Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Ferrari Testarossa

Produced between 1984-96, the Ferrari Testarossa is the archetypal red-braces symbol of eighties supercar excess - imagine it parked up in the City between a Countach and a 930 Turbo, its slash-cut side-strakes glinting in the light. It's an impressive image, but one that's anchored in a time period that, frankly, is a little embarrassing.

Which is a shame for the Testarossa... but not for anyone who might be in the market to buy one. You see, the image has unduly damaged the reputation of the flat-twelve-engined behemoth but, when all's said and done, it's still a Ferrari, and an immediately recognisable one at that. Being born in Maranello guarantees four things: 1) fabulous performance, 2) unparallelled handling, 3) exemplary build quality and 4) that wherever you go, people will be impressed.
But because the Testarossa image is rather Gordon Gekko these days, you can pick one up for around £35,000. That's the price of a new Mercedes SLK, for example. And what do you get for your money? A 4.9-litre all-alloy flat-twelve producing 390bhp and 361lb.ft, 0-60mph in 5.2s and a top speed of 181mph.

Of course, the best thing about the Testarossa is that it embodies everything a true supercar should be, in that it's utterly ridiculous. It's far too wide, the visibility is terrible, there isn't an elegant way to get in or out and you'll need to change the cambelt every couple of years, which will involve taking the whole engine out and will cost you two grand a time. All of these points are, of course, positives - if you're in the market for a £35k car, get a Testarossa. Get one now. You had a picture of one on your wall when you were a kid, admit it - now's the time to live out your über-ostentatious supercar fantasies.

Cortina Auto-Bobbing

Jim Clark driving a mkI Cortina down a bobsleigh run. Is this a good idea...?

Yes. Of course it is.

What not to buy

Some vintage TG footage - the world's smuggest man, Quentin Willson, tries to steer you away from such classics as the Ford Scorpio and the, ahem , 'Rover A Hundred', via the most agonisingly cliché-ridden script you've ever heard. Irritatingly hilarious.

Sorry, just how does a falling girder depreciate...? And how can you tell if a bison has a migraine?

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Driven - Ford Focus 1.6

The Ford Focus has a good chassis. Everyone knows that, right? It's a monumental victory - they've made a utilitarian mass-market car that handles, bringing driving joy to the masses.


This was true of the mkI Focus. It handled in a sublime manner - chuckable yet predictable, playful yet planted, with an eager range of powerplants from the little 1600 Zetec through the diesels and up to the top-of-the-line performance models. So the mkII should be more of the same. But it really isn't.

I'll ruin the ending for you right now: there is no twist. This story doesn't end well. The new Ford Focus 1.6 is a fundamentally bad car. So bad, in fact, that when cruising on the motorway it's entirely possible to forget that you're driving it at all. I felt a strong temptation to take my hands off the wheel and grab a magazine from my bag, just for something to do - I didn't feel like I was driving the thing. Thankfully, the thrashy little engine makes a colossal noise at anything above 60mph, so there's no danger of falling asleep.
It's as if every individual element of the driving experience has been pinpointed by Ford and systematically blunted, one by one, to ensure that this is a car that caters specifically for people that have no interest in driving. The steering has a dead-spot an inch and a half wide in the centre, making it genuinely possible to wiggle the wheel from side to side like you're driving the Playbus, with absolutely no reaction from the front wheels. The finesse and poise of the mkI are totally absent - you don't so much corner in this car as waft... and not in the way that you might in a Bentley. You waft in a manner that suggests the spring cups have been stuffed with marshmallows. It's like they've deliberately tried to make it unpleasant and uninvolving. Actually no, unpleasant is too emotive a word. There's just nothing to the way the Focus handles. It's bland. It's beige.

The process of changing gear is agonisingly torturous - a snatchy clutch that seems angry at you for bothering it, mated to a floppy gearbox that has such a comically long throw that changing from third to fourth involves moving the knob a good six or seven inches - and, sadly, you need to do it irritatingly frequently. Why? Because Ford's engineers have inexplicably seen fit to scoop out the innards of the 1.6-litre engine and replace it with something spinny and pointy bearing a Moulinex plaque. And everyone knows that blenders have a stupidly narrow torque band.

The interior is a depressing and bleak place to be. On the plus side, it's hugely spacious, the aircon's pretty good and the stereo is, well, not bad. But there are about thirty different kinds of plastic in there, ranging from the sort you'd find in a tin of biscuits to something you'd expect to have 'Aerobie' emblazoned upon it. It feels like a first-time design study by a group of enthusiastic but misguided sixth-formers on a tight budget, rather than the sort of thing you'd expect to receive in return for 14,000 of your hard-earned pounds. The benefit of this, of course, is that it suitably lowers your expectations - you already know, before turning the key, that the whole experience is going to be a big let-down.

It was a vicious bastard too. The fiddly passenger seatbelt clasp took a sizeable chunk out of my wife's arm (seriously, she's got a scar), while I walked away with a bruised leg from the aggravatingly intrusive driver-door armrest. It clearly hated us as much as we hated it. Still, at least we'd only borrowed the wretched thing - imagine how those poor sods who've actually bought one must feel...

Top Deer

Hyundai in sense-of-humour shocker. Lovely.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Steve McQueen's Porsche 911

In the spring of 1970, Steve McQueen resided in France for a short period while filming the movie 'Le Mans'. While there he ordered himself a brand new Porsche 911S, for use both in the film and for personal countryside blasts. When the movie wrapped up he decided he wanted to keep the car, so he sent it off to Stuttgart for some more US-friendly gear ratios before having it shipped to his California home. However, he already had a '69 911 that he'd spent a small fortune installing a bespoke stereo in - he was that kind of guy - so the new Porsche was surplus to requirements.

Buying it from McQueen in 1971 from a small ad in the LA Times, the new owner used it as a daily driver for the next 34 years before selling it to a local 356 enthusiast. The car is still in its original spec today, featuring all of the options picked out by McQueen four decades ago: air-conditioning, leather seats, tinted windows, Fuchs alloys, driving lamps and US-band Blaupunkt stereo. It hardly needs saying that the man had taste.

Nürburgring 24hr - video

This gorgeously edited video captures the emotion, the excitement and the passion of a gruelling event at arguably the world's least forgiving circuit. Truly a work of art - be sure to watch it in fullscreen.

24 HOURS IN 19500 FRAMES from tim hahne on Vimeo.

Monte Carlo Escort

The mkII Escort is one of SuckSqueezeBangBlow's favourite cars and, as mentioned many times before, won more rallies at world, national and international level than any other car ever, including 17 WRC victories between 1975 and 1981.

One unusual and little-known variant is the Monte Carlo-spec Escort, built in 1978 to campaign in '79. There were three cars built to this spec at Boreham, with super-lightweight hand-fabricated shells. The cars had a much longer and wider track than other competition Escorts, with revised rear axle location and front suspension pick-up points. It's rumoured that the arches were made deliberately huge to try to disguise this fact, with drivers instructed to park away from other Group 4 Escorts in the paddock!
The engines were highly-tuned BDAs with Kugelfischer fuel injection, producing 272bhp, and were chassis-mounted to allow them to sit lower and further back in the body. The cars also featured huge AP Racing brakes, unique ultra-thin window glass and arches substantial enough to allow 10" wide wheels at the front and a faintly ludicrous 13" wide at the rear.

Campaigned by Bjørn Waldergård, Hannu Mikkola and Russell Brooks, they weren't so much rulebreakers as imaginative interpretations of the book. They are extremely sought after today, with Brooks' car currently being offered at an eye-watering £98,500. If that's stretching the budget a bit, Montescort can build you an Escort to full Monte Carlo spec. But at 350+ man-hours per car, it's not going to be cheap...

Jetta on airbags

Simple but effective - take one mkII Volkswagen Jetta, fit a VR6 engine and banded Corrado steels, then let the airbag suspension do the talking. Click here for more.

Focus RS500 at the Nordschleife

There's a lot of speculation surrounding the Focus RS500's prowess. Not only does it have to be worthy of the hallowed RS badge, following a distinguished line of Escorts, Capris and Sierras (OK, and a couple of slightly less good Fiestas), but carrying off the RS500 name is not a task to be taken lightly. The respect and reverence of the Sierra RS500 Cosworth is strong enough to ensure that any car that tries to emulate it, or at least follow competently in its footsteps, needs to be pretty damned impressive.

As we can see from this footage of Mikko Hirvonen throwing it around the Nordschleife, Ford may have just about pulled it off.

His relaxed attitude suggests a rather more forgiving nature than the Sierra RS500... although he is used to throwing monstrous rally cars through forests. We'll have to wait until Ford lend us one before making our own decisions.

Indy 500 wipeout

Mike Conway was spectacularly lucky to survive this with only a broken leg...