The simple life!

It’s a pretty established phenomenon that as we grow older, we tend to look back on our younger days with a feeling that life was both better and simpler then. That it was better is nothing but a myth as any statistic, and I do mean any statistic, will tell you. In terms of simplicity however, it’s a different story. Earlier this week I was sitting at a corporate dinner when the discussion turned to the early gigantic mobile phones at the turn of the 80’s and 90’s. I said something about life being simpler before the mobile phone and to my surprise, all of the far younger than me basically gave up a cheer.

Simplicity is of course something we’ve lost in the car world too. It feels like most new cars today have more chips than bolts (and quite some difficulty sourcing all of them!), and even a lightweight fanatic like Lotus has with the new Emira crossed the line to something more settled and mature for an audience today expecting more comfort, even in a Lotus. Not too long ago, this was very different, which is of course part of the charm of classic cars. So if you’re wishing for a simpler life and perhaps also for a classic set of wheels to put in your garage without having to rob the bank, let’s look at a cheap and simple option that has enchanted car enthusiasts for 60 years. A car that is one of the biggest successes of UK car industry ever, and that has also inspired further more modern legends, such as the Mazda Miata. I’m of course talking about the wonderful Triumph Spitfire!

The Mk1 Triumph Spitfire

The story starts in the UK in the late 50’s, when the UK car industry was cash strapped as always but not yet in the very dire straits it would find itself a few years later. Triumph watched the success Austin Healy was having with the Sprite, a simple roadster with a small engine and an equally small price tag launched in 1958. Triumph had themselves built the TR2 and TR3 since the early 50’s, but realized there was market share to be taken by marketing a cheaper and simpler car, that was still better than the Sprite. The design was commissioned to Giovanni Michelotti, a legendary Italian designer with cars from Maserati to Ferrari under his belt, but also less exotic ones of which notably quite a few for Triumph, including the TR4 and (later) the Stag.

And yet, the car that was to become one of few real successes of the UK car industry almost never happened. In 1960, Triumph was sold to Leyland Motors and in the midst of the merger, the Spitfire which at that time was only a single prototype, was forgotten in the corner of the Triumph factory in Coventry. If not for a Leyland manager poking around and finding the car under the dust, it may never have been. As it happened, not only did it come to be but it did so very quickly, as the first car was presented only 18 months later, in 1962. The name obviously comes from the Spitfire fighter plane from WW2 and it’s unclear to this day how Triumph agreed with Vickers, makers of the Spitfire plane, agreed to use the name – if they ever did.

A Mk III interior – unlike later cars, the instruments are still in the centre

Presented in 1962, The Triumph Spitire 4, where “4” represented the 1.1 litre, four-cylinder engine with 63 hp, was a simple car indeed. It only weighed around 700 kg so even with 63 hp, it had reasonable speed for the time, but the reason it weighed so little was that things we would tend to think of as quite standard even for classic cars, such as carpets and heating, were optional. It also had a very light folding top that should perhaps better have weighed a couple of kilos more, as it was almost impossible to use. Of course, at 63 hp, the Spitfire wasn’t what we would call a sports car today. It needed around 16 seconds to reach 100 km/h, but given you’re basically sitting on the road given how low the car is, that actually feels like plenty. Especially when you notice that the rear end is very lively indeed when the road starts to turn, something that wouldn’t be solved on later Spitfires until the 70’s.

The little modified Mk II Spitfire came in 1965 with now 67 hp. Sales in the US were really picking up and Triumph encouraged owners to race their cars on weekends, advertising any success they would have in the Triumph name. The “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” philosophy led to the Mk III in 1967 now with a larger engine at 1.3 litre, and – horray! – an updated soft top that could actually be closed. By this time you also got carpets in your Spitfire. By 1968, 100.000 Spitfires had been sold of which over half to the US. Two years later Michelotti did a pretty complete re-design for the Mk IV version, including the same rear lights as on the Triumph Stag, and a heater as standard. The final Spitfire 1500 that came in 1974 was the most powerful version there would be at 71 hp, however only outside of the US as there, emission regulations actually made it slower than its predecessors.

The Spitfire 1500 with rear lights form the Stag. Objectively the best Spitfire.

In the mid-70’s, the UK car industry was in full crisis mode and there was no money to further update the Spitfire as would have been required to keep the car competitive in view of increasing competition, notably from Japan. The GBP/USD exchange rate also meant the car became expensive in the US, with sales numbers starting to dip. The Spitfire would be with no further updates done to the car until the end of production in 1980. By then, over 300.000 Spitfires had been built with the last version, the 1500, representing about a third of total sales and no doubt also being the best car.

Even for an ex-TR4 owner like myself, driving a Spitfire as I did a few years ago, is a different experience. It feels like you literally sit on the ground, everything is smaller and trust me, the least of your concerns is a lack of speed, especially as the small four-cylinder produces a wonderful sound! That said, the early cars are perhaps a bit too simple even for those looking for the simple life this post started with. So if a Spitfire sounds like your thing, I would go for a late, 1500 car or if you prefer the earlier design, then for a Mk III. A good car will be yours for around EUR 15-20.000, a small price to pay for a pure driving experience. So leave the mobile phone at home, put on the gloves and go for a drive in a truly simple UK car legend!

Recession? What recession?

If you’re a traditional investor in stocks and bonds, 2022 has most probably not been the best year you’ve ever had (because if it were, you’d already be out of the markets a long time ago…). Most portfolios are down on the year (even though the rally in the last one-two weeks have helped most out of the trough), and talk of recession, depression and even more massive inflation is plentiful. And yet, there are assets out there that not only hold their value, but actually continue to perform. Most relevant for this blog is obviously the fact that classic cars are very much part of this group!

The Hagerty indices are well known to classic car enthusiasts as benchmarks for various types of classic cars and thereby for investments in these. You should in my view take them with a pinch of salt since classic cars in various shapes or forms remain an illiquid asset class, and if things don’t trade very often and where objects (in this case cars) are not perfectly comparable, it’s difficult to draw any general conclusions. That said, numbers are based on sales prices that have been achieved, so it definitely has worth as a good indication. From that perspective, it’s interesting to see that Hagerty indices are generally up between 5 and 20% this year.

No sign of recession here!

It’s furthermore no secret that in the whole era of zero interest rates which now seems to be behind us, if not for good then at least for quite a long time, classic and collectible cars outperformed most other types of collectibles, and never more so than when coming from the classic brands, i.e. the likes of Ferrari, Aston Martin and Porsche. In today’s world where talk of electrification is everywhere and every manufacturer has more or less advanced plans for a full range of EV’s, it’s easy to think that the big brands have their best days behind them, at least with regards to combusion engines. That my friends, is however completely wrong. Outside of headlines on EV’s and pastures green, the traditional luxury and sports car brands basically sell cars like never before.

In August, Lamborghini’s CEO Stephan Winkelmann (nope, not very Italian) was quoted as saying that Lambo continued to see strong demand which at that point would keep production at full speed for the coming 18 months. He did so on the back of a very strong first half of 2022, where Lambo sold more than 5000 cars. That is still 1500 cars less than Ferrari who posted 6700 sold cars in the same period, 23% more than in the same period a year earlier. Bentley had its best year ever in 2021 and looks set to continue to grow in 2022. And so on. The contrast to mainstream manufacturers couldn’t be bigger, given these on average lost 10% in sales in the first six months of 2022. So what’s going on?

The new – and to me disappointing – Countach was sold out a long time ago

It’s no secret that most of those buying new cars of the likes of Ferrari and Bentley have enough money not to worry about petrol prices going up 10 or 20%. And the number of such people keep increasing. In a study from this summer, McKinsey estimates that the number of people with a fortune between USD 1-30m will in the next five years increase by around 30% in Europe, the US and China. The same study estimates that the market for cars costing more than USD 500′ will grow by 14% per year until 2031, and that for cars costing USD 150′-500′ by 10%. Normal cars? Well, if you believe McKinsey, the sub-USD 150′ market, meaning the cars that make up more than 95% of the total market will grow by a far more modest 1% p.a, in the coming years.

McKinsey don’t necessarily have more of a crystal ball than you and I, so just like with the Hagerty indices, such predictions should be taken with a pinch of salt. The fact is though that luxury manufacturers are selling cars like never before, and more sold cars obviously means more profit. Porsche and Ferrari are the shining stars, with Porsche growing its earnings by 17-18% this year and Ferrari currently making a profit of about EUR 100.000 on every car produced. That’s a number that is almost hard to believe. Porsche was listed as a separate company in Frankfurt in September this year, and is at the time of writing up more than 20% since then. Ferrari was listed in New York in 2015 and is since then up 360%, roughly 25% p.a. Aston Martin on the other hand has lost more than 80% of its value since listing in 2018, and it’s not looking any brighter going forward, at least not right now.

If the Purosangue is a success, it will boost Ferrari’s profit numbers even further

Where does this leave us? As I’ve written about in the last two weeks, I’m convinced that conventional cars will be with us longer than politicans currently estimate. And unless we have a really terrible depression when cars will be the least of our worries, there will be enough rich people to fill the order books of the world’s luxury car brands, especially since these are now present not only in the sports car segment. The Cayenne and Macan make up almost half of Porsche’s profit, and Ferrari will have even more cars to earn a lot of money on with the Purosangue coming next year. So whether its classic, collectible cars as investments or shares of listed luxury auto makers, it certainly looks like there’s worse places to put your money. That’s obviously not more than my personal opinion, and not any form of advice or recommendation. As always, time will tell!

Airy 1300 hp dreams!

It was certainly not a surprise that after our week in western Florida and the car reflections that came to me on the beach, New York would be vastly different. Still, I had to laugh to myself directly after landing, realizing I had just complimented our American friends on their civilized way of driving and was now about to die in a taxi from Newark airport, driven by a constantly honking maniac in a way only a maniac can drive a car. Let’s call it a return to reality… There’s no doubt Florida is more laid back than NY not only driving-wise but that said, it was great to see NYC back to its old, pre-Covid form!

We spent most of our days walking around Manhattan, and it was in the nowadays very pleasant Meatpacking District that we came upon the new Lucid showroom. We went in and talked to the very friendly Johan from Lucid, whom I guess I shouldn’t refer to as a sales guy since some strange American regulation makes a difference between shops and showrooms and prevents personnel in the latter from disclosing prices of cars shown. Having said that, Johan knew all there was to know about the Lucid Air, setting him apart from a number of other car showrooms and even shops around the world. We thus had a great discussion which brought me back to what I wrote last week about the greater freedom in EV design potentially replacing 700 hp V8 engines as the differentiator going forward. Lucid is not what I was thinking of when doing so, but I would claim the Air is a step in the right direction, and no doubt a very impressive one!

The Air in the Meatpacking district showroom

Lucid Motors was started in 2007 in California under the name Atieva as a 20-employee battery company. Today’s CEO Peter Rawlinson joined the company as CTO in 2013, having before that worked as lead engineer for the Model S at Tesla, and before that for Jaguar and Lotus but also for the legendary Porsche tuner Ruf. Rawlinson’s vision was to build the best EV in the world and thereby the first real luxury car in the segment. Before listing Lucid on Nasdaq through a SPAC deal in 2021, the company notably secured financing from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, and its good capitalization no doubt has helped the company bridge the various supply delays it together with other car makers have had in the last year. As I write this, Johan told me they have delivered about 3.000 cars and are ramping up production. Being mostly US-focused so far, plans for Europe have been delayed, but Lucid will launch in a number of European countries in the coming months, including Germany (where there is already a showroom in Munich), Switzerland, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands..

So what is the Air? The slightly philosophical answer to that is that it’s the kind of car that can only come out of a company that hasn’t built cars along certain routines and principles for a number of decades, and also not from a company with a larger-than-life man at the top who by principle insists on fitting something like falcon doors to a car, even if it delays it by two years and then still doesn’t work when it reaches the market (I know I’m incredible subtle here so just to clarify, I’m referring to the Tesla Model X). The Air takes a new approach and shows a new way of thinking, not only in how it looks but also in the thinking that has gone into it. Rawlinson claims the only principle that steered the team in the development was to build the best EV in the world and having everyone committed to that goal, letting all the underlying pieces contributing to the single goal.

It really looks like nothing else seen from the side…

Size-wise the Air is comparable to a Mercedes E-class on the outside, but with an interior space on S-class level. It looks good but I would not call it beautiful. It is however definitely different, especially over the passenger space between the A- and C-pillars. The Cw-wind resistance factor at 0.21 is of course excellent, and the front booth / frunk space is huge at 280 litres, apparently the biggest in the industry. It may look like a hatchback but the rear booth is conventional, being very deep but also quite low, in a Citroën CX-kind of way. That’s a shame since it makes it difficult for those of us with needs for dog cages or other bulkier stuff, and at least from the outside, it looks like the decision not to go for a hatchback design was not because they couldn’t but rather because they didn’t want to.

The real revelation however comes when you step in to the car and are met with an interior that is far beyond anything in any other EV (very much including cars like the Merc EQS). Under the glass roof that reaches over the full passenger space, Lucid has built an interior mixing leather with textile and wood. It looks and feels very much like the premium car it aspires to be, and does so all the way through and not like for example the mentioned EQS where the lower half of the interior is mostly cheap plastic. It’s a clean, nice design, with all the different screens you have nicely integrated. The glass roof gives a very airy (…) feel, and the leg space in the rear is larger than in most limos, with as only drawback that you can’t fit your feet under the front seats. By the way, the rear seats are in a different color than the front, a neat little design trick I think we’ll see more of. I wasn’t able to test he functionality of all this but the screens interact nicely with each other, and there’s also quite a few functions that can be operated over physical buttons.

The small screen left of the steering wheel reminds of the new Escalade

The Air comes in different equipment versions and also with one or two engines, which is one part of the Lucid magic. At less than 100 kgs and fitting into an airplane carry-on suitcase, not only are these engines smaller and lighter than anything on the market, they are also more powerful. One engine produces 670 hp (meaning that the top version “Dream” has 1300 hp…) and is thereby more than 100 hp stronger than a Taycan engine which is twice as heavy. The battery pack is the second part of the “secret sauce”. Lucid uses cells from LG but develops the pack internally and has managed notably to reduce resistance and thereby power loss through heat. This gives the Air around a 500-mile range, and Johan was very relaxed about this actually being for real even in less-than-ideal conditions. If true, it means that Lucid would set a new range standard. Peter Rawlinson however prefers to talk about charging speed, believing it to be more important than range as it ultimately makes cars with less max range acceptable. And less range means lighter, cheaper, and hereby also sportier cars (remember Rawlinson used to work at Lotus?) Anyway, in Europe Lucid uses the same CCS-system as the German manufacturers and the car can in ideal conditions charge at up to 300 kW, meaning 300 miles in 20 minutes. Prices for dual engine cars will probably start around EUR 150′ which would make it more expensive than a Model S Plaid, but cheaper than a Mercedes EQS.

Will two-tone interiors become the new trend?

I really wish Lucid well, not only because they’ve put together a good car but also because it feels like the next step in the evolution of EV’s, and the first EV I’ve ever really wanted to put in my garage. Of course you need to drive a car before giving any kind of final verdict, but I’m kind of relaxed about it since on one hand tests confirm that it drives well, even very well compared to other EV’s (and that assessment came from none less than Evo!). And on the other, as discussed a bit last week, beyond pushing the pedal to the metal an reaching 100 km/h in 2-3 seconds a few times, which is no doubt a big thrill, neither Lucid nor any other EV will ever bring the excitement through the driving experience. They need to do so differently, and the Lucid air is a good step in that direction!

Car reflections from the beach

This week I come to you from a stretcher on the wonderful white beaches of Clearwater in western Florida. Some well-deserved (if you ask me) vacation is finally here, and we’re certainly happy we chose to spend it here as it’s exactly as wonderful as we remember it from before that Chinese virus thing. That also goes for the cars – I’m sure we’ll see a lot of Priuses and other boring stuff when we fly up to New York in a few days but for now, it’s all about rumbling V8’s in XL format. I can’t think of a single place in Europe where my beloved Range Rover would look small, but here it’s more like a mid-sized SUV… And as far as EV’s go, in this part of Florida with many million-dollar vacation homes, I’m yet to see an EV charging station. I have seen a handful of Teslas though, but not more. It’s thus pretty clear that at least here, EV’s haven’t earned the status symbol badge just yet.

A regular American pickup and a smallish Range Rover…

I’m also yet to see what you see innumerable times in any European day, namely the 500 hp+ “race SUV’s”. The general impression at least in this part of this vast country is that people buy and drive their pick-ups and SUV’s as I guess they were intended – namely to transport families and various type of stuff on long or short journeys. Because if there’s another thing our American friends know how to do, it’s how to drive in a civilized manner. It’s our fifth day here and I’ve so far heard one person honking. If someone wants to change lanes you let them in. If you catch up with someone, you don’t drive up to half a meter from their bumper and flash your lights. And so on. Again, I’m sure my many American readers have a thing or two to remark here, but please take this for what it is, i.e. the spontaneous observations of a simple European tourist.

So with SUV’s and pick-ups dominating the picture and are driven like they should, that obviously means quite a lot of sports cars on the roads as well, used for a bit more active driving. There are lots of Mustangs and Corvettes of various generations but including the new one, which looks sensational and very much like something from Maranello (at half the price). These and other sports cars like the Lamborghini below tend to have at least eight cylinders and preferably be naturally aspirated. Of course it’s not like people do wild burnouts on the beach strip, but the point is that the horsepower are where they belong, under the hood of the sports car rather than that of the SUV.

It’s not all about the new Corvette!

I came to think of this as I was reading about Aston’s updated DBX. Long-term readers will perhaps remember my post on the DBX from the summer of 2021, where I made the case that unless you’re really set on having an Aston Martin for family transport, there’s very few rational reasons to buy one. I’m sure it handles amazing for an SUV, but as I’ve tried to highlight above, that is pretty pointless in something that weighs 2.5 tons and is intended for transporting lots of stuff or people. Anyway, Aston has now introduced the DBX 707, a super-mega version that consists in giving it 157 hp more (out of its Mercedes bi-turbo V8) so that it now has 707 instead of the perfectly acceptable 550 hp in the standard version. Next to that there’s of course a bunch of skirts and spoilers as well, mostly in carbon, and tires so large that you shouldn’t even think of ever leaving the asphalt.

What Aston didn’t see a need to update in the new version, or quite simply didn’t have the money to, includes notably the hood latch which is still in the passenger footwell (something I haven’t seen since my old Triumph TR4 from 1965 but that Aston seems to think is charming as it’s the same on other models as well). The infotainment system is still from Mercedes pre-MBUX, i.e. with origins close to ten years old, and still without touchscreen. And whereas you can fold the back seats from the luggage compartment, you need to walk around to put them up again. These may seem like small details and I’m the first to say that the infotainment isn’t what you should focus on, but this is a car that costs USD 250′-300′ and that competes with the best in the business. For that money I think it’s reasonable to expect not having to walk around to the passenger side to open the hood and maybe, just maybe, the money would have been better spent remedying the above rather than giving it more than 700 hp? Aston haven’t sold that many DBX’s so far and my bet is they won’t sell the new version either, other than to the real Aston aficionados.

I hope you noticed that I didn’t mention the looks…

With Lamborghini updating the Urus very soon and Ferrari about to introduce its Purosangue, it doesn’t look like the 700 hp power SUV trend will abate anytime soon. Of course the new DBX is just as little about ultimate road handling than an Urus, a Cayenne GT Turbo or a G63 is. It’s called prestige, and it seems to be something we Europeans crave much more of than over here in the home of the SUV. Whereas it’s improbable that every European power-SUV buyer experiences the US driving culture, it may actually be the EV trend that brings a remedy. Of course you could say that the crazy power numbers that EV’s put out rather reinforce the trend, but EV’s don’t roar, and whereas it’s really fun to push the pedal to the metal and exploit the immediate power surge, you’ll most probably tire of it quite quickly, at least that’s what my Tesla-driving friends tell me. What is left at that point is quite an ordinary-looking car that in most cases looks quite anonymous.

Anonymity is of course no good for the prestige-factor, so does this mean we will all become more equal and less prestige-driven when EV’s take over? That would be the day. I rather think we’re heading in another direction, namely that of a fundamental reappraisal of what a car really is. The only reason EV’s look like they do is because we’re used to how a car should look. Had we not had cars when the first EV was developed, it would no doubt have looked very differently to what they do today, given an EV with its briefcase-sized engines give much more design freedom. As EV’s become more common-place, I therefore think the way we’re heading may be towards EV’s that look completely different and hereby also convey the sought after prestige factor.

The solar-powered Aptera is maybe a good inspiration!

Then again, all the above may come from me spending too much time under the Florida sun, and it’s anyway clear that it’s not going to happen next year, nor the year after. I guess time will tell. For now, my wish would be that we Europeans become a bit more American in how we think of our SUV’s. I also wish that I get the chance to drive the new Corvette soon. Those looks combined with a big rumbling V8 that for the first time is mid-mounted, can’t be wrong!

Wonderful British quirkiness!

There was a time not too long ago when the UK was perhaps together with Italy, the world’s greatest sports car nation. A large number of brands built various roadsters, coupés and GT’s, many of which have today become classics. Some are obviously more well-known than others, and their fame is often reflected in the astronomical prices many of them trade at today – think for example Aston Martin. What most of them have in common though, except Aston Martin and one-two others, is that they’re no longer around. The late 70’s and 80’s were a period of demise for the British car industry and through that, a number of highly original and quirky brands were lost. That’s of course how a market economy should work but just like with Saab a few decades later, it also meant losing a bit of the originality the car industry was characterized by not too long ago. One of the quirkier brands from this period is no doubt West Bromwich-based Jensen Motors, builders of the Jensen Interceptor of which I was lucky enough to see one earlier this week. This week we’ll therefore look closer at a quirky English brand, its cars and, well, the British view of the world beyond the channel! Jensen started as an automobile body manufacturer back in the 50’s, notably for the British car maker Austin Healy. Next to that however, the founding brothers Jensen decided to produce their own sports cars in small series. The first in line was a car with neither a very selling name (C-V8), nor a nice design – some would go as far as call it outright ugly. Jensen’s designer Eric Neale certainly didn’t think so but given the client is always right, the C-V8 was pretty much a complete failure. Jensen cv8 It was the search for a somewhat more successful car than the C-V8 that led to the Interceptor, Jensen’s by far most well-known car, presented in 1966. This time the design had been commissioned to the Italians at Carrozzeria Touring (another company that would go bust a few years later) and although certainly more convincing than the C-V8, it was definitely still quite original. The front looked like many sports car in the day, the rear which in the UK became known as the “fish bowl”, is rather reminiscent of the 70’s AMC Pacer (which was of course designed after the Interceptor). If the exterior isn’t to everyone’s taste the interior is much more so, with a selection and quality of materials that led to the Interceptor being compared to high-end brands such as Aston Martin, Bristol or even Rolls-Royce. Interceptor interior We’ll make a quick pit stop here for a small side story that I find a wonderful illustration of Jensen and British car industry of the time. Jensen in parallel to the Interceptor built another model referred to as the FF. That’s actually a historic car as it was the first non-SUV passenger car with four-wheel drive, and thus highly innovative for its time. Neither in the 60’s nor now however does it snow a lot in the UK so if you build a four-wheel drive car close to Birmingham, you have to assume it was also intended for exports. All good so far. It’s just that no one in the Jensen factory apparently thought about the fact that most of the world outside of the UK by now had the steering wheel on the left side. So the FF only came as right-hand drive. Let’s just say it wasn’t a tremendous recipe for export success… Back to the Interceptor, which during the 10-year production came in three series with only subtle design differences between them but where the MK III was by far the most produced. The MK III also came with three different bodies: the most common “glass bowl” saloon, the much rarer and arguably better-looking convertible, and the ultra-rare coupé with a plexiglass rear. All three series had Chrysler big block V8’s and 3-speed automatic transmissions, but whereas the first two shared the same 6.3 litre, 325 hp V8 as the predecessor C-V8, the MK III had an even bigger, 7.2 litre engine, however at 285 hp with less power. This all had to do with the new US emission rules that limited the power of large engines quite heavily. Not only was the 7.2 litre engine less powerful, it was of course also heavier, and just a tad thirstier: apparently we’re talking 25-30 litres per 100 km (8-10 MPG) … Interceptor grey The convertible version of the Interceptor was presented in 1974 and is another example of Jensen’s risk-willingness or complete ignorance of the world beyond the UK, depending on how you see it. At this time most other brands were halting the development of new convertibles altogether, as it was widely expected that US safety authorities would enact a complete ban on open cars without roll-over bar. So Jensen was basically the only brand brave or foolish enough to launch a new convertible in this period. They were ultimately right given a ban was never enacted but they were kind of wrong anyway, since the whole company went bust only two years later, in 1976. By then they had produced about 500 convertibles, out of a total of some 6400 Interceptors. Interceptor cab Although the big block Chrysler engines were quite bullet proof, the fact that they all had carburettors and lots of them, didn’t make them any easier to run or service. The carburettors had to be adjusted frequently for optimal performance, apparently up to as often as every 1000-2000 km. Cooling was another issue Interceptors were known to struggle with and then there was of course the same issue as with all other cars in the 70’s – rust. You can certainly convert the engines to injection and upgrade the cooling system, an idea that some won’t like at all given the car is then no longer original. It will however be far more drivable, and thus possibly a solution for those preferring to spend time on the road rather than in the garage. Cooling and carburettors aside, the Interceptor is known as quite a wonderful GT car, offering loads of 70’s luxury and charm typically for far less money than a comparable Aston or Rolls (who as we all know also tend to have an issue or two…). There aren’t many in the market which makes pricing uncertain, but good saloons tend to start somewhere around EUR 50′ with convertibles costing much more. If this wonderful example of British ingenuity combined with a dinosaur-engine of a type will certainly never see again, then please make sure that if you’re not mechanically talented, you know someone who is, and go for a car as perfect as possible, as finding replacement parts for an Interceptor risks being as hard as finding a UK prime minister who will stay longer than a few months!

Populism is in, power is out!

A few weeks ago the Swedish mobility agency in a public announcement told EV drivers that it would be wise if they walked or biked for shorter distances, rather than use their shiny new EV. That’s of course the car they’ve been more or less coerced into buying and replace their old combustion one with, and it’s at the time of year when in Sweden, neither a walk or a bike run is necessarily what you’re dreaming of. This is only one of many small outcomes of the energy crisis Europe is currently battling, or put differently, the crisis where European tax payers pick up the bill for decades of political energy policy mismanagement. This week’s post will be more about what goes into the tank than the car itself – but as we all know, no fuel no fun… Regular programming will resume next week.

It’s a lovely season for a walk in Sweden…

Russia’s barbaric onslaught on Ukraine which will hopefully by some divine justice have Putin and his closest gangsters burn in a warm place for very long, is a complete tragedy. We may complain about energy security and fuel prices, but let’s never forget that the Ukrainians are paying a far heavier price, currently without an end in sight. The Ukraine war has however also provided populist politicians the opportunity to put the blame for their own failures on the war and Putin. EU representatives in Brussels like to talk about how Putin has weaponized energy. The exiting Swedish PM speaks about “Putin prices” when defending any kind of spiraling energy prices, notably at the petrol station, although half the price is tax. And so on. Clearly the war has had devastating effects on Europe’s energy supply, but it’s only had so because of Europe’s careless and self-imposed reliance on Russian energy.

Going into the war, 40% of Germany’s natural gas came from Russia. Gas makes up around 25% of Germany’s total energy mix but far more in the all-important industrial mix, so putting it bluntly, Europe’s largest economy put the energy supply of its industry and thereby the security of the whole country in the hands of Putin the dictator. And by the time the now blown-up NordStream II pipeline was built in the second half of the 2010’s, Putin had already showed what he was made of by invading not only Crimea in 2014, but before that also by engaging in wars with Georgia and in Chechnya – twice. So it was, or at least should have been, in complete knowledge of the facts that then German chancellor Merkel took the decision to hand the keys to the German industrial kingdom to Vladimir Putin, with many other European countries doing more or less the same. You really can’t make it up.

Russian-speaking ex-chancellor Merkel with her pal Putin.

To get to the root of the problem we do however need to go back to 2011 when immediately following the tsunami-caused Fukushima disaster, Merkel decided to close down Germany’s nuclear plants. Fukushima is of course on the other side of the world seen from Germany and the accident had no relevance whatsoever to Germany’s nuclear security, given the only coast Germany has is to the North Sea which isn’t very prone to tsunamis, and in addition not where Germany’s nuclear plants are located. But hey, who cares about energy security when there is a chance to earn political points with the growing Green movement? Here in Switzerland our local politicians jumped on the train before it had even stopped at the station and decided to close down our local plants. Of course we continue to import nuclear power from neighboring France and could never have closed down our own plants without those imports, but that’s something we don’t really like to talk about.

Nuclear is also where Europe and the US meet in our respective crises, with US policy in the last decade being just as set on closing down nuclear as Europe. The problem is of course that in parallel both sides of the pond also wanted to close down fossil fuels, in other words leaving us with no weather independent source of base power. In the US this has translated to more black-outs last year than at any point in history, and fuel prices in California are now getting close to USD 7 per gallon, which still sounds like a steal seen from Europe but is a historical high from a US perspective. President Biden has consistently acted against any expanded production of both oil and natural gas, at the same time as depleting the strategic oil reserve and traveling to Saudi Arabia, trying to get the true democrats down there to increase production. In essence, the message to US oil companies is “guys, we really don’t like you and we’ll close down all your business in a few years, but until then, could you please invest a few billion and increase production?”.

Look at the lower, grey curve…

Enough of the ranting, but the above needs to be said to put the current situation into context. For some strange reason though it usually isn’t, and I’m pretty convinced things will not get better unless those responsible are willing to stand up for mistakes made in past. Whether in the US or in Europe, we’re not in an energy crisis primarily because of Putin’s war in Ukraine or because the Saudis won’t increase production – we’re here because of naive, uninformed and populistic political policies that we as taxpayers are now paying for at the pump, by not using the EV that it was so important we buy, or by freezing in our homes.

The bad news is of course that this will not end anytime soon, but it’s at least good to see that a bit like a drunk waking up on the side of the road, European countries including Germany are now really scrambling for solutions and doing all they can to remedy the situation. Notably in terms of gas supply things are changing quickly, with a heavily reduced dependance on Russia that will go towards nil in 2023. That’s all great, but it only solves part of the problem. Through policies like the ones described above, most countries at present quite simply don’t have any reserve capacity for any type of energy. Building nuclear isn’t done in a couple of months, neither are necessary LNG terminals or for that matter little-discussed but very essential grid investments for renewables that are desperately lacking across Europe, and for which there risks not being any money left in the new recessionary environment we find ourselves in, coupled with increased defense budgets.

This is an LNG terminal in Japan. Doesn’t look like something you build in a couple of weeks…

What happens now is therefore a return to the old power sources we thought were closed down forever. Coal imports to Europe have increased by more than 30% in 2022 compared to previous years. In Poland natural forests are now being chopped for energy and people are burning garbage. In Sweden, the oil-fired power plants are back in action and in Denmark, neighbors steal each others’ wood pellets. Climate policy is out the window and we’d better all wish for a very sunny, windy and mild winter across both Europe and the US, which is not really what winter typically looks like. Otherwise, more or less power cuts could be on many countries’ agendas for the coming months. And even in the US, we can safely assume that oil production will increase when people really start freezing.

If electricity really is rationed, you can be pretty sure that EV charging will not go unaffected. The Swedish mobility agency may have been first, but a similar message will no doubt go out in other countries as well. EV charging will also continue to increase in price. How much depends on where you live and where you charge, but as a scary example there are charging stations in the UK where a 300 km charge now costs around £50, which is more expensive than fuel would be for a mid-sized car. And that’s assuming you find a station that works, which seems to be quite rare over there… If you need your car for your daily life and if you’re dependent on the public grid for charging, buying an EV right now is probably not the best idea.

Defeating Putin in Ukraine is of course more important than prices at the pump and would most probably help reduce the price of oil and gas, and thereby inflation. It’s interesting how politicians of all colors are now changing their tune with regards to nuclear and have a very hard time remembering where they stood on the issue until very recently. I had to rub my eyes hard this week when the climate activist Greta Thunberg joined the crowd, talking about Germany’s mistake in closing down its nuclear plants. Of course Greta as recently as 2019 was publicly against nuclear. The more things change they also stay the same though, because only two days later, ex-chancellor Merkel in only the second big interview since she left office said she doesn’t regret anything.

This may all be entertaining but it’s against a serious background where until there is at least more clarity on how our power supply and energy mix will look going forward, the safest option is no doubt to keep your combustion car, because whatever you pay at the pump, it’s still cheaper than buying an EV (and charging it). As we’ve looked at previously you won’t save the climate anyway by driving electric, and you may indeed want to decide yourself when to drive your car and when to bike or take a walk.

Classic races: the Carrera Panamericana!

In the series on classic races from the crazy days of motorsport, we’ll today travel to Mexico and learn more about the legendary Carrera Panamericana, a race that was cancelled after only five years, that is one of the most deadliest in motorsport history, but the name of which has also inspired two world-leading firms in naming their products sine more than 50 years. Unfortunately I’ve never been to Mexico which would certainly be an advantage in trying to describe a race as colorful as the Carrera in all its dimensions, although that would probably still be a problem to do in writing. Let me give it a try though, because the Carrera Panamericana (PC hereunder) certainly deserves its place among the truly classic motorsport races!

The PC was conceived as a road race by the Mexican government to showcase the opening of the Mexican stretch of the Panamerican Highway, a 30.000 km long highway stretch linking North and South America from Alaska in the north to Ushuaia in the south of Argentina. Well, at least almost linking, because in the middle between Panama and Colombia, there’s a break of around 100 km where there’s no road at all and you need to engage in a dangerous, four-day hike through the rainforest (without your car…) to link the two parts. Still, the Mexicans were really proud o having completed their part, and decided to celebrate it with a race.

The (almost) full stretch from north to south

In 1950 the first edition took the drivers from Juarez in the north of Mexico down to Chiapas in the south on the border with Guatemala, over a total distance of around 2000 miles (3200 km). Considering we’re back in 1950 there was obviously no 2000-mile race stretch available, so cars were driven on completely public and open roads, just like in the Mille Miglia we looked at a few weeks ago. In Mexico at the time and maybe still, many of those roads were made of mud, they cross mountains over passes and vast stretches of desert among cacti, over passes and through valleys. Then as now it’s also warm in Mexico, at times really warm, but at other times really cold as well, and none of this made the whole thing easier.

One of few color pictures – a Porsche during the PC

The first race in 1950 was made up of adventure-hungry amateur drivers from around the world, without any fuzzy rules whatsoever – the first car to cross the finish line was the winner. For some reason the first race was limited to five-seat sedans, a rule that was however changed in subsequent years. The race was anyway off to a strong start in the first year, with no less than three drivers and one fan dying… Over the coming years it would earn a reputation as perhaps the greatest motorsport adventure there was, attracting both brands and drivers that were more professional than in the first year. Until the original race came to an end in 1954, drivers like Juan Manuel Fangio, Carroll Shelby and Phil Hill had all competed in the race, with Fangio being the only F1 world champion to have won the PC as well.

1952. The three men in ponchos are Hans Klenk, Karl Kling and Hermann Lang, all successful Mercedes drivers in the Carrera Panamericana.

Just as in the Mille Miglia, there is a great number of stories that could be told about incidents during the different races. A great one is from 1952 when Mercedes had entered three 300 SL’s in the race, one of which was driven by Karl Kling with co-driver Hans Klenk. Taking a fast right-hander, a vulture smashed headlong into Kling’s windshield with the glass cutting Klenk’s face quite badly. The pair carried on regardless and still managed to take the win by half an hour. Another far less entertaining incident was during the 1953 race, the deadliest of all, with a total of eight spectators dying, including six who were hit by a car as they tried to help another car that had tumbled down an embankment. Just like in the Mille Miglia, one of the main problems was that the average speed climbed steadily every year and was by the end close to 160 km/h. That’s quite a lot when you consider the muddy roads, the mountain passes and deserts, and the 1950’s technology!

Klenk and the 300 SL after the encounter with the vulture

A total of 27 participants died during the five original PC races. That’s a truly astonishing number, but it fades somewhat (but not much) when you consider it’s estimated that over 2 million spectators watched the race on the roadsides between 1950 and 1954. What made Mexican authorities cancel the race was however not the race itself, but rather the dramatic accident in Le Mans in 1955 that killed 83 (!) people. More than 30 years later in 1988, the PC made a comeback as a professional race over a completely different stretch that is driven to this day, but that’s also a completely different story.

The Italian Maglioli won the last race in 1954 on his Ferrari 375 Plus

There we go – the Carrera Panamericana was perhaps the most dangerous of the classic motorsport races in the roaring 50’s and was cancelled after only five years. It was enough to make its reputation well beyond the race though, most notably of course with Porsche choosing to use the word Carrera, Spanish for race, to name first the 911 Carrera RS 2.7 and today, their 911 base models. The other company that took a liking in the name is the Swiss watch manufacturer Tag Heuer, that would obviously later also team up with Porsche with several dedicated watches, using the Carrera name. Time-keeping was certainly less precise during the PC than if Tag Heuer had handled it, but then again, that was never the main issue with the legendary, Mexican motorsport adventure!

“Luck, for a racing driver, is to survive”

Hans Herrmann, motorsport legend and Carrera Panamericana driver for Porsche in 1953 and 1954

The forgotten one

Life as a motor journalist can’t be easy. Depending on what you write or say your audience often finds you biased, and if you don’t love the car you’re reporting on, manufacturers won’t like you very much, putting at risk your future access to their cars. An example of the former are my own feelings as someone who reads motor press from different countries. I can’t remember a single sports car test in Germany’s most important car magazine Auto Motor & Sport where a German car didn’t come out on top. And British Evo, the magazine whose tagline this blog takes its name from, had a period about a year ago where there would be a McLaren in every single issue. Literally. You wouldn’t think you could ever tire of McLaren, but Evo at the time proved you wrong.

An example of criticism not going down well with manufacturers also comes from Evo, who at the introduction of the Aston Martin DB9 had the audacity to picture it on the front of the magazine against a title that read “Why the DB9 it fails its toughest test”. The journalists in question were actually summoned up to Aston HQ in Gaydon and basically told they were wrong. It didn’t jeopardise their future access to Aston cars in any way, but they’ve testified to this not being a very pleasant experience…

Not a cover that made people happy at Aston HQ…

The DB9 may have failed the ultimate test in Evo’s eyes, but it was certainly the car that put Aston on the map for a larger public than had previously been the case. As one of the most beautiful modern sports cars ever, it was built for all of twelve years until 2016 with various updates along the way. And just as the DB9 was not an update to the DB7 but very much a new car, the same was true in 2017 when its successor, the DB11, was introduced. And so we’ve finally arrived at this week’s topic. You see, the DB11 is officially a failure, and even Aston will tell you that. Underneath however it’s a pretty good 2+2 GT car, which today is somewhat of a bargain. Let’s look at why it’s worth considering!

Many DB11’s are two-tone to help enhance the design

When it was introduced at the Geneva Auto Show in 2016, the DB11 received a lot of praise for its looks and was seen as a worthy successor to the DB9. Relatively quickly however, it became clear that not everyone was convinced by the design that remains quite decisive to this day. Personally I find the DB11 stunning and far better live than in pictures. Especially the rear sets the car apart from anything else in a positive way and as a 2+2 GT, I find it one of the best looking cars out there. And by the way, 2+2 is exactly what it says, with the rear seats meant for luggage or rather small children.

Turning the key certainly doesn’t make matters worse. Initially the DB11 was offered not with Aston’s 5.9 litre V12 from the DB9, but rather with a new 5.2 litre twin-turbo V12 developed in-house and producing slightly more than 600 hp. A year later Aston used its by now well established relationship with Mercedes-AMG to complement the V12 with the well-known, double-turbo V8 offered in various AMG models. The V8 delivered around 100 hp less than the V12 but with almost the same torque, and with more than 100 kg less weight on the front axle.

Cosy, but also far more spacious than a DB9!

The concept the DB9 and various other Astons up until the DB11 were built around was referred to as VH (Vertical Horizontal), a name that basically doesn’t tell you anything unless you’re an Aston engineer. We won’t dwell on it here but the construction carried with it that both the DB9 and other cars, especially the DBS, were very stiff and not very pleasant on longer rides. Given their character as GT more than sports cars, this wasn’t ideal. The DB11 doesn’t take the VH concept further and is built on a new chassis, bringing far more comfort than its predecessors. It carries over to the cabin which has the right amount of leather for an Aston, meaning a lot, and is generally a nice place to be. Its infotainment unit is the same Mercedes used in the early 2010’s pre-MBUX and is of course hopelessly dated, but it lets you connect your phone and the (optional) B&O stereo more than compensates for it. Driving-wise, most agree there isn’t much to complain about either. The DB11 doesn’t shoot the lights out and isn’t made for throwing round a track, but it does a pretty fabulous job as the GT it was built to be.

The DB11 was introduced as one of Aston’s “make or break” cars. The firm’s CEO at the time was still Andy Palmer and he felt it so important to convince buyers of the car’s qualities, and fundamental quality, that he apparently gave his personal mobile number to the first 1000 of them, telling them to call him should they have an issue. It’s unclear how many did, but what is clear is that it didn’t help much. The DB11 failed pretty spectacularly, to the point where Aston cancelled it after only 18 months of production – at least in its first version. By then, only 4200 cars had been produced. The second version that remains in production to this day is referred to as AMR (Aston Martin Racing) and saw the V12 boosted by another 30 hp. The V8 wasn’t affected by the update and has remained unchanged, but both versions will see a major review in 2023 as part of a general overhaul of Aston’s model line-up.

A far nicer front than on the current Vantage!

DB11’s today start around EUR 100′ for both versions, meaning half or even less than half of their price as new for cars that are two-three years old. I’ve written lately about cars preserving their value in today’s market, but this is clearly not one of them. Until now that is, because we may just have hit the bottom in terms of resale values here. If you like the looks (and how could you not?!?) and are in the market for a 2+2, EUR 100′ for a V8 or V12 Aston is really quite attractive. Between the two I’d go for the V8 given it produces the same torque and drives better given far less weight on the front axle. It’s also an engine that is tried and tested throughout in various AMG cars. There is however a reason to look at the first version of the V12 given only 4200 few were built. When the AMR update was introduced, CEO Andy Palmer referred to the pre-AMR cars as future collectibles. I’m not sure about that, but I’m quite sure that EUR 100′ is a pretty attractive entry ticket for one of those, collectible or not. The DB11 is a fabulous car that you don’t see on every corner, and the downside from here is certainly far more limited!

Two is more fun than one!

Turbo. the concept arguably made popular in petrol cars by Swedish Saab in the 70’s, has come such a long way that it doesn’t get much attention anymore. Yet if you want to challenge the US saying “there’s no substitute for cubic inches”, at least in terms of power output there’s no way around the turbo. Its advantages are obvious in allowing a far larger output from a smaller engine than would otherwise be the case, and a smaller engine means lower weight and potentially lower consumption, a bit dependent on how often you rev the turbo. Over time things have gone from one to two or even three turbos in modern engines, engaging at different revs, and the concept of more than one turbo on a petrol engine actually goes back to the late 70’s as well, and was somewhat surprisingly pioneered by none other than Maserati. In fact, most observers agree that had it not been for the Biturbo engine family, Maserati would have gone under there and then – and that would have been a shame!

A first generation Biturbo Spyder

There were two reasons times weren’t rosy at Maserati’s HQ in Modena, Italy, in the mid 70’s: firstly Maserati was owned by Citroën at the time in something that was far from an ideal marriage and secondly, various cars were built in small numbers without standardised production methods. Next to that however, much like other sports car brands at the time, Maserati was not helped by Italian taxation law which heavily penalised engines larger than two litres. This led manufacturers to the same thinking that Saab had up in Sweden, albeit for different reasons, namely to get more power out of a smaller engine. The turbo was the answer, but whereas Saab found one turbo to be sufficient, down in Modena the idea was an engine with two turbos boosting power even further. The project was led by a certain Alejandro de Tomaso, the Argentinian who had run his own car brand in Modena since the 50’s (and whose cars until then had certainly not used turbos but rather cubic inches, but that’s a story for another day…).

A less spectacular rear, but notice the Maserati emblem on the c-pillar!

De Tomaso took over Maserati in 1976 and saw its way back to profitability in cheaper cars through standardised production methods and with sub-two litre engines such as to avoid taxation penalties. The result was on one hand a range of different models over the coming years that we’ll look closer at below, and on the other the six-cylinder Biturbo engine which initially put out 179 hp from only 1996 cm3. That number would later be increased to as much as 245 hp in the early 90’s and siblings to the engine would offer even more power but at larger volume, and were therefore mostly destined for the export market.

The cars Maserati started producing under de Tomaso’s management were comparable to the BMW 3-series of the time in size and came as two-door coupé, convertible/spyder and four-door sedan. At 4.1 metres long and only some 1100 kgs weight, the first generation Biturbo cars that came onto the market from 1982 used carburettors, which combined with the small six-cylinder engine produced a wonderful sound. Initially de Tomaso’s plan seemed to work as sales numbers picked up from around 2000 in 1982 to over 5000 in 1983. By then however, early cars started having pretty important quality and reliability issues, and sales numbers fell regularly over the coming years. Issues were actually so important that Maserati decided to remove the Biturbo reference in car names after 1988, by which time both engines and cars had seen quite an important facelift and had also improved quality-wise.

A late Spyder interior with lots alcantara, leather and wood! Notice the watch…

Be it the two-door coupé, the Spyder or the four-door sedan, what they all have in common are quite an angular design which is far from the the sweeping lines of Italian cars in the 60’s. It’s a matter of taste whether you like it, but the car definitely has more presence than for example a BMW 3-series. And once you open the door, everything changes as you’re greeted by an ocean of leather an alcantara in a cabin that no one on this side of Rolls Royce and Bentley offered at the time, and hardly do today either. The interior could be chosen in different colours and with different mixes of alcantara and leather, and looking at most cars today makes it clear how much better leather stands the test of time than alcantara!

The sharp lines were softened a bit both inside and out with the first facelift in 1987 and perhaps more importantly, the engine was changed to fuel injection. Further improvements over the coming years included the suspension, steering and brakes, and as mentioned, the overall quality improved. In 1991 the two-door Shamal was added to the range with further design changes to other cars as well, generally in the form of more painted plastics in line with what was popular in the 90’s. The 2-litre V6 by now produced up to 245 hp but was only sold in Italy. It was complemented by the larger 2.8 litre engine in other markets, and models in the late 80’s and early 90’s were called 2.24 and 222 (two-door) and 4.24 and 422 (four-door). Next to these the Spyder was still built, featuring the same engines. A couple of years later in 1994, the lights were out for Biturbo engine, although elements of it lived on into later Maserati engines.

The Shamal is hard to find and could only have been built in the 90’s!

It’s a few years since I drove a late 80’s coupé, but it was probably the most Italian driving experience I’ve ever had. As said the car is small, so you sit relatively tight in quite an Italian position, meaning one that requires long arms and short legs, which isn’t really how I’m built. It also made clear that Italians are usually smaller than my 183 cms. it’s not too bad though and when you look closely at the interior, you discover how wonderfully hand-sewn it looks, with uneven stitching here and there which only adds to the charm of the package. It’s a car you can definitely throw around the corners should you want to, but be slightly careful doing so given the engine of course has the same Ketchup-like power delivery as other 80’s turbo engines. Generally though, the car is a pleasure to drive and gives you real 80’s vibes!

The quality issues Maserati ran into with the first series of cars meant values reached rock-bottom on the used car market, and although good cars have started to gain somewhat in value, we’re pretty much still there. This is clearly driven by many cars having been purchased by drivers on a small budget who could buy the cars thanks to the cheap entry ticket, but who have then neglected maintenance or used the car like a hot hatch. Service history is therefore key, as is a thorough inspection of the rust-prone body and the sensible, and today partly irreplaceable interior. Did I mention checking the engine as well? You should, but even if you do it all, a Biturbo will probably not be the problem-free perfect car for those who love German precision. It’s thus important to know yourself in this regard. The best part is of course that you won’t have to spend more than EUR 15-20.000 for really good cars, meaning a bit of investments isn’t all that bad. That’s with the exception of the Shamal though, a car by many considered a the best (and certainly sportiest and most 90’s) of the Biturbos, but which today is very hard to come by, and correspondingly expensive.

The Spyder gives you even more engine sound for the same money!

The four-door Quattroporte is generally slightly cheaper than the coupés and Spyder, and arguably the least attractive in the range. Later cars after 1987 and into the 90’s are quality-wise the best and most powerful. They don’t have the unbeatable sound of the carburettor six-cylinder though, and have also lost some of the angular appearance of the early cars. Both earlier and late cars in good condition are becoming more difficult to find but if you do your research, you will definitely find a Biturbo that provides plenty of pleasure along with a few frustrations, and the value of which can only go one way from here. Should that not be enough, driving it will also make you feel more Italian than anything this side of Modena!

The best car Hethel ever built!

As regular readers have no doubt noticed, I don’t often write about new cars. Enough other people do that, and the fact that most new cars these days are EV’s is certainly also a contributing factor. I’m also no big fan of losing 30% in the first year, although as highlighted recently, that’s something that seems to be changing in these crazy times, at least for some cars. However, when one of the favorite brands among all car enthusiasts brings out a new car with two petrol engine options, and indications are that it’s the best car they’ve ever built, then I do believe it’s worth a few lines. I’m talking about Lotus and the all new Emira, that we’ll look closer at this week!

Beautiful – with Evija and F8 elements all over!

The Hethel-based brand is something like northern Europe’s Alfa Romeo; every time they launch a car we all want them to get it right and in terms of driving pleasure they usually do, but unfortunately the cars just as often are a deception both in quality and comfort, especially since they tend to be a tad too expensive for what they offer, making them an enthusiast, niche product. This is no doubt one of the reasons behind Lotus’s financial difficulties through the years. After a drive in an Exige a few years ago, I mentioned to the dealer that I found it slightly harsh. He just pointed at the Evora saying that in that case, that was the car for me. I had some back problems then, and the time it took me to get into the Evora was exremely unworthy. When I was finally in, what I discovered was a car that was perhaps refined compared to an Exige, but miles away from a Cayman, yet still more expensive. That’s not a winning package. Luckily, having had the opportunity to experience the Emira inside and out recently, I’ll risk it and claim things have very much changed – in a positive way!

The Emira is Colin Chapman’s last Lotus iteration and also the last Lotus with a combustion engine, before the brand goes fully electric under the new Geely ownership. The chassis comes from the Evora but has been heavily reworked and Lotus has developed a new steering rather than buying it from another brand as they’ve done previously. In terms of looks it’s no big surprise that the Emira has clear design elements in common with its sibling, the coming, all-electric supercar Evija. Next to that however, it also looks like a mini Ferrari. More precisely, like a mini F8 Tributo. There are elements on all sides that makes you think of the cars from Maranello in general and the F8 in particular, but the design combines looks with function, with air being led through various channels from front to back in an Evija-like way. The result is absolutely fantastic, and the Emira definitely has a supercar look about it, far from the more toy-like looks of some of its predecessors.

Replae those lights with round ones and the F8 resemblance i clear!

Initially the Emira is offered with two engines: the well-known, supercharged Toyota V6 featured in both the Exige and the Evora, and here putting out 400 hp. It’s coupled to either a manual or an automatic gearbox. The other option is a four-cylinder, turbo-powered Mercedes-AMG engine from the A45s with 360 hp, which is only available with an auto box. That engine actually puts out 61 hp more in the A45s, so AMG tuned it down for Lotus such as not to challenge the V6 as the top engine. It’s a pretty safe bet that with the first facelift in a year or two, the four-pot will have its performance increased… Both engines produce similar speeds at just over 4 seconds to 100 and a top speed over 280 kph but as said, if you want a manual (and many Lotus drivers do!), then the V6 is the only option. And there’s another, very Lotus-typical reason for wanting a manual, namely that the gearing is still fully transparent and visible on the inside under the center console!

The inside is also were the biggest differences to previous Lotuses are to be found, and it’s a bit like night and day. Gone is the rudimentary interiors of earlier Lotuses, replaced by a very nice place to be, still with a clean design that is not overloaded, and offering a good mix of new, digital elements and phyiscal buttons. It also feels very roomy compared to for example an Evora, which is interesting given at 4.4 metres long and 1.95 metres wide, the car isn’t much bigger. The squared (almost) steering wheel and shifter sit exactly where they should, the digital instruments and infotainment screen offer all modern features you could wish for, but have been combined with physical buttons notably for climate and radio controls. Why can’t everyone do that?? With a total weight of only 1400 kg, the Emira is heavier than an Elise or an Exige, but still qualify as lightweight in today’s world, thus staying true to Chapman’s legendary lightweight motto. But for 5 kgs, the weight is actually on par with a Porsche Cayman.

The interior has nothing to do with previous Lotuses!

Next to the manual box, another reason to opt for the Toyota V6 is a great sound through the Emira’s exhaust. First tests indicate that the car drives like a Lotus should, diving into corners, perfectly controllable over the steering, well-balanced and very happy to wag its tale and drift as much as you want, should you want to. There are no active elements in the suspension, Lotus has rather set up the car as they believe it should be set up and offer you the choice of two versions, a sportier one and a more comfort-focused one. To go with that are two different 20-inch tires that have been specifically developed for the Emira (something that was actually last done for something as exclusive as the AMG GT Black Series!), one sportier than the other, and inside them are really big disc brakes that should have no problem bringing the 1400 kg to a halt.

Launch cars are available in a First Edition with the V6 and with a driving package, special wheels and various other visible elements highlighting it is precisely that, i.e. the First Edition. The initial batch of V6 cars have been sold out in most markets, although most haven’t made it to the road yet. If I were to order a car in Switzerland today, I could chose between the V6 and the AMG engine, and Lotus indicates delivery in about a year for both. That may be better than some other cars, but it’s still a long time! Prices are not fully clear but are somewhere around EUR 80-90.000 for the V6 version and about EUR 10.000 less for the four-cylinder. All cars are well equipped with few options. Considering that and that this is a mid-engined, two-seater which at 1400 kg offers 400 hp, the Emira very much looks like a supercar for sports car money. And when you add to that the interior quality, comfort and practicality it also offers, it starts sounding not only attractive, but actually pretty irresistible, especially when you know that with a Toyota or an AMG engine, servicing it won’t ruin you either.

I’ve yet to see a colour that doesn’t fit the car!

Should you get this instead of a Cayman or for that matter, an F8? As always, that depends on who you are. Even though the Emira is miles ahead of previous Lotuses, if you’re looking for perfection, then the Cayman is probably the way to go. And if you really want the full drama, looks and sound from Maranello, well then an F8 is the car to get. But if you’re on a smaller budget, you enjoy special things that aren’t seen on every corner, you find it has enough supercar looks and feels special enough, well then the Emira could be the car for you. Personally I would be in that corner, and buying the last petrol car that will ever come out of Hethel also feels quite special! In terms of which one to get however, Lotus hasn’t made it easy. I like the V6 but by the sounds of it, the AMG four-pot could be a real peach. What settles it for me though is that to me, a Lotus needs to be a manual, especially when it lets you look into the gearing mechanism. I’ll take the V6 please!

The 1000 hp Ferrari tribute!

Sometimes funny things happen in the car market where you least expect them to, as is currently the case with one of the greatest cars of them all – none less than the tremendous Ferrari SF90. The somewhat unexpected situation I’m referring to is that there’s unusually many of them for sale. This is unusual both as the SF90 is very much still a new car (although you can’t order a new one anymore), but also since it’s rare to see any kind of supercar at this level being offered in current numbers. This doesn’t mean that they’ve dropped massively in price, but of course a large supply tends to reduce the price in the long run (and vice versa, as the energy market is reminding us of). So what’s going on? Have so many fallen out of love with one of the greatest supercars of all time, and in that case why? And what is the Ferrari SF90 really about? That’s what we’ll look at this week.

New design elements were introduced on the SF90 that in my eyes look great!

Presented in 2019 and boasting a total of 1000 hp of which 220 are electric, the SF90 name is a tribute to the 90 years of the Ferrari racing team. The extreme creation is however not the first super-Ferrari that uses hybrid technology – that was the LaFerrari, although that was a simpler, non-chargeable hybrid system and total power output was “only” 950 hp. The SF90 is a plug-in hybrid with two tank caps on the aisles just like on the F40, it’s just that in one of them, nothing but a cable should go in. Design wise the SF90 goes its own way, which is not to everyone’s taste. The headlights are different in shape to all other cars from Maranello and the square rear lights will probably have some Ferraristi rub their eyes. Whatever the form of the lights though, in terms of speed there’s little reason for concern. The SF90 hits 100 km/h in 2.5 seconds and 200 km/h in 6.7 seconds, and then goes on all the way to 340 km/h. That’s the take-off speed of an Airbus passenger plane… In terms of acceleration it’s even more impressive when you consider that at around 1600 kg, the SF90 is around 200 kg heavier than LaFerrari was, and still manages to be faster.

The rear’s design is less clear, and squared rear lights are a Ferrari first!

The secret of course lies in the engine package. Firstly the combustion, 4-litre, twin turbo V8, putting out 195 hp per litre and being buried so deep in the car that the cylinder heads barely reach the middle of the rear wheels. This is unlike most Ferraris where the engine sits right under the bonnet, but of course does wonders to how the car handles. Complementing this tremendous machine are a total of three electrical motors, one centrally placed and the other two close to the front wheels, adding up to another 220 hp. The motors would be capable of more than twice that power, but the relatively small 8 KwH battery sets the limit. It’s also responsible for the SF90 not doing more than a max of 25 km in electrical mode, then again that’s probably not your main concern when you develop a new Ferrari supercar. It doesn’t change the fact though that the SF90 is the first Ferrari that can be driven fully electrically and thereby silently, which is quite useful when you want to sneak out of the neighborhood early in the morning!

No Ferrari engine has been located lower than the double-turbo, four-litre V8!

The aerodynamic features of the car are too many to go into in any greater detail, but at a speed of 250 km/h they add almost 400 kg of additional downforce, a pretty impressive number. And of course, the four engines in different places help the car in the area of dynamics. It basically gives the car an informal four-wheel drive system, hereby making it the first 8-cylinder Ferrari driving on more than two wheels. On the inside you sit low in the driver seat and look out over a total of 9 digital displays, the largest of which is almost Tesla-esque in size and is complemented by quite an advanced head-up display above it (also a first for Ferrari). Luckily the manettino is still there, helping you switch between driving programs.

A lot of screens, that sometimes work in an Italian way…

There’s thus no doubt that the SF90 is quite a compelling package and a modern supercar in the true sense of the word – so what’s with all the cars in the market? It’s indeed quite odd, but as I write this there are 105 SF90’s for sale in Germany, and as many as 22 in small Switzerland. No other comparable supercar is close to those numbers. Contrary to the LaFerrari of which only 500 coupes were built, production of the SF90 wasn’t limited, although it’s gone out of production now, and there’s was never any conditions tied to buying one, such as owning other Ferraris. Price-wise, having initially climbed to about 20% above the price as new, cars have now come back to roughly the new price between EUR 500-600’ with as said many cars hitting the market.

My guess is that one reason for the number of cars in the market is exactly that, I.e. that the SF90 could be bought by anyone, and a number of cars probably were in the good economic years we now have behind us, during which it was produced. With the benefit of hindsight many may then have changed their mind, so what’s been going on is a kind of cleansing of the market. Where it goes from here is probably anyone’s guess. In the coming five years the car can certainly lose 20% or EUR 100’, or on the other hand start appreciating, notably now that production has stopped. Given we are after all talking about a 1000 hp Ferrari, I’d put my chips on the latter scenario. As always though, if your considering one, don’t by an SF90 to speculate. Buy it to enjoy what is one of the greatest supercars ever built, and enjoy it all you can!

The only car you’ll ever need!

If you don’t want run the risk of serious depression, you need to be selective when watching the news these days. Between the war in Ukraine, rampant inflation, lock-downs in China and other de-globalization effects (and in addition to that a full energy crisis in Europe), it’s not a wild guess that the coming years may well be more difficult than the last ones. Is it maybe time to downscale, and reduce the number of cars in the garage? Thinking about it, I started playing with the idea that you would have to stick to one car and one car only for the rest of your life. What would you choose? I realize many would probably answer with an EV these days, but for this exercise, let’s forget about those and stick to the good old combustion ones. A sports car would be nice but not really in line with down-sizing, and also not very practical. Coupes are nice to drive but not very good for your present or future kids and all their stuff. SUV’s is obviously the way most of us have gone in the last years, but they’re not really a thrill to drive, unnecessarily heavy, and loading them is quite tiresome given the height.

If you think about it, I’m sure you’ll reach the same conclusion as me. The one car that will serve you well for the rest of your life is – drumroll – a German power station wagon and more precisely, an Audi RS6 Avant or a Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG. They will carry all your children and their gear when they’re young, and all the furniture when you’re re-designing your house after they moved out. Their four-wheel drive systems will ensure you reach your favorite winter destination while beating most supercars (at least those a few years old) on the highway. But they can also take your stepmother to the grocery store without her noticing anything special, and she’ll be able to load the groceries herself in the back. The RS6 and E63 are thus pretty unbeatable and have obviously been head to head competitors for many years.

Purposeful and muscular with tremendous presence!

Regular readers of this blog might rightfully be a bit surprised at this point for two reasons: firstly the fact that up until three years ago I owned an E63 so why on earth did I sell it? And secondly, wasn’t I the one who complained about how bad the (then) new E-class was? You’d be right on both points and I’m not sure my defence will convince you, but in terms of my E63, if there’s one car I wish I hadn’t sold it’s indeed that one and if I had a second chance, I might well have decided differently. Trading it in for an XC90 was perhaps sensible, but if so, proving how boring sensible can be.

On the second point it’s indeed true that I’m still far from convinced by the current E-class but luckily, a downsizing budget is more compatible with a somewhat older car, which in this case would mean the Merc (W212) E63 AMG and the Audi (C7) RS6 Avant, built from 2013 until 2016 and 2018 respectively (meaning for Merc, the face-lifted version of the W212). These were the last not-fully digital versions and they can now be had at between 1/3 and 1/4 of their price as new, meaning around EUR 50-60.000. For what is arguably the world’s greatest car concept, that’s no less than a tremendous bargain and one that is hard to resist, whatever the world does next!

An elegant line, appreciated by those “who know”…

As a short background, the W212 MB E63 AMG in its face-lifted version was introduced in 2013 and unlike its predecessor, it had four-wheel drive as standard, which is very useful in getting the power from the 5.5 litre, double-turbo V8 with 557 hp in the regular version, or 585 hp in the “S” version, to the tarmac. The additional power was more noticeable in the torque which increased from 720 Nm to 800 Nm. The corresponding C7 RS6 was built between 2013 and 2018 and was the third version of the RS. Its 4-litre, double-turbo V8 produced 560 hp as standard or 605 hp in the version called “Performance” in most European markets, with corresponding torque numbers of 700/750 Nm. It goes without saying that it also came with four-wheel drive as standard – how could it be any different from the home of Quattro?

The engines and drive trains are thus very similar, as are acceleration and top speed numbers with drag races normally ending slightly in favor of the Merc. The difference is however negligible, but it’s far more common that Audis have been tuned to even more power than E63’s, and it’s not uncommon to see RS6’s with over 700 hp. What is more surprising given Merc’s reputation is that the E63 is the hooligan of the two, very happy to drift as much as you desire but only if you so desire. This is very different to Audi’s more controlled behavior – it drives like it’s on rails whether you want it or not. Then again, if you’ve tuned it beyond 700 hp, that’s perhaps a good thing…

A fault-free interior – perhaps slightly dull?

In terms of styling this is of course a matter of personal taste, but I think most people would agree on the Audi having more presence than the Merc which is more of a sleeper. I would also say that the Audi looks sportier, the Merc more elegant. The same is carried over to the interior where most would probably agree on Audi’s being more modern, which of course has to do with the W212 having been introduced already in 2009 and the face-lifted version taking over most of the original car’s interior in 2013.

In terms of quality and feel however, the Merc has a solidity to it which I find difficult to replicate (and which the current E-class is light years away from). It very much leaves you with the impression of being the last “real” E-class. The E63 is also the roomier car, both cabin- and booth-wise, with up to 200 litres more space in total. If you still rely on onboard infotainment you’ll prefer Audi’s larger screen and more modern system, and it’s also far easier to find an RS6 with the B&O sound system. Mercedes also offers that as an option, but it’s far less common. That’s a shame, since it’s a fantastic system, far superior to the cheaper systems in both cars.

An ageing interior, but ageing well!

If you’re still with me and haven’t made up your mind just yet, there’s two other things to note before you do so: firstly, the RS6 is much more often to be seen than the E63. The latter is quite rare and content with being only noticed by those “who know”. If you don’t want to see the same car on every street corner, or indeed if you want to be noticed less than you are in an RS6, that’s worth considering. Secondly, comparable RS6’s are generally more expensive than E63’s by somewhere between EUR 10-20.000. Good sub-100.000 kms E63’s will start around EUR 50.000, corresponding RS6’s at around EUR 60.000.

Whichever one you choose, do so carefully. A 700 hp RS6 with unclear history and imported from Germany is not necessarily the one you want, neither the car that rides on 23-inch wheels with nothing between rubber and the wheelarch. This is far more common with RS6’s than with E63’s, so beware. As always, original cars from countries with high fines for speeding, and elderly owner and a complete service history are the best and worth a few thousand more. Think about the equipment that is important to you and although this may make the search longer, don’t compromise but rather wait until the right car comes along, because it will. And if that happens to be a bright red RS6, who cares? Firstly it’s one of the few cars in this class that looks good in red, secondly you’ll probably never want to sell it anyway and thirdly, if you do, the secondary value will take much less of a hit than if it had been a new car 3-4 times more expensive. As for myself, if downsizing really kicks in and my beloved cars had to go to focus on one, then I would buy an E63 again. But just to make sure, I would test drive that RS6 once more before doing so!

The most elegant 4-seater ever!

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to spot a number of spectacular cars within a few minutes and meters in downtown Zurich, and made a post about it that you can find here if you missed it. One of those was in my eyes far above the rest in both elegance and rarity. To me, the legendary Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet is one of the most elegant cars ever built and as I said in my post, it certainly deserves a bit more attention than sharing a post with a number of other more “everyday” cars (that’s perhaps stretching it, but at least far more common). This week therefore, we’ll take a closer look at the car that is not only beautiful and incredibly elegant, but also historic in several ways!

The beautiful 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet

The 280 SE (as I’ll call it from here on, given that saves loads of time writing…) is part of the W111/W112 range, the roots of which go back all the way to 1959 and which are today known as forerunners to what would later become the S-class. The W111/W112 (the difference being that the latter was a more luxurious version with notably air suspension and a more luxurious interior) was mostly sold as a four-door sedan, which became known as the “Heckflossen”-Mercedes (tail fin Merc) due to the shape of the rear “wings”. However a station wagon, a coupé and a convertible were also built in smaller numbers, all based on the same, non-modified platform. The body parts were different though and most of these were produced by hand, as many other cars at the time. The sedan wasn’t however, and this contributed to making the other versions prohibitively expensive in comparison. In spite of this and the resulting small production run, they are important as they are the last Mercedes cars that were in essence built by hand.

The regular w111, also referred to as “Heckflossen” (tail fin)

In the first half of the 60’s, the coupé and convertible had the designation 220 SE and were powered by a 2.2 litre, six-cylinder engine putting out a relatively modest 120 hp. Subsequent versions called the 250 SE, the 280 SE and the 300 SE (the most luxurious version, part of the W112 range) pushed that all the way to 170 hp, but it was in 1969 that things really changed, as that was the year the 280 SE got the brand new, 3.5 litre V8 engine internally called M116 with 200 hp, the first Mercedes engine post-WW2 that was larger than three litres. It came together with a modest facelift as the W111 was starting to age, notably including a flatter radiator grille and different rear lights. The new grille’s shape made the car known in Germany under the name “Flachkühler”, translating into “flat radiator”. Contrary to what is often believed it thus had nothing to do with making more room for the new engine, but was rather purely a styling measure. The price issue had been solved somewhat at least vs the coupé, as the convertible was only 10% more expensive towards the end of production. That is slightly different today, as we’ll see below.

Not the most beautiful engine, but the 3.5 litre V8 it does its job!

The 280 SE comes from a time when Mercedes was shaking off the old post-war heritage and started developing more modern cars to take the brand into the future. Car building itself was however still traditional, panels were still in thick metal and weight considerations weren’t a major concern, neither on the outside, nor on the inside. What looks like wood is indeed wood, and of the finest quality, and quite a few cows must have lost their lives when the interior was sown. The doors are heavy and make the right sound when you close them and the leather-covered dash has another cow or two on its conscience. The engine is said to have power at all revs and the 280 SE was good for 210 km/h at the time, although most people would probably not think of going anywhere near that today. This very luxurious convertible was hence seen as the 300 SE’s successor, but it was actually part of the W111 range and most notably, had conventional rather than air suspension.

They don’t make car interiors like that anymore!

The 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet was built 1232 times between 1969-1971, not a lot when you consider the total production run of the W111/W112 of around 400.000 cars. It would be the last four-seater convertible from Mercedes for more than 20 years until the far less special A124 / E-class convertible in the early 90’s. At the time of the launch it cost 35.000 D-mark, no doubt a lot of money but by far not as much as today’s value of around EUR 350.000 – 500.000 for perfect cars, most of which have of course been renovated. There’s not many around and it’s probably easier to find one in the US than in Europe, as that’s where most of them were sold. That’s certainly not cheap, then again 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet has a solid place in automotive history and is perhaps the most elegant Mercedes-Benz ever built. There’s really no reason why it should be cheap!

Serious EV power from Croatia!

I’m sure most, if not all readers of this blog have a few automotive legends of their own. Henry Ford is no doubt part of most people’s list as the man who gave us the first mass-produced automobile. I would of course also cite some of my Italian car legends that you’ve seen featured on this blog, and no doubt include Christian von Koenigsegg as well, the Swede who built the world’s fastest car from scratch on the countryside in Sweden. These days however, at least for the general public, Elon Musk is probably the biggest of them all. You can debate how much of a car company Tesla is (or for that matter how sane Elon is), but you can’t debate the success Tesla cars have had (and as shown last week, this goes for the resale values as well!).

What’s fascinating with Elon next to the fact that in addition to cars, he also builds rockets that he lands back on earth after the flight, is that just like Koenigsegg, he started from a piece of paper (albeit with lots of money in his pocket). He did so in the biggest car market in the world, but of course he himself is South-African. Let’s just say that the odds of success weren’t necessarily on his side, and they were even less so for Koenigsegg, as also highlighted in my piece last year. So in that case, how would you rate the odds of a 20-year old Bosnian setting out to build the fastest EV supercar in the world in neighboring Croatia? Yeah, right. You’d be wrong though, because his name is Mate Rimac and he’s quickly developing to becoming something like the next Elon. This week, we’ll look closer at him and the car brand carrying his name!

Rimac’s electric BMW – the fastest EV in the world at the time!

Mate Rimac is only 34 years old, but he’s already accomplished more than most do in a lifetime. Having grown up in Germany and Croatia, he participated in various innovation contests at a young age and in 2006, after having exploded the engine of his BMW E30, decided to transform it to an electrical car. So he did and not only that, he made it the fastest EV in the world at the time, which got him quite a lot of press coverage that would turn out to be very useful a few years later. Mate also competed with the car against traditional combustion engines and usually won, and it was sometime around here that he became convinced of the potential of EV’s and decided to set up a company and build better cars than Tesla. At the same time he invented a few other things as well, such as a rear-view mirror without blind spot and the iGlove, aimed at replacing the computer mouse and keyboard. It didn’t, but there’s little doubt Mate had lots of ideas in his head and by the looks of it, still does.

Mate Rimac and the Rimac Concept One

At first, Rimac’s company focused on conversion of traditional cars to electric drivetrains. That business developed nicely and became known as Rimac Automobili in 2009, when Mate was 21. It took him another two years to get a few employees at the company’s HQ in Croatia, and at this time he also met a GM designer called Adriano Mudri. The two men got along and started discussing building an EV supercar together. Thanks to the previous garnered publicity, they also got an invitation to the royal family of the United Arab Emirates who would become the financier of Rimac’s first prototype called Concept One, unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 2011. Eight Concept Ones were built in total and as far as I know seven are still around, the eighth having been crashed in quite spectacular fashion by Richard Hammond of (the original) Top Gear. That’s without doubt the most expensive car Hammond has ever crashed…

Next to the car however, Rimac continued to work with other brands on modifications and parts related to electrification. These include Porsche, Aston Martin, BMW and Koenigsegg, and in 2018 VW/Porsche also bought a 10% stake in Rimac. Last year, it was then confirmed that the partnership has been extended to a new company called Bugatti Rimac where Rimac owns 55% and will provide electrification to the coming hybrid Bugattis. Porsche is also said to have invested further in the company in its latest financing round. As if that wasn’t enough, Rimac also produces the battery systems for the Aston Martin Valkyrie and the Koenigsegg Regera.

The Nevera – a mix of other sports cars and old uniform neckties!

With a top speed of 220 mph (roughly 350 km/h) the Concept One was no doubt extreme, even for an EV, especially 10 years ago. This was however only the hors d’oeuvre for what was to come. The even faster Concept S would follow in 2016 as more of a track car, before the Nevera was unveiled in 2018 and is being delivered to customers form this year. With 150 cars being built for a price of EUR 2m these customers are to be considered very lucky, as this 1914 hp monster sets a new standard even for EV’s. With a top speed of over 400 km/h and a 0-100 time of 1.85 seconds, it also reaches 300 km/h in nine seconds, faster than an F1 car and something that will most probably have you searching for your eye balls at the back of your head, should you try it.

Of course speed isn’t enough though, and the Nevera (which by the way is the name of a Mediterranean storm – what is it with auto makers and winds??) certainly looks the part. It’s a beautiful car with hints of the new Corvette at the front and a McLaren of your choice in the back. Air vents along the sides have the same shape as the necktie of Croatian soldiers fighting for Napoleon (you’d be forgiven for not noticing that yourself…). Of course almost every panel is carbon fibre, it uses butterfly doors and a break spoiler in the back, deploying at a predetermined speed. Rimac confesses he’s programmed that speed to be low enough for the spoiler to deploy frequently, as clients find it cool….

Quite a plush interior given the car’s power, more of a GT than a track car

The Nevera has four electrical engines, one per wheel, which are thus operated and adjusted individually, further contributing to great handling. The interior is more plush than you would expect and definitely more of a GT car than a track car. That doesn’t mean it drives badly though: the first of the 150 Neveras will be delivered to ex-F1 world champion Nico Rosberg who is enthusiastic about not only the power but also how the car handles. In terms of colors you can of course have whatever you want – Mate himself has chosen raw carbon fibre for his own Nevera, a bit of a debatable choice but who are we to argue…

We’ll see where Rimac goes from here, but both the cars and the prestigious collaborations have put him on a fast track for even greater things going forward. From interviews and videos he also seems like a genuinely good guy, which is always nice to see. Notably all Rimac employees, from the cleaning stuff and up, have a share in the company. Of course, unless I have more prominent readers than I know, neither you nor I will probably have the pleasure of driving a Nevera or see for ourselves how nice Mate Rimac is. There is however another way to experience the Rimac magic, namely by buying an electrical MTB from his other company Greyp Bikes, founded in 2015. That will save you a couple of million, be better for your health and give you the first MTB that can communicate with all other Greyp MTB’s around the world, and also film what happens behind you when you ride. If that’s not an irresistible offer, I don’t know what is!

How not to lose 30% the first year!

There are many sayings along the same tune: full of joy you pick up your new car at the dealership, and by the time you reach the street, it’s lost 30% of its value. With very few exceptions that used to be the case for more or less all new cars, and depreciation would then continue to eat into the remaining value like rust does to an old 70’s Opel, until some day you reach a bottom where values stabilize and if you’re lucky, even start to rise. You could say that my modest garage consisting of my beloved BMW 650i convertible 2014 and my no less loved RR 5.0 SC 2015, both bought in the last two years, were very much purchased along that logic (and if I dare say, pretty much at the bottom).

At least in some cases, what used to be true isn’t anymore, and we can of course thank the moving parts of the global mess we currently find ourselves in for that. The combination of broken global supply chains, the European energy crisis and inflation are starting to change things. I’ve written previously about prices for used cars being on the rise especially in the US. That trend seems to be softening, although it’s a bit too early to say. It’s still the case that delivery times have in some cases gone bonkers, but here as well things are looking slightly better for most cars, as the stress on delivery chains of certain parts have improved slightly. You’ll still have to wait far longer than used to be the case though. But lately, and the topic of this week’s post, is what is perhaps another logical consequence of the current situation, namely that certain new cars barely lose any value during the first few years.

The chip crisis is slowly easing, which is really good news for manufacturers!

It’s still perfectly possible to lose lots of money when buying a new car. An old man’s sedan is for example an excellent way to go about it, especially if you order it in a color scheme that may seem fun at the time of ordering, but far less a week after the car being delivered. Large Mercedes coupés with big engines are also pretty hopeless. Actually, with everything everywhere being about EV’s and with prices at the pump going only in one direction, you’d be forgiven for thinking that buying anything with a big, thirsty engine would be just as good (or bad). That’s not the case though, at least not yet, and it’s also not the case that all EV’s hold their value in the same way the best ones do.

Given that, and if we except the small series hypercars that live in a world of their own price-wise, what should you be looking at if you want a cool, everyday car and prefer buying new, but want to minimize the initial value loss? I’ve taken a few examples below from the SUV world which continues to be the preferred car segment everywhere, and which is therefore a relatively safe bet in this regard.

There’s three different body formats now, from 90 to 130 to choose from

New Land Rover Defender

It was no easy task that Land Rover took on when they decided to build a new version of one of the most legendary cars of all times but in my view, they did an excellent job with the new Defender. I think it balances references to the original car with modern features in just about the right proportions, and apparently the market agrees – not only do you see a lot of new Defenders around, their resale values are excellent. In Europe, when the car was introduced in late 2019 in a version called the First Edition, these 2019 cars today trade only around 10% lower than their original price of around EUR 100.000, in spite of a minor upgrade having just taken place on the 2022 Defender. For now at least, the car that’ll take you anywhere seems to be a safe bet economically as well!

The G63 could also take you most places – it’s just that it never does…

Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG

If Land Rover’s task with the new Defender was daunting, arguably what Mercedes had to do to turn the G-wagon to a modern car (as much as possible) was no less so. It was a year earlier in 2018 that the new G was introduced, and still today you need to look twice to see the difference between old and new – at least from the side. Absurdly enough, the vast majority of new G’s are in the G63 AMG version, that an article I recently read described as “Kardashianesque”, a description as good as any. Few cars have the same street presence though, and 585 hp in car looking like a fridge will keep you laughing all the way to the petrol station. Provided you still see the road that is, because with its completely flat front window, the G63 kills bugs at a speed making you fear bug extinction. Still, should you for some reason want to sell your G63, you’ll be happy to learn that even cars from the first year with moderate km’s on the clock sell for within 10% of their price as new of around EUR 220.000.

The only SUV that looks good in yellow – and many other colours!

Lamborghini Urus

If 585 hp in an SUV isn’t enough for you, then Lamborghini are happy to give you another 65 hp, rounding it off to 650 from the Urus’s 4-litre, 8-cylindre engine. Its looks take more or less getting used to depending on your taste, but the Urus is one hell of a car and no doubt the SUV that drives the most like a sports car. And of course, being a Lambo, it delivers in terms of sound like few others. The Urus was also introduced in late 2018 and costs a bit more than EUR 300′ as new. 2-3 years later without too many kilometres on the clock you will have lost no more than 10%, and it will have been worth everyone of them!

Three examples out of a selection that could clearly have been wider and that illustrates that at least right now, you can buy at least some new cars and not lose much in terms of value even after 2-3 years. If you’re interested in any of these or for that matter other cars with a similar evolution, then the recommendation is of course to buy new, provided the car you’re after can be delivered within a reasonable timeframe. A discount that isn’t larger than 10% doesn’t compensate for neither the compromises in equipment you may have to make, nor for the typically much shorter guarantee you’ll have on the used car.

The Model X hardly sells anymore in Europe, but has fantastic residuals!

What about EV’s then? Isn’t that a safe bet when it comes to resale values? With everything happening in general in terms of clean energy, and in the EV market in particular with new models both from new and old brands, you’d certainly be forgiven for thinking so, but actually the picture is a mixed one. The champion in resale values is no doubt Tesla where the 10% value loss discussed above goes even further in terms of mileage or even age. Had you bought an Audi E-tron instead, perhaps convinced by the fact that in everything except for the range it’s a better car, well, then you would have lost almost 50% in the last 2-3 years (making the E-tron a really great bargain today!). Mercedes’ EQC EV SUV doesn’t fare much better, and there are other EV’s in both camps. At least for now therefore, value preservation seems to be more brand-related than depending on the drive train, and part of Tesla’s strong resale value probably also relates to the Apple-like image the brand has among many.

Where does that take us? Well, if you’re after a SUV and you’ve been looking at one of the three mentioned above, it looks like a relatively good investment even if you’re changing cars now and then. However, as the disclaimer says if you buy a financial product, “past performance is no guarantee for future returns”, which is of course especially true now with an energy crisis in Europe and a general trend towards electrification. Remember though that this will take time, and there will conventional cars around for many years to come. If you’re looking for an EV, the resale value and the range speak strongly for Tesla, but it will require you to compromise in build quality compared to some other EV’s, and the competition is no doubt heating up. Personally, I still think a good bargain beats anything presented here, and if I were after an EV, I think I’d go and look closely at that bargain Audi E-tron!

F1 pit stop – half time!

After 13 rounds of the 2022 season we’re into the summer break, with the next race not happening until early September in Max Verstappen’s home country of the Netherlands. It’s thus time to take the temperature on the season so far and doing so, a few things seem pretty obvious already now. Most importantly, I’m not really sticking out my neck by saying that I’m pretty convinced Max will be the relatively uncontested world champion in 2022, for the second time around. However, predicting who will finish on places 2-6 is much harder, almost as hard as guessing if Ferrari will ever get their theme strategy together. These are really the main questions for the second half of the season.

Things are going well for Max!

To start off though, there’s been two big pieces of news on the drivers’ side worth mentioning, especially since it all happened in the last days. Firstly, on Wednesday night ahead of the Hungarian GP, Sebastian Vettel informed Lawrence Stroll, owner of the Aston Martin F1 team, that he’s retiring at the end of the season. Aston would have loved to keep him for another year, especially since Seb has delivered more than what should be possible with the current car, but Lawrence is said to have accepted Seb’s decision, mostly driven by his wish to spend more time with his family. Lawrence didn’t lose any time though and instead picked up the phone to Fernando Alonso whom he knows well, offering him what sounds like a deal too good to say no to. It was all done in five days and Alonso, about to turn 41, will thus step in to Seb’s shoes as a mentor to Lance Stroll and hopefully with a faster Aston car next year.

Neither Alonso nor Lawrence Stroll apparently saw a need to inform Renault/Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer though, who claims he only learnt the news through the official F1 communication. His disappointment is indeed understandable since with Ocon and Alonso, Alpine had a driver pairing helping them to what is currently P4 in the constructor championship, ahead of all teams except for the three big ones. There’s a slight déjà vu here remembering Ricciardo’s move from Renault two years ago when he seemed to be on the way to McLaren, where things have basically gone south every since. Let’s thus hope Fernando knows what he’s doing and that Aston will start performing next year!

Thanks for everything Seb – Ferrari will never forget you!

At the top of the ranking, it’s really all about Max Verstappen. Red Bull started the season on par or sometimes perhaps even slightly behind Ferrari, but the last races have confirmed that they’re back where they were last year, with Perez doing a mighty fine job in spite of being the most obvious “second” driver of all teams, currently ranking P3 in the drivers’ standings. Max leads by a margin of 80 points on Leclerc in second, his driving is as phenomenal as his ego is large (as we know, a combination any good racing driver needs to have!) and in combination with the most professional team on the circuit, it’s really difficult to see how anyone could challenge him, especially since Ferrari insists on giving him the helping hand he doesn’t need through one tactical misstep after the other.

Binotto doesn’t have much to smile about currently…

Hungary was the latest but probably not the last example of tactics going wrong, having everyone except Ferrari F1 boss Binotti scratching their heads. With 30 laps to go and with Leclerc in the lead, the team pitted the car and put him on hard tires. In a way they had no choice as it was too early for softs, but Leclerc hadn’t been complaining about the mid tires and would probably have lost less time staying on them until the softs would have made it until the end. Those are his thoughts, not mine. This is the latest in a series of mistakes, such as for example in Leclerc’s home race in Monaco when Ferrari pitted him at the same time as Sainz, which cost him the win, or Montreal, where the team pitted Sainz rather than Leclerc who was in the lead, again costing him the race. If you add to this mechanical failures and to be fair, also driver mistakes, the second part of the first half of 2022 hasn’t been much to cheer about in Maranello. Binotto however doesn’t see the need to change anything and insists everyone’s happy. So far Leclerc and Sainz don’t say anything, but If things don’t improve quickly in the second half, I very much doubt that will remain the case.

So what about positions 2 to 6? Well, there’s in total only 27 points between Leclerc in second and Lewis Hamilton in sixth, with Perez, Russell and Sainz (in that order) between them. Anyone of the six can thus take second position and if the current trend is anything to go by, it’s definitely Mercedes who are on the way up, and I would tend to put my money on either Russell or Hamilton, together with Perez. Then again, if Ferrari manage to find the form of the first part of the season again, it could also be Leclerc or Sainz. Not much of a conclusion here as you can see, time will tell!

If Russell finishes in P2, will Lewis call it a day?

Except for Alpine Renault who as mentioned are currently in P4, there’s really not much to cheer about for any of the other teams. Alfa Romeo started the season well but don’t seem to get anywhere currently. The same goes for McLaren and especially Daniel Ricciardo who is systematically underperforming Lando Norris, Haas where Mick Schumacher is however starting to show his talent, Aston Martin and Alpha Tauri where not much is happening, and finally Williams who have more speed than last year but still not enough to secure them points in most races. McLaren, Alfa Romeo, Alpha Tauri and Aston Martin should all be on stable footing in terms of their financing, I’m less sure if that’s the case for Haas and Williams, so the second half of the year may well decide if we see them again in 2023. Stay tuned!

Northern German winds

Wolfsburg, translating into “Wolves’ castle”, is a northern German town known as the home of Volkswagen (hereinafter VW). I’ve never been to Wolfsburg so I can’t really say if it should also be famous as a particularly windy town. Its geographical location in the middle of the country suggests it shouldn’t, VW’s model naming over the years however very much suggest it should! Starting with the Golf (from the Gulf stream) over the Jetta (from the jet stream), the Polo (from the polar winds), the Passat and then of course the Golf’s mechanical twin dressed up like a sports coupé, the Scirocco, we end up with the Corrado (from, well, actually nothing at all). The Corrado was a break with VW’s naming convention given the name is invented and has no meaning, but it has the benefit of sounding Italian, something that’s never hurt any sports car. Luckily the car itself is not invented but very real and a bit of a gem, which is the reason we’ll look closer at it this week!

The Corrado is actually smaller than a modern compact car

Through the Piëch owner family VW is obviously closely related to Porsche, and in fact VW’s first two tries at a sports car both ended up under the Porsche rather than the VW brand, following some probably quite heated discussions in the respective board rooms: the first was the almost forgotten Porsche 914, the second the not much liked 924. The third time around VW resorted to simpler tactics, taking all the mechanics from the Golf and then asking Giugiaro to design a coupe-like body. So he did and the car was called Scirocco and built in two series between 1974 and 1992.

Second series cars are slightly re-designed and carry lots of plastic spoilers, wings and other things that were far cooler then than now. They were however also a showcase for new VW technology, notably its first 16-valve engine. This had the slight disadvantage of making the Scirocco expensive, and as VW had more ideas on new technology they wanted to test, they therefore saw a need to develop a new sports car positioned higher in price and sell it in parallel to the Scirocco, until a new, cheaper model could replace it. Enters the Corrado in 1986 as the more exclusive car, but VW never managed to build the intended Scirocco replacement, so the Corrado and the aging Scirocco would be sold in parallel until the latter was discontinued in 1992.

Leather seats add a bit of flair to the otherwise quite gloomy interior…

Design-wise the Corrado goes back to the first Scirocco series, basically looking like its body-builder brother, but with a lot of the original lines still preserved. I wouldn’t call it timeless like some other cars from the time, but it definitely looks good and has the right proportions. It also has a rear spoiler that deploys at speed to reduce wind drag, not much to brag about today but excessively cool in the late 80’s, and a feature that was applied to the Corrado before it was so on the 911 (964)!

Underneath the body, the car was however very much the second series Scirocco, meaning a Golf II. Logically therefore it was praised for its practicality but also for its handling, steering and gearshift. VW were however serious in making the Corrado a showcase for new technology, and the only available version of the car therefore had the new G60 engine. With 158 hp, the output of the 1.8 litre four-cylinder was perhaps reasonable, but given the Corrado was far heavier than the old Scirocco with the less powerful 16V engine, it lost more than a second in the sprint to 100 km/h. Not great news for a more expensive car intended to showcase new engine technology…

The most compact V6 ever seen (at least until then)!

VW thus needed a new engine before all potential clients went away and bought a Honda Prelude instead. The problem was however that the Corrado is a small car with not much space for really anything more than a 1.8 litre, four-pot which was already supercharged. But of course this was a German car, so it wasn’t long until a bunch of German engineers put their minds together and solved the problem. What do you do when there’s no room neither for a larger volume four-cylinder engine, nor for a straight or V6? Einfach (easy)! You reduce the angle of the V until it basically looks like an I. Maybe not quite, but they went from the typically 60 or 90 degrees of a typical V6 to as little as 15, putting the six cylinders close enough to use a single cylinder head.

This increased the volume to 2.9 litres and the power to 190 hp. The engine was named VR6 with V for the V-shape and R for “Reihen”, i.e. straight in German, as the engine had the same firing order as a straight six. It thus ran smoother and sounded better than a typical V6 and more power meant the Corrado was now a second quicker than the Scirocco to 100 km/h at 6.4 seconds, and managed a top speed of 225 km/h. Not only that, when the Corrado VR6 was introduced in 1991, it was part of the Corrado facelift and now based on the Golf III rather than II as the predecessor, basically meaning even better handling and weight distribution. Everything was thus pretty great, except for one thing: the price.

Good things don’t come for free and the inflation Corrado prices went through during production years 1988-1995 resembles what we experience these days. The Corrado VR6 was in the end more than 30% more expensive than the original, G60 car. Realizing the problem, VW also offered the car in the cheaper 16V version, which wasn’t however what people wanted given it had far less power. In the end this meant Corrado sales numbers were far below what VW had hoped for – in the last two production years, less than 6.000 cars were built. The effect of that a few years later is usually that residual values are kept high, and here the Corrado is no exception.

A good VR6, which you’ve hopefully understood by now is the one you want, starts at around EUR 25.000. There are cars out there but the offer isn’t unlimited, and finding the right one will take some digging. Except for the Corrado VR6 being a great car, it’s obviously also great that it’s mechanically pretty much a Golf, meaning help is as close as the next VW garage and parts shouldn’t be a problem. Chances are however you won’t need them as the Corrado may be a VW, but it also comes from the best era of German manufacturing. It’s a very solid car but one that looks and drives with more feeling and inspiration than a VW usually does, and also carries a more exotic name!

All good things come to an end…

There’s obviously a lot of things changing in the car world these days, and with that, it’s no surprise that many good things also come to an end. Today we’ll look at two of those, and luckily we’ll do so before it’s too late so that should you take the wise decision to join in before the lights go out (so to say), in both cases that’s still possible!

The first piece of sad news reached us recently from Buchloe, the small German town made famous by Burkard Bovensiepen, founder of Alpina, a company today run by his two sons. If you missed my story on Alpina you can read it here, and unfortunately what the company communicated was that they have sold the rights to the Alpina name to BMW, effective end 2025. For BMW, the interest in the Alpina name apparently comes from the wish for a sub-brand to sit between BMW and Rolls-Royce, which BMW also owns, but if that becomes the case, the cars will be fully built by BMW with no involvement of what is currently Alpina.

The legendary stripes will soon be gone!

You may of course ask why Alpina chooses to give up, especially when you hear that 2021 was their best year ever in terms of sales. The answer is that it costs Alpina somewhere between EUR 10-15m to develop a new model on the basis of the corresponding BMW, a cost that needs to be amortized over the coming 6-7 years. Unfortunately the general insecurity with regards to future drivetrains, regulations, penalty taxation in some markets etc. no longer affords Alpina (or for that matter, other small brands) enough planning security to make that a viable proposition. It’s indeed a sad although unintended consequence of the industry’s current development and will most probably lead to more brand concentration among non-EV brands.

The recently introduced Alpina B4/D4 S Gran Coupé is thus the last Alpina model we will see leaving Buchloe (and it will do so, along with the other current models, until 2025), but the Bovensiepens guarantee that until then, they will not turn down a single order for any of their current cars. They also don’t plan to go anywhere, but rather to continue their business under a different name. On one hand it’s about servicing and supplying parts for the 25.000 Alpina cars currently on the road, which for discerning Alpina clients often also means for example redoing a full interior. On the other, the future Alpina company will continue to work on some projects as they already do today, such as developing improved drivetrains, steering etc. for other manufacturers.

The last Alpina – but not even they can fix the number plate positioning…

It takes around an hour and a half to drive from Buchloe to Ingolstadt, home of Audi and thereby also of one of the most discrete, polished, usable and reliable supercars in the world – the R8. It’s been with us since 2007, a very long time for any car these days and with very few design updates through the years, it still looks modern to this day. It will however be replaced next year and when it is, that will also mean good-bye to the last engine of its kind still produced. I’m of course talking about the wonderful, naturally aspirated V10 that these days is the only available power source for the R8. It is however on the way out as Audi have already confirmed that the new R8 coming out in 2024 will be fully electric. The same V10 is of course also in service in the far less discrete Lamborghini Hurracan, but here again the engine won’t be available in the new Hurracan set to come out in the same year as the R8, i.e. 2024. It’s not fully clear what will replace it, but current rumours point at some kind of hybrid combined with a no longer naturally aspirated V8.

15 years later, still one of the best looking supercars!

The naturally aspirated engine in the R8 and Hurracan is thus the last V10 in production. There’s one naturally aspirated 12-cylinder engine still out there and it’s of course the sensational, 6.5-litre one in the Ferrari 612 Superfast, putting out a crazy 818 hp and revving all the way to 9500 rpm. Then we’re however down to eight cylinders and in terms of naturally aspirated ones, options are few and far between. There’s of course the very discrete and also not very inspiring Lexus LC500, and there’s various versions of the 5.7 or 6.2 litre V8 in various cars in the Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep/RAM family of mostly trucks. But then there’s also the new Corvette where the top model features the 6.2 litre V8 putting out 482 hp. And that’s basically it.

The 6.5 litre Ferrari V12 is the last of its kind

It’s safe to say that we’re clearly well into the last straight as concerns natural aspiration in general, and for big cylinder engines in particular. Given this, buying a new R8 between now and 2024 could actually turn out to be a better deal than buying a new car usually is, as the last year of production is often sought after, especially if it features an engine that can then no longer be had. Of course that goes for the Hurracan as well. And if we forget about natural aspiration, it’s no doubt also true if you buy one of the last Alpinas!

Which one would you pick??

It’s obviously summer time, and here in Switzerland right in the middle of the really hot temperatures down in Spain and Italy and the really cold temperatures up north in parts of Scandinavia, we’re enjoying perfect summer weather. This is obviously the kind of conditions you imagine when you decide to spend a significant amount of money on a car in the categories sports/hypercar or luxury convertible, so the time to enjoy them has definitely come – and if it’s a convertible, so has the time for shielding your head from the sun during those long, nice drives.

It’s not just in the summer that Zurich is a rolling car exhibition, but clearly the number of beautiful automobiles is higher in July than in November and they tend to be cleaner as well, thereby lending themselves better to the game I thought we’d play this week. It’s one I’m sure we all played as kids and that just maybe some of us still play as grown-ups. I’m of course talking about variations of the excellent mind game “which one would I pick?”! It was when walking through the city the other week that I photographed the following four cars within an area of 200 meters, and thought they lent themselves very well to this exercise. Also, the results could be a good way of getting to know our readers a bit better through your preferences, so please therefore put your replies in the reply section below!

The Continental Convertible – elegant, timeless, discrete, or too old school and boring?

We start with the most common car of these four, namely the latest version of the very popular Bentley Continental GT Convertible, or GTC. I personally think the most recent facelift has given it a much more modern and sporty look, perhaps especially from the back as pictured here. This is the four-litre V8 version with 550 hp, enough to get the quite heavy Continental up to illegal speeds in very little time. The happy owner has also chosen to spend some money on his very own license plate – you may remember the post on the Swiss system for auctioning number plates that you’ll otherwise find here. Anyway, the GTC is a beautiful car here in a discrete, elegant colour, and very much not in your face.

If you read the Bentley caption and take the opposite of every word, you’re there!

We move on to something that is the complete opposite – a very yellow Lamborghini Aventador SV, meaning Super Veloce, or super fast. That it is indeed, being powered by a 740 hp V12 that will bring you to 200 km/h in 10 seconds flat and also around the Nürburgring in (just under) seven minutes. As it does so, it will leave no one in any doubt of where it comes from and that there’s a bit V12 powering it. You can certainly debate how ideal it is as a city or shopping car but there’s definitely space enough for some of the small, expensive gift boxes you find in the many jeweller shops close to where it was parked. Whether it’s yellow or not really doesn’t matter – an Aventador will never pass unnoticed!

The wooden hood cover is very nice, but perhaps not with this seat colour?

If the Bentley is too common and the Lambo too flashy, then what about a Rolls-Royce Dawn? After all, when it was launched in 2015 the brand referred to it as “the sexiest Rolls-Royce every built”! That was however not enough for CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös who also described sitting in it as “the most luxurious place to be on earth”. Be that as it may, the Dawn is no doubt a beautiful automobile creating just enough theatre with its rear-hinged doors, but its weight of 2800 kgs (!) means the 6.6 litre, 570 hp V12 needs to work hard. It’s thus probably better suited for downtown Zurich than the Aventador, even though the owner’s choice of parking space could turn out to be expensive. Then again, in this league, who cares…

Looking at it, RR boss Müller-Ötvös may just be wrong about that luxurious place…

The final pick is perhaps the best representative of a time long before engines had many hundred horsepower, and prestige was instead defined by opulent design and plush materials. This beautiful Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 V8 Cabriolet (long name for a legendary car!) that we’ll come back to on the blog as it’s worth a post of its own, was built in the late 60’s – early 70’s 1232 times. The 230 hp, 3.5 litre V8 had its work cut out with the quite heavy car, but this was of course never meant to be a Nürburgring racer so power was quite sufficient at the time, as it remains today.

Those are the candidates, which one would you pick? I’ll obviously tell you which one my choice would be, and it probably comes at no surprise that I would go for the beautiful Merc. I certainly wouldn’t mind the others either but as said, if you need to pick one, that’s my choice. Please put yours in the comments or, if you happen to be the very fortunate owner of any of these masterpieces, perhaps a photo of it!

Classic races: The Mille Miglia!

This week sees the start of a new section on the blog called “Classic races”, where at more or less regular intervals, the idea is to tell the story of some of the most famous and legendary classic car races of the last century. As is often the case the idea came out of nowhere, or at least not following any logical path. More precisely, last week when walking down the street, I saw a grown man in a business suite on a non-powered, two-wheel scooter, kicking himself forward on the sidewalk and wearing – a helmet. It struck me how in spite of fatalities from most activities being lower and longevity obviously higher than at any time in history, in the perception of some people, the world has become incredibly dangerous. Somehow that made me think of cars (never far away…) and especially classic cars, and thereby of a time when the drivers indeed risked their lives for the sport and cars they loved. In other words, classic car races!

I’m sure you could have a lengthy argument of what race you should start such a section with and I certainly don’t intend for this section to follow any kind of order of importance, but somehow you need to start with one of the most well-known ones, which at least from a European perspective is no doubt the famous thousand miles through the northern half of Italy, more well-known as the Mille Miglia (hereinafter also MM)! Given the 2022 race took place in the second half of June this may ring more than one bell, but today’s race is not the same as the original one, so let’s take things in good order.

Neither helmets, nor paved roads

It was back in the 1920’s when, as part of the strong rivalry between the two northern Italian cities Milan and Brescia, the Brescians weren’t happy to see the completion of the Monza race track close to Milan in 1925. Some resourceful merchants from Brescia got their heads together and thought up a race that would be driven on (unprepared and unpaved) roads rather than on track, but be of the same length as a Grand Prix at the time, namely 1000 miles (1600 km). Why on earth would Italians think in miles you may think, but actually the old Romans used miles as measure, so it’s indeed a measure which at least historically has been used in Italy as well. The race would start in Brescia, lead to the eternal city of Rome before ending back in Brescia, along a route as figured out by two of the more enthusiastic merchants, Aymo Maggi and Franco Mazzotti.

Aymo Maggi, one of the four men who gave us the Mille Miglia!

Two years later in 1927, a total of 77 cars took part in the first Mille Miglia. Ferdinando Minoia and Giuseppe Morandi needed a bit more than 21 hours to win the first race in their OM 665, thereby managing an average speed of 77 km/h. Not bad for the 1920’s, but it didn’t take more than three years for a certain Tazio Nuvolari from Mantua, also known as “The Flying Mantuan”, to increase that to over 100 km/h. The Mille Miglia was however not reserved for sports cars with both smaller cars such as the Renault 4CV and family cars taking part as well. In a logic that would arguably not be applied today, the slower cars started ahead of the faster ones such as to reduce the time officials had to spend along the route. This was certainly one, but not the only cause of accidents, of which a serious one in 1938 led to the original route being changed to a shorter 165 km route driven several laps in 1940 (no race took place in 1939). After the war however, the MM went back to the original route – having seen the horrors of war during five years, the general view was that in comparison, the original route was child’s play!

The OM 665, winner of the first Mille Miglia in 1955

When the MM resumed after the war it remained, as in previous years, very much an Italian story. In most years both the winning cars and their drivers were Italian. In the years before the war it was Alfa Romeo that was most successful with the 6C and 8C, after the war Ferrari had most success with various models. Among drivers, Tazio Nuvolari is perhaps the most legendary, and in some years the route was even changed in his honour so that it went through his home town of Mantua. This is not to say that foreigners didn’t have some success as well; Juan Manuel Fangio participated in the race but never won, and the most well-known foreigner is no doubt Stirling Moss who won in 1955 in the Mercedes 300 SLR. That was only two years before the last Mille Miglia race in 1957 when a tragic accident killed not only the driver and his co-pilot but also 10 spectactors of which five were children. This meant the end for the original Mille Miglia race.

The Flying Mantuvan Nuvolari in full action!

As a largely pre-WW2 car race, there’s obviously a number of stories to be told from the young age of automotive sport. One of the best ones is certainly from 1954, when German driver Hans Herrmann participated in a Porsche 550 together with co-driver Herbert Linge and decided to save some time at the sight of a rail crossing – and an approaching train. Given the 550 was quite low, Herrmann accelerated and both Linge and him sunk down in the seats such as to be able to pass under the barrier… Stirling Moss’s victory in 1955 is also a story in itself since he managed to set an all-time speed record, averaging close to 160 km/h. Given the non-paved, dwindling roads of the race with hundreds of spectators alongside them, that remains difficult to understand to this day. His co-driver during the race was the journalist Denis Jenkinson who later in the magazine Motorsport told the story of what was in his words a terrifying experience. If you’re curious, you’ll find it here!

An artistic view of Moss and Jenkinson in the 1955 race

In 1977 The Mille Miglia was revived as a tourist race with the current, annual format being in place since 1987. The race is today open to cars that either participated in the original race, or are of the same type. Either or, needless to say that these are worth quite a lot of money these days and the race has thereby become a wonderful exhibition of automobiles from a bygone era. The initial technical inspection in Brescia on the eve of the race is something not to be missed if you happen to be in northern Italy around this time of year! Every year around 400 cars take parto out of around 1500 applicants, and the route still leads from Brescia to Rome but varies a bit from year to year. As a tourist rally it’s no longer about outright speed but more about typical classical car race moments such as regularity and navigation. The risk of accidents and need for helmets has thereby diminished heavily, and it’s also highly improbable that any driver chooses to cross a railway under the barrier!