Automania

The return of the interest in “classic” cars

It seems that 2005 has seen an upsurge in the classic car movement. These cars have always been here, but generally left in sheds somewhere. After all, a 1924 Fiat is hardly suitable for every day transport. However, there have been three recent events at which the owners of some of these older cars (not all of them are really ‘classics’) have been able to take them out for an airing, in the company of like-minded souls.

The first was in the North, where Count Van der Straten organized a rally in the hills above Chiang Mai which attracted some interesting vehicles, including an older Rolls-Royce. (Some trivia – Count Van der Straten’s uncle ran the VDS team of F5000’s in 1977. These were Lola T430’s and the factory only made three of them. I have had the privilege of running one of those cars at Calder Raceway in Australia!)

The second outing for the older cars was the 3rd Hua Hin Vintage Car Parade, which took place in mid-December this year. This had backing from the TAT, the Hua Hin Hoteliers club and the Vintage Car Club of Thailand. The caravan left from the Sofitel Central Plaza in Bangkok and included a venerable Fiat and an MGTC of circa 1947 vintage. This event was ‘discovered’ by one of our local enthusiasts Jerry, a regular at our Jame-son’s meetings each month, and he was most enthusiastic about it.

The third event was one for rag-tops, organized by the Classic Car Club of Thailand and featured such wildly diverse vehicles as an Oldsmobile Cutlass, an MGA, reported as being a 1959 model (but the photograph taken at the event shows it to be a 1955 1500), and a Porsche Boxster.

A few years ago I did an exploratory run around Chiang Mai and discovered all sorts of interesting vehicles, including a V8 Tatra, a 1924 Hanomag, an MG VA, a couple of Fiat Topolino’s and even a rag-top Chrysler Valiant circa 1973. It would be good if we could get these cars into some sort of central register, kept by the Royal Automobile Association of Thailand (RAAT). I’ll see what I can do, but don’t hold your breath! However, if you come across something old, drop me a line if nothing else. A photo would be good too.


A Maybach for the driver

DaimlerChrysler has released the Maybach 57 Spezial. Apparently there were some Maybach 62 customers who loved their cars, and the appointments, but wanted one they would drive themselves. The 57 Spezial os the answer. A Maybach with all the electronic bells and whistles, a bit more grunt, and taughter suspension for the sporting motorist who wants to throw around several tons of high performance and even higher priced machinery.

If anything, this vehicle is even more over-the-top than the 62. Where the 62 had a 5.5 litre V12 engine putting out around 550 horsepower, in the 57 Spezial, Daimler-Chrysler has called upon another of their own ‘in-house’ brands AMG, to produce
a 6 litre V12 twin turbocharged engine developing 612 horsepower and 1000 Nm of torque. This is the engine in the Mercedes CL 65 AMG, which I have driven, and is sensational. In the Maybach 57 Spezial, this engine produces zero to 100 kmh times of 5 seconds, almost the next best thing to an FA 18 Tomcat take-off. And more luxurious!

In line with the fact that the customer is king and can have whatever he or she wants, there is exceptional scope for individualization offered by the brand. Maybach is also passionately committed to meeting other unusual customer requests with outstanding craftsmanship and painstaking attention to every detail. This is reflected in features such as trim elements finished in gold and precious stones, gold keys, family coats of arms and various forms of intricate inlay work.

Now since the Maybach 62 was around 100 million baht here, give or take around two million baht, the 57 S will be even more expensive. I will hazard a guess at around 120 million, but DaimlerChrysler can correct me if I’m wide of the mark.


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned that in the 1950’s the big Humber Super Snipes were known for their quiet opulence. Not quite a Rolls-Royce, but eminently affordable. However, the manufacturer then decided to get into the fuel miser stakes and fitted a diesel engine. Who made the diesel? The answer was Perkins. It was also not a success!

So to this week. For many people, parking is always a problem manoeuver. However, in 1928 you could have a Parkmobile system installed in your car. This was a retractable undercarriage that had castors on it and you just pushed the car in sideways. It was
fitted as factory equip-ment to an American car of the period. What was that car?

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

Good luck!


Tyres, (or Tires), the competition is intense

Last week we had the news that Michelin is to pull out of F1 at the end of 2006. Not surprising, but historically the tyre marketplace has seen some wonderful competition.

The reason for this is the fact that the tyre market is enormous. Every car has five of them, unless you have a BMW 1 Series, a 330i or a six wheeled Panther. The world total is estimated to be 994 million tyres, so you can see why the war is waged. Of this, total original equipment (OE) accounts for some 28 percent, and the market is expected to grow steadily over the next five years. The OE growth is mainly driven by Asia.

The first recorded tyre war was between Michelin and Pirelli in the Peking to Paris race of 1907. Interestingly, both brands are still are still at it, trying to get the lion’s share of the business in Europe. But back in 1907, Pirelli sponsored Prince Borghese’s Itala in the race, and one tyre survived the whole trip and then out of Paris to Pirelli’s Milan factory without a puncture. Michelin supported Goddard in a Dutch Spyker. Goddard was a man who had never driven a car before the race and was seriously under-funded. He had to sell off some of the tyres to pay for the shipping to China! Incidentally, Dunlop was there too, supporting the De-Dion teams.

A little earlier history. Up till 1845, tyres were unheard of. The wooden wheels of the day having metal bands around them to keep the wheel together, and to give the wheel some durability. The bone-shaking ride had to be softened, but despite leaf springs, and then later, a band of solid rubber around the rim, more had to be done. This was the advent of the pneumatic tyre, invented and patented by R.W. Thomson in 1845 (not by Dunlop, as many people think). His first design used a number of thin inflated tubes inside a leather cover. This design actually had advantages over later designs, as it would take more than one puncture to deflate the whole tyre. However, despite these technological breakthroughs the solid rubber tyre continued to be the dominant tyre.

Forty-three years later it was left to John Boyd Dunlop to invent the rubber pneumatic tyre and it was not until his new design that the pneumatic tyre caught on. Dunlop first advertised his tyres in December 1888 in The Irish Cyclist, and in May of the following year the new pneumatic tyre had its first breakthrough. A Belfast cycle race was won on pneumatic rubber tyres, and by then the public were starting to take note. Never say that advertising does not work!

Unfortunately the original tyre had its drawbacks. The inner tube was difficult to get at because the tyre itself was stuck to the wheel rim. So one year later, in 1890, C.K. Welsh patented the design of a wheel rim with a lip and an outer inextensible cover. This was now the basis for today’s tyre.

Over the years the tyre has developed into today’s high technology offerings. Two of the most important technological developments were Michelin’s creation of the radial tyre in 1948, giving a vastly superior grip, and Dunlop coming up with the tubeless concept in 1972. Ironic that Dunlop was the first to capitalize on rubber inner tubes, and the first to get rid of them 84 years later! But technology cannot be denied in the modern tyre wars. You only have to watch Formula 1 racing and see the technology that is put into the manufacture
of tyres today, with Bridge-stone and Michelin being represented in F1 (until the end of 2006).

Just as John Boyd Dunlop invented the inner tube because he was tired of his
bicycle tyres getting punctures, the tyre industry in the mid 90’s began to look at ways to stop the problems caused by punctures. The principal one being changing wheels, especially at night, in the rain. How many of us have had this problem, sometimes compounded by being unable to get the wheel nuts loose after they had previously been
tightened by somebody attempting to emulate Arnold Schwarzenegger!

The answer as envisaged by the tyre technologists was to come up with tyres you could still drive home. Despite the puncture. This was the start of Run-Flat Technology.

One example is Goodyear’s EMT (Extended Mobility Tire) tyre technology that permitted the motorist to drive up to 80 kilometres at speeds up to 80 kph on a totally deflated tyre. EMT tyres need no special wheels and no complicated mounting procedures by standard tyre fitting machines.

Other tyre companies were not going to be left behind in this race either and some amazing technology transfers took place. For example, the Bridgestone Corporation in Tokyo and Continental AG in Germany signed a technical agreement to co-operate on run-flat tyre systems for passenger cars and light trucks.

Back came Michelin with another system, called PAX. This is a new bespoke wheel/tyre set-up with its very own size system and technic al support. So much technology is involved that Michelin has tied up with its old adversaries Goodyear, Pirelli and Dunlop to bring the PAX concept forward.

With BMW’s decision to fit run-flat tyres, without option, to the new 1 Series and the 330, rapid growth in the use of these tyres is expected. Honda and Nissan are expected to introduce new models using run-flat rubber next year.

I was very critical of the run-flats on the 330 I tested a couple of months ago, but I am sure that with universal use of this technology, the suspension systems will be developed to cope with the harshness produced by these tyres.