Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The TVR Griffith 500 - a car worth being owned twice

Only once in my life I have bought the same car twice, it's the TVR Griffith 500.
When TVR presented the Griffith in the year 2000 at the Birmingham Motor Show the car was an instant sensation. According to some rumors TVR signed a new order every 8 minutes. As a matter of fact the car wasn’t by far finished at that point. It had been based on the V8S. What clearly differentiated it from any other car was its shape and the impressive design. The promised performance and the comparably low price made the car very attractive.
It took TVR another 2 years until 1992 to make the car production ready. Different to the prototype the production car was based on the chassis of the Tuscan racer to cope with the power. Also some adjustments were made to the design and the interior. Already in 1992 TVR was able to deliver more than 600 cars to mainly UK based buyers. The gear box was sourced from the Rover SD1, as was the engine, here in 4 and 4.3 liter version.
In 1993 the Griffith 500 was presented, now with a 5 liter engine and a Borg Warner T5 transmission on board. In parallel TVR had introduced a more moderate model as a sister car, the Chimaera. This car was very similar from a technical point of view, though had a different and more daily live ready body with bumpers. It was very successful and was produced in bigger numbers than the Griffith. Despite of this the Griffith 500 was a huge success for TVR, they built more than 1’700 cars. In total almost 2’500 Griffith left the Blackpool production facilities.
It’s assumed that roughly 10-15% were LHD for export, so 250-360 in total. Definitely a low number. Production figures were not really recorded properly, so a lot of this is guess work.
The TVR Griffith 500 was a typical TVR from an engineering point of view. The body shape was created by Peter Wheeler together with a young designer using a 1:1 model. Many elements of the shape were formed the way they were to compensate weaknesses in the production process, i.e. tolerances. The selection of the Rover engine was natural, had it already been the base of previous TVRs. With some targeted tuning measures (by TVR Powers) the engine delivered almost 340 HP.
The cylinder heads showed the tuning in various colors, for example violet. For a small production car the Griffith 500 was produced for quite long time (8 years), only smaller changes were done, for example on the cockpit. The shape wasn’t changed, except new rear lights to replace the Opel/Vauxhall Vectra sourced units at the end of the nineties. The front had been redesigned during the change from the 400/430 to the 500 and interestingly many 400/430 show the new front after some accident repairs, as only these were available as spare parts.
"My" car was built after my specification between February and May 1996. As its first owner went to see the factory during the production of his car, there is a picture (above) showing the car in half finished state and displaying the “Griffith”, kind of a cartoon, on the uncovered body (see picture below).
The specification was “brookland racing green”, “irish mist” full hide interior, black Wilton carpers with green piping, a black roof and magnolia colored instruments.
During its life with me the Griffith created no problems, was continuously and regularly maintained and did some 1’500 to 3’000 km every year on salt free streets mainly through the March-November months. It was never used for racing or track days and almost exclusively run on Swiss streets. Even after 13 years of usage the car feels almost new and all pieces and tools are still with the car as it left the factory.
And as said I owned it twice, from 1996 to 1998 and from 2004 to 2009. It really was a nice piece of engineering, great to drive, economical and really really fast. It's one of the instant classic cars and I probably will regret it soon having sold it a second time.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The R8 Audi should build

The Audi R8 (V8) is a very good (and successful) car. It though suffers from two disadvantages, weight and bad fuel economy. Audi could fix both, here's how.
Take the V6 TFSI with 290 HP from the A6 and put it into the R8. Get rid of the heavy 4x4 concept and produce a rear drive car only (it has been done for the GT race car). Make the car lighter where possible with acceptable effort. Here you are. From 1'560 kg kerb weight you should be able to come down to something like 1'350 - 1'400 kg. And the fuel consumption will be reduced by at least 20%, CO2 per km below 200 gramm is quite realistic. The car wouldn't be much slower but certainly more competitive on a race track. So Audi, what are you waiting for?

Is TopGear the best TV car show on earth?

I am a real fan of Top Gear, I adore it. I really suffer in the long pauses between the series. Luckily series 13 is now running, makes me smile.
Now, what is so good about TopGear on BBC?
First, it's not really a car show. It's more a comedy show with three really funny guys talking about cars, driving cars and being the contrary of neutral. The pictures are phenomenal, highest quality. And the ideas these guys have are breathtaking. Like finding the best driving road in Europe, as shown in the YouTube footage below.
TopGear is so far ahead from anything else that I actually do know quite a lot of people watching it, who don't have a specific interest in cars.
Jeremy, Richard, James - if you ever read my blog - thank you, guys. Great TV. It's maybe not really a car show, but it's the best on earth.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Classic Car Meetings as a cultural statement

It's summer again and all over the country enthusiastic people organize Classic Car Events. One of them, the Oldtimer Sunday Morning Meeting (OSMT) is a gathering of all kinds of cars that have been built before 1972. It's organized 6 times or so per year and happens at the last Sunday of the month. Today, the weather was more than ideal and a huge crowd assembled to watch cars or to show their own cars. Guests of honour were the Aston Martin club and a group of Morgan Threewheelers.

Oldtimer events are very peaceful and entertaining happenings. It's amazing what amount of history and tradition can come together at one place. Cars such as a Volkswagen Beetle that dominated the traffic 30 years ago, or very rate cars such as a Healey Silverstone can be enjoyed and watched in detail. All time favorites such as an Austin Healey, a Triumph TR4 or a Jaguar E-Type shine in the sun. Bentleys, Mercedes, Porsches, Fords, Volvos, Lotus, etc., they all park side by side as if the earth had stopped to rotate many years ago. And few hours later all the cars have disappeared and the parking spot is ready again to provide space for the workers and visitors coming by. People who were there will though remember the impressive gathering for quite some time and probably come back as soon as it's organized again. It's a museum without a roof and the exhibition changes every time it's shown. Where can you enjoy culture and history so easily and with so many surprises otherwise?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Car Watching better than Whale Watching?

People spend their time with a range of things. What is fun for the one might not be as interesting for the other. I, myself, enjoy myself sometimes sitting in a street cafe and watching the passing cars. Not only does this allow me to get a feel what people are driving these days, but it also triggers ideas and initiatives. Of course a lot of the cars that pass by are neither rare nor especially beautiful and even in Zurich you won't see a Ferrari or a Jaguar XK120 every quarter hour. But sometimes you may be surprised what you can spot in very few minutes. You can characterize certain behaviors. If it's cold and people still have the window open then it's probably a smoker sitting in the car. Is it a sunny day and the convertible top is still erected it then maybe the woman driver doesn't want to destroy the hair style? Or the dog in the back can't stand the airflow? There are stories behind every car driving through and you can phantasize on what it might be. So relaxing ...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

New Hybrid engine concept from ETH Zurich - simpler and clever

Hybrid cars are more complex and more expensive to build. Two engines and batteries and a lot of computer power are a lot to handle to save a bit of gasoline. That is at least what ETH professor Lino Guzzella thought. So he came up with something simpler. He took a small engine (approx. 750 ccm instead of 1'300 ccm) and combined it with a turbo to achieve the performance level needed. This comes with the disadvantage of delays in power delivery. To compensate for this Guzzella adds an air pressure tank where he can store air with a pressure of up to 17 bar. The pressure is built up during brake phases. And it's pushed into the turbo unit instantly in acceleration phases. The new concept is said to deliver a similar power output than a bigger engine at the gasoline consumption of a Toyota Prius. Not bad. And it comes at a fraction of the cost (approx. 20 % of a hybrid system) and I would reckon the weight is also a fraction.
A question for me remains: Is this clever engine downsizing or true hybrid technology? Be it what it is, it's a good example of intelligent engineering.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Electrical race bikes at one of the most traditional motor sport events

I have been talking about whether electrical cars (or bikes) can be fascinating contenders in motorsports. Well, have a look at this video highlighting the recent Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man. They had an electrical category this year for the first time, it's called TTXGP. The winner was able to average 87.4 mph or roughly 130 km/h on the 37 mile mountain course, quite impressive.

Wishlist for Aptera from a European perspective

I have been blogging on the Aptera for quite a number of times already. I admit, I like this radical car and the passion of its makers. I would buy one if it only was available now (June 2009) and here (Europe). With it recent delay of the production start it seems even unrealistic to see one driving around here for the foreseeable future. But maybe that's also a good thing. It give Aptera more time to adapt the car to the specific needs of the European driver. Here a couple of thoughts - sort of a European christmas wishlist:
  1. Things are smaller in Europe than in the US. The current Aptera 2e is too wide for European roads and parking spaces (see a previous post of mine). The maximum acceptable is probably 80 inch or 2 meters. This will ask for some significant reengineering of the car and probably impact the drag coefficient negatively. Maybe by using smaller and narrower wheels (i.e. 13 inch instead of 14 inch) and a narrower track something can be achieved.
  2. We have a lot of rain in Europe, some countries report more than 120 days of rain per year. Also we do have real winter seasons with snow here. So it will be important to be able to mount snowchains and winter tyres (easily). Also the heating system will have to cope with these conditions. How does the Aptera behave in snow conditions anyway?
  3. Europeans are used to accessories and help tools to easier park their cars. Many vehicles have "park distance control" systems these days. Especially with a car that wide support for parking will be appreciated by Europeans.
  4. Lastly, range is always an issue. This is not a European problem of course, but an important sales argument. The Aptera needs a clever range extension approach, ideally with a very lightweight engine and a not too large fuel tank. Running on LPG might be an interesing option.
So, many of these requirements are especially key for the mass market, less so for the early adopters who are ready to suffer more. I count myself to this category, so Aptera, when can I order my 2e? Or even better, when can I start to market and sell these cars in Europe?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Listening to Music in classic cars

Cars from the 70ies and 80ies, and partially the 90ies, were equipped with radios with compact cassette players. That was a good thing then different to the time period before the driver could pick the music he liked and he was able to listen to music in a tunnel even.
Some of my cars actually still do have one of these radios in the dashboard. Given my old compact cassettes suffered over time (most of them are now 10-25 years old) I decided to record some new ones.
Surprise - it's actually not at all easy to find and buy compact cassettes these days. At the end of the day I found exactly one brand and one type (TDK IEC I / Type I, C60 to C120) in a really quite large shopping mall. I remember that they stored at least three different types (Normal, CRO2, Metal) in the past and that at least ten or more brands competed against each other. Also, it's quite different today to record a compact cassette compared to 20 plus years ago. In the past you selected a pile of longplays (33 RPMs) and listened until you found a song you liked, then you turned the tape recorder on and transfered this song. It took you some 80 to 120 minutes to record a 60 minutes compact cassette. Of course you were making sure that there was a nice break between the songs and that at the end of the tape the music didn't just stop in the worst possible way. I recorded very many compact cassettes this way. Today, of course, everything is different. Your music sits on a computer, you use most probably Apple's iTunes software to manage it and therefore you can select your favorite songs and store them in a playlist that you for example can call "classic car audio - songs from the 80ies". With this most of the work is done. Now you only need to transfer the music to the compact cassette. Well, yeah, first I needed to find my old cassette tape deck (a Denon with direct drive and three heads!) in the basement and connect it with my home cinema receiver. Either your computer can now be connected to the receiver of you go through an MP3 player or you burn a CD to transfer the music from the computer to the stereo equipment. All of these ways work and are pretty convenient, as you don't need to care anymore about breaks and only worry about the end of the compact cassette. So, at the end, after more than 10 years I had recorded a compact cassette again. It probably is the last one, as when I make a similar decision next time, I might not be able to find another new compact cassette anymore. It's a pity!

I know, I know there are more modern ways to listen to music even in a classic car. I could have connected my iPod MP3 player to the radio using a FM transmitter or found another way to send the signals to the stereo in the car. But it wouldn't really feel right, would it?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Does the end of KERS mean that Hybrid technology doesn't work in motorsports?

With BMW having said good bye to KERS there's only Ferrari left using a hybrid module in Formula 1 in 2009. While McLaren-Mercedes may use its system once or twice again this year, the KERS technology seems to have lost the fight and its competitive edge. For next year the teams even announced that they most probably will drive without KERS at all.
How can this be, given that KERS contributes 80 horsepowers and substantial additional overtake potential? And what's the impact on the hybrid technology usage for other cars?
First it must be said that a formula 1 car is a highly optimized and tuned vehicle where every gramm of weight and where it's being put can make a huge difference. Secondly it's all about aerodynamics and putting an additional device with cooling needs may limit the engineer's freedom substantially. And thirdly the limits when driving such cars are astronomically high and any inflencing of braking behavior can mean to add a couple of tenths of a second per lap and decide on 3rd versus 15th place on the starting grid. Taking all these things together most teams acknowledged that having one technology less to worry about allows them to focus on the rest better. This doesn't mean the technolgy doesn't work. Actually it works quite well and teams like McLaren and Ferrari, but also Renault showed the benefits of additional power on a straight a couple of times. In other race series such as touring cas or GTs the established level of quality certainly would make cars using KERS highly competitive. But for formula 1 the compromises to take into were too big to create winners. Too bad, as this is quite a bit of negative PR for hybrid systems as such. But if you are looking at how perfectly these systems work in the Mercedes S400 Hybrid, the Lexus, Honda Insight or Prius, there's nothing to worry about and in the future we will see hybrid systems in almost any model range of any manufacturer.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Classic cars and their value over time

In my experience there are three basic scenarios for cars on how they will depreciate, respectively gain in value. By the way, of course cars of this category can increase in value beyond the initial sales price. We have recently seen low mileage Mercedes 300 SL (R107) offered for more than 50'000 Euros, which is clearly more than the 60-70'000 DMs (30-35'000 Euros) that were asked for a new car in the 80ies.

Scenario C (red)
The car is an instant classic and collector's item. There's much more demand than market from begin on. The car never really drops in value and typically gains a bit in a continuous way. Few cars really fall in this category. Some seem to belong in there in the beginning when people are paying premium prices to get an early one, but most of them then still depreciate. Exceptions probably are the Ferrari Enzo (?), Ferrari F40, McLaren F1. But as said very few cars make it into this category.

Scenario B (green)
Cars that fall into this category are usually neither volume cars nor everyday cars. They typically are pretty rare from the beginning and bring some sensation with them. Many if not most of them are either convertibles or sportscars. While they do depreciate over the first 10-20 years they still lose less value than the mass production cars. They are always sought after during their whole career. After some years they start to continuously gain in value and can actually even outperform their initial sales price. Cars that fall into this category are the Mercedes SLs (R113, R107), the Porsche 911 and derivates, TVR 3000 S, Morgan +8, BMW M3 (E30), BMW Z1, BMW M1, most Ferraris, some Lamborghinis, some Maseratis, etc.). You get the picture.

Scenario A (blue)
This is the most common scenario. Most cars actually fall into this category. From begin on they depreciate (rather fast) and reach over the years (let's say 7 to 15) the bottom, a fraction of their initial sales price. Some then become collector's items and raise in value quickly, some others slower. If you take a Volkswagen Golf Mk1 for example, this car has been produced in millions, but after 20 or 30 years only a handful remain in a market and they become somewhat exclusive. So their value increases and can actually become higher than the initial sales price. In the exhibit this is illustrated with graph A1.
A very special category are race cars. Quite expensive when new they have almost no value after few years and can be purchased for very little money sometimes. This was especially true in the late sixties and the seventies, when Ferrari GTOs or Porsche 904/906 were on the market for a few thousand USD or DMs. Thanks to the developments are historic racing some of these became later very expensive. The Porsche 906 was sold for roughly 30'000 DMs when new, changed hands for maybe 6'000 DMs in the late sixties and is today valued at around 600'000 Euros (multiply with 2 for DMs). This is indicated by graph A2.
Cars in this category are everything from the Volkswagen Beetle, to Fiat 850 Sport Spider or Ford Mustangs. But it includes also cars like the mentioned Porsche 904/906, the Lotus Eleven or the prewar race cars. Actually cars that can't make it into B or C end up in A. Or they disappear totally.

Now there is one comment to be made: To really gain substantial value over time the car must remain in driving condition and often needs to be restored multiple times. The cost for maintaining or restoring the car can be easily higher than the value gain driven by it. And even if the car is barely used it will still ask for quite a bit of maintenance and a dry garage and insurance and .... So, if you are only interested in cars for making money, you may be better in buying something else. But if you like cars and love to drive them, making money with them is just a bonus on top and of course makes the hobby even more attractive. See also my previous post on a comparison of cars and their value when new and now.

Range Extender - or how to get home safely

With the promotion and continuous development of electrical cars a new technical concept became fashionable - the Range Extender. It has been born out of necessity. If it's not economical to build large batteries and the more power you want to store in batteries the heavier the battery becomes then maybe here's a case to install some auxiliary power in a car - the Range Extender was born. Basically it's a gasoline or diesel powered small engine that loads the battery. With this approach the range that with only battery operated cars is pretty narrow can be extended, hence the name. Interestingly people were remembering engine types for this purpose that are not used broadly otherwise, i.e. Wankel engines or Stirling motors. The objectives for a range extender engine are quite different to what you would usually have for the engine in a car. It needs to be as small and light as possible and should be operated only at the optimal point to deliver high output at low fuel consumption.
The concept makes a lot of sense, but it also makes the car more complex and expensive to build. And it means you have to fill up your car with two sources of energy, electricity and gasoline/diesel. But given the usual driving patterns where people use their car for maybe 10-20 km per day and only rarely do long range trips, adding a Range Extender to an electrical car actually may be a good compromise after all. Also you could see the Full Hybrid car as a car that maximizes the Range Extender approach.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

TVR Tuscan V8 - a sixties supercar

TVR has built cars since the fifites, most of them with 4 cylinder engine. It took an American entrepreneur (Jack Griffith) to convince TVR to mate the TVR Grantura with a big American V8 cyclinder. That's what the TVR Griffith was all about. The TVR Tuscan followed on the Griffith, being equipped with a better chassis and more refined suspension.

The TVR Tuscan V8 (1967-1970)

TVR built three series of TVR Tuscans V8 between 1967 and 1970. The three series can be distinguished by their body styles, interiors and engine choices. The first series (200-001 …) had a short wheel base (SWB) body. These cars were quite similar to the Griffith 400 they replaced. The second series (LWB001 …) were built on a long wheel base (LWB) chassis and had a modified interior. The third and last series (MAL001 …, MAL stands for Martin Lilley) was the most diversified batch. Most of the 22 (or 21?) cars were carrying a Vixen S2 style body, current research indicates that MAL15 most probably was the last car with this body style, while later cars were built with a wide and more modern body similar to the later M cars. The interior of the early MAL cars were similar to the LWB cars, Laster MAL series car though already show an interior similar to the Vixen S2/S3. With MAL007 or 008 the transition from bonded to bolted bodies was done.

Given TVR only built 58 of these Tuscans V8 overall during four years (book author Robson though claimed 73, investigations by Colin Lyons in 1991 (letter in Sprint June 1991) indicate a lower number though) it can be assumed that they assembled the pieces they had on stock at the time the car was built. The TVR Tuscan V8 all had Ford 289 V8 engines with various power outputs. While early cars had the lower powered 195 bhp version, SE (special equipment cars) had a higher tuned 271 bhp version. It seems that the MAL series only used the stronger engine options, some literature also indicates that the 302 BOSS engine was used for few cars, but this is not proven. Of all the MAL-cars roughly ten are known to have survived Most of these cars are left hand driven, it’s assumed that only 2 MAL-RHD cars were built over all.

The TVR Tuscan V8 is still relatively lightweight despite the heavy V8 mounted. 950 kg or so enable the car to run from 0 to 100 km/h in less than 7 seconds. While this may not soudn impressive today, it was in the sixties. When the journal Motor tested an early Tuscan V8 it outperformed the Lamborghini Miura in the 0-60 miles sprint. No wonder that many of the Tuscans were used in speed trials and quarter mile races (including the car pictured here). There's also plenty of torque. The handling is better than what you would expect, especially on good surfaces. Of course you feel the weight on the front axle and the car is less nimble to drive compared to a MK3 Grantura. But the sound of the engine and the overall driveability compensate for this.
Maintenance of the car is straight forward and you are able to find most parts for the engine and the drivetrain. Many bits and pieces of the interior, suspensions, etc. were shared with British mass production vehicles. So desite being rare and exclusive the car is not a prima donna. And if maintained well they should last for ever.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Electrical cars don't need to be boring - look at the Green GT

When people think about electrical cars they think about box design city vehicles, slow cars and nothing to be excited about.
Have a look at Green GT, they are building race cars to compete in still to be defined future race series. What a looker! It's a future design what you are looking at but even the current model is quite appealing.
They just had their first roll out and did 20+ laps on a circuit, 18 of them with one battery cycle.
Go on guys, show us what is possible with electricity, lightweight architecture and spectacular design!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Welcome to the next generation of e-bikes

Say hello to the ELMOTO. Built by a small German company sitting in Stuttgart this newly presented e-bike is quite impressive. It's primarily the design that creates a wow effect. The thing sort of looks like a combination of bicycle and motocycle design ideas. You register this thing as a light motocycle. However "light" is sort of not the appropriate word here, as the Elmoto weighs 180 kg, which is a lot! It runs 45 km/h and this for up to 70 km in a mixed driving cycle. Not bad. It stores quite a lot of energy in its batteries. It's certainly good/fast enough for city traffic, but you won't win the TT at the Isle of Man with it. I would personally prefer to have a lighter version with maybe limited reach (like 40-50 km), this might also help to reduce the probably very high price. But clearly, the Elmoto is a toy that could motivate the cool people (has George Clooney already ordered one?) to go for e-bikes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Will the Open Source Hydrogen Car show the way to the future of mobility?

It may not be the most beautiful new car and it probably is not the answer for a family's mobility problems, but it combines clearly a number of interesting concepts and ideas. It's called the Riversimple Urban Car.
First it's a hydrogen car. It only needs a 6 kilowatt fuel cell to reach 80 km/h and drive for more than 300 kms without being refueled. It only weighs 350 kg and has the dimensions of a Smart.
Also interesting is the fact that it is partially funded by Sebastian Piech and other members of the Porsche family. The development has been done together with Oxford University and Cranfield University. Riversimple plans to build 10 prototypes soon. They also do think long term. Cars are to be leased for 20 years and then taken back and recycled.
What also is exciting to know is that they will publish all designs and ideas on a wiki and therefore build a true Open Source car. So if you want to build your own you will be able to profit from their experience and learnings.
As said in the beginning, it's not the solution for everything but this car clearly is able to outperform all/most cars known in existence in terms of fuel economy while still being practical.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The three wheeler Volkswagen Scooter from 1986 would be a revolutionary car even today

In 1986 Volkswagen presented an experimental vehicle called "Scooter". It was quite innovative. It's drag factor (cw) was 0.25. Its weight was 550 kg, and the production version was claimed to be even lighter. It had three wheels only and could seat two people. With a small engine it was said to be very economical and still quite fast. But - it never made it to production. And probably wouldn't have been a big seller if Volkwagen had decided to manufacture it. In 1986 it would have competed with the Volkswagen Golf II, the BMW 325i, the first BMW M3, the Citroen BX, the Peugeot 505, the Mercedes 300 SL (R107) oder the Lamborghini Countach. Interestingly all of these competitors look quite old now, and some are true "Youngtimers" now. The Volkswagen Scooter though still looks futuristic and would still today be a vehicle that could win economy runs and with today's engine technology could make a "less than 100g CO2 per km" car, probably more ecological than a Toyota Prius. It's sad to see how many good ideas and concepts never materialize.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Peugeot Diesel wins at Le Mans

With an impressive performance Peugeot won the 24 hours of Le Mans yesterday. Again it's Diesel power coming in first, second and third (Peugeot, Peugeot and Audi). The Aston-Martin Lola became forth and was best the best gasoline car. Audi had built a very innovative car for this year's event, but it wasn't reliable enough. No real surprises though, but still good racing dynamics and a few incidents.
But was it really a good event? Public interest seems to fade away. Compared to the Sixties or Seventies when Le Mans was probably one of the most important motorsports event of the year other events have overtaking Le Mans. Newspaper journals show little or no coverage of the event and TV/Radio took little notice too. It's a pity! Remember the times where Porsche (908, 917, 956) raced against Ferrari (P4, 312, 512) or Matra. Or the good years when Jaguar, Aston, Cobra or Ford tried to win the race.
By the way, of course, all the 60ies and 70ies cars ran on gasoline, not on diesel. But I wouldn't look here for a reason of the declining public interest.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Come back of the two stroke engine?

In a recent discussion with a very gifted engineer I was told that the two stroke engine could actually be a very good solution for today's mobility problems. I was astonished as I imagine lots of blue oily smoke when I think about two stroke gasoline engines. Two stroke engines were quite popular in the 50ies and 60ies, the DKWs had some of these (remember the 3=6? or the Monza?) but also Saab used two stroke engines and there were a number of quite competitive race cars. From time to time car manufacturers bring them back, but none of the recent attempts was successful. In the 90ies (around 1996) Ford announced the Ford KA and wanted to put a two stroke engines. But for some reasons - and some say the engine would have been too good - it didn't materialize and Ford had to mount a quite old fashioned 4 cylinder 4 stroke engine. What could have been? Anyway, modern emission standards can also be met with two stroke engines and thanks to the materials we have access today a two stroke engine probably wouldn't burn much more oil than its four stroke brother. On the positive side is the low complexity and therefore weight of a two stroke engine. So, maybe, in the next years ....

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Circuit racing in Switzerland not allowed - politicians think again

Switzerland is a small country, with roughly seven million inhabitants and to not too much land to be spared. But still Switzerland hosted the famous GP Berne during the 30ies and 50ies. Great cars (Meredes, Alfa, Auto-Union, etc.) and drivers (Ascari, Lang, Fangio, etc.) raced against each other to win the Grand Prix. To celebrate these old good old times there's even a Memorial Grand Prix Suisse in Bern organized this year! And my Devin-Triumph (1957) has been accepted as an entry.
But in this same country circuit racing has been forbidden after the Le Mans accident in 1955. Now, you would think, that's quite a long time ago. And it is. But nothing has changed with the regulation since then. During the last few years there were some initiatives to allow circuit racing again. Sadly enough this idea was coupled with the idea to attract a formula 1 grand prix. With all the bad press around formula 1 and the fear of people to host such a monster event, plus all the "green" tendencies populating the newspapers, the initiatives were not successful in the political landscape.
Dear politicians please think again!
Circuit racing is much safer than hill climbs that are still allowed in Switzerland.
It's probably almost impossible to find investors for a racing circuit if racing is not allowed.
The lack of racing circuits forces Swiss racing drivers (amateurs and professionals) to go to other countries to drive their cars.
The lack of racing circuits also makes it difficult for Swiss car builders to test their cars.
Switzerland has been a pioneer in many things, it could be a pioneer with electrical or hybrid cars again. Having a race track in Switzerland would allow these pioneers to showcase the result of their work.
And last but not least, building and maintaining a racing circuit would create jobs and help an offsite region to become more attractive for visitors.
And and and ....
There are so many good reasons to get rid of the "no circuit racing" law to just enable new initiatives to happen. Let then the local people decide whether they would like to have a race track or not. Let's not think about formula 1 here, it's not even relevant in this context.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Weight Watchers - we need to slim down our cars

Weight is one of the most critical factor in car engineering and at the same time quite underrated. Cars have become heavier and heavier over the last 30 years. And it's not that helpful. The weight doesn't only influence handling, but also fuel economy and energy to be spent for production. And of course if there's more stuff in a car there's more you have to get rid off at the end of its life cycle. So, it seems, there are more than enough arguments to make cars light. However, the contrary has happened.
An excellent illustration from a paper from the "LS-DYNA Anwenderforum (Bamberg 2008)" illustrates this. But let's take some examples.
Here's a accidental list of cars and their base weights:

Car Weight (kg)
Porsche Cayenne GTS 2225
Mercedes 350 SL 1750
Lamborghini Murcielago 6.5 V12 1750
Nissan GT-R 1740
BMW M3 1605
Toyota Prius 1400
Porsche Carrera 997 S 1350
VW Golf 1.4 TSI 1340
Fiat Punto 1.4 T 1155
Lotus Elise R 900
Morgan 4/4 1.6 880

You have to look very hard to find a car that is below 1'000 kg. And the weights in the table aren't even what you get when you receive your fully spec'd car. Extras such as navigation systems, electrical sunroofs, etc. will add addiditional weight, so that the Golf mentioned in the table may be well 1450 kg and not the 1'340 kg quoted.
Obviously it could be different, as the Connaught D-Type GT V10 with 850 kg, the Mindset with less than 900kg or other innovative cars are proving it. And you don't even need to suffer as good solutions offering both performance and comfort are possible.

So, maybe we should form an organization such as a "Car Weight Watchers Association" to focus on the weight of cars? And promote light cars and blacklist heavy ones?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What is really friendlier to the environment - the Prius 2009 or the Lotus Elise 1996

Everybody appreciates the Toyota Prius as being one of the most green car of the century. Even myself who prefers light fast sports cars to family sedans, am impressed of what Toyota engineering built with this car. But is a Prius really that ecological? When you look at it from a full life cycle point of view then you must include the production as well as the removal of the car. I recently read that the gasoline equivalent of the energy needed to produce a Toyota Prius is roughly 1'000 gallons or 4'000 liters of gasoline. That's a lot. That means that only after driving 80'000 km (at 5 liter per 100 km) you have consumed the same amount for driving as for building the car. Or if you assume that you save 2 liters of gasoline compared to the car the Prius replaces (i.e. a first generation Lotus Elise with the Rover K engine) then you need to drive the Prius for 200'000 km until you have made up for the production effort. It might have been more "green" to keep the Elise and to not buy the Prius! So in many cases even older cars may be the better option for the environment than the new green cars. But it gets worse if you reach the end of life with a Prius. There's so much stuff in the car that can't be just easily re-used or burnt (for example batteries) that the overall balance of buying and using such a car may actually not be the best thing to do for the environment. But there's this image and self marketing aspect to it too - George Clooney probably didn't think that far ...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Doing the math - what transportation mean is really good for the environment?

The University of California has published a scientific report to compare different transportation means and their specific energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. What is new in this report is that they also included the energy spent to provide the infrastructure, i.e. rails, roads, airports, maintenance services, and so on. And of course the effort of building the vehicle was included as well. The authors also assessed the typical load of the different vehicles and therefore can show the "cost" per person transported. If you now look at the key chart they produced you will have some surprises. The worst polluter is the urban diesel bus that is half empty and travels fairly big distances. Pickups also look pretty bad, especially when they run on gasoline. Best is the city bus that is heavily loaded (many would say overloaded) with people and covers the centers. Large aircrafts are actually much better than you wouold assume, this is because they don't need a lot of infrastructure. And what about the conventional gasoline sedan, the car we all use? Well, it's sort of in the middle field, better than the SUVs of course, but clearly worse than most of the public transport vehicles. Of course the picture would look much different if you would take cars like the Aptera or the Toyota Prius as reference. Modern optimized electrical or hybrid cars would certainly be better in comparison than small aircraft and could probably beat the light rail vehicles. What is interesting is the fact that building these vehicles, and the bigger they get the more relevant this is, produces quite a share of the overall greenhouse gas emissions. But on this topic I will post specifically during the coming days.

JWF Milano GT at Gaisberg hillclimb 2009

I already talked about the JWF Milano GT (1962) in previous posts and also about the Gaisberg hillclimb. Here's now an onboard camera perspective that tries to get the sensation across. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The V10 Hybrid Connaught D-Type GT

Car manufacturers have been trying to convince us that modern sports cars need to have a curb weight of almost two tons, need to be wide and long, thirsty and very very expensive. What looks like a law of nature isn't though!
In Wales (UK) a small company is building a sports car that weighs roughly 850 kg, and is with its V10 2 liter engine very economical thanks to a hybrid modul and the overall construction of the car. And it even carries 4 people with a serious amount of luggage. Where else could you find something like this?
What Tim Bishop and his boys at Connaught Motor Company are able to achieve is really impressive! Have a look at a video on youtube that introduces the car and highlights some of its features. It's very lightweight, as said, roughly 850 kg. That's 500 kg less than a Lotus Evora! It still has been constructed with crash tests in mind and the CAD/CAE tools used are the same as the ones used by the large manufacturers. The masterpiece is the front-mid-mounted V10 with a 22.5 degree angle between the two banks of cylinders. The engine is so small that it can be fitted where normally the transmission would be, resulting into a 50:50 kg distribution for the car. Thanks to a hybrid module energy is consumed in small bits giving a CO2 efficiency second to none in the same category. Yes, it's sort of a green car (not just the paint!). Everything has been constructed with ecology in mind, craddle to grave as Tim calls it. What is also highly impressive is the fact that this cars summons 40-50 years of car engineering and takes the best ideas from these years. You find things in this car that were pioneered in Reliants or Tatras, there's more tradition in this car than in any Aston Martin I would guess.
So here's a potential super car with a price tag of roughly 120'000-130'000 Euros, developed with a budget that was a fraction of what the biggies like Porsche, Jaguar or Maserati spend to come up with cars that are far less innovative than this one. Let's hope Tim Bishop and his great team will be able to lead this project to success and influence the motor car industry with it.
P.S. If you believe you heard the name before, yes, Connuaught built racing (and street) cars in the fifties with quite some success. So, there's even more tradition to this ....