Vol. II No. 51 Saturday December 20 - December 26, 2003
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Automania

Daihatsu Copen

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.

“Few 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 stature.

“Daihatsu 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.

“The 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 successful

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.

Third 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.

Despite 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.

Autotrivia Quiz

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 - 1938).

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 1950’s.

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 chassis.

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

Another 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!


Volvo wagon

Volvo’s 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 Formazdolvo!

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