Street finds – Lamborghini 400 GT 2+2!

About 10 minutes’ walk from my office, there’s a small garage specializing in enthusiast cars hiding on a back street. It’s obviously an ideal and favourite destination for a lunch walk, and I try to pass by there at least every two weeks or so as there is usually something special to admire. Boy was I happy to do so earlier this week and discover a car I’ve never seen before and had no idea what it was! Seeing it at first from the side, I noticed the nicely stretched body, which at the C-pillar and backwards reminded at least this old Swede of the Volvo P1800. Next it was the very special windshield that caught my eye, literally bulging out over the bonnet. The badge gave away that I was looking at a Lamborghini but even then, I had no clue how exclusive this piece of automotive history really was!

I was actually especially happy running into this street find since I may not have been kind to the Lamborghini Gallardo in last week’s post on the Ferrari F430. I’m not going to lie, I’m really no fan of the Gallardo and in choosing between it and an F430, I would go for the latter every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Obviously however Lamborghini have a wonderful history and have built some amazing cars through the years, so it’s nice being able to pay tribute to that this week. After some googling and research, it was clear that what I had been looking at was a Lamborghini 400 GT 2+2 (a name that somewhat confusingly was applied to other Lambo models as well).

Somewhat peculiar headlamps, typical 60’s bodywork

What is then a Lamborghini 400 GT? To find out we need to go back to the late 60’s, more precisely 1966-1968 when the team in Sant’ Agata built no more than 273 of these beautiful cars. The 400 GT was the successor to Lamborghini’s first ever car, the 350 GT, of which only 120 cars were built between 1965-1967. The 350 was a two-seater, but thanks to a slight adjustment of the roof line such as to create more space, the 400 was a 2+2. Otherwise the cars are really very similar, not only visually but also mechanically. The stretched, typical 60’s body was designed by the Italian coach builder Carozzeria Touring, and they obviously put a lot of emphasis on the driver and passenger not hitting their heads against the windshield in the case of an accident! The headlights are a bit peculiar, but that’s where the complaints end.

The 400 GT 2+2 has a modified roofline compared to the 350 GT

Both the 350 and the 400 GT were modern for the time with notably independent suspension and disc brakes on all wheels. The 5-speed gearbox was linked to the most interesting part of the car, namely the V12 engine. As long-term readers of the blog will remember, this is indeed the V12 originally developed by Giotto Bizzarrini for Ferruccio Lamborghini and also featured in other Lambos such as the Miura (where it was transversally mounted) and that I’ve written about several times (see for example my post on Bizzarrini, the one on the Miura, or of course the one on the Countach). As the name suggests, originally the engine was at 3.5 litres in the 350, putting out 280 hp. In the 400 it was increased to 4 litres with power increasing to 320 hp and the torque by 20% to 365 Nm. The car weighed no more than 1300 kgs meaning the power was enough for a top speed of 270 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time around 6-6.5 seconds. Not bad for a 55-year old lady!

The 400 GT in question was not in mint condition and as I learnt from a chat with the garage owner, also not for sale. It belongs to one of the garagist’s clients, reason for which he wasn’t willing to share many details, but the garage is basically performing a mild restoration on it. I learnt all this a couple of days later at which time the car had moved into the back of his workshop, squeezed in between an XC120 Jaguar and a Ferrari 456, with a 550 standing a bit further away. I guess that’s what you call a nice work environment!

Paul McCartney apparently owned a 400 GT – this one!

After the 350 and 400 GT, Lamborghini would move on to the Isolero in terms of GT cars and to more well-known things in terms of supercars, such as the Miura and the Countach. The V12 would be further developed over the years, but this is really where it started and in that sense, the beginning of a true legend. The cars themselves, even though produced in very low numbers, are arguably less legendary, which doesn’t mean they’re cheap. As we all know by now, limiting supply, be it of cars or of Russian oil is a good way to drive the price up, so if you’ve fallen in love with the Lambo 400, prepare yourself for a long search to find a good one and when you do, to part with at least EUR 400′. That buys you a wonderful automobile, a legendary engine, and guaranteed uniqueness!

Baby Enzo comes of age!

There’s a lot of talk among car bloggers and vloggers (me included) about the concept of “real”, in the sense of for example “which is the last real this-and-that?”. These days it often has to do with partial or full electrification, where the last “real” car is understood as the last version before that happened. You only need to wind the clock back a few years however for the debate to have been between naturally aspirated and supercharged, and before that, analogue and digital. I could go on but I think it’s already clear that this is a discussion that’s been going on maybe not since the car was invented, but definitely for a long time (assisted steering? who needs that? Naa, the predecessor was definitely the last “real” car they offered!).

I believe to know that most of those reading this blog will have lived through at least the three stages described above, meaning mechanical/analogue vs digital, naturally aspirated vs supercharged, and petrol vs hybrid/EV. I also think that many of you have a preference for the first world in those three categories. Which is why this week, I thought we’d talk about the last “real” Ferrari corresponding to the above brief in the sense of it being (mostly) analogue, very much naturally aspirated, and definitely only running on gasoline! It also happens to be one of my all-time favourites from Maranello one of the most beautiful cars they ever built. As if that wasn’t enough, today it’s even a bit forgotten, and hence bit of a bargain: ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Ferrari F430!

A beautiful, compact and timeless design by Pininfarina

It was in 2004 that the F430 was presented to the world as the F360’s successor and sales started the year after. This was important for Ferrari since the competitors in Sant’ Agata had launched the Lambo Gallardo, a much more powerful car than the F360, in 2003. The nervousness only lasted until 2005 though, as the F430 was a true competitor to the Gallardo. Outside the changes compared to the F360 could be considered as a major facelift, but they were changes that took the already beautiful F360 to the next level. And obviously, not only the looks did so, but very much the powertrain as well!

Most noticeable are of course the Enzo rear lights, knowing the Enzo had been introduced two years before and is obviously the main reason the car was often referred to as “baby Enzo”. There’s other details as well though, notably the side mirrors that are held by thin arms such as not to interrupt the air flow to the air intakes on the rear aisles. On the driver side the mirror cap also has the very cool “F430” inscription. Inside the car, the step-up in quality from the F360 is very clear to see. The F430 is still analogue to the extent that it doesn’t have any screens, but a bit depending on the optional extended leather package, the interior feels very high quality. Some people insist on the optional bucket seats but the standard seats not only look better, they also offer enough hold and more comfort and thus fit most people absolutely fine.

The F430 is a Ferrari that doesn’t need to be red!

If the looks can be considered a facelift rather than a full re-design, there were definitely other quite revulationary news on the mechanical side. The wonderful 4.3 litre V8 was a completely new engine replacing the 3.6 litre one in the F360 that could be traced all the way back to the Dino. Weighing only 4 kgs more than its predecessor but putting out 490 hp that had only around 1300-1400 kgs to carry, not only was its power much higher than the F360 but the torque was also significantly higher at 465 Nm. For about 90% of the 15.000 F430’s built, the engine was associated to an F1 semi-automatic gearbox, with only 10% of cars being manual.

The F430 was the first Ferrari to be equipped with the by now classic “manettino”, located on the steering wheel and allowing you to select the different driving programs. Linked to that, it was also the first Ferrari to have the electronic or e-differential, a limited slip active differential that could vary the torque distribution by taking into account lateral acceleration, steering angle and so on. Brakes came from Brembo and carbon-ceramic breaks were available as an option. All this gave as end result a car that had much better downforce than the F360, better handling, and much more power: a time to 100 km/h under 4 seconds and a top speed of 315 km/h is really all you need still today! When you press the throttle, the exhaust sound is quite simply sublime and of a kind only natural aspiration can produce. Sorry Pavarotti, this is Italian opera at its best!

Coupé or Spider, the interior remains the same but the coupé gives you additional storage behind the seats

Initially the F430 was available as a coupé and in 2005 a convertible/Spider was added to the line-up, obviously allowing you to enjoy the action and the sound to the max, but doing so also sacrificing at least a bit of the beautiful lines. In 2007 the F430 Scuderia came out as the racing version and successor to the F360 Challenge Stradale, taking up the competition with notably the 911 GT2 and the Lambo Gallardo Superleggera. The Scuderia weighs 100 kg less and has a few more hp, but only comes with a semi-automatic gearbox – no manual Scuderias were built. The F430 was replaced by the 458 in 2009, the car that took Ferrari into the modern age.

The F430 is thus not only one of Ferrari’s most beautiful creations and a great sports- or even supercar, it’s also the last, naturally aspirated Ferrari. That makes it special but strangely, that doesn’t seem to be fully appreciated by the market yet. For a “regular” F430, meaning a coupé with the F1 semi-automatic gearbox, prices start around EUR 80-90′. The Spider will be slightly more and cars with manual gearboxes will add 40-50%, a premium hardly worth paying. That’s only slightly more than on one hand the predecessor F360, clearly an inferior car, or the Lamborghini Gallardo which, let’s be honest, looks like it was designed by someone who could only draw boxes and has a VW engine. Given that, the standard F430 is clearly the bargain of the lot!

The Scuderia is more than twice as expensive but it’s also quite an extreme car that is really only interesting if you do track days. It does get even better as although boasting supercar performance, the F430 is generally considered quite reasonable to run. We’re obviously not talking a Toyota Prius here, but certainly not Enzo-level either. So in summary, EUR 100′ will easily get you the last real Ferrari without ruining you on the way. In today’s inflationary world, that’s a true bargain for a car that I’m sure we can all agree on is the last real Ferrari!

The hooligan and the gentleman!

It’s time for an update on my personal garage and the 16 cylinders and some 960 hp in total I have standing there, split between the all-weather family, full-size Range Rover 5.0 SC and the summer and good-weather BMW 650 Xi Convertible. Due to too much work they unfortunately spend a bit too much time in the garage this year, but then again given current prices at the pump, that’s probably all the better… The Beamer has been with me a couple of years by now, the Range for about half a year, and the combination of them has led to something that’s never happened to me before: a lack of urge to buy another car. You’ll tell me I haven’t had them for very long, but that’s not knowing me… Of course I still look and imagine this and that, but I only do so for various, wonderful classic cars. The urge for anything new(er) is no longer there. I guess I’m quite content, probably partly due to age, but partly obviously also to how excellent both cars have been.

I’m very pleased with the 650i which for me at 20% of the price as new is really exceptional value!

As a small reminder, none of the two are new, being production years 2014 (BMW) and 2015 (RR). Both were bought through dealers (as guarantees are very useful…) but had in both cases only had one previous owner who must have had a love affair with their automobiles as both were in mint condition – and of course still are! The BMW has been a summer car all its life and shared a garage with 4-5 other cars at its previous owner’s, making you wonder why he bought the 4-wheel drive version (I would have preferred the rear-wheel drive, but it’s very hard to find one). The Range lived the first part of its life in Ticino in southern Switzerland and was according to the GPS history used in a mix of business trips to Italian cities and skiing trips to the Swiss Alps, two areas where the car excels. That’s by the way a good place to look – most owners don’t bother or forget to empty the GPS when they trade in their car, and it can give you a good indication of what kind of trips it has been used for.

Of a completely different character, the RR is very much master of its game!

The logic behind the 650Xi was to have a convertible that offered enough space both for holidays for two, cabin space for four on the occasions the children are with us, and put a smile on your face when you floor it. It delivers on all three. Room in the back seat isn’t huge (given the total size of the car it’s actually pretty pathetic), but on somewhat longer trips it’s less the room and more the fact that you sit where you sit and cannot easily change position that makes it a bit less comfortable. The boot is all you need both with the roof down but obviously even more so when the top is up, when it’s also by far the most quiet convertible I’ve ever been in. It’s especially impressive how little wind noise there is even at higher speeds. Those higher speeds are a bit too easy to reach with the double-turbo, 450 hp V8, which is a real hooligan that keeps pushing you to do things you shouldn’t. There’s an ever so slight delay before the first turbo kicks in but it’s less than on my old E63, and gear changes are also far more immediate and extremely discrete. The exhaust popping is just magnificent and makes you wonder why anyone would bother with an aftermarket exhaust, which many owners do.

You can improve the legroom in the back and still drive the car when you need to…

If there’s one car I’ve always looked at with desiring eyes through the years, it’s the full-size Range. The Sport is nice and the Velar is trendy, but it’s the big boy that in my eyes has the class and is the real thing. Now I have one in my garage, and it’s so far been absolutely great! The quality of the build and the materials continues to impress, and the Range is the first car that has really made me realize the difference between standard and high-quality leather. The seats are oh so soft to the touch as well as to your butt and you can of course enjoy them in any position you want, with more adjustments than anyone needs. Some people wonder why there are extra armrests on the front seats between the seats and the center armrest, but once you’ve driven it a while you no longer ask why – it’s there since it’s where your arm sits the most comfortably, not 10 cm further away. The whole car is full of such small attentions to detail that I love. Altough being a V8 of similar size and power, the engine couldn’t be more different to the BMW. It’s quick to respond but then a wonder of discretion unless you really misbehave, in which case you’ll hear a discrete roar at most. That also goes for other sounds, of which there are basically none, and the few remaining are easily handled by the 29-loudspeaker Meridian sound system.

No one in the Solihull factory confuses armrests with the center console!

Are the cars perfect? Of course not, but funnily (and I guess this is indeed age-related) what I have remarks on or think could be improved has very little to do with the latest technology. First and foremost, I’d like a bit more configurable driving settings, especially on the BMW, which of course became the case in the years thereafter. Here, it’s still Comfort, Sport or Sport Plus, without individual adjustments. Ventilated seats would also have been useful in a convertible, even if the interior is beige. For the Range, a more direct steering is probably top of the list and I get it in Sport, but then the gear change tries to be sporty as well, which I don’t like. Otherwise it’s really small things here and there.

The BMW generally has better tech than the Range but the latter has more stuff, much of which I don’t use anyway. The auto-parking is great, but so are the gigantic rear view mirrors that tilt down when the car is in reverse and supported by plenty of cameras, it’s really not difficult to park yourself. And so it goes. I certainly don’t need augmented reality on a screen in front of me as long as I can look out the window. I don’t need to talk to my car, and certainly not to wave my arms in strange gesture rather than pressing a button. And the few times I need better navigation than the cars offer, I have a great holder in both for my iPhone. Call me grumpy if you want, but I’d bet you there’s quite a large group of owners out there who don’t know how to use much of what their new car is fitted with…

Is this really what we want?

Before buying the Range I read and heard lots of people, usually not owners, talking about the bad quality and the astronomical fuel consumption. Time will tell for the quality, but how the now seven-year old car feels, and the dealer’s willingness without blinking to extend a two-year full warranty are very reassuring. As for the fuel consumption, I’m still averaging at around 12.5 litres per 100 km – about 1 1/2 litre more than the boring, four-cylinder with 200hp less in my old XC90. That’s well done Land Rover and not so well done Volvo! Of course it wouldn’t be a problem to get that number up to 20 litres, but that’s not the way to drive the car, nor is it what the car encourages you to do. Consumption also increases at (above legal) motorway speeds which is quite normal – unfortunately not even the Range can escape the laws of physics. As for the 650, I actually don’t know and I’ve made a point of not finding out – I don’t want consumption numbers to ruin the fun!

For now, all is thus as it should be down in the family garage and when it’s time for a drive, it’s a wonderful feeling to choose between the cars, knowing that whichever one I take, it will be a special ride. That was really my goal and I hope you have the same feeling, whatever your dream pair is. With the risk of being reminded of writing this at some point in the future, I suspect the BMW and the Range could be the last cars of this type in my garage. What I mean is that is that there’s a clear risk as things stand that in a year’s time we fondly remember the days when oil was “only” $100 a barrel, or that our great political leaders force us down the avenue of electrification, in spite of a lack of rationality, as illustrated last week. Before that happens though, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ve reached “peak screen”, and that over the coming years, we return to more physical switches and buttons. Time will tell, but along with most, I obviously hope for that rather than peak oil!

EV’s will never rule the world

A few months ago, as spring was still losing the fight against the last efforts of winter, I attended a financial conference close to Zurich. That’s one of those events where asset managers meet up with investors to tell them why they are the best option to invest with, in whatever theme they feel is of most interest at the time. Not too long ago, these events still had some diversity to them, as you had the opportunity to speak to a great variety of managers on different strategies. Those days are gone. Today, everything, and I really mean everything, is around ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) and impact. In a way that’s great – I’m absolutely convinced of companies needing to behave like good citizens, both towards their employees and the environment (which is what ESG is about), and if they can report some concrete metrics on that good behaviour (which impact is about), then all the better. What I don’t like is when the discussion gets stupid, because when it does, it also gets counter-productive. In this case, as you probably guessed already, it was about EV’s.

Is everything really green in EV land? Eeh… no.

One of the sessions I chose to attend was with a portfolio manager (PM) who started by presenting his team with their name, role and how they commuted to work. The options were bike, public transport or EV, and when someone asked about conventional cars, she was told that wasn’t allowed on the team. The PM thereafter spent whatever was left of his 20 minutes to talk in extremely broad, non-committing terms about how we were all going to die very soon unless we all invested through him in cool companies such as Tesla and solar panel manufacturers, rather than the terrible old dinosaur industrial companies, to which he gladly also counted traditional car manufacturers who now build EV’s – go figure. To conclude, he then looked at his client relations guy standing next to him and explained how he had convinced him to buy a Tesla, and how happy he was by now. Apparently the colleague wasn’t trusted with saying this himself.

In the context of what was supposed to be a serious, institutional investor conference, this was all a bit too much for me so I put up my hand, congratulated the client relations guy on his new car and said I hope firstly he didn’t have a car before, since replacing it with an EV in most cases and for a very long time will be detrimental to the environment and not positive from a total emission perspective, and secondly that I hope he drives a lot, since he’ll need around 100.000 km’s for his Model S to be “net positive” in total CO2 emissions compared to a conventional car. I added that I’d be interested in knowing where the solar panels of the mentioned company were produced. All this made the PM quite excited, and in a rather arrogant way (how dare you question the wisdom of EV’s??) told me that the 100.000 km number was absolutely not correct and based on “biased research by the petroleum industry”. He never gave a number himself. With regards to solar panels, he had to admit that a large part were still produced in China, but “not in the problematic parts”. Stupid me – I wasn’t aware there were parts in China which are not a Communist dictatorship…

It’s been a year and a half since I published one of my most read posts on EV’s and how they won’t save the climate (catch it here if you missed it). One of the main points in that post was on the “CO2 deficit” of EV’s, i.e. the very large amounts of CO2-emitting energy that goes into their battery production. This fact was validated by a study I learnt of recently, commissioned by VW in 2019 and done by the Austrian Joanneum Research Institute together with the German automobile club ADAC and the excellent German Economics Professor Hans-Werner Sinn.

Given the above, it’s safe to say that almost no EV’s make sense from a CO2 emission perspective.

With apologies for the bad quality (coming from the fact that I took a picture of the screen during a presentation by Prof. Sinn), it’s pretty easy to see why VW didn’t want a lot of publicity around the study’s results and instead chose to bury it in a basement somewhere before it was leaked to the public. You see, the results go against the complete electrification VW and all other car makers in the world are currently embarked on. The diagram is based on the total CO2 emissions of a car, so for an EV including the production of batteries, and the two lines depict on one hand an electric Golf and on the other the same car with a diesel engine. As the graph makes painfully clear, for a country with an electricity mix comparable to Germany and Austria (and there’s quite a few of those), the 100.000 km number the PM claimed was exaggerated is actually quite the opposite when compared to an economical diesel engine. If you go by the yellow vertical line that shows the average lifetime of a car in Germany, the EV simply never catches up.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has laid bare especially Europe’s dependency on Russian energy and is now talked about as something that will accelerate the transition to renewables, which on a global basis still make up less than 2% of the energy mix. This reasoning is often accompanied by statements of how solar panels and wind mills will continue to get cheaper according to a version of Moore’s law (which refers to how the number of transistors doubles every two years whilst prices of computers are cut in half). This is quite simply wrong.

Firstly, the material cost of notably metals that go into the production of all renewables has a worth that will always prevent the cost from going below a certain level. Most of those metals have price-wise been at a historical bottom during the last ten years or so, until very recently. If you combine that with a cost of financing that with interest rates at zero has been as low as it can get but is now moving up, everything points to renewables getting more expensive going forward, not the other way around. To which should then be added further issues such as notably the extraction of required metals from great countries like Russia, China and the Congo, the many tons of cement needed for the basements of wind mills and so on. That’s not good news for anyone, especially since the ESG-movement has been very good at preventing any form of investment in oil, gas, and even nuclear, a non-polluting and non-weather dependent form of energy. That’s obviously where it gets stupid.

Coal is still the world’s largest energy source, and no country has more coal mines (and workers) than China

Some countries have a better energy mix than Germany and Austria and with cleaner energy sources, the EV equation improves. There are also initiatives to recycle battery metals and even replace especially cobalt, and there’s obviously research into steady-state batteries and so on. That’s all great, but it won’t be here tomorrow or even in a few years, and the issue of scale is still huge. Quite simply, we are very far away from having the battery or other storage capacity required for an energy system based on renewables, and such a system would also by definition assume massive over-investment, such as to produce enough energy to store when the wind blows and the sun shines. I don’t know about you, but the more I look at wind and solar power, the more I’m convinced that this is not what our future will be built on. I am however as convinced that we will manage to solve the energy equation such as to reduce emissions, quite simply because human creativity is unbeatable at solving challenges, and emissions is a challenge we need to respond to. But we need to be smart about it.

Stock performance YTD per 9 July. It was more fun investing in EV’s last year… Volvo Cars is included as owner of Polestar.

We all suffer at the pump these days and as previously said, things won’t get better anytime soon (rather the contrary if you consider that China has basically been in lock down, i.e. not consuming a lot of anything, in the last months, but is now opening up). I fully understand if you choose to buy an EV, especially if you can produce your own energy through solar panels (preferrably not from China) or otherwise, but please don’t tell your friends how you are helping save the environment by doing so, because in most aspects, you’re not. For those without their own electricity production, unfortunately it can be expected that electricity prices move up as well. It seems the market is starting to realize that as well, as illustrated by the stock price performance of EV’s this year, as illustrated above. I haven’t checked on the recent performance of the funds managed by the PM I met at that conference but looking at the table, I think I have a pretty good idea!

The best dream car in the world!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often wondered what goes on in the boardrooms of car manufacturers when the decision on what to call a new model is taken. Without getting into the many, less successful names or number combinations we’ve seen over the years, I rather wonder if it’s decided beforehand that numbers will be used, or if it starts by trying to find a name and when you don’t, you then resort to a number combination? In the case of Ferrari back in the 60’s, there’s no question though that numbers ruled, each with a meaning but often so close to each other that separating the cars became rather difficult. Such was the case of the Ferrari 365 GTB4, and that’s probably the reason why the world decided to call it something way more appealing: Daytona!

Shark-like nose with the original 5-spoke wheels

It’s special for me writing about the Daytona, since in the unlikely case I will ever be able to start my dream car collection, the Daytona will be first in line. I’ve always loved the car for its looks, its construction and of course, its fabulous engine. As someone who grew up in the 80’s and who didn’t miss a single episode of “Miami Vice” and found Don Johnson very cool, of course it didn’t hurt that a Daytona Spider (or as we learned, at least a replica on a Corvette C3 chassis) was featured. But I would have loved the Daytona even without Miami Vice, and we’ll see if I succeed in conveying some of that love to you in this week’s post!

Starting with getting the story of the name out of the way, Daytona comes from the fact that Ferrari finished first, second and third in the prototype class of the 24 hours of Daytona in 1967, the year before the car was launched. The official name was however always 365 GTB4 (alternatively GTS for the Spider), and it was the successor of the 275 GTB4 and the predecessor of the 365 GT/4 Berlinetta Boxer. 365 refers to the volume of each cylinder and 4 comes from the two twin cams on top of the two cylinder banks of the V12 engine to which we’ll come back later. The Daytona is also interesting since it was the last V12 Ferrari presented before Fiat took a 40% ownership of Ferrari, and also the last, new 12-cylinder Ferrari sold (officially) in the US until the Testarossa (another great name!) 15 years later, due to the increasing regulatory and legislative costs that weighted heavily especially on low-volume manufacturers. The car was presented to the world at the Paris auto salon in 1968.

The GTB has more harmonious lines than the GTS

The Daytona was designed by Leonardo Fioravanti at Pininfarina, who would later also design the 280 GTO and F40, and the car was put together by Scaglietti, the famous Italian coach builder and a long term Ferrari partner. The design is a clear break with earlier Ferraris, looking much more modern with the shark-like, sweeping nose, the set-back cabin and the rather abrupt tail. Until 1971, around 400 Daytonas were built with their headlights behind plexiglass, but it was again the US authorities that put an end to this by forbidding headlights behind double glasses. Later Daytonas were instead equipped with pop-up headlights. The GTS was introduced in 1969 and became very popular especially in the US. It’s identical from the waistline and down to the Berlinetta and only 10% of Daytonas built were Spiders, but the popularity led to many GTB’s having their roof cut and thus being transformed to “inofficial” GTS’s. That’s a crime comparable to many bad things I can think of… Needless to say, should you be lucky enough to be in the market for a GTS, you’ll want to make sure you know its history and hence that it’s a genuine one!

A beautiful – here restored – interior!

On the inside, it’s all you can expect from a plush, Italian GT from the era. Early Daytonas had a Momo wood steering wheel which was however replaced by a leather version on later versions (a bit unclear from when), said to give more grip especially at low speeds, since the Daytona’s perhaps biggest drawback often cited is its heavy steering. The shifter is in perfect reach on the high center console and is linked to the rear-mounted 5-speed manual box, a transaxle construction that gave the car a very good balance. It’s a lovely, plush space that at least some experts claim is of higher quality than for example Lambo interiors from the same period. Obviously the Daytona is a two-seater, however offering some space for your Ferrari leather bags right behind the seats as well.

The heart of the car is of course the fabulous longitudinal, 60-degree angled, 4.4 litre V12, developing a claimed 352 hp and 431 Nm of torque, enough to give the Daytona a top speed of 280 km/h as it weighed in at around 1600 kg dry. The engine wasn’t new but rather derived from its predecessor, the 275, but its capacity was increased and it was fitted with six Weber carburettors. The sound that comes out of that construction is, as you would suspect, nothing but glorious, and increasingly so as the revs climb. The 365 is perhaps slightly less economical than a Prius, so it’s very helpful that Ferrari fitted a truly huge, 128-litre tank. That should be enough for at least a couple of hours, at which point you should anyway stretch your legs, so you may just as well fill up at the same time.

One of the best V12’s in all its beauty!

The Daytona was built until 1973 when as mentioned, it was replaced by the 365 GT/4. The production time was actually quite long for the type of car at the time, and in total 1284 cars were built. Of these about 400 as mentioned have the original, plexiglass nose. Also as mentioned, about 120 were (original!) Spiders. Today original cars are all immensely valuable but should you be lucky enough to have the choice, I would go with a plexiglass GTB, as this is the original design as intended by Fioravanti. I’d also be very happy to use the muscles a bit, gripping that wonderful, wooden Momo steering wheel. Colour-wise most cars are red but there’s also quite a few in black, blue and in other colours, including 13 cars in a brown metallic officially called “marone metallisato”, which paired with the beige leather interior look absolutely sensational. Chances of finding one of these are… slim, and finding a Daytona in any shape or form today is hard and expensive, with prices having risen quite dramatically to somewhere around USD/EUR 700′-900′ for good cars.

A later car with pop-up headlights – almost, but not quite as beautiful!

I’m not a believer in miracles and unless one happens, I’ll never park a Daytona in my garage. Then again as we all know, when you realize something you’ve long dreamt about, reality can be a bit… disappointing. So perhaps the Daytona is actually best left as an object of desire. Because as I dream of it, the sun shines all the way down to the French Riviera along the Route Napoléon. The roads are empty, no one has come up with speed limits or invented speed cameras. In the dream I also look surprisingly good and much younger, perhaps with a slight resemblance to Don Johnson (it goes without saying that my wife next to me just looks as good as always!). We stop at a small bistro and enjoy a lunch with a bit of rosé, that in no way affects my driving skills. Of course the Daytona runs like a dream, with the carburettor-powered V12 sound filling our ears as the kilometres run by. I guess I’ll keep on dreaming, and to me, the Daytona is without a doubt the best dream car in the world!

Colourful car considerations…

This week is about something every car has and is plain for everyone to see – the paint. Not very exciting you’ll tell me. Far more than you think is my answer! Car paint has far more nuances (pun very intended) than you think, be it between different types and different colours, but also between different manufacturers. The reason I came to think of it was that I recently saw a G63 (yet again…) in solid green – i.e. not metallic. This made me think of a whole lot of other recent cars from mostly German brands that also have solid colours,. Exploring what seems to be a new trend at least for exclusive cars revealed the whole world of car paint to me so for this week, here you go: the definite guide to everything you ever wanted to know (or not) about car paint.

The 70’s were generally more colourful (in solid paint) than today!

Putting some order in the car paint universe reveals that there are four base types of car paint:

  • Solid is to most of us the white, black or red we grew up with before metallics became popular. There were plenty of solids in the 70’s (including colours such as orange, yellow and bright green which today make a comeback), a few less in the 80’s and a decreasing number ever since, until recently. For most “standard” cars the only solid colours available, and thereby the only ones without an additional cost, are white or black. The big advantage with solids is that scratches or other types of damage are easier and cheaper to fix than for other types.
  • Metallic is what most modern cars have. The name comes from the production process where varying degrees (size and amount) of small metal particles are mixed into the paint, meaning some metallic colours will sparkle more than others. Metallic paints have a higher production cost than solids, explaining why they’re a (paying) option. Their big advantage is that they also have a deeper shine, and that small scratches are less visible. Large scratches are however more expensive and laborious to fix.
  • Pearlescent or mica paint is basically the same as metallic, but with ceramic instead of metal particles. This allows for a great variety of reflections and can make the paint look even more more exclusive than metallic. The downside, you guessed it, is again that it’s even more complicated to fix any damage.
  • Finally matte finishes have become popular in the last 10 years or so, but seem to have lost a bit of their appeal recently. To some they look cool, others hate them. Mostly matte cars come in black or grey, and it’s something manufacturers usually only offer for some top models given the application is even more complex than for metallic or mica paints. Also, the level of matte can vary from very matte to less so. Fixing damages is a nightmare.
Mica colours have great depth and reflections

That’s the basics of car paint but far from the whole story. If we start by looking at paint quality, there’s of course a big difference between a modern car manufacturer where it can be assumed that they know how to paint a car properly (you hear that, Tesla?) and where qulity therefore refers mainly to thickness of the paint, i.e. the number of paint coats applied. For classic cars, it’s a completely different and more complex story that’s probably worth a post on its own, so for now we’ll stick to our everyday cars. .

Some of you will know that I have a Range Rover and a BMW 650i in my garage, both 6-7 years old with quite a few km’s on them, and both without a single scratch mark in the paint. This was a very different story with the XC90 that preceeded the Range and the paint of which was extremely sensitive, i.e. thin, with the smallest touch leaving a mark. My wife drives a Mini and had her rear bumper repainted a while ago. Less than six months later, it looks like the old one with mini scratches, although she’s super careful. This is in other words an area where manufacturers can save money, and at least some of them do. If you ever wondered why the metallic paint costs less on a Dacia than on a BMW, here’s the answer (and yes, there may be small “brand premium” added to the price as well…). As a rule of thumb, more expensive cars will of course tend to have more better, meaning thicker and more resistant paint.

“Grigio Telesio” definitely puts your Aventador in a different league!

Coming back to the solids, you’ve probably also seen that there is a greater variety of them, especially for high-end models, not only the G63 but also for example on Audi RS’s, M5’s etc. There’s no real logic here however, with manufacturers choosing to make a greater variety of colours available for certain, but not all top models. For those where it’s the case, this then sounds like a good option to save some money on a car that is already expensive enough, also since there are really nice solids now. Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it works. Taking Mercedes as example, it’s still only black and white that are non-paying solids. All the other solid colours (and there’s quite a few available on the top models) go under the label “G Manufaktur”, which in this part of Europe means they cost an optional CHF/USD 5.000, roughly three times more than a “standard” metallic paint.

This sounded a bit outrageous so I called the Mercedes garage around the corner and asked for an explanation. They then told me that the “G Manufaktur” line has much more layers than a conventional solid, is produced in a whole different process and hereby offers both a deeper shine and more resistance. The same obviously goes for other manufacturers as well and explains the quite hefty extra 3.000-5.000 you to pay for them. Some will also offer the ceramic mica colours described above, which will also tend to be more expensive than metallic colours. That in turn explains why these are usually only available for the most expensive models. It’s obviously up to everyone whether it’s worth the money, but unless you’re part of the car-cleaning tribe and keep your automobile nice and shiny, you’re not going to enjoy the benefits.

In summary, there aren’t really any surprises – you get what you pay for, and the more expensive your car is, the more types and colour options you will typically have. A couple of points are however worth remembering. Firstly, the mica green that may look awfully cool right now may be less so in a couple of years. As mentioned we’ve been in a trend of matte colours the last years, but it seems to be fading and it’s uncertain how well it will stand the test of time. If resale value is of any concern to you, make sure you choose a colour that isn’t one you (and everyone else) will be tired of next year. As a rule of thumb, grey and black metallic are the colours which typically command the highest resale values. Silver will work as well, and for some cars, red and white. That nice, solid, multi-layered green however, will probably have far less candidates than the standard black or grey metallic, which from this perspective are the safest bets.

Foiling can be in metallic as well – the Chinese love gold apparently.

Before matte colours were widely available, cars tended to be foiled in matte. This is a nice alternative if you’re unsure about your colour or if you want one that is less standard, given the foiling can be removed at any time and thus has the additional benefit of protecting the paint benath it. It’s the same story here, you get what you pay for, but I dare say that if you consider a solid colour in the price range of 3.000-5.000, a really good foiling is a clear alternative. Today foiling can be done in any colour and type you can imagine, and the price will usually depend on the size of your car. So if you’ve always dreamed of a gold 911, this is probably the best alternative. As for me, I’m continuing to dream of the first car paint that is resistant to dirt – that would be a true revolution!

The land of rising rev’s!

Japanese cars aren’t featured all too often on this blog, mainly because if you’re not a true fan of a wing-clad hot hatches of different kinds (as I’m not), there really hasn’t been that much to write about from Japan in the last years – or actually, make that decades. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule of Japanese cars being very high quality, but also very clinical and rather impersonal. The most obvious ones are certainly the beautiful and today very sought after first version of the Honda NSX, and of course the Mazda Miata, the world’s most sold sports car ever and which has been a true source of enjoyment in the classical roadster sense for now more than 30 years. And then, there is the far less sold and thus also less well-known direct competitor to the Miata that we’ll look at today – the Honda S2000. Because if naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines that can be revved until eternity is your thing, then there’s really no better car out there!

It may not look like it will rev to 9000 rpm but trust me, it will!

The S2000 was introduced in 1999 at the Geneva Autosalon and it was a rather successful start since the car was straight away elected Convertible of the Year, but this was still ten years after the Miata had been launched, so clearly Honda were late to the party. The S2000 would subsequently be built during ten years in the NSX factory in Japan to a total of around 110.000 cars which really represent Japanese car making at its finest. Honda’s ambition was clearly to tap into the successful roadster market especially in the US but also in Europe, in presenting a car that corresponded to the traditional roadster brief, combining low weight (in the case of the S2000, around 1300 kgs) with rear-wheel drive, and exploited so successfully by the Mazda Miata. To the difference of the latter though, it did so with an engine that had much more power and may well be the finest four-cylinder engine ever built.

Before we get to the engine, if we look at the car itself, there’s, really not that much to say. It looks good, in my eyes less “cute” than a Miata and more purposeful. Optical changes during the 10 years of production were if not far between then at least few, so all S2000’s look rather the same, making the year of production less important (one mechanical exception being the throttle by wire system, that was featured on US cars and on European cars from 2006, with many enthusiasts preferring the wire system on earlier cars. Moving to the interior, as so often, there’s no points awarded for design or creativity, but on the other hand it’s a no-frills, purposeful interior that works as you would expect it to. It is very digital though, in a very early 00’s way. All in all it’s a package that has stood the test of time really well, or put differently, that you could easily update to something that wouldn’t look old at all.

More purposeful, but still with similarities to the Miata.

So what about that engine? As mentioned, all European cars were equipped with a 2-litre, naturally aspirated four-cylinder putting out 241 hp at 8300 rpm, and where the limiter only kicked in at 9000 rpm (a larger 2.2 litre engine was fitted to US cars from 2004 but didn’t give more power). Those are pretty extreme values for any car engine, especially when you consider that it was also efficient enough to be categorized as Ultra Low Emission in California at the time, and also to produce exactly the same power when run on everything from 92 to 98 octanes. The engine gave the S2000 a top speed of 240 km/h and a time of 6.2 seconds to 100 km/h, but what it didn’t give it was much torque. As you would guess, the high revs come at the expense of torque and with only 208 Nm at (also quite high) 7500 rpm, it really is simple: you need to rev the car close to the limit to get to the full power, but what a pleasure it is to do so! If you don’t want to take my word for it, the 2-litre engine actually won the international Engine of the Year award in its category five years in a row, between 2000 and 2004!

Except for a somewhat high seating position, the S2000 is really enjoyable to drive. It was criticized in the first years for its unpredictable rear end, and an ESP therefore became available in 2006. The balance is superb, helped by the engine being front-center mounted, sitting behind the front axle. Even though it’s a roadster, the car is very rigid with typically few cracks of any kind. It also usually has few problems of any kind as long as it’s been properly looked after. Therein lies a bit of the issue as the S2000 is popular in the tuning scene, with everything from sports exhausts sounding great to paint jobs and spoilers looking less great being very frequent. They don’t all look like the S2000 featured in “Fast & Furious” but as always, it’s the original cars that preserve their value best.

Given there aren’t many features, there’s not much that can go out of style!

Speaking of value, S2000’s aren’t cheap, holding their value really well given they have a loyal following and are clearly well appreciated by a perhaps increasing group of owners. Given the fundamental solidity of the car, chasing low-mileage cars isn’t really necessary, but these tend to be around EUR 35-40′ with higher-mileage ones starting at around EUR 10′ less, i.e. around EUR 25′. The very limited CR (Club Racer) racing version of which only 699 were ever built, and which is basically a harder version of the original, but without any speed advantage, cost way more than EUR 100′ these days – if you can find one.

If you’re a fan of the classical roadster concept but not of mechanical failures and quality issues, if you love naturally-aspirated engines with a heavy right foot that likes revs, and if you think the driving experience is everything and you’re not bothered by black interior plastic, then you really can’t go wrong with an S2000, and you can also expect values to stay stable with upwards potential. This is also since Honda has never gotten round to produce a successor to the car. It is now rumoured again that one may come for 2023, but it’s too early to tell whether it’s more than just rumours. Until then, why not enjoy the original and to paraphrase a classic, keep on revving in the free world!

F1 pit stop – best season in ages!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steiner has more to smile about this year!

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

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

Robust management and struggling EV’s

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

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

Well, he does look rather “robust”…

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

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

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

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

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

Zero Covid has a price…

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

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

These are not produced in your typical holiday destination…

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

Luca’s sleeper!

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

Destined for his job!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fabulous 5.5 litre, 12 cylinder engine

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

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

GTI – letters that changed the world!

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

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

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

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

A rather modest-looking engine bay…

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

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

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

From 1981 on, notably tail lights were larger

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

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

Street finds – the SUV duel!

It’s no secret that a lot of money has never been a guarantee of good taste (rather the contrary in many cases), and it’s something I came to think about earlier this week when I saw this pair parked close to my office. Both SUV’s of course, and both among the cars with the longest production time of any car model, even if this is of course the upated G-wagon. Both also among the most capable cars there are when the road ends, although as usual, none of these and especially the G will ever see anything but tarmac. The pair was however also optically interesting, as the G wagon is a Hofele version, equipped with an interior the same colour as the Defender’s paint – orange. That paint, officially under the name Phoenix orange, came as part of the Defender 90 Adventure Edition in the last year of production in 2016. So in other words, both these cars are special editions.

Two special legends!

Starting with the Defender, it has an appeal like few other cars. I can’t help smile whenever I see one, and even though I think Land Rover has done a great job with the new version, there’s really nothing like the original Defender, especially in the 90 (short) version. As cool as it is on the outside, as uncomfortable, squeezed and old it is on the inside. The door will be in constant contact with your left leg and unless you open the window, forget about resting your arm on it. The turning circle is… bad, as is the suspension, the wind noises are terrible, and the 122 hp aren’t anything to write home about. And yet, sitting up there, you feel like perhaps not the king of the world, but still pretty darn good. And again, should the road ever end, the Defender is the best friend you can have.

Then there’s the G63 Hofele. Don’t recognize the name? It was new to me as well when, by coincidence, I drove by their Zurich branch a while ago. Going in to check it out, I learnt that Hofele is a German company specialized in tuning of various Mercedes models, but especially the G-wagon. Tuning here means completely redone interiors, new wheels and things like rear-hinged doors and other stuff some people are willing to pay lots of money for. The emphasis is however on the interior which is transformed into an orgy of leather and alcantara, all to the precise wishes of the owner. I sat in one when I stopped by Hofele and I’ve truly never seen anything like it. In this precise case the owner seems to be a true fan of bright colours, as not only did he choose the not-to-everybody’s-liking brilliant blue as exterior colour (I would guess that at least 80-90% of G’s sold are black or dark grey, with the rest being white, silver or dark green, but not blue…), he combined it with the most orange interior ever seen in any car.

The inside is VERY orange…

Except for being the most classical SUV’s and most capable offroad cars you can find, and both being special editions, these two really have nothing more in common. The Defender is as rustical as it gets, the G an ocean of luxury, especially in the Hofele edition. It has about five times as many horsepower as the Defender (even though you can only enjoy them in a straight line, since the driving systems will prevent the laws of nature as soon as the road starts to twist…), at least five times better build quality and as they stand here, it’s also at least five times the price. Late 90’s version of the original Defender change hands for EUR 60-70′, while Hofele adds around EUR 200′ to the original G63 price, meaning a total price tag of around EUR 400-450′. I honestly don’t know which one is the most absurd.

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

Let’s however play with the idea that some generous soul would give you one of these two, on the only condition that you had to drive it over the coming years? What a no-brainer – of course you’d take the G63 right? Yeah – it’s just that the exterior colour is a bit… And then of course, everytime you’d open the door, you would be confronted with an orange orgy that you may just get a bit tired of pretty quickly. And you’d really have to be immune to everyone else’s looks, because whereas I’ve never seen anyone frown at the sight of a classic Defender, there are lots of people out there who have rather negative thoughts about SUV’s in general and very flashy G-wagons in particular.

I’d like to think I’d go for the Defender. Somehow I’ve always wanted one, and after I find the dream house in the Alps or the old castle in Tuscany, it’s definitely the second thing I would buy. And if I ever wanted to sell it, as proven by its current price, there’s really no car that keeps its residual value as well as a Defender. Under normal conditions, that would be true for the G-wagon as well. In this colour combination however, I think the first owner is in for a pretty hefty loss should he wish to sell his orange paradise. Then again, the residual value was probably not a concern of his in the first place…

Roughly how I imagine myself in a few years…

Manta Manta!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classic Manta tuning – no carbon here…

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

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

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

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

Vive la République!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same style as a Pagani, but far less extravagant!

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

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

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

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

Geopolitics all the way to the pump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F1 2022: the race is on!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When youngsters create legends!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Alfa gets it right!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What looks like plastic is carbon fibre – raw…

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

Beautiful engine sitting behind the front axle

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

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

Winter street finds: the Aston Martin DB6!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I bet those seats still have the original leather smell!

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

Havoc in the car market!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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