Sunday, 20 September 2009

Twit me!

Dear readers,

Since I got tired of the writing-business a bit, I turned to Twitter instead. I still have my ideas on cars, but I'd prefer to share them in a few words. I don't know whether there will be new posts in the near future but Twitter seems quite comfortable to me. So keep updated by following me or just checking out updates in the column to the right.

Also, non-car issues will be available, too!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Strictly Stock Mileage

A few weeks ago we were to learn that NASCAR driver Carl Edwards had driven his Ford Fusion Hybrid to a distance of 1445.7 miles that covers an 81.5 mpg. Which is great. Then VW’s SEAT repeated the success reaching 970.6 miles with one tank of diesel (i.e. 12.03 gallons) in an Ibiza model, which suggests a very similar outcome: 81.1 mpg. Though neither of them could beat the Honda Insight’s 106.2 mpg I started thinking… Hey, actually it would make a great race! Thus I started working out the details.

Ford asking Mr. Edwards for this eco-run twisted up my imagination because NASCAR is known for its budget-economy (compared to other series with the same success) but mileage is measured by great races i.e. Daytona 500, for example. Well, to be honest racing in general is not about being conscious about the vehicle’s fuel consumption but has affecting roles sometimes. In addition, Ford has the Fusion in the NASCAR league but ironically it doesn’t have anything to do with the one Mr. Edwards was driving the other day. Actually neither of the cars in the top ’stock’ class does. Even the Chevrolet Impala SS is now a FWD along with the Fusion and the Toyota Camry although the SS has a V8 engine at least. It is the Dodge Charger that has the most to relate to its racing ’variant’ for it is a RWD and has a V8 under the hood. Also, note that the motors all NASCAR racecars run with are based on the ones MOPAR developed many-many years ago for the series, so again it’s one credit plus for the Charger’s validity. But still, let’s face it: the current ’Sprint Cup Series’ is just a blatant parody of the spirit of the late ’Simply Stock’ category despite the fact that the ’Sprint’ is the direct legal descendant of it. Now here comes the idea: why not bring the ’Stock’ category back with actual stock cars combining the race with eco-factors?

OK, here’s the deal: yet the whole hybrid-fever is just a flash in the consumption race. It has a lot more to develop, still. People in America relax their consciousness by believing that they can save the industry and the Earth by converting the cars to hybrid. Unfortunately not up to the point when it is relevant. You see you can convert ANY car to an eco-ride by not travelling in it alone but filling it up with people. Also, proper shifting, clutching, braking, pre-planning can save you literally GALLONS of fuel while all the flashy engine upgrades like start-stop automatics can save just a few onuces. People just need to be aware that it is DRIVING and ATTITUDE that makes the ride ECONOMIC to the most percents, NOT the CAR itself. That is what Mr. Edwars had proved the audience with his ride, but Ford tends to attribute it to their achievement with the Fusion itself. Disproof: the SEAT Ibiza diesel that has been just mentioned above.

So the greatest advertisement for eco-driving would ironically be a race running with stock cars. Just imagine: running the street equivalents of the NASCAR-representatives on the same tracks, like Daytona, Bristol, Talladega, Martinsville. Amount of fuel teams could use during a race weekend (or more likely in the final run itself) would be limited below the level the race could have been achieved by putting the pedal to the metal. Also, while pitting, just a maximum limited amount of fuel should be filled into the tank along with a much smaller tank inserted into the cars than they actually have thus forcing teams to work out strategy much carefully concerning fast/eco driving and periods of pitting making the day more exciting.

Of course the cars should have all necessary safety equipments (like rollcages, electricity-disengagement system, racing tires and maybe suspension as well, etc.) to avoid drivers’ injuries to the most with the extension that the car should weigh the same as the ’street’ version (so some stock equipments, like backseats or A/C system could be removed) along with they being street legal in all states in America. And finally: DON’T TOUCH THE ENGINE! Although there is a lot more to consumption than the engine itself most prominently – weight, that is why the stock weight of the car should be retained and like I said, driving that is the core of the whole race, the stock engine is a key in reliability as well. Also, drivers saving fuel during the weekend could get extra points for their economic driving, the more saved the more scored.

Would people be interested in such a thing? Sure! The interesting thing is that despite the fact everybody is aware of the fact that NASCAR cars do not have a bit to do with the ones running outside the track, they are still highly popular because of their stock looks. However the big question today is not how fast the average street car can run but rather it is expensive to maintain, or not. Thus making up a series like that (highly expressing the fact that economy is in the feet) would be more true to the original spirit of Stock Car Racing.

Please vote on the right if you like the idea!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Recycled Performance Badge

If I were the Emperor from Star Wars, I would start this article as „there is a great disturbance in the Force”. But you don’t have to be a Jedi or a Sith to sense the consuming budget crisis, we are in the midst of it thus everyone is exposed to it.

Even cars.

Now, there are rumors around the Globe that Chrysler would cease to exist for good but currently they are in a discussion with Fiat for future cooperating, also, the Italian manufacturer is in talks with Opel for the German GM „embessador” is threatened by bankruptcy. Vauxhall, however seems to be fitted by GM’s promise that they will be converted to post-Daewoo Chevrolet producers, nothing is official yet.

However, the first two official victims of the crisis has already named: first Saturn then Pontiac.

The good news: concerning Saturn, in the past years it had been recorded as the „Opel-in-America” brand, its death actually means good for muscle-enthusiasts: in GM’s reorganization it seems Buick will take Saturn’s position as the rumor says. And you already know what I’m thinking, right?

In China, the latest model, the Insignia is being sold as the Buick Regal. Mind that, the upscaled versions of the Insignia come with V6 Turbo engines, the top one with all-wheel drive. See if we can get a Buick Grand National in the not too distant future! And the Opel Insignia OPC/Vauxhall Insignia VXR is soon to be out on market thus the potential GN has already arrived.

The bad news is that the late performance division of GM had been on diet for the past years and have not been produced anything relevant except the rebadged Holden Monaro, sold as the Pontiac GTO… Mind that, that was the car that revived our modern muscle-car craze. I mean you could get SS versions of various Chevrolets before the GTO as well, but the return of the legendary nameplate marked the revival of the muscle car era for good for these three letters had been worn by the first ever muscle car. It was followed by the retro-designed Mustang, the revived Charger and Challenger and currently the brand new Camaro…

…which set high anticipations for people being hungry for a new Trans Am, but this dream has ended forever. Although ASC was clever enough to grab the opportunity and we were able to have a look at a concept a few days ago that showed a redesigned Camaro fitted with a new front and back-panels to resemble a new Trans Am. Such as the Cuda versions of new Challengers I guess this again will be realized because no one has ever forgotten Burt Reynolds or the Hoff…

So you might be sorry that you cannot afford the brand new Camaro even without the Trans Am package but fear not! There are plenty of cars out there waiting for YOU to have them rebadged to Pontiac!

Let’s take the most immediate examples first, the two most well-known: the GTO and the Trans Am. The Opel Kadett E that were also sold as Daewoo Racer and Vauxhall Astra as well were badged as Pontiac LeMans on the US market. The Pontiac LeMans is the key to all American muscle cars: first it was a trim package for the Tempest just to be turned into a new model. Later on the LeMans also got a performance package: the GTO. Yes, it is the father of the first muscle car making the ugly-looking Kadett related to the Holden Monaro. Kadetts are no longer sold but its successor has a great fame all around the world. As it was sold in Britain so it was run further on: under the Astra nameplate. All over the globe the Astra was badged under all the trademarks of GM: Opel, Vauxhall, Chevrolet, Holden, Saturn and it is being rumored that this will be the first Opel to be sold under the Buick badge in North America. Following the analogy: if the GTO was a somewhat successor and empowered version of the LeMans then it means that the Opel OPC/Vauxhall VXR IS the current GTO! Right? Just like the Insignia OPC being the Grand National. Or followed by another analogy: the GSi version of the Kadett is again a performance package so tell me what it is? Yes, it is a GTO once yet!

To add another twist to it: the Daewoo Racer had its own successors as well. First, the Daewoo Lanos that was followed by the Kalos, which is the current Chevrolet Aveo that is also named as Pontiac G3 and Wave. Analogy again: these SHOULD be the GTO but they are just not: neither of them has performance packages… that is a luck!

Ultimately the winners of this round are the Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra GSi, the Opel Astra OPC/Vauxhall Astra VXR/Holden Astra HSV and the Holden Astra GSi/South-African Opel Astra GSi.

You can also badge almost everything to Pontiac that had something to do with GM. Suzukis, some Toyotas one Honda, Isuzu and so on. Any today’s Chevrolet can turned into some Pontiac if it is an upscaled version. You just have to be a little cunning and make up some floppy ideas.

There is one problem though: you will not be able to convert anything to Trans Am. The problem is, that both the Camaro and the Firebird were build on the F-platform. There are numerous cars built on the Zeta-platform but the Camaro is iconic. It is inseperable from the Trans Am and vice versa.

Are you willing to revive that has been lost? I’m afraid the performance-car industry is in danger. There is nothing in-between ultimate supercars and compact vehicles. Don’t let it go!
Right, Mr. Racer X?

„Kid, go-faster stripes won’t do a thing. Power is power!”

Good for you, you get any car you want…

You can read this article at this address as well:

Friday, 8 May 2009

Supercar Mayhem

OK, here's the fact: there won't be any supercars in this post. I mean there will be, just in case someone was to sue me othervise, but this article is all about dreams.

There's a budget crisis going on in the world right now but I'm pretty sure this won't mean the end of supercar-manufacturers. Maybe they will sell one less a year because some businessman got so overwhelmed by the fear that he would lose everything that he chose committing suicide in the meantime. RIP.

Now, us, "normal" people generally just dream of ownership of either of these so we start putting posters on the wall or ridiculous spoilers on our family car in which we normally carry around our relatives, pets, furniture, anger and misery. If we get rid of all these we may step some away from the car closing one eye and start thinking. After around 17 minutes the fortunate ones come up with the conclusion: "Hey, my vehicle IS a supercar!"

Actually this is a personal experience and I am convinced about my hypothesis for about 43% so I am ready to share this revelation with you if you are prepared mentally and spiritually in order to make your life happier not seeing an ugly brick in the parking lot anymore but the shiniest red car ever built... Just like the Hot Wheels or Matchbox models you used to carry around everywhere you went.

Deep breath and here we travel into Zen!

So let's take my car. It's a 1998 Ford Escort CLX. 1.4 liter engine, silver color, completely stock hatchback outfit and front wheel drive. Now, Ford is one of the greatest car company ever, they invented mass production, durability and the color black. They also participate or participated in every motorsport that has been on Earth, just to mention some: Formula 1, NASCAR, WRC, GT car racing, Le Mans, touring car, etc.

Now have a look at my triumphant car: it is just a bloody boring chariot! I mean, no wonder that this was the last year of the Escort and was replaced by the highly exciting Focus. There is just no way to emphasise the designers absoulte lack of ideas any further than this (however this is not 100% true). And it does not have power. 75 bhp with 1100 kgs mass does not sound that tragic, but it feels more like 55. There is no sense of torque inside.

So what is so good about it? Take a closer look. The first two generations of the Escort were a legend in Europe. One of the best handling cars ever produced. Or I should put it this way: the most exciting one, making rally history. You got the same, basic experience as in a Lada just in a much more sophisticated way. But let's return to the current model: "it's an FWD so the thrill is gone for good" you might think, but that is not exactly true. Obviously it's not a race car, but it has quite stiff suspentions, at least it is handier in corners than it's contemporary rivels. Take it into a roundabout or a 180 degree turn and you'll see!

Does it make it a supercar? Yes! Most supercars are known of great handling and grip in corners, the rest of them are called dragsters without appeal.

Moving on to the engine you don't get great sound or exciting power. What you get is much different: the motor inside is called "CVH", which stands for "Compound Valve angle Hemispherical combustion chamber". Said what? Hemispherical? Meaning H-E-M-I? Yes, it's a HEMI, for all holy cows' sake! The perfect muscle car engine! The engine that made American car industry immortal since the 60s. Coming straight from the ovals of NASCAR from Chrysler actually, it dominates all American motorsports. You can find these in NHRA Top Fuels as well. It's all Dodge. Whether it is painted as a Toyota or Chevrolet, it has the Dodge engine underneath. But this one comes from Ford. Half a muscle car engine concerning the size of cylinders, otherwise it would be just one-fourth of it...

And there is more: the 1.6 liter version was put into the Morgan 4/4, which is a classically stylished, handcrafted British luxurious roadster. I mean, the greatest supercars come from Britain and they are all handcrafted.
So a muscle car's engine in a classic roadster still makes the Escort a supercar again. But it's not over yet!

Come closer to the back: what's underneath the window? It is a rear spoiler. A wing! Of course, other cars have these kind of spoilers as well, but which family hatchback has such a beautifully designed rear wing?

It's like you were looking at the rear of the Ford GT or a Mustang Fastback.

Moreover this car has a Cosworth version as well. Cosworth! Engine supplier to WRC and Formula One! How can you top that?

So in the end I have to say, this car is the ultimate supercar ever produced! Starts as a muscle car, ends as a supercar and in between it's a family hatchback, and the hole thing together is one of the greatest rally cars.

Any appeal, Mr. Racer X?

"You are pathetic, kid!"

Oh, shut up!

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Piccolo Turismo

Well, a few weeks ago I happened to be informed about playing the nameless hero of the vintage movie 'The Driver'. I had to pick up a car, perform my duty and take it to its destination. 'Normally' that would mean to park outside of a bank, wait for the robbers to rush out and get away as quick as possible as in 'The Transporter' or 'The Italian Job'.

To be honest, it wasn't a bank. It was a Jury. And in front of the jury I had... The astonishing Maserati Gran Turismo. A piece of art on four wheels, a liquid dream gliding on the streets. Shining in red, it was THE ultimate car at the moment. Now, in a hard chase I would deifnately feel sorry for the car and stop in the midst of an ambush just to save the machinery, that's why I got the purposeful ride for this mission: to take quick corners, cut through tight exits and move as dynamically as possible. Right, that must be the John Cooper Mini, I guess, can't wait!

But... What is this? There's no Mini parking here, and there is no such ridiculous mission to complete. It is only my unsatisfied ego speaking hungry for some adrenaline. In fact, the mission was to buy the car and take it to another place where it would stay. And the car happened to be...

... a Polski Fiat 126? How? I couldn't even lose an eco-driver Prius in a straight line-street. And I wouldn't be able to hide any score in the so-called 'car' either, nor a bank-robber if I wanted to. Being sad, I signed the contract and tried to cheer myself up convincing myself about its worthiness.

There are millions of these still reigning the roads here and there. The car that was even more successful in its 'afterlife', under the 'Polski Fiat' badge rather than its Italian origin. Well, of course back in the day you could get about 7 kind of cars altogether in the Communist barracks, no wonder it sold well. Also, it was affordable, easily sustainable and mechanically straightforward as a brick.

For all the car-enthusiasts: this one is an air-cooled 2-cylinder rear-mounted four-stroke. The sound resembles pretty much to a boxer engine. Every ingredients are here to claim, we've got a downscale Porsche, but be not that cheerful, its power is somewhere between the airwaves a bee makes while coughing and what an electric razor produces with rundown batteries...

Sitting in the car, you'll notice that there 'are' place for 4 people, or rather 2 people and 2 dwarfs cut in two for more practical variability. Contemporary jokes about the car said that this was the most quiet one ever produced. Because you had the chance to block your ears with your knees while driving...
So much said, let's start the engine and set off. In early versions of this, you'll still find the ignition right at the handbrake. Inserting the key you pull the little arm down below thus getting you started. Almost like a Ferrari!

Speeding up makes you a little nervous. The speedometer feels like it was calibrated to imperial measures rather than metric. You start to get the same excitement from 60 hm/h rather than 100 as in CARS. You'll feel all the details of the ground. Every little hump will be experienced as a jump in a rally car. Steering gets a little bit fuzzy, the enormous wheel gets you no sense about the direction the car actually is heading. A 100 km/h is definately a kamikaze action, mind that, the whole capsule feels more like a bombshell than a driveable 4-wheeler.

But wait until ice covers the roads! There you will find this little bastard's true identity. You will get the best world of all Minis and RWD cars. The 'Scandinawian Flick' would have never invented if Mr. Aaltonen was driving a Fiat 126 instead a Mini. Get a compact car,that's the size of a shopping cart, take it around the slippery corner WITH POWERSLIDE! Amazing! Of course, there's a little exaggaration there, but who cares? This is all what the Mini lacks! Mind that, it is horsepower the 126 lacks, but tell you what: you make an engine swap and you will get one of the most miserable cars ever, and you will drive the ultimate fun car on the other hand...

Get one! Tune it! Go for it! Buy it! Drive it! Feel it! Just add horsepower to it and there will be no further competitors besides WRCs and Quattros for life.

Still not interested?

Then hello, dear Western World, you just missed the ultimate driving chance of your life...

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Battle of All Time – Darth Vader vs. The Terminator part 1

I’ve just learned a few days ago on the Internet that the majestic state of California plans to ban all future black vehicles off its roads for they are more dangerous for the environment than the rest of the cars shining in the colors of the rainbow or bleached to endless white… Yes, it is the filthy color of black that betrayed all environment-protecting efforts and clouds the promising future of toxic-free transportation. I had tormentous nightmares about the color in subject and came up with notions that define the topic i.e. doom, terror, filth, aggression, darkness, evil, blackening and most of all: Darth Vader’s breath.
Oh, yes I forgot to mention the reason if you wouldn’t know: black cars tend to heat up more quickly and more intense in the sun. And as we know there is much, much sun shining in the state, which is also the main reason why Hollywood settled on the West coast ridges. Now the other main cause of air-pollution is… guess what, air pollution! Well, not 100 percently, but quite reasonably.
In California (mainly in LA area) you will face clouds of smoke deriving mainly from cars in traffic. So, if there is hot outside most of the time and in case you couldn’t get a gasp of fresh air because of other gases coming out straight of the other vechicles’ pipes, the logic solution would be to close all windows and set the air conditioning on high level. And yes, air conditioning is being functioned straight from engine power that coerces the power-plant to burn more fuel in order to maintain kinetic force thus producing more unwanted gases, ta-dah!
This makes me think about the reasonability and sense of producing smaller, more efficient cars in the US but I guess that would be an absolutely nonsense thought. So let’s ban color black! Okay,way to go, California! But if you do that I will have a favor to be done. Please erase all black cars from your Hollywood movies forever and retroactively!
The idea behind it was to collect the coolest vehicles from American movies and television shows and make one realize the loss that the absense of these would produce. Let’s see…

Buick GNX – Fast & Furious
Let’s start with Vin Diesel’s latest flick. A real American muscle. Two doors, 4-seater, sedan execution and most importantly the mighty V8 in the front end… oh, wait, hold on a second… 1, 2, 3… 6 cylinders? Someone must have stolen two of them. But wait, what’s that? A turbocharger? Oh, boy it sure isn’t a muscle car! Supercharger on a V8 would be fine, but turbocharger on a V6? And still calling it a muscle car? And it was made in the 80s! No one ever built muscle cars in the 80s (sic!). Well, it may not be a strict follower of traditions but this one is one of the most iconic and advanced muscle cars of all time…
The GNX was developed from the existing Grand National that was based on the Regal T-type. To keep up with power GM didn’t fit the car with the traditional V8 but rather upscaled the production line’s most finest V6 with force induction making it uniquely special. But this one was just still the Grand National. Less than a thousand was sent to McLaren for a little bit of more tuning, creating the GNX. The 80s were crushing times for high performance vehicles in the USA, more than the 70s. But 80s cars had a great advantage: they were shaped with an axe or probaby with a chainsaw hence making them look like a brick… A sexy, masculine brick. Also, the GNX came only in one color: black. These two main factors lead to people calling it the „Darth Vader car”. Also, what GM never dared to admit was the fact that this car was the fastest of their production line… and then Corvette would had been second making it less desireable. Still not iconic muscle car? Well, have a bath then… only mix it with a huge amount of cement… Too bad, Vin Diesel 'only' drove the Grand National...

Dodge Charger – Bullitt
Yes, yes! Everyone remembers one of the most genuine car chase ever and at the time everyone fell in love with the dark green Ford Mustang GT fastback Steve McQueen was driving. Ladies because it was Steve McQueen driving it and gentlemen because of… well, Steve McQueen was driving it! Everyone wanted to be like or be with Steve McQueen. Well, to be honest the GT fastback is also one of the sexiest American cars ever produced. Ever! But what the audience didn’t know were all behind the scenes. The Mustang was made to look cool and it’s counterpart, the baddies newly produced Charger was created for the racetrack. On the streets of San Francisco the Charger proved to be the last car standing while the Mustang was kept fixing up all the time. The Charger. Straight from the NASCAR tracks. Built for speed, designed to last forever. It had all the ingredients that define a muscle car and added such a unique flavor setting up such a high standard by we measure all muscle cars today. Unfortunately, the golden age was over right then…

Pontiac Firebird Trans Am – Knight Rider
Nowadays it is a natural phenomenon to have warning signals in our car on a lady’s gentle voice and to be directed to yet uncharted territories by the navigation system in another hot lady’s voice. But not int he 80s. The KITT is every boys’ dream. Streamlined shape with all futuristic gadgets that imagination could produce. The 80s Trans Am opened a new era of sports cars and was made an eternal icon by the TV show. Of course some of the technical achievements that were built in the car may now look cheesy, but no one would ever forget about the most important button, the ’Turbo Boost’. Huge leaps were performed by it making „The Dukes of Hazzard” look like some old-fashioned bedtime tale. This car was driven under the same, extreme conditions as the General Lee but it looked way cooler. Into the pot with it!

Chevrolet Bel Air 1955 – American Graffiti
Bob Falfa drives his ’55 Chevy on the streets of Modesto, California one late summer evening just to fight with John Milner’s yellow 3-window ’32 Ford Coup. The challenge is ultimately set and bad luck for Falfa he meets the ditch. But everyone knows, even Milner that if not for losing control, Falfa could have easily beaten him. Interestingly, the car used for shooting is the repainted, restored version of the one used in the movie ’Two-lane Blacktop’.

Pontiac Firebird Trans Am – Smokey & The Bandit
The ancestor of KITT became an icon the wrong time and place. ’Smokey and The Bandit’ was the only competitor of Star Wars at the time, so more kids fell in love with the Millenium Falcon or an X-wing fighter than Burt Reynold’s Trans Am. Firebird on the hood, targa roof and CB speaker made this vehicle one of the most desireable cars of the late 70s, not even mentioning its style.

Porsche 964 Turbo – Bad Boys
Will Smith and Martin Lawrence cruise down on the streets of Miami keeping nodding to the rhythm of ’Bad Boys’ then beat a Cobra on the runway. The unofficial queen of the Porsche production line gets style and fury into the movie. Also, this vehicle is one of the main cars driven in the manga/anime/live action series ’Wangan Midnight’.

To be continued...

Monday, 6 April 2009

Under Construction

Welcome to the international edition of "Shiny Red Cars". Please be patient!