Friday, 31 October 2008

Sledgehammer & scalpel

Short but sweet... a little vid I took at the Goodwood Festival of Speed a couple of years ago. Richard Petty's Chevy is apocalyptically loud.

...and as a counterpoint to that brute force, here's a precision machine at the top of the hill - a WRC Hyundai.

Both incredible in very, very different ways.

Saxo musings

The Citroen Saxo isn't a bad little thing. Cheap, light, chuckable, pretty swift in VTS guise... little wonder it's been the darling of the modifying scene since its introduction in 1996.

The simple lines and squat proportions respond well to carefully-chosen mods, and there's a wealth of options out there... the best results come from a nice set of wheels and a gentle tap with the lowering stick. Keep it simple.

However, it's very easy to get it wrong. Some people try way too hard and end up looking ridiculous...

...and sadly, a lot of Saxos you see on the road today look like this. Total bunch of arse.

Oh dear, oh dear. See, if you're going to do it, you have to do it properly. Look up - that's shit. Look down - that's what you should do.

Much underrated colour, brown. And those wheels are sex on a stick.

'Get the wheels in line, get the wheels in line!'

It's always nice to see a well-executed resto job. But how often do you see it done to a classic coach? This gorgeous '67 Bedford is a superb replica of the Italian Job getaway bus, and it's a real labour of love. The headlight panel alone represents over 60 hours of pre-paint prep work, and the bespoke interior is an exquisitely crafted mix of English oak and cherrywood. Astounding.

More photos here.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Dream garage

There's a constantly evolving list in my head of all the cars I'll need to buy when my lottery numbers come up - Dodge Challenger SRT, Alfa Romeo 8C, mkI Lotus Cortina, Ferrari 599GTB, mkII Escort RS2000, Spyker C8 Laviolette, Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda, '73 911 Carrera RS... to be honest, there are hundreds. I'd like to think my dream garage would end up looking something like this one.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The joy of six

Austin Healey 3000 takes 29 cars in two laps... and sounds astonishing doing it.

Posh dumbass totals Mini

From the Telegraph:
Student wrecks Mini in 'Italian Job' prank

The Bristol University student, a former Harrow schoolboy, spent a night in jail after he drove his new £10,000 Mini up a flight of steps.

But the prank backfired after he crashed the car, which was given to him the day before by his parents, causing the radiator to blow up, the two front tyres to burst and both airbags to explode.

Six security staff, two police cars and a helicopter were sent to arrest the 18-year-old for drink-driving at 1am. A second student escaped from the car at Bristol University's Wills Hall.

The two students had been driving round campus during a 20-minute "rampage", driving over pavements and lawns.

The driver was charged with drink-driving and released on Monday after students complained to the police.

One said: "What a prat. He said he was out of his head and wanted to recreate the Italian Job. The car conked out and it's in a right state. He made himself look an idiot. His parents had faces like thunder. Most people would love a car like that."

He has only been at the university a month and faces being sent down.

A police spokesman said: "He tried to recreate the Italian Job – but in the film they don't get caught."

The movie starred Michael Caine in a plot to steal gold by causing a traffic jam in Turin.

Shell's classic Ferrari F1 ad

Quite simply, the most glorious advert ever made. Turn your speakers up (particularly at 0m49s).

Created by JWT, March 2007.

Countach in the basement

We all aspire to supercar ownership, most of us in the knowledge that we'll never be able to afford the car of our dreams.
Wisconsin's Ken Imhoff, however, took the initiative to do something about it. Having fallen in love with the Lamborghini Countach in Cannonball Run, he decided to build one. From scratch. In his basement.
It took an improbable amount of time and effort (the body panels, for example, were all hand-formed by Ken from sheet aluminium), and part of the foundations of the house had to be removed to get the finished car out.
The results speak for themselves - the basement Lambo is a labour of love, and Imhoff is nothing short of heroic. Click here to read the story.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Love for the unloved - Volvo 340

Never a tremendously desirable car, the 340. They've got the old man image, with none of the 'ooh, but it's a great tow car, and the kids'll be safe' pub kudos.

This is a good thing. You can pick them up for scrap money now - strip out the interior, drop in a Renault 1.8 16v engine (they pretty much bolt straight in) and knock it sideways. They're rear wheel drive, y'know...

A thousand words.

Sometimes all you need is one picture.

Minivans: spacious

American minivans are surprisingly commodious...

Let's off-road!

You've probably seen this monster Hillman Imp 4x4 kicking around - here's some info.

And now this mad bastard has just popped up on eBay - a '77 Celica on a Hilux chassis. Epic.

Superformance MKIII-R

Let's be honest - Cobra replicas vary wildly in quality, from faithful nut-and-bolt big-money recreations with perfect dimensions and epic V8s, to ropey fibreglass backstreet knockups with Sierra running gear and shutlines you could walk through.

Behold the Superformance MKIII-R - the only Cobra replica to be endorsed by Carroll Shelby himself.

It's got a 576bhp Roush-spec V8. It's got five on the floor. It's got gargantuan Wilwood brakes. And it's achingly beautiful.

Simon McKinley is God.

No intro necessary. This is just... legendary.

'Shorting Break'

We do, of course, owe much to Alec Issigonis. His brilliant and ingenious Mini scarcely needs its significance reiterating here, but it's not just the manner in which the little car revolutionised the car industry that needs to be remembered. The Mini has always been squarely positioned at the very zenith of modifying culture too - people turn them into racers, dragsters, camper vans, rat rods, off-roaders... you name it, it's been done. So how do you create a truly unique Mini, given that someone's bound to have come up with pretty much any concept your brain can come up with?

How about this one?

It's a lovely example of a classic Mini...

...with a hot supercharged A-series...

...and a superb interior...

...with Countryman-style rear doors!

Now that is different.

Build thread here.

Cavalier nostalgia

My folks had a lot of cool cars when I was a nipper, most of which there's no evidence of any more. The '82 Saab 900 Turbo, the '84 Alfa 33 Gold Cloverleaf, the '90 Rover Vitesse, the '82 Citroen CX Pallas... all just faint memories. Imagine my glee in stumbling across this photo - possibly the last remaining shot of DKG 494V - the trusty old family runaround. It's a chrome-and-Rostyle clad 1980 Vauxhall Cavalier 2000 GLS and I like to think that somewhere, somehow, it's still bringing joy to a young and happy family.

I'm fooling myself, obviously. It's definitely bought the farm.

Garlic sushi

What happens when you whip up an unusual blend of French retro metal and Japanese Bosozoku styling cues? Slater's 505 GTi, of course. It's a total Marmite car, and I love it to bits. And he's just sold it for under a grand...

RM Auctions flog more than Andy Saunders

There's been a lot of buzz around the upcoming RM Auctions 'Automobiles of London' auction at the end of October, principally because a load of Andy Saunders stuff (Picasso 2CV, Mentley Insanne, Flat Out etc) will be up for grabs.

However, it's important to remember the other monumentally heart-stopping stuff that'll be auctioned off, including these:
Lamborghini 350GT

Ferrari 288 GTO

Ferrari 250 GT LWB TDF

Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato Recreation
Deep pockets? Take a look.

All change please, all change!

So, time for a change. I'm fiddling with the format of this blog a little bit.

Everything you see below - that's the old format. I love it, but I don't tend to update it that often. Everything above - that's the new idea. Little and often, the car-related stuff that piques my interest. Theme? Pure SuckSqueezeBangBlow - if I think it's cool, it's in. And that's about as complicated as it gets...

Friday, 17 October 2008

Classic - RenaultSport Clio V6

One of the most gratifying sensations in the emotional lexicon is that of surprise. A subverted expectation, a twist on perspective – both the heart and the brain love to be confounded. A builder atop the glinting scaffolding, arse-crack proudly prominent, humming a mezzo-soprano aria from The Marriage of Figaro. A ratty teen in a hoodie and baseball cap helping an old lady from the bus. A badger on a unicycle. Weirdness inspires us.

Renault have always run rather a special line in surprising weirdness. They understand the value of the archetypal hot hatch formula – ballistic, yet understated. Their history is positively bulging at the seams with bonkers little family cars that have been cunningly engineered to be both ridiculously swift and corner-on-rails trustworthy. They’re pretty damn playful too, little Renaults. The original Clio was pimped in Williams form to tear up tarmac with its blingy little gold alloys, but it was the more widely available 16v that brought affordable pocket-sized lunacy to the masses. It echoed the supremely entertaining mkII 5 Turbo and its slightly more deranged mid-engined forefather. The cheeky and enormously underrated 19 16v provided a cunning mix of razor-sharp dynamics, rev-happy four-pot and the luxurious trappings of a large diplomatic saloon. The thing that the saucy Gallic scamps really love to apply to these rockethatches is an external taste of the mundane. These cars deliberately look like your gran’s shopping car. The exemplary race-bred mechanicals speak for themselves.

There’s no more perfect example of the celebrated RenaultSport sub-brand’s ethos than the Clio V6. OK, there’s a very obvious sense of purpose and, hell, menace to it, but if you were to park one outside Starbucks or Ikea you can guarantee that a lot of people would see nothing more than a Clio and not give it a further thought. These people are clearly idiots, but there are a lot of stupid people in the world. This is a good thing. It allows us informed types to enjoy the brilliance of technology without their annoying questions ruining the fun. However, you’d be an idiot yourself to take a V6 Clio to Ikea… there’s nowhere to put anything. But that’s kind of the point.

The basic Clio is, in essence, a hugely sensible car. It’s compact yet spacious, economical and reliable, inexpensive, well-built, cheap to run – it’s everything a hatchback should be. The RenaultSport Clio turns all of that on its head. There is nothing sensible whatsoever about the V6. Nothing. The engine is where the back seats should be (as any F430 or Cayman driver will tell you, this is the best position an engine can physically be in to ensure ideal handling dynamics), the boot is under the bonnet and is just large enough to fit a toothbrush and a pair of pants, it guzzles fuel like Gazza attacks his Oddbins breakfast and it will try to kill you at any given opportunity. These are driven by people with balls the size of cantaloupes.

The engine originated from the Laguna and was tweaked to produce 227bhp. Given that converting a small front-engined front wheel drive car to a mid-engined rear wheel drive one involves rather a lot of extra technological gubbins, the V6 model weighs some 300kg more than the regular sporty Clio, the rather more mainstream 172 Cup. For this reason, it wasn’t significantly faster than its simpler sibling, with a 0-60 time of 6.2 seconds for the former playing 6.7 for the latter. That’s not really the purpose of the exercise though; the V6 was never supposed to be the quickest hot hatch in the world. It’s just a fuck-you car. Renault wanted to build the only mid-engined hatchback in the world, so they did. It really is that simple.

Yeah, it’s unnecessarily obtuse. The slightest mist of moisture on the asphalt and it’ll flip you round and hurl you backwards into a tree, forcing the engine into your spine. The turning circle is akin to that of the Exxon Valdez, and you’ll be doing well to see over 20mpg. It will take every possible opportunity to smash your internal organs to pieces… and you’ll love every second of it.

You see, there’s a marvellous surprise hidden within the V6 Clio. Sitting behind one at the lights, Mrs Average Housewife will perhaps wonder for a moment why that Clio looks a little wider than they normally do. And suddenly it won’t be there any more, replaced by two thick black rubbery lines and a faint whiff of adrenalin. Hatchbacks shouldn’t behave that way. It’s shocking, it’s marvellous and it’s very, very naughty.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Classic - Rover 216 Vitesse

We have a lot to thank the Japanese for. They’re an industrious little archipelago, collectively counting the introduction of raw fish into the western diet and the practice of drunkenly serenading your friends in nightclubs amongst their many achievements. They gave us animé. They’re really good at flying fighter planes. Their mobile phones make ours look like the inexpert handiwork of Jacobean peasants. They make wine out rice and, against all the odds, it isn’t disgusting. They’re generally quite short so they’re not irritating to sit behind in the cinema. And, of course, their cars are pretty damn good. It’s commonly acknowledged that Nippon rides are more reliable, less problematic and better built than their overseas rivals. It’s also true that, historically speaking, they’ve consistently pioneered technological automotive advancement to an extent that made the rest of the world blush mightily and hide behind their live axles and rapidly dissolving steel.

Little surprise, then, that an impoverished Rover drew upon the know-how of the rising sun when they were looking to build a replacement for the Triumph Acclaim. (A Rover replacing a Triumph? Welcome to the Byzantine structure of British Leyland in the eighties…) The Acclaim, of course, was based on the Honda Ballade – in ignominious end for Triumph, one might argue – and BL saw no reason to dick about with the formula. The Rover 200-series was based on the second-generation Ballade, with just enough parts nailed on in the UK to meet British component-content requirements. The collaboration agreement between Honda and British Leyland had been signed in 1979 (with the Acclaim being produced from 1981-4), so the relationship was sufficiently strong to roll out the thinly-veiled EuroBallade in 1984, Rover’s Viking longship proudly glued to the nose. The positioning of the new four-door saloon was supposedly to sit in the model line-up alongside the Maestro and Montego as an upmarket alternative. If you have first-hand experience of these three models, you’ll be aware that this is the kind of logic that might lead to the conclusion that Jordan is an upmarket version of Jodie Marsh but hey, BL didn’t have time to be logical – there was national pride in industry to restore!

Unfortunately, in the quest for a quick entry into the quasi-upmarket family car world, credibility was somewhat compromised by their endearingly childish compulsion to get the car into showrooms without really thinking it through. They weren’t overly concerned with rustproofing for one thing, and the fact that the 200-series was pressed from magical Russian steel that turned into miniature fireworks when it came within ten feet of an arc welder provides a very good reason why you really don’t see that many of them around these days. They rusted, they couldn’t be repaired, they got crushed and forgotten. Indeed, the model seems to live on solely as Hyacinth Bucket’s light blue runabout, which is a very depressing legacy indeed.

The car was available in two iterations: the 213 and the 216. The former came equipped with Honda’s triple-valve 1.3-litre engine, while the latter came with Rover’s 1.6-litre S-series in either carburetted 85bhp guise or with Lucas injection and 101bhp. The Honda unit was more refined but ultimately pretty sluggish, while the S-Series was a woefully archaic lump that traced its roots back to the Austin Maxi. The car was surprisingly warmly received by the motoring press, who overlooked the questionable ride quality and downright frightening handling in the wet, possibly because they were provided with the swanky Vanden Plas model which had leather seats and electric windows, just like a posh car. Favourable reviews led demand to outstrip supply, so that punters had to join a waiting list for their 200-series.

British Leyland were flourishing in the face of potential catastrophe, and in 1985 they played their trump card – the 216 Vitesse was launched. It came equipped with uprated suspension for a more controlled and less terrifying ride, huggy sports seats, pseudo-aerodynamic addenda at both ends and fancy latticed alloy wheels. The pedestrian saloon could now boast a fine sporting pedigree… Now, slapping a Vitesse badge on the back did draw inevitable comparisons with the SD1 Vitesse and, to be honest, the 216 just couldn’t match up to the hype. The Rover SD1 looked like a pie-chomping Ferrari Daytona and the Vitesse model had a barnstorming 3500cc V8, while the 216 Vitesse just had that weedy 1600cc four-pot. It got pissed all over by the XR3i too, but the discerning 216 driver could take solace in the fact that he was a few rungs up the social strata above the Dagenham hoi palloi. OK, this wasn’t actually the case, but the fake wooden door inserts and beige plastics sort of created that impression to the more deluded and impressionable motorist, which is basically the same thing.

So… poor build quality, unimpressive reliability, short lifespan, underwhelming performance, delusions of grandeur – a chapter of motoring history that deserves sweeping under the carpet? Well no, not really. You see, BL’s tie-in with Honda really helped push the Rover brand to the masses in the mid-eighties. Alright, they weren’t brilliant, but they weren’t expensive either, and people were used to shonky quality from British cars – it was easy to conveniently ‘forget’ the Japanese assistance when the cars where still assembled at Rover’s Longbridge plant, so folk could take pride in buying British. The 216 Vitesse was the jewel in the series’ crown, appealing both to young upstarts who wanted something a little out of the ordinary and to the pipe-and-slippers old farts who were still clinging to a rose-tinted view of domestic industrial triumph and honest-to-goodness imperialism. And it had a jazzy rubber spoiler on the boot, like an RS2000, which is just about as cool as you need to be.
Just you try finding one today though. In hindsight, maybe Honda should have supplied the bodywork too…