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The Perfect Equation: Super Touring Cars and Brands Hatch

Photo taken from:

Photo taken from:

On any normal occasion the end of the month is a time of relief, happiness and impending financial gain. But this is no average month. On May 24th, the HSCC Super Touring Car Trophy returns to Brands Hatch for the Masters Historic Festival. With an expected bumper grid of over 25 cars, the glory of the 90s will once again flood back to Brands Hatch. After a strong opening race for the field at Donington Park, the excitement builds for Brands. And did I mention that there are two legends of the BTCC competing as well?

The 2015 BTCC season has already proven that it is fast returning to its status as one of the best race series anywhere in the world. The NGTC regulations have left other championships reeling in jealousy; cost-effective and ultra competitive make for some of the most entertaining races you will see. The combination of the modern championship with the returning HSCC Super Touring Car Trophy creates a beautifully poetic message about the timeless strength of touring cars as the best race category on the planet.

If the current BTCC represents everything forward thinking and fan-orientated about the modern era, then the glitz, glamour and excess that characterized the 1990s is perfectly epitomized in the Super Touring era of the championship. Big names, big budgets and titanic battles dominated proceedings throughout that time. The circuits may have changed and teams may have come and gone, but it was the iconic machinery that truly represented the golden age of touring car racing. When the HSCC announced it would run the Super Touring Cars, I was returned to my excitable years of innocence when as a child I would be glued to the television every time the BTCC was on. In an instant I was a child again, filled with wondrous joy and reveling in the beauty of Super Touring noise.

And Muller takes Cleland! Oh wait, its not 1998.. Photo taken from:

And Muller takes Cleland! Oh wait, its not 1998.. Photo taken from:

Last year, the Masters Historic Festival at Brands Hatch produced some beastly action from the F1 cars of days gone by, including a tear-jerking tribute to Jack Brabham. However, the Super Tourers were somewhat of a disappointment for those who had come to celebrate the height of the BTCC. After promises of large fields and intense action of a rumoured 30 cars, 7 turned up to the Brands Hatch meeting. In the case of one of the races, one car did not make the finish which did therefore mean there were only 6 cars that crossed the line. I have not seen a touring car race so embarrassing since the opening round of the 2001 season.

The event fell close however to the prestigious Silverstone Classic, which did present a considerable conundrum to the teams. The touring cars of the 1990s were so highly engineered and so specialist that one cannot wander into a mechanic and pick up some spare parts on a whim. There will likely come a time when the tyres that were made for the Super Touring cars will simply run out altogether. So in some ways, the increased television coverage and bigger crowds explains why many drivers chose to not enter the Brands rounds. Not only that, any touring car race at Brands Hatch is never without incident (ask John Cleland about 1995, I dare you), and the bill for repairing one of these BTCC icons will take more than your pocket money that’s for sure.

This year however, the time difference between the two is great enough that the full grid is expected to take to the tarmac. Just to add to the excitement, touring car legends John Cleland and Patrick Watts return once more with their ex-BTCC Vauxhall and Peugeot. They may be in their later years but lost their determination and skill they most definitely have not. On top of this, highly experienced historic racers James Dodd in his Nissan Primera and Stewart Whyte in his Honda Accord have been showing they have what it takes to fight it out at the top. The field itself consists of cars from across the full spectrum of BTCC history, including a Ford Sierra RS500, a Ford Escort Mk 2, BMWs from across the 1990s, the fearsome Renault Laguna, Ford Mondeos, Nissan Primeras (including the ex-Team Dynamics car of Matt Neal) and new for this year Audi A4s.

Multi-generations of Nissans: The beast is back! Photo taken from:

Multi-generations of Nissans: The beast is back! Photo taken from:

The first round at Donington Park saw a massive grid of 27 cars take on the track, with honours shared between Patrick Watts and Stewart Whyte. Moving forward, the rounds at Brands Hatch are expected to be something truly memorable. The sweet combination of BTCC and Brands Hatch has always created an electric atmosphere both on and off track. The elevation changes, overtaking opportunities, daunting corners and high speed straights make for one of the best circuits you will find anywhere in the world.

To name some of the historic touring car moments from Brands Hatch would take a lifetime. But who can forget the Reid – Rydell battle that ended in a post-race scuffle, or Simoni in 1994 who managed to barely keep his Alfa Romeo in a straight line while his team mate Tarquini powered to victory or perhaps more recently when Andy Jordan proved exactly why he deserved to be 2013 champion in the rain soaked final race of the year?

So many wonderful memories.. Photo taken from:

So many wonderful memories.. Photo taken from:

With such a packed grid, expect action from lights to flag as some of the most iconic racing machinery in the world come together to transport you back in time to reignite a fire long extinguished. Who needs Doctor Who and his Tardis when you have the Super Touring championship? The championship itself is fast gaining more support and recognition; it would not surprise me if in a few years time it becomes a regular support to the BTCC package itself. To describe me as excited would be a colossal understatement; my life is touring cars and those of the 1990s truly epitomize everything I love about tin top racing. If I could change anything, all I would want is the addition of some Volvo’s on the grid, lining up alongside some Rouse-prepared cars such as the ’92 Toyota or the Kaliber Sierra. And at that moment, my life may well just be complete.

I hope to see you there on May 24th. 

They’re back, and better than ever. 

You won’t want to miss this.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69 

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

Holy Roller: The Popemobile

Not too long ago, I did a wee post telling you all about the fancy-pants limo used by the President of the US of A, known as The Beast.  The research for this led me to odd bits and pieces about the Popemobile, so I thought that the opportunity was too good to pass up.

The Beast at least looks like a car.  The Popemobile… doesn’t.  Maybe that’s the real reason why the current pope, Pope Francis, doesn’t like it, as well as his apparent preference for keeping things simple.  And I have to say that I’d prefer to drive myself around in a Ford Focus or a Renault 4 , too, like he does, rather than sit in what looks like a glass box on the back of a ute.

Mercedes-Benz-Popemobile-01-626x416Popemobiles are a comparatively recent arrival on the scene, unlike presidential limos. Prior to 1976, the pope got carried about on a mobile armchair known as the sedia gestatoria, which roughly means “portable chair”.  Pope Paul VI scrapped the idea of being carried about on the shoulders of fellow human beings and organised a modified Toyota Land Cruiser  instead.  It used to take 12 blokes to carry it, partly because that padded throne was pretty heavy and partly in memory of the 12 disciples of Jesus… although Jesus’s preferred forms of transport were foot, rowing boat and a borrowed donkey.

Popemobiles tend to come in two varieties: open top and bulletproof.  The uncovered ones tend to get used when the Pope is on his home turf in the Vatican, with the bulletproof ones being kept for overseas trips. The bulletproof ones came in after the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981.

A number of vehicles have been modified over the years to be used as Popemobiles.  Fords, Fiats, a SEAT Panda (close cousin to the Fiat of the same name), a Kia and some British Leyland trucks have all been customised for the task, which is as close as a car comes to being consecrated.  A few other obscure vehicles have also been used over the years.  The current Popemobile is a modified Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV.  All Popemobiles have the same license plate: SCV 1, with the SCV standing for Status Civitatis Vaticanae meaning “City State of the Vatican”.

Engine: 5-litre V8, petrol fuel.  There are probably plans afoot for greener versions.

Seating: Five maximum: two in the front (one chauffeur and one bodyguard), one in the special chair and two aides in the rear cabin facing backwards and lower down where the general public can’t see them so well.  The answer to the debate over how many guardian angels you can fit in the rear of the Popemobile along with His Holiness is probably the same as the one about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  The actual chair itself has a hydraulic lift system to get it up to the top of the turret for maximum visibility.  Entrance to the seat is through the rear door, and to get into this seat, the Pope goes through the rear door, climbs up a couple of steps, sits down then presses a button to get the chair up into the right place.

Performance: Tipping the scales at 5 tonnes thanks to heaps of body armour, the current Popemobile has a top speed of 160 mph and does the 0–60 mph “sprint” in 15 seconds, assuming that there’s a clear space in front.  The usual speed while on duty is more like 6 mph.  Fuel consumption is 15 miles per gallon.

Safety and security: The bulletproof glass around the rear cabin is actually plastic glass and is three inches thick, capable of withstanding explosions. The underside of the car is protected by a bombproof steel plate half an inch thick.  Kelvar body armour lines the sides of the cabin.  The rear cabin has its own oxygen supply and air filters to withstand biological attack.  The run-flat tyres are able to be used at speeds up to 70 mph.

I did notice that the special chair thing in the rear cabin doesn’t have a seatbelt…

Safe and happy driving – and don’t forget your seatbelts!


How World War 1 Changed Cars

Well, I hope everybody took a pause to “remember them” over the past weekend – ANZAC weekend.  It’s been 100 years since the disastrous landings in Gallipoli, and it’s this sort of anniversary that gets people in a thoughtful mood.

Renault taxis take French troops to Marne.

Renault taxis take French troops to Marne.

It’s interesting to speculate on how cars would have been different if World War 1 had never happened.  Cars had indeed been invented prior to the outbreak of war – Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was riding in an open-top car when he was assassinated, triggering the whole stupid mess. But the war stimulated development of the automobile and accelerated progress.  Heaps of car manufacturers managed to get off the ground because of their involvement in producing cars (and tanks and motorbikes and aeroplanes) for their respective sides.  Renault started churning out war transport units, especially after heaps of Renault taxis were commandeered to take French troops to the battle lines after Germany invaded.  BMW and Citroen got started with serious auto production, although they turned to making cars after the war was over, as they had invested heavily in R&D and in manufacturing plants.

A few other ways that World War 1 changed cars around the world include the following:

  1. Mass production.  The wartime demand for lots of identically made gear churned out really quickly opened people’s eyes to the efficiency of assembly lines.  According to one historian, WWI was a “war of production” where the side who could crank out the most tanks, machine guns, aeroplanes, etc. had the edge.  Ford had begun pioneering assembly lines and time-and-motion efficiency measures before the US was dragged into the war; however, other car manufacturers quickly cottoned onto the idea. This meant that once the war was over, the technology was there and the factory lines were there, so they were used for making cars. And they still are.

    Rosie the Riveter and friends making Tin Lizzies on the Ford production line.

    Rosie the Riveter and friends making Tin Lizzies on the Ford production line.

  2. Social change led to more demand for cars. The war took heaps of guys off the farms and out of the factories and sent them around the world, giving them glimpses of the exotic. At the same time, it became respectable for middle-class women to stop sitting around being decorative and to work (who do you think was working on the assembly line when the men were fighting?). The new outlook on life and the desire to travel led to demand for cars (helped, no doubt, by advertising by the car manufacturers). Bicycles and the train, which had been the norm prior to the war, just didn’t cut it any longer.  The old class system was dead and cars weren’t just a luxury for the aristocracy and the wealthy.
  3. Petrol and diesel became the fuels of choice.  Prior to WW1, fossil fuels weren’t the only way to go.  Manufacturers were playing around with things like steam and electricity. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, electric cars were actually pretty popular because they were quiet. However, the advantages of gasoline over these other fuels became apparent during the war. The fact that the Allied forces (who had the new automotive technologies) had also managed to bag large chunks of the oil-rich Middle East that had been part of the Ottoman Empire might also have had something to do with this.
  4. Petrol stations.  As cars became more affordable (thanks to mass production) and more desirable (thanks to social change), fuelling stations had to be provided. All across the world, bowsers sprang up.  Before that, people had to carry their own gas or imitate Bertha Benz and pick up a container or so of fuel from any shop that sold it.
  5. Paying in instalments. Car manufacturers wanted to sell cars.  People wanted to buy them.  However, not everyone had the ready cash straight away to purchase a car outright. So car dealers started allowing people to pay in instalments. This was a way for makers of medium-priced cars to compete with the really cheap players like Ford (and later Volkswagen).
  6. Sealed roads. Cars wore roads down more than bicycles and carriages did (trains, obviously, stayed off the roads). This meant that as the car grew in popularity, more roads needed to be tarsealed to keep them in good condition.  The history of roads would probably make another good post in itself, so I’ll probably have to save that for another time.

Safe and happy driving,