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.
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!
It’s obviously summer time, and here in Switzerland right in the middle of the really hot temperatures down in Spain and Italy and the really cold temperatures up north in parts of Scandinavia, we’re enjoying perfect summer weather. This is obviously the kind of conditions you imagine when you decide to spend a significant amount of money on a car in the categories sports/hypercar or luxury convertible, so the time to enjoy them has definitely come – and if it’s a convertible, so has the time for shielding your head from the sun during those long, nice drives.
It’s not just in the summer that Zurich is a rolling car exhibition, but clearly the number of beautiful automobiles is higher in July than in November and they tend to be cleaner as well, thereby lending themselves better to the game I thought we’d play this week. It’s one I’m sure we all played as kids and that just maybe some of us still play as grown-ups. I’m of course talking about variations of the excellent mind game “which one would I pick?”! It was when walking through the city the other week that I photographed the following four cars within an area of 200 meters, and thought they lent themselves very well to this exercise. Also, the results could be a good way of getting to know our readers a bit better through your preferences, so please therefore put your replies in the reply section below!
We start with the most common car of these four, namely the latest version of the very popular Bentley Continental GT Convertible, or GTC. I personally think the most recent facelift has given it a much more modern and sporty look, perhaps especially from the back as pictured here. This is the four-litre V8 version with 550 hp, enough to get the quite heavy Continental up to illegal speeds in very little time. The happy owner has also chosen to spend some money on his very own license plate – you may remember the post on the Swiss system for auctioning number plates that you’ll otherwise find here. Anyway, the GTC is a beautiful car here in a discrete, elegant colour, and very much not in your face.
We move on to something that is the complete opposite – a very yellow Lamborghini Aventador SV, meaning Super Veloce, or super fast. That it is indeed, being powered by a 740 hp V12 that will bring you to 200 km/h in 10 seconds flat and also around the Nürburgring in (just under) seven minutes. As it does so, it will leave no one in any doubt of where it comes from and that there’s a bit V12 powering it. You can certainly debate how ideal it is as a city or shopping car but there’s definitely space enough for some of the small, expensive gift boxes you find in the many jeweller shops close to where it was parked. Whether it’s yellow or not really doesn’t matter – an Aventador will never pass unnoticed!
If the Bentley is too common and the Lambo too flashy, then what about a Rolls-Royce Dawn? After all, when it was launched in 2015 the brand referred to it as “the sexiest Rolls-Royce every built”! That was however not enough for CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös who also described sitting in it as “the most luxurious place to be on earth”. Be that as it may, the Dawn is no doubt a beautiful automobile creating just enough theatre with its rear-hinged doors, but its weight of 2800 kgs (!) means the 6.6 litre, 570 hp V12 needs to work hard. It’s thus probably better suited for downtown Zurich than the Aventador, even though the owner’s choice of parking space could turn out to be expensive. Then again, in this league, who cares…
The final pick is perhaps the best representative of a time long before engines had many hundred horsepower, and prestige was instead defined by opulent design and plush materials. This beautiful Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 V8 Cabriolet (long name for a legendary car!) that we’ll come back to on the blog as it’s worth a post of its own, was built in the late 60’s – early 70’s 1232 times. The 230 hp, 3.5 litre V8 had its work cut out with the quite heavy car, but this was of course never meant to be a Nürburgring racer so power was quite sufficient at the time, as it remains today.
Those are the candidates, which one would you pick? I’ll obviously tell you which one my choice would be, and it probably comes at no surprise that I would go for the beautiful Merc. I certainly wouldn’t mind the others either but as said, if you need to pick one, that’s my choice. Please put yours in the comments or, if you happen to be the very fortunate owner of any of these masterpieces, perhaps a photo of it!
It’s no secret that a lot of money has never been a guarantee of good taste (rather the contrary in many cases), and it’s something I came to think about earlier this week when I saw this pair parked close to my office. Both SUV’s of course, and both among the cars with the longest production time of any car model, even if this is of course the upated G-wagon. Both also among the most capable cars there are when the road ends, although as usual, none of these and especially the G will ever see anything but tarmac. The pair was however also optically interesting, as the G wagon is a Hofele version, equipped with an interior the same colour as the Defender’s paint – orange. That paint, officially under the name Phoenix orange, came as part of the Defender 90 Adventure Edition in the last year of production in 2016. So in other words, both these cars are special editions.
Starting with the Defender, it has an appeal like few other cars. I can’t help smile whenever I see one, and even though I think Land Rover has done a great job with the new version, there’s really nothing like the original Defender, especially in the 90 (short) version. As cool as it is on the outside, as uncomfortable, squeezed and old it is on the inside. The door will be in constant contact with your left leg and unless you open the window, forget about resting your arm on it. The turning circle is… bad, as is the suspension, the wind noises are terrible, and the 122 hp aren’t anything to write home about. And yet, sitting up there, you feel like perhaps not the king of the world, but still pretty darn good. And again, should the road ever end, the Defender is the best friend you can have.
Then there’s the G63 Hofele. Don’t recognize the name? It was new to me as well when, by coincidence, I drove by their Zurich branch a while ago. Going in to check it out, I learnt that Hofele is a German company specialized in tuning of various Mercedes models, but especially the G-wagon. Tuning here means completely redone interiors, new wheels and things like rear-hinged doors and other stuff some people are willing to pay lots of money for. The emphasis is however on the interior which is transformed into an orgy of leather and alcantara, all to the precise wishes of the owner. I sat in one when I stopped by Hofele and I’ve truly never seen anything like it. In this precise case the owner seems to be a true fan of bright colours, as not only did he choose the not-to-everybody’s-liking brilliant blue as exterior colour (I would guess that at least 80-90% of G’s sold are black or dark grey, with the rest being white, silver or dark green, but not blue…), he combined it with the most orange interior ever seen in any car.
Except for being the most classical SUV’s and most capable offroad cars you can find, and both being special editions, these two really have nothing more in common. The Defender is as rustical as it gets, the G an ocean of luxury, especially in the Hofele edition. It has about five times as many horsepower as the Defender (even though you can only enjoy them in a straight line, since the driving systems will prevent the laws of nature as soon as the road starts to twist…), at least five times better build quality and as they stand here, it’s also at least five times the price. Late 90’s version of the original Defender change hands for EUR 60-70′, while Hofele adds around EUR 200′ to the original G63 price, meaning a total price tag of around EUR 400-450′. I honestly don’t know which one is the most absurd.
Let’s however play with the idea that some generous soul would give you one of these two, on the only condition that you had to drive it over the coming years? What a no-brainer – of course you’d take the G63 right? Yeah – it’s just that the exterior colour is a bit… And then of course, everytime you’d open the door, you would be confronted with an orange orgy that you may just get a bit tired of pretty quickly. And you’d really have to be immune to everyone else’s looks, because whereas I’ve never seen anyone frown at the sight of a classic Defender, there are lots of people out there who have rather negative thoughts about SUV’s in general and very flashy G-wagons in particular.
I’d like to think I’d go for the Defender. Somehow I’ve always wanted one, and after I find the dream house in the Alps or the old castle in Tuscany, it’s definitely the second thing I would buy. And if I ever wanted to sell it, as proven by its current price, there’s really no car that keeps its residual value as well as a Defender. Under normal conditions, that would be true for the G-wagon as well. In this colour combination however, I think the first owner is in for a pretty hefty loss should he wish to sell his orange paradise. Then again, the residual value was probably not a concern of his in the first place…
This week we’ll talk about number plates. Not very exciting you tell me, but just wait. In most countries and for most of us, getting a number on your car is a pure formality. For some and in some countries, it’s possible to get your personalized number plate at low or even no cost. And then there’s Switzerland. Here, number plates are personal and follow you rather than the car. This is not unique in itself. What is however, is the way you get a personalized number – and how much it costs. You see, Swiss car owners’ willingness to pay a small fortune for a specific car number puts millions in the local cantons’ deep pockets – every year.
A canton is a Swiss region, comparable to a US or German state. Being a federation, Switzerland is split into 26 of them, with Zurich being not the largest, but with around 1.5m inhabitants the most populous. Registration plates indicate which canton the car comes from with two letters (“ZH” for Zurich, “GE” for Geneva etc.), and then any number between one and six digits. Given number plates are personal you will have guessed that those which have been in circulation long have few digits. This is of course also the case in smaller cantons. In Zurich on the other hand we will soon see the first seven-digit registration plate. That will of course be the number “ZH 1 000 000”, which you could imagine someone being willing to pay a few bucks for. That’s what the cantons have realized as well, in the case of Zurich as long as 30 years ago.
Cantons therefore regularly organize auctions for especially interesting number plates. Using Zurich as example, it’s here done on a weekly basis. Numbers which are auctioned are either interesting numbers that have been handed in because someone has died or otherwise stopped driving, but also numbers that have been picked out of the regular series. Anyone can register and take part in the auctions, but no information is given out beforehand on the numbers that will be auctioned, and all auction proceeds flow into the canton’s budget. In the case of Zurich as a large canton, this is the not so trivial amount of around CHF 4m (USD 4m) each year.
Against this background and in a country with a lot of money, it’s easy to imagine that a certain craziness has developed around this. You see, in Zurich having two (very rare), three or four digits in your number plate signals prestige, around some logic of old money. And then it’s of course true that having a number such as the one on the picture below is quite cool. It’s just that most of us would probably put the value of this at a few hundred bucks. Not in Zurich.
Three years ago in 2018, the number plate “ZH 987” was auctioned away for CHF 150.000. Yep, you read that right. Before that, the record had been set by “ZH 1000” at CHF 130.000 back in 1998. These are obviously records, but every week the canton of Zurich auctions around 30 number plates where as a rule of thumb, not so spectacular four-digit plates fetch around CHF 8.000 and three-digit ones around CHF 20.000. It can be much more however, with for example “ZH 1313” being auctioned for a solid CHF 75.000. Even an average, five-digit plate will cost you around CHF 4.000. When “ZH 1 000 000” comes out, it’s by the way expected to set a new record.
The full craziness of the above doesn’t become apparent until you realize that there’s no secondary market once you have paid for your dream plate. It’s a sunk cost which therefore also doesn’t need to be declared as wealth in your tax filing, as there is no way of selling the number on (it is in some cantons, but not in Zurich). This is probably a very good thing as you could easily imagine this going completely bonkers if that was the case, but what it means is therefore that whoever paid CHF 150.000 for number plate “ZH 987” will never see that money again. Basically, he or she made a hefty lump sum tax payment and got a number plate in return.
I can produce a very long list of desirable cars for a budget of CHF 150.000, as I’m sure you can as well. Actually I could do the same for CHF 20.000 and thinking about it, my son’s newly bought Lupo GTI didn’t cost much more than CHF 4.000. All these scenarios feel vastly superior to large, lump sum tax payments yielding a specific number plate as only payback. Then again what do I know – I’m the type of person who still struggles to remember my own number plate, although I’ve now had it for 19 years. Obviously, that’s not the case for everyone…
The morning dog walks in our sleepy village outside of Zurich usually don’t bring much in car excitement, and after a premature summer left Switzerland after Good Friday and had changed into a rather grey and chilly morning on Saturday, I wasn’t expecting much of anything. But then there it was, the car which from afar looked like a Mini, but on closer scrutiny was the today very rare A112, and as I was to discover, even a perfectly kept / restored 70 hp Abarth! Some of you will know the A112 as an Autobianchi, an Italian brand from the 70-80’s. Today these lovely small cars have become unusual, especially in one of the early 70’s series as this one was. Back in the day however, (when 70 hp in a small car was still something worth bragging about), the A112 was a frequent sight on the roads especially in southern Europe, and Autobianchi was on the technical forefront of motor engineering, at least in the small car segment. So a bit unplanned as street finds tend to be, this week we’ll have a closer look at the racy A112 Abarth!
Autobianchi had its roots in Bianchi, an Italian manufacturer of bicycles (cycle enthusiasts will know it very well!) and motorcycles founded in 1886. 20 years later Bianchi started producing cars as well, but that was met with a moderate success and by the 50’s, the firm was close to bankruptcy. To try to save what could be saved, together with Fiat and Pirelli, the car business was separated into Autobianchi, initially co-owned by the three companies but taken over by Fiat in 1968. Fiat’s idea with Autobianchi was to position it as a more exclusive version of the “regular” Fiats and a brand under which technical innovations could be tested without risking Fiat’s reputation. The most notable of these included the relatively new concept of combining front-wheel drive with Fiat’s first transverse engine. Autobianchi’s first models had names such as Primula and Giardinera, more reminiscent of gardening than anything on four wheels, but then in the 60’s first the A111 and subsequently the A112 were introduced. The latter would be built during 17 years until 1985 in a total of 1.2 million cars, making it by far the most successful car in Autobianchi’s history.
With a total length of 323 cm, the A112 was based on a shortened Fiat 128 chassis. Marcello Gandini, the man behind cars such as the Lamborghini Miura, Countach and Diablo, was given the task to design the car, but it’s quite obvious that he took less inspiration from what he had done for Lamborghini and more from another car that had already illustrated how successful the small, front-wheel drive concept could be: the Mini. The A112’s original engine was the 0.9 litre four-cylinder from the Fiat 850 initially producing 42 hp, later increased to 48 hp. Already in 1971 however, the Torino-based car engineer Carlo Abarth, founder of the company of the same name, saw the potential in the small and light A112 and came up with a 107 hp prototype. This was considered far too much fun by Fiat, and also too expensive to put into production, and power was therefore reduced to 58 hp in the first Abarth versions, and then from 1975 increased to 70 hp. This was notably achieved thanks to a sports exhaust, bringing the additional benefit of a wonderful sound! Combined with the fact that the A112 Abarth was the first A112 version with a five-speed gearbox, it quickly became a favourite among drivers with ambition, of which according to the buying statistics, as many as 35% were women.
That takes us back to my morning discovery as what I had in front of me was indeed a 70 hp Abarth version from the mid-late 70’s. Having studied it a bit I’m pretty certain this was the third series of the car, meaning it was built between 1975-1977. 70 hp isn’t much these days, then again the car only weighs around 700 kg, almost half of a modern, small car. The nice, 70’s bucket seats looked perfect, as did he rest of the interior (sorry for the reflections int he picture). The Abarth drive is said to be sporty with a typical front-wheel understeering tendency, but notably the short wheelbase meant that the A112 could also switch to oversteering, making the whole thing slightly adventurous. In Italy there was a rally class champinoship for the A112 in the late 70’s – early 80’s, and more recently, fans of Gran Turismo will also know that it’s a car featured in the game. Undoubtedly, the fact that the cars were driven quite hard has had quite a severe effect on the numbers that remain today!
So what happened to Autobianchi? well, given Fiat also owned Lancia with a similar brand positioning, over time it became increasingly difficult to separate the two brands. The A112 was replaced by the Y10 in 1986, which was to become Autobianchi last model and was actually sold under the Lancia brand in some markets outside of Italy. Fiat officially discontinued Autobianchi in 1995, it has never had a rebirth since, and probably never will. That doesn’t change anything to the fact that the Abarth 70 hp is a really cool small city car of a kind that isn’t built anymore, and that provides lots of fun (including the sound!) until this day. Nice ones are around EUR 10′, perfect ones as the one I saw proabably around EUR 15′. Try to find another modern supercar with bucket seats, plenty of Abarth badges or a 70’s double exhaust pipe for that money!
The pandemic does many things to us, and I’m sure I’m not the only one taking more time to reflect on the past (or maybe it’s just age, who knows…). Anyway I was sitting contemplating the other day and quickly realized how many of the old memories are linked to one of the many cars I’ve owned or experienced in various ways. Given you read this blog I dare guess it may be the same for you as well? So in a slightly philosophical way, I thought I’d take you down part of my own memory lane this week.
By the time you read this (and assuming you do so in the week after publication), we’re in Zermatt for a hopefully wonderful skiing week ahead (yes, we are lucky to live in a country where ski stations are still open!). We drove here from Zurich in the family car par excellence, a Polestar-treated XC90 (at least that…) which was packed to the limit as next to our family my daughter’s boyfriend is also here with us. The first time in 20 years or so we had someone else outside of the family as part of a longer trip but obviously a natural – and enjoyable! – evolution. Living in central Europe since our children were small, car trips have been very much part of their life since their youngest years, and we always had issues understanding other families telling us about how their children screamed after 30 minutes in the car and asked when they’d be arriving. For us it was the contrary,..
Many of these trips were between Switzerland and my native Sweden where we had a summer house during ten years. Roughly 1600 kms in one direction, usually over two days with the night spent in northern Germany. I remember these trips well, the cities we passed, the route that became familiar through the years, the places we spent the night (nothing better than a real German Schnitzel & Weissbier after a day of Autobahn!) and of course also the feeling, especially at the time the family car was the AMG E63, when the left lane opened up and you could floor it! What I don’t remember is the time no doubt wasted in congestion and heavy traffic – somehow you forget about that, even when it felt hopeless at the time. The most vivid memory was however 7-8 years ago, when my wife and I had decided to fly up to Sweden instead and spare the children the long car trip. Upon announcing this my daughter (who was in her early teens) burst out in tears – for her, the car trip was equal to the start of our vacation, and something she looked forward to. So the flight tickets were cancelled and we were back on the road.
The picture left didn’t happen very often, but I remember that more than the picture right…
The Triumph TR4 I had during almost ten years was another source of vivid memories. From finding it in Copenhagen early December to driving it from Basle (where it had been shipped to) to Zurich a few weeks later in far from ideal oldtimer weather. Basle is no more than 100km from Zurich but it was still a bit of a shock when after coming home, the oldtimer specialist I went to for a check-through said “it’s a good thing you only drove here from around the corner, because these breaks are nothing but rust…”. After that, as long-time readers of the blog will know I was extremely lucky with the TR4, hardly having a single issue over all the years. The most memorable trip I did was no doubt the one my wife and I took to Lausanne 5-6 years ago. We chose the small roads, over many mountain passes, even running into a real Swiss cow festival. A car memory that definitely sticks, but unfortunately in the end, those trips were too few and far between, reason why I sold the TR4 last year.
There have been many cars through years but going all the way back to the beginning when I was 18 and got my first car, a -75 Golf, as blue as the ocean, with a beige interior. I bought the already well-used Golf in northern Sweden, drove it the 600km or so to Stockholm, and then all the way from Stockholm to Florence for a summer language course. I still remember arriving to Florence late one evening, with the rain pouring down and a map on my lap to help me find my way in a completely unknown city. It took a while and I had an early practice of Italian ahead of the course when I had to ask for help, but I finally made it. It may be a surprise to younger readers but it was indeed possible to find places before GPS’s, and it had the additional benefit of actually having to speak to people! After the course I drove the car from Florence to Nice, had it there for a year whilst studying at university, and then drove all the way back to Stockholm. By that time my Golf had around 270.000 km on the clock and I hadn’t had a single issue during the 15-20.000 km or so it had been mine. There is truly something special with your first car!
Even more special than your first car is perhaps your first car memory, which for me is linked to the years we lived in Monaco when I was a child. I’ll never forget the weekends we spent skiing in the southern Alps in the winter. Most of the way back would typically be one big traffic jam, and you would always have the tough guys driving past the whole line on the narrow mountain roads, calculating that they would somehow be able to get back in line when someone came in the other direction. It mostly worked, but not always, as proven one time by a Renault 5 Turbo II that passed us and a few hundred meters later had crashed straight into another car. You’re certainly allowed to be nostalgic over old cars, but it’s important to remember that most things were not better before – car deformation zones being one of them!
Now the children have grown up and this ski trip is perhaps the last family car vacation we do together. The XC90 is a lease for another couple of years so I’ll guess it’ll stay with us until then, but as you know I replaced the TR4 with my 650 convertible last year, hoping that will be the main transport for my wife and I when the children start their own lives. The Beamer will hopefully become a source of new car memories to treasure in the future and I do look forward to them, just as I know we all look forward to the day we can return to a more normal life than most of us have right now. So hang in there and until that day comes, make sure you cherish your own car memories and stories – and perhaps share them with someone!
This week I thought we’d dream a bit about some truly dream-like cars. Cars that will not hit the road in the form they’re presented, where pictures speak louder than words, and where inspiration for the post comes from non less than Supercar Blondie. For those not familiar with her, her real name is Alex Hirschi, she’s originally from Australia but today lives in Dubai where she’s made a living as a vlogger on supercars, You may want to follow her on @supercarblondie or through Youtube. Anyway Blondie recently posted a top 5 of these kinds of dream cars that you can see by clicking here:
I decided to take a closer look at them, so in the order defined by Supercar Blondie, and with more pictures than words, here we go!
5. Mercedes-Maybach Project 6
Originally presented in Pebble Beach in 2016 as a coupé and a year later in Monterey as a convertible, the Project 6 is a 6-metre long retro-design by excellence, powered by a 750 hp all electrical engine capable of charging up to 350 kW, meaning 100 km in around five minutes. This 2+2 coupé and convertible are in the words of the chief design officer Gorden Wagener both “hot & cool”, and you could add to that both modern and retro, the former on the interior, the latter on the exterior. However you want to call it, it’s a beautiful automobile!
4. GT by Citroën
No mistake – this is really a Citroën and actually a concept that was presented back in 2008, but that doesn’t look a day old. As is the case with the Lambo further down it was developed for a computer game, in this case Gran Turismo 5. It’s a mid-engined, two-seater coupé that in the game used a hydrogen, fuel cell engine, but that in real life in the prototype built has the V8 from the Mk II Ford GT (that I covered a few weeks ago, see here if you missed it). That explains the sound in Supercar Blondie’s video above. It was rumoured back in 2009 that Citroën would built six of these for road usage, it’s however unclear if that ever happened.
3. Bugatti Atlantic
Carrying the name of a true legend (the Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic), the Atlantic is the car that was never built. It was supposed to complement the Bugatti line-up back in 2015 but a lack of resources within VW meant that it never got that far. That’s really a shame, because it’s difficult to imagine a more beautiful car. The retro elements are in perfect balance with the more modern parts, it’s easy to see that the true life version is even nicer than the pictures, and both the doors and the booth are a real party trick, as illustrated in the video… I want one!!
2. Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR
A bit more text here since the AVTR is a very interesting creation that will not hit the roads in the current form, but elements of which will hopefully do so in other Mercedes models over the coming years. In short, the AVTR (meaning Advanced Vehicle Transformation) is Mercedes’s vision for the future. The shape of the car was developed together with the team behind Avatar and to start there, the rear features a full panel of solar panels that will generate enough energy to handle so called secondary functions in the car, enabling the 110 kW batteries to be used fully for range maximization, of up to 700 km. The fact that each wheel is independent means the car can drive sideways up to 30%, as shown in the video.
The battery pack is extremely interesting since it’s based on a new organic battery technology with a high-tension, compact battery on the basis of graphene. Organic means the battery doesn’t need the rare metals that are one of the main issues of today’s batteries, as highlighted in my post a few weeks ago (see here). This also means that the battery is recyclable to 100%.
Finally the interior is a chapter in itself. There is no longer a steering wheel but rather a central pad that recognizes you when you put your hand on it, and that moves as you move your hand. The windscreen becomes an augmented reality screen, and the seats are made in a new kind of bio-degradable Dinamica material. I would guess the material from the seats will hit production quicker than the steering pad…
1. Lamborghini Vision GT
Perhaps the most spectacular car of all five mentioned here is the Vision GT. Next to the Citroën it’s also the other car that was developed for a video game, in this case Gran Turismo 2019 for PS4. Lambo then built a single unit of the car, which even by Sant’ Agata standards has to be described as design-wise rather extreme! The single-seater is super low with wings and a massive diffusor at the back, wheels and brake pads are gold plated, and the combination of the same Lamborghini V12 as in the Siàn, and a small electrical engine gives a total power output of 804 hp. I thought I had seen it all when I saw Lambo’s Sesto Elemento but this thing is in a league of its own, although it will most probably never hit production. Our star of the week Supercar Blondie made a nice video of the car that tells the story much better than I can and that you’ll find here! https://youtu.be/_SB7h2kB6Eg
So here we are, in the new year 2021, and no doubt all of us hope it will be a more positive one than 2020! In the car world there will certainly be lots going on, notably in terms of new sportscar launches, a few of which I highlighted in an earlier post you can read here. With a highly interesting 2021 line-up in F1 (see my latest post on that here for more details), there will hopefully be no lack of excitement there either!
To start off the year in style, I’ve compiled a list of things that can be expected – or not – in 2021. 12 to be more exact, each one corresponding to the first letter of the 12 months. This is not a prediction that they will happen in that particular month, or indeed that they will happen at all, so don’t take it too seriously!
January – as in jolly bloody happy that the new year has begun and with hopes that it will be an easier one than the last one, and that all of us get the opportunity to take our very personal dream roadtrips!
February – as in F1, and a new season that looks very exciting although it won’t start until March. Following Red Bull’s decision mid-December to replace Alex Albon with Sergio Perez, I would claim that 1) the three top teams (assuming here Ferrari finds its way again) have very competitive line-ups and that 2) the teams just behind have at least one top driver. For memory, assuming Lewis Hamilton does finally sign up for the new year, Mercedes will have him and Valtteri, Red Bull will have Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, and Ferrari obviously Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. And then right behind, McLaren has Daniel Ricciardo, Renault has the returning Fernando Alonso, and Racing Point (Aston Martin from next year) Seb Vettel, really hoping he can return to form. Let the races begin!
March – as in motor engines, and most probably the continued growth of electric cars. The question is how far and how fast? On the bright side, in Germany in 2020 when the market as a whole was down 22% in new sales, electric and hybrid cars grew their market share more than four times, and experts now speak of 2020 as the year of the electric breakthrough. On the less positive side, looking for example at the Ionity charging network across Europe, it’s still many miles away from what Tesla offers, meaning European EV’s (not hybrids) are still mostly charged at home and thereby reserved for shorter trips. All in all, even though I was negative on Tesla in Europe a while ago (see here), there’s no doubt electric cars as such will continue to grow, the question is how much and how fast.
April – as in autonomous driving, which arguably doesn’t add to the thrill of driving but does add to the safety – although as some incidents notably with Tesla have helped us realize, staying awake and looking at the road ahead is still to be recommended. That’s anyway what you still need to do in many countries, even touching the wheel from time to time, as technology once again is far ahead of legislation. Don’t expect that gap to close in 2021.
May – as in Maserati MC20 and all the other great sports cars coming to market, some of which I mentioned in the post referenced above. This is a segment where electricity is setting in big time, with the MC20 as one of few exceptions. You have to wonder how long we will still have alternatives, to electric power, especially of the 8- and 12 cylinder kind!
June – as in Japanese automakers and the question whether I’m the only one feeling that it’s time for them to hit us with something a bit more interesting than what’s been the case in the last years? This is the country that used to give us cool Skylines, supercar beauties like the NSX and more recently the Nürburgring record setting Nissan GT-R. That’s 10 years ago now, and this year, Nissan launched a new GT-R that looks exactly like the old one. And as for the NSX’s replacement, firstly it was delayed for an eternity and when it then came, it didn’t blow anyone out of his seat. Not much else has happened except a few more wings on the latest Type R hot hatch, that may be excellent but that just by its looks scares away any sane person over 30. C’mon Japan, give us something to drool about again!
July – as in jailtime, which is what you will spend in some countries if you’re caught speeding heavily. This isn’t new, but what is, and what’s currently being implemented in a number of countries, is measuring your speed over a distance. That’s a real bummer that takes the fun away quickly – and makes it expensive. In Italy where they use a system called Tutor, they at least have the decency of telling you in advance, which is obviously what you do if you’re more interested in lowering speeds and less in filling the state reserves. That will surely not be the case everywhere…
August – as in Aston Martin, where ex AMG-boss Tobias Moers will by August have been behind the wheel for a year. Moers has ambitious plans and a solid financial base, notably from chairman and 17% owner Lawrence Stroll, and also a solid collaboration with Mercedes-Benz which own a further 20% in the company. Moers wishes to see a more engineering-led Aston going forward and has in a rare interview also said that he wishes Aston to work more with the Mercedes engineers in Germany, and derive more engines from AMG. We all wish them viel Glück!
September – as in solid state, and generally what I believe will be required to really give electric mobility the final push it needs, i.e. a significant advance in battery technology. As opposed to lithium, solid state batteries use solid electrodes and electrolyte, and other materials are mostly ceramics. They’re already used in for example pacemakers, they are extremely long-lived, and they’re much quicker to charge than lithium batteries. So where’s the catch? Well, they aren’t cheap… Prices will of couse drop going forward (although probably not as early as 2021), and this is perhaps the big leap electric cars are waiting for.
October – as in obesity, something most of the so beloved SUV’s suffer from. And more generally, even a normal sedan is several hundred kilos heavier today than it was just 15-20 years ago. Arguably a lot of this is linked to much improved safety, but we’ve reached a stage where trimming the weight is less important as you can just mask it by increasing the turbo pressure such as to take out more power. Will we see a change to the “more weight therefore more power” equation soon, and a return to something like the Lotus concept that I explored through my friend Erik back in October (see here)? It would definitely be benefitting consumption! And by the way, since the post, Erik has gone off and bought himself an Elise that I’ll hopefully be exploring this spring.
November – as in Nikola, the biggest corporate scandal in 2020 after Wirecard. For those of you who’ve missed it, Nikola is a producer of electric trucks in the US, founded by Trevor Milton and built on a lease model with very nice cash proceeds – on paper. Because as it emerged, everything was on paper, including the trucks themselves that don’t exist yet. Unfortunately investors – including a small company called General Motors – forgot to do their due diligence around Milton and his background, which would have revealed a history of smaller or larger corporate scandals, generous spending of company proceeds etc. The company is still listed but unless you’re a distressed investor, stay away, and also, whether you’re buying a stock or a car, always do your own research and don’t trust anyone – including GM…
December – as darn, there goes another year! What will have changed? Will Japan have presented a supercar project? Will Aston be back on solid footing? Will Lewis have claimed his 8th title, and will more automakers have seen the Lotus logic of more for less? But even more important than all this, will we finally be rid of this bloody virus? We’ll know in 12 months!
With the ever-increasing offer of digital media, the written word is certainly challenged today. We’re therefore grateful that you still read this blog and if you do, chances that you follow a few car-focused Youtube channels is obviously quite high. Today I want to bring you my top 5 in this large universe – some you may be familiar with, but perhaps some can bring new inspiration. The list is by no means exhaustive and there’s certainly a lot of other good stuff out there – your suggestions are more than welcome!
The listing below goes in some kind of fame-based order and I’ve chosen to focus on non-professional car enthusiasts who have developed their channel from scratch, built a following and today in some cases made it something they can live off. If you’re toying with the idea, be aware though it takes a lot of work, time, patience and luck. An additional difficulty is of course that a car vlogger (without his own car collection like Shmee) will only win followers if he drives exciting cars, but he’ll only get access to those cars if he has a large following… Let’s just say I will keep my daytime job for now and stick to writing this blog! So here we go (clicking the title will take you to the Youtube channel):
Having made good money selling an electronics web store, the London-based Tim aka Shmee we all love to hate started vlogging ten years ago and has over the last decade in parallel built himself an impressive car collection. Updates around these are at the center of his films and Shmee also has a great network of friends especially in Germany, who also have highly interesting garages. The focus is clearly on super cars which he sometimes also takes to the Nürburgring and other exciting places. Yes, it is definitely irritating that this school boy looking guy with the high pitch voice has more money than you, but a lot of people have learnt to live with it and Shmee today has over 2 million followers.
Everyone knows Doug and no one is indifferent to him. This California-based, ex-Porsche mechanic writes columns for various car sites and started filming car tests in 2016 which are today followed by more than 3.5 million people. No one can compete with Doug’s focus on a car’s ”quirks and features”, partially making you forget that the actual driving in his 25-minute videos is down to a few minutes and doesn’t give much away in terms of the actual driving experience. Doug has also developed an index, ranking cars in various weekend and practicality categories. His preference is certainly for super cars but these have become quite diluted with a bit of everything – not all of it exciting.
Two Canadian guys who put the focus on driving mostly on roads in Ontario, including their favourite cliché corner that filters well-behaved cars from less well-behaved ones. Jakub is a big fan of launch controls, Yuri is the interior entertainment specialist. Unlike Doug de Muro who went into the Covid lockdown with a large reserve of videos, Yuri and Jakub had to resort to virtual tests for a few months. They are however back for real now and enjoy around a million followers. The guys test a bit of everything, from family to sports cars, typically in the top versions.
Canadian Thomas started the channel in 2016 that English-born James, today living in Canada, later joined. Throttle House today has around 700.000 followers with focus on exciting sports cars where driving both on roads and tracks is at the center of the films. There are a bit too many bad jokes based on English-Canadian language differences, but it’s nice with a blog with a pure driving focus.
Lotus-loving Englishman James is a car-loving photographer who is a member of the Clarkson & Co Drive Tribe. He started making films 5-6 years ago but has struggled with the challenge mentioned initially, access to attractive cars needed to get a nice following. Today he’s reached 100.000 followers, making it a bit easy, and his driver-based videos filmed on the English countryside are entertaining, since he knows his stuff. The focus is on sports rather than supercars, including gems from the 80’s and 90’s.
I hope you’ll enjoy some of the above-mentioned, and do please post your suggestions in the comments!
I’m a big fan of the new G-Wagon, especially in the AMG version, and if that isn’t enough and you have the money, why not turn to Brabus to make it even more exclusive – but then? Is this the colour the guy always dreamt about?!?
You thought the Nazis came up with the idea for the German Autobahn system, and that it’s still today a paradise of free speed? Sorry, but the first of those claims is a myth, and the second is partly true at best.
Construction of the first German motorways was actually initiated in the 20’s under the Weimar Republic, but it progressed slowly, meaning that the first stretch between Cologne and Bonn was not inaugurated until 1932. When the Nazis came to power the year after, they swiftly re-classified this first stretch to a Landstrasse (country road), such as to be able to argue that they built the first Autobahn.
As for the free speed, this is little news to those who regularly travel to Europe, but I recently found some interesting official stats. According to these around 30% of German motorways have a permanent speed limit, especially around large cities and in the Ruhr area. Adding temporary limits and above all roadworks, of which there are a lot at any time of year, this number rises to around 50%. If you then add all the regular congestion, traffic jams and sheer number of cars in this heavily motorized country of 80 million, you find yourself at a much higher percentage.
The unlimited German Autobahns are thus not a myth, but if you really want to enjoy them, you’d better do so late at night or early in the morning on an empty stretch somewhere deep in Bavaria. And preferably do so in the coming two years, since it has been decided to introduce a German motorway fee for foreign cars from 2021!
The production of the Land Rover Defender ceased in 2016 after more than 2 million units produced since 1948. Late last year, the Mercedes G-Wagon was replaced by a completely new car, that however to 98% looks exactly like its predecessor. What these two cars have in common, next to not being produced anymore, is that in spite of their looks and capabilities, 9 out of 10 of them never saw a tougher terrain than the shopping mile in cities like Zurich, Milan or Munich.
There are however those who made heavier use of their G-Wagon, or simply felt a need to float even higher above the common mortals. It was for those that Mercedes developed the G500 4×4, that became the crowning of the G-Wagon career. Powered by the same AMG V8 biturbo as the G63, it was arguably more stable at high speed than the original G, the road behaviour of which was somewhat similar to a cruise ship, with a comparable turning circle. The credibility of the 4×4 is however somewhat compromised by the many carbon parts, basically all the black parts in the pictures, that no sensible person would like to damage or even scratch. So perhaps the best place for the 4×4 is the same as for the regular G or the Defender: on a shopping mile in a European city.
We didn’t post this under The Thrill of Owning heading, but this is a car that could be yours for around EUR 200.000, and that should arguably hold its value quite well, as all G-Wagons do, especially with the new model now out…
Many of us oldtimer drivers have a tendency only to take our jewels for a spin when the sun is shining and temperatures are mild, completely forgetting that it actually rained when the cars were built as well. This time of year our beloved cars are mostly sleeping in a garage somewhere, with batteries disconnected. It is only the hard guys that drive in any weather, but even among the hard ones, only the REALLY hard ones would even think about taking the 356 for a spin on a rainy December day with temperatures around 6 degrees. The only thing missing is the ski rack! Dear owner, I did not get to meet you but I salute you!
We use the occasion to wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, with plenty of great cars and great drives!
Next time you are around West Hollywood with a couple of hours to spare, make sure not to miss the Petersen Automotive Museum, based on the car collection of the late Mr. Petersen, publisher of the first hot rod magazine in the US and lots of other car-related publications. Given LA’s extensive movie scene, the collection also includes some famous movie cars, two of which are pictured below. Well worth a couple of hours!
When coming to Santa Monica beach a few days ago after a drive down from San Francisco, seeing a Volvo test squad (or rather their cars) in a parking lot was not a sight I expected! I first reacted to the new (and already fairly common) XC90, parked next to the far less common S90, then to the giant screens on the passenger seats of both cars and then obviously to the covered one in between. It didn’t take much to figure out that this is the upcoming small SUV XC40, but unfortunately the cover was really well fixated so this is all you get to see. Still haven’t figured out what kind of test you conduct on a parking in Santa Monica beach, but I guess test drivers need to go for a swim every now and then as well…
Yesterday I went to buy a second-hand lawnmower in the countryside near Zurich. Not much excitement in that you will think and indeed, neither did I, until I made it to the address, followed the seller Markus to the barn where he had stored the mower, and discovered next to it a shining black Morgan Threewheeler, one of the most original and exotic cars of these last years. Markus was obviously very happy to find a soulmate and happily spent the next hour with yours truly, talking about cars in general and Threewheelers in particular, and then to round it off took me for a short ride in this strange creation, something that was a truly unique experience!
Morgan started producing the modern Threewheeler five years ago, in 2011. The car bears some resemblance to the original Threwheeler that was in production for more than 40 years until 1952. Hand-built around a wooden frame and weighing only 525 kgs, as the name suggests the car stands on three large and narrow wheels, and another (of many) peculiar features is that the engine, a two-cylinder Harley Davidson delivering 82 hp, is placed at the front of the car, fully exposed. 82 hp from two cylinders may not sound like much, but as I was soon to discover, in this car it is! If however you want even more power, it is apparently quite easy to trim it up towards 135 hp. Behind the engine, under the bonnet, you will find the oil tank and the battery, and behind the seats, the tank sits next to it the tiniest of luggage spaces that will accommodate a rain jacket, which is pretty good since the car has absolutely no roof and the only cover supplied is a tonneau.
The seating position is extremely low and narrow, as is space around the pedals, so you’d better be friends with your passenger beforehand, and the passenger had better not be a wrestler. If you try you will easily be able to touch the ground with your outer arm, an exercise that should only be tried out from the passenger side as the exhaust pipe runs alongside the chassis on the driver’s side. The pedals can be adjusted in length, which the seats can’t, but you can only do so with tools and it is a reasonably complicated exercise. Markus has replaced the original steering wheel with a smaller one, as the original wheel does not really leave enough space for a man of average length…
Before we squeeze in next to each other, Markus pushes the start button upon which the most wonderful, blurring sound flows from the exhaust. For obvious reasons it is more reminiscent of a Harley than a car, and the Threewheeler is actually registered as a motorbike in Switzerland, although you are allowed to drive it on a car permit as well. I squeezed in on the passenger seat next to my new best friend, rubbing shoulders with him as we took off among Swiss hills.
The standard Threewheeler does 0-100 in 6 seconds and the last thing you will wish for (at least as a passenger) is more power, since the extremely low seating position gives a very intense impression of speed – and everything else happening around you. The sound is gorgeous, there is an extreme feeling of lightness about the whole car, which actually feels like something of a hybrid between a bike and a car, obviously due to the size of the wheels and the single rear wheel. Especially quickly driven corners are quite hairy and speaking of corners, the short hand brake sits just next to the gear change. When I ask Markus about this he says it comes from rally sport so that you can hang out the rear around corners. Apparently he has a few friends doing this on alpine roads but says he is to old for it. “But they’re also quite crazy” he adds, something I find quite easy to believe from my squeezed passenger seat.
Markus bought his Threewheeler second-hand a year ago and says build quality has been so-so. As he has discovered, his car, although being a 2013 make, consists of parts both from 2011 and 2012, and he has had some pretty bad – and costly – mechanical failures. Each car is truly individual as tuning and trimming possibilities are limitless, and some mechanical details need to be modified if you do not want the car to break down straight away. But Markus says he wouldn’t hesitate buying it again and again and again, as he has never drive anything like it, neither car nor bike – of which a few were also parked in the same barn.
There is nothing practical about the Threewheeler, it is a pure toy best enjoyed alone on dry roads near a mountain somewhere. It will set you back around 40.000 EUR and it may be a pretty good investment, as quantities produced are small (no reliable number can’t be found but according to Markus around 30 have been sold in Switzerland, and this is a country where there are a lot of expensive toys with little practicality…). But above all, it is a unique driving experience and most probably a buy you will never regret!
I meet up with Filippo Pignatti in a former Porsche dealership on the outskirts of Zurich that he, together with two other petrol heads, has transformed into a spectacular car showroom with exactly the right pit lane smell, featuring a selection of the cars in The Classic Car Fund (TCCF). This is also the HQ of the TCCF and where Filippo has his office. Italian and from Modena (where else?) by birth, he is a true European nowadays based in Switzerland where next to running a family office business he set up the TCCF five years ago, driven both by a passion for cars and for uncorrelated assets.
As Filippo tells me over an excellent espresso in the pit bar that is one part of the showroom, and as most readers of this blog know, well selected classic cars have provided better returns to investors over the last decade than most traditional and alternative asset classes, including things such as art, wines and gold. This is partly driven by the falling interest rates since the financial crisis, but also by baby boomers becoming solvent and realizing their childhood dreams and emerging market buyers that were not there a decade ago. “The Chinese have so far only been able to own classic cars abroad,” Filippo explains, “but that is about to change and that will create even greater demand in the future”.
The philosophy of the The Classic Car Fund is simple; buy well-selected cars at attractive prices following a thorough evaluation by an independent expert, and sell them later at a profit. The fund is not focused on any specific make or production year, but the emphasis is clearly on sports cars from various periods, especially Italian and quite a few of them from Filippo’s home city Modena. Holding periods vary vastly but the fund does not fall in love with its investments. Some cars have enabled the fund to realize a healthy double-digit profit in as little as three months, others will remain in the fund for up to a few years.
As always it is easy to be clever with hindsight and arguably you could have bought most Ferraris from the 90’s and earlier in these last years and realized a good profit. But it’s not just about finding the right model. “It has to be the right car”, Filippo explains, citing factors such as early production years, small, limited series, or, slightly surprisingly, famous previous owners. This last point explains two satellite positions in the fund’s current portfolio, a Maserati Quattroporte once owned by Elton John, and a fully-loaded and personalized Range Rover Sport initially ordered by David Beckham. “Obviously buying a famous person’s car brings an additional risk”, says Filippo and hints at the person’s reputation. “Should it come out tomorrow that David Beckham was doped through his whole career, that would not necessarily be good for the value of the fund”. Luckily though, the risks of that happening seem relatively small.
Next to selecting the right cars, the additional challenges of a car fund are the same as with a private car collection, most notably that you need a place to store them that is not only dry and warm but that also allows for regular exercising to avoid the cars being damaged from being immobilized. The TCCF stores its cars in various locations in Switzerland and Italy, and employs mechanics to keep them in shape. Two additional features of the fund further strengthens the link with private collections: subscriptions are permitted in kind, meaning that you can buy into the fund through a car or a car collection, following an evaluation by an independent expert. Ownership passes to the fund but the original owner receives a buyback guarantee at the same price up to two years from the point of purchase. Also, and perhaps of more interest for most, against a small fee, fund investors may borrow and drive the cars in the fund over a day or a weekend. Filippo smiles and says “take the Testarossa in the showroom down to St. Moritz over a weekend. If anyone asks you can truthfully say it’s your car, as it is part of the fund you are an owner of”.
In Filippo’s eyes, the tangible nature of the assets in the fund as one of its best guarantees of future value. “If something goes bad or the market turns completely, we can always sell the cars, making sure you do at least get part of your investment back”. He is also the firstto say that this is not something for the core of your portfolio but rather a satellite position. In terms of the current market he does not see any dramatic changes but some signs that it is becoming more selective, meaning greater expertise and competence will be required going forward. He also sees a breaking point relating to the electronic age: “the Testarossa, or Culo largo (large ass) as we call it in Italian, is a mechanical car. the LaFerrari is very complex electronically, which does not necessarily bode well for future values as it gets increasingly old and fragile”.
The Classic Car Fund has been running since 2012 and has provided investors with net returns of 7% on average p.a. after fees without any negative years (as per April, 2016). It shows no correlation to traditional assets and could thus be an interesting addition to a diversified investment portfolio. At its core though, it is really about the passion for cars. Before we shake hands and part, Filippo concludes with some very sensible words. “I always tell people that if you buy a classical car, do so because it is a car you like and that you like driving. After all, that is really what these cars are for”.
For further information on The Classic Car Fund you are welcome to contact me over the blog.