Friday, 29 February 2008

Tyre stuff

Some of my friends consider me to have an unhealthy obsession with tyres. This is completely untrue; but as tyres are the only link between the car and the road it makes sense to understand something of their construction and characteristics. One thing I didn’t know was that the markings on new tyres can be used to tell you about a tyres tendency to run straight (known as run out). The rightmost or leftmost line indicates the run out and tyres should be fitted so that run out is equally balanced in opposite directions. Get it wrong and you could end up with steering that pulls to one side.

This information came from the Institute of Advanced Motorists. The suggestion is that, when buying tyres, you should look at the tyres before they’re fitted. I can’t recall ever being able to inspect tyres that closely but I’ll be more attentive in the future.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Did anyone else see Torchwood this week?

I’m sure I saw a police-liveried Citroën C6. Having been to the BBC iPlayer site and reviewed the few seconds of disjointed film where the C6 appears it is unmistakably the big Citroën. The C6 seems like an odd choice for a police car; too complex and plush. What cars do Cardiff police actually use? Anyway, the pictures are taken from the BBC.

Citroen C6 police torchwood 1
Not sure if you can make out the frameless side window

Citroen C6 police torchwood 2
Unmistakable tail lamp

Blurred but clearly a police C6

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Large, heavy load

I was asked to help transport an armchair over the weekend. It is the sort of task that Citroëns do well. The BX isn’t a tall car but you can get surprisingly deep loads inside and even when fully loaded the self-levelling suspension keeps everything nicely level. If you need to, the whole car can be lowered to ease loading or unloading. (So much for the virtues of oleo-pneumatic suspension not being worthwhile).

What I hadn’t planned for was the meanness of the specification of a base-model car. My old BX had a back seat that could be folded completely flat. Foolishly I thought my current BX would enjoy the same detail. I discovered that the seat back would fold down but there was no way to move the seat cushion to make a flat floor. As a result the chair wouldn’t quite fit and I had to tie the tailgate closed.

It is hardly the end of the world but it is an object lesson in not taking things for granted.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Of Citroëns and Auto Express

Auto Express is one of those magazines that I stopped reading a long time ago. Something about the way the features were written sucked all the joy from the subject. The feature that brought me to that point was a supposed celebration of a Ferrari anniversary (probably the 50th) which failed to convey any magic of the cars the magazine gathered to mark the occasion.

If the issue I borrowed from a work colleague today was anything to go by things have improved as Auto Express. AE does seem a little more serious than its main (only?) rival, Autocar. With my mind in an analytical frame it seems that Autocar’s writers put more of themselves into their features than the Auto Express team. I still prefer Autocar as it seems to carry a greater variety of interesting features.

Citroën C5 2008 front

One of the features in Auto Express was a first drive of the new Citroën C5. It was the second review I had read and I am worried that the C5 will be a disappointing car. At the behest of fleet managers Citroën have restricted hydro-pneumatic suspension to the top models. Fleet managers are unable to appreciate the virtues of hydro-pneumatic suspension and are not prepared to pay for it on the mainstream C5s. It does rather beg the question; what are the people who do appreciate the self-levelling, smooth-riding virtues of hydro-pneumatic suspension supposed to buy?

Citroën C5 2008 rear

Monday, 18 February 2008

What do you mean, no reverse gear?

Mitsubishi has announced some of the details that have gone into the Lancer Evolution X to make it the most advanced of the Evo line. These include the rather improbable fact that the Evo X has no reverse gear and spoilers in the wheelarches. Both these facts suggest someone is having a joke at our expense but, on closer examination might actually make sense.

The lack of reverse gear doesn't mean the Evo will only go forwards but it does mean that there is no dedicated reverse gearset. An idler gear on a separate shaft engages with 1st and 3rd gears to give reverse. Mitsubishi claim this saves weight.

Within the wheelarches Mitsubishi has incorporated a lip around the curve of the wheel to minimise turbulence. Given that the airflow within the wheelarches can cause serious problems with drag and lift Mitsubishi are to be praised for trying to address the problem.

Evo X 2

Other aerodynamic tricks include vents behind the front wheelarches to allow hot air to escape, as do vents in the bonnet. There is also an air intake vent in the bonnet to allow the engine to breathe.

Evo X 2

Clever details are something of a Mitsubishi speciality. Careful planning means lightweight sound damping foam has been employed only where necessary. The glazing is designed to reduce the transmission of solar heat by 60-100%. The glass also cuts out the transmission of ultra violet but does not reduce the amount of visible light entering the cabin. The headlights incorporate extra beams that come on when the steering is turned to light the way around corners.

Evo X 3

Perhaps the most important detail, however, is the fact that Mitsubishi are offering a fixed-price deal for the Evo's first 3 services. Just £400 covers the cost and includes the initial 1,000 mile oil change. Given the high maintenance reputation of previous Evos that has to be a good thing. Unless, like the wheel arch spoilers and lack of reverse gear, that too is an elaborate wind up.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Slow recovery

As my arm heals I am once again able to do with ease the ordinary things I’d always taken for granted. Most things anyway – driving remains a challenge. Gripping objects in my left hand is difficult and painful as is applying any sideways force with my left arm. Managing unassisted steering is a bit of a chore and a gear lever is very hard work indeed. Even pulling on the handbrake feels like painful exertion.

It does give you a new perspective on car design. My Citroën needs more effort to move the lever into the plane of 5th and reverse than it needs to push towards 1st and 2nd. I can manage the push into first or second easily but fifth is hard work and I prefer to use my right hand to select reverse. There can be no need to make things hard work and my car is by no means unique in having a stronger spring on the 5th-reverse plane of its gearbox. In the old days some 4-speed gearboxes had no spring assistance, which made changing gear very easy but I’m not sure there are many cars that are tolerable with just 4 gears. A sequential gearbox would work too, just pulling and pushing for each gear. An automatic would be better.

The design of the old-fashioned pull-up handbrake seems to be falling out of fashion, which is a good thing as it is an absurd piece of design. Pulling it on seems to involve all the wrong muscles (especially when they are impaired in their operation). In my present condition a right-hand handbrake would make more sense (off the top of my head that means cars like the Jaguar XJS, Aston Martins, the Lotus Esprit and the W123 Mercedes-Benz). A lever that could be pushed forward, even with my left arm in its present condition, would be better still; or maybe a foot-operated parking brake is the answer (various Mercedes, the Citroën XM and lots of Americans). I’m not sure an electric handbrake is the answer – with automatic transmission it works well enough but I think something more progressive is needed when balancing on the clutch biting point.

Power steering is the obvious answer to ease the last of my troubles but it needs to be quite direct – don’t want too much arm-twirling. Citroën have probably made some of the most direct powered setups – the SM needed only 2 turns to go from lock to lock and if the CX was slightly less responsive it was still sharp compared to many of its rivals. A C-matic semi-auto CX would work well, I think and there are some CX automatics. An SM would be better, being left-hand drive the gear laver and handbrake can be operated by my “good” arm. But if someone lent me an SM while I recover I’d be tempted to fake my symptoms to prolong the loan.

Friday, 8 February 2008

I can’t wait for this…

The Porsche Panamera. Porsche’s 4-door saloon has had something of a stop-start development program. Initially I think it was intended to be a replacement for the 928. The economic climate of the early 1990s saw Porsche halt development – I think Porsche had some serious financial troubles of its own at the time. Now I think Porsche are one of (if not the) most profitable car companies in the world and they can afford to expand into new niche markets.

I’m not sure why the Porsche appeals as much as it does. The pictures in this week’s Autocar suggest that it is a handsome thing; long, low and sleek. Given Porsche’s reputation you can be sure it will be great to drive. I’d love to get my hands on one.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

The good news…

After an appointment to see the consultant about my arm it doesn’t look like I’ve fractured anything. The consultant sent me off to the physiotherapy department, who saw me immediately. I was very impressed by the treatment I received; explaining the purpose of the medication I was prescribed; measuring the range of movement I’ve got in my left arm (not much); advising me on when to rest the arm, when to exercise it, when to use ice and when to stop. The NHS gets a lot of criticism but I can only praise them for the job they’ve done so far.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Ouch, that’s not good

This morning, while walking from the car to the office, I slipped on some ice and fell. Somehow I managed to bang my left elbow quite badly. At first I didn’t think it was that bad but the growing pain and difficulty of movement quickly changed my mind. Luckily I work in a hospital so it was a short walk to Accident & Emergency. Now I’m bandaged up and full of pain-killers (which just take the edge off the pain).

Of course I can’t drive at the moment, which is incredibly annoying. Not only does it make the daily grind more difficult but I had some writing work planned which involved travelling and, of course, driving. At least I’ve got some ideas that don’t require me to get behind the wheel. All I need to do is improve my one-handed typing speed.