Vol. V No. 30 - Saturday July 22, - July 28, 2006
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by Saichon Paewsoongnern
 

 


Automania

Mazda3 gets even better

It is no surprise to me that the Mazda3 has been a runaway success. I was impressed with the looks when it first came on the scene, and even more with the dynamics of driving one. This was one car that just felt “right”. I will also admit that after owning a Mazda MX5 and a couple of RX7s, I am yet to be disappointed by the brand.
The Mazda3 shares its platform with the Ford Focus and Volvo S40/V50, and all three of these cars have been getting great reviews. Of course, looks are a personal thing, but I also like the sheet metal of the 3 better than the others.
Mazda has also been listening to its customers, and the ‘new’ Mazda3 for 2007 has detail improvements, over what was already a good car. Can you make a good car even better? Apparently so, according to GoAuto who has tested the 2007 model car.
The 2007 model gains some significant improvements in noise, vibration and harshness, with extra body stiffening, sound deadening and the adoption of less noisy tyres.
The hatch and sedan’s luggage area has also been redesigned to increase practicality. In the hatch luggage space is up 40 liters to 340 liters.
There have been some modest gains in the 2 liter four’s fuel economy and the SP23, which gains a new six-speed manual and electronic throttle control.
Importantly too, dynamic stability and traction control is now available on all models Down-under, but that does not mean they will be automatically available here.
Visually, the range gets new bumpers, grilles, alloys and more elegant seat trims and finishes.
The SP23 wants for little with the 2.3 liter four developing the same outputs as the previous model – 115 kW at 6500 rpm and 203 Nm of torque at 4500 rpm.

The SP23 equipment list runs to climate-control air-conditioning, steering wheel audio and cruise control switches, foglights and LED lamps on the sedan, similar to the SP23 hatch.
Minor changes to the dampers across the range have delivered a flatter ride and more stable roll control, while some tweaks to the multi-link rear suspension were designed to deliver improved grip and stability. Personally I doubt if most drivers will notice it, unless they intend driving up Khao Yai’s curves at maximum speed. New steering mounting points up front are said to improve steering response and reduce understeer, but with any front wheel drive car, this is almost impossible to eliminate totally, without the car becoming skittish in the rear, something the ordinary driver does not need or want.
Even GoAuto wrote, “We briefly drove the SP23 over the same roads we experienced with the original back in 2004 and without a back-to-back comparison it was hard to tell how much improved the newer car was over the original.”
However, the car was apparently much less noisy inside. “The extra sound deadening and stiffer body have toned down the drumming noise sometimes experienced in the cabin at high revs and the wind noise certainly appeared to be lower. The cabin felt and sounded quieter – Mazda claims up to 1.5 decibels quieter.”
Like the previous model, the SP23 is a superbly balanced car and, like the rest of the 3 series range, delivers a highly enjoyable driving experience. Since the same platform is used for the Ford Focus and the small Volvo, the final choice is probably down to styling and appointments again. As they say in Thailand, “Up to you!”


A toilet seat on the wall and a slightly used M-B

I can hear you asking from here just what is the connection between a toilet seat on the wall and a used Mercedes Benz? To add to intricacies of the story, which is entirely true by the way, the toilet seat is in Gibraltar and the Mercedes Benzes are in Bangkok.

Elizabeth Taylor

Let’s deal with the Benzes first. On the 23rd of this month, the kind folk at DaimlerChrysler are going to auction off 40 very slightly shop-soiled Mercedes Benz vehicles. There are 28 SL 350s and 12 E 220s, all of which were used to ferry around 40 ‘royal’ bottoms belonging to the 25 nations which sent representatives to Thailand for the celebration of the 60 year accession to the throne of HM the King of Thailand.
Apparently all proceeds less expenses, (which I presume means the production cost to the manufacturer) will then be given to HM the King to be used in some of his charity projects.
DaimlerChrysler say the vehicles have only between 100 km and 900 km on the clock and certificates will be issued to indicate which particular honorable bottom graced the seat. The SL 350s are expected to go for something over 10 million baht, and the humble E 220s for something over three million. So for your three million baht you can point out where the honorable bottom once sat, if that is what turns you on.
So now to the toilet seat in Gibraltar. Many years ago, there was no airport building for the runway which ran across the isthmus between the rock and Spain, hanging out over the water at both ends. The pilots had to be very careful not to overshoot. On one landing, there was a VIP inside, a Miss Elizabeth Taylor. After alighting from the aircraft, and walking towards the reception area, the famous actress found herself “caught short” to use a phrase. She was rushed to the first house closest to the airstrip, where she could relieve herself in private. Upon emergence from the loo, much thanks were given, but the owner felt he was rewarded enough by just her visit. As soon as they were gone, he rushed into the toilet, unscrewed the seat and hung it on the wall in pride of place. Nobody was ever going to sit on it again!
So perhaps he didn’t get a certificate of authenticity as the lucky bidders will get with their Mercedes Benz, but then, he didn’t need to pay a minimum of three million baht for the honor, just a few sheets of loo paper!


So it’s good-bye Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya came into F1 with the reputation of being a fearless fighter in open wheel racing cars, as well as having the CART championship in his pocket. Everyone held their breath, waiting for the challenger who was afraid of no one. The wait was not really rewarded, with Montoya showing occasional flashes of brilliance, and not much else.
Taking his team mate off at the Indy GP this year sealed his fate, but Montoya got in first, saying he had signed to go to NASCAR next year. Team McLaren Mercedes then responded by giving the feisty Colombian a DCM – Don’t Come Monday, and announcing Pedro de la Rosa as Kimi Raikkonen’s team mate for the rest of the year, even though they have had to reputedly give Montoya two million pounds severance pay.
The official McLaren statement was “Juan Pablo has been an energetic member of the team since 2005, but will now spend the next few months based in Miami with his family and wife Connie who is expecting their second child in September. Following his agreement with Chip Ganassi Racing for next year, Juan Pablo will also be making initial preparations for his debut in a Chrysler Dodge NASCAR.”
“Juan Pablo is an exciting driver and immensely likeable character who will undoubtedly make a successful transition to the NASCAR scene,” said Ron Dennis, CEO and Chairman of the McLaren Group. “We have agreed that with so many things happening in Juan Pablo’s life right now, he should take some time out of the car and prepare professionally and personally for the future.”
“We believe that Juan Pablo’s decision to move to NASCAR is very important for him professionally and we will give him every support to ensure that it is a successful transition,” said Norbert Haug, Vice-President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport.
You don’t have to be a mind reader to see the real situation. In F1, Montoya had outstayed his welcome, and quite frankly, NASCAR can have him. They like monstrous shunts in that formula. He should do well!
Hot on the heels of Montoya’s decision, the other crash and bash driver in F1 hopped in with his take on it. This, of course, is Jacques Villeneuve, who is reported to have said that he too would consider NASCAR after his F1 career comes to an end (which it should have been several seasons ago). He has experience of oval racing from his time in the US-based CART series, winning on the famous oval at Indianapolis in 1995, and feels he could quickly become competitive again. “I have raced in a lot of categories so I can adapt to anything, I’ve raced on ovals,” he added. “NASCAR has always looked very exciting. It’s great racing so it is something I would look at if there’s no F1.”
Villeneuve is fighting to find a contract for 2007 with his BMW-Sauber seat under pressure from rookie test driver Robert Kubica, who has apparently become a protege of team boss Mario Theissen. This was the same scenario for Montoya at McLaren, where rookies Lewis Hamilton and Gary Paffett are waiting for a race seat.
Understandably Villeneuve lashed out at teams for hiring young drivers on the cheap, but Villeneuve claims he is a bargain for any team willing to offer him one last drive. “Some older drivers are cheap - cheaper than drivers who have not won races,” he said. “I’m very good value for money. I would prefer five teams fighting over me but that is not the case. It seems that experience is not wanted.” However, the 1997 world champion will not stay on in the sport at any cost, insisting, “I don’t want to drive for Super Aguri.” (For once I would have to agree with Villeneuve!)
However, what Villeneuve seems to not understand, is that while experience is appreciated (look at Coulthard, for example), the teams want results, and very expensive drivers have to produce the goods. With drivers like Villeneuve expecting salaries like 10 million USD a year, they must expect the teams will look for “bargains” in the drivers seat as well.


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked in which country, was the first Grand Prix run? And before you started saying Silverstone in 1950, that was the first Formula 1 GP. I suggested you think back a little before that! It was in fact the Grand Prix d’ACF in France in 1906!
So to this week. In the years immediately after WW II one new vehicle earned more foreign cash for the UK than any other. What was it? Clue, think of a British county.
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected] Good luck!