Automania

Autotrivia Quiz

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

Good luck!

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.

Toyota Soluna

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.

Mazda

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 producers.

Honda City

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.

Nico Rosberg

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.

Berkeley

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 Mark).

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 320 kg.

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 roadworthy.

“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 roads.”

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!