The Audi R8 – Vorsprung durch Racing!

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

The final version of the R8 before retirement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All I want for the New Year is…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looks the part and definitely looks like a Z!

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

The best sports car for 130′!

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

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

Lotus Emira

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

Chevrolet Corvette C8

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

Ferrari 458 Italia

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

Audi R8

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

McLaren MP4

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

Porsche 911

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

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

Pure blood from Maranello!

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

Purposeful front, air inlets above the lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street finds – the Jeep Grand Wagoneer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

A perfect American mix of leather, cloth and vinyl!

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

The last nail in the e-coffin

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

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

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

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

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

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

We would of course in addition have to mine whatever is needed for the solar panels, windmills and electrification needs of industry that should happen in parallel. Naturally, this assumes that all the countries from which we get these metals pose no political or moral issues, and continue to happily supply us with everything we need. No reminder is probably needed that one of the two most important of these countries is Russia which is currently engaged in a war in Europe and actively turning eastwards and away from us. Another one is the Congo, where children work in mines under inhumane conditions to extract 70% of the world’s cobalt production. Lithium on the other hand mainly comes from south America, notably Bolivia, with severe consequences for the local ground water supply.

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

Given however electrification is the chosen and from what you hear, the single way of development, the logical consequence should be to have increased mining high on the agenda. Without that, where are the metals supposed to come from? Of course that’s not what happens, especially not in the Western hemisphere. Our politicians much prefer to travel by private jet to a climate summit (COP 26) in a developing country (Egypt) to lecture other developing countries on their usage of fossil fuels, only to negotiate more oil and mineral deliveries from the same countries when the lights go out. Around 400 private jets brought the dignitaries of this world to COP in October this year and as an example, Germany imported eight times more coal from South Africa in 2022 than in 2021. We’ve rather let the Chinese invest in new mines, preferring not to get our hands dirty.

The hypocrisy is truly hard to believe, But it doesn’t stop here. Few countries have been as vocal about human rights abuses in connection with the football World Cup in Qatar as Germany, and emotions were running high when its team wasn’t allowed to wear rainbow armbands during the games in defense of LGBTQ rights. As we know now, that didn’t prevent the German government from signing a natural gas deal with Qatar for the coming 15 years at the same time as the German team tried to qualify for the quarter finals – without multi-colored bands around their arms…

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

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

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

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

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

The carbon emissions in the black smoke behind this cobalt mine aren’t verified…

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

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

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

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

Danke Seb!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Seb’s finest moment – Azerbaijan 2017

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

The simple life!

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

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

The Mk1 Triumph Spitfire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recession? What recession?

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

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

No sign of recession here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airy 1300 hp dreams!

It was certainly not a surprise that after our week in western Florida and the car reflections that came to me on the beach, New York would be vastly different. Still, I had to laugh to myself directly after landing, realizing I had just complimented our American friends on their civilized way of driving and was now about to die in a taxi from Newark airport, driven by a constantly honking maniac in a way only a maniac can drive a car. Let’s call it a return to reality… There’s no doubt Florida is more laid back than NY not only driving-wise but that said, it was great to see NYC back to its old, pre-Covid form!

We spent most of our days walking around Manhattan, and it was in the nowadays very pleasant Meatpacking District that we came upon the new Lucid showroom. We went in and talked to the very friendly Johan from Lucid, whom I guess I shouldn’t refer to as a sales guy since some strange American regulation makes a difference between shops and showrooms and prevents personnel in the latter from disclosing prices of cars shown. Having said that, Johan knew all there was to know about the Lucid Air, setting him apart from a number of other car showrooms and even shops around the world. We thus had a great discussion which brought me back to what I wrote last week about the greater freedom in EV design potentially replacing 700 hp V8 engines as the differentiator going forward. Lucid is not what I was thinking of when doing so, but I would claim the Air is a step in the right direction, and no doubt a very impressive one!

The Air in the Meatpacking district showroom

Lucid Motors was started in 2007 in California under the name Atieva as a 20-employee battery company. Today’s CEO Peter Rawlinson joined the company as CTO in 2013, having before that worked as lead engineer for the Model S at Tesla, and before that for Jaguar and Lotus but also for the legendary Porsche tuner Ruf. Rawlinson’s vision was to build the best EV in the world and thereby the first real luxury car in the segment. Before listing Lucid on Nasdaq through a SPAC deal in 2021, the company notably secured financing from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, and its good capitalization no doubt has helped the company bridge the various supply delays it together with other car makers have had in the last year. As I write this, Johan told me they have delivered about 3.000 cars and are ramping up production. Being mostly US-focused so far, plans for Europe have been delayed, but Lucid will launch in a number of European countries in the coming months, including Germany (where there is already a showroom in Munich), Switzerland, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands..

So what is the Air? The slightly philosophical answer to that is that it’s the kind of car that can only come out of a company that hasn’t built cars along certain routines and principles for a number of decades, and also not from a company with a larger-than-life man at the top who by principle insists on fitting something like falcon doors to a car, even if it delays it by two years and then still doesn’t work when it reaches the market (I know I’m incredible subtle here so just to clarify, I’m referring to the Tesla Model X). The Air takes a new approach and shows a new way of thinking, not only in how it looks but also in the thinking that has gone into it. Rawlinson claims the only principle that steered the team in the development was to build the best EV in the world and having everyone committed to that goal, letting all the underlying pieces contributing to the single goal.

It really looks like nothing else seen from the side…

Size-wise the Air is comparable to a Mercedes E-class on the outside, but with an interior space on S-class level. It looks good but I would not call it beautiful. It is however definitely different, especially over the passenger space between the A- and C-pillars. The Cw-wind resistance factor at 0.21 is of course excellent, and the front booth / frunk space is huge at 280 litres, apparently the biggest in the industry. It may look like a hatchback but the rear booth is conventional, being very deep but also quite low, in a Citroën CX-kind of way. That’s a shame since it makes it difficult for those of us with needs for dog cages or other bulkier stuff, and at least from the outside, it looks like the decision not to go for a hatchback design was not because they couldn’t but rather because they didn’t want to.

The real revelation however comes when you step in to the car and are met with an interior that is far beyond anything in any other EV (very much including cars like the Merc EQS). Under the glass roof that reaches over the full passenger space, Lucid has built an interior mixing leather with textile and wood. It looks and feels very much like the premium car it aspires to be, and does so all the way through and not like for example the mentioned EQS where the lower half of the interior is mostly cheap plastic. It’s a clean, nice design, with all the different screens you have nicely integrated. The glass roof gives a very airy (…) feel, and the leg space in the rear is larger than in most limos, with as only drawback that you can’t fit your feet under the front seats. By the way, the rear seats are in a different color than the front, a neat little design trick I think we’ll see more of. I wasn’t able to test he functionality of all this but the screens interact nicely with each other, and there’s also quite a few functions that can be operated over physical buttons.

The small screen left of the steering wheel reminds of the new Escalade

The Air comes in different equipment versions and also with one or two engines, which is one part of the Lucid magic. At less than 100 kgs and fitting into an airplane carry-on suitcase, not only are these engines smaller and lighter than anything on the market, they are also more powerful. One engine produces 670 hp (meaning that the top version “Dream” has 1300 hp…) and is thereby more than 100 hp stronger than a Taycan engine which is twice as heavy. The battery pack is the second part of the “secret sauce”. Lucid uses cells from LG but develops the pack internally and has managed notably to reduce resistance and thereby power loss through heat. This gives the Air around a 500-mile range, and Johan was very relaxed about this actually being for real even in less-than-ideal conditions. If true, it means that Lucid would set a new range standard. Peter Rawlinson however prefers to talk about charging speed, believing it to be more important than range as it ultimately makes cars with less max range acceptable. And less range means lighter, cheaper, and hereby also sportier cars (remember Rawlinson used to work at Lotus?) Anyway, in Europe Lucid uses the same CCS-system as the German manufacturers and the car can in ideal conditions charge at up to 300 kW, meaning 300 miles in 20 minutes. Prices for dual engine cars will probably start around EUR 150′ which would make it more expensive than a Model S Plaid, but cheaper than a Mercedes EQS.

Will two-tone interiors become the new trend?

I really wish Lucid well, not only because they’ve put together a good car but also because it feels like the next step in the evolution of EV’s, and the first EV I’ve ever really wanted to put in my garage. Of course you need to drive a car before giving any kind of final verdict, but I’m kind of relaxed about it since on one hand tests confirm that it drives well, even very well compared to other EV’s (and that assessment came from none less than Evo!). And on the other, as discussed a bit last week, beyond pushing the pedal to the metal an reaching 100 km/h in 2-3 seconds a few times, which is no doubt a big thrill, neither Lucid nor any other EV will ever bring the excitement through the driving experience. They need to do so differently, and the Lucid air is a good step in that direction!

Car reflections from the beach

This week I come to you from a stretcher on the wonderful white beaches of Clearwater in western Florida. Some well-deserved (if you ask me) vacation is finally here, and we’re certainly happy we chose to spend it here as it’s exactly as wonderful as we remember it from before that Chinese virus thing. That also goes for the cars – I’m sure we’ll see a lot of Priuses and other boring stuff when we fly up to New York in a few days but for now, it’s all about rumbling V8’s in XL format. I can’t think of a single place in Europe where my beloved Range Rover would look small, but here it’s more like a mid-sized SUV… And as far as EV’s go, in this part of Florida with many million-dollar vacation homes, I’m yet to see an EV charging station. I have seen a handful of Teslas though, but not more. It’s thus pretty clear that at least here, EV’s haven’t earned the status symbol badge just yet.

A regular American pickup and a smallish Range Rover…

I’m also yet to see what you see innumerable times in any European day, namely the 500 hp+ “race SUV’s”. The general impression at least in this part of this vast country is that people buy and drive their pick-ups and SUV’s as I guess they were intended – namely to transport families and various type of stuff on long or short journeys. Because if there’s another thing our American friends know how to do, it’s how to drive in a civilized manner. It’s our fifth day here and I’ve so far heard one person honking. If someone wants to change lanes you let them in. If you catch up with someone, you don’t drive up to half a meter from their bumper and flash your lights. And so on. Again, I’m sure my many American readers have a thing or two to remark here, but please take this for what it is, i.e. the spontaneous observations of a simple European tourist.

So with SUV’s and pick-ups dominating the picture and are driven like they should, that obviously means quite a lot of sports cars on the roads as well, used for a bit more active driving. There are lots of Mustangs and Corvettes of various generations but including the new one, which looks sensational and very much like something from Maranello (at half the price). These and other sports cars like the Lamborghini below tend to have at least eight cylinders and preferably be naturally aspirated. Of course it’s not like people do wild burnouts on the beach strip, but the point is that the horsepower are where they belong, under the hood of the sports car rather than that of the SUV.

It’s not all about the new Corvette!

I came to think of this as I was reading about Aston’s updated DBX. Long-term readers will perhaps remember my post on the DBX from the summer of 2021, where I made the case that unless you’re really set on having an Aston Martin for family transport, there’s very few rational reasons to buy one. I’m sure it handles amazing for an SUV, but as I’ve tried to highlight above, that is pretty pointless in something that weighs 2.5 tons and is intended for transporting lots of stuff or people. Anyway, Aston has now introduced the DBX 707, a super-mega version that consists in giving it 157 hp more (out of its Mercedes bi-turbo V8) so that it now has 707 instead of the perfectly acceptable 550 hp in the standard version. Next to that there’s of course a bunch of skirts and spoilers as well, mostly in carbon, and tires so large that you shouldn’t even think of ever leaving the asphalt.

What Aston didn’t see a need to update in the new version, or quite simply didn’t have the money to, includes notably the hood latch which is still in the passenger footwell (something I haven’t seen since my old Triumph TR4 from 1965 but that Aston seems to think is charming as it’s the same on other models as well). The infotainment system is still from Mercedes pre-MBUX, i.e. with origins close to ten years old, and still without touchscreen. And whereas you can fold the back seats from the luggage compartment, you need to walk around to put them up again. These may seem like small details and I’m the first to say that the infotainment isn’t what you should focus on, but this is a car that costs USD 250′-300′ and that competes with the best in the business. For that money I think it’s reasonable to expect not having to walk around to the passenger side to open the hood and maybe, just maybe, the money would have been better spent remedying the above rather than giving it more than 700 hp? Aston haven’t sold that many DBX’s so far and my bet is they won’t sell the new version either, other than to the real Aston aficionados.

I hope you noticed that I didn’t mention the looks…

With Lamborghini updating the Urus very soon and Ferrari about to introduce its Purosangue, it doesn’t look like the 700 hp power SUV trend will abate anytime soon. Of course the new DBX is just as little about ultimate road handling than an Urus, a Cayenne GT Turbo or a G63 is. It’s called prestige, and it seems to be something we Europeans crave much more of than over here in the home of the SUV. Whereas it’s improbable that every European power-SUV buyer experiences the US driving culture, it may actually be the EV trend that brings a remedy. Of course you could say that the crazy power numbers that EV’s put out rather reinforce the trend, but EV’s don’t roar, and whereas it’s really fun to push the pedal to the metal and exploit the immediate power surge, you’ll most probably tire of it quite quickly, at least that’s what my Tesla-driving friends tell me. What is left at that point is quite an ordinary-looking car that in most cases looks quite anonymous.

Anonymity is of course no good for the prestige-factor, so does this mean we will all become more equal and less prestige-driven when EV’s take over? That would be the day. I rather think we’re heading in another direction, namely that of a fundamental reappraisal of what a car really is. The only reason EV’s look like they do is because we’re used to how a car should look. Had we not had cars when the first EV was developed, it would no doubt have looked very differently to what they do today, given an EV with its briefcase-sized engines give much more design freedom. As EV’s become more common-place, I therefore think the way we’re heading may be towards EV’s that look completely different and hereby also convey the sought after prestige factor.

The solar-powered Aptera is maybe a good inspiration!

Then again, all the above may come from me spending too much time under the Florida sun, and it’s anyway clear that it’s not going to happen next year, nor the year after. I guess time will tell. For now, my wish would be that we Europeans become a bit more American in how we think of our SUV’s. I also wish that I get the chance to drive the new Corvette soon. Those looks combined with a big rumbling V8 that for the first time is mid-mounted, can’t be wrong!

Wonderful British quirkiness!

There was a time not too long ago when the UK was perhaps together with Italy, the world’s greatest sports car nation. A large number of brands built various roadsters, coupés and GT’s, many of which have today become classics. Some are obviously more well-known than others, and their fame is often reflected in the astronomical prices many of them trade at today – think for example Aston Martin. What most of them have in common though, except Aston Martin and one-two others, is that they’re no longer around. The late 70’s and 80’s were a period of demise for the British car industry and through that, a number of highly original and quirky brands were lost. That’s of course how a market economy should work but just like with Saab a few decades later, it also meant losing a bit of the originality the car industry was characterized by not too long ago. One of the quirkier brands from this period is no doubt West Bromwich-based Jensen Motors, builders of the Jensen Interceptor of which I was lucky enough to see one earlier this week. This week we’ll therefore look closer at a quirky English brand, its cars and, well, the British view of the world beyond the channel! Jensen started as an automobile body manufacturer back in the 50’s, notably for the British car maker Austin Healy. Next to that however, the founding brothers Jensen decided to produce their own sports cars in small series. The first in line was a car with neither a very selling name (C-V8), nor a nice design – some would go as far as call it outright ugly. Jensen’s designer Eric Neale certainly didn’t think so but given the client is always right, the C-V8 was pretty much a complete failure. Jensen cv8 It was the search for a somewhat more successful car than the C-V8 that led to the Interceptor, Jensen’s by far most well-known car, presented in 1966. This time the design had been commissioned to the Italians at Carrozzeria Touring (another company that would go bust a few years later) and although certainly more convincing than the C-V8, it was definitely still quite original. The front looked like many sports car in the day, the rear which in the UK became known as the “fish bowl”, is rather reminiscent of the 70’s AMC Pacer (which was of course designed after the Interceptor). If the exterior isn’t to everyone’s taste the interior is much more so, with a selection and quality of materials that led to the Interceptor being compared to high-end brands such as Aston Martin, Bristol or even Rolls-Royce. Interceptor interior We’ll make a quick pit stop here for a small side story that I find a wonderful illustration of Jensen and British car industry of the time. Jensen in parallel to the Interceptor built another model referred to as the FF. That’s actually a historic car as it was the first non-SUV passenger car with four-wheel drive, and thus highly innovative for its time. Neither in the 60’s nor now however does it snow a lot in the UK so if you build a four-wheel drive car close to Birmingham, you have to assume it was also intended for exports. All good so far. It’s just that no one in the Jensen factory apparently thought about the fact that most of the world outside of the UK by now had the steering wheel on the left side. So the FF only came as right-hand drive. Let’s just say it wasn’t a tremendous recipe for export success… Back to the Interceptor, which during the 10-year production came in three series with only subtle design differences between them but where the MK III was by far the most produced. The MK III also came with three different bodies: the most common “glass bowl” saloon, the much rarer and arguably better-looking convertible, and the ultra-rare coupé with a plexiglass rear. All three series had Chrysler big block V8’s and 3-speed automatic transmissions, but whereas the first two shared the same 6.3 litre, 325 hp V8 as the predecessor C-V8, the MK III had an even bigger, 7.2 litre engine, however at 285 hp with less power. This all had to do with the new US emission rules that limited the power of large engines quite heavily. Not only was the 7.2 litre engine less powerful, it was of course also heavier, and just a tad thirstier: apparently we’re talking 25-30 litres per 100 km (8-10 MPG) … Interceptor grey The convertible version of the Interceptor was presented in 1974 and is another example of Jensen’s risk-willingness or complete ignorance of the world beyond the UK, depending on how you see it. At this time most other brands were halting the development of new convertibles altogether, as it was widely expected that US safety authorities would enact a complete ban on open cars without roll-over bar. So Jensen was basically the only brand brave or foolish enough to launch a new convertible in this period. They were ultimately right given a ban was never enacted but they were kind of wrong anyway, since the whole company went bust only two years later, in 1976. By then they had produced about 500 convertibles, out of a total of some 6400 Interceptors. Interceptor cab Although the big block Chrysler engines were quite bullet proof, the fact that they all had carburettors and lots of them, didn’t make them any easier to run or service. The carburettors had to be adjusted frequently for optimal performance, apparently up to as often as every 1000-2000 km. Cooling was another issue Interceptors were known to struggle with and then there was of course the same issue as with all other cars in the 70’s – rust. You can certainly convert the engines to injection and upgrade the cooling system, an idea that some won’t like at all given the car is then no longer original. It will however be far more drivable, and thus possibly a solution for those preferring to spend time on the road rather than in the garage. Cooling and carburettors aside, the Interceptor is known as quite a wonderful GT car, offering loads of 70’s luxury and charm typically for far less money than a comparable Aston or Rolls (who as we all know also tend to have an issue or two…). There aren’t many in the market which makes pricing uncertain, but good saloons tend to start somewhere around EUR 50′ with convertibles costing much more. If this wonderful example of British ingenuity combined with a dinosaur-engine of a type will certainly never see again, then please make sure that if you’re not mechanically talented, you know someone who is, and go for a car as perfect as possible, as finding replacement parts for an Interceptor risks being as hard as finding a UK prime minister who will stay longer than a few months!

Populism is in, power is out!

A few weeks ago the Swedish mobility agency in a public announcement told EV drivers that it would be wise if they walked or biked for shorter distances, rather than use their shiny new EV. That’s of course the car they’ve been more or less coerced into buying and replace their old combustion one with, and it’s at the time of year when in Sweden, neither a walk or a bike run is necessarily what you’re dreaming of. This is only one of many small outcomes of the energy crisis Europe is currently battling, or put differently, the crisis where European tax payers pick up the bill for decades of political energy policy mismanagement. This week’s post will be more about what goes into the tank than the car itself – but as we all know, no fuel no fun… Regular programming will resume next week.

It’s a lovely season for a walk in Sweden…

Russia’s barbaric onslaught on Ukraine which will hopefully by some divine justice have Putin and his closest gangsters burn in a warm place for very long, is a complete tragedy. We may complain about energy security and fuel prices, but let’s never forget that the Ukrainians are paying a far heavier price, currently without an end in sight. The Ukraine war has however also provided populist politicians the opportunity to put the blame for their own failures on the war and Putin. EU representatives in Brussels like to talk about how Putin has weaponized energy. The exiting Swedish PM speaks about “Putin prices” when defending any kind of spiraling energy prices, notably at the petrol station, although half the price is tax. And so on. Clearly the war has had devastating effects on Europe’s energy supply, but it’s only had so because of Europe’s careless and self-imposed reliance on Russian energy.

Going into the war, 40% of Germany’s natural gas came from Russia. Gas makes up around 25% of Germany’s total energy mix but far more in the all-important industrial mix, so putting it bluntly, Europe’s largest economy put the energy supply of its industry and thereby the security of the whole country in the hands of Putin the dictator. And by the time the now blown-up NordStream II pipeline was built in the second half of the 2010’s, Putin had already showed what he was made of by invading not only Crimea in 2014, but before that also by engaging in wars with Georgia and in Chechnya – twice. So it was, or at least should have been, in complete knowledge of the facts that then German chancellor Merkel took the decision to hand the keys to the German industrial kingdom to Vladimir Putin, with many other European countries doing more or less the same. You really can’t make it up.

Russian-speaking ex-chancellor Merkel with her pal Putin.

To get to the root of the problem we do however need to go back to 2011 when immediately following the tsunami-caused Fukushima disaster, Merkel decided to close down Germany’s nuclear plants. Fukushima is of course on the other side of the world seen from Germany and the accident had no relevance whatsoever to Germany’s nuclear security, given the only coast Germany has is to the North Sea which isn’t very prone to tsunamis, and in addition not where Germany’s nuclear plants are located. But hey, who cares about energy security when there is a chance to earn political points with the growing Green movement? Here in Switzerland our local politicians jumped on the train before it had even stopped at the station and decided to close down our local plants. Of course we continue to import nuclear power from neighboring France and could never have closed down our own plants without those imports, but that’s something we don’t really like to talk about.

Nuclear is also where Europe and the US meet in our respective crises, with US policy in the last decade being just as set on closing down nuclear as Europe. The problem is of course that in parallel both sides of the pond also wanted to close down fossil fuels, in other words leaving us with no weather independent source of base power. In the US this has translated to more black-outs last year than at any point in history, and fuel prices in California are now getting close to USD 7 per gallon, which still sounds like a steal seen from Europe but is a historical high from a US perspective. President Biden has consistently acted against any expanded production of both oil and natural gas, at the same time as depleting the strategic oil reserve and traveling to Saudi Arabia, trying to get the true democrats down there to increase production. In essence, the message to US oil companies is “guys, we really don’t like you and we’ll close down all your business in a few years, but until then, could you please invest a few billion and increase production?”.

Look at the lower, grey curve…

Enough of the ranting, but the above needs to be said to put the current situation into context. For some strange reason though it usually isn’t, and I’m pretty convinced things will not get better unless those responsible are willing to stand up for mistakes made in past. Whether in the US or in Europe, we’re not in an energy crisis primarily because of Putin’s war in Ukraine or because the Saudis won’t increase production – we’re here because of naive, uninformed and populistic political policies that we as taxpayers are now paying for at the pump, by not using the EV that it was so important we buy, or by freezing in our homes.

The bad news is of course that this will not end anytime soon, but it’s at least good to see that a bit like a drunk waking up on the side of the road, European countries including Germany are now really scrambling for solutions and doing all they can to remedy the situation. Notably in terms of gas supply things are changing quickly, with a heavily reduced dependance on Russia that will go towards nil in 2023. That’s all great, but it only solves part of the problem. Through policies like the ones described above, most countries at present quite simply don’t have any reserve capacity for any type of energy. Building nuclear isn’t done in a couple of months, neither are necessary LNG terminals or for that matter little-discussed but very essential grid investments for renewables that are desperately lacking across Europe, and for which there risks not being any money left in the new recessionary environment we find ourselves in, coupled with increased defense budgets.

This is an LNG terminal in Japan. Doesn’t look like something you build in a couple of weeks…

What happens now is therefore a return to the old power sources we thought were closed down forever. Coal imports to Europe have increased by more than 30% in 2022 compared to previous years. In Poland natural forests are now being chopped for energy and people are burning garbage. In Sweden, the oil-fired power plants are back in action and in Denmark, neighbors steal each others’ wood pellets. Climate policy is out the window and we’d better all wish for a very sunny, windy and mild winter across both Europe and the US, which is not really what winter typically looks like. Otherwise, more or less power cuts could be on many countries’ agendas for the coming months. And even in the US, we can safely assume that oil production will increase when people really start freezing.

If electricity really is rationed, you can be pretty sure that EV charging will not go unaffected. The Swedish mobility agency may have been first, but a similar message will no doubt go out in other countries as well. EV charging will also continue to increase in price. How much depends on where you live and where you charge, but as a scary example there are charging stations in the UK where a 300 km charge now costs around £50, which is more expensive than fuel would be for a mid-sized car. And that’s assuming you find a station that works, which seems to be quite rare over there… If you need your car for your daily life and if you’re dependent on the public grid for charging, buying an EV right now is probably not the best idea.

Defeating Putin in Ukraine is of course more important than prices at the pump and would most probably help reduce the price of oil and gas, and thereby inflation. It’s interesting how politicians of all colors are now changing their tune with regards to nuclear and have a very hard time remembering where they stood on the issue until very recently. I had to rub my eyes hard this week when the climate activist Greta Thunberg joined the crowd, talking about Germany’s mistake in closing down its nuclear plants. Of course Greta as recently as 2019 was publicly against nuclear. The more things change they also stay the same though, because only two days later, ex-chancellor Merkel in only the second big interview since she left office said she doesn’t regret anything.

This may all be entertaining but it’s against a serious background where until there is at least more clarity on how our power supply and energy mix will look going forward, the safest option is no doubt to keep your combustion car, because whatever you pay at the pump, it’s still cheaper than buying an EV (and charging it). As we’ve looked at previously you won’t save the climate anyway by driving electric, and you may indeed want to decide yourself when to drive your car and when to bike or take a walk.

Classic races: the Carrera Panamericana!

In the series on classic races from the crazy days of motorsport, we’ll today travel to Mexico and learn more about the legendary Carrera Panamericana, a race that was cancelled after only five years, that is one of the most deadliest in motorsport history, but the name of which has also inspired two world-leading firms in naming their products sine more than 50 years. Unfortunately I’ve never been to Mexico which would certainly be an advantage in trying to describe a race as colorful as the Carrera in all its dimensions, although that would probably still be a problem to do in writing. Let me give it a try though, because the Carrera Panamericana (PC hereunder) certainly deserves its place among the truly classic motorsport races!

The PC was conceived as a road race by the Mexican government to showcase the opening of the Mexican stretch of the Panamerican Highway, a 30.000 km long highway stretch linking North and South America from Alaska in the north to Ushuaia in the south of Argentina. Well, at least almost linking, because in the middle between Panama and Colombia, there’s a break of around 100 km where there’s no road at all and you need to engage in a dangerous, four-day hike through the rainforest (without your car…) to link the two parts. Still, the Mexicans were really proud o having completed their part, and decided to celebrate it with a race.

The (almost) full stretch from north to south

In 1950 the first edition took the drivers from Juarez in the north of Mexico down to Chiapas in the south on the border with Guatemala, over a total distance of around 2000 miles (3200 km). Considering we’re back in 1950 there was obviously no 2000-mile race stretch available, so cars were driven on completely public and open roads, just like in the Mille Miglia we looked at a few weeks ago. In Mexico at the time and maybe still, many of those roads were made of mud, they cross mountains over passes and vast stretches of desert among cacti, over passes and through valleys. Then as now it’s also warm in Mexico, at times really warm, but at other times really cold as well, and none of this made the whole thing easier.

One of few color pictures – a Porsche during the PC

The first race in 1950 was made up of adventure-hungry amateur drivers from around the world, without any fuzzy rules whatsoever – the first car to cross the finish line was the winner. For some reason the first race was limited to five-seat sedans, a rule that was however changed in subsequent years. The race was anyway off to a strong start in the first year, with no less than three drivers and one fan dying… Over the coming years it would earn a reputation as perhaps the greatest motorsport adventure there was, attracting both brands and drivers that were more professional than in the first year. Until the original race came to an end in 1954, drivers like Juan Manuel Fangio, Carroll Shelby and Phil Hill had all competed in the race, with Fangio being the only F1 world champion to have won the PC as well.

1952. The three men in ponchos are Hans Klenk, Karl Kling and Hermann Lang, all successful Mercedes drivers in the Carrera Panamericana.

Just as in the Mille Miglia, there is a great number of stories that could be told about incidents during the different races. A great one is from 1952 when Mercedes had entered three 300 SL’s in the race, one of which was driven by Karl Kling with co-driver Hans Klenk. Taking a fast right-hander, a vulture smashed headlong into Kling’s windshield with the glass cutting Klenk’s face quite badly. The pair carried on regardless and still managed to take the win by half an hour. Another far less entertaining incident was during the 1953 race, the deadliest of all, with a total of eight spectators dying, including six who were hit by a car as they tried to help another car that had tumbled down an embankment. Just like in the Mille Miglia, one of the main problems was that the average speed climbed steadily every year and was by the end close to 160 km/h. That’s quite a lot when you consider the muddy roads, the mountain passes and deserts, and the 1950’s technology!

Klenk and the 300 SL after the encounter with the vulture

A total of 27 participants died during the five original PC races. That’s a truly astonishing number, but it fades somewhat (but not much) when you consider it’s estimated that over 2 million spectators watched the race on the roadsides between 1950 and 1954. What made Mexican authorities cancel the race was however not the race itself, but rather the dramatic accident in Le Mans in 1955 that killed 83 (!) people. More than 30 years later in 1988, the PC made a comeback as a professional race over a completely different stretch that is driven to this day, but that’s also a completely different story.

The Italian Maglioli won the last race in 1954 on his Ferrari 375 Plus

There we go – the Carrera Panamericana was perhaps the most dangerous of the classic motorsport races in the roaring 50’s and was cancelled after only five years. It was enough to make its reputation well beyond the race though, most notably of course with Porsche choosing to use the word Carrera, Spanish for race, to name first the 911 Carrera RS 2.7 and today, their 911 base models. The other company that took a liking in the name is the Swiss watch manufacturer Tag Heuer, that would obviously later also team up with Porsche with several dedicated watches, using the Carrera name. Time-keeping was certainly less precise during the PC than if Tag Heuer had handled it, but then again, that was never the main issue with the legendary, Mexican motorsport adventure!

“Luck, for a racing driver, is to survive”

Hans Herrmann, motorsport legend and Carrera Panamericana driver for Porsche in 1953 and 1954

The forgotten one

Life as a motor journalist can’t be easy. Depending on what you write or say your audience often finds you biased, and if you don’t love the car you’re reporting on, manufacturers won’t like you very much, putting at risk your future access to their cars. An example of the former are my own feelings as someone who reads motor press from different countries. I can’t remember a single sports car test in Germany’s most important car magazine Auto Motor & Sport where a German car didn’t come out on top. And British Evo, the magazine whose tagline this blog takes its name from, had a period about a year ago where there would be a McLaren in every single issue. Literally. You wouldn’t think you could ever tire of McLaren, but Evo at the time proved you wrong.

An example of criticism not going down well with manufacturers also comes from Evo, who at the introduction of the Aston Martin DB9 had the audacity to picture it on the front of the magazine against a title that read “Why the DB9 it fails its toughest test”. The journalists in question were actually summoned up to Aston HQ in Gaydon and basically told they were wrong. It didn’t jeopardise their future access to Aston cars in any way, but they’ve testified to this not being a very pleasant experience…

Not a cover that made people happy at Aston HQ…

The DB9 may have failed the ultimate test in Evo’s eyes, but it was certainly the car that put Aston on the map for a larger public than had previously been the case. As one of the most beautiful modern sports cars ever, it was built for all of twelve years until 2016 with various updates along the way. And just as the DB9 was not an update to the DB7 but very much a new car, the same was true in 2017 when its successor, the DB11, was introduced. And so we’ve finally arrived at this week’s topic. You see, the DB11 is officially a failure, and even Aston will tell you that. Underneath however it’s a pretty good 2+2 GT car, which today is somewhat of a bargain. Let’s look at why it’s worth considering!

Many DB11’s are two-tone to help enhance the design

When it was introduced at the Geneva Auto Show in 2016, the DB11 received a lot of praise for its looks and was seen as a worthy successor to the DB9. Relatively quickly however, it became clear that not everyone was convinced by the design that remains quite decisive to this day. Personally I find the DB11 stunning and far better live than in pictures. Especially the rear sets the car apart from anything else in a positive way and as a 2+2 GT, I find it one of the best looking cars out there. And by the way, 2+2 is exactly what it says, with the rear seats meant for luggage or rather small children.

Turning the key certainly doesn’t make matters worse. Initially the DB11 was offered not with Aston’s 5.9 litre V12 from the DB9, but rather with a new 5.2 litre twin-turbo V12 developed in-house and producing slightly more than 600 hp. A year later Aston used its by now well established relationship with Mercedes-AMG to complement the V12 with the well-known, double-turbo V8 offered in various AMG models. The V8 delivered around 100 hp less than the V12 but with almost the same torque, and with more than 100 kg less weight on the front axle.

Cosy, but also far more spacious than a DB9!

The concept the DB9 and various other Astons up until the DB11 were built around was referred to as VH (Vertical Horizontal), a name that basically doesn’t tell you anything unless you’re an Aston engineer. We won’t dwell on it here but the construction carried with it that both the DB9 and other cars, especially the DBS, were very stiff and not very pleasant on longer rides. Given their character as GT more than sports cars, this wasn’t ideal. The DB11 doesn’t take the VH concept further and is built on a new chassis, bringing far more comfort than its predecessors. It carries over to the cabin which has the right amount of leather for an Aston, meaning a lot, and is generally a nice place to be. Its infotainment unit is the same Mercedes used in the early 2010’s pre-MBUX and is of course hopelessly dated, but it lets you connect your phone and the (optional) B&O stereo more than compensates for it. Driving-wise, most agree there isn’t much to complain about either. The DB11 doesn’t shoot the lights out and isn’t made for throwing round a track, but it does a pretty fabulous job as the GT it was built to be.

The DB11 was introduced as one of Aston’s “make or break” cars. The firm’s CEO at the time was still Andy Palmer and he felt it so important to convince buyers of the car’s qualities, and fundamental quality, that he apparently gave his personal mobile number to the first 1000 of them, telling them to call him should they have an issue. It’s unclear how many did, but what is clear is that it didn’t help much. The DB11 failed pretty spectacularly, to the point where Aston cancelled it after only 18 months of production – at least in its first version. By then, only 4200 cars had been produced. The second version that remains in production to this day is referred to as AMR (Aston Martin Racing) and saw the V12 boosted by another 30 hp. The V8 wasn’t affected by the update and has remained unchanged, but both versions will see a major review in 2023 as part of a general overhaul of Aston’s model line-up.

A far nicer front than on the current Vantage!

DB11’s today start around EUR 100′ for both versions, meaning half or even less than half of their price as new for cars that are two-three years old. I’ve written lately about cars preserving their value in today’s market, but this is clearly not one of them. Until now that is, because we may just have hit the bottom in terms of resale values here. If you like the looks (and how could you not?!?) and are in the market for a 2+2, EUR 100′ for a V8 or V12 Aston is really quite attractive. Between the two I’d go for the V8 given it produces the same torque and drives better given far less weight on the front axle. It’s also an engine that is tried and tested throughout in various AMG cars. There is however a reason to look at the first version of the V12 given only 4200 few were built. When the AMR update was introduced, CEO Andy Palmer referred to the pre-AMR cars as future collectibles. I’m not sure about that, but I’m quite sure that EUR 100′ is a pretty attractive entry ticket for one of those, collectible or not. The DB11 is a fabulous car that you don’t see on every corner, and the downside from here is certainly far more limited!

Two is more fun than one!

Turbo. the concept arguably made popular in petrol cars by Swedish Saab in the 70’s, has come such a long way that it doesn’t get much attention anymore. Yet if you want to challenge the US saying “there’s no substitute for cubic inches”, at least in terms of power output there’s no way around the turbo. Its advantages are obvious in allowing a far larger output from a smaller engine than would otherwise be the case, and a smaller engine means lower weight and potentially lower consumption, a bit dependent on how often you rev the turbo. Over time things have gone from one to two or even three turbos in modern engines, engaging at different revs, and the concept of more than one turbo on a petrol engine actually goes back to the late 70’s as well, and was somewhat surprisingly pioneered by none other than Maserati. In fact, most observers agree that had it not been for the Biturbo engine family, Maserati would have gone under there and then – and that would have been a shame!

A first generation Biturbo Spyder

There were two reasons times weren’t rosy at Maserati’s HQ in Modena, Italy, in the mid 70’s: firstly Maserati was owned by Citroën at the time in something that was far from an ideal marriage and secondly, various cars were built in small numbers without standardised production methods. Next to that however, much like other sports car brands at the time, Maserati was not helped by Italian taxation law which heavily penalised engines larger than two litres. This led manufacturers to the same thinking that Saab had up in Sweden, albeit for different reasons, namely to get more power out of a smaller engine. The turbo was the answer, but whereas Saab found one turbo to be sufficient, down in Modena the idea was an engine with two turbos boosting power even further. The project was led by a certain Alejandro de Tomaso, the Argentinian who had run his own car brand in Modena since the 50’s (and whose cars until then had certainly not used turbos but rather cubic inches, but that’s a story for another day…).

A less spectacular rear, but notice the Maserati emblem on the c-pillar!

De Tomaso took over Maserati in 1976 and saw its way back to profitability in cheaper cars through standardised production methods and with sub-two litre engines such as to avoid taxation penalties. The result was on one hand a range of different models over the coming years that we’ll look closer at below, and on the other the six-cylinder Biturbo engine which initially put out 179 hp from only 1996 cm3. That number would later be increased to as much as 245 hp in the early 90’s and siblings to the engine would offer even more power but at larger volume, and were therefore mostly destined for the export market.

The cars Maserati started producing under de Tomaso’s management were comparable to the BMW 3-series of the time in size and came as two-door coupé, convertible/spyder and four-door sedan. At 4.1 metres long and only some 1100 kgs weight, the first generation Biturbo cars that came onto the market from 1982 used carburettors, which combined with the small six-cylinder engine produced a wonderful sound. Initially de Tomaso’s plan seemed to work as sales numbers picked up from around 2000 in 1982 to over 5000 in 1983. By then however, early cars started having pretty important quality and reliability issues, and sales numbers fell regularly over the coming years. Issues were actually so important that Maserati decided to remove the Biturbo reference in car names after 1988, by which time both engines and cars had seen quite an important facelift and had also improved quality-wise.

A late Spyder interior with lots alcantara, leather and wood! Notice the watch…

Be it the two-door coupé, the Spyder or the four-door sedan, what they all have in common are quite an angular design which is far from the the sweeping lines of Italian cars in the 60’s. It’s a matter of taste whether you like it, but the car definitely has more presence than for example a BMW 3-series. And once you open the door, everything changes as you’re greeted by an ocean of leather an alcantara in a cabin that no one on this side of Rolls Royce and Bentley offered at the time, and hardly do today either. The interior could be chosen in different colours and with different mixes of alcantara and leather, and looking at most cars today makes it clear how much better leather stands the test of time than alcantara!

The sharp lines were softened a bit both inside and out with the first facelift in 1987 and perhaps more importantly, the engine was changed to fuel injection. Further improvements over the coming years included the suspension, steering and brakes, and as mentioned, the overall quality improved. In 1991 the two-door Shamal was added to the range with further design changes to other cars as well, generally in the form of more painted plastics in line with what was popular in the 90’s. The 2-litre V6 by now produced up to 245 hp but was only sold in Italy. It was complemented by the larger 2.8 litre engine in other markets, and models in the late 80’s and early 90’s were called 2.24 and 222 (two-door) and 4.24 and 422 (four-door). Next to these the Spyder was still built, featuring the same engines. A couple of years later in 1994, the lights were out for Biturbo engine, although elements of it lived on into later Maserati engines.

The Shamal is hard to find and could only have been built in the 90’s!

It’s a few years since I drove a late 80’s coupé, but it was probably the most Italian driving experience I’ve ever had. As said the car is small, so you sit relatively tight in quite an Italian position, meaning one that requires long arms and short legs, which isn’t really how I’m built. It also made clear that Italians are usually smaller than my 183 cms. it’s not too bad though and when you look closely at the interior, you discover how wonderfully hand-sewn it looks, with uneven stitching here and there which only adds to the charm of the package. It’s a car you can definitely throw around the corners should you want to, but be slightly careful doing so given the engine of course has the same Ketchup-like power delivery as other 80’s turbo engines. Generally though, the car is a pleasure to drive and gives you real 80’s vibes!

The quality issues Maserati ran into with the first series of cars meant values reached rock-bottom on the used car market, and although good cars have started to gain somewhat in value, we’re pretty much still there. This is clearly driven by many cars having been purchased by drivers on a small budget who could buy the cars thanks to the cheap entry ticket, but who have then neglected maintenance or used the car like a hot hatch. Service history is therefore key, as is a thorough inspection of the rust-prone body and the sensible, and today partly irreplaceable interior. Did I mention checking the engine as well? You should, but even if you do it all, a Biturbo will probably not be the problem-free perfect car for those who love German precision. It’s thus important to know yourself in this regard. The best part is of course that you won’t have to spend more than EUR 15-20.000 for really good cars, meaning a bit of investments isn’t all that bad. That’s with the exception of the Shamal though, a car by many considered a the best (and certainly sportiest and most 90’s) of the Biturbos, but which today is very hard to come by, and correspondingly expensive.

The Spyder gives you even more engine sound for the same money!

The four-door Quattroporte is generally slightly cheaper than the coupés and Spyder, and arguably the least attractive in the range. Later cars after 1987 and into the 90’s are quality-wise the best and most powerful. They don’t have the unbeatable sound of the carburettor six-cylinder though, and have also lost some of the angular appearance of the early cars. Both earlier and late cars in good condition are becoming more difficult to find but if you do your research, you will definitely find a Biturbo that provides plenty of pleasure along with a few frustrations, and the value of which can only go one way from here. Should that not be enough, driving it will also make you feel more Italian than anything this side of Modena!

The best car Hethel ever built!

As regular readers have no doubt noticed, I don’t often write about new cars. Enough other people do that, and the fact that most new cars these days are EV’s is certainly also a contributing factor. I’m also no big fan of losing 30% in the first year, although as highlighted recently, that’s something that seems to be changing in these crazy times, at least for some cars. However, when one of the favorite brands among all car enthusiasts brings out a new car with two petrol engine options, and indications are that it’s the best car they’ve ever built, then I do believe it’s worth a few lines. I’m talking about Lotus and the all new Emira, that we’ll look closer at this week!

Beautiful – with Evija and F8 elements all over!

The Hethel-based brand is something like northern Europe’s Alfa Romeo; every time they launch a car we all want them to get it right and in terms of driving pleasure they usually do, but unfortunately the cars just as often are a deception both in quality and comfort, especially since they tend to be a tad too expensive for what they offer, making them an enthusiast, niche product. This is no doubt one of the reasons behind Lotus’s financial difficulties through the years. After a drive in an Exige a few years ago, I mentioned to the dealer that I found it slightly harsh. He just pointed at the Evora saying that in that case, that was the car for me. I had some back problems then, and the time it took me to get into the Evora was exremely unworthy. When I was finally in, what I discovered was a car that was perhaps refined compared to an Exige, but miles away from a Cayman, yet still more expensive. That’s not a winning package. Luckily, having had the opportunity to experience the Emira inside and out recently, I’ll risk it and claim things have very much changed – in a positive way!

The Emira is Colin Chapman’s last Lotus iteration and also the last Lotus with a combustion engine, before the brand goes fully electric under the new Geely ownership. The chassis comes from the Evora but has been heavily reworked and Lotus has developed a new steering rather than buying it from another brand as they’ve done previously. In terms of looks it’s no big surprise that the Emira has clear design elements in common with its sibling, the coming, all-electric supercar Evija. Next to that however, it also looks like a mini Ferrari. More precisely, like a mini F8 Tributo. There are elements on all sides that makes you think of the cars from Maranello in general and the F8 in particular, but the design combines looks with function, with air being led through various channels from front to back in an Evija-like way. The result is absolutely fantastic, and the Emira definitely has a supercar look about it, far from the more toy-like looks of some of its predecessors.

Replae those lights with round ones and the F8 resemblance i clear!

Initially the Emira is offered with two engines: the well-known, supercharged Toyota V6 featured in both the Exige and the Evora, and here putting out 400 hp. It’s coupled to either a manual or an automatic gearbox. The other option is a four-cylinder, turbo-powered Mercedes-AMG engine from the A45s with 360 hp, which is only available with an auto box. That engine actually puts out 61 hp more in the A45s, so AMG tuned it down for Lotus such as not to challenge the V6 as the top engine. It’s a pretty safe bet that with the first facelift in a year or two, the four-pot will have its performance increased… Both engines produce similar speeds at just over 4 seconds to 100 and a top speed over 280 kph but as said, if you want a manual (and many Lotus drivers do!), then the V6 is the only option. And there’s another, very Lotus-typical reason for wanting a manual, namely that the gearing is still fully transparent and visible on the inside under the center console!

The inside is also were the biggest differences to previous Lotuses are to be found, and it’s a bit like night and day. Gone is the rudimentary interiors of earlier Lotuses, replaced by a very nice place to be, still with a clean design that is not overloaded, and offering a good mix of new, digital elements and phyiscal buttons. It also feels very roomy compared to for example an Evora, which is interesting given at 4.4 metres long and 1.95 metres wide, the car isn’t much bigger. The squared (almost) steering wheel and shifter sit exactly where they should, the digital instruments and infotainment screen offer all modern features you could wish for, but have been combined with physical buttons notably for climate and radio controls. Why can’t everyone do that?? With a total weight of only 1400 kg, the Emira is heavier than an Elise or an Exige, but still qualify as lightweight in today’s world, thus staying true to Chapman’s legendary lightweight motto. But for 5 kgs, the weight is actually on par with a Porsche Cayman.

The interior has nothing to do with previous Lotuses!

Next to the manual box, another reason to opt for the Toyota V6 is a great sound through the Emira’s exhaust. First tests indicate that the car drives like a Lotus should, diving into corners, perfectly controllable over the steering, well-balanced and very happy to wag its tale and drift as much as you want, should you want to. There are no active elements in the suspension, Lotus has rather set up the car as they believe it should be set up and offer you the choice of two versions, a sportier one and a more comfort-focused one. To go with that are two different 20-inch tires that have been specifically developed for the Emira (something that was actually last done for something as exclusive as the AMG GT Black Series!), one sportier than the other, and inside them are really big disc brakes that should have no problem bringing the 1400 kg to a halt.

Launch cars are available in a First Edition with the V6 and with a driving package, special wheels and various other visible elements highlighting it is precisely that, i.e. the First Edition. The initial batch of V6 cars have been sold out in most markets, although most haven’t made it to the road yet. If I were to order a car in Switzerland today, I could chose between the V6 and the AMG engine, and Lotus indicates delivery in about a year for both. That may be better than some other cars, but it’s still a long time! Prices are not fully clear but are somewhere around EUR 80-90.000 for the V6 version and about EUR 10.000 less for the four-cylinder. All cars are well equipped with few options. Considering that and that this is a mid-engined, two-seater which at 1400 kg offers 400 hp, the Emira very much looks like a supercar for sports car money. And when you add to that the interior quality, comfort and practicality it also offers, it starts sounding not only attractive, but actually pretty irresistible, especially when you know that with a Toyota or an AMG engine, servicing it won’t ruin you either.

I’ve yet to see a colour that doesn’t fit the car!

Should you get this instead of a Cayman or for that matter, an F8? As always, that depends on who you are. Even though the Emira is miles ahead of previous Lotuses, if you’re looking for perfection, then the Cayman is probably the way to go. And if you really want the full drama, looks and sound from Maranello, well then an F8 is the car to get. But if you’re on a smaller budget, you enjoy special things that aren’t seen on every corner, you find it has enough supercar looks and feels special enough, well then the Emira could be the car for you. Personally I would be in that corner, and buying the last petrol car that will ever come out of Hethel also feels quite special! In terms of which one to get however, Lotus hasn’t made it easy. I like the V6 but by the sounds of it, the AMG four-pot could be a real peach. What settles it for me though is that to me, a Lotus needs to be a manual, especially when it lets you look into the gearing mechanism. I’ll take the V6 please!

The 1000 hp Ferrari tribute!

Sometimes funny things happen in the car market where you least expect them to, as is currently the case with one of the greatest cars of them all – none less than the tremendous Ferrari SF90. The somewhat unexpected situation I’m referring to is that there’s unusually many of them for sale. This is unusual both as the SF90 is very much still a new car (although you can’t order a new one anymore), but also since it’s rare to see any kind of supercar at this level being offered in current numbers. This doesn’t mean that they’ve dropped massively in price, but of course a large supply tends to reduce the price in the long run (and vice versa, as the energy market is reminding us of). So what’s going on? Have so many fallen out of love with one of the greatest supercars of all time, and in that case why? And what is the Ferrari SF90 really about? That’s what we’ll look at this week.

New design elements were introduced on the SF90 that in my eyes look great!

Presented in 2019 and boasting a total of 1000 hp of which 220 are electric, the SF90 name is a tribute to the 90 years of the Ferrari racing team. The extreme creation is however not the first super-Ferrari that uses hybrid technology – that was the LaFerrari, although that was a simpler, non-chargeable hybrid system and total power output was “only” 950 hp. The SF90 is a plug-in hybrid with two tank caps on the aisles just like on the F40, it’s just that in one of them, nothing but a cable should go in. Design wise the SF90 goes its own way, which is not to everyone’s taste. The headlights are different in shape to all other cars from Maranello and the square rear lights will probably have some Ferraristi rub their eyes. Whatever the form of the lights though, in terms of speed there’s little reason for concern. The SF90 hits 100 km/h in 2.5 seconds and 200 km/h in 6.7 seconds, and then goes on all the way to 340 km/h. That’s the take-off speed of an Airbus passenger plane… In terms of acceleration it’s even more impressive when you consider that at around 1600 kg, the SF90 is around 200 kg heavier than LaFerrari was, and still manages to be faster.

The rear’s design is less clear, and squared rear lights are a Ferrari first!

The secret of course lies in the engine package. Firstly the combustion, 4-litre, twin turbo V8, putting out 195 hp per litre and being buried so deep in the car that the cylinder heads barely reach the middle of the rear wheels. This is unlike most Ferraris where the engine sits right under the bonnet, but of course does wonders to how the car handles. Complementing this tremendous machine are a total of three electrical motors, one centrally placed and the other two close to the front wheels, adding up to another 220 hp. The motors would be capable of more than twice that power, but the relatively small 8 KwH battery sets the limit. It’s also responsible for the SF90 not doing more than a max of 25 km in electrical mode, then again that’s probably not your main concern when you develop a new Ferrari supercar. It doesn’t change the fact though that the SF90 is the first Ferrari that can be driven fully electrically and thereby silently, which is quite useful when you want to sneak out of the neighborhood early in the morning!

No Ferrari engine has been located lower than the double-turbo, four-litre V8!

The aerodynamic features of the car are too many to go into in any greater detail, but at a speed of 250 km/h they add almost 400 kg of additional downforce, a pretty impressive number. And of course, the four engines in different places help the car in the area of dynamics. It basically gives the car an informal four-wheel drive system, hereby making it the first 8-cylinder Ferrari driving on more than two wheels. On the inside you sit low in the driver seat and look out over a total of 9 digital displays, the largest of which is almost Tesla-esque in size and is complemented by quite an advanced head-up display above it (also a first for Ferrari). Luckily the manettino is still there, helping you switch between driving programs.

A lot of screens, that sometimes work in an Italian way…

There’s thus no doubt that the SF90 is quite a compelling package and a modern supercar in the true sense of the word – so what’s with all the cars in the market? It’s indeed quite odd, but as I write this there are 105 SF90’s for sale in Germany, and as many as 22 in small Switzerland. No other comparable supercar is close to those numbers. Contrary to the LaFerrari of which only 500 coupes were built, production of the SF90 wasn’t limited, although it’s gone out of production now, and there’s was never any conditions tied to buying one, such as owning other Ferraris. Price-wise, having initially climbed to about 20% above the price as new, cars have now come back to roughly the new price between EUR 500-600’ with as said many cars hitting the market.

My guess is that one reason for the number of cars in the market is exactly that, I.e. that the SF90 could be bought by anyone, and a number of cars probably were in the good economic years we now have behind us, during which it was produced. With the benefit of hindsight many may then have changed their mind, so what’s been going on is a kind of cleansing of the market. Where it goes from here is probably anyone’s guess. In the coming five years the car can certainly lose 20% or EUR 100’, or on the other hand start appreciating, notably now that production has stopped. Given we are after all talking about a 1000 hp Ferrari, I’d put my chips on the latter scenario. As always though, if your considering one, don’t by an SF90 to speculate. Buy it to enjoy what is one of the greatest supercars ever built, and enjoy it all you can!

The only car you’ll ever need!

If you don’t want run the risk of serious depression, you need to be selective when watching the news these days. Between the war in Ukraine, rampant inflation, lock-downs in China and other de-globalization effects (and in addition to that a full energy crisis in Europe), it’s not a wild guess that the coming years may well be more difficult than the last ones. Is it maybe time to downscale, and reduce the number of cars in the garage? Thinking about it, I started playing with the idea that you would have to stick to one car and one car only for the rest of your life. What would you choose? I realize many would probably answer with an EV these days, but for this exercise, let’s forget about those and stick to the good old combustion ones. A sports car would be nice but not really in line with down-sizing, and also not very practical. Coupes are nice to drive but not very good for your present or future kids and all their stuff. SUV’s is obviously the way most of us have gone in the last years, but they’re not really a thrill to drive, unnecessarily heavy, and loading them is quite tiresome given the height.

If you think about it, I’m sure you’ll reach the same conclusion as me. The one car that will serve you well for the rest of your life is – drumroll – a German power station wagon and more precisely, an Audi RS6 Avant or a Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG. They will carry all your children and their gear when they’re young, and all the furniture when you’re re-designing your house after they moved out. Their four-wheel drive systems will ensure you reach your favorite winter destination while beating most supercars (at least those a few years old) on the highway. But they can also take your stepmother to the grocery store without her noticing anything special, and she’ll be able to load the groceries herself in the back. The RS6 and E63 are thus pretty unbeatable and have obviously been head to head competitors for many years.

Purposeful and muscular with tremendous presence!

Regular readers of this blog might rightfully be a bit surprised at this point for two reasons: firstly the fact that up until three years ago I owned an E63 so why on earth did I sell it? And secondly, wasn’t I the one who complained about how bad the (then) new E-class was? You’d be right on both points and I’m not sure my defence will convince you, but in terms of my E63, if there’s one car I wish I hadn’t sold it’s indeed that one and if I had a second chance, I might well have decided differently. Trading it in for an XC90 was perhaps sensible, but if so, proving how boring sensible can be.

On the second point it’s indeed true that I’m still far from convinced by the current E-class but luckily, a downsizing budget is more compatible with a somewhat older car, which in this case would mean the Merc (W212) E63 AMG and the Audi (C7) RS6 Avant, built from 2013 until 2016 and 2018 respectively (meaning for Merc, the face-lifted version of the W212). These were the last not-fully digital versions and they can now be had at between 1/3 and 1/4 of their price as new, meaning around EUR 50-60.000. For what is arguably the world’s greatest car concept, that’s no less than a tremendous bargain and one that is hard to resist, whatever the world does next!

An elegant line, appreciated by those “who know”…

As a short background, the W212 MB E63 AMG in its face-lifted version was introduced in 2013 and unlike its predecessor, it had four-wheel drive as standard, which is very useful in getting the power from the 5.5 litre, double-turbo V8 with 557 hp in the regular version, or 585 hp in the “S” version, to the tarmac. The additional power was more noticeable in the torque which increased from 720 Nm to 800 Nm. The corresponding C7 RS6 was built between 2013 and 2018 and was the third version of the RS. Its 4-litre, double-turbo V8 produced 560 hp as standard or 605 hp in the version called “Performance” in most European markets, with corresponding torque numbers of 700/750 Nm. It goes without saying that it also came with four-wheel drive as standard – how could it be any different from the home of Quattro?

The engines and drive trains are thus very similar, as are acceleration and top speed numbers with drag races normally ending slightly in favor of the Merc. The difference is however negligible, but it’s far more common that Audis have been tuned to even more power than E63’s, and it’s not uncommon to see RS6’s with over 700 hp. What is more surprising given Merc’s reputation is that the E63 is the hooligan of the two, very happy to drift as much as you desire but only if you so desire. This is very different to Audi’s more controlled behavior – it drives like it’s on rails whether you want it or not. Then again, if you’ve tuned it beyond 700 hp, that’s perhaps a good thing…

A fault-free interior – perhaps slightly dull?

In terms of styling this is of course a matter of personal taste, but I think most people would agree on the Audi having more presence than the Merc which is more of a sleeper. I would also say that the Audi looks sportier, the Merc more elegant. The same is carried over to the interior where most would probably agree on Audi’s being more modern, which of course has to do with the W212 having been introduced already in 2009 and the face-lifted version taking over most of the original car’s interior in 2013.

In terms of quality and feel however, the Merc has a solidity to it which I find difficult to replicate (and which the current E-class is light years away from). It very much leaves you with the impression of being the last “real” E-class. The E63 is also the roomier car, both cabin- and booth-wise, with up to 200 litres more space in total. If you still rely on onboard infotainment you’ll prefer Audi’s larger screen and more modern system, and it’s also far easier to find an RS6 with the B&O sound system. Mercedes also offers that as an option, but it’s far less common. That’s a shame, since it’s a fantastic system, far superior to the cheaper systems in both cars.

An ageing interior, but ageing well!

If you’re still with me and haven’t made up your mind just yet, there’s two other things to note before you do so: firstly, the RS6 is much more often to be seen than the E63. The latter is quite rare and content with being only noticed by those “who know”. If you don’t want to see the same car on every street corner, or indeed if you want to be noticed less than you are in an RS6, that’s worth considering. Secondly, comparable RS6’s are generally more expensive than E63’s by somewhere between EUR 10-20.000. Good sub-100.000 kms E63’s will start around EUR 50.000, corresponding RS6’s at around EUR 60.000.

Whichever one you choose, do so carefully. A 700 hp RS6 with unclear history and imported from Germany is not necessarily the one you want, neither the car that rides on 23-inch wheels with nothing between rubber and the wheelarch. This is far more common with RS6’s than with E63’s, so beware. As always, original cars from countries with high fines for speeding, and elderly owner and a complete service history are the best and worth a few thousand more. Think about the equipment that is important to you and although this may make the search longer, don’t compromise but rather wait until the right car comes along, because it will. And if that happens to be a bright red RS6, who cares? Firstly it’s one of the few cars in this class that looks good in red, secondly you’ll probably never want to sell it anyway and thirdly, if you do, the secondary value will take much less of a hit than if it had been a new car 3-4 times more expensive. As for myself, if downsizing really kicks in and my beloved cars had to go to focus on one, then I would buy an E63 again. But just to make sure, I would test drive that RS6 once more before doing so!

The most elegant 4-seater ever!

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to spot a number of spectacular cars within a few minutes and meters in downtown Zurich, and made a post about it that you can find here if you missed it. One of those was in my eyes far above the rest in both elegance and rarity. To me, the legendary Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet is one of the most elegant cars ever built and as I said in my post, it certainly deserves a bit more attention than sharing a post with a number of other more “everyday” cars (that’s perhaps stretching it, but at least far more common). This week therefore, we’ll take a closer look at the car that is not only beautiful and incredibly elegant, but also historic in several ways!

The beautiful 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet

The 280 SE (as I’ll call it from here on, given that saves loads of time writing…) is part of the W111/W112 range, the roots of which go back all the way to 1959 and which are today known as forerunners to what would later become the S-class. The W111/W112 (the difference being that the latter was a more luxurious version with notably air suspension and a more luxurious interior) was mostly sold as a four-door sedan, which became known as the “Heckflossen”-Mercedes (tail fin Merc) due to the shape of the rear “wings”. However a station wagon, a coupé and a convertible were also built in smaller numbers, all based on the same, non-modified platform. The body parts were different though and most of these were produced by hand, as many other cars at the time. The sedan wasn’t however, and this contributed to making the other versions prohibitively expensive in comparison. In spite of this and the resulting small production run, they are important as they are the last Mercedes cars that were in essence built by hand.

The regular w111, also referred to as “Heckflossen” (tail fin)

In the first half of the 60’s, the coupé and convertible had the designation 220 SE and were powered by a 2.2 litre, six-cylinder engine putting out a relatively modest 120 hp. Subsequent versions called the 250 SE, the 280 SE and the 300 SE (the most luxurious version, part of the W112 range) pushed that all the way to 170 hp, but it was in 1969 that things really changed, as that was the year the 280 SE got the brand new, 3.5 litre V8 engine internally called M116 with 200 hp, the first Mercedes engine post-WW2 that was larger than three litres. It came together with a modest facelift as the W111 was starting to age, notably including a flatter radiator grille and different rear lights. The new grille’s shape made the car known in Germany under the name “Flachkühler”, translating into “flat radiator”. Contrary to what is often believed it thus had nothing to do with making more room for the new engine, but was rather purely a styling measure. The price issue had been solved somewhat at least vs the coupé, as the convertible was only 10% more expensive towards the end of production. That is slightly different today, as we’ll see below.

Not the most beautiful engine, but the 3.5 litre V8 it does its job!

The 280 SE comes from a time when Mercedes was shaking off the old post-war heritage and started developing more modern cars to take the brand into the future. Car building itself was however still traditional, panels were still in thick metal and weight considerations weren’t a major concern, neither on the outside, nor on the inside. What looks like wood is indeed wood, and of the finest quality, and quite a few cows must have lost their lives when the interior was sown. The doors are heavy and make the right sound when you close them and the leather-covered dash has another cow or two on its conscience. The engine is said to have power at all revs and the 280 SE was good for 210 km/h at the time, although most people would probably not think of going anywhere near that today. This very luxurious convertible was hence seen as the 300 SE’s successor, but it was actually part of the W111 range and most notably, had conventional rather than air suspension.

They don’t make car interiors like that anymore!

The 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet was built 1232 times between 1969-1971, not a lot when you consider the total production run of the W111/W112 of around 400.000 cars. It would be the last four-seater convertible from Mercedes for more than 20 years until the far less special A124 / E-class convertible in the early 90’s. At the time of the launch it cost 35.000 D-mark, no doubt a lot of money but by far not as much as today’s value of around EUR 350.000 – 500.000 for perfect cars, most of which have of course been renovated. There’s not many around and it’s probably easier to find one in the US than in Europe, as that’s where most of them were sold. That’s certainly not cheap, then again 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet has a solid place in automotive history and is perhaps the most elegant Mercedes-Benz ever built. There’s really no reason why it should be cheap!