Vol. II No. 17 Saturday 26 April - 2 May 2003
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Automania

Autotrivia Quiz

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

Good luck!


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.

Commer

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.

Sport Grand Champion

During the race weekend, there will also be a Gymkhana championship run on the Bira Kart Track, which is involving the BF Goodrich tyre people.

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 the move?

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.

Mazda 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 it’s dry!

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!

Chev SSX

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!

Toyota RSC

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.


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