Sunday, February 28, 2010

A holistic view on Racing - Le Mans and beyond

A friend of mine has been working hard and now came out with an impressive website, focusing on Le Mans and other sportscar racing topics. He has been collecting pictures, results and lots of other insights in the history and presence of Le Mans. Even more he collected a number of great sound files, for example here. These are absolutely fantastic! There's also lots of other stuff, including some of the best racing movies produced ever and a special section on Swiss drivers and teams at Le Mans. Have a look yourself, it's certainly worth a visit!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

First open ride with the 300 SL after a long cold winter

It definitely was a long winter, and cold it was! It must be three months since I enjoyed any of my classic cars on the road. Today, for the first time, it was somewhat warm again (10 degrees celsius), but more importantly roads were dry and the salt had been washed away last week. There's still a lot of snow on the mountains, as you can see on the pictures, but Spring is clearly approaching.
Oh, it felt good to have again the wind in the hair and change gears manually, feel the mechanics of a somewhat dated car. Yes, I agree, the Mercedes 300 SL isn't really a proper classic car yet. It's a bit too young, but it will reach 30 years soon and the design already counts 40 years by now. Cars like the R107 series are difficult to judge, as they have had such a long lifespan. It's a bit similar to the Morgan Plus 4 or Plus 8, just not that extreme.
Anyway, regardless of this, the drive was a joy! And it was such a relief that it fired up the first time and run as if there hadn't been any winter break. The SL has many contemporary habits and feels fairly modern, but still has a lot of the elements I like with classic cars, starting with a well articulated engine sound, manual controls for everything, lots of light in the cabin, instant feedback from anything. Hopefully we will soon again have a warm and nice weather weekend, so that I can continue to unwrap cars and get them back on the road!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Applying Open Source to future classic cars

One key issue that drive many car enthusiasts mad is the risk that cars from the 90ies (some even say 80ies) can't be driven in a few years anymore because there are no spare parts and specialists to fix electronics problems. This is a real thread. Many of the component manufacturers have disappeared and cars become more and more complex, each part depends on other parts to work.
So here's a solution:
Why doesn't Bosch or another one of these electronics manufacturers propose a standard component platform with defined and open interfaces and deliver a sample program code to simulate what we had in cars in the past as Open Source? Car specialists or even manufacturers could take this electronics platform, adapt it to specific cars and alter the control program code to fit the purpose. As many of the car components (i.e. the CAN bus) are standardized already today this should be possible. Thanks to the fact that all code would have to be published again, more and more versions would be available and could be used for many different cars. BMW is trying to do something like this for its older race cars whereas not open source, but at least the direction is right.
So, dear car and electronics component manufacturers, please think about this and start to build a future for many great cars we have today (think Ferrari F40, Aston Martin DB7, TVR 350C, Alfa-Romeo 8C, Porsche Carrera GT, etc.).

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What will cars in 10 to 20 years look like?

I have been talking a lot about old cars, so let's for once switch topics and elaborate on how a car in 10 to 20 years from now could look like. This of course is very difficult and pure speculation.
Let's start with steering and control:
In 10 to 20 years technology will available to pick up steering commands directly from the human brains, so all these controls of today are not needed anymore. But at the same time computing power also will have exponentially grown compared to today, and every car will be part of a network and to a large extent self controlled. So, steering commands from the driver are only needed for setting the direction (i.e. the destination) and for taking a break or so.
Engine: Cars most likely will be powered by a mixture of electricity and ecological fuel, maybe improved versions electrical engines and of range extenders. Battery technology will allow to store a lot more energy with much smaller batteries than today. Traffic can be organized in a very condensed way, as cars communicate with each other and can queue almost like train wagons. This will allow both to use the space on roads better and to save energy. Most likely cars will be earth bound, there's no technology visible that allows them to go 90 degrees up or to fly. Design: But, how will they look? What will the shape of such a future car be like? Will it resemble the Lexus from the movie "Minority Report" pictured here? I doubt. Why would you create such a big car with so little space if usability and pure transport is the main driver? I would assume that cars will look more like the Mitsubishi MIEV, maybe a bit bigger and a bit more fashionable, or maybe like a Renault Espace with more 2030 flavor.

Now, do I look forward to such a car? Well, certainly not, if it's about having fun and feeling the adrenalin. For commuting this can certainly be okay, but if this is really the future, then I will cherish my classic cars even more from now on.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Are Toyota's issues a symptom of what we have to face more and more with cars?

Toyota is going through a rough time, currently, with all these break and accelerator issues. Self imposed, you may say, but maybe that's a bit too easy.
Why do such large scale problems happen? Here are four drivers/reasons I came up with:

1) What we see in car engineering is an ever increasing complexity and more and more interdependency between the different parts of a car thanks to the use of computers, bus systems and other electronics. This makes cars more vulnerable and maybe also a bit too clever at times.

2) People have increased their expectations for quality and reliability a lot over the last years. You wouldn't accept a car with major faults today anymore, while it was not uncommon that there were substantial flaws with cars in the past. When I had an Alfa-Romeo 164 in the early 90ies the accelerator also stuck and the car kept increasing speed. I had to break it down and kill the engine to fix the problem with the accelerator cable. But these things were not transparent. Many drivers in the 60ies and 70ies felt more like test drivers than customers.

3) Today we have an impressive ability to store large amounts of data, combine and compute large numbers of accident data and correlate/analyze this information. People share their opinions on the internet, report their problems in specific forums, blog about their experiences and find help in case of trouble. So, different to 10 or 20 years ago, major issues will not disappear, they almost certainly will pop up. And very quickly so!

4) Car manufacturers are forced to increase production efficiency and to globally source parts and pieces
 to optimize logistics and cost. Well, this may not always lead to the best result. Which reminds me to a quote in the movie Armageddon: "You know we're sitting on ... 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn't it? " (you can also listen to this here).

So, all these things together and a bit of a fading Japanese passion for quality and product perfection can bring you there where Toyota is today. And you can be sure that competitors will leverage the opportunity and make the best out of it.
Would I still buy a Toyota? I guess, yes, if they only made a really attractive car ....

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The new Audi RS5 - more than what we need?

It took Audi quite a bit of time, but now it's here, or will be here. At the coming Geneva Autoshow Audi is supposed to present the new Audi RS5. It features a high revving V8 engine with 450 HP and 430 NM, accelerating the car in less than 5 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h. It comes with all the usual Audi features such as four wheel drive, double clutch seven speed gearbox and launch control. It's almost Ferrari F40 performance for you everyday trip to the office. Now, my readers know from earlier postings, that I am not really a fan of the current "bigger - heavier - faster" trend. It's actually impressive that Audi seems to be able to stay below 1.8 tons. But still, given the average speed on today's street is barely more than 130 km/h (even in Germany) you may wonder whether you need such a machine. Why not go for a nice A4 Avant 2.0 TFSI and a Morgan Plus 8, coming at the same price as a well spec'ed RS5 together, but delivering undoubtedly more fun and causing less depreciation also? Don't get me wrong, the RS5 is gorgeous and certainly fun to drive, but for a Sunday afternoon blast a Morgan is so much more fun and for the commute to the office the A4 does the job.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Is TVR coming back? Yes, PLEASE!

I may have be a bit early with announcing the end of TVR in a recent blog entry of mine. New rumours indicate that TVR might be coming back, with an uprated or new car powered by a US sourced V8 engine. Well these ingredients would bring us back to the Griffith/Chimaera times and these were good times for TVR. So let's hope that the announced new website actually will pop up soon and TVR is really able to present a new car for the Goodwood Festival. Actually this all feels like a "deja vue". TVR has gone lost and came back so many time that it shouldn't surprise us if it happened again. And I am sure many of my readers would be more than happy if this works out.
If I may add some wishes: I would love to see a new Sagaris with the 7 liter Corvette power plant under the bonnet. Not sure it fits, but it certainly would deliver acurate power.

Opel Flextreme GT/E Concept - going into the right direction

Opel is going to present its Opel Flextreme GT/E Concept at the Geneva Autoshow. Looking at this car, I must admit that this is going into the right direction! The design is impressive and technology wise it seems to be a car that combines usability with ecological savvyness. It's based on the coming Opel Ampera (2011) and combines an electrical motor (370 NM) and a range extender (1.4 l gasoline engine). It can run for 60 km only on electricity, adding the range extender it can go to 500 km. With 0-100 km/h in 9 secs and a top speed of more than 200 km/h it will not slow down traffic. With 1.6 l/100 km it would emit less than half CO2 than a Toyota Prius. However it's a bit unclear how you calculate these things for electrical cars still. It comes with four doors a some fancy aerodynamics gimmicks that probably will never make it into series production. With almost 4.8 m it's comparable in size to a BMW 5 series or Volkswagen Passat. So, let's see what Opel can save into production and what the price for such a toy would be.
P.S. I think it's a nice touch to call the concept car "GT/E", bringing back memories of fast and rallye proven Opel Kadett GT/E cars from the 70ies.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How many car manufacturers have disappeared since 1977

33 years ago the group "Vereinigte Motorverlage" published their "auto katalog 1977", listing all (in Germany?) available cars on the market. When you look at the roughly 185 car manufacturers in the catalogue you find actually many that have disappeared. Let me give you a selection:
AC, Acadian, Albany, Alpine, American Motors Corporation (AMC), Anadol, Autobianchi, Avanti, Bricklin, British Leyland, Checker, Coriasco, Crayford, Crespi, Custoka, Davrian, Dino, Dutton, Elegant, Eliette, Excalibur, Fairthorpe, Felber, Fiberfab, Giannini, Ginetta, Glassic, Gremlin, Hillman, Hongki, Hornet, Humber, Innocenti, Jensen, Leontina, Matador, Matra-Simca, Melkus, Monteverdi, Moretti, MP Lafer, Murat, NSU, Pacer, Panther, Peykan, Princess, Puma, Ranger, Reliant, Saporoshez, Sbarro, Scaldia, Shanghai, Scorpion, Shekate Sahami, Shiguli, Simca, Strato, Sunbeam, Syrena, Tatra, Technical Exponents, Tiffany, Tofas, De Tomaso, Toro, Trabant, Triumph, TVR, Valiant, Vanden Plas, Wartburg, Wolga, Wolseley, YLN, Zastava, ZAZ, ZIL. I may have hit some that are actually still alive, others just have changed their names. Many though have been acquired and integrated (e.g. AMC), others just have stopped to produce cars, but still do some business (e.g. Sbarro). Many of the brands we probably don't even remember and the probability that they pop up at an oldtimer event are minimal. Others though we really do miss, i.e. AC, Bricklin, Matra-Simca, Monteverdi, Simca, Triumph, TVR, etc. to name a few. What we tend to forget is that there are new manufacturers around that didn't exist in 1977, i.e. Aptera, Artega, Fisker, Gumpert, Pagani, Tesla and many others, for example from China. And to be fair, we can't really say that there's is not enough choice today, can we?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Picture of the week - Ferrari's Prancing Horse

There are few car manufacturers to spend that much energy (and lawyers) to protect the brand identity compared to Ferrari. If you want to open a restaurant and think it's a good idea to put a black prancing horse on a yellow background as your logo and call it "cavallo rapante" you can be quite sure that you'll receive a lawyer's letter soon thereafter. Ferrari doesn't like people riding on their back.
Regardless of whether the pictured prancing horse has been authorized by Ferrari it looks great, especially with the Ferrari 599 in the shop!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Renault Twingo Gordini - bringing back a lot of memories

Fiat did it with Abarth, now Renault is doing it with Gordini. Leveraging the reputation and brand appeal of fifties' tuners to "upgrade" today's less than exciting family and commuting cars.
The Renault Twingo Gordini certainly looks great and according to TopGear it is a blast to drive. Many people don't know what Gordini actually stands for. Since the thirties there were Gordini race cars. And in the fifties Gordini built even formula one cars, whereas with not too much success.
Later Gordini became known as tuner and builder of Rallye cars and many race cars used Gordini engines. 1968 the company halted. Numerous famous Renault Gordini cars such as the R8 and R12 still make good appearances at classic car events today. And, if you want to know, former Gordini engineers were heavily involved when Renault started to build turbo formula one engines.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The new Volkswagen Polo GTI 2010 - most people don't need more car than this

Volkswagen will present its brand new Volkswagen Polo GTI at the coming Geneva Auto Show. I have talked about the Polo before and summarized that it's so much better than the daily drivers we had in the past while consuming minimal amounts of gasoline. Now, the new GTI is different. It's really fast, going from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.9 secs and reaching a top speed of 229 km/h. And all of this with a fuel consumption of exactly 6 liters/100 km, pushing 139 gr CO2 into the atmosphere. Wow! This is the performance of good going sportscar in the 80ies while offering space for five people (with some compromises) and being almost a blessing for our earth. And it comes with all the goodies that you would expect and is as safe as you can get today.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lotus Elise 2011 - still the same and quite colorful

Lotus will present the facelifted Lotus Elise at the coming Geneva Auto Show. It has been adapted to get closer to the Lotus Evora look and feel. Engines are still from Toyota (hopefully without the throttle pedal) and also otherwise not a lot has changed. One new 1.6 liter engine will get introduced.
Now, Lotus is certainly the only brand to showcase a car in orange, I guess. It's also probably the only brand where colors such as light green, yellow, orange or light blue take a larger share than grey and black. Different to Maserati or even Ferrari owners Lotus buyers obviously prefer shiny colors, at least the Elise and Exige buyers. This may be different with the Evora, I could imagine.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Great choice of individualist's Limousines in 1980 - Citroen, Alfa-Romeo, Saab, Rover and Lancia

In 1980 there was quite a choice when you wanted to buy a limousine. You could go for a Mercedes E or BMW 5 Series just as today, but there were also some really individualistic limousines available if you didn't want to swim with everybody else. Auto Motor und Sport assembled this nice group of five cars: Alfa-Romeo Sei, Lancia Gamma i-e, Rover 3500 V8 S, Saab 900 Turbo and Citroen CX 2400 GTI. This gave you a choice of very different shapes, but also a broad range of engine technologies. The Alfa-Romeo 6 came with a V6 and six Dell'Orto carburetors, the Citoen had a straight four cylinder engine with fuel injection, the Rover was propelled by the ex-Buick V8 with SU carburetors, the Lancia had a four cylinder boxer engine with Bosch L-Jetronic and the Saab 900 Turbo had a Turbo aspirated straight four cylinder. While the engine choice was quite diverse, the power output was quite comparable, ranging from 130 to 158 hp. 0-100 km/h could be reached in 9.4 to 10.9 secs. Top speed was 192 to 202 km/h. The Rover and the Alfa were fastest thanks to the superior engine power output. Interestingly the Rover was the most fuel efficient car with 13.6 l/100 km despite the largest engine and the highest number of cylinders. None of the cars was all wheel driven, the Alfa and the Rover powered the rear wheels the others the front wheels. Roughly DM 27'000 to 31'000 had to be on your bank account if you wanted one of these cars, 2.5 to 3 times of what a Ford Fiesta Festival would have cost you then.
I guess we can only dream of so much individualism today!

Monday, February 15, 2010

The three best German Super Cars taking a 1987 perspective: Porsche 959, Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, BMW M1

In 1987 the German car magazine Sport Auto featured an article on the best German Sportscars ever. The three cars they put into the center were the mighty Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, the BMW M1 and the Porsche 959. It must be said that Germany at that time was in an 959 euphoria. Clearly the 959 was an excellent car for its time! Even today its performance is impressive: 0-100 km/h in 3.9 sec, 450 hp, 315 km/h top speed, 3.2 kg/hp. And it was hugely expensive at DM 420'000, well that's at least what people thought. As we know today that kind of price tag is what you can charge for a super or hyper sportscar. Ferrari's answer to the 959, the Ferrari F40, at least came in exactly at the same price point. But if you compare the 959 with the M1, built 7 or 8 years earlier, it must be said that the M1 was at DM 113'000.- inexpensive in comparison. And it was fast too with 0-100 km/h in 5.6 sec and a top speed of 262 km/h. With a lower weight of 1'300 kg it had an acceptable power to weight ratio too with 4.7 kg/hp. And 33 years before the Porsche 959 a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL could be bought at DM 29'000.-. What may sound inexpensive was pretty much unaffordable at that time when a Volkswagen Beetle was probably around DM 1'500.-. But this car reached a mind boggling 250 km/h top speed and accelerated in 9 sec from 0 to 100 km/h while the Beetle could barely reach 100 km/h and you could cook your breakfast eggs in the time it took from 0-100 km/h. Now, one of the questions to ask is of course whether these were the three best German sportscars until 1987. I guess, it's a question of definition. Would you include cars like the Isdera, would the Mercedes C111 count, are street legal race cars like the Porsche 904 GTS or the Porsche Carrera 6 to be included? And what about pre war cars such as the Mercedes SSK? The three shown cars in the article are at least an attractive selection and could all go on any serious car collector's shopping list.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lotus back in Formula One painted in Green and Yellow

Lotus presented its 2010 Formula 1 race car, the Lotus T127, last Friday. It took 16 years since 1994) to have a Lotus in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. And it's certainly a nice touch that the car is painted in green and yellow (again). Whether it will be competitive with its Cosworth engine and the xtrac gear box, we will see. But it certainly brings a bit of history and tradition back into the formula 1 circus.

Remember Double Clutching?

When I was eighteen and learned how to drive a car, all cars already had fully synchronized transmissions and you could shift gears directly. But it felt sporty todo double clutching. When I did it the first time in driving school the driving teacher almost exploded. He thought there would be more valuable things to think about than reducing wear of the clutch. Actually I have never owned a car with an unsynchronized transmission, but I owned quite a number of cars suffering from weak synchromesh. and some earlier cars had unsynchronized first gears.
Recently I had lunch with a guy doing business around oldtimer and classic cars. And he surprised me with saying that he doesn't know what double clutching is. Yes, he was quite a bit younger than me, but still! By the way, what is called double clutching in English, we call "Zwischengas" in German. Translating this word by word leads to "operating the throttle in between". Funny enough the shifting up with double clutching is called "Doppelkuppeln", which means exactly the same what the English term says. And this also gave the name to the new transmissions, such as the PDK of Porsche or the DSG of Volkswagen. There have been debates on whether it's still useful to apply double clutching in modern cars. The answer is yes, and some modern robotized transmissions and sequential gearboxes even do it by themselves - thanks to electronics.
If you want to know more about double clutching, there are some good articles here and here. And thanks to YouTube you can also see it in full motion and color for example here.
By the way, the picture shows my Grantura's clutch. It would have taken more than a bit of double clutching to save this one.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A car Still Live - Mercedes /8 Coupé, Renault Espace, Citroen Type H

Following up on my recent post concerning classic cars in the winter, here's another picture, I would call it a "still live". It brings three classic cars together that probably are on very few people's "cars to be collected" list. The Mercedes /8 Coupé was designed by Paul Bracq and was both popular because of its clear and straight forward lines but also because of its reliability. Even today you can find them (and the limousines) as daily commuters. The Citroen Type H (and its sisters) represented a very practical truck type car for people in need of transportation capacity. It's design again was unique and its habit exactly like you would it expect. The last of the three cars is the Renault Espace, one of the first series. After an adventurous engineering phase with multiple car brands taking care off (i.e. Chrysler, Matra, Renault) and with significant English involvement (very few people know this) it became the start of a new car category, sporty family vans. Seeing these three cars gathered in the snow showcasing such different approaches and objectives and colors typical to the time when the cars were built is fascinating.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Grey sportscars - where is the color?

I have been writing about the fact that more and more cars come with boring colors and are mostly ordered in grey, silver or black. Well, what started with limousines and company cars has continued with compact cars and also with sportscars! Even the Italian cars are painted more and more in silver or grey. Have a look at this picture showing four Maserati Granturismo GT Coupés. Three are silver or grey, and only one is in red. And you would really wonder who the brave man was to order this car in red ...
By the way, not too many Maseratis were painted in red except the race cars. Maseratis often were ordered in blue or silver, even in the sixties. But there were many yellow Ghibli and Merak on the other side too.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Classic Cars in the Winter time

Many/most of us probably couldn't sleep well if they knew their cherished classic car being parked on the street during the cold winter nights with salt on the streets and snow everywhere. Well, there must be people thinking differently as these pictures show. They have all been taken in Berlin this week. All of these cars are classics and some of them even are technology master pieces. My favorite car here is the Citroen Maserati SM. It's kind of the combination of the Citroen ID/DS with the six cylinder Maserati engine. The shape is breath taking and it certainly was a pleasure to drive when new and fresh. But also the ID/DS pictured here is a collector's item and the Mercedes-Benz SLC as well. Hopefully somebody will rescue these cars eventually and bring them home in a warm garage!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Air Conditioning in cars - a long journey since the 60ies

In 1939 Packard equipped the first car with Air Conditioning. The system apparently used the whole trunk space. Since then we came a long way. Not only the systems got smaller and lighter, they also became more efficient and effective. In 1969 already more than half of all domestic cars were sold with an air conditioner. Not so in Europe, where it took quite a bit longer to achieve this level of adoption. This had also to do with pricing. In 1980 for example the air conditioning option for a BMW or Mercedes was priced at about DM 3'000 to 4'000, about half the price of a decent compact car, or 5-15% of a family sedan! And some of these systems were pretty crude, i.e. you could turn them on or off and maybe influence the "cooling down" factor and the wind speed of the vent. At least that's what the system in my Berlinetta Boxer was all about. Many of these systems actually were not able to really cool down a car on a hot day. Today this is quite different, as a lot of engineering has gone into this (mostly standard) option. Not only they need much less energy, they are also fairly small and quite unexpensive. Forgotten the days when you had to turn the aircon off if you wanted to overtake. Air conditioning makes driving cars safer not only because the driver's reactions are better in a cooler environment, but also because the systems take humidity out of the air and improve overall visibility. So, all in all, here's some good engineering applied to everyday's problems.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Picture of the week - Volkswagen Beetle meets Jaguar E-Type

Here's a nice shot picturing the wheel and wing of an old Volkswagen Beetle mirroring the wire wheel of a Jaguar E-Type. It's kind of nice to see these old style wheels that were born before wheels got wider and wider, bigger and bigger. Also remember, tires like this were quite cheap, a replacement would certainly be less than 50 € in today's currency. Of course today they are more expensive, as now they are produced only in small numbers and for the collectors who can afford it ...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Visiting the Meilenwerk in Berlin

Recently I had the opportunity to take a look at the Meilenwerk in Berlin. Built inside an old "Tram Remise" it offers a selection of oldtimer specialists, service providers, restaurants, shops and event locations. It's quite a nice place to spend an afternoon and thanks to well known specialists such as Thiessen you can look at quite exquisite cars. Examples? Ford GT40, Dino 206 GT, Lancia Stratos, Mercedes 300 SL, Bugatti EB110, but also Goggomobil, Volkswagen Käfer (Bug/Beetle), Mercedes 230 SL and others.
All in all the whole setup was actually smaller than I had expected, but still worth a visit.
Possibly due to winter time there wasn't too much "traffic", i.e. people. Whether financially such a project is a success is difficult to judge. At least there are all kinds of such projects popping up in different countries and in Germany alone there a three places where you can find a "Meilenwerk".

Sunday, February 7, 2010

BMW 5 Series - getting heavier and heavier

BMW has recently presented its new 5 Series sedan. The BMW 5 Series is very important for BMW as this is the car that is widely used as company car, not just in Germany but often also in the UK, Switzerland and other countries. Failing to meet the requirements and taste of potential buyers would mean to put the company on risk basically. Well, if you look at the new car, BMW has done a good job and didn't take any risks really. Of course the car got bigger as it has over the last series too, but it also got quite a bit heavier, basically 100 kg more than its predecessor. Having owned a number of these cars myself (E60, E39 and E34) I am not too pleased with this weight gain. Already the E60 was quite heavy, especially with the Diesel 6 cylinder engine and 4x4 set-up, it actually felt a bit like a truck to drive. Previous series were lighter and also smaller, my E39 had a petrol 6 cylinder 3.5 engine and the E34 came even with the small 8 cylinder engine. All the cars I owned were showing quite well what was possible in their period and the new one will continue this story. What once more is impressive with the new car is how fuel efficient even such a heavy car can be, at least when you apply the official standards (i.e. ECE standards). And as always the 5 Series opens the world of luxury to (rich) drivers with the accessories and goodies coming from the 7 Series, but all at a price. The fact that a well equipped BMW 5 Series scratches 70 to 100'000 € is probably not really fitting to the recession times we just try to overcome.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Ferrari Daytona 365 GTB/4 - candidate for the design of the century award

Before Ferrari finally followed Lamborghini and presented the Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer with a mid mounted engine, they introduced the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 as an "interim solution", knowing it would be replaced soon. But, what an interim solution this was. The design came of course from Pininfarina and clearly was a master piece. Very rarely a front engine Ferrari has been packaged more convincingly. And besides these spectacular lines some pretty interesting details were part of the package as well. Look at these front lights (later versions had another approach though). The 365 GTB/4, unofficially called the "Daytona", was a success with 1'284 produced cars, plus 125 convertibles (called 365 GTS/4) over four years. Yes, at that time this was a big numbers, while every Ferrari model today is rather in the 5'000-10'000 volume range. That's probably one of the reason why Daytonas fetch good prices today. And if it's a group 4 competition version (they built three per year offic), half a million USD will not even be enough enough. I was pretty close buying one of these a couple of years ago and knowing what they are worth today, I probably should have done it. But there are a couple of things speaking against the car: It's quite heavy, feels a bit like a truck to drive and is better suited for long straights and "Autobahn" than race tracks and mountain serpentines. But the design, absolutely wonderful!
By the way, this specific car is located in the "Autobau", a very nice museum situated in Romanshorn in Switzerland, worth visiting from time to time!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Porsche with low emission sportscar concept in 1980

30 years ago Porsche was planning to build a low emission sportscar. With a wind slippery body (cw 0.25) and a low not too wide body, combined with a 4 cylinder 2 liter engine it would have been fast enough with less than 10 seconds from 0-100 km/h (yes this was still fairly fast in 1980) and a 200+ km/h top speed. And thanks to the low weight of less than 800 kg Porsche calculated a (ECE standard) fuel consumption of less than 4.8 l/100 km. Even today, this would be quite impressive.
Well, we know, Porsche never produced this car. And to be fair, it's pretty probable that it wouldn't have been a sales success. But what I am really wondering is that if they thought a 4.8 l/100 km sportscar was possible in 1980 why on earth can't we build a 2-3 l/100 km sportscar today? I am totally convinced that all it takes is available! And, differently to the good old days, it might be well possible that people actually would buy the car. Look at the Smart Coupé, people actually did like it and it sold, even if it didn't meet the volume expectations of Mercedes.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What Sportscar to choose in 1961?

Here's another one of my "let's have a look into an old car magazine". This time, 1961, "hobby" asked the question, what classical sportscar you could pick. What is interesting is that out of the nine cars, actually four were British, two Italian and three German. Actually there's wasn't that much choice in 1961 if you wanted to buy an affordable sportscar, at least if you didn't want to include small production cars (e.g. TVR, Alpine, etc.) or top end sportscars (e.g. Jaguar XK, Aston Martin, Ferrari). Anyway if you read the test the conclusion is not that straight forward, too different are these cars and the prices as well. I probably would have chosen the Alfa Giulietta or the Porsche 1600 S then, despite the fact that I actually like the design of the MG A.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Best 10 car investment opportunities for 2010

In their current issue Octane proposed "The Smart Buys of 2010". There list includes the following ten cars that they expect to rise in value: Ferrari 550, Porsche 911 Turbo, Aston Martin DB7, Jaguar Mk1 3.4, Jaguar E-Type S1/S2 FHC, Lotus Elan, Aston Martin V8 Zagato, Aston Martin V8 Virage, Ferrari 308 GT/4 and Mercedes-Benz SL (R107). While I do agree with some of these cars as good candidates to gain in value, I think the list is very "UK focused" and misses a couple of exciting investment opportunities. So here's my list as an alternative:

(1) BMW M3 (E30) - great car for everyday and exciting track cars for the special occasions, not too many were built and there's lots of racing pedigree
(2) Porsche 924 Carrera GT - I wrote about this car before, it's clearly undervalued, was produced in very little numbers and has more racing pedigree than any Ferrari since the GTO
(3) Ferrari 308 GTB/GTS - I consider these cars as still undervalued especially in comparison with some of the 12 cylinders. These cars are great to drive and less expensive to own than the bigger cars and the design is just magnificent
(4) Mercedes SL (R07) - great classics, were built over 17 years, the last ones are not only reliable but also inexpensive to own. They are not rare in comparison, but they even have catalyst converters and therefore can be driven even in protective cities
(5) Alfa-Romeo GTV 6 - again an instant classic with an unbelievable soundtrack. Not that expensive to buy, but some money is needed for maintenance. Many have disappeared appreciating the value of the remaining cars.
(6) Lotus Esprit S2, S2.2, S3 - great and fairly revolutionary shape in the 70ies, thanks to Giugiaro. S2.2 very rare, but even S2 and S3 reached small numbers in comparison to other classics. Inexpensive to own if it's a well sorted one.
(7) BMW M1 - as close to a race car as you can get. It was developed to win in racing, the road going sportscar was sort of a by-product, less than 500 cars produced make it very rare. Prices are climbing quickly though. A few years ago I was offered a M1 for less than € 50'000, now they are twice to three times this price level
(8) TVR 3000M/Taimar/3000 S - easy to own and maintain british sportscar, low number produced, especially in LHD. You can't go wrong if you buy a well sorted one
(9) Lotus Elite - less popular than the ever loved Lotus Elan, but actually much more nimble, exclusive and much closer to racing than its successor. The Elite competed in Le Mans successfully and the road car was fairly close to what the guys were using there. Prices are not too much higher than for good Elans but you get a Climax engine and lots of engineering ideas from Colin Chapman. Not a car for everybody though. But the shape is just exquisite, especially for a car of its size
(10) Aston Martin DB7 - okay, I had to take one of these onto the list. Not that it's really a great car in terms of technology and engineering, but the design is so much better than most alternatives you can buy for the same money that it's worth being considered.

So, that's the list, and of course there are many that could be added. And remember: if bought only for making money, probably none of them will bring enough interests due to all the cost that come with owning an exclusive car. But if you include your passion and pleasure in the equation, then you can forget oil, gold, platinum or any other investment ....

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Picture of the week - Morris Minor

It's interesting to see how cars that basically dominated the streets some years before have almost totally disappeared. Examples? Take the Volkswagen Beetle/Bug. If you look at a photograph taken in Germany or Switzerland in the mid sixties you will see lots of these cars and they clearly outnumbered anything else. Probably same with the Morris Minor in the UK for example. Today though it's quite special to see one independently of classic car events or special occasions. Well, the Morris Minor pictured here was just parking outside a house close to where I live. It may have seen better times, but it's a lovely piece of machinery and so much different to what people buy today to commute and drive to holiday destinations.

Monday, February 1, 2010

No end of the winter to be seen - cars have to wait

The winter is still very present in Europe, lots of snow and temperatures below 0 degrees celsius. Which means that all the classic cars and oldtimers have to wait and sit in garages. And no end is visible. But let's be patient the next season will certainly arrive. Until then batteries can be refreshed, tires pumped up and histories tracked.