Vol. V No. 31 - Saturday July 29, - August 4, 2006
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by Saichon Paewsoongnern
 

 


Automania

Chinese MGs

For countless decades, the engines in MGs went north-south. Now it seems as if the future is east-west! With a Chinese firm having bought the tooling from the receivers last year, the way is open for a Chinese MG to hit the streets. This should be enough for Cecil Kimber to start revolving in his grave.
Nanjing Automobile Group announced plans last week to revive the historic MG brand. Does Nanjing make sports cars? No, Nanjing assembles only a handful of its own cars in China, although it’s a credible commercial-truck manufacturer. It wants to start assembling high-quality cars for Europe in 2007 and for the United States in 2008 at a plant in Oklahoma.
Its US entry, the MG TF coupe, would enter a crowded field in a niche market. It would compete directly with the Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky and Mazda Miata (MX-5).
With the upsurge in the Chinese car industry, there are now several players who feel they are ready to challenge the US automakers on their own turf. These include Geely Automobile Holdings Group and Chery Automobile Co; however, Nanjing is trying to separate itself from its competitors by stressing MG’s European heritage and engineering.
MG says it plans to add to its lineup and become a volume player in Western markets. But the company did not spell out what new models are planned.
The company will have plants in the United States, England and China. It told Automotive News that it expects its Ardmore, Oklahoma, plant to make 12,000 to 16,000 cars a year. About 60 percent would be for North America and 40 percent would be exported to Europe. The vehicle would be assembled primarily by hand, with some robotics. MG says it will build a redesigned TF coupe in Oklahoma.
However, Nanjing is not stopping there, it also plans to reopen MG’s Longbridge, England, plant to build the TF roadster and will build three sedans in China. Production targets were not revealed. The company also did not reveal whether the Oklahoma plant would be assembling kits shipped in from China or England.
Nanjing has financial backing from government sources in China. Indeed, without it Nanjing’s purchase last year of MG Rover tooling and other assets would not have been possible.
Nanjing says it has commitments of $2 billion from global sources for the MG project. In Oklahoma, the company received commitments from state and local governments, the state’s economic development agency and private investor Davis Capital Group LLC., based in Los Angeles.


What did we learn from the French Grand Prix?

Well, the first thing has to be that Michael Schumacher is just as hungry for wins as he ever was. Anybody who thinks he is “past it” had better think again. The entire weekend was a Michael Schumacher master-class.
We also saw that Massa has matured while at Ferrari, and he accounted himself very well. It should not be forgotten, however, that Massa finished well behind Schumacher, in an identical vehicle, with exactly the same pit stop strategies. Massa may be quick, but Schumi is even quicker!
The Renault strategy was perfect. Everyone was sure that Alonso would come in to refuel – but he didn’t, and the team deserves the second place they gave him.
We also learned that Honda is in more strife than the embattled caretaker PM of Thailand. The performance of their number one team has been going backwards for some time, and with Jenson Button qualifying something like 19th and both cars retiring, will not sit well with his Japanese bosses. With both succumbing to engine gremlins, there has been much face lost. I was amused to read that Rubens Barichello presumed he had an engine problem because, “there was a lot of smoke and I lost all power.” I think everyone might agree with the diagnosis Roob! The Honda people will also not have been impressed with Jenson Button telling the media that the problem they have is a lack of power, “There is a lack of overall speed. That comes from engine power and downforce, and that’s what we are lacking at the moment, along with reliability.”
It is also becoming obvious that the usually unflappable Mark Webber is becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of reliability in his WilliamsF1. It is now so long since he saw a chequered flag, he has probably forgotten what one looks like. The mutterings around pit lane are that Webber will leave Williams at the end of this year and go to Red Bull. While this initially sounded like a step in the wrong direction, forget about the past and look at the realities of today. Red Bull has been consistently getting both cars home, which is something WilliamsF1 has not been able to do. Williams is also not as well funded as Red Bull, and next year Red Bull will either have this year’s Ferrari engine (which is not short of horses) or will have a Renault engine (also one of the best in the paddock). Historically Williams is superior, but on the track in 2006, Red Bull is looking much stronger (or reliable). It would appear that Williams has lost the plot and can no longer be considered one of the plum spots in the Grand Prix circus carousel. However, it should not be forgotten that Webber’s contract is owned by Briatore, who manages Renault. Interesting?
Oh yes, there was one last thing. There were no crashes. Montoya was absent too. Any connections, I wonder?


So now it’s the German GP

This week is the German GP held at Hockenheim, not Nurburgring, which was the venue for the European GP. It was opened in 1939, 15 miles from Heidelberg, and was used for German national car and motorcycle racing. In 1965/6 it was uprated to a design by John Hugenholz because one end was lost when an autobahn was built. The resulting circuit, 6.7 km long, remained blindingly quick for most of its length, with a slow section in the ‘stadium’ (i.e. grandstand) area, similar in concept to the GP course at Indianapolis.
Hockenheim achieved notoriety in 1968 when, at one of the first major races held at the circuit, Jim Clark was killed in a Formula Two race following presumed tyre failure. His actual death was caused, however, by the fact that his car was able to leave the circuit unimpeded and hit a tree.
While the Nurburgring was being made safe, Hockenheim staged the 1970 German GP with a layout made slower by the construction of three chicanes. It was not a popular choice of venue but, following Lauda’s accident at the Nurburgring in 1976, Hockenheim became the home of the German GP apart from 1985 when the new ‘Nurburgring’ had the race.
Although young Alonso in the Renault is still at the head of the table, there are seven rounds to go – that’s 70 points up for grabs, so the championship is still wide open. The points score going into this German GP stand at:
1 F. Alonso 96
2 Michael Schumacher 79
3 G. Fisichella 46
It is interesting to note that at this stage last year the points table read as:
1 F Alonso 77
2 K Raikkonen 51
3 M Schumacher 43
The race should start at 7 p.m.


Autotrivia Quiz
Last week I mentioned that in the years immediately after WW II one new vehicle earned more foreign cash for the UK than any other. I asked what was it? Clue, think of a British county. It was the Austin A40 Devon (and I owned one)!
So to this week. I mentioned the Land Speed Records. The John Cobb Railton in 1938 employed ice cooling. Another two record breakers used this method before then, rather than radiators. What were they?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!


World’s Fastest Indian
A couple of the chaps in the F1 supporters group told me about the film of the exploits of one New Zealander Burt Munro (1899-1978), with Rod Skinner (who also hails from EnZed) being very enthusiastic. Called The World’s Fastest Indian, it stars Sir Anthony Hopkins as Burt Munro. Following this information, George Comino came up with the DVD of the film which he presented to me (thanks George).

Burt Munro was totally eccentric, but also totally single-minded. He had a 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle, and spent the next 45 years modifying it for all kinds of speed events, culminating in his running at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
To show the dogged determination of this man, I quote excerpts from a letter from Burt published in New Zealand’s Veteran and Vintage Motoring Magazine ‘Beaded Wheels’ #189 April - May 1991. “I have been testing at the beach and have been out 17 times and had 11 blow-ups. This consisted of mostly broken pistons of older designs. The rod which had stood-up to all the broken pistons finally shattered top end when I was accelerating hard in top at 5,500. I took it down, the new piston was in many pieces, pin broken in half, cylinder scored and split at skirt and hammered out wedge shape and locked in cases. One rocker arm broken, one twisted, one push rod broken, one buckled. Other breaks were cam follower I had made from magnesium four or five years ago, another rocker and pushrods bent and both valves bent.
“Pulled the head off this morning and am starting two new rods from DC6 B propeller. I hope to find it strong enough. It was sent to me from Auckland as I cannot get the 70-70 or 20-24 alloy in NZ. I like to improve design every year in cams, carbs (just finished a new one yesterday), conrods, pistons and sometimes valves and guides when they wear a little, and cylinders.
“It is almost impossible for me to give you a true picture of the time I have spent on my cycles. The last 22 years has been full time and for one stretch of 10 years put in 16 hours every day, but on Christmas Day only took the afternoon off.”
New Zealanders, in particular, seem to have this ability to adapt, plus a native engineering ingenuity, and Burt Munro is a prime example. He did build the world’s fastest Indian motorcycle, and clocked 200 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats, in his totally home made motorcycle. He was still setting records when he was 67 years old, showing that age alone should not be a bar to trying to do anything. Burt (and me) said so!
If you get a chance, watch this movie (the DVD is available in the shops), it is truly inspirational, and you do not have to be a motorcycle enthusiast to enjoy it (although it helps), but even my wife enjoyed it. Sir Anthony Hopkins deserves an Oscar for his believable portrayal of an old, and obsessive Burt Munro, for whom you will cheer at the end!