Automania! Just what is it about?

This weekly column is about cars, cars and more cars (and the occasional bike). The writer, a self confessed automotive maniac, is Dr. Iain Corness, an accredited international motoring journalist with a long history in motor sport in his native Australia, where he has driven and raced everything from go karts, sports cars, production saloons, Formula Ford, speedway oval racers, Porsche Cup, sports sedans and right the way through to F5000. He has been a works team driver for several makes and has won championships and numerous awards in circuit racing as well as hill climbs. In Thailand he is the International Advisor to the Bira Circuit (outside Pattaya) and has been known to put his backside into any race car if left unattended too long. Each week there is an Autotrivia Quiz to see how many readers all over the world rise to the challenge of knowing some otherwise useless piece of autotrivia. For example, did you know that the 1933 Morris Minor had a central accelerator pedal?


Road tests are presented in a frank and straightforward style, and the tests are done properly, not just a quick drive around the block and then off to a swank dinner with the girls from the automakers PR department. He was one of only two motoring journalists allowed to test the Lamborghini Diablo when it was released in Australia, and one of only two journalists in the world, to our knowledge, who called it like it really was. His sum up at the end of the article has often been quoted, “Certainly Diablo is an exciting exotic, but the personality is flawed. The comparison with other Europeans must be made and it is my opinion that you can live with a Porsche, you can have an affair with a Ferrari, but a Lamborghini could only ever be a one night stand.” (Best Car and Sports Driver Magazine, March/April 1992.)


Tierrarizing the neighbourhood - What Ford Motor Company would like you to be doing

I have just spent a week with the latest Ford Laser Tierra Ghia, an important model in Ford Motor Company’s vehicle rationalisation project in SE Asia. With the production of Ford pick-ups now being centred at the Auto Alliance Eastern Seaboard manufacturing plant in Thailand, this freed up manufacturing potential in the Philippines, and this is where the Laser Tierra is manufactured.

Ford Laser Tierra Ghia

The Laser Tierra comes as a 1.6 litre in manual or auto, or as the 1.8 litre auto only. The variant tested was the 1.8 litre top of the line Ghia model, automatic, parking sensors, twin airbags, the whole box and dice (fully loaded as they say in the car sales bizz) and it was a week of surprises. Probably the first surprise was that Ford would send out, as a test vehicle, a car in the drabbest of colours imaginable. Somebody out there must like it, but the interior trim of baby poo brown and beige was certainly not my idea of an attractive interior. The sheet metal colour was not all that much brighter either - a kind of metallic grey/brown - a colour that blends in with the road surface so well that it was hard to see where the edges of the car finished and the bitumen began. With Mazda making much use of yellow in the publicity of their version, the Prot้g้, perhaps FoMoCo felt that the subdued look was the way to go. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

The second surprise was that despite the impression that the visuals had given me, the Laser Tierra turned out to be one of the more exciting motor cars to drive in the small saloon class! Sure-footed, precise handling with a very rigid platform, good steering, a willing engine and a great set of brakes. Yes! Yes! Yes! Fortunately, the engineering design team obviously never met the stylists.

Sitting in the car, my likes included the immediately apparent good ergonomics in the man/machine interface. The steering wheel was correct, relative to the pedals and the auto shift lever and the seat. The wheel is adjustable, and also the seat, not only fore and aft, but the height and tilt in the seat base was adjustable as well. You have no idea how some manufacturers can get that wrong, and anyone who has ever sat in a Lamborghini Diablo will know what I mean. The Tierra’s positioning could be easily adjusted to give me, at a poofteenth under 6 foot, a comfortable driving position, and yet could accommodate my Thai lady at a smidgen over 5 foot. And the seat shift levers didn’t try to amputate your fingers, another concept that certain manufacturers have yet to learn.

Another great like was the engine and power train. Strong, quiet and torquey. There was more than adequate passing reserve for highway cruising, and it felt effortless. Even right up the rev range, the engine did not get fussy, nor was there excessive torque steer reaction.

The four speed auto gearbox has a final drive of 0.725, which combined with the final drive ratio of 3.9 really does make for effortless cruising within the official speed limits - or even when taken way past the maximum. Upchanging was quite seamless, and even with full throttle kick-downs there were no nasty thumps to upset grandma in the back.

The steering was precise and the “feel” is speed dependent, to give the driver better control of the vehicle. Turning circle is good for a front wheel driver too. I should mention the IR parking hazard warning. This is a great idea and saves all that “parking by Braille” that occurs all too frequently. With the high boot lid on the Tierra it can be a little difficult to visualise exactly where the rear of the car finishes (and the front of the car behind begins) but the parking warning beeper worked a treat. By the end of the week I had really learned to trust it! However, remember that it cannot “see” gates!

The headlights deserve a mention, even if just for the rocket launcher “Star Wars” treatment of them. As far as illumination was concerned they seemed no better or no worse than ordinary headlights, but I’m sure somebody at Ford styling thought they looked super.

The Tierra was easy to live in. The glove box was cavernous, there were pockets in the doors and under the dash and a small bin under the central arm rest, but nothing to store CD’s or tapes, and a twin drinks holder on the console between the seats. I don’t know that I really want to “drink and drive” (non-alcoholic of course) but the holder worked OK for my mobile phone. The air conditioner worked well and had sufficient adjustments, both in outlets and in temperature and fan speed (simple rotary, easy to use dial controls).

The vehicle seats five people easily (and farang sized too) and the front buckets were adequate as far as lateral support was concerned. The rear seat was interesting in that it not only had a fold-down arm rest (something the Ford owned Jaguar X-Type 2 litre V6 does not have), but also the seat back could be folded down to give access to the boot, to allow you to carry long things like pole vaulting equipment or small trees. The boot was also large enough for a family’s luggage plus room for the pogo stick.

My dislikes with the Tierra were few - I have mentioned the interior trim colours in the test car, but I am sure there are better combinations available. While on the interior (and this goes for most new cars, not just Ford products), if it is considered to be a selling feature to have a lump of tree on the dashboard, please give me real wood and not plastic imitation trees! With the aforementioned baby poo brown dash, the Tierra interior stylists also gave me baby poo brown imitation plastic tree around the centrally placed sound system and also around the ‘fast glass’ controls on the doors.

Which leads me to my next dislike - the sound system, better known as the noise device. My parrot could reproduce sounds better than the radio in the Tierra. Plays CD’s, tapes and wireless, sure. And if you can find your way through the multi-function push this way and that switches then you’re a better man than I am Gungadin! Two push button switches for volume control - one for up and the other for down, when a simple rotary dial would have been so much easier. Tune the radio? You have to be kidding, even after you get it into “tuner” mode it requires a post doctoral degree in micro-computing to do that simple task. I gave up. Use the noise-maker as underwater d้cor in the goldfish tank and replace it with a radio that works.

Next hate - the chromium toothed grille. Ford, it looks dreadful. I had to stop myself taking it to the nearest orthodontist to see if they could correct its splayed toothy grin. In Ford’s defence, this style also looks dreadful in the Nissan Sunny, the Mitsubishi and even the Corolla. The 1960’s look went out in 1969 - why bring it back? Again, the Mazda variant looks much better with the open fronted air intake look. Or use chicken wire like Ford does on some of its other products, like Jaguar. Please get rid of the chromium teeth at the next face-lift.

To slip yourself into a Laser Tierra is not too breaking of the bank. The 1.6 manual is yours for B. 756,900, the auto 1.6 version is B. 795,900, while the 1.8 auto Ghia as tested is B. 879,000. Ford Sales Thailand informed me that they have a promotional campaign for 1.6 auto with 15% Down payment and one year 1st class insurance free.

Autotrivia Quiz

This is designed for all those who like a little detective work. Cast your mind back to July 1895 and the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race. The Michelin brothers used up their entire spare stock of 22 inner tubes on their Peugeot during the race. What was so remarkable about the Peugeot’s use of Michelin tyres?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer emailed to [email protected]

Good luck!