Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bugatti Veyron

I am on my three week mid year school holidays at the moment and for my birthday, I got a very large kitset model of the BAC Concorde supersonic airliner. So I started it a few days ago, and it is now finished. While building this incredibly beautiful machine, I couldn't help thinking about the huge challenges facing the English and French engineers while they were developing Concorde in the late 1960's. This brings me neatly onto the car I will be reviewing in this post.

You see in 2000, when the Veyron was being developed, German engineers at Volkswagen had similar challenges to the engineers at BAC. They had to create a car that could to 400km/h but could be driven by someone who had just passed their driving test; in the same way that Concorde's engineers had to create a plane that could fly at twice the speed of sound, and could be flown by a pilot who didn't belong to an Air Force.

In a way, the Bugatti Veyron and Concorde are very similar. They both travel faster than any machine of their kind. They both took years to develop, and they are both hugely expensive to run and maintain. They both have mind boggling specifications and facts. Did you know that the Veyron has ten radiators! Did you also know that Concorde was the only commercial airliner to use engines with afterburners? Both have become the yardsticks for speed. And both were designed to show the world how good we humans are at overcoming problems such as 'how to cross the Atlantic in under 3 hours' or 'how do we make a car that goes faster than an F1 car, but looks nothing like one'

Sadly, they both will die due to the same fate. Money and environmental safety. It's quite interesting to note that the Bombardier Q300 has had more landing gear malfunctions than any other plane, and that I'll be flying down from Napier in one during these holidays, whereas it only took one Concorde crash for the whole fleet to be grounded, and eventually retired from service. Concorde died because people were so obsessed with air and noise pollution when one flew past, rather than the spectacle they were being treated to. 

The Bugatti Veyron hasn't died yet, but it probably will within 5 years time. Each Veyron costs Volkswagen at least NZ$15 million to build, but they are only selling them for NZ$2.5million. Money will kill the Veyron, in the same way that environmental safety killed Concorde.
The Bugatti Veyron 
The Concorde

Friday, June 25, 2010

Tatra 603

Marques like Rolls Royce, Ferrari, Lotus, Jaguar, etc. are usually so well known, that they become yardsticks, or adjectives. For example: I was recently at home, sick with the flu, and I turned on the TV. One of those incredibly irritating infomercials was on, (the ones that promise so much for so little, but you can't help thinking that there's something hidden) and the announcer said 'blah, blah, the Rolls Royce of knives'
You also hear people say 'as fast as a Ferrari' But I have never, in my whole life heard anyone use the car marque, Tatra, in a sentence.

This is strange, because Tatra is a very old car marque. It was even around before Enzo Ferrari was even born. And yet Tatra made some of the most groundbreaking cars ever. Take the Tatra 603. It was hugely ahead of its time. While most cars had huge great V8s up front, razor sharp fins at the back, and interiors large enough to host rock concerts, the 603had a rear-mounted 2.7 litre V8. It also had a Porsche 911 style profile, because of that rear mounted engine.

But the main reason behind the 603's wonderment, was the coolness of the car. It's a thing that can only really be applied to French and East-European cars only, and it's the assassin factor. In 1953, the 603 was being used as a way of getting Mafia officials to their secret hide-outs in the woods, or wherever. The Tatra's closely placed together quad headlamps gave it a frontal image like no other.

Rarity also plays a part in the 603's heritage. This car is so rare, that you could even struggle to find one in the very country that built them, let alone in NZ. This is sad really, because the 603 is a car that would only suit a small number of people. It may look like a jellybean on wheels with four yellow spots on the front, but it's one that should definitely be preserved in the fossils of automotive greatness.  

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ferrari 365 Berlinetta Boxer

Some cars, are thrown together. Like a pile of dirt or sand is scooped into a pile by a fat bloke in a bulldozer. Some of these thrown together cars include: the Toyota Yaris, the Kia Soul, and the Hyundai i30. They are all rubbish, simply because they have no pedigree, no style, and absolutely no soul (even though Kia tried and failed to give its car some) Then there are half and half cars, that are still thrown together, but do have a small chunk of pedigree and soul. These include, the Ford Mondeo, the Skoda Octavia and the Honda Legend.

After this assortment of cars, there's the top. The cream of the pedigree ladder. The only fully soul and passion cars. Most are from Italy and Britain. Cars like the Lamborghini Countach, the Jaguar XK120, and of course, the Ferrari Boxer. This car was the aristocrat amongst the other 80's Italian supercars. The Countach had crazy styling, fat rear tyres, and massive spoilers and vents adorning its body.

But the Boxer didn't have any of this nonsense. It may have had the Countach's headlight-under-pop-up light configuration (a trend carried on by the Ferrari F40), but that's where the similarities end. The doors, the styling, and even the way the pistons in the engine were arranged, was all different. The Lambo had a V12 engine, but the Ferrari had a much more interesting flat 12 'Boxer' engine. The interior was also unique, and unmistakably Italian. 

When most supercars had fighter cockpits for interiors, the Boxer had a living room. Cream leather and black seats, interesting switches and classically sculpted dials. This is why the Ferrari Boxer is in the soul and passion league. It has the pedigree, the style, and the soundtrack to match.          

Saturday, June 19, 2010

1988 BMW 525i

This is my first semi-classic car review.
Many cars in NZ are modified, so they become 'boy-racer' cars. These automotive atrocities are usually just 17 year old Nissan Skylines and Subarus, with ridiculous body kits, spoilers, 157 decibel stereos, and garish paint jobs. These cars are the primary transport of choice for the party-pill eating, cap-wearing yobs, who communicate in a new language involving words such as 'yo', and 'sup'. So far this review has nothing to with the BMW 525i; but I haven't mentioned the other feature of these boy-racer cars.

Many young drivers (including me, I must confess) want their car to stand out from the crowd. The first thing that many boy-racers do to their cars, is bypass the muffler system in the exhaust. In nearly all of these cars, the muffler is so unused, that colonies of moths and other insects can safely live in it without fear of hot, fast moving exhaust gases charging into their home. 

The reason why the muffler is bypassed, is to make the car loud. Very loud. Many residents living in prime boy-racer territory complain about the terrible noise. And the reason why the noise is so awful, is that the original source of this noise (usually a boring 4 cylinder engine) is unchanged. You can't use a muffler-less exhaust system to improve on a terrible din. 

And this is where the 1988 BMW 525i comes into the picture. In my opinion, all 5-series BMWs from 1988-1994 were the greatest executive sedans of the period. They all had straight 6 engines ranging from 2 to 3.5 litres. And each one had its own, glorious soundtrack. The noise got deeper as the engine size increased, so you could choose what tone of noise you wanted by buying a bigger or smaller engine. You don't need to spend any money changing the exhaust system, because the original one delivers the sound like a world class musician.  

There are thousands of 80's and 90's 5 series BMWs out there, each one available for less than NZ$10,000. I've searched the Internet, and you can pick up a decent 525i (in my opinion, the one with the best sounding engine) for less than 1 grand. And because most boy racers are so obsessed with Japanese cars, you will stand out from the crowd because of the classy styling, as well as the tone-perfect engine note. 

If every boy racer had an 80's 5 series, there would be no noise complaints at all.      
I would think very carefully before doing this to your 525i. (You don't want to stand out this much)

Honda Accord V6

Yes. It's a Honda Accord, and yes, everyone who knows me will be asking the same, three letter question. WHY? Why is a Japanese car on my car blog? To me, Japan has never made a truly good car. Japan's car industry has no racing pedigree, no history to commemorate, and the design teams for most Japanese car firms give birth to cars that are so drearily unstyled, that I often confuse a pile of wet cement with an automotive product from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Suddenly, one day whilst walking to the bus stop, I thought, yes, perhaps Japanese cars are good (i mean, they can't all be bad) They are certainly good value for money. It costs about the same to buy a mid range Ford Mondeo Zetec as it does to buy a top-spec Honda Accord. This particular Accord has a full leather interior, sunroof, smart alloy wheels and a decent array of airbags.

But we are more interested in the Accord V6, which costs around NZ$56,000 You certainly get what you pay for, and most of what you're paying for, is the engine. It's a very clever 3.5 litre V6 but the engine management can turn off cylinders depending on how you are driving at a particular moment in time. It can run on 3 cylinders for city driving; 4 cylinders for low speed cruising, and all 6 for motorways and overtaking.
Sadly, switching between cylinders is not instant.

Lets say you are driving in the city, late for a crucial meeting. You can only keep up with everyone else on the road, who are actually window shopping, so you are using 4 cylinders. You see a gap in the traffic, and an amber light. You stamp on the right pedal, but it might as well be connected to a lawnmower engine. It takes time for the engine to switch to six cylinders. Time that you need for catching amber lights

Apart from that small problem, I am definitively steered towards the new Accord V6. It's bold styling, it's value for money and the excellent engine make it the perfect family saloon for family who chooses their car over price, rather than brand.  

Porsche Cayenne GTS

Well, here it is, my first ever car review.
At last, a Porsche Cayenne that looks good! Most of the range looks pretty awful, and many prospective high powered off roader buyers have been turned away because of the styling. But Porsche must have heard my complaining all the way over in Stuttgart, because they launched the new Cayenne GTS. The "Sports car of four-wheel-drives" has more power, a bigger engine, and similar styling to its sister car, the Cayenne Turbo.

 So what is the point of the GTS? Why do we need a rival model within the same range? The answer to that perplexing question is simple: They aren't rivals at all. In fact, the Turbo and the GTS are very different. The Turbo, is simply a Cayenne with a turbocharger; turbo labels on the dashboard, bootlid and engine cover; and a new radiator grille. It also suffers from turbo-lag.

Turbo lag is caused when the turbine in the turbocharger fails to get up to speed fast enough, to give extra power to the engine. That's why cars like the Mitsubishi Evo9, which have huge turbos and tiny 2 litre engines, can often be outpaced by cats, dogs and other animals in the first 20 metres of a drag race, while the turbo is getting up to speed.

But the GTS solves the problem of turbo lag. Without a turbo, the GTS has no turbo lag. It also has no turbo bages, which probably make an already heavy car, into an earthmover. So what am I trying to say here? By all means, buy the Cayenne Turbo (a friend of mine already has). But for a similar price, you can have a larger engine, and no turbo lag. But if you want to cut your fuel bill, buy the Turbo. It's less costly, but slower. Quite a dilemma. So what would I buy? Well umm....                                10/4/09

Friday, June 18, 2010

Welcome To The ACC

Hello, and welcome to the Automotive Critic Corner, or ACC for short.
I will be writing reviews for assorted cars, past and present, on a regular basis.
Many of the best car reviews come from the professionals. Top Gear, Autocar, the AA.
But a good quality review costs money. Money that can be spent on other things, such as buying the car that I gave a good review.
These reviews then are free, simple, easy to read, humorous and above all, honest. They are a great way to get great car buying advice.
Happy reading and motoring. (Though not at the same time, as this could be dangerous)
Samuel Hales