Dieppe – France’s own Maranello

Renault is not a brand that is featured very often on this blog given, if you allow me to be a bit harsh, it mostly consists of a bunch of boring small cars and family SUV’s, that partly have some, hmm, intersting looks (Avantime anyone?) but are never associated with any kind of thrill of driving. Yeah, I know there’s a few racier versions of the Mégane that some love, but that’s never really been my thing. What is very much my thing on the other hand, is what a crazy bunch of engineers in the French town of Dieppe, traditionally the home of Alpine, developed in the late 70’s: the Renault 5 Turbo / Turbo II. And then 20 years later, also in Dieppe, a similar (same?) group of engineers reinvented the whole concept with the Renault Clio V6. This week will therefore be the story of the two siblings with twenty years between them, but sharing the same crazy concept and making them two of the if not greatest, then at least most exciting hot hatches ever!

Turning the clock back to the late 70’s, Renault had quite a strong rally tradition and had been racing the Alpine A110 for a number of years. The car was getting old though and a replacement was needed. As always the budget was a bit tight so the project started internally using the Renault 5 as basis. The R5 had been around since 1971 so it wasn’t the most inspiring starting point, but that’s before the guys in Dieppe came into the picture and did a few rather major modifications… In becoming the R5 Turbo, the R5 not only gained 20 cm in width, the engine also moved from up front to behind the front seats, i.e. mid-mounted, and the car went from front- to rear-wheel drive. The result was a body that all of a sudden looked spectacular (and still does!), an interior that was more or less untouched and thereby an ocean of 70’s plastic, and a weight distribution that changed quite radically, with around 60% over the rear axle (counting with the driver).

As a rally car the R5 Turbo and subsequent Turbo II (built from 1983, looking the same but technically improved) saw some success. It raced in the legendary Group B until the end in 1986 and won a total of three races which could probably have been more, had it not been for the fierce competition from notably Audi and Lancia at the time. What made the legend of the car was however not its rally pedigree but rather the total of around 5.000 homologation cars, split roughly as 1/3 Turbo and 2/3 Turbo II. Back in the early 80’s, at least in France this was the really cool car to have (which was good since price-wise it was on par with true sports cars!), but it was also one that required some basic driving skills, as you’ll guess from a combination of a short wheelbase, a mid-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive! The pengine’s position helped contribute to what was a great engine tone, making the 1.4 litre, turbo-charged 4-cylinder sound like far more than it was. 160 hp was not a huge power output, but with the setup as described and an 80’s ketchup turbo lag, more power was not really necessary.

No other Renault 5 has a natural place in the port of Monaco!

After the R5, Renault went back to its slumber and the Dieppe engineers went for a well-deserved break that lasted for around 15 years. This takes us to the late 90’s when Renault presented a study based on the Clio with a mid-mounted, V6 engine. The interest was so big that Renault decided to produce the car, this time in collaboration with Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR). The engineers in Dieppe were back from their break and developed what was at least in concept a true follower of the R5 Turbo. As the Turbo 20 years earlier, the Clio V6 had a considerably widened body, exactly the same boring interior as the standard Clio, rear-wheel drive and a mid-mounted engine behind the front seats. This time the engine was however a naturally aspirated V6, producing between 226-254 hp. It made the V6 only slightly quicker than the Turbo though, since the Clio also weighed i400 kg more at 1400 kg. A lot of that weight was actually not linked to the Clio being a new car but rather to the heavy modifications from converting the regular Clio to a rear-wheel drive, mid-engined two-seater.

The similarity in concept also means a certain similarity in the driving experience, even if the lack of a giant turbo gap given the Clio V6 is naturally aspirated makes it, shall we say not quite as full of surprises… What remains is however the rear-heavy weight distribution combined with a short wheelbase, so being slightly careful cerrtainly doesn’t hurt. Again, both the looks and the sound are (almost) as good as the old R5 Turbo and no doubt the Clio V6 will age as well.

Under the official, very selling name Renault Clio V6 Renault Sports, the V6 was built in two versions called phases, the first between 2001-2003 and the second until the end of production in 2005. It was thus built roughly as long as the R5 Turbo, but with only around half as many produced. That doesn’t show price-wise yet with a good Clio V6 coming in at around EUR 40-50.000 whilst the R5 Turbo / Turbo II is at least twice as much. There is no objective measure in this world that makes it rational to buy either one of them, but then again rational is boring and if that’s your philosophy, these cars are both a lot of fun and not seen on every corner.

Had they spent 1/10 of what they spent on the exterior on the interior…

The new Alpine A110 is being built in Dieppe since 2017, a car that I covered last summer in a post you can read here. We’ll come back to the upcoming F1 season in the coming weeks but it’s no secret that Renault’s F1 team has been renamed Alpine from this season, so there’s no doubt Dieppe is going strong with hopefully some other great cars coming out over the coming years!

Street finds: the great Bizzarrini!

A great thing with writing this blog is that whereas in some weeks I know well in advance what to write about, in others I don’t have a clue. This is a bit of a thrill since inspiration (at least so far) then comes somehow, but very rarely does it do so in such an inspired way as this week! Taking a lunch walk on Tuesday in the currently locked-down and therefore half empty city of Zurich, I turned a corner and saw something low and red that looked very much like a 60’s Ferrari but was… something else. A model name I didn’t recognize, and a logo that said Bizzarrini. I know we have some really knowledgeable readers here and as those of you familiar with Bizzarrini will know, seeing one doesn’t happen every day; nor every week, month or year! I had never seen a Bizzarrini before which is perhaps not very surprising, given the whole production of Bizzarrini automobiles in the 60’s amounted to a few dozen cars (more on that below). The 5300 GT I had in front of me looked spectacular, and when doing some research around Giotto Bizzarrini and his brand, a wonderful story of great engineering in a bygone era combined with the temper of several protagonists, including a certain Enzo Ferrari emerged. So this week will be about Giotto Bizzarrini and his cars, from the age when cars were sketched with a ruler and built with sweat rather than computers!

What I couldn’t identify straight away – a Bizzarrini GT 5300 Strada!

Giotto Bizzarrini was born in 1926 close to the port city of Livorno near Pisa in Italy, and as a young engineer started working for Alfa Romeo where he quickly made a name for himself as a very promising and talented engineer with a special love for racing cars. He was in fact so promising that the great Enzo Ferrari became aware of him and quickly recruited him, so from 1958, Giotto worked at Ferrari where he led the development of several Ferrari GT cars, notably the legendary 250 GTO. No doubt that Giotto had his career cut out for him at Ferrari had it not been for Enzo’s strong personality, Latin temper – and love for his wife Laura. Laura was not as loved by other key Ferrari employees, especially on the sales side where Ferrari’s sales manager Girolamo Gardini was getting very tired of Laura messing up his sales plans by always requesting special deliveries of race cars for personal contacts and friends. Betting on his long and successful background at the firm, Gandini together with a group of other senior executives, including Bizzarrini, one day walked into Enzo’s office and basically told him “it’s her or us”, confident Enzo would see the logic. He didn’t. Laura stayed and Enzo fired the senior executives (consisting of most of the race team at Ferrari) in what was referred to as the Palace Revolt or the Great Walkout. You’d better know what you’re doing before you mess with the boss’s wife, especially if that boss is (or rather was) Enzo Ferrari!

The Ferrari 250 GTO – 36 built, all of them still in existance, changing hands at USD 50-75m…

Giotto Bizzarrini was especially passionate about engines and before the Palace Coup had started a department within Ferrari where engines were tested and notably the Testa Rossa 3-litre engine was developed. When he left Ferrari, Giotto went on to found a company named ATS with the ambition to build a Formula 1 car (which he never did), before founding his next company called Società Autostar as a freelance design house (chassis and engines) in Livorno. One of his first clients was a a certain Ferruccio Lamborghini who was set on building a V12 engine and much like Bizzarrini, wasn’t best friends with Enzo. Bizzarrini took on the project and thus built Lamborghini’s first V12, with an architecture that was far ahead of what Ferrari was producing at the time and so powerful it had to be tuned down from its original 375 hp for street usage. This is in other words how Lamborghini’s first V12 came about, and you have to believe Giotto wasn’t too displeased to indirectly get back at Enzo…

The first Lambo V12 – Bizzarrini to the far left

Autostar under Bizzarrini also worked on a number of other cars, notably for Iso, another small Italian automaker from the 60’s, including the Iso Rivolta and Grifo, especially the race version of the Grifo called A3/C. For these, as well as for the later cars in the Bizzarrini name, he would however not be using that Lambo V12 but rather the small block Chevy V8 from the Corvette. Throughout his career he had developed a love for the larger volume, US engines, and even tried (unsuccessfully) to convince Ferrari to build a larger volume engine. A year later Giotto ended the collaboration with Iso, took the A3/C with him and fulfilled his dream by starting Automobili Bizzarrini Spa, where the A3/C was to become the first Bizzarrini car under the name GT 5300.

The GT 5300 was produced both in a Corsa (race) and a Strada (street) version, with a power output from the Chevy small block of between 350-400 hp. The car was front-mid-engined with the engine sitting behing the front axle, probably sharing quite a lot of heat with the passengers but above all, producing a sound out of this world… The body was a combination of aluminium and fibre glass, the rear axle was independent and brakes were inboard i.e. mounted on the axles such as to remove weight from the wheels, as notably on the Citroën SM. The box was a Chevy four-speed manual. Giotto raced the Corsa version himself notably in Le Mans, and it’s hard to believe today when you learn that doing so, he drove the car himself from Livorno to Le Mans, won his class and then drove back home!

The rear is the part most will have seen of the 5300 GT, and it’s a good-looking one!

Unfortunately, although there’s no doubt about his capabilities as an engineer, car designer or for that matter driver, Giotto Bizzarrini wasn’t very talented as a businessman. The race career never really took off, notably since Giotto didn’t have enough money to homologate the GT 5300 Corsa. Even worse, the whole company was permanently under-capitalized, the GT 5300 never became a success, and after the bankruptcy filing of the company in 1969, Giotto even admitted that he had not keep track of how many cars had been built. This is still a debated topic today. It’s clear that the GT 5300 Strada was the most popular car with presumably 50-75 cars produced. The Corsa version is estimated to have been built no more than 10 times, thus making it three times rarer than a GTO, and the following and last race car, the P 538, was only built a few times. So the total production of Bizzarrini during five years was probably no more than 100 cars. Those still in existance mostly sit in car museums (if you happen to be in LA, the Peterson Automobile Museum is said to have one) or personal collections, so I was indeed a lucky guy to see one parked in the street with the window half-opened!

I’m not a 100% sure but as late as last November Giotto was still alive, so chances are he still is, in that case 95 years old and most probably quite surprised to see the prices his cars fetch on the few occasions they change owners. A Bizzarrini would have been a great investment around 20 years ago when they traded for somewhere around USD 100.000, today you need to add a zero to that. But that’s of course not what makes the story special. Rather, it’s the story of a man who today counts as one of the gratest racing engineers ever, not only in Italy but globally, who developed Lamborghini’s first ever V12 and,who could probably have helped Ferrari became even more successful as a racing team, had Enzo had his wife and temper under control!

The bargain family 911!

If you’re part of the crowd for which Porsche is equal to a 911 and you’ve looked at the 911 market lately (or for that matter at any point during the last 10 years), you’d be forgiven for thinking that unless a 911 is already safely stored in your garage, the train has left the station. But while that is indeed true in the case of classical 911’s up until the 996, it’s slightly less true for later 911’s and very much less true for the other models in the Porsche line-up, which today make up 85% of the company’s production. Today we’ll talk about one of those models, one that doesn’t receive much attention, that was always slightly controversial in terms of its looks, but also one that in its first iteration offers an unbelievable value for money whilst being capable of transporting four adults and their luggage in a way that no other family sedan can. You guessed it – this week is about the Porsche Panamera.

Definitely a Porsche – but good-looking?

Porsche’s decision to start producing other models than the 911 had been taken many years before the Panamera, notably through the Cayenne in 2002. Wendelin Wiedeking, Porsche’s visionary CEO at the time and until 2009, had recognized that many 911 owners also had an SUV in their garage and wanted to have a share of that market, something he definitely succeeded in given the Cayenne today makes up alomost 1/3 of Porsche’s production. But then again everyone doesn’t want an SUV and Wiedeking also saw room in the market for a sports sedan-coupé, whatever you want to call it, the development of which ran during the 2000’s with the Panamera finally being launched in 2009. Importantly Wiedeking was not only visionary but also tall, and this is where the most criticized aspect of the Panamera – its roofline – comes into play.

It is said that at the beginning of the Panamera project, Wiedeking set as a condition for the car that he, and thereby well-grown adults, should be able to sit comfortably in the backseats (which in the first generation of the car were two separate seats, whereas later versions had the option of a 3-passenger rear bench). This forced the designers to raise the roofline which is what gives the Panamera its strange profile and earned it the nickname “buckle whale” in the home market Germany. Add to that the headlights resembling the Cayenne and some slightly strange-looking backlights, and you get a car that in the eyes of most is not beautiful, but luckily has a large number of other qualities that you experience once inside – which is where you spend your time anyway.

It’s clear to see where rear passengers have their heads!

It’s absolutely true that four adults travel in comfort in a Panamera, even when back passengers are over 180 cm. Contrary to many other coupé-GT’s the Panamera is a hatchback offering around 450 litres of luggage space, in addition to which the back seats can be folded. This is in other words a car that is fully capable of transporting not only people, but also their luggage. And if the exterior is controversial there is not much to say about the interior that is very nicely appointed and offers a true sports car feeling. Actually a 911 feeling, until you look over your shoulder and see the backseats. As so often a dark interior is to be preferred as it usually stands the test of time better – and make the few pieces of plastic that don’t have the real qualitiative look shine less.

“Pre-touchscreen” cars had a lot of buttons, but none more so than the Panamera’s center console!

The best part is of course the drive, which can be described as all the 911 feeling you can possibly get in a family car format. Going back to the Cayenne, it was at the launch said to convey the same 911 feeling in an SUV format, something all of us who have driven one know is not the case, as it can never be in a car riding as high as an SUV does. The Panamera is also a big car (almost five meters long and two meters wide) but it obviously rides much lower. At just under two tons it’s however no light-weight, making the driving experience even more impressive. Again, you won’t find a “family-compatible” car at an even remotedly similar price point (more on that below) that is more fun, precise and enjoyable. Two features that are important in that regard is opting for a car with PDK and if possible also air suspension which clearly enhances the ride quality.

The first generation Panamera was offered as two- or four-wheel drive with six- and eight-cylinder petrol engines and a six-cylinder diesel. There was also a six-cylinder hybrid but we’ll pass on that and the diesel here, as there is no doubt that the eight-cylinder is the engine that was intended for the car – just looking under the hood of a six-cylinder shows you that, as half the space is empty. Also, the only engine that has given rise to mechanical issues through the years is the 300 hp, petrol six-cylinder, so steer clear of it. The 400 hp Panamera S and 4S where offered along with the 500 hp double turbo Panamera Turbo from the start in 2009, and were complemented with the (naturally aspirated), 430 hp GTS and 550 hp Turbo S in 2011. Except for the “basic” 8-cylinder Panamera S, all other versions are four-wheel drive as standard and all except the S also come with a 7-speed PDK. I would go for one of those and basically let you be the judge of how much power you need. The GTS is in my view especially interesting, being a bit more unusual and the strongest of the naturally aspirated V8’s.

Replace these bags with more car-appropriate luggage and you’ll fit even more stuff!

The reason you can be the judge of how much power you need is also that in the second-hand market, where plenty of Panameras are to be found, it doesn’t really make a difference. A budget of EUR 30.-40.000 will get you plenty of great candidates of all configurations, and neither the type of engine nor the equipment level make them differ significantly in price. You don’t even need to go back to the first model year as that budget will also be sufficient for the 2011 GTS and Turbo S with around 100.000 km on the clock. There is for example currently a fully-loaded, 100.000 km Turbo S in Switzerland in fantastic condition, that cost CHF 290.000 as new, for sale for CHF 37.000… 100.000 km is of course no issue for a Porsche V8, as long as the car has been taken care of, preferrably has had one owner and comes with a complete service history. When it comes to options, the more is generally the better but you should probably steer clear of the ceramic brakes that are supposed to hold a lifetime, but often need to be replaced already around 100.000 km or so – at a cost of half the budget given above.

So there we go – a slightly strange-, but also expensive-looking four-seater Porsche, four-wheel drive with ample luggage space that is a true joy to drive, for the same money as a diesel Passat. Come to think of it, it’s also far more enjoyable and much cheaper than a family XC90… Unfortunately the Panamera can do many things really well, but fitting a dog cage isn’t one of them, so I’ll have to pass on this one. If it wasn’t for the dog (stop looking at me like that!), a 2011-2012, well-equipped GTS with standard brakes sounds pretty unbeatable in terms of value for money!

Car trips and car memories…

The pandemic does many things to us, and I’m sure I’m not the only one taking more time to reflect on the past (or maybe it’s just age, who knows…). Anyway I was sitting contemplating the other day and quickly realized how many of the old memories are linked to one of the many cars I’ve owned or experienced in various ways. Given you read this blog I dare guess it may be the same for you as well? So in a slightly philosophical way, I thought I’d take you down part of my own memory lane this week.

By the time you read this (and assuming you do so in the week after publication), we’re in Zermatt for a hopefully wonderful skiing week ahead (yes, we are lucky to live in a country where ski stations are still open!). We drove here from Zurich in the family car par excellence, a Polestar-treated XC90 (at least that…) which was packed to the limit as next to our family my daughter’s boyfriend is also here with us. The first time in 20 years or so we had someone else outside of the family as part of a longer trip but obviously a natural – and enjoyable! – evolution. Living in central Europe since our children were small, car trips have been very much part of their life since their youngest years, and we always had issues understanding other families telling us about how their children screamed after 30 minutes in the car and asked when they’d be arriving. For us it was the contrary,..

The only cars you see i car-free Zermatt are the electrical taxis and hotel cars…

Many of these trips were between Switzerland and my native Sweden where we had a summer house during ten years. Roughly 1600 kms in one direction, usually over two days with the night spent in northern Germany. I remember these trips well, the cities we passed, the route that became familiar through the years, the places we spent the night (nothing better than a real German Schnitzel & Weissbier after a day of Autobahn!) and of course also the feeling, especially at the time the family car was the AMG E63, when the left lane opened up and you could floor it! What I don’t remember is the time no doubt wasted in congestion and heavy traffic – somehow you forget about that, even when it felt hopeless at the time. The most vivid memory was however 7-8 years ago, when my wife and I had decided to fly up to Sweden instead and spare the children the long car trip. Upon announcing this my daughter (who was in her early teens) burst out in tears – for her, the car trip was equal to the start of our vacation, and something she looked forward to. So the flight tickets were cancelled and we were back on the road.

The picture left didn’t happen very often, but I remember that more than the picture right…

The Triumph TR4 I had during almost ten years was another source of vivid memories. From finding it in Copenhagen early December to driving it from Basle (where it had been shipped to) to Zurich a few weeks later in far from ideal oldtimer weather. Basle is no more than 100km from Zurich but it was still a bit of a shock when after coming home, the oldtimer specialist I went to for a check-through said “it’s a good thing you only drove here from around the corner, because these breaks are nothing but rust…”. After that, as long-time readers of the blog will know I was extremely lucky with the TR4, hardly having a single issue over all the years. The most memorable trip I did was no doubt the one my wife and I took to Lausanne 5-6 years ago. We chose the small roads, over many mountain passes, even running into a real Swiss cow festival. A car memory that definitely sticks, but unfortunately in the end, those trips were too few and far between, reason why I sold the TR4 last year.

A very memorable trip, but unfortunatley there wasn’t enough of them!

There have been many cars through years but going all the way back to the beginning when I was 18 and got my first car, a -75 Golf, as blue as the ocean, with a beige interior. I bought the already well-used Golf in northern Sweden, drove it the 600km or so to Stockholm, and then all the way from Stockholm to Florence for a summer language course. I still remember arriving to Florence late one evening, with the rain pouring down and a map on my lap to help me find my way in a completely unknown city. It took a while and I had an early practice of Italian ahead of the course when I had to ask for help, but I finally made it. It may be a surprise to younger readers but it was indeed possible to find places before GPS’s, and it had the additional benefit of actually having to speak to people! After the course I drove the car from Florence to Nice, had it there for a year whilst studying at university, and then drove all the way back to Stockholm. By that time my Golf had around 270.000 km on the clock and I hadn’t had a single issue during the 15-20.000 km or so it had been mine. There is truly something special with your first car!

Even more special than your first car is perhaps your first car memory, which for me is linked to the years we lived in Monaco when I was a child. I’ll never forget the weekends we spent skiing in the southern Alps in the winter. Most of the way back would typically be one big traffic jam, and you would always have the tough guys driving past the whole line on the narrow mountain roads, calculating that they would somehow be able to get back in line when someone came in the other direction. It mostly worked, but not always, as proven one time by a Renault 5 Turbo II that passed us and a few hundred meters later had crashed straight into another car. You’re certainly allowed to be nostalgic over old cars, but it’s important to remember that most things were not better before – car deformation zones being one of them!

A great car we’re yet to explore on the blog – but not famous for its deformation zones…

Now the children have grown up and this ski trip is perhaps the last family car vacation we do together. The XC90 is a lease for another couple of years so I’ll guess it’ll stay with us until then, but as you know I replaced the TR4 with my 650 convertible last year, hoping that will be the main transport for my wife and I when the children start their own lives. The Beamer will hopefully become a source of new car memories to treasure in the future and I do look forward to them, just as I know we all look forward to the day we can return to a more normal life than most of us have right now. So hang in there and until that day comes, make sure you cherish your own car memories and stories – and perhaps share them with someone!

Supercars and superblondes!

This week I thought we’d dream a bit about some truly dream-like cars. Cars that will not hit the road in the form they’re presented, where pictures speak louder than words, and where inspiration for the post comes from non less than Supercar Blondie. For those not familiar with her, her real name is Alex Hirschi, she’s originally from Australia but today lives in Dubai where she’s made a living as a vlogger on supercars, You may want to follow her on @supercarblondie or through Youtube. Anyway Blondie recently posted a top 5 of these kinds of dream cars that you can see by clicking here:

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=224429845838863

I decided to take a closer look at them, so in the order defined by Supercar Blondie, and with more pictures than words, here we go!

5. Mercedes-Maybach Project 6

Originally presented in Pebble Beach in 2016 as a coupé and a year later in Monterey as a convertible, the Project 6 is a 6-metre long retro-design by excellence, powered by a 750 hp all electrical engine capable of charging up to 350 kW, meaning 100 km in around five minutes. This 2+2 coupé and convertible are in the words of the chief design officer Gorden Wagener both “hot & cool”, and you could add to that both modern and retro, the former on the interior, the latter on the exterior. However you want to call it, it’s a beautiful automobile!

4. GT by Citroën

No mistake – this is really a Citroën and actually a concept that was presented back in 2008, but that doesn’t look a day old. As is the case with the Lambo further down it was developed for a computer game, in this case Gran Turismo 5. It’s a mid-engined, two-seater coupé that in the game used a hydrogen, fuel cell engine, but that in real life in the prototype built has the V8 from the Mk II Ford GT (that I covered a few weeks ago, see here if you missed it). That explains the sound in Supercar Blondie’s video above. It was rumoured back in 2009 that Citroën would built six of these for road usage, it’s however unclear if that ever happened.

3. Bugatti Atlantic

Carrying the name of a true legend (the Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic), the Atlantic is the car that was never built. It was supposed to complement the Bugatti line-up back in 2015 but a lack of resources within VW meant that it never got that far. That’s really a shame, because it’s difficult to imagine a more beautiful car. The retro elements are in perfect balance with the more modern parts, it’s easy to see that the true life version is even nicer than the pictures, and both the doors and the booth are a real party trick, as illustrated in the video… I want one!!

2. Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR

A bit more text here since the AVTR is a very interesting creation that will not hit the roads in the current form, but elements of which will hopefully do so in other Mercedes models over the coming years. In short, the AVTR (meaning Advanced Vehicle Transformation) is Mercedes’s vision for the future. The shape of the car was developed together with the team behind Avatar and to start there, the rear features a full panel of solar panels that will generate enough energy to handle so called secondary functions in the car, enabling the 110 kW batteries to be used fully for range maximization, of up to 700 km. The fact that each wheel is independent means the car can drive sideways up to 30%, as shown in the video.

The battery pack is extremely interesting since it’s based on a new organic battery technology with a high-tension, compact battery on the basis of graphene. Organic means the battery doesn’t need the rare metals that are one of the main issues of today’s batteries, as highlighted in my post a few weeks ago (see here). This also means that the battery is recyclable to 100%.

Finally the interior is a chapter in itself. There is no longer a steering wheel but rather a central pad that recognizes you when you put your hand on it, and that moves as you move your hand. The windscreen becomes an augmented reality screen, and the seats are made in a new kind of bio-degradable Dinamica material. I would guess the material from the seats will hit production quicker than the steering pad…

1. Lamborghini Vision GT

Perhaps the most spectacular car of all five mentioned here is the Vision GT. Next to the Citroën it’s also the other car that was developed for a video game, in this case Gran Turismo 2019 for PS4. Lambo then built a single unit of the car, which even by Sant’ Agata standards has to be described as design-wise rather extreme! The single-seater is super low with wings and a massive diffusor at the back, wheels and brake pads are gold plated, and the combination of the same Lamborghini V12 as in the Siàn, and a small electrical engine gives a total power output of 804 hp. I thought I had seen it all when I saw Lambo’s Sesto Elemento but this thing is in a league of its own, although it will most probably never hit production. Our star of the week Supercar Blondie made a nice video of the car that tells the story much better than I can and that you’ll find here! https://youtu.be/_SB7h2kB6Eg

The most exciting Citroën ever!

What do Leonid Brezhnev (ex Soviet leader), Idi Amin (ex Ugandan dictator) and Adam Clayton (present U2 member) have in common? Well, hopefully not more than the fact that they were all proud owners of one of the most legendary cars of all times and the subject of this week’s post – the wonderful Citroën SM! Actually so did further, less democratic guys like Haile Selassie and the shah of Iran, but let’s please not consider this wonderful automobile creation as a transport for dictators – it was more a testament to the position of the SM as one of the most spectacular cars in the world at the time of launch, and therefore something political leaders of different kinds (and also including some more democratic ones like the French president) were keen to be seen in.

I’ve wanted to write about the SM for a long time as to me, no other car symbolizes the true innovation and great engineering from the mechanical age. Long before computers, the SM had some features that it’s taken the automobile world 40 years to catch up with, as we’ll see below. And it was all packed in a format that in my opinion has stood the test of time better than most. And…. Hold it. Before I get too carried away, let’s take it from the beginning, which in the case of the SM means going back to the early 60’s.

Some of you may remember my post on the Goddess, the Citroën DS last summer, that you can otherwise read here. The DS had been launched in 1955, and ever since, Citroën had wanted to add a more luxurious but beyond that, initially quite undefined luxury car to its line-up. This project went under the name S and was officially started in the early 60’s. When Citroën aquired Maserati in -68, the plans to build a GT had taken shape, and the SM was launched in 1970 with an engine provided by the new Italian colleagues. Or rather, an engine newly developed by them, since there was not enough room for the Maserati V8 of the time under the bonnet of the SM, and so it had to be shortened to a V6 with an unusual 90 degree angle. The volume was limited to 2.7 litres, a tribute to France’s fiscal system that ever since WW2 has been very mean to large engine volumes. And so, the Citroën SM also became known as the Maserati Citroën, and was the only Citroën ever to use a Maserati engine.

V6 far back behind the gearbox and suspension clocks

The DS had a futuristic form when it was launched back in 1955, and the SM was no less remarkable in that regard. The body has the shape of a droplet with a wider front than rear axle, as was also the case in the DS. The sleak body with the typical back wheel covers and the abrupt rear all helped achieve a wind resistance CV-value of 0.26, basically unheard of at the time. In its low position (more on the suspension below) the car looks very futuristic still to this day, and it should be noted that in spite of the shape, the SM offers sufficient room for 4, including a boot of a reasonable size. It was only sold in one version that equipment-wise was very complete, and the SM was in other words a true GT.

So what about all the innovations? Well, to start off, the SM obviously retained the hydraulic, self-leveling suspension system from the DS. I covered it in the post last summer I won’t do so again, but given it can be adjusted in height, the SM can go from very low to indeed very high by using a mechanical lever on the left side of the driver’s seat. The high position could for example be used on uneven roads or in snow, the lowest corresponds to its “resting” position. But there is a lot beyond the suspension to be mentioned. This includes the turning headlights that saw into corners, and that were also featured on late DS’s. There are the rain-sensitive windshield wipers, a first that it took decades for other car brands to replicate, the inboard front disc breaks, reducing the unsprung weight of the wheels and thereby improving ride quality, and of course the steering called DIRAVI, providing much assistance at low speeds and progressively less as the speed increases, again a first at the time. The DIRAVI steering in the SM had only 2 turns from lock to lock and a very strong centering back. In combination with the mushroom brake, another feature taken from the DS, the steering makes anyone driving an SM for the first time look like a beginner. Just as you will always apply too much breaking pressure, you will also steer far too much. The SM is a car that you have to learn, but when you do, boy does it allow you to travel in utter comfort and style!

The rear is the least beautiful part, but the shape helped the CV value

Unfortunately the Maserati wasn’t very spectacular but it sure sounded better and was more powerful than the 4-cylinder Citroën had used in the DS. With a power output of 174 hp it put the SM in the middle of the GT pack at the time in terms of performance, with a time of something like 8.5 seconds to 100 but given the aerodynamic shape, a top speed around 220 km/h, making it the fastest front-wheel drive car in the world in 1970. The shape also saves fuel as an SM will roll better than most modern cars without loosing much speed. Given it’s a 50-year old construction, that in itself is quite remarkable!

Citroën thus built a Maserati-powered car that was unlike anything the world had seen, and unlike anything it had driven as well. The car is far sportier than the DS with the exhaust providing a relatively raw exhaust note. Ride comfort is exquisite and superior to the DS, and once you get used to the steering and breaking, the SM is a cruiser by excellence. it’s actually capable of much more than that, as proven by some rally wins in the early 70’s. The standard power output didn’t make it a sports car however, and today few would think of doing more than cruising, something it excels in.

Ferari-like gear shift, radio between the seats, as it was later on the CX

Unfortunately, after a 5-year run and 12.900 cars produced, the SM story came to an end due to a number of factors. For one, Citroën had gone bankrupt in 1974 and been taken over by Peugeot who were far less keen on the SM and also on Maserati, that they sold a few years later. Secondly, the SM had always been destined for the US but ran into various issues in the US market, notably the fact that headlights at the time had to be fixed in the US, so the turning headlights had to be replaced by some of the ugliest fixed lights the world has ever seen. Thirdly, Citroën messed up a bit in terms of after-service both in the US and elsewhere. They didn’t give the US market the attention it deserved and they didn’t make buyers aware of some quite critical timing chain adjustments. This latter point was also a more general problem with the Maserati engine, which Citroën garages often didn’t know how to handle, meaning owners basically had to visit two different garages to service the car. Not a recipe for success and after five years, production of the SM came to an end.

Like so many other youngtimers, finding a good SM today has become an expensive story that starts somewhere around EUR 50.000. As said there is only one version and most cars are also manual, as they should be. Injection models made up some 3500 of the total production are to be preferred, all else equal. Otherwise your attention should go to a thorough check of the body where rust can hide in many places, and a likewise very thorough check of the engine. The timing belt issue can be fixed and has been so on many cars, make sure to choose one of these. Obviously check the suspension as well and how it has been maintained, but of the three areas mentioned, that’s by far the least worrisome one.

I don’t fall in love with all cars I write about, but I find the SM very, very hard to resist. No doubt there are many astounding innovations on our modern cars, but there is something truly special with the revolutionary stuff that was developed by engineers with the help of nothing but brains and tools. No other car pays tribute to the mechanical age better than the SM with its unique shape, its many ground-breaking innovations and of course, the lovely sound of the Maserati engine. A few weeks ago when writing about the DeLorean, I got some criticism for referring to it as legendary. Point taken in that regard, but I’ll dare use the word again when speaking of the SM – I really struggle to imagine a more legendary car!

EV’s don’t save the climate – far from it

“They should all buy an old Defender instead – no car is more sustainable given none has even close to the same lifetime,” laughed the guy next to me at a dinner party quite a few years back. Electric mobility was still young and our discussion had been on Tesla and the future of EV’s in general. In my first post for the year I promised to write less about EV’s going forward as this isn’t the main point of interest for you, dear readers. I will stay true to that promise but before closing out, I actually feel the need to set the record straight on a few things related to electric mobility and sustainable transportation, that somehow never make it into the headlines. All that glitters is not gold, a saying that is definitely applicable to EV’s, but where hard facts are often surprisingly difficult to come by. I’ve tried and suggest we look behind the glossy ads at some facts on electric cars before moving on to happier topics!

The older a car is, the more sustainable it becomes, so this is unwise…

Let me start by saying that I have nothing against EV’s. It’s an interesting technology with far greater efficiency than traditional petrol (3x) and diesel (2x) engines. The immediate and permanent torque is a thrill everytime you experience it, and battery research is progressing fast, with the first solid state batteries perhaps hitting production in 3-4 years. This would be a further boost to the whole EV market given the far greater efficiency and shorter charging times. That’s all great. The issue however is that EV’s are marketed in ads with blue skies and green pastures as the clean alternative to petrol cars. Unfortunately, that’s not true – and quite far from it.

Polestar, Volvo’s EV company, did something very unusual a few weeks ago. They came out and told the world how many kilometres the electrical Polestar 2 needs to be driven to achieve a CO2 advantage over a regular, petrol XC40. The issue comes from the fact that whereas the two cars are similar in construction, producing the battery pack in an EV is a real CO2 bomb. The Swedish Environmental Agency has calculated that a mid-sized car battery pack, such as the one you find in a Polestar 2, causes around 17.5 tons of CO2 emissions during its production, which, as Volvo reported, is equivalent to roughly 78.000 kms in a petrol XC40. So in other words, only from then onwards are you actively contributing to lower CO2 emissions. In a Tesla or other EV with a larger battery pack, the number is even higher. Conservatively assuming 100.000 kms and looking quickly at the 165 Model S currently for sale in Switzerland, only 20% have more than that on the clock, meaning 80% are in other words still in “CO2 deficit” as compared to traditional cars. By the time most of them reach the required mileage, they will have changed owners once or twice.

A Model S battery pack with a total of 15 modules

So far, this is all based on the assumption that the electricity you charge your EV with is clean, so that no further emissions are caused once the car hits the road. That of course depends on where you live. Here in Switzerland where roughly 60% of energy comes from water and around 30% from nuclear (with in other words less than 10% coming from renewables), it usually is. The same is generally true for the Nordics and France, a champion of nuclear power (71% of the energy mix) and renewables (23%). In the US, more than 50% of electricity still comes from fossil fuels and in Germany, while the mix includes a whopping 46% of renewables, there is also close to 40% of coal and natural gas (and where exploration of the latter is currently causing a little-discussed environmental catastrophy in Siberia…). The reason for this is Germany’s decision to close nuclear plants, something many other European countries have decided to do as well in the coming years. In some rather large countries therefore, being sure the electricity that goes into your EV is clean is not a given, and will be conditional on your country investing a heck of a lot in renewables over the coming years. Germany’s “Energiewende” has so far cost north of EUR 500bn and has still not managed to lower total emissions, so this will take time – and money.

This would be a really clean, but not very efficient, energy source…

Next to emissions there is also the really dark part of the story, namely metals and other materials of the battery pack. In terms of environmental concerns the two really problematic ones are graphite and cobalt. 54 kgs of graphite go into every Tesla Model S, typically produced in China, but no one can tell you the environmental impact of its production as there are no conclusive studies on this. That itself is rather noteworthy, but those having looked at it all seem to agree that it’s a pretty dirty business with significant emissions of various bad stuff. As for cobalt, we all have a few grams of it in our mobile phones, but in a typical EV there is 5-10 kgs. Looking just at Tesla’s production of around 500.000 EV’s in 2020, that’s a whopping 2.500-5.000 tonnes of cobalt for the cars built in 2020 alone, usually originating in Congo, one of Africa’s poorest countries that makes up 60% of global cobalt production, with Chinese mining companies being the largest operators. The human cost of these mines has been highlighted many times, as has the pollution of water systems, displacement of villages and miserable working conditions. It’s a very sad story, unlikely to change in the short term.

A cobalt digger in Congo, Not a picture you will see in an EV brochure (Source: Washington Post).

Traditional cars pollute and our efforts should no doubt focus on reducing all types of emissions (CO2 and other) of the transportation sector. EV’s are however not the simple solution they are portrayed to be. As per today, from an environmental point of view, a large majority of EV drivers would have done the planet a greater service had they bought a conventional, used car, and that will remain the case for quite some time. As the world moves towards more renewables, electric mobility will improve on the whole, but without fundamental progress to our battery technology, some serious issues will remain. Therefore, as an example, it’s a bit sad how little alternative, clean technogies such as fuel cell / hydrogen cars are discussed.

Until we get there, don’t buy the old Defender my table neighbour suggested, as that generation of diesel engines is quite a dirty bunch. Do however by yourself a relatively modern used car and for some of the money you save, a good bike for shorter transport. It will both be better for the planet than a new EV, and also contribute to your fitness while saving you quite a lot of money!

Ford GT – more than just cubic inches!

“There’s no substitue for cubic inches” is an old car saying obviously originating in the US, where the preference has always been (and still is, albeit to a somewhat lesser extent) for large engine volumes and more cylinders. As we today round up what has a bit unplanned become a number of posts on US cars lately (you may have seen the previous recent posts on the ultra rare Studebaker Avanti and the film-star DeLorean), we’ll take a closer look at what is to my mind the only real modern US supercar, and one that delivers far more than only cubic inches: the truly great Ford GT.

A very well-proportioned, an at 111 cm, low supercar!

Obviously there’s not one but rather three generations of Ford GT’s: the original car from the 60’s called Ford GT40, shown in the banner of this post, (40 being the height of the car in inches, corresponding to 102 cm), of which only 134 were produced between 1964 and 1968. 40 years later, Ford gave itself a 100-year birthday present in the form of the Ford GT (no numbers in the name but the new car was 44 inches high, i.e. 9 cm taller than the 60’s car) that we’ll look closer at today. Ford’s 100-year anniversary corresponded more or less to the 40-year anniversary of the original GT40 and to the first year of production of the GT, 2004 (Ford was in fact created in 1903).

Finally, in 2017 Ford brought out the new GT. Still in production, this was obviously a new car but one that looked pretty much like the old, and with as most visible difference to the -04 version a more modern double-turbo six-cylinder replacing the supercharged V8. The new GT was also developed as a track car, which its predecessor isn’t. Oh, and then there’s the small detail around the price, with the new GT having a price tag of around a million as new, and anything in the secondary market not coming much cheaper. That makes the previous version a bit of a bargain, and as discussed below, at least from some angles a better option!

A truly purposeful rear!

When the GT came out in 2004 it was conceptually a very traditional and rather analogue supercar developed for the road. The big engine was a 5.4l V8 with a supercharger, mid-mounted and producing 558 hp (thanks to an easy ECU-modification, many cars put out 600-700 hp…). The car is of course rear-wheel drive with a six-speed manual transmission. So far so good. But the real analogue nature of the car becomes clear when you learn that the GT has no technical driving aides – at all! This is of course unthinkable in a modern supercar and means it’s really up to you and the big V8 in the back – as it should be.

The development of the GT was led by Ford’s long time CTO and head of product development, Richard Parry Jones. He’s notably well-known for suggesting that building a supercar is easy compared to building an excellent car for the masses, and given how great the GT is and how not-very-great for example the Mondeo is, another car Parry Jones led the development of, he seems to be on to something. Then again it would also seem he’s more apt at the former task than the latter. Coming back to the car, Parry Jones and Ford gave it a great chassis, a fantastic balance, good breaks, a great stickshift with a clutch as easy as in a Fiesta, and also a precise and well-balanced steering. This was all very surprising given, well, that it’s a Ford, but it all contributed to a great total package, obviously with the supercharged 8-cylinder as the cherry on the cake. Again the car does without any traction control and those not careful enough will quickly need a couple of new rear wheels as the car willingly spins them in 1st, 2nd and 3rd gear, given the massive torque of 774 Nm!

Rev counter nicely in the middle, stickshift tilted towards the driver.

Approaching a GT means approaching a truly great-looking supercar. The influences from the 60’s original are clear but in my humble opinion, Ford hasn’t fallen in the retro-trap but rather created a car that just looks good. It does so on the inside as well, although here the heritage from the wider Ford family shines through in some switches and instruments. Then again some controls are proper to the GT, so overall it’s an ok interior. The two coolest features are the rev counter, that sits right in front of you in the middle of the gauge cluster, vs the speedometer that sits halfway to the passenger, and secondly the fact that the stick shift is tilted towards you. There are however drawbacks as well, and not just the Ford family switches: firstly the doors include a large part of the roof (the price to pay when you build a car that’s only 111 cm tall…), meaning you need to watch your head carefully and basically open them fully to enter, which isn’t really great in tight parking garages. The second, even more serious drawback is that the car has no room for luggage, neither up front where insted of a trunk the various fluids etc. are located, nor in the cabin itself, meaning you can’t take what is arguably one of the greatest drives out there for a weekend trip, unless you buy what you need when you get to your destination. Then again, if you can afford the car, maybe that’s what you do…

A lesser opening angle means hitting your head in the “roof door”…

When the GT came out in -04, its competitors were the usual suspects from Modena (360 and 430), Sant’ Agata (Gallardo) and Zuffenhausen (given the power, the 911 Turbo and conceptually, even the Carrera GT). Nobody would buy a Ford for the badge in this company, especially since it’s today the most expensive of the bunch (except for the Carrera GT), but you may well do so for the quality of the car, assuming you don’t need luggage. There is also advantages associated with the Ford badge, such as the car being far more solid and less of a primadonna than some of the named competitors. Again, it’s a Ford, and although it will cost more than a Fiesta to service, you’ll be quite far away from other supercars in terms of maintenance. And to me, it’s by far the best looking of the bunch!

When the GT was new it cost between USD 150.000-200.000 depending on market. Today you can expect to pay at least 50-100% more, and actually the GT never lost value, always trading at or above the initial selling price. Around 4.000 were built between 2004-2006, showing that a small number of a great car is a good way to keep values strong. A couple of special edition cars have gone through the roof in terms of pricing, but EUR 250.000-300.000 buys you a truly great, real American supercar!

DeLorean – back to the past

If you’re a petrol head born sometime between the mid-60’s and the mid-70’s, there’s probably few cars that you were more excited about in your youth than the famous DeLorean. Thinking of it, you probably didn’t even need to be a petrol head to find the car exciting. The looks, the gullwing doors, the unpainted, stainless steel body, the story around John DeLorean himself and of course, the car’s appearance in the “Back to the future”-movies have all contributed to this being one of the most famous cars from the 80’s.

In 1981 this was really back to the future!

Somewhat surprisingly we’ve never written about the DeLorean on the blog and it definitely feels like it’s time to change that, also as I met a very nice DeLorean owner with his car not too long ago. This week’s post will therefore be on the car with almost a decade-long delivery time but that was only in production for 18 months, that at the launch was hopelessly overpriced and under-powered, and likewise the car whose creator was charged in a major drug smuggling case!

The car commonly referred to as the “DeLorean” was the only car ever built by the DMC, the DeLorean Motor Corporation, founded by John DeLorean in 1973. DeLorean had previously made a name for himself at General Motors in the muscle car era as lead engineer and vice president at Pontiac and later at Chevrolet. After many years at GM he got bored with what he perceived like a lack of innovation. He decided to leave, set up his own company and launch what he called an ethical sports car with notably more focus on safety than was the standard at the time.

The DeLorean was designed by Giugiaro, however based on an existing proposal Giugiaro had submitted to Porsche as an idea for the coming Porsche 928, but that Porsche had turned down. By 1975 the design was completed and apart from (very) minor tweaks remained unchanged until the car was finally launched in 1981. The initial plan was to use a 6-cylinder engine from Ford. That was then dropped for the four-cylinder engine from the Citroen CX (yep, really!), but in the end even DeLorean he had to realize that the power at just over 100 hp in the US due to stricter emission regulations was not enough. Finally it was decided to use the so called PRV 6-cylinder engine from notably the Renault 30 and the Volvo 760. In “US mode” the engine put out around 130 hp, better than 100 but still far less than somewhat comparable competitors.

The long development time was also caused by DeLorean realizing that his thinking around safety features wasn’t viable in the end and that some features such as a full-width knee bar in the interior had to be rethought. He therefore took in Colin Chapman from Lotus quite late in the process, who looked at the prototype and saw a need for re-working large parts of the car. When it was finally launched in 1980, the DeLorean was built on the Lotus steel chassis from the Esprit and had the engine not in the middle but in the rear, as the 911 (but unfortunately without the power of the latter). During the car’s development, the intention had been for it to be named the DMC-12, where 12 would refer to USD 12.000 as its sticker price. By the time deliveries started that price tag had more than doubled and the name was thus dropped for the more neutral DeLorean.

All cars were unpainted at delivery, so any other colour is an after-job

Around 9.000 DeLoreans were built in total in 1981-1982 in a factory in northern Ireland before being shipped to the US. The factory was financed by UK taxpayer money as a way to bring jobs to the region but didn’t last long as DeLorean filed for receivership at the end of 1982. As illustrated by the selling price, the long development time had caused costs to spiral out of control and although the car was well received for its futuristic looks, many prospective buyers were disappointed by the lack of innovation on the inside and again, the lack of power. To be fair though, had DeLorean gone on a bit longer such as to start selling cars in Europe, the power output would have been significantly higher at around 160 hp, thanks to more generous regulations, which would have been more in line with comparable cars at the time. There were also thoughts around a double-turbo version with over 250 hp, but that was never to be.

Interior was available in grey or black and wasn’t bad, but quite conventional

Back then to my newfound friend a few weeks ago who graciously showed me his DeLorean. It is indeed a spectacular car with notably the steel body panels looking really timeless and very cool, as do of course the doors. Who knows, if the first “Back to the future” had come out in 1981 rather than 1985, perhaps that would have given DeLorean enough of a boost to go on a bit longer? The car’s interior is far less innovative with a very 80’s feel to it. Here DeLorean had wanted a more futuristic thinking with digital displays and gauges, but again delays and costs forced him to adopt a more conventional look. The owner told me that driving-wise the car is much more of a cruiser than a sports car. He says he was happy to have a manual box rather than the slow automatic, but also that the PRV isn’t the sportiest of engines. He also mentioned what all DeLorean owners can probably testify to, which is that half the pleasure from driving the car comes from all the happy smiles, thumbs up and photographies from bystanders and other drivers.

Not a car for those not comfortable with being in the limelight!

Next to the lack of power DeLorean was also criticized for bad build quality, especially in the interior. This was probably true but then again I can’t really think of an 80’s car with an interior that has stood the test of time. The truth is that interiors were pretty bad over the board at the time and seen from that angle, the DeLorean at least doesn’t look worse than the rest. The owner hadn’t had any major issues but admitted that small things do break, a lot of them electrical. From that perspective it was probably a good thing that DeLorean didn’t have enough money for his more futuristic ideas… What is very good however, is that the car enjoys a very strong following and very active owner clubs in varous countries. It is believed that more than 6.000 of the 9.000 DeLoreans produced are still on the road today which is a truly impressive number, testifying both to a quality that can’t be that bad, and also a well functioning parts supply through the owners’ network.

So what about the drug dealing charges? Well, it’s kind of a strange story, but in 1982 DeLorean was arrested and charged with cocaine smuggling. He fought the case several years in courts and was finally acquitted of all charges, and it appears the whole thing had been an FBI setup, the purpose of which isn’t really clear. What is, is that following the bankruptcy of DeLorean, John tried to start a number of new businesses but was unable to find investors for any of them. Having been charged in a drug smuggling case probably didn’t help, even if he was acquitted…

Dreamcar builder, playboy, indirect filmstar – but probably not a drug smuggler

So there you are – almost. Because following the demise of DeLorean, in 1983 all remaining parts and stock of unsold cars were shipped to Ohio where they sat a few years until they were acquired by a company in Texas called… the DeLorean Motor Company. Still in existance today and present across the US, the “new” DMC built new DeLoreans out of spare parts, sell spare parts, and service and restores DeLoreans. They’ve also had plans to bring back the DeLorean as an electric car for a number of years, but whether that will ever happen is unclear at best – the original launch date was in 2013. If you’re interested in finding out more, check out http://www.delorean.com.

The new DeLorean company, the many owners’ clubs and hereby the good supply of spare parts along with an engine that was widely used and for which parts can also be found thus make the DeLorean a less problematic car to own than you may suspect. Should you be convinced, it should be noted that values of DeLoreans have gone up in the last years and around EUR 50.000 is what a good car will cost you. Looking across the Atlantic could definitely also be worth it, notably thanks to the new DeLorean Motor Company. As with all cars from this period, the manual version is to be preferred over the automatic which will make the experience even slower. The limited power means it’s not much of a sports car and the interior is nowhere near as spectacular as the stainless steel body with the gullwing doors, but few designs have stood the test of time as well, few still catch as much attention and arguably, few cars make you feel more like an 80’s filmstar!

12 things to expect – or not – in 2021

So here we are, in the new year 2021, and no doubt all of us hope it will be a more positive one than 2020! In the car world there will certainly be lots going on, notably in terms of new sportscar launches, a few of which I highlighted in an earlier post you can read here. With a highly interesting 2021 line-up in F1 (see my latest post on that here for more details), there will hopefully be no lack of excitement there either!

To start off the year in style, I’ve compiled a list of things that can be expected – or not – in 2021. 12 to be more exact, each one corresponding to the first letter of the 12 months. This is not a prediction that they will happen in that particular month, or indeed that they will happen at all, so don’t take it too seriously!

January – as in jolly bloody happy that the new year has begun and with hopes that it will be an easier one than the last one, and that all of us get the opportunity to take our very personal dream roadtrips!

February – as in F1, and a new season that looks very exciting although it won’t start until March. Following Red Bull’s decision mid-December to replace Alex Albon with Sergio Perez, I would claim that 1) the three top teams (assuming here Ferrari finds its way again) have very competitive line-ups and that 2) the teams just behind have at least one top driver. For memory, assuming Lewis Hamilton does finally sign up for the new year, Mercedes will have him and Valtteri, Red Bull will have Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, and Ferrari obviously Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. And then right behind, McLaren has Daniel Ricciardo, Renault has the returning Fernando Alonso, and Racing Point (Aston Martin from next year) Seb Vettel, really hoping he can return to form. Let the races begin!

They will both be wearing different colors next year!

March – as in motor engines, and most probably the continued growth of electrical. The question is how far and how fast? On the bright side, in Germany in 2020 when the market as a whole was down 22% in new sales, electrical and hybrid cars grew their market share more than four times, and experts now speak of 2020 as the year of the electrical breakthrough. On the less positive side, looking for example at the Ionity charging network across Europe, it’s still many miles away from what Tesla offers, meaning European electrical cars (not hybrids) are still mostly charged at home and thereby reserved for shorter trips. All in all, even though I was negative on Tesla in Europe a while ago (see here), there’s no doubt electrical cars as such will continue to grow, the question is how much and how fast.

No cylinders here…

April – as in autonomous driving, which arguably doesn’t add to the thrill of driving but does add to the safety – although as some incidents notably with Tesla have helped us realize, staying awake and looking at the road ahead is still to be recommended. That’s anyway what you still need to do in many countries, even touching the wheel from time to time, as technology once again is far ahead of legislation. Don’t expect that gap to close in 2021.

Not to be recommended – yet

May – as in Maserati MC20 and all the other great sports cars coming to market, some of which I mentioned in the post referenced above. This is a segment where electricity is setting in big time, with the MC20 as one of few exceptions. You have to wonder how long we will still have alternatives, to electric power, especially of the 8- and 12 cylinder kind!

It may be one of the last of its kind

June – as in Japanese automakers and the question whether I’m the only one feeling that it’s time for them to hit us with something a bit more interesting than what’s been the case in the last years? This is the country that used to give us cool Skylines, supercar beauties like the NSX and more recently the Nürburgring record setting Nissan GT-R. That’s 10 years ago now, and this year, Nissan launched a new GT-R that looks exactly like the old one. And as for the NSX’s replacement, firstly it was delayed for an eternity and when it then came, it didn’t blow anyone out of his seat. Not much else has happened except a few more wings on the latest Type R hot hatch, that may be excellent but that just by its looks scares away any sane person over 30. C’mon Japan, give us something to drool about again!

I’ll have the one on the left please

July – as in jailtime, which is what you will spend in some countries if you’re caught speeding heavily. This isn’t new, but what is, and what’s currently being implemented in a number of countries, is measuring your speed over a distance. That’s a real bummer that takes the fun away quickly – and makes it expensive. In Italy where they use a system called Tutor, they at least have the decency of telling you in advance, which is obviously what you do if you’re more interested in lowering speeds and less in filling the state reserves. That will surely not be the case everywhere…

This is a bad sign

August – as in Aston Martin, where ex AMG-boss Tobias Moers will by August have been behind the wheel for a year. Moers has ambitious plans and a solid financial base, notably from chairman and 17% owner Lawrence Stroll, and also a solid collaboration with Mercedes-Benz which own a further 20% in the company. Moers wishes to see a more engineering-led Aston going forward and has in a rare interview also said that he wishes Aston to work more with the Mercedes engineers in Germany, and derive more engines from AMG. We all wish them viel Glück!

A lot of Aston’s future is riding on the DBX

September – as in solid state, and generally what I believe will be required to really give electric mobility the final push it needs, i.e. a significant advance in battery technology. As opposed to lithium, solid state batteries use solid electrodes and electrolyte, and other materials are mostly ceramics. They’re already used in for example pacemakers, they are extremely long-lived, and they’re much quicker to charge than lithium batteries. So where’s the catch? Well, they aren’t cheap… Prices will of couse drop going forward (although probably not as early as 2021), and this is perhaps the big leap electric cars are waiting for.

It’s always blue when it’s about EV’s…

October – as in obesity, something most of the so beloved SUV’s suffer from. And more generally, even a normal sedan is several hundred kilos heavier today than it was just 15-20 years ago. Arguably a lot of this is linked to much improved safety, but we’ve reached a stage where trimming the weight is less important as you can just mask it by increasing the turbo pressure such as to take out more power. Will we see a change to the “more weight therefore more power” equation soon, and a return to something like the Lotus concept that I explored through my friend Erik back in October (see here)? It would definitely be benefitting consumption! And by the way, since the post, Erik has gone off and bought himself an Elise that I’ll hopefully be exploring this spring.

November – as in Nikola, the biggest corporate scandal in 2020 after Wirecard. For those of you who’ve missed it, Nikola is a producer of electric trucks in the US, founded by Trevor Milton and built on a lease model with very nice cash proceeds – on paper. Because as it emerged, everything was on paper, including the trucks themselves that don’t exist yet. Unfortunately investors – including a small company called General Motors – forgot to do their due diligence around Milton and his background, which would have revealed a history of smaller or larger corporate scandals, generous spending of company proceeds etc. The company is still listed but unless you’re a distressed investor, stay away, and also, whether you’re buying a stock or a car, always do your own research and don’t trust anyone – including GM…

Never believe a truck salesman…

December – as darn, there goes another year! What will have changed? Will Japan have presented a supercar project? Will Aston be back on solid footing? Will Lewis have claimed his 8th title, and will more automakers have seen the Lotus logic of more for less? But even more important than all this, will we finally be rid of this bloody virus? We’ll know in 12 months!

The best of 2020!

A few weeks ago, “Time” magazine dubbed 2020 the worst year ever. Given wars, natural catastrophies and other things that hit some of us every now and then this may be a bit exagerrated, but most of us are no doubt happy to leave 2020 behind, hoping for a 2021 where notably vaccines will help us revert to a more normal life!

For the blog it’s been an exciting year and thanks to you, dear reader, a very positive one. We have never before had so many readers and in the digital age it sure is nice to see people who share our passion for cars but also for the written word! Therefore, let me first express a sincere thank you to all of you! In this last post of the year I wanted to provide a recap on the content you have most appreciated on our different topics of sports cars, classic cars, other cars, F1 and what you could refer to as “other news” from the car industry. I’ll obviously provide links to the posts referred to in case you’ve missed them, or want to catch up on them again.

Sports cars

This is the largest category in terms of reader interest, and the post that by a margin caught most of your attention in this section was the one titled “The best Ferrari is a Maserati” that I actually published last year but that saw continued interest this year. I talked about the merits of the Maserati 3200 GT and the tremendous value for money it provides when compared to Ferraris of the same type, especially the 3200 GT’s powered by the naturally aspirated Ferrari V8! Luckily values haven’t really gone up since so there is still a bargain to be had.

The 3200 GT is still going strong it seems!

Next to that lovely Maserati, you also found the post on the most interesting sports car launches in 2021 of interest. More than any other this post made clear that the trend is indeed electric, even in the supercar segment, and that traditional supercars like the new Maserati MC20 are becoming few and far between. Given most engine sounds are more or less artificial anyway these days, why can’t they make an electric car sound like a naturally aspirated V12?

Classic cars

In the classic car segment, it was nice to see that the topic of classic cars as investments caught your attention. As most real assets classic cars have seen steep increases in value during the last decade and the days when you could find something that was really out of value are gone. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider a classic car and it actually cuts to the core of that post, namely that you should do so because you love the car and love driving it, rather than for financial reasons.

Financially a homerun – but how many get to be driven?

In terms of specific classics it was not much of a surprise to see that how much 911 you get for a budget set at EUR 100.000 was of interest, and although that budget buys you less today than ten years ago, it still gets you a lot of Porsche. Even though values have increased, there is still few cars give you as much driving pleasure, combined with if not increasing, then at least very stable future values! I was perhaps a bit more surprised to see that the Jaguar XJ-S had as much attention as the 911 and perhaps it’s a very different car, but no less interesting!

The 911 remains a very popular retiree!

Other cars – or future classics

In this slightly diverse category that includes the cars that are not yet classics but maybe will become so one day, or that are simply interesting from some other perspective (usually irresistible value for money…) you especially liked two posts: the one on the BMW F12/F13 (i.e. the 640/650) and the one on the Bentley Continental GT. As some of you know, a bit later in the year I sold my old Triumph and bought a 650 Convertible for the proceeds (more about that here), so I’m with you all the way on that one!

Before deciding on the 650 there were a large number of cars on the list of potential candidates. The Bentley Continental GT was somewhere on there as well and in many ways it’s an irresistible package, but it wasn’t for me. It doesn’t change the fact that I’ll always be envious of those of you who go ahead with what could be the bargain of your life!

A lot of car (incl in kgs!) for the buck

F1

The F1 season was indeed a strange one, but also a record one for Lewis who clinched his seventh title. Thanks for your interest in the posts where I’ve also tried to provide a bit of insight into what happens when the track lights go out. Next year will definitely be an interesting one with more teams competing for race wins, great driver line-ups and if we’re lucky, perhaps also with spectators on the stands!

He did it again – for the 7th time!

Other news

Looking at news around the car industry, many of you were intersted in my favourite car Youtubers, and I hope you’ve also enjoyed some of them. If I was to re-do that list today it would look a bit different, but that only highlights the richness of what’s out there. You also liked the story around Aston Martin and its new boss Tobias Moers who brings both long experience but also an ownership share of AMG, hopefully a combination that will be sufficient to secure Aston’s future.

Ultimately, this is what it’s about…

Also judging by numbers, if there’s something you would like me to hear less about, that’s electric cars, be it Tesla (that’s been featured a number of times) or general input around EV’s. That’s absolutely fine, we’ll try to keep the focus in 2021 on engines with cylinders, powered by petrol!

With that, again a big thank you for your support during this year and if you haven’t done so yet, then do indeed follow the blog (top right corner)!

A Happy New Year 2021!

A morning dog walk in December

The good thing with being a dog owner is that it gets you out three times per day, rain or shine, cold or warm. During this Covid year with lots of time spent in the home office, that’s something I’ve really come to appreciate, but having said that, the cold morning walks in December aren’t my favourite ones, especially with drizzling rain from a grey sky. Usually there aren’t even any interesting cars to look at, as the precious ones tend to slumber in a warm garage at this time of year. And then, out of the blue it happens, you run into…. yeah, what exactly?

What on earth is is?

The front has a strange look , a bit frog-eyed, slightly surprised. The body has some strange cracks, indicating this is a fibre class construction. Somehow the car looks like different parts have had different designers before coming together. The only badge had the name “Avanti II” on it. It’s little known but Switzerland has had a couple of car brands over the years, Monteverdi probably being the most well-known, so was this perhaps another one I didn’t know about? Once the dog had done his business and gave me “it’s time for breakfast” look, I briskly went home and started googling. And never would I have thought that I had come across such a rarity!

It turns out Avanti wasn’t the brand but rather the model name. Or…. was it? The Avanti was created by Studebaker, the Indiana (US)-based company who built their first petrol car more than a hundred years ago in 1904 (having built an electric car in 1902!) and that went bust in 1967. Studebaker built an impressive number of models over their 75-year history, arguably because not many saw any success, and the Avanti wasn’t any better, sold only during 18 months in 1963 and 1964. It was positioned as the only 2-door, luxury 4-seater coupé and the main alternative to Ford’s Thunderbird or the Chevy Corvette Stingray. Mind you, this was also the year the 911 was launched, but that wasn’t a big thing on the other side of the Atlantic – yet.

A 1963 Avanti a presented at the launch

The body was designed by none less than Raymond Loewy, THE industrial designer at the time, responsible notably for the shape of the classic Coke bottle, the Shell logo and the Lucky Strike cigarette pack. I’ll leave it to you to judge whether he had smoked one too many when designing the car, especially the front, but with a fibre glass body and an aerodynamic shape, it was true to Loewy’s motto to build light and aerodynamic cars, notably to reduce consumption. Fibre glass was however a new material at the time and one that caused some difficulties in production, just like for the Corvette. Also like the Corvette, the Avanti had a big V8 up front (what else?) which with an optional supercharger put out up to 300 hp. That made the Avanti a fast, futuristic car for the time, but perhaps a little too futuristic for what the US market was ready for. Studebaker only built some 4.900 of the 20.000 planned Avantis, less than a fifth of Chevy Corvettes over the same period, and the company threw in the towel a few years later.

The rear looks better, but looks disconnected from the front

So normally that’s where the story would end. However in this case it takes an unexpected turn, as after Studebaker stopped production, two dealers of the brand bought the Avanti brand name and continued building the car in a small numbers by hand, using original parts, under the name Avanti Motor Company. When parts ran out in 1965 the car was renamed the “Avanti II”. Both parts and engines were now sourced from GM, and the Avanti II would be powered by various Corvette V8’s going forward . This went on until 1982 when the company was sold to a real estate developer under whom notably a convertible was added. He then went bust in 1986 and Avanti was sold again and so it went on, all the way to… 2006. That’s right – the Avanti was built during more than 40 years, albeit with varying engines, chassis and bodies, making it one of the longest model production runs in history! Looking at the design especially of later cars does however make you think that it might have been better to stop production a bit earlier…

4-door Avanti II from the 90’s – someone must have had a really bad day…

So there we go, under the motto “things that can happen on a dog walk”. I don’t expect I’ll ever see an Avanti again and most of you probably won’t either. Should you desperately have fallen in love with the futuristic car there’s a really nice one for sale in Switzerland, pictured below, and there’s 3-4 in Germany and Holland. EUR 50.000 seems to be the entry ticket for a really nice one, the alternative however being to head over the Atlantic were both offer and prices will probably be better. Whereas the mechanics are basic GM it will be pretty impossible to find any body or interior parts anywhere, so make sure you get a nice one. You will practically be guaranteed to drive the only one in your city, country or even continent!

A very nice 1975 Avanti II, currently for sale at Phantomcars in Switzerland

F1: A dramatic end to a strange season!


Those of us who thought the last races of the year would be boring after Lewis made everything clear early November, well, we were wrong. Very wrong. Combining the drama we could have done without (Grosjean), the excitement with the oh so tragic end (Russell) and the final (well, almost) confirmation of drivers and teams for next season, this is probably the most dramatic season end in many years. But let’s start from the beginning, after my last F1 update that I posted early November and that you can read here.

Some very scary moments in Bahrain – look at what remains of the back of the car…

Starting with what we could all have done without is obviously Grosjean’s terrible crash in the first of two Bahrain races two weeks ago. Honestly I think many of us thought anything like this was impossible in modern F1, but at the same time it was also great to see how all the protective measures implemented worked wonderfully – with exception of the barrier that cut his car in half and caused the fire… Among recent safety equipment is the halo that wasn’t really acclaimed when it came. Now, Grosjean said himself that without it he would have been dead. You could add that had everything the drivers wear, from feet to head, been done in another material than Nomex, which withstands 800 degrees C for up to 35 seconds, he would also not be alive, or at least badly burnt, given it took him 28 seconds to get out of the fire… It’s unbelievable that he made it basically without being hurt. We won’t see Grosjean in F1 next year and it’s great it all ended on a dramatic but in the end positive note.

In the week after the first Bahrain race, we then learnt that Lewis had tested positive for Covid and that Mercedes would replace him with George Russell (Williams) for the second Bahrain race. I described George as the big British hope for when the day Lewis retires in my previous F1 post (link same as above), but hope is one thing. The reality is that so far he has never scored a point in F1, in the improving-but-still-too-slow Williams car. Oh how things were to change over the weekend….

If Bottas thought it would be easier racing Russell than Hamilton, he was wrong…

First, Russell set the fastest time in the free training on Friday, which he followed up with qualifying second to Bottas on the grid on Saturday. In the race he then passed Bottas in the first corner and led the race without any problems for the coming 60 or so laps (out of 87), until Mercedes (yes, Mercedes!) manages to screw up a pit stop so badly that he had to come in for a second one, and then for a third one after a puncture. After the first pit stop he was quickly back in the lead. After the second he was back in fifth, but needed only 2-3 laps to for second place (this included overtaking Bottas in a way that didn’t make the Finn look particularly good), After the third stop he came out 15th and by now, even the very calm George was swearing over the intercom. With six laps left, and did however still manage to finish 8th. It goes without saying that he was devastated, but also that anyone who saw the race realized that this was certainly not the end of it for George. Should Lewis not re-sign with Mercedes, which he still hasn’t confirmed, I’m willing to bet a face mask that Mercedes arranges for George’s contract with Williams to be cancelled. If not, he is a very likely successor to Lewis the day the 36-year old quits, which may well be after an 8th title in 2021.

It wasn’t to be this time, but I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of Russell in the Merc dress!

With Russell having the roller-coaster of his life that he could have done without, the one positive thing was that it allowed Sergio Perez to claim his first F1 victory, and few have been more well-deserved. Perez incredibly still doesn’t have a seat confirmed for next year, and how Aston Martin (as the team will be called next season) could put Sebastian Vettel before Perez beats me, but I’ve written enough of that before.

Most of the drivers are by now confirmed for next season, and the most notable is of course that Mick Schumacher will take one of the two Haas seats. Mick is Michael’s son, he looks like a perfect mix of his father and his uncle Ralph, and he didn’t get here just on having a famous name (although that never hurts). He won the FIA F3 European Championship in 2018 and the Formula 2 Championship in 2020 and has so far accumulated three wins in 11 podiums. There will obviously be huge pressure on the 21-year old Mick and everyone will always and constantly compare him to his father, and you can only hope he’s able to handle it. He will certainly also have to answer questions around the current state of his father of which we know very little, certainly not a good sign.

Ferrari has a a very excciting line-up with Sainz Jr next to Leclerc – as long as the car starts performing again….

Next to Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen is the other noteworthy driver who won’t be returning next year, going over the pond to race in the US IMSA Sports Car Series. After Daniel Ricciardo’s decision to move to McLaren, Renault (which will be called Alpine next year) looks forward to the F1 return of Fernando Alonso which promises to be interesting. And McLaren could be a better move than expected for Ricciardo given the team just signed a GBP 185m deal with American sports group MSP Sports Capital, who clearly have their eyes set on race wins next year. Again, it would be a great shame not seeing Sergio Perez in 2021, and late November Perez said he will take a sabbatical unless he’s offered the second Red Bull seat next to Verstappen. If you ask me that’s a very clear choice given Albon seen over the last two years has been a huge disappointment. He’s picked up somewhat in the last three races after Christian Horner gave him an ultimatum, but he’s still miles away from Max Verstappen. Perez on the other hand has consistently delivered over and above what anyone expected and to me is clearly the better driver. Unfortunately I don’t think anyone plans to ask me, so we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.

And so the strangest season in memory came to an end this afternoon in Abu Dhabi. Lewis was back, meaning Russell was back in the back of the field in his Williams. Lewis said he didn’t feel 100% which was probably true given he “only” qualified in third and finished the very undramatic race in the same place, after Bottas in second and Max Verstappen in first. Max had started on pole for the first time this season and this was his second win. He is by now a clear number 2 behind Lewis and will most probably be an even bigger threat to the latter in 2021!

Lewis is still in front, but the margin is getting smaller!

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The stunning Swede!

Arguably many beauties have come out of Sweden over the years, but next year the Volvo P1800, hands down the most beautiful Volvo in history if you ask me, will celebrate its 60th birthday. Let’s therefore wind back the clock to the early 60’s and have a closer look at what is not only a good-looking but arguably also one of the most robust oldtimers you can buy. And in the ES shooting brake shape, an even more beautiful and practical one!

An early “English” car – the design didn’t change much through the years!

The P1800 planning at Volvo in Gothenburg started in 1957. Volvo was in full expansion and its management and especially CEO Gunnar Engellau wanted something that would be an eye-catcher both in showrooms and at auto salons. Volvo had already given the sports car segment a try a few years earlier with the roadster P1900, modelled on the Chevy Corvette, but that had proven to be an utter failure with only 67 cars produced. That did however not change Volvo’s enthusiasm for the idea of a sports car, and the design mandate for what was this time going to be a coupé was given to the Italian design firm Frua – where, as became known much later, the 25-year old Swedish design trainee Pelle Petterson was responsible for it… Swedish readers of the blog will know that the same Petterson then went on to become a famous sailor and boat designer.

Launched in 1961, the P1800 was thus an international project form the start. Planned in Sweden, designed in Italy (by a Swede), premiered at the car show in Brussels in 1961, and initially built by Jensen Motors in the UK, as the strong demand Volvo enjoyed meant there was no free production capacity in Sweden. Volvo was lucky to get away with that, as the first 6.000 P1800 built in the UK suffered from massive quality issues. From 1963 onwards production was relocated to Sweden, however the bodywork was still handled in Scotland until 1969. The UK build years 1961-1963 can be seen in the model name “P1800” as the cars subsequently built in Sweden were called “P1800S” (S for Sweden). The injection version from 1971 was referred to as the “P1800E”.

A later, 1967 car in the popular “off-white” colour

The P1800 saw very few modifications through the years. Design-wise the body was left untouched with only minor modifications to turning lights, chrome applications etc. A testament to a good design from the start! In fact the design was deemed so good that the P1800 was chosen as Simon Templar’s (Roger Moore) car in the British cult TV-series “The Saint” that aired through the 60’s. To be honest though, the producers had first asked Jaguar, but when they declined their attention turned to the P1800, which certainly didn’t hurt the popularity of the car.

If the body stayed the same until the end in 1973, the engines did evolve, however moderately. All P1800 derived their engines from the P121 Amazon, with the first British-built cars having the Volvo B18 engine with 100 hp (later 108 hp and 115 hp in the Swedish-built ones). From 1971 the cars had the B20 engine with 135hp. Not only the engine but also most other parts under the body were derived from the Amazon, no doubt one of the most solid creations that has ever been built and pretty much in a league of its own at the time. But whilst solid is good, was the P1800 any fun to drive?

Probably a renovated interior, but with original parts and seats

Well, the honest answer is that compared to some other sports cars at the time, the P1800 was a rather heavy-footed companion. The solidity no doubt came at the expense of the thrill of driving, and there were certainly more fun cars, roadsters and others, if that rather than the looks was the priority. Today it’s of course a different story. You don’t really buy a 60-year old car to drive it on two wheels through the corners and the solidity is probably of bigger appeal, as are the four disc brakes on cars from 1969. The car has aged very well and few oldtimers turn as many heads as the P1800, but one that does is its own sibling – the P1800 ES.

With an E for Estate added to the name, the ES was only produced during the two last production years 1972-1973. Aggressive US emission rules combined with the first oil crisis together contributed to the ES not seeing the interest it deserved, as this was an early version of what we would today call a shooting break. The whole concept was new at the time and looked upon a bit more critically than today, and the car earned many nicknames in different countries, not always very flattering. In the German-speaking part of Europe it went by the slightly morbid “Schneewitchensarg” (Snow White’s coffin), in Sweden it was called the fish car… Beneath the body work, the ES was exactly the same as as the last version of the “normal” P1800 with the 135 hp B20 engine.

The ES didn’t – and still doesn’t – look like any other car!

Finding a P1800 today is becoming tricky and also expensive, even more so the ES, and you may not have the luxury of choosing between model years. That’s however less important given how similar the cars are. If presented with a choice, the first, second and third priority is to check everything, really everything, for rust, which was a big issue at the time. Next, you probably want to avoid the early English cars unless we’re talking about a complete renovation. Finally, you would want to find a late car with the B20 engine and disc brakes all around. If the P1800 ES is your thing, then there’s really only one version to choose from, but in terms of ES colours, my preferred one is not the most common gold but rather the oh so cool 70’s orange one as pictured below! Expect to pay at least EUR 25′-30′ for a decent P1800 today, and probably an extra EUR 10′ for an ES in the same shape. If you’re thinking of renovating then do make sure you know where to find the necessary parts before signing the contract, as some have become increasingly hard to come by.

Perfect colour with the optional roof rack – the practical oldtimer!

So there we are – a Swedish beauty from the 60’s that if treated well will run for a very long time (there’s reportedly a P1800 out there with more than 4 million kms on the counter, still with the first engine!), that is solid as an ox and easy to maintain, and that will turn heads more than most – what more could you possibly wish for?

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What to consider when buying your dream car

When I sold my Triumph TR4 this autumn after ten years and re-invested the money in my deal-of-the-century BMW 650i, quite a few people came to me both questioning my choice, but also asking for tips of things to think about when buying the dream car with a big D. Based on my experience over the years, I therefore decided to put together a few points in this regard that make up this week’s post.

My choice of switching from an oldtimer to a modern car, as mentioned in my previous post that you can read here, was basically a practical consideration based on how little I was using the TR4, that fact that I neither have unlimited space nor an unlimited budget, and a realization that our needs have changed. This is not to say you shouldn’t realize your oldtimer dream, but whether it’s an oldtimer or a modern car you’re dreaming about, there are some basic things to bear in mind.

Age is just a number – or is it?

The car’s age is obviously an indirect function of what your dream car is, but the point here is just to think about the implications the age will have on your ability to use it. To come back to my TR4, the longest trip I did in ten years was with my wife to Lausanne and back, around 600 kms. It was a great trip without any issues, but when we came back home I wasn’t really longing to go any further and I left the car standing for 3 weeks.  If you’re more hardcore or more passionate this will sound ridiculous, but at least for some of us it’s relevant and something you should consider before deciding.

…when life was more hardcore than today…

Other aspects of old vs newer include some of the things we are so used to in modern cars that we don’t even think about them. Take for example the isolation of the convertible top – there is a very big difference between a 50-year old car and a new one in this regard. Connectivity is another one of those things – if you love connecting your phone, remember that Bluetooth is a recent invention. And remember that speaker systems have evolved. Unless you want to listen to the engine all the time, make sure you’re happy with the sound, because drilling holes in the door panels of your new companion is perhaps not what you dream about.

The art of lobbying

The dream car your mind is set on is not necessarily the dream of your partner or other family members, and this is where some convincing and lobbying comes into play. Believe me, that’s a far better way to go than to start by buying the car and putting your partner before a fait accompli. I’ve tried and it’s nothing I would recommend.  I’ll never forget the day we returned from holidays and whilst I brought in the luggage, my wife listened to the answering machine where a car dealer I had just made a deal with but not yet told her about called to confirm it. Somehow, I hadn’t found the right moment… She eventually came around, but I won’t try that again. Your family doesn’t need to be as enthusiastic as you, but it’s good if they’re in on the project and don’t hate your dream car – you risk becoming very lonely otherwise. Furthermore, if it’s a two-seater, that obviously means any children have to stay home. If it’s a convertible, it won’t necessarily be very comfortable in the back seat with the hood off. And so on.

The thrill of maintaining

All cars break down. To a certain extent this can be avoided by going through all the checks at the time of buying, but stuff happens. It probably happens more with oldtimers than with modern cars, but there’s more stuff that can break in modern cars, so all things considered, it may well come out the same. Also, if you believe like I did that oldtimer mechanics are good-hearted guys in it for the passion and not for the money, think again…

Many oldtimer garages still look the same, but prices have gone up…

Whether old or new, there is obviously a cost associated with your dream vehicle, and that cost will depend heavily on both the car’s age, its condition and its complexity. Looking at oldtimers, my TR4 was a relatively safe bet given it was a no-frills car with a four-cylinder engine originating from a tractor (it sounded great but revving wasn’t its thing…). A 12-cylinder E-type or an Aston Martin V8 are a completely different story, as friends of mine have experienced over the last years. I’ve now replaced my TR4 with a modern, 8-cylinder double-turbo 650i and when the guarantee expires, I’m potentially up for much heftier bills than with the TR4, but I like to think that at least I’m aware of it. You should be so as well, and you should set a projected budget aside. If you’re insecure, speak to a specialized garage or a car club who will be able to guide you. Please remember this. I know a frightening number of intelligent people who somehow managed to forget all about it until the day the bill is delivered…

Is depreciaton a friend or foe?

With the exception of a small number of collectible cars that gain in value from day one, as a rule of thumb nothing depreciates as quickly and heavily as luxury cars and as a general rule, the more they cost as new, the more they will loose. After a period of typically 6-10 years, values then stabilize at a fraction of the initial price, and this is when it gets interesting. Allow me to take my 650i as an example. 6 years ago when it was new it cost CHF 175’ with options. 50.000 kms later I paid CHF 36’. That’s a nice little depreciation of 80% or if you prefer, 2.8 CHF per km. Even if Elon gets his way, the whole world turns electric in five years and my resale value goes to zero, I’ll never be close to that depreciation. Also, and this was important to me, a great advantage of buying a heavily depreciated luxury car is that it was built at the time to cost CHF 175’, not CHF 36’ or anything in between. That shows in every single detail, and it’s a very nice feeling.

If this is you’re thing, depreciation runs in the 100.000’s the first years…

That’s one side of the coin, but there is of course also a reason for the heavy depreciation, and that’s the maintenance cost. Having said that, I’m a very strong believer in the market being very far from perfect in this regard, meaning that if you do your research, you can to a certain extent “beat” it. As a rule of thumb, never ever be in a hurry. There are of course situations where it’s warranted to act quickly but generally, there will always be good cars around. Take your time, do your checks, look into the history, speak to experts, call the car club etc. The more you know, the more likely you are to buy the right car, and the better prepared you’ll be.

When I set eyes on a 6-series, it was these type of considerations that led me to opt for the updated 450 hp V8 rather than the pre-2013 408 hp version. The extra power was nice but above all, a bit of research showed that the previous engine had a history of engine failures that can become very expensive. This was not at all reflected in market prices however. I knew which options were important to me, and also that I wanted a fully serviced one-owner car. When that car in the right colour scheme then appeared back in August, I was able to act quickly. Of course things can still happen and I certainly don’t want to sound like a know-it-all in this regard, but I’d like to think that knowledge and some experience have at least lowered the risk.

NEVER go for “almost” right

Finally, perhaps the most important point of all. Coming back to the point of not being in a hurry, never – ever – go for the car that almost has it all. If you want a manual 996, don’t buy the Tiptronic thinking you’ll get used to it, wait for the right one to come around – it will. Don’t buy a blue car if you want a black because it’s almost as nice and after all it was cheaper. You risk thinking about it every time you walk up to the car. If you dream of the 8-cylinder, don’t by the 6-cylinder version. And so on. If you’re realizing a childhood dream, you want reality to be as close to that dream as possible an “almost” won’t cut it. When the right car comes along, you’ll be glad you waited!

So there we go. Not by any means a complete guide, but hopefully a few points that can help guide you in your quest for the dream car! Good luck!

The most exciting sports car launches in 2021!

This strange year is slowly coming to an end, and I think we can all agree that it hasn’t been the best start to a new decade one could imagine. But whereas back in March we thought the world was coming to an end, it luckily didn’t turn out to be the catastrophic year for the economy many predicted. Still, here in Switzerland for example, new car sales are so far down around 27% compared to 2019, so I think that from many aspects, things can only improve in 2021, starting with getting a certain virus under control. Based on recent news there seems to be good hope for that and in that spirit, let’s have a look at some of the most exciting sports cars coming out next year for your real or dream drives!

That electrification is here to stay is something you become acutely aware of when looking at next year’s sports car launches. From a supercar perspective 2021 is definitely an electric year with the below selection including two full EV’s, one hybrid and only one good old combustion engine. We’ll see in a year’s time when doing the same exercise if there are any interesting petrol cars left at all!

Polestar 1

All colours can be had in matte as well

Starting in the middle of the drivetrain options and on the cheaper end, the Polestar 1 may be a model year 2020 but it won’t hit the roads until next year so we’ll include it here, also given how awaited and acclaimed it is. Polestar is obviously Volvo’s sports car brand, built not in Sweden but in China, and whereas the Polestar 2 is more of a Tesla Model 3 competitor, the Polestar 1 at an indicative entry price of around EUR 160.000 is intended to compete with the big boys in the coupé/GT segment.

The 2+2 coupé is built on a shortened version of the S90 platform, stiffened with lots of carbon, and its looks seem to have convinced every single motor journalist out there. I saw a prototype in Geneva two years ago and wasn’t fully convinced, but the design has grown on me from all angles except the back which I still think looks clumsy and very reminiscent of the S90. This obviously begs the question whether the car is only a Volvo in disguise, and the answer isn’t crystal clear.

The Polestar 1 proudly exhibits its power cables in the luggage compartment!

From a drivetrain perspective, it’s pretty impressive. Polestar combines Volvo’s petrol 4-cylinder driving the front wheels, assisted by a 68 hp electrical starter motor, with two additional electrical motors driving the back wheels and adding a further 232 hp. Total power output is around 600 hp and obviously goes beyond anything Volvo has ever produced. From an interior perspective it looks like a Volvo, with only small modifications to a top-of-the-line V90 or XC90. That’s one of the best interiors out there in the SUV or family hatchback segment, but I think it may struggle in comparison with some luxury GT’s that Polestar likes to mention as competitors.

No, it’s not your XC90, it’s the new Polestar 1

In tests the Polestar has been said to drive well in a rather stiff, GT kind of way, and the combination of petrol and electrical engines is said to work seamlessly. It seems to roar quite nicely (artificially or course). but the attraction obviously doesn’t come from the four-cylinder but rather the power combination. It can also be driven in strict electrical mode and then has a range of up to 150 kms, far more than most other hybrids. Polestar says it will only build 1500 of the 1 which are all spoken for. That type of exclusivity has never hurt any car!

Tesla Roadster

It’s doubtful how many of today’s buyers of Tesla’s Model 3, S or X know that the company’s first electrical car back in 2008 was a 2-seat roadster, based on the Lotus Elise chassis and built until 2012. That’s less than 10 years ago (pretty impressive for a company today valued at USD 400bn), and the Roadster was actually the first serial produced car with a lithium-Ion battery system. Fast forward to today, and Tesla is now working on the Roadster 2 and says it will be introduced in 2021. Knowing Tesla, that could of course just as well be in 2022, or 2023.

The prototype picture of the new Roadster

The new Roadster was unveiled already in 2017 and much of what we know still dates from then, notably talk of a 1.9-seconds time to 100 km/h, a quarter-mile time below 9 seconds and a top speed beyond 300 km/h. That obviously puts the four wheel drive roadster (electrical engines both up front and in the back ) in real supercar territory and from that angle, the current price assumption of USD 200′ (in the US), sounds rather reasonable. Again, those who live will see.

It’s been said the Roadster will have a removable glass roof

Tesla have also said that the Roadster will have a 200 KwH battery pack giving the car a range of up to 620 miles, and they’ve mumbled something about a new revolutionary battery technology. We’ll see about that but clearly the range and the performance numbers given above are mutually exclusive.

That’s about all we know. We can assume the interior to be a minimalistic story built around giant screens and can probably also assume that the back seats given the roof line won’t be very spacious. For the rest, hopefully next year will give us if not the car, then at least more details!

Maserati MC20

To my mind there’s only one interesting petrol sports car set to launch next year, but it’s one that can be expected to have a lot of fans. The MC20 (Maserati Corse 20) is supposed to start a new era for the Italian constructor (and obviously the car should had been launched in 2020 with that name, but hey, that’s a detail) and looking at what we’ve seen and know so far, they look to be off to a good start!

The front grill is the only thing resembling the last generation

Around 4.7 metres long and 1.2m high (with the additional height over a Lambo or Ferrari said to be intended to provide enough space for larger drivers with a helmet!), the body is sleek to the point of looking almost too discrete, were it not for the scissor doors. It is however a high-tech structure developed together with Dallara that is supposed to generate 100 kg downforce at 240 km/h. The engine is a newly developed six-cylinder putting out a total of 630 hp and 730 Nm and given the MC20 weighs in at under 1.500 kgs, the power to weight ratio is pretty good. The talk is of 3 seconds to 100 km/h, under 9 to 200 km/h and a top speed of 325 km/h.

The MC20 is a high-tech structure through and through, with an active suspension system that is supposed to be able to read the road, an interior combining carbon, alcantara and leather, and Maserati’s new infotainment system, that by the sounds of it brings the brand to the same level as other manufacturers in the same segment, which hasn’t really been the case so far.

The colour lining can be varied if blue isn’t your thing

A base price of EUR 210.000 has been mentioned when the MC20 starts off next year in coupé form. Until 2022 a convertible will be added, and there is also talk of – you guessed it – a fully electrical version in the same year.

Lotus Evija

Saving the best and most spectacular for last, 2021 is also the year when the Lotus Evija should see the light, and this is really something out of the ordinary. Lotus’s new supercar is a fully electric monster putting out almost 2000 hp (1972 to be exact), whilst still as a true Lotus managing to keep the weight down to around 1.650 kgs (yep, I know, but we’re talking an EV here). Handling and the typical Lotus agility is said to be preserved notably by the battery pack being situated in the middle of the car, right behind the driver.

The Evija has also been delayed several times, including because of Covid, but deliveries to the lucky owners who have transferred the GBP 2m needed are said to start from next summer. Exactly what the interior will look like and even how the car will behave with the full power output is still not known, tests so far have been on restricted prototypes, so there is still a lot of mystery around the whole thing.

What we do know however is how the Evija puts the 1972 hp to work through its four engines. Obviously you can’t just let this level of power loose on the poor wheels, so the Evija’s concept is rather to unleash as much power at any time as the drivetrain can take. So from standing in first gear that may be 300 hp, increasing to 600 hp in 3rd gear, then 900 hp in fifth and so on. The car has five drive-modes, from Range (max 1000 hp, 800 Nm) over City, Tour and Sport to Track with the full output of close to 2000 hp and 1700 Nm). With all the bells and whistles turned on, the performance numbers are nothing short of spectacular.

You’d better hold on firmly to that square steering wheel!

The Evija is said to do 0-100 km/h in 3 seconds, which isn’t that spectacular and more than a second slower than a Tesla Roadster! But then all hell (a very silent hell) breaks loose as power builds and it does the following 100 km/h in another 3 seconds, i.e. 0–200 km/h in 6 seconds. That’s on par with a Chiron Sport. And then it does the same trick again to 300 km/h, for which a Chiron needs more than twice as long. In other words we’re talking a 0-300 km/h time of less than 10 seconds, which is bloody terrifying on paper, but apparently not in reality. There’s no howling double-turbo V12 here, just the discreet, swirling noise of electric power.

Whether we like it or not, that sounds like something we’ll have to get used to, even in the supercar segment!

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The striking 205 GTI!

If last week was all about the technological future of our cars, this week we’ll make a trip back in time and explore less of the thrill of technology, and more of the thrill of driving in its purest sense. We’ll do so by looking a bit closer at an absolute legend among hot hatches: the Peugeot 205 GTI.

A brilliant design that has aged very well!

Back in 1990-1991, when the 205 was still riding high although it had alaredy been on the market for seven years, a good friend of mine had parents kind enough to offer him a brand new 205 1.9 GTI when he got his driver’s license. I remember when he showed it to me the first time, it was black and shiny with those lovely 15″ rims and the half-leather interior, and man was I jealous. Not that there was anything wrong with my parents, but the blue Golf from -75 they got me didn’t really do the trick in comparison. As it turned out though, the Golf lived far longer than the 205. You see, my friend was in love with a beautiful girl, who also had just got her license, and kind as he was (and still is), lent her the car over a weekend. If memory serves me right, she didn’t drive more than a few hundred meters before crashing it so completely that it never came back. Luckily nothing happened to her, but the two of them broke off shortly thereafter, unclear why…

Except teaching us to be careful with whom we lend our beloved cars to, the story also highlights another fact which contributed to the 205’s early demise in the above case, namely that it’s a light car with correspondingly thin and light parts. It weighed in at less than 900 kgs and as I’ve written about previously on this blog, a low weight is the best recipe for good handling and speed – but not a good one if you plan to crash.

Anyway let’s go back to the beginning, which for the 205 means the year 1983 when the GTI started off in parallel to the regular 205, initially with a 1.6 litre engine developing first 105 and later 115 hp. In 1986 the engine size was increased to 1.9 litres with more torque and between 120-130 hp depending on version. The debate still goes on among enthusiasts as to which version was the best, some claiming the 1.6 is more playful whilst others talk of more speed and torque in the 1.9 litre. I’ve only driven the 1.9 and I’ll just note that the extra power means 1.5 seconds less to a 100 (at 7.6 seconds), quite beneficial since the car is still as playful as you would expect an 80’s hot hatch to be.

The 15″ wheels were large at the time and reserved for the 1.9 GTI

The 205 was an instant success in France, and the GTI version was a success pretty much all over Europe. In France its main competitor was the Renault 5 which didn’t have the poise of the 205, and internationally it was the Golf GTI Mk2, which was somewhat roomier and probably the better car, but which design-wise was a step back as compared to both the 205 and the Golf GTI Mk1. The 205 was a stunner in comparison and if you ask me it remains so today. I think it’s still one of the best hot hatch designs ever produced and if you look at the complicated forms hatches tend to come in today, certainly one of the cleanest!

It didn’t hurt the success of the 205 GTI, that lasted for 10 years, that a car by the same name but with few parts in common was very successful both in Group B and the Paris-Dakar rally. The 205 T16 / T16 Evo 2 was a mid-engine super car with up to 500 hp, competing with the Lancia Delta Evo and the Audi Sport Quattro, that I wrote about not long ago (click here if you missed it). The 200 homologation cars have mostly gone the same way as my friend’s car and finding one today is very hard and very expensive.

Looks roughly like a 205 and shoots flames out the back – that’s good marketing!

That the “normal” 205 is a real feather-weight becomes clear as soon as you open the (extremely light) door, sit down and look at the likewise very thin and basic plastic dashboard. Not much here to distinguish the GTI from a regular 205, but the comfy, good-looking seats along with the red carpeting remove any doubts as to which version you’re in, and both look sensational. Visibility is tremendous even by 80’s standards and the car is roomier than you think, both in front and back.

Taking it for a short drive, the first thing you note is how much the body moves and how soft the suspension is compared to modern hot hatches. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t stick to the road – it very much does so, but this was how hatches were built at the time and the longer suspension travel means that it’s actually overall more comfortable than a modern hatch. Naturally a new 206 GTI, Civic Type R or any other modern hot hatch is faster, but the 205 still provides a level of speed and fun which is right up there, especially since speed itself is relative and tends to be rather limited in most places you would use a hatch today. The car is playful, both steering and gearbox are fully ok, and the four pot has just the level and type of sound you wish for. It actually felt exactly as fun as it did 30 years ago, before disaster hit the car I drove at the time in the form of a pretty girl.

The dashboard could be any 205 but the seats and colors make the difference!

Finding a 205 GTI isn’t difficult, finding one in good condition a bit more so. Firstly most cars have really been used, and who wouldn’t? This means that may will have 150.000-200.000 kms on the clock which isn’t the end of the world as long as they have been maintained well. A good car will today cost you at least EUR 15.000, a perfect one with much less kms considerably more. Running costs won’t be much to worry about and the downside risk is very limited, as especially well kept cars get increasingly rare.

So why would you? Well, except for the looks and sweet memories from younger days, which in themselves are great arguments, there are other pretty rational reasons for looking at a 205 if a hot hatch is your thing. Assuming you will use it as most people, meaning on short city drives and spells of country roads rather than for long motorway trips, then things such as sound isolation and lack of top end power become much less important and having a small practical but very cool car with great visibility more so! You don’t need giant, Type R-styled wings in the city and you don’t need park assistance systems to park a 205 as long as you can still turn your neck. And whereas a modern hot hatch costs you three times as much to buy, the pleasure you’ll derive by taking the slightly longer way home along that twisty country road won’t be much different!

Digital driving!

When you write about cars every week and spend a fair amount of time in between thinking about them (which is certainly my case, and given you’re a reader of this blog, may also be yours), it’s sometimes easy to forget the somewhat bigger picture and general trends in the automobile industry. Right now, that bigger picture is changing quite a bit in a variety of ways that will hopefully make our beloved cars better going forward. This week we’ll be looking at some of the major areas of development in this regard and take the two cars that got me thinking about this as examples.

On one hand that’s the grand daddy of luxury limousines in its newest iteration: the Mercedes S-class. It can already be ordered and will be seen on our streets soon. Under a relatively conservatively-styled body, this is a car that takes the luxury automobile concept to a whole new level in terms of technology, as we’ll see further below.

Small exterior changes, quite a revolution underneath

Vastly different to the S-class is the new, all-electric Hummer EV. That’s right, an electric Hummer truck, set to come to market late in 2021. Obviously the truck segment (or pick-ups as we like to call them in Europe) isn’t a big thing on this side of the Atlantic, but it’s the largest market segment in the US where over 3 million new trucks were sold in 2019. None of those were obviously electric, and at present electric cars have less than a 2% overall market share in the US, but that’s precisely what makes it interesting.

Coming to market in 2021, the first electrical truck will be a Hummer!

The Hummer EV along with Tesla’s Cybertruck and other electrical trucks in planning both from Ford and smaller, relatively unknown brands, bring electrification to the largest car segment in the US. Trucks are not much of a thrill to drive today, but when the Hummer and Cybertruck hit us with their more than 1000 hp and 3 seconds to 100 km/h, that is set to improve dramatically. A truck is not without advantages, notably the space for gear they offer, their towing ability etc. That also means there’s lots of room for battery packs, and the Hummer is said to have a range of 350 miles, the Cybertruck of around 500 miles. I could go on, but you get the message. If electrification is to take off in the US anytime soon, this is the segment where it could well happen. And since many truck drivers still think only golf carts can be electric, it’s significant that it’s Hummer, the most macho brand of them all, that leads the way.

The interior is apparently fully vegan, the roof can be removed and stored in the frunk.

Moving beyond the increasingly electrified engines, let’s have a look at what the new S-class offers in terms of both interior comfort and technology. Starting with the dashboard, it has the same screen-based interior as we’re increasingly seeing in many cars and where Tesla is no longer very special in this regard. Gauge clusters are long gone and the S-class now has a 3-dimensional screen, meaning you see your instruments “in depth”. Mercedes also deals with the fingerprint problem with a new voice command system said to be so good that you practically don’t need to touch anything to access most functions. This is clearly something that will come in other cars before long. It’s probably a good thing, but it supposes you’re willing to have a dialogue with your car. Oh, and I almost forgot: the new Burmester 3-D sound system reflects bass tones through movements in your seat. That’s perhaps not something we’ll see in a Skoda Octavia next year…

Less than 10 years ago, this is very far from what an S-class would look like…

Next to the increasingly communicative interior there are nowadays cameras all around, and no doubt they will continue to make inroads into the whole driving experience in the coming years. There’s the practical usage which allows us to replace our rear-view mirrors (both centre and door-mounted) with an always fully visible camera picture. There’s the cameras inside the car that recognize you and automatically sets the car to your profile, as the new S-class does. There’s of course the cameras assisting navigation with augmented reality, meaning you can basically drive looking at the screen in front of you rather than out the window, and that if you still manage to get lost, you should probably consider the train instead. There’s various other features such as 3-D screens and augmented reality head-up displays, both featured in the S-class, and there’s of course the surround cameras which let you admire your car from outside whilst sitting in it. The Hummer EV takes that concept even further with cameras under the car to assist the off-road driving. So cameras all over, enhancing both the comfort and the safety. Some of them will become mandatory, others will remain more nice to have, but we will definitely see even more of them.

The main difficulty will probably be keeping an eye on it all…

Linked to cameras and safety are also the constantly evolving self-driving and self-parking systems. Increasingly these now reach a level where car technology is ahead of legislation in a number of markets and the full self-driving features of cars like the S-class, Teslas and others may not be used in full. There’s still a big question mark around when that will be the case, also since anything other than European harmonization in this regard would be very hard to manage. Be careful what you wish for though as there is a serious danger that when the legislator catches up, that’s also when big brother will take full control of your car – and speed.

The last and to me quite surprising new development worth mentioning is one that has come with increasingly advanced suspension technologies. Many will have seen the “dancing GLE” by now, which thanks to its independent wheels and active suspension can perform a dance with each wheel moving independently. More relevant is no doubt that these systems also give SUV’s and trucks like the Hummer vastly increased terrain capabilities by allowing for individual control of each wheel.

With increasingly congested cities, a few degrees make a big difference!

Interestingly, this theme of 4-wheel steering is also picked up by the S-class, which allows a rear axle steering angle of up to 10 degrees against the front wheels up to a speed of 60 km/h, and above it steering in the same direction as the front wheels such as to increase stability. Mercedes claims this notably cuts a car’s turning circle by on average 2 metres and gives the new S-class a smaller circle than a regular A-class. Some of you may remember the 90’s Honda Prelude that introduced 4WS in a mass-produced car. The concept never took off then, and it was obviously a far less advanced technology than what we have today. This time it could be a different story, especially in the segments of bigger sedans, hatchbacks and SUV’s.

So there we are: increasingly electrified and camera-equipped cars that we interact with differently, probably also verbally, and that almost unassisted take us first where we want to go, and then also into that tight parking space. The electrification trend runs in parallel to this and will in increasingly be seen in trucks and other cars, both as full EV’s like the Hummer but also as various hybrid systems, of which the S-class features some. It’s amazing to see how quickly technology has developed in just the last 5-10 years, and it’s fascinating to think of where we may be in another 10!

The Wright brothers patented the first flying car in 1841 – perhaps the time has come?

F1 update: Lewis the Legend!

With four races left to go after today’s, it’s time to do a quick pit stop and look at what we’ve seen and can still expect to see in this year’s F1 season.

To start with the most deserving, a week ago Lewis Hamilton became truly legendary in beating Michael Schumacher’s record of F1 race wins. After today, Lewis now totals an incredible 93 wins, 9 of which so far this season. He also equals Schumacher’s record for the most wins with the same team (72), and today’s Hamilton-Bottas double means Mercedes clinched their 7th constructor world title. Lewis is Formula 1’s uncontested number 1, obviously helped by driving the car that is still relatively far ahead of the competition.

It’s good to be the king!

If Lewis is already the de facto world champion, it’s far more contested who will finish second and third – and who won’t. Valtteri Bottas is probably the ideal second driver with Mercedes eyes. He’s loyal to the team and occasionally manages to challenge Lewis, and so far this year has won two races. The question is however rather if what Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) manage to achieve in inferior cars isn’t more impressive. Even though Ferrari is improving and Charles’s results is the only thing that may save Mattia Binotto’s job as team head, they are still far from Mercedes and Charles’s driving is the only thing making Ferrari look slightly better than the mid-field teams. Max on the other hand does a very good job of scoring podium finishes, including one race win this year, and is still in competition with Valtteri for second place in the championship. Red Bull and Max is also the only constellation that occasionally has managed to challenge Mercedes this season.

A good summary of Ferrari’s season so far…

Charles and Max’s relative success also make it very clear that driving skills still count and that it’s not all about the car. The last two races in Portugal and Italy were a good illustration of how far behind Leclerc Sebastian Vettel currently is, in spite of Ferrari confirming both drive identical cars. Seb had officially doubted this but also admitted that Charles is currently in another league. There is probably little hope of things improving before Seb leaves Ferrari for Racing Point / Aston Martin at the end of the season, and you have to wonder whether Racing Point don’t ask themselves whether switching Perez for Vettel was a wise move. I guess time will tell.

There’s equally little hope of Alex Albon retaining his seat in Red Bull. His oddds improved slightly last week when Pierre Gasly confirmed he’s staying with Red Bull’s little brother Alpha Tauri next year. This beats me as Alpha Tauri is Red Bull’s farm team and Pierre’s stellar performance this season with notably one race win stands in stark contrast to Albon’s total lack of results. Today in Italy, Albon then put what is probably the last nail in his coffin himself, when after a mediocre race he completely messed up the restart after the safety car phase with 7 laps to go, managing to lose the car and end up last. Before Portugal, team boss Christian Horner last had given Albon two races to start performing. The fact that he couldn’t and hasn’t been able to all season most probably means we’ll see another second driver at Red Bull next year.

“How the hell can Max be so fast??”

Behind Mercedes and the best half of Red Bull and Ferrari, the mid field is as competitive as ever with Racing Point, McLaren, Renault and Alpha Tauri all very close, and even Alfa Romeo Racing (ex Sauber) managing to pick up points here and there. Although he’s leaving at the end of the season, Daniel Ricciardo certainly doesn’t lack motivation and looks to be finishing his short spell with the Renault team in style, something that may have been really important when Renault decided to stay committed to F1. The team won’t have much time to regret Ricciardo though, as they will instead need to focus on Fernando Alonso returning to the team he won his two world titles with . With an improving car, it will be very interesting to see what an experienced driver like Alonso will be able to achieve.

Will Alonso be able to recreate the magic?

At the back of the field the most interesting is certainly the discussions around Williams, its new owners (the US investment company Dorilton), and whether George Russell will stay on as driver (apparently Nicolas Latifi has enough financial backing to be certain of his seat). Russell has done a fantastic season given what could be expected, notably reaching qualifying P2 on eight occasions (I know, but we’re talking about Williams here!) and also refers to the fact that he has a contract covering 2021. Then again so did Sergio Perez at Racing Point and that didn’t stop the team from firing him and hire Vettel instead. Perez is still looking for a new seat, and it’s not impossible that he kicks Russell out of Williams. Or maybe Perez could be the one replacing Albon at Red Bull?

The UK seems to have a promising successor to Lewis!

As for Haas, last years’ rock’n’roll team notably thanks to the Netflix documentary “Formula 1 – drive to survive” (watch it if you haven’t!) and the charismatic team boss Günther Steiner with his unique version of German English, it’s been a sad season. The team is nowhere to be seen and not even Steiner’s swearing seem to help anymore. Magnussen and Grosjean are both leaving the team next season, Gene Haas is however said to be committed to another season, so Haas will line up two new drivers in 2021. The rumours have it that one of those may be Michael Schumacher’s son Nic… It also means that both Magnussen and Grosjean could be competing for that second seat at Red Bull, both bringing as much experience as Perez.

With four races to go after today there’s thus still some excitement left, however rather off the track given we already know that Lewis will with very high certainty clinch his well-deserved seventh driver’s title soon, with a new record in the number of race wins! Just a small point though – Lewis doesn’t have a contract for next year, which is slightly strange given how late in the season we are. Most probably he’ll re-sign with Mercedes in the coming weeks, because he wouldn’t be retiring now that he’s beaten most records, would he?

Four is more than two!

quattro (always with a lower-case “q” ). It’s difficult to find a word that has meant more to a carmaker than quattro to Audi. But the quattro concept goes beyond Audi and was to re-define the car world from the early 80’s until four-wheel drive became a common feature in all types of cars. So with the days getting shorter and the roads more slippery, and the original Audi quattro (Ur-quattro, as the Germans would say) celebrating its 40th birthday this year, let’s have a closer look at it, its brilliance as a rally car, and also at the genius of the late legend Ferdinand Piëch, without whom the quattro wouldn’t have happened.

The Audi quattro was truly innovative at the time, including the boxed arches!

To get some perspective we have to wind the clock back to the late 70’s. This wasn’t a very exciting period in the car world in general, and four-wheel drive was at the time something you only found in traditional utility cars like Land Rovers and G-wagons. In Ingolstadt, a bunch of talented Audi engineers under the leadership of Ferdinand Piëch had however started thinking about the possibilities of using four-wheel drive in normal passenger cars, thanks to a room-saving, innovative new differential system.

In parallel there was also talk in the rally world of allowing four-wheel drive on rally cars, which until then had been forbidden. As the visionary he was, Piëch saw the opportunity of developing a new, four-wheel drive sports car and enter it in the world rally championship such as to provide a unique marketing window. This was the first true example of what would become Audi’s long-lived slogan “Vorsprung durch Technik” (something like “head start through technology”). The quattro was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in 1980 and given the rally rules had been re-written in 1979 to allow for four-wheel drive, the timing was perfect.

Not the most pleasant man – but Ferdinand Piëch was both an amazing engineer and marketeer!

Given the Audi quattro was a new concept when it was introduced, Audi weren’t really sure of the demand and modestly estimated it at a few hundred cars. They would be wrong by about 11.000, which was the total number of original Audi quattro’s built between 1980 and 1991! Using the Audi 80 chassis, the quattro also inherited the five-cylinder engine that had so far powered the Audi 100 and 200 (with turbo in the latter). The engine was an engineering tour de force in itself, born out of the need for a smoother engine than a four-cylinder, but in Audi’s case with too little room to fit a front-mounted, longitudinal six-cylinder engine, given the gearbox was placed right behind the engine.

The solution was one of the first mass-produced five-cylinder engines that would come to define Audi over many years almost as much as the quattro concept, and that was said to combine the smoothness of a six-cylinder with the fuel consumption of a four-pot. The first part is true, and it can be added that it does so with a very distinctive sound. The part on the fuel consumption is very much dependent on the driver… In the quattro, the turbo-boosted engine produced 200 hp in the 10-valve version until 1988, which was increased to 220 hp in the 20-valve version for the last three production years.

The radiator had to be placed to the right of the engine, with the turbo to the left.

When you look at the quattro today, the “Vorsprung durch Technik” motto (sorry, sticking to the German version as the translation doesn’t sound as good…) quickly comes to mind. Not that the car is ugly, but it’s certainly not a design masterpiece (then again, neither was the Lancia Delta, the Renault Turbo 2 or other somewhat similar cars from the period). It does however look very purposeful, notably with the the lovely boxed arches that many years later would also come on cars like the Lancia Delta but were very much a first in the early 80’s. They also helped distinguish the quattro from the “standard”, 136 hp Audi Coupé. The interior has that lovely 80’s feel of hard plastic but offers lots of room for four and their luggage, meaning the quattro is a real all-rounder.

The single headlights came in 1982, only early cars have four separate headlights.

When you get behind the wheel, as in most 80’s cars you’re struck not only by the cheap plastic but also by the large windows and the excellent visibility. 200 hp is of course not a lot today, but then again the quattro weighed in at just under 1300 kgs and the turbo character means the car feels rather quick even by today’s standards, helped by an excellent, tight gearbox and, by 80’s standards, precise steering. It also feels solid, obviously not like a modern Audi but more so than many other cars from the period. It’s let down slightly by the breaks that feel soft and not very confidence-inspiring. All in all though, this is a car you can live very well with, knowing that as soon as a twisty back road opens up, the car is ready and will not let you down.

The 80’s won’t be remembered for the interior quality….

As was so often the case, Ferdinand Piëch had been right about entering Audi in the world rally championship and in the early 80’s the quattro became a true rally legend with a total of 23 race wins and four world championships until 1986, thanks to legendary drivers such as Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomquist, Michèle Mouton and of course Walter Röhrl. However, once other brands caught up, the quattro was soon a victim of the less-then-ideal weight distribution that five-cylinder engine pushed all the way to the front of the car caused. Audi stood no chance against the mid-engine competition from 1986 and onwards, but that’s a different story.

The quattro was far more successful than he Sport quattro in rallyes

Interestingly, afraid that the “standard” quattro would be too big and heavy for the new Group B class, Audi presented the Sport Quattro in 1983, a 32 cm shortened group B car of which 164 homologation cars were built for road usage. However the Sport quattro was said to be more difficult to handle and never became as successful on the rally scene as the “standard” quattro. At around 200.000 DM the road version of the Sport quattro was Germany’s most expensive car in 1983, twice as expensive as a 911 Turbo. Today, Sport quattros don’t change owners very often but when they do, it’s at around EUR 500.000.

32 cm less overall length gave the Sport strange proportions, but it remained a very capable rally car!

Should you wish to make the original quattro yours, the good news is that you can take off a zero of the Sport quattro price, as good “standard” quattros trade at around EUR 50.000 today. The 20 valve version from 1989 and onwards cost more but are hardly worth it. Ten years ago both could be had for less than half, but even today a good car, meaning one with a known history and a “tight” driving feel still remains a stable investment – and how could it be different, after all it’s an Audi!

PS. In a class that existed only between 1982 and 1986, the group B rally cars were some of the wildest and most powerful in history. Click the link below for a reminder of what it was like deep down in the Finnish forests, when a 550 hp Sport quattro flew by: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDRkHXMHqFo

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