Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Afternoon With An M

Car spotting can brighten up the most mundane of journeys, but it's a tricky business. Catching a glimpse of something exotic is about the best you can hope for while driving.

Even if you do happen across a rare, special set of wheels, you can't be seen to stop and stare at it while it's parked up, for fear of friends and strangers instantly judging you a car nerd, as you incessantly pour over the details in front of you. Car spotting has to be a subtle, fleeting experience. Anyway, chances are anything special enough to warrant stopping passers by in their tracks will be so rare that they're hardly seen at all.

Take the BMW 1 Series M Coupé. Despite being based on the humble 1 Series, BMW have only built 450 examples, meaning there's only 51 more 'out there' than there are Ferrari Enzos.

I was really keen to catch one in the metal, since, as previous Tyre Roar visitors will know, I was never convinced by the 1M's styling. After it being one of the most exciting new cars of 2011, the reveal of the fussy front and dumpy tail bookending over-inflated flanks let it down somewhat.
And then I saw one. Coming home from work, in the small hours of a dewy summer morning, I pulled off the main road towards my house and there, under the glow of suburban streetlights, with icy water dripping off its muscles, was a Valencia Orange 1M. The very long termer currently being put through its paces by CAR Magazine, published in Peterborough, just a short schlep up the A1 from me.

Having crawled by the car as slow as I dared to take it all in, I decided to try a cheeky Tweet at Ben Barry, road test editor of CAR and neighbour of mine, to see if he'd mind me inviting myself over and having a good poke round what is one of the cars of the moment. Despite his packed pre-Frankfurt schedule, I was welcomed to pop up the road and check out the baby M, and, as offers you can't refuse go, having a private tour of a brand new M car by a professional motoring journalist isn't a bad way to spend an afternoon.
I'lll clear one thing up straight out of the blocks. The 1M looks massively better in the flesh than in the pictures. On a day which quickly turned from bright sunshine to drizzly rain, the paintwork looked great, as did the the sharp crease along the shoulder line, and those wonderful blistered wheelarches.

They're so exaggerated, in the way they seem to pop out of the side, the car looks like a Transformer straight out of Michael Bay's imagination; perhaps one that's frozen midway through transition, leaving the wheels, and chin, straining to be released from the bodywork. The fake wing vent is a bit of a sell out, but all other bases are covered: perfect stance, four shotgun barrel 'pipes, raised bootlid, and yet not at all aftermarket in appearance.

It's so much more special than the dumpy 1 Series, and it marries the corporate M Division design cues with a genuine sense of fun in the way it looks. Very impressive stuff. Needless to say, the M3 CSL-alike multispoke wheels, deliciously dished on the rear, add to the squat, taut proportions and give the 1M a rather racey demeanour.

Mr Barry kindly let me have a explore the interior as well. If anything were to let the 1M down on showroom appeal, apart from the plastic shroud masking the twin turbo straight six, it'd be the very much standard 1 Series interior, only marginally lifted with some alcantara and orange stitching highlights. Yet as I settled myself in the driver's seat, clinched by the generous bolsters in the small of my back, I warmed to its stark functionality. It's not a surprise-and-delight interior, but it's not distracting either. It's a well built, tactile environment in which driving is enjoyed, but it still plays a strong practicality hand. I didn't even think the much-maligned steering wheel was the uncomfortably bloated item I'd been led to believe it was.
Also, from inside or out, the 1M is a wonderfully compact car. Sitting inside, cocooned between the high waistline and looking out over the sueded dial binnacle, the bonnet swells out in front, while a look over the shoulder shows the pert little lip on the boot right over the end of the car.

I can imagine this making the 1M extremely easy to place and manage on the road, whether parking or attacking a B road on boost. With the controls falling easily to hand inside and the extremities easily reined in, the 1M gives off such an impression of usability, it's easy to see why the UK allocation has sold out entirely. As a one size fits all car for a couple or small family with petrolhead tendencies, it's a blinding package.

Enormous thanks to my friendly local motoring journalist, Mr Ben Barry, for giving over his time and enthusiasm to let me indulge myself in his weekend runabout, and providing the rare opportunity of a fully satisfying car spotting session.

I really appreciate immersing myself in the aura of an M car for an hour, and having soaked up all that oozes from its caricatured physique (all while stationary at the side of the road) I have to agree with Mr Barry's three word verdict on the 1M:

"It's very good."

If you're now hungry for a bit more 1M, follow @JethroBovingdon on Twitter, the current lucky custodion of YH11 FXC. You can also read about his updates on the car with CAR Magazine here. May I also heartily recommend you follow @IamBenBarry while you're at it.
Time for one final shot, and fittingly, we'll have the 1M literally bursting off the page:

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The King Is Dead, Long Live The King

Yes, sure as night follows day and the leaves of summer blow away in the gusts of autum-...I digress. The biggest driver's car release of 2011 is out of the bag.
 The Porsche 911, the world's longest living, most popular sports car has yet again reinvented itself for a new generation. There'll be masses of speculation of the specification to come in all the first drives, and talk of the downsized motors in the Carrerra with inflated power. The main purpose of this blog is to splash the leaked press portraits right down the page and drink in the details of the new 911, and what we reckon to its styling. With tens of variations to come and a wealth of history to live up to, it's important it makes a good impression.
My initial thoughts are these. The front is cleaner than before, but also more gawky, with some Panamera cues it didn't deserve, around the 'eyebrowless' headlights and square chin. The daytime running lights are also way too prominent, they're bad enough dazzling everyone to blindness on the front of every current Audi all hours of the day, but for them to be so shouty and bling when switched off is odd.

The profile is classic 911, but lower and leaner somehow, which is a good thing. Those spindly wheels aren't my cup of tea on this car but Porsche usually have an infinite amount of option designs so that'll be an issue for the configurator to resolve. They must be sporting some serious unsprung weight deductions, you've got to assume.
The rear's sliver-thin lights and less fussy engine cover look smart, but the numberplate housing is slightly too prominent and clumsy (though it's even worse on the US spec square plate version) but then again these are hot off the press pictures, and details like that will be easily overlooked in the passage of time. I like the aggression the shotgun barrel tailpipes hint at as well, a nice parting statement from the car there.
Much more is still to come, but it's good to digest these shots of the definitive sports coupé nice and early, before Frankfurt, and beyond. Just keep the Top Gear 'it's the same as the old one, boring' comments to a minimum. Please.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

The purpose of this discussion is slightly risky, for two reasons. Firstly, I don't know if it's completely a creation of my own imagination, and secondly, if not, has anyone else actually ever noticed it? Time to dive right in.

The phenomenon I'm alluding to, which has long puzzled me, is quite where last-generation models of cars disappear to when the newer version replaces it.

Allow me to explain further. The flame-surfaced E60 BMW 5 Series is one of the most recognisable cars on the roads, thanks to its combination of unabashed styling with typical BeeEm cues, and the fact that like every 5 Series before it, it was the default executive saloon choice, especially among keen drivers. Petrols, turbodiesels, saloons, Tourings, there's oodles of the things around, especially in desirable M Sport trim.

Or at least, there were. Since the new, F10 Five replaced the Bangle model last year, I've become increasingly aware that the number of the old model that I see is dropping off considerably. Despite company fleets and private buyers doubtless likely to graduate to the new 5, I've meanwhile seen very few of them on the road. And yet, the E60 car continues to disappear left, right  and centre.

Now this car is not a dinosaur. It's still competitively efficient, practical, and carries many of the toys that transferred to the new car, and for these reasons, it sold handsomely.
So where are they all now? Has massively zealous scrapping kicked in on the quiet? Unlikely. Have all old Fives retired to a far off end of the country I'm nowhere near? I cannot work out where they're all going. And I was just using the 5 Series as an example.
I notice that with many new car launches that the older shape sinks without trace, even if the replacement remains relatively scarce. The current Land Rover Discovery 4 sells reasonably, thus its predecessors have retreated to almost complete obscurity. The sharp looking current Ford Fiesta has consistently been Britain's best selling car since its debut three years ago, but the Mk6 held that crown in its day, yet now I honestly don't see that many around.

Before I go any further, is this really just me? Or do you sometimes notice relatively young cars getting very rare very fast just because they've been superseded, although not significantly bettered?

I remember in 2007, just prior to the release of the E92 V8 M3, that the amount of E46 M3s I seemed to pass day to day was verging on ludicrous. All different colours, numberplates, just loads of the things, seeming to outnumber 320ds. And on the unveiling of the new kid, I thought, with raised eyebrows: "Hmm, £50k for a 3 Series derivative, these'll be very rare, almost like Ferrari spotting. Pity." I thought BMW's sales forecast, in the face of the eco brigade and slightly cold reviews on the handling, were way too optimistic. "There's no way that'll outsell the straight six car..." I concluded, as my eyebrows returned to normal "...especially after how many of those I've seen about..."

Predictably with the benefit of hindsight, I was catastrophically wrong. The V8 car has outsold every other M3 generation by a massive margin, and as likely the last naturally aspirated M car, will surely be sorely missed when it is pensioned off next year in anticipation of a twin or even tri-turbo six pot.

So the E92 M3 was very popular. I see two E92s, both in fabulously punchy white, on my usual dog walk route, outside their doubtless proud owners' houses. I don't always see two Honda Civics, or two Renault Meganes, but I do see two 4 litre M cars, without fail. Odd, that. (N.B. No, my dog walk is not past a BMW dealership nor a stupidly affluent posh end, just normal leafy town streets.)

You can see where this is going. How many E46s do I still see? Put it this way: if I hadn't seen a gorgeous blue-silver CSL yesterday, I couldn't have remembered when one last crossed my path if my life had depended on it. Sure, they're expensive to run and long in the tooth, but they are regarded as one of the M Division's finest achievements, and were a sales goldmine, so I can't understand where they're hiding all of a sudden. Wear, tear and accidents cannot have removed that many from the food chain.

Right. I've gone on for far too long about something I'm aware perhaps only I worry about. But keep a sharp eye yourself. Look out for 'old new cars', like the Mk2 Ford Focus or just-killed Citroen C3. And if they vanish from everyday roads while their successors stay fairly rare, I claim my virtual five pounds for spotting this motoring mystery.

...and breathe.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

A New Home For Tyre Roar-ing

Huge thanks to everyone who's stuck with Tyre Roar so far and returned again and again to read my posts - it's much appreciated. To a large extent, it's had the desired effect, as you'll now also be able to come across my automotive musings in an exciting and fresh new online only publication: Gridlock Magazine.

The big launch went up last week and the site is already bursting with news, reviews and abstract bits and bobs from experienced writers and young bloggers and aspiring journalists myself. It's well worth a look, especially if you want to be ahead of the game, and your support for all on Gridlock would be well received, as it has been here.

Tyre Roar isn't going anywhere though; I'll still be on here as much as I can, keeping the blogs going whenever something amuses, confuses, antagonises or amazes me. My sincere gratitude for all the hits so far, look out for OllieInGear on Twitter, on Gridlock Magazine, and on here as well.

Now get over to www.gridlockmagazine.com and see what you reckon.

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