Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Automania meets “Rex”

I was given the opportunity to drive the Pizza Company’s Subaru WRX Impreza ‘SuperCar’ at the Bira circuit a couple of weekends ago. This is the car owned and driven by Thomas Raldorf and is a very highly modified Subaru WRX, but retaining the basic dimensions of a Subaru, though many centimeters wider, and developing much more horsepower than the standard vehicle. Exact numbers are difficult to estimate as you cannot run all-wheel drives on the usual chassis dynamometer, but a good estimation from the technical data would indicate around 420-450 bhp.

Pizza Company Subaru WRX

The engine features a bigger throttle body and a larger turbocharger, with two radiators needed to keep it cool. One radiator is in the standard position in front of the engine, while the second sits in the boot area, complete with an electric fan. The tractability of the engine was impressive, but after 4,000 rpm when the turbo begins to kick in, the torque forces you back in the seat and the car just accelerates like there is no tomorrow. This is replicated in every gear, though at the short Bira circuit it was not possible to get into the top ratio of the six-speed gearbox.

Thomas Raldorf and Pizza Company WRX
Being an all-wheel-drive car, this produces different cornering characteristics from the usual dedicated FWD or RWD, but the Raldorf Subaru has a neat dash control, allowing the driver to select the balance between front or rear drive. This can be done on the move, and changed for different corners. Personally I like RWD and gave myself more of a rearward bias which suits my driving style.
Despite the massive 10 inch rims and slick tyres, the steering was not too heavy, and was very positive. However, racing tyres do increase the sensitivity of steering response in any vehicle.
Braking was taken care of with large rotors and six pot callipers, and while I found the pedal pressure quite high, it was still sensitive enough, and Thomas Raldorf, being several kilos heavier than me, has tailored this to his liking, including the adjustable balance between the front and rear brakes.
This was a sensitive racing car on the track, and the best results were gained by driving smoothly. It was not one of the (unsophisticated) race cars you throw at the corner and catch on the way out, but a well balanced vehicle which handled the bumps at Bira exceptionally well.
Thomas Raldorf will be running this car at all the SuperCar meetings this year, and will certainly be amongst the top runners. And if he is ever unable to drive for any reason, he knows my phone number!

Autotrivia Quiz

Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman

Last week I asked that in 1971, what was the heaviest private car then in production? This was an attempt by me to get round the ‘Googlers’ but I think I failed. The correct answer was the Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman (six door) limousine which weighed in at 2660 kg (5865 lbs). These behemoths (and they made 140 of them) were owned by such people as Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, Coco Chanel, John Lennon, Jack Nicholson, Aristotle Onassis, and Elvis Presley among others. Heads of state included Idi Amin, Leonid Brezhnev, Fidel Castro, Nicolae Ceau_escu (and it didn’t do him any good), Ferdinand Marcos (or him), Emperor Hirohito, Josip Broz-Tito, and Mao Zedong.
So to this week. Wayne Eckersley was a famous F1 engineer and one of the drivers he fettled won the world championship. Eckersley also made a six wheel F1 car. What manufacturer did he make it for?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!


Grey makes BMW see red?
You can always get interesting snippets from the financial pages of the press, and it was reported that our local BMW will not provide manufacturer’s warranty for BMW and Mini vehicles imported and sold on the ‘grey’ market.
Apparently the new Z4 has been selling very well through the non-authorized dealerships with more than 50 cars out the door since Q3 last year.
However, BMW (apparently world-wide) are cracking down on warranty work for vehicles from independent importers. The reason being given is that Thailand’s vehicles, and especially emissions and fuels, can vary from other countries, so after March 2010, warranties will only be offered in the country of origin, and through authorized BMW dealers only. In Thailand, most of the grey importers handle their own servicing.

Driving back to Germany for its first service

Bumper technology
Have you noticed just how today’s bumper bars just fall off the vehicles they are supposed to protect from minor bumps? Come on, that’s why they were called “bumper bars” in the first place. So, how many cars have you seen recently with tape holding the bumper bar in position, both front and rear bars? Lots, is the answer.
Of course, that is referring to new or nearly new cars. Old cars had two dumb irons out the front, attached to which was something about the size of a piece of railway line, but it was chromed. It was bolted in place and it took three days soaking in oil before you could get the nuts to move. Those were real “bumper bars” made of steel, none of this newfangled plastic stuff.
And when you think about it, just how much use is the thermoformed plastic as a bumper? About as useful as a hip pocket in a swim suit. The slightest “bump” when parking, and the retaining clips all fly off and the so-called “bumper” falls on the ground. In theory, if you could get some new clips, you should be able to affix said bumper back on the car, but like all good theories, they don’t always work in practice. New clips as a single item seem to not exist. They come with a new bumper, they tell me. But it is difficult to get the actual part numbers, and every bit of every new motor car has a part number.
Mind you, we were all led to believe that the new bumpers would be so much cheaper than repairing the old metal ones, with all that beating and rechroming. However, I must say that a new one is definitely quicker to replace - provided you’ve got the clips that come with it.
There is another problem relating to the modern bumper bar. As well as the thermoplastic thing, there is actually another metal bar inside it, spot welded to the metal of the body. In a decent sort of bump, the plastic bar does nothing other than deform, allowing contact with the metal structure underneath, which in turn squashes and bends the bodywork as well. There was something to be said about the old railway line held on with two big nut and bolts. It may not have been elegant, but it sure was practical.

The “auto” car is (almost) here
If you are a driving enthusiast, do not read any further. This article is heralding the death of driving as we know it. The world is getting ready to hand the control of the family car to the computer. You can no longer be trusted!
The technology that is now being offered, as far as anti-collision is concerned, has actually been developed over the last 10 years, but as the modern car becomes more electronic, it has become easier to incorporate the anti-collision technology into the car’s electronics.

Radar avoidance

Take electronic cruise control for example. This works through the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) and adapts the pre-set road speed to the fuel/air mixture the engine receives. As speed drops, increased fuel/air is called for and the car speeds up. And vice versa when the road speed exceeds the pre-set level. Going downhill, the ECU can even tell the brakes to apply light pressure to bring down and control the road speed.
So the vehicles have had the ECU ‘smarts’ for some time, and all that is needed is to hook an anti-collision system in with the cruise control ECU. The human anti-collision model relies on visual interpretation of the distance and previously stored knowledge of how much distance it will need to pull up from that speed. Some of us are better than others at this! There is also the problem that when you leave two car lengths to the car in front, that space is very quickly filled with two cars and several motorcycles!
To do this anti-collision calculation electronically is done by using a form of radar. The message comes back to the car to indicate that at the current road speed, there is not enough distance in which to pull up without ‘rear-ending’ the car in front. The ECU can then shut down the fuel/air and instead of just getting the brakes pre-charged, can now apply the brakes (independently from the driver) to slow the car enough to avoid the rear end collision.
Toyota have been developing their concept of this system, which is designed to not only stop rear end collisions, but to stop you running red lights as well (it will never be accepted in Thailand where running red lights is a national pastime). A friend joked the other day that he had been the last car through after the lights turned red. I must admit I have never done that… there’s always been at least two or three cars behind me!

Saab goes to Spyker
So Saab, the once proud Swedish manufacturer and taken over by GM around 10 years ago has been bought (apparently) by Spyker, the Dutch manufacturer of the high end eponymous Spyker sports car. Spyker has 100 employees and Saab around 4,000. Spyker has not made a profit since it began manufacturing in 2000. How will this work? Or is it a huge tax dodge? Does not make any sense to me! Or does the Swedish government USD 600 million loan look even sweeter?