When men were men!

I read a very interesting piece the other day on the website written by well known scribe Eoin Young, an eNZedder who used to be with Bruce McLaren. The story was about an old chap from NZ who was attacking the World Land Speed record for two wheels in the 1970’s on a 50 year old Indian motorcycle. His name was Burt Munro, and he was in his 70’s at the time. The speeds he was attaining at the time were just short of 200 mph.

Of course, it is people like this of whom legends are written, and fortunately someone did write this chap’s story (he died in 1978). That someone is George Begg, himself a legendary DIY motor racing engineer and race car builder from the southern end of New Zealand who self-published the autobiography, “Burt Munro: Indian Legend of Speed” a few years ago.

According to Eoin Young, the book was an immediate sell-out at $NZ50, and there were only 300 copies. Now there is a reprint of another 100 copies which are available from Gavin Bain at Fazazz, P.O. Box 22-642, Christchurch, NZ. Fax +64 33 666 244. If you are very lucky, you might just get a copy.

Maserati 4.2 Spyder and Alfa Romeo 3.0 Spyder

This week’s road tests are of two cars that I would just love to sit my backside in, but the number of “test” Maserati’s in this country tend to be few and far between (if any)! Our ‘Down-Under’ correspondent, John Weinthal, however, did manage to have a delirious week with the Maserati 4.2 and an Alfa Romeo. Here are the Words from Weinthal.

“This week has been one of those of which memories are made. I had two great Italian cars; not supercars, but almost practical everyday cars - one for the relatively wealthy; the second for the truly rich.

“These two-seater Alfa Romeo and Maserati convertibles, or Spyders to the Italians, are exotic, uncompromising and great to be seen in. There are fundamental differences between the 3 litre V6 Alfa and the 4.2 litre V8 Maserati, even though both are made by FIAT which also makes Ferrari and Lancia.

The Maserati 4.2 Spyder and Alfa Romeo 3.0 Spyder

“The 287kW Maserati is rear wheel drive. It sets you back AUD 218,000 with a conventional six-speed gearshift or AUD 230,000 with the clutchless manual so-called F1-style Cambiocorsa gearbox of the test car.

“The 162kW Alfa is front-drive and costs AUD 73,000 with no choice beyond a six-speed manual. The Alfa is also available with a 114 kW four cylinder engine for just over AUD50,000, and both engines are available in Spyder or coupe Alfas.

“A luxury, genuine four-seater, Maserati coupe with the same exotic mechanicals as the Spyder was announced this week for AUD 203,000 as a conventional six-speed.

“The Alfa and Maserati coupes are marginally quicker than the Spyders because they are lighter and more aerodynamic. They also feel a lot more rigid than the convertibles which get mild shivers on less than perfect surfaces.

“For a day of mixed hard, winding hill driving and town and motorway cruising, the Maser excited with its performance, impressed with its classy style and comfort and assured that millionaire-for-a-day feel with its totally confident aura. It accelerates to 100 kph in a fraction under 5 seconds - adrenalin inducing by any road car standard.

“The Maser was only the second clutchless modern car I have driven. Like the Toyota MR2 it has steering wheel paddles like in F1 cars instead of a gearshift. I adapted to this with the MR2, but the truth is that the Toyota system, which is far from perfect, works a lot better than the Italian job. I’d opt for a conventional six-speed gearshift for my Maserati or its sister Ferrari for driving pleasure and even greater safety, especially when pressing on. However, it seems that few people compare the transmissions before purchase and the majority tick the paddle-shift box on the Maserati order form. I sympathise with them.

“At under $75,000 the Alfa is a little closer to the real world, and by all normal standards it is quick. It handles well and the engine and gearbox are brilliantly matched. To my eye, the Pininfarina styling guaranteed this Alfa classic status from day one. At every stop I was tempted to take yet another photo from some new angle. This is another case of the car as art - sculpted rather than pressed, it lifts the spirits even as it sits in your driveway or by the kerb.

“The Alfa might also be the car which best justifies the argument against front-wheel-drive for cars with high performance pretensions. It’s not an argument I generally accept. Indeed with many modern cars I defy most drivers to discern which wheels do the driving. However, the Alfa suffers in two ways. It has a huge turning circle which precludes a U-Turn in most normal streets. Secondly, care is required on any rapid take-off to hold the steering wheel firmly to counteract marked torque steer. It is easy to spin one or both front wheels, and fast driving in winding hill country induces marked understeer or, as the Americans say, push.

“But if you keep all this in mind, the Alfa is a delight. It looks stunning. It is comfortable and - apart from hopeless radio controls and the absence of cruise control - it is well kitted out. This includes a couple of the lockable storages spaces which are so necessary in a convertible.

“The Alfa’s prime competitor is the $74,600, 176kW rear-drive Honda S2000. Among the Honda’s plusses is a six second up and down power hood, in contrast with the Alfa’s snail-pace and overly complex lid. But the Honda will only be lusted after by the true car buff while even members of the Pedestrians’ League will love the look of the Alfa Spyder and that, surely, is what much of this sort of spend is about.

“This was an educational driving week - I could suffer more classes like it.”

Chevrolet Zafira ahead of sales targets

According to GeeEmm, sales of the locally produced Zafira people mover have exceeded the sales target and the projected year’s figures are already in the hands of the owners and the money’s in the GM vaults. According to their official figures, sales for the third quarter have come in at 2,610 vehicles and GM expected the 2002 target of 3,000 units to be reached by the end of October.

GM are naturally very pleased with this, but these figures are good for more than just the General. Buoyant sales figures such as these show that the Thai economy is definitely picking up, and that the automotive industry is also looking good.

Credit restrictions are being slowly lifted, again another indicator of an improved economy. If you are interested in a Zafira, there is a zero deposit offer on until the end of November, with instalments over 48 months.

Sales of 317 vehicles were recorded in September 2002 alone - an increase of nearly 400% over the figures for September 2001. Figures show that the most popular vehicle in the five-model Zafira range is the 2.2 LT (Luxury Touring), followed by the 1.8CD and the 2.2CDX.

Round 5 Thailand GT Championships next weekend

The 5th round of the Sport Grand Champion racing series will be held at the Bira circuit (outside Pattaya) next weekend, November 23/24. Other categories racing will include the Touring Cars Group N+ A & B and the Sport Challenge single seaters. The 5th round of the Thailand Gymkhana Championships will also be held that weekend at the Bira circuit. More details will be given next week.

Jaguar racing lets the cats out of the bag!

In a totally predictable move, Jaguar Racing has dropped Eddie (the mouth) Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa and picked up Antonio Pizzonia (test driver for BMW Williams) and this year’s Minardi star, Mark Webber.

The pair have long been tipped as the favourites for the drives, but the double-signing rested on Jaguar reaching a settlement with de la Rosa, who still had a season to run on his contract.

Mark Webber

Lauda had this to say about his new drivers, “In Antonio, or ‘Jungle Boy’ as he has been nicknamed, we have a very gifted raw racer who will undoubtedly inject a new lease of life into F1. His speed and racing instinct are what attracted us to him and I have little doubt in his ability to shake up the establishment in a big way.

“Mark on the other hand has solid F1 experience and now’s his chance to prove exactly what he is capable of. We have two very different characters and I have every intention of revving them up in an effort to extract the maximum from them.”

Both drivers tested for Jaguar earlier this year as part of the team’s evaluation of up and coming new talent and I believe that if Jaguar can finally produce a competitive car, they have two competitive drivers to make an impact on the F1 scene.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I published a photo and asked who was the driver? The only clue I gave you was that he was British, but the observant ones could have seen the beginning of the name “Napier” and therefore the driver was John Cobb, the British land speed record holder for a while.

So to this week. And let’s make it an easy one. Rudi Uhlenhaut designed the Mercedes 300 SL with the famous gull-wing doors that opened up sideways, hinged in the centre of the roof. An ultimate classic car. There was, however, one big problem with this design. What was it? And what did they do to correct the problem?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to fax 038 427 596 or email [email protected]

Good luck!