Friday, July 31, 2009

The Alfa-Romeo Alfasud Sprint Veloce 1.5 - Giugiaro's Coupé with Italian flair

It shared a lot of components with the Alfasud, but still looked quite different and as many say, so much better. The Alfa-Romeo Alfasud Sprint Coupé. In its fastest guise (first series) it delivered 95 HP and was capable of accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in less than 10.5 seconds. Giugiaro had designed the car and it was gorgeous. For a coupé it was also quite spaceous and could seat four people with a surprising comfort even in the back. For the driver the seating position was typical Italian style. Your legs seemed to be too long and your arms to short when you were trying to find an optimal position. The dimensions and weight were similar to the standard Alfasud and so was the engine that had the same configuration as the one of the faster TI.
Mine was chocolat brown, quite a color for an Italian car, but it suited it quite well. The interior was beige.
The sound was terrific and the performance was good in comparison to what you could buy for similar money.
Main competitors were of course the VW Scirocco, the Ford Capri and the Opel Manta, but none of these could match the Alfa's Italian flair.
This is a car I would certainly like to drive again once in a while, just to remember what it was like.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

How racing influences our everyday's car - will our steering wheel look like this?

One reason car manufacturers like racing is that they can test new concepts before they arrive in mainstream cars. Many great innovations were tested successfully in racing before they were integrated in passenger cars. The double clutch transmission for example was used in Le Mans racing cars by Porsche long before Volkswagen and Audi adapted the concept for their normal cars. Ceramic brakes were pioneered in racing and the tyre technology also profited a lot from racing.
So when we look at racing cars we may be able to see technology that we will have in our daily drivers tomorrow. For example the steering wheel. There's no reason why we still want to have a "full circle" steering wheel. Modern steering systems allow to do almost every radius without taking the hand off the wheel. You may be worried about about the rich collection of buttons on the wheel, at least I would. But if a formula 1 driver can manage at speeds of 200 km/h and beyond, how couldn't we doing 60 km/h. However there are some good reasons why all the controls are integrated into the steering wheel in a formula 1 car. First, there's not too much more space in the cockpit to place the controls and secondly, the controls are good to reach without disturbing any aerodynamics and thirdly, it's all concentrated in one device offering engineering, production and quality assurance advantages. But none of these reasons hold really true for our daily drivers and honestly I am glad about large dials, a navigation screen and properly described buttons on my car. If you look at the just introduced Ferrari 458 though, quite a bit of the formula 1 approach has found its way into the production car.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Saving fuel is not rocket science, but requires discipline

If you want to save fuel when driving your car, then it typically comes down to some pretty simple guidelines:
1) Look ahead, minimize braking and acceleration manoeuvrings, try to "glide" as much as possible
2) Leverage the means your engine provides to minimize fuel consumption. This is different from engine to engine. It may mean to accelerate gently with one car, but to firmly accelerate and then glide again with another car
3) Adapt your speed to the topography you drive through. This may mean going slower up the hill than down the hill

If you follow these three rules and you know under what conditions your engine can optimally support you in doing so, then you can achieve astonishing results. Look at the foto (to the left). This is a BMW 330i Touring (model 2008) with 272 hp and almost 1'800 kg weight (with a family and some luggage). But you still can drive it using less than 6.5 liter per 100 km without slowing down the traffic behind you. The influence of the driver though is substantial. Doing the same distance with 50% more fuel consumption is easily possible and might also be more fun. But if the goal is to save fuel then fun has second priority. There's one exception. Rule 1) allows you to take curves very quickly to not have to break ;-)

One more comment: We often feel that cars today are not much more efficient than cars 20 or 30 years ago. Well, to have the performance of the described BMW 330i it took a Ferrari 308 GTB/GTS in the early 80ies and staying below 20 liters per 100 km wasn't easy with that car.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The new Ferrari 458 Italia - this is how a super car should look like!

I just came across the new Ferrari 458 Italia replacing the 430. Now, I didn't really expect something that would make me check my bank account. But honestly, if this thing drives as good as it looks, then I need to start my eBanking application quickly. Wow!
It's very fast with roughly 570 hp and less than 4 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h. And it's fairly fuel efficient, at least if you compare it with other Ferraris before.
It's clearly much more attractive then the California and it sets a high bar for Lamborghini when they have to replace the Galliardo. It's clearly a Ferrari again that looks good in "rosso". And it will make many people dream. That's exactly what a super car should be about. Performance, great looking and attractive to possess. Let's see how long the waiting list becomes.

Compared with classic cars the engine bay of modern cars are boring

When you look at modern cars you see how much has changed over the years. But open the engine bay and you will see even more changes! Actually, in the engine bay of a modern car you can barely see anything. It's all covered with plastic. Look at the engine bay of a BMW 330i (model year 2008) and compare it with the one of a JWF Milano GT (1962). While both share the basic design principles (straight 6 cylinder engine) it's very easy to see this in the JWF. You can see cables and manifolds and you can see the carburettors, plus lots of other technical components keep the engine busy and alive. A modern BMW covers up almost everything and of course there's no carburettor there anymore, but computer controlled fuel injection and a lot of other gizmo to make the engine fuel efficient. This is good, but it's still sad that you see so little in a modern engine bay, isn't it?

By the way, the BMW engine develops 272 HP while the highly tuned Holden engine of the JWF delivers some more than 200 HP with quite some effort.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

No Lamborghini and no Porsche 914 - cars I don't regret never having possessed

Over the years I looked at many cars and wondered whether I should buy them. Sportscars such as the mighty Lamborghini Countach, the Aston Martin DB9 or the Ferrari 430, affordable classics such as the Ford Capri or the Porsche 914 and 928, family cars such as the 320 TE, all of these and many more once were on my radar screen to be acquired for one or the other reason. Well, it didn't work out, and I am quite glad today. I probably would have lost lots of money or have suffered from serious reliability problems in some cases. I probably wouldn't have been happy with the handling, the engine sound or the practicality. Who knows. Today I clearly think I am much better off and the probability is low that any of them would have made it long term into my "collection". But I am sure many of my readers would see this differently.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Morgan 4/4 - maybe this dinosaur is actually one of the most ecological cars on earth

So here's a car that has been built since roughly the 30ies. Yes for about 80 years now Morgan manufactures this same car. The current entry model is called Morgan 4/4 Sport. If you read the technical data it sounds like these guys have invented an almost perfect green car! Combined fuel consumption is 6.2 l per 100 km (or 45.6 MPG). The CO2 footprint is 140 g/km. 115 HP are enough to accelerate the 795 kg car in less than 7 seconds from 0 to 100 km. Also, as energy spent for production is an important factor in overall environmental perspectives, here's another important fact: Manufacturing one Morgan takes much less energy and material use than producing a standard car, and typically these cars are well maintained and kept forever.
And the Morgan looks absolutely gorgeous. And it's retro not because it has been designed that way, but because it has been manufactured for so many years now. Get one today or you will regret it tomorrow. I always loved Morgans, especially the Rover V8 powered +8. Maybe ...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The E-Tracer - faster and more economical than a Tesla Roadster

The Monotracer has been around for quite a while. It followed the so called Ecomobile and uses the same design and engineering principles as its predecessor. Basically it's a motocycle with a full body and two supporting side wheels that can be retracted almost like an airplane. The standard Monotracer is fast, 0-100 km/h in roughly 5.7 s, top speed 260 km/h.
Now Pevates AG, the company behind the Monotracer came with a new one, called the E-Tracer. It's what you would expect, an electrical version of the Monotracer. 100 kW enable it to be even faster than the Monotracer. What is even more impressive is the reach of 150 to 250 km. Now, this is much better than what you can expect in reality from a Tesla Roadster. The reason for this is a) the aerodynamic shape (0.19 cw) combined with a tiny shape (looking from the front) and b) low weight (550kg) and c) clever battery technology (lithium polymer). Now that's good engineering coming from Switzerland! And if you can live with the motocycle like behavior and can afford to pay even more money than what you put down for a Tesla then go and order one today!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Mercedes 300 SL R107 - an ever green classic car

When Mercedes replaced the famous Pagoda (230 SL - 280 SL, R113) with the R107 many people were disappointed. The new car was heavier, larger and seemed to look less elegant. Despite the not very enthusiastic welcome the R107 series though was built for 18 years (1971 to 1989) and the number of cars delivered to customers was an impressive 237'286. Most of them had 8 cylinder engines (350 SL, 380SL, 420 SL, 450 SL, 500 SL and 560 SL), only 38'879 6 cylinders (280 SL, 300 SL) were built. The 300 SL was introduced in 1985 and built until the end of production of the R107 series. In total 13'443 cars were built.
The reason the car got bigger and heavier than its predecessor was mainly because of increased safety standards. In that aspect the R107 was quite innovative and exemplary. ABS (anti lock brakes) and airbags for examples were on the options list very early.
Looking at the car today it's actually a quite elegant shape and the use of chrome makes it look older than it actually is. The latest R107 SLs just got 20 years old, while the first ones now are almost 40 years old.
When you drive an SL today, the car feels fairly modern despite its age, especially when you have chosen one of the latest cars, as in 1985 the suspensions and the interior were upgraded.
The R107 even had quite an impressive movie career, starring in "Hart to Hart" (driven by Stephanie Powers), "American Gigolo" (driven by Richard Gere), Dallas (driven by Victoria Principall) and visible in many many other productions.
Most of the R107 were delivered with an automatic gear box. Only the 6 cylinders and the 350 SLs could be ordered with a manual gear box. It's estimated that only 10 to 15% of the 300 SLs allow for manual gear shift despite a fuel consumption advantage of 8 to 20% against the automatic thanks to five gears and lower revs.
The silver 300 SL pictured is a 1987 model, equipped with the 4 seat option, passenger side mirror (yes, that was an extra) and radio preparation. Delivered in Germany it has been brought to Switzerland in 2009.
R107 came with a standard hardtop to make the car better usable in the winter or for highway traffic. The picture here shows the three ways you could drive an SL.
Many people say that the R107 was one of the last (if not the last) Mercedes that was built by true engineers not by marketing people. Everything you touch feels solid and the sound of the closing door is unmatched. Even after 20+ years the car feels almost like new and certainly is capable of another 20 years easily. With this and the fact that it has a catalyst on board, an R107 SL may actually be one of the more ecological cars on earth.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The TVR Grantura MKII - short, light and very competitive

After a number of “one offs” TVR introduced the TVR Grantura in 1958. Grantura stands for “grand tourer”. The Granturas were featured in several prominent car magazines such as Autocar, whose favorable reviews created a lot of respect for the marque. In these early years, there really was no such thing as a "standard" TVR. Many engines could be ordered, anything from a Stage 3 Coventry Climax engine to a lowly side-valve Ford. MK I Granturas were praised for their excellent road-holding, although it came at the price of a punishing ride. The cars possessed many of the other key ingredients for a popular sports car: large brakes, 11in Girling drums, wire wheels, and sleek bodywork. Until mid 1960 TVR produced approx. 100 Grantura MK Is.
The MK I was superceded by the lightly modified MK II in 1960. Changes in the engine line were the main differences, the 1588ccm MGA engine now being the top offering, though the Ford or Coventry Climax alternatives were available too. Other changes included slight differences in lighting and fender flares. The car retained its chassis design and the stiff Volkswagen suspension. Continuous improvements led to the so called MK IIA representing again only minor changes to the engine line-up and other details. The largest evolution came from the standard fitment of Girling front disc brakes on all cars. Other performance modifications included an optional lightweight, aluminum cross-flow HRG-Derrington cylinder head. The last MK IIA was built in September of 1962 having been by far the most popular TVR produced to date, with nearly 400 examples produced. The car still retained the same body shell used in the first TVR Coupes produced in 1958.
The TVR Grantura had all the ingredients, making it successful in racing. Drivers such as Mitchell, Escott, Aitchison, Bolton, Rothchild, Woolfe, Haig, Donohue, Slotmaker, etc. competed with the light and small cars in national and international races. Scott-Moncrieff raced with his MK I, called “Coffee Bean” already 1959 at various events. Arnold Burton brought his MK II 1961 to the Tulip Rallye. Granturas competed at Monza, at the Nurburgring, at the Tourist Trophy, in Goodwood, Sebring and Daytona. In 1962 TVR decided to open a racing departments and brought three cars to Sebring and Le Mans. The success wasn’t great though. Even after the works race department was closed, Granturas competed in many races in Europe, USA and Australia. Specifically the improved MK IIIs were thanks to their improved suspensions and the stiffer chassis a great platform for race cars and are active in vintage racing until today.
This specific Grantura Mk II, 7/C/224, is a very early model of the Grantura MK II series. The car was first registered under “513 PRB” in Surrey, UK, in August 1960. According to its chassis number, the car must have had a Coventry Climax engine. At this time, the car apparently has been painted in “maroon”. When exactly the engine was changed to the still installed MG A 1’588 ccm unit (No 8746) is unclear. Also it’s not sure whether the car already received the HRG Derrington cross-flow head in the early 60ies or later. Also unclear is when the color changed from maroon to green, if it ever was maroon. For what is known the car stayed with the first owner in the UK until 1987, when it was brought to Sweden. Apparently the car was restored by the first Swedish owner and for use on the road registered as HKS 633. After changing hands in Sweden the car first came to Denmark and later to Switzerland. It was successfullly raced as an FIA car in both Swedish and Danish race series.
The TVR Grantura combines all the key virtues you would expect from a sportscar: It's light (less than 700 kg), small and well powered (roughly 120+ HP).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Is the end of the car mirror coming?

For many years we are now used to look into our mirrors in our car before we overtake, change lanes or park. We are trained to do so, it was a key element of the car driving exams we had to go through. Interestingly, vintage cars in the early 20iest century didn't have mirrors at all. And it was until the 70ies outside mirrors to become a standard. I can even remember the time when you had to pay extra money for the second (passenger side) mirror. Just as an example the passenger side mirror for a 1987 Mercedes 300 SL (R107) was in the price list for DM 119.70 (roughly 60 Euros). The mirrors also got more and more clever and got for example darker when strong lights were approaching from the back. The also could be electrically adjusted and you could even store their position with a "memory" system. Depending on the driver they readjusted magically.
The outside mirrors though come with a significant disadvantage. They influence aerodynamics in a negative way, increase the drag factor and the overall size of the car. That's why mirrors look quite different today compared to what we were used in the 80ies for example. So there are good reasons to make them very small and in many of the prototypes presented these days they are replaced by small cameras and a display in the car. There are other innovations that help to make driving more secure, for example radar systems that help to prevent the blind spot, making the mirrors less important. So it could well be that future cars won't have outside mirrors any more. It will take some time to adapt to the new systems though. If you have ever swapped from left hand driven cars to right hand driven cars you know what I mean. If the mirror isn't where you expect it you always look to the wrong corner.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Reduced to the max or how the first Fiat Panda was unique

When Fiat introduced the Fiat Panda in 1980 it was quite a sensation. Giorgo Giugiaro had designed a very basic car with quite a "boxy" shape, but superior interior size. While its weight was less than 800 kg it could seat 5 people and even take some luggage on top. Seats looks like garden furniture, but the interior was very flexible so that you could even set the sets up as a large bed (with a gear lever between the two halfs). It was very cheap too, in today's currency roughly 5'000 Euros. So, this super functional car won many hearts including mine. My Panda had the opening roof and the 1 liter 45 HP machine. It wasn't that quick as you can imagine. Actually I would consider this car as one of the most dangerious car I have ever owned, not because of bad handling or so, but rather because you got used to take risks to still be able to overtake.
Noise level was quite high and you needed a big stereo to enjoy some music. But it was a very practical car and very economical too. Over some 30'000 kms the average fuel consumption was roughly 6.8 liters per 100 km. Not bad for the level of engineering applied. And most of the time the car had to deliver its full power and was revved to its max. output.
The sales brochure was quite funny too, showing the flexibility of the interior and its crude design.
Maintenance was of course super simple. The car came also as Seat and it was built until 2003 in various derivates. Today, not many of the first cars with the asymmetrical front grill have survived, soon they will be collector's territory. Would I want to have it back? Probably not. But I certainly would enjoy driving one again.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How driving a car today is different from the past

Few people driving cars today do remember how it was 20, 30 or even 50 years ago. Many things that were part of the routine in the past are not needed anymore, for example adjusting the ignition, changing the mix of air and fuel to start the engine (choke) or starting the fuel pump. Some people may have even forgotten that we used ignition keys for quite some time to start the engine (not a starter button and a "keyless" go system) as I noted in a former post. And as more and more cars are equipped with automatic or automated gearboxes we don't need to manually shift gears anymore today. The turning lights go back to neutral themselves, the windscreen wipers start and stop if rain falls or doesn't. Even the driving lights go on and off automatically. So, basically, very few tasks actually have to be performed by the driver himself anymore it seems. So what does the driver do with all the time he gained? Well, let's face it, driving got a lot more complicated due to more traffic and more regulation. For example, today, a driver spends a significant share of his attention span to check for speed limits and radar controls. With more streets and more complex routing he also needs to be more awake when driving. He has to program a navigation system and take phone calls. He has access to highly sophisticated sound systems and a choice of thousands of (MP3) songs at his fingertip. So, basically, all of the time he gained by better driver support systems is now focused on observing traffic and environment and handling electronics in the car. That's probably one of the reasons why driving a classic car is so enjoying. First you don't go into difficult traffic with such a car and secondly there's nothing to prevent you from enjoying the basic mechanics of such a car.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

BMW Z1 was ahead of its time and still not successful then, but desirable today

When BMW started to build the Z1, it was quite a revolutionary car. Initially thought as a engineering showcase, BMW actually decided to manufacture the car and built 8'000 of them between 1989 and 1991.
The car showed a series of innovations:
The Z1 had a front-mid-engine, was kept together by a stainless steel chassis, used many fiberglass components and was said to be easy to repair. The doors slided into the lower side walls and disappeared so that you could drive very "open". An advanced aerodynamics and the intelligent roof construction seen already on the E30 convertible complete the picture.
The engine came directly from the 325i, good performance and easy maintenance come with it. The car was delivered in only four different colors initially: Red, yellow, green and black. Two other colors were added over time.
The car was actually quite heavy with 1'250 kg and the engine delivered 170 HP. With this performance was okay, but not mind boggling.
So why should you care about this car today? It's a "youngtimer" and will be an "oldtimer" in about 10 years. Given it has only been built in a small quantity it's quite rare. It's design is very special and head turning. It is fairly easy to maintain and own. Prices are in the range of 25'000 to 35'000 Euro for a good one, mileage is under 75'000 km for most cars. There's enough choice today. It probably will hold its value quite well and it will always be fun to drive. So, here's a future classic that is affordable today and can be maintained without huge financial means. Go for it if you like it!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Alfasud Ti 1978 - precious and a great first car to own

When Alfa-Romeo introduced the Alfasud in 1971 is was a very innovative car. It was much more spacious than its rival VW Golf or most others of the family cars of that time. With the compact boxer engine mounted in the front most of the space of the short car (3'935 mm) was given to the people and the luggage. The car was built in a new factory in the south of Italy. A new factory with partially inexperienced workers though wasn't the optimal basis for a successful venture. Earl Alfasuds suffered from severe corrosion issues. It was so bad that the German magazine Rallye Racing ordered their long run test car in white to be able to detect the rust easier. The first Alfasuds weren't that powerful, the range started with 63 to 68 HP from 1.2 liter. Later versions delivered up to 105 HP thanks to twin carburettors and up to 1.5 liter. The suspension design was what you would expect from the 70ies, but the 4 disc brakes were more than what many of the competitors had in their cars.
The Alfasud TI 1.5 of 1978 delivered 85 HP at 5'800 RPM, max. torque was 120.6 Nm at 3'500 RPM. It took the car roughly 11 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h. Weight was 880 kg and the tires were 165/70 SR 13 quite skinny from today's perspective.
The car was a great drive. Not only did it enjoy its driver with a great Alfa sound that had a very special appeal thanks to the boxer design of the engine, but it also handled very well. It was no surprise that there were motorsport series driven with the Alfasud in many different countries. The Alfasud (the blue car pictured) was my first car and I loved it. Of course it was not new when I got it and despite quite a bit of new paint the rust showed up quite soon after I took possession.
But with its sporty interior, big trunk (400 liters), spacious passenger compartment and impeccable handling it was a great car to own and not even that uneconomical with a fuel consumption of 9 to 13 liters per 100 km. And it was an Alfa-Romeo, meaning the "cuore sportivo" was part of the package. I swapped it later on against the faster and more stylish Alfasud Sprint Veloce, but I still have only good memories of the "ti".

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why are car colors so boring today?

When you look at a car park today you will probably see 70-80% of all cars being painted in either black, grey, silver or some variant of these. How different it was in the past! I don't talk about the beginning of the industrially built car, the Ford T. As we all know you could order the Ford T in any color as long as it was black. No, I am talking about the 60ies to the 80ies. The first picture on the left shows the colors listed in the VW Scirocco brochure of the early 80ies. That's only twenty years ago. You can see yellow, three flavors of red, blue, turquoise, green and yes, there was white and silver too.
Twenty years later the color portfolio has become absolutely boring. Look at what the colors are in which you can order the new Volkswagen Scirocco. Three, maybe four real colors, all the rest are variants of grey and black. And most people will pick either silver or black anyway. Only the really brave ones will order the greenish color. Picking a color is very important of course, because the value of the used car will be heavily influenced by the color choice you made at the begin.
Two more remarks: Color preferences depend of course on the geography, Japanese car buyers have prefered white long before the North Europeans have started to rediscover this color. And there's also a interdepence between the shape and design of a car and the color. No surprise that most Aston Martins are showing some tone of silver, it just looks grey.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tests in Car Magazines are not neutral

A lot of people consult Car Magazines to find out what car to consider to buy, me included. Car Magazines employ well educated people with lots of experience and therefore are able to measure the performance of cars and the car’s characteristics. But why can it be that more often than not French cars win and are celebrated in French magazines, while a German car may be the winner in a German journal? Is there a lack of Neutrality?
Well, I strongly believe that these journalists have a very professional attitude and they try to stay as fair as possible. What may make the difference is, that not all criteria are the same for Germany versus France for example. Why would a French motor journalist care about the top speed of a car really? Let’s take an example: the Toyota Prius. If you apply German criteria you may want to be able to go fast on a highway and also drive very quickly on normal streets. Distances are big between cities, so you really care a bit less about city fuel consumption. People are rather tall and you need lots of space for all the stuff a family wants to take for vacation. The Prius will not score well here. In Japan it’s very different. Lots of city traffic, impossible to drive faster than 100 km/h, smaller people and probably no need to take the car when you do vacation trips. So the test result will be quite different in these two cases. Another good illustration is what TopGear did when comparing the Toyota Prius and the BMW M3 on the race track: the Prius going full speed followed by a relaxed M3 resulted in more fuel consumption with the Hybrid than with the tuned six cylinder engine of the BMW. Actually as a reader you may not even care about neutrality as long as the criteria applied fit to your own needs. And yes, there’s some national pride involved too and probably some sponsoring and advertisement money as well. So it’s good that the readers have their own opinions also and often read a number of different journals anyway.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Why Mercedes got it wrong again with the new SLS

This autumn Mercedes will present its brand new SLS to the public. The car has (almost) everything what a super car needs, i.e. gullwing doors, strong engine, good design with roots back into the 50ies (aka 300 SL Gullwing). And it even will be "affordable", at least if you apply super car standards. You will be able to buy one at a price that is in the lower Aston Martin area. I actually like the car, as I always loved gullwing doors and it seems to be a no-nonsense sports car.
And now they even announced an electrical version (see first picture) of it! With its cleverly distributed extra weight for batteries and four electrical motors at the wheels this seems like a serious attempt to bring electricity to super car buyers, you would think.
Well, maybe, but the range of course is not satisfactory and the top speed is limited to 200 km/h. Which is certainly good enough for most countries, but hey, this is a super car. But actually I think the "standard" car is missing the point too. Mercedes should fit the 6 cylinder direct injection engine (maybe with a small turbo charger) to this car, but not this big old age 8 cylinder. The engine is actually a good one, but for today's time it's just too big. And the car is too heavy and probably to large. What I said about the 6 cylinder R8 Audi should build is also applicable here. Dear marketeers from Mercedes, Audi, BMW and others, please build a super car that still makes 0-100 km/h in less than 6 seconds but has a consumption of substantially less than 10 liters per 100 km. That will be a SUPER car.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Is the Dino 246 GTs the best Ferrari while not really being one?

When Ferrari Owners were asked to name the most beautiful Ferrari in history in a survey, funny enough they named the Dino 246 GT as the most beautiful. It's funny because actually the Dino wasn't a Ferrari really.
The history of the (Ferrari) Dino begins already in the 50ies, when Ferrari needed six cylinder engines for his formula 1 and 2 cars. The design of these engines was based on ideas of Alfredino who was Enzo’s son. He died with 24 years, but the engine was built and was highly successful. Years later the sports regulation demanded that formula 2 engines had to be produced in large numbers and Enzo Ferrari signed a cooperation with Fiat to produce first 2 liter and later 2.4 liter 6 cylinder engines that were used for the Fiat Dinos (Coupé and Convertible), the 206/246 GT/GTS and the Lancia Stratos as well.
Enzo Ferrari didn’t agree to use the Ferrari brand for cars built around engines with less than 12 cylinders, so the new car got its own brand “Dino” going back to Ferrari’s son. The brand was kept separate of Ferrari and even got its own distribution network. Years later the brand was given up with the 308 GT/4 as the last car, later 8 cylinder cars were given the name “Ferrari”.
The prototype of the Dino 206 GT was presented in 1965 at the car show in Paris. In November 1967 the Dino 206 Competitione was shown, now with the transvere mounted 2 liter engine. 1968 finally an almost production ready prototype was exhibited in Brussels. Production started in 1968 at Sciaglietti, final assembly was done in the Ferrari factory in Modena.
In 1970 the 246 GT replaced the 206 GT. It had a larger ironcast engine, many of the alluminium parts had been replaced by steer and the seats now were covered with vinyl. The car was a bit longer and was produced in three series (L, M and E). 1972 a sister car, the 246 GTS was announced showing a targa roof.
What all Dinos had in common was the special rear screen allowing for optimal visibility.
In general Dinos handle very well and almost like go-karts. They are easy to drive and compared to their larger sisters (i.e. Daytona or 365 GTC) quite compact and much closer to a race car.
The Dino 246 GT wasn’t cheap! Price levels were comparable with the Porsche 911S 2.4.
The Dino 246 GT is not rare in super car terms. In total almost 4’000 Dinos 206/246 were produced between 1967 and 1974. The Dino 246 GT coupe left the factory 2'487 times. Now, on the one side, this may seem like a large number, however compared to Ferrari production figures today, Dinos are quite exclusive. Today Ferrari produces more 430 in a year than they built Dinos over 7 years.
Prices have been increasing steadily over the last years and it's difficult to buy a good one below 100'000 Euros these days. Maintenance costs are comparable to the ones of an 8 cylinder Ferrari, but certainly cheaper than the 12 cylinders. Reliability is actually very good, if the car is properly maintained.
When driving it, the car feels much more modern than you would expect. Besides the horrible seats it's a really good drive. Handling is impeccable and performance is acceptable even with today's standards. It's not blistering fast, but you will certainly not slow down the traffic. And it still feels like a proper race car, but with good manners. When you drive it you see the swooping curves of the front, just like the guys at the Targa Florio did when driving the 206 S.
It's is pretty obvious that with all these credentials and characteristics Dino 246 GTs are both a good investment and a pleasure to own.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What does the Toyota IQ have to do with the Heinkel Kabinenroller?

In a recent discussion with an automotive engineer I learned that the Heinkel Kabinenroller was one of the most effective and well engineered "cars" ever produced. First I was a bit astonished, but when you start to think about it you are really impressed about what these engineers achieved, seating 2 or more people in a small vehicle. Heinkel produced a number of different models and some were actually for whole families including luggage despite of the small footprint. They were economical too and fast enough to be able to cover long distances. What would be the today's equivalent for such a car? In my eyes it's the Toyota IQ.
The Toyota IQ has about the size of a Smart car, but still offers four (or three plus one) seats. It's very cleverly packaged having he engine in front. It's not too heavy and is quite economical too. It even looks quite okay. I would order mine in white. Of course you wouldn't want to crash into a SUV and this is part of the problem with small cars. But cars should be built to be driven, not to being crashed in my eyes. Safety is fine, but there's a trade off between safety and economy that shouldn't be understimated.
Let's see how successful the IQ will be, I bet it will be one of the best sellers of Toyota.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What Peak Oil means for classic cars and new cars

I happened to be in an interesting presentation by Daniele Ganser yesterday. He presented his views and thoughts around "Peak Oil". Basically this is about the facts that oil is only available in finite quantities and that the largest volumes have been discovered already while consumption still increases. There will be a peak in oil production in the foreseeable future (some say 2010, some later, some earlier) and then the prices will increase and the amount we can consume must decrease. Of course we all have known this for quite some times, but we tend to forget. There's a lot of nasty business around this problem, and there are wars and propaganda battles. But whatever we do, oil will not last forever and we need to preserve what we still have for what we most urgently need it for.
As a classic car owner of course I need gasoline for my hobby and while I am willing to pay more for it as it doesn't matter that much in the overall cost of my hobby it can become difficult to justify let's say 5-10 Euro per liter of gasoline. But it would be even worse to not being able to drive the cars any more and I am pretty sure it would help to increase the value of the cars.
Very different is the picture for car manufacturers of new cars and their buyers. Let's accept the facts and start to produce cars that weigh rather 500 kg than 1.5 ton and consume much less than 5 liters per 100 km. Let's build electrical cars as soon as the battery technology is both economical and ecological and hybrid cars to combine the two things. I have posted a lot on what can be done. And for the politicians - let's bet on alternative fuels and energy sources.
Overall, let's be intelligent and clever about this and think for future generations too. And keep history and tradition - classic cars are part of this - in mind too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Is it a car or a computer? The role of microprocessors in modern cars

When you look at a modern car you wonder how much its "nature" is computer versus mechanics driven. Cars built today typically contain many many microprocessors organizing specific functions and features of the car, e.g. engine management, in-car-entertainment, navigation, air condition, airbags, memory functions, ABS, ESB, ASR, etc. Modern car don't work if these computers are not doing their job. The complex hybrid system of a Toyota Prius for example asks for a lot of computer driven management to combine the two engines and decide on when to use the electrical motor to load the batteries versus to use it for acceleration. Computers are calculating the amount of fuel and air to go into an engine for every stroke, optimizing fuel consumption and emissions. So, as cars got more efficient and clean, more computing was required and the innovations were enabled by the power of the microprocessor. And with the ever increasing performance of these little computers (doubling every 18 months) more and more can be done with these. Soon these little "helpful hands" will probably even help us brake or steer should we forget to do so, computers can even control a car all by themselves. But this is research stuff and only used in the labs for the time being.
Computers in the car are a blessing as they bring safety, economy and convenience. But they also make cars complex and detach the driver from the mechanics and physics for the true driving. That's why I love old cars in my spare time while enjoying the innovations in my daily driver when being on the road for professional reasons.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Yellow Ferrari 355 Spider - a future classic?

The Ferrari 355 Spider was introduced 1995 and was after the Ferrari 348 Spider the second fully open 8 cylinder Ferrari. Of course it inherited all the good ingredients of the 355 Coupé, specifically the 3'495 ccm engine with 381 HP. It was delivered with manual 6 gear transmission or the F1 sequential gear change unit. With 1'350 kg weight and 4.25 meter length it was a fairly compact and lightweight car. Acceleration was below 5 seconds for the sprint from 0 to 100 km/h. The 355 was a good looking car, certainly more pretty than it's successor, the 360. The styling and design have survived the last 10 years quite well, the car still looks slick and modern. Technically it's a good car and maintenance usually should't make the wealthy owner wrong. Not too many things usually go wrong with a 355 if it's well maintained and cared for. Prices today are around 40 to 60 percentages of when it was new, cars rarely have covered more than 50'000 km, most come with 20'000 to 30'000 km. A majority of cars traded these days have been equipped with the F1 gear change. But I would prefer the 6 speed manual transmission. There's nothing better than the open polished gear change gate.
So, is this a car worth collecting? Well, this goes back to what I wrote about the 575M a couple of days before. Ferrari produced approx. 3'714 355 Spiders, most of them (85%) LHD. So, it's not rare. It's clearly gorgeous and a blast to drive. In yellow it looks great and is a good alternative to the usual ferrari red. If you buy one now it will probably hold the value quite well for the next years. But most probably you won't make real money on this car. But it will give you a lot of pleasure and that's probably much more than what shares of a financial institutions will deliver to you.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

How much car do you really need?

When I spotted these two cars recently I really thought that's a very nice illustration of the question "how much car do you really need". The two cars couldn't be more different.
The Honda S800, built in the sixties, is really small (lemgth: 3.30m, width: 1.40m, height: 1.20m), light (735kg), but still accommodates two people and bit of luggage. Its 791 ccm engine delivers 70 HP at 8'000 RPM, enough to run 160 km/h. It is economical too, with some 6 to 9 liter per 100 km (travel mode). By the way, 8'000 RPM was really exciting in the 60ies, most cars didn't even rev up to 6'000 RPM at that time. There's a lot fo motocycle technology in this car.
The Bentley Arnage, built between 1998 and today (final series) is sort of the pure opposite. It
is large (length: 5.40m, width: 1.93m, height: 1.52m), heavy (2'585 kg) and yes, it seats 5 people and the ones sitting in the back will not be unhappy. Its fuel consumption is certainly not greenish with 19.5 liter per 100 km, or up to 28.8 liter in the city. With 6'752 ccm and more than 500 HP there's enough power in this former Rolls Royce engine with lots of tradition coming with it to accelerate the car in less than 6 seconds to 100 km/h and reach 288 km/h.
So, both cars can transport people from A) to B), both use the same basic engineering concepts (rear wheel drive, gasoline powered four stroke engine), but the way it's packaged and built couldn't be much more diverse. And none of the typical Bentley driver would ever look at the Honda, and none of the S800 aficionados would ever consider a Bentley as being fun to drive. Which means at the end, that everybody has to find HIS answer to the question of how much car he really needs.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Porsche 924 Carrera GT - exciting but still undervalued?

There are great cars, everybody knows and others that are almost forgotten. One of the second kind is the Porsche 924 Carrera GT, built around 1980 on the basis of the "people Porsche" 924 that was quite far from being really exciting. But by adding 85 hp, widening the body and optimizing suspensions, brakes and interior the 924 became a seriour sports car, and in GTS and GTR disguise a proper race car even. Only 406 GTs, plus 78 GTS/GTRs were built, that's a very small number. So you would think these cars fetch high prices. Well at least the GTs don't . So if you are looking for a cool car to drive and hope to get a decent return on your investment this is certainly not the worst car to buy. And according to period tests it was really great to drive and with less than 7 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h quite quick. Go for a white one, if you find one, as this was the racing color of that time. At least myself, I have it on my list of cars to potentially buy in the near future.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Ferrari 575M - a boy's dream and a worthwile investment?

This morning I read an ad in a newspaper promoting used Ferrari 575M (at about 50 to 70 percentages of the price when they were new). The title read as "a boy's dream and a worthwhile investment". I don't dispute the boy's dream. Many people admired Ferraris and were hoping to be able to buy one eventually. What I am wondering about is whether these cars are really good investments. This goes back to the blog entry "classic cars and their value over time" I wrote a week ago or so. The 575M is clearly a A1 or A2 in my graph. And it's not clear whether the value actually has already rockbottomed. I honestly doubt. And this car also brings back the question on whether modern cars actually ever will become "oldtimers" and vintage car classics. A car such as the Ferrari 575M has lots of complex electronics on board, it's full of digital processors, sensors, motors, etc.. This stuff is difficult to maintain. If a mechanic in 25 years will try to find an error in such a system he might be in big trouble. If he tries to find the parts needed to fix it, it could be even worse. For some of the early "electronic" cars not even the manufacturers of the digital gizmo is still alive, no blueprints exist (thanks to proper outsourcing). Will this be better with a Ferrari of the year 2001? Small production cars will not be the first target for a potential electronics spare part industry.
Which brings me to another point. How many Ferraris 575M were actually built? I would estimate a few thousands, probably 4'000 to 6'000. That's a lot. If you compare this with the three digit numbers for 330 GTCs or 250 GTEs or even with the low four digit numbers for Ferrari BBs or Daytonas, the Ferrari 575M is clearly less exclusive than one of these early classics.
So, should you worry. If you have the cash and want to drive a great car, the Ferrari 575M may still be a good car to go for, but buy it for the fun (and boy's dream aspect) and not as an investment. This way you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Are better batteries enough to make the electrical car succeed?

There have been a few announcements recently that talked about better batteries giving more reach at less weight for cars. IBM for example is working on a Lithium Air battery, claiming to be able to build the energy store for cars doing 300 to 500 miles. This would be a factor 4 to 6 of what is possible with the best batteries today.
But that is maybe not good enough as the base of future mobility. As long as we haven't solved the recycling problem with batteries and as long as we think we can continue to build cars as we do today (heavy, large, more geared towards safety than efficiency) we still will waste earth' resources.

I still think the car of the future should be lightweight (e.g. 500-900 kg), slippery (0.25 cw), accommodate 2-3 persons or 4-5 depending on configuration and be powered by electrical motors and an ecological range extender. Batteries should be as small as possible and be fully recycleable. Maybe it's a dream, but this dream could come true in the next 3-5 years I think, at least from small production companies. Cars like the Mindset and the Aptera are clearly pointing in the right direction.