Tuesday, August 10, 2010


It's quite common for graphic designers to borrow ideas, shapes or lines from nature. It's also common for inventors to do the same thing. It's clear that the shape of the humble wing fitted to every plane ever made, was taken from the wing of every bird ever born. The same goes for the inventor of the articulated or 'bendy' bus. He or she must have seen a snake and, rather than running away in fear, decided to notice that long things that bend in the middle can go round corners a lot more easily than rigid things.

Sadly, time has a habit of ruining trends or fashions. Designers and inventors decided to use science and maths to base their ideas on, rather than nature. But when the designers at BMW decided to revive the 6 series, they looked at nature. Or, to put it more accurately, decided to visit the shark tank at their local aquarium. They saw that the shark had a very hydrodynamic shape, and that this would help their new car go fast. But no matter how shapely or hydrodynamic the car is, it isn't going to go fast without power.

The 630ci and the 645ci, with 3 litre and 4.5 litre engines respectively, are not going to set one's trousers on fire, with extreme speed. It's the M6 that does the trouser burning. The Jaws inspired frontal styling on the less sporty models was toned down for the golf club car park. But the M6 has frontal styling turned up for the racetrack. The huge chin spoiler, the flared wheel arches and the trademark BMW double grilles are all from the meat-eating shark. But no shark has ever come with a 5 litre V10 engine under it's leathery hide. 

Even though the V10 is also used in the M5 sedan, the M6 is faster, simply because there is a lot less weight to pull around. But there are a few areas in which the M6 becomes a land beast, as opposed to a fast, underwater carnivore. The styling at the back is more obese duvet, than sleek sea-creature. There are way too many settings for the interior seats and the iDrive computer. There is an insanely complicated gearbox with 11 settings, and there are three power settings for the engine. Why? Can't it be on permanent 507 maximum horsepower mode? There are also 3 settings for the differential, which will mean many trips to the BMW dealer for costly repairs. But apart from these setbacks, the M6 is a true monster. But only when set up correctly.  

Monday, August 2, 2010

Porsche 959

For some reason, or other, most people in the 1980's were thinking about, for, sometimes against, and even inside the humble square. This kind of thinking showed up in many features of society, such as everyday items, buildings, and even cars. Two of the boxiest cars in the world, the Volvo 760 and the Audi 5000 were both cars of this cubular decade. No one really knows what started this square hell, but there aren't many upsides to the square. It doesn't look nice, isn't interesting, and it certainly has no aerodynamic upsides either.

But there was another 80's car with lovely aerodynamic curves and an equally lovely badge. The Porsche 959 (dubbed as a formula one car for the road) looked as though it was designed during a ruler shortage at the head bodywork design centre at Porsche. All these curves made it fast. The top speed was 317kph, which blew many other supercars into the weeds. And these were supercars with twice as many cylinders, and three times the engine capacity!

The 959 had a tiny 2.8 litre flat-six engine, which produced a whopping 450 bhp. This shows how fine tuning and patience can lead to great things. The Americans of the time must have been absolutely gob-smacked, when they were only making cars with huge 5 litre V8s, that produced less than 100 bhp. And the Americans would have been equally amazed at the cornering. To help the 959 around the tight racetrack bends it would inevitably face, it had four wheel drive, and complicated suspension, to make sure it didn't lean during hard cornering.

This also led the 959 to the Paris-Dakar Rally in 1986, which is strange really, considering Porsche didn't dabble in off road vehicles until the Cayenne of 2003. Getting your hands on a 959 was very difficult indeed. For a kick-off, you had to be an existing Porsche owner, and there were only 200 cars to choose from. And some of these were the sports models, with no back seats, no real interior, and no adjustable suspension (making the ride permanently harsh)

The 959 is one great Porsche. The only super-Porsche to follow it, is the amazing Carrera GT, with an equally curvy body. Which means that at least Porsche were thinking outside the box in the 1980's. I'm glad they did.