the most successful racing driver of all time announced his retirement today…


August 27, 2006

Hands on with the Golf GTI

Yesterday I continued my quest for a new car by checking out the VW Golf. I walked into the local dealership and asked about the GTI, which is towards the top of my budget. The dealer responded by offering to let me try the GTI, and also recommended the lesser GT TSI 170 and GT TDI models, which are usefully cheaper than the GTI. I had never considered these other models, since I'd like something with a bit of sparkle, but the dealer's recommendations were surprisingly wise…and full of Q–car appeal.

First car I took for a run out was the GT TSI 170. The ‘TSI’ signifies that the car has a clever 'twin–charged' 1.4ltr petrol engine. Sounds weedy, but the 'twin–charged' bit means that the engine has a turbo– and super–charger, which work in conjunction to supposedly give the performance of a normal, naturally–aspirated 2.3ltr engine. And, I was pleased to find that it most certainly did have that sort of performance. The TSI 170 pulled like a train throughout the rev range, overtaking traffic was easy peasy, and it was super–smooth along the motorway. I think it cruised at 70mph at some ridiculously low rpm, something like 2,200rpm, so it was very quiet indeed. Considering the red line is a touch over 6,000rpm, and it was hushed throughout the rev range, it's fair to say that long–distance high–speed cruising in this car would be a very pleasant experience.

It was extremely impressive, and to be honest, had the GTI been as fast as the surprisingly rapid GT 170 was, then I would have been far from disappointed. However, the GTI was much faster. Indeed, it was so capable, that driving at legal speeds on the motorway demanded more attention than hitting the sorts of speeds that have Daily Mail readers wetting themselves. The GTI isn’t just about straight–line speeds, though; it can most certainly handle the twisty stuff.

The dealer gave me a good demo of this when we left the forecourt, with him driving. He started telling me about the ESP system, which applies the brakes on each wheel individually to alter the attitude of the car; and how good it was for safety, performance, and the like. He then asked if I was a nervous passenger, to which I replied no. He then launched into a series of single–handed four–wheel drifts around one of the large roundabouts on the edge of town, whilst telling me about how the in–car computer takes care of the handling and all that gumpf. It was easy. And fast. I didn’t try anything quite that extreme when I got behind the wheel, but I could certainly see what he was on about. Amazing stuff.

However, the GTI was just too amazing for me; it was just too easy to travel at really rapid speeds. This is good, but as I like to enjoy the process of driving – I want to have to work to make a good pace. In a GTI, to feel like you're going fast, you actually have to be going seriously fast. You will have lots of fun whilst doing it, though. But since I'm stepping up from the family 306, which may as well be a wind–up toy car compared to the GTI, I can get just as much of a kick, at much more legal speeds, in a less capable car. I could always turn off the ESP to liven things up, but when there’s the technology at your disposal, it strikes me as being careless to not take advantage of it ;)

Finally we finished by trying the GT TDI. Since the 306 is a diesel, I have developed a love of low–down torque, so I had to try it to see whether it suited my driving style better. To be honest, it didn't really. It did perform extremely well, pretty much the same as the TSI 170, and the top end of the engine was amazing. However, I don't think I've ever heard such an unpleasant–sounding diesel. When you consider it's also more expensive than the TSI 170, I decided not to add it to the shortlist.

All three Golfs were fantastic. They were spacious, practical, and nicely equipped. They look ok, and in a stereotypically German manner, were full of clever little touches. I suspect that I would also find it too easy in the TSI 170 to make a rapid pace, as with the GTI. I might go back later to try the lesser TSI 140, which might be weedy enough to make driving, in a legal fashion, a worthwhile experience.

However, I did try a car today that did a much better job of satisfying that particular quality, with quite some style, and I may record my thoughts on it later in the week. I'll give you a clue though…it's French, it's small, and it’s probably on Fernando Alonso’s company car list :D


August 21, 2006

Brabus'd

Having reached the stage in life where I no longer have to live on a student's budget, I'm now in the market for getting myself a nice new set of wheels. As in, an entire new car, not just a set of nice alloys. So this morning I went down to Portsmouth to check out some motors. I'd drawn up a brief shortlist, mostly consisting of products from VW Group manufacturers.

First up on the list from the VW Group was the Seat Leon FR. It looks good on the outside, and not too bad on the inside, except for the atrocious 'ergonomic' gearstick. It looks like a really cheap PC gaming joystick, but worse. Unfortunately the dealer didn't have an FR for me to test, so I can only assume the gearstick works better when you're on the move. I'll go back later for a test drive.

Then whilst on my way to see the Audi dealer, I saw a Smart Roadster–Coupe Brabus on a DaimlerChrysler dealership's forecourt. So I went in, took a look, and then took it out for a drive round Portsmouth with the very helpful dealer in the passenger seat. I like the way the car looks…it's got plenty of presence, despite being tiny. However, being tiny means that it will be great for the cross–town commute in the morning to get the train into London, with some respectable fuel consumption from the miniscule engine.

The driving experience in this Smart is also great. All the car journalists go on and on about how it feels like a miniature supercar, with the pops and whistles from the turbo, and a surprisingly aggressive growl from the three–cylinder engine. And, from my brief experience, those journalists were right; it sounds wonderful. The suspension also felt spot on, it was nice and firm but still comfortable, which is how I like it.

It wasn't all supercar–sweetness though, the semi–automatic gearbox is awful. The dealer said that with time, you can adjust your driving style to help smooth the gearchanges; but I think we can all agree that shouldn't have to be the case. Under full acceleration (which by Porsche standards is admittedly sluggish, but you'll never ever have so much fun going so slowly in a road car) you could feel the speed ebbing away whilst the gearbox pondered over the next gear change. It would have been quicker to get a spanner out and physically moved the gear selector thingy in the gearbox yourself.

In 'manual' mode, where you change gear using some nice paddles on the steering wheel, or pushing the gearstick itself, the situation wasn't much better. Although the changes did seem quicker (the dealer pointed out that you're more likely to think that a gearchange is quicker in manual mode, because you know when you've requested the gearchange), there was still too much delay. And I'm sure that the gearbox changed up a gear by itself at one point when I clattered into the rev limiter…which is a reasonable thing to do, but nowhere near 'manual' enough for my liking. And to add to the gearbox issues, I also felt that the power steering was too over–assisted, which could be a problem when blasting down my favourite backroad.

It is a great car, with some brilliant touches, but it's also flawed. I could also do with some rear seats…but, it's a Brabus , so I'd like to think I could overlook that. Also, when the asking price for this particular ex–demo car is almost £15k, that doesn't leave me much money to get a second car for transporting thing like friends around. I could get a well used E39 M5 for £15k…now there's a thought…

Next, I moved onto the Audi dealer. The discontinued Audi A2 is a car built with an emphasis on efficiency in a similar manner to that of the Smart. They had a used A2 in stock which I took a look at, and it was nice enough inside. The cabin was nice and airy, thanks to a massive sunroof, and it felt like a 'proper' car, which was a nice surprise. However, from the outside, it does look like a toy car, which quickly killed my interest.

The Audi is not the only Audi on the shortlist. I then moved onto the A4 Avant, which I think is a wonderful looking car. It’s got a lovely shape to it, I quite like the massive grill, and it was extremely impressive inside. Oddly, when sat in the back it felt very cramped, but it was very comfortable. The cabin also lacked that 'certain something', that indescribable factor that makes a car feel just right. I couldn't say why, but it didn't feel very welcoming. Which is something it shared in common with this particular Audi dealer, who seemed very keen to not entertain my mildly over–optimistic desire to purchase one of his products :D

Finally I went to the BMW dealer over the road, to explore a natural A4 Avant rival…the 3–series Touring. Of course, I’m not looking for one of the new, extremely ugly 3–series; but rather one of the previous–generation models. Happily the 3–series cabin did have that 'certain something', even though, it lacked the all of the A4’s buttons and switches, which is something I do like. The dealer was also a world apart from his Audi counterpart, and was very keen to help me identify the right spec model, which he did. But, as good as the 3–series is, I just don’t think I’m a 3–series person. It’s too common.

So my search for a new car will go on for a while yet. However, whilst I was driving home in the family 306, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it didn't feel like a piece of tat, considering that I'd taken a good look round some pretty pleasant cars today. The handling was nice, the engine pulled well, the cabin was light and airy….maybe a 306 GTI–6 would do the job, and that would be considerably cheaper than one of these German automobiles. But, perhaps, not quite as satisfying.


August 06, 2006

Enjoy it while it lasts

I never thought we would ever see this sight.

Jenson deserved the victory today, everything fell into place for him and he simply drove the best race. By and large he kept his nose clean, ran an excellent strategy, and managed to stay calm when the win was still within touching distance. He wouldn't have been the first racing driver to throw it into the wall, when their first race victory is within touching distance.

I'll be interested to see if this does have a noticable effect on him, and the team, in the next few races, as the media seems to think it will. Somehow I don't think the 'Mika Hakkinen phenomenon' will repeat itself for Jense, and I hope he doesn't come back down to earth with too much of a bang in Turkey. Surely a return to mediocrity is inevitable though…

Oh yeah, and was I the only one who almost collapsed with disgust at the sickening commentary from Allen and Davidson when Jense crossed the line :–D!?


July 08, 2006

2006 Goodwood Festival of Speed, Day Two

Follow-up to 2006 Goodwood Festival of Speed, Day One from Semi-Perfectionism

Mark Webber was walking around today wearing the classic Top Gear t–shirt saying, "I AM THE STIG". What a legend :D

One of these was buzzing around as well.

GR4


July 07, 2006

2006 Goodwood Festival of Speed, Day One

I can't let the first day of Goodwood pass without a mention in the blogosphere, so I leave you with this until I can be bothered to write something a bit more descriptive. They do say that a picture speaks a thousand words, so I guess this will be enough.

FXX Programme


May 03, 2006

Don't You Love It When…evo Makes Your Day

Whilst I was waiting for the people in front of me in the Tescos queue to finish fiddling around with their wallets, the cashier lady randomly picked up the copy of evo that I had put on the conveyor belt, and had a look at the cover. This edition is adorned with a photo of the Porsche 997 GT3.

"Is that the new Porsche?", she said. Usually this is a cue for some tedious small talk about cars, but much to my suprise, this was not the case. She told me that she thought the old Porkers were much better looking, and that she'd prefer an XK…can of worms opened, we continued chatting whilst I packed up my stuff. Very agreeable.

However, when she ran evo through the barcode scanner, it didn't register. It didn't register when she manually typed in the barcode either. So she called over one of her supervisors, who also couldn't make it register either. They also couldn't find the price on the front cover.

evo - the ultimate automotive journal

"Do you buy this often?" she asked. "How much is it normally?". I have no idea, so I guessed. £3.90. She decided to put the price in manually. "Ok, we'll put it through for a couple of quid". A couple in this case was 2. £2 for a copy of evo!!! It wasn't until the transaction was going through that we noticed that the price was actually written underneath the barcode in tiny writing…£4. I was extremely pleased…and I've still not even read any of it.

The moral of the story is, go down to Tescos now, buy evo, hope that the barcode machine still doesn't recognise it, and drive for a bargain ;)


April 30, 2006

Seven–Car Dream Garage: The 911

Follow-up to A Dilemma from Semi-Perfectionism

After arriving home a while ago after another marathon library sesh, filling my head with the intricacies of group theory and topology, going through a million past papers and the like, I came home, turned on the PC and did the usual check of the internet to see if anything interesting had gone on in the world that day. Berlusconi still not accepting defeat? Bird flu may or may not be here? Pah...these all paled in the face of the first signs that Porsche are well and truly underway with the development of the new 911 GT2 and GT3 RS :–D. After a day of work, it was nice to have such a stark reminder of what's it all in aid of…get a good degree, get a highly lucrative job, and buy one of these. But, given the choice, would I really buy one of these for the dream garage?

It goes without saying that no decent car collection worthy of the name is complete without a 911 in there somewhere. Not only is it one of the best all–round cars that there has ever been, it is also well suited to being used as an everyday runaround. Indeed, since it’s the flagship product of what is essentially a manufacturer of mainstream supercars, if it gets bashed around in the daily commute, then that’s no problem. However, if a cyclist knocks off the wing mirror of your Pagani Zonda in the morning rush, then not only has a work of art been desecrated, you’ll have to deal with Italian bureaucracy to get it fixed. Rather you than me…

However, it would be careless to limit my selection of 911 candidates to this pair. The previous generation 911, known by geeks as the 996, was without doubt the class–leading product of the period. It spawned some truly epic 911 derivatives as well; in particular the Turbo and GT3 RS. Although this pair were, technically, inferior to the 996 Turbo S and GT2 models, with the GT2 being the ultimate version of the 996, they still make it onto the shortlist. For unquantifiable reasons, the Turbo S and GT2 leave me cold, I have no idea why, and hence they don’t make the cut.

I shall also, perhaps controversially, rule out all of the pre–996 911s…simply because I don't like them; again for no real reason. The 996 was the 911 of my youth, so in the same way that people's favourite Bond is usually the first Bond you saw (although Brosnan is my favourite, which kind of screws that theory), the 996 is what I consider to be the benchmark 911. I have some friends who I'm fairly sure would happily murder anyone who would even dare to suggest that the 'old' 911s are a bit pants; but happily my life has been spared on many occassions by the fact that modern society would consider that to be a bit of a social faux pas

Moving back to the future, there are two more candidates. These are the recently unveiled Turbo and GT3 versions of the latest 997–generation 911, both of which move the game on considerably from their 996–generation predecessors. So, the candidates, in chronological order of release:

911 (996) Turbo
This monster was the first (and only, alas) 911 that I've had the pleasure of driving. Shortly after turning 18, I was fortunate enough to see 130mph whilst at the wheel of one these…which is a bit limp considering I was driving round Thruxton at the time, the fastest circuit in the country :D. However, it still made an impression; you've got to love a car with 70mph marked not even 30 degrees from the bottom of the speedo. I was never a fan of the 911 up until the point that I sat in it for the first time. I was under the impression that its German teutonic–ness made it a bit too clinical. On the contrary. That's what I love about it…the teutonic–ness means that this car is about delivering the goods with no fuss, none of this exposed metal gearshift gate and offset pedal–box rubbish. Consequently I almost feel obliged to let the 996 Turbo into my dream garage, and with them being total bargains on the used market, there's no reason not to have one.

996 Turbo

911 (996) GT3RS
This is a proper car. If it wasn’t brilliant, then you know Porsche wouldn’t have gotten away with that outlandish sticker/paint job. And you didn't think that I'd have a rubbish car in my blog banner, did you :–p!? They were/are very rare, I think only 25 made it into the UK for every year it was on sale, and indeed, they appreciated nicely until the 996 was killed off. However, they were most noted for being brilliant on the track…a bit twitchy, probably a bit rubbish on the road, but still…just look at the paintjob. And the wheels…the wheels are nice.

996 GT3 RS

911 (997) Turbo
The 996 Turbo was still top of its game when the 996 was killed off, so Porsche can't fail to make the 997 version into a star performer. I'll be astonished if it's not once again the benchmark car for sub–£100,000 Grand Tourers. The 2+2 seating configuration means you can sling the kids in the rear until you've saved enough pennies for a Cayenne (err…hopefully by then the Panamera will be in the dealership, although a Turbo S would suffice…), and lots of clever tricks in the engine department mean you'll have no trouble in provoking motion sickness. However, the 997 Turbo looks a bit…fussy. Nice details round the front, but it doesn't seem cohesive. Hmm.

997 Turbo

911 (997) GT3
Although down on power compared to the Turbo, the GT3 has its heart set on being a track hero. First reports from the motoring press claim that the 997 GT3 is even better to drive on track than the 996 GT3 RS, which is an excellent start. Even better news is that is it's also apparently considerably better to drive on the road as well…maybe sufficiently so for it to be an everyday car. It looks better than the 997 Turbo too…but, if I had one of these…would I feel robbed, knowing that, ultimately, my 911 isn't the mightiest 911 of them all?

997 GT3

On a slight tangent, the clever Porsche 'Origin Motorsport ' web special for the GT3 is an example of internet advertising at its best. It shows you everything you want to see, and tells you everything you need to know, without upsetting the ASA. Apparantly they get a bit bitchy about TV advertisers even hinting that their cars could possibly be used as a tool for minor entertainment on the road, so this nicely sidesteps that problem. And the legendary configurator has got to be up there with the greatest procrastination tools of all time…well worth a gander.

911 (997) GT3RS
What can be said about this. It's like a GT3++. Since the car has only recently hit the test tracks, there's not much to comment on apart from the mere prospect of the car. If it can improve on the GT3 without being excessively compromised, which is extremely unlikely, then it's a strong choice. And just look at the rear wing…wow. I cannot recall another production car this side of a Subaru Impreza with such a big, aerodynamcially–useful wing as this.

997 GT3RS

911 (997) GT2
evo ran a headline a while back asking whether the 996–generation GT2 was 'the last scary 911', a bit of a widowmaker that would happily throw you into the scenery if you got a bit carried away. This contrasts with most contemporary performance cars, which are engineered to be able to save an overenthusiastic driver from their own stupidity. I'd be surprised if the 997 GT2 keeps that violent reputation, considering it's supposed to be good for at least 200mph (and, bizarrely, becoming the first production 911 to be able to do that), which will make it just as quick, on paper at least, as a Carrera GT. Consequently I imagine that Porsche will make the 997 GT2 a bit more benign that it's predecessor, else the potential for some severe carnage is quite plentiful. This is good, since I don't really like the prospect of facing death every time I go out in the car to purchase some milk. However I do like the prospect of being able to go out in the car to purchase some milk from a newsagents 100 miles away, and still be able to return within the hour (not that I can officially condone that sort of reprehensible behaviour) :–D

997 GT2

Meh. Face it, if you had any of these cars, you’d be extremely pleased unless you were an ardent environmentalist/communist–type person. I guess we can rule out the 997 GT3…why settle for that if the GT3RS is up to scratch? Similarly for the 997 Turbo. Provided the technically superior 997 GT2, which is based on the Turbo, isn’t liable to kill you, then you’d take the GT2.

So we now have the 996 Turbo, 996 GT3 RS, 997 GT3RS and 997 GT2. Since the latter two cars haven’t even been released yet, I think that for now, the 996 Turbo gets the nod. Although in this kind of situation there’s the potential for the grass to always be greener on the other side, if you did see a GT3 RS coming up in the rear–view mirror of your Turbo and started to feel a bit jealous, you could always rest safe in the knowledge that given a nice bit of disused runway, you could comfortably out–accelerate it all day long. Which, I believe, is a fact.

However, there would be no harm in putting your name down on the list for a GT2 whilst we wait for Porsche to put it into production ;)


March 30, 2006

Am I going insane?

I turned down the opportunity to go to Silverstone today.

Today, a mate of mine, one of the most skilled drivers that I know, is giving passenger rides round the circuit, in his car.

He has an Ariel Atom 300.

Instead, I'm spending the day teaching myself topology and group theory.

If I don't get a First, it won't be through lack of dedication.

Call the doctor.


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