I have more than a passing regard for Daihatsu,
with the fleet of Mira’s in town showing that they have longevity
and practicality. However, one of their latest offerings is the
Daihatsu Copen, which might not fit the ‘practicality’
classification as well. It may be ‘cute’ but our Down-Under
correspondent John Weinthal asks the question, “Is CUTE enough?”
Here are the Words from Weinthal.
test cars draw the sort of glances that were the norm as we ran around
in Daihatsu’s cosy Copen convertible. It is certainly the smallest
car I have reviewed in more than 30 years - and something of a minor
technical tour de force as well. It is so small that a standard size
number plate overwhelms the unusual frontal styling.
“The Copen is strictly a two seater with a clever
power-operated aluminium folding roof. It has less room for oddments
than any car I can recall, and there is not even room for a soft
overnight bag when the hood is ensconced in its rounded rump. Hood up,
claustrophobia has real meaning for anybody of more than average
is now distributed in Australia by Toyota. Bringing this miniscule car
here is probably a very clever ploy to draw attention to a brand which
hardly leaps to most people’s mind.
“Powered by a turbocharged 659 cc, free-buzzing,
50 kW four cylinder engine which is red-lined at 7000 rpm, the 870kg
Copen gets along at a brisk and satisfying pace. It has a five speed
gearbox and drive is through the front wheels.
Copen costs AUD 30,000. An extra AUD 1250 gives you snappy leather
seats. However, Copen is no stripper on the equipment score boasting
air, power windows and mirrors and a good sound system which even runs
to an MP3 compact disc player - a first for me in any car!
“While cruising in the Copen I recalled four cars
I have tested with engines smaller than 660cc - all in the first half
of the 1960s. There was a minute four door, four seater Mazda sedan -
the 600. Then there was the pug-ugly Lightburn Zeta from an Australia
company known better - and longer - for washing machines. Third was
the originally German Goggomobil Dart - also made here by Lightburn if
I remember correctly! However Honda’s under 600cc model - the
chain-driven S600 convertible - was a true joy to drive, to look at
and for its beautifully machined and technically advanced alloy four
cylinder engine which revved out to more than 11,000 rpm. An S600
would be worth more now than when new. I even hill-climbed one on a
couple of memorable occasions! (John has also forgotten the Honda Zot,
which was 360 cc and I also think the Daihatsu Compagno Berlina,
famous for the drivers handbook which read “Check wheel nuts every
500 miles or otherwise wheel fall off!” was under 660 cc. Dr. Iain.)
“But, back to the 21st century and the Copen. The
Copen’s tiny dimensions and engine size are a response to Japanese
tax rules which deliver big savings for engines below 660cc and within
certain dimensions. These are called kei cars. They crowd Tokyo
streets in their many outlandish styles. We can count our blessings
that few kei cars find their way onto our streets!
“On good roads the Copen is a cheerful trick
provided the hood is lowered. In most respects it is as delightful as
any convertible specially on a balmy clear evening with the right
passenger alongside. But the ride deteriorates rapidly on poorer
suburban surfaces, and body and scuttle shake become a real pain.
“While overall build quality appears to be OK
there are some questionable aspects. These include a very flimsy
lockable cubby between the seats which is of little use beyond hiding
the button which opens the miniscule rear boot.
“I had no trouble coping with the Copen for a
week, but AUD 30,000 seems a big ask for such an impractical - though
undeniably fun - car, but there is one overwhelming question at the
end of the day - is CUTE enough?”
Thank you John, we do not get Copen here, in fact Daihatsu has
disappeared, but I could imagine that Copen would be a hit down the
back streets. It would also be a breeze to park. I think I would like
one, but am unsure whether I would fit in one!
Bira Enduro very
The two hour race at the Bira circuit was somewhat
of a toe in the water exercise for organizers, the AIM Racing Project,
but one that looked very promising for some Thailand long distance
events in the future. Despite all the prophets of doom, only three
cars failed to finish, and the worthy winners were the pairing of
Grant Supaphongs and Piti Bhirombhakdi in the 1.6 litre Honda Civic,
winning at a canter, almost half a minute ahead of second placed
Kirakiat/Suttipong in the 2 litre Toyota Altezza.
outright was the indecently quick 1.5 litre Toyota VIOS from the
Toyota One Make Series driven by Rabin and Apimongkol, five laps down
from the leaders, with the Australian pairing of David Augur and Peter
in the 1.6 Civic a further two laps down. This pairing would have had
third sewn up, however a delay occasioned by a seven minute pit stop
caused by bungled wheel changing kept them off the podium.
some rather ‘Heath Robinson’ refueling rigs, there were no fires,
but organizers are aware of the problems and this area will be
tightened up next year. The crews also showed that the majority had
not been previously required to refuel or change wheels during a race,
with none likely to replace the Woods Brothers in the US, or Jean
Todt’s Ferrari pit members. Rather than 7 seconds for fuel and four
wheels, it was 7 minutes for fuel and two wheels for the Aussies.
Organizers are looking to formulating regulations for next year and
I suspect that some additional classes will be contested to swell the
numbers. It should not be impossible to have around 40 cars on the
grid next year. Some half-decent prize money might shake a few cars
out of the garages, especially if that includes ‘showroom stock’
categories. Now, if they have a class for Daihatsu Mira’s I’ll buy
it a new air filter and pump the tyres up again.
Last week I wrote about ice cooling that was used three times
in world land speed record attempts. I asked who were the three drivers? They
were Frank Lockhart (USA - 1928), Kaye Don (UK - 1929) and John Cobb (UK -
So to this week. Rallies have usually always been run in
engine capacity classes, but one famous international rally began with price
classes instead. What was the name of this rally? Hint - it began in the
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email
[email protected] Good luck!
Adaptive Suspensions. Do we need it?
The auto industry has joined the technology race with a
vengeance. Some of the latest developments are in the suspension systems of
today’s and possibly tomorrow’s vehicles. Undoubtedly, the dynamics of
road-holding have been improved by the new technology, but can the ordinary
driver take advantage of this? Some quarters will say that only the Michael
Schumachers of this world would take a road vehicle to the dizzy limits.
Ordinary mortals would come nowhere near testing the vehicles road-holding in
the extreme situations.
However, I do believe that the anti-technocrats are wrong in
their basic premise. The concept of improving suspensions and road-holding is
not to bring out the Formula 1 aspirations in us all, but to make it more likely
that we, with all our inabilities, will be able to get our vehicle around all
the corners on our daily trips from A to B. In other words, we are not looking
designing the ultimate in performance, but rather we are striving for the
ultimate in safety. To build in a technological “safety net” is an example
of primary safety. This is the equivalent of putting a fence at the top of the
cliff. Airbags are the equivalent of an ambulance at the bottom.
Different manufacturers have come out with their own concepts
in adaptive suspension systems, but they all use the same basis. The suspension
system “reads” the road conditions by measuring the loading that comes back
into the vehicle through the wheels, and then adjusts and adapts variables such
as damping rates and even wheel-effective spring rates. No matter what holds the
wheel to the vehicle, it is transferring data from the road back into the
We now have the advantages that the electronic age brought
us. In generally in the milliseconds range, microprocessors can measure and
deliver the message to receiving units. Almost before the road wheel begins to
move, counteracting forces are being brought electronically into play.
Take as an example, the new BMW 7 Series, which is helping to
create a breakthrough for electronically controlled vehicle damping. Where
vehicle developers have concentrated in the past on improving passive safety,
the introduction of these chassis systems gives new impetus to enhancing active,
or primary, safety.
In the auto market of today, with technological advances being used as sales
promotion items, then perhaps the rate of change will continue. There has been
little doubt in my mind that selling technology as “safety” is like peddling
cold porridge sandwiches (a phrase used initially by the British road safety
guru Dr. Michael Henderson in the 70’s and still salient today) so perhaps the
copy writers are correct with their approach. That being as it may, there is no
question that today’s driver, with all the electronic bells and whistles, is
more likely to bring he and his car home in one piece, than he was 30 years ago.
The Saab 9-2X
new one coming. Saab will offer a first look at the production version of its
9-2X at the Los Angeles auto show late December. There will be two versions: the
turbocharged, 227 hp 9-2X Aero, shown here, with a 2.0 liter, four cylinder
engine and a naturally aspirated 165 hp, 2.5 liter Linear model. Both models
will have all-wheel drive and go on sale in July next year. Prices will begin
under USD 25,000 over there. General Motors affiliate Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.
will produce the 9-2X for Saab. Just another example of how incestuous is the
motor car industry!
new V50 wagon had its world debut at the Bologna Motor Show this
month and will arrive in showrooms in the US next summer, but
will be much later in Thailand. The wagon shares a platform with
the Mazda3 and European market Ford Focus. The V50, shown here
in U.S. trim, will be built in Ghent, Belgium. Volvo expects to
sell 6,500 V50s annually in the United States. It’s a