Friday, 30 July 2010

Volvo's Are Swedish (Not)

Volvo's are actually Chinese now. Geely are finalising the last details of the purchase with completion of the sale expected by next week. The agreement marks the latest in string of manufacturers changing nationalities. Not that Ford, their previous owner, was very Swedish either. The dilution of a car firms national identity through it's sale to a foreign owner is not a new challenge. Skoda's aren't Czech they're German. Same with Bentley, Rolls Royce, Seat, Lamborghini, Mini, Bugatti. All brands that are very profitable in fobbing us the values of British regality, Italian Flair etc. If Geely let Volvo retain their autonomy then their Swedish heritage should let the brand wield its magic like it always had done. A key distinction in this $1.8bn deal is that a Geely Holding Co. is buying the brand and not Geely the car manufacturer. This means Volvo can do it's own thing in Scandinavia. So why are Geely buying it? China's getting rich. Fast. There is room for a luxury manufacturer in China hence Geely will also produce Volvo's for China in China. If "home made" cars can create a little national pride then this acquisition should reap dividends for Geely. My main concern is that Geely's truly awful safety record could damage Volvo's Global USP of being a leader in safety. Global public knowledge of Volvo slipping into Chinese hands may be enough for them to take a step back from the car dealership. Check out a typical Geely crash test: A look at their website reveals a worryingly vague approach to safety: This will be a challenge in public relations for Geely as they seek to keep their Chinese identity under the radar. As the Germans have shown this can be very successfully done but Geely have the extra hurdle of bridging an unprecedented gap in brand identities with regard to safety.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

What A Difference A Year Makes

Exactly 1 year ago Felippe Massa suffered a career threatening injury. Today he suffered a significant psychological one as Ferrari gave him the order to stand down for the benefit of teammate Fernando Alsonso thus ending any aspirations the Brazilian may have had of competing for this years championship. On a weekend where Ferrari finally turned their pace to points the team order scandal somewhat overshadowed what was a thoroughly impressive turn of form for Ferrari. Going into this race they hadn't won since the season opener in Bahrain and were in desperate need of a boost. At the start both Ferraris kerfuffled Vettel enough to steal 1st and 2nd off the line and hold position till the flag. Massa seemed at last to have got to grips, literally, with this years tyres but once he switched to the harder compound things seemed to unravel fast. With Massa now struggling with the new tyres and his teammate Alsonso steadily falling into target range for 3rd placed Vettel Ferrari gave the call to let Alsonso through on Lap 49. Ferrari were fined $100,000 for the coded order to let Massa through although today's result will be unaffected. Smedley, Massa's race engineeer, told him his gesture was "magnanimous" but Massa's body language suggested that magnanimity is usually a voluntary act. And the obligation to have a podium celebration simply compounded the icy atmosphere clasping the Ferrari garage. When asked about the incident at press conference Massa said everything whilst only saying these acid tinged words; "he passed me... we're working for the team". And so it goes on, first Red Bull get their teammates sniping at each other and now Ferrari and you can bet McLaren's wholesome pally pally image will soon face scrutiny on the track as well. In the end Vettel didn't challenge the Ferraris and secured third spot for Red Bull with Webber coming home a subdued 6th. McLaren will be quietly content with their 4th and 5th places which keeps them aloft in both Championships. On a day when the top performers were doing the business of wrapping up points Mercedes failed to impress on home soil by failing to score any. Although on this occasion Shcumacher and his teammate finished next to each other suggesting it may be the car itself that's causing the problems after all. Also of note were the junior Red Bull's who managed to imitate their seniors by crashing into each other on lap one. Christian Horner will be relieved he wasn't pestered about that one today. In fact the Red Bull principal seemed content to sit back and watch Ferrari Boss Domenicalli take a grilling by the BBC pundits instead of him. To be fair to Horner at least he is unequivocal when it comes to letting his drivers race each other. Although there are no team orders at Red Bull the favouritism shown to Vettel almost equates to the same thing. And so we move on to Hungary next week with the Championship table poised even sweeter now that Ferrari have turned their game back on. Whilst Massa may well feel hard done by today I'm sure he'd be genuinely pleased to see Alonso winning the title with Ferrari by the margin of 5 points which he sacrificed today.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Tickle Me Pink

Clearing out my apartment in London I decided to go for a cycle around Harrods just to soak up the extravagances one last time. The array of supercars made me wonder why I was moving back to Ireland where an Audi R8 is a serious contender for the most exotic car in the land. London is great for car sightings in general but the sheer volume of cars around today made me feel slightly unnerved, I mean there were millions of pounds worth of machinery, some painted in ghoulish colours just to really emphasise how little the owners care for financial concerns such as resale value. For example; check out the pink Lamborghini SV in this video: To be honest I quite liked the pink Lambo, after all absurdity is what that brand is all about, but you get the idea. And I can't say such excess is vulgar because everybody who saw these creatures (including me) was enthralled by the spectacle of it all. Although the souped up Porsche Panamera FABDesign was unfortunate. Here's some of the cars I saw: Ferrari F355 Cab, F430's, F430 16M, 456GT, Enzo, 458 Italia, California's, RR Cab, Spyker, Bentley Shooting Brake, Brooklands, Lexus LFA, Bugatti Veyron, Koenigsegg CCXR "Special One", Lamborghini Reventon, SV's and plenty of Aston Martins. It's all over now but if I need a dose of motoring exotica I know it's just a cross the pond in Knightsbridge where a flight would cost about the same price as a ticket for the RDS "car show".

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Bentley Mulsanne

The new Bentley Mulsanne is the successor to the very elegant Arnage. By all accounts the latest incarnation is very good with Bentley having their first fully bespoke model in 80 years. However; what concerns me is that its price of £220,000 has put it on a head on collision with Rolls-Royce's new "baby" Rolls: the Ghost at £195,000. For me Bentley and RR have been classy arch nemeses' doing battle since time immemorial as each strove to define new pinnacles of luxury motoring. However I find it lamentable that RR's 2nd tier Ghost is now what Bentley must challenge and not the scalp of the almighty RR Phantom. You see if you were a wealthy man (or woman) you would go for a RR if you wanted luxury and a Bentley if you wanted a more "sporty" version of luxury. But with the introduction of the baby Ghost the psyche of buyers will shift. If the top of the range Bentley is understood to be on a par with a low class RR (can a RR be low class???) then frankly the Bentley buyers will turn towards Rolls. There's a lot of pride in these cars btw so you want to be sure as a sugar plantation that your car is numero uno. Hence by deploying the Ghost to keep the Bentley boys busy the Phantom can indulge itself as being the default luxury chariot of choice for those who can afford it. Unless, that is, Bentley find a reason to raise the price of the Mulsanne by £60,000.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

F1 Graphics on BBC

Maybe I'm going a little blind. Is it just me or is becoming harder and harder to understand the graphics used for F1 coverage these days? I've been slow to bring this one up because I like to think I'm fairly tuned in with F1 and perhaps I'm displaying my shortcomings now! Ever since the points system changed from awarding the top 6 positions there has been a lot of chopping and experimenting with different layouts for graphics. When there were just 6 cars getting points it was easy because FOM (the TV producers for F1) could fill half the screen making the names and splits very easy to read. Remember the big blocky yellow numbers? (Ah memories!). Then points were awarded to the top 8 and now the top 10. That's fine but then FOM starting abbreviating. Now ask the casual F1 punter on the street what "HAM" and "BUT" mean and a lot of them will guess correctly at Hamilton and Button. It's further down the grid where things get messy. "LIU" anybody? "YAM"? With the F1 grid now jammed with 24 cars FOM will need to be more creative when it comes to giving details on the race. They need to find a way of giving the full name of the driver order in a font that's big enough to actually read. Back in the day they would simply cycle through 6 drivers at a time until all places were known. Then they'd show splits between the 2 drivers who were fighting each other on track. Now it's just a bit of a mess really. Another irritation is the use of the artificial rev counter and g-meter. This works fine during a fast solo lap but when there is an incident happening the large blot just covers up what we're trying to see especially at the start of a race. On the other hand I have noticed a positive. They've changed the lap counter to read up instead of down. I don't know why but I just prefer the thought of a race building lap by lap to a crescendo as opposed to literally counting down the laps until it's over. So please FOM fix it or else send me some glasses.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

"Not Bad For a No.2 Driver"

"Not Bad For a No.2 Driver." Does anyone sense a hint of sarcasm there? Mark Webber well and truly beat the pulp out of Vettel today, quite fairly I might add, and went some way towards vilifying Red Bull's decision to give Vettel the sole remaining new front wing they had just designed. The angry sentiment from Mark came about as he was forced to hand over the latest front wing to his team mate for qualifying as Vettel had damaged his earlier. This was the clearest indication yet that Red Bull want Vettel to be their number 1 driver and Webber did not like it one bit. He must have acceded to BBC's Mark Brundle's advice before the race that the right hand side of the grid "has a lot of grip" because Mark jumped past Vettel into turn one. Vettel subsequently went wide and lost a hat full of places before puncturing which effectively ruled out any chance of a podium. This British GP was one of the best of the 2010 season. With Hamilton hustling Vettel, an infuriated Alonso getting into all sorts of trouble with Kubica, Button working his way to 4th from 14th, Mercedes scoring their first podium in decades and pieces of rear wing flying off De La Rosa's Sauber. A lot of attention was given to the new Silverstone layout. The most interesting aspect is that it has now become a high speed track, something on a par with the famous Monza circuit. The start line will be moved next year meaning the experiences of Vettel flailing about turn one from the grid will be history. But all the headlines will be on Webber and his very public disapproval of the way he has been treated at Red Bull this season. He has leapfrogged Vettel into 3rd place in the drivers championship, 5 points behind Button and 17 behind Hamilton. It was remarkable to see Christian Horner being put well and truly on the spot by BBC after the race. All 3 commentator's getting straight to the point about favouritism. Coulthard mentioned Horner's sarcastic response to Webber's radio transmission "You can smile now Mark". Mind you Horner did the PC job of deflecting such criticism and instead chose to highlight the fact that his team had won the Grand Prix. However; the sight of a wincing Eddie Jordan as the camera's went to the press conference said everything about the awkwardness of the questions being posed at a team principal who seems to be in the headlines for the wrong reasons. Having secured pole at all but one race this season Red Bull should have been leading both championships comfortably by now. Vettel should have been on that podium as they had the fastest car. However; lack of reliability is one thing and team politics is quite another. Red Bull's circumstances remind us of a less potent version of the Senna Prost battles of yesteryear when we had in fact been expecting the Button Hamilton relationship to do the same. This season is hotting up nicely for viewers who are now comforted by the fact they can expect no Red Bullshit from team principals trying to orchestrate the championship.

Friday, 9 July 2010

The 107% Rule Is Back!

Oh how the dregs of the F1 field will be dreading this. They thought they had it all sown up when the qualifying format changed for 2003. But now it's back! What am I talking about? The 107% rule which forces every F1 car to qualify within 107% of the fastest time set in qualifying or else they're disqualified from starting. There is very bad news if you fall fowl of the rule because the F1 Team will have already spent a fortune getting all the equipment to the track only for it all to sit idle, not to mention the risk to any sponsorship deals. The rule first appeared in 1996 to weed out those teams that used the sport of F1 purely as a marketing tool without any real ambition of progressing in the sport. And why not? After all F1 has a global audience. But FIA President Max Mosley believed F1 was the pinnacle of motorsport and that it ought to stay that way. It wasn't long before teams began to fall foul of the rule with both drivers of the now defunct Forti Team failing to qualify for the first race of the 1996 season in Australia. The rule disappeared in 2003 when the qualifying system was changed to the single lap shootout format and quietly fell off the F1 radar. Until now. Its back because the new teams this year have been at the centre of traffic chaos both in qualifying and the races. The likes of Virgin Racing, Lotus and especially Hispania will be hot under the collar as they face the real possibility of failing to qualify in future, and with it, many hopes of securing future sponsorship. Jean Todt, new FIA president, was keen to push the rule through in anticipation of yet another new team to enter F1 next year which would likely exacerbate the situation. There will be exceptions to the rule though. An a FIA statement noted "Under exceptional circumstances, however, which may include setting a suitable lap time in a free practice session, the stewards may permit the car to start the race. Should there be more than one driver accepted in this manner, the grid order will be determined by the stewards." If the rule was in force this year both Hispania drivers would've failed to qualify for the opening Bahrain Grand Prix. Personally I'm in two minds about the rule. On the one hand F1 must maintain its status as the benchmark of motorsport but on the other hand I'd hate to see potential new F1 teams being discouraged at all from a sport which already has so many barriers to entry. Maybe the likes of Hispania could try to bribe Red Bull and the gang to, you know, slow it all down a bit. But apart from that? The rule is arriving. To Hispania & Company: get your act together pronto!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

19th Annual Terenure Vintage Car Show

The 19th edition of the annual vintage car show was hosted with typically good style on the grounds of Terenure College last Sunday. This was my 4th visit to the show and each year it gets better. The appeal of this event lies in the perfect balance of car enthusiasm checked with a healthy dose of light heartedness. Yes there will be the die-hards but fret not because what this day comes down to is a jaunt through a pristine field being surrounded by the work of a thousand passionate car designers. After a casual trip down the M50 to the college you will abandon your car in the adjacent field and meander towards the action. And then you see it all. Hundreds and hundreds of vintage cars just waiting to poked at. Don’t really car about all the nerdy car details? The chassis numbers, the original paintwork, the history of its development? No problem. Because the range of cars on sight will simply bowl you over with their style and flair. And the best part is the lack of pretentiousness. Just waltz about the field in a cloud of nostalgia. Highlights? Examples of Britain’s glory years as a car manufacturer reminded one of its sharp demise. Jaguar E-Types, a trio of Bristols, Jenson Interceptors, even a 1982 Rover SDI V8 and a 1990 Aston Martin Lagonda showed what they could do. From Germany there were obscure Audi’s, classic Porsches, the now appreciating BMW 6-series from the 80’s but their best (for me) came in the form of a succulent 1954 Mercedes 220A Cabriolet. Its bespoke luggage collection still preserved to complement the quality of the wood interior trim. Typical Gallic charm was demonstrated with a cream Citroen SM and a less subtle Peugeot 205 Gti. And the Italians! Beautiful Alfa racers from the 50’s, Lancia Integrales and even a sporty 1970’s Fiat 128 3P with the funkiest interior in show (see picture). From Japan there was an original Toyota Supra from the 70’s and also a modern classic, the Ayrton Senna tuned Honda NSX from the early 90’s. As usual the States brought cars so large and loud they’re a wonder to look at, from 50’s Cadillacs to 60’s muscle cars. Of particular note was a mean looking Chevy Camaro SS with black stripes. But my most memorable car this year was Italian. A white 1980 Fiat Mirafiori with Abarth body kit brought along by Willy Carrick. The Mirafiori is rare enough (we’re talking late 70’s fiat reliability remember) but this model was so unexpected and delightful that one couldn’t help but be drawn to it. The kit is a replica but frankly its presence was enough to remind you of a period in Italian motoring so focused on a racing scene with such extremes it would later be banned. Due to the fact it was registered in 1980 it must undergo an NCT for life unlike cars registered from 1979 back. So that was it for another year. Until then I’ll no doubt be hoping to get my own endearing piece of motoring vintage in the near future.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Dang That Looks Good.

There are a multitude of sweet looking motor gubbins that make passers by lower their chin and nod slowly. The rear roof lights on a Citroen DS; the "floating arches" on a Ferrari 599; the "Coca-Cola kink" on a '69 Dodge Charger to name but a few. And of course, nay as always, the NACA Air Duct. I was reminded of these things when I saw the roof of Bugatti's Super Sport (see below) and got me thinking to why one sees so few of them on our roads. The last time I saw those on a car they were on the hood of the Ferrari F40. I like NACA ducts, they'll look forever cool because their purposeful look is always backed up with, well, purpose. Case in point with the Veyron. So what do they actually do? I'm not an expert on this but the general gist is they're used to simply cool down the cabin of a car with minimal disturbance to the air flow passing over a car's body. Put it another way, if you've ever tried to cool down on the motorway by opening a window you may have noticed how the rear window suddenly acts as a parachute, slowing the car down. So why not used air-con? Well if you're going to build an uber fast car sometimes air-con is considered to be unnecessary extra weight. Hence why it appears on the feather light F40. Check out the Sauber Le Mans Car pictured for a large example. So the reason we don't we see NACA ducts on our roads is that they're simply not needed. Most cars have air con or the traditional "roll down the window for a breeze" device. Although they may be rare you are reassured that when you do spot one that the machine it's carved into ought to be quite special indeed.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Driving Off Into The Sunset... at 267mph

Long gone are the days when McLaren could woo the world with top speed records of 242mph. We know Bugatti broke that when it was released, hitting 252mph. There was the Ultimate Aero with 256mph, but I don't count that because it was a rubbish car. But now? Oh boy. 267mph. In a freakin' road car! Yes folks it has been made possible and by those who do it best. The Veyron's last hurrah is more like a last FU to other super car manufacturer's who thought they knew what they were doing. I'm truly staggered by this figure. I say it now: that record won't be beaten for at least 7 years. The fact you can drive this car without fuss on normal roads as well is what sets this machine apart, it wasn't designed soley to break top speed records. So what else is new with this Veyron Super Sport? 0-60 is the same at 2.5sec but it's at higher speeds where things change. The Super Sport’s 0-124mph and 0-186mph times have been lowered to just 7.3sec and 15.0sec respectively. Apart from tampering with dampers, roll bars etc it's in the aerodynamic department where visual changes come to the fore. The front air ducts are wider and there is another set of ducts behind the front wheel arches. But it's the engine area where things are really unusual. Gone are the two huge silvery air ducts, replaced with cleaner venturi vents. Overall the car isn't pretty but dammit it has purpose. In spades. This is the end for the Veyron and it's illustrious achievements and boy has it bowed out in style. There are up to 30 of these masterpieces available before heaven's gate is closed.

Saturday, 3 July 2010


Range Rover has just released it's completely new Evoque model range. Based closely on the LRX concept the first impressions are that the car/SUV looks quite striking in it's design. Couple this with Range Rover's outstanding off-road capabilities and upholstery standards and things would seem very positive. However; this initial optimism was soon distorted by the linked story of Victoria Beckham having an involvement. Mrs Beckham has been appointed as a Creative Design Executive at Range Rover and will be involved in designing the interior of a particular model. Now I'm not familiar with her design capabilities so instead I'm going to assume that her brand value can help the Evoque range find it's groove. This pretentiousness ties in well with the general manner of the car launch. In this age of austerity launching a new Range Rover at Kensington Gardens with tidings of faux haute couture champagne guzzling magpies will either be seen as mistimed or as a bold & brave face to the world's economic woes. Frankly the people invited to the launch ( are enough to me make reconsider considering this car in the first place. However; one must be above all that and look subjectively at what's on offer. Technical details have yet to be released. It should cost around £35,000 and it has a very close lineage with the brilliant Range Rover. Nuff said.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Irish Car Sales Up 45%

Recent reports are allowing us to begin peeking through our clenched fingers and hope, just hope, that we are emerging from the recession. Car sales in Ireland have surged 45% compared to last year with a 75% increase alone in June. Who's come out on top? Ford, Toyota & VW. Don't be surprised to see so many Ford Focuses around, it was Ireland's best seller. David O’Driscoll, Sales Director, Ford Ireland said "The Government acted with a scrappage stimulus, and this has certainly induced buyers into the market." Praise for the Government then, that's unusual.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Quit Stallin'

Lexus announced today the recall of 480 vehicles in Ireland due to concerns over stalling engines. Don't worry though, this isn't anything like the 10 million car recall Toyota performed recently. The primary concern centres around improperly functioning valve springs which can cause the engine to "splutter" when idling. The recall is a precautionary measure to avoid any possibility of the engines stalling whilst the car is being driven. No accidents have been attributed to the fault thus far. If you're wealthy enough to be driving any of the current generation LS 460, LS 600h and GS 450h you should contact Lexus Ireland on its dedicated Freefone number 1 800 224222.