Monday, 31 December 2007

2008 Wish list – a few more things

Time to finish the New Year wish list with a few final ideas:

Visit the Geneva Motor Show – The Geneva show is possibly the most prestigious motor show and with cheap flights isn’t as expensive to go as you might think. If this wish doesn’t come true I have only myself to blame. Need to get my skates on and book.

Drive more cars – At the start of each year I wonder what I am going to drive. Keeping up with the latest and best new cars is a difficult business – with any luck I’ll manage to borrow some press cars in 2008. I’d like to have a go in the Fiat 500 and the Renault Laguna coupé with 4WS (although that might be due in 2009).

Get published more often – it is a bit of a chicken and egg situation but hopefully the more cars I can drive the more saleable features I’ll generate and the more stories I can get in print the more likely it is I’ll be able to borrow press cars from the manufacturers.

Drive a Bristol up the Fosse Way – don’t know how likely this is but when I drove up the Fosse a couple of months back I wondered how nice it would be to do the journey in a decent car. I could practically hear the thrum of the Bristol’s BMW-derived 6-cylinder engine and see the view over the curvaceous bonnet. Or would I prefer the hushed progress and generous view from a later V8 Bristol? Better try both I think.

All that remains is to wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

After the journey

The BX and I survived the 300 mile round trip to see my family over Christmas. It was not, by any stretch of the imagination a pleasant journey but it was an instructive one. The backache that sets in after 15 minutes gets no worse and is soon forgotten at the end of the journey. The engine feels perfectly happy at 70mph and even for occasional stretches at 80; Citroën claimed the BX14 could do 100mph and it feels like it still could. The vibrations through the steering past 80 were enough to put me off trying; at some point I must get the front wheels balanced. Cruising at 70-80 is also an expensive business as I estimate the fuel consumption is no better than 32mpg at those speeds, staying between 60 and 70 is much more economical but does increase journey times. I also checked the speedo accuracy against the emergency telephones (roughly 1 mile apart) and at 60 I would estimate the speedo at about 5% fast. On the homeward leg of the journey I cot caught in a traffic jam and I discovered that my car does not like extended periods of ticking over and crawling along. The idle speed starts to fluctuate and pulling away feels erratic. When I opened the driver’s window I could smell petrol so I wonder if the carburettor needs adjustment.

Monday, 24 December 2007

The long road ahead

I’m feeling a little apprehensive, I’m about to do a long journey in my Citroën BX – the first really long journey since I bought the car. I know it’ll happily go at motorway speeds but it sounds a little frantic. I’ve also discovered that, without the height adjustment of my old BX, the driving position is less than comfortable. If I end up with a chronic headache and backache at least I’ll know why.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

It is good to be back in the driving seat

At last my car is fixed. It is a salutary experience to go without the use of a car for an extended period. Nothing quite prepares you for the sheer inconvenience of depending on friends and on public transport. Only when I am without a car do I truly appreciate the freedom the car brings. When I am reunited with my car I remember why I find it so irritating to be told that the car is a bad thing. Maybe in a large city car-free life is possible but living in a village and working in a small town it is very difficult. Shopping posed the greatest difficulty, the local shop is limited in what it sells and while there is a good butcher and a greengrocer the queues on a Saturday morning are quite off-putting. You can’t go shopping before work because the bus leaves before anything is open and the shops close before the bus brings you back. And if you miss the bus it is an hour to wait for the next one.

Having the car seen to by a professional mechanic (and PGS in Warwick are very professional in the way they work) also highlighted a few things that I will need to attend to in due course. The exhaust system is showing its age here and there, as you would expect given a past history of short journeys; the battery might be on its last legs; the oil needs changing as will the cam belt. I would add to that list a desire to get the suspension geometry checked (there is evidence of uneven tyre wear), the wheels might need balancing and I need a new steering wheel as the one on the car is breaking up. At least with the tyre pressures set correctly the steering has lost some of its weight and the wobble is reduced.

It was tempting to go for a long drive but there will be plenty of opportunities for lengthy journeys in the next week.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Number crunching

The British digital television channel “Dave” shows, amongst other things, repeats of the BBC’s motoring program Top Gear. I was watching one of the repeats today, the episode where a Bugatti Veyron and a Cesna light aircraft race across Europe. The Veyron has a power gauge to show how much power is being used at any given point. The presenter observed that at 80mph the Veyron needed only 50 of the 1,000 or so bhp to move it along.

It made me think; 50bhp isn’t a huge amount of power but is it more or less than ordinary cars need for a typical motorway cruise?

Exact figures are hard to come by but I looked at a selection of cars with about 50bhp and also with top speed around 80mph. The Chevrolet Matiz has 50bhp and can do 90mph; the Fiat Panda 1.1 has 54bhp and can do 93mph. You have to go back many years to find cars with top speeds in the 80mph range. In 1966 a Ford Cortina needed 63bhp to do 82mph; by 1970 a Hillman Avenger could manage 81mph on 53bhp although the Citroen GS looks like it was ahead of its time by doing 93mph on 55bhp.

I’m not sure if this proves anything except that it takes less power than you’d think to drive at motorway speed.

Friday, 14 December 2007

2008 Wish list part 2

No Gears

With the end of the year rapidly approaching you can be sure that lots of retrospective views of 2007 are being readied for publication. Rather than look back (which I will do) I would rather look forward and think about some of the cars I’d like to drive in the next year.

Once upon a time I owned a Ford Granada with an old-fashioned 3-speed automatic, which worked well but could have used another ratio. At the other extreme I once borrowed a Land Rover Defender which had ten possible gear ratios by combining a 5 speed gearbox with a low-ratio transfer box. On the road such low gearing was no use but on the whole you can never have too many gears. The greater number of gears the easier it is to keep the engine working either at speeds that offer the best mix of performance and economy (or the best of either if you prefer).

There comes a point where increasing the number of fixed gear ratios becomes impractical. Some Mercedes have 7-speed autos (and they seem to work well) while Lexus have an 8-speed transmission in the LS-series but how far can this strategy go? There must come a point where either the Van-Doorne or Torotrak transmissions, with steplessly variable gear ratios between fixed limits, become a smarter choice.

The logic behind such transmissions is persuasive, the engine turns at a steady speed and the transmission adjusts the ratio as the car accelerates. Eventually the transmission finds a point of equilibrium where the power supplied by the engine is matched by the power necessary to maintain a steady speed. At anything less than top speed the transmission will adjust so that the engine is turning as slowly as possible in order to maintain a steady cruising speed. Steady speeds are not really what I am interested in; I want to know how the transmissions cope with transitions, from cruising speed to acceleration, stopping and starting. A transmission without fixed ratio steps also promises to be an interesting aural experience; it is the one thing that nearly everyone dislikes about stepless transmissions and I want to see how I feel about it.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Heroes and Villains 2 Peugeot 406 V6 coupé

Looking back over cars that have made an impression, whether good or bad. Some cars have lived up to my expectations, some cars have disappointed. A good reputation or a prestigious badge is no guarantee of hero status.

The Peugeot 406 coupé is probably my favourite of all the cars I’ve never written about. I liked the shape which was no worse for containing elements of other car’s styling. The way bonnet, windscreen pillars and front wings merged reminded me of the Toyota Soarer. There was a faint echo of the 1968 Dodge Charger in the slightly recessed rear window.

What I enjoyed about the 406 coupé was that it was fast and surefooted without being in any way harsh or “sporty”. Every road test I’ve read criticised the 406 for over light steering but I prefer response to weight and in that respect the steering was fine. In fact every control was beautifully responsive without being hard work to operate. The only disappointment was the gear lever, which had that slightly loose, floppy feeling that seems to be a Peugeot family trait. In a 206 that is fine but in a £30,000 car I would expect the lever to move with a well-oiled precision and without slop.

One flaw could not spoil my enjoyment of the car. Overall the 406 had an air of class; it felt well made, the leather seats were very comfortable and the driving position felt more coupé than saloon. Given the good impression the Peugeot made I feel almost embarrassed that this is the first time I’ve actually written anything about it.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

2008 Wish list part 1

Jaguar XF

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

With the end of the year rapidly approaching you can be sure that lots of retrospective views of 2007 are being readied for publication. Rather than look back (which I will do) I would rather look forward and think about some of the cars I’d like to drive in the next year.

Top of the list is the Jaguar XF, and I’ve stepped into the deadly trap of falling for the car purely based on how it looks and the badge it wears. It is a dangerous position to be in; if I like it, how do I know it isn’t because I am under its spell; if I do not, is it because I was simply expecting too much?

The most appealing aspect of the XF is the interior and particularly the rotary control knob for the automatic transmission. It is such a simple, yet sensible idea that I’m surprised no-one has done it before. The console in which the knob is set looks like a work of art – although it does remind me of the consoles fitted to American muscle cars of the late 1960s.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Jaguar XF console

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Plymouth GTX console, can you see why the Jaguar makes me think of this?

Sunday, 9 December 2007

To be a motoring writer…

If you want to become a motoring writer you need certain qualities. The hide of a rhinoceros and the patience of a saint are probably foremost. More often than not you’ll have people saying “no” and, if you are lucky, “sorry” as you try to sell your ideas and work to editors. What you also need is an endless reserve of ideas that are both brilliant and simple. Driving a Ferrari down from the UK to Monaco to see the Grand Prix would make for a great feature but not simple. Unless you own one, you’ve got to borrow a Ferrari; you need tickets for the Grand Prix itself and hotel accommodation – unless you can somehow persuade someone else to pick up the tab.

Then again I’ve had the germ of an idea which could be brilliant but which does hinge on a co-operative press office. If I succeed it’ll be a first for me, it is nerve wracking but if you don’t try you never get anywhere. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Heroes and Villains 1 – BMW 325i e30

It is time to look back over cars I’ve driven that have made an impression, whether good or bad. Some cars have lived up to my expectations, some cars have disappointed. A good reputation or a prestige badge is no guarantee of hero status. Most of my judgements have been based, out of necessity, on a single car. I understand the limitations of this method and therefore no judgement is final. A bad car can rise in my estimation but equally a good car can fall from grace.

First to come under scrutiny is the 1980s icon the e30 version of the BMW 3-series. With smart, square-cut styling; smooth 6-cylinder engines; good build quality and a sporting reputation it was the small saloon everyone wanted. Even now it is held up as a sporting icon.

The example I drove had plenty to commend it. It was nicely made, the interior plastics were clearly a cut above mass-market cars, it had a light and airy cabin, a good ride and a smooth 2.5 litre 6-cylinder engine. What surprised me were the things that were not good. The driving position felt strangely offset, the wheel and pedals were not in line with each other or with the seat. The engine did not feel as though it had 177bhp and made more noise than I expected. The worst aspect was the steering; low-geared and slow to respond; it also grew heavier as more steering was applied which made the steering feel like winching a heavy weight up a slope.

Maybe a 325i with sports suspension and a close-ratio gearbox would feel more like a sporting car. As it stands the e30 3-series is a fine, well-made, quality saloon but I can’t understand how it earned a reputation as a driver’s car.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

I’ll get by with a little help from my friends

As you might remember fourwheelsteer’s usual mode of transport is a Citroën BX – or rather it should be. Just over a week ago a small but vital metal pipe, that supplies fluid to the braking and suspension system, fractured. At the time I didn’t know where the fluid was coming from, all I knew was that it was pumping out under pressure. Thankfully there is an active community of BX owners centred around the website. There is very little the people in the club don’t know about the car. It was a club member who took away my old BX and he (along with the two club members who came with him) spotted the break in the pipe.

Having spotted the faulty part all I need to do is find a new pipe. I contacted my local Citroën specialist mechanic; who was confident that he could make one as long as he could get the right type of pipe. To do that I would have to get my unbraked car with floor-scraping ground clearance to the garage. Citroën specialist Pleiades could also make a pipe if I could measure the length but I would have to bend it to the exact shape. Trying the local Citroën dealers was suggested but they struggled to identify the correct part.

This morning I went out and photographed the offending pipe as best I could. It wasn’t easy as the pipe is buried at the bottom of the engine bay. I posted the pictures on the BX club forum and now have a part number. There is even the possibility that someone in the club might have a spare one.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Quick Torotrak update

Another F1 team have been confirmed as taking out a license on the mechanical kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) for the 2009 season. One license was encouraging but two licenses are a clear sign that this is being taken seriously. Torotrak and its partners, Flybrid Systems and Xtrac, won the Professional MotorSport World “Engine Innovation of the Year Award" on 6 November 2007 in Cologne for the mechanical KERS.

All these developments are very promising, I just hope that involvement in Formula 1 don’t distract from getting a Torotrak transmission into a road car.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Books Lately – Back from the Brink by Sir Michael Edwardes

This isn’t a new book but an old book that is well worth seeking out if you are interested in the history of British Leyland. Sir Michael Edwardes was a successful South African businessman who was approached in 1977 to take on the task of turning British Leyland into a viable business. The book provides an insight into what Britain was like in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the character of some of the key political figures of the time.

It took me a while to get to grips with the writing style, the level of detail meant that the pace felt a little slow sometimes. It is well worth sticking with in order to understand the problems BL faced and how Edwardes addressed them in his 5 years as chairman.

I found my copy in a charity shop and even though I hadn’t even known that the book existed I did know who Michael Edwardes was and reasoned that he was bound to have a story worth reading. It took me a long time to work through the book but I still consider the price I paid to be about the best £2.50 I spent this year.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

I can’t believe it has come to this

The events of the last week or two have brought me to a point where I’m seriously considering giving up car ownership. After all the cost of maintenance, vehicle excise duty, insurance and fuel seem prohibitive. Maybe I would be better off without the expense and the worry.

With careful study of the bus timetable and finding out exactly where the busses stop I’m sure I could manage to get to and from work. Who knows, with a little planning I might even be able to go shopping. Going out at the weekend would be practically impossible, which is a shame. The annual Christmas jaunt to see my family would be impossible because there is no way I could get back for work on the 27th. But I’d probably save money by not going anywhere.

The other option is not to give up the car completely but buy a bus season ticket and even if I only used it 3 days every week I’d probably save money. I hate public transport but at the moment something has got to give.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

The bus don’t work

Since I don’t have a working car at the moment but still have an obligation to my employer to put in a proper day’s work I had no option but take the bus to work on Friday. I checked the bus timetable online at Transport Direct's website and there was a bus leaving not far from my flat at 7:46, roughly 20 minutes before I normally leave for work. Actually it is more than that as there is a 5 minute walk to the bus stop from my flat.

Anyway, the bus was late but thankfully not so late that I was late for work. It seemed to meander on the way but I suppose busses must work like that. Trying to get home was less pleasant. The transport direct site suggested I could walk to the bus stop in 20 minutes. Maybe I failed to live up to their expectations or maybe my vigour had been sapped by a busy day at work but I arrived at the bus stop to see a bus driving away. So I waited for the next one, and waited, and waited. It was over an hour, standing in the cold, watching the rush hour traffic ease. In the end I gave up and walked to the offices of a minicab company where I paid an awful lot of money to get home.

I will try again. Maybe look at getting a different service. The problem is that there s only one direct service to where I work. But on Monday I shall be getting a lift into work with a colleague, at least he shouldn’t leave without me.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

I’m sick of Citroën BXs

Maybe it is Thursdays, maybe it is me and maybe it is Citroën BXs but I’ve just got home (at 9:30) having left work at 5. On the way the low hydraulic fluid light came on – along with the inevitable “STOP” light. I decided to limp to Halfords to pick up some LHM (the green lifeblood of any true Citroën). Limping was the operative word, the back end was sinking lower and lower and when I went to stop in the car park I discovered that the brakes had gone!

After pouring one bottle of LHM into the reservoir I started the engine and went to check the fluid level. At that point I noticed the green puddle growing under the car. My spirits sank like the poor BX’s suspension; in the space of a week I’ve gone from having one broken car to having two broken cars – I suppose it is a kind of progress.

I’m beginning to formulate a hypothesis – you only get one bargain of any model of car. My first Prelude doesn’t count as I paid proper money for it and had 5 great years from it (longer than any other car I’ve owned), the second one was inexpensive and possibly even better than the first and the third was a disappointment. Now with the Citroën the first one was pretty good and the second one looked like it would be even better. Now I’m wondering if I shouldn’t have bought something different.

Monday, 19 November 2007

European Car of the Year 2008

The votes have been counted and the winner announced in the annual European Car of the Year contest. You can read my predictions here. I’m quite pleased that I predicted the Fiat 500’s victory but that is the only thing I got right. The second place for the Mazda 2 came as a complete surprise.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Meet the new boss…

… same as the old boss.

Having spent the best part of the last two years with a white Citroën BX you would think that I would fancy a change. So I went out and bought another white Citroën BX. I didn’t go out and choose a white BX; rather a friend of a friend had one that was surplus to requirements. It is 3 years newer than the old car and has done just over 50,000 miles rather than just under 150,000. Unlike the old car, which is a generously equipped 19TRS with a big engine, the new one is pretty the BX14TE St Tropez – near the bottom of the range. Instead of enjoying the torque of the big engine loping along in the high top gear of the automatic transmission I have a small-ish 1.4 litre engine and a very low-geared manual transmission. Instead of infra red central locking I have a different key for doors and ignition and have to unlock each one individually. Steering is manual and takes nearly 4 turns to go lock to lock where the old car with power assistance needs just less than 3 turns.

One of the biggest shocks was the reliability of starting with the manual choke. Just pull it out, turn the key and it starts. Compare that with fiddling round, wondering if you should pump the accelerator and the general uncertainty of the worn out old automatic choke and it is far better. The second shock is the effort needed to turn the wheel; no lazy swinging from lock to lock with the car at a standstill and the engine running. How did people ever consider this acceptable? I don’t like the clutch – like so many clutches the pedal travel is too long and the arc does not correspond with the natural movement of the human ankle. The gear lever action is typically older French car, slightly floppy and vague but quick, flickable and easy. I have also satisfied myself that the left foot can easily find the brake pedal (at least they haven’t changed – still the same short-travel pedal) and the clutch pedal is not necessary for changing gear on the move.

As you might expect there are a few things that need attention. The wheels need balancing, or something as there is a perceptible wobble through the wheel. A new steering wheel would be nice as the old one is breaking up possibly because of the grip required to turn the wheel at low speed or full lock. There are a couple of scratches that could do with touching up and the driver’s sun visor doesn’t’ want to stay up. On the whole it does carry its years well, which hopefully means that a few more years won’t be a problem.

I’ll try and post some pictures soon.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Time for a change

The trick to running a banger is to judge the point at which it is about to expire and find a replacement before you are left stranded at the roadside. My own judgement is not quite perfected; I underestimated by between 24 and 48 hours the amount of life left in my old Citroën BX.

For some time the cooling system has been leaking slowly. My solution was to keep topping it up as required and since the rate of topping up was modest I thought it was a fix that would keep me going until January. I would then have taken advantage of the post-Christmas lull in the secondhand car market to find something to keep me going for another couple of years. But some instinct told me that I didn’t have that much time and when it turned out that a friend of a friend had an old car they no longer needed, I was able to do a deal and I pick the car up tomorrow.

In the meantime my car appeared to soldier on without fault or complaint. I was looking forward to maybe even selling the car and recovering some of the cost of the new one. What a great plan it was; until yesterday evening when the low coolant light came on when I wanted to drive home. I was able to top up the radiator from supplies I was carrying and thought that would be the end of the matter. Five minutes later the light came on again and I stopped to top the radiator up, after all it was probably only an air lock in the system caused by filling too quickly the first time. Resuming my journey, barely 5 more minutes passed before the same thing happened again and as I had exhausted my supply of coolant I had no choice but to try and get home. By avoiding traffic and avoiding the need to go very quickly I made it home but it was a stressful business, listening for any sign of impending disaster, not something I want to experience again. If only the fault had appeared today I would have been able to keep all my work commitments, had it manifested itself tomorrow it would have barely registered as an inconvenience.

It was a very sad ending to a day that had been thoroughly pleasant. The morning had been crisp with a low-lying fog over Warwick. My mid day journey took me up the Fosse Way from Wellesbourne to the roundabout where it crosses the A425 Leamington to Southam road. I had the window open to admit cool, fresh air, I had the heater directed to keep my feet warm, I had a respectable turn of speed and I had one of the best drives that old BX has ever given me.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Association of British Drivers responds to Dispatches: Bottleneck Britain

The ABD issued a press release in response to Monday night’s Channel 4 documentary.

"Channel 4 did a good job showing that many ordinary people are fed up of the way that motorists are treated by the authorities and are ready to make a stand against parking restrictions, speed cameras and charging schemes," said the ABD's Nigel Humphries. "But the programme failed utterly to deal with the arguments for and against road pricing. Instead, it weakly took the Government line that road pricing was the inevitable solution to congestion but that this is tough to sell to a cynical public."

Naturally it is pleasing to see my views echoed by such an obvious authority.

The ABD also pointed out the following points missing from the program:

• Traffic levels into city centres like Manchester are static and falling and have been for years. Congestion has been increased in such places by deliberately obstructive measures like bus lanes, traffic lights and road closures.

• Traffic growth is concentrated on major out of town routes where the charges suggested on the programme were minimal and public transport alternatives non-existent.

• The motorist already pays £45bn in tax and is getting a raw deal on transport

• Singapore, shown as an example of road pricing, is a small island with one city and a splendid, comprehensive mass transit system.

• Diversion effects of tolling as drivers change their behaviour to reduce costs, were not considered

"The bottom line is that road pricing is grossly wasteful to collect, massively inconvenient to pay, worrying from a civil liberties viewpoint and has to be punitive before it can have any impact on traffic levels," continued Humphries. "Its a political non starter - punitive, regressive and unfair taxes on transport will damage the economy and quality of life of British citizens far more than the congestion they purport to remove."

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Geared up

I was reading through this week’s Autocar, which featured a full road test of the BMW 123D coupé. Now I’m no BMW fan but the 123D looks like it has an awful lot going for it. Because I had plenty of time on my hands I studied the technical detail of the car very closely. Looking at the gear ratios I spotted something unusual; the fifth gear ratio was 1:1. It was a clear reminder and indicator that the BMW has an old-fashioned front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout. I wish there were more cars like it.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

In print - A view on the Honda CR-V

A week or two back I drove the new Honda CR-V as part of The Independent's regular motoring feature, The Verdict. It was a welcome opportunity to try something new and I was interested to see how it compared with the original CR-V which I drove some years ago. There isn't much I want to say about it at the moment - I'd rather you read the review I wrote for the paper. My comments are near the bottom of the page.

One thing I did like and appreciate was the (optional) reversing camera, which was activated when reverse gear was selected and gave a wide-angle view from the back bumper on the sat-nav screen. For a long time I thought having a camera would be useful for reversing but I've never actually tried a car with it before. It works very well and I think it is more useful than parking sensors.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Dispatches – Bottleneck Britain

On British television tonight on Channel 4 was an interesting documentary on the state of British roads. Are we headed for gridlock and what can be done about it? Because my viewing was interrupted by a telephone call and because the program was so interesting I watched it twice thanks to the Channel 4 +1 service on digital television.

The message appeared to be that road pricing is necessary to both encourage people to modify their behaviour and to pay for improvements in public transport, which is hailed as the cure for all our ills. Now I may be mistaken but there if the revenue from road pricing is necessary to pay for improvements in infrastructure then isn’t there a danger that if it actually succeeds in reducing the number of people driving at peak times it will fail to raise enough money to make the necessary changes.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Classic Motor Show 2007

Although I don’t go to lots of classic car shows throughout the year I try never to miss the annual Classic Motor Show at the NEC, just outside Solihull (it is misleading to refer to the NEC, Birmingham). It fills four of the NEC’s exhibition halls and attracts a variety of clubs and dealers who all do a great job of bringing along interesting machinery. Apologies for the lack of pictures but I’ve never managed to take decent pictures at one of these shows.

A personal favourite was the Bristol Owners Club who brought along the 406S - a special, short-chassis version of the 406 saloon with bodywork in the style of the Bristol 404 (there was a 404 next to it for comparative purposes and an early 411 at the back of the stand looking as sober, purposeful and handsome as only a 411 can). The 406S was one of two short-chassis 4060s made by Bristol – the other receiving a low, 2-seat body by Zagato.

Other favourites included a 1969 Plymouth Road Runner on the Classic American magazine stand. As with most, if not all, cars on display it was spotlessly clean and beautifully presented; a beautiful example of one of my favourite muscle cars. Another big V8-powered coupe that I yearned for was a stunning 2-tone Rover 3.5 litre coupé otherwise known as the P5B.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
It is the interior and dashboard of the P5B that I particularly love although the styling and engine are good as well.

If you wanted to wallow - or just take a quick dip - in nostalgia the show is a good place to do so. I saw a Mk1 Ford Fiesta like one owned by my parents and a yellow Mk1 VW Golf like the one owned by my best friend’s family. So many memories of childhood days out…
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

That was one of the nicer things about this show; it was nice to see basic models not just the sporting or luxury variants of popular cars. Everyone knows about the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus but I had forgotten about the 1.0 litre basic version (and how basic it is). Ford Capris were well represented and while the 3 litre and 2.8injection models were well represented there were also lesser 1.6 and 2-litre versions – including a 2 litre V4 mark 1. How simple, basic and insubstantial those popular old cars seem now. Conversely, are new cars overstuffed and un-necessarily complicated?

Another nice thing to see was interesting details that I’d not previously noticed. There was a Citroën GS and I realised that the radio was between the seats and the handbrake was on the dashboard. I admired the woodwork instrument pod of the Mercedes-Benz 600 and 220SE coupe. I had forgotten how small and neat the Suzuki SC100 is and I still don’t know why but I do think the FD-series Vauxhall Victor is an incredibly handsome car.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Roadsters Remembered: Honda S2000

With summer well and truly over it seemed time to bring this series to a conclusion. I wanted to save the best until last and the Honda is my favourite of all the roadsters I’ve driven. From the moment I settled behind the wheel I felt at home, the cabin was close fitting without being cramped. The pedals, wheel and gear lever were all perfectly located and the digital instruments were a model of clarity.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Going slowly the S2000 was as easy to drive as any Honda Civic. Over serious bumps the body felt amazingly rigid, maybe the ride was a little on the firm side but it was controlled rather than harsh. The engine pulled freely and strongly with increasing vigour as the revs increased. The steering felt linear in its weighting and response, the gear lever had a beautiful action and even at 100mph I was perfectly comfortable with the roof lowered.

I have enjoyed all the open cars I have driven. Any of them would serve admirably as occasional, fair weather transport. Only the S2000 felt like a serious car that could be used everyday. It might not be cheap but I’m convinced the S2000 is worth every penny.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

More exciting Classic Motor Show news

Back in my student days, just over 10 years ago, I was a frequent visitor to the Prescott hill-climb course in Gloucestershire. If you want to watch motor sport at close quarters and don’t mind that only one car is on the course at a time I would recommend it to you. It was a perfect venue for watching old cars being driven because you were so much closer to the sights, sounds and smells and you could see the drivers working hard at the steering and gear lever.

The cars that left the most lasting impressions were the mid-engined Formula Junior cars from the 1950s with motorcycle engines; the 2-cylinder 3-wheel Morgan Aeros; and the Bugattis. Prescott is home of the Bugatti Owners Club, which probably accounts for the fact that such rare cars were a common sight. Over the years I have seen a good selection of Bugattis from stark racers like the Type-35 to luxurious touring cars like the Type-57. One model I have not seen is the Type-41 Royale.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket(Bugatti T35)

Only six Royales were ever made and only 3 were sold because of the economic climate in the early 1930s. At 21 feet long and 7 feet wide it is a giant among motorcars. Some years back the Donnington Collection commissioned a faithful recreation of a Royale and this will be on display at the classic motor show.

“The car is so big that it requires a specialist moving company even to bring it into the hall” said Classic & Sports Car’s publishing director Stuart Forrest. “We’ve driven the car in our latest issue, and we were delighted to have the opportunity to work with the Donington Collection, where the car can normally be seen, to display it on our stand at the Classic Motor Show. It is an incredible car to see, and there are so few of these vehicles in the world that the chance to do so at the NEC this weekend is not to be missed.”

The show runs from Friday 9th to Sunday 11th November with tickets available on the door. For information on the Classic Motor Show, visit

Monday, 5 November 2007

Volvo celebrates 80 years

At the 2007 Classic Motor Show this weekend (9th – 11th November, Birmingham’s NEC) Volvo will celebrate its 80th anniversary with a display of historic vehicles. In recent times Volvo has made a great effort to (successfully, I think) shake off its rather stuffy image. For years the square-rigged 144, 240 and 740 models provided safe, sensible transport for smug middle-class families. But now Volvos manage to be both safe and stylish. To emphasise a tradition of stylish the emphasis is on convertible models:

Volvo PV655 Norrmalm drophead coupe 1933 ­– A magnificent one-off, generally considered to be the world’s most beautiful Volvo.
Volvo 445 Valbo convertible 1953 – Built on the 445 light truck chassis, this is one of five survivors out of 10 originally built.
Volvo Sport 1956 – Often referred to as the P1900 this nice sportscar with its original plastic body carries chassis number 1.
Volvo 122S Amazon Coune convertible 1963 – The only rolling example of the five open Amazons built by Belgian carrossier Jacques Coune.
Volvo 480 convertible prototype 1990 – One of the two prototypes built by Volvo Car B.V. as design and feasibility studies.
Volvo C70 T5 convertible 2008 – The current open top Volvo in the model range is offered with a broad range of engine alternatives.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
I’ve got my ticket to the Classic Motor Shows and I’m looking forward to it this year.

We’re not giving up our cars – apparently

Despite ever increasing fuel costs people are not being put off driving, according to a survey commissioned by insurance company esure. As with all such surveys it is not without a touch of hyperbole claiming “a massive majority of motorists in the UK (55%) would never part with their cars in favour of public transport - regardless of cost”. Now if you ask me 55% is not a massive majority, surely it is just over half.

Other interesting “facts” revealed by the survey include one in three people not monitoring the prices in their area. Just over a third of people (37%) wouldn’t consider replacing their car with something more frugal. Rather worryingly (unless you work for the oil companies or are the Chancellor of the Exchequer) 79% haven’t changed their attitude to buying fuel despite the threat of huge price rises. But what will changing buying habits do? When so much of the price of fuel at the pumps is tax retailers don’t have much room to compete on price and since people have to buy fuel there is little incentive for retailers to employ that strategy.

Mike Pickard, Head of Risk and Underwriting at esure, said: "esure's poll shows that public transport may never overtake people's preference for their own cars, whatever the cost. Nowadays, cars are clearly seen as a necessity that people refuse to give up. For many people the absence of cheap public transport means a car is essential in their lives and virtually any price will be paid for petrol.”

He has a point, the inconvenience or absence of public transport makes driving about the only way a lot of us can get to work to earn a living.

"There are simple ways that motorists can prevent their cars from guzzling up their pennies. Driving steadily and carefully, with no excessive braking or speeding, will not only give you more miles for your money, it could also reduce the likelihood of making a claim on your car insurance."

It is easy to forget that high fuel costs actually hit people twice, both in terms of personal transport and transporting the things people buy. Strange as it may sound I don’t actually object to the high level of tax levied on fuel, it is surely the fairest way to tax motoring. What would be nice is a reduction in motoring’s other costs. Perhaps esure should issue a press release promising to reduce everyone’s insurance premiums.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Picture of the Week – Bristol 603

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Several years ago I worked in Knightsbridge, London. One of the fringe benefits for any car enthusiast was the number of interesting cars in the area. HR Owen had a showroom up the road where a selection of Ferraris could be found, there was a Rolls-Royce Camargue that parked round the corner but it was the Bristol 603 that always caught my eye. It looked like it was well used although I only saw it being driven once, by an attractive blonde lady.

The 603 was launched in 1976 to replace the 411, mechanically they were more or less identical but the 603 had a controversial new body – the passenger compartment was wider and more spacious but did look a little too wide for the rest of the body.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Automatic Choice

Today was in many ways a perfect motoring day. The weather was cool but dry, the sky clear and visibility good. Even better, I was able to travel on single carriageway A and B-roads. While the roads were practically on my doorstep they were unfamiliar. Under those circumstances it is good to have automatic transmission. There are those who say that you can’t be serious about driving if you like automatics but they don’t know what they are talking about.

Automatic transmission encourages left braking without having to worry about any other pedals. A little practice with the right foot and the transmission selector lever means you will never be stuck in the wrong gear. The automatic transmission in the Citroën BX isn’t the best but the control lever allows you to get the best from it. Lots of transmissions allow the lever to be pushed from the drive position into neutral, something that could have disastrous results for the engine if done whilst driving quickly. In the Citroën the lever can’t be pushed into neutral without squeezing a button on the lever.

The same button must be held to lock out third and top gear but it is useful to hold second gear for roundabouts and tight corners. Between drive and 3rd there is nothing to inhibit free movement of the lever, which is great for overtaking or fast bends. Someone within Citroën clearly understood how to get the best out of automatic transmissions.

It was the automatic transmission that did so much to aid my enjoyment of today’s motoring. I also appreciated the Citroën’s suspension as the roads weren’t always as smooth as they could be. If only the steering was sharper, how much more fun I could have had.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Greens get their knickers in a twist

An environmental group who’s aim is “to provide clear, easily understood advice about choosing and using cars in a more environmentally considerate way”, has issued a press release claiming that expensive cars are being registered as minicabs to avoid the London congestion charge. Apparently the congestion charge was presented as an environmental measure, which is odd as I thought it was supposed to cut down the number of cars entering central London. Although in the future it will be based on carbon dioxide emissions.

Now maybe the rich are clever and prudent enough to employ such cunning tactics but I think there might be another explanation. The cars could be legitimate private hire vehicles. After all there must be plenty of people who want to travel around London in a prestigious chauffeur-driven car. How else should these be registered if not under private hire classification? Of course the Mercedes-Benz SLs, Aston Martin DB7 and Jaguar XK are odd choices but that’s only 10 cars.

I’m fed up with environmentalists bleating about how expensive cars are killing the planet. It sounds more like mean and envious individuals wanting to deprive everyone of expensive cars because they themselves see no point in such things.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

The Road Less Travelled

I’ve been out and about again; 200 miles so far this week, enough to more than double my normal weekly mileage. The travelling has not been without its irritants. One particular nuisance is poor road sign positioning. I encountered a classic example in Leamington Spa; the sign was positioned behind traffic lights so that the lights obscured the sign. Whether I sign you can’t read is worse than a sign that isn’t there at all is debateable. It is also intensely frustrating – I wanted to get to Alcester Hospital this morning but drive through the town centre and you will not see a single sign saying “Hospital”. Maybe it is a crude attempt to confuse terrorists – an echo of the wartime uprooting of signposts to confuse German invaders – or possibly a conspiracy by the purveyors of satellite navigation systems. Either way it is incredibly annoying.

The other thing I’ve noticed is how tiring I’m finding it. Maybe it is because I’m used to long motorway journeys not urban and suburban motoring. Maybe it is the stress of finding unfamiliar places or of driving an old car. Listening for new noises, trying to detect unfamiliar vibrations and generally worrying that everything is working as it should.

Only one car I can think of could effectively combat all those various sources of stress. That car takes the slightly unlikely shape and lengthy name of SAAB 9-5 Aero HOT (short for High-Output Turbo). It has to be the Aero version, lesser models lack something (possibly in terms of damping out unwanted suspension movement) that makes the top model feel utterly composed. There were no unwanted noises or vibrations to suggest that the big SAAB would be anything but a faithful companion for a decade or three. The ergonomics couldn’t be faulted and nor could the satellite navigation.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Now if I just had £30,000 to buy one…

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Picture of the week: VW Golf GTI

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Last week I parked next to this Mk1 VW Golf GTI. A long time had passed since I last saw a Mk1 Golf and it was good to be reminded how neat, how compact and how smart Giugiaro’s design still looks.

All sorts of ideas went through my mind about proclaiming the GTI as a sensation in its day. Reading through my old magazines the Golf GTI actually received relatively few column inches. It seems no-one thought the GTI would be a phenomenon.

What does seem clear is that the VW profited from the circumstances surrounding its development. The VW was designed to be as light as possible, so the GTI weighed in at 750kg or so (to put that in perspective consider the current Golf GTI is 1300kg). It was also the time when fuel injection became cheap enough; so a relatively small engine could give good performance without the problems of highly-tuned engines relying on carburettors. The Golf GTI also arrived at a time when there weren’t many affordable performance cars.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Bendy busses cause congestion

Bendy busses have attracted plenty of opprobrium from Londoners but I have had my own demonstration of the problems such long vehicles cause. The scene was an urban dual carriageway leading to a roundabout near Jaguar’s engineering centre in the Whitley district of Coventry. A bendy bus was in a bus stop (sensibly off the main carriageway) behind a smaller bus which meant the bendy bus could not fit into the stop and blocked the left lane of the road. To clear the busses traffic was concentrated in the right hand lane, which is where the smaller bus needed to be. Granted it wasn’t a major hold up but it took a good few minutes for there to be a large enough break in traffic for the busses to pull out. Had the bendy bus been shorter (or the bus stop longer) the problem could have been avoided.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Big cat spotting in Coventry

Coventry isn’t the most glamorous of places but if you want to spot Jaguars, particularly new and not yet released Jaguars it is the place to be. Over the years I’ve been in Coventry I’ve seen prototypes of the XK8, XJ8, S-type and X-type.

Today I wish I had been able to take a photograph of a distinctly non-standard looking S-type. Wide of track and apparently held together by sticky tape I wonder if it was a development mule for the XF or a sporting XF-R.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I also caught a glimpse of an XF; the more I see the XF the more I like it. It succeeds in looking like a Jaguar without looking like any past Jaguar. There is a strong link to the current XK, which is no bad thing. If, as some people complain, it looks like a Lexus GS then remember that the first Lexus GS took its shape from a Jaguar design study by Giugiaro.

Style-wise all new Jaguars are overshadowed by what I think is the best looking Jaguar of all, the 1975 XJ-C – the coupé version of the series 2 XJ saloon. There was a sober but slightly menacing, dark green XJ-C adding a touch of class to the morning traffic.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Picture of the Week: A quartet of Quattros

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The last time I featured an Audi Quattro it was a rather sad and rundown example. To see a collection of cherished Quattros was therefore a heart warming sight. I took this photo at the Oulton Park Gold Cup meeting. Catching a Quattro on the road is an altogether more difficult proposition. There have only been 2 occasions where I have encountered a Quattro on the road but both of those were opportunities to marvel. Once was on a tightly curving exit ramp from the Coventry ring road. The ramps are concrete with expansion joints running across the carriageway and those joints seem perfectly designed to jolt a car off the road. The Quattro shot down the ramp and the last I saw, following at a more sedate pace, was the tail lights disappearing off into the night. The second encounter was a simple display of speed as a Quattro hurried past on the wide, single carriageway section of the A46 from Alcester to Red Hill.

Friday, 19 October 2007

More thoughts from my travels

Spending time in my Citroën BX this week left me feeling somewhat uneasy. Using a 20-year old car every day was always going to be a risky business and it isn’t that something has gone wrong rather a sneaking feeling that something isn’t quite right. Maybe the tickover wasn’t as steady, the throttle response less sharp and the vibrations more pronounced.

So I find myself contemplating my position and it isn’t great. Maybe my car just needs a service or maybe this is the beginning of the end. Do I spend money (which I don’t have) on the Citroën or save the money for an eventual replacement?

Contemplation of a new car is the best part of the exercise. I know what I want; something taught, purposeful, well made. Above all I want something with decent steering; the problem with the BX is the soft, rubbery steering. What I want is another Honda Prelude, maybe a Legend coupe or 4WS Accord; maybe a hydractive Citroën XM or Xantia; an Alfa Romeo 164; I even caught myself admiring a Vauxhall Carlton 3000GSI. Of course there is potentially a vast gulf between what I want and what I can afford.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Out and about in Coventry and Warwickshire

I’ve had to do some travelling for work which took me past the old Peugeot factory (previously Hillman) at Ryton on Dunsmore and the old Hillman/Humber factory which is Peugeot’s UK headquarters. When I lived in Coventry I would drive past Ryton whenever I went to visit my parents. Seeing the place boarded up and deserted was a strange experience. Peugeot also seem to have sold off a large portion of the Hillman-Humber site, which is being turned into posh flats.

I’m not going to moan about the closure of factories and the erosion of British manufacturing. Business is unsentimental and everything boils down to maximising profit. What did seem odd was seeing posh flats going up next to (apologies to any residents of the area) slightly run-down looking terraced houses. Who, I wonder, will buy the flats?

Sunday, 14 October 2007

That looks a bit like … oh, hang on it doesn’t

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

A Citroën C4 Picasso drove past me the other day and I looked at the rear quarter. The kink in the waistline the angle of the tailgate and the way the painted surfaces of the roof and body sandwiched the glass made me think of the Citroën XM.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Citroën have not always relished the proud history that they should celebrate at every opportunity. Even so, they have plenty of press photos of old models available for members of the press. Finding a suitable picture of an XM was easy. But looking at it only the treatment of the glass and paint are really similar. I’d forgotten how steeply sloped the XM’s tailgate is. The C4 Picasso’s kink goes the wrong way and it doesn’t have the quarter lights in the rear doors.

Even so, it was great to be reminded of the XM. That car pioneered the hydractive suspension still used on the C6; it was the last Citroën to have Diravi self-centring steering (LHD only); there was a second rear window to protect the people in the car from draughts when the rear hatch was open. It was probably the last genuinely quirky Citroën and one day I’ll have one of my own.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Picture of the week – Fake Brakes

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I’ve got nothing against people modifying their cars in any way they please, as long as the modifications don’t compromise safety. Even so I have to wonder whether there is any point in fitting large, fake brake disks. After all, who is going to be fooled given that real brake disks would have substantial callipers?

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Autumn Time

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us, which means it is time for the annual European Car of the Year contest. Voted for by a jury comprising of 58 members from 22 countries, the number of jurors representing each nation depends on the size and significance of the motor industry and new car market in that country. Each juror has 25 points to award to at least 5 of the seven finalists. No more than 10 points can be awarded to any one car and ties are not permitted. Furthermore each juror must provide a written justification for the way they voted.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The shortlist for the 2008 ECOTY has been released. From 35 eligible cars seven have shown the “right stuff” as potential Car of the Year material. Those cars are the Fiat 500, Ford Mondeo, Kia Cee'd, Mazda 2, Mercedes-Benz C-class, Nissan Qashqai and the Peugeot 308. Picking a likely winner from that lot is incredibly difficult. The Ford and Fiat are both highly regarded and both marques have a strong history of COTY winners. Only once, in 2005 when the Toyota Prius won, has a car built outside Europe been the outright winner – so it is unlikely that the Mazda 2 will win. Mercedes have only enjoyed one COTY win and nothing I’ve read about the C-class suggests that it could beat the Fiat of Ford. The Nissan might suffer because it looks like the sort of car we are supposed to hate – a SUV – or profit because it doesn’t fit typical classifications. The Peugeot will do well with the French judges but probably not any others where as the Cee’d could do surprisingly well.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I think this is the strongest COTY line-up in years. Only the Peugeot 308 and Mazda 2 seem incongruous – the Lexus LS and Land Rover Freelander might have been more interesting finalists but possibly not consonant with the spirit of the time. My prediction is that the Fiat 500 will win, the Mondeo will be second and it will be close for third place between the Mercedes C-class and the Kia Cee’d. Kia challenging Mercedes, who could have predicted that?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Monday, 8 October 2007

Car control

I would be the first to admit that I know very little about this subject, although I am always willing to learn. One thing did strike me whilst watching Fifth Gear on Five tonight. BBC Radio 2’s Sally Boazman was learning the secrets of chauffeuring with the instructor from Bentley Motors. One exercise was skid control, the idea being to control the slide by steering into the skid. I’m sure there are times when this is useful but I was more impressed by the small amount of space that it took for a spinning car to come to a stop. Although spinning to a halt isn’t as impressive as a carefully controlled drift I can see circumstances where it might be more useful.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Wheel and woe

What is the one thing you can take for granted when you sit in the driving seat of just about any car made in the last 100 years? No matter what the pedals do; whether the lever for the gears is on the floor, the steering column or even a series of push-buttons on the dashboard; you can be sure of sitting behind a steering wheel.

Some early cars had tiller steering but a tiller could not always supply the necessary leverage. There was a practical limit to the range of movement available from a tiller which is not present with a wheel. When cars got heavier and tyres grew fatter gearing was used to keep the effort of turning the wheel within reasonable bounds. This had the negative effect that more turns of the wheel were needed so that a driver might not tire of the effort of moving the wheel but the sheer number of turns needed could itself be wearing. Chrysler introduced power assisted steering in 1951 to alleviate the problem but on the whole steering has remained lower geared than is strictly necessary.

It is worth bearing this in mind when reading Sir John Whitmore’s weekend Telegraph column (link above) about steering technique. Sir John contends that many drivers, including advanced police drivers who are supposed to be the best road drivers of all, are taught to steer using an inferior technique. Instead of shuffling the steering wheel, alternately pulling and pushing with both hands he advocates keeping the hands fixed on the steering wheel (usually at “ten to two” or “quarter to three” on the wheel rim). This, he claims, makes for smoother and more natural steering input. He might have a point except that in a lot of cars it is impossible to steer that way for long before you tie your arms in knots.

So why persist in having a wheel at all? We can see that it does nothing to promote control; it does nothing for safety, presenting a considerable hazard in accidents; it obstructs the view of the instruments and the location of ventilation outlets. When badly located she simple fact of holding the arms outstretched to hold a wheel can make a long journey tiring. Far better to have a couple of angled grips either side of the driver’s seat which follow the natural rotation of the wrist. Whether or not he realised it, Sir John has highlighted a fault that afflicts every car whilst passing un-noticed by nearly every driver. It is a matter that ought to demand immediate attention.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Picture of the week – Austin Maestro

I know what you’re thinking, how can anyone get excited about an Austin Maestro? Well, Maestros have all but disappeared from British roads; the last ones made by Rover were assembled in 1994 but the Y-prefix on the registration plate of this one means it was registered between March and September 2001.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The date of registration was the first thing I noticed but consider what the letter means. The first Maestros were produced before August 1983 and had Y-suffix registrations. That puts the Maestro in the small group of cars that have had the same letter as both a suffix and prefix.

How did the Maestro come back to Britain? After UK production ceased the entire production line was exported, there was an unsuccessful attempt to sell the tooling to the Bulgarians and eventually production moved to China. Some cars from Bulgaria ended up back in the UK and a company in Ledbury, imported Chinese Maestros and converted them to right-hand drive. This car has a Hereford & Worcestershire registration which, along with the date of registration, suggests that it is a Chinese car.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Peugeot and Citroën go head to head to find silliest van name

Citroën and Peugeot both announced the launch of compact vans. In fact if you look closely they appear to have launched the same van under 2 identities. The Citroën van is the Nemo, which means “no one” in Latin. Whether the intention was association with a character from Jules Verne or Disney Pixar is unclear. Peugeot, not wanting to be outdone, chose an even more bizarre moniker – Bipper. There is a third derivative with a more sensible name – the Fiat Fiorino. All three vans are made in the same factory in Turkey and represent the latest in a long line of commercial vehicles from Fiat and PSA Peugeot Citroën.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Good news

The Citroën passed its MOT. It needed new brake pads and one of the headlamps needed re-aligning. On the whole it isn’t a bad result for a car that turned 20 this year. It does mean I don’t have the fun of trying to find a new car – maybe next year.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

More Torotrak News

Another press announcement from Torotrak, this time slightly more relevant to the real world. A bus fitted with a prototype Torotrak IVT transmission demonstrated a 19% improvement in fuel economy compared with the standard 5-speed automatic transmission.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The bus, an Optare Solo 60-seat vehicle, was fitted with a Torotrak IVT transmission and run through the Millbrook London Transport Bus cycle at the Millbrook test facility in Bedfordshire. It is an intensive stop-start cycle, which sounds like it should make the highest demands on any vehicle on the test.

Torotrak seem to think that with a purpose built transmission the gains could be even higher. Optare are, apparently, interested in putting the IVT into production. I would imagine that if the transmission can be incorporated at minimal additional cost the bus operators would be keen on the potential reduction in operating costs.

Monday, 1 October 2007

That sinking feeling

It is time to put my Citroën in for its annual MOT test. For international readers the MOT test is an annual safety inspection that all cars over 3 years old have to pass. It checks the condition of lights, tyres, brakes, safety belts, structural bodywork/chassis and exhaust emissions amongst other things. The older a car gets the more likely it is that something will fail – I try to take care of my car and keep on top of any jobs that need doing but there is only so much you can do.

The difficulty comes when your car fails and you have to weigh up the cost of repair against the cost of replacing the car. It becomes even more fraught when money is tight – would any replacement banger that I buy be any better than the 20-year old Citroën BX I’ve got at the moment?

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Picture of the week: Subaglue Transporter

I like Subaru, they seem to stick to their engineering principles when everyone else is abandoning theirs. Properly balanced, horizontally opposed engines and four wheel drive are Subaru trademarks which the firm has never completely abandoned. For that they should be applauded.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

To promote the new Impreza and the road gripping advantages of 4WD Subaru are sending out this transporter. It is a very eye-catching display which will be touring the country, visiting Subaru dealers. What I’d love to know, even more than how they got the cars on the transporter, is how they are going to get the cars off?

Thursday, 27 September 2007

A blast from the past

Going through the day’s press releases (it is a tough, dirty job but someone has to do it) I saw a name that I hadn’t heard in years. The name was ZF-Nivomat which is a self-levelling suspension strut which works using the movement of the suspension to maintain a constant ride height. I first heard about it in connection with early Porsche 911s (where it was the Boge Nivomat) but I suspect the first use was either on the Range Rover or the Ferrari 365GT 2+2.

The advantages of self-levelling suspension include more consistent handling and ride because the suspension is not bouncing along on the bump-stops. Tyres sit properly on the road, which helps road holding and reduces the danger of uneven tyre wear. Even a slight change in a vehicle’s angle of attack can upset the aerodynamic performance of the body; i.e. a heavy load in the back forces the back of the car down and the front up, increasing aerodynamic drag. Even the headlamps work more effectively because their aim is not upset.

ZF were keen to stress the advantage of a self-contained unit in terms of simplicity and economy. In my experience pneumatic suspension and Citroën-style oleo-pneumatic suspension offer advantages that the Nivomat strut cannot match. What cannot be done is to easily incorporate pneumatic suspension into vehicles not designed for it.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Thoughts on this week’s Autocar

If I understand these things correctly a blog should be topical and updated regularly. Being topical isn’t necessary, I suppose, but it is interesting that the more I write the more ideas come for future entries – which is great for ensuring a steady stream of entries.

Every week I read Autocar, it is a good way to get an overview of the important motor industry news and it is a good read to boot. It is interesting to see what stands out. In the 2007 Green Grand Prix a passing mention is made of Mercedes’ BlueTec low emissions engines. It is interesting that Mercedes have focused on reducing hydrocarbon, nitrous oxides and particulates at the expense of slightly higher CO2 emissions. Because that approach isn’t compatible with a CO2 based tax system BlueTec isn’t coming to the UK. So is an obsession with carbon dioxide actually harming the environment by increasing emissions of other pollutants?

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Torotrak update

The development of the Torotrak transmission has moved to the next stage. You may remember my enthusiasm when Torotrak announced that it was working with Xtrak on a drive system for Formula 1 cars (see July to refresh your memory). A major F1 team has become the first customer of a Torotrak-based kinetic energy recovery system.

The name of the customer has not been revealed but it is encouraging that progress from concept to application has been so swift. If only someone would use a Torotrak transmission in a car. Recovering energy that would be wasted under braking is very admirable. It is even better not to waste energy in the first place by running an engine at inefficient speeds.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Roadsters Remembered 4: Vauxhall VX220 turbo

Sometimes, for no good reason, you don’t get off to the best start with a car. With the Vauxhall it was difficult to get any sort of start. I put the key in, turned it and nothing. The sort of nothing familiar to owners of old wrecks when the solenoid on the starter motor fails. No one told me the VX had a starter button; the button itself was not labelled and looked like an innocent piece of interior trim.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The first thing I noticed when I started driving was steering like an old Mini, the feeling of a lightweight car with unassisted steering and wide tyres. Power assisted steering is so common the feeling is denied to most drivers. It felt reassuring, an indication that messages between the front wheels and the driver’s fingers were clearly communicated. The gear lever also felt slightly old-fashioned with plenty of movement between each position and a slightly loose feeling. It felt as though it was taken directly from a front-wheel drive hatchback – which probably wasn’t far from the truth.

If the sensations were old fashioned the performance was right up to date. Strong acceleration, surefooted cornering and even a decent ride; it was difficult to fault the way the VX went. There was something about the engine and transmission that made the performance a little lumpy, a feeling of thrust – pause – thrust in each gear. Maybe familiarity would improve matters, or perhaps the idea was to make the performance feel more dramatic. A smooth, almost seamless flow of acceleration would have done more to impress me. Closer gear ratios would help as would a non-turbocharged engine. Maybe I would prefer a non-turbocharged VX220.

There isn’t anything else to criticise about the VX, it is a bit basic but it is supposed to be and I don’t know how effective the hood is at keeping out the rain. You would need to be keen to use one everyday but the VX220 does offer many of the sensations of an old car with the convenience of modern hardware.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

It is nice to be asked #2

A big thank you to Simon and Mike of who asked if they could use some of these posts on their site. Street-Car has an established, international readership so it should bring me welcome additional exposure. There is also plenty of lively discussion, automotive news and car specification data. Go, have a look and maybe join in.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Green Driving

The environmentalists are at it again. The world is under threat because some people choose to do 80 on the motorway rather than the legally permitted 70. This apparently produces a third more CO2 which will cause the Earth to warm up until it can no longer support human life. Or it’ll cause more extreme weather and hot places will get hotter while cool places get cooler. The more you listen the clearer it becomes that no-one knows what will happen but everyone is happy to predict doom and gloom.

None of the news reporters, none of the lobbyists, no one at all has paused to consider what they are actually saying. Man made emissions account for a small amount of atmospheric CO2. Of that the UK is responsible for a tiny percentage. Transport might account for a large proportion of the UK’s carbon dioxide but remember transport is more than just cars and how much CO2 can be accounted for by cars exceeding the motorway speed limit as opposed to crawling through towns? The term “a drop in the ocean” barely seems adequate to express the magnitude the saving if the environmentalists get their way.

Anyone who makes long motorway journeys must have noticed that they are about the most economical (in terms of mpg) car journeys while driving in town use the most fuel. Where safe I treat the motorway limit as a guideline rather than an absolute rule (as most do). On long journeys it saves time, which is far more important than saving money. The amount of fuel needed to maintain steady motorway speeds is tiny even if doing 80mph produces a third more carbon dioxide than 70 (itself an unsound, one size fits all approximation) it is a third more of a tiny number.

Rather than trying to slow down motorway traffic the campaigners would be better advised to look elsewhere to make changes. If fuel consumption is at its worst in urban environments why not look at what can be done there to improve matters? Rather than having traffic stationary, burning fuel and going nowhere, try to keep the traffic flowing. Urban air quality would improve, people would be less frustrated, fewer precious resources (fuel and time in particular) would be wasted and less CO2 would be released into the atmosphere. Steve Cropley said much the same thing in this week’s Autocar. Of course if you want to stick to 70mph on the motorway feel free; just remember to keep left so other traffic can flow freely past.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Coventry Festival of Motoring

Every year the city of Coventry celebrates its association with the motor industry with a major classic car event. It is probably unique amongst classic car shows for two reasons; 1- participants have to pay an entry fee while members of the public can view for free; and 2- this is more than just neatly polished old cars in a park where people admire them, there is a sedate run through the Warwickshire countryside.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

This year I knew someone who was taking part so it seemed like the perfect excuse to see what was going on. According to the web site some 540 vehicles took part including commercial vehicles, a couple of Green Goddess fire engines, lots of motorcycles and, of course, plenty of cars. The oldest vehicle on the run was a 1902 Wolseley and the newest a charity-sponsored Lexus IS200 driven by local news presenter Ashley Blake. Famous names like Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Bugatti were represented along side the familiar, household names of Triumph, Austin, Hillman, Ford, Volkswagen and many more.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I was invited to join in, travelling in the comfortable leather passenger seat of a Series 2 Daimler Double Six. There was plenty to see, lots of villages on the route had put up bunting and young and old alike were out waving at the passing cars. The organisers also split the run into two groups, both following the same route but in opposite directions so participants could see and wave to one another. It was great fun and I hope I can take part in an old car of my own one day.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Weekend Fun 3

Last post about the Oulton Park Gold Cup. I’m not much of a fan of motor racing but it is much better to see racing cars in action on the track rather than static in a museum. You do see some fine displays of driving skill as old racing cars generally have more power than they have roadholding or braking ability. This year some of the more prestigious cars stayed away because the Goodwood Revival was the following weekend. As a result there were no C or D-type Jaguars, no Listers, Ferraris or Corvettes, which was a disappointment given the high standard of entries in past years.

What was interesting was the difference in sound quality between the different engines. The sound of a 4 or 8 cylinder engine carries much more clearly than any six. Subjectively the loudest cars of the weekend were the Chevron sports cars and the Formula 5000 single-seaters. Formula 5000 was an interesting discipline, using Formula 1 chassis but with production-based 5-litre American V8 engines to keep costs down.

Favourite moments of the weekend included watching the historic Formula Junior cars and seeing both a Fiat 124 coupé and a BMW 328 (well, a Frazer-Nash BMW) in action. The Fiat is such a rare car because most examples rusted at a frightening rate – a shame because contemporary accounts rate it highly. As for the BMW, it was the most modern of the pre-war cars – no wonder so many people hold the 328 in high regard.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Weekend fun 2

Over the bank holiday weekend I helped my mate Simon with his MG Midget. You can read about what we did in Simon’s blog, he tells the tale far better than I could and I don’t see the point in repeating what he has already said.

On Sunday we took the Midget to watch the motor racing at Oulton Park (of which more anon). Simon was kind enough to let me drive the Midget back to his house (about 25 miles, I think). If you are under any illusions about how good a driver you are an old car will soon shatter them. Old cars are less forgiving of mistakes; they can be annoyingly literal in the way they respond to the driver’s inputs. Just trying to pull away in the Midget was challenging. I’m more used to automatic transmission and the last manual car I drove had a very forgiving engine and clutch. The Midget has a short travel clutch pedal and the initial throttle response feels a little all or nothing. Simon even confessed that for the first week or two he had the car he either stalled or shot off as fast as the car could go.

Once on the move the clutch seemed far more user friendly – one reason I dislike most manual transmissions is un-necessarily long-travel clutch pedals. The gear lever had a pleasantly mechanical action and no spring-loading (a pet hate of mine in 4-speed gearboxes) allowing the lever to be moved quickly and freely in all directions. It all feels slightly frantic, the Midget is very low-geared so you get to top (4th) very quickly and at 50mph I think the rev counter was showing 3,000rpm. All the intermediate gears make their own distinctive noise and there is no synchromesh on first gear, which means it will crunch if you are in the habit of selecting first while the car is moving (time to brush up on neglected double declutching skills). Actually slowing to a stop needs quite a push – there is no brake servo and certainly no Citroën-style high pressure hydraulic system to lend a hand.

What delighted me about the Midget was the steering. Even with a smaller than standard steering wheel - a lovely, leather rimmed Moto Lita wheel – the steering isn’t heavy. There isn’t much self centring action, which is just what I like, just wind lock on or off as necessary and the Midget changes direction immediately. Not that the steering calls for much winding as it is pretty direct. It is just as well, the Midget is a snug fit and there is no room for flailing arms.

Driving the Midget was a rare delight. There is something about a simple, fun to drive car that is incredibly appealing. You can drive it hard without endangering your license and learn a lot in doing so. You can maintain it at home without needing specialist tools or any great skill and without breaking the bank. One day I think I’d like to own a car like this.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Weekend fun

I took the opportunity to get away for the bank holiday weekend (25th – 27th), to visit friends and watch some motor racing. The weekend started with a trek up the M6, which invited a number of observations.

1. The M6 toll is a wonderful road, beautifully surfaced and it seems to attract well behaved drivers. Everyone keeps left, everyone seems content to travel at their own pace, no one crowds and no one seems aggressive.

2. The M6 toll should be extended north. The way the traffic stopped dead at the end of the toll section brings you back down to earth with a metaphorical bump. It seems that the M6 northbound cannot cope with the traffic from the toll road rejoining.

3. Congestion is self-limiting to a certain extent. The overhead signs warned of congestion for some distance surrounding the junction I needed. However, thanks to a little local knowledge I was able to come off a junction before the hold-up and follow an alternative route. When a road becomes known for slow or stationary traffic people will, wherever possible, modify their journey time or route to find a less congested alternative.

4. Our roads work very well. Even with the traffic as bad as it was my journey from Warwick to Urmston (not far from Old Trafford) took no more than two hours 15 minutes. That’s only 15 minutes more than I would expect the journey to take on a clear motorway.

My improvised route took me through the outskirts of Crewe. I know Bentley is based in Crewe so I was not surprised to see signs offering direction to the factory (although I always associate Rolls-Royce with Crewe even if BMW would rather I didn’t). What did astonish me was that the last of the signs I saw directed people to both the local recycling centre (rubbish dump) and Bentley. It seemed so incongruous that I was tempted to stop and photograph the sign, I suppose it illustrates the old saying, “where there’s muck, there’s brass”!

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Britain in danger of running dry?

Apparently the number of petrol stations is at its lowest since 1912. With 150 forecourts having closed down already this year there is increasing concern about how difficult it might be to refuel in future.*

The pressures on retailers are understandable. For each pound (sterling not avoirdupois) of fuel sold something like 70-80 pence is tax revenue for the government which doesn't leave much money to cover the cost of the fuel, pay for the infrastructure and staff. No wonder petrol station shops all seem to be turning into mini supermarkets.

Urban petrol stations must also feel the pressure of high demand for land, forcing rents upwards. In the town wher I used to live I know two petrol station sites that are now residential flats.

Is there a solution? Probably not one single solution, more tax relief for petrol stations (especially those that are not associated with supermarkets) would help. Even more important is for us all to think about where we buy fuel. I could fill my car at the supermarket when I do my weekly shop but instead I support the petrol station in my village. It is more expensive but the loss of the only petrol station is more important than a few pounds in my pocket.

*Source: Retail Motor Industry Federation

It is very nice to be asked

One of the nicest things that happened to me recently was to be offered my own forum in a motoring forum run by a friend. The forum is for enthusiasts of post-war classics and is full of entertaining discussion - if you like old cars it is well worth a look.

I've also had someone else ask if they can re-use some of my blog articles on his web site. Nothing has happened yet because the site owners have other commitments. It is very encouraging to know that people read what I write and anything that helps me reach a wider audience has to be a good thing.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Books Lately: Citroën 2CV by John Reynolds

My experience of car books suggests that most titles fall into one of two categories. There are thorough, in-depth studies carefully researched and lovingly written. Then there are books turned out as money-spinners. Some have titles like “Great Sports Cars” with a few performance specifications and glossy photos that look strangely familiar because you’ve seen them in half a dozen similar books before. Others will have a celebrity name on the cover and be smaller in format covering odd cars or bad cars, picking on the familiar whipping boys (Austin Allegro, Morris Marina, Reliant 3-wheeler etc).

John Reynolds’ history of the Citroën 2CV belongs firmly in the first group. First published in 1997, seven years after production of the 2CV ceased, with a 3rd edition published in 2005. It is a tribute to Mr Reynolds’ skill that you don’t need to be fanatical about the subject to enjoy the book. The background story, looking at the history of Citroën, the men responsible, the development story and even the way France changed in the 40 or so years all add colour to what might otherwise be a dry chronology of specification changes and model variants.

Of course details of the changes made as the 2CV was developed are recorded and the 2CV derivatives, the Dyane, Ami, Mehari and Bijou all receive fair coverage. Unlike plenty of one model books there is even a chapter devoted to the 2CV’s rivals. The way the book is written allows the reader to choose whether to read each chapter in order or to dip in and out depending on what captures the interest. There are even plenty of informative sidebars detailing areas of particular interest.

Even if you have little love for the 2CV (and it seems to be a love or loathe sort of car) but enjoy a good read this book is worth seeking out. It might not be packed full of glossy colour photographs (colour is confined to a couple of small sections) but there is plenty of intelligent content. Like the subject it covers the book is slightly quirky but has an undeniable appeal.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Goodbye Newport Pagnell

To many people I suspect Newport Pagnell is no more than a service station on the M1 motorway. To the car enthusiast Newport Pagnell is also the home of Aston Martin but as of 19th July it is no longer a car factory. The last Vanquish was driven off the production line in a ceremony attended by local dignitaries, Aston owners and employees. For the foreseeable future all Astons will be built at the purpose built facility at Gaydon in Warwickshire.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

There is no cause for sadness, for one thing the Newport Pagnell site has been retained as a centre for servicing and restoring older cars. And, like most companies with a long history, Aston Martin has had more than one factory. The original factory was at Feltham in Middlesex (I think) and it was in 1953 that tractor magnate and then owner of Aston bought the Newport Pagnell site with full production starting in 1958.

The closure does mean that both of the car factories I’ve visited have closed (the other was Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant). It was back when the DB7 was current but before the Virage and Vantage had been phased out. I was given a tour by the late Roger Stowers, the company historian and archivist. Whatever you thought of the old V-series cars you had to respect the craftsmanship and love with which they were assembled. Who could believe the current, thoroughly modern Astons are any relation to the magnificent old dinosaurs the company used to make? I wonder if the Gaydon factory will enjoy 50 years of productivity.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Sad news for Bristol fans

It seems that thieves have stolen the presses used to make the panels for the Bristol Blenheim. The presses, which weigh up to 30 tonnes, are thought to have been stolen for their scrap value – far less than the cost Bristol will incur replacing them.

What sort of world are we living in? You simply wouldn’t think anyone would consider stealing something like this. Maybe it will give Bristol the opportunity to develop a more shapely new body for the Blenheim range. There are those who would be happy if Bristol dusted off the tooling for the 411 range. The problem is the cost of developing and type approving a new body. I just hope it doesn’t mean the end of Bristol Cars.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Thirty One Years Ago…

…as well as a heatwave and the American bicentennial celebrations July 1976 saw my arrival into the world. By way of a celebration I thought I’d have a look at the world of motoring in July ’76 as reported in CAR.

Lancia were promoting their Stratos, Citroën were making a fuss about the economy of their quirky cars (remember the Dyane and Ami?). The big news was the Chrysler Scamp, which the world would know as the Sunbeam. The Sunbeam didn’t go on sale until 1977 but July’s newcomers included the Renault 14 and Volvo 343 – not very stimulating. The Lancia Gamma was too new for its foibles to be discovered and the Lamborghini Silhouette seemed very stimulating indeed.

No issue of CAR in this period would be complete without a helping of supercars. Mel Nichols was dispatched to visit Maserati, De Tomaso, Lamborghini and Ferrari. After some difficult times in the fuel crisis things were looking up for the makers of exotic cars.

Almost every time I pick up an old magazine I find something that suggests the world hasn’t changed much in the passing years. So it was with an article on Formula 1:

And if you handicapped cars and opened up circuits to a bit more competition and a little less slowing down, assuring safety in other ways than by multiplying chicanes and other artificial curves and thus allowing more passing and more changes in race position…

How many times every year do people crave more overtaking in F1? What was the saying? Plus ça change...

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

C-Crosser makes me cross

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I like Citroëns. I hope that is clear from my previous posts; as well as the C6 and my current BX I have fond memories of the C5 V6 (now sadly discontinued), the Visa and the iconic 2CV. The firm has blotted its copybook with the Xsara Picasso; an absurd vehicle good for nothing.

Now Citroën are jumping on the small 4x4-cum-mpv bandwagon with the C-Crosser, the result of a joint venture between PSA and Mitsubishi. I don’t blame Citroën for making what people want to buy. What I do object to, without quite knowing why, is the cloying emphasis on how kind it is to the environment.

Maybe if there was something identifiably Citroën about the C-Crosser it would be less annoying. Something minimal, lightweight, practical and go-anywhere - like an updated 2CV - would be brilliant. Sadly I don’t think the market wants such a car. Instead it wants soft-feel plastics, MP3 player compatibility, satellite navigation, two dozen airbags and low official CO2 figures for cheap road tax.

Citroën nearly went bust making the cars people should have wanted because the world was too dumb and too cautious to appreciate them. Sometimes, when I think of the Xsara Picasso and now the C-Crosser, I wonder if I wouldn’t be happier if the firm hadn’t survived the 1970s.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

thinktank at Millennium Point, Birmingham

I took a trip over to Birmingham this afternoon to visit thinktank, which (among other things) tells the history of Birmingham. The story is illustrated by the machinery used in and produced by the city’s industry. There is a great contrast between the giant steam pumping engines and the intricate button making machine.

The motor industry is remembered with some fine motorcycles from BSA and Brough Superior and some Austin cars – a Seven, Ruby and an original 1959 Mini (or Austin Se7en to be precise). The pioneer motor industry is illustrated by a license-built version of a Benz car. It seemed a missed opportunity not to credit Lanchester although there was a Lanchester prototype petrol-electric car, which I’d not heard of before.

The problem is that the museum’s strengths are also its weaknesses; there is so much in the museum that it sometimes seems to lack focus. Some more depth and detail on the exhibits would have been good – and this is where the museum’s website comes into its own - once you find your way around. Entry is quite expensive at £8.50 for an adult ticket but a family ticket at £25 represents quite good value and there is plenty to keep the whole family interested. Just don’t go on a weekend and expect to buy lunch – all the catering concessions appeared to be closed.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Weird Tech: Lexus rear mounted radiator

I was going through Autocar and saw a piece on the Lexus LF-A. This is a super-coupé with a 500bhp V10 engine and 200mph performance. One of the more interesting features of the LF-A is the placement of the coolant radiators at the rear.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

On mid or rear-engined cars this might not be unusual but the Lexus is a front mid-engined design. It seems to fly in the face of logic; the established convention for 110 years has been to put the radiator at the front of the car where it can receive the greatest flow of cooling air over its surface.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The idea isn’t as barking as you might think. Lexus claim to have done it to achieve the optimum weight distribution but it makes aerodynamic sense too. A car punches a big hole in the air at speed – a low-pressure wake similar to the wake following a boat as it moves through water. Air picks up heat as it passes through a car’s radiator, this makes the air expand. The heated air can therefore help to fill the low pressure wake behind the car.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

What might be the practical drawbacks? The boot opening on the concept car looks quite small; will it accommodate the regulation issue two golf bags? The radiators might cook the luggage or anyone standing loading or unloading the boot. Then again Lexus have a reputation for being thorough. By the time the LF-A goes on sale in the Autumn or 2008 I wouldn’t bet against the drawbacks being overcome.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Pet Peeves: “The indicator stalk is on the wrong side”

In a right hand drive car where the gear lever is to the driver’s left which is the correct side for the indicator stalk? Is the proper position for the indicator stalk going to be the same for a left hand drive car where the driver applies the right hand to the gear lever? Indicating and changing gear are often done in close succession so why make it difficult by expecting the same hand to do both?

Having spent plenty of time driving right-handed cars with indicators on the right and gear lever on the left – not just my Hondas but also my German-built Ford Granada coupé of 1977 vintage – I have to say that it is a better arrangement. Indeed it used to be the standard arrangement for British cars, which is why it annoys me when people claim that the arrangement is wrong. It annoys me even more when Autocar criticised the Vauxhall VXR8 (an Australian Holden, set up correctly for its native RHD market) and yet the Kia Cee’d was praised for the same arrangement.

It goes to show that the unfamiliar is too readily accepted as wrong, even by people who should know better.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Unsung Heroes: Dr Frederick Lanchester

I was talking to someone yesterday about my university days and admitted that although I knew the place as Coventry University it enjoyed a long and enviable reputation as Lanchester Polytechnic. This prompted the question of where, what or who was Lanchester? What a terrible situation, I’m sure most people could name a British playwright, composer, and a couple of great political and military leaders. How many could name a great British engineer? Lanchester Poly was named after one of the greatest (if not the greatest) and brightest men in British engineering history.

Dr Frederick Lanchester was a man of many and diverse interests. Born in 1868 Frederick began to study engineering at 14, by the age of 20 he was working for the Forward Gas Engine Company of Saltney, Birmingham. Lanchester’s interests were broad including philosophy, poetry and photography and much more. Powered flight was another of his interests, studying aerodynamic theory and building up a wealth of theoretical knowledge on the subject. If Lanchester had found a suitable internal combustion engine for a manned flying machine maybe he would never have turned his attention to the motor car.

It is probably fair to say that it was Lanchester’s proficiency with mathematics that made him such a great engineer. The prototype Lanchester car was introduced to the world in 1895 - and it was wholly British in its design unlike the German Daimler that was far better publicised a year later. Lanchester approached the problem from first principles, his understanding of suspension (both geometry and spring rates), structures, ergonomics and engine design were decades ahead of anyone else. The car was designed for mass production using standardised components without needing skilled labour.

Over time pressure from customers and shareholders diluted the purity of the cars bearing the Lanchester name. By 1931 the motorcycle and armaments firm BSA took control and Lanchester cars became little more than badge-engineered Daimlers (Daimler also being part of BSA). By 1956 Daimler phased out Lanchester cars and the name faded into obscurity.

Even where you might expect the Lanchester name to receive some recognition it languishes in obscurity. Visit the Museum of British Road Transport in Coventry and (as far as I could see) Lanchester has been erased from the history books. There is a monument in Birmingham to Lanchester’s pioneering car but how many people know it is there, how many know why?