Last week I mentioned an American industrialist who
assisted France in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 mass producing
arms. In the early 1900’s the factory began producing vehicles. In
1929 they produced a 6 cylinder engine, which they used through to
1955, winning several Monte Carlo rallies on the way. I asked what was
the full name of the industrialist? The clue was that there were two
vehicles in his three names. The answer was Benjamin Berkeley
Hotchkiss, with Berkeley and Hotchkiss being the two marque names.
So to this week. The other day, while mooching
around in Chiang Mai (and sadly without my camera) I spotted what I
think was a Fiat 508 circa 1937, complete with a ‘leopard skin’
bonnet cover. Any information on this particular vehicle would be
appreciated. But that’s not the question! The Fiat 508’s were sold
in France under another name. What was it?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first
correct answer to email automania @chiangmai-mail.com
The Commer -
Thailand’s answer to the Hummer?
Spotted this little gem on Soi 20 Sukhumvit in
Bangkok during the Motor Show. It would be a circa 1959/60 (I think)
Commer, also sold as the Hillman Husky in some markets. The owner was
obviously not all that impressed by George Dubbya!
Have you ever stopped to wonder just how some of
these cars got into this country? And in the case of this vehicle,
just why? The plethora of late 60’s, early 70’s American iron can
be explained by the US involvement in Vietnam and Laos (Laos? Where
did I get that idea from?), but to import a Commer, or a Topolino
(there’s a lovely red one just outside Chiang Mai)? Why? I am always
interested in hearing about odd-ball cars in Thailand. Drop me an
email, as per the autotrivia quiz.
AIM reveals its plans for the 2003 season
The dynamic people at the AIM Racing Project are gearing up
for a full year of varied motorsport for the 2003 season. The first of six
rounds to be held at the Bira Circuit outside Pattaya, will be on May 3/4 and
will feature the Sport Grand Champion cars and the Sport Challenge single
seaters, the Group N Touring cars and a Mini challenge, with the original
Mini’s from the Thailand Mini Clubs out to show that they have not been left
behind in the race scene.
During the race weekend, there will also be a Gymkhana
championship run on the Bira Kart Track, which is involving the BF Goodrich tyre
AIM are running a Pick-Up series too, starting from the 2nd
round. These will all be locally manufactured 3 litre diesels. Also from the
second round there will be drives around the circuit in a race car for some
lucky members of the viewing public. Your chance to be taken for the ride of
your life with one of the race drivers.
Other dates for the AIM series events are June 14/15, July
26/27, September 6/7, October 25/26 and December 6/7.
Road traffic accidents and Songkran
While the Thai government metaphorically scratches its nether
regions looking for the answer to the horrendous Songkran road toll - almost 600
this year - which is more than the combined death toll from both sides of the
Iraqi conflict - the answer to my simple mind is fairly obvious.
Certainly it may be Thai New Year, but surely the country
could celebrate this on one day, not over one week? The Western New Year occurs
on December 31, not December 26th through to January 4th! With Chiang Mai
celebrating over four days and Pattaya managing to throw water for over one
week, this is more than faintly silly. Make Songkran a one day celebration, on
the same day, all over the country. Make it one helluva holiday that lasts 24
hours. End of story!
Sure, you can then look at the alcohol and driving problem
and the fact that 90% of motorcycle riders who were killed did not have crash
helmets, but by limiting the length of the celebration (madness) you have
immediately limited the potential exposure to lethal situations.
As a small, but significant spin-off, you will also have
produced a celebration that tourists and expats will want to experience, not one
that has become a “must get away from” week.
| Mazda. A company on
I have always had a soft spot for Mazda, and a couple
of my personal favourite vehicles have come from the Mazda stable - namely
the RX7 and the MX5. Before I made the big plunge for the rotary RX7 I
stopped every RX7 owner and asked them for their thoughts on their car.
Every driver was just totally positive about them, so I made the plunge
and was completely converted as well. I did have experience with the
rotary engines which we put in various race cars, but a road car, the
total package, is different from a pure race engine. The MX5 was my last
drive car before leaving Oz, and was another dream of a car, on which
nothing, repeat nothing, went wrong. It does not surprise me that it has
become the best selling sports car in the world.
RX8 at the motor show
In Thailand, Mazda marketing has definitely become more
aggressive and it has stopped being considered as the poor cousin of its
stablemate Ford at the AAT plant on the Eastern Seaboard. The new
“Zoom-Zoom” brand concept is of course capitalizing on the RX series,
the MX5 and the fact that Mazda did indeed win the Le Mans 24 hour race in
1991. It may be 12 years ago, but what-the-hell, let’s milk the cow till
The RX8 is a new direction, being a true 4 place sports
car and incorporating those tricky rear “doors” that are being used in
the Mazda “Freestyle” cab (and the Ford variant). These rear entry
panels cannot be opened when the front doors are closed, so in many ways
are the ideal children’s safety doors. RX8 also features a twin rotor,
naturally aspirated engine delivering 240 bhp at 5,500 rpm. Believe me
that should be enough grunt to keep everyone happy. It is certainly a
vehicle with ‘presence’ and one that I would be happy to stick in my
driveway. Price? Dunno yet! It’s a fully imported jigger, so probably
too expensive by far! Interestingly, it has a more than passing
resemblance to the new Chevrolet SSX which was shown at the North American
Motor Show a couple of months back. It too, features the same rear door
treatment, which they call “closet” doors.
“Affordable” (just) is the latest version of the
MX5. At a smidgin under 2 million, it is a lot of money for a two person
sporty car, even with a 6 speed manual gearbox, but it certainly lives up
to the Zoom-Zoom label. To really get the most out of one of these, give
the engine a free-flow inlet and exhaust system, go one inch larger and
wider in the wheels and return to the same rolling diameter with some wide
low-profile rubber, and you have a rocketship!
Unfortunately, the Mazda6 is not going to be marketed
here, according to David Grakul, the managing director of Mazda Sales
(Thailand). This vehicle has received good press all over the world (our
Australian correspondent, John Weinthal rates it as one of the best new
cars in all respects). Grakul feels that Thailand is not the marketplace
for a larger sedan, but rather expects the MPV segment to increase at the
expense of the passenger car side.
For the fag smokers
The ‘big news’ last week was the venture into motorsport
of the nicotine replacement medication, NiQuitin, becoming one of the sponsors
of the BMW Williams team. This was heralded as a ‘breakthrough’ in the
tobacco dominated sport. This was not really the case, as in Australia, my own
QUIT racing team, sponsored by the Queensland Cancer Fund, ran under the QUIT
banner for the five years prior to my deserting Oz to come to Thailand. However,
I hope the investment pays off for all concerned. My views on cigarette smoking
are well known to anyone who reads my medical columns.
What about Toyota?
Toyota’s only new cars at the motor show included the RSC,
standing for Rugged Sports Coupe, or so the blurb claimed. This was a concept
car from the Toyota design centre in California. Reputedly set up with 4WD,
there was nothing from Toyota to say what engine (if any) was hooked up to it.
It sits on 19" wheels and is just over 4 metres long, almost 2 metres wide
and just over 1.5 metres high! It is in a 2+2 configuration and I believe that
Toyota might just be using this as a toe in the water exercise, much as Jeep did
a few years back with the Wrangler. I reckon it looked great!
Other than that, they had the Soluna VIOS (the similarity
between it and the Honda City is remarkable) whose shape is starting to grow on
me, and then the usual Corolla Altis and Camry. There was also the new Toyota
Wish (which looks like the Honda Stream - is there industrial espionage
somewhere, I wonder?).
With much of Toyota’s sales being pick-ups, there were the
usual variants with standard and long cabs, etc., none of which really excite me
(but that goes for all pick-ups from all manufacturers). Describing one of their
Hilux Tigers in their press kit as “sharp and devilishly good looking” is
stretching the long bow just a little!
Hats off to Toyota for one thing, however - English language press kits.
First time I’ve ever seen one from the Big T.