F1 pit stop – best season in ages!

We’re five races into the F1 season 2022 and so far, this is the best season in ages! The extensive changes introduced to the cars and notably described in my post form October last year have done wonders in making the races exciting again, by allowing cars to close up nearer to each other and thus helping overtaking. And then we’ve seen overtaken drivers fighting back for position, something that never happened in previous years but that I believe is called real racing! There’s actually so much overtaking that the next consideration may well be weather to reduce the DRS as it’s hardly needed anymore. What’s also really cool is seeing how much interest F1 generates this year, which maybe not entirely, but to a very large extent is due to Netflix’s “Drive to survive” series that if you haven’t seen it yet, you definitely should. Season 4 (which describes what happened last season) is the best so far, also as drivers are by now used to the cameras and it becomes even more intimate.

The success of “Drive to survive” has meant all teams now participate, which wan’t the case the first years.

F1 is thus very much on a high after the first five races, and although it’s too early to say how the season will end (there’s another 17 races to go!), we’re certainly seeing some interesting trends in how things are developing. A lot of that wasn’t really expected at the start of the season, so here’s a short summary of the main trends seen so far, some of which look likely to mark the whole season and especially the intense phase ahead, with from next weekend three races over the coming four weeks, including the two city races in Monaco and Baku.

The biggest surprise of the year is certainly that at least at the time of writing, Mercedes isn’t a title contender neither on the team nor on the driver side. In other words, Lewis Hamilton will most probably not be the world champion in 2022. Mercedes currently ranks third in the constructors’ rankings, but already 50 points behind the leading teams. George Russell and Hamilton rank fourth and sixth in the drivers’ standings but again, already with a large distance to the top drivers. As things stand, the team is not fighting for the front row in qualifying (they’re actually not certain of making it to Q3…) and as we know, losing that front row makes it much more difficult to fight for wins. Especially of course when you have a slower car, as is currently the case. This doesn’t change anything to the fact that George Russell has delivered on a scale the team may have hoped for but couldn’t be certain of, currently ranking well ahead of Lewis, which wasn’t really expected by anyone. Will Mercedes with its enormous resources manage to change things before it’s too late, and will Lewis find his footing? Let’s indeed hope so, but it’s not looking likely right now.

Leclerc and Ferrari are off to a perfect start of the season!

The second thing to note that I think most F1 fans are very happy to see is that Ferrari is not only back, but actually on par or even slightly ahead of Red Bull, currently leading the constructors’ championship and with Leclerc leading the drivers’ ranking. This means they’ve come a very long way since 2020 which was the team’s worst season in 40 years, and the last of their record 16 drivers’ titles which goes back all the way to Kimi Räikkönen in 2007. This year everything’s different, the car is fast, as are both drivers and especially Leclerc. As Red Bull and the Verstappen-Perez driver pairing look just as strong as last year, this basically means that Ferrari has replaced Mercedes as the main competitor for the title. Without taking anything away from Red Bull, As Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has said, Ferrari is a legendary team that belongs at the top of F1!

Next to the three top teams, it’s really a mix of good and bad. Starting with the bad, McLaren who have been making steady progress in the last years seem to have lost most of it, with a car that currently lacks any kind of consistency. it’s still enough for P4 in the teams’ ranking, but Norris and Ricciardo both find themselves way down in the driver rankings, with little improvement currently in sight. The same goes for Aston Martin who seem to have completely lost their footing, with a very meager six points to their account so far. AlphaTauri deserves a mention on the bad side as well, not as dramatically lost as Aston, but clearly inferior to what especially Gasly was able to produce last year.

As for the positive surprises, it’s interesting to see that we seem to have two cases of the “in a more relaxed environment I’m able to perform” syndrom. The first is Valtteri Bottas who is clearly enjoying life to the max at Alfa Romeo, impressing everyone both in qualifying and racing and completely outclassing his team colleague Zhou. Bottas is currently eigth in the drivers’ rankings (and by the way, only six points behind Lewis…) and thanks to him, Alfa Romeo is in fifth place in the teams’ rankings. The second is Alex Albon who this year has returned to F1, driving for Williams. What he does there is actually even better than what George Russell managed to produce last year, arguably in a better car. Albon regularly finishes around P10 and looks far better and more relaxed than at any time with Red Bull.

Steiner has more to smile about this year!

Finally, Haas has found their footing again thanks to a better car and even more to Kevin Magnussen, who in his typical no-bullshit style has scored in four of the five races so far. Mick Schumacher is still waiting to do so but already now, what Magnussen produces is probably enough to have team principal Günther Steiner swearing slighly less in his Austrian version of English.

2022 is thus looking like the best F1 season in many years, and at this stage it’s very much open if in the end it’s a second consecutive tittle for Red Bull, or the first one in 15 years for Ferrari. Until we know it looks quite certain that we’ll have many great races to look forward to!

Robust management and struggling EV’s

This week will be a small overview of various things happening in the car industry as well as around it, highlighting some current developments and issues and some others that may become important in the coming years. This will of course touch on EV’s that seem to become a crucial part of that future whichever way you turn, but we’ll actually start in the (still) conventional industry, up at Aston Martin’s HQ in Gaydon in the UK. That is where Tobias Moers, previous CEO of Mercedes-AMG, moved in two years ago, with a mission to improve profitability at Aston. He did, quicker than most expected, but in spite of that, last week he was forced to clean his desk.

I’ve touched upon Moers both in my post on AMG and in that on the Aston DBX last year. He was the boss of AMG between 2013 and 2020, leading Mercedes’s sub-brand in a short-term successful, but in my humble opinion a long-term somewhat risky brand dilution strategy, and was hired by Aston’s strong man Lawrence Stroll in 2020 (father of F1 driver Lance Stroll) to accelerate Aston’s turnaround. Moers said himself that he would never have taken the job hadn’t it been for Aston’s line-up, especially the DBX, and he started the transformational Project Horizon straight away, contributing to rapidly increasing profit numbers for Aston, to a large extent built on the DBX. There’s no doubt he greatly improved and streamlined Aston’s production processes, but in parallel he also became known for his “robust management style”, apparently contributing to many senior departures and a general bad climate in the Gaydon factory. This to me sounds very much like a cultural clash between German efficiency and British, well, uniqueness, but Moers is anyway now replaced by ex-Ferrari chief executive Amedeo Felisa as Aston prepares to launch a new range of sports cars, most of them electric.

Well, he does look rather “robust”…

That brings us to the latest from the EV world, and I believe what we’re witnessing right now and will continue to witness over the coming months and years, is the great pains associated with going from the production of a few hundred cars to true mass production. The two new EV brands mostly in the news and also those with the most exagerrated valuations (although those are far less exagerrated now than a few weeks ago) are no doubt Lucid Motors, the American luxury EV builder, and Rivian, the equally American EV pick-up builder. Starting with the latter, it recently had to increase the price of its R1T by up to 20% and halve its production target of 25′ cars this year. So far, around 900 Rivians have been built. Lucid on the other hand, saying it wants to get its first car “exactly right” has pushed back the production start several months.

There’s a few things here worth considering. No doubt part of the problems can be traced back to the global supply chain issues the world is currently experiencing, more on that later. That’s however far form the whole story, the most important component of which to my mind boils down to whether these new car builders can emulate the Tesla success story with the same kind of “mojo” that made Tesla what it is. I’m not saying they can’t, but it’s certainly not a given. Firstly, there are very few Elon Musks in the world. Secondly, it’s very easy to forget the production hell Tesla went through over close to ten years before starting to make money. At one point that production hell was so bad that dealers had to fit the wheels on the cars, just to give an example, and quality issues plagued the company on several occasions (and to be honest, still do).

Personally I think it would be great if Rivian made it!

That’s all changed now, but the change consists in a development which has made Tesla much more of a standardized car company, whether they like it or not. Which then of course brings us back to all the traditional carmakers who now all have a number of EV’s in their line-up. They were certainly neither first, nor very innovative, but they know how to build cars and have the production process not only under control, but perfected over decades. I’m sure we’ll have a new Tesla at some point. It may be a brand we’ve yet to hear of, or it may be Lucid and Rivian, but that’s far from certain. They probably have about 12 months to make or break it, and I wouldn’t put my oney on them making it.

Things would certainly become much easier for not only Lucid, Rivian and Tesla, but also for all other car makers in the world if the current supply chain disruptions were solved, or at least improving. Currently however, rather the contrary is the case. Many of you have probably already seen the below picture in various forms, showing all ships currently waiting to unload in China, mainly in locked-down Shanghai. The total number is over 500, and they’re not waiting because the port is full of ships leaving…

Zero Covid has a price…

Shanghai is in a lockdown that doesn’t seem to end anytime soon, rather the contrary as imposing similar lockdown measures in Peking is now being discussed. We’re not going into Covid policies here, let’s just say that the combination of a zero Covid policy leading to most people not having antibodies in combination with clearly less efficient domestic vaccines (no Western vaccines are allowed in China) make even the current Omicron variant potentially quite dangerous. And “dangerous” in a country of 1.5bn in habitants could mean a few million deaths. The current situation will therefore not change soon, but at some point China will have to decide between an economic depression an relaxing measures. Not only car builders hope for the latter.

To conclude, let me share an interesting picture from Zeihan on Geopolitics (highly recommended for those with an interest in geopolitics!), showing the material consumption of EV’s vs conventional cars, as well as materials used in various energy sources. It’s no secret that EV’s require a greater quantity of most materials than conventional cars, quite a few of which are problematic, as highlighted in my post on why EV’s won’t save the world a bit more than a year ago. It’s also true that things are improving, which is great. I notably learnt from a trustworthy source last week that Tesla has now managed to eliminate cobalt in roughly half their batteries. Such and other improvements also mean EV’s make up the CO2 deficit from their production in fewer km’s which is also great – although that calculation never includes the fact that you’re building a whole new car often only to replace a still fully functional existing one, as I believe it should, given we still have no answer to what should happen to all the cars we plan on replacing with EV’s.

These are not produced in your typical holiday destination…

There will however always be more problematic materials needed in EV’s and renewable energy sources, and if we think about where these are produced, that puts Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine into perspective. We’re currently all dreaming of eliminating Russia as an energy supplier (and please, also as an aggressive invader of other countries!), and few people think of Saudi Arabia and Iran as other great countries to do business with, but as we electrify the world and need to get to the minerals mentioned above, we’ll have to deal with a far larger number of other not-so-great countries than we did in the oil days. These notably include Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, Mozambique, Guinea, Gabon, China, Congo and yes, Russia. That’s obviously not ideal in any way, but it’s the price to pay for a future based on windmills and solar panels!

Luca’s sleeper!

You know how you sometimes think that a person’s name has destined them for their job? I came to think of this earlier this week, hearing of a guy called Andrew Drinkwater, working for the UK Water Research Centre. Yeah I know, very funny, but who knows, perhaps there’s indeed something in the sub-conscious that leads these people through life to their future careers? There’s however a second category of people where the connection is less direct, but where the professional choice is still kind of obvious. I mean, if you hear the name Luca Cordero die Montezemolo and you see a guy looking like the below picture, you know straight away that he’s the president of Ferrari, right? How could he possibly have any another occupation?

Destined for his job!

Jokes aside, our friend Luca has actually had a number of other jobs through his illustruous career before (and after) Fiat president Gianni Agnelli made him president of Ferrari in 1991. However, not only does he sound and look like a president of Ferrari should, he was also critical to Ferrari’s development both on the track and off it during the 90’s. It was under di Montezemolo’s leadership that Ferrari hired Jean Todt as team president and a few years later Michael Schumacher as driver, leading the F1 team back to their first driver’s and constructor’s world titles in 20 years. Off the track, di Montezemolo also had clear views on Ferrari’s future line-up: he wanted the new models to return to the classical Ferrari set-up with a front-mounted V12 engine in the style of the Daytona, rather than the mid-engined cars which had been the focus through the 80’s. He also wanted them to be true drivers’ cars in the sense of cars that you can drive every day, meaning a clear improvement in build quality.

The two cars that represent di Montezemolo’s philosophy best are on one hand the beautiful F550 which I wrote about a long way back in 2015, but on the other the less well known Ferrari 456. Both share the same fabulous base engine, but the 456 is of course a four-seater and actually something as unusual as a very discrete Ferrari that some people (let’s call them less discerning) could actually mistake for something else. It doens’t screem “look at me!!”, usually doesn’t come in red, and today actually trades at far below EUR 100′, probably making it the best value there is to be had among classical Maranello cars, especially since it’s actually a really good car that is clearly underrated. All good reasons to look closer at it this week!

Generally considered one of the more beautiful Ferraris, with a clear 90’s vibe!

Starting with that discrete design, that’s absolutely not the same as saying that the 456 isn’t pretty. On the contrary, it’s by most considered one of the more beautiful recent Ferraris. It has kind of a timeless look with the 90’s, rounded styling elements clear to see. Interestingly, the 456 was the last Ferrari to feature pop-up headlights. It’s also one of the more colour-sensitive Ferraris, with most cars coming in silver or various shades of metallic blue, colours that suit the car really well as opposed to the Ferrari red which really doesn’t. The inside is a clear step-up compared to 80’s cars like the Testarossa (or indeed the 365-400-412, a car with the same concept produced through the 70’s and 80’s) with a whole different quality feel to the interior. It’s quite simply a nice place to spend many hours in. That feeling of well-being is further supported by the wonderful work Ferrari did with the V12 under the bonnet.

Everything you need, and nothing that you don’t!

It’s certainly complanining on a high level, but sometimes V12’s can suffer from a lack of torque at low revs. This was notably a criticism BMW had to hear with the 850, and it can be traced back to various aspects of how the engine is built. Ferrari was conscious of this during the development of the 456 and used various tricks and all the experience of the team back in Maranello to improve power especially at lower revs. They notably went back to the 65 degree-angle of the Ferrari Dino days, but also changed the firing order of the 12 cylinders (each by the way 456 cm3 in volume and thus the source of the car’s name). Rather than alternating the firing order along the crankshaft as is usually the case, the 456 fires the cylinders next to each other, which together with some other clever engineering gave the 456 a clear boost in low-down torque. The naturally-aspirated masterpiece puts out 442 hp in total, which for a weight of around 1900 kg is really all that you need.

The 456 was built on the verge between the mechanical and digital age, meaning it still has some interesting pure mechanical components, such an accelerator by wire. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really make it an ideal do-it-yourself car (even though adjusting that gas wire can do wonders and is quite simple!), and the 456 needs regular service to a larger extent than more modern Ferraris, including a new cam belt every 3-4 years. If it’s taken care of properly, it is however fundamentally well built and ticks all of Luca di Montezemolos desired boxes for an everyday Ferrari. The other thing it needs plenty of, as a true representative of the mechanical 12-cylinder engine age, is unfortunately fuel, but that’s hopefully not a surprise to anyone. Apart from that the 456 is a wonderful, true GT, ready to transport you and your three passengers (with the two in the back preferrably not being basketball stars) and their luggage to some nice southern location, without any need for an infotainment system with 29 speakers!

The fabulous 5.5 litre, 12 cylinder engine

The 456 was available with a 6-speed manual (with the most beautiful gearshift gate ever built) that you definitely want, and a 4-speed automatic you don’t necessarily. I mean sure, you can imagine the 456 with an automatic, but how could you ever choose not to have a gear changer looking like the one pictured further up? There’s also roughly as many of the Modificata version, the facelift produced from 1998 and onwards and which featured an updated interior, body elements and chassis, but not more power. For both, the market today starts at around EUR 65-70′, going up to to maybe EUR 90′. One thing to note here is that if you speak to Ferrari specialists, they will tell you that the engine isn’t really run in until after 50′-70′ km, meaning you don’t necessarily need to go for the low-mileage cars, but rather those that have been driven, enjoyed and maintained. That’s good, because those tend to come from the right owners, and they’re also typically found towards the lower range of that price range.

There’s no doubt quite a few people who would love to own a Ferrari 12-cylinder but who find most of them a bit too flashy to be seen in. I’d probably count myself among those, and for us the 456 is rather ideal. It has style, it has grace, and it provides all the Ferrari pleasure but in a more discreet format, and right now at a lower price tag. Around 3300 cars were built in total between 1992 and 2003, from 1998 in the “M” for Modificata version. In a world where underrated classics have become few and far between, and none more so than those combining 12 cylinders with a manual transmission, here is certainly one of the last good representatives. So in summary, we should all be thankful to Luca Cordero di Montezemolo for taking on the job his name destined him to!

GTI – letters that changed the world!

The other day I spoke to my not-very-car-interested neighbour about a car he had seen illegally parked in our street (this is Switzerland remember, so these are the kinds of things you discuss with your neighbours). When asking him what kind of car it was, he said “it was one of those Jeeps”, which of course doesn’t mean it was a GM Jeep at all, but rather some kind of SUV. Jeep is thereby an example of a quite rare phenomenon, namely when a brand name becomes representative of a whole segment. I’m sure that’s great for Jeep somehow, but let’s assume I had instead asked the neighbour what he thought about when I said “GTI”. I’m quite sure the answer would have been “Golf”, not only from him, but basically from every single person born in the 70’s and 80’s (and perhaps some others as well). Three letters, meaning nothing more than Grand Turismo Injection, have become synonymous not only with all Golf GTI’s built in different versions since the mid-70’s, but with the whole hot hatch segment that followed. That’s beats Jeep by a mile, and today we’ll look at the first generation Golf GTI!

Doesn’t look like much today, but a car that changed the world!

The sun was shining on our summer house outside of Stockholm in the summer in 1976 or 1977 when the father in the neighbouring family arrived in his new Golf GTI. You’ll forgive me for not knowing the date exactly but I was five or six then so this is one of my very early memories, but I do remember how extremely cool the car was and how great it sounded! The neighbours had two sons roughly my age, and I would enjoy many rides to the beach in that Golf together with them in the following years. I especially remember the younger one loving to stand between the front chairs and play air guitar during the drives – yeah, these were slightly different times…

That Golf GTI was of course a representative of the Golf family, one of the biggest car successes of all times and born out of VW’s inability in the late 60’s and early 70’s to develop a desirable replacement to the ageing Beetle, a pre-WW2 construction. Finally Giurgietto Guigiaro took the pen and drew what became the Golf, introduced in 1974. The self-supporting body of the new car showed very good rigidity, and thus a group of engineers came up with the idea to build a more sporty version. They managed to convince VW’s management and “the fastest VW of all time” would be introduced in 1976, with as engine the 1.6 litre four-pot from the Audi 80 GTE, developing 110 hp. Not a lot, but remember this was in a car weighing in at around 800 kg, and also at a time where there was some kind of inofficial consensus that a front-wheel drive car couldn’t handle more than 100 hp. VW’s management may have been convinced to go ahead with the GTI but didn’t have very high hopes for its potential success, estimating the total demand at 5.000 cars. That was of course just slightly off the mark.

A rather modest-looking engine bay…

The GTI became an immediate success. Some optical touches consisting of a different front spoiler and the famous, red-framed front grill but also black window frames and plastic wheelhouse arches for the slightly larger wheels all helped differentiate it on the outside from regular Golfs. The optical “tuning” with limited means continued on the inside with the famous tartan textile on the seats and the even more famous golfball-styled shifting knob. The Golf GTI had stiffer suspension than regular Golfs and was fun to drive. Given the low weight, its sub-10 seconds to 100 km/h meant it was quicker than many of the popular coupés at the time, such as the Manta we looked at a couple of weeks ago or indeed VW’s own Scirocco. Not only was it faster/better to drive, it remained as practical as any Golf, built like a box and easily fitting both more people and luggage than a coupé. Its pricing was competitive and the 5.000 cars VW had imagined rapidly became much more, eating into a lot of those coupé sales.

Tartan sport seats and a golf knob in the pre-1981 cars!

Based very much on the idea of never changing a winning concept, there weren’t many modifications to the Mk1 GTI until its production end in 1984. Some of the most important include the five-speed gearbox that came in 1979 and wasn’t to everyone’s liking, and what can be referred to as a face lift in 1981 including larger tail lights and a re-designed interior with notably a new dashboard but also new textiles – and a new gear shifter. In the final year of production the GTI would receive a larger engine at 1.8 litres, primarily with better torque, that would later be used in the MK2 GTI. The purists weren’t more convinced by the new engine than by the five-speed gearbox, as the larger engine to them didn’t feel as “pointy” as the old one. This is of course reminiscent of the same discussion around the 1.6 vs the 1.9 litre in the Peugeot 205 GTI, the hot hatch that is almost as legendary as the Golf GTI and which would make life hard for the Mk2 GTI from the mid-80’s and onwards.

From 1981 on, notably tail lights were larger

When the lights went out on the first series GTI, a total of just over 460.000 cars had been built. By now this is over a million across all eight series of the GTI, and even though there have certainly been later models that are great to drive, the purity of the original concept has vanished over the years, with the GTI becoming much more of a conventional, and not-very-hot hatch. The no-frills approach of the first series is what made its success, together with the fact that it remained as practical and solid as any conventional Golf, and it’s what still makes it great today. If you can find one, that is.

Given the production numbers you’d perhaps expect that there are still plenty of cars to be had. Unfortunately, the reality is rather that many cars have been crashed, thrashed or tuned to death, or quite simply rusted away, since VW’s rust protection at the time wasn’t great. The Golf is of course not a 12-cylinder Italian full blood and it won’t ruin you even if it’s not perfect but still, for the EUR 20-25′ where the fun starts today (by the way more or less what the GTI cost when it was launched in today’s money), make sure you find the right car. If you do, the grand daddy of the whole hot hatch segment still reamains one of its best representatives. These days however, I’d recommend enjoying it without air guitar playing between the front seats!

Street finds – the SUV duel!

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.

Two special legends!

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.

The inside is VERY orange…

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.

If orange isn’t your thing, they’ll do any other colour you want.

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…

Roughly how I imagine myself in a few years…

Manta Manta!

The car we’ll look at today comes from Germany, which is obviously not very remarkable. But if I tell you it’s a car that every single German born somewhere between 1960 and 1990 will have a story or memory of, or rather, several stories and memories, that already narrows the selection quite a bit. If I then tell you it’s a piece of German modern culture, and yet forgotten in the rest of the world, you would be scratching your head if you hadn’t seen the picture in the banner. Actually you may still be scratching your head, since the car we’ll talk about this week is an Opel, GM’s European brand not known for exciting cars in any way and not very well known outside of Europe (although the Manta was actually one very few Opel models that were sold in the US). I have a distinct feeling that this is the only time Opel will be featured on this blog, but the legendary Opel Manta shows that even brands that don’t get it right very often sometimes do, at least in creating a true legend. Enough said – this week we’ll have a closer look at the Manta but even more, at the cult and culture that has developed around it every since, and lives on to this day!

Starting with the name, a Manta (or manta ray as it’s also known) is the largest ray fish in the world. You may ask yourself why on earth an auto-maker would name a car after a fish, but remember that animals in general were popular in the 60’s, as shown notably by the Ford Mustang, and fish more particularly so, with both the Corvette Stingray and the Plymouth Barracuda. Very much in line wth the times, Opel thus opted to name its new coupé Manta, and all Mantas had a badge with the shadow of a manta fish on the left front wing. The message was clear: driving a Manta was far cooler than driving any other Opel! Unless you’re a die hard Opel fan, that’s however where all similarities with any of the above animal cars end…

As cool as it gets – if you’re an Opel fan

The German auto scene was competitive in the booming 60’s with Opel in the running notably against Ford, as both brands shared the focus on building reasonably-priced cars for the German middle class. Family coupés were very popular at this time not only in Germany, considered a sportier way to drive around your family, typically consisting of your wife, two children and their luggage, than a more traditional sedan or station wagon. This worked since not only the family but also their luggage was for some reason far smaller than today, and Ford had brought the slick and very successful Capri coupé in 1966 which Opel couldn’t compete with as their only coupé at the time, the Kadett, was too small to fit the bill. Something had to be done, which for Opel meant giving the pen to George Gallion, an American designer, and asking him to draw a larger coupé with the Kadett as basis. So he did, the Manta was born, and Gallion became the father on what is after the 911 perhaps Germany’s most well-known car model – in Germany.

A nice Series 1 and next to it, not the Manta’s typical buyer!

Production of the first Manta series started in 1970. Priced from 8.000 German marks and upwards, it was a car people could afford, but neither of the two four-pot engines at 60 or 90 hp were really sporty enough to swing the tail of the rear-wheel drive coupé. Still, around half a million Mantas were built over the following five years until 1975. By then the Manta was getting old and Opel introduced the series 2, or Manta B – according to commercials from the time, a car that was “dynamic, racy, sporty, comfortable, and safe”. In truth it was even less racy than the first series, at least in the beginning as it had to appeal to buyers who had just come out of the first oil crisis. It was however a better car, bigger in every dimension and more comfortable, according to Opel what buyers were looking for. If production is anything to go by, they were right. The Manta B was built over 13 years until 1988 in a total of another half million cars – longer than any other Opel model has ever been built.

A very green Manta B with clear 80’s flair…

The Manta was thus a huge success but not, as you’ve probably guessed by now, a very exciting car. The design of the first series is classic and reminiscent of other coupés from the same era, not only the Ford Capri but also for example the the Fiat 124 Sport Coupé, one of which I was once a proud owner. At the time the Manta set-up with a longitudinal front engine and rearl-wheel drive was the norm, but fitting the engines lacking power to a 3-speed automatic in addition to the 4-speed manual didn’t really contribute to the sportiness. The fact that the owner’s manual was shared with the grandfather-like Opel Ascona, and said so in large letters on the cover, didn’t really help either. The Manta B looks more the part here, at least if spoilers and skirts is a sign of sportiness. It did offer more power at up to 140 hp and with time also a 5-speed manual, but that was really it. Until the tuners toog center stage, that is.

The 80’s were obviously the decade of bad taste in general, and car tuning in every way, both optical and mechanical, in particular. Thanks to its relatively cheap and basic mechanics, the Manta quickly became a favourite among tuners and pretty soon also the laughing stock of the rest of the population. Numerous stories and jokes not really pointing to neither the intelligence, nor the taste of Manta drivers made the rounds, and still do today. An example of one of those that can be translated would go as follows: “what goes through the head of a Manta driver when he hits a brick wall? The rear spoiler”. The type of jokes also had to do with Mantas being cheap, as was often the quality of the tuning, and the Manta thus became a favourite among those with slightly smaller budgets and where things like big black letters screaming “Manta!!” on the side of the car, the 80’s style rear window sun curtain or even small spoilers on the windshield wipers were considered tuning. Other mandatory attributes included a fox tail on the antenna and driving-style wise, always driving your Manta with your left arm leaning out the side window. Engine-wise not much of a budget was required either to get more power out of the four-pot, or as some proud owners did, replacing it altogether!

Classic Manta tuning – no carbon here…

By the 80’s the Manta was however starting to get old, with the basic construction originating in the 60’s and far more modern cars coming on stage. Opel thought a bit of marketing was all it would take to change this, and tried to re-vitalize the Manta in a big marketing campaign showing it not as a car belonging in front of a fast food joint, but rather in the front yard of a successful businessman. That didn’t really work, to put it mildly. They also tried to enter the rally scene with the Manta 400, which at 260 hp was the most powerful Manta every built. This was however the time of four-wheel drive and more modern constructions in the rally scene, and Opel’s adventure ended quickly, as did production a few years later. The legend was however just getting started…

In 1991, the German movie “Manta Manta” premiered and was subsequently watched by more than 12 million Germans, meaning around 1/6 of the population! It can be described as a mix of Grease and Fast & Furious in an early 90’s German setting, featuring a group of young Manta owners on their adventures and culminating in a race between a heavily tuned Manta and an arrogant 190 2.3-16 driver. It manages to pack every single Manta joke and combine it with 90’s-style racing scenes and some truly amazing hair cuts into 87 minuts, and if you’re into the time period and light entertainment German style (an interesting combination), it’s definitely not one to be missed. The movie was anyway crucial in continuing the Manta legend and also establishing its reputation as a car for those with somewhat simpler minds.

The film car from “Manta Manta” – the world’s most famous Manta!

The Manta scene in Germany remains active to this day, with regular gatherings of everything from original cars to, well, less original ones. There is a bit of a difference to be made here between the first and second series, with the first one generally attracting a more traditional, oldtimer-focused crowd, and the second one more of 80’s enthusiasts. Both types are starting to become increasingly rare and thus to increase in price, although we’re still at relatively modest levels of EUR 15-25′ for good cars. If the 911 isn’t your thing or budget but you still want to drive one of the most legendary German cars there’s ever been, and in addition at a very reasonable budget given the not very exciting but very solid technology, you really can’t go wrong with a Manta. If it’s a B, make sure there’s no rust or damage underneath all those spoilers and that if it’s tuned, it’s done in a somewhat proper way. And whichever one you choose, should you go to Germany, be prepared for the a joke here and there – but also for a lot of smiling faces!

Vive la République!

Can a supercar that is today worth around EUR 1.5m (or USD 1.6-1.7m) ever be called a bargain? Or actually, let me rephrase that: can a French car worth around 1.5m ever be called a bargain? How you answer that question obviously depends on your economic reality and your relationship to French cars, and you also have to be very clear on the word “bargain” only ever referring to the purchase price – nothing thereafter can be called a bargain, whatever your budget, as we’ll see later. If however you’re lucky enough to have cars above a million being part of your economic reality, then you should certainly have a closer look at the Bugatti Veyron 16.4, built in Mulhouse, France, for all the reasons we’ll look at today!

Most Veyron’s are bi-color, but the real cool ones in my eyes are the single-color ones!

For those of us with slightly smaller bank accounts, the Veyron will remain the stuff of dreams – but what dreams! Every decade has its supercar shining star (Lambo Countach, Ferrari F40, McLaren F1 etc.), but all these fade in comparison with the Veyron. When it was presented in the mid-00’s, no one had seen anything like it. A street car capable of 400 km/h with a 16-cylinder, 8-litre engine with four turbo chargers putting out over 1000 hp, at a level of luxury comparable to the best in the business, and at a new price of around today’s value, i.e. 1.5m. The Veyron was a true revelation and as such, also the precursor to later supercars like the Pagani, Koenigsegg and of course also Bugatti’s Chiron. In that sense, it is and will always remain a true legend of which a total of 450 cars were built during 10 years, from 2005 to 2015.

There are so many fabulous facts around the Veyron that you can’t list them all. As alluded to above, this is a car with a top speed of over 407 km/h, completely unheard of for a road car in 2006 and a number you really don’t need to be embarassed about in any way today either. In comparison, the current top-of-the-range McLaren Speedtail of which McLaren has built (and sold out) 106 cars and which benefits from all the latest hybrid technology “only” manages 403 km/h. Some other crazy facts around the Veyron includes that it takes in as much air in one minute as you breathe – in four days. Or that if you run it at full throttle (for which you require two separate ignition keys, the second to release the full power), the 100 litre tank will be empty in 12 minutes. or that you need to change the tires after 7′-8′ kms or when you’ve exceeded 400 km/h on four occasions, and that they’re not the type that come with a discount at your local tire dealer. And so on. In every single aspect, they Veyron was the most extreme creation the world had ever seen.

Not that you’ll see a Veyron often on the road, but if you do, this is likely to be the angle

Bugatti has a long and pretty troubled history going all the way back to 1909. Ettore Bugatti founded the company in Mulhouse in the French Alsace region, which borders Germany and belonged to Germany at the time, before becoming French after WW2. The company produced some of the most exclusive sports and luxury cars in the world from 1909 until WW2, when the Maginot front line ran practially through the factory. After the war Bugatti wasn’t able to keep up with the times and was unsuccessfully taken over first by Hispano-Suiza in 1963 and subsequently in 1987 by the Italian Romano Artioli who bought the rights to the name and set it up as an Italian company. His ownership lasted 12 years and it was during this time that the EB110 was developed, the only modern Bugatti car before the Veyron and not a huge success. Bugatti continued to balance on the brink of insolvency until 1998 when it was finally taken over by Volkswagen and returned to Mulhouse. Under VW’s ownership, the company started to work on what was to become the Veyron straight away, with a very clear objective: to build the fastest road car the world had ever seen.

The Royale is one of Bugattis most famous cars from the pre-war era

Central to all the Veyron prototypes was the engine, initially planned to be an even larger 18-cylinder monster, basically combining three six-cylinder engines. Technical issues with the highly complex construction led to the company having to settle with “only” 16 cylinders, V-formed and mid-mounted. The whole package with the four turbos weighed more than half a ton, to which should be added the 100 kg of the 7-gear double-clutch gearbox. If you think that sounds like a lot for a gearbox, remember it has to handle a torque of 1250 Nm! The Veyron has a total of 10 radiators with a total system capacity of over 50 litres, and the car’s body is obviously full of air intakes to help cool the massive engine which initially put out 1001 hp and later as much as 1200 hp in the Super Sports version that was built from 2010 onwards.

The Veyron has what I would call a very understated, elegant, sleak design that also looks very aerodynamic in a soap-like kind of way. I’ve seen it live a couple of times and noted it also looks rather small, as supercars often do. It may therefore come as a surprise that in terms of aerodynamics, the Veyron is very far from setting any kind of records. With a wind coefficient of 0.39 it’s worse than most station wagons both then and now, and the problem mainly comes from the giant air intakes required to cool the engine but which upset the air streams. The weight not only of the engine but also of all other mechanical components and of course also the very luxurious interior brings the car to a total weight of around 1900 kg, roughly half a ton more than what was initially planned. If your aim is a top speed of over 400 km/h that kind of wind resistance doesn’t help, and that in combination with the weight helps explain the rather Opec-friendly consumption…

Same style as a Pagani, but far less extravagant!

Seeing a supercar from the inside is usually not very exciting, and going back 20 years, things were certainly not better, rather the contrary. The fact that other supercars were rather crappy perhaps makes the Veyron’s inside even more impressive, but it’s an interior that can easily be compared to the best cars in the business, irrespective of category. It’s a universe of leather and metal, a wonderful analogue universe that in its simplicity makes for example a Pagani look a bit over the top. It’s also the quality of the car that people who have been lucky enough to drive it talk about, and which contributes to completely without drama reaching 100 km/h in 2.5 seconds and then keep going on, and on, and on…

So what about the bargain part? Well, as mentioned, Veyrons today start at around 1.5m. That’s an insane amount of money, but if you compare it to the very small universe of comparable cars, things look a bit different. To take a few examples, the Veyron’s predecessor, the clearly inferior EB110 costs 200’300′ more, as does a Ferrari F40 or a McLaren P1. The Chiron costs around 2.5m, whereas a Ferrari Enzo is around 3m, same as a LaFerrari. And what they all have in common, is that they’re slower than the Veyron! As noted initially, the purchase price is however only half the story because when it comes to the running costs, the Veyron is very much in a league of its own. To take a few examples, an oil change takes 27 hours and costs around USD 20′. That’s about 5′ less than a set of new tires of the only approved type, the Michelin Pilot Sport PAX, and when you’ve replaced these four times, you will also need to replace the magnesium wheels. You don’t want to think about what that costs. I recently heard about a German dealer willing to add a one-year service and guarantee package to a Veyron he has for sale – for EUR 100.000…

The Bugatti factory in Molsheim – impressive and in spite of prices, heavily loss-making!

Of course, talking about the Veyron in terms of service costs is the wrong angle to take. You should instead admire it for the amazing technical creation it is, especially considering its technology is almost 20 years old. Volkswagen’s ambition with the Veyron was to showcase its technical capabilities, and it was willing to take very significant costs to do that. The result is enormously impressive, especially considering it happened almost 20 years ago, but it was also extremely complicated, and thereby expensive. No official numbers are available but it’s been estimated that VW took total losses of around EUR 1.7bn from Bugatti during the first eight years of the Veyron’s production time. That equals around EUR 4.5m per car and if you add the sale price of 1.5m to that, the total is around 6m. Given that and that you can buy a Veyron today for 1/4 of that, how can the Veyron be anything but a bargain??

Geopolitics all the way to the pump

A man buys the daily paper at the same local news stand every morning. He glances quickly at the front page and then throws the paper away. One day the new stand owner asks him what he’s looking for. When the man replies it’s the obituaries, the stand owner tells him they’re not on the front page. The man replies: “the one I’m looking for will be”.

This week’s post will be a little different. For once we will not be dealing with the cars we love, but rather with what goes into the tank to make them run. This is of course linked to the terrible events happening only a few hundred kms from where you’re reading this if you’re in Europe, and the implications of which will in some areas will be much more far-reaching than I believe is currently realized. Next to cars one of my other big interests is geopolitics, a subject that has been almost forgotten over the last 30 years but which made a sudden re-appearance on the Eastern front a month ago. In the context of what’s currently happening, one of the most important side effects is playing out in the oil market and thereby to the fuel we put in our cars. This week therefore, geopolitics and cars come together to paint a picture that unfortunately, isn’t very bright.

The oil price (here Brent) seems to be on a mission…

Russia is a major producer of basically everything needed to make the modern world run: oil, natural gas, precious and industrial metals and, together with Ukraine, agricultural commodities. It also produces over half of the world’s ammonia (a derivative of natural gas) and Ukraine and Russia are the world’s second and third largest producers of potash. Both ammonia and potash are used for fertilizer production and have thus become crucial in feeding the world’s growing population. This war will therefore have major implications on the world’s food production, but this is ot the place to deal with those. It’s also no secret that Europe, and especially Germany, have built up a completely irresponsible dependence on Russia for its oil and gas-related energy supplies over the last decades, the downside of which has now become obvious. In parallel the US has developed into the world’s largest oil producer and is today self-sufficient, actually exporting a small part of what is being pumped and fracked. To protect that self-sufficiency, a US export ban on oil could well follow in the coming weeks, perhaps meaning that the effects of what follows below will be less severe for our American friends than for the rest of us.

Europe is currently doing what it can to move away from Russian oil imports, but the room for manoeuvre in the short-term is very limited. There is no over-supply of oil in the world today and basically only Saudi Arabia has any room to increase production by perhaps 1m barrels per day, but only maybe a year from now. The completely bizarre idea of starting importing from the dictatorships of Iran and Venezuela (in other words replacing one dictator by two others) is luckily completely unrealistic as both countries would need massive investments in their run-down production facilities before any exports could occur. This means Europe is stuck, which in a way of course goes completely in the direction of replacing oil with green energy that every European politician talks about. But with oil and gas making up more than half of the EU’s current energy consumption, this is not something that happens in a week, especially when like Germany, you’re set on closing down nuclear at the same time.

How Russian gas flows to the EU – oil flows in much the same way

Behind the US and Saudi Arabia, Russia is the world’s third largest oil producer and exports around 5 million barrels per day, roughly corresponding to 5% of the world’s daily consumption (but far more of the European consumption). Russian oil fields are mostly located in Western and Eastern Sibiria with the Western fields supplying Europe with oil and gas through two pipelines, as shown above. The Western fields are not connected to the Eastern which mainly supply China. This means oil cannot flow from West to East, for example to be sold on to China (the oils are also of different quality, complicating this further). At current oil prices, the total exports provide Russia with a daily inflow of more than $1bn. Since the start of the conflict a month ago, the EU has paid around EUR 20bn to Russia for oil and gas, neither of which are part of current sanctions. With the war being estimated to cost roughly $1bn per day, that goes a long way to financing the current atrocities.

There is another problem though, and it’s a big one: the Russians are not capable of operating their oil fileds themselves and haven’t done so since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Instead, all the fields have been operated by the Western oil companies which now, with the exception of French TotalEnergies (and we’ll see how long that lasts), have left. The Chinese are roughly as incapable as the Russians at operating oil fields so most probably, what will happen as a consequence of the sanctions and exit of Western companies is that production especially in Eastern Russia will diminish, and thereby also exports to China. That’s bad news for the Chinese economy but unfortunately, for the price we pay at the pump as well.

Laying off 50′ workers in Russia isn’t the solution says Total. We’ll see how long that holds.

President Putin is fully aware of the leverage towards Europe the Russian energy constitutes and no one should doubt that he’s also fully capable of turning off the pump altogether, especially if the war effort continues to go as badly as it currently does. Europe could also decide on an oil embargo which would probably be the moral thing to do, but for the reasons mentioned above, is far easier said than done. An embargo or turning off the pump would obviously hurt the Russian economy and thereby ordinary Russians, but as the true dictator he is, don’t expect Putin to care. Realistically therefore, the global oil supply will diminish by a few million barrels over the coming years, which most probably means prices at the pump will go higher. On Thursday this week, some of the world’s leading oil traders joined the ranks of many experts predicting oil barrels to double from here. In Europe it’s still taxes that make up around half of the price at the pump, and we’re already seeing politicians being pressed to reduce taxes or help struggling consumers through subsidies. How much will be done depends on where you are – and how far out the next election is…

It’s therefore fully understandable that many today consider trading in their beloved but perhaps not so economical car against something more efficient, perhaps even a hybrid or an EV. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but remember two things: firstly, your big-block has become far more difficult to trade in than only a few weeks ago, so do your maths to make sure the potential loss in resale value doesn’t exceed the potential fuel savings. Secondly, the supply of new cars is in complete crisis given the continuing disruptions in notably semiconductor and microchip deliveries from China, and many people will have the same idea as you right now. Economical used cars are therefore on the rise, and It could be long before you see your new car, whatever the dealer promises. Finally, anything with a battery is dependant on precisely the industrial metals that to a large extent also come out of Russia, and as a consequence of this whole mess, both these and electricity prices will increase. As so often, there’s no free lunch.

They don’t have time to worry about prices at the pump

The invasion of Ukraine is a terrible tragedy of a kind most of us Europeans thought we would never have to witness again. The fact that we have to pay more at the pump obviously quickly fades in comparison to the enormity of the war for Ukraine and its people. As everyone else I truly hope that this will be over sooner rather than later, but the path to that happening is currently difficult to see. And with regards to oil and other commodities, the lifting of sanctions not only rely on Russia going home, but on Putin stepping down or being removed from power. Although we all wish that would happen soon, or indeed to read the headline the man in the quote at the beginning of this post is looking for, that seems unlikely at this stage. So whilst we may swear at the price we pay at the pump, let’s not forget that at the same time, the Ukrainians have far worse things to swear about.

F1 2022: the race is on!

If you read this hot off the press on Sunday, you may also just have witnessed the first race of the 2022 F1 season in Bahrain just a few hours ago, and seen Charles Leclerc / Ferrari win it ahead of his team mate Carlos Sainz and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, after Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez’ cars both broke down because of engine-related issues in that last three laps of the race. Next to a 1-2 for Ferrari, the new season is off to a good start with some suprises, a dramatic end with Red Bull’s debacle, one safety car phase and generally great racing!

Ferrari started off the 2022 season in the best way possible!

The season that started today is one of many changes, as already described in my post from October last year, see here if you missed or as a reminder. Given big changes to the cars, it’s perhaps a good thing then that there isn’t that much happening on the side of the drivers, with 15 of 20 being in the same seat as last season. Of the five that aren’t, two have switched teams, two return to F1 having been absent last season, and one is a newcomer. Let’s have a quick look at who’s who.

George Russell is certainly the one name to look out for this season. Having done small wonders in an impossible Williams car over the last years, George is the driver to keep your eyes on this season now that he’s finally in a good car, taking over Valtteri Bottas’s seat in Mercedes next to Lewis. This of course means Valtteri moves, and he does so joining Alfa Romeo Racing, replacing retiring Kimi Räikkönen. This is obviously a move in the “wrong” direction, so it must have felt great for Bottas to be quicker in qualifying than Russell, and end the first race in P6. The Alfa car is predicted, based on pre-season training, to be one of the positive surprises this year, and if the first race is anything to go by, this seems to be confirmed with the Alfas ending sixth and tenth.

Will Valtteri’s switch to Alfa Romeo actually be a good one!

Valtteri’s team mate at Alfa will be the relatively unknown Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu. The 22-year old from Shanghai is China’s first F1 driver, but he’s lived in the UK since the age of 12. After some promising results early on, he became part of Ferrari’s driving academy in 2014 and moved on to the one at Renault five years later. He debuted in F2 the same year and scored enough good results over the coming three seasons to convince Cédric Vasseur, team principal at Alfa, to give him a chance. He’s also the driver who will “open” the Chinese market with it’s 1.4bn inhabitants for real to the F1 circus… Finally, the two returning drivers are Alex Albon who lost his seat at Red Bull two years ago and now returns to replace George Russell at Williams, and Kevin Magnussen who returns to Haas after a season away, replacing the not very successful Nikita Mazepin. Kevin hasn’t been enjoying the beach while away but rather raced notably in the US Indy series, and he needed only one race to show he’s not lost the pace, ending the first race in P5!

Moving on to the cars I won’t go into all the big changes introduced this year, see my earlier post for that. The objective of the changes was notably to make the races more even, as the airflows under the cars that create the sucking-to-the-ground venturi effect means the cars lose less traction when being close behind the car in front than with the old wing system. That’s exactly what we saw in today’s race in Bahrain with notably fantastic racing with multiple takeovers between Leclerc and Verstappen in the first half of the race. It looks promising in other words! And even if the top teams from last year can generally be expected to be the same, it’s clear that Ferrari currently has more speed than Mercedes, which starts the season as slowest of the top three teams. A few weeks ago the assumption was still that Lewis was bluffing when he was discussing the team’s lack of speed, but as the season has drawn closer, it’s become obvious that Mercedes is not fully there yet, and have some work to do.

Less wings, larger but uglier wheels, more downforce – the Red Bull car 2022

Things are definitely more relaxed over at Red Bull, and at the time of writing, pretty festive at Ferrari! By the looks of it it’s these two teams that will dominate the first part of the season. Everyone was expecting Red Bull to come out on top in the first race, but Ferrari seem to be very much up there, fully able to compete for race wins, not only when the Red Bull cars break down. If that’s confirmed there’s no doubt that the Leclerc – Sainz drive pairing isn’t far behind Verstappen and Perez at Red Bull, if at all, and we could be in for some great racing. Looking at the midfield teams, Alpine looks good, as does Alpha Tauri, whereas Aston Martin and especially McLaren do not look very competitive, at least not yet. Finally the three teams at at the end of the field last year, Alfa, Haas and Williams, have all made progress, with Alfa and Haas looking to have moved into the upper part of the midfield. With Williams also clearly making progress, it’s actually McLaren who find themselves at the end of the field at he start of the new season.

We probably all remember the absolutely crazy last race of last season, where race director Michael Masi was at the center of a lot of controversy with his decisions notably on which cars would be allowed to underlap. That had consequences, and not only in making Verstappen the 2021 world champion. Masi is gone and has actually not been replaced by a new director, but rather by a group of people who will take race-related decisions together. Not only that, a remote center in Geneva has also been created that will supervise the race from afar and be able to decide on important incidents. The F1 circus thus seems to be set on less controversy, which together with what looks like great prospects for more exciting racing than in years can only be a good thing!

When youngsters create legends!

Long-term readers of this blog will probably have understood by now that I have a bit of a weakness for the mechanical age, and a fascination for the fantastic engineers and mechanics that built incredible automobiles in the age before computers and modern production methods had conquered the world. And when all this comes together in the lovely Italian car tradition, then that’s basically as good as it gets – if you ask me. This week we’ll look at what is perhaps the best demonstration of such inspired, but not fault-free engineering. We’ll do so with a bunch of engineers and designers that have already featured a couple of times on this blog, and actually also with an element that can be described as a lesson in good management. This week is about the Lamborghini Miura, small in size but very large in supercar tradition!

We’re back in the mid-60’s and Ferruccio Lamborghini, who has so far introduced three cars to the market, is set on building a better GT car than what Ferrari has to offer. Better in reliability but also better in parts, not recycling racing parts but rather with cutting edge technology. He doesn’t care much for low, loud and uncomfortable sports cars, but he’s keen on using the 12-cylinder engine our old friend Giotto Bizzarrini developed after he left Ferrari to set up his own company (I wrote about Bizzarrini a year ago, see here). That is indeed one hell of an engine which produced 350 hp and revved all the way up to 9800 rpm. That was a bit too much for Ferruccio and he therefore gave the engine to his two engineers Stanzani and Dallara (the latter also the chief engineer of the whole car) to reduce the rev range somewhat and make the engine more reliable. They did so, managing not to lose power in the operation (well, at least not officially), but it doesn’t change the fact that Bizzarrini indeed developed Lamborghini’s first 12-cylinder engine. In Ferruccio’s mind, the only thing missing now was a GT car to put it in.

What Ferruccio had at his disposal next to the engine was an enthusiastic group of young engineers and a designer we’ve also met before, Marcello Gandini, who had just been hired by Bertone. These young stars didn’t really share Ferruccio’s vision of the next Lambo being a GT car, and they were also heavy influenced by a certain Ford GT40 which at the time was big news in the US. The Ford was essentially a race car and heavily inspired by it, the engineers set off on the concept of a race car for the road rather than for the track. Ferruccio watched – and stood back, leaving the youngsters to it. That may not sound as impressive as it actually was. You see, at this time in 1965, in a world where age still counted for quite a lot, chief engineer Dallara was 29 years old, as was Stanzani. Soon-to-be designer Gandini was 27. In a world where old men still ruled, it was in other words a bunch of kids that designed the world’s first true supercar!

Dallara and Stanzani built a frame of a size suitable for the sports car they had in mind, but not necessarily suitable for a large V12. But rather than making the frame any larger, they turned the engine around and basically merged the transmission with it, as there was really nowhere else to put it. This was undoubtedly the tightest package around a V12 ever built and must have been a complete nightmare to work on as a mechanic – and quite a few mechanics would be doing so in subsequent years. The engineers put some wheels on the frame with the engine fitted, and now only the body was missing.

As mentioned, Ferruccio had let the youngsters work on this in peace and probably thought of the project as a good showcase for Lamborghini in general, and the coming GT car in particular. That’s also why the soon-to-be Miura was presented just like that, without a body, at the Turin car show in 1965. To Ferruccio’s great surprise, this was all it took for the first ten orders to come in. For the chassis that is, not for the coming GT car. It became obvious that a body was now needed, and the job was given to 27-year old Marcello Gandini who had started at Bertone two days earlier. He certainly didn’t sit around, but rather designed the Miura in as many days as he’d been employed. Thanks to this, the car in its final layout could be presented just five months later, at the Geneva Auto Show in 1966. 30 more orders came directly at the show, bringing the total to 40, growing to 75 by the end of the year.

Everyone including Ferruccio were obviously happy about the great success, but it also created a bit of stress in Sant’Agata. You see, at the time, Lamborghini employed all of… 78 people. Around 40 of those were engineers, and another 20 were apprentices. The first remark is that it’s remarkable to take an idea to production in as little as two years with such a small team, and even more so when you think of how complicated the Miura was. The second remark is that it would maybe have been good if those apprentices had been real mechanics, as was to be discovered later. For now, everyone was highly motivated, working long shifts all days of the week. Ferruccio was happy to let them work, brought them food at night, and continued to keep out of the way.

Unfortunately the quality of the first cars was problematic to say the least, and probably sensing this would be the case, Lamborghini made sure to deliver the first cars to Italian clients. As the cars came in for service, the clients were then taken to some very long lunches, giving the mechanics enough time not only to service the cars, but actually to do some quite fundamental changes and improvements to them. The first series was thus far from perfect, something that however improved with the updated Miura S in 1969, which produced 25 hp more and had a slightly wider track. Some quite serious problems did however persist during the Miura’s whole production run, including engines breaking down completely because of failing lubrification, and cars catching fire due to a less successful positioning of the tank. On the less than perfect side was also the heat caused in the cabin through the positioning of the engine, and the fact that the slightest touch of the accelerator made any conversation impossible. At the same time, that’s of course one of the Miura’s greatest thrills!

The Miura may not have been a race car but it certainly looked like one. It was also really fast for the time, meaning a 0-100 km/h of around 5.5-6 seconds and a top speed of around 280 km/h. The car was light, as was the front end, causing quite a few rollover accidents. The Miura S was replaced by the last version, the SV, in 1971, and even thought things kept improving, the Miura never became trouble-free. Finally in 1973 Ferruccio decided to pull the plug, but he didn’t do it as you may think, by firing the team behind the less than perfect Miura project. Instead he not only delegated the management of Lamborghini’s whole production to Stanzani, but he even accepted the latter’s demands not to interfere in the day to day work, and never to challenge his decisions. Stanzani, clearly a fan of the saying “when in trouble, double!” quickly moved on to create the Countach, a car no less exotic, but which would become much more well-known and much more legendary than the Miura (see here if you missed my review of it last year).

It may have been the first, but the Miura was thus by no means the perfect supercar. But honestly, how could it have been, with the limited resources and experience Lamborghini had at its disposal? That doesn’t change the fact that what a bunch of under-30-year-olds created in a few months was truly impressive in everything from idea to realization. It’s also a good lesson in management, illustrating that letting young people pursue their ideas usually produces good results! Accidents, fires and breaking engines has reduced the number of Miuras left on the road today from close to 500 produced to no more than a few dozen, and finding one isn’t easy. It’s also not cheap. For most of us, the Miura will thus remain something we may see at a car show, and otherwise a wonderful story of young talent from the golden age of the automobile!

When Alfa gets it right!

Alfa Romeo is a legendary car brand, which through the years has worked like few others on ruining its legend and making the inherent love many of us have for the Italian brand a tough one indeed. Luckily however there have been periods when Alfa gets it right, and when they do, the cars they build tend to be pretty irresistible. The current Alfa line-up is the best Alfa’s had in years, but today we’ll go back 15 years to when Alfa got it right last time, with the wonderful 8C Competizione. Many will never have seen it as only 500 were initially built (of which 80 went to the US), but it was an important car not only in that it was pretty good, but also as it shaped Alfa’s design language over the coming years and also marked the brand’s return to the US, a market from which it had been absent since 1995. Finally, it’s one of very few, if not the only Alfa from the modern era that costs more today than it did as new. More than enough reasons to look closer at it this week!

Purposeful, compact, with elements reminding of Alfa’s past!

The 8C project started in 2003, a time when the Alfa line-up was not much to write home about. It included notably the Brera, a somewhat sporty coupé, far too heavy and with an engine from (hold on tight) Opel… The 159 and 166 were large sedans at a time when no one really wanted sedans anymore and with a design that wasn’t really one. I actually owned a 166 and it’s one of the better cars I’ve had, and surprisingly completely free of any problems, but the world can be forgiven for missing it.

Somewhere around here Alfa’s designers started working on a design study to express a new design language. The study was a sports coupé which the design team and the legendary boss Sergio Macchione were so pleased with that it received the sign-off for a limited production run of 500 cars. It had barely been announced to the market in 2006-2007 before the full production run was sold out. If you look at the car it’s easy to see why, but not only was it beautiful, it was also quite competitively priced at the time at around EUR 150′. That was however still twice as much as anything else in the Alfa line-up at the time.

It may not be a compliment mentioning that the same rear lights later featured on the MiTo mini hatch…

Looking closer at the design, it’s a lovely combination of classic Alfa elements from the 50’s and 60’s with a modern touch in a well proportioned, compact body, or in other words a true Italian beauty. When comparing it to today’s supercars, it’s almost shocking to see how Alfa managed to design the 8C and get the power onto the road without the use of a single spoiler. Under the carbon fibre body Alfa used a lot of what the Fiat sibling Maserati offered in the Grand Turismo, most notably the new 4.7 litre V8 engine which in the 8C sits right behind the front axle. In traditional Alfa style the gearbox was in the back and the 8C is thus a well balanced, transaxle construction. The engine put out 450 hp and with a weight of around 1600 kg, the 8C was more than 200 kg lighter than the Maserati and good for a 0-100 time of 4.2 seconds, and a top speed of 290 km/h, all very respectable twenty years ago.

The inside features beautifully-designed carbon seats that look very similar to the Ferrari Enzo’s, a carbon dashboard and various other carbon parts, together giving it a suprisingly high quality, but also quite “raw” cabin feel. This is obviously a car from the mechanical age so the interior doesn’t feature touchscreens of any kind, rather solid buttons that you push and turn. What it didn’t offer either was much luggage space., but you can squeeze in a bag behind the front seats and all the way in the back under the glass cover, there’s a leather bag fitted, slightly bigger than a briefcase – that would be the official luggage space. Then again you can always buy what you need when you arrive, especially if you arrive as fast as would (theoretically) be the case with the 8C. Unfortunately however, there are a couple of things that may hamper that progress.

What looks like plastic is carbon fibre – raw…

The first is not very surprisingly the gearbox. The 8C comes from the time before double-clutches, meaning the semi-automatic 6-speed box is a bit slow and not very smooth neither in manual, nor auto mode. The second is unfortunately the ride, which is said to be quite harsh and not very composed. Finally, the breaks are not comparable to anything in modern supercars, especially not ceramic ones. The thing is however that when you put your foot down you forget about all of that, because when the sound of the 4.7 litre Masserati engine starts to build all the way up to the limit at 7500 rpm, you’re in heaven. We’ve all heard the same engine in the Grand Turismo where it was introduced shortly after, and it doesn’t sound any less in the 8C. Actually it probably sounds a bit more, given its lower weight and the not very noise-isolating carbon interior.

Beautiful engine sitting behind the front axle

At EUR 150′ back in 2006, the 8C was quite competitively priced for what it offered, and as mentioned the 500 cars produced were sold very quickly. Alfa didn’t increase the production run but rather brought the 8C Convertible to the market in 2009, but doing so they also increased the price quite massively, making it far less of a good deal than the 8C was. They built another 500 as convertibles in 2009 that all sold, both in Europe and in the US. And even if the 8C marked Alfa’s return to the US market, as so often Alfa didn’t really manage to build on it so that it took another few years until the brand returned for real, then with the 8C’s younger and smaller brother, the 4C.

The 8C is thus one of the best-looking and best-sounding supercars out there even today, and in good Alfa tradition, slightly compromised. As mentioned it’s also one of very few Alfas worth more today than what they were as new. In spite of the limited production run you actually find quite a few cars in the market, more convertibles than coupés, with prices today typically between EUR 250′-300′. At that price point the supercar alternatives are plentiful, and it’s hard to argue that the 8C is a better buy than many of the other cars out there. But if you want something unique that you definitely won’t see on every corner, and which has a sound making any kind of stereo system completely unnecessary, then the 8C is definitely the car for you!

Winter street finds: the Aston Martin DB6!

As some of my readers know, my 18-year old son spends this winter as a ski instructor in the Swiss Alps (yes I know, lucky guy). I’ll take credit for teaching him to ski well enough to become a ski instructor, and also for transmitting enough particles of the car virus to him so that he keeps his eyes and ears open at the sight (or sound) of something interesting on four wheels. During this winter I’ve thus gotten regular reports and pictures that have clarified things such as my new beloved Range Rover being no more special in this part of the country than a Skoda Octavia, and some people thinking a Lambo Aventador is so suitable for driving on snow that they fly it in from the Middle East. Be that as it may, the picture he sent me last week beats everything: an Aston Martin DB6, parked outside a fancy hotel with several pairs of newly used, modern skis on the roof. This, my friends, is true class!

An Aston Martin DB6 in Gstaad, Switzerland, in February…

The DB6 was the culmination of the part of the DB series which started with the DB4 and was followed by the legendary Bond car, the DB5. The DB6 is less well-known than its predecessor and was built between 1965 and 1971. It’s arguably the most mature of the three cars, with a body which is around 10 cm longer than the DB5, giving it slightly different proportions but above all more room in the back and boot. Officially described as a 2+2, the DB6 will seat four people and in addition carry their luggage. The longer rear ends with a spoiler lip and was referred to as Kammback by Aston, and it wasn’t to everyone’s liking at the launch of the car. The body was designed by the Italian design house Superleggera as a handwritten badge on the side will tell you. Even if everyone didn’t like it then, I believe most would agree today that it’s one of the most beautiful historical Astons around.

The so called Kammback wasn’t to everyone’s liking

The engine is a 4-litre, 6-cylinder unit with tripple carburettors and around 280 hp in the regular version, with another 40 or so in the equally available Vantage version. The base car was good for a top speed of over 240 km/h, a truly scary prospect in a car from the 60’s, even one that drives and brakes as well as the DB6 is said to do. The sound is what you would expect from a 4-litre machine with three carburettors, meaning absolutely fantastic. Most cars have a 5-speed manual gearshift but somewhat surprisingly, an automatic was also available. The large, wooden steering wheel is surrounded notably by a switch allowing you to adjust the rear suspension, a feature taken over from the DB5 but which helps illustrate that Aston was at the top of their game back in the 60’s (somewhat less so today if you ask me).

The wonderful 4-litre straight six, with the carburettors in the back

The original DB cars carry not only the founder David Brown’s initials, but actually the full name as part of the emblem. Brown was a converted tractor builder (clearly a useful background if you want to become a supercar builder, given he shared it with Ferrucio Lamborghini!). What Brown put together in the DB6 was a beautiful creation of which a total of around 1800 were built. There was a Mk II from 1968 and onwards, looking a bit beefier than the car on the initial picture which in other words was produced during 1965-67. There was also a Volante, i.e. a convertible, of which only 140 were built, and independent coachbuilders also built a small number of shooting brakes on the DB6 chassis. The likelihood of ever seeing one of those is… small, and should you wish to park a nicely restored DB6 in your garage, that will cost you around EUR 350′-400′. Then again, that’s only roughly half of what a DB5 is – but it’s also three times more than a perfect E-type of any type, which we looked at a few weeks ago (see here if you missed it).

I bet those seats still have the original leather smell!

My son says the DB6 he saw originated in Savoie (France), not sure how he came to that conclusion as the number plate doesn’t look French. If this guy or girl really lives in the mountainous region of Savoie and uses his DB6 as winter daily driver, then let’s just pray it’s had a thorough corrosion protection treatment, as spring otherwise risks revealing many (negative and expensive) surprises! Then again, given how clean it is, maybe the car was just there for some kind of show and the skis on the roof as well, even if they were modern – because no one classy enough to drive a DB6 would put skis on the roof with the tips facing forward, would they? I guess we’ll never know…

Havoc in the car market!

There are extraordinary things happening in the car market, and it’s currently reaching previously unseen proportions. At first glance it looks looks like a salesman’s dream, whether he/she sells new or used cars, thereby also meaning a buyer’s nightmare. However, as we know good things (from the seller’s perspective) tend not to last, and there’s reason to think it could get worse both for sellers and buyers before it gets better. Instead of making this any more cryptical, let’s look at what’s happening.

It all started with a certain virus from which large parts of the world are finally recovering and returning to some kind of normality. Removing face masks and being able to go dancing again isn’t the same however as all supply chain bottle necks caused by Covid restrictions disappearing overnight. This is especially true for China that continues to pursue a zero-Covid policy and in true dictatorship style doesn’t shrug at the idea of closing down a 15-million region cities at the sight of a few Covid cases. What is especially hurting the automobile sector is a global deficit of semi-conductors and micro-chips, causing severe production delays and stops, and in some cases even orders for new cars being refused.

A small part of which there are many in modern cars…

Looking at some concrete examples, if you’ve been seduced by the new G-Wagon but haven’t put in your order yet, that’s too bad. Mercedes-Benz announced a couple of weeks ago that they have stopped taking orders for the car as a shortage of certain parts has led to reduced production, meaning the order book is full until and including 2024. That’s a full three years from now! The G-Wagon is perhaps the most extreme example but far from the only car Mercedes has issues with. You’re thinking of going electric and buy a new EQS? You’ll get it in the spring of 2023 if you live in Germany (and probably no sooner in other regions). The same is true for many other EV’s. The nice guys at Volvo still send me post and when they did so a few weeks ago, it was to tell me that it would really be a good idea if I bought one of their cars on stock rather than order a new one (I did neither). And my new friend the Range Rover dealer congratulated me on having gotten my hands on such a fine example, as orders for the new model (which by the way looks sensational inside and out, more on that some time in the future) are piling up with year-long waiting times as a result.

It could be a while until you see the beautiful new Range on the road!

Car makers are of course not sitting with their arms crossed waiting for things to improve, quite the contrary. Larger groups are said to have taskforces scanning the market for every micro-chip they can get their hands on. Porsche is building dummy chips into some cars with a promise of replacing these with real micro-chips when they become available again (yes, you read that right). Peugeot is even installing analogue gauges rather than digital into the 308 as these don’t require micro-chips. Interestingly some brands seem less affected, especially BMW which still manages to deliver most models in three to five months, including EV’s. It would be really interesting to know how they manage that, but it’s probably an especially well-kept secret… On the whole however, factories have half-finished cars piling up and car dealerships do what they can, meaning selling off stock- and pre-owned cars.

For car buyers this is not very good news. Obviously cars on stock may not correspond to the spec you want, and the days you could walk into a dealership and get a 10% discount on a car in stock are long gone. The same goes for many used cars (but not all as we’ll see further below), with prices in the used car market sky-rocketing (coming back to that G-Wagon, many 1-2 year old G63’s with up to 20′ km on the clock now trade above their price as new). According to Labor Department data in the US, used car prices on average increased by 40% (!) in 2021. In Europe the same number is around 25%. The Dodge Grand Caravan (known partly as the Chrysler Grand Voyager in Europe) is in the lead with an average increase of 69%, but others include for example the Prius (+61%) and the Audi A6 (+54%, source Edmunds).

The first time a Grand Caravan leads any type of ranking!

Of course things will improve, but there’s reason to think they get worse before the get better. Dealers will run out of cars putting further upward pressure on used car prices, and delivery times could well increase further as there is no quick fix to the problem in sight. So what do you do if you need a car? Well, luckily there are always some segments in the used car world that are not part of the general price trend, and none more than 5-10 year-old luxury cars with big engines. This category obviously include some of the best cars ever built. The downside is obviously that the massive depreciation is on one hand explained by higher running costs and on the other by a view that they are “stranded assets” in the ongoing electrification of the car world. Petrol cars will however be around for many years still, and given life is far too short to drive a Priu… sorry, boring car, why not enjoy what is clearly the best opportunity in today’s market before it’s too late?

Enzo’s favourite Jaguar!

There are lots of stories in the classic car world, some true, others not. One of the better ones is about the legendary Ferrari Commendatore, Enzo Ferrari, who when he first saw the car we’ll look at today at its initial presentation in the spring of 1961, referred to it as “the most beautiful car that has ever been built”. Now before you spend too much time trying to figure out which Ferrari he was referring to, let me spare you the effort by telling you that Enzo wasn’t referring to a Ferrari at all, but rather to the latest creation from Coventry – the Jaguar E-Type (XK-E for those of you in the US). Of course Enzo was right. Not only is the E-Type a true legend of the car world, it’s also exactly what he (supposedly) said, i.e. one of the most beautiful cars ever built, until this day. At the time of its launch, it was also one of the fastest and most modern production cars in the world, boosting power and acceleration numbers that remain impressive until this day. And seen over its full production, it’s also one of the most succesful sports cars ever built. The car enthusiast that hasn’t dreamt about driving and owning an E-Type hasn’t been born, so it’s about time to take a closer look at it!

Initially the E-Type wasn’t supposed to be the famous road car it became during its 14 years of production, but rather to succeed the D-Type as a racing car. The D-Type had been hugely successful on the racing scene, notably winning the 24h in Le Mans three years in a row between 1955 and 1957. It was Jaguar’s first car with a self-supporting body frame and no longer a ladder frame solution (basically meaning that the engine was carried directly by the body subframe, notably saving weight), and the E-Type took over this and other solutions. In the end it didn’t succeed the D-Type as a pure racing car, although it has obviously been used for racing many times through the years. Instead it replaced the ageing XK 150 as Jaguar’s new sports coupé and roadster.

The D-Type, to this day a successful racing car

The E-Type was first shown to the world in the spring of 1961, more precisely in March at the Auto Salon in Geneva. As we know from previous stories notably on the wonderful Bizzarrini, car shows at the time were slightly less organized than in these days, and Jaguar was fighting against the clock to have the exhibition car ready in time. In the end the firm’s PR manager Bob Berry had to drive the car from Coventry to Geneva, arriving only 20 minutes before the show started. The reception was so overwhelming that Berry had to call Jaguar’s legendary test driver Norman Dewis and ask him to drive down a second car overnight. Dewis did so in 11 hours, averaging at a speed of 110 km/h (whoever said some things weren’t better before?!?). This obviously only added ot the E-Type’s glory and Jaguar sold around 500 cars directly at the show.

They made it – just in time!

The car’s design is truly unique, with a bonnet that looks like it makes up more than half the car (around a third is closer to the truth), and which has sometimes been referred to as the extension of a certain male organ. Be that as it is, there’s a fantastic elegance in the proportions and also a lightness to the whole design, which serves the car well given it weighed in at 1200-1300 kgs. As we’ll see below there’s always been a roadster and a coupé available and although the roadster certainly provides more driving thrills, the (short) coupé is to me clearly the most harmonious design.

During its 14 years of construction, the E-Type was produced in three series, 1, 2 and 3 (or rather, when the Series 2 was started, the previous cars started to be referred to as Series 1). Being an English car from the sixties there are a lot of special series in addition to that, but this is not the place for a complete overview of all different models and types and I’m also not the right person to give you a complete overview. I’ll limit myself to summarizing the main series and their differences below.

  • The initial E-Type is by many considered the purest of all versions. It’s notably the only type that has the well-known glass covers over its headlamps. The 3.8 litre, 6-cylinder engine with 265 hp was the only thing taken over from the XK 150, with other parts coming from the D-Type or having been developed for the car. It’s worth mentioning the rear axle with individual suspension which was an advanced and very modern construction that was kept well into the XJ series many years later, and which was a crucial part in the E-Type’s excellent road-handling. The Series 1 was available as a two-seater coupé and convertible and the first 500 cars had a so called flat floor, meaning less leg room. Needless to say how sought after they are, as are early cars with external bonnet latches. In 1965 the first series had its engine volume increased to 4.2 litres, giving more torque although not more power, and in 1966 a 22 cm longer coupé version with two reclining seats was added, referred to as 2+2. These versions were built until 1967.
A Series 1 convertible in all its beauty
  • The so called Series 1.5 essentially looked like the previous cars but had the headlamp glass covers removed to provide better light but especially to get approval in the US (basically the same problem Citroën had with the DS in the US). It was also American emission regulations that led Jaguar to replace the three SU carburettors with Zenith-Stromberg units, meaning a power reduction of around 20 hp on US cars.
  • The Series 2 only saw minor modifications to the 1.5 and is most distinguishable by its wrap around bumpers and diferent grille. Series 2 cars were built until 1971.
  • In 1971 the Series 3 saw the introduction of the 5.3 litre V12 producing 272 hp, along with improved breaks and steering. Four Zenith carburettors helped the car to a sub-seven seconds time to 100 km/h and a top speed of around 250 km/h. Very impressive numbers, but only a slight improvement to the six-cylinder versions. The benefits of the V12 were rather the 12-cylinder character and sound… The short coupé was discontinued with only the 2+2 seater and the roadster now built until the production ended. Series 3 cars are identifiable notably by the larger grille, flared arches giving room for larger wheels, and the four exhaust pipes.
A Series 2 short coupé with the side-opening luggage door

Through the sixties and into the seventies until the end of production in 1974, the E-Type was one of the fastest sports cars in production. It was also one that drove well thanks notably to the mentioned rear suspension but also its four disc breaks, something neither the Italians, nor for example Mercedes-Benz had at the time. The engines, provided they were serviced well, were reliable, with the V12 being more or less unbreakable, but again provided it was properly serviced and maintained. Given the E-Type cost roughly half of for example a Ferrari 275 at the time it was hugely successful, with over all series more than 70.000 cars produced, most of which in the first series.

It’s a few years since I had the pleasure to drive an E-type for the only time so far, more precisely a 4.2 litre convertible. I will never forget that long bonnet that seemed to go on forever, the low seating position with the large steering wheel, and then of course the sound from the six-cylinder. I had my TR4 at the time and let’s just say this was a different story. Driving-wise the car is impressive but commends respect given the powerful engine, but the precise steering and powerful disc breaks still give a feeling of control. My friend who owned and still owns the car confirmed my impressions, but also the amount of work that seemed to go into it on a regular basis, which brings us to buying and owning an E-Type.

The interior certainly keeps up with the exterior!

Finding the right car is mainly about three things: rust, engine maintenance and series. Rust is probably the most serious issue and a very common problem, and the monocoque constrution makes it especially critical in certain areas. Any car needs to be inspected carefully also from underneath and ideally with the help of a specialist. As long as he’s there he can then also have a look at the engine, which as said doesn’t usually cause any problems as long as it’s well maintained. Adjusting both the six-cylinder, but especially the 12-cylinder is however a job for those who know, and if you don’t, you will want to know someone who knows! Finally the different series are about taste. Generally first series cars are most popular with their design being considered the purest and most beautiful. Many prefer the original 3.8 litre engine, claiming it’s more responsive and happier to rev than the larger 4.2, probably a matter of taste. The 2+2 coupé with its 22 cm longer body takes some getting used to and is arguably the least attractive design. Between the convertible and the short coupé it’s really a matter of taste, and there is also no meaningful price difference with our without roof.

Finding an E-Type is not difficult, but perfectly preserved or restored cars have reached if not astronomical, then at least ambitious prices. On the good side though, they are still only half or even less as expensive as comparable Ferraris! Good, original cars with some patina start at EUR 90′-100′, with no upper limit depending on condition but even more on the in some cases very limited series. An early 3.8 litre Series 1 is probably where I would put my money but I can obviously see the attraction not only of the V12 but also of the improvement on later cars. Again, the V12 doesn’t have to be a quick way to bankruptcy and is more solid than the 6-cylinder, but it will require more maintenance, and slightly more fuel… Whichever you choose you’ll be driving a true legendary car, one that is never out of place, and that is even more beautiful than the tailor-made Italian suits Enzo Ferrari used to wear!

Tertre Rouge – liquid investment in collectible cars alongside the champions!

There’s a new way out there to invest in classic cars, and it’s an interesting one as not only does it have an impressive group of automotive legends behind it, it also manages to combine liquidity with an investment class that fundamentally lacks it. The concept that I’ll explain in detail below expects to be listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) shortly and will hereby seek to make classic cars an investable asset class for a far larger audience than has been the case until today. This week the blog will therefore have an investment angle linked to the classic and sports cars we love!

For those of us who don’t have the financial means or interest in creating our own stable of classic cars and then trade these as they (hopefully) increase in value, so far a small number of investment funds have been the main option available to invest in the asset class. Given a fund collects money from many different investors, it can create a larger pool of cars than would have been the case for most of us, had we sought to do it directly. Another benefit of a consolidation of the assets is also that you diversify your risk and achieve cost synergies. This was notably the idea of Filippo Pignatti whom I interviewed a few years ago on this blog when we spoke about his Classic Car Fund. Unfortunately the fund had to close last year as on one hand it didn’t have enough marketing support to market it to investors, but also since one of its main drawbacks was the very limited liquidity available. 

Replicated many times, with not many originals remaining: the Shelby Cobra

All this will change with Tertre Rouge (full name Tertre Rouge Assets Plc), which is not only the name of a famous curve in Le Mans but soon also that of a listed SPAC on the LSE. SPAC stands for Special Purpose Acquisition Company and can be explained as a shell company, listed on a stock exchange, which at the time of listing doesn’t have any assets other than cash in the bank. That obviously begs the question why you would invest in it, and the answer is that a SPAC usually has a clear activity it intends to engage in. That can be to acquire a company in a specific business to fill the shell, or as the case is with Tertre Rouge, to acquire classic sports cars. Whatever the activity, as a listed company a SPAC has the same liquidity as a normal stock and can be traded on a daily basis, with the price discovery being left to the market. That’s all good and fine, but if you engage early in a SPAC, you obviously do so based on a promise that the SPAC’s manager or sponsor will deliver a certain acquisition or activity. In other words, you invest in their reputation and experience. And this is where Tertre Rouge really delivers. 

David and Mika meet again!

Mika Häkkinen (or if you prefer, the Flying Finn), David Coulthard and Allan McNish are names that don’t require any further introduction in the world of car enthusiasts. All are ex-world champions or runners’ up, all have an unparalleled network in the automotive world, and Mika and David are also car collectors in their own right. The three are founding partners of Tertre Rouge along with André Ahrlé, another car and especially motorcycle collector who will perhaps be less known to many people, but who is not only a successful entrepreneur but also has a pedigree as racing driver in the 90’s for Porsche, notably in the Porsche Carrera Cup. Last but not least, the man behind the idea of Tertre Rouge is Steven Schapera, an Australian serial entrepreneur who teamed up with André to realize the Tertre Rouge concept. And if that wasn’t enough, the company is also supported by a five-person advisory board, all leading experts in classic cars. 

What this impressive team will do is to invest in museum-grade, collectible racing and sports cars, both modern and classic, primarily Ferraris, Porsches, McLarens, Mercedes, Aston Martins and Shelby Cobras. Other brands could selectively complement these depending on the car in question, and motorcycles will do so as well, primarily from Ducati and MV Agusta. Collectible means in a condition as new, either through preservation or restoration. Factors such as the individual car’s history but also that of the brand and the model also play an important role. To be able to invest in such cars successfully in what is fundamentally a fragmented market place as so often means nothing else than buying low and selling high, and to that, the kind of network offered to Tertre Rouge by Häkkinen, Coulthard and McNish along with the advisory board and the company’s management is critical, and probably unrivalled. 

MV Augusta have built many classic bikes through the years!

The fact that Tertre Rouge expects to list on the LSE is important to the extent that a UK SPAC works differently than a US one, in that it can bring in capital in several financing rounds. The company will thus come to market to raise a specific amount to finance the acquisition of selected cars and motorcycles. Once the capital is invested, a next round will then start to finance the next acquisitions, and so on. For each round, new shares will be issued and will be available to investors. The intention of the company is to stay invested in the cars for five to seven years and then sell these, speculating in an increasing asset value targeted at 15% p.a. 

During the period of ownership, most cars will be stored in the Motorworld facility close to Cologne in Germany, only one hour from the Nürburgring, where both investors and the public can admire them. Motorworld is the home of various car exhibitions but notably also of the permanent exhibition of Michael Schumacher’s private car collection with go-karts from his early days, sports cars, trophies, unique memorabilia, and most of the Formula 1 cars he raced in his fantastic career (and keep on fighting, Michael!). It’s also a space that allows for events for up to a few thousand people which can come in handy since Tertre Rouge is close to various clubs and associations in the supercar world, and aims to use the space also for promotional activities on a regular basis. 

Motorworld is indeed a very suitable storage place!

Tertre Rouge is indeed something completely new in the classic car investment world and something I believe, based on one hand on the liquidity but on the other and even more importantly, on the unique team the founders have been able to assemble, has a great potential. For full disclosure I was given the opportunity to participate in the oversubscribed, initial financing round of the company and was happy to do so (on equal terms to all other investors). That’s also why I’m able to tell you about this before the official listing, and for the same reason I’d also ask you to keep it at least somewhat confidential until the actual listing occurs, which is expected to happen in the coming weeks.

Tertre Rouge will however come to the market soon again to finance the first round of selected cars so if this sounds like an interesting proposition, don’t hesitate to contact me or write directly to info@tertrerougeassets.com, quoting the blog as reference!

The other “almost” Porsche!

Regular readers of the blog will remember my post from mid-December on the wonderful Mercedes-Benz E 500 (or 500 E depending on construction year) that I modestly called “The world’s best… car?” given at least at the time, it was just that. You’ll also remember that the 500 E was assembled by Porsche who had more spare factory capacity than money in the early 90’s. It was however a true Mercedes, built from Mercedes parts and not, as some will have you believe, an “almost” Porsche.

Contrary to the 500 E, Porsche was far more active in the construction of another true legend from the same period that was developed on the basis of an Audi. I’m of course talking about the Audi RS2 which not only started a wonderful series of RS models to come, but can also be said to be the first car in the today very popular segment of sports combis (estate wagons for some of you, but I’ll use combi throughout). More than enough reasons to look at it closer today!

Not spectacular but purposeful – if you know, you know.

The basis of the RS2 was of course the Audi 80 Avant, a conservatively styled, smaller combi from the early 90’s and one of the first models in Audi’s transformation from a brand for grandpas to the cool auto-maker it has become today. Audi and Porsche worked jointly on the project of developing the RS2, which distinguished itself visually from its less powerful siblings notably by its front and rear RS fenders developed by Porsche, its larger breaks with red calipers also from Porsche and branded as such, and its 17″ Porsche wheels. These as well as the exterior mirrors were identical to the Porsche 964, and the rear lightbar going over the whole back is also said to have taken its inspiration from the 964. Together with the fact that the whole car sits lower made it look like a very special Audi 80 indeed! The interior didn’t disappoint either with its bi-color, leather-alcantara combination in black-blue or black-grey (a fully black interior was an option), its Recaro seats and its white dials. If you know the Audi 80 it will feel very familiar, but still special enough – as it should.

I struggle to think of anything more you would need!

Even more exciting is of course what Porsche did with the 5-cylinder, 2.2 litre engine that came from the S2 and originally developed 230 hp. Thanks notably to a larger turbo and intercooler, better engine management and a beefier exhaust system, performance was increased to 315 hp and a torque of 410 Nm. This may not sound like much today and of course it isn’t, however the RS2 Avant only weighed 1600 kg, far less than most power combis today, meaning 315 hp were enough for a top speed over 260 km/h and around 5.5 seconds to 100 km/h. Audi’s legendary quattro system helped bring the power onto the road and the RS2 was equipped both with a Torsen differential and a rear-axle differential, which could be activated up to 25 km/h. Combined with a manual six-speed box this was pretty much as good as it got in the mid-90’s, and it ranks pretty far up there still today!

As mentioned the RS2 was perhaps the first representative of the segment of power combis, and it was quite revolutionary at the time in the way it handled. Of course and RS2 doesn’t feel like a 911, but it also feels nothing like an Audi 80 – in a good sense. Not only the power but also the handling and the preciseness of the whole package was revolutionary in the mid-90’s in a car which over 4.5 metres offered enough room for four people and their luggage, but it’s of course one we’ve seen many times since. Remember though that 25 years ago, these sensations were achieved without a lot of software that help correct less perfect set-ups and excessive body fat!

Probably not how most owners use them today – but you certainly can!

The RS2 was available in 11 colors but the one typically associated with the car (and also the hardest one to come by today) is the so called Nogaro blue that you can still spec your RS with today. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was always only available as a combi, but actually four (!) RS2 sedans/hatchbacks were built as well. One of these is today in the Audi museum, two apparently somewhere in the Middle-East, and the location of the fourth is unknown.

If you’re in the market for an RS2, I suggest you forget about those an focus on the Avant. That certainly makes it easier and less expensive, but a good RS2 is still not easy to come by, and certainly not a bargain. Of the almost 3000 built between 1994-1996, many have not survived and others are of course cherished by their owners. There are currently 11 for sale in all of Germany and three here in Switzerland, which price-wise come in somehwere between EUR 60′-80′. Whether that’s a good deal or not is up to you, but the RS2 certainly deserves its place among 90’s icons as the first of a legendary range of RS models and a power combi in the purest sense!

Almost 30 years of wonderful RS cars!

What’s new in the EV world?

Although EV’s are not the focus of this blog, there’s quite a bit happening on the EV front so that I feel it’s worth giving you a small round-up of what I believe to be the most important recent developments. The first thing to point out is obviously that the long awaited jump in EV sales is now really happening. The below graphic gives a nice illustration of where sales are surging (China, Europe and the US in order of importance) and where not (somewhat surprisingly Japan, where EV’s make up less than 5% of all EV sales worldwide. Japan has a lot of hybrids however). Putting these numbers in context shows that EV’s hereby represented 12% of all cars sold in China, approximately 11% in Europe (including PHEV) and 3% in the US. So the growth is clearly there and accelerating, but we’re still not at the point where EV’s are close to taking over.

Tesla claims the two top spots in the US with its models 3 and Y, and the Model 3 is the best selling EV in Europe as well, ahead of the VW ID3, the Renault Zoe and the VW ID4. In China the top seller is a car I’m sure you’re all familiar with – the Wuling Hong Guang MINI EV. No? The Wuling is a Chinese mini electric car, the size that actually makes most sense for an EV. It’s ahead of, yep, the Tesla Model 3 and Y. It’s worth noting that not only do the two Teslas claim the top spots in most markets, they are also by far the most expensive of the EV top sellers, making their numbers even more impressive. It’s also interesting that even in the US, the two other models S and X don’t see many buyers anymore.

The leading Chinese EV is rather small and not very aerodynamic

So much for existing sales, but much more interesting is looking at the new market entrants, and there’s quite a few of those. I’ll focus here on the ones I for different reasons believe are the most important: Mercedes with the EQS and other EV models now being rolled out as representative of the the in my view leading traditional brand, Lucid Motors as the most exciting new EV brand, and to round it off, why not a couple of electric pick-ups?

Mercedes-Benz landed a real PR punch a few weeks ago when it became the first car maker to receive the approval for level three self-driving in Germany. This is a major snub to Tesla but certainly not a coincidence. MB’s Swedish CEO Ola Källenius is not only using social media to the fullest, he’s also repositioning MB as a car maker that will exclusively be building EV’s by 2030. The EQS that came out a few months ago is the flagship in this regard, with the EQE (E-class) and other models now following. I’ve had the opportunity to study the EQS inside and out several times although I haven’t driven it yet, and it’s very surprising to me hearing how various commentators put it on par with the “normal” S-class. Let’s be clear, and take my word for it: if you forget the giant screens and look at other interior materials and perceived quality, the EQS is nowhere near an S-class. At the same time it’s however far ahead of Tesla and other EV’s, but so it should, given it’s also quite a bit more expensive at around EUR 200′ fully equipped. You get a pretty fully equipped, “normal” S-class for that kind of money…

Keep your eyes on the screens – what is below is less fun…

Lucid Motors is the new star on the EV sky and perhaps one that can challenge Mercedes on the luxury EV throne. Lucid’s CEO Peter Rawlinson was previously part of the senior management at Tesla, and the Lucid Air of which a few thousand have been delivered by now is an impressive large sedan that scores high both in quality, space and materials (although given what I mention on the EQS above, I’d like to be the judge of that first). The drive train is no less impressive with up to 1111hp in the top model Air Dream Edition, and a range of around 800 km (in ideal conditions). Interestingly the battery pack operates at 900V which complemented by its size helps speed up charging, something Lucid is happy to talk about. The company comes from California, the cars are built in Arizona and plans are to open up in Europe soon. There’s obviously always a risk with new brands, but Lucid has a lot going for it (including around USD 1bn of Saudi money).

The Lucid is a large car, however not a hatchback as you may think.

We will not see many of the other two EV’s I’ve chosen to mention here in Europe, but the US readers will have the opprtunity to enjoy them. They are both pick-ups, the first being the Hummer EV, easily recognized as a Hummer, meaning it still looks cool and is now fully electric. The roof can be removed in four different parts, and the Hummer also has a lot of other gadgets of the kind that seem to appeal to EV buyers. It’s also the only EV (actually, any car) in the market that can do the crab walk, meaning it can move forward diagonally. I have no clue what the practical side of that is, but I’m sure it’s fun. The second is less known until now, it’s also a US pick-up from a new brand called Rivian. The company has been around for ten years but it’s not until last year they showed their first car, the fully-electric R1T. It’s an interesting concept with quite a few interesting features which are new to the EV world, and it comes at an interesting price point around USD 75′ in the US.

Finally, let me bring you some stories of what life with an EV is like during the winter months in Europe. This is not some I’ve spent hours googling about, rather things I’ve picked up from friends or read about. It’s also not out of a wish to be mean to the EV collective, but it seems important to me that if the plan to have the whole world drive these, we need to know what’s going on out there – even in the European winter.

  • A colleague of mine set out from northern Europe to the French Alps in his Model S for a week’s skiing with the family. With around 1.000 km to drive, they needed to charge three times on the way there, as the real range in the winter months is only 250-300 kms. When they picked up the car from the (unheated) parking a week later, the battery was almost empty as it had lost a few km range every day by just being parked when it was cold outside. They just about made it to the next charging station.
  • A friend of mine put his Model X on support charging in northern Sweden as you’re supposed to, however the smaller, second battery that powers notably the screens froze, making the car unusable. I don’t know whether this was his fault or not but as a result the car had to be transported back to Stockholm on a tow truck, over 500 km away, since there was no garage in upper Sweden that could assist.
Not ideal when you’re 500 km away from the nearest garage…
  • A lady in Germany wanted to pick up her new electric VW herself at the factory in Wolfsburg to save the EUR 700 delivery costs VW required for sending it to Munich where she lives. That was a bad idea. The 600 km back home took her more than 12 hours with three charging stops. She was also freezing cold during the whole trip since the car apparently warned her from turning on the heating, as it would cost too much energy. VW told her she should have planned her charging stops better – but perhaps VW should build a car that would save her the work, as Tesla has been doing now for close to 10 years?

Let’s be clear on a couple of points. EV’s are an interesting alternative with a more efficient engine than a classical combustion engine – under certain conditions. In cold temperatures they are very far from the range claims being made, and also run into various other issues. Range anxiety during the winter months is thus very much still an issue. Also, some of the above problems could probably have been avoided by more informed buyers and owners, but as EV’s as rolled out in large numbers, we can certainly not demand of all drivers to be EV experts. Issues such as the above need to be solved by manufacturers, as spending 12 hours in an unheated car in the middle of winter shouldn’t be the future thrill of driving!

The Ferrari F8 is a supercar “bargain”!

If last week was all about the classic 911, today will be about something completely different, namely one of the latest creations from the legendary auto maker a bit further south, in Maranello. Ferrari has built many fantastic cars through the years and some of these have today reached truly astronomical valuations. All haven’t however and as all enthusiasts know, saying in advance which car will not only procure an immense driving pleasure (for this writer always the priority!) but also be a good investment is if not impossible, then at least very difficult, except of course for the very limited, small series versions. So without claiming to have any form of chrystal ball, today we’ll look at the Ferrari F8, a car that is still being built and I believe is perhaps one of the best supercar deals you can currently make.

Aggressive, purposeful, beautiful: the F8 Tributo

The F8 is a bit of a strange animal, namely something as rare as a facelift of a facelift. The line starts with the 458 introduced back in 2010, followed by the (face-lifted) 488 in 2015 and then from 2019 the F8 as Tributo (coupé) and Spider. In between there was however also the 488 Pista introduced in 2018, the lightweight version of the 488 and a car that in several aspects is close to the F8. The completely bonkers 3.9 litre, triple-turbo V8 engine with 720 hp and 770 Nm of torque is one of them, as are many other parts as well. Compared to the Pista, the F8 is however a very different drive, a much smoother and far less racy experience. And as I write this, the price difference between the two is huge, making the F8 an interesting proposition also compared to its most comparable predecessor.

Double rear lights and a hood with vibes from the F40!

In terms of design it takes at least a slightly trained eye to spot the difference between the 488 and the F8. It’s a matter of taste which front you find more purposeful, but the new design elements of the F8 contribute to 15% more downforce. Most would also agree that the F8’s rear where the double lights have been reintroduced looks better and contributes to a more aggressive look than on the 488. Noticeable is also the slatted, transparent engine cover in deference to another legendary V8 turbo-equipped Ferrari, the F40. The interior has an updated look compared to the 488, but this is not the fully digital experience: no big screens dominate the interior and most functions are still accessed through classic controls. The LED steering wheel helping you to perfect shifts on the track is standard in most markets but not in all, and it’s an option you should make sure is there.

The LED steering wheel is a “necessary” option

The F8 is thus one hell of a car, but is it a future classic? That’s a question I can’t answer, but there are a few reasons to think that it’s a surprisingly good investment in the segment of true supercars and thus at least potentially a good deal. The first of those is no doubt the engine. You see, the F8 is the last Ferrari – ever – to have a combustion V8 not combined with some kind of hybrid solution. You could say that it’s the culmination of the mid-engined V8 Ferrari concept that has been around for almost 50 years, since the legenday 308. The F8 may not sound as wonderful as a naturally aspirated 8- or 12-cylinder from Maranello, but then again you can’t have it all, and the power will certainly not disappoint anyone!

The culmination of Ferrari combustion V8’s!

Next to the engine the current price point is interesting, with pre-owned F8 Tributos starting at around EUR 250′-260′. Depending on options, this is at or slightly below the price as new. This is especially interesting as the F8 Spider trades at a clear premium and the large spread between the two isn’t really warranted. If it converges, chances are that it’s on the upside for the Tributo. It’s even more of a bargain if you compare the Tributo to the 488 Pista where you’ll be lucky to find a good car for EUR 100′ more. The McLaren 720, probably the most logical non-Ferrari competitor, is also at least 10% more expensive. In summary, Tributos may not start to climb in price tomorrow, especially as long as they are still being built, but there’s good reason to believe that cars currently on the market will hold their value well and that this could be an interesting entry point in a longer perspective.

The Spider currently commands a bit too much of a premium

Finally a point that is valid for the 458 and 488 as well, namely that since 10 years Ferrari offers a 7-year service package on most models including the 458, the 488 and the F8, actually extendable to 14 years in total and following the car, not the owner. This obvioulsy does wonders for the cost of owning. Most F8’s will also still be within the 3-year factory guarantee time which can also be extended. As the F8 is a better car than the 458/488, the risk of owning one of the best supercars out there has thus never been lower.

If you agree with me on the above and decide that life is too short not to own a supercar and if you don’t plan to use it on track every week, then the F8 is a great choice – under a few conditions. Choose your colour wisely and if the cheapest F8 on the market is blue with a greeen interior, don’t buy it. Also, do make sure the car has certain key options. The list is basically endless especially in terms of various carbon applications, but some of these definitely help brighten up especially the interior. The LED steering wheel does so as well, as does the JBL audio system. If you complement that with the reverse camera, the lift system and the sports seats, you have yourself a nice package with the last non-hybrid, non fully-digital Ferrari that gives you all the driving pleasure. Time to start browsing!

A life-long passion for the 911

I’ve been a car enthusiast for as long as I can remember. It started with counting antennas on cars from a very young age and has grown exponentially (as virologists love to put it these days) ever since. My interest has always been general in nature, basically as reflected in the content of this blog. I can feel just as passionately about a beautiful oldtimer or an 80’s legend as about a modern supercar. That’s not the case for everyone though. For many, their love of cars is tied to one particular model, one of which they know all there is to know and which follows them through the years. I don’t know which category you fit in, but since a few weeks I know which one my friend Philip belongs to. His category is the one of air-cooled 911 passionistas, and his story is a wonderful one of true passion for the Zuffenhausen legend. We therefore sat down for lunch back in December for me to understand how his life-long interest developed.

Philip lives in Zurich and I’ve known him for many years. Coming from a Swiss-Swedish family, he grew up in Sweden but spent a lot of time in Switzerland around the capital Berne but also in beautiful Ascona in the southern, Italian-speaking part. As newly retired, he today splits his time between Zurich and Ascona, when the weather allows using his tangerine-coloured (blood orange) 1972 911 2.4T. The way there has however been a long one that starts in Philip’s young years in the Swedish town of Uppsala, as Swedish readers (and potentially some others) may know an unspectacular mid-sized Swedish city mostly known for its university and certainly not for its car scene, and even less so back in the 60’s. This stood in stark contrast to Ascona where back in the day, Pilip tells me you regularly saw Lamborghini Miuras and Ferrari 365 (Daytonas) on the streets. It wasn’t one of these that would become the passion of Philip’s life though – it was the 911 2.4T Targa his neighbours in Uppsala had parked outside their house, one of less than a handful 911’s in the whole town. At first it was the sound of the air-cooled engine that captivated him, so different from the Italian beauties. Then there was also the fact that the neighbours drove their car all year around, very much unlike anything you would do with the Italian fullbloods, had they ever seen the Uppsala winter climate.

Uppsala in the 1960’s – very far from Ascona…

The 911 2.4 was presented in the German auto magazine Auto, Motor & Sport nr 23/71. It was Philip who told me this, he was 14 years old at the time and the reason he still knows is that he kept that number of the magazine for more than 30 years. His grandmother in Switzerland sent it to him and with at the time a very limited grasp of German, Philip went over it time and time again until he understood it. The seeds had been sown but it would take more than 20 years and a number of other cars for the dream to result in Philip’s first own 911. By now he had moved to Switzerland and met a car dealer outside of Zurich, one of those you would go to when you needed a special car. Of course he knew “just the car” when hearing that Philip wanted a 911, but when Philip heard that “just the car” in the dealer’s view was a 1987 white convertible with a blue top, he wasn’t fully convinced.

In fact the dealer had found not only one but three 911’s and had lined them up in a nice diagonal outside his shop by the time Philip arrived. With the late afternoon sun shedding its mellow light on the street, it was immediately clear to Philip that he white one with the blue top was indeed THE car. it was a 1987 911 3.2 and a US import meaning it was equipped with A/C and an electric top, both quite rare options in Europe. He would enjoy and love every moment of his first 911 for eight years until 2002 but by then, he had his sight set on something else – an original 911 Speedster. This also tells you that Philip didn’t collect cars. Being of a practical nature his line of reasoning is clearly that you can’t drive more than one car at any time. That’s usually a sensible approach but as we’ll see, when it comes to old 911’s, things are a bit different….

A 1987 964 3.2 cab in white, although Philip’s was blue inside

Today an original 911 Speedster is beyond most people’s budgets, but you need only to go back 20 years for that to be different. Philip went about finding the Speedster in precisely the right way. He consulted the dealer from eight years earlier who of course knew of exactly the right car and was happy to join Philip on the two-hour drive to check it. When they arrived he told Philip to stay in the car. “I’ll take care of this” is all he said. An hour passed, Philip grew impatient and went up towards the seller’s house but when he was about to knock, the dealer opened the door and said “I’m almost done with him”. Luckily the indicated violence was at most psychological but it did result in a final price of around CHF 90.000, a good price at the time and obviously a bargain today. What will always remain a secret is how much the seller really got and how much the dealer took in between…

If Philip had loved his first 911 deeply, the Speedster wasn’t his thing at all. The car that is a dream to many of us was in his view impractical, extremely loud and with a top that would let water in when it rained. So he went on to sell it a few years later, unfortunately before prices started to climb. He got his money back though and what followed was two far more practical 964’s and also a -94 964 WTL, a 30-year limited 911 series. Philip then switched to a 993 that he kept for eight years and with which he participated in several classic rallies. Other regular participants in those events included 356’s and original 911’s (Urelfer), and it was when seeing one of these that it dawned on him: what he really wanted and subsequently set out to get was the car which had started his love story with the 911 in the first place: an early -72-73′ 190 hp 911 2.4S. This was the most powerful of the three models sold at the time, with the 2.4E (165 hp) and 2.4T (130 hp) being the other two (the T actually put out 140 hp in the US version where like the S and E, it was fuel injected).

A nice Speedster starts at around EUR 200′ these days

I consider myself a relatively experienced used car buyer, and anything else would certainly be pretty disappointing given how many cars have come and gone through the years. And yet, compared to a real expert such as the one Philip called upon when deciding to find the perfect 911 2.4S, I’m not even a beginner. There are people out there who know everything there is to know about a car and by that, I really mean everything. Philip’s expert whom he subsequently travelled around Europe with in search of the perfect 2.4S (and whom he met through the 964 WTL mentioned above) would not only notice residual marks from an engine number having been scraped off, but also that the new stars that had been engraved didn’t have the right number of arms. He would notice very minor chassis imbalances and imperfections and would use a tool to check the thickness of the paint in different places as an indication of potential body repairs. He would use surgical instruments in investigations of rust in every hidden body pocket. He would do it all. And of course, if you do it all, finding the perfect car is a near impossibility. This is what Philip noted as well, as potential candidates came and went over the coming years, none being good enough in the expert’s view.

I think there are a couple of lessons to be learnt here for all those in search of their dream car. Firstly, whilst you should always make sure to buy a fundamentally healthy and non-accidented car, you need to define your tolerance for imperfections, both visual and in documentation. Although there’s certainly nothing wrong with trying to find the perfect car with a complete documentation, that requires not only true expertise but also (lots of) time and money. Not only that, when you finally get your hands on the perfect item, will you still dare to drive it and participate in those oldtimer gatherings and rallies you dreamt about, or will it just sit in your garage? On the other side of this spectrum there are the “rally pros” who don’t care too much about the looks, only being concerned by the mechanics. They certainly rev their engines and drive their cars hard, but the cars don’t necessarily look as they were meant to. In between these extremes is where most classic cars would land. This is where my old Triump TR4 was: a nice car but with visual imperfections, and lots of documents, but not all. An expert would thus have found many faults with it, yet for the use I made of it during close to ten years it was perfect. If you’re able to define your level of tolerance ahead of, or early in the buying process, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favour!

Whether THE perfect car is original or not is a matter of taste

Secondly, although it should be obvious but isn’t always as we humans tend to be social creatures, the seller is not your friend. He won’t be coming to any dinner parties and you won’t meet his wife. His objective is another than yours, namely to get as much money from you as fast as possible. This certainly doesn’t mean that everyone person selling a car is dishonest and deserves to be treated as such, but believing everything a seller says can also be a recipe for disaster. A case in point was one of the 911’s my friend Philip looked at, the one where the old engine number had been removed and a new “matching numbers” one had been engraved, however with incorrectly engraved stars. This car was sold by a well reputed Porsche dealership in Switzerland, not by some back yard dealer. They claimed not being aware of the problem which was maybe true, who knows. The point is obviously that if you pay for matching numbers you should get that, just as you should get whatever else the seller claims to be selling. If you’re unsure, get someone to help you, as you definitely want to be safe rather than sorry.

With each car Philip visited with his expert friend his own knowledge obviously grew as well so that he also started to look at cars on his own, at least for the first round. Doing that and I guess also growing a bit impatient about finding his car and thus increasing his personal tolerance level, he enlargened his search somewhat and also included potential 2.4T’s and 2.4E’s. Doing that he would finally find his dream car, the tangerine 911 2.4T that has been his ever since. It looked perfect to him and once the expert got to see it, even he didn’t find more than some minor imperfections. Today Philip is an active owner and driver, notably participating in classic rallies and a member in the Swiss Porsche Urelfer Club, taking part in their various events. He’s optimized his car somewhat, notably with sports seats (not originals but replicas close enough for anyone but a real expert to be fooled…), and he certainly doesn’t sound like he would be selling the car any time soon.

Philip in his car during a 911 gathering

As we reached the end of our lunch I was thinking to myself that this was perhaps where this long love story with the air-cooled 911 that started on the snowy streets of Uppsala 50 years earlier comes to an end. As I put my pen down, Philip looked at me and said “you have to understand, the 911 is much more than a car to me, it’s a life-long passion”. I was certainly convinced by then, but at the same time this gave me a glimmer of hope. As all of us suffering from the car virus know, Philip may think this is his last 911, but you can never be sure. Before leaving the table, I therefore made sure that if he changes his mind and decides to sell his beautiful 2.4T, he lets me know first!

An English lord has moved in!

Regular readers of this blog may remember my somewhat confused reflections around what is the perfect family car from back in October, after I had sold my XC90 and was looking to replace it. In that post I made a pretty clear case for the superiority of a station wagon over an SUV except for those living in a snowy place or otherwise needing real offroad capabilities. I also pointed out that buying a 500 hp SUV doesn’t make much sense at all given such an engine comes more to its right in a car with a lower center of gravity – i.e. a station wagon. Well, what can I say? I’ve replaced the XC90, that much is true, but somehow I forgot the rest of what I wrote back then…

To be honest, I was really set on buying a station wagon. Those that felt a bit special and that were on my list did however all have the racing attributes of my old E63 AMG that I didn’t want. I’d also point out that I haven’t changed my mind on the “M” or “AMG”-like SUV’s out there, they really don’t make much sense. Finally I also decided not to break the bank this time, at least not at the point of purchase. As all enthusiasts know running costs are less painful, and also less visible to those that may have differing opinions on how family money is to be spent… So within those parameters, I finally found something that felt very special indeed. It’s not a station wagon but rather the most famous SUV of them all. It’s also not built in Stuttgart but rather in Solihull, in the middle of the UK. Since a couple of months, I’m the happy owner of a Range Rover L405, more exactly a 2015 5.0 V8 SC Autobiography in black on black. And so far, I absolutely love it!

It’s big, black and bloody nice!

I’ve never really had Range on my real list of candidates but every time I experienced one (and I’ve actually driven all generations of the Range), I remember it to this day as something quite unique and special, with many positive memories and associations. As things happen, it was by coincidence that I saw a big Range on the road and realized I didn’t know what they were trading at (which is rare for this writer). The very same day the snow fell heavily and my son landed a job as ski instructor in the Alps, meaning I would need to drive him there with a bed and some other stuff. After all we do live in Switzerland, so maybe an SUV wasn’t too bad after all, and maybe, just maybe, it could be a Range? The plan took shape as I realized that budget-wise, it would be possible to find “the” car within what I had set as limit.

In terms of models it could never be anything else than the big Range for me, meaning the L405, built since 2012 and not replaced by a new model until this year (the new Range being rolled out as I write this but the waiting list is apparently at least two years because of the delivery issues of components we all know of by now). I guess a good testament to the design of the L405 is that although the new model is a brand new car, it’s also immediately recognizable. The L405 only received some very minor face-lifts through its life, the most important being the introduction of a more digital cockpit in 2017 and the new engine line-up with a hybrid solution a couple of years later. I didn’t feel the premium these model years command were worth it, and the hybrid solution around a four-cylinder petrol engine didn’t feel very convincing. Speaking to people who know, it also didn’t sound like it was the right engine for the car. 2015 was a good compromise as initial hickups had been sorted by then without any price premium over previous model years.

Those turbine wheels are 22″ and nothing for the handyman…

The design has thus held for more than a decade and is both elegant and timeless with a presence like few other cars (and none of its smaller siblings), and the engines have also been around a while. I disregarded the petrol-six straight away as everyone with experience seem to agree it’s too small for the car and because of that is the most issue-prone, notably with a cambelt rather than a chain as on the larger engines. That left the 8-cylinder, 4.4 litre diesel with 340 hp and all the torque you could wish for, and the 5-litre petrol, supercharged V8 with 510 hp. In Europe the diesel probably makes up around 70-80% of production with the petrol V8 taking perhaps 10%. Of course that petrol V8 is also a representative of the club of fabulous engines that will never be built again…

I drove both and although the diesel certainly makes sense for the car type, and especially for those towing regularly, the petrol makes the car feel much lighter and dynamic. Its instantaneous response is much more attractive than the inevitable initial lag of the diesel and if you push it, the petrol exhibits quite a sporty character. Obviously that’s not the proper way to drive a Range, and this is also why this is not another 500 hp sporty SUV. The car basically incites you to proceed with grace, meaning the engine will most of the time the engine humm between 2′-2.5′ rpm and not be pushing you to floor it. The power is always there should you need it and when you do, both the sound and the acceleration are all you could ever ask for. To me, that’s the perfect combination and exactly what I was looking for. And yes, you pay a price for this at the pump but not as high as some would have you believe. In a mix of city, country and motorway at legal speed + inflation, I’m currently averaging around 13 litres. It wasn’t less in my E63 AMG.

A wonderful engine of a type we’ll never see again!

Size of engine is one thing, size of the whole car another. No doubt the Range is a big car, but appearances are also treacherous. At just under 5 metres it’s not longer than most full-sized SUV’s, and it’s not more than 3-4 cms wider. The difference is in the height of 183 cm which also makes it look big. The flip side of that is of course next to space also the unequalled seating position and visibility. The inside also illustrates quite well that the priority has been put on passenger comfort over maximum luggage space. Sure, the car has a large boot, but the emphasis has clearly been on cabin space and creating a luxury transport for four. The space up front is great, the comfort in the electrically-adjustable back seats even better. Range Rover have perfectioned this art ever since the first Range in the early 70’s, and today’s result is nothing but sensational.

The higher seating position combined with large glass areas means your visibility is unequalled. The suspension comfort is sublime, as is the 29-loudspeaker Meridien sound system. And then there’s the materials which make it very clear that plastic isn’t something the guys up in Solihull think should be used in the interior of a car unless strictly necessary. I’ve driven most and probably sat in all premium SUV’s on the market and without exagerrating I can say that the quality of materials and solidity in every detail puts a Range somewhere between the Germans and the other “RR” brand over in Crewe. It really is that good.

The best interior I’ve been in this side of Crewe!

Driving-wise I was also positively surprised. The handling, without being sporty in any way, is more neutral and less understeered than many other SUV’s around corners and sublime on longer stretches. The steering is a tad too light but surprisingly precise. And then there’s obviously the off-road capabilities that I won’t be using, but where as a small example the virgin drive to the Alps with my son’s stuff happened in the middle of a heavy snowfall with people parked on the roadside putting on chains. Of course the Range couldn’t be bothered less. On the downside, it’s clear that if a modern infotainment unit and 37.000 nuances of interior lightning is your thing, you should look elsehwere. I find Google Maps on my phone all I need in terms of navigation, and the Range still offers five interior colours which in my book is plenty.

Slightly suprisingly, finding the right car was complicated by many candidates not having some options I didn’t want to live without, like an adaptive cruise control and head-up display which apparently isn’t stuff most Range owners find useful. The colour was also important to me, the car is elegant in many colours but I wanted a bit of a sporty feel which in my view only comes in grey or black. With this in mind I managed to locate the car you see in the pictures, a 2015 model with one previous owner, a perfect service history and a 2-year warranty from a garage really specializing in supercars and with a very strong reputation. That I think is the right way to go about it.

On this day early December, only a G-wagon and me didn’t use chains

What I also noticed during the buying process was firstly that most cars are in really good condition even with high mileage, a testament both the quality but also to the fact that first-time buyers of these usually are a bit elder (no comments here please) with enough money to service the cars properly. Secondly it’s really nice to see that there are a number of owners’ clubs that you can turn to and where you find very engaged and dedicated people who know far more about Ranges than I do and are very happy to help. It was such an owners’ club that helped me in choosing the engine option and, given the car’s somewhat mixed quality reputation, it was also the owners of Range Rovers that convinced me that this seems to be more an issue for people who actually don’t own a Range. I can of course only hope I’m right here, but a 2-year warranty is very helpful in this regard.

A diesel or petrol Range in perfect condition from model years 2014-2016 (to me the sweet spot) and with a mileage of 50.000-100.000 km will be yours for EUR 60′-70′ in Europe, a bit less than half the price as new. The problem can be finding a low mileage car as these tend to be driven long distances, but with a proper service history and a guarantee, a higher mileage isn’t really a worry. From 2017 onwards there’s at least an EUR 20′ jump in price which I don’t think is warranted all else equal (although it does get you a more modern infotainment unit). As you’ve understood by now, so far I’m really happy with my choice and it feels like the Range is the perfect complement to my 650 convertible and will stay with me a long time. Could it be that I’ve found the perfect combination? Time will tell!