Thursday 31 January 2013

Road - Lighting up

Just the other week I was cursing the Bi-Xenon headlamps fitted to a Vauxhall I was driving. And yes, the lights did provide excellent illumination, but I got fed up being flashed at by oncoming drivers who thought I wasn’t dipping my own lights. By the end of the week I was really getting quite annoyed, because even on dip, the light intensity and spread were obviously affecting some folk.

So it was a relief to get behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz A250 this past week which had its Bi-Xenon headlamps controlled by Merc’s Intelligent Light system (ILS). I have mentioned this system before, but was still sceptical. Each manufacturer claims that their own lights don’t dazzle, but that’s not my experience.

However the German ILS system works and works well. Driving back from Kelso in the early hours of the morning last weekend between thawing snowbanks on black, glistening roads with equally black puddles I didn’t get flashed once. The biggest surprise was the number of other vehicles I encountered on the country roads at this time of night/morning!

Once on to the Edinburgh by-pass and M8 motorway, the lights self-adjusted to a new mode to further reduce the possibility of dazzle.

And therein lies the secret. The ILS system adjusts not just the dipping and full beam functions, but the angle of the lights, the actual spread of the beams and the length of the ‘cone’.

It’s another example of computers assuming control of elementary driving functions, but with one big difference, this system works.

There is just one drawback. It’s a £1430 option on a Merc. But having experienced these lights in such adverse conditions, maybe a system like this should be mandatory on all vehicles with Bi-Xenon headlights. Especially those selfish gits who drive large 4x4s with wheels the size of wind turbines and don’t give a toss who they upset.

Oh, and by the way, as for the A250, it was the AMG Sport version. 211 hp, what's not to like?

Blethers - Belt up!

‘Clunk, click, every trip’ has unfortunate connotations these days, but did you know, today marks the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the law requiring the compulsory use of seatbelts! 

It was on the 31st January 1983 that it became law despite the fact that Volvo was the first manufacturer to fit seat belts to its cars as standard 20 years earlier in 1963.

Volvo actually designed the three point seat belt in 1959 and were so convinced of the device’s safety potential that they made the patent available to other manufacturers.

And the rest as they say is history. Nice one Volvo

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Blethers - Fuel Pricing

Following its review of petrol and diesel pump prices in the UK, the Office of Fair Trading reckons there is no case to answer. Apparently the OFT believes that competition is working well in the £47bn UK road fuel market.

Today's report further stated that over the last 10 years, prices and increases in tax and duty have been caused largely by higher crude oil and not a lack of competition.

The OFT found that, pre-tax, the UK has some of the cheapest road fuel prices in Europe. In the 10 years between 2003 and 2012 pump prices increased from 76 pence per litre (ppl) to 136 ppl for petrol, and from 78 ppl to 142 ppl for diesel, caused largely by an increase of nearly 24 ppl in tax and duty and 33 ppl in the cost of crude oil.

The big four supermarkets have also been blamed, increasing their share of road fuel sold in the UK from 29 per cent in 2004 to 39 per cent in 2012. Many independent dealers have found it difficult to compete in this sector, with a significant number exiting the market.

Overall, the number of UK forecourts has fallen from 10,867 in 2004 to 8,677 in 2012, although the rate of decline appears to have slowed in the last three years.

The OFT also investigated the widely held perception that pump prices rise quickly when the wholesale price goes up, but fall more slowly when it drops, and found very limited evidence to support such claims.

Clive Maxwell, OFT Chief Executive, said: “We recognise that there has been widespread mistrust in how this market is operating. However, our analysis suggests that competition is working well, and rises in pump prices over the past decade or so have largely been down to increases in tax and the cost of crude oil.”

So that’s alright then. The matter of crude oil speculation on the stock market was not part of the remit and there were no reasons given as to why diesel is more expensive than petrol.

Quentin Willson of the FairFuelUK campaign, commented: “Quite frankly, I’m shocked. The OFT investigated in 1998 and now have done so again. Every motorist and business in Britain instinctively knows that ‘something’s not right’. The Americans and the Germans are holding inquiries – why aren’t we? The OFT appears to have failed to address the key issues of : why diesel is more expensive than unleaded in the UK when this is not the case in Europe, why falls in the Oil price take so long to be reflected at the pump and why there are such variations in price, often from the same branded forecourts, within the same area. They did not address the whistleblower evidence of potential ‘rigging’ of the Oil commodity market. Where is the fairness in all of this?”

So that’s it then. It’s all perfectly fair and legit.We've got nothing to complain about. Apparently.

We’ll just have to continue paying through the nose, or in this case, paying through the hose!

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Blethers - Ultimate TV

If you've got nothing better to do for a minute or so, and you have a serious desire to be one up on the neighbours, check this out. Apparently the screen itself weighs 1.4 tonnes, and the price? Well if you've got to ask, then you can't afford it. It costs around half a million Euros, and that's just the telly. Some poor blighter has still got to dig the hole and lay the cables.

Monday 28 January 2013

Rally - SRC Regs Out

That's the Regulations and Entry Form available now for the 2013 ARR Craib Scottish Rally Championship on the SRC website, link below. They were finalised at the weekend and printed up today.

The paperwork is later than intended, but the Championship has attracted additional support from Pirelli who are offering a very attractive prize/bonus scheme, so the delay was worthwhile by all accounts.

and just for the sake of completeness, the Regs and Entry forms for the first round of the national series, the Snowman Rally are here:

Sunday 27 January 2013

Rally - BECC's 40th

Another grand night out, this time in snowy Kelso last night at the racecourse, and no repeat of the boozy affair in Perth a month ago. So no Police escort involved this time.

It was Border Ecosse Car Club's annual awards night and the club's 40th anniversary celebrations with a good crowd in attendance including two founder members.

Even more encouraging was the fact that a 16 year old was the club champion after three class wins and one second place during the year's Autocross series and second place in the end of season Autotest - his first ever autotest at that.

And a 40th birthday cake too!
A proud Dad, Kenny Hall looked on as Jonny stepped up to claim his awards with one wit observing that Jonny took home more silverware this year than his Dad did in 30 years of rallying. True? Not quite, but the point was made and generated a two finger digital salute from a proud parent.

The club also recognised the success of youngster Garry Pearson who received a special award for winning the 2012 MSA British Junior Rally Championship title. And there is more good news for the Brtish Championship, at least three BECC crews are considering contesting the BRC Challenge series this year with a fourth still swithering.

The barley broth was thick enough to walk across, the roast 100% beef  dinner was equine-free and the sweet course would have satisfied Victor Meldrew. And this being the racecourse, the prices were awfy reasonable, two G&Ts plus a ginger beer and lime for £8.60.

And did you know, the first ever honorary president of Border Ecosse Car Club in 1972 was one Roger Clark - yes, that one!

Friday 25 January 2013

Rally - Scroot's Corner

With the Arnold Clark Thistle Hotels Snowman Rally just around the corner (February 16th), there is an interesting, and hopefully informative, article up on the website about pre-event Scrutineering for those who will be competing. Aimed primarily at newcomers, it will also serve as a reminder to the old hands - and the forgetful! There haven't been many changes to the Rally Car Regs since last year, so the Feature isn't too long.

Thursday 24 January 2013

Road - Collaboration

The cost of progress in automotive terms is huge these days. It’s not just the R&D costs themselves, but the need to address longevity, reliability and of course safety. All that takes billions of Euros or Dollars, or a helluva big credit card. A bank loan wouldn’t work either, think of the ppi payments!

So the news that BMW Group and Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) are strengthening their existing co-operation comes as no surprise. The aims of this latest agreement are the joint development of a fuel cell system, joint development of architecture and components for a sports vehicle, and joint research and development of lightweight technologies.

Another area of collaborative research will concern lithium-air batteries, a post-lithium-battery solution. This agreement marks the second phase of collaborative research into next-generation lithium-ion battery cells that commenced in March 2012.

Both companies are to share their technologies and will jointly develop a fuel-cell vehicle system, including a fuel cell stack and system, plus hydrogen tank, motor and battery, aiming for completion in 2020. They also have plans to develop a lithium-air battery with energy density greatly exceeding that of current lithium-ion batteries.

Laudable though these are, of more concern to regular readers is the sporting potential of what they are up to. Both companies have an established record of success in the world of motor sport, and that has not been overlooked in this agreement.

The companies are setting-up a feasibility study to define a joint platform concept for a mid-size sports vehicle that is to be completed by the end of 2013, and have promised further collaboration in the field of sports vehicle development.

As part of this plan the companies intend to jointly develop lightweight technologies for vehicle bodies using advanced materials such as reinforced composites to develop a sports-vehicle platform as well as other BMW and Toyota vehicles.

Now if that doesn’t tingle your taste buds, think on this – M Sport meets Toyota GT86.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Road - Masterful Vauxhall

Forget the rally car, when was the last time you looked under the bonnet of your road car? If you’ve got a Vauxhall then here’s an excuse not to bother. Get someone  else to do it.

Vauxhall is offering a free £40 MasterFit voucher to any Vauxhall owner who signs up to its MasterFit Service Club before the 31st March this year.

It’s free to join the club and members will profit from a range of benefits, including 50 per cent off MoTs, 15 per cent off parts and labour for cars aged between two and three years old, and 25 per cent off parts and labour for cars over three years old.

There’s just one provision, the £40 MasterFit voucher is available until 31st March and has to be used before the end of September 2013. Still, it’s worth a thought.

Road - Frustration. Grrrr!

It was with feelings of unfulfilment and frustration that I handed back the Focus ST to Ford. After a week with the car, there was a sense of disappointment as it disappeared homewards over the horizon.

That had nothing to do with the car. I blame the Government – and speed limits. Honestly, it has the performance, pleasure and price to be one of the best cars in the world, but it’s so quick you can’t really exploit it to the full anywhere on public roads.

It’s not a track day car either, it’s not hard enough. This is an everyday motor with power and composure in abundance. And yes, I did manage to give it a squeeze every now and again – but all perfectly legally, of course.

Full story:

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Road - New Driving Licence

I was reminded earlier today, that as of January 19th (last Saturday) new driver licence rules were introduced which will have more of an impact on those who pass their Driving Test after this date than those who currently have a full licence.

The principal change for new drivers will affect those who wish to tow a trailer. Any driver passing a category B (car and small vehicle) test will be limited to towing a small trailer weighing no more than 750 kgs, where the combined weight of the towing vehicle and the trailer isn’t more than 3,500 kgs. So no dragging rally cars to and from events!

Drivers who passed their test before the 19 January will not lose any of their entitlements, but anyone with an HGV (or PSV) licence will have to undergo a medical every five years when they reach the age of 45 in order to renew their driving licence.

A new-style Driving Licence has also been introduced and this will be issued as and when current licences expire or drivers advise the DVLA of any changes, like address or personal details.

However, a word of caution. When you get your new Licence check that all your entitlements have been passed on. When these card licences were first introduced some folk found they had lost entitlement. For instance, prior to 1997 a driver’s licence entitled the holder to legally drive a truck up to 7.5t, but when the DVLA was renewing these at the time, some truck drivers only found out they had ‘lost’ their 7.5t entitlement when the Polis pulled them over.

Fortunately it was all sorted out at the time but only after quite a palaver. So be careful.

Monday 21 January 2013

Road - World domination

Last year, the Volkswagen Passenger Car company finished off the 2012 year with a new record, delivering 5.74 million vehicles to customers for the first time in a twelve-month period, a near 13 per cent increase on 2011 deliveries.

Volkswagen has therefore become the world’s top car manufacturer. At the same time it has just opened its 100th production plant in Mexico.

All very impressive so far, but there was talk at the Detroit Auto Show that Volkswagen has designs on a new ‘budget’ brand. This is attributed mostly to Renault’s runaway success with the Dacia brand, and since both Skoda and Seat have gone upmarket, Volkswagen doesn’t really have a Dacia competitor.

Volkswagen has also entered the World Rally Championship. What next, Formula 1? That would pitch VW against Mercedes-Benz and Renault at the top end of the market while it takes on Dacia at the bottom end of the market.

Interesting times lie ahead.

Friday 18 January 2013

Rally - Bogie Buys Focus

Four time Scottish Rally Champ, David Bogie has bought a Ford Focus WRC for this year's ARR Craib Scottish Rally Championship. So who's going to bet against a fifth title? Euan Thorburn for one! Full story on the website at:

Game on.

Road - Numbers game

Statistics, eh? Who’d believe them? Still it gives you something to get the pub argument underway of an evening. Especially this one.

Apparently, drivers using the roads in and around Caithness exceed the speed limits 36% of the time whereas in Argyll, they only do it 8% of the time. Those who break speed limits most often appear to come from Bristol (5% of the time) and Greater London (8% of the time) but the research also claims that Yorkshire drivers only break the speed limit 5% of the time.

Given the fact that Caithness has some cracking roads and are pretty much empty most of the time I can understand that, but Yorkshire? There are some fabulous driving roads down there, so that statistic is hard to figure.

And there’s more, the most popular time for speeding is 5.59 am when the roads are at their quietest and the least popular time for speeding is at 5.16 pm - during evening rush hour!

The research was undertaken by an outfit called Wunelli who supply the insurance industry with a lot of ‘facts and information’ which is used to calculate insurance premiums.

And how about one more? The driver most likely to be caught speeding will be driving an Audi TT. The analysis suggests that Audi TTs spend an average 22% of their time on the road over the speed limit.

So what does that say about hairdressers and dentists? Or Audi drivers? Or Scottish drivers? Or Scottish roads? Or statistics?

Road - Corvette is back

The original and the latest
My favourite from the early 60s
American cars incite all sorts of opinions and passions from adoration to revulsion, but for most folks there is usually something in between which will appeal. 

Take the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray for instance. The early cars were stunning, then the design department lost its way, but at the Detroit Auto Show this week, the new designers showed they are back with a bang.

It looks as though they have been on an Italian diet of pasta and pizza though, compared to the raw beef and fries generation which designed the 80s and 90s cars. Squint your eyes and there is a distinct look of Ferrari about the new Corvette, or maybe it’s just the colour.

 In fact, it’s exactly 60 years since the first 150 hp Corvette V8 was revealed to the public. Sixty years later, the sixth generation of the car still has a V8 but with 450 hp.

It was also announced at the show, that Chevrolet will be building right hand drive models for the European market, the bad news is, it will be 2015 before we see and hear them.

Road - Monster machine

If you thought the new Ford Ranger currently on sale in the UK was big, then it’s worth bearing in mind that over in Americky, they sell a range of pickups they call full-size, which are bigger than anything on sale in Europe.

And whilst our modest British Ranger looks big compared to the current crop of pickups, you should see what Ford were showing in Detroit this week at the auto capital’s annual show.

Ford say it is purely a concept vehicle, but you know what happens to concepts? If the public like them and the manufacturers think there is a market for them and profit potential, then it can be hard to resist.

There is no information on engines and drivetrain as yet other than ‘EcoBoost’ engine technology will be employed and neither is there any information on dimensions, but the thing looks huge.
What size is it? Check out the guy at the front

It looks as big as a theme park and just as much fun.