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Archive for September, 2015

A Car That Turns Head For The Wrong Reasons: The Reliant Robin

And on top of the other weirdness, the bonnet opens backwards.

And on top of the other weirdness, the bonnet opens backwards.

There are some cars that turn heads for the right reasons. You look at them and think “Wow!” I remember nearly going off the road the first time I saw a vehicle that I loved the styling of (it was a 2000 model Ford Falcon XR6, by the way – although I mistook it for a Jaguar at first glance).  Others are a pure dream to drive and seem to have been created by designers who really think about what people need and want (something I’ve experienced with the Volvo and the Saab I’ve owned over the years – bravo, Sweden!).

Others turn heads for the wrong reasons. They leave you wondering what on earth the design team was thinking. You wonder how on earth the cars in question got off the drawing board, let alone the sales yard. One car in particular stands out as a real head-turner (for the wrong reasons) and head-scratcher: the Reliant Robin.

redrobinIf you’ve seen a Mr Bean episode, you’ve probably seen a Reliant Robin. It’s the three-wheeled blue thing that perpetually gets shunted out of the way by Bean’s beloved yellow Mini .  This vehicle wasn’t, as I once thought back in my teen years, specially created by the producers of the Mr Bean series as a joke. It is for real. A design team really did sit down and a car company really did make a car with three wheels. What’s more, it sold.  Apparently, the “Plastic Pig”, as it came to be called, is the second-most popular fibreglass vehicle. It also went through three facelifts (all of which kept the three wheels) and was produced up until 2001.

The idea behind the Reliant Robin was frugality and innovation.  It was developed back in the 1970s during the oil crisis, so cars with small engines were highly desirable (some things don’t change). This had the benefit of bringing the Mini and the Fiat 500 to public attention but it also produced some right horrors. As well as the Reliant Robin, another mid-1970s horror was the Sebring-Vanguard CitiCar, an electric vehicle (yep, things haven’t changed) that was great in the fuel consumption department but looked singularly hideous and had windows that zipped up.

The Sebring Citicar.

The Sebring Citicar.

But why, oh why did they make it with just three wheels?  It doesn’t make for better aerodynamics to increase the fuel economy. It certainly doesn’t make for better handling. Out of all the three-wheeled car designs (the Reliant Robin isn’t the only one in existence), the delta layout (one wheel at the front, two at the back) is the least stable and is prone to rolling when braking   The “tadpole” layout – one at the back, two at the front, as seen in the BMW Isetta – is somewhat more stable.

The reason why they made it with three wheels was to make it more accessible: because of the engine size and because it had less than four wheels, it was classed as a motorbike for licensing and registration purposes. If you were a miner working in the north of England who needed to get to work cheaply but didn’t want to freeze your buttocks off on a motorbike, and you didn’t want to pay a packet for car registration, something like the Reliant Robin kind of made sense, especially as you could fit the family in the back, like you would with any three-door hatchback.

Specifications-wise, the Reliant Robin achieved its aim of good fuel economy. The 1970s model’s teeny little 750 cc engine (with 29.5 kW of power and 63 Nm of torque and a 0–100 km/h time of 17 seconds, depending on who you ask) could do 70 miles per gallon (that’s 4 L/100 km).  The top speed of the Robin was 136 km/h, although given its performance when braking and cornering, you probably wouldn’t want to flog the little thing that hard. Especially as the body was made of fibreglass to keep the weight and fuel consumption down.  Needless to say, the Reliant Robin has a rear-wheel-drive powertrain.

The Robin is notoriously unstable, with a tendency to lift rear wheels off the ground during hard braking or cornering. This is probably the main reason why it ended up being the patsy in the Mr Bean episodes: it was easy to roll, push, tip and otherwise abuse. Top Gear episodes have also taken the mickey out of the Robin. And the three-wheel design makes it look just plain weird.

However, as with all very distinctive cars, there are going to be a few people who are passionate about the quirkiness of the vehicle in question. Some people love the Robin. Heck, one specialist website claims that HRH Princess Anne once owned one. Owners say that they like the way that people stop to stare and smile at the car. Small children have been known to burst into laughter at the sight of a Robin. So I guess the Robin has the advantage of bringing more smiles and laughter into the world. If you want to do this, fine. Just remember two important things: (1) take it very, very easy around the corners, and (2) have another vehicle for taking the kids to school unless you want them to die of embarrassment (although it would make a good parental threat).

Safe and happy driving, whether you prefer two, three or four wheels,

Megan

Blink Once and You’ll Miss It: Jackson Steals Rockingham Pole

Photo Credit: BTCC.net

Photo Credit: BTCC.net

In what was yet another classic qualifying session, Mat Jackson breaks his 6 year dry spell by storming to a sensational pole at Rockingham, despite an all or nothing last minute run from Shedden. After an all round disappointing outing at Knockhill, Team BMR complete a fruitful qualifying with Smith planting his car on the front row, while Plato and Turkington lie only a few places behind. While Jackson celebrates a long awaited pole, Tom Ingram acquires a career best 5th in his Toyota Avensis, having topped the times early on. 

To say that that Rockingham is far removed from the tight, twisty and undulating Knockhill circuit would be nothing short of a considerable understatement. The intricate demands of Knockhill are now but a distant memory; based on an ova,l Rockingham requires speed as the secret to success. The combination of sweeping turns and tight hairpins never fails to bring the excitement to the drivers, teams and fans.

As qualifying got underway, the timing screens were set ablaze as the times began pouring in. In fact, in my many years of following the championship, I don’t think I have ever seen such a fast jostling for grid positions. Look away for more than the time it takes to turn on the light and you have missed everything. However, as the session rolled on the contenders began to make themselves known. Jackson, Ingram, Plato and Neal were swapping time sheet toppers lap after lap. This was until Tom Ingram decided to kill it all stone dead and set a blistering lap that saw him get comfortable in provisional pole. A little too comfortable perhaps?

It was not long before Goff not only knocked Tingram off the top, but beat the lap record in the process. The Snetterton sensation would not get a chance to celebrate mind, as Aron Smith in the Team BMR Passat planted himself in pole, before being toppled by the flying Motorbase Ford of Jackson.

With 3 minutes remaining, the Infiniti of Palmer decided to have a little frollock in the sand pit, bringing out the red flags, resetting the time back to 5 minutes. Enough for one final crack at the top. In typical Flash-ion (yes, I have coined a new phrase), Shedden left it to the dying seconds before setting his final time. Despite smashing the first sector time, the rest of his lap was only enough to move him to 3rd. Still an achievement worthy of much credit!

Jackson’s lap marked the first time since 2009 that he will start the first race of the day in pole position, while also claiming the maiden pole for the Motorbase team. I have often compared the returning Ford team this year to that of 1993 when Rouse and Radisich entered the Ford Mondeo for the second half of the year. It would now seem that similar to 22 years ago, the Ford is once again causing an upset with the established championship contenders. They may come and go, but this is exactly why Ford may well be THE manufacturer that defines what the BTCC is all about.

Qualifying produced one of the most fast paced sessions of the year so far. Photo Credit: BTCC.net

Qualifying produced one of the craziest sessions of the year so far. Photo Credit: BTCC.net

The last few rounds have not brought much luck for Aron Smith, so securing second for race day comes as a massive relief for the BMR man. Perhaps this is the moment where his championship gets back on track? In the Speedworks camp, in a car that many think might have passed its best, Tingram has done a sensational job to get his Toyota Avensis into 5th. With every turn of the wheel, Tom Ingram is driving his way to many future championships. Building on his home town podium, Moffat produced a superb 8th in a car that many thought would struggle around the Rockingham oval.

Speaking of Mercedes, consistent top finisher Morgan found himself in a lowly 19th after struggling to gain a competitive time. I was also surprised to see the Rob Austin Racing boys not battling it out in the top 10, with Austin 13th and Abbott 18th. Rockingham has given Rob two wins in the past; despite his starting position there is no doubt he will be challenging for his third victory.

After his character building Snetterton weekend, Smith remarked that the further down the field you are, often the driving standards do drop some what. I am not normally one to be so damning of drivers, but after the incident between Stewart Lines and Kieran Gallagher during qualifying, I may take a slight diversion from my usual thinking. After the red flag, while both warming their tyres for a fast lap Lines weaved straight into the side of Gallagher who nearly lost control of his car. At first you may think that Kieran is free of blame, but as Tim Harvey remarked, it reflects bad driving on both sides. Gallagher could see Lines was weaving and should not have been driving so close to him. After all, Rockingham is a pretty wide track in places! The pair would finish the session 28th and 29th respectively. Perhaps Smith was right after all.

qualifying results

In what has become tradition for the BTCC in 2015, the top 19 were covered by less than a second, once again proving the success and excitement so prolific in the series! In what is becoming one of the most fascinating championship battles for years, will Rockingham be the catalyst for the champion to make himself known?

Expect BMR to return to their titan toppling best as race day rolls around, while Honda will never be far away from the top step of the podium. But let us not forget Tom Ingram who could be on course for his maiden win. Tingram has been on blistering pace since the get go; one would be foolish to bet against him. I will also put my neck on the line and say that Rockingham could well host a return to form for the Power Maxed Racing squad. Both Newsham and Cook have impressed so far, let us see what Sunday brings!

Most of all, all eyes will be on Jackson who continues his epic return to the BTCC. Can Ford cause any further upsets to proceedings?

BREAKING NEWS: Just as I finish writing this, Shedden has been handed a 4 place grid penalty for a pit lane infringement for speeding past the BMR cars as everyone returned to the track following the red flag. 

It is really rather hard to say that the BTCC does not excite! With Shedden now starting 7th, will the Scottish red mist descend tomorrow? With John Cleland also racing at Rockingham in the Historic Super Tourers this weekend, Flash may well be getting some pointers!

 

Who’s your money on for race day? Let me know on Twitter @lewisglynn69

Join the race day chat: #BTCC

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

 

BTCC Memorable Drives: The Power of the Four Rings

Image Credit: BTCC.net

Image Credit: BTCC.net

With the news that Rob Austin Racing are set to drop the Audi A4 at the end of the 2015 season in search of another manufacturer, it would seem fitting that I provide a little bit of the history of the famous four rings. The story begins in 1996 when Audi announced that they would be entering the championship as a factory entry.

From the moment that the A4 Quattro set foot in the championship, there was a reaction similar to that of the Alfa Romeo team in 1994. Where in 1994 the debate lay around the extendable wings on the Alfa Romeo 155, the issue in 1996 was the 4WD ability of the Audi team. The 1996 season was utterly dominated by Frank Biela in the Audi. Of the 26 rounds in the year, Biela would only finish outside the top four 3 times. That’s right, 3 times. On top of that, he had a 100% efficiency rate, even taking into account his disqualification from the second race at Snetterton.

The only man who could even try to put up a fight to the Audi domination was the Swiss ace Menu in his Williams Renault. While Biela was charging off into a lead he would never lose, his team mate John Bintcliffe was not sharing Frank’s success. He may not have been the number 2 in the title hunt, but he only recorded 6 results that were outside the top 10. An impressive feat from the Audi team.

Image taken from: Autocar.co.uk

Image taken from: Autocar.co.uk

In 1997, Audi’s luck would somewhat change as an imposed weight penalty would hinder their performance. It was argued that the 4WD was too much of an advantage over the other teams, so to balance everything out it seemed fair to have a weight addition. It was hardly like Audi could complain much about it, considering BMW had always suffered with a weight penalty for their RWD cars (don’t tell Jason Plato about that now, he’ll be wanting all the modern RWD BTCC machines with a weight penalty).

As we all know, 1997 saw Alain Menu storm to the championship, never at any point losing the lead. Biela would still score strong finishes, but the added bonus from 1996 prevented him for taking consistent wins. Well, this is of course until it started raining. It does not take a genius to guess that a 4WD car works considerably better in the rain than 2-wheel drive.

After an appeal by the Audi team, the weight penalty was reduced in the second half of 1997 and once more the Audi’s were fighting for the top places. In fact, Biela was the only man who stood between Menu and his title. Alas not even Biela could stop the Menu stranglehold.

When 1998 rolled around, Biela departed and was replaced by the then relatively unknown Frenchman Yvan Muller. On top of that, the 4WD model was replaced by the 2 wheel drive A4 to stop any weight penalty on the car. The difference between the two years was staggering, but that did not stop Muller banging in some great drives in the Audi. At the close of 1998, it was thought to be the end for the four rings; Audi joined the ranks with the likes of Nissan, Volvo and Renault, all of whom took the decision to pull out due to the spiralling costs needed for success.

Had the power of the rings come to an end?

Many years rolled by, but all was not lost. A tiny light began to flicker.

Beautifully demonic. Rob Austin brings Audi back. Photo Credit: BTCC.net

Beautifully demonic. Rob Austin brings Audi back. Photo Credit: BTCC.net

A small team by the name of Rob Austin Racing entered a lone Audi A4. Little did anyone know that both car and driver would become an icon of the modern BTCC. Since 2011, Rob Austin has run the eponymous Audi A4 (Sherman) with ever increasing success. Rob at one time was partnered by Will Bratt, before being joined by his current partner in crime Hunter Abbott in 2014.

Rob has always run an independent team, with no factory support from Audi themselves. However, that has not stopped him achieving some spectacular podiums alongside two dazzling victories, both of which coming at Rockingham. Let us not forget, Rockingham is just around the corner. Fingers crossed! Rob Austin and Sherman have become one of the most popular teams on the grid, and it will be a shame to see Rob dropping the Audis for his 2016 campaign.

After a successful Knockhill campaign, Rob Austin goes to the track where he has enjoyed the most success of any other. It is time for Austin to bring the rock to Rockingham.

All that remains is the former Audi of American Robb Holland, now driven by Nicholas Hamilton and the AmD team. With Austin retiring the A4s, it may very well be that the Audi S3 Saloon is the last of a once great breed. A species on the verge of extinction.

Will Audi go the way of Vauxhall, Volvo and Nissan? Is this the end of the four rings?

Such a colourful history in the series – Audi have become one of THE iconic names in the best touring series the world has ever seen.

Keep Driving People!

Follow my BTCC antics for this weekend at Rockingham on Twitter @lewisglynn69

Peace and Love!

Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 Volkswagen Jetta 118 TSI Trendline

VW Jetta 118 Trendline profileThe Volkswagen Jetta has long been regarded as a Golf with a boot. That may very well be the case, but there are a few other cars around that had or have sedan and hatch versions. It’s certainly no less of a vehicle for having a boot, so how does it really stack up? Dave Conole tests the Trendline 118 TSI version.

Bottom line: it’s typical VW. That’s neither an endorsement or condemnation, it’s an observation of what the car is. First up, it drives well enough, it looks nice enough on the outside and in, was economical to a T (around 6.5L per 100 klicks on standard unleaded) and that’s pretty much most people look for. Whilst the SUV onslaught continues, it’s still nice to know car companies haven’t given up on sedans. Let’s take a look at the entry to a five model range…

VW Jetta 118 Trendline engineUnder the bonnet is the VW family’s 1.4L TSI engine (There’s also a 2.0L TSI and a same sized diesel in the range, plus a six speed manual or 6 speed DSG). Turbocharging and supercharging gives it plenty of torque, 240 Nm of it, from a handy and useable 1500 revs through to 4500 revs. Peak power is decent enough, with 118 kw on board (5800 rpm) but it’s a figure few will really ever take advantage of. VW recommends that the Jetta drink at least 95 RON, (preferably) or 98 Premium Unleaded from its 55L tank to extract the best performance from the 1337 kg (plus passengers and fuel) sedan.

VW Jetta 114 Trendline cabinTransmission was the well sorted 7 speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) from the VW family; it’s good, in the Jetta, really good. Smooth, crisp changes under acceleration, barely noticeable shifts in day to day driving (or, in other words, working as designed), only occasional stuttering in slow motion traffic. Naturally there’s manual shifting, (transmission selector only, no paddles) which was only called upon in certain downhill situations when the DSG would hold gear (generally third) and the preference wasn’t for the one chosen.

It’s an economical package as well, with the readout showing 6.5L of 95 RON petrol consumed for every 100 kilometres. Bearing in mind that the natural environment for the Jetta is urban, that’s a pretty damned good figure. Even better, it’s nearly the same figure VW says is a combined consumption number, with highway rated at 5.3L and urban at 7.7L…That’s potentially helped by that relatively low weight.VW Jetta 118 Trendline frontStyling wise, there’s a clear resemblance to the Audi A4 sedan, which is no bad thing. Apart from the Scirocco and perhaps the Golf R, it’s hard to say that any VW vehicle is truly stylish but there’s nowhere near a need for a paper bag either. It’s not especially compact with a 4659 mm length, 2651 mm wheelbase (good interior room, as a result), stands just 1453 mm tall and is 1773 wide, yet clever packaging manages to make the Jetta look a smaller car than it is.

There’s the familiar VW corporate look at the front, being uncluttered, clean, easy to look at. There’s bulb lit driving lights, no LED’s, a simple creaseline along the side drawing the eye to the rear and it’s as simple and clean and uncluttered as the nose.

The aforementioned “Golf with a boot” scenario? There’s a massive 510L with the rear seats folded up which jumps to a (cough) “decent” 1858L seats down.VW Jetta 118 Trendline boot VW Jetta 118 Trendline rearA Wheel Thing presumes that’s good enough for most people. Speaking of the boot, the section (naturally) houses the tail light cluster, which is also clean and uncluttered in design.VW Jetta 118 Trendline rear cabinThe interior is very much along the same design philosophy; the seats were black coth,most of the plastics were simple in print style, there’s the monochrome centre of dash display, dot matrix radio screen and simple to follow aircon controls. The seats themselves were supportive, manually operated and comfortable. All controls on the steering wheel where black and white in plastic and labels, again in keeping with the overall theme.VW Jetta 118 Trendline consoleVW Jetta 118 Trendline dash

Ride and handling is more than competent for a car this size and in its class. Acceleration is startling and gives the 205/55/16 tyres cause for concern off the line. There’s little choppiness over bumps, it sits flat and taut on the freeway and off camber turns are dispatched nonchalantly, with no hint of the chassis becoming unsettled enough to fire you off into the bushes.VW Jetta 118 Trendline wheel

Steering is precise, measured, with no sense of the front wheels not going exactly where your mind thinks they should be. In slow traffic, there’s a deftness to the steering; in freeway traffic, it’s light enough to require only a brief expenditure of thought and effort. It’s a very well weighted and sorted package. Having a nice to hold tiller helps as well.

Naturally there’s all of the safety features expected along with a well weighted pedal feel for braking. EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution) is on board to allocate braking force where required, there’s six airbags as standard, Brake Assist and Hill Start Assist (holds the brakes momentarily when in Drive, on a hill, when pressing the accelerator) whilst the body is also engineered to provide crumple zones and a you’ll get a 12 year perforation warranty, should a stone nick the paint enough to expose bare metal. There’s the ISOFIX mounts for junior occupants, reflectors inserted into the doors for night time safety and auto door locks which engage once the car is in motion.

The Wrap.
Jetta is more than just a “Golf with a boot”, it’s its own car in its own right. It’s economical (tick), comfortable to be in and has plenty of space(tick),has unconfusing controls (tick), drives well and handles well (tick), looks fine enough on the outside with true European styling (tick) and isn’t expensive to buy at around $22K starting price (tick).
Factor in the quality build and warranty/service factors and the Jetta deserves a higher spot on your cars to consider ladder. Head over here: Volkswagen Jetta range and information for all you’ll need to know.
private_fleet_logo

 

Stereotypes: The Granny Hatch

old lady driverUsually seen: In driveways or garages of little cottages or units, supermarket carparks in the middle of the day, outside charity shops.

Typical examples: Suzuki Swift , Fiat Uno, Honda Jazz .

Description:

(Disclaimer: although this car is referred to as a granny hatch, it could equally be driven by Grandpa. However, given the life expectancy stats for the sexes, it’s more likely that the lone elderly driver will be female.)

Granny hatchbacks are, of course, hatchbacks, usually of the three-doored variety, unless Granny has taken to breeding dogs in her semi-retirement, in which case she will have a five-door to let the doggies in and out. Even if she isn’t a dog breeder, there is a high chance that there will be something small, fluffy and yappy bouncing up and down on the rear seat when Granny is in the supermarket picking up the groceries.

Granny does her best on a small pension, so frugality is the name of the game.  When she does get down to the garage where the attendant will fill up the tank for her, she doesn’t want a nasty bill at the end of it, especially as she remembers the days when fuel was a lot less than a dollar a litre (the price of things these days….). The hatchback will have a teeny weeny engine and superb fuel economy – the engine size will never be over 2.5 litres. The granny hatch of today may be a hybrid or even an electric car. However, the granny hatch has probably been Granny’s faithful form of transport for years. In some cases, the car even has a name.

There is probably a pillow on the driver’s seat to supplement any lumbar support in the seats. Apart from this, you will not find much floating around in the cabin. Inspection of the glovebox and other storage compartments will reveal a very well-thumbed map that is somewhat yellowed and softened with age, with some bits rubbed off where the creases have been folded and unfolded for years. The map is probably also out-of-date and doesn’t have the bypass leading to the new subdivision on the edge of town. You will also find a packet of old-fashioned wrapped sweets, such as barley sugars or Lifesaver mints, a box of tissues and a few loose coins just in case. . If Granny is particularly old-fashioned, there may be a pair of driving gloves. Some cars have a strategically placed plastic bag for used tissues and sweet wrappers. Recent additions may include a doggy seatbelt to comply with the new dogs in cars laws in some states

When Granny passes on to a better world or becomes incapable of driving, used car salespeople will rub their hands in glee at the prospect of being able to sell a car that really has had one little old lady owner. However, prospective buyers ought to be aware that if this really is the truth, the engine won’t have had much hot running and the clutch has seen a lot of action and may be a bit worn.

Of course, not all grannies drive little hatchbacks.  My late grandmother bought herself an Alfa Romeo sports car when she reached her 70s.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get it in her legacy (I got the collection of vintage clothing).

Safe and happy driving,

Megan