Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Despite the hype – a shambles!

What did we learn from the Spanish Grand Prix? Quite honestly, it was a shambles, despite the international press lauding the Ferrari 1-2 and ignoring the fact that only 13 cars finished. And a couple of those were walking wounded.
Much has been written about the new “young guns” taking over from the old-timers, but that is nonsense. All the “young guns” seem to be doing is taking each other out! Take Sebastian Vettel (Roaring Tosser), the lad hailed as the “new Schumacher” (Michael that is, though he is looking much more like another Ralf), with a huge future predicted. So far he has not managed to finish one race this season. Not one. In fact, he is lucky if he gets past the first lap before he has his accident. This time he blamed the other young hopeful Adrian Sutil with whom he collided, and finally said, “Hopefully we can get the new car soon and move out of the back of the pack, where I have had so many problems at the start of races.” He should at least get part of his wishes. He has destroyed so many cars already they will have to give him a new car every Grand Prix. He should not expect his contract to be renewed.
However, Sutil in his Force India found that the ‘force’ wasn’t with him either. “Again a disappointing day. After a good start into turn four I was on the inside and had a try to overtake another car, but it was too close and I couldn’t make the corner. I crashed into a car and my race was over then and there.” Help me! The other car was “too close” so he couldn’t make the corner. And this is one of the best 22 drivers on the planet? Sutil will be lucky to have a drive next year.
Another youngster is Timo Glock, who is lucky he has the manufacturing might of Toyota behind him. How many cars has he destroyed this season? He is another likely to be an ex-F1 driver in 2009. Mind you, in his favor, it was another accident with David Coulthard, who is no longer a young gun. I think it is time DC retired. Permanently.
Other accidental non-finishers included Piquet (Renault) and Bourdais (Toro Rossa), Kovalainen (McLaren) and Rubens Barichello (Honda) all joined by the Sulky Spaniard who popped an engine and Nico Rosberg (Williams).
After all the tales of woe, Raikkonen in the Ferrari was the class act again. Pole position, fastest lap and first to greet the chequered flag. It doesn’t get much better than that. Massa in the second Ferrari had no answer for his speed and consistency, and is rapidly settling in to be the Number 2, just as he was when Michael Schumacher drove for Ferrari, but it was a good 1-2 for the Scuderia.
Lewis Hamilton drove well for third place, but the McLaren is just not fast enough. The design chappies at the Woking headquarters will be scratching their heads. His partner Heikki Kovalainen is apparently shaken but not stirred after his 220 kph accident, a tribute to the strength and safety in today’s F1 car. It was Sir Stirling Moss who said he remembered when F1 was dangerous and sex was safe. How times have changed!
Much talk as to whether Super Aguri will survive. Simple answer - it won’t, and does it matter? There are enough mobile chicanes already.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I noted that there is one automaker in the USA which has been building cars since 1896. I asked which is it? It was Oldsmobile.
So to this week. The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, the Chevrolet Corvette of 1957 and the Triumph TR 5 all had something in common as a first in their home countries. What was it?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!


Reliability the important issue with buyers in the US
The Consumer Reports magazine in the US has finished an exhaustive review of the automotive products available in the US, concluding that overall, the best cars sold in the U.S. are made by Honda. This was after looking at reliability, performance, fuel economy, comfort, interior fit and finish, and ergonomics of 262 vehicles.

Old VW gets a lift

In their score card, Honda, with an overall score of 78, was followed closely by Toyota (75) and Subaru (72). BMW, Mazda, Nissan, and Volkswagen were tied at 71.
“Some vehicles that did well in their testing had a relatively high number of problems reported by owners in our reliability survey. For example, vehicles built by Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen (including Audi) achieved the best average scores in our tests, but the reliability of Volkswagen vehicles overall was below average, while Mercedes’ reliability was well below average.” The Consumer Reports people said that they do not recommend vehicles with below-average reliability, so VW and M-B suffered in the final ratings.
Honda earned the top score in their analysis because it builds very reliable cars that perform very well. Its average test score was only slightly under Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz, and Honda was the only manufacturer to earn an excellent overall reliability rating as well.
The home grown American manufacturers did not do well in the Consumer Reports, which goes a long way toward explaining why the US manufacturers are in such deep doggy-doo. Detroit’s share of the North American market dipped to its lowest level ever, just above 51 percent. For the first time in history, Toyota outsold Ford in the U.S. and outsold GM worldwide to become the world’s largest automaker. Sales shrank almost 12 percent at Ford, 6 percent at GM, and just over 3 percent at Chrysler. Ford and GM racked up billions in losses, and after a nine year merger with Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler was sold off at a multibillion dollar loss.
Overall, only a quarter of their recommended vehicles came from U.S. companies, which is a result of their vehicles’ inconsistent reliability and performance in their testing, and about half of their recommended vehicles were Japanese.
In the end, the companies that made the ‘best’ vehicles were those that have found a way to excel in all areas: performance, interior craftsmanship, safety, comfort, and reliability. The best all-around vehicles each year continue to set a higher and higher standard for other companies to match. That is a competition in which consumers are the ultimate winners.

More Bikes from Bitec
The motorcycle fest at the Bangkok International Motor Show did keep many bikers very interested. Our man on the spot, Alan Coates continues his report from last week.
CBR 600RR - Arguably the most popular machine in the 600 cc class, this model had a ground up revamp for 2007 but was not at this show last year. The 4 cylinder (across the frame) engine produces 118 BHP at 13,500 rpm. Weighing in at only 155 kg means a very impressive power to weight ratio for this machine.

Honda DN-01

CBR 1000RR Fireblade - Uprated again from 2007 with sharper looks and a stronger performance this “all new” machine has 175 BHP at 12,000 rpm. More use is made of aluminium in its construction that limits the dry weight to 199 kg.
DN-01 - An all new concept from Honda, seen as the way forward in “sports tourers”; this view is not shared with this reporter or many of the so-far quoted sources regarding the DN-01. The engine and hydraulic transmission have been “lifted” from the Deauville to produce a cross between a scooter and a cruiser. The 680 V twin engine produces a meager 60 BHP while weighing in at 270 kg dry weight. Even before loading up with pillion and luggage these stats do not conjure up an image of a sports tourer. It may well be comfortable with low seat and foot boards a la H-D but the performance or rather lack of it will discourage most potential buyers.
Motard PGM – F1 (Step Thru) - Here we have an example of the latest MotoGP styling for step-thru bikes, no doubt there is a section of the young biker market that will be attracted to this machine. Expect to see them hammering along Sukhumvit in the near future.
ER-6N - Shown again this year is the entry level naked sports 650 cc parallel twin with 71 BHP at a modest 8,500 rpm. This capacity was so beloved by the Brit bikers from the post war era through to the advent of the leak free, multi-cylinder machines from Japan in the 1970s. However, with electronic ignition, fuel injection and overhead camshaft there the similarity ends between old British and modern Japanese motorcycles.

Kawasaki ZX-10R

GTR 1400 Sports Tourer - This is Kawasaki’s more conventional idea of a sports tourer and comes fully dressed with generous fairing and luggage system. This new model has the engine lifted from their 1400 ZZR hyper sports bike. The detuned 1400 cc is slotted into all new chassis designed to carry two and a mountain of luggage, in comfort, at high speeds over colossal distances with ease. The shaft driven 280 kg bike has 150 plus BHP, now that is a sports tourer!
Ninja(s) - Three of the out and out super sports bikes range were displayed, all in their very familiar green livery. The 250, introduced last year, now established in a new market that replaces that previously occupied by two-strokes which are now, of course, banned for environmental reasons.
Earlier 600 Ninja ZX-6R cheated slightly to keep pace with the Honda and Suzuki in this class by giving their engine 636 cc. This latest model competes fairly and squarely with a 599 cc engine giving 123 BHP at 14000 rpm and almost 130 BHP also at 14,000 rpm with their RAM air system that boosts power when on the move. Weighing in at 167 kg puts it slightly ahead of the Honda in the power to weight ratio stakes.
The ZX-10R, newly released, is Kawasaki’s flagship for 2008. With just under 200 BHP on RAM air at 12,500 rpm and weighing in at 179 kg gives a very serious performance package for even the professional racer.
Z-1000 - Retro in name and general appearance only, this naked sports bike is marketed on the back of the popularity and memories evoked by the earlier ZED series from this manufacturer. The updated in-line 4 with fuel injection delivers more than 120 BHP at 10,000 rpm to propel the 205 kg un-faired machine at a healthy rate of knots. There will be many buyers of this model to enjoy the comfort and performance without venturing into the rarified atmosphere of the supersports. A much more useable and friendly model on an everyday basis.