Automania

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned the Ferrari Daytona (AKA 365GTB/4) which developed 350 bhp at 7,500 rpm. I asked what was the red-line on the tachometer in an attempt to stymie all my ‘google’ users! The answer was 7,700 rpm.

So to this week. And this is one which might really fix the web crawlers (I hope). Study this old B&W photo. This is a woman who raced F1 and the venue was Spa in Belgium. The year? Well, Stirling Moss was there, but Juan Manuel Fangio was not. That’s enough clues! What is her name?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email automania @chiangmai-mail.com

Good luck!


The Great National Lottery scandal!

Gentle reader, please do not immediately jump to the conclusion that there has been another attempt to alter the course of chance (or justice) in the Thai national lottery. Quite the contrary, the following tale is true and represents inspired thinking, incredible collusion and damned hard work to bring it all off. And it didn’t happen here.

Varzi

At the outset, be aware that corruption has been all around us, and I’m not talking Thailand. I am talking motor sport. Le sport pure. And Grand Prix racing in particular. May I present the 1933 Grand Prix of Tripoli!

The Tripoli GP was a star spangled affair, proposed by Marshall Italo Balbo, the military governor and viceroy of Libya. For 1933 they decided to throw in a nationwide lottery which would be held in conjunction with the GP. The concept was simple. Twelve lucky punters would draw one of the names of the twelve drivers, and the winning driver and his ticket holder would share the prize money. Prize money - ah, how does the equivalent today of 860 million baht sound? It sounded then just like the large fortune that it is today and enough to get some of the greatest racing brains more than slightly revved up.

So the plot was hatched. Four of Italy’s best drivers, Nuvolari, Varzi, Campari and Borzacchini got together with the holder of the "Varzi" ticket and they agreed to pool their winnings and share the proceeds, after Varzi had won the event with their help.

Of course, there were eight drivers not "in the know" and any one of these could ruin the master plan. In the first few laps, that was just how it looked as Sir Henry (Tim) Birkin, stiff upper lip and all, roared into the lead in his Maserati.

Fortunately, the Englishman developed tyre trouble and after a botched pit stop rejoined well down. Unfortunately, Varzi also had tyre trouble and his pit stop took even longer. During the lengthy stop his engine temperature rose and when Varzi rejoined, the Bugatti was definitely off song.

Meanwhile, at the sharp end of the race there were the three Italian co-conspirators. On cue, Campari and Borzacchini developed tyre and mechanical problems and they dropped out, leaving Nuvolari in the lead.

Once again Birkin became a bother as he stormed through the field to get within 10 seconds of Nuvolari, by the half way mark, who was driving looking over his shoulder for the non-appearing Varzi!

Again luck was on their side as Birkin’s tyres said enough and the English threat was over. However, there was now another problem. No matter how slowly Nuvolari was driving, Varzi’s Bugatti could not catch it. With great creative thinking, Nuvolari began to make several unannounced pit stops, changing anything that was changeable on the Alfa Romeo. This became so frequent that one mechanic was heard to mutter, "We’ve rebuilt everything. If he comes in again it must be for a pee."

Now while this managed to get Varzi back into the lead, the locals began to get restive. They could smell a rather large rodent. Race fixing was almost a national event in the camel racing stakes, after all they had been perfecting it for over 2000 years. There were more than mutterings from 90,000 enraged locals and 11 unhappy ticket holders.

Nuvolari then attempted a new ploy. He would break his Alfa Romeo. Unfortunately, that Alfa Romeo was made of stout stuff and refused to break, no matter what the little Mantuan tried to do to it and it looked as if Nuvolari was going to be forced to win.

Again fate smiled on the "Varzi" ticket holder, when his driver scorched into the pits, ripped off the air filter and the Bugatti sprang to life again. Simultaneously Nuvolari experienced genuine tyre problems and was forced to pit. When he rejoined, Varzi was in the lead and the two Italians put on a brilliant display of scripted choreographed racing, with Varzi getting to the chequered flag first. He declined his "lap of honour" and Nuvolari disappeared. But the race was not to end there.

There were numerous protests, probably ninety thousand and eleven, but history has not recorded that fact. After deliberations, the Club Royale degli Automobile di Libia cleared all four drivers of any wrong doing. Cynics noted that within a few weeks three of the five board members were driving new Lancias, the fourth a new Alfa while the fifth suddenly found the money to visit an aged uncle in Chicago.

The only real loser (other than the 11 remaining ticket holders) was in fact Marshall Balbo who died a war hero after being shot down by his own anti-aircraft gunners! Perhaps a fitting end?

So if you read in the future that Ron Dennis of McLaren has protested about the size of Michael Schumacher’s rear vision mirrors or something equally as fatuous, you can see just how petty we have become since 1933. Races were run and won with panache. And a fair bit of trickery to boot.

Since I was not around for this Grand Prix, I must acknowledge the work and words of my late and greatly missed friend Leo McAuliffe, who researched all the details for this article.

Green cars are the way to go urges Toyota

Toyota released the redesigned Toyota Prius at the New York motor show last month. Still a gasoline-electric hybrid, the new Prius is reputedly faster, greener and meaner. Not only that, it is a five-door hatchback that has the interior space of a mid-sized sedan, it is 12 cm longer than the current car and has a 14 cm longer wheelbase.

Toyota Prius

The faster side comes from increased power output from both the electric motor and the petrol engine. According to Toyota, the redesigned Prius will reach 100 clicks in about 10 seconds, which is a reasonably respectable time, especially for an econo-car.

Again, and going in the other direction, despite the size and power boost, Toyota says the redesigned Prius also is more fuel efficient and cleaner than its predecessor. Carbon dioxide emissions have been reduced from 120 grams per kilometer to 100, it says.

Toyota’s marketing thrust with this new car is into the European region to try and steal some converts from the diesel car segment. Although the Prius has done well in Japan and is finding a footing in the United States, it has not sold well in Europe. Toyota has sold 115,000 Priuses worldwide since the car debuted in 1997, but only 4,000 in Europe.

While the company has never been effusive with the original Prius, this has all changed this time with the new model. "This is a serious option for the future," says Toyota Motor Corp. President Fujio Cho. "This is not just a great environmental car. It is a great car, period."

Toyota is not stopping there either. Cho and other executives pledge that Toyota’s hybrid technology will work its way into almost every Toyota and Lexus models, either as a fuel-economy measure or for higher performance.

Lexus RX 300

"The Prius is now a full D-segment (upper-medium) car," says Thierry Dombreval, Toyota Motor Europe’s head of sales and marketing. So why have the sales been so slow in Europe? Dombreval blames European tax regimes for the poor acceptance of the Prius. "Europe has 17 different tax systems," he says. In the United Kingdom, for example, drivers of company cars with low CO2 emissions pay less tax. But the Netherlands has a different arrangement, and the Prius is exempted from a local luxury tax on cars. In France, a Prius owner pays a lower income tax rate.

"If the European Union (EU) is serious about lowering greenhouse gas emissions, why not support that with a standard, pan-European tax incentive?" Dombreval says. "We will take the initiative and talk with the EU on these matters."

The European auto industry has committed to a voluntary reduction of fleet CO2 emissions to 140 grams per kilometer in 2008, and a further reduction to 120 grams per kilometer in 2012. The Japanese were excluded from this plan because ACEA, the European automakers’ association, does not recognize them as European carmakers. Nevertheless, the Japanese set themselves a similar CO2 emissions goal of 140 grams per kilometer for 2009. At 100 grams per kilometre, the new Prius is years ahead of the requirements.

Of course, these are goals, and like football, goals are not always achieved. Some industry sources say they doubt that European makers will manage to achieve the 2008 goal. Other analysts are also saying that not everyone is trying to adhere to the plan. One, un-named industry spokesman said, "I don’t see why the French, for example, should be prepared to make any further efforts to improve on the reduction of greenhouse emissions while the German carmakers are focusing on gas-guzzling models like the VW Phaeton, BMW X5 or Mercedes-Benz S class." Strong words.

But Hiroyuki Watanabe, senior managing director of Toyota Motor Corp., insists that Toyota would still "challenge Europe’s 2008 target of 140 grams per kilometer. We are ahead of schedule."

In Europe, prices of the new Prius will match rival upper-medium models equipped with diesel engines that comply with the Euro 4 emissions standards that take effect in 2005. That means the Prius will compete with certain models in Toyota’s own Avensis range (not available in Thailand). To show it is truly serious, Toyota also decided to bring the Lexus RX 300 SUV with hybrid drive to Europe beginning in late 2004.

The RX 300 hybrid promises V-8 performance but with C02 emissions equivalent to a medium-sized European diesel car. "And we may well be developing a third hybrid model for the compact lower-medium segment," Dombreval says. "But that could take another five years to arrive."