Saturday, July 31, 2010

Driving a Lotus 11 on a narrow oval bicycle racetrack

Once per year a number of older race cars reconvene on a narrow bicycle racetrack forming an oval in Zurich-Oerlikon. The race cars are a show block for the bicycle races, but for the spectators often it is the highlight. And so it is for the drivers! It's quite something special to drive a classic race car through the steep curves. About 3 g downforce isn't something you are used to with an old car. But apparently it's a lot of fun and that's why the drivers happily return every year. To get a feeling what it means to drive these cars around the oval have a look at the presented video showing a Lotus Eleven (1956) in the oval. Impressive!

Friday, July 30, 2010

The new Ferrari 458 Challenge - better, but better?

Yes, this is the brand new, just announced, Ferrari 458 Challenge. It beats its predecessor (430 Challenge) by 2 seconds in Fiorano and that's a lot, it's kind of a racing light year! So, these new cars get better and better, faster and faster, but is this really better? Do all these electronic gizmos really help to make the good driver look good and the bad one suffer? I doubt it. And it's not even that exciting to observe as it's so bloody controlled. Let's go back to less electronics, smaller tires and more fun, that's why I still prefer old racing cars.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Are Audis a renaissance of the body in different sizes like Devins or Buchanans?

Yes, this is the brand new Audi A7. You wouldn't have noticed? It looks like all the other Audis, specifically the A5 Sportsback or the A4? No, it's really a different car, even if you don't notice. For example, it's longer than the other mentioned. But having been mistaken myself, I honestly must say, they really look alike a lot.
It's almost as if the successful practice of Bill Devin producing many different (fiberglass) bodies with the same shape fitting different chassis and sizes is coming back. You want an Audi? Do you want 4.2, 4.5, 4.7 or 4.9 meter length? Well, then take this one or that one, they all look the same basically. It's like buying jeans, you have picked the brand, now it's about size. I think this is the wrong strategy with cars, especially with such expensive cars. And it's a bit boring and lacks imagination and innovation as well. BMW does a bit the same, but at least the different cars have more unique design features, same with Mercedes. I prefer cars that look unique and special, that's probably the reason why I like older cars so much ....

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Do car restorations make economical sense?

In my life I have financed the restoration of multiple cars and in none of the cases this resulted into an economical gain for myself. The truth is that there are very few cars where the enormous cost of a full restoration really can be justified with increase of the value of the car. You probably couldn't even restore a Lancia Stratos (nuts and bolts) for example for the total value the car fetches today. Of course it all depends on with what you start with. But I have seen people spending many hundred thousands of dollars to get a car right. And in my cases the restoration usually equaled the value of the car plus/minus, but I also had to buy the restoration basis on top. Why did I still do it?
1) it's fun to see how a car rises to its old glory
2) you know what you have as you have observed the process yourself
3) your connection to the car is much tighter as you know so much more about the car
4) the process as such is interesting and you get to know many people you need to ask for help or part or so
5) you preserve an important piece of history
6) you actually create local value add for specialists, something to feel good about in the times of financial recession
7) you can influence the end product, be it by the choice of color or by selecting materials or refinements (if you have to, but that's another story)

So, I will do it again, if I can afford it and I usually don't regret it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ayrton Senna on Honda NSX driving at the Nurburgring

I just came across this spectacular video picturing the unforgettable Ayrton Senna driving the Honda NSX around the Nurburgring. Yes, there's a lot of marketing bla bla around it, but get to 4:10 or so and you'll see some serious driving action from Ayrton. And, yes, having owned two NSX in my life, this is a car that stands out from the crowd and I don't mind owning a third one sometimes in the future.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

TVR 3000 S - how is it to drive one?

I have been writing about the TVR 3000 S before. Playing around with my toys, i.e. computer, camera and so on, I created a little movie to highlight why I like this car and how it is to drive it. Have a look yourself! There's a bit of German involved, but most of the content is understandable for non-German speakers as well.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Picture of the Week - Elva MK3

Here's yet another interesting race car to see in full action: The Elva MK3. It has been racing for years in Germany and is pictured in probably its last race here at the AVD Oldtimer Grand Prix 2006. It was quite quick and so was the driver, a very friendly chap. The car had quite an impressive history, but probably had been changed quite a number of times to continue and stay in competition. I wasn't successful buying it, so it went into a museum. Elva comes from French "elle va" which means "she goes". Elva was a pretty successful maker of race cars and partially also street cars, the best known car probably was the Elva Courier, but racers rather remember these barchettas, be it the MK2, MK3, MK4 or the fabulous MK7.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Great Australian Sports Cars and Specials

I finally got it, my own copy of "Great Australian Sports Cars and Specials", written by Mike McCarthy, published in 1987. It lists and describes a number of Australian Classics such as the Bollwell, the Buchanan or the JWF, I have been writing about in this blog. But it also contains a number of other brands and types you probably haven't been aware off. Cars like the Ascort, the Bulanti, the Elfin, Nota Fang, Proctor or the Tontala probably have never made it to any other continent than Australia. But some of these cars are great collector's items and I would certainly love to get my hands on an Elfin Sports, Geneer Outlaw or Moir Renault. Having been a fan of Australian Sports Cars for quite some time and the lucky owner of a JWF Milano GT this book is a great compendium of the variety of Australian car engineering. It's sold out, so it took my quite a number of efforts to finally receive my own copy. So, I just have to wait for a rainy weekend to read it!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Devin-D project for sale in the US

Hi, I friend of mine just told me about this Devin D that is for sale as a project in the US. Devin Ds are pretty rare! This one comes with Porsche 1600 SC engine, tubular frame and is said to be mostly complete, so a good restoration basis. This nice car could become either a street or a race car. From a body perspective the car is similar to the Devin TR also highlighted in this blog, but it had its own chassis and of course the engine sits in the back of the car. To my knowledge there are two or three Devin Ds in Europe, one of them is a nicely restored car in Austria. The car here is not cheap but fairly priced. It has a competition history from the 60ies apparently and could become competitive again with its low weight and powerful engine. If anybody wants to know more then contact me through this blog or any other mean.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Five generations of car noise

I love cars with a characteristic and well tuned noise, always did. So I certainly admire an Aston Martin DB9 or a Lamborghini Murcielago. But let's take one step back and look at the past. We probably have seen five generations of car noise.

A) Early stages
In the beginning cars often were equipped with low revving large pot engines often not delivering a great noise

B) Unlimited fun
Until the sixties countries didn't know noise emission rules for cars and it was more a comfort thing whether your car was making a lot or little noise. Cars like the early Astons made great sounds, but it's also surprising how quite a Jaguary SS 100 can be. Low noise was a luxury attribute. You bought a Rolls Royce or Cadillac also because it was so quiet.

C) Semi-silent fun
Beginning in the sixties countries defined noise regulation and cars had to get more and more quiet. More and more sophisticated rules on how to measure the noise were developed, i.e. enter with 50 km/h of speed, reach point A, then accelerate in the 3rd longest gear with max throttle input, measure after 20 or so meter at point B with a distance from 7 meters .... etc. These rules made cars more and more quiet and many Ferraries of that age actually have a quite disappointing sound. Also with the introduction of catalysts and fuel injections a lot of earlier car's sound quality got lost

D) Electronically controlled exhaust noise
In the late 90ies and the 200x the car industry developed new exhaust systems that changed their throughput in a way to fulfill the regulation, but still being quite noisy and well-designed for revs and speeds not measured during the noise emission tests. Good examples are the Aston-Martin DB9, but also the Ferrari 430 Scuderia, a car that reached more than 130 dbA measured by a German car magazine. That's actually so loud that on some race tracks the car which is legal on the road was banned because many race tracks only accept up to 100 dbA (measured differently though).

E) Silent generation
Soon we will have cars that actually make almost no noise, i.e. electrical cars. And to make traffic more save they will create artificial noise, i.e. imitate an 8 cylinder engine. The noise in the interior can be tuned to fit your taste and will probably come through your stereo rather than through an exhaust system.

So, in a few years we will be more than happy to buy some of these 90ies and 200x cars with engineered exhaust systems to create a nice noise. Take the Maserati Quattroporte GTS, what a sound! However, there's nothing better than real engine noise created by a straight six from the 50ies or 60ies, I find. But that's my humble opinion.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

New Corvette commercial - tradition, engineering and performance

We don't have such commercials, too bad. But I love it, as I actually do admire the car as such.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rolls-Royce Corniche Convertible - a classic car for larger families

The Rolls-Royce Corniche, built between 1971 and 1995, is yet another long runner. Based on the Silver Shaodw that is a good car as well, the Corniche was THE luxury convertible for centuries. The car is quite monumental and really large, but the design covers the size well. It's one of the few five seat convertibles, so often the only possible choice for aristocratic English families with bigger families.
The car has changed only marginally in its 24 years of being built. Bumpers changed and some of the luxury accessories in the interior, but that's probably it. I like them both, the Silver Shadow and the Corniche. And they are great value for the buck! A Silver Shadow in very good condition will decrease your bank account by less than a tenth of what a modern Rolls-Royce Phantom would cost you. The Corniche is probably valued at a fifth of the modern alternative. This is not because they were cheap, they were actually quite expensive comparing to a Volkswagen Golf or any other car. But they haven't kept their value well, especially the limousine. That's good for the buyer! And as Dieter Meier, the frontman of the pop group Yello used to say: If you forget about maintenance cost, fuel consumption and depreciation, it's actually a very economical car to own.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Picture of the Week - TVR Griffith 500

The shape of the TVR Griffith 500 is a master piece. Few people however know that many of the design elements are caused by simple needs. As for example TVR knew that it would be difficult to create perfectly fitting doors, the designed the car in a way that you can't see whether the door really fits in size. Same thing for the bonnet. The result however is marvelous. It was strikingly modern when presented at the end of the 80ies and it still looks modern today.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Car navigation as implemented in 1966

I have just read a magazine of 1966. The article was titled: Navigation Guide driving with you in the car. They were talking about the DAIR system of General Motors, kind of an early predecessor of today's car navigation systems. DAIR stands for Driver Aid, Information and Routing. So pretty much for what we use modern navigation systems for also. What you have to understand is that in 1966 a computer with the power of a modern smart phone filled the basement of a larger house. So, there was no way, you could have enough computing power to route your car through traffic. DAIR basically offered a user interface for human controlled support through a "call center". But the idea was basically the same of what we try to achieve with the TomToms and Navigons of today. The price of DAIR was targeted on the same level as an air conditioning unit for your car. But don't forget that air conditioning was pretty expensive at that time ...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The BP disaster will not kill the Classic Car scene

The other day I read a newspaper article arguing that with the BP disaster in the south of the USA oil prices would increase as the approach to get the oil deep down from the sea wouldn't be anymore allowed because of the risks involved. Let's assume this is true for a moment. And let's assume the price for gasoline would go up by 100% due to this over the next two to three years. For purely selfish reasons I asked myself what the impact on the vintage and oldtimer car scene might be. Would this kill our cherished hobby? Would this decrease the value of the many car collections? Honestly I doubt and I did some simple calculations.
When you own a classic car from the 60ies for example, you spend probably money for a number of things, i.e. insurance, garage/place to leave the car when you don't use it, maintenance and repairs and yes, for gasoline. If you drive your car for 1'000 kms per year, then gasoline is probably 6-10% of your budget, if you go to 3000 km - and few do more than this - then you may end up with 16-25% of your budget for gasoline. If we now double the price of fuel, then of course these percentages go up too. And the total cost will increase by 11%, respectively 26%. On an absolute level this is not that much, especially compared with the total value of your investment. And, you can compensate the extra cost by driving a bit less, i.e. 2'000 km instead of 3'000 km. So if you really love your car, doubling the price of gasoline will not change this and you will be able to deal with it. Even tripling the price of oil will not make you changing your mind. Good! If this calculation is correct then we are save and prices for classic cars will not plunge. The issue though may be that not all owners of classic cars really do it for passion and we may observe some price drops when they get rid of their now more expensive hobby. But this will not make the hard core of the classic car scene tumble. I hope.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Yes, your Corvette Z06 can save a lot of fuel!

Fuel consumption of fast and large cars looks often very bad, looking at the ECE measured average consumption. The magazine Auto Motor und Sport in Germany has introduced their own fuel efficiency lap, which every test car has to do. The differences are interesting, also the extremes. While it's obviously possible to drive a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti oder a Covertte Z06 at emission levels 40% lower than anticipated by the ECE measurement cycle, other cars like the Toyota iQ actually use 30% more fuel than measured in the ECE cycle. Obviously fast and heavy cars are penalized, but funny enough also the Dacia seems to look to bad.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Porsche 911 - unique achievement

About 9 different Porsche 911 series have been built until today. Many other car types have achieved the same. But what is unique with Porsche, I think, is that you can see all of them during a regular day like today. Early 911s, G models, 964, 993 and the more modern ones, all of them are used in daily traffic and for commuting. At least I did spot all of them today in a city in Switzerland and there was no classic car meeting involved or whatsoever. I wonder whether you can give me another car type built over 46 years (1964-2010ff) that has achieved the same. It's certainly a quality to mention!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What is better? BMW M3, Ford Sierra Cosworth or Mercedes 190 2.3 16?

Yes, the boys are back. TopGear is on air again. Last Sunday they were given the challenge to buy a family track day car on a budget of GBP 5'000.-. Well the boys arrived with a E36 M3, a Mercedes 190E 2.3 16 valve (homologation car) and a Ford Sierra Cosworth. I wonder whether you could find the Merc at apparently 3'000 GBP here as it already follows the famous E30 M3 as a collector's item. And even the E36 M3 fetches better prices than what Hamster was able to buy it for (though apparently an accident car). Anyway the challenge was fun and the winner accidental (Merc). I wonder which of the three cars you would prefer. For me it's the Mercedes 16 valve Cosworth car for it's pure racing pedigree (highly successful in touring car championship). But if they had added an E30 BMW M3 then the choice would have been more clear.

Monday, July 5, 2010

BMW's serious attempt to build a better electrical car

It's called the MCV (megacity vehicle) and it's BMW's attempt to build a better electrical car. Massive use of carbon fiber and aluminum make the car not heavier than a gasoline engine driven car. Batteries in the floor ensure good usage of space. And the car is supposed to be affordable on top. That's really good news. 250 km range is okay for a four seater in the city. So, go on, BMW build this car and show us what electrical cars can do if they are engineered well!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

How many active and passive safety features do you need? Salmson GP Car

I just came across this Salmson GP car, it's named "Salmson San Sebastian GP" and stems from 1927. It's offered by VDV Grant. I love these pre war racing cars. They are so nimble. I could even imagine buying a car like this, but there's no price indicated and probably demands significant funds given history and condition. However what caught my eyes was the following sentence in the online ad: The Salmson "Grand Prix" is very easy to drive; docile at lower r.p.m, easy to start and copes well with today's traffic." Wow! Think about taking one of today's grand prix cars for a drive to your favorite downtown restaurants. Not only you need a truck with computers and a team of 10 or more people to start the car, it probably wouldn't survive many traffic lights before it either overheats or the clutch dies.
But driving a car like the Salmson in today's traffic also puts another question into the center: How many active and passive safety features do you need? To be clear, the Salmson basically has none of them. But since the 1920ies a lot has been invented to make driving more safe! Passive safety features like the collapsible steering column, crash cells, safety belts, anti lock brakes or the airbag are just examples. Modern cars can actually detect a crash before it happens, can influence brakes, steering or throttle and even the angle of the rear wheels if it's needed to prevent an accident. So, clearly, driving has become much more safe. You may mention that also the driver has an influence on whether an accident happens and he can compensate for the lack of ABS (anti lock brakes) or ESP/ETC and the likes by driving more carefully or being more skillful. That's probably true, however sometimes it's just not in the driver's hands really. And then you prefer having 3 airbags opening just in time to prevent injuries. So, what is the right classic car then do both enjoy and use in modern traffic? There's not single answer to that, but clearly, during the late 70ies and the 80ies a lot of safety has been added to the cars produced then and you certainly are better off with safety belts than without!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Air condition and Convertibles

I rarely have seen so many closed convertibles (top up) as currently with temperatures around 30 degrees of Celsius and higher. Nobody would have done this in the 70ies or 80ies - convertibles are built for being driven open when the weather conditions allow for it. With the habit of having powerful air conditions on board though, people consider the temperature in the car can be lower with the top up and air condition. But why do you need a convertible for this. And what about the disadvantages of modern convertibles with the top up? The Nissan 370Z is one of the car with the worst visibility when the top is up. And also many of the coupé-convertibles suffer from bad visibility. So, my advise, forget about the air condition, open the top, enjoy the real weather, be more safe and save fuel.