Sunday, January 31, 2010

Does modern car electronics limit the ability to become a classic car?

There's a heated debate between car enthusiasts whether modern car electronics limits the lifespan of cars after 1980. Bosch announced the CAN bus in 1983 and produced it from 1987 onwards. Since then many different vehicle bus systems have been standardized and implanted into cars. With the bus the previously independent components (i.e. ABS, engine electronics, traction control, etc.) are connected and need to cooperate to make the car work properly. Therefore cars became much more complex as a system. There was of course electronics in cars before the introduction of bus systems, i.e. in the electronic fuel injection (e.g. Bosch L-Jetronic and others), starting in the late sixties and popular in the 70ies and 80ies. But these components were still fairly restricted and in many case can be replaced with simpler systems should there be a lack of spare parts. The problem with "modern" electronics is threefold:

a) Electronic components age and stop to work when connections corrode or individual parts defect.

b) Many manufacturers have disappeared, and even if the manufacturer still exists then there are no spare parts available because the lifetime of many of these components was so short

c) To analyze and diagnose problems you need the right technical equipment and specialist engineers. Often neither this equipment nor the specialists are available.

An interesting example for these problems was recently given by Mario Theissen (former BMW formula 1 team lead) in Auto Motor und Sport. "We once had a Brabham-BMW in Goodwood (must have been in the 80ies, comment from the editor). It took us all the experts of our house to make it run. The problem is electronics. You need to keep the components well maintained as there are no application systems and components available anymore today." Apparently BMW is thinking about building a more modern engine control technology that can be adapted to older racing cars from different time periods to solve the problem.
And this probably will be the solution also for other cars, such as the sports cars and GTs of the 80ies and 90ies to preserve them for the future. There will be a business building such an adaptable and configurable bus system and control electronics. And there will be computer development and tuning environments to configure these systems and even optimize them to be more fuel efficient and environmentally improved. Car owners maybe will have to spend 3'000 or 8'000 Euros to adapt their car, but that's little money if they can continue to use their loved future classic for another 5 or 10 years and create the base for value enhancement over the years.

Two additional thoughts.
What really helps of course is the fact that modern microprocessors are much more powerful than the technology from years ago. With this it will be easily possible to emulate and simulate what has been before.
From a business point of view the effort of reengineering ancient electronics is more viable the larger the volume of cars you can equip. This sort of goes against the notion that the more exclusive a car is the more expensive it can become as a classic. So there will be some trade off here.
But the chances are good that you can continue to drive your BMW M3 E30 until it's a true classic. Let's keep our fingers crossed!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Why is Porsche car design so unbalanced?

Looking at Porsche sportscars from the fifties to today it's interesting to see what worked from a design point of view and what didn't. Let's take it car by car.
The Porsche 356 was a very modern car with an aerodynamic shape and lots of innovative engineering. A master piece. Also from a design point of view. We may dislike the narrow wheels today and where they are placed at the body, but it's certainly the work of a genius.
The Porsche 911 tried to continue the basic concepts of the 356, but to modernize everything. And succeeded. Again, a design that worked over many years (until today) and looked great.
Then in the late sixties the first design failure. The Porsche 914 clearly was a modern car, but many people disliked its shape and the fact that the front and back almost look the same.
With the Porsche 924 Porsche tried again to do a low cost model and diverged from the old style engine in the back approach. The car was fairly successful and the design seemed to work. The design was improved with the Carrera GT and the 944, but finally was almost destroyed with the late facelifts (Porsche 968) that tried to bring the car closer to 911 and 928.
The Porsche 928 was a trial to finally replace the 911. Not successful. The design was very brave, very different from anything else done before by Porsche and even other manufacturers. The old Porsche fans didn't like the car and it didn't help that it was heavy and thirsty and more a GT than a sportscar. Still, the car is a design icon today.
The Porsche 959 was another attempt to create a modern variant of the 911 theme. An impressive car. And it brought some design elements coming much later with the other cars. But basically, the car was a 911 derivate.
With the Porsche 964 they tried to make the 911 ready for the 80ies but failed. It looked too fat and not slick enough. This was corrected very successfully with the Porsche 993 that brought back the old lines and inserted many modern design attributes. It's a classic already today, and being the last aircooled model probably fetching high prices for the foreseeable future.
The Porsche 996 was a bigger step, bring water cooled engines and enlarging the car along all dimensions. Many people disliked the design of the front lights and all in all it certainly wasn't the best car Porsche ever produced. It sold well however and inspired the other models of the marque, for the good and the bad.
The Porsche Boxter, showed as a prototype 1993 in Detroit, was the next attempt after the 914 and the 924 to add a line of cars below the 911. With its mid-engine layout it clearly was different than the 996, but the final design brought it closer to the 911 derivates and maybe helped to sell it. But design wise it was a big step back from the initial prototype. The Cayman shared all of the design elements.
The Porsche Carrera GT with its formula 1 style ten cylinder engine represented everything that was good about Porsche, also design wise. That's how the Boxter should have looked like. That's what could have replaced the 911 if Porsche had wanted. Not with a 10 cylinder but with modernized six cylinders.
And then came the Porsche Cayenne. Horrible. An absolute design failure. Even its twin sister Volkswagen Touareg looked so much better. The combination of typical Porsche design elements such as lights and bumpers with an SUV is difficult to digest. But from a sales point of view it worked. Interestingly enough.
With the Porsche 997 another continuation of the now more than 30 years old theme was introduced and it looked so much sharper and slicker than its predecessor. Good work for a facelift. Actually it was more than this and besides still being rear engine driven everything has changed over the last 30 years. But the customers continue to buy.
Finally with the need to increase production numbers even more the Porsche Panamera was presented. A four seat for door limousine in the shape of a stretched 911. Again, the design doesn't work really and the back is really a big mistake. But it sells, as many people like the advantage of four doors. How much better however the addition of a four door limousine can be done to an existing sportscar range is shown by Maserati with the current Quattroporte and Aston-Martin with the Rapide.

So what's the take away here?
Porsche designed and built some really ground breaking cars, but they also introduced designs that didn't work and were probably the work of the marketing department, not created by people with passion and love for aesthetics. The need to produce bigger and bigger numbers of cars created dependencies that make the result suffer.
Here are my all time best of Porsche:
356, 356 Abarth, RSK, 550 Spider, 904 GTS, Carrera 6, 911 Carrera RS. And with a bit more distance 924 Carrera GT and 993.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Why buying expensive cars doesn't make economical sense

When you were making a decision in the 60ies or 70ies whether to buy a Mercedes versus a Skoda, or a Seat versus a Volkswagen, you were facing very different cars with a huge gap between them in terms of engineering, features and quality. Today this is quite different! If you want for example to buy a station wagon and have to decide between a Volkswagen Golf Variant, an Audi A3/A4 Avant/Sportsback, a Skoda Octavia or a Seat Exoto ST then you will see that actually a lot of the components (engine, transmission, suspensions, navigation system, etc.) are shared between some of these cars, thanks to the Volkswagen platform strategy. Not even the quality is too different, actually all these cars are on a high standard. But still, there's a huge price difference between the cheapest and the most expensive car of these four. When you do the same thing between a Mercedes E series T model and a Skoda Superb Combi then it gets even worse. Price differences today are not justified by technology differences anymore, but rather by marketing and branding, a bit of design and maybe the availability of (expensive) innovative features. But from an economical point of view, even the cheapest car in the comparison can fulfill all the needs. And it gets worse! Maintenance, spare parts and insurance get more expensive the more expensive the car is. If you have ever compared spare parts prices then you have seen that adding a prancing horse (Ferrari brand) on a spare part box can increase the price by factors. Same with repair and services shops' hourly rates. The more expensive the car the more expensive the mechanic. And the insurance premiums are of course driven by car value too. So, if you are adding the numbers, you will buy the cheapest car doing what you want to have, assuming quality and durability is comparable. But that doesn't mean you are happy, as you always wanted to have the Audi, not the Skoda. Yes, dear marketing guys, you have been doing a good job in making us believe that "expensive" means better and more exclusive ....

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Volkswagen Scirocco Mk1 - the Golf for Singles?

The first Volkswagen VW Scirocco was presented 1974 and it built on the backbone of the Golf. Designed by Giugiaro it was a gorgeous Coupé. Engines were four cylinders and delivered 50 to 110 HP. The strongest engine was offered in the GTI and GLI, introduced in 1976, and made the Scirocco quite fast. More than 500'000 cars were produced and the Scirocco was very popular during the 70ies and 80ies.
Mine was 1977 GT model, delivering 75 HP. It was a pre-facelift car in silver and rust was a considerable issue besides the fact that the engine was wasting a lot of engine oil. I sold the car after few months and replaced it with a Peugeot 205 GTI a bit later.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Is the 2010 Volkswagen Golf a Retro Car?

Well, the answer to the question "is the 2010 Volkswagen Golf a Retro car" is probably "no". But, if you compare the 2010 (Mk6, left) Golf with its predecessor (Mk5, right) you start to wonder which car actually is more modern. The new Golf is a quite conservative design and probably the right answer to the needs of the typical buyer. The older Mk5 Golf was a much braver move with new lines. To be fair, I never fully liked the Mk5 Golf despite the fact that I owned one for a year. But the development from the older to the new car seems to reflect the new Volkswagen design strategy: straight lines and no experiments. The new Volkswagen Passat expected for towards the end of 2010 will bring more of this. Maybe these cars are "too big to fail" and this explains the styling philosophy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Neglected future classic car? The Maserati Quattroporte 1994-2000

If the used car price is a measure for whether cars can become sought after collector's item then the Maserati Quattroporte IV, built between 1994 and 2000/2001, is a lost case. Despite the rarity, only about 2'800 cars were built, these cars are quite cheap to buy. A good one will change hands for the price of maybe two large inspections. It's actually not easy to understand why. The designer was Marcello Gandini, who was responsible for such famous cars as the Lamborghini Miura or the Lancia Stratos. The car was with a length of only 4.55 m quite compact, especially if you compare it with its successor. Engines with 6 and 8 cylinders were used to deliver more than satisfactory performance. So what is wrong with this car really? Nothing really, if you like the shape. Maybe it suffered a bit under the bad reputation of the Biturbo area, but you can't blame this car for that. If there wasn't that much electronics used in it, I would consider buying one.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Enzmann - a sportscar coming from Switzerland

When people are asked to name cars coming from Switzerland, the list is usually short: Monteverdi, ehhmmm. But as many other countries also Switzerland had a number of creative entrepreneurs interested in cars, one of them was Emil Enzmann. Impressed by cars such as the Porsche 550 Spyder he developed a lightweight sportscar featuring a fiberglass body and sitting on a Volkswagen chassis. The car was presented in 1956 in Lausanne and 1957, titled as Enzmann 506, at the Frankfurt Auto Show. Between 1956 and 1968 about 100 cars in three versions were produced: Spider, Cabriolet and Hardtop. The last one featured a sliding fixed roof.
The car showed quite a number of clever solutions and even had some sort of an early airbag for the passenger. Compared to a standard Volkswagen the car was much faster thanks to the lighter body, but also thanks to an engine choice which even included period Porsche 356 engines. Some Enzmanns also competed in racing.
Production stopped finally because it wasn't anymore possible to buy the chassis as Volkswagen acknowledged the Enzmann as a Karmann-Ghia competitor.
Today you can buy the Enzmann again, it's produced as new using the same moulds and is bascially a recreation. From the original batch roughly 13-15 cars seem have to survived until today.
The pictures show a road test from the Hobby magazine from 1960 and three Enzmann starting at the Altbüron hillclimb 2009.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Testing cars in the 60ies - Volkswagen against DKW and Fiat

Testing cars in the "old days" clearly was different. But what the journalists of the magazine "Hobby" did was somewhat extreme. They went out to actually buy the test cars and then they did all kinds of tests with them to simulate what "normal" customers would experience over maybe a year of driving. They even took the cars to a race track (Solitude) and did 100 laps with them. And you have to know that it was about a Volkswagen Beetle/Bug, a DKW F12 and a Fiat Europa - family cars basically. Well they also did highspeed tests on the German Autobahn - knowing that these cars barely could reach 120 km/h. And at the end (after 5'000 - 10'000 kms) they took them apart to see how the engine looked from the inside. Finally they sold the cars again to see how much they would get.
If you are wondering what the result of the test was, then I must say it's somewhat difficult to say, as five journalists came up with five results. But more or less they liked the DKW best and nobody really put the Volkswagen at the top except for reliability where the Beetle really was the benchmark. The Fiat was at the top with one journalist and in the middle with three of the five. All in all they were quite happy with the quality, comfort and usability of the cars it seems.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why do cars sound good or dull?

Great engine sound is one of the key ingredients that make an impressive car. And many even see it as music, as the artist's picture shows here. The difference between what you can hear from a Porsche Carrera RS 2.7 (1973) and a Porsche 996 (2003) is mind boggling.
Here are a couple of hypotheses to be debated:
(1) The more fuel efficient an engine the more boring the sound
(2) Straight six cylinders sound better than V6
(3) Sound engineering helps
(4) Modern electronics will replace the "natural" sound to compensate for what's missing

To make an example for (1): When you replace carburetors by a fuel injection the sound becomes less attractive, as you can see with the Ferrari 308 GTSi versus the 308 GTS, or the 512 BBi versus the 512 BB. When you improve the engine efficiency by adding a direct fuel injection then it gets worse even. So, what has been won in efficiency is lost on sound all to often. Partially this was compensated by adding technology to the exhaust system, which proves (3). Look at all the Aston-Martins and most modern Ferraris. Ever listened to a Jaguar D-Type or a JWF Milano GT? Both have straight six engines and sound great. Same with BMW engines, neither Mercedes nor Audi have been able to compete with BMW in terms of sound quality. Modern technologies such as loudspeakers in exhaust systems (and the car interior) plus sound generation computers will more and more add what is missing from the mechanical department. Which is what I mean with point (4).
But, whatever the modern sound engineer will be able to do, it doesn't replace the sensation we have listening a vintage car or 60ies sportscars driving by. Noise/music coming from mechanical components and open exhaust systems will always sound better.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Lotus Elise - shouldn't all cars be like this?

The Lotus Elise was introduced 1995 and was an instant success. The concept was quite unusual combining an aluminum chassis and a fiberglass body. This made the car very light. First series Elise were around 700 kg. With this even a small engine like the Rover K with 122 HP could propel the car in less than 7 seconds from 0-100 km/h. Top speed wasn't impressive but who would care. The first cars even had aluminum disc brakes to save weight. Over the years the car got heavier and many electronics aids were introduced. In 2000 the series two with an altered design replaced the nimble series one, that had been sold almost 10'000 times.
Mine was an early 1997 S1 122 HP model with nothing but what was needed to drive fast. Even the windows were manually operated and the disc brakes were still aluminum. No ABS, no ESP, no nothing. The car was yellow and really fun to drive, especially when open. It even was very economical thanks to the low weight. The sound wasn't what you would dream of but okay. I had it for roughly two years and sold it to the next proud owner. From time to time I consider buying one again, maybe a series 2 to feel the difference.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Too much marketing and not enough engineering?

Having criticized the lack of innovation in car design and engineering, maybe one reason for this could be marketing. If a car manufacturer has to decide whether to add a feature or not, then it's about "can I ask 80 Bucks more for the car if I spend 60 Bucks on the technology? And it's marketing answering that question and how should they know? Well they probably have asked customers, have done focus groups, have organized large surveys and blind tests and what else. But they typically are not visionaries. Maybe this explains how the US car industry went down the tube. While the Japanese invested in modern technology the US car industry built the cars they thought the people want to buy. And it worked quite well until the system parameters completely changed. And now they are surprised that Hummers don't sell any more. It's complicated of course, to get it right. But maybe we should have more manufacturers like Aptera, Tesla, Artega or Fisker. They seem to have some engineering vision, they seem to build something they really believe in. They don't seem to maintain decision processes taking longer than the development of a full car and they take risks for the benefit of the car buyer. Well, yes, of course, they still have to prove the pudding, but I hope they can do that.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Remember these cars? They may be rare but still not collector's items

There are cars that almost nobody remembers and others that are on many people's wish list. Here's a selection of cars most people probably have forgotten. For various reasons. Some probably have been just not good looking enough to make them attractive for collectors. Others were produced in so small numbers that barely any of them are left. They have disappeared from the streets and don't make it to oldtimer and classic car meetings. For some there may be clubs and communities to gather owners, for others not even this exists. The list of these cars is probably much longer than you would think, but it's quite hard to come up with such a list because it's so easy to not remember these cars. Quod erat demonstrandum!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lotus Elan - an alltime handling benchmark

The Lotus Elan, built between 1962 and 1972, was a significant success for Lotus. While its predecessor, the gorgeous Lotus Elite was a financial disaster, the Elan made up for it. Almost 10'000 cars were built and sold partially as kit cars, partially as completed cars. Lotus produced coupés (from the S3 onwards) and convertibles, called DHC in this case.
Compared to other and bigger cars the Lotus Elan was quite expensive, but this didn't hinder people to buy them. Performance was good thanks to a low weight of 680 kg or so and power was with up to 128 HP sufficient to beat much bigger car. The best though was the handling. Different to other cars where good handling is reached by sacrificing ride quality the Elan offers quite a bit of comfort and still is a great handling car.
Lotus Elan were very successful in racing also and are sought after cars today to compete in the pre-1965 GT classes. The twin cam four cylinder engine can be tweaked beyond 160 HP and the Elans can even compete with cars like AC Cobra or TVR Griffith 200, assuming the right track and weather conditions come together.
I never owned one of these yet, but it keeps being on my shopping list.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What's wrong with the Alfa Romeo 8C?

The Alfa-Romeo 8C is certainly one of the design master pieces of the last decade. It's gorgeous, no doubt. It was the star at many car shows and it's probably on the wish list of many many Alfisti waiting to win in the lottery. Despite the fact that only 500 cars (Coupés) were produced and got distributed "by hand", it is not difficult to buy one today. I would estimate that roughly one fifth of all the cars are on the market currently. Only looking at three online classifieds platforms I already found more than 50 and quite a big share actually being offered from the UK. So what's wrong with this car? Maybe it's not the car, but the financial crisis. But even if that's the case, listening to people who know or should know, the car is not really a "low maintenance" toy. And in my eyes it got way too expensive. It was initially "announced" for less than 100k € and finally was sold for at least 50% more than this. The convertible version is with more than 200k € even more expensive. Maybe, together with the rather average handling (see for example the TopGear test, see 4:00 and later), it was just too much? I am sure there would be a market for such a car in the 70-90 k€ segment, maybe with a smaller and lighter six cylinder engine (not the Holden/GM version, please) and with less carbon fiber and electronic gimmicks. I would probably put my name on the list. But not for 200k € plus and knowing it's some sort of a prototype where you are the test driver. For this it's way to complicated.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Mercedes 280 SL R113 - once unloved, today cherished

The Mercedes 280 SL (R113), also called the "Pagoda", is one of these cars almost everybody seems to like and put on the list of "classic cars to be remembered". But that wasn't always the case. When Mercedes introduced the car in 1963 many preferred the 190 SL and didn't really think the new one was as pretty. And the strange hardtop that gave the name to the car (Pagoda) didn't help neither. Despite of this the car was a great success, almost 48'912 were built between 1963 and 1971. It was a very modern car and Mercedes put a lot of emphasis on safety. With 150 HP and later 170 HP and a weight of between 1'295 and 1'466 kg it wasn't extremely fast, but quick enough to feel safe. It was offered in 2, 2+1 and 2+2 configuration. A big percentage of the cars have survived and they continue to fetch good prices in the market. Maintenance is fairly straight forward, except for the fuel injection and some rare pieces like the 5 gear transmission.
Mine was a 1969 280 SL model. I bought it from the second owner and was still able to track down the first owner. The color had suffered and I had to part restore the car. It was a beauty when we were done and felt quite modern in comparison to other cars of the same period. The sound was magnificent, also thanks to the manual gearbox. I sold it to free up some money many years ago and I do sincerely regret it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How the design of car door and wing surface has gone more and more complex

When people compare cars they usually will look at the major design elements, such as the overall shape, the "face" and maybe the lights and the bottom, some will also look at the color however this is of course not really a design element. Few will actively notice the design tricks applied by the car manufacturers. One of these tricks is the the surface design of the car doors, the wins and the panels on each side of the car. While a few years ago theses surfaces were mostly flat and maybe rounded, maybe with some moldings, today more and more designers now use kind of "creases" and concave and convex surfaces. This is influenced also by the fact that most cars are painted in metallic colors that can make something out of these complex shapes. Take a look a modern cars yourself and compare them to old ones, you will notice the differences! By the way, the picture shows a Volkswagen Beetle/Bug, an Opel Kadett B, a Volkswagen Golf Mk1, a Mercedes 190E in the first row and the new BMW 5-series, Citroen C5, Volkswagen Golf Mk6 and the Mercedes C class in the second row.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Picture of the week - most expensive modern Ferraris

This picture combines three of the most expensive modern Ferraris, real fans will easily be able to tell what I am talking about. Ferrari F40 (at the bottom), Ferrari Enzo (F60, in the middle), Ferrari F50 (at the top). It probably takes quite a bit of luck to have them all sitting side by side, but the Grand Prix Montreux 2006 created such an opportunity and never before (and after) I have seen so many rare Ferraris assembled in one place. I love the Ferrari Yellow, it's such a great color and quite an alternative to the Rosso Corso that 80% or more of the Ferraris share.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

So many car brands have disappeared

We have been recently experiencing what is probably the end of Saab as a car manufacturer. Many have shared this destiny before. Actually there were hundreds of car manufacturers that have seized to exist. Remember Panhard? Many certainly do not. So, here's an ad from 1964 showcasing the then new Panhard Coupé Sport. Panhard even competed in motor sports. And they served the engine for some of the Devins (another brand that doesn't exist anymore). So enjoy the ad and smile ...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fiat Dino 2400 Spider - classic looks and sound

Between 1967 and 1972 two Fiat Dino Spider models were built - the Fiat Dino Spider 2000 and the Fiat Dino Spider 2400.
In total 1'163 Spider 2000 and 420 Spider 2400 (1969-1972) left the factory. Designed by Pininfarina it shared the engine with the (Ferrari) Dino 206/246 GT. It was built parallel to the Fiat Dino Coupé designed by Bertone.
The two versions Spider 2000 and 2400 were quite different. The later car was heavier, but also had 20 HP more and an independent rear suspension. It was the much better usable every day car than the 2000 model, but at the same time also felt a bit less sporty. The body was very similar, but the 2400 had a ZF transmission that was much better for precise gear changes. The car could seat 2+2 people, weighted 1'240 kg and was able to reach approximately 210 km/h. Four disc brakes provided good stopping power. With 4'134 mm length, 1'710 mm width and 1'270 mm height it was still a fairly compact car. Mine was the 14th. last car built and it was a great car to cruise. The engine sound was unbelievable and I got many thumbs up by people passing me on the road. Compared to a 246 GT the car was much less of a sportscar and very far away from being a competition car, but for a convertible that was okay. In direct comparison the Fiat felt much older than the 246 GT. From a value point of view the Fiat is probably half what the mini Ferrari is, while maintenance cost are almost at the same level. This is one reason why so few Fiat Dino Spiders have survived, besides the fact that at Fiat less Spiders were built than 206/246 GT/GTS at Ferrari.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Audi's second trial - Audi e-tron mk2 could be a winner

Audi is showing its new Audi e-tron mk2 at the Detroit Motor Show. While the first version has been built on top of the R8 the new is smaller, less powerful and much lighter, but a lot closer to reality than the first prototype. Impressive are the 2'650 NM torque that the two engines produce. The car is a bit smaller than an Audi TT and weighs roughly 1'350 kg. It accelerates in less than 6 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h, reaches 200 km/h and has a driving range of approx. 250 km. All of this sounds quite acceptable to me and I could imagine driving one of these assuming it's priced at less than 50k USD. I am not fully convinced about the design, but that's probably due to its relatively small size. And somebody maybe should explain to me why you would need such a monstrous air intake in the front - certainly not for cooling the engine. I wonder whether the aerodynamics really is top notch also.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Should we have Braun or Apple type design principles in car design?

The London Design Museum currently is showing an exhibition showcasing the work and the ideas of Dieter Rams who was the design leader at BRAUN and probably one of the biggest influencers of modern design. He created some 10 simple principles along he used to work, i.e.
Good design is innovative.
Good design makes a product useful.
Good design is aesthetic.
Good design makes a product understandable.
Good design is unobtrusive.
Good design is honest.
Good design is long-lasting.
Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
Good design is environmentally friendly.
Good design is as little design as possible.
The current exhibition is titled "Less and More" which summarizes the principles to some extent. Many of the Braun products were both beautiful to look at and still very functional in the way they could used.
Apple uses some of the same principles and believes, no wonder that Apple's chief designer is a big fan of Rams. When you look at the iPod or some of the other Apple designs it is again both beautiful and simple to use. Reduce to the max, you could say.
Now, this is a car blog, so what on earth do I talk about iPods and 60ies radios?
Well, the question that I am thinking about is, how would an Apple or Braun design applied to cars look like. Do cars really have to look like we have them today? Do car interiors have be so cluttered and complicated? Maybe an "Apple" car wouldn't have pedals to control and a wheel to steer. And maybe this would be better. But different to a radio a car is a dangerous device when used wrongly, therefore continuity in design is needed. The objective is always that people new to a given car can still operate it in a safe way. But even taking this into account there would probably be lots of things that can be improved in today's cars and I would really like to see a car where Rams 10 principles have been applied!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Alfa Romeo GTV 6 - best post-80ies Alfa soundtrack

The Alfa Romeo GTV had been around for quite some time when they decided to put the 6 cylinder from the Alfa Sei into it. And this totally changed the car and its positioning.
The Alfa Romeo GTV 6 was directly competing with the contemporary smaller Porsches and for example the Renault-Alpine A310. The price point was set at around half the value of a Ferrari 308 GTB, so it was somewhat affordable.
The Alfa Romeo GTV 6 is a car where the engine is (almost) everything. And what an engine this was! In the GTV 6 disguise it developed roughly 160 HP, featured a fuel injection and produced an unbelievable soundtrack. Different to other cars where you need to wind down the windows this soundtrack is always extremely present also in the interior and reason enough, not to order a stereo for this car. Why should you? The rest of the car was okay but not really great. The transmission mounted in transaxle setting was difficult and not exact to operate. Breaks and suspensions were acceptable but not really performance car like. The interior was improved against the older GTVs but still much less attractive than for example what came from the UK at this time or even partially from Germany.

But as a package it was a great car and the reviews from the different car magazines were quite positive, again especially for the engine. Fuel consumption was quite low too, performance with roughly 8 seconds from 0-100 km/h and 220 km/h top speed pretty competitive during the early 80ies. There was a kind of Mark 1 and a Mark 2 (with more plastic and some improvements). It was built between 1981 and 1986. Rust and corrosion were still a topic but less so than for the years before. The car sold quite well.
I haven't yet owned a GTV6, but it's one of the 80ies Alfas to consider and I believe there hasn't been one since then (maybe with the exception of the outrageously expensive 8C) that sounded as well as the GTV6.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Peugeot SR1 is the best what could happen to Peugeot's design language

Peugeot will show the Peugeot SR1 at the coming Geneva Motor Show. It is supposed to illustrate the new "design language" Peugeot will be using for the coming cars. I have recently seen the sketches for a coming 508 limousine and there are clearly similarities between the prototype SR1 and the 508. And that's good! You have to go quite a long way back until you find a really good looking Peogeot. I would name the 504 Coupé, the 406 Coupé and for example also the 205 (GTI) as good example. What they have in common is the fact that Pininfarina was involved in all these designs. Many of the recent Peugeots were rather ugly in my eyes, at least not really good looking. With the new design language Peugeot can against make a big step forward and I hope that future cars take as many elements as possible of this prototype! Maybe they should try to take away some of the Aston Martin features in the SR1 though.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Milestones - the BMW M1, closer to racing than most other cars

When BMW presented the BMW M1 in 1978 it was the first time for a long period after the BMW 507 that a true supercar was announced. But not all people fully appreciated the concept. The body was fiberglass, the engine had "only" six cylinders, while the price was on Ferrari 512 BB level offering 12 cyclinders and a lot more racing pedigree in comparison. BMWs plan had been to produce a homologation special to compete in international racing. However, due to a regulation change, there wasn't really anymore a good racing series to compete in with the car.
BMW produced 460 cars and then abandoned production due to lack of interest. They created their own racing series - Procar. Formula 1 and other famous racing drivers competed in an all BMW M1 racing series with runs before the formula 1 races. It was spectacular and exciting, but only lasted for two years. Later BMW M1s competed in the German championship, drove in Le Mans and participated in other series as Group 5 cars with some success.
The street car was very close to the racing car in reality. Same engine, same suspensions with slightly different setting, a bit more comfort. It sounded terrific and was actually able to compete with the 512BB in terms of performance despite the lack of engine volume and cylinders. The design done by Giugiaro is somewhat timeless and after a dip BMW M1 have continuously gained in value, reaching roughly 2-3 times their initial price today. There were only few colors and most seem to be either white, red or blue. I would take any of these colors ...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Picture of the Week - starting base of a TVR 3000 M restoration

This must look familiar to many who have started a TVR restoration project. A car that at least partially looks complete and like not too much work. This particular car, an early TVR 3000 M (or potentially a 2500 M) was shown at the probably largest TVR exhibition in Germany last winter. But doesn't the car even in half disassembled state look good?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

TVR Taimar - rare but easy to own sportscar

The TVR Taimar was built between 1976 and 1980, a total of 395 cars were produced and sold mainly in the UK. The Taimar was part of the M series TVR and shared the same chassis as well as the same engine (Ford Essex 3 litre). The main difference to the TVR 3000 M was the hatchback door that finally prevented the owners from having to put big luggage through the passenger door. So compared to its brother it was pretty convenient. With its strong chassis, the fiberglass body and all the mass production mechanical components (mainly from Ford and Triumph) it's a really simple car to own and maintain.
Reliability is good especially compared to other British cars of the period. Electrical faults may be something to worry about. And yes, the Taimar tends to suck the exhaust fumes into the car. It makes dogs go sick and passengers too.
Performance is okay with roughly 140 HP and less than 1'000 kg, but not staggering. It was faster than a 3 liter Ford Capri at least. And it could outperform most Limousines from the period.
Mine was a 1978 model in burgundy red. It had been restored once before I took it over and behaved really well under my ownership. It had been equipped with Holley carburetors by one of the previous owners and had a bit of extra power. It was the first TVR I owned, but not the first one I wanted to buy. Actually, I was 16 when I spotted "my" first TVR at a nearby garage, but my father didn't consider a sportscar as a good investment and didn't aprove (and support) the purchase. So I had to wait until I found the burgundy Taimar pictured here. After the Taimar a number of other TVRs followed and I never stopped to appreciate the make.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Is the Eagle Jaguar Speedster good or bad news?

Eagle, a well known Jaguar E-Type specialist in the UK, has presented its Eagle E-Type Speedster. It's based on a vintage E-Type, but obviously has been "upgraded" to make it more fancy and maybe more modern too. This includes a bigger engine and more modern suspension bits and pieces. While the result is a good looking car I do not really like the idea of taking a sought after classic and modernize it to fit the taste of the playstation generation. I would appreciate this car much more if it had been developed based on a new drivetrain and chassis. There are not that many E-Types around and I prefer them in original stage and look&feel. They are icons and worth being preserved as they were built.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Steering Wheels - 100 years of evolution

One of the things that has been there even in the first cars and still is an integral element of any modern car is the Steering Wheel. Funnily enough there are quite a lot of similarities between modern steering wheels and very old ones. Just have a look! In the beginning there were lots of controls in the steering wheel, for example to fine tune the ignition. In the 60ies and 70ies the steering wheels got more and more pure and thinner and thinner, just to become fatter again in the 80ies and later. Today again we have lots of additional control functions in the steering wheel and we can switch radio stations, talk to the car or start the window heater on the push of a button in the steering wheel. In most cases it's still round, though there are exceptions with flattened wheels in Audis and other cars. Material wise we still have mostly leather and wood being used today, the plastic feel of the 60ies and 70ies definitely has gone. So a lot of evolutionary changes over hundred years but no questioning of the initial concept.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Porsche 993 - the last air cooled true 911

For many Porsche fans the Porsche 993 is the last "real" 911. While being faster, more powerful and better engineered than its predecessors it was still close to the initial engineering and design blueprint, lighter and nimbler than its successors, the 996 model range. And it was air cooled like the 356 and all its successors until the 996. Many if not most people also think it looked much better than the 996, no wonder that the design of the 997 got again closer to what the 993 was.
The 993 was a pretty practical car and also easier to maintain and cheaper to own than any 911 thereafter.
Mine was a 1994 model with the 3.6 liter engine and 272 HP. I took it to Germany and France and did quite a bit of mileage in a short period. I still sold it after less than a year and that was probably a mistake as these cars hold their value actually quite well. And I still like both shape and engine sound. So this is yet another car I could imagine buying again, even if I am not the typical Porsche owner myself.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Lancia - known for its traditional quality

When you look at the tagline of this 1964 advertisement you probably have to smile. Lancia is certainly not known for its quality reputation. Too many things went wrong, specifically in the 80ies. Rust, bad reliability and all kinds of funny things that could happen with a Lancia killed this quality reputation, especially in the UK where the picture it taken. Too bad actually, Lancia was a synonym for advanced engineering in the 50ies and 60ies and we all remember the Lancia Stratos for winning the rallye world championship, the Lancia Fulvia and the 037 Rallye.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Starting the new year with old impressions - Semperit advertisement from 1964

A new year, a new decade! Wet and cold weather conditions. So that's a good moment to clean up the house and the things collected over the last decade. That's when you come across such things as the advertisement pictured here. It's for Semperit, a tyre manufacturer. A happy couple driving in a "virtual" car. In 1964 (or before). With a white plastic steering wheel. Wonderful! And it talks about handling, comfort and safety. You don't see ads like this anymore.