F1: same same but (not very) different

Four races into the new F1 season and it’s time to make a first pit stop and see what’s happened so far. Any unexpected positive surprises, any upsets, or for that matter any disappointments? So far the four races have taken place in Bahrain, Italy, Portugal and today in Barcelona, Spain, and we now have a two-week break before race number five, the most traditional of them all in Monaco on 23 May. The executive summary so far would go something like same same (as last season) and so far not very different, but if you read on I’ve done my best to add a bit more colour to that.

What is very similar to last season is the two top teams. No changes neither here, nor in the respective top drivers – Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. After Lewis’s win today in Barcelona, Mercedes have an 29-point lead in the constructors’ championship, with Lewis leading the drivers’ by 14 points ahead of Max. The difference is smaller than last year however, with Max pretty much breathing down Lewis’s neck, as shown by the podiums so far where he’s been on all, and winning in Italy. Behind the two, Bottas isn’t surprising on the upside any more than last year, continuing to play the role of the good soldier, but also to show that he’s slower than both Lewis and Max. Red Bull newcomer Sergio Perez on the other hand is off to a promising start (already far better than his predecessor Albon was at any point during his time), and it will be interesting to see if with a few more races under his belt, he can challenge the top duo, or become the natural number three on the podium.

Lews and Max fighting it out at a rainy Imola GP

So to use some hockey terminology (but with no respect for the fact that a hockey line always has three players…), if the first line is made up of Mercedes and Red Bull, the second is also relativeliy clear, at least so far in points, consisting of McLaren and Ferrari. For McLaren this is a continuation of the positive trend from last year, with Lando Norris so far ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, even clinching third place in Italy. Then again, Ricciardo was ahead of Norris today in Barcelona, so things may be turning more even. Over at Ferrari it’s a bit disappointing as the car doesn’t seem to have become more competitive than last year. So far newcomer Carlos Sainz Jr. is also well behind Charles Leclerc. Before the season I wrote that I saw Leclerc-Sainz as perhaps the best driver-duo of any team this year. I guess it’s too early to say, but Carlos Jr. needs to step up his game for that to come through. As for Ricciardo, it still remains to be seen whether his move away from an uncontested first seat at Renault to McLaren was the right one, but there is no doubt that McLaren is faster than Alpine (ex Renault).

Norris continues to deliver at McLaren!

The third line is quite crowded this season, regrouping Alpine, AlphaTauri, Aston Martin (ex Racing Point) and Alfa Romeo (and no, it’s not because they all start with an A…). Except for Aston Martin, the remaining three can be said to be roughly where they were last year, and again, with the established drivers so far ahead of the newcomers. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) shows that he hasn’t forgotten how to drive a car although he’s still behind Esteban Ocon who this year is faster than at any point previously. Yuki Tsunoda still needs to prove himself at AlphaTauri, and especially vs Pierre Gasly. The big disappointment so far is Aston Martin and within the team, unfortunately again Sebastian Vettel. The car seems far less competitive than last year (I’ll leave it open as to whether that’s because it’s no longer a copy of the Mercedes…), and Vettel is so far far well behind Lance Stroll and yet to score a point. Finally Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi are quite even at Alfa Romeo, which is pretty much where it was last year, meaning at the end of that third line.

That leaves Williams and Haas in the fourth line, which is a bit unfair to Williams who are so far clearly better and well on their way up if they keep progressing. Pretty much all of this is thanks to George Russell who continues to deliver as much as the car allows for, so far scoring 8 points. Haas on the other hand is even more disappointing than last year, something not even the talent Mick Schumacher clearly displays can change. The Haas is simply not competitive, but arguably the even bigger issue is the team’s second driver Nikita Mazepin who came as a condition for the Russian sponsor money from his billionaire father, and who is outright dangerous on track. The list of incidents so far has resulted in an equally long list of Instagram jokes on him and the new nickname Maze-spin, and his private behaviour isn’t making him any new friends either. Haas is in dire straits and in desperate need of sponsorship money, but this is of course the worst side of F1, when a team is forced to, and accepts taking on an unfit driver as part of the package. I really do hope things improve before something really bad happens, as Mazepin is a danger both to himself and others.

One of the funnier Mazepin jokes making the rounds on Insta…

There we go – we still have 19 races left this season so things can, and hopefully will still change around a bit. Will Verstappen be able to challenge Lewis for real this year? Will Perez become as fast as Max, and will Ricciardo prove that his move was the right one? Time will tell as we get further into the season, stay tuned!

One half of a Zuffenhausen V8

The car we’ll have a look at this week can very truthfully be described as a well-designed, well-built, practicle and perfectly balanced transaxle coupé with a real Porsche engine. Or, as is far more common, looked down upon as a Porsche-badged Audi. You’ve guessed it, this week we’ll look at the Porsche 944 in its different iterations, a car that is far better than generally believed, and in my view one of the few remaining bargains in the Porsche line-up!

The year is 1981, Ronald Reagan is the new US president, pope John Paul II gets shot (but luckily not killed) and Kim Carnes tops the charts with “Bette Davis Eyes”. The Porsche 924, the car that was indeed more of an Audi, had already been produced five years by then, and interestingly, was originally not intended to be a Porsche at all, but rather a Volkswagen. Had Porsche not picked up the project when Volkswagen decided to abandon it in the early 70’s, the 944 may never have existed (and, Volkswagen could potentially have had a far cooler image than it does today, had it not abandoned it!). As known though, when VW pulled the plug, Porsche picked up what was to become the 924 and thereby inherited quite a few parts along with it, notably the Audi engine with a power output of only 125 hp in the base version. Both the origin of the engine and its lack of power were always the weakest points of the 924. So in 1981, when Porsche decided it was time to launch the beefed-up 944, the first priority was more power. The six-cylinder from the 911 was not an option, notably since there were rumours at the time that rear-mounted engines would be banned in the US, and the only other engine Porsche had in stock was the newly developed, aluminium V8 in the 928. Cutting the V8 in half became the solution, and resulted in the original 2.5 litre four-cylinder of the 944, in its first version developing 163 hp (in Europe, 20 hp less in the US). Better, although still not shooting the lights out.

Porsche ads were frequent – and funny – in the 80’s

Apart from the engine which we’ll come back to in a minute and which except for the power output had a lot going for it, the rest of the 944 did and still does so as well. Firstly it looks good, in a nice 80’s way. At the basis it’s obviously the same body as the 924, but the more muscular, wider rear part makes a big difference and makes the 944 look like a real sports car. It’s also quite a practical car, with back seats (that can be folded) offering reasonable comfort for children, and quite a large luggage space under the glass lid. Secondly, the transaxle construction witth the new engine in front and the gearbox in the back gave the car a near perfect weight distribution of 49/51, making it very well-balanced. The advantage of the aerodyamic shape was also to give the 944 a very respectable top speed of far more than the 210 km/h Porsche had officially quoted. Thirdly, after the face lift in 1985 it also offered a nice interior, far better than the one of the first years that had been identical to the 924, and also far nicer and more modern than the 911’s (911 Carrera or 964) of the time.

Until 1985 there was only one version of the 944, but in 1986 the Turbo was added, producing no less than 220 hp and thereby putting it in a different league to the base model and improving the 0-100 km/h time by all of three seconds, to 5.9 seconds. The Turbo had various other improvements to it as well, notably larger breaks. A year later, the even stronger Turbo S (a name that is obviously still around today for Porsche’s strongest versions) took that up to 250 hp, making it the strongest four-cylinder engine in the world at the time. During the last three years of production until 1991, the S-engine then became the standard engine in the Turbo. There were however also improvements made to the naturally aspirated engine, through the “S” version in 1987 that thanks notably to 16 valves took the power to 187 hp, and then the “S2” in 1989, increasing that further to 208 hp, by now with an increased engine volume of 3 litres. All these engines were also available in the convertible version of the 944, that in my taste however loses a lot of the nice lines of the coupé, with a strange convertible top and through that also a strange looking boot.

Later 944‘s had a low “diffusor” spoiler, improving the rear looks

It’s a couple of years since I last drove a 944 in the 187 hp S version, but interestingly I remember doing so in the same week as driving a 964. No doubt the latter conveyed more of the “true” Porsche feeling, largely also thanks to the engine which is far stronger at lower revs than the 16v four-pot in the 944 S, which needs a bit of revs to reveal its best side. When you do rev it, it does however turn out to be a very nice companion that in no way feels short on power. The 944 also left a very positive general impression in everything from the steering over the surprisingly precise gearshift to the nice cabin, which as mentioned feels quite modern, especially compared to the 964. I actually struggle to remember a single car from the 80’s that presents a better total package for the money in question if its a true sports car feel you’re after. There are clearly atlernatives, some of which we’ve explored here such as the BMW 635i (see here) or the Jaguar XJ-S (see here), but those convey more of a GT than a true sports car feel.

Still today, a nice place to spend time in!

EUR 25-30.000 buys you a nice, late 944 in the S or S2 version, which would be the ones I would for. The first 163 hp version is a bit too weak, and the Turbo is on one hand at least EUR 10.000 more expensive and also more prone to problems. Potential issues are less costly than with a 911 but owner and maintenance history are nevertheless critical. The precise feel in both steering and gearshift that I mention above is a notable sign of a well maintained car, but also something that can vary a lot. Equipment-wise there wasn’t much to be had in the 80’s, but a well-maintained leather interior is nicer than the textile one, and the sunroof is indeed quite special, as it can be tilted but also fully removed in a slightly complicated procedure – nice as long as it works!

Sunroof off almost gives a true convertible feel, with wind deflectors!

If your set on a Porsche but don’t think it necessarily needs to have six cylinders in the back and your budget is around EUR 30.000, options are still few and far between. I’ve mentioned the 911 Carrera (G) and 964 here, which in a comparable condition cost two to three times as much as a 944. You could obviously also go for not only half but all of the engine, i.e. the V8 928, but that will also set you back at least EUR 10-15.000 more. It will also mean losing a bit of the sports car feel and vastly higher maintenance costs (as the 911’s will as well). That leaves the more modern 996, which is comparable in price and equally underrated. I can’t believe it’s almost to the day six years since I wrote about it, in a post you’ll find here. Compared to six years ago the 996 is still a bargain (albeit slightly less so) and the better car, but also one you see if not on every, then at least on many corners. If you buy the right car you can’t really go wrong with either one of them leaving it down to personal preferences. What is clear however is that the 944 is a true Porsche and we should be thankful to its “Audi” cousin 924, without which it would probably never have existed at all!

The EV market takes off for real

Ten days ago, in a flashy, high-tech online show that you can watch here if you missed it, Mercedes-Benz presented the new EQS, the fully electric version of the S-class. I would claim that rather than just another car launch, the EQS is a real game-changer in the EV market, and likewise the last confirmation needed that the big guys are now entering this segment for real. Interestingly, it’s also a (positive!) game changer with regards to environmental factors and sustainability. This week we’ll take a look at the new EQS, which even without considering the drive train looks to be one hell of a car, and talk a bit more about why it’s important and how it will influence the market going forward. If your love for traditional cylinders (to which we’ll return next week) runs so deep that it prevents you from reading any further, in summary I think you can say that whereas the planned Super League in European football came to a very sudden death this week, there will be nothing stopping the EV Super League from taking off in 2021!

Starting with the EQS, In one simple sentence it can of course be described as an electric S-class, whis is perhaps what many people will do – but that would mean missing the whole point. Because by bringing an S-class to the EV market, Mercedes is also bringing a whole new level of luxury and car quality, where until now the only luxury has been Tesla’s giant infotainment screen.

The new EQS – notice the very long wheelbase

Starting from the bottom (literally), the EQS is built on Mercedes’s first EV-specific platform. So far EV’s not only from the Stuttgart brand but also from other large manufacturers have been built on traditional platforms, and this makes a big difference as one specifically developed for EV’s can take into account the absence of an engine and battery space far better. The new platform can also be adapted to different car sizes, something Mercedes intends to do as it rolls out an electric version of all cars in its current line-up over the coming years, some of them already in 2021. To those who know Tesla this is obviously not new, however what happens above the platform, inside the car, definitely is.

The EQS doesn’t look like an S-class and is actually a hatchback (without a frunk, as that space is taken up by various air-cleaning filters). At over 5.20 metres it’s a big car, with lots of interior space, and luggage space of around 650 litres (in addition to which you can fold the rear seats). If the design can be debated, what cannot is the fact that it’s the most aerodynamic car currently in production, with a Cw/Cd-value of 0.20. Also not open to debate is not only the quality, but also the innovativeness of the interior space, at or beyond S-class level. The most spectacular parts are probably the (optional) self-opening-and-closing doors and the gigantic so called hyperscreen (actually consisting of three screens) that extends over the whole dashboard and enables the passenger to for example watch Youtube whilst the driver has access to the navigation. Noteworthy is also that front and rear passengers are independent both in infotainment and speech commands, and chan thus address the car by “Hey Mercedes” independently of each other. The EQS also sets new standards in driver profiles and indiviualization, and the list goes on, and on, and on. Two interior design lines are planned, a more elegant and a more sporty one, and if the hyperscreen for some reason isn’t your thing, you can opt for the mid-mounted “iPad” of the new, “normal” S-class instead – a simple example of how a large car manufacturer can cross-fertilize various items between product lines.

The hyperscreen in the elegant layout version

The EQS is set to come to dealers this summer and will initially be available with 333 or 524 hp as rear- and all-wheel drive. An AMG version is set to follow later. The range will be up to 770 km WLTP, which should translate to something like 600-650 km in real life under pretty ideal conditions. This is a really important point, as no one has so far been able to compete with Tesla’s superior range – until now. Prices aren’t known, German media expect them to start around EUR 110.000 (with as always an almost unlimited upside…), which means pretty much on par or actually even slightly below the regular S-class. Mercedes have stated that they will earn less by car produced than for conventional cars, which in turn means they believe strongly in the growth of the EV segment. If pricing at this level is confirmed it goes against what has been the case so far, where EV-versions from traditional brands such as the Audi E-tron or the MB EQC tend to come at a premium to diesel or petrol versions.

The hatchback rear with the mandatory light bar

As stated previously on this blog, I don’t subscribe to the view that the big car companies have missed the EV train, quite simply as it hasn’t left the station yet. Although the amount of media attention it gets would make you believe it’s already a significant percentage of new car sales, the global EV market is still around only 2%, however with growth really starting to take off in selected markets in Europe, as well as in California and other places. Also, if you except small EV’s with a 150 km range, the market has basically been owned Tesla until now, as we know a three-model car company with only one of them, the Model 3, selling outside of the US, and with the exception of improved range and software, no significant facelifts or updates since the models were launched. I’m sure most large car brands have watched the market carefully whilst preparing in the background for the day growth takes off, and nowhere more so than in Germany. From that perspective, Mercedes’s timing looks pretty impeccable to me. The VW group is about to introduce its new EV platform with notably 20 electric Audi models rolled out over the coming five years, and others will follow close behind. Given the expertise all of these have in building not only cars, but also real luxury cars, the fundamentals of the market are probably about to change, which in turn will make life hard for Tesla, especially in Europe.

Last but not least, let me come back on the sustainability of EV’s that I was very critical of in my post back in January (see here), and that indeed still deserves to be looked at critically, notably in terms of the “CO2 cost” of battery production. If you saw the introduction of the EQS, you may have noted Mercedes CEO Ola Källenius saying that the battery train of the EQS will be produced in Germany in a carbon-neutral way. This sounded a bit too good to be true, so I was in touch with Mercedes’s customer relations this week to have it confirmed, and very impressively, they came back to me in 24 hours. Not only did they confirm that from the first car built, the EQS’s battery pack will be produced exclusively with fossil-free, CO2-neutral energy. They also said that every Mercedes factory in the world will be carbon-neutral by 2022, with some of those in Germany already being so. This is obviously very good as it resolves one of the main issues around EV’s, and will hopefully influence both the public and competitors..

The car can still charge quicker than most stations, but Ionity has really taken off!

EV’s have a lot going for them, and resolving some of the issues with the battery production adds to the positive list. I believe that what Mercedes now starts with the EQS will be a game-changer for the direction of the EV market, as others can be expected to follow close on their heels. In parallel, the European Ionity charging network is growing quickly, already providing a far better coverage than could be expected a few months ago. So whereas I still don’t think you should take your 10-year old car to the car scrap, it definitely looks like the future is electric, and that it may happen quick than I would have thought only a few months ago. Thus, if I were in the market for a new S-class, I would probably think twice about which one to get. In a couple of years, maybe that won’t even be the main question for the typical S-class buyer, but rather if an S-class can really be a hatchback…

Hypercar winds from Argentina

There has been a lot about hypercars on the blog in the last weeks, at least relative to what there usually is. Starting with the post on Koenigsegg (see here) and following on with last week’s interview with Supercars Invest Fund’s Theis Gerner Stanek (see here), the latter notably mentioned his strong love for another supercar brand than Koenigsegg, the cars of which he referred to as true works of art. He was of course right, and it would feel incomplete to move on from supercars to other exciting themes without having looked a bit closer at the Argentinan-born artist Horacio Pagani and his masterpieces, commonly referred to as cars. This week is therefore about Pagani and its unique take on the hypercar segment!

As an Italian born and bred in Argentina, you may think that a man who has dedicated his life to building some of the world’s most extreme hypercars would be a flamboyant, loud character, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Although driven by his life-long passion, Horacio is a soft-spoken artist that grew up in the small town of Casilda in Argentina to which his great grandfather had emigrated from Como, Italy. He started drawing cars and motorcycles as a child, having a dream of one day building sports cars in Modena, far away from the Argentinian pampa. A few years later he went on to study fine arts and engineering while drawing Formula 2 and 3 cars in his spare time. He was so good at it that he was allowed to work with Renault formula cars, and through that met a certain Juan Manuel Fangio. Fangio became so impressed by the young Horacio that he took upon him to write letters to the Italian sports car builders, telling them to hire him. Pagani himself was also convinced that his future was to be found somewhere in northern Italy, and returned to the old country before he knew he had a job. A while later, he did however get a call from Lamborghini and that’s when his career started for real.

The master himself: Horacio Pagani

Having spent some time wiping the floors in Sant’Agata, Horacio wasn’t shy about his ambition to become a great supercar builder¨ and made sure to tell the senior people at Lamborghini about it. He started to move up the ranks, ultimately becoming a chief engineer engaged with notably the Countach Evo and the Diablo. In the process he also became highly convinced of carbon fibre as a material for the future and tried to convince Lamborghini to buy a so called autoclave, basically a machine that would allow for larger usage of carbon fibre going forward. Lamborghini refused with as main motivation that Ferrari didn’t have one – perhaps not the most visionary type of business management… Horacio wouldn’t take no for an answer and borrowed enough money to buy his own autoclave. He left Lamborghini an in 1991 set up his own company – Pagani Automobili. The development of the Zonda now started, but it would take until 1999 before the first cars were finished.

No car maker uses as much carbon fibre as Pagani!

Let’s make a short pit stop here to point out some key differences to Koenigsegg, arguably Pagani’s only real comparable hypercar competitor. Firstly, although carbon fibre is a prominent material for both, it has always been the lead material for Pagani from the first prototype until today, very much at the heart of the company It’s everywhere, from the chassis, over the bodywork to the interior, and all in a very visible way. Secondly, unlike Koenigsegg, Pagani decided from the start not to develop his own engines, instead partnering up with AMG, a partnership that has lasted to this day. Thirdly, if Koenigsegg can be said to follow a Scandinavian, toned-down design language, Pagani couldn’t be more different.

If this isn’t your colour don’t worry – you can have it any way you want!

The Zonda C12 premiered in 1999 and was built through 2011, and new versions were again introduced in 2013 and as late as 2017. Around 130 Zondas have been built in total, in a mix of coupés and convertibles. Fangio, who helped launch Pagani’s career, was involved in the development of the car until his death in 1995. Built largely out of carbon fibre and carbon-based synthetic materials, the Zonda is light, weighing in at between 1100-1300 kg, which given the opulence notably in the interior is pretty impressive. It’s also a bit surprising given the wonderful but not very light 6-litre, naturally aspirated AMG V12 that sits in the middle of the car and in 1999 produced 394 hp, enough already then to give the Zonda a top speed of over 290 km/h. On later versions the engine volume was increased up to 7.3 litres and power up to 800 hp in the Zonda Revolucion, introduced in 2013. The initial C12 is therefore the only Zonda with a top speed under 300 km/h, the others are well above. It’s also noteworthy that until 2013, all Zondas had a 6-speed manual box, only then becoming a 6-speed sequential.

Introduced in 1999, the C12 was the first Pagani Zonda

Everything about the Zonda is spectacular. The four pipes in the back, the purpose-built carbon fibre body, the interior quality and materials – it just goes on. It’s however practically impossible to find two cars that are alike, given again the number of special versions, but also that owners can obviously tailor-make their cars pretty much as they want. Pagani has several times reiterated that building a Pagani easily costs ten times more than building a more normal car, but that part of his proposition is precisely never to compromise to save costs. The whole car is hand-built and each car takes more than a month to finish. The number of cars built is by the way not fully up to Pagani, it’s part of the agreement with AMG who will not deliver more than a pre-agreed number of engines. After all, AMG also does a bit of business with the mother company in Stuttgart…

The naturally aspirated V12 in a Zonda R

In 2012, Pagani introduced the successor Huayra (yep, pretty difficult to pronounce and if you’re wondering, both Huayra and Zonda are south-American winds), although both cars were in the end built in parallel until 2017. The Huayra can be said to be slightly toned-down in its looks, although it remains a spectacular car. It’s also a more modern car than the Zonda, with the body notably including “active” aerodynamic elements such as the two flaps behind the seats that rise during breaking. The gearbox is now a 7-speed sequential, but that it remains a single-clutch also show Pagani’s way of thinking: a double clutch would have added 70 kg in additional weight, thus cancelling out any advantage in acceleration obtained through quicker shifting. But even with a single-clutch box the Huayra is far from slow, with a 2.8 seconds time to 100 km/h and a top speed of 383 km/h.

The Huyara Roadster

The biggest change versus the Zonda however and the fact that many Pagani owners still prefer the latter, is the fact that the Huyara no longer has the naturally aspirated AMG V12, but rather a new, 6-litre, twin-turbo V12. It still comes from AMG and neither power output nore weight have suffered, but even those not obsessed by naturally-aspirated engines will note a far less spectacular engine note than in the Zonda. The Huayra was also built as coupé and convertible in a lot of different series and versions, with the last of around 300 cars said to have left the factory in 2020. Based on what happened with the Zonda that’s probably not the final date though, notably with rumours of a coming Huayra R (the R being the most extreme version of the Zonda) that would return to the naturally-aspirated V12.

There are also rumours of an all-new Pagani coming out soon (here probably defined as years rather than months) notably with talk of something aircraft-inspired (but then again maybe that’s the Huayra R). Few details are known, but one thing is sure: it will again be a multi-million creation largely out of carbon fibre, with an amazing interior and a large V12 engine behind the seats – hopefully at least, maybe a hybrid this time? Pampero is by the way a strong, northern wind that often blows down over Uruguay and Argentina. Whether Pagani stays with the wind theme and calls the new car Pampero or something else doesn’t really matter: Horacio more than achieved his dream as a boy of building true supercars, and he does it in a way that lets all of us all dream a little. If Koenigsegg is the Scandinavian supercar, then Pagani is very much the southern European one. Playing with the thought of which one you would choose if you could, is interesting!

SpecialCars Invest – the Danish supercar fund!

There is a new investment option out there for car enthusiasts, and would you believe it, it comes from Denmark. If you’ve visited the small kingdom between Sweden and Germany, you’ll know that both the country and its people are lovely, but notably because of a tax system that seems to be built around the idea that it’s good that people drive around in old, crappy cars, it hasn’t really been the home of many exciting car projects. Things are however changing and will continue to do so, at least if you speak to Theis Gerner Stanek, founder of SpecialistCars up in Copenhagen. Theis runs a new fund specializing on super- and hypercars, the SpecialCars Invest Fund, and I recently caught up with him on a Zoom call to hear a bit more about the whole project!

Theis makes your supercar dreams come true!

As you would expect, and as quickly became clear in our conversation, Theis is a car guy through and through. He says that he’s liked cars since a young age and has been importing cars to Denmark for 25 years. With an Austrian father and speaking German fluently, Germany became a natural place to go initially, and has remained so to this day. Theis’s first import as an 18-year old was his first own car, a Golf VR6, and for the last 15 years he has made his hobby into a more solid business, importing cars and selling them in a leasing package, something that makes the Danish taxes a bit less penalizing. He currently has around 500 cars on leasing for clients in Denmark, many of whom are high-net-worth individuals, for whom he’s also imported more special cars over the years. And it’s here somewhere that the idea for a fund was born, notably when Theis imported an MB SLS Black Series eight years ago, paying EUR 330.000 at the time, knowing it’s today worth more than twice that. That kind of value appreciation is preserved a small number of cars, and it’s these that Theis and the SpecialCars Invest Fund target. It’s obviously also part of the general value increase we have seen over the last decade in many kinds of real assets, and that Theis doesn’t see an end to, as least not with regards to supercars.

The SLS Black Series has shown great value appreciation!

The fund has a focus on new super- and hypercars, not older than 6-7 years (but having in such cases not been really driven). 90% of cars come from Theis’s network in Germany, with some additionally being sourced from places like Monaco. A couple of weeks before my call with Theis, he had been to Germany to pick up a Bugatti Chiron Sport, and shortly before that, he secured Denmark’s first McLaren 765LT. He currently also owns a Zagato Shooting Break, a Pagani Huayra Roadster BC (with rights secured to buy Pagani’s upcoming model) and has secured a contract for an Aston Martin Valhalla. We are in other words firmly in hypercar territory, with the exclusivity and small series of the objects being the most solid indication of an expected price increase. Having said that, you don’t just go out and buy a Valhalla without good contacts, and it’s these that Theis has been cultivating over the last 15 years of car trading. He is in the right circles and he gets the right invitations. There are however also periods when fewer hypercars hit the market, as the deal flow in this segment isn’t constant, hence my question to Theis why he doesn’t include oldtimers and vintage cars as well. His answer is very honest, saying that given the long and sometimes complicated history most classic cars have, he simply doesn’t have the required expertise.

You don’t see a Chiron Sport every day, not just in Denmark!

Every car that is added to the fund will be so with a pre-planned length of ownership, from a few months to a few years, something that can obviously change along the way. During the time the cars are owned by the fund, they are stored in Denmark in secured facilities and are taken care of as is required. Investors also have the possibility to visit the facilities and see the cars. When the time comes to sell, Theis has a strong wish for the cars to remain in Europe, as that’s where he’s bought them from, and will thus look primarily for European buyers.

The cars are bought by the fund in a format of several vintages, i.e. a “sub-fund” will be started and closed at an indicative size of 10-20m, and the money will be invested before the next fund is opened. The entry value of the car into the fund is always the first price listing of the car, and the fund itself is set up as a Danish Alternative Investment Fund, which cannot be marketed outside of Denmark, but remains fully investable for non-Danes. As for the expected performance, every car will not perform as the Black Series mentioned above, but Theis and his fund management company give investors a performance target of 8-10% net p.a. Having said that, you should have a long horizon given firstly the illiquidity of the market, secondly the fact that the funds are closed-end with a legal term of 10 years, although the aim is for a somewhat shorter fund life.

Pagani is a favourite brand of Theis’s, who speaks of Horacio’s cars as “works of art”

A few days after our chat, Theis was able to go public with the information that his company SpecialCars has been purchased by Selected Car Leasing, one of the largest car leasing groups in Denmark, and will take on its name going forward. Theis, who has built a business from scratch during the last ten years, says he finds it great to be part of a larger group with the resources that brings. For investors, it will be most interesting that Selected Cars is owned by Danish billionaire Torben Østergaard-Nielsen, an equally large car enthusiast and someone who will no doubt bring both contacts and clients to the SpecialCars Invest Fund!

I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing Theis and the team lots of luck in this new adventure, which given his network and focus, I believe he has a very good chance in being successful with. Should you wish to find out more about the fund or be interested in coming in contact with Theis, do let me know in the comments below.

Street finds: the A112 Abarth!

The morning dog walks in our sleepy village outside of Zurich usually don’t bring much in car excitement, and after a premature summer left Switzerland after Good Friday and had changed into a rather grey and chilly morning on Saturday, I wasn’t expecting much of anything. But then there it was, the car which from afar looked like a Mini, but on closer scrutiny was the today very rare A112, and as I was to discover, even a perfectly kept / restored 70 hp Abarth! Some of you will know the A112 as an Autobianchi, an Italian brand from the 70-80’s. Today these lovely small cars have become unusual, especially in one of the early 70’s series as this one was. Back in the day however, (when 70 hp in a small car was still something worth bragging about), the A112 was a frequent sight on the roads especially in southern Europe, and Autobianchi was on the technical forefront of motor engineering, at least in the small car segment. So a bit unplanned as street finds tend to be, this week we’ll have a closer look at the racy A112 Abarth!

The very cool 70 hp Abarth I saw on the streets, with stripes and a white roof!

Autobianchi had its roots in Bianchi, an Italian manufacturer of bicycles (cycle enthusiasts will know it very well!) and motorcycles founded in 1886. 20 years later Bianchi started producing cars as well, but that was met with a moderate success and by the 50’s, the firm was close to bankruptcy. To try to save what could be saved, together with Fiat and Pirelli, the car business was separated into Autobianchi, initially co-owned by the three companies but taken over by Fiat in 1968. Fiat’s idea with Autobianchi was to position it as a more exclusive version of the “regular” Fiats and a brand under which technical innovations could be tested without risking Fiat’s reputation. The most notable of these included the relatively new concept of combining front-wheel drive with Fiat’s first transverse engine. Autobianchi’s first models had names such as Primula and Giardinera, more reminiscent of gardening than anything on four wheels, but then in the 60’s first the A111 and subsequently the A112 were introduced. The latter would be built during 17 years until 1985 in a total of 1.2 million cars, making it by far the most successful car in Autobianchi’s history.

With a total length of 323 cm, the A112 was based on a shortened Fiat 128 chassis. Marcello Gandini, the man behind cars such as the Lamborghini Miura, Countach and Diablo, was given the task to design the car, but it’s quite obvious that he took less inspiration from what he had done for Lamborghini and more from another car that had already illustrated how successful the small, front-wheel drive concept could be: the Mini. The A112’s original engine was the 0.9 litre four-cylinder from the Fiat 850 initially producing 42 hp, later increased to 48 hp. Already in 1971 however, the Torino-based car engineer Carlo Abarth, founder of the company of the same name, saw the potential in the small and light A112 and came up with a 107 hp prototype. This was considered far too much fun by Fiat, and also too expensive to put into production, and power was therefore reduced to 58 hp in the first Abarth versions, and then from 1975 increased to 70 hp. This was notably achieved thanks to a sports exhaust, bringing the additional benefit of a wonderful sound! Combined with the fact that the A112 Abarth was the first A112 version with a five-speed gearbox, it quickly became a favourite among drivers with ambition, of which according to the buying statistics, as many as 35% were women.

The double pipes ensure a great sound to this day!

That takes us back to my morning discovery as what I had in front of me was indeed a 70 hp Abarth version from the mid-late 70’s. Having studied it a bit I’m pretty certain this was the third series of the car, meaning it was built between 1975-1977. 70 hp isn’t much these days, then again the car only weighs around 700 kg, almost half of a modern, small car. The nice, 70’s bucket seats looked perfect, as did he rest of the interior (sorry for the reflections int he picture). The Abarth drive is said to be sporty with a typical front-wheel understeering tendency, but notably the short wheelbase meant that the A112 could also switch to oversteering, making the whole thing slightly adventurous. In Italy there was a rally class champinoship for the A112 in the late 70’s – early 80’s, and more recently, fans of Gran Turismo will also know that it’s a car featured in the game. Undoubtedly, the fact that the cars were driven quite hard has had quite a severe effect on the numbers that remain today!

Brilliant Abarth steering wheel, wonderful bucket seats, long wooden stickshift – what more do you need!

So what happened to Autobianchi? well, given Fiat also owned Lancia with a similar brand positioning, over time it became increasingly difficult to separate the two brands. The A112 was replaced by the Y10 in 1986, which was to become Autobianchi last model and was actually sold under the Lancia brand in some markets outside of Italy. Fiat officially discontinued Autobianchi in 1995, it has never had a rebirth since, and probably never will. That doesn’t change anything to the fact that the Abarth 70 hp is a really cool small city car of a kind that isn’t built anymore, and that provides lots of fun (including the sound!) until this day. Nice ones are around EUR 10′, perfect ones as the one I saw proabably around EUR 15′. Try to find another modern supercar with bucket seats, plenty of Abarth badges or a 70’s double exhaust pipe for that money!

The Swedish hypercars from Ängelholm!

If, like me, you were born in a country and live in another, you know well of all the things that remind you of your place of birth (or that others will remind you of). If, like me, you were born in Sweden, these include music from Abba to Avicii, herring and crispbread, and of course Zlatan (Ibrahimovic). In car terms it’s always been about Volvo and Saab, even though the former is nowadays Chinese and the latter went bankrupt a couple of times before finally pulling the plug ten years ago. There is, however, one other Swedish car brand from the small town of Ängelholm in southern Sweden that is very far from bankruptcy. Not only that, it was founded less than 30 years ago and has in less than three decades developed into what I consider the world’s leading supercar manufacturer. So, if you ask me what makes me most proud of being Swedish, it would be coming from the country of Koenigsegg – and this week we’ll have a closer look at the Swedish hypercar brand and its founder Christian von Koenigsegg, who knows how to do a lot of things, including dreaming big and building the fastest cars in the world!

The story starts in 1994 when 22-year old Christian has already shown both interest and talent for technical innovations as well as drawing, and has also made some money in his young years. Fascinated by cars since his early childhood, the Stockholm-born Christian from the originally German noble family Königsegg, set up a business in southern Sweden with the modest ambition to build the greatest supercar the world had ever seen, combining Swedish design with state-of-the-art technology. Fast wasn’t enough – his car was to be the fastest in the world. You could basically describe him as the Zlatan of the car world in his ambition, however with a very different attitude and modesty (the latter a word Zlatan can’t spell…). Doing this anywhere in the world with a far more solid background is hard – very hard. Doing it as an inexperienced 22-year old in Sweden should be impossible, but wasn’t, and only two years after Koenigsegg was founded, the company presented their first prototype, the CC. From there on, it took another 3-4 years until Koenigsegg’s first small-series model, the CC8S, was introduced at the Paris auto show. Production then started two years later, in 2002.

The CC8S was highly innovative and clearly illustrated what the company’s ambition was, as it already included some noteworthy innovations, such as the synchro helix door actuation system (the folding-knife doors) and a free-flowing exhaust system, both patented by Christian and part of his more than 10 personal patents. He is in other words not only the founder and CEO of Koenigsegg, but very much its Chief Technology Officer as well! The engine of the CC8S was a heavily modified, 4.8 litre Ford V8 producing 655 hp, enough in 2002 to get it into the Guinness book of records as the world’s strongest engine in serial production. The series was however small as only 6 cars were produced in 2002-2003. Its successor, the CCR, brought some important improvements when it came out in 2004, including an 806 hp and 920 Nm power output. Remember this is 2004, i.e. more than 15 years ago, when such numbers were still truly spectacular. This is also where Koenigsegg’s quest for various speed records start. With a top speed of 388 km/h, the CCR was at the time the world’s fastest car. Unfortunately for Koenigsegg, the record would only stand for a few months before it was beaten by the Bugatti Veyron with 408 km/h…

In 2006 the CCR became the further evolved CCX, a car that was an important milestone for the company. Although still based on the CC8S it was heavily modified and for the first time featured an engine developed in-house and producing 817 hp. Importantly the engine could run on 91 octane fuel and also passed the Californian environmental regulation. The CCX was in other words the first Koenigsegg car to be sold in the US, and the “X” in the name commemorates the 10-year anniversary of the first ever test drive with the CC prototype in 1996. Its environmentally-friendly sister car, the CCXR followed a couple of years later and could be driven on ethanol, bringing the benefit of some more power for those who felt they needed it. On ethanol the CCXR produces 1018 hp and 1060 Nm of torque, cracking the 1000-mark both for hp and Nm for the first time – but not the last.

Fast forward to 2010 and Koenigsegg presents the Agera (“act” in Swedish) that over the coming seven years would be built in various versions with between 910 and 1175 hp. Although based on the CCX, the Agera featured a new body, new interior and a new engine. The car’s monocoque is made of carbon fibre which brings us to a central theme of all Koenigsegg cars, namely keeping the weight under control. Whereas a Bugatti Chiron weighs in at just under two tons, Koenigseggs have so far managed to stay under 1500 kg, bringing lots of benefits but also a much rawer experience than the super fast but also super plush ride of a Chiron. The Agera set one of Koenigsegg’s most notable speed records so far, namely 0-300-0 km/h in 21 seconds, more than 10 seconds less than a Chiron, and in 2017 professional driver Niclas Lilja would set a new top speed record at 447 km/h in the Nevada desert. And then end 2019, the Agera did a 0-400-0 km/h run in 31 seconds. It’s difficult to compare these numbers in a way that really illustrates the size of the achievement, but as some kind of reference, a McLaren 720 does 0-300 km/h in 21 seconds. However, by then the Agera is already back to 0…

The Agera RS in Dubai, one market where it has lots of success…

Koenigsegg has today established itself as one of the leading hypercar constructors in the world, going from a very small operation of about 50 people to today around 300 employees, still based in Ängelholm in Sweden. Demand has never been stronger and Koenigsegg have in total so far built around 250 cars for some 190 clients at prices from USD 1.5m and upwards (with no upper limit…). As you understand from the numbers, some owners have more than one car in their garage. Life isn’t fair…

From the mid-2010’s, Koenigsegg has kept busy. In 2014 it launched the surreal One:1, which at 1360 kg had a power output of 1 hp per kg, and at 1371 Nm, practically the same torque… In 2015, the hybrid Koenigsegg Regera (“reign” in Swedish) was launched with an 1115 hp engine and was built until 2019. In the same year the Agera was replaced by the Jesko, which takes its name from Christian’s father. As per Christian, the Jesko is the fastest car the brand will ever build. With a twin-turbo, 5-litre V8 engine producing 1622 hp (running on ethanol) and a perfect aerodynamic shape, the Jesko in the Absolut version is said to have a top speed of 531 km/h. Finding a place to test that isn’t easy, but Koenigsegg is working on it to reclaim the world’s speed record which in between has been lost to the US small-scale brand SSC.

The most exciting car in today’s line-up is however not the Jesko but rather the Gemera (“give more” in Swedish), the world’s first real four-seater hypercar, including a decent, 200-litre luggage space. Its drivetrain is highly impressive: a two-litre, three-cylinder engine producing 600 hp (!!) is combined to three electrical engines to a total power output of 1700 hp on ethanol. The company targets a production of 125 Jeskos and 300 Gemeras, which given current demand they will most certainly reach, but take a number of years to do so, as the current annual production is around 20-30 cars.

The closest I have been to a Koenigsegg was seeing an Agera at the Geneva Motor Show in 2019 and I don’t expect to come closer to one anytime soon. What I find so impressive with the company however, is the philosophy of never resorting to a less than perfect solution. If there is a piece or system available in the market Koenigsegg will be happy to buy it, but if it’s anything less than perfect, they will rather build it themselves. If you can charge your clients the kind of money the company does this is no doubt easier, but it also translates a very high ambition. It’s also truly impressive what Christian has invented and developed through the years. His technical genius combined with a pretty stunning design on most models has made Koenigsegg into a supercar company like no other. Most of us would probably have been equally impressed had the cars had a few hundred hp less, but not Christian: 27 years ago he set out to build the fastest hypercar in the world, and that’s what he’s done over and over again. If Zlatan is the God of football, then Christian is no doubt the God of hypercars!

The F1 season 2021 kicks off!

Next week on 28 March the 2021 F1 season kicks off in Bahrain, and it promises to be an interesting one! To start with the Covid part, the season was really supposed to start in Australia but the Melbourne GP has been postponed. In Bahrain, vaccinated and Covid-recovered will be allowed as audience, but it remains to be seen how many subsequent races will follow the same policy. At least for the first half of the season, my guess is that races will tend to be without audience, but perhaps that will improve as the season (and vaccinations!) progresses. Do remember however that the first races of last season were completely cancelled, so things are progressing, and even with empty stands there promises to be enough excitement on the track to compensate for a lack of spectators. So with one week to go, here’s a round-up of the teams and their drivers, and also a few words on where those went who left since last season.

Starting with the teams, we’ll have the same 10 this season as we did last, however with two of them having changed names and looks. Racing Point has changed both name and colour, going from the quite spectacular pink to a less flashy but more classy Aston Martin green as the team takes the Aston name, making it the first time in over half a century Aston Martin has its name on cars in F1. Renault on the other hand has decided to revive the Alpine name not only through the A110 street car, but also on the F1 track. Renault F1 has thus becomes Alpine with the colour changing from yellow to an Alpine blue with red elements. I’ve written about Alpine on a couple of occasions and in my first post on the A110 that you can find here if you missed it, I certainly didn’t count on the name having much of a future. As so often, I don’t mind having been wrong!

Moving on to the drivers, we’ll have three rookies and one comeback kid in 2021. Among the new entrants, none has a bigger pair of shoes to fill than Mick Schumacher, Michael’s son. Mick drives one of the Haas cars and Nikita Mazepin, an equally 22-year old Russian rookie the other. A student of the Ferrari Driving Academy, Mick also won the F2 championship lsat year and the F3 one in 2018, so there’s no doubt he brings more than a legendary name to the party. We’ll see during coming years if it’s enough to take him beyond the Ferrari academy into the actual team, and whether his career will be as successful as his father’s. The third new driver is Yuki Tsunoda in AlphaTauri, a 21-year old Japanese driver Red Bull has a lot of faith in, and who’s advanced from local racing in Japan to F1 in just four years. The comeback kid is of course none other than Fernando Alonso who return to Renault/Alpine, taking over Daniel Ricciardo’s seat. Alonso has notably won Le Mans since he left F1 two years ago and as he turns 40 this summer, it will be interesting to see how much fuel he has left in the tank!

Yuki Tsunoda to replace Daniil Kvyat at AlphaTauri F1 team ...
Red Bull believes strongly in young Yuki Tsunoda

As for the drivers who change teams, I find three of the moves especially interesting. The first is no doubt Carlos Sainz Jr. moving to Ferrari and teaming up with Charles Leclerc. This to me is probably the leading driver pair this year, in competition with Red Bull. However, it remains to be seen if Ferrari has found enough speed to allow them to compete. The second is Sebastian Vettel moving from Ferrari to Racing Point / Aston Martin. Seb turns 34 this year and has been on a downward slope for quite some time, so it will be very interesting to see if racing with Aston Martin will allow him to perform again. Finally, Sergio Perez was unsure of whether he would find a seat until the very last days of last season, when it was confirmed that he takes over after Alex Albon in Red Bull. I think this is extremely well deserved as Perez has always been a bit underrated, and whereas he won’t challenge Max Verstappen’s first-driver status in the team, I don’t think he will be far behind – if at all. The last and to me far less interesting move is Daniel Ricciardo’s move to McLaren. It was hard to comprehend when Ricciardo joined Renault and even harder to understand when he left them for McLaren, as Renault was getting better as last season progressed. Then again, maybe Ricciardo sees the same thing happening with McLaren, let’s hope he’s right in that case.

If the car is up to it, I’m sure Sainz will deliver!

So where did the drivers who left after last season go? Alex Albon is still with Red Bull as reserve and development driver and is set to race in the German Touring League DTM this year. Romain Grosjean (ex Haas) has moved to the US where he’ll be racing in the Indycar Series and perhaps compete against Kevin Magnussen (also ex Haas) who has also moved over the Atlantic, however not to Indycar but rather for IMSA, notably driving the Daytona 24hrs this year. Finally Daniil Kvyat (ex AlphaTauri) hasn’t gone anywhere at all, staying in F1 as reserve driver for Alpine in 2021.

So there we are, and by this time next week we’ll have a first idea of how far the different teams have come, even though the season will of course be a long one. Given how terribly bad I am at it I won’t even try to predict the outcome, but if Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari have somewhat comparable cars, I think we’re in for a really exciting season. It would be really great if Ferrari has found the way back to a winning concept, and I don’t think I’m the only one who look forward to see what Mick Schumacher will be able to achieve. Until next week, if you want to have a behind the scenes look back at last season, the third season of “F1 – Drive to survive” has just premiered on Netflix!

F1: Haas mit großem Interesse an Mick Schumacher - Eurosport
Schumacher Jr., racing for Haas in 2021

Maranello’s best daily driver!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Panamera (see here if you missed it), a family hatchback that translates the true Porsche feel as much as its format and weight allows for, and the first generation of which currently offers pretty exceptional value for money. But whereas to my mind, the Panamera is the daily driver that presents the best “price-adjusted” offer in the EUR 40-50.000 price segment, it’s not the only car out there providing a nice bridge between a word leading sports car tradition and something that actually qualifiees as (almost) reasonable with daily driving potential. This week we’ll therefore travel south from Zuffenhausen, over the Alps to Maranello, to explore Ferrari’s best offer in this regard: the splendid, 12-cylinder Ferrari FF. Just like the Panamera, in addition to all its practical benefits (and there are a lot!), it remains one hell of a car that right now offers exceptionally good value for money – albeit in a higher segment.

Looks that have aged very well!

The FF (Ferrari Four) was presented in 2011 and built until 2016 as successor to the 612 Scaglietti, and as could be expected, it split opinions among Ferraristis right from the start. Obviously this wasn’t the first four-seater from Ferrari, but “Four” in the name also referred to this being the first four-wheel drive Ferrari in history. The system was developed by Ferrari and doesn’t weigh more than 45 kg. Without becoming too technical, a second, two-gear gearbox right over the front axle complements the main, 7-gear dual clutch box and transfers power to the front axle over two multi-plate clutches. The low weight comes at the expense of function as the system only works in gears 1-4, which doesn’t change that it’s perfectly useful for example on snow. On solid ground and in all gears, the car is otherwise rear-wheel drive, and the 45 kg are a reasonable price to pay for the increased function, although the true purists will remark that the driving experience becomes less playful than with a rear-wheel drive, “classic” Ferrari. All others will find it a true sports car to drive, also with an almost perfect 53-47% weight split (rear-front). The FF also has an adaptive suspension with five driving programs, controlled by the “manettino” on the steering wheel, and the car can and will be raised a few cm as required.

Not where you would take your 458!

The other area of contention ten years ago was the looks. 2011 was still a few years before shooting breaks became as popular as they are today, so for most, those concerns are largely gone by now. Looking at the FF today I think it’s aged extremely well. Given we started this with a comparison with the Panamera, there’s no real contention on which one looks the best… Pininfarina has done an excellent job in a classic combination of a long front and a short, dynamic rear gives the car perfect dimensions.

All this is of course fine and good, but the most exciting part of the FF is no doubt what you find under the hood, namely a 6.3 litre, naturally aspirated V12, derived from the Enzo and the biggest V12 Ferrari had ever put into production at the time. Producing 660 hp and 683 Nm torque, those who don’t get goose bumps when it comes alive are either deaf or completely heartless. Ferrari will tell you that the incredible sound is helped by the 65-degree angle, i.e. 5 degrees more “open” than a typical V12 engine is built in. I find it hard to believe that it would have sounded much less with less of an angle though… Once alive, the incredible engine will take the FF all the way to 335 km/h, of which the first 100 km/h only need 3.7 seconds.

The wonderful engine behind the front axle, with the second gearbox in front

If this doesn’t sound like an (almost) reasonable daily driver so far, let’s look at the practical side of the FF. Firstly, it’s a true four-seater rather than a 2+2, and the rear seats are really quite comfy, even for grown-ups. Secondly they as well as the central part can be individually folded, the central part for example to transport skis. Thirdly, with all seats in place the FF offers 450 litres of luggage space, which increases to over 800 litres once the seats are folded. What Ferrari will not offer, but offer you to buy, is of course a very chic luggage set to help you make the most of that space to arrive in style! And finally the FF has a 91-litre tank, meaning you can do at least 500 km before you have to stretch your legs and admire it from the outside, which certainly won’t hurt. The quality of a daily-driver however also lies in its quality and reliability, and it’s here that the FF impresses even more. The interior looks fantastic and is well built – clearly a level above the previous generation. Guarantee and service packages when the car was new were extensive in most markets, and the quality is also proven by how unlike many other Ferraris, most FF’s have a lot of km on the clock and it’s rare to find a car that has barely been driven.

The FF offered owners a lot of options for individualization and it’s not rare to find cars that cost EUR 350.000 or more as new. This can obviously be interesting when you look to pick one up today, and if you plan on buying one and will be more than two persons using it, I would be on the lookout for the panoramic glass roof which makes the rear much lighter. Quite obviously though, the most important by far is making sure the car has been properly serviced and that both the engine and the electronics are in order. Ideally, one owner will have used the car in a way where it wasn’t his city driver and where he didn’t require assistance of the four-wheel drive system too often. If you can find that, then it’s less important if the car has 20.000 or 50.000 km on the clock. And if you know your Ferraris, there’s nothing hindering you from considering cars with even higher mileage. Those will start at EUR 90-100.000, those with less km start coming in at EUR 120-130.000, and there’s quite a few cars in the market, so realistically some negotiating potential as well. That price fall is not unique compared to other Ferrari models but at one third of the price as new, to me the FF is the one that offers the best combination of many qualities, making it an (almost) reasonable purchase, and one that will make you smile every time you turn the key!

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!