Monday, August 31, 2009

BMW's Diesel Hybrid prototype - the future of sportscars?

BMW just reveiled a prototype that will be showcased at the coming international auto exhibition (IAA) in Frankfurt. It combines a 3 cylinder diesel engine with two electrical motors and a battery of 85 kg. The car is supposed to be very efficient with less than 4 liters per 100 km and at the same time quick too with less than 5 seconds for the sprint from 0 to 100 km/h. Sounds good, doesn't it? In addition is is supposed to have a very low drag coefficient with 0.22 and it isn't as heavy as you could expect looking at all the technology on board, the weight is actually less than 1'400 kg. So this all looks like BMW has invented the sportscar of the future. Well, I don't think so. This thing will sound awful with its 3 pot diesel engine and the look is more suited for a non-production prototype than for something you can really use. It's an interesting engineering object though, but I will still prefer the really light weight and no thrills alternative that hopefully somebody else (Lotus, where is the successor of the Elise?) will build.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

More than 1500 cars at the 2009 British Car Meeting in Mollis

Today the annual British Car Meeting took place in Mollis/Switzerland. With splendid weather it was no surprise that a great amount of cars gathered in Mollis to celebrate the guest of honor brand, Austin Healey.
The British Car Meeting is something special. The only common denominator is the fact that each car has to be manufactured in Great Britain. So it doesn't make a difference whether a car is old (like an MG TC) or brand new (like a Aston Martin V8 Vantage).
Also interesting is the fact, that you can see completely restored cars sitting besides, well, a car in basically drivable condition.
For somebody thinking of restoring let's say a Triumph Spitfire, the BCM is a great event, given 30-50 cars of this type can be found at one location.
And the fact that the place where everybody meets includes also a small airport creates extra entertainment with airplanes starting and landing.
The BCM is a meeting with something for everybody. A Rolls Royce parks side by side with a Mini or a Ford Anglia. True rarities such as an AC ME 3000 can be spotted on the one side, a bunch of Lotus Elise and Exige on the other side. More Morgans than most club meetings can attract are distributed over the place and probably every model that Triumph built since second world war has been brought to Mollis at least once, if not 10 to 20 times.
For TVR fans almost the whole model range showed up also, i.e. Tuscan V6, Taimar, 3000S (at least 4 cars), Griffith, Chimaera, Tamora, 350C.
It's a good event for visitors as well as for the drivers. They walk around between the cars, eat a "Bratwurst" (sausage) or a "Schnitzelbrot" (I can't translate this), drink a beer or mineral water, talk to friends, learn about other people's cars or just relax and enjoy the huge collection of British cars. What a great way to spend a sunny Sunday.
There's no element of competition involved, no concours d'elegance, no 1/4 mile race, no nothing. Good so. That's probably what people want and enjoy. Go on organizing these, the success proves that the concept is right.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Picture of the week - Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar C-Type in Berne

I thought of starting a new series, the picture of the week.
Combing nicely shaped cars with contrasting or supporting backgrounds has always been something I was trying to do. Here you can see the Ecurie Ecosse race transporter with the Jaguar C-Type sitting on top. The quite old building in the background is one of the landmarks in the center of Bern and the whole scene was part of the "corso" being done as part of the Grand Prix Suisse last weekend. The combination of the different shapes and the interesting paint schemes create quite a nice picture after all.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Public transport from the perspective of a passionate car driver

As we all know, it's the cars my heart beats for, not the trains. Still, I am using public transport quite regularly, basically every day these days. And there's a lot of good things you can say about public transport, at least when you have the luck to live in a well organized rural area like Zurich and surroundings.
From an economical standpoint public transport can certainly match the alternative car.
From a convenience perspective in city traffic often public transport is much better than taking the car. You don't need to find a parking spot, you will not suffer from traffic jams and your journey typically ends just in front of the building that you want to reach.
There's another experience I wanted to share though. Recently I was standing at the train station waiting for my train. When it was 30 seconds before the planned time, actually people all looked in the direction where the train had to come, because they WERE expecting it to be on time. And it was, as in 9x% of all cases in Switzerland. That's quite appealing. That's precision that creates convenience.
There are a couple of caveats of course too, when taking the train. You need to stick to the schedule (sic!), you will not want to transport heavy and large objects and if you want to catch the swine flue then that's probably a good place to start with.
But all in all, a well working public transportation system is a good thing, as long as it doesn't become religious.

Monday, August 24, 2009

GP Suisse in Berne 2009 - what an amazing rolling museum

Between 1934 and 1958 Berne in Switzerland had its own race track (mostly/partially leveraging public roads) and organized Formula 1 and 2 Grand Prix races. Some of the world greatest drivers (Ascari, Fangio, Stuck, etc.) drove in Bern and some of most adventureous machinery such as the Auto Union race cars or the Mercedes silver arrows were campaigned in Berne and won races. There's so much history and tradition that at team decided to organize a memorial in 2009: The GP Suisse 2009.
The weekend August 22-23 was selected and an amazing collection of cars gathered to drive on a 8 km long track through public roads to basically demonstrate a rolling museum.
There were motorcycles, cars and even airplanes.
The spectators had certainly something to enjoy on the road. The organization decided for a quite lengthy track and therefore limited the number of laps each car could go. This resulted in some unhappy drivers not being able to race/roll as much as they liked and probably some visitors missing one or the other car.
The cars had to drive behind pace cars that were partially much too slow, so some cars got hot, some others just couldn't show what they really can do.
With 400+ cars and motorcycles creative solutions had to be found for organizing the paddock. Most of the cars had to be put in the parking house and public access was limited for a number of reasons. Again, many visitors though didn't get the opportunity to have a closer look at especially the sportscars, while the formula cars were residing outside.
What is really phantastic about this events is how close you can get to the cars and that for example you can watch the mechanics starting these grand machines. Also it's possible to talk to everybody and to meet people you haven't seen for ages.
For the drivers it's of course quite a bit of organization to get the car to the place, have it inspected and aproved, to finally only do some 4 or 5 laps. But I think most enjoyed it anyway. I at least did and in general the event can be considered a success.
Certainly some of the shortcomings of the event can be corrected by the organizers for next time.
I wouldn't for example separate specials and so called originals. And I would have the owners select title and name of the car. Organizers can always decide to not accept a car. Also I would try to shorten the track or have larger fields distributed on the track to better entertain the crowd.
I would ask the pace cars to drive at least an average of 80 km/h. The paddocks should be organized outside for all the cars and maybe it would be better to limit the number of cars and to give them more time on the track.
But there are many things I would not change, for example the wonderful selection of cars and having the action so close to the spectators. If you want to get an impression, then have a "look" at the enclosed soundbite. You can hear an Alfetta warming up its engine and then the Auto Union C-Typ starting the engine and the Mercedes W154 firing up. What a noise!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Radios and classic cars

Listening to music in an oldtimer car is not on top of people's wish list. However if there is a radio in an old car, it better be correct for the period. This is what most "connaisseurs" would say. Radios have developed quite a bit since the 60ies or 70ies. We have seen various stages of development: From being purely mechanical, to being computer controlled and supported sophisticated radio systems, to computers that also replay music in modern cars. Besides radio wave based music, we have seen the eight track cassettes coming in the 60ies, the compact cassettes in the 70ies, the compact disk in the 80ies and finally digital MP3 formatted storage devices and USB sticks in the late 90ies and the current century. Sound quality improved, assistance systems made the radio look for the best signal, detect news or traffic control messages and adapting the sound volume to the noise in the car. Today's radios as said are not really radios, but rather advanced computer systems that can help with navigation, phone calls and music entertainment. They do many things in parallel and sometimes you can feel this! At least I never had to "reboot" my old Philips radio in the TVR 3000S and it never rejected me taking over control, i.e. tuning up sound volume. Different to this modern computer controlled radio systems can basically show a "blue screen" (if they are MS Windows driven), can refuse any interference of the driver or delay execution of orders, because they are busy with something else. Brave new world.
Last but not least, the more than 30 years old radio in the TVR mentioned beforestill works, I am not convinced that the one in my today's car will be able to do the same in 2040.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Are vintage race cars and classic cars safe in today’s traffic?

Questions often debated in all kinds of classic car forums circle around safety. How safe is a vintage race car in modern traffic? Can you use a youngtimer or oldtimer safely every day in in today’s heavy and tight traffic? As always these are loaded questions.
Here’s my point to this.
Vintage and classic cars are clearly less safe compared to modern cars in many aspects. They have inferior brakes (narrower and less sticky tires, no anti-lock-breaking, no anti-dive, etc.), there’s no safety cell around the passengers, no pre-calculated demolition impact management and no airbags, often no safety belts, and none of the modern computer controlled safety features such as “EPS”, “ATC”, “pre safe” or automatic breaking. For example, a Jaguar E-Type takes 50-60 meter (or more) to break from 100 km/h to 0, a modern Volkswagen Golf gets this done in less than 40 meters, modern sportscars are approaching the 30/32 meters. That’s a hell of a difference as it means that when the modern sportscar has stopped, the oldtimer behind him still does 60 km/h or so. You wouldn’t want to sit in this car at this moment.
Vintage or classic race cars usually were the best of their breed at a time and often had more safety features than day-to-day cars. But compared to modern cars they still are less safe because of some of the missing features and engineering concepts.
So, does this mean you shouldn’t use them in daily traffic?
I don’t think so. Yes, the cars are less safe by “nature”, but their drivers are much more awake and much less distracted by things like navigation systems, phones and other gimmick. And last but not least, they know about the safety issues and are more careful and look ahead.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Installation lap on public roads

One benefit of driving historic race cars is the fact, that many of them can actually be used on normal roads. My goal always has been to be able to road register my cars. Yesterday night I took out the Devin to make sure everything is fine for the coming Grand Prix Suisse in Berne. In a pure racing world you would call this an "installation lap". I checked oil and water, tyre pressure, warmed up the engine, drove 20 kms and filled up the tank. No major incidents, everything is fine. The car is ready for the outing of next weekend. Similar to the heros of the past I will drive the car to Berne on public roads, get it inspected by the scrutineers, and have it lined up for the demonstration runs on Sunday. I am really looking forward to this event. Stay tuned, I will come up with a "race report" here soon after the event.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Where are the truely fuel efficent sportscars?

I just read the list of cars producing less than 120 gr/km CO2, published by the German car magazine "auto motor und sport". The list shows about 80 cars, coming from manufacturers such as Toyota, Volkswagen, Peugeot, Mazda, Ford, Fiat, Citroen, Renault, BMW, Audi, Volvo, Chevrolet, etc. Most of the cars have a Diesel engine, only about 25% have gasoline engines. Three hybrid cars (Honda Insight, Honda Civic, Toyota Prius) can be found in top quarter. But while these cars may make small families and commuters happy, there's nothing on this list that will excite sportscar fans.
I think it hasn't to be like this! A Smart Coupé oder Convertible would certainly be able to drive with less than 120 gr/km CO2 if the technology of today was applied. Or why shouldn't Artega build a version of its gorgeous sportscar with a downsized KERS enabled 1.8 or 1.4 liter engine? The technology is there! Just take the Volkswagen 1.4 liter Turbo engine (170 HP) and combine it with a simple hybrid unit as produced by Connaught Engineering as retrofit for the Mercedes Sprinter or Ford Transit. An optimized unit would probably be less than 50 kg light, thanks to the supercap approach and the additional weight would easily be compensated by the smaller engine and other weight reductions possible. Would this be a big seller? Maybe not, but there's certainly a segment of people who would trade in efficiency against excess power. It has worked in the 60ies with the Fiat 850 Spider for example, and it can work again now.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rare cars at Altbüron Bergprüfung 2009

This years "Bergprüfung" (hillclimb) at Altbüron was a full success. The weather was great (although hot), roughly 200 cars and 30 motocycles raced up the hill, no major accident happened. Events like Altbüron may not attract so much public interest as Goodwood or the Gaisberg race, but the cars shown were worth looking and some of theme were really rare!
It was the first outing of the JWF Milano GT in Switzerland and it didn't come as a surprise that most spectators saw it the first time and didn't really know what they were looking at. The car enjoyed the crowd with its remarkable sound and beautiful shape.
The Lagonda Rapier was one of more than 15 pre war race cars. Pre war cars make technology and engineering visible second to none.
The third car I would like to mention was the Matra-Bonnet Djet. It's said to be one of the most original Djets in existience, as it's still with the first owner and nothing was change since the car competed in the Swiss championship in the sixties.
And lastly three Enzmann 506 made it to Altbüron. These cars shared a Volkswagen chassis and a quite remarkable body shape without doors. The cars were quite quick thanks to reduced weight and increases power output of the Volkswagen and partially Porsche engines. To see three of these rare cars at one event is certainly remarkable.
Besides the cars mentioned there were also a group of Recreations/Replicas with a Kraftwerks Porsche 917, a Porsche Carrera 6, A Ferrari 330P4, to mention just a few. I also spotted a group of very beautiful Abarths (from the Möll collection) and a great many other cars you don't see every days.
So, there was something for everybody and all the drivers enjoyed the hillclimb as well, not being put under time pressure, just to drive for the sake and fun of it.
The next "Bergprüfung" will be in 2011.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cars like art or sculptures

There's quite a bit of art in the design of cars. In some vehicles you'll find more, in others less of it. Often the designer didn't try to make it artistic, but rather tried to find a good solution for an engineering problem. From time to time though, there's a bit of freedom to create a real beauty. Look at the picture at the side. This is the air intake of an Alpine-Renault A110 1600 S (1972). The main purpose of this car was to be fast and competitive. And it was, winning the Rallye Monte Carlo multiple times. But still, the air intake looks almost like a sculpture and the mixture of plastic, color and chrome is just beautiful. You will find such extraordinary design elements in many of the greatest classic cars, and this is why it's just such a joy to look at them and to study them.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Recreations, Replicas and Originals - what can you live with?

Doing my usual scan through a number of car ad sites I found this Bugatti T37 on ClassicCarsforSale, one of my favorite sites. The Bugatti is listed with an estimate of 100'000 to 150'000 USD (RM Auction, August 15, 2009) and it's clearly marked as a (well done) recreation. It looks awesome in my eyes and I am pretty sure it's as fun to drive as a T37 original car, insured for 1-2 million USD. I have even been told that quite a number of Bugatti owners actually bought a recreation to drive, while safeguarding the original in the garage at home. So, it can't be that bad to drive the copy.
So the question really is, do you buy cars to drive them or two collect them (as an investment)? And, is the original that much better as an investment as the copy? And another question is, whether the originals aren't really recreations too. I learned for example that there's almost no Porsche Carrera 6 (906) in existence, that really still has its original chassis and engine. So, most of these cars are actually recreations too. They are traded as originals because they kept their initial chassis number, but that's it. Similar as with the Bugatti a true recreation Carrera 6 can be bought for a fraction of the price of the original and no part might actually really be different.
So, here's my take. Recreations are okay, and I wouldn't mind to own this Bugatti, just be honest and declare it as what it is. Same with the Carrera 6. If only the chassis number is left from the original car, declare it as rebuild based on original chassis number. What I don't like at all are modern copies of old cars, where new materials and manufacturing methods are used the make the car more competitive than the original. If a new Lola T70 is much faster than the original in a historic car race, then something is wrong.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The new Porsche Turbo - excellent or too much?

The new Porsche Turbo seems to be a new landmark. It's not only very fast (500 HP, 0-100 km/h in 3.4 s), it's also fairly efficient for a car of its kind (11.4 liters per 100 km, approx. 268 gr CO2 per km). And it looks ... well, just like any other 911. Which is good, at least for all the traditional Porsche friends. It's certainly a quite well engineered compromise between every day practicality and race car like talent. Would I want one? For the money asked for? Probably not. I'd rather have a "regular" 997 and an Audi A4 station wagon (or something similar from this category) at the side. This would cover most/all of my transportation needs, I wouldn't be too much slower and for Volkswagen it doesn't make too much of a difference neither, as they now own all these brands anyway.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Peugeot 205 GTI - hot hatchback and real successor of initial Golf GTI

When Volkswagen introduced the VW Golf GTI in 1976 they had no idea how successful the car was going to be. They had invented a new category. People with a wide range of backgrounds and income bought the car, because it was practical, nimble and fun to drive. When Volkswagen replaced the Mk 1 Golf with the Mk 2 in 1983 the GTI wasn't any more as attractive as before. Being heavier, uglier and less cool, made many people looking for something else as a replacement.
Peugeot was clearly an alternative and many thought, a better one. The Peugeot 205 GTI was a success, both with 1.6 and 1.9 liter engine. Power was comparable to the Golf with 105 to 128 HP and the handling was certainly equivalent to say the least. The car was very pretty, thanks to Pininfarinas design, and it was as practical as the Golf had been. The 205 GTI was economical too and it was one of the first cars for example to have with a catalyst in 1987 in Switzerland. Many reasons therefore spoke for this car and I got mine in white in 1988 with a black interior and the 1.9 liter engine. I loved it and it was a blast to drive in the hilly Swiss landscape.
I didn't have it for too long, as I moved on to a BMW, but retrospectively it certainly was one of the best cars I ever owned.
Peugeot took over the "hot hatch" category with this car, but they blew it with the 306 which was never a real successor of the 205.
Here's some technical detail right out of the sales brochure (pictured on the left): 1905 ccm, 104 HP (DIN), 3 way catalyst, 3.705 m long, 1.572 m wide, 900 kg light, vmax 190 km/h, 0-100 km/h in 9.5 seconds, average fuel consumption 7.9 liter per 100 km/h. Look at today's cars in comparison: Yes they are a bit faster, but not that much and the even use more gasoline and are much more difficult to park.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The design of the new Mercedes E class doesn't work

Mercedes Benz has come up with very nice cars over time. We all remember the Gullwing 300 SL, the Pagoda, the R107 (280-560 SL), the C111, to just name a few. From time to time they seem though to miss the point when (r)evolutionizing their design language. The old E class for example, was a quite good looking car, meeting the expectation of the buyers. Quality issues the first series may have had were solved and forgotten later. Now, in 2009 Mercedes introduced a new E class, pictured here. On pictures the cars actually look nice.
But since I now have seen a number of these cars on the road I must say, the design doesn't work for me. It's kind of a mixture of early 2000 Cadilliac (front) with a Toyota back end. While the front looks very agressive, the rear sort of is saying nothing and looks very exchangeable. From the side the car is fine, I think. I am maybe old fashioned as I actually do like the shape of the C class much more.
I wonder how the potential buyers will see it, but this we can measure in the sales statistics over the coming 2-5 years.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The 2009 AVD Oldtimer Grand Prix at the Nurburgring - great cars and exciting races

For once I have swapped the drivers perspective with the spectators perspective!
Last weekend again the German AVD organized the Oldimer Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. It's said to be the worldwide biggest event of its kind, with 650 cars and 900+ drivers it's definitely impressive.
Well, the weather wasn't that great this year, with lots of fog causing the organizers to cancel a number of races on Saturday and delaying the program on Sunday by quite a bit.
But nevertheless superior fields and cars were offered to the spectator.
When have you last seen a Mercedes-Sauber C9 in action? The two Australians Rob Sherrard and Wayne Park brought the car to Europe to race it against some of the other remaining Group C cars of the period. But the rest of the group was clearly no match to the C9, it almost rounded the rest of the field, delivering very quick lap times. The Group C was guest at the OGP for the first time, and I am sure, all of the visitors wish them to come back next year!
But there were many other exciting races to be seen. The historic Formula 1 races were great to watch, listening and smelling the Maseratis, the Coopers and the early Lotus cars was just very entertaining.
Interesting sports cars and touring cars were there too, delivering hard but fair races and showing the limits of both the drivers and the cars.
And then of course were also the CanAm racers in the Orwell Supersports showcasing what it means when huge engines meet maximum downforce. It's unbelievable how these "big bangers" accelerate on the straights and how high the limit is in the curves. But it's even more impressive to see, how the two liter cars are almost able to follow the 8.8 liter monsters in real (racing) live.
The Oldtimer Grand Prix offered something to everybody. And the stories told by the speakers helped to survive long breaks due to the weather conditions or other issues. I learned quite a bit about the Opel history and why Opels were so popular in the 60ies and 70ies. It's sad to see that due to recent events a brand such as Opel always gets destroyed.
Finally the Motor Klassik subscribers were showing their less racy but still mostly attractive oldtimers. This was an opportunity to see cars such as the Citroën-Maserati SM, vintage Corvettes, a whole range of Porsches and even a Mk 1 Golf.
After two days of watching 15-20 races you actually have been able to screen quite a bit of motor sports history and I am sure most of the spectators will return next year for the 38th Oldtimer Grand Prix.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The best car I ever owned?

Recently I wondered why I still do own the same car for my everyday drives. Maybe, it's because this is the best car I ever had? Well, this triggers a number of thoughts, as this BMW 330i Touring probably cannot really be the best car I ever owned. Comparing to other cars ranging from high performance saloons to super cars and beautifully shaped convertibles, from slow small cars to fast racing cars, there must be something that is better than the BMW. Well, the first question of course is, what means "best". If "best" means to optimal compromise between economy, fuel efficiency, usability, safety and sportiness, well maybe, this is the best car I ever had. At least I don't see a real reason to swap it against something else. It's very efficient with its direct injection six cylinder engine, it's small enough to still handle well, it's roomy enough for a family with three kids, it's safe with many airbags and the latest in passive and active safety features and it's quite good in terms of usability too, if you forget the small windows and the not optimal navigation system. And, it sounds amazying, without being noisy. So, it's maybe the best compromise, but that's it. And that's maybe enough. And that's why I have kept it until now, that's why I have covered already 30 tkm with it and probably will add quite a few on top.
But to come back to the initial question, it's certainly not the best car I have owned in absolute terms. Frequent readers of my blog will know why.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The pedestrian's influence on greenhouse gas emissions

Discussing greenhouse gas emissions its clear in most discussions that the technology producing them is the problem. And in principle this is true of course. But as said in an earlier blog post, the driver has a lot of influence on the amount of greenhouse gas emitted.
But there are other influencers too, for example the pedestrian. In Switzerland we have a law that a pedestrian on a crosswalk has the right of way and can walk over, while the car has to break and wait. This law was established to give the pedestrian more protection and make his life less miserable. But of course if misused it's creating a lot of extra breaking and acceleration and therefore additional greenhouse gas emissions. Take two scenarios. In the first one there's a compound queue of cars going through a city. A passenger needs to go from one side of the road to the other. Thanks to the law he can stop the queue and walk over. Fair enough. In the second scenario only two cars are driving up the hill. A pedestrian comes to this same street and crosses it immediately without letting the two cars pass. With this both cars have to fully break to 0 and thereafter accelerate again, a total waste of energy, besides some extra noise. In this second scenario the pedestrian could have prevented quite some greenhouse gas emissions. But sadly enough, many people don't think that far, they just take the right given by the law. There are even people out there having fun doing so, as I could read in a column of a local newspaper.
So, here's the conclusion. Pedestrians can help saving the planet by letting pass a car once in a while. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Is the eVaro the electrical sports car we have waited for?

The Canadian company Future Vehicle Technologies is coming with the eVaro, a plug-in hybrid sports car. It is said to be extremely efficient (with 275 MPGE for city driving) while still being very fast (+200 km/h, 0-100 in less than 7 seconds). And FVT is claiming it is production ready.
The performance is clearly remarkable and good enough. However I reckon they could rethink the design piece. It looks too much 80ies/90ies in my eyes and not at all futuristic. This is how prototypes looked in 1985.
So my recommendation would be: Take the technology, if it is as good as promised, and plant it into a really state-of-the-art three wheeler body and this will be a serious contender in the hybrid sports car market. With the given design though it will only appeal to techno-savvy people which are often not early adapters of new innovative products.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The original BMW M3 - as close to racing as a saloon car can get

When BMW launched the BMW M3 (E30) in 1986, the idea was not to sell thousands of them, but rather to create the basis for success in motorsports. In fact the first M3 was a homologation model for the German touringcar champion ship racing series (DTM). It delievered roughly 190 hp with a 2.3 liter four cylinder engine, a de-tuned racing engine. Compared to the normal 3 series saloon car, a number of car components were lightened, the car made stiffer and the aerodynamics was improved. The M3 looked much more "serious" than a normal 3 series BMW. People loved it and it became a very good seller. More than 17'000 E30 M3 were built and sold, many of them used in racing and for track days. With its good performance (0-100 km/ in less than 7 seconds) and pure handling it was the toy to have for many amateur sports driver. It won a lot of touring car races too, not just in the DTM, but also in other countries' series and in the European touring car championship. The successor (E36) was much more refined and less pure and was never a match for the first M3.
So, the E30 model, ideally one of the homologation specials, is the one to have and one day I will own one of these myself. It will be a great collectors' car as it combines race pedigree, rarity and good look and performance.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Are super cars coming to an ending? The Aston Martin V12 Vantage

I just watched the last episode of Top Gear series 13. One of the cars driven by Jeremy Clarkson was the Aston Martin V12 Vantage. And he explained ... barely nothing about the car. He just drove it for 3 minutes or so, showing exciting roads, impressive landscapes and let us hear the more than amazing sound of the V12. He though made one point when he asked whether we are coming to an "ending" with this car and its peers. Even the new Ferrari 458 is said to be less noisy and more environmentally acceptable than its predecessor. While this is good so, of course, we probably will look back to the crazy 200x years soon and say, what cars the manufacturers were able to build before they had to switch to electrical and noiseless practical cars. If you get the opportunity to drive a car such as the rear wheel drive Lamborghini Gallardo or the Aston Martin V12 Vantage, then do it as this probably will create a memory you won't want to forget.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Is the Nissan Leaf the answer to our mobility problems?

Nissan just has "presented" the new Nissan Leaf, an electrical car to be sold in the US and Japan in 2010 and in other countries (i.e. Europe) in 2012. It's a new generation electrical car with 160 km reach and roughly 120 hp, so certainly fast and powerful enough, to master shorthaul traffic needs. 160 km is more than enough for commuting traffic, though will not make the car suitable for holidays/vacation. I sort of like the goals (key characteristics) Nissan set themselves:

1) Zero-emission power train and platform
2) Affordable pricing
3) Distinctive design
4) Real-world range autonomy - 160km (100 miles)
5) Connected Mobility: Advanced intelligent transportation (IT) system

But is this really the answer to our mobility problems? Probably not. It's a well engineered combination of today available technologies and perceived needs of the consumers. However it's still heavy, large and full of difficult to reuse materials and components. And it's probably not even that fun to drive, but that's anyway not a key objective for that type of car. At least it's a statement that Nissan tries to get innovative technologies in production and on the street.

Why taking the car instead of public transport can be so much more attractive

As we all know public transport offers many advantages compared to individual traffic means: A better greenhouse gas footprint, better use of infrastructure and no parking issues, besides many others. But there are also some quite significant disadvantages as you need to stick to often suboptimal time schedules and you may need to take detours. But there are sometimes also other disadvantages of public transport, as the video below shows.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Firing up an engine - yesterday and today

People today very rarely experience the moment of luck and excitement that car drivers enjoyed during the good old days when they were able to fire up their engine. Today, you take it for granted that, after you push the starter button or turn the ignition key (if there is one), the engine immediately starts to run and idles steadily and without any help from the throttle pedal. Well, that was quite a bit different before electronics started to support the driver in starting and engine and keeping it alive.
In the past you would have gone through a multistep process even before pushing the starter button. Let's take the JWF Milano GT from 1962 as an example (earlier cars, e.g. pre war cars, are even quite a bit more complicated than this one). First you turn electricity on, then you turn the fuel pump on. As a next step you pull the choke button and only then you push the starter button. If everything is as it should be the engine will fire up and you can keep it with the help of the choke and the throttle pedal alive. Soon you push the choke button back and continue to keep the engine between 1'000 and 2'000 RPM with your throttle pedal. If there's not enough throttle the engine goes off and you start it again. Only after you have driven for some kms or have warmed up the engine for 10 minutes or so, the engine runs properly and steadily. The procedure isn't really complicated and can be mastered by anybody. Our fathers and mothers were used to this in variations.
But many of today's drivers have grown up with the electronically controlled fuel injections and ignitions, engine control units and blackboxes. As long as the stuff works properly that's all great and nice, but don't try to fix it if it doesn't. Then many mechanics remember the good old time when you could take your carburetor apart and find the reason for failure.