Thursday, 31 March 2011

Miss By An Inch, Miss By A Mile

Something struck me today while reading a roadtest of the Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 (from the excellent evo Magazine UK) . It's something which I'm sure everyone who takes an interest in cars has noticed and possibly been baffled to the point of frustration with, so I thought it was worth having a think about here.

So, what's in a name? The car in question is a 2011 Dodge Challenger (retro-futurist retake on 1970's muscle car icon) SRT (Street & Racing Technology) 8 (Eight Cylinder). And the 392? That's where my point lies: this denotes the number of cubic inches displaced by the V8 engine. To those in the US, there's absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about that. Big-capacity engines have always proudly worn their capacity badges on their flanks, telling all those you thundered past you weren't just in any cooking model, but a AC Cobra 427, or Charger 440 R/T. In Europe though this is fairly alien, as swept volumes have always been measured in cubic centimetres, and therefore litres. 

So the Challenger is a 6.1l, a 440 Charger a (massive) 7.2l. Metric capacity.

And yet, in Britain, unlike in continental Europe, speed is still measured in miles per hour. So while Porsche's German website notes the 911 GT3's top speed as 312km/h, this is pretty meaningless gibberish to the English-speakers. Therefore their UK site sets out the speed as 194mph. More double standards.

This constant 'mash-up' of imperial and metric measurements extends everywhere in cars. It's almost comical that despite motoring technology constantly pushing the edge of the possibility envelope, there's no universal way to measure or quantify it. The all-important 0-60 dash is still used in America, but in Europe it's become 0-62mph, as this corresponds perfectly to the nice round 100km/h barrier. Kerb weights are given as kilograms everywhere but the US, where a Bentley Continental GT is a 5100 lb car, not 2350kg.

This isn't exclusive to the performance orientated cars I've cited either. Previous European Car of the Year, and environmentalist's darling, the Toyota Prius, has its carbon dioxide output quoted as 104g/km, and yet its old-fashioned torque figure isn't measured in new-fangled Newton-meters, it's still given as 353lb/ft at 1200 rpm (thank the electric motor for that impressive low-rev number). And then, how can CO2 be given in grams per kilometre, but economy still come out in miles per gallon?

Then there's the ultimate car-lovers' stat: power. Brake horsepower still rules but the movement towards PS is swelling. Buy a Renault Clio Renaultsport 200 Cup in the UK and you might be disappointed to find in the brochure its 2 litre motor actually kicks out 197 bhp. If you want a nice round 200, you'll want the continental measuring system. Or take Bugatti's original Veyron. 987 bhp...or 1,001 PS. Or 736 kW. Confused?

Turbo boost pressure is lbs. Tyre widths are millimetres. Drag races are standing quarter miles. It's a wonder cars today leave the factory with their engines in the right way up, with this multitude of measurement maths confounding every element of their construction and performance. 

Is it possible that at some point there will befall a situation like that of the unfortunate NASA Climate Orbiter in 1999?

A $125 million space probe project, headed by Lockheed Martin, caused massive embarrassment for the Space Administration, when it was revealed the huge investment had smashed into the Mars surface it had supposed to be surveying on research. 
The investigation found it had been programmed with metric and imperial units during its construction, so after a 9 month odyssey to the Red Planet, the probe got confused, went off course, and plummeted into the ground it assumed was elsewhere.

Anyone for standardisation? 

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Vettel On Top Of The World Down Under

There's plenty of dedicated sports sites out there to give the full report on today's 2011 Formula 1 curtain-raiser in Melbourne, but here's just a quick word from Tyre Roar after the first racing weekend of the new season.

Having a world championship to defend obviously agrees with Sebastian Vettel. The young German was imperious all weekend, on form with typically clinical one lap pace in qualifying and then a near-flawless race win today, from green light to chequred flag. The Red Bulls look very strong again but Vettel's prowess this weekend meant team mate Mark Webber never had a hope of getting a look in at his home grand prix. His slightly off-piste excursion on his flying lap while position rival Alonso's Ferrari was pitting didn't really help either.

Vitaly Petrov put in a decent shift, advocating my personal decision to name his as part of my fanstay F1 team for this season, alongside Mark Webber. (Renault chassis, Cosworth engines...could be a dark horse.) Lewis Hamilton also did sterling service to bring home the largely untested and much-derided MP4-26 home in second place. With so much pre-season speculation focusing on how hard Fernando Alonso would be chasing the Red Bulls this year to avoid his last gasp efforts in 2010, Hamilton could be the quiet one to watch if the car stays on the boil for his drving style. Vettel may yet prove petulant where the more experienced Brit remains cool in high stakes split second decisions.

As per usual, Kamui Kobayashi proved excellent value, drifting his willfully tail-happy Sauber through qualifying in banzai D1 style; pity then that the Saubers were disqualified after today's race for an apparently illegal rear wing design.

On the subject of the cars, to the casual eye the differences may not be all that apparent, but the adjustable rear wings did make themselves known, especially in causing Adrian Sutil's absolutely epic save on the home straight in Q2, after he opening his rear wing just a fraction too early exiting the final corner. The spin that resulted from the back of the car snapping round looked catastrophic but Sutil powered the Force India out of it to bring the car home from its ruined hot lap all but unscathed.

KERS remains debatable: is the weight penalty worth the 12mph straight line advantage? Tracks such as China or Abu Dhabi with long straights will really show the real value of the new adaptive aero and KERS systems, but so far the 'boost button' looks to be one of those rare items of tech that is allowed in F1, but not neccessarily particularly useful. Much more debate to come on that one feels.

Certain drivers will surely need to book up their ideas in coming races as well. Michael Schumacher's puncture-blotted race ended in retirement and Felipe Massa not only spun out in qualifying but then struggled to match the promise his Ferrari could potentially posses, finishing a relatively lowly seventh. Something is clearly afoot in Formula One when a Scuderia Ferrari and a seven-time world champion are very much 'also rans'

Finally a word for young Scottish rookie Paul di Resta. A thoroughly nice lad, it seems from his performance in recent interviews, and appreciative of his F1 drive following the classic move up through the ranks from karting, Formula Renault and DTM. Tenth place on his Force India debut is fully commendable, as as he settles down into the travelling circus of F1 racing he could yet upset the old order. Fingers crossed for him.

New drivers, new teams, new tyres, new aero, and the same tried-and-tested formula (no pun intended) of the ultimate driving machines screaming round the world's most glamourous and historic racetracks every fortnight. As ingredients for sporting gold go, this has all the makings of a gripping season.

Monday, 21 March 2011

The Shape Of Things To Come...

The most impressive aspect of the reveal of the new Mercedes C63 AMG Coupé is not the substantial numbers. Indeed, the 6.2l V8 motor comfortably outguns the 414 bhp M3 for around the same £58k price tag. The new 451 bhp road rocket brandishes SLS engine internals, the same dual clutch 100 millisecond-shift gearbox and adaptive suspension. This is interesting, but still not the greatest surprise. Maybe then, the headline should be the AMG Performance pack which takes output to 480 bhp, 0-62mph down a tenth to 4.4 seconds, giving this mid-size two door F430 chasing performance? Again, this is applaudable, but not the biggest achievement that was apparent to me.

If fact, Tyre Roar was most surprised that this is the first time we've seen this car. To elaborate, the C63 Coupé was, unusually, not leaked into cyberspace weeks or even months before its due date. The epidemic of early car reveals has spread unchecked over the past couple of years, with Mercedes being a particular culprit; the current E-Class, new SLK roadster and CLS were all shown shorn of camouflage prematurely, far before the Mercedes press department could whip up some publicity for their new model.

Jag XJ. Pretending to be a Beemer. Not fooling anyone.
The thirst for new cars is something manufacturers willingly play up to; they cover their test hacks in lurid patterns before sending them out onto the Nordschleife or public roads, touting the reason to be an attempt to conceal details of the new cars and prevent rivals getting a march on over their original design. Of course the makers are well aware than plain cladding would work just as well and in reality the zebra patterns are there to attract the attention of the spy photographers, get the experimental mules uploaded to every motoring site possible and create a storm about what's likely on the new flagship. Renderings of predicted exteriors predictably follow, and journos and readers alike hang on every word they are fed before the official reveal. It's all very savvy marketing.

Now all car site addicts will have been aware of the forthcoming C Class Coupé moths ago, but crucially Mercedes managed to get the official press shots of the car all the way to their desired reveal without the embargo or secrecy being overturned or flouted. They also, mercifully, avoided the temptation to indulge themselves in the murky, stylishly lit world of the teaser shot.

We've all seen them. Weeks before a motor show, the hype machine goes into overdrive as shadowy pictures of indicators and door handles start to creep on to the web, inducing a spate of panic about what the new concept could be. I remember well the furore ignited when Lamborghini released the picture on the right to ramp up the tension ahead of the surprise Estoque project.
Keen eyed observers noted the longer than usual bonnet and air outlet in the side repeater, and created an enormous fuss over the possibility of a front-engined Lambo. Was it to be an LM022 successor, to take on the Cayenne Turbo? Could there be a raging bull super saloon, or 599-style front-engined coupé? The end result, it must be said, was no disappointment, but it was undoubtedly one of the most convoluted car build ups ever.

Lamborghini are one of the few manufacturers that can pull this trick off. It's almost a given that any new Lambo will be such a style statement that they can afford to ramp up the hype machine - it's never going to fall flat on its face. Since then they've used the same technique with the Sesto Elemnto concept and the Aventador, cars which were very much stars of their show.

Teaser for modern cooker hob Sesto Elemento...
Can the striptease treatment work for any car? Quite possibly not. Kia would have struggled to generate similar attention if it had shown airbrushed snippets of the exhaust tips of the new Picanto, indeed the whole car got less attention than the doors of Sant'Agata's latest export.

Still, I'm going to give the spy shot business a go, and will watch with interest to see if the traffic for the site spikes as the reveal date of what is pictured below nears. Due for full unveiling in a couple of weeks, here are some cheeky teasers of my new car, which I'll be posting about, at last, in due course. In the meantime, let the rumour mill begin...

Monday, 7 March 2011

Fezza Up On Their High Horse

There's no such thing as a slow news day in Maranello. Ferrari consistently court controversy with the styling and pricing of their road cars, their questionable attitude to journalists, dodgy theme parks, and their behaviour in their flagship brand-builder: Formula One.
Most of you by now will be aware of the funny-if-it-wasn't-so-pathetic dispute that's been simmering in the past few weeks between Modena's greatest export and the mighty Ford Motor Company, who took issue with Ferrari's decision to christen their 2011 F1 contender 'Ferrari F150'. Disregarding the fact this was a tribute to the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, Ford were rather unhappy about Ferrari muscling in on their nomenclature territory, as they've had an F150 line of pick-up trucks since 1948.

It's a predictable cliché to say that Americans are always game for a law suit, but in this case Ford lived up to the stereotype absolutely, bringing charges against Ferrari for infringing Ford's ownership of the F150 name, with justification which boiled down to the possibility that the two cars may become confused, which could upset consumers.
Of course this met with much ridicule on the web, as Ford tried to prove that a two-and-a-half ton Yank tank could be mistaken for a carbon fibre racing car.
Nevertheless Ferrari caved in in the face of a potentially expensive and embarrassing legal dispute, and changed then name of Alonso's new company car to 'Ferrari F150th Italia.' Ford then dropped the law suit, Ferrari got on with developing their new track-honed beast in preparation for the Australian Grand Prix on March 27th, and the internet scorners' chuckling at the absurdity of the whole issue died away.

Spot the difference...

This morning however, Ferrari seems to have gone out of its way to really stick two fingers up to Ford, and its home market, by launching an astonishing attack on Americans in general on the official Scuderia website. This came to my attention in a minor Autocar website article but I was so astounded by the language of the statement, I went over to the official Ferrari Formula One site to see it for myself, and what follows is a direct quotation from their thoughts on the matter:

"...the affair relating to the name of the car with which Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa will tackle this year’s Formula 1 World Championship saw its final and decisive episode played out these past few days with the concomitant withdrawal by Ford of the summons. Therefore common sense has prevailed.

In order to avoid the slightest risk of anyone confusing a Formula 1 car with a pick-up truck, for their part, the men from Maranello have decided that the car will lose the F that precedes the number 150 and which stands for Ferrari, as it has done on numerous occasions when it’s come to giving a car a code name, be it for the race track or the road. It appears that this could have caused so much confusion in the minds of the consumer across the Pond that, at the same time as losing the F, the name will be completely Italianised, replacing the English “th” with the equivalent Italian symbol.

Therefore the name will now read as the Ferrari 150° Italia, which should make it clear even to the thickest of people that the name of the car is a tribute to the anniversary of the unification of our country. Let’s hope the matter is now definitely closed and that we can concentrate on other matters, namely ensuring that our car that already seems to be pretty good out of the box, becomes a real winner."

Great 'of the box'? Ferrari fanning the flames yet again...

If you've just reread that several times, I don't blame you. If you think I'm spreading scandalous propaganda and want to see the article for yourself, do, by all means, here. Scuderia Ferrari article this way What a way to 'close the matter.'

...maybe they need to cool off a little.

It's becoming quite a week for ill-judged car company statements. Following the potential death of the Evo let slip at Geneva, Ferrari's publication of this thinly-veiled tirade on the intelligence of all those 'across the Pond', not just in Ford's legal department, is nigh-on unbelievable.

I'm aware and grateful that this blog has a substantial following in the United States, (thanks guys), it is after all one of the world's great motor industry powers. When I initially heard of the Ford versus Ferrari law suit I saw Ford's point about the copyright infringement, but also thought their reasoning that the F1 car would cause 'confusion' faintly ludicrous. This subsequent generalized scorn of the American market does provoke my sympathies though, and it looks like another PR disaster for the Italians.

Whether you see it as hilarious, offensive, deserved by Ford or unacceptable by Ferrari will no doubt depend on your particular nationality or allegiance in the world of cars. It seems however that behind the sharp suits and smug smiles paraded around at the launch of the FF, both at Ferrari and then publicly at Geneva, Fezza have lost none of their touch for whipping up an international storm over the winter motorsport break. And all when the matter appeared to be dead and buried!

Then again, it could merely be a cynical repost to another recent incident where Ferrari and Ford's finest came to blows Stateside, and in this instance, it was Ford who came out, quite literally, on top.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

They Think It's All Over...

World Rally and Fast and Furious fans alike, it might just not yet be time to fly those flags at half mast in mourning of the Evo X, and the Evo line as a whole. Mitsubishi has interestingly released an official statement regarding Gayu Eusegi's recent offhand words to Autocar magazine UK, whereupon he revealed that Mitsubishi's future lay in electric hybrids rather than desirable performance cars. They say:

"Further to some comments published in the press recently, production of the current Lancer Evolution continues as planned. As for its successor, regulations and market feedback will dictate its engineering package & architecture. Stay tuned."

On that basis, there is hope for the car yet, and all my and other petrolheads' doom-mongering about the end of yet another thoroughly decent car was premature.

Perhaps. In fact, it's very easy to meet this admission with even more scepticism that the previous scoop sparked.
Firstly, the speed with which Mitsubishi has jumped to reply to what was ostensibly one journo having a chat with a company rep on the Geneva show stand seems suspicious - why so defensive? If there were no plans to mess with the tried and tested Evo formula, much less extinguish it altogether, then such a hasty reaction would not be warranted.
Secondly, the wording of the statement is a little suspect. Vague yet foreboding references to 'regulations and market feedback' mirror exactly what Eusegi admitted: the Evo will struggle to comply with new emissions law and one that does (ie hybrid, less powerful, less raw and pure) will not meet with great approval from the standard customer pool; yet the result will neither be green enough to appeal to those who buy cars purely for their eco-credentials.

Renderings of a predicted Evo XI...
Also, cynical it may be but isn't it far more likely that Mitsub's own Global Product Director, speaking unrecorded and unscripted to a respected motoring journalist, is going to be much more honest about future policy in that off-the-record manner than the the public relations sect are, as they try to clear up the mess a few days later? As comments straight from the horse's mouth go, it'd be one hell of a red herring for Eusegi to deliberately snitch that the Evo is being killed off when in fact the truth is nothing of the sort .

...but will it ever see the light of day?

Furthermore, what 'dictates' the form of an Evo is its own core foundations, bred from rallying and honed as the car has Evolved. Turbocharged 2 litre, 4WD, clever yaw control and adaptive traction sensing, and then enough comfort and entertainment features to allow it to be tolerable day-to-day and viable at a £35k pricepoint. If it's now the environment and economy that's 'dictating' what form the next Evo will take, it won't be an Evo. It'll be a watered down representation of what Mitsubishi can get away with, using a halo badge to gain some street cred.

Not being familiar with the top brass at Mitsubishi, it's impossible to say just what lies ahead for the Evo, though this statement is far more revealing, and potential damaging, than it was intended to be when it was rapidly dreamed up my Mitisubishi's PR team, trying to avoid the wrath of a public who credit their brand's greatest achievment as being the various Lancer Evolutions. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, seems an appropriate outlook.

As for the tantalisingly ominous "Stay tuned" at the end of the press money is on a run out special of the Evo X, with special paint, badges, plenty of optionsthrown in, and a numbered plaque on the dashboard, just like any car reaching the end of the line. And while that will be the last we hear of the Evo, it won't be the last Mitsubishi hear on the matter. The times, they are a-changing...

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The End of Evolution

Charles Darwin once said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” We can be fairly sure he was referencing the fallibilities of nature, not bansai Japanese super saloons when he made the observation, but the car world is not immune from the simple truths of organic life.
The legendary Mitsubishi Evo is the strongest car its its field, bursting with Darwin's criteria of (turbocharged) strength and (computing) intelligence. Nevertheless, its parent company refuses to adapt it to comply with the current attitude on performance cars, so it's going, and not just this model either. According to Gayu Eusegi, Mitsubishi’s global product director, the current Evo X will go out of production with no planned successor. The Evo is dead.

The usual reasoning suspects are present: rising fuels costs (£1.40+/litre here in Evo-loving England), new green regulations, and a general move towards lighter, lower displacement, more efficient cars, at the expense of the old order, however important to the brand they are were. Mitsubishi in particular is committing to a fully electric outlook, with hybrid systems in the majority of its range by the middle of this decade and then a further push to full EV drivetrains as soon as the tech allows.
The Evo has beem deemed inappropriate for this treatment, and with Mitsubishi no longer competing in WRC, there's no need for homologation production, nor the demand there was in the late Nineties and early Noughties for a road-going rally special that won the Evo a place in the hearts of thousands of petrolheads worldwide.

With this massively sad latest departure from the showrooms of tomorrow, I'm put in mind of this clip from 1996 Top Gear, as the hilariously-permed Clarkson notes the demise of some of his favourite performance cars in something that amounts to a decent-car cull.

Between  the prosperity of the late Nineties and the latest recession, petrolheads, like investors, bankers, estate agents et al, have revelled in the good times. We've enjoyed a long and exciting period of year-on-year car development, especially in the realms of the fast car; even in the face of a growing environmental backlash, output and performance figures have increased dramatically.
We've seen cars top the 250mph barrier, and duck below 3 seconds to 60mph. We've marvelled at road cars shaving more than two minutes of previous Nurburgring lap times, whereupon the current record holder for 'everyday' cars rests with the Corvette ZR1 at 7:22.4, while some are predicting the new Lamborghini Aventador and McLaren MP4-12C could even sneak under 7 minutes when figured. Car lovers had, up until recently, never had it so good, and on the face of the latest reveals in Geneva, the grass is still green. Three new V12 flagships from Lambo, Ferrari and Pagani, a 'new' Aston, a track-bred Jag, the 1115bhp Koenigsegg Agera R, Alfa's new Evora-esque 4C mid-engined coupe, a faster Gumpert...the list is mouth-wateringly long and impressive.

No more M5 V10 - R.I.P.
It seems though that's it's only a matter of time before these too are being mourned for succumbing to the current facts of motoring life. New European emmission legislation and the effects of the global recession have seen a car massacre not unlike the one in the Top Gear clip. Victims include the high-revving, naturally aspirated Honda Civic Type-R, as well as all Honda's performance lineup, the S2000 and the stillborn V10 NSX replacement. The Focus ST and RS are gone courtesy of their sonorous five cylinder turbo motor, as are all naturally aspirated BMW M cars once the V8 E92 M3's number is up.

It may not have escaped your attention that these are also relatively accessible fast cars, whereas the new ones draped in showgirls right now at the Geneva Show are, with the exception of the £35k Alfa, all six-figure supercars likely only to be afforded by the employees of oil companies, banks and governments that help start the rot in the first place.
Alfa's 1.7l, 850kg, 200bhp 4C. The future's bright...

Efficient electric and hybrid cars are absolutely neccessary. There is a finite amount of consumable resources on this planet with which to build and fuel motor cars, and it has a nasty habit of being buried deep under countries which are as volatile and dangerous as a burning rig drill. It's become a cliché to say that like the horse, the internal combustion engined car will soon cease to be used as viable transport and instead become a thing of leisure and hobbying, while everyday duties are assigned to the fuel cell generation that tomorrow has promised is on the way. Tesla have even shown that zero-emission motoring can be already be entertaining, if not exactly practical.

For people lucky enough to currently own a playful car, it would appear the days of playtime are numbered. And for those who, like me, aspire to a driver's car just as soon as we can, we must hope they are still around in the form we know and love, and can afford, when that time eventually comes.
...let's hope

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