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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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 however gives you all the driving pleasure. Time to start browsing!
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.
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….
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).
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
2021 is slowly coming to an end and it’s time to summarize it through the eyes of the Thrill of Driving, in other words this blog. In a few words, it’s been a truly great car year and that many of you seem to get some inspiration around your car dreams through this blog makes us very proud! There’s around three times as many of you this year compared to 2020, which at the time was also a record year, and as readers you’re part of a truly global group, with most of you coming from the US followed by the UK, our native Sweden and Switzerland where I live, but with other countries following all the way down under to Australia! We can only thank you for your interest and fidelity and in this last post of the year, I thought we’d look back at some of your favourite readings in 2021 as well as some other noticeable things that may follow us into 2022.
Looking at your favourite car posts from the year through the lense of the dream garage, a concept I’m sure quite a few of us regularly phantasize about, most of you would like to put something like the following mix behind your garage door…
The sports car would be a Maserati 3200 GT / Coupé GT, a Lamborghini Countach or a Ferrari Testarossa. Obviously the cheapest option here is the Maserati and that post, by now more than two years old, continues to be your favourite. So far that hasn’t improved resale values though so it’s not too late to make that dream come through – go for it! You’ll need a bigger budget for a Testarossa and (especially) a Countach, but you get far more drama as well, including the pleasure of a mechanical 12-cylinder!
Those of you with family needs seem mostly to opt for one of the two grand daddys of SUV’s, however with very different profiles. On one hand there’s the classy Range Rover Classic, on the other the very cool MB AMG G63. Obviously these two don’t really compare and the RR could be in the oldtimer category as well, although there are firms out there that bring them to a modern standard, as highlighted in the post on restomods. Some of you still prefer the charm of a good old station wagon and many of you like the the Volvo 850 T5-R! That’s great as long as you make sure it’s yellow!
There’s very little competition on what the convertible would be, namely the MB R129 SL that I also wrote about almost two years ago but which continues to go strong. Again, this blog luckily doesn’t influence resale values (yet) so it’s not too late! Those that prefer adding an 80’s coupé as their third car would instead go for the wonderful Alfa GTV6 I wrote about back in May. And those who want what is still considered by many as the best car of all time are by now on the lookout for a MB 500 E as per my recent post.
Other topics that have caught your interest include F1, and how could that be any different given the fabulous season which just ended. It will really be interesting to see where we head next year given all the changes that await, as described back in October.
As we’re about to turn the page on 2021, what can we expect for 2022? The first thing to note is that if you’re in the market for a new car, you’re in for a wait, and it could be a very long one. Most manufacturers struggle with supply chain disruptions caused by everything from Covid to the conflict around Taiwan and if your car isn’t in stock, it could easily be up to two years before you get it. This is something that risks not improving anytime soon as China continues to close down whole regions at the sight of a Covid infection, something that is highly disruptive. Then again, why would you bother? As this blog hopefully helps illustrate there are always great options among cars already built, and the price of these is increasing as we speak given new cars can’t be delivered, so don’t wait too long!
Sales of electrical cars are exploding (although from a very low base), so there’s reason to think that 2022 will see the large break-through that arguably already started in 2021, also since all large manufacturers are now in the game. That’s all good and great but contrary to what you would believe from mainstream media, we’re nowhere near EV’s taking over completely. They still make up low-single percentages in the US and at most low double-digits in some EV-friendly/subsidized other markets. With the push for green energy leading to strange decisions around varous sources of base power (namely to close them down without a replacement) we’d also better make sure we can satisfy the rising energy demand not only EV’s currently give rise to. As I write this, it doesn’t look very promising at least from a European perspective. It would also be helpful if we can find some substitute for those problematic metals in the batteries that I highlighted in my post on EV’s almost a year ago.
Finally in my personal garage I need to tell you what happened after the XC90 left. The search was large and covered various concepts as you may remember from my post at the time. I’m happy to say it’s come to an end and that I’m thrilled with the outcome! More about that early next year along with the regular mix of old and new, classic and sports car, F1 and an opinion here and there. If you have ideas on what the blog should contain, do bring them on, I read all suggestions and try to take them into account. And please subscribe – then you’re sure not to miss anything, and you help us making the blog even better!
A happy, prosperous and healthy new year 2022 to you all – may it be full with great drives!
1293 – that’s the total number of laps of this past F1 season in all 22 races. Years where the title has been decided in the last race are rare, not to speak of the two top contenders being on equal points before the final race. A year where the title is decided in the last lap of the last race of the whole season is at least to me unheard of in the modern era, and yet that’s what happened last Sunday. Max Verstappen took his first world championship title, equally a first for a Dutch driver, and we all learnt who Michael Masi is, more on that later. You could safely say that anyone who still claims F1 is boring after this season has very high demands!
Even if it was at the risk of being at the end of the line in terms of commentaries on the season, I didn’t want to write this post last Sunday since given how things turned out, it wasn’t excluded that there could be an after-play during the week. Luckily though, it hasn’t really come to that. Mercedes did indeed protest against the un-lapping of only some cars in the before-last lap. The protest was however turned down, as was the subsequent appeal earlier this week, and whatever you think of the outcome, no one, and certainly not Lewis, would have liked the title to be decided anywhere else than on the race track. There is however reason to think that the king may have lost his crown not just for this year, even though any kind of bet on what will happen next year given the massive changes that I detailed earlier this year (see here) is difficult to make. Before going into all that, let’s however start with a short recap of the last part of the fabulous 2021 season.
There were six races remaining after my last update after the Turkish GP and it was pretty clear already then that this would go down to the wire. Bottas won in Turkey, the last race of the season where another driver than Max and Lewis finished first or second. After that Max would go on to win in the US, Mexico and Abu Dhabi, with Lewis winning three in a row in Brazil, Qatar and Saudi. This made it very clear that Mercedes was back in the game and that the car, which in some races earlier in the season hand’t looked that competitive anymore, was again as fast as earlier in the season. The only problem for Mercedes was that so was Red Bull. This was also reflected by Bottas and Perez, who both ended the season strongly with each two third places over the last six races. And if anyone needed any proof of Perez’s quality, that was to be found in his heroic driving to keep Lewis behind him during a few laps in Abu Dhabi – to me, perhaps the best driving of the season. This also meant that Valtteri ended his career with Mercedes with dignity before leaving for Alfa Romeo next year. Both Mercedes and Lewis have appreciated him for his loyalty and fairness, but it’s also true that he lacks the final percent needed to win races, and that both Lewis and Max have tons of.
Behind the two top teams it stayed a close call for third between McLaren and Ferrari, where in both cases the drivers are also close to each other. In the end Ferrari came out on top with Sainz ranking fifth in the drivers’ championship and Ferrari third in the constructors’. McLaren is not far behind though and Ricciardo certainly doesn’t regret his move from Renault since winning the Italian GP in September. Internally though he ranked second to Norris, as Leclerc did to Sainz at Ferrari. Alpine (ex Renault) is not far behind and forms so to say a third group with AlphaTauri, and Tsunoda on AlphaTauri was perhaps the driver that improved the most in the last part of the season. In the last part of the classification Aston Martin was clearly ahead of Williams and Haas, but not on par with any of the better ranked teams.
Things really heated up two weeks earlier in Jeddah when during the race Max and Lewis on several occasions were very close both on and off the track and Max at one point, when ordered to give back his position to Lewis, decided to brake heavily on the straight with Lewis right behind him. Lewis hit him, luckily only lightly, but it’s difficult to see what Max’s plan was here (and no, he didn’t just lift his foot as he claimed, the braking was measured at over 2G…). That and the rest of the race along with the fact that it put both of them equal in points was obviously enough to have everyone on their toes for the last race. For those in my generation, this almost reminded us of Senna and Prost back in the day and it was really hoping for the best but fearing the worst that we went into last week in Abu Dhabi.
Things couldn’t have looked better for Max before the race, starting from pole. They couldn’t have looked worse after the first straight as Lewis took the lead after what must have been the best start of the season. With Verstappen expected to take the start, not only because he was on P1 but also being on softer tires, he made a perfect dive into turn seven, pushing Lewis off the track, but Lewis managed to re-join in the lead. The stewards didn’t see it as requiring an investigation, and I agree. Max’s move was perfect and Lewis chose not to break in order not to lose position. Lewis then kept his distance and the race was rather quiet until a virtual safety car phase around 20 laps from the end. Max came in directly to change tires, but Lewis didn’t. He questioned this directly on the radio, saying it was kind of a risky decision. Oh how right he would be… After the VSC phase there was 20 laps to go with Max around 18 seconds behind, and it became clear pretty quickly that he wouldn’t catch Lewis. And then with five laps to go Latifi decided to create some excitement by putting his car in the barrier. The ensuing final safety car phase would change everything and make Michael Masi famous.
Masi is the F1 race director and thereby the guy who decides what happens in different situations during the race, such as for example the un-lapping of lapped cars during safety car phases. As any race director would be, Masi has sometimes been criticized during the season for his decisions, but no decision has been as controversial as the one last Sunday to let only the cars between Lewis and Max un-lap before the final lap, and then pulling the SC car in quicker than usual, such as to leave one lap of racing. With Max right behind Lewis on completely fresh tires (he used the fact that contrary to Lewis he wouldn’t lose any positions to change tires again during the SC phase), it was pretty clear how it would end.
The rules state that any cars should be allowed to un-lap, which Mercedes understands as all cars, and Red Bull as any, meaning not necessarily all. That’s a pretty good example of a not very clear rule. It’s however important to remember that un-lapping all cars, if done in time, wouldn’t have changed the outcome, and not un-lapping any would potentially not have done so either – even if there was only one lap remaining I would think that all drivers between Max and Lewis would more or less have thrown themselves off the track to let Max by. It’s however clear that Masi’s decision to pull the SC car quickly came out of a desire to see the season ending racing, and even though we all like and sympathize with that, it’s obviously not in the rules. Then again, had Mercedes changed tires on Lewis’ car during the VSC phase as they very well could have done, and as Lewis wanted to, he would have been in a far better position to fend off Max during the last lap. We’ll never know if it would have been enough and as Mercedes has also realized this week, it is what it is, and it’s in no way undeserved for Max.
Max’s full season and career so far couldn’t be more impressive. When he came to Toro Rosso in 2015 at the age of 17 he became the youngest driver in an F1 race, and he has since won 20 of them since joining Red Bull in 2016 where he’ll stay until at least 2023. Racing runs in his blood with his father Jos also being an old F1 driver who competed for Benetton back in the day. What all drivers mention as outstanding with Max is his aggressiveness and winning instinct which is second to none, including Lewis. It may be over the top sometimes but it always is with the top guys (perhaps with the exception of Lewis…). This is thus a well deserved title and I’d bet it’s not the last one. For Lewis the future risks getting harder in general with the immensely talented George Russell now taking Valtteri’s place. His instinct looks to be pretty comparable to Max’s, so Lewis may be up for the fight of his life to reclaim his title. We’ll know how it all turned out at the end of next year but for now, big congratulations to Max Verstappen, the F1 world champion in 2021!
There was a time when Mercedes-Benz was led by engineers as opposed to accountants. This notably meant that a car’s price would be determined by what it cost to build and not by what accountants and even more suspect marketing people would say it should cost. Interestingly, this period which lasted until some time around the mid-90’s (a bit of an argument here) is also when MB’reached the summit of car build quality. Stepping into an MB from this period even today is impressive and conveys a feeling of something that is truly unbreakable. Unfortunately the engineers lost out to the accountants in the end and ever since Mercedes, although good, has never rached the same level of unbreakable quality as in the golden period around the 80’s.
At the time the Stuttgart-based brand was however not only well-known for build quality but also for being especially appreciated by elderly men wearing hats. Elegant, luxurious and as said with perfect quality, sure, but nowhere on the fun-to-drive radar. So if I say W124 to you (or if you prefer early 90’s E-class), chances are that you picture an owner who has very little to do with the picture that pops up in your head when I say BMW M5 from the same period. This was a true problem for Mercedes – until the engineers decided to do something about it. The end product was called the Mercedes-Benz 500 E and is still considered by some as the best car ever built.
To understand the context we need to go back to the 70’s oil crises and the fact that Mercedes had walked right into these with the big S-class equipped with two massive V8 petrol engines at 6.3 and 6.9 litres. There was an urgent need to downsize meaning smaller engines but also building a smaller car, or as it turned out actually two, the W201 and the W124. It would have been surprising for an engineer-led company to appoint a flashy Italian to design their new car, but they did. Or at least he was Italian. Bruno Sacco was at the time working in Mercedes’s safety department and most probably had no clue how legendary he would be considered as a designer a couple of decades and a few design projects later, but those that cared to look a bit closer could already in the W124 see the genius of an engineer-safety-designer at work. How exactly? Well consider the following.
It may have looked a bit boxy but with a wind drag factor of 0.26, the W124 was one of the most aerodynamic cars ever built at the time. The back lights had ribs such as to avoid snow clogging in winter. The single-arm windshield wiper covered 83% of the windscreen and its movement meant it was never lifted off the screen by the wind at high autobahn speeds. And the two side mirrors had a different shape, not enough to disturb the overall design but just enough to ensure an optimal angle and captured area on both sides. If that isn’t good design at work, then I don’t know what is. Sure, the interior was perhaps not the most inspired ever imagined, but it was oh so solid, and everything was intuitively where you expected it to be. And on the 500 E, the squared textile used for the standard seats looked even better than the optional leather.
The W124 (and the W201) thus brought the required downsizing in an attractive and almost revolutionary design. What the new cars didn’t bring initially was however something that allowed Mercedes to compete with the BMW M5 in its home market and with the new kid on the block in the US – Lexus and its smooth V8. The solution was to be found in a heavily modified and modernized version of the inhouse V8 also used in the SL. With a power output of 320-326 hp however, it also meant that many other components had to be re-inforced, and many of these were also taken from the SL. The end result was a 500 E that was wider than a normal E-class, so wide that it no longer fitted on the production band in Mercedes’ Stuttgart factory. And that in turn meant the start of one of the most bizarre production routines of any car in any brand’s history.
Notably thanks to the new cars, Mercedes stood on pretty solid financial footing at the time, something Porsche in nearby Zuffenhausen could only dream of. With an ageing 911 and massive problems to find an accepted replacement, Porsche was on the brink of bankruptcy and looking to make money wherever they could, and since production of the 959 had ended, its production band was at a standstill. Therefore, when Mercedes called (and rumour has it some local politiciants may have lifted the phone as well) to see if Porsche could possibly help putting together the 500 E, they didn’t have to wait long for a positive answer. But this was not the case of Mercedes sending an E-class to Porsche and getting a 500 E back, far from it. It’s also not the case that Porsche helped on the development of the 500 E as they did with the Audi RS2 in the same period, and as some 500 E ads today screaming “Porsche!!” would have you believe. The 500 E was a true Mercedes car, built with Mercedes parts, that Porsche helped put together – at least partly.
A regular E-class with body and drivetrain would be delivered to Porsche who would put it together, including widening the fenders ever so discretly a couple of cm on each side. The car would then be returned to Mercedes to be painted. It would then be sent back to Porsche for fitting of all the remaining parts, and after that be returned to again Mercedes for a final quality control. Sounds overly complicated and expensive? Yes on both accounts and the process took about three weeks for each car. It also contributed to the 500 E being about 1/4 more expensive than a BMW M5. The engineers at Mercedes just shrug their shoulders and pointed to the fact that this was the true cost of building the car. In a way they were right, but luckily efficiency has improved since. Quality-wise however, those who know claim that the 500 E was even more solid than a regular E-class, as if that was possible…
I haven’t had the pleasure to drive a 500 E but speaking to people who have and having indeed heard the V8 roar, I have no problem at all believing what tests at the time also said, namely that this was a true high-performance sedan that not only looked right but also drove right, thus not only beating an M5 in outright speed. It thus brought not only what people expected of a Mercedes, but also what they didn’t and which until then had only been found in Munich.
The W124 in all its different iterations was built during 13 years between 1984 and 1997, with the 500 E as part of the production between 1990 and 1995 (called 500 E until 1993 and E 500 therafter). Two other eight-cylinder siblings are worth mentioning, the slightly de-tuned 400 E, mainly intended to compete with Lexus in the US market and built in parallel to the 500 E, and the E 60 AMG, built in 1993-1994 as a more powerful version of the 500 E. Back in the day the 400 E was the bargain of the lot, producing 40 hp and 80 Nm less but also costing DM 40.000 less. Today that’s still the case as good 400 E’s can be had for as little as EUR 15.000. The E 60 AMG was much more expensive than the 500 E as new, but also had 60 hp and 110 Nm more. Should you be lucky to find one today it will cost you far more than EUR 100.000. The 500 E comes in in between, with nice cars costing EUR 35-45.000. Interestingly the pre-facelift models until 1993 are typically more expensive than the in my view nicer looking (and arguably slightly better) post-facelift ones.
Facelift or not is obviously not where you should focus but rather on the quality of the car. Yes, they are built to last an eternity, but many have also been driven a good way towards that eternity so a complete documents and a regular service history are essential. Bringing a Mercedes expert (an engineer perhaps?) to check the car is certainly not a bad idea. After all, the engineers who built this masterpiece wouldn’t expect any less. And of course they would also assume that the car had been regularly serviced in an approved garage. If that’s indeed the case, the 500 E is a car it’s really difficult to go wrong with. It’s also the last real power sedan from Mercedes own factory, as these would be built by AMG going forward. Not more than 10.469 (out of 2.5 million W124!) 500 E / E 500 were built and irrespective of their underlying quality, many have obviously disappeared since. Is it the best car in the world? That’s as always impossible to answer, but to me it’s clearly the best performance sedan of its era. Do I want one? Jawohl!!
PS. A couple of hours ago, Max Verstappen became the new and the first Dutch F1 world champion after a very intense and in the last part, completely crazy season. Congrats Max, I’ll come back with a season summary next week!
Frank Williams is no longer with us. On 28 November the last true legend of F1 passed away, someone who since the early 70’s worked with everyone with a name in the sport he loved and was one of its most respected personalities. Motorsport was Frank’s life-long passion from the day back in the 50’s when a friend gave him a ride in his Jaguar XK 150, but unlike many others who spent their life in F1, for many years he didn’t have the money to support the dream. In fact, at that beginning he had no money at all. With that as starting point, how he made it to a career including nine constructor championships and seven driver championships is a true wonder and a great story that I’m happy to tell today in memory of the great man!
Frank’s mother was a teacher and his father an RAF pilot, but his parents divorced early in Frank’s life. His mother did however still manage to scrap together enough money to send him to a posh boarding school where he learnt some social skills that would serve him well later. Outside of school the only thing on Frank’s mind was racing and he worked every week to have enough money on the weekends to go and watch the races on the emerging British racing scene. His initiatives notably included selling Campbell soup and vegetables and fruits from a van, but he also worked as a mechanic and got the opportunity here and there to drive a race, enough to show that although ambitious, he would never make a career as an F1 driver. And then he met Piers Courage, heir of the Courage Breweries, full of money and a far more promising driver than Frank.
With Piers’ money and with him as driver, Frank organized a team that raced first in F3 and then in F2. Courage moved on to F1 but being a bit accident-prone, it didn’t take long until no team wanted him as a driver. Frank had stayed in F2 but came to Piers’ rescue by organizing second-hand F1 cars that allowed him to claim two second places in Monaco and Watkins Glen in 1969. Unfortunately Piers would be killed in 1970 racing a Williams car. This devastated Frank but at the same time he had now entered F1 for good, and he was not about to give up on his dream. It was however without much success that he would scrap by in F1 until the mid-70’s without neither money nor success.
In 1975 two decisive things happened. First Frank found some money again, this time through the oil man Walther Wolf. Second, he met Patrick Head, at the time working at Lola. Head was a gifted designer but also an engineer and thereby the profile Frank had been missing. When Walther Wolf decided to take over Frank’s whole team in 1976, the only thing the heavily indebted Frank could do about it was to leave, and so he did. He set up Williams Grand Prix Engineering the following year and shortly thereafter convinced Patrick Head to join him. Frank didn’t know it yet, but with new sponsor money coming in, this time from Saudi Arabia, things were about to look up.
Willams’ period of glory started there and then and only ended around 20 years later. The team became the leading team in F1’s and made world champions of drivers including Keke Rosberg, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. Nelson Piquet won his third title in a Williams and next to the drivers, the team was also the starting point for other well-known names in F1, including Ross Brawn, later the technical director of both Benetton and Ferrari, and Adrian Newey, today the Chief Technical Officer of Red Bull. All these and others passed through Williams, all of them witnessed Frank’s energy, passion and deep-going love for the sport. Under Frank’s leadership, the Williams team would win nine construction and seven drivers’ championships, and a total of 114 races.
It wasn’t all happy days however and as so often in F1, success and tragedy are never far apart. Ayrton Senna, a driver Frank worshipped as a God, was in a Williams when he was killed at Imola in 1994. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Frank was charged personally for manslaughter and was only acquitted several years later. Eight years before that the tragedy had also hit him personally when on an inspired drive back from testing at Paul Ricard in France he lost control of his car, broke his neck and spent a few weeks fighting for his life in a French hospital. To everyone’s surprise Frank was back in the paddock only a few months later but spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair as a tetraplegic. In 2012 Frank’s daughter Claire formally took over as head of the Williams team, but Frank was never far away.
His personal involvment with the Williams team completely ceased in September 2020 when the team was sold. As we know Frank didn’t like working for other people as employers, but he loved working for his people, not only the drivers but everyone in the team. In Frank’s eyes, everyone was as important.
With Frank William’s passing, F1 has lost a great champion and the last true representative of the golden era of F1. It’s a privilege to have lived through that era of the sport growing up, and it wouldn’t have been the same without Sir Frank Williams!
Last week I wrote about the popular trend of re-creating classic cars in their former beauty but with modern technology beneath, what is also known as restomods. One of the examples I gave was the UK firm Kingsley that does this kind of work on the first series of the Range Rover, also referred to as the Range Rover Classic. This 50-year old creation that rightfully counts as the grand daddy of all modern, luxury SUV’s is getting rare on our streets, which given its age isn’t surprising. I was however lucky not only to see one last week but also to strike up a discussion with the owner who opened my eyes to the fascinating story of this marvelous piece of UK automobile technology, that we’ll look closer at this week!
The first version of the Range Rover (hereinafter RR or Classic) was produced for almost 40 years, from 1969 to 1996. That’s remarkable in itself and among the longest production runs of any car model, but it’s also remarkable as the US market entry didn’t happen until 1987, by which time the car was 17 years old! Less known is also that during the first 11 years of existance the RR was only available in a 3-door version. The 5-door car didn’t appear until 1981 with the 3-door version being phased out in the years thereafter. It does however remain the favourite version of restorers and restomod builders, including Kingsley.
The Range Rover story and subsequently brand starts with the Land Rover that had been built by the Rover Group since 1948. it was a pure utalitarian car with no luxury or comfort whatsoever. As it evolved, it dawned on the Rover Group that there was appetite for a terrain-capable car that was more comfortable and a bit later in the 60’s, the first SUV-like jeeps from Ford (the Bronco) and Jeep (the Wagoneer) started appearing in the US. After having tried to develop the concept on some other models without much success in the 50’s, Rover finally bought a Bronco which served as development car for what was to become the first Range Rover, presented to the public in 1970.
The first RR may have been a wonder of comfort compared to a Land Rover but was obviously far from being so by any modern standard – or for that matter compared to the luxury cars of the time. It did however have something they didn’t, namely outstanding offroad capabilities, and it was of course that combination that made its success. The four-wheel drive system along with the long suspension and ground clearance made it almost as capable as a Land Rover offroad, and onroad, the Rover V8 helped it to a top speed of over 150 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of less than 15 seconds (both considered fast at the time…) while also being able to tow up to 3.5 tons. Rover referred to the RR as “a car for all reasons” and the public seemed to agree.
There weren’t many changes to the RR during its first ten years of existance but a vinyl coverage of the c-pillars that was introduced around the mid-70’s made it easier to distinguish the really early cars. What all the 70’s cars had in common was the complicated access to the back seats given the car only had two doors. This was solved by the four-door version in 1981, with further updates in the mid-80’s including the quality of the interior, updated transmission and the front design. Moving into the 90’s the Range was getting old but still kept popular by further improvements to the suspension, the engine, and also through a long-wheel based version. As production of the Range Rover MK II started in 1994, the first generation was given the name “Classic” and remained in production for another couple of years.
Most SUV’s sold today in Europe are of course diesel-powered but Rover had great difficulty finding a diesel engine that suited the RR. A diesel option didn’t come until 1986 and even then, although the engine was quite advanced for the time, it was seen as inferior to the petrol V8. Most Classics thus have a petrol V8 under the bonnet, something that remained the case well into the MK III. This certainly didn’t help the RR during the 70’s oil crises but even as consumption generally became more important, the Classic retained its loyal fans who wouldn’t really consider any alternatives to petrol- and still don’t!
The feeling of entering, or rather stepping up into a Range Rover is something truly special and perhaps conveyed best by the Classic. Given the old construction the pillars are very thin and the glass areas enormous, providing a brilliant view all around. You obviously sit high and although the car is large it’s not difficult to see where it starts and ends. Cars from the first years didn’t have power-assisted steering which is a bad idea, but cars after that provide a truly special driving experience, but obviously one that is far less exact and more floating than a modern SUV. It doesn’t matter as much as for some other types of oldtimers though since a RR is not one to be stressed – never was, never will be.
If you want to get the genuine British tweed countrylife feel, I would claim no car does it better than a Range Rover Classic. There is a bunch of people out there who will look upon you as a complete maniac if you say you’re considering one, claiming it will fall apart the minute you’ve handed over the money. I would say sure, things can break as they can do on any old car, but the best proof of an RR’s inherent quality is that Range drivers are among the most loyal owners out there. Many of them would never consider another car, they’ve stayed with the different models through the decades and often have more than one RR. I find it very hard to believe they would do that if the car was as bad as those (who typically have never owned one) claim. In any case, there’s is no RR that has less things that can break than the first series!
The good news is that getting a good RR Classic is still quite affordable. What’s even more affordable is the MK II that came out in 1994, but would claim it’s very doubful if that car will ever claim the same classics status as the MK I, and I would definitely pick a late MK I car over a MK II. Somewhere around EUR 25.000-30.000 is where you find the really nice ones. I’d go for a later one from 1986 and onwards, but in terms of collectibles it’s clearly a three-door RR you should go for, but then again one of the later production years. If you can find one Britannia will surely rule all the way and you will just have stepped up a level in your car experience!
When I wrote about the Zurich Auto Show last week (see here if you missed it), I mentioned that a whole floor had been dedicated to the classics, mostly restored to their former glory by experts in the field either belonging to the marks, such as Mercedes-Benz Classics, or being individual outfits. I also mentioned that this floor was one of the most visited on the show, and typically so by men in their 50’s and 60’s which I guess are the typical clients for this kind of automobiles – and lucky they are!
A beautifully restored Mercedes or Ferrari from the 60’s is difficult to beat in looks, but not very hard in driving experience, at least if you’re after the relative perfection of a modern car. What I mean is that although driving a classic is a special feeling, it means driving something with inexact steering, pretty useless suspension and breaks that require a bit of planning to stop the car before it’s too late. That’s no wonder considering the cars are several decades old. In other words the driving experience hasn’t really stood the test of time, but the looks definitely have. And it’s in that junction that the concept of restomods saw the light of day.
Restomods (the word combining “restoration” with “modern”) have been around on a somewhat larger scale for the last 4-5 years or so, but whereas they used to be confined to a barn on a yard somewhere and only be known to the real enthusiasts, their popularity has grown tremendously lately. Obviously this has also led to a multitude of manufacturers, typically focusing on different sportscars – but not only. The basic concept of a restomod is that of taking a classical design and modernizing everything below it, but quite often the design itself is also changed a bit on the way, notably with larger wheel arches and – especially – larger wheels. Most body panels may still look old but are usually new and quite often made out of carbon. Restomod builders are small outfits, in many cases building cars with unique parts as basis, which obviously means they aren’t cheap. What they provide is however a car that can be a true one of a kind, as even the largest restomod outfits only produce a few dozen cars per year.
Of all the possible candidates I’ve picked three builders as examples of the various iterations of the restomod world. The first is the most legendary of them all, specializing in the most legendary sports car of all. The second is a bunch of UK-based, Italian racing enthusiasts, and the third specializes in creating a modern driving experience for the world’s first luxury SUV. Three different cars, three different approaches, but also three different visions of what a restomod can be.
California-based Singer Vehicle Design, founded by ex-rock star Rob Dickinson, focuses on optimizing 911’s (964) according to the firm’s motto “everything is important” and the principles of “Restored – Re-imagined – Reborn”. To Singer this means starting with a 911/964 that can be transformed however the owner wants it, within the limits of the classic 911 design. Singer offers a multitude of options for the chassis, engine, suspension and body, including manufacturing specific parts in very small runs. In collaboration both with Williams and Cosworth the result is absolutely outstanding as a work of art, and journalists that have had the honour of driving the unique cars usually talk about it as allowing the 911 to reach new levels of perfection. It’s important to note that it’s not about raw power as Singers are usually around 300-350 hp. As we all know however, a great drive is about so much more than straight-line speed, and no one does it better than Singer. Also, no one does it more expensive, as prices start somewhere around USD 500′ + a 964 delivered by the client, and obviously have no upper limit – Singers have been sold for more than USD 1.5m.
Alfaholics, based in Bristol may be far from California, but is without doubt the world’s leading specialist on the Alfa 105 series. Founded by Richard Banks and today run by his two sons Mark and Andrew, the racing inspired family with a true love for the Italian brand renovate 105’s to very high standards, sell standard as well as custom-made racing parts for the 105 and some other models – and then they build the GTA-R, which can be described as the modern iteration of the 105. Just like with Singer the specification of each car is largely up to the client, but the basis is usually the classic 2-litre twin spark engine, developed to produce 240 hp. The rest of the car is completely reworked and notably through extensive use of carbon, the end result is a car that weighs 800 kg and thus can be said to have all the power anyone can ask for. It also produces all of the sound anyone could ask for, and it’s a wonderful one. Costing from around GBP 250′ and upwards, the GTA-R is a very driver-focused car, clearly better in every way than the original 105, but also very much a racing car.
Finally, something completely different. We’re now up in Warwickshire in central UK where as a child Damon Oorloff (yes, written with two oo’s) didn’t have a playground and therefore spent his time in the Land Rover factory yard. He thus grew up with what was built at the time, meaning the Defender and the first generation Range Rover, and fell in love especially with the latter. He went on to found Kingsley and has today built a business of restoring the Range Rover Classic and bringing it into the modern world in terms of technology and driving experience. This is no small achievement since the Classic is a construction from the 1950’s, so it basically means rebuilding the whole car. The extent of the work, updates and modifications is individual, however always staying within the original design and thus being the purest form of restomod, according to the original concept. The result is of course magnificent: the ultra-coolness of the original RR, combined with modern comfort and an updated driving experience. Kingsley’s start around GBP 50′ and GBP 100′ pretty much gives you the full experience.
So there we are – three different interpretations of the broad restomod concept, and three that have different objectives in mind. Singer is all about 911 perfection, but also about creating unlimited cars for unlimited budgets. Alfaholics has a clear racing focus in their builds that they share with many other restomod builders (but where most are not a the same level), and that take in this case a 60’s car to the modern racing standard. Finally Kingsley gives you a pure, classic design with modern features and an up to date driving experience.
Looking at these but also at the concept of restomods in general, I admit I’m split. Taking Singer as example, the first thing to note is that a fraction of the total budget buys you a pretty perfect 964, and at least I would be more than slightly reluctant to start re-working the original build. And if you still decide that’s the way you want to go, then you have other types of specialist such as Ruf that we looked at a while ago (see here), the provide another interpretation of the 911 concept which is also highly attractive and almost as exclusive. In the other ring corner, Kingsley transforms the RR Classic and from many angles make it a modern car – but not from all. The general body design with its overhangs, wind resistance and thereby wind noise, old-fashioned exploitation of the interior space and obviously things such as modern security thinking – all that can be improved on the margin, but essentially remains the same, as in the original, which is to say very far from a modern car.
You thus need to put up with a bit if you want to make a Kingsley you daily driver. Not to mention a GT-R from Alfaholics, that in many aspects is a true race car. Of course you can drive a Singer as a daily driver if your budget is right, but for most it will probably be a Sunday car – but what a car! If a Singer is the best Sunday driver, the Alfa is clearly the best race car, whilst still not on the level of modern race cars. And the Kingsley classic RR is far better than the original car, but not as good as a modern Range Rover, making you wonder on what day of the week you should use it. My conclusion is therefore that whilst restomods are beautiful and technologically fantastic creations and I fully understand if you fall for them, I would probably rather stick to the original 964 as a daily driver and an original RR Classic for the Sunday family drive, with all its original imperfection and charm. And if I had a race track somewhere near, I sure wouldn’t mind having a GTA-R in the garage!
After a pause last year because of a certain virus, the Zurich Car Show was back during four days last week. By no means comparable to the far bigger Salon de l’Automobile in Geneva, the Zurich version still attracts auto enthusiasts from in and around the city, of which my son and I were part this year as well. I was very glad he was there to confirm that what I thought didn’t necessarily mean I’ve turned into a grumpy old man, namely that in a world where new cars increasingly look the same, it was nice to see how it was the classics that saved the day, not only for us! Here are a few general thoughts following the visit last Sunday.
1. Luxury goes mainstream: there was a time when a plush leather interior and high-quality plastics were reserved to premium brands, but technical and production developments have made sure that is no longer the case. From relatively budget cars and upwards, you can get basically any car with at least a fake leather dash, and an interior quality that was unthinkable just 5-6 years ago. That’s obviously great, but as I’ve mentioned previously, it does make life much tougher for the traditional luxury brands in terms of positioning.
2. Luxury isn’t what it once was: along the lines of the above, it’s also noticeable that whereas mainstream brands have mvoed upwards quality-wise, traditional premium brands, at least in some cases, go the other way. The two most striking examples of this were on one hand Mercedes’ all-electric new EQS and on the other, the far more traditional Range Rover. The former has been hailed as a true electrical S-class, but either those who say so never entered its back seat or they’ve never been in an S-class. Hard plastics dominate the interior from the middle of the doors downwards, on the back side of the front seats as well as on the doorsills, and it’s quite all very far from S-class standard. Yes, it does have three huge screens upfront that look pretty cool, but then again it’s not all about screens. What Land Rover has done with the Range Rover is less clear to the eye but there’s no doubt that although looking identical, the last model of this generation (knowing the new generation has just been presented) feels cheaper than the same car from ive years ago.
3. Electricity is probably here to stay: I realize that’s not a bit revelation and neither is the fact that electrification was everywhere at this year’s show and will no doubt be so going forward as well. The point is more that although I’m a fan of the great potential of fuel cells and synthetic fuels but when you are at an auto show and realize practively every brand shows more than one electrical car, you have to ask yourself is so much has no been invested in electrification that there’s no way back. Most of these cars are moderately interesting, but it was great to see that electrification has now also reached the restomod cars (a concept we’ll come back to in the coming weeks), and the coolest electrical car was hands down…. an Opel Manta!
4. The classics saved the day: except for Morgan and modern versions of classic cars that are still in production, the auto show has never been about classic cars. Until this year this, when a full floor had been reserved for classics coming both from Mercedes and Porsche’s own classical restoration departments, but also from some of the large, Swiss classic car garages. It was interesting to see how many people like us seemed to find this the most interesting part of the show, and most of these classics make you wish you had a far larger garage, far more time – and a far bigger wallet!
A few weeks ago I wrote about the original Lamborghini Countach, one of the biggest dream cars of my generation of which a fair number of us had posters on the wall (I may have mentioned those posters often sitting alongside Samantha Fox or Sabrina…). Obviously most of us had more than one wall in our rooms and it certainly happened that on one of the others, there would be a poster of another supercar legend from the same period: the Ferrari Testarossa. The Testarossa was no doubt the Countach’s main competitor and a car that even influenced its later iterations, notably in forcing the development of a more powerful engine. And whilst referring to a Ferrari as the “other” supercar will not go down well with the Ferraristis, it just so happens that the Countach was around before the Testarossa – which doesn’t in any way make the story of the latter any less interesting, as we’ll see today!
The Testarossa saw the light of day the first time at the Paris auto show in 1984. It was designed by Pininfarina and it’s difficult to think of a single item from the 80’s that is more representative of the era than this car. This is of course especially true for the giant, grille-covered air intakes on the sides and the fat, wide, grill-covered back, but also for the front with the typical pop-up headlights. It certainly looked the piece then and today it remains a brilliant representative of its time period. Luckily it wasn’t just about the looks though as the Testarossa was also quite a car, as we’ll come back to. Staying with the design slightly longer, another thing to remark is obviously that it’s a less dramatic car than the Countach but also that the Countach somewhat surprisingly is actually the wider car, including over the rear. At 197 cm the Testarossa is certainly not slim, but Pininfarina’s masterful design makes it look even wider than it actually is.
If the rear was all about design, the side air intakes actually had an important function as the radiators had been moved back and sat next to the mid-mounted engine. And the engine was of course nothing less than the Ferrari 4.9 litre, flat 12-cylinder putting out 390 hp, enough for a top speed of 290 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 5.2 seconds. The engine certainly looks the part and the red top of the valves is also what gave the car the name Testarossa (“red head”), a name Ferrari has used before in its history. It sits slightly higher than you would expect as the gearbox is located underneath it. Everything was in other words concentrated between the cabin and the rear axle in a relatively small space. This complicates one of the more frequent jobs on the car, namely the need to change the cambelt regularly. To do this, the bad news is that you need to remove the whole engine from the car. The good news is that Ferrari actually though of making this relatively easy, but according to good sources you’re still talking about around 20 man hours of work, and that’s by a guy who knows what he’s doing. That all fades into the background though when you see the fantastic engine, presented to your eyes in the same masterful way Ferrari always does. And when you turn the key…
Move to the inside, which in most cars was black or tan, and you’re again taken back to the 80’s. Certainly not an interior worthy of the price Testarossas trade at today but well of the 80’s, meaning angular forms and as in many Ferraris from back then, switches and buttons sometimes in places you wouldn’t expect them. Given how few of them there were however, that doesn’t really matter, and the poor sound isolation certainly has the benefit of letting you hear the full drama of the 12-cylinder! The car is much more modern than its predecessor, the 512 BB, and not in any way complicated to drive. It received some early criticism for being a bit light in the front at higher speeds, but that will hardly be an issue today as you probably won’t drive your 35-year old Testarossa north of 200 km/h (you certainly don’t need to go that fast to enjoy the engine!), In other words, except for the cambelt, the Redhead doesn’t have to be the nightmare to drive or maintain that many believe.
The Testarossa in its original form lived until 1991, but its life was then extended by the slightly modified and 428 hp strong 512 TR until 1994, and after that another two years through the at 440 hp even more powerful F512 M (Modificata). The TR is distinguishable form the side where it has a design close to the 348, and the F512 M is from both the front (no more pop-up headlights) and from the rear as well (see below). When production of the F512 ended in 1996 it also meant the end of the Ferrari flat 12-cylinder engine, and the Testarossa was also the last unlimited (in production numbers) mid-engined Ferrari. As for the numbers almost exactly 10.000 cars were built of the three versions, split as around 7.200 Testarossas, 2.300 512 TR’s, and only 500 F512 M. That is also reflected in the prices they go for today. A Testarossa will be yours for around EUR 100′ and upwards, the TR for around EUR 50′ more, and the Modificata for more than three times an original Testarossa – if you can find one. If you buy it to drive, which I would dare hope, those that have tried all three say the price difference isn’t worth it as the “base” Testarossa conveys both enough power and even more of the original Ferrari spirit from the golden 80’s. Also, you’ll probably want to make sure that cambelt was replaced not too long ago!
Formula 1 is up for some big changes next year, with the aim of making cars and thereby racing more competitive. Feel like you’ve heard it before? I agree, but if you look closer, what’s happening this time is not some new restrictions on tire width, nope, we’re talking about the largest changes to F1 that have ever happened. Had it not been for a certain pandemic they would actually have come into effect already this year, so those of us who enjoy F1 in its current form got another year to do so. That’s not to say that the planned changes won’t be positive – the proof will be in the pudding as always.
For this season there was a budget limit of USD 145m imposed on the teams with the same objective of reducing differences between teams and thereby improve racing, but it didn’t change much given firstly that this year’s cars were designed before the cost cap and secondly and perhaps even more importantly, the large teams have developed quite an infrastructure over the years that it will take smaller teams time to catch up with. That together with a few loopholes here and there meant that the cost limit didn’t have the desired effect, and the fact that races are generally less one-sided this year has more to do with the large teams not investing more in the current cars given next year’s changes. These changes are in turn not focused on further cost reductions but rather on the cars themselves in terms of mainly aerodynamics and tires, so let’s have a closer look at that.
Starting with the most visible aerodynamics changes, what we’re seeing is basically a return to the technology of the 70’s and 80’s before wings became the main tool to create downforce. What made F1 cars looked simpler before is that downforce was created by leading air through tunnels under the car, sucking it to the road, instead of pushing it downwards through wings. This form of downforce serves to reduce wake and also the upwash of air exiting takes a much higher trajectory, in both cases reducing turbulence behind the car and thus allowing followers to come closer and improve their chances of overtaking. Numbers show a following car to retain 86% of its downforce at a distance of one car length, compared to 55% today. It also means the front and rear wings will look different and much simpler than today.
The reason this technology was banned 40 years ago was that the teams back then went a bit over board, complementing the wind tunnels under the car with side skirts and hereby gluing the car to the road like an iron, thereby becoming too fast for their own – and the drivers’ – good. The skirts won’t be back, however we will see the introduction of wheel caps that aren’t necessarily pretty, but that also serve to reduce air turbulence.
There are differences to the suspension and tires as well and as goes for the tires, these are no less visible than the aerodynamic changes as we’ll be going from the current 13-inch tires to a whole 18-inch! The new larger, low-profile tires will be less temperature-sensitive while still degrading enough to keep the team tire-changing strategy interesting. That’s the theory, let’s see how it works out in real life and also how much they slow the cars down, which they most probably will. Changes to the suspension as essentially mean that hydraulic components have been outlawed and it’s all springs and dampers going forward.
As for the engines, there is actually not much to say since except for having to run on an E10 fuel mix they’ll stay the same. That might well be good since the full package they’ll have to push forward will be a very different one, and introducing changes to the engines could have been a bit too much at the same time. The same goes for planned changes to the race weekends, qualifying and possibly other aspects of the races that have been pushed one year forward to 2023.
There is no doubt that next year’s changes will fundamentally change the nature of races and, you have to believe, also make these more competitive, which would of course be welcome. It remains to be confirmed how well the different parts work out in the end and it will most probably not be a completely even playing field given again the resources and infrastructure of the larger teams (and the quality of their drivers!), but it’s clear that the room for manoeuvre has been heavily reduced, and that can only be a good thing!
A few years ago, one of my close friends who is no longer with us but who I will always carry in dear memory and who was one hell of a sales guy, pitched his 911 (993) convertible to me as the perfect family car. His logic was that it was four-wheel drive, he had fitted a ski rack on the back (i.e. the hood), his children were small enough to fit in the back seats and he wasn’t much for carrying luggage, saying it was better to buy what you needed once you arrived. I have no idea whether the guy on the picture below follows the same logic, but when I saw this 911 last week it made me think back on the above, but also on what at least to me seems to be an eternal question, namely what the ideal family car really is?
Addressing the same question from another angle, I sold my 2017 XC90 last week, having owned it for two years. In many ways the XC90 can be claimed to be the perfect family car. Roomy, safe, comfortable, silent. Comes to that what the Geely money has allowed Volvo to do, namely create a really nice interior, install a hi-fi system from Bowers & Wilkins that kills it (if you’re in the market for an XC90, this is a must-have option!), and letting the designers build one of the best looking SUV’s out there, in my humble opinion. As someone who grew up in Sweden in the 80’s and 90’s with Volvos on every corner looking like they’d been drawn with a ruler, including on the inside, that’s quite a sensational development.
Unfortunately however, the Chinese money apparently ran out before Volvo got to the “fun to drive” part. The different driving settings are basically useless, the optional 4C air suspension seems to be missing any air whatsoever and shakes the car in its passengers even at small bumps, and whereas the four-cylinder T6 engine has enough power, it has the character – and sound – of a sewing machine. So yes – the XC90 is the ideal family car for the parent who’s into transporting both small and large children and lots of stuff, but not really for the one who as me, though that could be combined with at least a little thrill of driving.
One reason I thought so is that before the XC90, long-time readers of this blog will remember that I had an AMG E63 Wagon from 2014, and that was a car that was splendid on achieving both of those, and was (and is) thereby descsribed by many as the perfect family car. Roomy, comfy and discrete enough to transport all your belongings together with grandma without her noticing anything, yet at the turn of a switch (or push of the right pedal), a beast that eats 911’s for breakfast and allows mum or dad to have a bit of fun when they’re on their own. And it does all this with a build quality that is Mercedes at its best – something I feel they’ve lost in the new E-class.
So why on earth did I replace? Well the problem is that to my mind the concept doesn’t hold up. To start with the fun to drive part, if you have more than one car, you will typically drive that when you’re alone. Whilst more fun to drive and definitely faster than most other Mercs, the E63 remains a 5-metre long, 2-ton heavy estate – that’s right, it’s made for transporting stuff, not racing around a track, and when you do so, most family members don’t want to feel like they’re being driven around a track. Secondly, although discrete, everyone who knows (and there is, as I discovered, quite a few who do) wants to race you. That’s fun at first, much less so in the long run. Finally, if you live in any other country than Germany, having 600 hp under the hood that you’re never able to exploit in full leads to a certain frustration and thereby, strange behaviour. I started realizing something was really wrong when I was engaging the launch control at the exit of toll stations in northern Italy. Pathetic is only the foreword.
Three examples, three different types of cars, in my view none of them ideal for the driving-inspired parent with family needs, seeking perfection. So if none of these, what is then the perfect family car? Let’s start with the build quality side of it. This isn’t specifically related to family cars, but it is related to any car claiming to be perfect. My remark would be that although Volvo and other brands, notably Asian, have come a very long way in terms of build quality, they’re not quite there yet. I saw Volvo as a leader in this regard and bought the car thinking they had, but was forced to note that in some areas, it isn’t yet the case, something that certainly goes for others as well. You may be able to live with this better than I could, but when shopping outside of the traditional premium brands (you know who they are) this is something to be aware of, and to be checked.
The next observation should be an obvious one, but looking at the current trend in car sales numbers, clearly it isn’t: for the fun-seeking perfectionist and all other things equal, an estate will always be superior to an SUV. On one hand this simply reflects the laws of physics: just like an electric car is glued to the road thanks to the low center of gravity, an estate is lower than an SUV. I truly don’t understand why you would buy, say a GLE 63 AMG rather than an E63 AMG, or a X5 M instead of an Alpina B5 Touring (given BMW refuses to build an M5 Touring). At a weight of 2.5 tons or more and the mentioned higher center of gravity, engineers will always be on the losing end in their fight against the forces of nature, trying to compensate what cannot be compensated and essentially ruin the good sides of an SUV (read comfort) withouth really improving the driving experience.
Given how few of us travel on snowy mountain roads with any regularity, that leaves practicality as the only additional argument for an SUV I can think of. Well, I had to lift my bags around 15cm higher to get them into the XC90 than into the E63, and the latter had a larger boot. The estate also doesn’t put dirty marks on your trousers when you get in and out of it. This is certainly not an argument against four-wheel drive which is one of the most underrated safety features of these last years and sure, if you live in a place where four-wheel drive isn’t enough and you need an SUV, you have my full understanding, but I would in that case prioritize comfort over driving thrills and try to maximize that (Range Rover anyone?). For the rest of us the praticality argument doesn’t really work, so assuming driving pleasure ranks higher on your agenda than showing off, an estate will be superior.
Ok, so a four-wheel drive estate from a traditional brand then. We can disregard Porsche who doesn’t really build one (the Panamera Touring is still a bit small), and as mentioned, the current E-class isn’t a favourite of mine. Sven, my co-writer on this blog, argues that an Audi RS6 is, perfect, ticking most boxes and being less “racy” than an E63. I would still claim others would love to race it though, as its fabulous looks send a clear message. And over in Munich, BMW for some strange don’t seem to identify the market opportunity I’m chasing here, since they refuse to give us a 5-series with anything more than the supercharged straight six in the 540i, which is a fine engine but not more. Alpina does though (I wrote about this wonderful in a recent post you can find here), in the form of the very understated B5 – is that the anwer?
I’m not going to waste more of your time since for the moment, I don’t have an answer. I do need a replacement for the XC90 though so I’m giving this quite a bit of thought right now. If you have any thoughts and ideas feel free to share them, they will be highly valued!
The sun has been out in Zurich lately which certainly doesn’t hurt given it seemed to be very far away during most of the summer. This obviously means that some classic car owners have extended the season, but it was still a very nice surprise to walk out of the office door last week and see… an Alfa Romeo Montreal! It certainly doesn’t happen often, and as can be seen below, it was also a Montreal in very nice condition.
To start with the not very Italian name, why on earth did Alfa name the Montreal after a town in Québec? The simple explanation is taht the Montreal was first shown at the world exhibition in 1967 in, you guessed it, Montreal, and Alfa apparently had no better name in mind than that. Production started three years later in 1970 and ended in 1977. The beautiful coupé was designed by our old friend Marcello Gandini at Bertone and the most striking feature is certainly the covers over the headlights that move back when you turn them on.
The second most noticeable feature of the Montreal is certainly what looks like air intakes for a mid-mounted engine. The Montreal however never had, and was never intended to have a mid-mounted engine, so what you first think are intakes for the engine is actually intakes to cool the passengers. It is true that at the time of the original design Alfa indeed had the idea of a mid-mounted engine, but when the project moved on, this was scrapped but the air intakes were kept and certainly help the design of the car!
Even if the engine is in the front, it’s clearly the highlight of the car. The four-cam, eight-cylinder engine had been developed for the Tipo 33 that Alfa had raced before it moved into the Montreal. At 2.6 litres it was quite small but still developed 200 hp, but did so using quite a lot of fuel which wasn’t ideal in the early 70’s, as we’ll come back to. As so often Alfa then ran into a bit of a money problem and therefore chose to use the chassis and brakes from the Giulia GT, meaning they were a bit under-dimensioned for the car given the powerful engine. In other words acceleration was better than braking, so staying up in front was a good idea!
The Montreal interior doesn’t reach the heights of some other Italian legends from Modena or Sant’Agata from the period, then again the Montreal was cheaper to buy and is still a nice place to be, and ties into the tradition of GT cars from the 70’s. Unfortunately all these also had in common that they drove straight into the 1973-1974 oil crisis, which in the case of Montreal certainly didn’t help the sales numbers. In the seven years of production, only around 4.000 cars were therefore built.
They were however built with surprisingly good protection against corrosion, which wasn’t a typical feature of Alfa for the period but which means that Finding a nice Montreal today isn’t that difficult. As in so many cases, buying one of those five-six years ago had been far cheaper than today with nice cars now trading around EUR 60-80.000. Although it’s easy to love the design and even more so with a V8 under the hood, at that price level there a bit too many interesting competitors for me to be swayed by the Canadian Alfa!
It’s high time to do a quick pitstop and check the status of the F1 season as we’re around 3/4 in. The short answer to that is that it’s tighter and more open than it’s been in many, many years, which is of course really exciting. Since my last update from July after the Austrian GP that you can read here if you missed, it, we’ve had another seven races counting the one today in Turkey, and on these we’ve had no less than five different winners. That’s right, even though the title will go to either Hamilton or Verstappen, we’ve reached a stage where more teams and drivers fight for individual wins, and that’s of course exactly the way it should be!
As mentioned this summer, this is partly driven by the fact that next season will see radical changes to the cars, something I will come back to in the coming weeks, but which means that development efforts on this season’s cars have stopped or at least been heavily reduced. Small tweaks are certainly still done, but somehow the mid-sized teams seem more successful doing so than the large ones. It does however have the positive consequence of more open racing, and that will most probably remain the case until the end of the season.
In my last post from July, Red Bull had won the last five races and Max Verstappen had won four of those. I therefore stated that if Mercedes didn’t wake up rather quickly the season risked being over and indeed, Mercedes did wake up however, and I guess no one really expected less. Starting in Silverstone, traditional a track favorable to Mercedes, it was a 1st and 3rd position for Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, and Lewis than moved on to win in Russia as well, finishing on the podium of most other races. Bottas then also won today’s race in Turkey, but with the two Red Bulls on the podium as well. That allowed Max to move ahead of Lewis again in the standings so it’s pretty clear that this will go down to the wire and for the first time in a long time, Lewis is seriously challenged for the world title.
So what about those other teams? Well, McLaren has only become more competitive, partly that goes for Renault as well, Aston Martin is somehow also part of the mix, at least when conditions become a bit unpredictable, and what George Russell delivers in an improving but still inferior Williams car continues to impress. Lando Norris (Mc Laren) is currently fourth in the standings betwen Valtteri (third) and Perez (fifth), but should really have been third as there is really no excuse for him not winning one of the best races so far, that in Sotchi two weeks ago. He led the whole race and when the rain came with a few laps to go, he refused to follow team orders to come in and switch tyres and ended up in the sand with two laps to go. That’s a real rookie mistake but it’s one that shouldn’t have happened.
The other big news in the last weeks is of course that Valtteri Bottas is leaving Mercedes at the end of the season, and that George Russell is taking over his seat. This was widely expected but it was nice to see it being done in an amicable way, with Valtteri departing not directly but rather at the end of the season. He will then go to Alfa Romeo Racing, taking over retiring Kimi’s seat, and that Russell replaces him is of course no surprise. What George has managed to do with the under-performing Williams car this season is simply sensational, and of course we also remember when he replaced Lewis during a race at the height of Covid and was very close to winning it. For him, this is a terrific chance of showing how good he really is. For Valtteri it’s obviously quite a large step in the wrong direction, and thus probably one towards retirement.
A final thing to note in this more competitive field than we’ve had in many years is how close many teams’ drivers are. Sainz and Leclerc (Ferrari) are sixth and seventh in the standings with half a point between them. Alonso and Ocon (Alpine) and Vettel and Stroll (Aston Martin) follow, next to each other, and even though Lando is ahead of his team mate Ricciardo and Max is a head of Sergio Perez, the distance is getting smaller. I guess the way to read this is that we have a season of very good drivers, in most cases getting as much of their cars as is possible – and that’s exactly how it should be!
You may have seen that Lamborghini has re-introduced the Countach. Yes, you read that right, the most legendary of all sports cars of the 80’s – scrap that, of all times! The one a fair number of us born in the early 70’s with a head full of petrol dreamt about and put a poster of on our bedroom wall, next to Samantha Fox, Sabrina or Miami Vice. Just hearing the news, I imagine I wasn’t the only one filled with not just a little excitement. It didn’t last long though. The fall back to reality was heavy a few moments later as I learnt more about the new car.
You see, what Lambo dares calling the new Countach, under the official name LPI 800-4, has precious little to do with Marcelo Gandini’s jawdropping design from back then – nor is it a modern interpretation of the same theme. Nope, visually the new Countach is nothing more than a relatively modestly re-designed Aventador with some clumsy Countach references, of which 112 will be built (that’s good as it reduces the risk of being disappointed seeing it “live”). They’re of course extremely expensive (price not known at this point but probably around USD 3m), atrociously fast with 814 hp leading to a 0-100 time of below 3 seconds, naturally hybrid with a small electric engine making up 45 of those 814 hp, supporting the V12 and, it goes without saying, all sold, presumably to buyers of which a majority will park them in a garage and never drive them. Disappointed? Me?
That is however all I’ll say about the new Countach and I also promise not to make this a long rant about how much modern supercars lack the heart and soul of the true legends. Instead we’ll do something much more fun: we’ll travel back to our younger years when our jeans were stone-washed, our socks white and our shoulders impossibly wide. For a few minutes, we’ll return to that poster on the bedroom wall (no, not Samantha) and have a good look at the original, REAL Countach! Interestingly, doing so also involves coming back to some legendary Italian car builders that have been featured on this blog earlier and only serve to highlight the true legend that the original Countach is.
The story begins in the early 70’s with Bertone being commissioned by Lamborghini to come up with a replacement for the Miura, which had only been on sale for a few years but already faced strong competition from the new Ferrari Daytona, introduced in 1969. Marcello Gandini, lead designer at Bertone, had a few years earlier started to experiment with a new design language as notably shown in the Lancia Stratos: a much more wedge-like, angular shape, and he took on the new Lambo project in the same spirit while the engineers were working on the engine. It was clear that the new car would remain rear-wheel drive with a rear-mid 12-cylinder engine as on the Miura, but for weight distribution along with some mechanical reasons, not transversally mounted as on the latter.
The name Countach has always been a bit of a riddle and is a story in itself. Countach doesn’t mean anything in Italian and is also not following Lambo’s tradition of naming cars after bulls or bullfights. The story goes that one of the mechanics in the Sant’Agata factory only spoke Piedmontese, a regional language closer to French than to Italian in which there is the word “contacc”, an expression showing astonishment. The unnamed mechanic used it quite frequently when working on the car and Marcello Gandini therefore half jokingly sugested it as a possible name to Bob Wallace, Lambo test driver at the time, who confirmed it worked in English with a minor adaptation. The most spectacular supercar of all times was thus named on the factory floor and not in a board room! The first prototype was presented to the public at the Paris Auto Show in 1971 with sales starting three years later in 1974. They wouldn’t stop until 16 years later, in 1990.
Next to the long production time itself, it’s impressive how well the new design held up (and still holds up if you’re lucky to see one!). If you remove the increasing amount of spoilers and skirts that were added over the years, the basic design of the car remained unchanged throughout the 16 years of production. I guess I wasn’t the only one who in my youth found things like the giant spoiler on some later cars ultra-cool, but looking back with (slightly) more mature eyes today, it’s pretty clear the the first iteration was the cleanest and best-looking. I’m not sure beautiful is the right word, but spectacular definitely is. The wedge shape, the side air intakes, the forward movement created by the cutting of the rear wheelarches – and of course the scissor doors. The doors did not only come about for show though, as given how wide the Countach is and especially how massive its doorsills are, fitting conventional doors would have been both unpractical and complicated. Owners of later Countaches with the dome on the engine are especially thankful for that given for them, sitting on the doorsill with the door open and turning your head backwards is the only way to have any kind of rear-view visibility. If the Countach was wide (almost 2 metres) with poor rear visibility, it certainly wasn’t long. At 4.15 metres it’s far smaller than you would imagine, and actually shorter than a Lotus Evora!
If the design was spectacular, the engine was of course not less so. The V12 came from the Miura and as shown in the first picture, had its origins back in 1963, having been designed by Giotto Bizzarrini, whom you can read an earlier post of here. Also as mentioned it was longitudinally mounted such as to improve notably weight distribution and solve some other issues, with the 5-speed manual transmission being placed in front of the engine. The initial Countach LP-400 had the same 3.9 litre volume as the Miura, with a power output of 375 hp. It was later increased first to 4.7 litres in the LP5000S in 1982, and then 5 litres in the LP5000 QV (Quattrovalvole, four valves per cylinder) version from 1985 with 440 hp. It’s noticeable that until the end in 1990, the engine retained carburettors when everyone else had switched to fuel injection (for emission reasons the Countaches going to the US had to be injected). Having originally been side-mounted, the carburettors moved to the top of the engine on later cars, explaining the dome over the engine. This wonderful machine would outlive the Countach over the Diablo all the way to the Murcielago, meaning a production time of almost 50 years! Contrary to what you would maybe think, it also has a reputation of not being very primadonna-like, but rather very reliable.
Except for in my dreams I’ve never been in a Countach, much less driven one, but this is very high on the bucket list (you wouldn’t happen to own one, would you?). I have however peaked in to several of them and as anyone who does so, you may not realize that the window you look through only opens 5cm or so, but definitely that the money had run out before the time had come to design the interior. Not that it’s worse than on many other 80’s cars but the grand plans Lambo had for notably digital instruments never materialized and the interior is thus very conventional compared to the spectacular body. The seats are however a wonder of comfort compared to modern bucket seats, but they can only be adjusted in length. If you’re taller than 180 cm you should also be prepared to have contact with the roof lining (here, the later cars helped, giving another 3cm of head space in the “high” versions). And when it comes to driving, taking it from multiple reviews, it’s all hard work with an unassisted steering, a heavy clutch (those six carburettors are partly to be thanked for that, but you can’t have it all!) and a general experience of needing to work hard to get the most out of the car. Then again, isn’t that the way it should be in a true supercar?
Production of the Countach came to an end in 1990, with the 25th anniversary edition introduced in 1988 with a certain Horacio Pagani (on whom you can read more here) being responsible for a lot of the restyling. The final iteration wasn’t loved by everyone given it departed from some of the most classical design features on previous Countaches and had a bit too many skirts, even for the late 80’s. It was however the fastest version of the Countach, capable of a top speed of 295 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 4.7 seconds. Remember this is 30 years ago on a car that was equipped by 345 mm rear tires, however only 15″ in wheel size! At the time, those were the biggest tires on the market.
The Anniversary edition was also the most popular version in production numbers, built 657 times and thus making up a third of the total production of around 1970 Countachs ever built. That’s right, the most legendary supercar of all times was built less than 2.000 times, to be compared for example with the over 7.000 Testarossas (not counting the 512’s). Not only that, a third of all Countaches were sold when it had already been on the market for 14 years! Another third was made up of the Quattrovalvole version (610 cars), thus leaving just a third of the early Countachs. Good luck finding one of those today… The easiest one to find today is the QV with prices starting around EUR 300′, with real jewels going for up to EUR 700′. That’s a lot of money, and a lot more than you would have paid ten years ago. Having said that, it’s still a couple of million less that you would pay for the new 2022 version if you were on the list of the selected 112 owners, and seen in that light, probably one of the greatest bargains out there! Junior may have more power and features, but in the Countach world, there’s no doubt that Daddy still rules big time!
As we all know time flies and it’s already a year since I bought my 650i convertible that I told you about in a post at the time, that you can view here if you missed it. It’s in other words time to make a brief pit stop to tell you how the first year has been, what the suprises, if any, have been and perhaps also if my initial statement from a year ago on the 650i being pretty sensational value for money still holds true. Given this is not a thriller movie I’ll allow myself to take that last piece of excitement away right here: the 650i is for all intents an purposes a bargain as has been confirmed many times over the last 12 months!
Given it’s a converible, the big Bavarian of course didn’t move in in the right season, but I managed to have some really nice drives during Sept-Oct last year before it got cold and wet and it was time to park it for the winter. You’ll tell me that given the four-wheel drive, the thickness of the hood and the quality of a BMW there was really little reason for this and you’d be right, except that as it happens we have a family SUV as well and if I don’t use it during the winter, when should I then use it… Also, the condition of the 650i being as good as it is, I would feel physically bad if I drove it on salty roads. So for the 4-5 months between November and March, the only thing that happened were a few drives long enough to get the engine warm and make sure the tires stay round.
Spring came and was nice and it was then time to put the car a bit more to the test. As I noted in my last post, the 650 is much more of a GT than a sports car, also given its length of almost five meters and its weight of around two tons. Given that it’s pretty amazing how BMW managed to create an interior space that is so limited. There are absolutely no complaints up front where supreme comfort reigns, and sure, the back seats work for adults for shorter trips, but I wouldn’t take the kids for more than a couple of hours given how cramped the seats are. Then again I was well aware of that and the intention is to use the car for two. No doubt the long body adds a bit of elegance and I guess the point of a large convertible is also that you can be allowed to be a bit wasteful with space, even if it doesn’t make much sense. At least the boot is suprisingly large (even more so when the roof is up) which is definitely a plus in this family!
There are A LOT of positives I’ve noted during my first 12 months of owning the 650i so in order not to bore you, let me just focus on some of the main ones. The first thing I noticed was how precise and well weighted the steering was, especially in the sports setting. The comparison that jumped to mind was my previous E63 AMG, but I would say the 650i is marginally better, and the wheel is in BMW manner definitely thicker, but not too much so. Secondly, I was positively suprised that behind the elegant appearance lures quite a hooligan. Hit that Sport button and floor it in a tunnel, and if the roof is up, lower the back window (yes you can, and thank you very much whoever thought of that!), and if the resulting roar, pops and other guttural sounds don’t put a smile on your face, then do indeed buy an EV. The 450 hp double-turbo V8 delivers just the right amount of power and the double-clutch gearshift is so smooth you don’t even notice it.
Thirdly, the suspension is superb and I’ll tie this to the overall quality of the build which is absolutely amazing. Take the roof off a car means removing a lot of the inherent rigidity of the body, usually leading to the odd squeek here and there. Not so in the 650i, which remains as silent as a Bavarian forest. I made a point on this in my initial post, namely the logic of buying a heavily depreciated luxury car rather than a less depreciated middle class one, as so much more effort has been invested in the original build. Finally, at least for a middle-aged man, the level of infotainment is exactly right. BMW’s solution from 2013-2014 was pretty much on the edge of what was done then, and it works absolutely fine to this day with nice physical buttons to press rather than a flimsy screen with fatty marks where you desperately try to aim for a word in the upper corner.
What I don’t like? To be honest not a lot, but then again the initial brief was quite clear and didn’t leave room for mant surprises. What you definitely need to be aware of is that it’s a big car, which is to your advantage for the long trips on open roads but obviously less so in tight cities or garages. There are of course cameras and warning sounds all around, but you do need to be careful especially towards the front where the sloping hood is very difficult to estimate. In the section of minor complaints I would also question BMW’s decision in a convertible to only put a lock on the compartment under the center armrest but not on the glovebox, that you can thus not lock if you park the car with the hood down? That’s probably it though, and it sure isn’t a lot. Most importantly I haven’t had a single issue with the car so far, and now that the one year warranty has run out, I do hope that remains the case!
In the small segment of unpractical four-seat convertibles, the 650i thus shines as much now as it did 12 months ago. I love it and plan to keep it for a long time. It’s also nice to see that prices seem to have bottomed out, with cars currently being in the market being a few thousand more than what I paid. That confirms the saying that luxury cars fall like stones until they don’t do so anymore, and that seems to be the case for the 650i. If it corresponds to your brief and needs, I can thus only recommend that you join the club!
This week we’ll talk about number plates. Not very exciting you tell me, but just wait. In most countries and for most of us, getting a number on your car is a pure formality. For some and in some countries, it’s possible to get your personalized number plate at low or even no cost. And then there’s Switzerland. Here, number plates are personal and follow you rather than the car. This is not unique in itself. What is however, is the way you get a personalized number – and how much it costs. You see, Swiss car owners’ willingness to pay a small fortune for a specific car number puts millions in the local cantons’ deep pockets – every year.
A canton is a Swiss region, comparable to a US or German state. Being a federation, Switzerland is split into 26 of them, with Zurich being not the largest, but with around 1.5m inhabitants the most populous. Registration plates indicate which canton the car comes from with two letters (“ZH” for Zurich, “GE” for Geneva etc.), and then any number between one and six digits. Given number plates are personal you will have guessed that those which have been in circulation long have few digits. This is of course also the case in smaller cantons. In Zurich on the other hand we will soon see the first seven-digit registration plate. That will of course be the number “ZH 1 000 000”, which you could imagine someone being willing to pay a few bucks for. That’s what the cantons have realized as well, in the case of Zurich as long as 30 years ago.
Cantons therefore regularly organize auctions for especially interesting number plates. Using Zurich as example, it’s here done on a weekly basis. Numbers which are auctioned are either interesting numbers that have been handed in because someone has died or otherwise stopped driving, but also numbers that have been picked out of the regular series. Anyone can register and take part in the auctions, but no information is given out beforehand on the numbers that will be auctioned, and all auction proceeds flow into the canton’s budget. In the case of Zurich as a large canton, this is the not so trivial amount of around CHF 4m (USD 4m) each year.
Against this background and in a country with a lot of money, it’s easy to imagine that a certain craziness has developed around this. You see, in Zurich having two (very rare), three or four digits in your number plate signals prestige, around some logic of old money. And then it’s of course true that having a number such as the one on the picture below is quite cool. It’s just that most of us would probably put the value of this at a few hundred bucks. Not in Zurich.
Three years ago in 2018, the number plate “ZH 987” was auctioned away for CHF 150.000. Yep, you read that right. Before that, the record had been set by “ZH 1000” at CHF 130.000 back in 1998. These are obviously records, but every week the canton of Zurich auctions around 30 number plates where as a rule of thumb, not so spectacular four-digit plates fetch around CHF 8.000 and three-digit ones around CHF 20.000. It can be much more however, with for example “ZH 1313” being auctioned for a solid CHF 75.000. Even an average, five-digit plate will cost you around CHF 4.000. When “ZH 1 000 000” comes out, it’s by the way expected to set a new record.
The full craziness of the above doesn’t become apparent until you realize that there’s no secondary market once you have paid for your dream plate. It’s a sunk cost which therefore also doesn’t need to be declared as wealth in your tax filing, as there is no way of selling the number on (it is in some cantons, but not in Zurich). This is probably a very good thing as you could easily imagine this going completely bonkers if that was the case, but what it means is therefore that whoever paid CHF 150.000 for number plate “ZH 987” will never see that money again. Basically, he or she made a hefty lump sum tax payment and got a number plate in return.
I can produce a very long list of desirable cars for a budget of CHF 150.000, as I’m sure you can as well. Actually I could do the same for CHF 20.000 and thinking about it, my son’s newly bought Lupo GTI didn’t cost much more than CHF 4.000. All these scenarios feel vastly superior to large, lump sum tax payments yielding a specific number plate as only payback. Then again what do I know – I’m the type of person who still struggles to remember my own number plate, although I’ve now had it for 19 years. Obviously, that’s not the case for everyone…
A bit of a different post this week since last Sunday I had the pleasure of attending the Arosa Classic Car rally here in Switzerland, unfortunately only as a spectator, but still with some pictures from the race that took place for the 17th time in front of a record audience of almost 30.000 people with and 175 cars.
The race takes place on the 7.3 km road from the small village of Langwies to the quite well known ski resort of Arosa, on a road that has no less than 76 turns of which a few hairpins. Cars built between 1905 to 1986 compete in different categories between regularity and outright speed. The whole thing started in 2005, having been called to life but some car passionated locals, and is today part of the FIA calendar.
There’s always a bit of show around the race itself which explaines the far more modern Porsche cars in the pictures – this year’s host was the Porsche center in close-by Maienfeld. Hope you enjoy the picks of some of the beautiful cars from the weekend!
There haven’t been many outstanding street finds in Zurich lately, which hopefully means the owners have taken the really nice cars on a trips to sunnier locations than Switzerland has offered this summer. In such situations it helps having a son who last week happened to be in another city that is a rolling car Mecca, namely Monaco. He drove there with his friends from Nice in the morning, texted me in the first hour that there were more Brabuses on the streets than regular Merc’s, and then once they made it up to the Casino square, he sent me the top two pictures below.
The reason he didn’t send more was that the police came and told him it’s no longer allowed to photograph cars outside of the Hôtel de Paris, next to the Casino. Given this has been the favourite past-time of any car lover who’s ever been in Monaco for as long as anyone can remember and that car owners certainly didn’t mind, this is indeed very strange. Then again it’s still mandatory in Monaco to wear face masks everywhere, including outside, so Covid seems to have left some traces that this is maybe a consequence of. Leaving that aside however, the picture brings about the interesting question: which one of these highly competent but also highly collectable supercars would you go for, if you were fortunate enough to have the choice?
The SLR not only precedes the SLS by a letter but also by seven years as it was introduced in 2003 as its direct predecessor. It was built until 2009 by McLaren in Woking, having been developed jointly by the two manufacturers. The production was limited to 3500 cars but in the end only 2157 were built and of these, around 25% were roadsters. The engine was developed by AMG and was a compressor-charged V8 mounted behind the front axle and producing 626 hp in the first version until 2006, and 650 hp in the so called 722 update available from 2006 onwards (722 being Stirling Moss’s start number back in the day in the Mille Miglia race with the car the SLR takes its inspiration from, the original 300 SLR). Both SLR versions have a top speed of over 330 km/h which is truly sensational for a 15-year old car, and are paired to Mercedes’s 5-speed automatic from the time, which is far less sensational and probably the biggest drawback with the whole car, simply being too slow for a true supercar.
The SLR is to me a beautiful creation, a combination of an original and aggressive design and a slightly “old school” supercar construction, unfortunately with an interior that is not at all as spectacular as the exterior. Today these beauties cost from EUR 250.000 upwards for the coupé and from EUR 350.000 for the roadster as shown on the piture, with the 722 coupé as well as really low-mileage cars being more expensive and the 722 roadster, of which only 150 were built, far higher, if you can find one. There is currently one for sale in Switzerland at CHF 850.000.
The SLS was introduced the same year production of the SLR ended in 2009 and around 5.000 cars were built over the coming five years until 2014. Its official name is Mercedes-Benz SLS 63 AMG but even if AMG comes at the end, this was the first car that was completely developed by the company, although the car was put together at Mercedes in Sindelfingen. The engines were of course hand-built in Affalterbach. The SLS had true gullwing doors rather than the butterfly doors of the SLR, by far the most distinctive characteristic of the car (the roadster version obviouysly has conventional doors). Another far more important difference to the SLR is the SLS’s naturally-aspirated V8, the legendary 6.2 litre AMG engine developing 571 hp initally, 20 hp more in the GT versions from 2012, and 631 hp in the Black Series version in 2013. It also had a more modern, 7-speed, double-clutch speedshift box in all versions.
Finding an SLS is both easier and cheaper than finding an SLR. Both the first version and the GT start at or even slightly below EUR 200.000, going up to around EUR 250.000 for low-mileage cars. The Black Series is a different story, starting at twice that price and going all the way up towards EUR 700.000.
So to come back to the initial question, which one would you choose? If you’re in the market for these cars then the initial price difference is probably not decisive. Design-wise my vote goes to the SLR (just look at it!). It brings much more drama than the more restrained SLS, but clearly both cars are beautiful creations. Engine-wise however, a 6.2 litre, naturally aspirated AMG V8 will always beat a supercharged engine if you ask me, especially when it’s paired to a much better gearbox. Finally, if reason is to play any role at all here, whereas the SLR will be truly horrendously expensive to maintain, the SLS will just be very expensive.
Both these cars are true collectables but they are also and above all, true driving machines. If you’re lucky enough to consider either one of them, please don’t just park them in front of a nice hotel for others to see, even if they’re not allowed to take pictures of them anymore!