Thursday, June 29, 2006

L#29: Them’s the brakes…

In the last couple of weeks I have changed my heel and toe technique. This was, in the spirit of complete disclosure, prompted by the ask the experts section of Evo magazine.

The basic principle of heel and toeing is to match engine speed with road speed and gear selection when braking and downshifting, and you do this by blipping the throttle after you’ve disengaged the higher gear and before you engage the lower one. The heel and toe part refers to the fact that you’re doing this whilst applying the brakes at the same time; although, as it is customary to point out, this is a bit of a misnomer because it’s the ball of your right foot that you use in most modern cars, rolling it from the brake pedal onto the accelerator (the name referring instead to the more vintage variety of motor vehicle, which required you to use the heel of your foot on the throttle while standing on the brake with your toe).

The advantages to employing this “fancy” (it really isn’t) footwork are smoothness – see the way most flappy-paddle gearboxes do this for the driver automatically – and potentially safety, particularly in rear wheel drive cars, as it prevents a disparity between wheel speed and road speed that could have the slightly unfortunate side effect of sending you off the road. It also sounds cool, which, if I’m honest, is probably the principle reason I taught myself how to do it in the first place.

I’ve always been aware that there are two methods – basically the same, but until recently I’ve used the more traditional approach. This includes the additional step of releasing the clutch between gears in time with the throttle blip: double de-clutching as it’s called. I’m not entirely sure what the point is, but having previously been informed this was the “correct” way of going about things, then this was the way I was going to do it. I suspect it puts less stress on the transmission – especially the clutch – but what the hey, you never know until you try the alternatives.

I was pretty happy with this method, even if I didn’t get right quite a lot of the time (still potentially a little jerky), until I read Evo’s John Barker advising someone on the merits of h&t, but without extolling the virtues of the double de-clutch. Simply raise the revs while the clutch is disengaged, he was saying – and I thought, if it’s good enough for him, then it’s good enough for me.

The result is a revelation. As you might expect, this variation is loads faster than the ponderous full monty, but also far smoother as a consequence. I’m getting it right a much greater percentage of the time, too. Rapid-fire downshifts and a silkier ride – learning new stuff is great.

Which leads me very nicely into what I was doing on Monday of this week.

Thanks to the ever generous Steve Cropley, editor-in-chief of Autocar (and Haymarket’s other motoring titles), but also Vauxhall’s press office, who paid for the thing, myself and my trainee auto-j colleagues spent the day at Millbrook test and development centre, guinea-pigging a Motoring Journalist Driving Course. Put on by Ian Halton and Richard Bott this was a day’s instruction in defensive driving and an education on how to make swift, safe progress.

As you can imagine, Millbrook is a fascinating place, not only for the number of heavily clad prototype vehicles gallivanting around its testing facilities, but also because of the sheer variety of driving experiences that these facilities offer. We predominantly spent our time on the Alpine road course, but also took in the highspeed bowl, the handling circuit, and city course, as well as going out on the actual road – driving a trifector of VXR Vauxhalls: the Astra, the Vectra, and the Monaro.

Lapping the bowl – a two mile constant radius circle – at 130mph was certainly fun, though you might be surprised to learn that Vectra was a steadier ship than the Monaro at this speed, the big Aussie import being somewhat more softly sprung than the executive express. Less surprising probably is how much more comfortable it feels to be in control of the vehicle at this speed, rather than a passenger in the back. Biggest grins came on the Alpine course though, which loops and rolls up and down a series of steep inclines and dips, and especially in the Astra – which benefited from being the last car that we drove, and the most nimble. It also makes some fabulous, if slightly weird, noises. Talking to a coursemate, I compared the BAARRPP sound it bellows in the last few rpm before the redline to a spaceship arriving through a jump gate; he looked at me a little funny, but admitted he got what I meant.

The Astra wasn’t as unruly as expected either. The boost from its turbocharged two litre four-pot certainly isn’t as linear as in the Golf GTi, nor does it quite feel as fast (to be fair, we had all driven the 400bhp Monaro by this point), but there was no sign of rampant torquesteer unless seriously provoke. I personally found the aggressive delivery, where the power seems to arrive in lumps, pretty entertaining. But the gearbox isn’t the most cooperative or consistent I’ve ever tried, and seems to be set quite far back in relation to the driver.

The Vectra was hugely competent, the Monaro not so scary as you might imagine – though its controls are other-era heavy. If anything is going to drive you nuts about these cars, it’s the indicator stalks, which in the Astra and the Vectra are these new-fangled rocking stalks that trigger a switch rather than staying in position. Struck us all as a bit like reinventing the wheel – what exactly was wrong with the original design? – but even having said that we all got used to them by the end of the day.

The instruction itself was a useful mix of laidback encouragement and fantastically incisive, experience driven know-how. The day kicked off with a powerpoint presentation that lasted about an hour, and did an excellent job of convincing us – if such were actually needed – of the value of the information about to be imparted. This was peppered with memory-friendly phrases, but for the sake of brevity, I’m only going to paraphrase one of these for the moment. And since I started this off talking about brakes, this is where I’m going to stop: when driving – and especially quickly – it’s not so much about how fast you can go, but how fast you can stop.

In modern cars, the presence of ABS brakes is practically taken for granted. But as our instructors pointed out, hardly any ever really takes complete advantage of this system when forced into making an emergency stop; with ABS if you want to stop quickly stamp on the brakes, and stamp on them HARD – but not everyone is accustomed to doing this, and not everyone has the strength to apply maximum pressure.

So, practically on the quiet, various manufacturers have been implementing an accessory to ABS, and in Vauxhall’s case this is known as Brake Assist. With this in place, assuming you whack the brakes suddenly enough, the car’s electronic brain will detect that there is something of an emergency going on and summon up the absolute maximum crash stop capability of the brakes fitted to the car.

The Vectra VXR’s case – and I know because not only was it demonstrated, but we all tried it for ourselves – if you hit the middle peddle hard enough to trigger this electronic aid, the car will force itself to a stop within a length and a half if you’re travelling at 30mph. That is a phenomenal achievement, and I think we can look forward to such systems saving lives the lives of pedestrians everywhere.

Worth knowing even more than this, however, is what happens if you try the same trick from 40mph – a speed that easily creeps up on you if you’re not paying proper attention when driving around town. A 10mph difference results in practically double the stopping distance, even with a system as advanced as this fully engaged. Keep it in mind.




Millbrook Engineering

Thursday, June 22, 2006

R#26: The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift

‘When the truth walks away, everybody stays,
Coz the truth about the world is that crime does pay…’

The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift

The go faster kids in go faster cars franchise returns. Only this time the action takes place on the opposite side of the world, the cars are harder, and the audience, mercifully, gets away without attracting the attention of “wooden” Paul Walker – even if his replacement looks a trifle “mid-thirties” for an under-18 high school kid.

Tokyo Drift is far from being the worst movie I’ve seen this year (stand up and bow, Aeon Flux), but that statement deserves the same caveat I applied to Transporter 2. I like this kind of movie it’s the kind of trashy nonsense film I go the cinema specifically to enjoy. That doesn’t mean I like all of them (Aeon Flux being an example, Torque being another – what a ridiculous name for a motorcycle movie – but Stealth was awesome!), but keep it in mind for when I’m saying good things later – it’s all a matter of context.

With this film, the franchise has gotten away from yawning straight line combat of the first movie, and almost gets beyond the lack of realism in the second. They’ve gone instead to the heart of a very genuine and unique type of street racing – drifting, in Japan. And they’ve tackled it without the pointless bells and whistles. No neons here; just stripped interiors, big turbos, bodykits and NOS. It’s almost believably hardcore.

But a further disclaimer: a huge amount of screen time is devoted to the drift sequences. If you aren’t a car person you are going to get bored. Hell, even if you are a car person, you might still get bored – exactly how many times can you watch a souped-up rice rocket going sideways is an unquantifiable predilection. For me, it was enthralling almost entirely – in spite of my disdain for action that occasionally appears like it wasn’t shot using “reality”. Some of the visuals are just breath-taking, perfectly in tune with a Playstation generation jacked into Gran Tourismo on replay.

They still haven’t got it completely right. While much, much better than the first two F&Fs, it seems that Hollywood could still learn about filming fast cars from BBC’s Top Gear, which captures epic speeds and driving exhilaration far more emotively. Tokyo Drift genuinely touches on this greatness in places, though: a moment when crowds crossing a busy busy Tokyo square split like disturbed snowflakes during the penultimate chase sequence, as drifting almost in slow motion the protagonists scythe their way unstoppably through. Reflecting a camera shot from earlier in the film, it’s almost Matrix like its entrancement – an impression that’s enhanced by the horrified looks on the faces of … and love interest… as for a single instant they seem to realise how close their actions take them to horrific injury and death.

And that’s my biggest problem with this film. Although Tokyo Drift manages to make only oblique references to drugs, the stars don’t smoke and are seen sipping only bottled water, its underlying moral message seems to be that crime does pay. If we ignore a fairly significant death – which the other characters all seem to do – this movie portrays life above the speed limit and beyond the law as a life without serious consequences. “Glorification” isn’t the word…

A trait evident in the previous films, it’s far more prevalent here. The kid does get chucked out of the States to avoid going to prison for transgressions committed in the opening minutes. But he lands on his feet in a country where all the school kids seem to be driving hugely modified – and therefore expensive – motor vehicles. We’re given only one explanation for how they could possibly afford them – and it isn’t a lemonade stall.

There are trace elements of the other bad stuff from the first films, too. The girls are all tall, slim, shapely, and ideally kissing each other; classic movie clichés abound (“You think this is a game?!” being my personal favourite); and stereotyping is rife – in this instance taking on Japanese culture. I suppose I could also say something profound about the constant opposition of American muscle cars and Japanese techno speed, but you can work that one out for yourself. Although the late appearance of a Camero/Skyline fusion disrupts this somewhat.

But the good stuff? It’s all in the details. Neat performances and competent direction give life to some flat characters – with no rushing to the scene end (kinda funny in a high speed car film) mean there’s time for expression, emotion and even silence. A friend remarked that Sonny Chiba – who plays Han, … legally ambivalent “mentor” –phoned in his performance somewhat, but even if he did he’s still one of the best things in it. The script is only moderately jarring in places, and they drop all the right car names without ever feeling the need to over-explain. While the music, the noise (vroooom), and the cinematography set a definite atmosphere; an audience that started loud and chatty quickly dropped into remarkable silence when I saw it. Plus I winced at every car crunching impact. Those poor automobiles…

And there’s the truth – the cars (and by extension, the stunt drivers) are the stars. However the filming was done, a Nissan ascending a spiral parking ramp on opposite lock is beautiful to behold. Seeing the lurch as the boost hits and the NOS kicks does something to me I can’t quite explain. I love the way the really hot cars sound lumpy at idle and recalcitrant at low speed – it’s just so correct. And I’m still in awe of the j-turn that looks overcooked until the driver powers away sideways in the opposite direction. The fact that there was a story, too – no matter how shallow – was just a bonus under the circumstances.

Another friend said it was like Grease without the music. Opinions differ.


Hey, how about a film review: Transporter 2 [internal]

The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift @ IMDb

The Fast and The Furious Official Site

Spy Footage of the new Fast And Furious Tokyo uploaded by SideWayStarion @

And, when I was looking for the above, I found this:

Why you have to watch Fast and Furious 3 Tokyo Drift by Shinkaze @

…which is an argument for going to see the movie on the basis that if you don’t, Hollywood might not make any more car movies. Take note, he/she (?!) might have a point.

Picture is from

Lyrics from The Offspring ‘Have You Ever’, which is on their Americana album, and has no specific relation to this film.

Friday, June 16, 2006

L#28: New Car Musings (Part Two)

I know it should be an R# this week, but for the sake of finishing off a thought, I figured I'd mix things up a bit - it'll be an R for you all next week...

After last week’s trip down memory lane, I’ve got no further excuse to avoid talking about potential replacements for my car. Having now pretty much rejected the possibility of getting another old banger – that’s a little harsh on my present chariot, but nevertheless – I guess you might be wondering what else I’ve got in mind, so here’s three potential candidates for you.

The first thing you have to bare in mind is the budget; I was a bit over optimistic when I emailed an acquaintance at Auto Express, asking what he reckoned would be worth getting for between £7,500 and £10,000. He emailed back three very worthy automobiles: the Skoda Fabia vRS; the MINI Cooper; and, perhaps most interestingly, the Ford Puma.

All very cool – but the first two wouldn’t fall within the top end of that budget if bought new, and the Puma isn’t even made anymore. This brand spanking thing is pretty important, since I’m interested in the new car ownership experience – honestly, it’s research… The Puma did cause me to pause for thought momentarily though.

I’ve not driven one, but the little Ford coupe has a reputation for fantastically agile handling, and is easily available at the right sort of price, too, especially if you’re willing to look at leggier examples. Unfortunately, the 1.7 litre Yamaha engine in the quick ones (it was also available with a 1.4 and later a 1.6 during its life) is a bit too exotic for my poor student tastes, even if the rest of the car is basically Fiesta components. Oh, and it looks, um, girlie. Are you starting to get a sense of what I meant last week when I talked about the reality of purchasing priorities?

The other two were never really in contention because I don’t really have that kind of money to spend. This whole deal is partially my parents’ idea – oh, don’t I sound like a grown up? – and they’re going to be responsible for financing it, at least to begin with. Realistically, £10,000 is too much. We really are talking the bottom end of the new car market here – what can you get new for about £7,500? That you’d actually want to be seen in?

Much as I’d be liking to emphasize the fun, at this sort of money you are almost forced to think about practicality. Practicality is pretty close to reliability, and although I have personal experience to assuage the legend, the old ad campaign is still engrained on the consciousness, so when you think about reliability you end up thinking about Volkswagen. And with a neat touch of timing, I was starting to look just as the very practical Fox arrived in the UK.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Fox is pretty damn cheap – starting at less than £7,000 for a fully-fledge VW badge. But on the other hand, it’s an old design imported from Brazil, and no-where near as cute to look at as the Lupo it replaces. Hardly offensive, though, and it is cheap. Did I mention that?

Actually, there’s a lot to like. For starters, the dealer actually seemed interested in selling us a car. (Note to Ford… Nope, that’s all I wanted to say). More impressive, however, is the amount of space inside. All but the base model have a sliding rear bench, which allows you to negotiate between boot space and leg room in the back. I tested the base model, and even without that sliding seating arrangement my dad – who’s 6’4” – fitted in easily. With tons of headroom.

But there’s more. Of all the cars I looked at, the Fox was the only one with reach and rake adjustment on the steering. Small cars typically have terrible ergonomics, and something as simple (heh, I can say that – I’m not an engineer…) as this makes a hell of a lot of difference. The little 1.2 triple under the bonnet is remarkably pokey – three adults up and it was still pulling with evidence of gusto, if not vigour, foot down at 60mph.

The brakes are as snappy as you’d expect from a VW, and the gearchange didn’t leave me with any nasty memories. Though do remember that I’m basing all of these appraisals on genuine test drives (if the salesman – and they were all men – asked, I explained I was journalism student, but didn’t elaborate any further).

Less good in the Fox was the rest of the interior, and especially the quality of the plastics. Great grey slabs of it on the doors reminded me of the toy dinosaurs I used to have as a kid, but more significantly were already showing signs of scuffing. The dealer had only had the car for a week. It also rattled, but this was apparently due to one of the mechanics having broken a panel in the boot almost as soon as it had arrived. Hmmm…

Lots of cup holders, and some very funky trim options – well, assuming that “stripy” is in, anyway (and I do mean stripy) – the Fox certainly isn’t a bad car. But the headroom plays havoc with the centre of gravity, and this isn’t helped by the narrow track, meaning it wouldn’t exactly be my first choice for a back road hustle. Great car for my mum, though, and if you can stand the interest rates, they have some neat finance deals going that throw in free servicing.

Next up: the Suzuki Swift. The Swift amuses me for lots of reasons – not least of which is the pseudo-MINI thing it’s got going. Hardly in need of trim options to fulfil its funk quota, if you know what I mean – and given there’s only one that must be a relief. It’s also CAR magazine’s car of the year, which ought to say something about it. Starting price is £7,599 for a three-door 1.3 – looks expensive next to the Fox but it comes loaded with standard kit, and if you excuse some almost hilariously flexible door cards, the interior is in another league. A really nicely integrated stereo is a major plus point, and they’ve even borrowed the rev counter design from their superbikes to add a little flair all their own to the instrument cluster.

I got to have a go in the 1.3 and the 1.5 – the latter having the added benefit of VVTI variable valve timing. It probably was a bit gutsier going uphill, but I did drive it second so might have been more used to the car by then; there’s actually only 10bhp difference in power output. What was much more noticeable about the 1.5 in comparison to its littler sibling was the ridiculously high clutch biting point and the heavier steering.

A subsequent recall seems to have sorted out the clutch issue, but as for the steering my suspicion is that it was as much down to the wheels as the increased engine capacity. The 1.5 was riding on optional 16” alloys (a fairly hideous cross spoke design, as opposed to the Toora Hypers that are also available at that size), while the 1.3 was on scarcely credible 17s. That doesn’t sound like it makes much sense, but the 17s are ‘race-spec’, according to the brochure, which I’ll optimistically translate into “lightweight” – and I’m sticking to this theory as the 1.3’s ride was remarkably compliant considering the wheel diameter, too.

Nice car to drive, the Swift – not quite as top-heavy feeling as the Fox, and somewhat wider, scooting round corners with vim. The gearstick is in a slightly funny position, though, feeling slightly too far back for optimal comfort. Other ergonomic weirdness includes the pedal spacing: masses of room in the footwell, tiny pedal surfaces, and a huge gap between the brake and the accelerator makes heel-and-toeing only possible if you do it the old fashioned way (using, y’know, your heel and your toe – not just the edge of your foot). It does probably mean that left foot braking is on the cards, but I didn’t really have the opportunity to try that out.

So, Swift = fun. Well, certainly funner than the Fox, reckons I. Still, given my auto journ pretension I thought I had better try and find something even more hardcore for the money. Hello Ford, hello SportKa.

Officially out of budget, you can get one nearly new for about £7,500, and a few car supermarkets are selling delivery mileage non-SEs for £8,500. Non-SE is good because that way you don’t get the hideous two-tone blue and black leather seats – even it does mean missing out on aircon.

It looks nicely done on the outside – though that blue they’re practically all in is over-rated – and even the ordinary Ka receives great chassis reviews from most perspectives. Bespoke bumpers, 16” alloys, a spoiler – all in the best possible taste. A bigger engine, too: 1.6 litres of the finest, uh, vintage Duratec money can buy. But, boy, I really don’t think I could live with that interior. The plastic in the Ford reminded me of ancient boiled sweets, and the dash is just unnecessarily swoopy and impractical as a result. I mean, what’s with the weird bobble that looks like a glued down sunglasses holder on the passenger side, when they could have surely fitted a proper glovebox?

As for the driving experience, well, hardcore is certainly the word. Again, I hasten to point out that I drove a single, main dealer example (it’s always worth driving a few of the same car when you’re looking, because you then get a better idea about what a decent one should feel like), but they had several there and this was the one the salesman chose to go out in, so…

The Ka, and especially the SportKa, has been described as being a similar driving experience to the original Mini. Well, given the rock solid ride, buzzy drivetrain and strangely recalcitrant engine (‘rev’ and ‘nuts off’ necessary for significant progress), this isn’t a bad comparison. The steering’s sharp but heavy, too, while there didn’t seem to be much danger of running out of grip at sensible speeds, either.

The gearbox was my favourite part, however. If the Swift is pseudo-MINI, the SportKa’s ’box is almost microcosmic Ferrari: round alloy knob – from the Puma, fact fans! – atop a long thin stick, combined with a very short throw and snickety action. Really lovely. But you have to balance that against a car that doesn’t seem that fast, and rides likes someone’s taken the springs out. Crashy and hard work – but probably worth it once you’re up to a decent operating velocity. Tough call.

So that’s three possibilities for you. No absolute answers as yet – but look out for a list cars I haven’t considered coming up soon…


Volkswagen Fox

Suzuki Swift

Ford Ka

New Car Musings (Part One) [internal]

Pictures: Fox from this desktop wallpaper site (looks like a pres shot); SportKa is definitely a press shot - this crop from CarNet.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Microcab: Culmination

The Microcab side project I've been working on has finally come to fruition. Last Wednesday saw the publication date of the magazine the writing is feature in, and the conference the magazine was intended to support.

You can see the cover design on the left - worth mentioning as the magic Phil Perry took time out of his weekend to improve it for us, subsequent to my previous post on this subject.

You can read some more about this, and view the final version of the article at the mini-site. This won't be the end of the material to go up at this location, however, as I intend to post the full transcript of my interview with John Jostins as a resource for anyone interested in alternative automotive power.


Microcab [mini-site]

R#25: It's all worth it in The End [internal]

"Here we go!"

The new site design is now all good to go. Inevitably I'll keep finding stuff I want to tweak, but university is on the cusp of keeping me extremely busy so I shall not have much time for that over the coming weeks.

Initially I had planned to simply change the templates over, and continue with one site only. But then I decided that I still liked the style of the old version, and that it might prove fun and/or useful to have a duplicate version, running an alternative design.

This is the first post to be replicated across both sites, so I figure I had better explain myself.

Let's kick off (hmm, topical reference a-go-go...) with the bad news:

I'm going to have to rename the main posts again; in order to justice to this mucking about, divulge me with a brief historical account. I started this blog with the intention of showing just how serious I am about getting a job in motoring journalism, and so it began with one main post a week, numbered and signified by a # and the red colour of the text. These had - and still have - a self-imposed limit of 800 words, and were put up Sunday-for-Monday.

Quickly I realised that I had more than enough to say (stop sniggering at the back) to manage two main posts a week. So, I added a second feature post in a Thursday-for-Friday slot, with a more flexible word limit. To differentiate the two, these were tagged with a T# (for 'Thursday'), and the text itself was coloured yellow.

All well and good. Until earlier this year - when university started getting properly hectic. So, I shifted back to a single main post a week. But I wanted to keep the discipline and the flexibility, so this now alternates every Thursday; inorder to distinguish between the two, I changed the tags to match the colours - so Red posts became R#s, Yellow posts became Y#s.

The problem is that yellow doesn't fit into the colour scheme of the new site - I'll be using blue instead.

So, in order to avoid further and future confusion, I am changing the tags once more:

The 800 word posts will retain the R# designation, as this can now stand for 'regular' as much as it can stand for the colour. These remain RED regardless of which site you're using.

The flexible limit posts will now have an L# tag - standing for 'larger' or 'longer', as they generally are. The numbering will continue in sequence as before. These will remain YELLOW in the Original, but become BLUE in the Light.

I hope that's clear!

Why two sites? Well, the plan to change the exisiting design was stimulated by the shock I received whenever I caught site of the blog on an older CRT monitor - iMacs seemed to be particularly prone. Very, very dark and dingy - difficult to read. But on the right screen - such as my own superbright LCD - all that blackness still looks pretty good, so I've decided to keep it going at the original web address.

At the new web address, you'll find the new template.

This is a much, much brighter design - and I've put in considerable effort trying to make it look nice within the confines of the blogger environment. I hope you like it.

It's tempting to say what a hero I've been, and achieved this with little or no coding knowledge. But the truth is, while I started off with nothing at the beginning of this course, I've found myself learning pretty rapidly - and with any luck, the new design reflects this. It's been a pretty steep learning curve in itself, but everything has been done right - if you know what I mean? I may have broken one or two stylistic guidelines, but hey, rules are made to be broken.

That's enough waffling from me for the time being. Your comments are very welcome.


InfinityReversed : Original Edition

InfinityReversed : Light Edition

Friday, June 09, 2006

Y#27: New Car Musings (Part One)

Time to start the hunt

It’s funny that I should be getting to writing this now, as on Monday something remarkable happened. The BMW passed its MOT. Having had the brakes rebuilt – once again – a couple of weeks previously, it sailed through the test with only an advisory or two to blight its name. So there’s progress: I might be getting it back at the weekend.

Why funny? Well, because the plan is still to try and find a replacement. I’ve made a few posts on this topic already, but these have all involved contemplating the merits of another cheap-as-yesterday’s-chips second hand car. But my dad had kind of a radical suggestion – why not get something brand new?

My initial reaction was one of incredulity – affording this was a problem for starters. However, as I began to think about it a bit more, and given my current attraction to small cars, it dawned on me that it might actually be quite interesting to see what’s available for an enthusiast-minded person such as me at the bottom end of the new car market.

My dad’s suggestion was triggered by the outlandish deals offered by manufacturers like Fiat and Citroen, and the temptation of a New Car [sparkle, glint] warranty. He even mentioned the Hyundai Getz at one point (I dissuaded him on the basis that its 0-60 time could almost be counted on a calendar). Never being one to take the easy route, anyway, I decided that this was all worth a bit of a look.

I’ve also never been in a position to purchase a new car before. And while the depreciation fiend looms large in the mind when contemplating such a decision, the novelty of owning a vehicle untouched by another human hand also has a strange kind of appeal – not that I’m suggesting assembly line workers and delivery drivers aren’t human, you understand. I also thought that from a journalistic point of view this would actually be an interesting exercise, because when faced with the possibility of spending your own money on a car you don’t necessarily buy “The Best One” – you buy the one you like.

And as an extra proviso, I also have to bare in mind that if I do go down this route, the car may eventually end up in the hands of my mother. (Depreciation not so much of a concern then, as we’ll probably keep the car for quite a long time…).

Now, I’ve had a pretty eclectic bunch of vehicles – but not in any kind of obvious sense. My first car, when I was learning to drive, was a Y-reg Saab 900: two litres, twin carbs, crap brakes and a chassis you could have held a house up with. It was also this weird kind of beige that looked pink or grey depending on the light. It eventually blew up when a belt powering the engine fan slipped off and the engine overheated.

Next was an E-reg Nissan Sunny 1.3LX, only one owner from new – and no, it wasn’t the set-square coupe, but it was that model line. The car was immaculate, a nice green three-door, and did without power steering. Perhaps not the best handling tin box in the world, but remarkably rapid considering – especially at the top end on the motorway, helped by the absence of a fifth gear. Great in the wet, too. It finally died a couple of years ago, by then belonging to my sister, when somebody drove into it.

We never got rid of the Nissan, but I did stupidly buy a MkII Volkswagen Scirocco GT as a replacement vehicle for myself. This car very nearly put me off VWs for life (thank God for the Mk V GTi), but in hindsight I can acknowledge that it was all my own fault; I wanted something good looking and sporty, and thought the Sirocco was it. How wrong I was. Not very fast (though the speedo over-reading by 10mph meant you could scare people pretty easily), not very fun to drive, and overly expensive to insure, considering the almost entire absence of performance, this was an awful, awful car. And that was before it started going wrong.

Amusingly, since we’d tackled virtually every conceivable area of ailment – which included having the fuel tank removed and flushed, replacing all the fuel lines, lavishing huge amounts of attention on the carburettor – when it was finally sold it started first time. And this after having been laid up for over a year because the insurance was too ridiculous; all that was needed was a fresh charge in the battery. Bloody thing.

More recently I’ve had a couple of BMWs. This is merely coincidence, before anyone starts wondering: the first was a dark metallic blue E30 316i Touring Lux, which I paid too much for really, but looked bloody fantastic with its BBS rims and big bumpers; the second was the aforementioned £800 white whale of a 520i. The E30, wasn’t a bad car. I much prefer the look of that series in the estate; if I really had to fault it the interior was pretty uninspired. And compared to the 520, it certainly lost out in the value stakes – I have said it before, but I don’t suppose I’ll ever get as much motor for my money as I did when I bought that white Bimmer two Christmas Eves ago…

Which leaves rather a lot for any new car to live up to. A reasonably high priority is that it needs to be something that’s a little bit different – but it also wants to be good enough that I don’t feel short changed stepping out of the five series.

I think I already have the solution, but in a typically irritating cliff hanger manner, I’m going to leave you guessing – perhaps even as long as next week. Answers (and suggestions) on a postcard, please…

[And those of you who already know, I implore you upon your honour to keep it quiet!]


R#23: The Simple Life [internal]

Y#25: Small, Light and Fun [internal]

Spot the obvious "mistake" [internal]

Y#22: Mk V Volkswagen Golf GTi [internal]


...Blogger is working again. Hurrah.

Friday, June 02, 2006

R#25: It's all worth it in The End

My God, what a week! I don’t usually like to use exclamation marks too much, but in this case it feels somewhat appropriate. It’s been so hectic that I’m actually improvising this post at 9.25pm on Friday night, instead of thrilling you all with topics I’d expected to prepare.

So…maybe a little on those topics, and a little on the excuses excuses I’ve got for being so shoddy – what do you think? I’m probably failing on all points of Blogging 101, making what is supposed to be a semi-professional (emphasis on the “semi”) internet publishing venture into a bit of a personal gee-look-how-tough-it’s-been-for-me-this-week space. But hey, it is all about me – we’re forever being told by our tutors that we should think of ourselves as some kind of “brand” – here’s how everything can get thrown out of wack.

First off, my original plan for this week’s post was to write a little something something about the Demon Tweeks catalogue. I even had a contender ready for my all but opening gambit – think I can’t get 800 words out of a motorsport and tuning catalogue? Think again. Sounds great now, doesn’t it – given that I’ve only gone and proved the doubters how right they are. I’ll get to why it didn’t happen in a moment, but don’t look too smug all you Thomases, as the concept hasn’t gone away completely. Look for an entry on DT soon. Well, maybe.

Ok, as it increasingly began to look like the Tweeks was out of the question, I quickly quickly established a backup plan. On Friday – i.e.: tonight – Coventry University was hosting its inaugural ‘Bugatti Lecture’. Given by Barrie Price, ‘a founding member and Trustee [sic] of the Bugatti Trust’, this was entitled The life and work of Ettore Bugatti – which sounds pretty interesting. As a bonus, following immediately after this – as expressly advertised by the invitation – a ‘private view’ of the final year undergraduate engineering, art and design degree show was available for all and sundry (yes, exactly) to peruse.

I was imagining that the lecture itself would provide enough enough material to make an entertaining 800 word read. I actually got to the degree show – but had absolutely no chance to make it to the lecture. And the show was so packed it was like carrying a chocolate teapot through hell (someone really should have found the switch for the air conditioning) trying to get any kind of meaningful experience in there. I’ll go back, though, as there seemed to be some pretty interesting projects down in the basement where all the transport design geezers and geezets hang out. As for the Bugatti talk, apparently I missed out on a couple of Ettore’s mobile artworks enlivening the entrance, and a bunch of photography (some spectacular, others less so) – but also the rampant sound of hearing-aids being adjusted: my informed observer speculating that the average age of the audience was around 75.

So – what happened happened? Well, you read the previous entry, right? We lowly MA hacks have spent the term so far preparing a conference-come-journal on The Future Of The British Car Industry (since this is something of a personal entry into this blog, I’ll explain that the capitalisation is a tiny bit of a private joke regarding our editor’s undying efforts to have us emphasize every heading and title in that way. Way To Shout, bro!). The conference itself kicks off at 9.30 am next Wednesday – that’s 7 June, and you’re all invited – with the journal to be available the same day.

In order to facilitate this, the publication was supposed to be finished finished and off to the printers this Wednesday. Sadly, things didn’t exactly go to plan. In fact, the reason I didn’t make it to the Bugatti lecture is that some of us were still working on the magazine. See, it got to the go day and not only was the layout unfinished – actually out of our hands on this occasion, but I’ll get to that in a moment – but we suddenly started to realise just how much work we still had to do on finalising the copy. It actually turned out to be something of a blessing that the design wasn’t all done, because this gave us the necessary time to have a really good go at the subbing. I’ve spent the last two days staring at copy so hard that even now, two and half hours[1] after we put the whole thing to bed, I’m still seeing double…

But, boy, does the finished product look pretty good. “Worth the effort” is all the consolation those of us still staring screens at the end need to hear. And I’d also like to take this opportunity to say a HUGE thank you to Phil Perry, the design lecturer who tolerated helped us right until the very last – especially as he wouldn’t let us put his name on the credits page. We could not have done it without him. Fingers crossed there aren’t any issues with the printing.

That’s the reality and the reasoning. Sometimes you just gotta put the graded work first – and as an insight to the experiences of working on this degree, then maybe this post didn’t actually turn out too bad.


Delay due to damage [internal]

Microcab Project

Picture by me, taken at the Autosport International show in January. I'm great with a camera, I am!

[1] Making the time as I write this sentence 10.25pm – or an hour after I began, should anyone be keeping tabs on the rate of flow recorded by my creative juices.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Delay due to damage

No post tonight as I have spent all day with some of my hardest working fellows, trying to rescue the schedule for the journal us specialist journalism MAs are currently putting together.

This is related to the Microcab project I've mentioned can see this morning's thoughts on the progess so far here. It's a bit of a bumpy ride. But we are getting there.

Will update that "mini-site" with more info - hopefully tomorrow; definitely tomorrow is the weekly main post.

Sorry for the delay...


Microcab Project

More on the Microcab [internal]

An Update: Microcab Project [internal]

I took the photos at the WTCC meeting at Brands Hatch two weekends ago; that's a couple of Formula 3000 Masters cars having a "bit of a off". Click on the pictures to see a bigger version.

Update on the Redesign

Should any of y'all be interested in following the progress of the site re-design, the new template is being constructed here:

Progess is slow but steady at the moment, as I try to figure out a way of working with the blogger layout "constraints" while also doing something a little creative.

If you have any suggestions (and don't be fooled by the green - that's temporary!), feel free to email them to me. My address is:

No spam please!


Testing 2