Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Eco cars are coming

The Eco-car project is finally getting off the ground in Thailand, with both Toyota and Honda jumping on the bandwagon. The majority of the output will be for export, but there will be a market in Thailand for the small fuel misers.

Honda has even further plans and wants to be Number 1 in ASEAN and has set itself long range targets with new assembly plants and expansion of existing facilities all slated for 2008 in a 6.2 billion baht spending spree. 6.7 billion baht is earmarked for the eco-car project, but some of that is in the plant expansion.
Exports have already shown a healthy upswing, with the locally made Civic and CRV exports up by 22 percent. The new Accord and the new Jazz are also coming in 2008, so it all looks like being a Honda year.
Another company expanding is the Auto Alliance of Ford and Mazda, with 17 billion baht to be used for a new small car factory at the Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate plant, with the Mazda2 rolling off the assembly lines in 2009 and the Ford Fiesta shortly after that.
These two share the same platform and much of the running gear, like the Mazda3 and the Ford Focus. The new plant will have a capacity of 275,000 vehicles a year.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I said we should try your Lamborghini knowledge. By the way, it is “Lamborgeenee”, not “Lamborjeenee”. The fore-runner of the Espada was the Marzal which was displayed for the first time at the 1967 Geneva Motor Show and was the show-stopper (it was, I was there and sat in it). I asked last week what were the main differences between the Marzal show car and the Espada production car? The answer was that the Marzal was mid-engined 2 liter straight six, while the Espada was front engined 4 liter V12. The Espada came out in 1968 and production stopped in 1978 after 1217 Espadas had been made.
So to this week. The De Lorean had stainless steel panels. Which current vehicle has a stainless steel panel too?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!


Afternoon with an Aston
As a car company, Aston Martin has had a chequered history, garnering many motor racing wins, and unfortunately, almost as many owners. By 1926, Lionel Martin had lost control of his company to a W.S. Renwick and an A.C. Bertelli. In 1933 it was saved from extinction by a titled gentleman, Sir Arthur Sutherland KBE, and again in 1947 by the wealthy industrialist David Brown. After David Brown, there was a succession of owners on the Aston Martin letterhead until it was Ford Motor Company, who had also picked up Jaguar, Volvo and Land Rover, and then put all these brands together under the Premier Automotive Group (PAG) umbrella.

Aston Martin DB9

But it was not to end there. Aston Martin was again in the news this year, when in March Aston Martin announced the start of a new chapter in its illustrious history following the financial news that the prestigious sports car manufacturer had been sold by Ford to a consortium led by David Richards of the British Prodrive company, John Sinders a wealthy investor and an Aston Martin owner, and two Saudi Arabian venture capitalists Investment Dar and Adeem Investment, to end almost twenty years as part of Ford Motor Company.
In a blow to BMW, Aston Martin was again chosen as James Bond’s personal vehicle in the latest Bond movie Casino Royale. Remember the multiple roll-over when James has to avoid Vesper Lynd, lying on the road. Far from destroying one pristine Aston Martin DBS, the shot took four very tatty development hack DB9’s to complete, and a couple of BMW 5 Series.
The stunt was done at 120 km/h and once the Aston hit the grass, it dug in and just kept rolling, shedding pieces of bodywork and a wheel until it came to rest, right side up, lights still twinkling and established a new Guinness World Record for the most cannon rolls in a car. An astonishing seven complete turns. The stunt driver was also unhurt!
However, enough of the movie make-believe. Here is the real deal. An Aston Martin DB9 Volante. To begin with, this is no fancy bodywork slapped over a pedestrian saloon. This is a purpose-designed and built open sports coupe.
Enginewise, the DB9 sports a six litre V12 which is, as tradition would demand, up front, but brought as far back as possible to end up with a 50/50 weight distribution between front and rear axles. This is Aston Martin’s own engine, but has been re-engineered for the DB9, with a new crankshaft, cams, manifold, and engine-management system for more midrange torque. For a relatively light car, coming through the extensive use of aluminium, the torque figure of 567 Nm is more than enough to keep a push in your back through to its top whack of a smidgin under 300 km/h.
The habitacle is fairly typical Aston Martin, in being presented as a 2+2 option, but the 147 mm longer wheelbase means there is a little more room, mainly for the driver and front passenger. The front and rear bucket seats are also swathed in the obligatory leather, giving that wonderful smell on opening the doors; however, the rears are suitable for legless midgets only.
Driving this car was an experience. To test such a machine, you cannot take it on public roads to experience the full capabilities, so it was taken to the Prince Bira International circuit just outside Pattaya. And it rained, to make the test even more exciting.
I can vouch for the rigidity of the open-top body, no scuttle shake being evident at any time, and is really a tribute to the V-H chassis. The seats were firm, but you would not need to be over 90 kg, as it could get ‘squeezy’.
If you floor the accelerator, the engine note changes from a throaty purr to an absolute growl, and with almost 450 bhp or 335 kW you will reach 100 km/h in under five seconds. Make no mistake, this is a super-car.
The ZF semi-manual six-speed gearbox can be used like a manual, but without a clutch pedal. It has all the electronic ‘smarts’ so that when you are downshifting it gives the engine that professional ‘blip’ to synchronize the revs, and if you insist, it will hold any gear right the way through to red-line. Even on the race track, the electronics knew when to hold the gear and all I had to do was steer the car between the walls!
On the down-side, the low roofline means that taller drivers will be rubbing on the underside of the roof, and there are many blind spots. A very low seating position also means that the driver does not see all the bonnet, and similar to the E-Type Jaguars, I am sure many DB9’s will get dented noses. And no, I didn’t!
If you are looking for exclusivity, a super-car with history, and a vehicle that turns heads. The DB9 Volante is for you.
Just one small matter left. You will need around 22 million baht in the piggy bank.