Wednesday, April 29, 2009

TVR 3000 S - the last British roadster?

The TVR 3000S was the first open TVR, after many years, going back into the 50ies. There were a number of challenges to overcome for the engineers. While chassis and suspensions were identical to the other TVR variants, the 3000S received a new differential unit (Salisbury 4HU) and an almost completely redesigned body shape. The wind¬screen was flatter and imbedded into a small roll over bar. There was a separate door for the trunk and the side windows were built as traditional roadster sliding windows. While this is much less convenient, as windows have to be lifted out if not needed, this is a sign for a true roadster. Only the Morgan +8 is comparable in that sense, but was constructed much earlier.
To be able to install the windscreen at a lower position the cockpit had to be adapted, which lead to the speedometer installed in front of the passenger seat!
The roadster roof was quite simple and could either be kept on the car, roof down and sit on the rear part of the body or be removed completely. Most pictures in advertisements or car tests showed the car with the roof removed (same in the picture here)!
Contrary to the TVR 3000M and Taimar the Convertible was only available with a fabric interior. Many cars were converted to a leather interior anyway later.
All these cars had 3 liter Ford Essex engines and produced roughly 138 HP. Having to move approximately 1'000 kgs this was enough but not overly exciting. This is why TVR also developed a Turbo version, probably the first production Turbo car over all. 256 cars were built during 1978 and 1979 (128 each year). The car on the picture was one of the first LHD cars and the first delivered to Switzerland. It has retained its original color and interior.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The parking spot problem with modern cars

We probably have all experienced it. We arrive in a shopping mall and try to park our modern times mid sized car. Uups. Very narrow in here! Most people drive their cars few years and then swap it against the newer more modern version. During the last 30 or 40 years successors of successful cars typically grew bigger. A BMW 520i from the 80ies was more than half a meter shorter then today's version, and probably 0.2 m more narrow. Most often used cars in the 60ies had a width of approximately 1.4 - 1.5 m. Today it's rare to find cars more narrow than 1.8 m. At the same times doors got fatter and seats give more lateral support, but at the same time are more difficult to get in and out. While this all may be nice and good from a car's perspective it's bad for parking. Most buildings for indoor parking have been constructed and built in the 60ies, or mayb 70ies and 80ies. They were optimized for the smaller cars we had then. No suprise that today you barely can open the door after you finally got your car between the next two. Is there a solution? Not really. Not if we are ready to do either compromises on safety or convenience. But it's good to park an older car once in while and get out of it without any hazzle.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Where has usability gone in car design?

People appreciate all the luxury coming with nowadays' cars. But are they really more usable? I just drove from Berlin to Switzerland, with a Mercedes 300 SL, a car designed at the end of the 60ies, built for 18 years until 1989 and a modern classic car today. It's also an impressive car from a usability point of view.
It starts with the fact that you can see everything, even with the hardtop mounted. You even can see the cover of the trunk when you are going backward. No need for cameras or "park distance control" systems.
The manual is short, really short. All what you need to know to operate the car is covered on less than 60 pages. Have you looked at the manual of the son's son of the 300 SL - the 350 SL built today? You need to read through hundred of pages before you are able to properly adjust the air condition. Actually you can enter and drive the 300 SL from the 80ies without even reading the manual at all, everything is where you would expect it. And there's not that much to fiddle around with anyway. There's no airscarf, no air condition, no ESP, no park distance control, no navigation system, no distance radar, no .... It's basically a car with four wheels. But everything you need for your daily motoring is there, even mirrors that' can be adjusted sitting in the car, the right one electrically the left one mechanically. Good so. The heating can be operated with basically two wheels, you won't need a manual to understand the concept.
And while there may be good reasons that the windows in modern cars are so small, mainly because of passive safety considerations, I prefer the "active" safety of being able to see everything out of the old car, be it children, other cars or a bicycle.
Maybe the designers of modern cars should have a ride in one of these older classics from time to time to have a benchmark on usability.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trade offs for car manufacturers

When you build a car you typically have to do many compromises and trade offs. For example there are trade offs between fuel economy and safety, or between fuel economy and usability, but also between usability and safety and so on. In many cases car manufacturers ask their customers or do extensive research to find out what the best (and more profitable) compromise could be. But maybe it's not even the right thing to ask the customers as they rarely are ready for big changes and innovative new approaches. With all this mechanism in place a Volkswagen Golf doubled in weight during the last 30 years. Well, yes, it also doubled in power and yes, thanks to the continuous development this didn't lead to twice the fuel burnt, but if you imagine what could have been, it still looks like a dead end. If we had stayed nimble, kept the cars as big as they were in the past and hadn't added all the electrical helps and electronic gismo, we could have an 850 kg Volkswagen Golf today with a fuel consumption of less than 4 liters per 100 kilometer. It might be less luxurious than what we are used, but it would move us from A to B. Even the sports cars (except maybe the Lotus Elise and a few others) went down the wrong path. Extra weight has been compensated by extra power and advanced technology to keep the car behaving like a sports car instead of a truck. But still. If you ever have driven a true race car, you know that minimum weight is the highest objective. And with all the electronics people have stopped to know how to drive cars. Why should you learn how to accelerate a car from zero at a hill if you have an electronics's help called "uphill control" or so. Why should you know how to change gears or operate a clutch if you have flabby paddles? But all these things that seem to make our live easier have their contribution to the weight. And then there's the safety piece. Of course when everybody gets heavier you need more protection than if everybody was below 1'000 kg. And so on. I could go on forever. I just hope that there are manufacturers out there like Lotus, Artega and others who haven't forgotten the ancient art on how to safe weight.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The compromise between Road Legal and Race Optimized

In the 50ies and 60ies people didn't use trucks or trailers to bring their race cars to the circuit. For example when TVR entered Le Mans with three Granturas they drove them from Blackpool to Le Mans. Or when Lotus Eleven racing drivers competed at Silverstone they had driven their road registered race cars to the competition. Of course this wasn't possible with formula 1 or 2 cars anymore in the 60ies, but before the war this approach was even applied to the fastest racing cars existing. I am sure it also influenced the behavior of the drivers knowing that they needed their car to go home after the race.
Anyway, for a number of reasons, this principle makes sense also today. First, you will have less problems with customs, less issues with insurance companies and finally you can test drive the car from time to time on the road. But there are also some negative consequences, mainly the need to comply with street car legislation. Often this means that things not needed for racing are required in the race car, depending on national laws. This can be things such as a handbrake, front screen heating, pedestrian protection, heavier starter battery, alternator, mufflers/exhaust modifications, etc.. Most of these things make the car heavier and potentially slower. So from a racing point of view they are not useful. But, if you think about what vintage car racing should be all about, then reflecting the spirit of how it was done in the period races seems to be a good thing. And if you ever looked at race cars on period photographs you will have seen that these cars often were completely trimmed, had quite a bit of luxury (and weight) on board and were much closer to a street sports or touring car than what you see today at historic races. And if you drive a real historic car (with the bits and pieces manufactured in period) you anyway will not have the best chances to win against heavily "optimized" and lightened cars. So for me, the better compromise is to go for street license plates and have fun on the road too.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Restoring a TVR Grantura MK2

When I bought my little green TVR Grantura MK2 (1960) I didn't think of restoring it. I bought it as race-ready and thought I would do some little bits here and there and otherwise enjoy it. However when we started to look deeper into the internals of the car we found more rust than what we had expected. At the end of the analysis we had to say that the car could not be considered safe and race worthy. So, something more drastic has to happen, meaning cutting the fiberglass body from the chassis and restoring the whole chassis, replacing rotten tubes and rust protecting it again. Now, while financially this isn't probably the most viable thing to do, I very much believe in "doing the things right". The TVR Grantura is a fabulous car and it's certainly worth to preserve it.
And, at the end, it can't be so much work neither, right. Given people bought these cars in pieces and were able to assemble them in 30-45 hours.
This second picture comes from an old article showing all what you received when you purchased a Grantura in the early 60ies. This is pretty much comparable to what I will have after the car has been disassmebled with the exception that, as said before, I also need to separate the fiberglass body and the chassis. Now, this is pretty dirty work and hopefully it only needs to be done once for quite a long time. And I am very glad that I will have CCC (classic car connection) helping me with this.
If any of my dear readers have experience with doing this kind of work and can come up with some good advise I am more than happy to take it. And if anybody out there has some evidence on the history of 7/C/224 during the years 1960-1990 (before it was in Sweden) then this also would help a lot to complete the history of this nice green little car.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What the hell is a JWF Milano GT?

There are sportscars everybody knows, e.g. Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini and the likes. They are built in thousands or hundred thousands and you can see them on the street everyday. But through all ages of the automobile history there have always been cars that were built in extremely small quantities and for niche markets.
One of these is the JWF Milano GT. This is an Australian car, approximately 30 of them were built. The chassis was specific for this car (built by Nota) and the fiberglass body uses design elements of contemporary Ferraris. You may also see a small Cobra Daytona in it. And it's really small, about 3.5 m long, 1.4 m wide - it's small by any standard. Especially when you consider that it has a 3 liter Holden straight six cylinder engine under the hood. It's light too and most owners raced it. As an Australian car it rarely was seen on other continents however two or three of them made it to Europe and the pictured car even was driving at the 2007 Goodwood Revival Fordwater trophy. There's is fairly little literature available on this car, most of it can be found online. Some interested stories around the JWFs are collected by John on the Bollyblog.
I will take the JWF Milano GT to this year's Gaisberg Rennen. Right now we are preparing it for this event and hope to be finished on time ;-)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Is a classic car a good investment?

There is an ongoing debate on whether classic cars are good investments. A recent catalogue from "Oldtimer Markt" with market prices covering 4'500 models and comparing these prices with the price when new triggered some analysis on my side. I selected a few models and compared an indexed price when new with the current market price for a "condition 2" car, something that is usually to find in the market and is a well maintained car. Given this data you can draw a number of conclusions.
  • There is no real correlation between age and financial gain you can make with a car. However it is clear that it is very difficult to make money with more recent cars.
  • There is no real correlation between the price level of the new car and the return on investment. However very cheap cars have difficulties to produce high returns as they lack exclusivity.
  • It's probably not very obvious what car will become a pearl when they are new. Actually cars with really good returns on investment probably were not really loved when they were new. Other cars you would expect to be good investments aren't.
  • When moderate maintenance costs are included (to keep the car in the needed condition to remain a valuable investment) then most car fall short of being a great investment. Exceptions in my sample are Ferrari 250 GT SWB, AC Cobra 427/289, Aston Martin DB4 GT Touring, Ferrari 275 GT/B 4, Bizzarini/Grifo A3/C Strada, Porsche 356 B1600 GS GTL or the Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500. Including more costs like insurance, storage space, etc. makes the story worse.
  • To really make a competitive return on cars over a longer period only few cars qualify.
  • Interestingly cars were rather "cheap" in the past. Even when you apply cost of living indexes and the likes a Ferrari 250 GT SWB would be less than 90'000 Euros today. The comparable F40 however was sold much more expensive and by the way delivers a negative return until today.
Now, very few people who want to make money with cars, buy them new and keep them until they can sell them with a decent return. A much better performance can be achieved buying the cars mildly used at the lowest point of their price curve. Using this tactics good money could be made with many competition cars and also many exclusive sports car over the last 10 years. But that's another story.

One additional point to make - buying cars to make money is not what I would recommend. People should buy classic cars because of passion and because the want to drive them. A positive return on investment should just be a nice add-on.

Here's the list of cars analyzed:

Car Indexed price (€) Gain/loss per annum Gain/loss incl. Maintenance

Ferrari 250 GT SWB 87'585 38% 28%
AC Cobra 427 49'950 22% 19%
AC Cobra 289 39'455 18% 14%
Aston Martin DB4 GT Touring 87'532 14% 9%
Ferrari 275 GT/B 4 86'645 20% 9%
Bizzarini/Grifo A3/C Strada 86'748 11% 6%
Porsche 356 B1600 GS GTL 37'452 29% 4%
Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 33'194 7% 3%
Allard J2X 48'600 3% 0%
Porsche 911 Carrera RS Touring 47'925 8% -1%
Alfa-Romeo 1900 C Super Sprint 60'750 0% -2%
Ferraro 250 GT/L (Lusso) 88'055 8% -3%
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible 56'782 0% -3%
Aston Martin DB4 73'161 3% -3%
Mercedes 190 SL 31'821 2% -3%
Audi Sport Quatto 175'500 -2% -3%
Alpine-Renault A110 1600 S 31'909 1% -4%
TVR Griffith 200 31'529 1% -4%
Lancia 037 Rallye Stradale 65'007 3% -4%
Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing 55'929 13% -4%
BMW M1 94'737 1% -4%
Ferrari F40 374'625 -2% -4%
Toyota 2000 GT 49'844 5% -4%
Porsche 959 378'000 -2% -5%
Rolls Royce Corniche 181'587 -2% -5%
Lamborghini Mirua P400 S 106'179 4% -5%
Mercedes 300 SL (R107) 58'122 -2% -5%
Alfa-Romeo Giulietta Spider Veloce (101) 29'526 0% -5%
Ferrari Dino 246 GT 58'996 3% -5%
BMW Z1 72'000 -3% -5%
Sunbeam Tiger Mk1 28'655 0% -5%
Maserati Ghibli SS Spider 123'424 2% -5%
TVR 3000 S 33'382 -1% -5%
Aston Martin DBS 113'613 -2% -6%
Mercedes 350 SL 36'873 -1% -6%
VW Käfer Export 13'886 0% -6%
Honda NSX 98'873 -4% -6%
Monteverdi High Speed 375 L Hemi 92'045 -1% -6%
Mercedes 280 SE 3.5 51'916 2% -6%
Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona 99'048 3% -6%
De Tomaso Mangusta 81'000 -1% -6%
DKW Monza 20'154 1% -7%
Datsum 240 Z 26'325 -1% -7%
Triumph TR3 18'804 1% -7%
Ford Capri 2600 RS 22'813 -1% -7%
Porsche 911 Turbo 74'025 -1% -7%
Jaguar XK 120OTS 48'600 1% -8%
Jaguar E-Type 3.8 S Convertible 45'290 1% -9%
TVR Grantura MK2 17'768 0% -9%
Ferrari 512 BB 104'073 0% -9%
Maserati Ghibli SS 118'313 -1% -9%
Lotus Elite SE 44'743 1% -9%
Lotus Esprit S2.2 51'998 -2% -11%
Porsche 356 C Carrera 2 43'026 11% -11%
Honda S800 Convertible 12'309 1% -11%
Mercedes 280 SL Pagoda 35'871 1% -11%
BMW 3.0 CSL (bat mobile) 29'430 3% -12%
Austin Healey Sprite Mk1 12'176 0% -12%
Porsche 356 A Speedster 22'950 6% -14%
Porsche 356 A 1600 S 26'614 2% -15%
Lotus Elan S3 Convertible 29'945 0% -15%
Morgan Plus 8 (Moss) 26'392 1% -16%
Porsche 914/6 27'289 0% -16%
MG A Twincam Roadster 22'661 2% -18%
Lancia Thema 8.32 65'340 -4% -19%
Fiat 124 Abarth Rally Stradale 20'864 0% -22%
NSU TTS 11'571 2% -37%

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Aptera - the future of motoring?

Two hearts beat in my chest, the one of a petrolhead and the one of an engineer. As an engineer I admire what the guys at Aptera are doing. They build a three wheel vehicle with advanced aerodynamics and electrical power. It's more aerodynamic and more fuel efficient than almost anything else and it looks very futuristic. I would buy one if I could, but they only want to supply cars to people living in California - at least for the time being. When you look at this car you can see why the more traditional car manufactuers will struggle competing with something like this. Almost nothing what you have in a traditional car manufacturing plant can be re-used if you want to produce something like an Aptera. Of course there are some trade offs, not everybody may accept. You will not pull a trailer with this thing, the reach is still below 200 kms when fully loaded and without the range extender of the planned hybrid option. It's probably getting quite hot in this thing and it is not as compact and easy to park as let's say a Toyota IQ. But on the other side, it is more exclusive than a Lamborghini or Ferrari and it makes you feel like a hero when you watch "an inconvenient truth". So, as said, if I can get my hands on one of these, I will drive it.