Australian GP next week

The F1 enthusiasts have been hanging out for this one - the first GP of the 19 race series for 2005 and is being held at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne.

Albert Park

The Australian contingent will be waiting to see just how the home hero, Mark Webber, goes in the BMW Williams this year, having taken the seat that became available with Juan Pablo Montoya having moved to McLaren.

The quickest cars during the off-season have been the Renaults and the McLarens, but you never know what configuration they were running, what weight, how much fuel, etc. The proof of the pudding will be at Albert Park, but never, never write off a certain Michael Schumacher.

The starting time ‘should’ be around 10 a.m. here, but I will try and be more specific in next week’s column.

Renault Clio Sport

A couple of years back I had the opportunity to go around the Bira circuit in a Clio and have been raving about the cars ever since. Despite a strong tendency to swap ends that was present in the first versions, Renault have made the Clio into a well mannered performance hatch, and John Weinthal, our Down-under correspondent managed to wangle his backside into one. Here are the Words from Weinthal.

Renault Clio

“Some cars beg to be driven again and again. The occasional week in a spirited ‘hot hatch’ is among a motoring writer’s special privileges.

“The Renault Clio Sport from France is just such a thrill machine. They should be storming from Nissan/Renault dealer showrooms at an unchanged AUD 33,000 for the latest model (just under 1 million baht on a straight currency exchange).

“The latest Clio Sport’s styling is pretty much as before, except for twin chromed exhausts and bigger 16 inch alloy wheels. It combines a Gallic face with a practical box space for a young family and its luggage, or for two with acres of space when the rear seats are folded.

“This new model also has an extra 7kW giving 131 to push along a two-door four seater weighing in at a miniscule 1090 kg. It also boasts a terrific new six-speed manual gearbox.

“But this is no bare metal performance special. This is a car for everyone who enjoys more than a dash of flair, luxury equipment galore and quality feel along with a big dose of excitement when appropriate.

“This car is in fact a sort of baby brother to the most compelling challenger to date for the all conquering Subaru WRX. That is the highly individual 165 kW, AUD 43,000 Renault Megane Turbo - a four door hatch of breathtaking ability (which we also do not get here). But it does cost nearly a third more than the Clio Sport and is a size larger, so we will concentrate on the hot baby of the Renault clan.

“New Clio Sport rides and handles marginally better than its brilliant forebears thanks to suspension and steering tweaks, slightly wider front and rear track and an increased wheelbase. And the handsome, hip hugging leather and alcantara seats are comfortable over the longest haul.

“Take it from me - Renault has made a terrific driver’s car into an even better one, with no price increase.

“Now for the equipment story: For safety there are large disc brakes with anti-lock of course plus an Electronic Stability Program which can be switched off for an even more exhilarating ride when the mood takes you. There are front and side air bags.

“Standard gear includes climate control air-conditioning, remote locking, power windows and mirrors, aluminium pedals and an excellent radio with above average range on the medium wave. It has rain-sensitive wipers and brilliant automatic xenon headlamps. New to the Clio Sport is a cruise control with its buttons on the steering wheel which also lets you set a maximum speed you wish. Metallic paint is an AUD 600 option.

“There is a useful supplementary wand to control the sound system although in rather typical European fashion it is cunningly concealed behind the right steering wheel spoke. An LCD info centre keeps track of fuel usage and distance to empty.

“On our test the fuel economy was excellent with an easy 600 km plus on a 50 litre tank of premium unleaded. There’s an abundance of storage spaces, split-folding rear seat and a luggage net to hold small items down in the boot. The glove-box has a chiller.

“This is a fully-equipped, thrill-a-minute machine which is also refined well beyond expectations. There’s also a great bonus in a ride which simply sneers at almost all road imperfections.

“The Clio Sport deserves great success. Together with the Megane Turbo it should put Renault high on an enthusiast motorist’s list of must-consider brands.”

(Thank you John for that report on what is obviously a GLC, great little car! The Renault/Nissan group, under CEO Carlos Ghosn, seem to be producing better and better cars. It is such a pity we get only a small number of the Nissan models, and none of the Renaults! Dr. Iain.)

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I mentioned that the red flag is used in motor racing to stop a race. However, the red flag also gave a name to a car released at the Leipzig Fair in 1960. I asked what was this car, and the clue was to think chopsticks! An easy one. It was the Chinese Hong Chi, which means Red Flag (or a steamed rice and chicken feet to go, or something)!

So to this week. What Japanese car was known as the hare in flight? (And it was not the VW Rabbit!)

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email auto [email protected]

Good luck!

Hybrid vehicles. The future or the past revived?

Over in FoMoCo land, Bill Ford’s crystal ball sees a future of hybrids and hydrogen power, saying, “In 25 years, as many as 75 percent of light vehicles produced could be hybrids with the rest powered by hydrogen.”

Now just about every manufacturer has a hybrid gasoline and electric power somewhere it its model list, with Honda and Toyota at the forefront. So have we really come up with something new to take us into Bill Ford’s 25 years hence? While I do believe that hybrids are an important part of the future, I have to emphatically disagree that this is something new.

Apollo Moon Buggy

The first hybrid, according to my research, was built in 1902 by the son of an Austrian tinsmith. His name was Ferdinand Porsche - yes the same Porsche who designed vehicles for Daimler, Auto Union, made the Beetle and finally gave birth to the line-up of some of the greatest sportscars ever seen, the cars bearing his own name - the Porsche’s. It is now time to go back in history, and the tale of Dr. Porsche and his involvement in the hybrid movement.

Ferdinand Porsche was born in 1875 in Mattersdorf, a village close to Reichenberg, in what was then North Bohemia, later Czechoslovakia. The young Porsche demonstrated excellent mechanical aptitude, for example wiring his family home for electric light when he was just 15 years old. Despite his father’s desire for him to become a tinsmith, at age 18 he was recommended for a job in Vienna with Bela Egger (later Brown Boveri). In Vienna, he sneaked into night classes at the Technical University, the only ‘formal’ engineering education he ever obtained.

In 1898, he joined Jacob Lohner’s recently-formed automobile company. This was Austria’s first production car company but Lohner believed in electric cars and Porsche designed a car which had an electric motor fitted to each front wheel hub. This was radical stuff and the Lohner-Porsche was exhibited in the Paris Exposition of 1900 and attracted international attention. This was, however, still an electric car, powered by heavy lead-acid batteries. The hub motors had been designed by Ferdinand Porsche, who was just 25 years old at the time. His employer, Jacob Lohner, boasted to the press, “He is very young, but he is a man with a big career before him. You will hear of him again.” And how prophetic was that? By the way, the same basic motor design was used to power the Apollo buggy which American astronauts drove on the moon 69 years later.

Porsche was a sporting fanatic and spent many hours at the drawing board to see where he could refine the design and in 1902 fitted one of his electric hub motors to each wheel, producing the world’s first four wheel drive vehicle.

Porsche then looked at the weight problem with the lead-acid batteries and worked out that what he needed was a lightweight generator to provide the electric current, rather than batteries, so he harnessed Daimler’s and Panhard’s internal combustion engines to power the generators for the wheel-mounted electric motors in a new technology that he called ‘System Mixt.’ The system might have been ‘mixed’ but the results were not. More speed records were won by his 4WD hybrid race car, European acclaim followed, and in 1905 Porsche won the Poetting Prize as Austria’s most outstanding automotive designer.

During WW I, Porsche was directed towards designing equipment for the war effort. One of his designs was the ‘Landwehr’, a train designed for the road. The leading car, or engine, was powered by a Daimler gasoline engine of 100 horsepower, linked to an electrical generator. In keeping with his proven race car approach, all four wheels were equipped with an electric motor. This progressive design became even more ahead of its time when Porsche decided that all of the cars should be equipped with the same four wheel drive system, with the electrical power supplied by the engine car through long cables.

The next hybrid was the C Train. It was a purely military concept and was equipped with an 81 ton gun and four cars, each with eight wheel electric hub drives, following the concept of the Landwehr train. The total weight with cargo was in excess of 150 tons. That was some hybrid!

After these hybrid designs, Dr. Porsche became involved with the VW, which returned to ‘conventional’ propulsion, even though he went air-cooled and rear engined.

So should we just go electric? The answer is no. A growing fleet of ominously silent General Motors electric cars are testament to this. Dozens of the green, metallic blue and bright red futuristic vehicles are lined up behind a chain-link fence at the edge of a freight rail line in Van Nuys, as the world’s largest automaker pulled the plug on a vehicle it heralded, only a few years ago, as ‘the car of the future.’

Dr. Porsche also saw that pure electric vehicles were not the way to go over 100 years ago and built the hybrids. It is a pity that the automakers did not look into history a little more!