Last week I asked you to remember the 1963 Corvette
Stingray. A classic car in all respects, with the unmistakable split
back window and the ridge running from the roof to the tail. However,
there was another car, long before the Corvette, that had a split back
window and a ridge running down from the roof to the tail. I gave the
clues that it was European and rear engined. The answer was of course,
Tatra! By the way, I spotted a Tatra in a small village just outside
Chiang Mai a few years ago. Anybody seen it since?
So to this week. Another easy one. Who was the
father of the Stingray? For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the
first correct answer to email: automania @chiangmai-mail.com
The new Soluna
Interested to see the new Toyota Soluna on the streets now,
and they certainly have brought it into the corporate “Toyota” look. Have
you noticed the same styling ideas right the way from the Camry through to
Corolla and now Soluna? Narrow gutted, high roof line and high sill line on the
doors. I cannot honestly say I like it much, but at least it is better than the
old Soluna styling.
One styling feature that is 2002/2003 is the Soluna grille -
unfortunately for Toyota, it came out on the Mazda series first, then the
Honda’s. Looks good (especially on the Mazda), but it’s a shame there
appears to be little original thought around these days.
Toyota is making no secret of the fact that they want to get
rid of the old Soluna image of a cheap and austere motor vehicle, stressing that
the new Soluna Vios is a pint-sized luxury package. With prices commencing
around the half a million baht, I expect that there will be a large demand for
this latest model.
The new car is being produced at the Toyota Gateway plant and
200-300 units are rolling out the doors every day. Toyota has expressed the view
that Thailand should be the production hub for this vehicle for the ASEAN Free
Trade Agreement (AFTA) region. Ryochi Sasaki, the president of Toyota Motor
Thailand said, “We plan to make the most effective use of AFTA, and we expect
the initial demand for the Soluna Vios in ASEAN will reach 20,000 units, which
is quite big.”
This new Soluna boasts an 83% local content and Toyota expect
this to rise to around 90% when locally produced electronic bits are ready. With
Singapore being an important market for the new vehicle, Toyota expect their
total sales to jump from the 130,000 units sold in 2002.
The new Honda City
Honda are not going to let Toyota get under their
guard, with Satoshi Toshida, the MD of Honda Motor saying he wants to
see Thailand as the production base for the new Honda City. This car
is also destined for export, with ASEAN, the Middle East and Africa on
the export invoice. In addition, Honda are going to export the little
car to Japan, a first for a major auto manufacturer to export back to
Japan. Subaru in Japan import the Travik, but this is made by GM and
is basically a re-badged Zafira.
Honda plan to produce as many as 50,000 of the
City, with 30,000 slated for export, but have indicated that there is
plenty of production capacity available, and they will increase the
production if the demand is heavy enough. Local content of the new
City (based on the Honda global small platform) is 82% following
Honda’s acceptance of the increasing standards of the local parts
The new City is modern in looks and offers CVT
(continuously variable transmission) with a 7 speed steering wheel
controlled manual over-ride system. The 1.5 litre engine is a very
under-stressed unit, and should be exceptionally reliable.
Thailand is the largest production base for Honda in ASEAN
(Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia also have auto plants), and
Satoshi Toshida says that Honda wishes to increase the number of
models being produced in Thailand, to increase the variety on offer.
This is nothing but good news for the local market.
Another Finn and another Rosberg?
Keke Rosberg was world champion in 1982, driving
for Williams, but the name Rosberg looks like coming back. Keke’s
son, 17 year old Nico Rosberg won the Formula BMW ADAC Championship in
2002, and is set to compete in F3 in 2003, but was recently given a
test in an F1 BMW Williams as a reward.
This was judged to be very successful, and Williams
and its German partner BMW both made it clear that they were very
impressed with the young Rosberg’s performance.
According to pitpass.com, team boss Sir Frank
Williams was impressed not only by the young Finn’s sheer speed but
also the fact that he wasn’t intimidated either by the occasion or
F1 power. At the time Rosberg compared driving the BMW-WilliamsF1 to a
computer game! Sir Frank has hinted that it’s not out of the
question that the youngster might test for his team again in the near
future, with a full-time test seat to follow. Asked recently if Nico
could expect to be offered a test role in 2005 or even 2004, Williams
responded; “Perhaps even earlier.”
I sincerely hope that this is the case. F1 needs
real talent, and by his results to date, Nico Rosberg has that talent.
The last thing F1 needs is more “pay drivers” like the
non-lamented Alex Yoong. If F1 is to really be the premier form of
motorsport, we need to think we are watching the ‘best’ drivers,
not the ones with most money or most connections.
Nico was born in Wiesbaden, but grew up in Monte
Carlo and Ibiza. At the age of 9 he was given his first go-kart and
two years later went on to win his first championship. Following that,
he spent two years driving in the Italian Junior Class, in which he
claimed the runner-up position. In 1999 Nico came second in the
Europe-wide Formula A before switching to Formula Super A, the
pinnacle of kart racing, where he was very successful, especially in
wet conditions. In 2002, he switched to cars from karts and dominated
the Formula BMW ADAC Championship, scoring 9 firsts from 20 starts.
Remember the name Rosberg, you will see it again soon!
A Chevrolet we won’t get here!
The Detroit Auto show is where the American auto
manufacturers can show off their concept vehicles and GM had a fistful
on show. Of most interest to me was the Chev SS, a muscle car (to hell
with the oil crisis) with an all alloy 6 litre V8 up front and rear
wheel drive. The 430 BHP engine is paired with a four-speed
electronically controlled automatic transmission and traction control.
What made this vehicle very interesting is that it
is not a two door, but a four door that seats five passengers. A
“practical” muscle car that I am sure would rumble down to the
supermarket just as well as it would eat up the super highways around
here. The styling was also very reminiscent of the old Chev Camaro SS,
a great GM muscle car from the 60’s.
To get the power on the ground, the SS features
low-arm suspension and independent rear suspension. The chassis
features driver-adjustable shocks to change the damping ratio, and
drivers can tune the chassis for softer ride or performance.
Retardation is carried out through brakes which
have six-piston calipers with 14-inch rotors up front, and four-piston
calipers with 14.75-inch rotors on the rear. These fit inside 21 inch
alloy wheels at the front and massive 22 inchers at the rear.
A Berkeley bobs up again
Four years ago I mentioned this marque in the
column, and it is quite fun to think that those words are still
floating around the ether somewhere, as I received an email from Mark
Williams in the UK, a real Berkeley enthusiast.
I had written that the Berkeley was one crazy
little sports car built by some crazy little people in Biggleswade in
the UK. They appeared in 1956 and disappeared by 1960, but they have
left behind a small but intensely loyal bunch of enthusiasts (like
The Berkeleys came out in both three wheeled form
and four wheelers and had several engine changes in their production
run. The initial ones had a 322 cc alloy Anzani two stroke twin. This
was dumped in favour of another two stroke, the Excelsior Talisman
with another 6 cc’s - imagine the extra grunt!
However, the cars were very light and so, in
chasing extra performance, some were given a 492 cc Talisman engine
delivering a staggering 30 BHP. This was called the B95 model, but the
performance option did not stop there. In 1958 they came up with the
40 BHP B105 R Le Mans and this was really quite a weapon.
The cars were so small with a 1.12 metre track and
a 1.8 metre wheel base and just over 1 metre high. They were also very
light, being a fibreglass monocoque construction and weighed in around
Mark writes that his Berkeley is an SE328, chassis
Number 340. “The Berkeley Enthusiasts Club has details of about 1400
Berkeleys of different types (SE322, 328, B90, B105. etc.) in
existence around the world, with about 30% listed as currently
“There is a website with good overall history of
the cars and the different models...
“My impressions of the car now, some 30 years on
from my first encounter? They are enormous fun - your bum is about 3
inches off the ground (I can reach out over the door and touch the
ground whilst still sitting in the drivers seat!). With a quick
steering box and brakes that are about 3 times as powerful as needed
for the weight of the car, and about 70% of the weight biased towards
the front wheels, the handling is fantastic - in essence, you are
driving an over-powered, legal go-kart! Technically, they incorporated
advanced ideas for their time - front-wheel drive, fully independent
suspension, and a fibreglass monocoque body with aluminium bulkheads
and stiffeners. In terms of day to day use now, they are still
eminently useable, unless you want to go cruising at 90mph + all day -
much better to have fun in the 40-70 range blasting along country
Mark also has a fully restored MGA coupe which he
takes to Le Mans for his annual pilgrimage. Thanks for contacting
Automania, and you never know, there could even be a Berkeley in
Thailand. I have seen stranger vehicles!