As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

Archive for March, 2014

The Gravett(y) of the Situation: Is the BTCC on for 8 Champions?

Why is this man smiling? Maybe he has got a secret to tell...

Why is this man smiling? Maybe he has got a secret to tell…

Not too long ago I found myself telling you all the exciting news that the BTCC was to host 7 former champions for the 2014 season. Never before has the championship been graced with such a presence. With the electric combination of champions and eager newcomers, the 2014 season is set to be one of the most fiercely contested in history.

There is only one problem. I may have given you incorrect information. I come to you all now in confession of my sins. I hope you are able to forgive me, given the erm… Gravett-y of the situation.

That’s right, the BTCC grid for 2014 may now be seeing not 7, but 8 former champions taking to the field.

Robb Gravett in his 1990 Ford Sierra

Robb Gravett in his 1990 Ford Sierra

Robb Gravett, winner of the 1990 British Touring Car Championship, has announced  that he is most definitely considering a return to the field this year. Sadly nothing yet has been confirmed, but he has stated that he has indeed been approached.

So who is this Gravett fellow and why is his return so exciting?

Well I am glad you asked.

Robb Gravett shot to Touring Car fame in the late 80s when he launched an attack on the ever-successful Andy Rouse and his Kaliber/ICS Ford Sierra team. At this time, the championship still operated as a class system, where often the overall championship winner across the year would have been finishing around 12th in each race. Confusing right? No wonder they changed it. In 1989, Robb Gravett co-founded the TrakStar team alongside broadcaster Mike Smith; by the end of the year he finished second in class behind Andy Rouse. The overall title that year went to a young John Cleland in a Class C Vauxhall.

When 1990 came along, Gravett was aiming for the top, but his early title attempts were crippled by a severe lack of sponsorship for his Ford Sierra. Thankfully however, as the year progressed and he had proven his success, the sponsors came and he went on to take the 1990 crown. When I first got into the BTCC, it was the videos from these years that were always my favourite. I have always and will forever be a diehard fan of Andy Rouse. Anyone who had the skill to beat Andy Rouse in the late 80s was a serious talent. To beat the ultimate driver, you must also be pretty special.

When the BTCC became a single class 2 litre series, Gravett continued on with Peugeot in 1992 and 1993. His success may have started to fade, but his determination didn’t. Gravett returned as an independent in 1994 up until 1998, before retiring from the BTCC altogether. In 1997, he won the Independents championship in a Rock-It Cargo Honda Accord.

In the late 90s, Gravett competed in the Independents Championship in his Honda Accord

In the late 90s, Gravett competed in the Independents Championship in his Honda Accord

Now obviously, as a former champion he doesn’t want to be given a car that cannot challenge at the top end of the field. No one really wants that now do they? But he has admitted that the offer he has received has come from one of the top teams.

Although he didn’t say outright which team had given him said offer, I believe the truth can reveal itself through some careful detective work. Looking through the confirmed teams and drivers for the 2014 championship, you will notice that most teams are now full. There are however two teams that appear to have spaces. One of these is the Speedworks team which is entering a Toyota Avensis, and the other is the Airwaves/Crabbies/Motorbase team that are entering Fords.

Of the two of these, the Speedworks team are a great up and coming team, but I don’t believe that they will be challenging at the top this year. The Airwaves Fords however showed great promise at the end of 2013, and have already confirmed Giovanardi (2007/2008 champion) alongside Jack Clarke. If we work on the ever increasing success of the Ford team in 2013, and the fact they have already hired one champion, it would seem clear that they will be aiming for ultimate success this year.

What better way to do that than to hire a man who has previously conquered the championship (also in a Ford, if you remember)?

Robb Gravett represents the golden age of Touring Cars. Hard, fast, aggressive and determined, I can see him returning to glory once more.

So with Gravett back, now we just need Andy Rouse back and my life will be complete. Anybody got his number?

8 champions. 1 grid. 1 championship.

Let the games begin!

Keep Driving People!

Follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69

Peace and Love!

WTF is the new Cadillac?

Now I love cars. Chances are that this will come as no shock to you whatsoever. Cars are just great aren’t they? And what really gets my V12 purring is knowing that the automotive world is always on the cutting edge of the modern world. Whatever it may be, there is always another new development, another boundary being pushed, another mind that is blown. The technology developed in the motoring world is driving us into a whole new future.

Futuristic? As children, adults or even very attentive family pets, everyone loves a bit of sci-fi futuristic wizardry. Deny it all we like, there is a sci-fi geek hiding in all of us, trapped in the delicate force field of balance between our sense of shame and childish wonder. You claim you hate Star Trek but at least once in your life you have indulged in a moment of live long and prosper. My point is, it is always fun looking into future and seeing what may come tumbling from human imagination.

Every now and again we are given the delectable treat for the eyeballs that is the latest designs for concept cars. Sometimes they are your conventional hypercars of ultimate destruction (I say conventional, you get my point), and other times they are something brand new. Once it was solar power, but now we have moved on.

Now, what is the craziest car concept you can think of? A car powered by the pure power of Tom Jones’ vocals? A new green machine that runs off the power of electric eels?

Well until then, how about this…?

The Cadillac 'Word Thorium Fuel' Concept

The Cadillac ‘World Thorium Fuel’ Concept

Are you impressed yet? This is the Cadillac World Thorium Fuel concept car of the future, a nuclear-powered car that has been designed by the absolute beauty that is Loren Kulesus. Anyone who can pull this out of their mind machine has my full respect. I love the erm… carefully chosen name that has been given to this car, Mr Kulesus you are fooling no-one. This is the future right here. Honestly, if I had to describe this car, WTF would definitely be what I would use as well. Aptly named really.

So, what exactly going on here in this futuristic spaceship of awesome:

  • The car is powered by Thorium. Thorium is a radioactive metal that can be used as a nuclear fuel. Yes you did just read that correctly, this car will essentially be powered by a mini nuclear plant. WTF indeed.
  • Apparently standard tyres just aren’t cool anymore yo. This Cadillac has 6 individual mini wheels that each have their own independent motor that come together to form what we prehistoric dinosaurs would call wheels. WTF indeed. This fancy new ‘motion-direction-circles’ would never have to be changed, Mr Kulesus says.

This car was designed back in 2009. Back then it was just a concept. But that was then. This is now. Laser Power Systems (LPS), from the USA has now set to work on developing this whole new automotive propulsion system that could revolutionise car travel forever.

Looking at the car itself though, I can’t say that practicality seemed very high up on the menu. How on earth would you even get into one of these? And once you are in, are you essentially going to be driving with your behind on the ground? Better hope the road isn’t too bumpy. Although, imagine turning up to a party in a WTF. Now THAT is a way to get peoples attention. Just better hope you picked the right outfit and know how to gracefully get out of this machine.

Either way, this car does make me happy. Look at it. It’s like its come straight out of Star Wars. And I love Star Wars.

Thorium? What is Thorium?

As I said before, Thorium is a radioactive metal that can be utilised for fuel. Its biggest advantage is that the material is so dense it has the ability to create mind-boggling levels of heat. So through using thorium to produce a laser that will heat water, create steam and power a turbine. And that, dear friends, will create motion.

To put the awesome power of Thorium into some form of perspective, 1 gram of this substance has the same power as 28,000 litres of traditional petrol. Not only that, but LPS CEO Charles Stevens claims that 8 grams of Thorium fuel will be enough to power one of these cars for about 100 years. This LPS development program aims to have this technology in mass production as soon as possible.

In general, Thorium is actually a pretty good idea for energy production. Firstly, the usual process to retrieve weapons-grade fissionable material from a Thorium reactor is outrageously difficult. Therefore using Thorium only reactors would significantly reduce the risk of nuclear weapons. Not only that but the radioactive waste produced by Thorium is up to 10,000 times less long lived than most other material. And finally, in an acceleration driven reactor, Thorium cannot maintain nuclear chain reaction without priming, which yet again reduces the risk of destruction, sadness and bad press.

Overall, it sounds pretty good wouldn’t you say?

Inside, we see the WTF for what it is...

Inside, we see the WTF for what it is… Image Credit: www.cutedesign.com

Now obviously, most of this information has been taken from LPS themselves, so I will go on record and say that not every word that has been uttered should be believed. I am pretty sure if Thorium had the potential to reshape the foundations of America they probably wouldn’t mention that. But then again, I would also hope that if this was true they wouldn’t be trying to put it into their cars anyway. Especially as you know, cars crash pretty badly sometimes. I don’t know about you, but Id rather not be driving knowing that one wrong turn might end up giving me 3 heads. But each to their own I guess.

If the WTF goes well, maybe Cadillac may branch out and improve their other cars, like the LMAO-bach, or even branch out into the world of flying with the ROFLcopter. I couldn’t resist I’m sorry.

If this is the future, I have only one thing to say.

WTF.

Keep Driving People!

Follow me @lewisglynn69

Peace and Love

The 30-Year Auto Technology Progress Report – Graded By Knight Rider

 

kITTThe other half scored some DVD versions of some 1980s TV series over the weekend, and it’s been a chance to rewatch some old favourites and to watch some of those things I wasn’t allowed to watch as a kid. Among the collection was a set of Knight Rider episodes. You know the one – the one with the very high-tech futuristic Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am called KITT driven by crime fighter Michael Knight.

It’s intriguing to think that a lot of the car designers and inventors of today – at least the ones who got to watch American TV shows – probably watched this show and similar, and were inspired by it. KITT, after all, was the high-tech car of the future and had all the gadgets and features that people dreamed of having in cars.

So, thirty years later, how is the automotive technology world doing? How close are we to having KITTs of our own?

  • Full colour display screens – yes, we’ve got this one. In fact, we’ve gone one better than KITT, as today’s computer screens are touch-sensitive, something that even futuristic TV show writers hadn’t even thought of.

Knight-Rider-KITT-21

 

  • Navigation. Again, one big tick in this box.  OK, with today’s navigation, you get shown a map with the route and the car tells you when you have to turn, rather than having the car doing the turns just about by itself like KITT seemed to. And yes, it is possible to buy the voice of KITT for some navigation systems (try http://www.navtones.com/ for a start).
  • Hands-free dialling. Another big tick here!  We once all went “oooh!” when Michael Knight told KITT to dial up Devon or Dr Bonnie (or April in Series 2). When my kids watched the DVD with us, their reaction was “So what?”  We do indeed have hands-free and sometimes voice-activated dialling in our car phones.  KITT impressed viewers in the 1980s with the way that the people phoned communicated with Michael via a screen Skype style.  We probably do have the technology to Skype while driving these days – there are a number of car computers that let you use a few online apps (some of the new Infiniti models, for example). However, a big question mark comes up as to whether this is a good idea. It’s probably more distracting than texting while driving. And we all know how bad this is.
  • Turbo boost.  With a press of a button, KITT could go superfast. We’re sort of getting there. Heaps of cars have different driving modes – usually Eco, Normal and Sport – and the Sport setting does help you get some extra responsive vroom. However, normal cars’ boost does not let them jump things with rocket assistance like KITT did. Imagine the headaches for traffic control if this was a standard feature. KITT did have different drive modes, too: Normal (Michael in charge), Auto Cruise (KITT drives himself), Pursuit (both of them share control, with KITT doing most of the stuff at high speed, because he/it reacts faster) and Super Pursuit (screamingly fast and speeds over 300 mph). Don’t look for Super Pursuit in any production car…
  • The front scanner.  On KITT, this was the cool-looking red lights on the front bumper (which are also illegal, as red is the signal meaning “this is the back of the car, guys”).  This allowed KITT to see things on the road ahead.  Again, we’re getting there. A lot of new cars do have sensors all over the show that do detect things in front of you or in the blind spot. A few of them – notably the new Mercedes models – also have a head-up display that identifies speed limit signs and other things of that sort, popping them up on the windscreen. But nothing quite as sophisticated as KITT, who could hear and smell into the bargain.
  • Auto Collision Avoidance.  KITT could dodge things and take matters into its (his?) own hands if a collision was imminent. Modern cars can’t zigzag like KITT but some of them can start applying the brakes and the like if it thinks you’re about to crash. They don’t dodge out of the way, though. 
  • Computer print out.  Not yet.  Theoretically, though, the technology exists, so it’s a possibility.
  • Hydrogen gas engines that can run on anything combustible.  Again, not yet.  We do, however, have electric engines that just need recharging.
  • Flame throwers, tear gas jets and lasers.  Not on your typical production car for obvious reasons. Not even cop cars have tear gas or tasers fitted. Nor do they have microlock that uses microwaves to trigger the brakes of other cars.
  • ATM machine.  Dream on!

There are some rumours circulating that there’s a movie adaptation of Knight Rider coming out in the near future.  Wonder what futuristic technology the new KITT will have to inspire the car designers of the future.

Rescue Mission: Legendary Nurburgring finds new buyer

Located in the Eifel Mountains, the Nurburgring race complex can be described as nothing more than a living legend. The older Nordschleife circuit is a giant conquering monster, spanning 13 miles and representing the ultimate test for both driver and machine. Any circuit that is large enough for villages to exist happily within its titanic boundaries is not one to be ignored.

Although the original racetrack has long since disappeared into the deep annals of time, many alterations were made to the track and the racing heritage of the track continues today. The Nordschleife circuit serves as a vital testing ground for world car manufacturers, giving them the chance to give their new machines the ultimate shakedown on the ultimate race track. Most importantly, Nordschleife holds a strong significance for car lovers around the world; the circuit is often open for public track days. Is there a better treat for any lover of anything automobile?

In addition to the original track, there is of course the modern F1 track that lies within the same facility of the old circuit. This new layout was designed following the unsafe nature of the original design for the high speed nature of Formula One. The new track may only be 3.16 miles long, but it is still a firm favourite among drivers around the world. It has the perfect combination of speed, handling and spectacle.

The Nurburgring Complex includes both the old Nordschleife circuit as well as the modern F1 track. Look at the size of that!

The Nurburgring Complex includes both the old Nordschleife circuit as well as the modern F1 track. Look at the size of that!

Despite its position as the Olympus of motorsport heritage, sitting proudly atop the Eifel mountain range, the Nurburgring has been in massive financial problems over the last few years. One of the most modern additions to the circuit complex was a track side amusement park, which includes a roller-coaster that has never actually been used. The development of this amusement park has been cited as one of the reasons that the track started to struggle. Overtaken by monumental debts, the circuit finally went into administration in 2012.

The search for a new buyer began. This was a matter of life or death. For a long time, the motoring world thought that the complex would be closed down altogether.

In recent years, the F1 calendar has been switching between the Nurburgring and Hockenheim for the honours of the German GP. If the circuit was to close, the German GP would forever only be held at Hockenheim.

The prospect of losing the Nurburgring would have been a massive blow for world motorsport, especially F1. We are currently living in the Tilke generation of F1 tracks; circuits that have no soul, character or interesting qualities whatsoever. I mean seriously, who thought that Singapore was a good idea? And let us not also forget that the home of British motorsport has also been defiled; the Silverstone GP circuit has been changed and ‘improved’…

The Nurburgring, both the old and new circuits, represent a true test of motorsport ability. As tracks to drive they are both challenging and a bundle of fun. Most importantly they have character. They have a history. They have a soul. Why would we want to lose that?

One of the worries I have when race tracks come under new management is the identity of the buyer or the title sponsor. On one hand, there is the chance of a ‘McDonalds Nurburgring’ boasting new corners such as the Big Mac Esses and the McNugget hairpin. Large corporations do indeed have the money to afford race tracks, but I always feel that their name envelops the original character of their new asset and it loses a certain something.

And on the other hand, I do worry that a company with a downright ridiculous name will buy out the track. This does indeed sound ridiculous, but it has happened before. Donington Park, the once home of the British GP came under new management a few years back. The legendary track became known as…Simply Sausages Donington Park.

There are no words.

The modern F1 track was under threat, would we lose a world class race track?

The modern F1 track was under threat, would we lose a world class race track?

SALVATION.

It has been revealed that a consortium led by investment company HIG Capital has bought the Nurburgring, for £58 million. Bernie Ecclestone had already put an offer down on the circuit, and his failure to acquire it may still spell the end of the German GP being held at the track. But the future of F1 involvement at the track is still relatively unknown.

When I found out about this, I was rather surprised, not because of the choice of company that has bought the track, but the amount they bought it for. In all honesty, my concept of maths, finance and economic strategy has never been particularly strong, but part of me thinks that £58 million is quite a low number, considering what was at stake. That is £58 million for the modern F1 track, facilities, amusement park AND the beast that is the Nordschleife circuit. Don’t get me wrong, £58 million is no small figure, especially when you take into account the financial woes the circuit had been under, but I would have thought the number would have been higher.

But no matter.

Call the Nurburgring the Rebel Alliance to the Tilke Empire.

The most important fact is that one of the most famous race tracks in the world has been saved and can continue to uphold the true character of motorsport into the next generation.

Keep Driving People!

Follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69

Peace and Love!

 

BTCC 2014: (E)State of Play for Honda Yuasa Racing

The start of the 2014 British Touring Car Championship draws ever closer, and one of the big questions that has had us all talking in the season break is whether Honda will once more dominate proceedings. For the last few years, the Honda Racing effort has all but destroyed its opponents. Even though the championship victor in 2o13 was Andrew Jordan in the independent Pirtek Racing Honda, the machine was basically the works car in a colourful blue Pirtek mask. In many ways, Honda has become the Red Bull Racing of the BTCC world. One of the only other teams that ever really stood a chance against the mighty Civics was the KX Momentum MG team, spearheaded by the legend that is Jason Plato.

With mere weeks to go until the season opener, let’s take a look at what the Honda team will be offering the 2014 British Touring Car Championship.

The Honda Civic Tourer for BTCC 2014

The Honda Civic Tourer for BTCC 2014. Image Credit: BARC

A Brief History of Honda

This is not the first time I have written about the new Honda machine. I previously found myself saying that the decision to race the Tourer in the 2014 season was a showcase of arrogance from the team; Honda was just getting cocky having been so dominant so wanted to give itself some form of challenge this year. I will be the first to admit that over the last few years I have gone off the Honda outfit, mainly because they were so dominant and the racing became laborious and predictable. In the latter half of the 90s the Honda team were always competitive yet had an edge of underdog quality going on. Call them the Mark Webber or the David Coulthard, they had all the necessary parts for success yet never won the title.

The 1999 BTCC Honda Accord

The 1999 BTCC Honda Accord

When Honda returned to the championship in 2002, they were the very definition of plucky underdogs. They started the year slowly, until Priaulx and the team unlocked an explosion of speed and talent that culminated in a highly competitive and race winning car by the end of the year. The Honda team was competitive yet comparative. Back then the team had a car that they knew could win races and challenge for the title; they were on the same level as the other titans of touring cars like Vauxhall and MG. That was always what I loved about the BTCC; it was a mixture of teams and manufacturers that all were comparatively similar, but with their own quirks, quarks and quacks that gave their own colourful individuality. The last few years I found myself releasing large audible sighs every time a Honda would dominate a race or somehow come from nowhere and steal a win from another deserving driver. I know I cannot really blame the team, they were just doing their job, same as Red Bull really. I think I was just beginning to miss the characteristic unpredictability that defined the true meaning of the BTCC.

Andy Priaulx in the 2002 Honda Civic Type R

Andy Priaulx in the 2002 Honda Civic Type R

Are Honda stretching it with the new Tourer for 2014?

Over the last few months, I have spent a great deal of time reading up about what is to come in the 2014 BTCC season. As THE team to beat, it will most likely come as no surprise to you that Honda has taken the spotlight in the media coverage. It has therefore given me ample opportunity to read up about this radical new decision from Honda. At first it makes sense to be skeptical, but when you hear from the horses mouth, the decision by the Honda team begins to make that little bit more sense.

Steve Neal, the team boss, suggests that the decision to move to the Tourer was a clever move by Team Dynamics to keep Honda interested in the championship. Past championships have shown that when a manufacturer loses interest, the resulting team does sometimes suffer. One example is the 2004 championship; the MG team had lost factory backing and as a result did lose out in the main championship battle. Team Dynamics are especially determined, considering that from 2015 Honda will be focusing a great deal of their time and energy on Formula One. In addition to this, Neal senior has been concerned that his team were beginning to suffer from the ‘Vettel factor’ and that people were getting bored with Honda winning. It was almost like he read my mind.

Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden, who will be piloting the cars this year have both seemed very positive about the new machines. Neal junior has been racing for 20 years and this will be the first time he has had the chance to drive a car he describes as ‘wacky’. Similarly, Gordon Shedden admits that the car itself will by definition divide opinion, but having something different in the championship is always great. After all, this is not the first time that the BTCC has had itself an estate car in the field…

…anyone remember 1994?

You are not going blind, that is a Volvo Estate that entered the BTCC in 1994. Don't get that in F1 now do you?

You are not going blind, that is a Volvo Estate that entered the BTCC in 1994.

The 1994 Volvo Estate has become a beloved legend of the BTCC history books. Nobody thought they were being serious, but they were. Tom Walkinshaw, the late great team boss of TWR entered the Volvo in 1994 in what would become a 5 year love affair with the championship. They may not have really achieved anything that year, but they most definitely made a name for themselves and gave them a good starting point for when they moved onto the saloon in 95 and beyond. Volvo eventually won the championship with the great Rickard Rydell in 1998, and everything has got to start somewhere. For Volvo, that estate was the start of something special. It may have been utterly ridiculous, and both Rydell and Jan Lammers have said it was a total animal to drive, but it was definitely individual. For the Honda team, they have already been basking in their own success and are now choosing to use an estate. Maybe 2014 will make history as the year that an estate touring car not only wins a race, but challenges for the championship.

It is not very often I change my views, but I am starting to come around to the idea of the Honda Civic Tourer. It is different, it is wacky, it is ridiculous. And I like ridiculous. At first I thought them arrogant, but I actually am beginning to respect the Honda team for their decision. It is yet another sign that the BTCC is one of the worlds premiere racing series. It is so refreshing to know that the teams are considering the fans in their decision. The Honda team could very easily upgrade the 2013 model and walk away with another championship, but that would indeed be boring to watch. At the end of the day it depends how you want to look at it. This time I am going for the optimistic approach.

But only time will tell. Bring on the 2014 BTCC season opener at Brands Hatch!

Keep Driving People!

Follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69

Peace and Love!

 

Impossible Reality: Rinspeed showcases Driverless Concept

When we are but innocent younglings we are introduced to a world of limitless wonder and excitement; we are introduced to science-fiction and fantasy.  Call me a walking cliche but Star Wars has and will always be the very epitome of ultimate childhood fantasies coming to life. Well I say coming to life, you know what I mean. I have grown up immersed in these made up worlds where there are no boundaries and anything is possible. When I was a young boy, I had an unfaltering belief that one day these films would become reality. However, as the years went by I was gripped with a growing wave of realisation and abject disappointment; I would never see my dreams of becoming a Jedi and flying around in armoured spaceships becoming a reality. This technology was an impossible dream.

…or is it?

As a boy, this was going to be my first vehicle...

As a boy, this was going to be my first vehicle…

The Geneva Motor Show has just ignited a fire I thought had been long since extinguished. It may take a couple of years, it may take a good many more, but self-driving cars will become a showroom regular in our lifetime. My mind is blown. Some of the main contenders in this development are BMW, Ford, IBM and of course, Google. I am surprised Apple are not getting in on the action too. Give it time and I’m sure the iDrive will be emptying the pockets of the world. Considering the names in that list, I think the best result would involve a collaborative effort between a car manufacturer and a computing technology company. After all, computers are assimilating themselves into all aspects of society, and the best way to do it is to work with the existing leaders in the respective fields.

One of the chief names in the development of driverless technology in cars, who heads the Swiss think tank called Rinspeed has made it clear that the passenger will be at the centre of what is possible, not the autonomous driving technology itself. At the show, Rinspeed  Furthermore, his beliefs about the development of the automotive industry puts into perspective the rate of progress in the modern world…

“When I look back at how things were, it looks like the Stone Age. There will come a time when we will be travelling in a container, with no airbags or seatbelts because the chances of an accident will be so small” – Frank Rinderknecht (CEO at Rinspeed)

Rinspeed are focusing on developing the ultimate passenger experience. Image Credit:  BBC News

Rinspeed are focusing on developing the ultimate passenger experience. Image Credit: BBC News

The concept for the passenger experience in these new futuristic machines has been worked on the idea of the first class airline cabin, where the passenger can sit in comfort while leaving the stress and demand of the journey to the pilot, or in this case, a fancy computer system. One of the main problems to tackle will be overall ride comfort; if we are to believe the above picture the user will be able to sit comfortably with a cup of coffee right next to them. Now I don’t know about you, but in the UK especially, finding a smooth enough road to even keep anything balanced atop the dashboard may as well be declared impossible. Therefore, a great deal of fancy number crunching and mechanical wizardry will have to be undertaken. On top of all of this, the driving console (it seems to fancy to just be called a steering wheel) will be in the centre to maximise the space for a fully fledged entertainment system that gives passengers access to whatever they may desire. Of course, those inside the car will be fully connected to the outside world in real time through the joyous wonder that is cloud software.

Everything is sounding rather glorious right now wouldn’t you say? Wouldn’t it just be the worst if I now came and rained on your parade?

  1. How catastrophically expensive will a car like this be? It will be a car designed for the mega-rich, most likely top end footballers and sheikhs from far away lands. That was always one of the things that has popped into my head when I watch these sci-fi films, is just how much all this stuff would cost. I can only guess that in the same way with all the latest technology, the initial market introduction will be a number to boggle the minds of most of us, but over time when it becomes more commonplace the price will drop. Either that or the general public will get a cut price version of this luxury. The economy class to their first class cabin if you will (if we are following this airline analogy)
  2. Gaining the Trust of the Customer – If you told me that I could sit in a car and it would drive itself to wherever I want to go, after my initial reaction of awe and wonder, I would probably be filled with a mild form of terror. Convincing people that you have developed a safe machine that will not end in a mess of blood guts and a treat for future archaeologists will be a hard job. This leads me onto the main issue I see with this whole operation
  3. Safety – If you had the choice of getting in a plane with pilots or one that flew itself, I think I know which one most people would choose. It is true that human error is the largest cause of airline incidents. But in the same way, human error or a computer malfunction may be corrected by the pilot. I am sure we have all had the situation where you are working away on your computer and it suddenly freezes and will not respond. How will any of us know that this same thing will not happen in these new driverless cars? When the London underground introduced driverless trains, there have been a few cases of trains running out of control and only being saved by the controllers who took manual control back from the command centre as it were.

I would also like to yet again draw your attention to Jurassic Park, which is becoming the trademark comparison point for me when it comes to the automotive universe. If you remember, the 4x4s in that film were essentially driverless cars, and look what happened when they lost power. People were attacked by a T-Rex. Imagine if you owned one of these new driverless cars and it lost power, do you want to run the risk of being attacked by a T-Rex? Do any of us really want to be attacked by a T-Rex? It is an important point to consider, you know.

At the end of the day, the future success of self-driving cars will fall down on trust. It requires the full trust of the owners to feel safe. With any new idea, new theory, revolutionary change there will always be distrust. It is only natural that we will be both intrigued and suspicious of what we do not understand until we have received proof of its credibility. I mean there was once a time where the theory of evolution was looked on with horror and mountains of criticism, now look where we are.

It may take the next few generations to fully integrate ourselves with this new technology, but it will be there. The future is coming.

Maybe those dreams of spaceships, hover boots and lightsabers are not as impossible as we first thought.

In the great words of Journey, ‘Don’t Stop Believing’.

Keep Driving People!

Follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69

Peace and Love!

Urban Legend: Toyota’s Landcruiser.

In Australia, Toyota is seen as a “cardigan car” brand, with capable if unexciting vehicles such as the Aurion and Camry. The Corolla is consistently a high seller but, behind the scenes, is Toyota’s legendary Landcruiser. First released to an unsuspecting world in 1951, it’s grown and evolved and diverged into different models. I run into the 200 series GX and takes a look at where this classic nameplate is todayLandcruiser profile

It’s a four model range: GX, GXL, VX and Sahara. The GX as tested comes with a planet rotation stopping twin turbo, 650Nm diesel V8, at 4.5L capacity. That torque is available at just 1600 revs with peak power a not unreasonable 190kW at 3400rpm. The iron block, alloy head engine Landcruiser enginesips just over 10L per 100 kilometres, incredible given the ‘Cruiser’s kerb weight of a lick over two and a half tonnes. The main tank is 93 litres in capacity with the auxiliary at 45L, providing a potential range of well over 1000 kms. There’s the characteristic diesel chatter under way, with the six speed auto calibrated to turn the engine over at Landcruiser nose1600/1700 rpm for freeway velocity whilst the exhaust emits a muted V8 burble.
On the road the Landcruiser is relaxed, unstressed, that massive amount of torque easily motivating the mass along; sink the right foot and the transmission quietly drops two spots, the engine takes a deep breath and sends the speedo spinning. There’s a palpable shove in the back and the horizon appears to increase in size rapidly. Given the drag co-efficient of the Landcruiser is akin to a kite in a stiff breeze, it’s a truly remarkable sensation to experience. Ride Landcruiser wheelquality is niggly jiggly; the high profile dual purpose spec tyres (285/65s on 17 inch rims) do an admirable job of soaking up most bumps however the suspension (double wishbone front and live rear combination) is a bit touchy, with smaller and repetitive bumps being transmitted. Although there’s a squeal from the tyres coming into some bends, there’s never a true feeling of losing contact; the vehicle supplied was tested during some of Sydney’s wettest summer days and it was more of the pucker factor than anything when it came to handling. Under brakes, a well modulated pedal, with consistent travel, hauls the ‘Cruiser up with nary a blink, the near fourteen inch wide discs throwing out the anchors equally and without fuss each time.
As one would expect off road, it’s a sure footed machine, with plenty of torque to power through foot deep puddles in a clay basin; in fact, the wading depth is set at a maximum of 700 millimetres. On a tech level, there’s a centre diff lock, a transfer case for low range crawling and a dial for hill descent speed. With the front wheels being pushed more to the front bumper, approach angle is rated at a high thirty degrees with departure a tad less, at twenty. With an overall length of near as dammit five metres and a wheelbase of 2.85 metres, with a track of close to 1.8 metres, it presents a formidable footprint.
Landcruiser dashThe interior is one of function over form; being a base model and consequently devoid Landcruiser cabinof suburban fripperies, it’s a dirt friendly floor covering combination of rubber and vinyl. Get dirty, hose it out is the motto, with a simple cloth covering for the five seats, including the 60/40 split fold rear. There’s a basic set of steering wheel controls, including Bluetooth, single CD AM/FM radio with USB and auxiliary inputs, no parking sensors or reverse camera, which, initially seems a terrible omission. In hindsight, it brought back the driver training I received at a time where sensors and cameras for cars were a thing of science fiction; nowadays they’re there for people that haven’t been taught to drive. Aircon controls where minimalist also and, as such, a thing of engineering perfection, being a set of clearly identified buttons,Landcruiser centre for their individual purpose.
Driver’s instrumentation is also simple; tacho and oil temperature in one dial, speed and battery charge in the other, bisected by fuel and water temperature atop the gear indicator. The gear lever itself is mounted in a gated design, with a Sportshift option, unused in the week, as the bountiful torque was available at the crack of a right foot.
Landcruiser rear cargoLandcruiser rear seatsNaturally, for such a physically big vehicle (overall width and height is equal at 1970mm) there’s plenty of cargo space, with a massive 1431 litres available. As is the wont of manufacturers nowadays, there’s a plethora of cup holders, ideal for the farmer’s early morning coffee or a coldie at the end of the day.
The exterior of the GX provided was the basic white, with colour coded bumpers contrasting with the plain black of the driver’s side mounted snorkel intake. It’s an evolution, looks wise, of the 100 series released in the late ’90s, Landcruiser left rearwith a solid and bluff look. A double lamp headlight cluster and a simple, compact taillight assembly bookend the big machine.
Toyota’s GX Landcruiser is part of a legendary family; in it’s own right, for what its design objctives and true intended market are, it’s virtually ideal. There’s nothing excessive, it’s fitted out internally to suit the target usage, it is more than capable off road and in muddy environs and is decently economical. Price, though, is not for the faint of heart, clocking in at around 83 large. However, for the life of the car and for its sheer overall usefullness, it’s really not that much. Legend, writ large. Head here: http://www.toyota.com.au/landcruiser-200/specifications/gx-turbo-diesel?WT.ac=VH_LC200_RangeSpecs_GXL_Specs for more.

What They’re Driving In The BRIC Nations

If you’ve ever had a quick brush with international economists, then you may have heard about what’s known as the BRIC nations. BRIC stands for Brazil, Russia, India and China, and they’re the up-and-coming force in world markets. Now, when I take a look through the cars reviewed here at Private Fleet, there’s not a whole heap of Chinese, Brazilian, Russian or Indian cars listed there, although China is making its presence Down Under felt with the Great Wall and Chery (OK, a lot of marques with European or US origins probably get bits assembled in China these days, but all the same…). I had to ask myself what people are driving in these countries. Are they driving their own cars or something else?

So, research time…

China, of course, has a list as long as your arm of its own car manufacturers (and that doesn’t count the ones made in China for “European” cars). Some of the Chinese local brands include BYD, Dongfeng Motor, FAW Group, SIAC Motor, Lifan, Chang’an, Geely, Chery, Hafei, JAC, Great Wall and Roewe. SAIC, Chang’an, FAW Group and Dongfeng are known as the “Big Four”. SAIC, incidentally, owns MG, and has its finger in the Skoda, Chevrolet and VW pies, among quite a few others (including other Chinese marques like the Rover-inspired luxury line Roewe).  The rest of the Big Four also seem to have a stake in some of the more familiar names we know: Chang’an has a few joint ventures with Ford and Suzuki; FAW Group is cosying up with Audi and a couple of others like Toyota; Dongfeng has a lot of partners, including French marques Citroën, Renault and Peugeot.  Quite frankly, trying to decipher what’s going on with the Chinese automobile market is simultaneously confusing and enlightening.

But what about the Chinese-exclusive marques – things with badges we don’t recognise on the noses?  The list is massive.  Just a glimpse at the brands at the bottom of the page should give you an idea. Do some of them look like rip-offs of other logos? You betcha!

India also has a couple of unfamiliar names buzzing around the crowded streets of New Delhi and Mumbai.  One that would, however, look familiar to a lot of Aussie drivers is the Maruti. The what?  Well, some of the top sellers in India are the Maruti Alto and Maruti Swift . Yes, Maruti is Suzuki in a sari – the Indian equivalent. It’s kind of like the Holden/Vauxhall/Opel  thing.  Of course, the big name in Indian cars is Tata, with another popular one being Mahindra & Mahindra. Other things on Indian roads are quite familiar: Hyundais and the like.

Brazil has often been the place where marques headquartered in other countries were actually made, and this still goes on. Fiat is one brand that is thought of as Italian but is actually made in Brazil. Brazil churned out heaps of VW Beetles and Kombis, and these were sold throughout Latin America. There is a Brazilian local marque: the Troller, which specialises in off-road vehicles (which makes sense, considering the amount of wild Brazilian back country in the form of the Amazon jungle).

Russia has Lada, of course. The Lada brand may have been the butt of a few jokes here in the West and they weren’t exactly known for their comfort features, but they were tough and sturdy. They were the Eastern Bloc’s “people’s car” and they were no-frills affairs that had to get from A to B in conditions that could range from the arid deserts in the south in all those countries that now end in “istan” to freezing Siberian conditions.  Ladas made it over here and to the rest of the world, but some others stayed at home – unsurprising, given that Russia is currently the largest European market for cars. Other Russian brands include AvtoVAZ (formerly known as just VAZ – and it owns Lada), GAZ (with a lovely gazelle logo) and KAMAZ (makes trucks that have won their class in the Dakar rally). A lot of Russian cars are sold elsewhere in the world. What’s with the AZ bit? Simply, AZ is short for “avtomobilny zavod”, which means “automobile plant” or “motor works”.

Great Wall is here. Chery is here. Lada is here.  My question is: what’s going to be over here next?  Will we see Tatas on Aussie roads?  Or other Chinese marques?   Time will tell, but I won’t be surprised if they do.

chinese-car-brands

 

 

Deadly Venom: Is Top Speed Really That Important?

The Hennessey Venom GT

The Hennessey Venom GT

For anyone who is a true petrol head, questioning the importance of top speed in the modern world will most likely come across as hideously blasphemous. Many may even liken it to asking a lover of decent curry if spice is really that important. You might even end up with a face full of curry, and no one wants that, do they? However, with the latest hypercar news hitting the news stand that the Bugatti Veyron may have finally been overthrown by the mighty Hennessey Venom GT I have decided to ask the big one.

The 1244bhp American god machine has set a physics bending top speed of 270.49mph on the runway of the Kennedy Space Centre. The previous record had been set by the Bugati Veyron Super Sport which clocked 269.86mph on the Ehra-Lessien test track back in 2010. While watching Top Gear back in the day when the Veyron was first released, they argued that in terms of the automotive world, we had found our ‘Concorde moment’, and with all the developments in green motoring, that we would never see anything as exciting in our lifetimes. Looks like they were wrong.

Let us compare the statistics here shall we:

Bugatti Veyron:

  • 8 litre, 16 cylinder engine
  • 1,183 BHP
  • 0-62mph: 2.5 seconds
  • 0-186mph: 15 seconds
  • Top Speed: 269.86 mph
Bugatti Veyron SS

Bugatti Veyron SS. Image Credit: Top Gear

Hennessey Venom GT:

  • 7 litre twin-turbo GM-Sourced V8 engine
  • 1,244 BHP
  • 20mph – 120mph: 7.71 seconds
  • 120mph – 220mph: 10 seconds
  • 260mph – 270mph: 10 seconds
  • Top Speed: 270.49mph

Looking at the pictures of the Venom GT, is it just me or does the car look like it has taken inspiration from the Lotus Elise? I guess it is in much the same way as Jaguar have started sculpting their cars in a similar way to that of Aston Martin. You could indeed criticize this decision and call the styling lazy. You could. But, when you are basing your design on a downright beautiful treat for the eyes, can we really complain that much? Really?

Its figures like those that really do blow your mind beyond all levels of rationality and logic. Let me put it this way, by the time you have read aloud the 0-60mph times of these cars, the cars would both already be doing way over 60mph. It is almost literally something that happens in the blink of an eye. The world record for the 100m sprint for a human is around 9 seconds, and imagine how quickly that goes when you watch it. Well imagine this, at full pelt, the Venom GT is covering 120 metres… every second. So in the time it would take Usain Bolt to run 100m, the car would have blasted past 1km. Honestly, that says a lot about both the car and Usain Bolt.

There is however one problem, the Venom will not be entering the record books. Sadly, according to the Guinness World Record powers that be, for a car to qualify for the fastest road car, it must have at least 30 units produced and set an average over two runs of a specified course. Sadly, only 11 units of the Venom have been produced and it only went one way up the space station runway. Why only one way I hear you ask? For the answer to that you will have to ask the space men themselves. It took them 2 years to secure access to the facility, and when it came to it, they were only given permission to go one way. And no, I do not know why either.

In the UK especially, the road laws are becoming ever stricter and that little bit more annoying with the passing of each day. Some motorway speed limits are apparently being reduced to 60mph in some city areas for one example. Add this to all the restrictions on emissions and what not, and we are finding a situation where the only cars that seem to do well are hybrids and electrics.

This does beg the question, are top speeds and high performance all that important here in the 21st century?

On one side of the story, realistically speaking the only place that you can test the high end performance of any car is on the track. Firstly, there are not that many people that can afford performance cars as it is, let alone have the money to get the car to a track and pay for the cornucopia of track day aspects, whether its tyres or general repairs. Furthermore, the speed limit on most roads in the UK anyway is 70mph, which can be achieved in your average road going vehicle. Given that we are trying to become greener and cause less pollution (etc etc etc) it does make sense that the cars of choice should be hyper-efficient hybrids and electric cars, that give the owners the deluded belief that they are somehow fixing mother earth. But that is another story.

But then we get to the reality behind the question I have raised. In theory yes top speed is completely irrelevant in the modern motoring world. Yes, you could drive down a motorway or a country road in any car at 70mph, BUT you cannot deny that you would enjoy it much more if you were doing it in a Venom. Deny it all you want, but nothing compares to the thrill of driving in a car that was designed to get from A to B in the fastest and most enjoyable way possible. You may not be able to hit the top speed, but there is that same adrenaline, that same buzz and the same hairs on your neck. Would you rather hear the silent whir of your Prius or the pure animalistic raw of your V12 engine?

It is about pushing the boundaries of what is possible. The competition to use the same basic resources to come out with the best end result. If we do not push boundaries, we do not progress. If we stayed inside the box all our lives the excitement that we all take for granted would be absent in our lives. As much as some of you green readers may not want to admit it, we need these cars.

So yes, I do believe that top speed is important. It may not be about the realistic chances of you reaching that speed, but its knowing that you could that is the important thing. There is not any real chance that I will ever fly to the moon, but knowing that I could is really exciting and makes me appreciate just how mind blowingly awesome modern technology has become. And in much the same way as me reaching the moon, most of us will probably never own, drive or even see one of these cars in the flesh, but knowing that they exist and what they are capable of, that is what’s important. We still get excited, we still get that same passion, we will always love these cars.

Petrol-heads will never die.

Keep Driving People!

Follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69

Peace and Love!