Saturday, 31 December 2011

Blethers - The Big Healey

I’m back. I took a few days off and left the laptop behind, but since English magazines have no respect for Scottish tradition, I’ll be back at my desk full time from first thing Monday morning – the morning after, the day after, Hogmanay! However, in anticipation of excesses to come, I am fully stocked up with that singularly most effective hangover remedy ever invented by man – Barr’s Irn Bru.

I did however have my Kindle with me over recent days. This was a present from Santa Claus and I had my first e-book all lined up for purchase when the e-reader arrived. For the princely sum of £5.52 I bought and downloaded a copy of Eric Dymock’s ‘Sports Car Classics, Part 1: AC – HRG’.

A real rally car
I bought this book for one reason only, it includes a genuine, period road-test of an ex-works Austin Healey 3000 rally car. Eric has been a motoring writer for over fifty years and has driven just about everything. More to the point, he has kept copies of everything he has written. So what he’s done is assembled all the most interesting bits and published them in two volumes, and I have just bought the first, which included the rally Healey road test which he conducted in 1966.

The best bit is that Eric has not re-written any of these gems. He has left them as they were, written for a variety of publications and different audiences. What you get is a true reflection of the cars at the time and in context, not written in retrospect by some jumped up curly haired, denim clad buffoon with more adjectives than a roomful of nonenties at a fashion show. Nope, gentle prose from a more gentle age. Fabulous.

So Eric has done something that I will never do, drive an ex-works Healey rally car. Ever since I saw Timo Makinen on the 1964 RAC Rally flat out in a 200 bhp ‘lorry’, I have been a fan. I was bewitched as a youngster in Twiglees at the sight, the sound and the fury, as the bright red monster bellowed its way through the woods. They don’t build them like that any more and they don’t make drivers like Timo any more either.

I had the good fortune to meet Timo in person on the Scottish Rally, way back in either 1972 or ’73, where I was prevailed upon to take him on a visit to a Scottish whisky distillery after the rally. The rally finished at Aviemore so I took him to Craigellachie which was under the ownership of White Horse Whisky at that time - and who also sponsored Gavin Waugh in the Group 1 Hillman Avenger. Unbeknownst to me was the fact that Timo was a great whisky fan with an appetite and a thirst to match his liking for the heritage and the product – and he got me into trouble, but that’s another story.

Even though Timo was driving for Ford by this time, the love affair with Healeys continued especially when John Gott brought his ex-works rally car turned circuit racer to Ingliston. With three huge Webers clamped to the side of the 3 litre, 6 cylinder engine squeezed under the bonnet and no silencers it was even louder than the rally car and would have given Nessie a fright on a dark night.

Anyway, I’m now off to read Eric’s appraisal of a Le Mans AC Cobra, so if you’ve got a Kindle, give yourself a treat. More info at: http://www.dovepublishing.co.uk

Friday, 23 December 2011

A Christmas Greet tae Yin an' a'

Cute festive fotie!
Christmas is a time for cheer
But certainly not for all
Certain folk work like mad
When others are off on hol

Santa’s piled on the pounds
He’ll need to exercise
That he’ll do come this weekend
Pushing his sleigh across the skies

Mrs Claus has tinsel-itis
The strain’s just too much to bear
The tree fell over and broke its lights
And scattered all its balls across the flair

The fairy too has had a hard time
Up where the tinsel flickers
A wand of gold stuck in her hand
With a fir tree up her knickers

Santa’s elves fare little better
sweating hard on Christmas toys
Skinning knuckles and banging thumbs
For spoiled and grasping girls and boys

The reindeer also get it tough, Flying through the night
With little time to stop and pee, Let alone a shi*t*!

The garden’s full of fairy lights, The neighbours are looking scary
The power surge has blown their fuses, And now they’re not so merry

There’s trouble too inside the Grotto, The burning candle has fallen down.
Joseph’s singed and Mary’s melted, And someone’s nicked the wise King’s crown

So, best wishes, good fortune and success next year, To all of youse on road and stage
From he who only stands and watches, With pen, note book and the empty page

            Aye ready and still quick!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Road - Audi's baby Quattro

If you haven’t yet posted your Christmas list up the lum to Santa you might want to add something. Audi are to build a baby Quattro. That’s the good news, the bad news is that they will only make 333 of the rascals – in total!

Based on the A1, the little flyer will have a turbocharged, directly injected 2.0 litre four-cylinder petrol engine with 253 bhp and 350 Nm of torque. This should give it the performance to hit 62 mph from rest in 5.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 152 mph. And if you need to justify it to the wife/girlfriend/parents then just tell them it can do 33.2 mpg.

A six-speed manual gearbox manages the all wheel drive transmission although it will run as FWD drive in normal conditions until it senses any loss of traction, at which point the clutch will transfer torque steplessly to the rear axle. The secret is an electronically controlled, hydraulically actuated multi-plate clutch in which the plates rotate in an oil bath.

In a matter of milliseconds the package of plates are forced together to provide drive to the rear axle. In fact the multi-plate clutch has been positioned on the rear axle to ensure optimum weight distribution.
There are no colour choices, as the car comes in black and white only, and is finished off with an exclusive set of 18-inch turbine design alloy wheels and two big 100 mm exhaust pipes poking out the back.


Naturally the interior gets the treatment too with black Silk Nappa leather trim and contrasting red stitching. The multi-adjustable front S sport seats are deeply sculpted with a flat-bottomed steering wheel dead ahead.

And when you’re sitting still you can play with  the 465-watt 14-speaker Bose sound system with illuminated woofers in the doors!

There’s no price as yet, but the really bad news is that Audi has no plans to import the left hand drive only car into the UK – unless there is sufficient public demand! Over to you.

Road - To Be Safe, or Not to Be Safe

A lot of folk moan that there is no such thing as a cheap Ford any more. Probably the same folk that complain that a bag of crisps costs 40p (that’s 8 shillings in real money!) and a bottle of water costs 40p (free from the tap!) but the trouble is they don’t really follow the thought process through. A case of having their cake and eating it, and mouthing off before the sugar rush has reached the brain.

The fact is, there is no such thing as a cheap car any more. Not unless you look to the far east where some Chinese car manufacturers haven’t quite grasped the concept of ‘deformable structures’. Instead of applying this principle to the front end and rear bodywork only to protect the occupants in the event of a shunt, they have applied the engineering concept to the whole car with the result that the passenger safety cell isn’t. Not only is the end result inconvenient and painful, it makes the Fire Brigade rescue services have to work that bit harder separating the driving mince from the passenger mince when things go wrong.

So yes, cars are dearer these days, but a heckuva lot safer too.

But back to the moaners. Current Fords, and other marques, are also a lot more reliable, more comfortable and genrally nicer to drive.

A case in point is the Ford Focus Estate Titanium which I have been driving for the past week. This is a 20 grand motor and it begs the question, why would anyone spend any more on a compact family saloon when this does the job so well. For the two-adult, two-wean family it’s the ideal motor and for the sportscar-deprived long suffering faither it goes and drives well enough to put a smile on his face on the twisties.

For the not so inclined, the level of refinement inside is remarkable compared to Fords of old, especially in the amount of information that the dashboard relays to the driver these days. Not only does it tell if a door is not closed properly, it lets you know if a sidelight bulb is blown.

That refinement is enhanced by the fitting of 16 inch rims, as opposed to the more blinglittery alloys that festoon even the most mediocre machinery these days, with a set of 215/55 Michelin Primacy tyres that cushion the ride and impart a sense of wellbeing to the human skeleton which was never designed as a shock absorber – just ask Ben Hur.

Obviously William Shakespeare and I must have something in common because when the Ford driver came to take the Focus away I realised where Will’s inspiration came from for the phrase, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Rally - Alister's Christmas present

Proton Motorsports has just announced that their new 2011 Asia Pacific Rally Champion, Alister McRae will spearhead the team’s defence of their 2012 FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship campaign. The team will also contest the Super 2000 World Rally Championship next year, the first time that Proton has entered the Super 2000 world series.

Alister McRae will be joined in the APRC by twice Junior World Rally Champion P-G Andersson (Sweden). Double FIA European Rally Champion Giandomenico Basso will also be joining the SWRC team and will spearhead the asphalt test programme.

With Alister concentrating on the APRC series, Andersson and Basso will start the first Super 2000 WRC round Rally Monte-Carlo early next month. The balance of Proton’s SWRC programme will include Rally Sweden, Rally New Zealand, Rally Finland, Rally de France, Catalunya Rally and Rally GB.

Derbyshire based Mellors Motorsport boss and Proton Motorsports team principal Chris Mellors said: “It’s great news to have the programme sorted out and to have two major championships to look forward to, with two Satria Neo S2000s in each. The defence of our APRC success is obviously of paramount importance to us, but moving to the Super 2000 World Rally Championship is great for us to show the way the Satria Neo S2000 is developing. We have competed in the IRC for the past few years and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Eurosport and the IRC for providing a fantastic series. Proton is taking a new direction for 2012, but we are still looking at the potential for running customer cars in the IRC.”

“But, for now, we’re fully focused on the Monte for P-G and Giandomenico. This is going to be a really exciting start to what we hope will be a year as full of success as 2011 was. We’re very familiar with the main driver line-up, but as the season progresses we will be trying some different drivers in some of the SWRC rounds.” 

Alister commented: “Winning the Asia-Pacific title was one of the highlights of my career and the chance to come back and defend that success with Proton is fantastic for me. I’ve been with the team for a while now and I’ve seen first hand the determination and professionalism which goes into the development of this team. I’m really looking forward to being part of the programme again in 2012, when hopefully we’ll enjoy even more success!”

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Road - Stupid name, Mad car!

Going Dutch will have a new meaning when the Donkervoort GTO goes on sale next year. Working with Audi Quattro GmbH, the Netherlands based Donkervoort Automobielen company has been working on this modern twist on the Lotus 7 theme.

Depending on the engine spec, this 700 kg machine will have anything from 340 up to 400 hp (controlled by a switch on the dashboard) and 450 Nm of torque from its five cylinder 2.5 litre TFSI Audi motor. As an example of the engineering that has gone into the bonkers device, Donkervort has shaved 30 kgs off the weight of the engine alone by re-designing and engineering ancilleries.

At a recent private preview of the new machine, orders were received for half of the first batch of 25 cars to be built! Production will start early next year with the first cars ready for delivery in the summer. The price of the new GTO is expected to be pitched somewhere between €100,000 and €150,000.
 
The steel tubular frame has been clothed with glued-on carbon composite panels and which includes a rather unique one piece forward/upward hinged door which weighs only 988 gms, but more importantly can withstand a sideways blow of around 1500 kilos.

The fact that sideways impacts are mentioned makes you wonder about the stability of the rear wheel drive machine, but then again, it does have Traction Control fitted! Whatever, it sounds a dose of fun.

Donkervoort haven’t released any actual performance figures as yet, other than saying it will cover the 0 to 62 mph sprint in 3 seconds – and that’s with a five speed ‘box.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Opinion - Government Plot

I’ve just been over at the main sorting office for the Royal Mail to join the growing queue of frustrated ‘customers’ clutching their little cards, which were earlier stuffed through letterboxes, and which have advised ‘recipients’ that items need to be collected in person because the postage was underpaid - plus a £1 handling charge!

This is all a sly government plot to stimulate the economy. They want to persuade people to get out of the house to spend money on fuel and fares to keep the garages and transport companies operating. In this way, they are also hoping for a spin-off for the coffee shops and snack bars as people take an unplanned trip through shopping malls and past desperate shopkeepers.

But there’s more to their cunning plan. Postal planners are counting on folks not being in, so overweight items are left at the sorting office, allowing more overcharge cards to be carried which are lighter than the mail to be delivered. That means less mail in the postie’s bag and more ransom demands. Your mail - or your money?

Even more devious are the weight and size limitations designed to catch out the unwary, charge the senders more, and the recipients much more. The maximum weight for a letter is 100 grams – do you have anything in your house that can physically weigh 100 grams? How do you judge if 4 bags of crisps weighs more or less than your letter? If you want to send Santa a letter in an envelope, that’ll be fine, but if you want to include a list along with the letter and the envelope, that will be overweight and more expensive.

It’s the same with the sizes, anything bigger or heavier than a letter is a packet and costs a packet to send. The thickness limits have been carefully assessed too to ensure you can’t send CDs without paying extra.

Even if it’s just a smidgeon overweight or oversize, it won’t get past the smidgeon detector and this is where the modern day highwaymen have played their most underhand trick. Paper absorbs moisture and therefore its weight increases. Those water sprays you see in sorting offices aren’t for the plants or the sticky labels, it’s to spray any mail close to the limit to make it heavier and merit an undercharge card!

It’s a dead sneaky way to extract more of our money, because if this morning’s queue was anything to go by, Royal Mail will be generating quite a few extra quid per hour as weary folks succumb to the cunning plan to claim their mail. And it gets worse, after paying over the dosh, the card is from someone you don’t like.

It’s all a government plot to get the economy back on the move and to get people out and about spending money they don’t need to.

Is there any more insidious way to generate income to pay students supplementing their income with Christmas jobs and fund Government trips to expensive, pointless meetings in Brussels?

It just goes to prove, nothing is more certain in life than death, taxes and - postal charges.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Road - Cold Rubber

It’s cold outside. In fact, it’s bleedin’ freezin’. The tits are frozen to the telephone lines, the squirrels are frozen to their nuts and if I hear the kid in the office say “Cool” just one more time, I’m gonnae gie him such a clout he’ll need an icepack round his gub. Catchphrases are one thing, but endless, constantly repetitive pointless bloody sayings are driving me up the wall!

Anyway, as I said, it’s cold outside. That probably has something to do with the fact that ATS Euromaster have claimed that sales of cold weather tyres trebled between September and November this year compared to last year. And this on top of a ten-fold increase the previous year.

Apparently, sales are still on the rise with demand reaching unprecedented levels in parts of the country already affected by snow and ice.

Other tyre manufacturers are also claiming increased sales, but many sizes have already sold out!

Cold weather tyre prices start from just £174 for a set of four.  Storing four summer tyres in an ATS Euromaster tyre hotel costs just £30 (£7.50 per tyre).

Worth a thought, eh?

Rally - Ford Signs Solberg

Earlier today Ford of Europe confirmed it will contest the FIA World Rally Championship in 2012 and 2013. The 14 year long partnership with M-Sport will continue and so will the Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car.

Equally exciting is the team’s plans to sign former world champion Petter Solberg and co-driver Chris Patterson who have signed up to drive the team’s second Fiesta RS WRC in all 13 rounds next year. They will join team leaders, Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila who won Rally GB last month.

Solberg started his world rally championship career with Ford in 1999. Since then he’s won the world title in 2003 taking 13 world rally victories along the way.

Ford of Europe chairman and CEO Stephen Odell commented: “Ford has a rich history in world rallying and we’re excited to continue fighting for titles on the world stage with our great partners at M-Sport.”

Gerard Quinn, Ford of Europe’s senior manager for motorsport, added: “The WRC is motorsport’s toughest competition for production-based cars.  Through WRC, we can convey the attributes of our road vehicles and send a clear message to our customers and fans about Ford’s passion and expertise.”

“We feel that the timing for our announcement is right.  We had to be confident about the stability of the championship and to ensure it continues to provide great value and increased exposure globally.  We discussed it with our stakeholders and after receiving such assurances we look forward to focusing on competition once again,” said Quinn.

“We have a great team with M-Sport and its leader, Malcolm Wilson, and in Jari-Matti Latvala we have one of motorsport’s rising stars. We believe he will flourish in his new role as Ford’s team leader, and look forward to seeing his pace light up the special stages around the world.”

Wilson, M-Sport managing director and team director, said: “The performance of the Fiesta RS WRC in 2011 was strong on all surfaces and I’m genuinely excited about what we can achieve in the future. We want to challenge for world titles and I have no doubts that our car and driver combination, allied to the infrastructure and expertise of our staff at Dovenby Hall, will allow us to do that.”

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Road - Hybrid Hottie


Once upon a time, Volvos were sexy, well nearly. Those who have recently passed their driving test might find this rather hard to believe, but in the mid 1990s, Volvo went motor racing in the British Touring Car Championship – with an estate car!

At the time, Volvo was only too well aware that its image was a bit stuffy and its cars were driven by pipe smokers transporting full-size grandfather clocks all over the place. So in 1994 in a bid to attract a younger audience and widen the car’s appeal they introduced a 2.5 litre turbo 850 with 223 hp and a top speed of 149 mph. Even more outrageous was its 0-60 time of 7.7 seconds. This was like seeing your granny smoking pot while skateboarding with her skirt tucked into skimpy knickers.

Then they went motor racing! Well, they are at it again, only without the motor racing. Volvo is introducing another hot estate car, only this time it’s a hybrid.

The V60 Plug-in Hybrid is the world's first diesel plug-in hybrid and is Volvo Car Corporation's most technically advanced car yet - electric, hybrid and muscle-car all rolled into one, and the driver can choose whichever of the three he or she wants to drive simply by pressing a button.

A 215 hp, 5 cylinder 2.4 litre turbo diesel drives the front wheels of the machine while the rear axle is powered by a 70 hp electric motor. The car has a six-speed automatic transmission and an 11.2 kWh lithium-ion battery pack under the floor of the load compartment.

In ‘Pure’ mode the car is powered solely by its electric motor, as much as possible, while ‘Hybrid’ is the standard setting whenever the car is started up using both the diesel engine and electric motor. In ‘Power’ mode the diesel engine and electric motor work together to produce 215+70 hp and maximum torque of 440+200 Nm which results in 0 to 62 mph time of 6.2 seconds.

Naturally, there is one slight drawback, expect the prices to start from £45,000 and £50,000 in the UK, minus any government subsidy for electric cars (Plug-in Car Grant). The car will go on sale in 2013 with an initial batch of 1,000 cars per annum rapidly building to 4,000 and more in 2014.

The British market will only get a few of these, so if you’re interested, get down to your nearest Volvo dealer now. Adds a whole new dimension to ‘mean and green’, eh?

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Road - To Infinity - and Beyond

On the basis that it’s got more front than Jordan, the bling mob will undoubtedly fall for the curvaceous charms of Infiniti’s FX30d. It’s like a big Qashqai that’s been fed on pie and chips with extra potato fritters – or battered chips to the uninitiated.

Not content with added girth, the grille mouth has been given a puffed up makeover. Mind you, this could be construed as a safety modification. This won’t kill pedestrians, it will just give them a big hearty smacker!

Read the small print!
Which is pity, because what it lacks on the outside it makes up on the inside. It may not have the understated style of other fifty grand motors, but it has all the trimmings. The leather seats are soft and cuddly and the dash is stuffed full of toys.

Underneath the long bonnet is a refined 235 bhp V6 diesel which is remarkably sprightly for such a big motor. It’s got a fully automatic 7 speed ‘box which can be operated sequentially by the stick shift or by paddles behind the wheel.

But there is one major drawback – the 20 inch wheels. The suspension is soft and pliant, but the low profile rubber does the occupants little favour over rough ‘B’ British roads. The shocks and judders unsettle the ride and it’s worse for those in the back than in the front.  I dread to think what the 21 inch wheels do for the ‘Sport’ version of the FX30.

The car rides well on motorways and smooth ‘A’ roads, but on anything less it will shoogle yer wallies like loose change in yer pocket. Nissan is working hard to make Infiniti a luxury brand and with the FX they are nearly there – nearly, but not quite.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Rally - New Year at Croft


If you’re thinking of doing, or visiting, the Specsavers Christmas Stages Rally at Croft on Tuesday the 27th of December then don’t, ‘cos it has been moved to Monday the 2nd of January. It’s not the organisers’ fault, or the circuit owners, but it’s down to that stupid rule which permits Croft to have only ‘40’ noisy days per year.

This relates to the daft law enforced on the circuit organisers (and other motor sport venues around the country) by selfish, mean-spirited folks who bought or built houses near the circuit in the full knowledge that there was a racing circuit nearby - then complained! What’s next, complaints about farmers with tractors in the neighbouring fields, the wind whistling through the trees and church bells on a Sunday? Crikey, weans will have to tip-toe to school!

Anyway, the Northallerton Automobile Club has around 80 entries at present including one from last year’s winners Dale Robertson and Paul McGuire, so if the hangover has disappeared by the 2nd this will provide a ‘guid blaw’ to clear out the sinuses.

Speaking of circuit based rallies, Border Ecosse CC have got Regs out for their Grant Construction Knockhill Stages Rally on the 8th of January. Last January’s event provided a cracking day out in the snow, so goodness knows what next month will bring.

Full details in the Latest News in: http://www.jaggybunnet.co.uk/

Monday, 5 December 2011

Road - Dealing with Snow

Scrape – Scrape – Scrape, the sound of Winter. 

Smugness is watching the neighbours scraping windshields on a frosty morning with their free plastic giveaways from dealerships or failing that their budget bucket scrapers bought from Halfords.

Additional smugness is starting up the Transit and switching on the ‘Quickclear’ heated windscreen. Within minutes, the glass is ice free and the snow is swept away with one sweep of the wipers.

Then smugness turns to dismay. The radio is reporting that the M74 is blocked due to a jack-knifed lorry, the M8 is traffic-bound heading into Glasgow and there’s all sorts of wintry mayhem eastbound at Shotts. Even worse, the M6 is shut at Shap, so bang goes a visit to Millbrook this week to drive Mercedes-Benz Unimogs!

And that’s the problem with Winter. No matter how much we all prepare with winter tyres and shovels in the boot, or even buying a 4x4 just for the Winter months, the trouble is we’re all at the mercy of the guy or guyess in front. If they get stuck, the rest of us are going nowhere.

It was the same last Winter, the gritters were so late in getting out at times even they couldn’t get through the roadblocks of people stranded ahead of them. And even when the gritters were ahead of the game the snow was falling so thick and so fast, it was covering up the cleared and salted roads.

After two such Winters you’d think we’d learn. The only people with a smile on their face are the tyre manufacturers and fitters, flogging Winter spec tyres faster than tickets to Santa’s Grotto, and knowing full well we’ll never get the use of them because the nutcase at the head of the traffic jam and causing the hold-up, didn’t, and is sitting there adding polish to the ice with his/her spinning wheels!

But here’s an idea that could solve our wintry driving at a stroke. We have the technology, we just don’t know how to apply it. For instance, have you bought a steak bake at Greggs or a steaky pie at the local chippy recently. Did you burn your tongue? Even if you leave the delicacy sitting on the passenger seat for half an hour before pulling over to eat it, it’s still like biting into hot lava.

All we need to do is apply that technology to laying tar and we’ll have snow free roads for weeks. Move over TTTTTTTarmac, make way for pastry.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Road - Toyota's GT 86

Looking less pretty than it does in the pictures, and a bit more muscular in the metal and all the better for that, was Toyota’s new GT 86 sports car which made its world debut at the Tokyo motor show.


The GT 86 is built on a new platform, with a very effiicient aerodynamic bodyshell stretched tight over a compact, front-mounted, petrol engine that drives the rear wheels. 

The four-cylinder ‘boxer’ engine produces 197 bhp at 7,000 rpm and maximum torque of 205 Nm at 6,600 rpm.

It’s quite a compact wee thing too, even though it’s a four seater (well 2+2 if the weans are grown up) measuring 4,240 mm long, 1,285 mm high and 1775 mm wide,  with a wheelbase of 2,570 mm.


Both the powertrain and the driving position have been set as low and as far back as possible with the result that the car has a near-perfect 53:47 front-to-rear weight distribution. 
Toyota totty!

Suspension is by MacPherson struts at the front and double wishbones at the rear with ventilated discs all round inside the 17-inch wheels.


Power comes from the joint Toyota and Subaru development programme with Toyota adding its own D-4S injection technology to Subaru’s latest 1,998cc four-cylinder boxer engine and drives through a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission (which also has paddles). And for added fun, there is limited slip differential in the rear axle.

There are no price details as yet.

Road - Tokyo Show Sho-Case

Looking like a mobile fish tank, and taking the concept of gull-wing doors to a whole new level at the Tokyo Show, which is on now in Japan, is this zero-emission next-generation passenger car, called the Sho Case, from Daihatsu.

The car is powered by metal-free compact liquid fuel cells and utilises a low-cost fuel cell stack that uses no rare metals which is a big plus for this new fangled technology. The high density fuel gives it a long range and it is all hidden under the floor.

Apparently, the steering wheel and seats can be folded into the floor to create even more free space. And just to give the scale of the thing. It is 3,395 mm long, 1,475 mm wide and 1,900 mm high.  That makes it shorter (by 225 mm), narrower (by 227 mm) and taller (by 395 mm) than a Ford Ka! It also has a longer wheelbase at 2,450 mm than the Ka with its 2300 mm wheelbase.

So no chance of a one-make rally series here then, eh?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Road - Welcome to Scotland!

Whilst attending the Chevrolet 'do', I couldn't help noticing this 'warm and welcoming' sign above the door of the host venue somewhere near Peebles.

At a time when we are trying to encourage foreign folks to pay us a visit, one wonders if this is the correct message. It's the sort of thing one would expect of the 'wee Frees' rather than a tourist orientated destination like the Scottish Borders.

Given the Gothic style of engraving, the text is maybe a wee bit difficult to read, but you'll get there if you peer at it quite hard.

So, no 'hen party' or 'stag do' groups are welcome here then, eh?

I wonder if EventScotland is aware of this attempt to thwart their well meaning endeavours!

On the other hand, it could be the ideal place for a murder / mystery weekend.

Road - Captiva-ted

Chevrolet was in Scotland yesterday and today with some new vehicles (one of which will have to remain secret for a few weeks yet!) but motoring journalists got the chance to try out the latest Captiva with its new 2.2 litre turbo-diesel engine.

There will be a base model 2WD version, but Chevrolet UK reckons the 4WD ‘on demand’ version will be the most popular. No doubt the imminent arrival of snow will help to concentrate the buying public’s mind.

It’s not an off-roader that can be used on the road, this is more of an on-roader that has the traction to get itself out of trouble on wet grass, muddy fields and icebound roads. Having said that, it has a ‘Hill Descent Control’ button, so if the going gets tougher than expected, it has the ability cope.

I tried it out on a wet, muddy, steep track and the ECU could be heard chirping away merrily as it operated the brakes to ensure that the first gear descent was all under perfect control.

The new Korean built 2.2 litre diesel is noisier outside the car than inside while the suspension system has been equally well addressed offering a comfortable, well-absorbed ride without shoogling the stomach contents of all those aboard even after a nice lunch in a welcoming hostelry.

But be careful what you specify, the towing limit varies between 1.5 to 2 tonnes, so if you want to max out on towing capacity go for the manual 6 speed transmission with either of the two 161 or 182 bhp diesel engines as neither the 2.4 or 3 litre petrol units can pull the full 2 tonnes according to the Spec Sheets.

Having said that, Chevrolet will be conducting their own Euro-style towing tests, as it always seems to be that Korean spec towing (regardless of manufacturer) operates to different rules than over here. As a rule of thumb, general towing advice is that a trailer and its contents (or a caravan) should not weigh more than 80% of the vehicle which is doing the towing.

Prices start from 22 grand for the 2WD car, but from £28,000 for the 4WD version but it comes with a lot of ‘standard’ equipment which other manufacturers regard as ‘extras’.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Road - Focus Zetec S

Following on from the announcement in September of a new 2 litre 247 bhp Ford Focus ST, comes news from Ford that there’s another on the way. This latest addition to Ford’s sporty range will be the Zetec S with a new 1.6-litre 177 bhp (180 PS) EcoBoost petrol engine.

Based on the existing Zetec car, it gets new front and rear spoilers with lower sill extensions, LED tail lamps and 17in alloy wheels. The ‘sports suspension’ features stiffened springs and dampers.
The five-door Zetec S is available now with an estate car to follow in February next year. In addition to the 1.6-litre 177 bhp engine there is a 1.6 litre, 123 bhp (125 PS) Ti-VCT petrol unit and a 2 litre 160 bhp (163 PS) TDCi oil burner also available with either manual or PowerShift automatic transmission.

Apparently the new 177 bhp EcoBoost turbo-charged petrol engine will do 138 mph and gets off its mark from 0 to 62 mph in 7.9 secs. And as is the way these days, it emits only 139g/km CO2.  

At £18,745 on the road the Focus Zetec S is only £1,250 above the equivalent Zetec car but includes over 1,700 poundsworth of extras. 

Road - Saab sadness

Sad news this morning that Saab Great Britain Ltd (‘Saab GB’) has been placed in administration. With immediate effect, David Dunckley and Daniel Taylor of Grant Thornton UK LLP have been appointed joint administrators of Saab GB.

Saab had a big following (like Volvo) in Scotland, but it seems not big enough, and has been struggling over the past couple of years in a declining market in which it seems only the biggest can survive.

Saab GB has exclusive rights to distribute Saab cars and parts in the UK. It employs 55 people in Milton Keynes and has a 58 strong dealer network across the UK of which 20 are ‘Saab only’ sites.

The Saab GB board is of the opinion that administration gives the company and creditors the necessary legal protection until it has secured the required funding for the company. However, there are still discussions taking place with potential investors regarding the sale of Saab Automobile AB and Saab Great Britain Limited.

A Saab GB customer hotline has been set up on 0845 300 9593 or visit www.saab.co.uk for more details.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Rally - Marathon Rallyist

Andrew Cowan presented the principal awards at the Scottish Rally Championship awards night in Glasgow at the weekend, but when compere Roy Campbell asked who was born after Andrew won the Scottish title in 1976, there was a big flurry of hands from the youngsters in the room.

Although best known for winning the Scottish Rally Championship in 1976 in a Mitsubishi Colt Lancer, Andrew also won a few other wee events such as the 16,500 mile 1968 and ‘77 London to Sydney Marathon Rallies and then went on to win 4 World Rally Championship titles as Mitsubishi team boss with Tommi Makinen.

Over the years Andrew has rallied a wide variety of different cars, not just Mitsubishis, from Hillman Imps to Ford Escorts, but perhaps his most unlikely choice of cars were the Mercedes-Benz 280E with which he won the ’77 Marathon and the 5 litre 450 SLC which he used subsequently.

Coincidentally, when he (and Colin Malkin and Mike Broad) won the 1977 London to Sydney Marathon, there was more Scottish interest further down the field with Jim Ingleby and Bob Smith finishing 14th overall in a Jeep Cherokee.

Anyway, now you know.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Rally - Parliamo Glesca

Sorry about this, but I couldn't resist it. It's a bit of an in-joke so if you don't get it then you'll need to speak to someone from Glasgow or central west Scotland to give you a hand. Or maybe you saw some of the late Stanley Baxter's TV sketches in which he sought to educate and enlighten those who lived outside Scotland's cultural capital about the delights and complexities of the local dialect.

It was obvious that the wine from this chateau Zuriz somewhere in Chile was no ordinary wine, but maybe had some ancient civilised connection with a Glasgow vineyard or 'big hoose wi' brambles' but when I saw these bottles of house-wine on the tables at last night's Scottish Rally Championship awards 'do' I just couldn't help myself.

So, when a fellow table guest asked, what's that you've got over there, I replied: "Erra bottle of red wine owererr, and erra bottle of white wine." As I said, if you don't get it, then get some outside help!

Rally - Night of Champions

Scottish rallying accorded its newest British Champions a standing ovation last night in Glasgow. At the Scottish Rally Championship awards, a packed house of 450 end of season revellers rose to their feet as one when David Bogie and Kevin Rae were greeted as only the second Scots to win three consecutive national titles since the late Drew Gallacher (in 1978, '79, and '80) and the first Scots to win the British title since Alister McRae last won it 16 years ago.

It was a cracking night and worthy of true champions with Andrew Cowan presenting the awards. Just the week before David and Kevin had been hailed British Champions at the Dulux British Championship awards night in Englandshire, but a Scottish homecoming and celebration is always extra special.
Maw and Paw had to help carry off the silverware!

And here's a nice wee story about a nice young man. David was out driving his truck the other day and stopped outside a butcher's shop in Carlisle to buy a pie for his lunch. He joined the queue and waited his turn till he got to the counter and asked for a steak pie to take out.

The butcher looked at him: "You're David Bogie, aren't you, the new British Rally Champion?"

An embarrassed David said: "Aye, that's right."

A long and loud standing ovation
The butcher replied: "Me and my mates have been following you all year, well done, you deserve it," - and wouldn't take any money for the pie!

When David got back out to the truck, he phoned Kevin to tell him that fame does have some rewards. Quick as a flash, Kevin said: "Quick, get round to Currys and Comet and see if they'll give a you a free plasma TV."

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Road - Frenzy in French

The big reason that I like small cars with a sporty nature is that you can drive them flat out (at times!) without breaking the speed limit. Whereas large capacity sports cars and supercars can break this country’s quaint driving laws in first gear, let alone fifth, small cars can reward the enthusiasts with more buzz per bhp than bonus-fuelled bank busters.

And since Renault is coming to the British Rally Championship next year with its hugely popular (in France) Twingo Renaultsport R1 and R2 Trophy Championship, Renault gave me a wee shottie in their French squib, the Twingo Renaultsport 133.
 
It may only have a 1598 cc engine and a five speed ‘box, but it’s got more bounce than a hyperactive budgie. The 133 hp engine needs revs to get the most out of it, but you get the full ‘French frisson’ at  4000 rpm all the way up to 6750. Keep it stirred and this thing’s got more flounce than the Follies Bergere.

Suspension? Forget it. But given the fun and frolics, only a boney bummed supermodel would complain. That’s down to the almost ‘sidewall-less’ 195/40 x 17 Contisport Contact 3 tyres which grip like a tramp to a sovereign, but soak up any ‘give’ in the shock absorbers. When on the limit, the wee thing skips and bounces through the bends, but never feels out of control.

Ford used to have a reputation for producing fun-filled and affordable small cars, but given what Renault is up to these days, that reputation is seriously under threat.

Fifteen grand for this much fun can’t be all bad.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Road - Silence of the Vans


Well, there I was, averaging 3.67 mpkWh. And no, I wasn’t boiling a kettle. I was driving a van, an electric van. Renault had brought a couple of Kangoo ZE all-electric vans up north for the Scottish motoring writers to try out, and it was quite eerie.

The vans had just arrived in the UK and this was our first chance to drive them. There is no external difference apart from the ‘fuel flap’ on the nose and there is little to give the game away inside, until you turn the key – and nothing happens!

Well, a green ‘Go’ light does appear on the dash and this informs the driver that the system is primed and raring to go. Select ‘D’ on the automatic style stick-shift, a gentle prod on the accelerator and suddenly movement is underway – silently.

In fact the whole experience is just like driving an ordinary vehicle although the braking takes a bit of getting used to. It doesn’t do freewheeling. When you lift your foot off the accelerator, the vehicle immediately starts to slow down. It’s quite disconcerting at first because although you haven’t touched the brakes, there is a bit of serious deceleration underway. Once you get used to it, and learn to anticipate it, there is little need to use the brakes except when some silly burd with one hand on the wheel, the other clamping her phone to her head decides to turn right across your bows, while indicating left. I was very nearly the first British journalist to crash an electric Kangoo.

Renault have also addressed the price issue which has plagued the adoption of electric vehicles. The base model van is 17 grand (excl VAT) plus a monthly subscription for the battery pack starting from 60 quid a month. Thereafter a full charge is expected to cost around £2.50 and the van should be good for a range of 105 miles - unless you’re playing silly beggars at the traffic lights because of the instant torque!

Yes, it will spin its wheels, but it wisnae me, it was another journalist!

The battery pack sits under the rear floor so the van part of the vehicle still has the same volume and payload of a diesel or petrol version, so there is no compromise there. It won’t suit everyone, but at this sort of price, it could appeal to those delivery drivers in congested town and city centres who don’t move far from base.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Road - A New Korando

SsangYong was in Scotland today showing off its new model SUV, the Korando, and what an impressive compact SUV this is. The Korean car maker has had a difficult time over recent years, but Indian car firm Mahindra & Mahindra has taken a majority stake in the company so its future looks more assured. And given the quality feel and build of the new Korando, it will inject some confidence into the brand.

The new Korando is a much more refined machine than its predecessor and just like Kia with the Sportage and Hyundai with its i35, SsangYong has pulled up its troosers to take on the European market.

Starting from £16,995 for the entry level 2WD model, prices go up to £22,995 for the 4WD top-spec car with 6 speed automatic ‘box, and it comes not just with a 5 year warranty, but also a 5 year ‘limitless mileage’ warranty!

Whereas the bigger engined Rexton 4x4 uses a 2.7 litre Mercedes-Benz engine and gearbox, the Euro-5 two litre job and six speed ‘box in the Korando is SangYong’s own, and all the more impressive for that.

From Glenskirlie I drove the Korando over the ‘Tak Ma Doon’ road from Kilsyth to the Carron Valley Reservoir and it soaked up the bumps and dips admirably well. It’s not the fastest thing in the world and the gearbox had to work the engine hard on some of the steeper bits, but overall this is an entirely likeable addition to the ‘crossover’ market.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Road - Misfuelling

Here’s a worrying thought. When it comes to putting the wrong fuel in either a petrol or diesel car, more men than women get it wrong! You’d think we would all have learned by now, green for petrol and black for diesel – or is it the other way round?

According to a Green Flag survey the practice is still rife with one misfuel event happening every 3.5 minutes which equates to around 150,000 misfuels per year. And depending on how quickly you notice the mistake and who you call out, a misfuel can cost anything from £175.00 to £3,000 - and upwards, depending on how much damage is done.

Anyway, a chap called Lee Steadman has designed and produced a neat wee device to prevent motorists putting petrol in diesel vehicles. It has taken the British engineer two years to design, test and manufacture prototypes, but the final product is now on the market.

The opening to a fuel tank fitted with a Diesel Head needs a ‘diesel’ diameter nozzle to activate the opening and let the nozzle in which means that the smaller petrol nozzle won’t fit – although I know a few numpties who would have a go anyway. The only thing you have to be aware of is the clearance between your existing filler and any body flap that hinges over it, so check the fitting first.

Constructed from cast metal, the device is available via: www.dieselhead.co.uk for £34.99 and a lockable version for £39.99. 

So just how sure are you that you, the wife or the weans won’t fill up at the wrong pump in the middle of Winter, knee deep in snow, at the height of the Christmas shopping rush, with congested traffic clogging up every highway and byway, and your temper is more frazzled than the average bloke’s barbecued sausages?