Friday 30 September 2011

Rally - Forum Sell-Out

Well, it would have been a sell-out had the tickets been on sale, but since they were free, it could be argued that to-night's all-star Rally Forum in Aberfeldy is not sold-out. Whatever, it will be packed. All 160 tickets have been snapped up, but if anyone thinks they can get in at the door or sneak in - no chance. The function room at the Moness Resort will be fu' tae the rafters with 160 folks inside.

However, there will be one empty seat in the front row. Apparently Coltness Car Club got an email from Erik Carlsson, who was in Glasgow last night, asking if he could pop along tonight to catch up with his old pal, Stig Blomqvist. So the club is keeping one seat free just in case Erik finds his way to Aberfeldy - he'll need a navigator!

Apart from frivolity and fun, the real purpose behind to-night's Forum is to raise funds for the Colin McRae Vision Charity, and there will be a wee auction after the Forum to sell some memorabilia. There are only a few 'lots' but they expect to be high-value titems. For instance, there is a wing off Jari-Matti Latvala's Focus (personally removed by Jari-Matti himself - at speed!) and it has been signed by quite a few famous names and there will be a McRae Rally programme from the 'Legends Return' event signed by all the big names who were there.

But if anyone wants to get up close and personal with the stars tomorrow, they could always catch up with them at the Rally Start in Aberfeldy Town Centre or in the Service Park on the far side of Wade's Bridge.

Full spectator info and maps are on the Coltness Car Club website - including some Google maps. Now how did we manage before all this new-fangled nonsense?

Thursday 29 September 2011

Road - Leather Appeal

Go on, take another look at the steering wheel in the photo. Yes, it’s a leather rimmed wheel, and no it’s not in a sports or performance car. This is fitted to my latest press appraisal vehicle, a Ford Transit van.

I can’t stop myself. But every time I clamber aboard and fire it up, I can’t help having a wee giggle to myself. A leather rimmed wheel in a van. It’s ridiculous, but it’s also fabulous. Honestly, it really does make a difference to everyday driving.

It’s the same wheel as fitted to many of Ford’s saloons and at 370 mm in diameter it’s slightly smaller than many other commercial vehicle tillers which gives it a definite dinky and sporty appeal.

But don’t expect this in all Transits, it’s only available in the ‘Trend’ or ‘Limited’ editions.

The trouble is, that’s me ruined for life. If a CV doesn’t have a leather rimmed wheel from now on, I’ll mark it down. Sad, eh?

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Road - Surprising Mondeo

A nice surprise this week. I was reminded just how refined petrol engines are compared to their diesel siblings when I spent the past week in a Ford Mondeo with the new EcoBoost engine.  Although sales of diesel engine cars account for just over 80% of all Mondeos, there is still a significant demand for petrol engines.

For sure, diesels have made great strides over recent years, but so too have petrols, and this one was particularly quiet and smooth.

There was another surprise in store. It was only a 1.6 litre petrol unit! The Mondeo is a big car too, and yet I didn’t feel it was underpowered. It’s not as fast as the 2 litre, but that still doesn’t make it underpowered.

The turbo engine produces 158 bhp and is good for just over 40 mpg. That’s maybe not as miserly as a diesel, but for the low mileage private car driver it might make sense when you compare the purchase price and fuel costs.

Yet another wee surprise, it rode well on its 18 inch wheels, unlike some other cars which appear to have their suspension removed completely just so they can fit 18 inchers.

So don’t let anyone tell you diesels are the business, keep an open mind. You might get a surprise too.

Monday 26 September 2011

Rally - Scotland's New Champions

Scotland has two new champions to toast. Yesterday David Bogie and Kevin Rae clinched the British Rally Championship when they finished third overall on the Trackrod Rally in Yorkshire. A top 13 placing was all that was needed to do the business, but they had to finish!

In other words, no risks and no mistakes, drive sensibly and stay out of the ditches, and keep clear of punctures. No easy tasks in a British forest.

Having won the Scottish Championship for a third time this year, this was their first British title and the duo have become only the second Scotsmen to have won both the Scottish and British titles since Colin McRae and Derek Ringer in '91 and '92. Oddly enough, neither Jim nor Alister McRae won their own national title although they both won British titles.

But here's the thing, Colin and Derek went on from that to win a World Championship title! So David and Kevin have some unfinished business out there!

Saturday 24 September 2011

Road - Nightworks on the Road

What is it with roadworks? You'd think the authorities could pick a better time than rush hour on a Friday night to go digging up the road.

Two lanes had been closed off on the northbound M6 near Stoke and the traffic was already backed up for miles and backing up even further behind all the time. After 40 minutes of 1st gear, stop, 1st gear, stop, we finally got to the problem. A bunch of guys in hi-viz vests and hard hats with a lorry carrying so many orange flashing lights there was little room to carry more than two shovels, a pick and a lunch-box.

They were working on what looked like a bridge joint - but they were working on the line between the hard shoulder and the inside lane. In other words, why had they shut off the middle lane as well?

So why two lanes? Unless the problem was much wider than the area on which they were working, there was no apparent need, as the traffic had already been slowed to a crawl by the traffic and 40 mph speed limit signs, but I've got a theory. The Health & Safety Police probably have probably issued a wee manual telling the workies to secure a much larger safety perimeter than is needed.

Could it not have been left till the early hours when traffic was much lighter? Backing up the traffic at that time during rush hour on a Friday evening allows the idiots to do stupid things, like the numpty in the big black B Emm who roared (not drove slowly!) up the hard should to avoid the queue and the bunch of eeedjits in an old Hyundia Coupe who were obviously inspired and followed suit.

A mile or so beyond that point there was an old dark coloured Nissan Micra sitting parked up on the hard shoulder with the bonnet up. I bet she got a fright when the idiots arrived at speed. Fortunately, the fact that she was still there meant that some sort of avoiding action had been taken.

Road - At Peace with the World

Stupid idea. After landing at Heathrow just before 6.00 pm, I thought I'd have a bite to eat before picking up the van and heading back towards God's country and let the London rush die down a bit. But despite all the tempting treats and aromas on display when you arrive at airport departure lounges, when you get off at the other end, there's nothing. Even in as modern a building as Terminal 5. Just two coffee bars and the pastries left over from upstairs. It's as if they want you off the premises as quick as possible.

Anyway, stopped to buy a bottle of Pepsi Max. Nearly choked. It was £1.79. The same size bottle at home is 39p.

Headed for the shuttle bus stands and was soon on my way to the NCP car park.Great joy. Spotted the roof of the van poking up amongst all the car roofs around it. Got the keys, paid the £18 day-rate parking fee (and this was the cheap off-site car park! Shocking, eh), and asked for directions out of the place. They were wrong. Found myself heading for the M4 but knew where I was so stuck with it and picked up the A404 at Slough to join the M40.

With 28 miles on the odometer, I stuck to 1800 rpm for the first 200 miles and then eked it out to 2200 rpm for the last 200 miles. That meant I was never over 70 mph all the way home. Did I mind, not a bit of it, but it did set me thinking.

The Government is thinking of raising the motorway speed limit to 80 mph, although no mention of changing CV speed limits I note. I really don't think that's a bad idea. Most folk in a hurry are doing that speed anyway but what I have noticed as I travel the highways and byways of Scotland and Englandshire is that the inside two lanes are busier than they were a couple of years back. This has less to do with rising car numbers and more to do with the cost of fuel.

The message has finally got through to most folks that higher speeds means higher fuel consumption. So folk are backing off and moving out of the overtaking lane, and setting off earlier.

From my vantage point high up in the Transit cab I can see over the hedges and read the motorway service station signs - £1.49.9p per litre of diesel. That's the bigest disincentive of all to go tearing up and down the motorways.

Friday 23 September 2011

Opinion - Air Miles

I've said it before, I'll say it again now, and it won't be the last time either. I hate airports. I waited longer to get through the security gate than I did for a train and a bus to get to Glasgow Airport.

The queue for the gate disappeared out of sight when I joined it, and just when you think you're getting close, there's another barrier and another turn. Grrrrr!

Despite divesting myself of half my clothing I still set off the alarm as I walked through the arch. Considering I was clutching the waistband of my new jeans in one hand, and holding passport and ticket in the other, the only thing it could have been was my teeth fillings. So I got patted down by a very intimate bloke who then had a second go, this time with an electric squash racket.

Then it was the nearest coffee shop to get rid of some cash. 2 quid for six squashed coffee beans and some hot water, and £1.60 for an apple fritter doughnut - it was apple, so it was justified as one of my five a day! That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

These experiences once again reinforced my long held belief that airports are simply designed to extract as much money as possible in as short a time as possible when people are at their most vulnerable. And you don't get much more vulnerable than standing in your stocking soles holding your trousers up.

Now it's off to Heathrow where for once I don't need to tramp for miles through soulless concrete, steel and glass cathedrals, erected to celebrate the joys of travel and the extraction of money for travellers everywhere. This time there is no changing terminals for flight connections, it's a shuttle bus to the NCP car park where my new Transit awaits.

How exciting is that? Sad, eh.

Road - Happiness is Transit Shaped

Happy days will soon be here again. Got a call from the Ford Motor Company yesterday informing me that my new long term appraisal vehicle is ready for collection.

It's six months since the previous LWB, RWD, 2.4 litre Transit was returned to Ford (with a glowing report card) and it will now be replaced with a MWB, FWD, 2.2 litre Transit.

No doubt this will become as familiar a sight on Scottish rallies next year as the previous one, so it's a one-way BA ticket to London tomorrow and a long drive back. It will also be a slow drive. I'm 'old school' and still believe in 'running-in' a new motor.

I'm not quite sure what the spec of the new van will be. I know what I requested, so fingers crossed.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Rally - Another Treat

There's another treat in store for rally fans next week, on the night after the 'Stig & Stuart' show in Glasgow (see previous story). Following a meeting earlier today, the line-up for the Colin McRae Vision Rally Forum next Friday the 30th of September has been confirmed.

Joining Stig Blomqvist and Jim McRae on the panel will be Phil Mills and David Bogie, and in the absence of a proper professional, yours truly will attempt to maintain some sort of order while eliciting entertaining recollections and words of wisdom (!) from the guests.

Doors will open at 8.00 pm with the chat show getting underway at 8.30 pm. The organisers are also planning a couple of other wee surprises and immediately after the Forum there will be a short auction for some attractive prizes and highly collectable memorabilia. And since entry to the Forum is free, bids are consequently expected to be generous!

The venue is the Moness Resort on the Crieff road to the south of Aberfeldy and entry is by ticket only, as the function suite is limited to 160 - but the tickets are free.

However, tickets will be limited to two per application and only available by emailing your request to:

Apparently there wil be more info on the McRae Vision website too.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Rally - A Rare Treat

The Caledonian Classic & Historic Motorsport Club are organising a rare treat next Thursday evening the 29th of September. Organisers of the Glasgow Start for this year’s Monte Carlo Historic Rally, the club have been asked to organise it again for next year, on Sunday 29th January.

To celebrate their success with this year’s event and herald the arrival of next year’s commitment, two true rally stars will be appearing at a rather special ‘chat night’ in the Monte Carlo Room at the Blythswood Hotel, Blythswood Square in Glasgow. 

For one night only, the distinctly unique and nostalgic ‘An evening with Erik Carlsson and Stuart Turner’ will recall a golden era of rallying when service crews were non-existent, distributors and spark plugs fired the carburettor mix, and the breathalyser was as common as a Star Trek Communicator.

I dug out this picture of Eric in full flight on the Monte Carlo in 1963 driving a Saab 96. The cars were renowned in those days for having a centrally roof mounted swivelling spot light – and Eric was equally renowned for removing them. The narrow-tracked Saabs were alarmingly easy to roll, but just as easy to upright again afterwards – and then fit another spot light at the next Halt!

The evening starts at 7.30 pm and the £10 tickets include a buffet supper – at least it will be a Glasgow buffet and not one of those dainty, tiny Edinburgh versions. Hopefully.

Full details on the CC&HMC club website at:

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Road - VW's Fuel Miser

The one major drawback about living in Scotland and working for a national (British) magazine is that any time I need to go into the office, it means a door to door trip of 182 miles, down the M74 and M6 to Leyland - and then back again afterwards.

At least I get the best bit of the M6, the bit that runs through the Shap valleys and past Killington  Lake Services where it's relatively quiet until you get to the turn-off for fairy light city, Blackpool. From then on it's usually hoachin' wi' traffic.

On the other hand it is the ideal run for fuel consumption figures and this time I was driving the Volkswagen Jetta Bluemotion. It's a funny thing about the Germans, where we use the word 'green' for environmental issues, they use 'blue'. Whatever, the Bluemotion badge on the boot lid of the Jetta means it should be more fuel efficient than a Jetta without it.

It also means it has a 1.6 litre diesel engine, but it shows just how far diesel technology has advanced over recent years, for despite its miserly 104 bhp, it actually felt quicker and stronger than that. There was a bigger surprise in store. 

On the run south I was averaging 75 mph (running late as usual!) and getting just short of 60 mpg (59.9!) so on the way back I tried to average 65 mph. Good job too, as I passed under a motorway bridge with a dastardly camera-van on top, but this time I was getting just shy of 70 mpg.

Well, I was impressed. Anyway, once I get it home and on to the rural runaround we'll see what happens to fuel consumption then.

Monday 19 September 2011

Being Silly - A Very Mooo-ving Tale

I couldn’t resist this one. On leaving the Recycling and Waste Management Show I spotted this herd of cloned cowbins grazing contentedly on plastic grass outside the NEC. It did make me wonder though if the milk was delivered ready packaged in recycled containers. 

As an alternative to natural farming though, it’ll never catch on. Think about it. There would be no more steak and chips or steak and kidney pie, and no leather for racing boots or bucket seats.

There would be lots of udder things we’d have to do without too, like cheese, Utterly Butterly, and compost for the roses. Mind you it would mean the end of those scary Cravendale ads on TV where the cows want it back, and the Muller fruit corner cow that thinks it’s a horse! There’s a silver lining in every black (and white) cloud, eh?

What was that song again, by the Moooo-dy Blues - Isn't Life Strange? And my favourite, M People singing ‘Moooo-ving on Out’.

Saturday 17 September 2011

Road – Hydrogen Rising

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, the World Hydrogen Technologies Conference was taking place in Glasgow this week at the SECC. The conference was opened on Wednesday by Fergus Ewing, who just happens to be Scotland's Minister of -- Energy, Enterprise and Tourism. An odd mix, but it must make some sort of sense in the corridors of power.

Anyway, there was another guest at the conference making its debut in Scotland, Honda's hydrogen powered car, the FCX Clarity.

It was a timely appearance to be sure. Our Government’s appetite for wind farms is matched only by our MSPs’ propensity for making wind inside the concrete Wendy house in Edinburgh. I can’t help thinking that a couple of strategically placed turbines in the debating chamber would do more to keep the lights on in Princes Street than the white-columned array at Carter Bar.

The trouble with wind is that it only generates electricity when it is blowing, whereas the Honda FCX Clarity’s electric motor is ‘fuelled’ by hydrogen which generates its electricity onboard through a 'fuel cell stack'. The stack creates electricity from a reaction between hydrogen and atmospheric oxygen. This reaction has only one emission, pure water which comes out of the tailpipe as vapour.

It also drives and handles like a petrol car and has a range of 288 miles while top speed is more than 100 mph. The hydrogen cell has another advantage over batteries, it can be refuelled in less than four minutes.

The big problem is infrastructure. In America and Japan, the infrastructure to support hydrogen-powered cars is already being developed, and Britain would need similar development. The big question is, would that be cheaper than installing rapid-charge electric power points in homes and car parks all over the UK?

Some of the industry bigwigs were promoting that very point this week in Glasgow – just don’t mention the trams!

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Rally - Lotus rallies round?

No, it’s not an April Fool’s joke. Apparently Lotus are quite serious about an Exige rally car. This Exige R-GT was made up for the Frankfut Motor Show as a tribute to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Talbot Sunbeam Lotus winning the 1981 World Rally Championship manufacturer’s title, although the Driver’s title actually went to one Ari Vatanen.

Guy Frequelin was the works Sunbeam driver that year and the Frenchman finished runner-up to Vatanen, but also seen in Sunbeam Lotuses (Lotii?) during the season were Henri Toivonen and Stig Blomqvist.

Anyway, Lotus reckon this could be quite handy on tarmac events with its 302 hp, rear-engined, 3.5 litre V6 and 6 speed sequential ‘box.

And if you think the days of low-slung, plastic sports cars going rallying successfully are long gone – think Darrian!

Road - A BDA It Ain't

This is the new Ford Focus ST which will go on sale next year. Gone is the 5 cylinder engine, and in its place a new 2 litre Ford EcoBoost unit with 250 PS (247 bhp) and 360 Nm of torque. In other words more power, better economy and lower emissions from a smaller engine.

The high performance comes from high pressure direct injection, low-inertia turbocharging, Twin-independent Variable Cam Timing (Ti-VCT) and redesigned intake and exhaust systems. The whole thing will be managed by a six-speed ‘box.

Ford is also promising one other significant attraction – a sporty exhaust note, but we’ll have to wait till the Frankfurt Show is over before we can fire it up. They’ve done something with the exhaust without making an ‘active exhaust system’ as found on exotic supercars, but they reckon the ST will be quiet at low revs and sound quite fruity the higher up the range you go. It might not be a BDA, but here’s hoping!

Putting the power on the road is always a problem for FWD cars, but the latest development of Ford’s Torque Steer Compensation (TSC) system claims to allow drivers to accelerate at full throttle and yet still find grip on any road surface, although they didn’t actually say anything about gravel surfaces! Anyway, I look forward to seeing if that’s true

There will also be three modes of ESP to choose from although Ford claims it can also be switched off completely. That will allow people like Clarkson to go hedge trimming. However, the Enhanced Dynamic Cornering Control (EDCC) will remain active thereby ensuring that severe hedge trimming antics and extreme wall-vaulting are significantly reduced.

Uprated shock absorbers and springs have lowered the ST by 10 mm and there are new uprated suspension knuckles and a new anti-roll bar.

There will be three trim levels, ST1, ST2 and ST3, with the base model getting cloth Recaros. The ST2 gets leather Recaros and the ST3 adds heated seats plus a few extra little luxuries.

Price? We’ll just have to wait.

Road - Strange Faces in Strange Places

It’s not just the Frankfurt Motor Show that has girls and glamour, the Recycling and Waste Management Show also has more than its fair share of fake tans and bright lipstick. There is a difference though, instead of stretched lycra and high hemlines, it features recycled materials in its high fashion.

The daily fashion shows at this event merely highlights how far the industry has come, with fashion designers commissioned to produce attractive and wearable clothing from its shredded and re-woven fabrics and plastics. Mind you, I still reckon I would have difficulty in selling the concept to the wife. “Here you are dear, it’s not quite natural silk or the finest lambswool, but this material once graced the packaging of offal, pig pellets and used nappies.” Honest, they can recycle anything these days.

For instance, I was speaking to a firm which manufactures truck mounted concrete mixers and they recently concluded a trial in which they used 80 tonnes of crushed glass in the manufacture of concrete for a particular use. They have even used incinerator waste, although I don’t know what was incinerated, or want to know!

The kit is also becoming more sophisticated and specialised these days with machines costing millions just to separate coke bottles from bean cans, and the buyers are out in force. Including one Dave Weston, famous rally driver, who was down there on behalf of the John Lawrie Group which does a lot of metal recycling in the north east. He was just as surprised to see me as I was to see him!
He also had the Missus with him. Apparently he promised Carol a day out in London – but had to stop off in Birmingham on the way south! I wonder if he promised her a meal out – from the burger van.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Road - At the Show

There are some popular misconceptions about motoring journalists. Exotic locations, luxury hotels, fancy food and lots of new cars to drive. That’s not entirely true.

This afternoon for instance, many motoring journalists throughout the UK were flying or driving out to Frankfurt for the Motor Show. And with so many new cars and concepts on display it promises to be quite a show. Tomorrow is Press day when they all get a good look at the metal before the show opens its doors to the public.

On the other hand, some of us won’t get the chance. I have just spent nearly 5 hours on the M6 driving south to the NEC. Yes, I’m going to an exhibition too, but it’s not the Frankfurt Motor Show. It’s nothing like the Frankfurt Motor Show.

Nope, my destination tomorrow is the Recycling & Waste Management Exhibition at the NEC. It will be full of machinery which sorts, separates, selects, or crushes, compacts and compresses. The new Jaguar CX or the new JCB Telehandler? A new all-electric Audi, or a Liebherr steel wheeled compacter? No contest really.

But here’s the thing. While one show is a temple to all things that glitter and engender dangerous covetous desires, the other has to deal with them when the tin worm turns up and the oil turns to sludge.

This will be the fourth RWM show I’ve been to in the past four years, and each year the show gets bigger with more exhibitors and bigger stands with more kit on them. 

So which one is the real growth industry? Which one is the future?

Monday 12 September 2011

Rally - Two Many Cooks for Taylor

Young Peter Taylor is getting quite handy these days since he got the Renault Clio R3. He was on course for his second outright rally victory (he won at Crail a couple of months back) earlier today at the Pirtek Lindisfarne Rally when he punctured with two stages to go.

Lying second at the time were the Cook brothers, Richard and Edwin, and they took the victory from a disappointed Taylor and Andrew Roughead. Michael Glendinning had been leading after four stages but put a Subaru wheel on the wet grass and he was gone.

Jim Sharp and Craig Wallace were fourth in the Subaru with Des Campbell and Alex Orr 12th in the Peugeot 206. And in his first season of rallying young Matthew Kesson did exceptionally well to get 15th in his Nova.

Gareth White was as high as fourth overall at one point till a wheel fell off the Citroen and Ian Watson found that a MkII with an embarassment of power at the rear wheels is quite a handful in the wet. He must have cut half an acre of grass when he slid off!

There were no rally reports during the day, as there are no mobile phone masts in the middle of the Ranges, plus it was just too wet to tinker with the electronics. It was that wet even the sheep were shrinking.

Friday 9 September 2011

Road - The Age of the Tron

First it was daytime lights, then running lights, now it’s lighting up time all round. Ahead of next week’s Frankfurt Motor Show, Audi has revealed some images of its new A2 all-electric car.

The four seater has a 116 PS electric motor and Audi reckons it will be good for 124 miles, but perhaps not if you use it’s potential for sub 10 second, 0 to 60 times, but perhaps the most striking thing about it is the wrap-round LED lighting technology.

We’re getting pretty used to trucks with well-lit tractors and trailers plus additional reflective taping around the trailer edges and sides, but applying that to cars is taking things to extreme.

This Audi has an illuminated strip running from the front headlamp all along the waistline to the tail-lamp. What next? Illuminated contours all around and up and down the A, B, C and D pillars. Mind you that’s maybe not such a bad idea if local authorities all across the UK start switching off Motorway lights at night to save electricity.

And if that goes ahead we’ll all have to get rid of those hi-viz vests being carried in cars for fixing punctures at the road side, in favour of illuminated suits like those in ‘TRON: The Legacy’. Somehow I don’t think I’ll look as good in a figure hugging, illuminated one-piece as Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner. More like a burst black pudding!

Road - White Van Man Goes Green

All that way and all that hassle just to see a new grille on the front and a new badge on the back door. It was almost a disappointment - till we drove it. 

Ford had invited the UK’s top light CV journalists to the European launch of the Stage 5 Ford Transit in Munich, an 827 mile cramped (well named Squeezyjet) flight from Edinburgh where the prices were higher than the cruising altitude. And on first sight, there was little difference to the nation’s top van.

But Ford is making bold claims for the new Transit with improved fuel economy, much lower emissions and better ‘whole life costs.’ So that means the new van will be dearer, won’t it? In a word, ‘Yes’, but Ford reckons the savings will more than pay for themselves.

The secret lies in the new 2.2 litre Duratorq TDCi engine with a standard six speed box across the range. The new engine also features a lower compression ratio, higher common rail pressure and new 8-hole Piezo injectors. Using EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) the new engine more than meets the new Euro-5 standards.

Otherwise it’s much the same as before, but additional tweaks to the engine have found more savings. The oil pump only powers up when it needs to and responds to demand rather than circulating oil constantly, the hydraulic steering pump has a variable flow rate depending on whether it needs only light pressure for running on a Motorway or increased pressure when parking for instance, and there is regenerative capacity in the alternator/battery system. The new Transit also features Stop/Start technology and has a new larger dual mass flywheel to help with that.

So all the changes are really under the bonnet and under the floor. Transit does however retain its choice of FWD or RWD depending on the customer’s ultimate use.

So what’s it like to drive? Well, it is quieter, especially on the cruise or idling through traffic and it only becomes really audible when under load, and the torque, even in the 100 PS unit is impressive, pulling easily from just over 1000 rpm. Similarly, the 155 PS engine is impressively smooth and quick.

On top of all that there are two new Econetic versions offering even less emissions for those who are concerned about working in congested city and town centres.

In other words, Ford have made a good van better.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Opinion - The Glamour of Travel

I've just booked into the Sheraton at Munich Airport. I still don't like Squeezyjet. The flight itself was OK, but it's all the pfaffing and queuing I hate. A couple of Border collies would organise it better and communicate more clearly.

The 'experience' also sharpened my dislike for BAA who were bleating recently about having to sell off some of their airports. Well, I've got no sympathy for them. If they had made a better fist of running their airports in the first place they might not have found themselves in this position.

Airport terminals are regarded first and foremost as 'cost centres' these days and only secondly about customer service. As soon as you turn off the Motorway into the airport the tills start ringing. Extortionate car parking, overpriced food and expensive shops. Everything is designed to part the traveller from his or her cash.

And then you get to the sheep sorting pens known as the Security gate where inadequate numbers of disgruntled and bored uniforms make sure you get rid of all your toiletries and drinks so that you have to buy more of the costly necessities on the other side. And it's all in the name of passenger service, safety and security.

The airport concession staff are all well versed in this 'experience' business too. I just wanted a cup of coffee, I didn't want to invest in a 'coffee experience'. I had to wait bluidy 10 minutes while some Italian chrome enncrusted, pre-war steam engine crushed some beans, biled some waatter and frothed the milk.

Tonight there's a product presentation, a bite to eat and some convivial company before we get to drive the vans in the morning. That's the highlight. All too often we spend more time in the air and in the airports than we do driving the product, but it will be the first chance to see and drive the new Transit ahead of it's public debut at the CV Show at the NEC next April.

Anyway, I'm here now, but I've got to go through it all again on the way home tomorrow. Happy days.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Road - 2012 Ford Transit

Ford is launching the new 2012 Ford Transit in Germany today and tomorrow. The new van has actually been ready to go for over a year now, but the manufacturer was waiting for the recession to lift and sales to rise before committing to production.

The European launch is taking place in Munich, so the chocie was BA flight to London, then change to BA flight to Munich - or, direct flight to Munich from Edinburgh, by Squeezyjet!

Despite the fact that I've had bad experiences with 3 out of 4 recent Squeezy flights, I've opted for the direct flight. It still beats hanging about an additional terminal waiting for a connection.

The current body shape of the Transit has already undergone one facelift and engineers are remaining tight lipped about the new one, but the biggest changes will be under the bonnet and the floor. There is little that can be done with such an effective and practical box shape so most effort has been concentrated on the engines and driveline.

From now on Ford will standardise on one 2.2 litre TDCi diesel, but offered initially with four power options of 100, 125, 140 and 155 PS. Out goes the old 2.4, and the most recent 3.0 litre (for blue-light applications) jobs.

The six speed gearbox will remain as standard with taller ratios to reduce consumption. And that's what new vans are about these days, lower emissions and better economy. Anyway, we'll see what it's like to drive shortly.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Road - Make a Fridge Freezer your special friend

Forget the fact that this Ford 350 Super Duty Monster Truck produces 1308 bhp from its 9.5 litre supercharged Chevrolet V8. Don’t even bother with the fact that it weighs nearly 4.5 tonnes and stands 11 feet tall. And who cares if it does no more than 60 yards per gallon (yes, that’s correct – YARDS per gallon!) and can seat only one person.

More to the point, it is fitted with an air cannon that can fire a fridge freezer up to 80 yards. Now how cool is that?

Just think of the possibilities. No-one could ever accuse you of fly-tipping white goods, ‘cos they’d never find them, and you could pay your council tax bill by stuffing the notes in the ice box and firing it through the finance department’s window - on the third floor.

And there’s more. Curry’s could deliver your new fridge freezer even when you’re not at home, and if the neighbours’ kids jump over the fence and trample your dahlias, you could always send them back home, even if they live two streets away. And if the mother-in-law outstays her welcome – well, it might be a bit extreme, but it would be effective!

The possibilities are endless. In fact, a truck like this could become as vital to life as a kettle and a pot noodle.

And where would you get such a thing? Well you might get some ideas at this year’s ‘Top Gear Live’ ( extravaganza on 11 – 13 November at NEC Birmingham and 24 – 27 November at ExCeL London.

This truck will be on show and you could maybe just make a bid to its builder and owner, former European Monster Truck Champion, Rob Williams.

Opinion - Officialdom at Large

It’s nearly a year since we lost the highly respected and well-liked MSA Steward, Bill Troughear. In fact, the last time I saw him and spoke with him was on the Sunday morning after the Tunnock’s Mull Rally last October.

It was just after breakfast and we were sitting on the bench outside the Tobermory Hotel looking out over the bay. Unusually, the sun was shining and even more unusually, the weather was warm, and it wasn’t raining. In fact it had been a cracking weekend all round. It was Bill’s first visit to the event and the island was at its best, and there we were, putting the world to rights.

It was with that in mind and the imminent arrival of the annual island thrash next month that probably prompted the subject of my monthly diatribe in this week’s (to-morrow’s!) edition of the weekly ‘Motorsport News’ . No doubt I’ll be in hot water – again.

Over the past 11 months I have noticed three instances where rally organisers were given a hard time by their appointed MSA Stewards. The vast majority of these senior officials carry out their duties fairly and respectfully, but there are one or two who seem to get carried with their badge of office and title.

This minority should remember that they are dealing with volunteers and amateurs without whom the sport simply wouldn’t exist in this country. These sporting stalwarts should be helped and encouraged.

Anyway, it made me wonder. Did I notice these three instances because I am now more sensitive to their actions, or did I notice them because this sort of confrontation is becoming more common? I hope it’s not the latter.

Monday 5 September 2011

Road - Citroën goes retro

A plea to Citroën – please build it. The French company will be showing this Tubik, a 4WD, nine-seater concept at the Frankfurt Show in two weeks time and it just looks bluidy fabulous. If you squint your eyes you can just about see the lines of the original ‘air-raid shelter on wheels’ styled Type H or ‘TUB’ van with its corrugated panels first produced over 60 years ago in 1947.

It was as iconic in France as the split window Transporter, and over the 34 years of its production Citroën built and sold over half a million of them.

Powered by Citroën’s Hybrid4 technology the concept has a diesel engine driving the front wheels and an electric motor driving the rear.

The Tubik is 4.80m long, 2.08m wide and 2.05m tall, and can carry up to nine passengers, or fold the middle two rows down to make a van. But don’t be fooled by that exterior. It uses a special finish over the ‘side windows’ so that those inside can see out, but to those outside it looks like a solid paint finish.

Rally - Dougal on the Mend

Better news tonight from the Hospital in Dumfries. Dougal has his arm in a sling and he's hoping to be let out tomorrow after a scan and a couple more tests. So, fingers crossed. Earlier today, some of the Merrick organisers paid him a visit. Nice one folks.

Sunday 4 September 2011

Rally - Good News from the Merrick

There’s good news from the Merrick this morning. Yesterday I referred to an incident on the final stage, after which some competitors were given a Notional Time.

The incident in question was an accident which befell Dougal Brown and Lewis Rochford. Their Mitsubishi Lancer fell off the road on the final stage, but hit a rather stout tree stump. The Lancer and its cage absorbed the severe impact very well, although there were initial concerns about Dougal. He was in fact air-lifted to Dumfries & Galloway Royal Infirmary where he has been detained.

It would appear that Dougal has escaped serious injury, and Lewis too is OK, so we wish them both well.

At the delayed prizegiving in Wigtown Town Hall later that evening, Rally Manager Allan Marshall said: "I would like to praise and thank all the emergency services, rescue units and marshals who were at the scene. The major incident plan kicked into gear very quickly. Everything was on the scene of the incident in under 15 minutes, and the casualty was removed in under 30 minutes".

I also got the final results slightly wrong in my final bulletin yesterday when I omitted Chris Collie from the top ten round-up. He was wrongly reported to have stopped in the final stage, but no doubt there was some initial confusion about that following the accident. He actually finished sixth overall which pushed Jonny Greer down to the seventh.

There will be a full rally report on: late Monday night and the Classes roundup late Tuesday night.

Rally - Faulkner Wins Merrick

Results are not yet final, but it looks as though Mike Faulkner has taken his first outright rally victory since the Scottish Rally two years ago. He finished the 6 stage Merrick Rally over half a minute clear of Robbie Head.

“There was 7 seconds between us going into the last stage,” said Robbie, “but I didn’t want to take any risks – it looks as though Mike did!”

For his part, Mike reckoned he didn’t: “I knew Robbie was close, but I didn’t know whether he would attack or not, so I just kept up my own pace.”

Faulkner’s time at the finish was 42m 13s from Head on 42m 58s, but once again there was a tie for third place and once again it involved Euan Thorburn. He fought back from that turbo problem on the first stage to share equal third with Wayne Sisson who was running without anti-lag to save his knackered head gasket, so they were both in the wars. They shared 44m 00s with Sisson getting the final podium place as he was faster than Thorburn’s afflicted Lancer on the opening stage of the day.

Andrew Gallacher scored his best result of the past two years with fifth (45m 22s) ahead of Jonny Greer who punctured a tyre in the last stage which dropped him out of the top three to finish sixth (45m 32s), but he was well pleased with his pace in the woods ahead of the Trackrod later this month.

Liam Regan was seventh (45m 36s) from Jim Carty (45m 37s), Mark McCulloch (45m 45s) and top 2WD runner in tenth place overall, Peter Taylor with the Renault Clio on 45m 52s.

Taylor would have finished higher up had it not been for Notional Times applied to the latter half of the field on the final stage. This was due to an incident in which a competitor went off. And the stage was blocked.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Rally - Faulkner leads after Five

Mike Faulkner continues to lead the Merrick Rally after 5 of the day’s 6 stages. Robbie Head has closed the gap to 7 seconds – from 8 seconds! So it’s all a bit close and tense out there.

Faulkner leads on 30m 49s from Head (30m 56s) and Jonny Greer (31m 23s). “The last time I was out on gravel was the Pirelli,” said Jonny, “so this was just to get a bit of gravel practice ahead of the Trackrod Rally in Yorkshire. The Mitsubishi is bigger and heavier than the Fabia S2000 and handles completely different, but it’s still good to get out on the gravel.”

Fourth is Wayne Sisson (31m 40s) but is worried about his head gasket and fifth is Euan Thorburn (32m 05s) fighting his way back up the order after his first stage problem. “The diff pump’s not working now,” said Euan, “so the car’s handling is a bit interesting!”

Chris Collie is sixth (32m 15s) from Dougal Brown (32m 28s) who is also worried about head gasket problems. Mark McCulloch is next up (32m 33s) from Andrew Gallacher (32m 41s).

Liam Regan is enjoying himself in the interesting Peugeot 206 4WD. “I was told about Glentrool before I came over here,” he said, “you have to be seriously committed to get a good time in here right enough. And I’m just not committed enough.” Finding that out the hard way is Donnie MacDonald. He’s out having gone straight on over a crest in Glentrool South.

David Bogie was an interested spectator this morning. “We actually damaged the car quite badly on Ulster,” he explained, “we got a bit too much air over one crest and then hit the next one and landed hard. It pushed the front chassis up nearly two and a half inches. So it had to go away and get re-jigged ahead of the Trackrod.”

Rally - Faulkner leads from Head

Mike Fsaulkner leads the Merrick, Rally after two stages, by 8 seconds from Robbie Head, but Mike has been in  the wars.

“We went into a 7Left,” said Mike, “it was really greasy, muddy and narrow and just slid wide and fell off. We backed out OK and thnere doesn’t seem to be any damage.”
Arch rival Euan Thorburn had worse probems: “The turbo pipe came off in the first stage and we lost over one and a half minutes, but we were fastest in the second stage, so we’ll just keep going as hard as we can.”

Robbie Head said: “We caught Euan in the first stage, but he pulled over quickly and let us through, but at least Mike’s not too far ahead so maybe we can fight a bit harder this weekend.”
Faulkner leads on 13m 15s from Thorburn on 13m 23s, with Jonny Greer third (13m 25s), Wayne Sisson fourth (13m 39s).

Chris Collie is fifth (13m 39s), John McClory (13m 56s) and Steve Bannister is up there too on 14m 04s. But Steve gave me a bit of news, apparently the Americans have downgraded their recent hurricane – to a Scottish summer! Well, I thought it was funny.

And here’s another bit of hot gossip, although all participants will deny it. Louise Sutherland sitting beside Banner is sending text messages back to Mike Faulkner whom she co-drove for on Speyside: “I’m his unofficial weather crew” she joked.

Rally - Wet-tish in Wigtown

It’s gey dreich in Wigtown this morning, there is a fine drizzle soaking the air, but it could be worse. Both Mike Faulkner and Euan Thorburn were in good fettle and chatting before the rally start outside Wigtown Town Hall.

But one thing I did notice was that although they chatted amicably they didn’t shake hands and wish each other well when they parted and went to their cars! In other words, the gloves are off.

Missing from the start line is Phillip Morrow. On the phone this morning he said: “I’m just too busy bat work at the moment. Things were very quiet during that last recession so now that business is on the turn again, you know what it’s like, everyone wants everything now. I had thought about getting the 12 noon boat yesterday but I was still flat out at work.”

First away was Steve Bannister in the historic MkII with Andy Kelly first time out in his brand new Mk1 running behind, and fresh back from Rally Hebrides is George Bryson in  his MkI - although the word 'fresh' is stretching it a bit, he still hasn't recovered from the social side of the Stornoway based event!

Rally - Let Battle Commence

Wigtown is abuzz with rally cars and anoraks tonight as over 75 cars and crews gather in the town ahead of tomorrow’s ProTune Remapping Merrick Stages Rally.

Much attention is being focussed on the expected Mike Faulkner/Euan Thorburn duel which is set to pick up where it left off on last month’s Gleaner Oil & Gas Speyside Stages. Last time, the duo went into the final stage neck and neck on times and only a wee mistake by Faulkner handed the victory to Thorburn. That nail-biting battle is set to resume again tomorrow in the forests of Glentrool.

Ahead of the rally, Mike Faulkner took part in the Media/Sponsor shakedown session earlier today, and completed four runs in his Mitsubishi Lancer EVO6: “The ground was wet, but the stage was good,” said Mike, “it’s set to rain again overnight, but that might even help to bind the surfaces tomorrow.”

When asked about tactics, Mike said: “We’re going for the win, that’s our mindset. It was on the Snowman - and every event since the Snowman.”

Lancer EVO8 driver, Euan Thorburn, is equally upbeat: “Mike’s the man to beat, and to beat him tomorrow means we’ll have to win the rally! So we have to go for the win. With two rounds to go we can’t just settle for points now,” said Euan.

They are both tied on 161 points each at present and holding joint second place in the Scottish Rally Championship, but with two rounds to go and dropped scores to consider, neither can afford to let up on their hectic pace.

It’s obvious that rally fever has hit Wigtown. The butcher just around the corner from the Town Hall where tonight’s documentation is taking place has a sign in the window – ‘Rally good mince pies’.

That sounds more like a challenge than an advertisement!

Friday 2 September 2011

Rally - Glentrool Beckons

The penultimate round of the national Scottish Rally Championship gets under way tomorrow as crews gather in Wigtown tonight for pre-rally Scrutineering and Signing-On. The ProTune Remapping Merrick Stages Rally is scheduled to start from the county town square at 8.30 in the morning.

If you’re up early enough, pop along to the Town Hall in the morning where the organisers will be handing out Spectator Guides and Entry Lists, or if you’ve nothing better to do tonight, give the pub a miss and go and soak up the automotive culture instead.

Apart from the sheer spectacle of cars in the woods, there’s a few things to look out for tomorrow, a resumption of that epic struggle between the closely matched Euan Thorburn and Mike Faulkner on the Speyside, and similarly, an equally tense and exciting duel in prospect between Robbie Head and Phillip Morrow.

Add in the appearance of a few more star names from ‘across the water’, like Jonathan Greer and Liam Regan, and we could be in for treat.

Steve Bannister gets things under way as the Historic cars will be setting off before the main field, so don’t dare miss the Malton Missile in Glentrool. Oh, and by the way, take an umbrella if you believe in weather forecasts.

As for me, I have plans to put some news up on this Blog site during the course of the day - but only if I can get a mobile signal at the Service Area mid-forest. I'm told there is a signal there - but it might just be a 'merrickle' if it works. Oh, please yourselves.

Road - A Day in Wetherby

Spent the day in Wetherby, that's in Englandshire by the way, driving cars. For the third year running, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders hosted a test day for northern motoring writers and journalists. 

There were 23 manufacturers in attendance and each had brought 2 cars, from Kia with the new Rio to Porsche with its Panamera, from the Citroen DS3 Racing to the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland, it was a quite an eclectic and varied mix.

The Scottish journalists were there in force because the annual 'Scottish Car of the Year Awards' will be held next month. This event therefore gives us a chance to catch up on any new models we may have missed during the past year. The manufacturers also like these awards because if they win something, it is a 'national' award as opposed to a regional award. 

Apparently, the world thinks of Scots as frugal and careful (despite Gordon Brown's attempts to dissuade the world otherwise), so if we vote for a car, then the general thinking is it must be good. It may also have something to do with a reputation for toughness as there are still people out there who think we all drive around on drove roads avoiding long haired, shaggy coos!

Anyway, the weather was good (this being quite far south and close to the Mediteranean) and the driving better. Most impressive? The new Kia Picanto Equinox is a surprising little machine and much more fun than it's modest performance would suggest. The prize for most improved car? That'll be the Jeep Cherokee. Honestly, this is the best one yet. 

I also liked the new Peugeot 508SW, it's much better looking than the saloon as well, while the Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo provides more fun than anyone should expect from a 105 bhp diesel.