Automania

No GP this week

After having a couple of GP’s on the trot (Monaco and Nurburgring), there is a break of two weeks before the next GP in Canada on the 12th of June, and then there is the US GP one week later again.

However, it is a good time to see just what we learned from Monaco and Germany. The first is that despite there being some action in the latter part of the race in Monaco, it is a silly circuit for today’s F1 cars. It’s too confined for passing manoeuvres. It may bring all the film stars and other wannabees, but I want to see motor racing. Sure, Heidfeld and Webber did manage to finally get past the struggling Alonso, who was lapping something like four seconds slower that the two Williams drivers were capable of, but up until the last 10 laps they were lined up like Brown’s cows.

Ferrari took comfort in the fact that Michael Schumacher set the fastest lap (again), but despite the race pace, he came in 7th, and that only after a desperate move on his team mate Rooby Baby (which did come off) and a failed lunge at his brother’s Toyota in 6th. Ralf was reported as saying that his brother was “crazy”, while Michael retorted that he was a racer, and would try and pass at all times. It’s just a pity he left it till the last lap! But then again, see my remarks on the whole Monaco circuit.

And so to the race in Germany on the ‘de-toxed’ Nurburgring, and a lucky win for Alonso in the Renault. This GP certainly had its share of action! Both Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren Mercedes) and Mark Webber (BMW Williams) paid the price of overdriving. Raikkonen flat-spotted his right front tyre with some over-energetic braking, which in turn produced a visible vibration through the car. The team decided he should hold on till the end, but the suspension collapsed with one lap to go, whilst he was in the lead. No podium, no champagne and no 10 points.

Webber, on the other hand, has still not learned that you never win the race at the first corner - you only lose the race at the first corner. This was inexcusable, as he was running heavy on fuel, with the strategy of staying out on track and making fewer fuel stops. However, the fool stop at the first corner resulted in a full stop. No podium, no champagne and no 10 points (or any points) either.

David Coulthard (Red Bull Racing) was the stand-out, even leading the race at one stage, but after a drive-through penalty for speeding in pit lane, that put paid to any chance of a podium finish.

Ferrari returned to the podium, with Rooby Baby on the 3rd step. Michael Schumacher was 5th, after coming back from 17th after Webber’s contretemps. Not a bad drive, but he could not pass Felipe Massa’s Sauber, so the car was not all that impressive.


Audi at the border

A friend of mine in Bangkok, Andrew Wood, known for his wicked sense of humour, sent this down last week. I thought it was good enough to share.

Five Germans in an Audi Quattro arrive at the Italian border. The Italian Customs Officer stops them and tells them “It’sa illegal-a to put-a five-a people in a Quattro.”

“Vot do you mean dis is illegal?” replied the German driver.

“Quattro means-a four” said the Italian official.

“Quattro is just ze name of ze automobile,” the Germans retorted unbelievingly. “Look at ze dam papers. Zis car is designed to karry five persons.”

“You canta pulla that-a one on me!” replied the Italian customs officer. “Quattro means-a four. You have five-a people in-a your car and you are therefore-a breaking the law.”

The German driver replied angrily, “Dumkopf! Call your zupervisor over. I vant to speak to someone mit more intelligence!”

“Scuzzi?” responded the Italian officer, “He can’ta come. He’s-a busy with-a two guys in a Fiat Uno.”


New 3 Series BMW just around the corner

The new BMW 3 Series (the E 90) was displayed at the Bangkok International Motor Show in March this year, and it is scheduled to be released later this year. Still not available for testing, but some models got to Australia for assessment, and I present the following which comes from GoAuto down-under. This comes in the main from their tester Marton Pettendy.

“Despite the panning BMW’s current, E46 3 Series received in 1998 for being too big, too heavy and lacking the dynamic attitude of its E36 forbear, the current Three went on to become the most popular ever.

New 3 Series BMW

“So it would have been easy for BMW to rest on its laurels, wrap the E90 in a new set of metal clothes, bolt in a new engine and extra technology from more expensive models in the range and ship it out to showrooms. (However, that is an oversimplification of the real situation - Dr. Iain.)

“The E90 is much more than its relatively conservative exterior suggests. First, the all-new bodyshell is 25 per cent stiffer - no mean feat given the current model feels as solid as any BMW - which plays no small part in the new model’s even greater impression of refinement and quality.

“Slightly larger in all key areas, BMW’s new compact sedan is a little more comfortable for taller occupants - especially those residing out back, where 3 Series remains the small premium sedan benchmark for stretching space.

“The fact all this extra interior space and body rigidity comes with no weight penalty is commendable, and shows BMW listened to the criticism levelled at its predecessor. It also allows the substantial gains achieved in the area of engine performance to be maximized in terms of real-world acceleration and fuel consumption.

“In 3.0 litre 330i guise, however, the new magnesium-alloy R6-series engine is a cracker. With an extra 20kW of peak power on tap thanks to its 7000rpm redline, it feel substantially quicker in a straight line, while the standard six-speed auto does an even better job at ensuring instant, satisfying acceleration is always at hand.

“That fuel consumption remains a relatively frugal 9.0 litres per 100km (interestingly, the same figure quoted for the 325i auto!) is also highly commendable.

“So while the new 330i is substantially quicker thanks to more horsepower at higher revs, it’s only marginally more tractable in everyday driving because of its superb new six-speed auto. And while that’s a positive, the apparent loss of some of the previous 3.0-litre engine’s characteristic exhaust and induction ‘bark’ is most certainly not. The 330i auto’s 6.6-second claimed 0-100km/h acceleration figure is impressive.

“Of course, BMW’s 3 Series volume-seller will be the 320i Executive, powered by the same 110kW/200Nm four-cylinder, which in E90 guise gains 5kW of peak power over the 318i it replaces and benefits in terms of flexibility from Valvetronic and double-VANOS valve control systems.

“Ride quality on the base model’s 205/55 16-inch tyres was exceptionally supple, increasing to firm on the lower-profile alloy-shod tyres and bordering on harsh on 17s with optional sports suspension.

“Of course, the availability of upstream options like active steering and keyless starting is a boon for 3 Series buyers, but there’s no sign of the 7 Series’ electronic park brake and we can’t help thinking the start/stop button is a gimmick that will soon wear out its welcome.

“We lament the loss of a spare tyre in a country like Australia - but minor details like the greatly improved dual-zone climate control, temperature adjusters for rear air outlets and improved DSC (with a host of useful brake technology advances) make this easier to bear.

“While we’re not convinced E90 is as big an advance over its predecessor as the E46 was over E36, it’s clear BMW has spent its development dollars where it counts most. Roomier, more refined, more powerful and safer without sacrificing handling, weight, driveability or fuel economy, the new 3 Series has advanced enough in the critical areas to remain the best premium compact sedan available.”

(I think we can deduce from that brief report, that the tester liked it! Dr. Iain.)


Mitsubishi still in deep doggy doo

According to Auto News in the US, Mitsubishi Motors recorded $5.8 billion in losses for the fiscal year ended March 31, its second straight year in the red. Their report said that as the scandal-ridden Japanese carmaker struggles to regain customer trust and sales, the company stated that Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Motors Corp had racked up a Y215 billion ($2.64 billion) loss the previous fiscal year.

This has all come on the back of Mitsubishi Motors sales having plunged after it acknowledged five years ago that it had systematically hidden car defects to avoid recalls.

To attempt to stop the sales slide, Mitsubishi have tried shoring up sales with attractive revival plans, centring on warranty and finance (a 10 year warranty in Australia, for example, and extending loans to buyers with bad credit in the United States). Despite these, Mitsubishi Motors does not see itself returning to profitability in the next year, forecasting Y64 billion loss for the fiscal year to March 2006.

Mitsubishi has earlier this year hoped that DaimlerChrysler (one of the shareholders) would bail them out, but the Germans turned their corporate back on the struggling Japanese company.

Mitsubishi Motors has recently announced minor deals with other companies to help its latest recovery plan, including a deal to supply SUV’s for French automaker PSA Peugeot Citroen, and another to supply small cars for Nissan Motor Co, their Japanese rival.

This is an unfortunate result of head office duplicity, as the Mitsubishi cars are just as good as those from other manufacturers. An expensive lesson that Mitsubishi will take years to recover from.


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I asked what company was the first European company to deliver more than one million cars in one year, which it did in 1962, 40 years after Ford had managed that milestone! It was in fact VW, as many of the readers knew. Thank you all, there were so many of you I cannot acknowledge every one.

So to this week. What was the name of the concept car that Ford engineers took to Watkins Glen in 1962? Clue: it was a two seater and mid engined.

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

Good luck!