The Audi (B8) RS4 – naturally-aspirated legend!

When Ferrari introduced the new Purosangue that I wrote about back in December, many of us were pleasantly surprised to hear that it would be powered by something as exotic these days as a naturally aspirated V12, in this case putting out no less than 725 hp. Supercharged engines are obviously what you mostly see these days, so Ferrari sticking to the tradition, especially with a 12-cylinder, is great to see! What’s also pretty great and far cheaper than a new Purosangue, are some of the classic naturally aspirated engines from not too long ago, especially those with 8 or 10 cylinders. Audi is then a name that quickly springs to mind and this week, we’ll therefore look at what’s become as much of a bargain as rare in terms of power trains – the B8 Audi RS4!

As practical as a Purosangue, and much cheaper!

The tradition of Audi power wagons starts with the RS2, built by Porsche when they were done with the MB E500 they were commission to build for Mercedes and that you can read about here (but that was never available as station wagon). The RS2 was based on the Audi 80 and although it looked a bit more muscular, its fascination came from it retaining many of the family station wagon looks whilst driving and having the power of a sports car. Up until then, that had never really been the case. What it didn’t have however was a V8, but rather a 2.2 litre turbo five-cylinder engine putting out 315 hp. The RS2 was only built during three years from 1994 to 1996 and has already become a true legend, priced as such.

When the RS2 was replaced by the RS4 in 1999, the engine had grown by one cylinder, 0.5 litre and 65 hp (to 380 hp), but it wasn’t until the second generation of the RS4 in 2005 that the V8 party got going. The original six-cylinder was then replaced by a 4.2 litre, naturally aspirated V8 putting out 420 hp, and the car was available as sedan, station wagon and convertible. More importantly, the B7 generation as it’s called was only available with a manual six-speed gearbox… At a 40-60 front-back drive train split, it also had a more rear-biased quattro system and also not to forget, it was the first RS4 with the lovely, double oval exhaust pipes! Thinking of where we are today, it’s difficult to imagine a more appealing cocktail than this, however ideally in sedan or station wagon form as the convertible suffered a bit rigidity-wise.

A normal (B8) A4 until above the bumper, all RS4 below!

The V8 lived on to the B8 generation built between 2012-2015, but other body forms than the station wagon didn’t, so the wagon was the only shape the new RS4 was available in. Power had now increased to 450 hp at an almost incredible 8250 rpm, but the manual box was now gone, replaced by Audi’s equally excellent (but less fun) 7-speed DSG box. A new differential allowed for as much of 70% going to the front wheels and up to 85% to the back wheels, boosting the entertainment factor. It’s also worth remembering that both the B7 and B8 were light cars by today’s standard, with the former at around 1750 kg and the latter at another 100 kg. The B8 was to be the last V8-powered RS4 and was replaced by the current version which has gone back to a turbo-powered six-cylinder engine.

I hadn’t driven a B8 for a long time until a couple of days ago when I had the pleasure of doing so here in Zurich. The car in question had a pretty amazing history It was sold by the same garage that now had it for sale, to the only owner it ever had. He apparently has a number of cars so that he never used the RS4 in the winter, which given its talents is rather strange. Actually he didn’t use it much at all, as he only put 31.000 km on it since new, but still had it serviced every year in the very same garage. Built in 2014, the car looked absolutely new. Of course, after three weeks of sunshine it had to rain this very day, and I almost got the impression it was the first time the car saw water coming from the sky and not the (manual) car wash…

Beautiful Dayton grey color and black pack. Not a big fan of the wheels.

Starting from the outside, the B8 is a pretty, purposeful and muscular car with the larger body really setting it apart. It’s best from the front and side, with the back being a bit too much normal A4, except of course for the double exhaust and the diffusor in between. As you get in, the first impression is that of quite a tight car. It gives an incredibly solid impression with some nice carbon inlays in the RS4, but a bit less plastic wouldn’t hurt, even if the plastic is of excellent quality. As we pulled out of the city in comfort mode, the car very much behaved like any family wagon, albeit one with very precise steering and suspension on the firm side even in this mode. Putting it into Dynamic (together with Individual and Auto the other options, and the most sporty one) changes everything. There’s an immediate change of tone in the exhaust, the suspension firms up and the steering becomes sports car-like direct. As we reached the outskirts of the city the engine was warm, and I was finally able to start pushing it a bit, and what a pleasure it was!

The engine is absolutely incredible. Power delivery is immediate and the revs keep rising as long as you hold your foot down, as the tone changes from a deep grumble to more of a singing bariton. The power delivery is naturally aspirated-smooth and the amount of power feels perfect for the car. It’s also noticeable how much tighter the smaller RS4 feels compared to its bigger brother or an E63. The road was really wet and I was on 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sports with an increasingly nervous garage guy next to me so we were nowhere near the edge, but at no point did I feel nervous – the car was glued to the road, the steering made it extremely precise to handle, and the engine kept singing. Motor journalists like to call the RS series and especially the B8 boring and maybe it is on a track. But a station wagon is made for transporting people and stuff whilst still procuring driving pleasure to the person behind the wheel, not for track use, and this is a car that excels at precisely that. Downsides? Some road-noise is one, not helped by the 20-inch wheels. And the size of the manual shift paddles is another – did they run out of metal in Ingolstadt?

Solid, purposeful, but slightly joyless

A well-preserved RS4 of the B8 generation with up to 70-80′ km on the clock will be yours for around EUR 40-50′, which at about 1/3 of its price as new, slightly more than a few years ago, but still an absolute bargain. It’s also a car that can be expected to hold its value very well given it’s one of the last naturally-aspirated V8’s out there. If you really insist on changing gears manually then the B7 is worth considering, but for everyday use I would go with the B8 as it still feels like a modern car. There’s a few options you should think about doing so. Firstly color-wise, the Nogaro blue is the rarest and the most sought-after, but it’s very blue indeed. As a more discrete alternative, the Daytona grey is my favorite. Then, “my” car had both the sports exhaust and the dynamic chassis and you should definitely go for both. You should also make sure it has the B&O sound system, as Audi’s more basic system is awful (most cars have it, but mine didn’t). Finally the panoramic roof is nice and helps lighting things up a bit. Audi’s quality may be top-notch, but you can’t call the interior design overly joyful…

Even though they come from the same naturally-aspirated tradition, it goes without saying that no one considering a Purosangue will be in the market for a used B8 RS4. But if driving pleasure is a priority, a power station wagon will always be a better choice than any SUV. Among these, a V8-powered RS4 is an increasingly rare car and currently one of the best deals to be had. Find one with the right equipment, service and owner history and you will not be disappointed!

Bristol cars – as British as it gets!

What do Sir Richard Branson, Liam Gallagher/Oasis and Tina Turner have in common? I guess Tina or Liam may well have listened to the other’s music while travelling on one of Richard Branson’s Virgin planes but as you’ve guessed, that’s not the connection I’m after. That would rather be that they have been, or still are, owners of a Bristol automobile, perhaps the most British of all UK car manufacturers. With a long-term building philosophy of “no more than 2-3 cars a week”, never more than a single show room in London’s Kensington High Street and an at times very particular view of what good car design is, it’s really no surprise that the brand hasn’t survived until today – but it is a surprise it lived on as long as it did! Before Bristol is completely forgotten, it’s well worth having a deeper look at one of the UK’s quirkiest car companies and some of the wonderful cars they built during the 70 years it was in existence!

As many other car manufacturers, Bristol had its roots in airplane manufacturing but even before that, as a builder of tramways in the UK. The tramway company started operations as early as 1875 and business was especially good during WW1 when the Luftwaffe kept damaging the tramway’s power lines, thereby creating a need for lots of maintenance work. With the tram business up and running and the Wright brothers having flown over the English Channel, it became clear to Bristol’s founder George White that the future was in the air. The airplane business started in 1910 and enjoyed an equally good business in the run-up to WW1. As for so many other military suppliers though, when the war ended, orders no longer came in. Bristol had no choice but to diversify again, creating the Bristol Car Company in 1918. However, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that it really came alive.

The Bristol 400, Bristol’s first car.

What really got the car business going was a collaboration with Frazer Nash, at the time UK importers of BMW. Somehow Frazer Nash came in possession of all the drawings and specifications of the BMW 326-328 after the war and it was based on these that Bristol built and presented its first car in 1946, essentially a remodeled BMW introduced under the name Frazer-Nash-Bristol. The engine was the same straight six the Beamers had under the hood, but this and later Bristol cars weren’t just copies of the respective BMW’s – they were improved in several ways and already in the 50’s earned a very good reputation. Even though the official collaboration with Frazer Nash ended the year after, Bristol’s 400 series would go on and include all cars until the 80’s. Starting with the Bristol 400 in 1947 and along with the following Bristol two and four-seater cars until the 406 (and there were models for all numbers in between), the cars were all powered by the same two-litre, BMW straight six engine.

The Bristol 50’s factory didn’t change as much as others in subsequent years…

From the start, Bristols were thus positioned as luxury cars and comparable to the Jags and Bentleys out there. Of course all cars were hand-built back in the 50’s and 60’s, but Bristol did so in line with the British car building tradition and was quickly seen as an alternative to for example Jaguar. The cars were built to high engineering standards, said to be “built to last”, apparently to the difference to some other cars of the time. This together with the exclusivity that comes from building such small series of cars was what Bristol felt justified the high price. The “no more than 2-3 cars per week” was probably all the company could do anyway back in the 50’s, but the motto lived on through Bristol’s full history, making any Bristol a very rare automobile these days. Some of those will be far more desirable than others. If the early 400 series Bristols from the 50’s drew heavily on BMW, the 60’s and early 70’s models were certainly the high point of Bristol’s own design. You’d be excused for thinking that the design department was on long term leave during the following decades when you see later cars.

The interior of a Bristol 406 – very nice and very British!

Starting with the Bristol 407 the company switched to a Chrysler V8 engine which from the 411 (most cars) and onwards (all cars) was the large 6.2 litre one. The 411 is actually worth a special mention as perhaps the nicest of all Bristol cars. A total of 287 were built between 1969 and 1976, with the big engine making the car capable of a top speed of 230 km/h which you would have to be very brave indeed to exploit. This made Bristol the cool and far less common alternative to the Jaguar XJ-C or the Jensen Interceptor that I wrote about back in October. Engineering-wise it was certainly comparable and in the looks department, it was certainly up there with the XJ-C and some Italian beauties, which is saying a lot!

The 411, perhaps Bristol’s nicest car in my humble opinion

The late 70’s and early 80’s were certainly not known for good design and nowhere was it worse than at Bristol. Starting with the 412, the company’s efforts to modernize the lines failed so spectacularly that fans pretty much gave up on the company, starting its long demise. Cars like the 90’s Blenheim roadster were seen as dated already when they appeared, and it was in a last effort to save the company that Bristol developed the Fighter, built between 2004 and when the company went into administration in 2011 in around a dozen examples (no one knows for sure). It was a pretty extraordinary car, looking like nothing else and powered by Chrysler’s V10 Viper engine, here producing around 500 hp and coupled to a four-speed autobox. Bristol had plans to build around 20 Fighters a year and also to launch a turbo version with twice that power (yes, really!), but that wasn’t to be. Given the low level of interest the Fighter generated, probably due both to the particular design but perhaps even more to the GBP 230′ price tag, no other Bristol car would ever see the light of day.

The Fighter would be Bristol’s last car – not sure about the license plate

Bristol Cars went into administration in 2011 and was then bought by the Swiss Kamkorp group who never managed to bring out any new models so that until the lights were finally turned off in 2020, the company mostly renovated and supplied parts to older Bristol models. In 2016, the Bristol veteran Richard Hackett was one of the founders of a company called SLJ Hackett, today one of the main distributors of older Bristol cars. SLJ offers most Bristol models for sale and with prices starting around GBP 50′, they are more affordable than you may think. So if you want to do what Sir Richard, Tina Turner and Liam Gallagher did, then SLJ Hackett is the company for you. It goes without saying that the driving pleasure will be from the right side only – after all, who would come up with the strange idea of driving on the other side? Unfortunately there’s no place for companies like Bristol in today’s car world and that’s a shame, because it could certainly use a bit more of them!

African children dying for our “green” energy revolution

“A young woman named Priscille stood in one of the pits with a plastic bowl in her right hand. She rapidly scooped dirt and water with the bowl and flung it onto a sieve a few feet in front of her. Her motions were precise and symmetrical, as if she were a piece of machinery designed only for its purpose. After the sieve was filled with gray-colored mud and sand, Priscille yanked the sieve up and down until only the sand remained. That sand contained traces of cobalt, which she scooped with her plastic bowl into a pink raffia sack. I asked Priscille how long it took her to fill one sack with the sand. “If I work very hard for twelve hours, I can fill one sack each day,” she replied. At the end of the day, the women helped each other to haul their fifty-kilogram sacks about a kilometer to the front of the site where négociants purchased each from them for around $0.80. Priscille said that she had no family and lived in a small hut on her own. Her husband used to work at this site with her, but he died a year ago from a respiratory illness. They tried to have children, but she miscarried twice. “I thank God for taking my babies,” she said. “Here it is better not to be born.”

This terrifying quote is taken from Siddharth Kara’s book “Cobalt Red – how the blood of the Congo powers our lives” that you may remember me mentioning in the first post of the year, before it appeared but after Kara had appeared on Joe Rogan to talk about it. As a reminder, he has done what no EV buyer or Western politician promoting the “green energy revolution” has ever done, namely travelled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and at considerable risk to his own life, visited all the large cobalt mines around the country that together make up around 70% of the cobalt that powers the Western world’s electrification. That it doesn’t power the DRC itself or provide it with any riches is well illustrated not only by the $1-2 the diggers earn per day, but also by the fact that the country’s own electrification has so far reached less than 10% of the population. Not measured in EV’s, but in lightbulbs.

When your family is starving, school is not an alternative

The DRC is basically filled with all the minerals, metals and precious stones you can think of, yet its population is one of the world’s poorest. Over the last 150 years it’s been plundered more times than anyone can remember and when it wasn’t by Western colonialists, it was then just as effectively by one in the long line of ruthless dictators who enriched themselves on the back of an increasingly poor population. The latest robbery is for cobalt of which there is plenty in various parts of the country. Some of it can be found on the surface with a simple shovel, but most of the reserves require tunnels to be dug. A fair amount of such tunnels are artisanal, dug by simple workers with shovels, mostly so small that only young children fit in them. Artisanal tunnels crumble regularly, on average once a week somewhere in the country, thereby severely injuring the children or burying them alive. That’s right – 10-11-year old children are regularly buried alive at dozens of meters under ground in complete darkness. 80% of the mines are owned by Chinese operators who share the profits with the dictator in power at the time. Tax that would potentially support the development of local communities is however something they do all they can to avoid.

If you ever felt your office was too small, this is the entrance ot his…

When Priscille and the thousands of other diggers across the country have carried their heavy sacks to their “négociant” (the dealer who pays them), these are transported away for further refinement on enormous, diesel-powered trucks. The traffic to and from the main mines is so intense that there is often long colons of trucks blocking the roads for miles, together with the mine operations themselves contributing to the terrible air quality plaguing most of the primitive villages the diggers live in, and heavily polluting their waterways and lakes. This is a big problem given fish is an essential food for many. When the trucks reach their destination, their load is mixed with the load of all the other trucks and from that point on, there is no way of separating cobalt from one place from that of another. There is thus no way for any company to claim that their cobalt hasn’t been excavated without child labor. Then again, Kara didn’t find one single mine on his travels where hundreds of children were not heavily at work.

Mines do not appear out of nowhere. They have been developed by mining companies starting around 30 years ago and have seen an exponential growth in the last 10 years when the race for cobalt really got going. There used to be villages, jungle and forests where the mines are today, and the few people who live long enough to remember those days will tell you they were never rich, but they had a decent life. That changed when the miners came, chopped the trees, burnt the villages, polluted the local water and with time the air, and everything then got worse again when the Chinese mining companies took over. Today the same people struggle to survive in primitive sheds and have no other choice than to work in the mines. I guess someone who earns $1-2 a day is technically not a slave, but it’s a very subtle difference. Most don’t live beyond 30 years. And like Priscille, those without children will thank the God, many somehow still believe in, for that.

There used to be villages and trees here

Kara’s book appeared in January and is no literary masterpiece, but the fact that its contents hasn’t lead to an intense debate and calls for an immediate stop to this murderous practice, which indirectly is subsidized by Western governments through EV subsidies out of our tax money, says a lot about our society. Around 120 years ago, Belgian king Leopold II spread terror across all of central Africa, killing millions, at the time for rubber. Back then, Westerners could be forgiven for not knowing what was going on, given the lack of information. Today and especially after Siddharth Kara’s book, the information is there for anyone who is interested. This makes us all guilty because there is cobalt in pretty much every appliance you have at home, but the quantitiees are measured in grams and not in kg’s as in EV’s, where a large EV battery pack contains around 10 kgs of cobalt. There are currently around 16 million EV’s in the world and children are dying in the Congo every day for them to function. International climate agreement calls for that number to increase more than five-fold over the coming decades. Putting aside the simple fact that at no point in human history have we succeeded in doubling (much less increasing five-fold) the amount of any input material in a 10-year period, you wonder how many children are yet to die, buried alive, handicapped with crushed legs, or from the poisoned water and air, until the dime drops.

50 kgs in one sack means $1-2 per day

Since reading the book and realizing the full scale of the catastrophy, I’ve taken upon me to try to spread the word about it as suprisingly, its publication has not led to what should have been obvious calls for these inacceptable practices to be stopped immediately. Engaging on Twitter on the subject with so called environmentalists (not a practice I would recommend to anyone with heart problems) typically gives two types of reactions. The first is a pretty astounding level of whataboutism, along the lines of oil and natural gas excavation being terrible as well. I’m the first to agree it is, but to my knowledge children aren’t systematically killed on oil wells. The other is to refer to the constant progress made on batteries and that soon, these problems will be behind us – so let’s close our eyes until that’s the case? It’s true that batteries will evolve but it’s neither for next week, nor for next year. And yes, you can build EV batteries without using cobalt (Tesla does for a fair part of their cars), but that reduces the energy density (i.e. the range), the stability (notably increasing the fire risk) and the longevity. And what replaces the cobalt is mostly nickel, of which Russia is the world’s leading producer.

You’ve seen it before, but this is a graph worth repeating

Contrary to these people I think we need to act now, since what goes on in the DRC is far from acceptable in a world that at least on the face of it makes a lot of noise on equal opportunities for all and not just the few. Not a single phone and certainly not a single EV should be built until the mining companies in the DRC can clearly demonstrate that child labor and artisanal mining is a thing of the past, that workers are paid a decent salary (we’d still be well below $10 per hour here, so it wouldn’t kill them), that they’ve built schools for the diggers’ children, and that they’re taking serious action against the environmental catastrophies they continue to cause.

I’m far too old and cynical for actually thinking that will happen, but I do think it’s at least our duty to try. There’s a few hundred of you reading this blog every week and my ambition has always been to give you an enjoyable few minutes on your weekend, late night or pause in the working day. I fully realize reading the above hasn’t been enjoyable at all and for the first time, I will ask a favour of you. If each of you can share this post with 2-3 of your friends and ask them to do the same, then just maybe we can slowly make a change to this scandal. The children currently digging in the mining districts of the Congo are doomed anyway, but perhaps we can contribute to a better life for the next generation. It’s a small hope but if you don’t believe in that, it’s very difficult to believe in anything. Thank you!

He will never drive a Tesla

Siddharth Kara’s book can be bought on Amazon here. Joe Rogan’s podcast witih him can be found here. If you’re new to the blog, you may want to read one of my previous posts on the topic of the unsustainability of EV’s that you’ll for example find here.

The forgotten lord

The Range Rover is the most legendary luxury SUV out there, and it’s now been around for more than 50 years. The brand new model of which deliveries started early this year is however only the fifth generation in the line-up. The original Range Rover was built for all of 24 years, the third generation L322 for 11 years and the L405, the predecessor to the fifth generation of which I have one in the garage, for 10 years without major modifications. You will have noticed that the second generation, the P38, is missing from the above. This is a car that was never really loved, had the worst reputation of them all and had it been possible to stop, would probably never have been launched in the first place. Doesn’t really sound great, does it? This means that the P38 is very much at the bottom of the Range Rover pack in terms of secondary market values (or put differently, it’s dirt cheap), which is something that always intrigues me. This week, we’ll therefore look at the forgotten lord, the P38, to try to figure out if it’s best left to die, or actually something worth considering!

It was certainly not a very confident Rover company that presented the P38 in 1994. Rover had been taken over by BMW the same year in a merger that will not go down in history as the most thought-through, and when the Bavarians came up to the Rover factory in Solihull and saw the new Range project, they were apparently far from impressed. This was the car that was supposed to succeed the Classic that was was already then a legend, and BMW didn’t feel it was even ready to be released. They were however far too late to do anything about it and in the same year, the P38, somewhat half-heartedly, was presented to the world. Production of the original Range actually continued a couple of years in parallel to the new car, and the development of what was to become its successor in 2001, the L322, had already started. Talk about being an unloved child and with a build-time of only seven years, the P38 is (until today) the shortest-lived car in the Range line-up.

Early P38’s are recognized by yellow turn signals front and back

What is clear just by looking at it is that the design is nothing Rover needed to be ashamed about. What was to become the P38 was developed internally at Rover and the final project was preferred over four other, notably one from Bertone. Rover definitely made the right choice, as the P38 is a good-looking car and unmistakenly a Range Rover. The low waistline and big windows give it a friendly look and have the additional advantage of making it easy to place the car on the road, which to be fair is also helped by the fact that at 4.7 metres length and 1.9 metres width, it’s far smaller than later Ranges. The P38 was available with three engines, two versions of the Rover V8 at 4 and 4.6 litres, and a six-cylinder BMW diesel at 2.5 litres. Of these, the only one you should ever consider is the 4.6 l, as even that only puts out 224 hp and 380 Nm of torque and doesn’t make the Range a fast car. The 2.5 litre diesel delivers a paltry 136 hp, less torque than the V8 and needs a spectacular 17 seconds to make it to 100 km/h. It’s not even very economical doing so. All engines are coupled to a 4-speed automatic in a body-on-frame construction.

As in all later Ranges, the interior of the P38 is a very nice place to be, with a very distinct smell from the leather and other materials used. This was very much intentional as Rover had understood that with the introduction of the P38, these cars would start moving away from the pastures onto the roads, meaning buyers would expect a more luxurious interior. There is thus almost as much leather and wood in one of these as in a modern Range and although comfort is not the same at the same level, the air suspension helps you travel in high comfort. I’ve had the pleasure of doing so several times through the years, and the P38 provides exactly the same commading driving position in a plush chair as later – and more expensive – Ranges do. With an engine that doesn’t encourage anything but soft cruising that’s all you’ll ever do, and the P38 will be an excellent companion. All cars were well equipped by standards at the time, with the HSE being better than the SE, the Autobiography better than the HSE and with special series like the Holland & Holland bringing additional goodies.

A low waist line and large windows give a very airy feel!

So what about the quality and BMW’s feeling that the new car wasn’t ready to be released – has history proved them right? It certainly didn’t take long before the P38 started developing a reputation for bad reliability. This may not have been the case had buyers come from Rover’s traditional crowd, but BMW and other owners who were convinced to spend a lot of money on a new Range were far less understanding than traditional Rover buyers of regularly having to clean oil off their driveway. Having said that, all Ranges have a reputation for bad reliability, including mine which I’ve now had for 18 months and almost 20′ km without a single issue, so you could well imagine there’s a cultural angle here as well and that maybe, the car is better than its reputation. As so often, quality will stand in relation to previous ownership and service history, but it’s clear that the poor reputation has contributed to P38’s loosing value like a stone. There was a time you could have them for literally nothing, and people did, ruining them on the way, meaning the P38 has become rare these days and that prices have therefore started to climb somewhat. It will most probably never develop into a true classic like the RR Classic, but my guess is that values have hit the bottom.

A late 2001 car – cars after 1999 have an improved Bosch engine management system.

So, should you park a P38 in your driveway? I can imagine some good scenarios for doing so, but they’re all based on finding a mechanically sound car, so the regular checks of service history and general condition are very much mandatory. High mileage needs not be an issue if the car has been regularly maintained. During the last three years, the Lucas engine management system was replaced by one from Bosch, generally considered better. Among expensive things to fix, pay attention to the suspension, if it’s harsh or inexistent, that means a problem with the air suspension system which will be expensive to repair. Also check the auto box in Manual and Sport. Otherwise one of the attractions of the P38 over its successor, the L322, is firstly that it looks better, secondly that it weighs almost half a ton less and thirdly, that there’s less (and less complicated) stuff to fix. The P38 remains a very comfortable way to travel and of course, being a Range Rover, an outstanding offroad car, and the few remaining nice examples out there can be had today for less than EUR/USD 10′ with much room for negotiation, which is a true bargain. In the electrified world we’re apparently moving towards, there’s of course a risk is you’ll never get more from it than scrap value when you try to sell it, but what the heck – why not enjoy the ride until then in a car that will always look more expensive than it is!

The F1 season 2023!

Exactly one week after I write this, the F1 season 2023 will (hopefully) have kicked off in Bahrain and we’ll know who claimed the first race of the season. With a week to go it’s therefore high time to check how the new season is shaping up, how the team line-ups look and perhaps even try to figure out who will come out on top, even that if at this stage at best a qualified guess. One thing is however certain already now, namely the there will not be any big changes to neither cars nor rules this season, in stark contrast to last year.

By now all the teams have launched their new cars and whereas some did it in the spirit of not much new to report about, others were much more bullish about their new creations, none more so than Ferrari. CEO Benedetto Vigna wasn’t holding back when he said the SF-23 is “a single-seater that will be unprecedented in terms of speed.” We’ll see if that’s confirmed, but according to rumours, Ferrari have found an extra 30 hp, which would no doubt be helpful given the power shortage they had last year. Mercedes on the other hand have been far more restrained, with team boss Toto Wolff talking about the new car “eventually” becoming competitive enough. Modesty, lack of confidence or playing down expectations? That remains to be seen. What will also be clear to see from the first training is how many cars have taken inspiration from Red Bull’s car from last year. And whereas the Red Bull team was punished by fewer windtunnel tests in preparation of the season as part of the punitive measures for having exceeded the spending limit the year before, few doubt the RB car 2023 will be very fast indeed.

The Red Bull 2023 car

On the driver side, the top teams have the same line-up as last year, but there are some changes in the other teams, with three newcomers and one returning driver. Pierre Gasly is moving to Alpine, taking over Fernando Alonso’s seat as Alonso moves on to Aston Martin to replace Sebastian Vettel, who ended his career after last season. Nico Hülkenberg returns to F1 to take over Mick Schumacher’s seat at Haas, teaming up with Kevin Magnussen. The American-owned team thus goes for two of the most experienced drivers on the grid, in the hope that will help performance and especially consistency. it’s pretty clear that if Haas still doesn’t perform, it will not be because of teh drivers. Which by the way goes for Aston Martin as well, who are said to have invested a lot of money in their new car, which is the most changed of all on the grid, compared to last year.

Aston Martin’s new car – lots of changes, hopefully more speed and consistency!

As for the newcomers, most focus has been on Oscar Pilastri who will join McLaren next to Lando Norris. Being Australian as his predecessor at McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo, Pilastri won the F3 championship in 2020, moved on to F2 and won that championship in his first yeaer. He was Alpine’s reserve driver last year coming out of their driving academy and will hopefully see some success with McLaren this year. Next to him, American Logan Sargeant will drive next to Alex Albon at Williams, replacing Nicolas Latifi and being the first driver from the US since Alex Rossi in 2015. Finally Dutchman Nyck de Vries gets a seat at Alpha Tauri after having been on the edges of F1 in the last years, notably as Mercedes’ reserve driver, and stepping in for Alex Albon / Williams at Monza last season and to everyone’s surprise, claiming P9. Of these three, I’d put my money on Pilastri as being most successful, also given the best car (with a small reservation for what it is Aston has created…).

Hopefully Pilastri will have more success than countryman Riccardo did!

In terms of the season itself, it will as said start in Bahrain next weekend and end in Abu Dhabi on 26 November. There will be a total of six sprint races this year, twice as many as last year. After a total of 23 racing weekends the winner will be decided and if I were a betting man, I’d put most of my money on Max Verstappen claiming another title. This follows from Mercedes’ not very convincing communication so far, indicating the car may well come up to speed at some point but most probably too late to claim the title. At Ferrari, it’s really no surprise that Mattia Binotto was let go of (one thing I actually got right in my predictions last year). He’s replaced by Cédric Vasseur from Alfa Romeo Racing who is an experienced operator, but has one hell of a job of transforming Ferrari such as not to lose points unnecessarily over the whole season. That will most probably take more than one year, meaning that things are looking good for Verstappen – perhaps even with Sergio Perez in second position? In a week, we’ll at least know how it started!

The unique Lancia Stratos!

If competition between car makers has been a trait of the automobile industry for as long as anyone can remember, it’s probably only in Italy that competition between car designers was just as fierce. The two dominant houses in Italian car design are of course Pininfarina and Bertone, both having employed legendary designers through the years who have in turn been responsible for some of the most beautiful car creations to come out of Italy. Usually one of the two big houses would be the main partner for a certain brand, but there was certainly nothing hindering the other one from trying to gain market by various means. Thank God for that because otherwise, the legendary Lancia Stratos would probably never have seen the light of day.

Lancia had historically mostly collaborated with Pininfarina in designing its models, with Bertone eagerly watching from the sidelines. In the late 60’s however, Bertone saw an opportunity as it was obvious that the ageing Lancia Fulvia was up for replacement. Bertone’s gave its legendary designer and our old friend Marcello Gandini, the man behind notably the Lamborghini Miura and Countach, the task of drawing a car that completely broke with the Fulvia and would signal the advent of a new, modern era. So he did, and it was so convincing that the Lancia bosses decided to show the prototype at the Turin Auto Salon in 1970. Gandini was subsequently commissioned with designing the production car that would come to market a couple of years later.

Gandini’s original Stratos prototype was…special!

The Stratos’ predecessor, the Fulvia coupé, had been used on the rally scene in the 60’s with some success, and Lancia saw rally as a way to position the brand as a sporty alternatively notably the the siblings from Fiat. This meant that unlike basically any other rally car at the time (or for that matter, thereafter), the Stratos was developed exclusively with rallying in mind, and not as a civilian car later converted to rally usage. You don’t need to look at the car for long to see this was the case, and also that this was a completely new design language that would follow Gandini notably to the Countach. The ultra short wheelbase of only 2.2 metres carries a body with minimal overhangs but with a big, sweeping front screen giving the driver great visibility. The engine was mid-mounted in the ultra low, rear-wheel drive car, getting in and out of which it is not an exercise suitable for any kind of daily driving. Looking at the Stratos today, it’s surprising how small it really is at 3.7 metres and around 900 kg. Lancia did however have to comply with the rules for any rally car at the time, namely that 500 so called homologation cars for street usage had to be built and sold along side the rally cars themselves.

How most of us remember it – on a clay road in some southern rally!

During the development of the Stratos, Lancia had considered various engines for the car, but the one they really wanted was the 2.4 litre V6 that Ferrari was using in the Dino. After long negotiations, rumour has it that Enzo Ferrari himself agreed to deliver the 500 engines necessary for the homologation of the Stratos. However, after the first 10 engines or so the deliveries suddenly dried up, with Ferrari claiming various production issues. It wasn’t until Lancia threatened to replace the Ferrari engine with another motor that they finally started coming in. Strangely enough, that also coincided with the end of production of the Dino, which Enzo had of course seen as a competitor to the Stratos… In the homologation street cars the engine produced 190 hp, in the rally cars performance was typically between 300-400 hp thanks to a big, old-school turbo. With the car being rear wheel drive, it’s an understatement to see that the Stratos was difficult to drive, but for those who mastered it, it was one hell of a car!

The Stratos premiered in the world rally championships in 1974 and went on to win the title straight away, as it did in 1975 and 1976 as well. It won both the Swedish Rally on snow, and the African rally on clay in the same period. There’s little doubt it would have gone on to win further titles had Lancia let it, but by this time Fiat had taken the somewhat strange decision that the Fiat 131 Abarth, a not very futuristic car that few will remember and that didn’t see much success, would be the rally car (and Fiat thereby the rally brand) in the Torino car family. The last major title the Stratos won was therefore the Monte Carlo Rally in 1977, although private teams continued to race the car and having success doing so after that. Of course Lancia came back on the rally scene a few years later with the Lancia Delta Integrale, that we looked at in an old post from 2015, but that’s another story.

The quite minimalistic interior of the homologation cars

There’s been various initiatives over the years to revive the Stratos, some of which have made it to some of the big car shows, but none of which have so far made it all the way to production. The most promising one was designed by, hold on to your chair now, Pininfarina and not Bertone, although it was, let’s say heavily inspired by the Bertone-designed original. It was built on a Ferrari 430 chassis and was to be built by a company called Manifattura Automobili Torino (MAT). It was shown at the Geneva Auto Salon in 2018, but the project then died off, apparently not because of Covid but rather because of Ferrari vetoing it, unclear why. I included it in my overview of the auto salon back then in a post you can find here.

The Stratos was thus a truly unique car, and to me, one of the coolest cars around to this day. It’s also uniquely small, uniquely focused on rally and if not uniquely, then at least very successful. It’s also a uniquely difficult car to find today should you want one. With 500 built in the early 70’s that’s perhaps no surprise, especially since many of the buyers certainly thought of themselves as hidden rally talents. As I write this in the middle of February, there’s not a single car on the market anywhere in Europe, nor in the US (which is less surprising since the Stratos never made it officially there). The Stratos will thus remain a rally legend for poster walls or these days Youtube, but what a car it was!

The old-school brute!

In my first post of 2021 with things to wish for in 2021, I mentioned a hope that Japan would again bring car enthusiasts something to cheer about. Unfortunately they didn’t, and I guess that in terms of combustion cars, it will never happen again. What they did do however the year after, in 2022, was to cancel the production of the Nissan GT-R for the European market. The GT-R is a true beast of a car, perhaps the best sports car ever to come out of the land of the rising sun, aunched 15 years ago to take on the the European supercar bunch but none more than the 911 Turbo as we’ll see later. It more than held its own doing so driving-wise, but without the brand but partly also the elegance of at least two of those three (sorry Lambo…). As production will stop globally this year, it’s time to pay tribute to the brute from Japan!

A sleak but clean design that has stayed with the car through the years

Back in 2007 I remember a young colleague as crazy about cars as me, telling me that the then brand new GT-R that had just set a record on the Nürburgring of 7 min 38 secs, quicker than the 911 Turbo at the time. He told me this was proof if it being the best sports car in the world, ahead of anything from Stuttgart or Maranello. I told him that wouldn’t matter much for sales numbers, since anyone buying a Ferrari cared far more about the brand than about lap times of the Nürburgring. It’s probably fair fair to say we were both right – the GT-R was and still is one hell of a sports car, but one that hasn’t come near the sales numbers of Porsche and Ferrari that Nissan was certainly hoping for. Unfortunately for Nissan, it didn’t convert many Ferrari drivers either.

When the once so celebrated Carlos Ghosn became CEO of Nissan in 1999, one of the first things he wanted the company to start planning for was a sports car that would represent the vision he had for the brand. His idea was to build on the heritage of the Nissan Skyline GT-R, the sportiest version of the luxury Skyline coupé, a car that never made it officially to the West and was only available as right-hand drive, but which since then has achieved a true hero’s status and been imported privately many times. The new car would retain the round rear lights from the GT-R and importantly, it should also beat the lap time of the 911 Turbo on the German Nürburgring (commonly also referred to as “the green hell”) that Ghosn had set as benchmark. Work on the GT-R thus started in the early 2000’s and in 2003, Ghosn announced the car would be launched at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2007. Unlike a certain Elon Musk, he kept his word!

Ghosn delivered his baby timely in 2007

The chief engineer of the GT-R was a certain Kazutoshi Mizuno, previously chief engineer of the Skyline GT-R and more known as “Mr. GT-R” well beyond Nissan. He was no doubt a key person in the project, notably convincing the not-easily-convinced Ghosn that the new GT-R had to be built on a completely new platform. The car Mizuno put together was one of the most advanced constructions that had been made at that time, with a body combining steel, aluminum and carbon fibre, an advanced chassis, four-wheel drive, crucial in bringing the power of the 3.8 litre, V6 turbo engine to the tarmac, and a dual-clutch, six-speed box mounted in the back in a transaxle construction. Initially the GT-R had around 470 hp which over the years and the different facelifts increased to up to 100 hp more in the standard version. The engine is however also a favorite among tuners, and it’s not difficult to find GT-R’s with well beyond 700 hp.

The engine of a 2017 GT-R – it looks the piece!

Already in the standard version however the GT-R is an extremely competent car as illustrated by a long list of racing successes in various GT categories. I’ve been lucky enough to experience a few of these over the years, both as a passenger and behind the wheel, and it’s really a car like no other. It has a very muscular, “heavy” appearance, looking bigger than its 1700 kg. Getting behind the wheel feels like stepping into a mix of a spaceship and a video game, with an interior that has what may be the largest amount of buttons on any car, before the large screen infotainment age. It fits the purpose but does so without any frills, fancy materials or much design, which is a bit of a shame. Having said that, and you tend to forget any concerns you may have had the same moment as you turn the key and wake up the lion family under the hood…

The twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V6 engine produces a growling sound and works in perfect harmony with the six-speed dual clutch box and the razor sharp steering to provide a really pure driving experience. The first version of the GT-R was produced until 2009 is the only one needing more than 3 seconds to 100 km/h (3.2 to be exact), all subsequent cars had more power and made the sprint in less than 3 seconds. Not only that, the torque of at least 600 Nm happily kicks you in the butt whenever you want it to. This is a seriously quick car but not only that, it’s one that outclasses most other cars if you bring it to the track. That may also be the place you want to use your GT-R, given it’s far less practical than the outside may have you think. The back seats are not made for humans and the boot is so small that it barely has enough room for a weekend bag.

Nothing to see here folks, move on…

There’s been a multitude of updates and versions through the years but I’ll limit it to the two most important here. There was a larger facelift in 2016 that on one hand brought more power and an improved gearbox, but also visual changes on the outside an an upgraded interior with better materials. Before that however, the Nismo edition of the GT-R had been introduced in 2013, being built as the most advanced version of the GT-R ever since. Power in the Nismo was increased to 600 hp and it set what was at the time the fastest time ever around the Nürburgring, shaving around 30 seconds off the already very competent time of the standard GT-R!. Both suspension and brakes were improved as well and on the inside, Recaro seats did their best to hold the driver and passenger in place.

If you’re the no frills kind of person that that puts the driving experience ahead of the logo and being seen, then there’s probably no better sports car in the world than the GT-R. And that’s even before we’ve talked price, because at the price point where GT-R’s trade, this IS quite simply the best sports car in the world – full stop. An early car with sub-100′ km is yours for EUR 50-60′, a post-facelift one will cost you EUR 20′-30′ more, which to me is well invested money. It’s only the Nismo cars that add significantly to the budget, trading for EUR 150′ and upwards. This is of course very much less than any comparable car, be it Italian or German, including Nissan’s benchmark, the 911 Turbo. Not only that, the GT-R has all the Japanese quality you could wish for so given a serious history, a high mileage doesn’t have to be problemtic. You should be careful with tuned cars and as said, go for a post-facelift car if you have the budget but from there, you can’t really go wrong. The GT-R is the best car to ever come out of Japan, and chances are it will remain so!

Zombie infotainment screens…

Infotainment – a word that didn’t exist in our vocabulary as recently as 20 years ago, but that today stands for all the wonderful things our modern cars can do that have nothing to do with the driving itself. My first experience with an early infotainment system was in an Alfa Romeo 166 I was the happy owner of for a few years, a wonderful car with an equally wonderful, Italian six-cylinder engine, but with a far less wonderful infotainment system, the screen of which was situated so low on the centre console that the gear lever was in the way. At the time it felt very modern, although the navigation it provided was best used as a general indication.

Wonderful car, not so wonderful infotainment…

Things have indeed evolved which is of course a good thing, even if the current trend of increasingly giant screens is a bit of a strange one. It definitely has a connection with the general EV trend since it seems to be a given that any electric car should have as few physical buttons as possible and instead a more or less gigantic screen. Strangely however, even if the quality notably of navigation is far better these days than when I drove that Alfa 166, the first question in connection with these systems seems to be whether the Android Auto or Apple CarPlay connection is wireless or not, as everyone seems to agree that except for Tesla, all other systems are still inferior to Google Maps.

Be that as it may, this means that there is a whole generation of cars which are by now 10-20 years old and have infotainment systems we today consider useless to the point of using our phones instead. Usually you need to have your screen turned on for the USB phone connection to work, but I’ve heard several people say that the low screen resolution makes the whole car feel old and that they prefer leaving the system turned off and driving in silence, alternatively use a bluetooth adapter (a very good idea) or drive with headphones (a very bad idea).

I came to think of this a couple of weeks ago when I saw an old BMW 325i from the late 80’s, a wonderful car inside and out and with a dashboard in the style of old BMW’s: clean and driver-focused, with no infotainment screen to be seen. Contrast this with a 3-series from 15 years later, and now there’s a black square in the middle of the dash that isn’t of much use. Of course this wasn’t the case just with BMW. It was even worse notably in Audis from the same time where the screen was placed even higher, making it difficult to miss. Volvo had an innovative idea on the first generation of the XC90 of the screen slowly rising from within the dashboard when in use, meaning at least you didn’t have to look at it when it was turned off. It’s a shame more manufacturers didn’t follow that example!

If you have a car form this period and from a larger brand, there’s a chance of finding an aftermarket solution that integrates into the dash and offers a fully modern system. There are also solutions that are basically mounted in front of the old screen, looking more or less good depending on the car. If you’re thinking of this for any type of collector’s car, then definitely go for the external solution as rebuilding the dash for example on a 15-year old Ferrari will otherwise reduce its value. If on the other hand you’re thinking of buying an older car, you may want to go for the pre-infotainment generation instead. There are plenty of bluetooth connectors available, even those cassette-based, letting you connect your phone to most older cars’ pre-infotainment stereoes. That in turn lets you look out over a clean dash with no black square whatsoever, and actually enjoy the driving itself!

The best power SUV in the market is a bargain!

The car world is no doubt confusing right now. On one hand there’s all the engine options that I described in last week’s post. On the other, obviously related to that, is the two extremes between electrification on one hand and power SUV’s being more popular than ever on the other. I’ve previously written about the Aston Martin DBX that I’m no more fond of now than when I did so (and that you still don’t see many of on the streets), and no one’s missed that Land Rover have recently introduced not only the new full size Range Rover but also the smaller RR Sport. Then there’s of course the Cayenne and a bunch of others. What they all have in common is enormous amounts of power, but unfortunately also of weight.

As we all know weight doesn’t go well with agility, so a Range Rover Sport weighing in at over 2.5 tons should probably rather be called the Range Rover “Sportier”, with reference to its bigger brother, since that’s as far as it goes. Aston has also made their best to defy the laws of gravity with the DBX that indeed is lighter and has an impressive drive, but the laws of physics still ultimately prevail. All this brings us to this week’s post, because there is one power SUV out there that is one of the lightest of them all and through that, arguably also the best drive. It also looks good and has an engine sound to die for and all this, at a far lesser price. Let’s have a closer look at the dark horse par excellence in the power SUV segment – the Jaguar F-pace SVR!

Special Vehicle Operations or SVO is Jaguar’s special branch, comparable to AMG or M-Sport. The most famous SVO project is perhaps the Jaguar XE SV Project 8, featuring a 600 hp, 5-litre V8, a scaled-down interior that saves weight, and one of the biggest rear spoilers around. It’s limited to a sold-out series of 300 cars. Next to that the SVO team work on other Jaguars as well, notbly the F-Pace SVR. This includes a re-worked interior dressed in sport seats, alcantara and leather, more advanced chassis and break settings and the same V8 as in the Project 8, this time scaled down to “only” 550 compressor-boosted hp. And all this to a total weight of around 2.2 tons which is still a lot, but 100-200 kg less than the likes a Cayenne Turbo or DBX, and even more compared to an RR Sport.

On the outside the SVR looks slightly more muscular than the regular F-Pace but you have to look twice to spot the differences, except for the larger wheels which look great. This is in my view exactly the right approach since the F-Pace is one of the better-looking SUV’s out there, far ligher in its design than many others and without the need for big skirts and wings. It should of course be mentioned that it’s a bit smaller than some of the cars mentioned above, still offering enough room for four but being a bit cramped for more than that. Where it shines far more than interior room is in two other areas – the drive and sound!

I haven’t driven the SVR but I have the opportunity to try the regular F-Pace as my father happens to have one, and it struck me as surprisingly agile with a good and direct steering. Given the reworking of the suspension and chassis that the SVR has been given, this seems to be only more so in the SVR. Those having tried usually claim it’s a better drive than a DBX or Cayenne, which is notable since they are the benchmarks here in this group. In addition to that there’s of course the sound, coming out of four very visible, chromed pipes in the back. That’s arguably the only styling feature on the car that isn’t discreet, and neither is the lovely sound that comes out of them. This is of course the same engine I have in my Range Rover, and I would personally not mind it sounding a bit more like that!

With Jaguar set to go electric in the coming years like most other brands (we’ll see how far they get…), it doesn’t take much to realize that there won’t be anything like the SVR in the future Jaguar line-up. That already makes the car interesting and it’s of course only more so when you realize that the price as new of around CHF/EUR 130.000 is roughly half that of a DBX with the same power or for that matter a Cayenne Turbo GT (which at 640 hp has more power). And this for a car that looks, drives and sounds better! The F-Pace had a very light face-lift in late 2020, most notably including the latest infotainment system that is now featured in all new Land Rover series. If you go for an almost new car from after the face-lift you can still easily take 20% off the price as new, and if you’re happy with the very similar pre-facelift version, then you’re looking at around half the price as new after only 3-4 years. Now we’re talking mega-bargain!

Power SUV’s of this type are still not my cup of tea, but the large majority out there obviously think differently which is absolutely fine. If you’re in that group and looking for a new set of wheels, you should definitely consider the F-Pace alongside the other, far more pricey competitors. After all, the money you save will leave enough room for a nice, real sports car to park next to it in your garage!

What’s an efficient engine? Go figure…

A few years ago, Swedish-Chinese Volvo took the bold decision to stop producing any engine larger than 2 liters and four cylinders, and also to cap the top speed of their cars to 180 km/h (112 mph). At the time I remember thinking they’d lost it, given their largest market was the US and at the time, that was still a market where six or even better, eight cylinders reigned supreme. Oh how the world has changed, oh how wrong I was, and oh how right Volvo was! The brand has continued to grow ever since and the call they made in terms of focusing on smaller, more efficient engines was obviously the right one. But wait – was smaller really more efficient? Since then, we’ve also had various types of hybrids gaining in market share as a more efficient alternative to traditional engines and an alternative to going full electric. Do they really make sense, and if yes, for whom? There are indeed a lot of questions around this topic which is more complex than you may think, so this week I’ll try to answer at least some of them. As a small hint, efficiency is not always what it is portrayed to be…

Ok, it wasn’t with the 240, but it was still a return to its roots Volvo did

Long-term readers may remember I used to have an XC90 T6 that I bought by trading in my AMG E63 (I know, I know, even my wife bashes me for that). It’ was never a car I came to love for various reasons, the 2-liter, four-cylinder, double-turbo engine being one of them. It produced 310 hp in standard but mine had had the mild Polestar chipping increasing power by 20 hp, and also said to improve fuel efficiency. It was fine and very discreet on longer trips, but on shorter drives you would constantly be reminded of it being turbo-powered, far from the far less stressed character of a larger engine. No wonder given the car weighed close to 2.3 tonnes which is a lot for such a small engine. The turbos came in pretty constantly on longer distances as well even if you don’t notice it, meaning the care on average consumed 11.9l / 100 km (around 20 MPG US), which isn’t terrible but certainly not sensational either.

I traded in (or rather sold) the XC90 for my current Range Rover with the 5-liter, supercharged V8 which I’ve since driven around 15.000 km in a similar mix to the Volvo and at similar “almost legal” speeds between Zurich, the mountains and southern Europe. I’ve so far had an average consumption of 12.8 liters, i.e. less than a liter more than the XC90. How can that be given a larger engine by definition needs more fuel? Well, quite simply because the larger engine doesn’t need to be forced to the same degree as a smaller one. Less stress mens lower rpm and usually also more longevity. It goes without saying that the V8 character of the Range Rover is also a far more pleasant experience. Of course this is too much for you average politician to take in, so it’s not uncommon in different countries for larger volume engines to be taxed heavier based on their volume and not their consumption.

O how much more pleasant a V8 is to a 2-liter, 4-cylinder…

The above is important to remember if you’re considering buying one of the modern four cylinders, where it’s not uncommon to get 300 hp+ out of a cylinder volume of 2 liters. The price for doing so is constantly engaging turbos, so if you drive your car in the sporty manner it invites you to, your consumption will be nowhere near what’s quoted in the prospectus.

Another thing to get your heard around are the new hybrid engines that combine a petrol or diesel engine with an electric one. These work along two principles:

  • a mild hybrid is the smaller variant. it’s not charged over a cable but rather by the regenerative energy from the normal engine and from braking. A mild hybrid will support the normal engine under certain driving conditions such as to lower the average consumption by something like 5-10% depending on model. Next to the lower consumption, its advantage is the small size of the battery (typically below or around 10 KwH), meaning it doesn’t add much weight or takes a lot of room.
  • A plug-in hybrid has a larger battery, these days typically between 10-20 kwH. These are charged over a cable like an EV and they allow the car to be driven in electrical mode for a number of km which will depend on the size of the battery and the type of driving, but where new plug-ins manage up to something like 80 km. Once the battery empty, the car switches back to the normal engine and the battery then needs to be recharged over a cable – it’s not recharged by the car itself.

The above means that how and where you drive is decisive for what type of hybrid you should get, if at all. As a rule of thumb, if over half of your driving is shorter distances, then a plug-in hybrid makes sense as you’ll be able to do almost all of these trips in electric mode. If on the other hand you mostly drive longer distances, a mild hybrid will be far more efficient as it will work over the full distance rather than only for a small part and only add significant weight thereafter. The big question is of course why no one builds a plug-in hybrid that works like a mild hybrid does, and that’s a question I can’t answer. It would certainly be possible from a technical standpoint, and that’s why I think that pretty soon when it becomes clear that we neither have enough energy nor resources for global electrification, the solution could well be a small, 2-3 cylinder engine combined with battery power. We’re starting to see such concepts here and there, and we will most probably see more going forward.

In summary therefore, a small engine will consume significantly less fuel only if it’s associated to a small/light car and driven in a civilized manner. That however means that if you’re buying a small car for its economy, you don’t need the double-turbo super version of that engine but can settle for a smaller version. If you drive a lot of shorter distances, then a plug-in may be a sensible choice. If however you drive a mix of shorter and longer distances as most of us do, then the answer is not any form of hybrid as in that mix, nothing is more efficient than a modern diesel engine. It wasn’t the case in the old days but modern diesels are as clean as petrol cars and they bring unrivaled advantages in torque and consumption. A modern six-cylinder diesel with 250-300 hp will have 600-700 Nm of torque, i.e. all the power you need, and still keep you below 10l/100km (above 23.5 mpg US) even in a larger car, and around less than half in a smaller car. Thus, ff you’re concerned about future fuel prices (a very valid concern) and about the downsides of going fully electric (obviously even more valid), then a modern diesel is in many cases the way to go!

Driving the craziest four wheels out there!

Shortly before Christmas I published my much read “nail in the e-coffin” post, setting out why I’m convinced EV’s are not the only way mobility will develop going forward. At the same time, I made clear that I have no problem with EV’s as a concept, as long as their owners come down form their high horses and stop pretending they’re saving the world. As I said then, this settles the background debate for me (if I didn’t manage to convince you until now, you’ve probably stopped reading anyway). That doesn’t change the fact that EV’s are part of the car world now, and no brand has made more of an impact in this regard than Tesla. Earlier this week it so happened that I had the opportunity to drive the most impactful Tesla of them all – the Model S Plaid. I didn’t know it then, but life was about to enter another dimension…

Slightly more aggressive headlights, otherwise an unchanged look

I’ve driven the Model S before but it’s quite a few years ago, so it was nice to see that what was at the time a pretty low-quality cabin now with the introduction of what you could call the second series has been significantly upgraded. The overall layout is still the same but the materials are nicer. It’s no luxury car, but it’s certainly not worse than other EV’s around the same price point (Audi E-tron being an example) The screen is now horizontal across all models, and this Plaid was also equipped with the yolk in place of a steering wheel. This is apparently something that varies by market but at least here in Switzerland, you can choose between a normal steering wheel and the yolk both on the normal S and the Plaid. More on the yolk later, but a clear benefit is that it opens up your vision of the instruments and towards the front of the car.

I chatted about charging, batteries and the new sound system (which is not as good as other high end systems, whatever Tesla says) with a very nice salesman who also showed me some parts of the system. This is of course where any Tesla shines and you have to give it to them, what they do on the tech side is still pretty far ahead of everyone else. An example would be how in other cars, you’re still lucky to find someone offering wireless Apple Car Play, when in a Tesla you don’t need it at all as you have direct access to your Spotify account. Or how I was thinking that it was crap that there was no memory buttons on the electric seats, only to be reminded that you can set up to 10 profiles in the system under which all your seat, mirror and steering wheel adjustments are saved. I may have doubts on our EV future, but such developments will hopefully be part of it more broadly.

A horn button that small is dangerous – screen is not always intuitive but offers far more functions than a normal car

The sales guy then spontaneously offered me to take the car for a ride straight away, which I did. Alone. I followed his recommendation for a route that included both city, motorway and a nice, curvy road over a lower mountain pass, all within 30 minutes of the city (Switzerland is a mountainous country…). I was reminded of two things straight away from previous drives in the Model S, namely to treat the accelerator with some caution (especially in this version…) and also that the recuperation is very strong and as I understand it, no longer adjustable. That really isn’t a problem at all though. It takes you a few minutes to get used to it but not more, and after that you basically drive the car with one foot. I really don’t understand car journalists and vloggers who have a problem with this, however it probably means that you need to actively think of using the breaks from time to time, or your discs risk rusting.

Another very special thing is of course the yolk. I’d like to think that you get used to it and in most situations, meaning everything except roundabouts and sharp turns, you can basically treat it like a wheel. In those situations though, unless you want to cross your arms you’ll need to move your hands without an obvious place to put them. You also need to be careful such as not to hit the small buttons on both sides of the wheel for notably indicators, horn etc. And when you do need the horn, you usually don’t have time to search for a small fiddly button rather than just smash the center of the steering wheel. It is indeed pretty cool not to have the steering wheel blocking your view forward but on balance, the disadvantages with the yolk outweigh the benefits.

Materials are now far better than a few years ago, hopefully that goes for the quality as well

The ride is good, as it’s always been with the Model S. I’ve never driven, but ridden in a new Model Y which is a terrible experience, with a suspension that is much to hard. The S is far better, clearly on par with normal cars. Handling is excellent, the car feels planted and neutral. It’s too heavy to dance around the corner but it’s very neutral in its behavior. The steering is precise and can be set with different levels of resistance, but none of them will communicate much of what happens below the car. It’s a different experience driving on a curvy road as you’re not using the break and it takes some getting used to, but I don’t doubt you would get used to it. In summary, I guess you could call it a somewhat synthetic experience. It’s different, but it’s not bad.

And then there’s of course the acceleration. Which is completely freakin’ bonkers. I’ve driven many fast cars, none of which come even close, and I strongly doubt anything does this side of a dragster or a fighter plane. It’s not only about the sheer power though, there’s also the EV immediacy, i.e. the power being delivered without any delay at any point. You hit the pedal (no, you don’t floor it in this car on a public road unless you’re tired of life) and in return you’re pushed back against your seat at the same time as your knuckles whiten. It’s completely and utterly crazy. It’s also completely unusable in anything except a straight line or a drag race. Trust me, I know how to drive on a curvy road and at no point was it possible to use anywhere near the full power of the Plaid.

The S is still the best looking car in the Tesla line-up – if you ask me

The new “normal” Model S does the sprint to 100 km/h in 3.2 seconds and has a longer range than the Plaid which is one second quicker to 100 km/h. Except for a carbon fibre spoiler lip on the trunk and the Plaid logo (which looks like the symbol of some religious sect) the cars are identical, and the normal S is 20-30% cheaper. The Plaid is of course nothing more than a prestige object but given that, Tesla should perhaps have worked a bit more on the styling to set it apart? Even putting that aside though, there’s really no reason to go for anything more than a normal Model S, especially since there’s quite a few reports of the brakes overheating quite quickly when the 1000 hp Plaid is driven with some ambition…

For a petrol head deciding to take the – big – step of switching to an EV, at around 100′ CHF in this country, the Model S is probably the best EV you can buy. It’s also the best car in the Tesla range. The Models Y and 3 are both simpler and cheaper in ride and materials, and even though the Model X has had the same interior updates, I’ve never met an X owner who hasn’t had problems with his gull wing doors. The Model S is however not only that, for me it also beats EV’s at a similar price point (think Audi E-tron, Mercedes EQE etc.). It’s better in areas such as range, infotainment and charging infrastructure, and is now also on par in terms of materials. All the others are far less powerful though, meaning they’re less fun. That last part is what makes it worth a consideration for anyone interested in more than the sheer transport from A to B. This petrol head is however not there yet!

The Audi R8 – Vorsprung durch Racing!

As we start 2023 I thought we should do so with the Audi R8 – a true legend in the sports-supercar segment, one that was mentioned in my post just before Christmas on the best sports car for 130‘, but which in my view deserves its own post. There’s a number of reasons for this: firstly, the production of the oldest supercar in the market has come to an end and the replacement, given it’s electric, will be a completely different car. Secondly, with relatively minor design updates during its long production run, early R8’s still look as modern as they did the first day. Finally, given that long production run, it’s not difficult to find an R8 for far less than the arbitrary 130’ I had set as limit in my other post, which is very good news!

The final version of the R8 before retirement

Audi’s transformation from the very boring brand it had been in the 70’s and 80’s to the far more exciting brand it would then become started on one hand in the rally series in Europe with the success of the Audi Quattro, on the other with the marketing people in Ingolstadt thinking up the slogan “Vorsprung durch Technik”, translating into something like “advantage through technology”, which would become Audi’s signum. The ambition was to establish the brand as a competitor mainly to BMW and Mercedes through technological advances, something that would shape mainly the engineering but also the design of Audi cars over years to come. The R8 when it came out in 2007 was at that point no doubt the clearest expression of that ambition!

Actually, claiming that the R8 only goes back to 2007 is not fully correct. The first R8 is more than 20 years old and was the result of the same management team in Ingolstadt wanting to build further on that racing success Audi had had in the 80’s by developing a car for the 24-hour Le Mans race, given that’s the only European sports car race that gets any attention in the US, a market Audi was very keen on. The original car called R8R was pretty much a failure in this regard as it never did well in the race, but its successor, now called only the R8, would go on to win Le Mans five times and in the first year 2000, claiming all three podium places.

Other than the mid-mounted engine and the overall look, nothing else is really the same…

With that success in the bag, Audi presented a first prototype for a road car already in 2003, which would then developed to the final car that would be introduced in 2007. The similarities between the prototype and the finished car are obvious to see, basically meaning that the R8 design is 20 years old, but looks like it could have been presented yesterday! Sales opened in the autumn of 2006 and the first year’s production was sold out in a few weeks, pretty impressive since the competition among naturally aspirated sports cars at that time was quite fierce. There was notably the brand new Aston Martin Vantage and of course the far less expensive Porsche 911, to name but a couple. The R8 was much more expensive than a 911 and if you asked the folks at Audi also far more of a supercar, however one that could be used everyday. Clearly buyers were convinced!

The R8 is a close sibling to the Lamborghini Gallardo with the two cars sharing everything from the aluminium chassis to (later) the V10 engine. At the launch in 2007, the R8 was available with a naturally aspirated, 4.2l V8 that revved all the way to 8′ rpm and produced 420 hp. The sound isn’t like anything out of Sant’Agata, being much more and perhaps a bit too discreet. Still, it’s refreshingly natural! At 1600 kg the car wasn’t a lightweight but the 4.5 seconds it needed to 100 km/h were very respectable 15 years ago. The gearbox was either a six-speed manual in an open gate shift which is the highlight of the rather dull interior which mahy consider the low point of the car, or a semi-automatic called R-tronic, the predecessor of the later S-tronic that would be introduced in 2012. The first series R8 was only available as four-wheel drive, however with a far more 30-70 rear-biased quattro system than was usually the case at Audi.

A functional but maybe slightly boring interior, with the gate shifter being the highlight!

In 2009 the wonderful 5.2l V10 then made it into the R8. Audi’s marketing team liked to introduce it as a Lamborghini engine but this was of course the same engine that had previously been featured in both the S6 and the S8, so its origins were really from Audi. It increased power by another 100hp, thereby bringing the 0-100 time to below 4 seconds. Both engine versions now also became available as convertible and in 2011, the R8 GT came out, limited at 333 coupes and 333 convertibles. The GT was 100kg lighter, 10% more powerful and had various other revised settings making it more of a real GT car. Various other tweaks brought the more powerful V10 Plus in the final year of the first series, before the all new second series was introduced in 2015.

The second iteration of the R8 may have been an all new car but even though it’s far more angular than the rounded lines of its predecessor, there’s no doubting the family heritage. The V8 was now gone, as was the manual gearbox. Depending on year the V10 would produce a little less or a little more than 550 hp and just like for the first series, there would be a 333-example GT series of what was to be the final R8. Unfortunately that last GT looks a bit like the last version of the Countach, in the sense that it has so many wings and skirts (all in carbon of course) that you barely see the brilliant lines of the original design. The second series would also be available as pure rear-wheel drive.

The dry sump engine sits deep and is visible through the transparent hood

Over the full production run since 2007 Audi sold close to 40.000 R8’s, far less than for example a 911 but almost three times more than its sibling, the Gallardo. By Audi measures, there’s no doubt the R8 was a success. Neither the engineers, nor the marketing people at Audi would like the 911 comparison, seeing the R8 as far more of a supercar. Indeed, if there was ever a supercar with everyday usability, this is the one – provided your everyday usage isn’t dependent on carrying lots of stuff around, as space is rather limited, even in the supercar segment. The 911 comparison is however relevant from a servicing perspective, and the Audi people most probably have nothing against that being mentioned. A well maintained car will be much closer to a 911 than anything from Ferrari or Lamborghini in service costs.

If an R8 is your thing, the first decision is whether you prefer the rounded lines of the largely analogue first series or the more angular and much more digital experience the second series gives. Other than the design, the other point to pay attention to is the steering, being hydraulic on the firs series and electronic on the second, and there being no really set opinion on which is best. A first series car will give you the option of the less legendary but more economical V8, but if you go for a pre-2012 car, then definitely go for a manual since the R-tronic is not a pleasant experience and those cars also hold their value far less well.

A 2008 car, to me still the best-looking!

Rather than picking up that 130′ car i wrote about a few weeks ago, I would probably go for the basic version, meaning a first series V8 with a manual gearbox. Those start at around 50/60′ USD/EUR for really nice cars, which is very attractive indeed! The V8 is not as exciting as the V10 and doesn’t sing as much, but it looks just as good through the transparent cover and the extra 30′ a manual V10 costs aren’t worth it if you ask me. I’d try to find a car that had the interior options which were quite useful in making it feel a bit more exclusive, such as the extended leather package and some carbon pieces. Equipped in that way, with a solid service history and in a “non-controversial” color, odds are that such a car will continue to hold its value very well indeed. Of course the GT cars of both the first and second series will do so as well, as will the rear-wheel drive cars of the second series, however at a much higher entry price.

The R8 is a great piece of modern supercar history. It’s probably the most approachable and usable supercar out there, and it’s a great expression of how “Vorsprung durch Technik”, that’s accompanied Audi throughout the years was a combination of technology and design. In its cheapest, first series, manual V8 version, it’s definitely the best iteration of a manual, naturally aspirated, everyday supercar!

All I want for the New Year is…

you! Well, it’s actually not you in any capacity beyond that as reader and for that, let me start with a big thank you to all of those reading these lines. In 2022 you have been more numerous than ever before, more precisely three times as many than in 2021, hopefully proving the blog is more than a pandemic distraction! Most of you are American, followed by the UK and my native Sweden. Not sure how we got there, but happy you are so many and also that you can live with the metric system in all numbers. On a more exotic note, I’m also thrilled to have almost 5% of readers from India and around 3% from South Africa, so it seems this has really become a global blog!

In terms of posts it also seems the mix of classic cars and more modern sports cars hits the mark in terms of your interest, and among the newer cars, it’s interesting to see that the buying opportunities, if I may call them that, seem to be of particular interest. My post on the Ferrari F8 being a bit of a bargain from January saw large interest and as a small update, whereas the F8’s were trading more or less at their (base) sales price of EUR 250-260′ at the time, that starting price is now 10% higher in Europe, with options obviously driving the price of many cars very much higher. So if you trusted me there, congratulations! More recently, my post from as late as last week on the best sports cars for 130′ has also seen a lot of interest. This brings us to my first wish for New Year, which is to ask you to click on the posts you read rather than just scroll down, as this then allows me to track closer what is of interest and thus produce a content in line with this.

The “bargain” F8 is now 10% more expensive…

As we move into 2023, something that will affect US readers and drivers is no doubt Biden’s so called Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) which notably relates to NAFTA-related tariffs on foreign cars and trucks and will take effect in 2023 and 2024. Buy-green policies will also make electronic vehicles more affordable – as long as they’re built in North America. It goes without saying that most cars from non-US brands are not, so if you live in the US and plan to buy a new car next year, it will become expensive to go for a European… A small prediction for 2023 is that the EU will somehow retaliate against these measures, remains to be seen how.

It’s not clear yet what %-age of content will clear the new NAFTA limit, but these 10 should be safe (source: US Dep’t of Transportation).

Buy-green in the US and various measures across European countries will also make it cheaper to buy EV’s. This goes from outright subsidies to various tax incentives. Everyone seems set on this, from politicians to manufacturers, with little thought to any back side of this whole endeavour, as notably described in my “nail in the coffin for EV’s” post from a few weeks ago. In a few weeks there’s a small chance that this changes with the publication of the book “Cobalt Red” by Siddhart Kara. Kara has done what all EV buyers should, namely travelled to the cobalt mines in the Congo, often at severe risk to his own life. What he discovered there is beyond belief for anyone thinking the world has moved on since Belgian King Leopold reigned in terror over the former colony. At the time, it was the hunt rubber that fueled the terror. Today, rubber has been replaced by cobalt, but the victims are the same.

Kara was recently on Joe Rogan’s podcast, link here, and my second wish for the New Year is that you please take the time to listen to the podcast and/or read the book and spread the word, as a small gesture to the children at the bottom of the cobalt mines, far away from the boardrooms and marketing literature of EV manufacturers, or ignorant politicians who just buy into the green story without knowledge of any afterthought to maximize the number of votes.

A picture of a cobalt mine in the DRC, from Siddhart Kara’s upcoming book “Cobalt Red”.

So what does the new year have in store for us on the car front? Firstly there will be a number of new EV’s, of which I find Lotus’s new Eletre the most exciting, together with the potential roll-out of Lucid Motors in Europe (se my post here from my visit to their showroom in New York in October). Ferrari’s new Purosangue that we looked at a few weeks ago is no doubt the most exciting SUV, and in Europe, the Z06 version of the Corvette C8 will be introduced as it’s already been in the US. First impressions from there seem to indicate it’s a real track weapon and although still a bargain compared to similar German and Italian cars, less so than the excellent C8 that I look forward to driving soon! The other notable sports car that will see the light of day is Nissan’s new Z, of which we know that it will have a V6 engine, a nice change to the trend of even more four-cylinder engines powering everything from hot hatches to larger SUV’s.

Looks the part and definitely looks like a Z!

If you read this on Sunday on the day of publication on 1 January, I hope you’ve had a nice New Year’s party, that the hangover isn’t too bad and above all, that you’ll have a fantastic 2023 with many great drives! I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing that the war in Ukraine and the suffering finally comes to an end somehow, that inflation hereby falls back and that by some stroke of magic, one of the e-fuel projects pursued notably by Porsche reaches industrial scale much earlier than expected, so that we get a real alternative to the unethical EV’s. Many thanks again for your trust and for following the blog, please don’t hesitate to provide any suggestions or recommendations on themes or cars here below, and see you next week for the first post written in 2023, and a Happy New Year to you all!

The best sports car for 130′!

If you read this blog on a regular basis (for which I’m eternally grateful!), chances are you also spend some time on the excellent activity referred to as car surfing, i.e. looking on various car website-marketplaces with either something or nothing specific in mind. I certainly do, a bit more than I should according to my better half. In the holiday season, chances are you’ll have more time at your hands than usual for this. So as mentioned in last week’s post where I said that if I had the 400′ to spend on a car, i.e. the money Ferrari’s new Purosangue will cost (at least…), I’d rather by the new Range Rover in full spec and spend the rest on a good sports car. Assuming the spared amount would be more or less 130′ (EUR/USD/CHF, given they all trade more or less at parity), the car surfing question thus became: which sports car would I choose?

That’s of course a very large question so in order to make this somewhat manageable, I set a few parameters. A sports car is here defined as having a roof and not a soft top, and two seats (I’ve allowed for the minimal back seats for very small children or amputated people you find notably in the cars from Zuffenhausen…). In terms of power, 400 hp feels like a good number, and those should come from at least six cylinders. As you’ll see from the selection below, if you’re willing to consider not only new but also well-kept older cars, the selection is pretty wonderful to a degree that I’m thankful this is only a theoretical exercise, because again, what would I choose? Below are six of my own top picks!

Lotus Emira

I wrote about the Emira quite recently and called it the best car Lotus has ever built. I stand by that in terms of the full experience, even if it doesn’t dance around corners like an 800 kg Elise would, which after all is pretty normal. That doesn’t change the fact that the Emira is a great car and one made for driving. It looks like a mini-Ferrari (with some hints of the Alpine A110 in the back), has an interior that is vastly superior to anything Lotus has ever built before, has a reliable Toyota V6 engine that sounds good if not at the Maranello level, and in the booth behind the engine and behind the seats, it can store more luggage than two people need. In the Lotus tradition it remains a car more for curvy roads than for long motorway stretches and it doesn’t excel in driving assistance stuff, but then again, it’s a car for driving. And at 1400 kg, it’s still on the lighter side, as a true Lotus should be. For the 130′ it costs as new, it really is a lot of car for the money and it’s actually cheaper as new than its predecessor, the Evora was as new. That’s not something that happens often these days!

Chevrolet Corvette C8

Very far from the Emira in terms of concept is the new Corvette called C8. In spite of having been launched in 2020 you don’t see many in Europe yet, something we can probably blame broken supply lines for. American readers will have seen lots of new Corvettes on the other hand, as I was able to note on our recent trip to Florida. What I also noted was of course how good it looks. I’ve always like the Corvette but the C8 takes its design to a new level, while still retaining the unmistakeable Corvette look. The interior is also said to be of good, if not superb quality and if it wasn’t for the logo in the center of the steering wheel, the car could easily be mistaken for something coming from Italy or Germany. The C8 is obviously also the first Corvette in 65 years with a mid-mounted engine, and that engine is no less than a 6.2 litre, naturally aspirated V8 putting out around 500 hp. Nothing European about that! It’s associated with an 8-speed double-clutch box and interestingly, its weight distribution is about 40-60 as opposed to the typical 50/50 of mid-engined cars. This brings really good handling on track and apparently almost too much comfort on the road. At around 130′ in Europe and even less in the US, the C8 is nothing but a bargain in all regards!

Ferrari 458 Italia

If you’re not set on a new car, then there’s really no way around the Ferrari 458 Italia which is now reaching the 130′ price mark. That’s to say that this is not a collector’s Ferrari, but it remains a significant car in several ways, besides being a great success for Ferrari. Design-wise it was the last model to come from Pininfarina and on the inside, it was the first car with Ferrari’s new dash and interior layout, that would basically be used in every car from Maranello up to the very recent Romas and SF90’s. Engine-wise, the 458 remains naturally-aspirated with the mid-mounted, 566 hp V8 singing out of the three central rear pipes from below the transparent hood. The suspension is great, the front booth is large enough for two and quality-wise, the 458 has a reputation for being very reliable, actually more so than many far more normal cars. You’ll have to fight a bit to find a 458 on the right side of 130′ but when you do, provided history and ownership are right, not much can go wrong! Choose wisely on the options for a good ownership experience (hints are front lift and upgraded speaker system more than carbon applications).

Audi R8

So far we have six and eight naturally aspirated cylinders, so perhaps time to bring 10 into the mix in the form of a real long-runner among supercars. The Audi R8 was introduced as far back as 2007 and although a second series came in 2015 and a face lift in 2019, there are few designs that have stood the test of time better, and touch-ups are indeed limited. The interior has almost seen more changes than the exterior in line with Audi’s general development, and the wonderful 5.2 litre V10 we’re looking at here (the R8 also comes with a perfectly good eight-cylinder engine) has gained some power over the years to now just over 600 hp. Some people will love the fact that this is an Audi with all that it brings in quality, service-friendliness and drivability, also thanks to its four-wheel drive. To others, that makes it a bit too much of a “normal” car for a real supercar, that perhaps looks a bit too much like its smaller brother, the TT. Our budget of 130′ will get you a face-lifted 2015-2016 car, certainly money well spent and perhaps especially so now that the R8 is discontinued and will be replaced by… an electrical model.

McLaren MP4

It’s easy to forget that McLaren Automotive, i.e. the street car company, has only been around since 1992, meaning 30 years. Back then the F1 was introduced, which with a top speed of 385 km/h is still one of the very fastest road cars in the world. Then in 2011 the MP4-12C came out (later only called 12C) as the first in McLaren’s range of, let’s say quite similar-looking cars. That’s not to say it doesn’t look good, but perhaps a little too unspectacular for the supercar it really is? The MP4 is a technological masterpiece which thanks notably to computer-managed suspension with four independent wheels offers unrivaled handling and comfort. Weighing in at only 1300 kg thanks to lots of carbon and composite materials, its 3.8 litre, 600 hp double-turbo V8 makes it very fast indeed, but it is so without a soundtrack in any way comparable to its closes competitor, the 458. That’s the thing with the whole car and also why it will only appeal to some; the MP4 (as all McLaren’s) is still today one of the fastest and most efficient cars around, but it’s so clinically perfect in how it drives that it makes an R8 look like a real rowdy and the 458 like something from another world. Being able to get one at 130′ as you now can is however very attractive indeed. If ever a road car had a real F1 heritage, this is the one!

Porsche 911

Last but by no means least is the Porsche 911, which at this budget point gives you many different options. 130′ buys you a 2018-2019 4S or GTS with 450 very healthy horsepower, a GT 3 from 2014-2015 with another 26 hp on top of that or if you prefer, a GT3 from around 2010 with the benefit of a manual gearbox and much more of a race car experience. To me all of these beat the more powerful turbo of the above generations, but that’s a matter of preference and otherwise also a very good alternative that qualifies price-wise. Of course you can also get a 911 for less, including some of the great earlier generations, but that would mean going outside my 400 hp power conditions set above. What all 911’s have in common is quite simply being some of the best sports cars every built, that most of us have memories of in various shapes and forms, and which if serviced correctly are very unlikely to bring you any problems whatsoever. The backside of that is of course that as you see one on practically every street corner it may not feel as special as you would want. That doesn’t change anything to the fact that a 911 is always a very compelling proposition!

So there we are – my selection of six sports/supercars around the 130′ mark. Most of them naturally aspirated, which was actually not something I was actively looking for. It’s a really tough choice but seeing you get real supercars as the R8, the MP4 or the 458 for the money, I wouldn’t go for the new Emira and C8 although they’re excellent cars, and neither the 911 as it’s a bit too common for my taste. Of course you would need to drive these three back to back to choose but this is a car surfing exercise and based on that, the 458 takes it in my book. If you’re lucky enough to have the choice in the real world, you’re a lucky person indeed!

Pure blood from Maranello!

Sergio Marchionne is a man all car enthusiasts should be thankful to. The late Fiat/Chrysler/Ferrari boss turned around the Fiat group a bit more than 10 years ago and without him, Fiat and thereby Ferrari may well have gone bankrupt. Marchionne died in 2018 after an intense life full of work and cigarettes but not of more healthy things such as sleep, and when he was asked in 2016 if it wasn’t time for Ferrari to join the increasing number of sports and luxury brands building or planning to build SUV’s. he famously replied that someone would have to shoot him before that happened. Luckily no one did, but perhaps it’s good that Marchionne is no longer around now that Ferrari is presenting its first ever SUV, the Purosangue (pure blood). More than just the latest member in the large group of luxury SUV’s, I would claim the Purosangue is more significant. It’s not only Ferrari’s first SUV, it’s also a car that sets a new benchmark in power, technology and price!

Purposeful front, air inlets above the lights

In order not to offend anyone in Maranello any further we need to define precisely what kind of car the Purosangue is. You see, “SUV” is a term you don’t use anywhere near Ferrari grounds, where they rather speak of the new four-seater GT car, perhaps so that Marchionne doesn’t turn in his grave. It is of course correct given the Purosangue follows on from the GTC4 Lusso, itself the successor to the FF, both also four-seat (although not four-door) GT cars, but still, the Purosangue is far taller than any of these. At around two tons, the weight is pretty impressive given the power train and the size of the car at just under 5 meters, and a good 500 kg less than most competitors.

At 22″ front and 23″ rear, the big wheels help the car look smaller

Unlike most of these competitors, the Purosangue is a true four-seater, with two separate seats in the back and no third seat option. Unlike the GTC4 and FF though, attention has been paid to facilitating access tot he back seats, notably with the back doors being rear-hinged (but for rigidity reasons, preserving the B-pillar), and with enough room for two adults to sit comfortably. Luggage-space seems similar to a mid-sized, hmm, SUV, and the back seats can be folded should you ever come up with the crazy idea to take your Purosangue to Ikea. The car has 23-inch wheels in the back and 22″ in the front, which together with other smart design tricks such as the “floating” wheel arches and the (optional) black carbon roof make the car look smaller than it is, and also quite purposeful. Beautiful? Not sure, but in my view perhaps the best-looking in the super SUV segment.

The most impressive thing with the whole car is of course the power train of this first version (knowing there will most probably be lesser-powered versions that will follow). When others go for hybrid six-cylinders, Ferrari has put its greatest engine of all, the very much naturally aspirated V12 notably used in the 812 in the Purosangue. It sits deep behind the front axle with not much more than the top visible, meaning it’s serviced form underneath. Ahead of it is the two-speed “gearbox” engaging the front wheels should the rear wheels slip. Under normal circumstances, the Purosangue is thus rear-wheel drive. The fabulous engine develops 725 hp, making this is the most powerful SU…. sorry, high and heavy family GT car ever, even stronger than the 707 hp top version of the Aston Martin DBX.

The engine behind the front axle and the front wheel drive unit ahead of it

The suspension is said to be quite revolutionary, although not all details are known yet. Basically the Purosangue reads the road ahead à la magic carpet from Mercedes, but then allows the suspension to actively go into potholes etc. to really smoothen the ride out. The interior looks like any modern Ferrari but with a multi-purpose round little wheel on the central console, over which a number of functions are controlled. Not sure how intuitive and easy to use it is, but it looks cool. The front passenger has his own screen from which all functions can now be controlled. Of course the interior can be tailored in any version and color you want, should nothing in the standard palette be to your liking.

Price-wise the Purosangue isn’t shy at all. When deliveries start early next year it will be at a starting price of around EUR/USD 400′, with lots of room to the upside depending on the interior options mentioned above, but also of course to how much carbon you feel its exterior needs. That puts it 10-20% above the Urus and a good 100′ EUR above a Bentayga (which his hopelessly underpowered at only 550 hp), or an Aston Martin DBX 707, together with the Urus probably the closest competitor. Before you start checking your balance though, you should know that the first two years’ production is sold out before most buyers have even seen the car live.

I won’t bother you with my thoughts on whether the world needs another 700 hp SUV again, but I do think it’s wonderful to see Ferrari put its most famous and still naturally aspirated engine in the Purosangue, and I’m sure they’ll have lots of success with it. A few weeks ago I wrote about how profitable it’s been to be a Ferrari shareholder in the last years (see here if you missed it), and there’s little reason to think that will change now that the line-up has been completed with the car type that makes up about half of Porsche’s profit. As for me, to go back to our friend Sergio Marchionne, I wouldn’t spend 400′ even if I had it, but if indeed someone threatened to shoot me unless I did, I would buy the new Range Rover, which is a true SUV and ia good-looking one as well, and then have more than 100′ left to spend on a real sports car. Because you get a whole lot of interesting sports cars for around 100′, and what that could be is what we’ll look at next week!

Street finds – the Jeep Grand Wagoneer!

Christmas is a time of year full of traditions. There’s the food, the tree, the extremely repetitive Christmas songs, and then of course those Christmas movies. I can think of no other season that you associate with watching the same movie every year, yet that’s what happens at Christmas, and we all have our personal favorites. In our family, Chevy Chase’s hilarious (if you have a rather simple sense of humor) National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation has a special place. I actually find the first 10 minutes the most fun, when Chevy alias Clark Griswold drives his family out into the wilderness to find the family Christmas tree, and on the way manages to get into a fight with a pick-up and to squeeze his giant station wagon with vinyl wood decorations on the sides between the axels of a big truck.

The movie came out in 1989 and as said, Chevy/Clark is driving a boring station wagon rather than the car that was launched precisely for this kind of family setting and situation (except the part under the truck), featuring the same kind of fake wood decoration. I’m of course talking about the legendary Jeep Grand Wagoneer, a record-breaking SUV in several aspects. The Wagoneer was notably built for 29 years, the third longest of any one generation car in American history. It was also launched in Europe seven years before Land Rover’s first Range Rover, which was of course three-door only for the first years, meaning it’s arguably the grand daddy of all modern luxury SUV’s. I saw the below example in Oslo, Norway earlier this week, perfectly parked in front of a nice hotel entrance, putting its elegant line in the right context. This week, we’ll therefore have a look at this true but increasingly rare SUV legend in its most luxurious version!

It’s difficult to imagine a better city setting for a Grand Wagoneer!

The Wagoneer was produced for so long that its mother company Jeep had time to change owners no less than three times. When production started in 1963 Jeep was part of the Kaiser Jeep Corporation, making the Wagoneer the direct replacement of the Willys Jeep Station Wagon that had been produced since 1946. Seven years later Jeep would be sold to the American Motor Corporation (AMC), and finally in 1987, to Chrysler, where it’s remained until today. As said the Wagoneer was built until 1990, however the Grand Wagoneer version that we’re focusing on here was only introduced in 1984, meaning most of the ones you see were built during the Chrysler years. That’s perhaps less important than the fact that quality-wise, the 1988 to end production years seem to be the best, with a number of improvements both to the interior and the exterior, In terms of engine though, Chrysler continued to use the 5.9 litre (360 cui) V8 developed by AMC, that at around 150 hp wasn’t very powerful in horsepower but all the more in torque, giving the car great towing capacity. It was also a heavy drinker, with average consumption apparently at 11 mpg or around 20 litres per 100 km…

The engine may not be beautiful, but it has all the torque you need!

What’s always enchanted me with the Grand Wagoneer is its looks and of course, it’s wonderful fake wood! Jeep guarantees that not a single tree was chopped to produce the vinyl panels on the exterior, and the same seems to go for the inside. There’s definitely an 80’s chic around the panels but they do add visually to the body, making it look less heavy. By modern standards the Grand Wagoneer was of course less heavy not only in looks, weighing in at around two tons, around half a ton less than a modern, large SUV (in the traditional American way, the Wagoneer was a six-seater). Being the top of the line version the Grand Wagoneer also had a lot of equipment for the time, with stuff like premium speakers, central locking and windows, and even keyless entry on the last model years from 1989. Of course it also had the split tailgate like the Range Rover does, perfect for enjoying a cup of coffee out in the wilderness, or on whichever adventure your Grand Wagoneer has taken you.

A perfect American mix of leather, cloth and vinyl!

Any type of Wagoneer has gotten rare these days and even fewer are in the condition you want them to be. The original Grand Wagoneer additionally suffers from the doubtful long-term quality of fake wood, so I was really lucky to see one in such a good condition as the one in Oslo. The rarity is also seen in prices, with a good version costing at least EUR 40-50.000. Then again, for car that has such presence and literally invites you to take your family or friends out on any adventure you can think of, that really is a bargain. Fuel costs will stay somewhat reasonable given you’ll cruise around at moderate speeds, listening to your cassettes on the premium speakers. There will be some additional costs to pencil in though, unless you already have a pair of used Timberlands, a squared flannel shirt and a leather jacket that has lived as least as long as the Grand Wagoneer in the closet!

The last nail in the e-coffin

This week we’ll put the nail in the coffin of any dreams of personal car electrification in the coming years. That may sound drastic, but regular readers of the blog will remember I did my first post on the subject almost two years ago and have followed that up a couple of times, notably last summer, at a time when we were all living in the world where markets were good and Putin was, well not in Ukraine. On one hand things have thus changed in a way which is highly significant notably for EV’s. On the other I came across some really astounding facts a couple of weeks ago, the silence on which is very surprising. But if the media won’t tell you about it, then I guess I will, and although it may sound pompous, I really do think this seals the fate for the worldwide EV roll-out our Western politicians want to see over the coming years. Let’s dig in.

There are around one billion 450 million cars in the world or if you prefer, roughly one car per five world inhabitants (although it rather splits like three in our developed world garages and non in many developing countries). Almost all these cars are powered by a combustion engine, the basic principle of which is identical to the one invented around 150 years ago. That resounding success is of course helped by constant developments and improvements, but even more importantly, by the fact that the fuel needed to power it has been, and continues to be, plentiful. Put differently, had we reached peak oil a long time ago, it’s reasonable to think that the development of alternative fuels would have started earlier.

An E-Type V12 is a particularly fine example of the combustion engine!

The skepticism I’ve long held to our electrical future has nothing to do with the cars themselves (although most, after you’ve pushed the pedal to the metal a few times, are about as interesting as watching paint dry, but that will most probably change as more come to market – maybe). Much more though, this comes from the massive issues related to EV battery production, the less than convincing carbon footprint they have, and the geopolitical implications of where the necessary metals are located. But actually, you don’t even need to go there, because in addition to all this comes the simple fact that there isn’t enough of the materials needed for the electrical future to be realized. In other words, the alternative to the combustion engine is finally here, and it’s not a bad one, but the world doesn’t have enough “fuel” to power it on a massive scale. And yet, whilst concrete plans are drawn up for a ban on combustion engine cars, no one talks about it.

Never ever forget this picture – and apologies for the bad quality.

We’re told we should replace all our traditional cars with EV’s as quickly as possible. Let’s say we’re slightly less ambitious and content with 500 million EV’s as a first step. After all, that’s about 480 million more EV’s than are on the road today and maybe we don’t need all of those 1.45 billion cars going forward (that would actually be a fair assumption…). To supply batteries for that number of cars would require mining a quantity of energy minerals equivalent to about three trillion smartphone batteries. That’s equal to over 2,000 years of mining and production for the latter. And even if that through some miracles were to happen, it would still only eliminate 15% of the world’s oil consumption.

We would of course in addition have to mine whatever is needed for the solar panels, windmills and electrification needs of industry that should happen in parallel. Of course this assumes that all the countries from which we get these metals pose no political or moral issues, and continue to happily supply us with everything we need. No reminder is probably needed that one of the two most important of these countries is Russia which is currently engaged in a war in Europe and actively turning eastwards and away from us. Another one is the Congo, where children work in mines under inhumane conditions to extract 90% of the world’s cobalt production. Lithium on the other hand mainly comes from south America, notably Bolivia, with severe consequences for the local ground water supply.

Lithium extraction in Bolivia. Not really great for the local ground water…

Given however electrification is the chosen and from what you hear, the single way of development, the logical consequence should be to have increased mining high on the priority list. Without that, where are the metals supposed to come from? Of course that’s not what happens, especially not in the Western hemisphere. Our politicians much prefer to travel by private jet to a climate summit (COP 26) in a developing country (Egypt) to lecture other developing countries on their usage of fossil fuels, only to negotiate more oil and mineral deliveries from the same countries when the lights go out. Around 400 private jets brought the dignitaries of this world to COP in October and this year, and as an example, Germany has imported eight times more coal from South Africa than in 2021. So far however, we let the Chinese invest in new mines, preferring not to get our hands dirty.

The hypocrisy is truly hard to believe, But it doesn’t stop here. Few countries have been as vocal about human rights abuses in connection with the World Cup in Qatar as Germany, and emotions were running high when its team wasn’t allowed to wear rainbow armbands during the games in defense of LGBTQ rights. All this didn’t prevent its government from signing a natural gas deal with Qatar for the coming 15 years at the same time as the German team tried to qualify for the quarter finals.

Some of the more than 400 jets that brought world leaders to Egypt at the COP26

This last example serves to highlight a crucial point of which we’ve been reminded a few times already, and will certainly be reminded of many more times this and next year: when energy gets scarce, there’s a risk of people not being able to heat their homes or industry needing to shut down because of lack of electricity, then every single politician will do what it takes to keep the lights on, be it with dirty energy and, as I suspect will increasingly happen, be it in spite of sanctions as well. That’s also when EV’s become more of a problem than a solution.

Let’s summarize the facts that should be obvious by now;

1) We don’t have enough storage or mining capacity to extract the rare metals needed to produce batteries anywhere close to the scale needed for the electrification of the world’s auto fleet. As a concrete number, a single large EV battery pack of 500 kg can require up to 250 tons of earth being moved to produce sufficient ore to extract the quantities of metals required.

2) There is currently (meaning at least for the coming five years) no alternative battery technology to replace our metal-based batteries, and there are no other metals that are as efficient as the ones currently used. EV enthusiasts will often point to cobalt quantities being reduced given how problematic its production is. It is however substituted with nickel, mostly coming from Russia, not with other types of metals. Any other type of metal would make the battery less efficient. And even if you could argue that nickel from Russia is better than cobalt from the Congo, it’s really an improvement on the margin, not more.

You’ve seen the picture before – the mining worker in the Chinese-owned mined in the Congo earns around 3 USD per day. The carbon emissions in the black smoke behind him aren’t verified…

3) There is no reliable way to trace the full carbon footprint of an EV. Estimates vary widely and will continue to do so, and how could it be any different when in some instances you’re required to dig out 250 tons of earth in some of the poorest countries of the world, under conditions we don’t want to know about? No one has even tried to measure the climate impact of cobalt extractions in the Congo, and that’s probably a good thing. However, based on 50 academic studies, the estimated emissions to produce one single EV battery range from eight to 20 tonnes CO2. That’s before it’s been driven a single meter, and the higher end of that range is comparable to the emissions from a conventional car during its full lifetime.

4) In a world where electricity is scarce, EV’s for personal driving will not be prioritized. Here in Switzerland, the government’s energy emergency plan tells us not to use streaming services in times of crisis, or not to wash our laundry above 40 degrees. In the US, California has seen more power cuts this year than ever before. Under any of those scenarios, how likely is it that you’re allowed to charge your EV as much as you want? And when an EV charge is almost as much as filling your tank as has been the case in the UK in some places this year, where’s the incentive?

5) Finally, and although nothing really points at it, perhaps a bit of common decency and morality will come in to the public discussion, pointing to the fact that children in the Congo work in mines under terrible conditions to produce the metals needed for feel good Westerners to drive Teslas. Or that over 90% of the solar panels on our roofs are produced by Uighurs in Chinese prison camps, their only crime being to be Uighur? If fast fashion isn’t the way to go for the clothes we buy, then EV’s most certainly aren’t for our driving!

Therefore, batteries in their current shape or form are not the way forward, and current electrification plans for our auto fleet simply won’t happen. That doesn’t mean that the combustion engine in its current form will be there forever though. That’s however a story for another day. Until then, enjoy your conventional car – as long as you do, you’re doing the world a service!

Danke Seb!

The longest F1 season in history came to an end in Abu Dhabi last weekend. I don’t mean “longest in history” in the sense of it being boring, even though it was definitely more exciting in the first half than in the second. No, it was indeed objectively the longest season so far. Of course it was clear already from a few races back that Max Verstappen would be the undisputed and well-deserved world champion for the second time around. It was however really down to the wire as to whom would finish second, with Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and Sergio Perez (Red Bull) starting the race at exactly the same points. In the end Leclerc, fighting like a lion on aging tires, managed to stay in second and thus to finish in second place overall ahead of Perez in third. Well deserved for Ferrari, but it must still leave a bitter taste to know that they could maybe have challenged Red Bull for the title, had there not been as many mishaps and strategy errors during the season.

The same podium in Abu Dhabi as the final standings: Verstappen ahead of Leclerc and Perez

For Mercedes this was a season to forget, but at least the trend turned upwards in the second half of the season, with Hamilton and Russell being more competitive as races went by. Behind the top three teams McLaren and Alpine formed the next group, although Daniel Ricciardo didn’t find his footing during the whole season and will now leave McLaren for Red Bull, as reserve river in 2023. He’ll be replaced by newcomer Oscar Piastri. Fernando Alonso is moving on to Aston Martin, being replaced by Pierre Gasly who together with Esteban Ocon will make Alpine an all French line-up. Also, veteran Nico Hulkenberg will replace Mick Schumacher at Haas, who hereby doesn’t have a seat for next season. This is a bit surprising given Mick showed a lot of promise, but apparently Haas team boss Günther Steiner found there were a bit too many ups and owns during the season to justify keeping him. It’s not fully clear what Mick will do next year, but he may end up as reserve driver for Mercedes according to rumors.

There was a bit too much of this and a bit too few points for young Schumi…

Alonso moving to Aston Martin means that Sebastian Vettel is calling it a day. He’s been in F1 for as long as anyone can remember but has somehow become a bit anonymous in the last years, given how uncompetitive Aston Martin has been. It almost makes you forget what a stellar career he’s had since his debut on BMW Sauber in 2007, when he stood in for Robert Kubica in Indianapolis and managed to score his first points. In numbers, it sums to an incredible 4 world titles, 53 wins, 122 podiums and 57 poles. He came to Red Bull in 2009 and would then take his four world championship titles in the subsequent years 2010-2013, i.e. four consecutive titles of which the first at 23 years still make him the youngest ever world champion in F1. In 2015 Seb moved on to Ferrari replacing Fernando Alonso and then unsuccessfully challenged Lewis Hamilton for the world title especially in 2017-2018, becoming half Italian and definitely a legend in Italy in the process. He stayed for six years at Ferrari before moving to Aston Martin in 2020.

Vettel took four world titles on Red Bull between 2010-2013

From being a youngster on the circus 15 years ago, Seb’s gone from quite a hot blooded youngster not always on the right side neither of the rules, nor of sportiness, to a mature man today engaged in climate and LGBTQ questions. No one becomes F1 champion by being nice, as Seb demonstrated in Malaysia in 2013 when his Red Bull team had ordered him to stay behind teammate Mark Webber for the remainder of the race. Seb ignored the order, passed Webber, won the race and later motivated the whole thing with “I was racing, I was faster, I passed him, I won.” Can’t really argue with that, but you can certainly argue with him in Azerbaijan in 2017 when he thought Lewis Hamilton was brake-testing him and decided to drive into Lewis’s car sideways. He apologized for the whole thing afterwards, and the two of them later agreed it’s somehow made them better friends.

Not Seb’s finest moment – Azerbaijan 2017

Seb himself will tell you he doesn’t need to be remembered, which he of course will be anyway. I would however be surprised if we see him being active on the F1 circus going forward, given his interests today seem to be elsewhere. As for the next F1 season, given how long this one was, it will start sooner than we think and will most probably again be a fight between Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari. Will the latter get their strategy right the whole season, allowing Leclerc or Sainz to fight for the title? Will Mercedes managed to be really competitive again, and will in that case Russell or Hamilton come out on top? And although he’s been the best second driver Red Bull has ever had, can Sergio Perez step out of Verstappen’s shadow and fight for the title? We’ll have a first idea in a few months’ time. if I had to guess though, I think Max Verstappen is well placed to become a three time world champion in 2023 and then perhaps to equal Seb’s four-year stretch in 2024!

The simple life!

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

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

The Mk1 Triumph Spitfire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recession? What recession?

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

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

No sign of recession here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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