European Grand Prix this weekend

The (new) Nurburgring is in use this weekend for the European Grand Prix. Unfortunately, the days of the old circuit through the forest have gone, as far as F1 is concerned. Following claims from the drivers that it was too dangerous, this new 2.882 mile circuit, with little character, was constructed in 1984, close to the original track. It is of interest to note that the first thing that the new generation of F1 drivers did on arrival was to shell out a few Deutschmarks to drive the famous old circuit, the Nordschleife!

Nobody could ever claim to be the absolute master of the Nordschleife, which is still used for Touring Car categories. Any driver who has driven on the old circuit speaks in terms of awe of what is possibly the most demanding circuit ever constructed. I’ve driven it! Totally mind blowing! The laconic Aussie Frank Gardner, with a total disregard for political correctness, claimed it was designed by Adolf Hitler for Jewish drivers!

The action starts at (I think) at 7 p.m.

And now for something totally different!

There has been a rush of folks telling me they have cars for sale, and before you ask, last week’s Audi has gone already. However, this little gem has also arrived in the For Sale basket - a Citroen, of uncertain age, and even more uncertain parentage, but most probably an immediate post-WWII vintage. The plate says it is an 11BL, but it is certainly no ‘ordinary’ Citroen. Those interested in what can be done, while retaining the ‘period’ look, keep reading. Dyed in the wool Traction Avant aficionados should, however, move to the next item!

Bodywise, from outside the car, it retains those unmistakable Citroen lines, with the long louvred bonnet and sloping tail, though I do find the imitation wire wheels a jarring note. The flagpole on the bonnet proudly flying a Union Jack could also be considered an anti-French snub, but the proudly British current owner (and seller) does not see this as an oxymoron. Flags have to be replaced every six months, as they get a little tatty and dirty.

Open the doors, and immediately you can see something is ‘wrong’, but the end result is ‘right’. High-backed late model seats, covered in a buttoned velour trim, continue throughout the interior and up into the roof lining. Yet it somehow does not look out of place. The dash is also not original, but period instruments have been used, so there is nothing that looks out of place, though the Italian Nardi wheel, certainly is!

Now to some of the mechanical aspects. Whilst Citroen’s plugged on with front wheel drive, long before Sir Alec Issigonis came up with the Mini concept, this particular Citroen is now Traction Arriere! Yes, it is still front engined, but now rear wheel drive. And before you wonder just how this was done with an 11BL engine, a previous owner, used the 11BL engine for an oyster lease, and fitted a 2 litre Mitsubishi engine, mated to a Mitsubishi auto gearbox leading to a live rear axle on leaf springs. Purists are now running in horror, threatening to string up the heretic, but if you stop for a moment, the running gear now makes a lot of sense. A late model engine and drive train has the potential of making this a daily driver, not something taken out only on fine weekends after a few hours of tinkering to get it running each time.

The ‘modifications’ do not stop there. With a larger and heavier lump under the bonnet, the front suspension was also changed, to incorporate VW torsion bar suspension, assisted by McPherson struts as well.

Since it now had the ability to travel much faster than Monsieur Citroen had imagined, the retardation is now done by Toyota disc brakes, with power assist. And to really bring this vehicle out of yesterday, it has air-conditioning, though when I was taken for a ride, the owner had wound the hinged front windscreen out, and we were treated to dynamic forced air (without the conditioning)!

It is something of an anachronism, but one that can be used as daily transport, which the current owner has done, and in fact this car is well known in the Pattaya area.

Reason for sale? He now has around nine dogs, and the car is not suitable for the enlarging ‘family’. He is looking for offers around 580,000 baht, and so if you think you would be interested in owning a rather unique piece of Thai motoring history, contact me and I will pass on contact details to the owner, but definitely no tyre-kickers, or pukka French gentry!

I almost forgot to mention - the car does have a tape player, complete with French music! Ask nicely and I’m sure you could score the Marsellaise or the Bouillabaisse or Edith Piaf or something appropriate.

Another (sort of) French car!

Word has come through that the Bugatti Veyron 16/4 is being built, and has indeed had a slow test run. During the outing on the VW test track, it clocked over 400 kph! That will make it the fastest production road car in the world.

So is this a first for France? Yes and no! Bugatti, the famous French car manufacturer from pre WWII, is these days owned by Volkswagen! Yes, the German manufacturer bought the Bugatti name in 1998.

Bugatti Veyron

After making much noise that they would produce a 16 cylinder quad-turbo engined car that would do 400 kmh, they have now proved all the doubting Thomases were wrong. But it comes at a price. In Europe it comes with a 1 million Euro price tag. That’s around 50 million baht on straight exchange. Now factor in the usual small 300 percent import duty, freight and a little tea money, and I think the price would be around 250-300 million baht, which is nothing, if you’ve just ordered the odd bomb scanner for security at home.

The new Bugatti engine delivers a cool 750 kW, which is more than Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari F1, and being all-wheel drive, the time for 0-100 kph is a staggering 2.9 seconds. That’s FA 18 Tom Cat jet fighters on full boost sort of performance!

Bugatti claims that the test car, one of 11 prototypes developed, achieved the magic 400 clicks several times on the test track. One source also claims that to haul the car down from 400 kph will need huge brakes, and it will still take 750 meters before it comes to a standstill.

There were some (very) rich people who were prepared to put some money down for one of these road-going projectiles, but the delivery date has been pushed out from the end of 2003 to the end of 2005. And you thought that a five month wait for a Toyota Fortuner was bad!

To maintain its exclusivity, the factory will only make 300 of the supercars over the next six years. And in case you think it might be fun to have one here, it will only come in Left Hand Drive. I think I’d rather have a Mercedes CLS, a GT3 Porsche, a Bentley coupe and an Elfin sports, and I’d still have around 200 million baht left to make garages for them all.

By the way, the (currently) most expensive car in Thailand, the Maybach 62, is being trialled as the resort run-about at the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Resort in Chiang Mai! And before you go rushing off to book a room for the night, at last count the cheapest room was something like USD 500. (With air, naturally!)

The Lexus is still number 1 for quality

The Initial Quality Study from J.D. Power and Associates in the US has Lexus maintaining its number 1 ranking of quality after 90 days of ownership with a score of 81 problems per 100 vehicles, which was slightly better than their last year’s winning figures. The industry average was 118 problems per 100 vehicles.

Lexus SC 430

Toyota had the top-rated vehicle in 10 of 18 segments, and the Lexus SC 430 was the highest-rated vehicle in the study at 54 problems per 100 vehicles. The factory in Tahara, Japan, which builds the Lexus GS 300/430 and LS 430, was again the top-rated factory for quality. The public idea that if you have a Toyota you will have trouble free motoring is world-wide. And the Big 3 wonder how did Toyota manage to take over the planet? With all the financial strife that GM and Ford are in at present, and with Toyota making a healthy profit each year, I wonder if it is time to review the ratings?

Hummer, which finished last in the 2004 study with a score of 173 problems per 100 vehicles, rose to a tie for 10th place with Hyundai this year. Hummer’s 2005 score was 110 problems per 100 vehicles.

RAAT Championships at Bira Circuit

Some of you have asked for the Bira calendar, so here you are. The following is the ‘newest’ calendar for the RAAT Championships held at the Bira circuit. It is presented with bated breath and all good faith, so don’t shoot me if it changes!

July 2/3
September 3/4
October 8/9
November 26/27

SuperCar championships also at Bira

The Super Car people are quite separate promoters, so they have their own timetable too. So pencil in these as well.

July 23/24
September 17/18
November 5/6

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I asked what company was the first to sell over 1,000,000 cars in 12 months, in the world? It was Ford in the USA with 1,216,792 delivered in 1922. Which was easy, judging by the number of responses.

So to this week, and let’s stay with cars manufactured. The first European company to deliver more than one million cars in one year, did so in 1962, 40 years after Ford! Which company was this?

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

Good luck!