Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Audi conquering more than just Le Mans

I have just returned from a flying visit to the UK, in fact the North of Scotland, where it was a sunny 14 degrees on the first day and overcast eight degrees for the subsequent three days. Why my forebears decided to set up camp in the frozen north is beyond me.

Audi Le Mans triumph

However, as well as the freezing weather, there was another aspect of the UK which was interesting. And that was the number of Audis on the road, and with the new LED running lights, they are easy to pick as they approach the oncoming traffic.

Audi had just won Le Mans 24 Hour Race at the fastest average speed ever, blown Peugeot away and had all three cars on the podium, with a 1-2-3 to rival the Ford GT 40’s in 1966. But that historic result was far too recent to have stimulated sales on the UK mainland. The number of Audis was the result of previous marketing strategies.

Audi TT Quattro

The spread was remarkable too, with most of the A series seen everywhere, far outstripping the TT Hairdressers variant (which you can even rent from Europcar). The North of Scotland which seems to be dying as far as industry goes, is not known for free-spending Scotsmen with unlimited budgets, so I found it even more interesting that Audi, never a cheap car, had managed to build up such a following with a couple of the delectable Quattro TT’s spied.

My straw poll then appeared to show me that Renault and Peugeot were probably neck and neck, followed by Ford with the Fiesta and a pile of GM Vauxhalls. All great cars that we don’t get here.

The Japanese influence does not seem to reach as far the cold North, which had very few Orientals, other than the very smart-looking Honda two door coupe, based on the Honda City we get here.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I wrote that two Japanese sports cars had pop-up headlights when they were released. However in 1994 and then again in 1998, they both reverted to exposed headlights. I asked what were these cars? The correct answer was the Mazda MX5 and the Mitsubishi 3000 GT.

So to this week. What car did W. F. Shetzline build? Clue - 1911.

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected] Good luck!


Points to ponder with buying used cars

A website in the UK has published a list of shonky practices by sellers of used cars. Most are applicable here as well, so ‘Caveat Emptor’ - let the buyer beware!

• Outstanding Finance: One in four vehicles has finance recorded against it and this is one of the most common car frauds of all. If buyers don’t check the car’s history, the outstanding finance can easily end up their problem, costing them significantly.

• Cut and Shut: Cut and shut motors are a joining of the front-end of a car that has been in a rear-end smash and the rear-end of a similar model, which has suffered a front-end accident. The two car parts are welded together and can look deceptively realistic. But watch out - they may look nice, but they could be a deathtrap.

• Quick Sales: Some sellers will claim to have to sell very quickly and will offer a bargain deal. These generate lots of interest and buyers are lured into sending large deposits to secure delivery.

• Sell and Steal Back: You buy a car but the seller keeps a set of keys and steals it back after taking payment. You end up with a very expensive set of car keys!

• Armed Robbery: Worse still, some buyers are requested to meet the sellers and upon arrival are met with armed men, and forced to hand over the cash.

• Escrow Scams: Escrow services normally act as a safeguard for both the buyer and the seller. The buyer is secure that he is getting what he wants and the seller has the money safely before delivering the goods. But fake escrow sites are now being run by fraudulent sellers, who disappear once the money has been transferred, never to be seen again.

• Stolen Cars and Clones: More than 160,000 vehicles are stolen each year in the UK. Criminals often disguise these cars to look like others, which is called cloning. VIN plates are swapped and you lose your money and your car once the real owner turns up.

Caveat Emptor at all times!


New Nissan GT-R even better

Nissan GT-R Godzilla 2

An upgraded 2010 GT-R is now on sale with subtle engine, chassis and equipment refinements but this will be eclipsed by a more thoroughly upgraded version to come next year.

Due to be announced globally in October, the MY2011 GT-R represents a more traditional midlife makeover that is also likely to bring a power upgrade for Nissan’s giant-killing super-coupe.

The 2011 GT-R upgrade would be the latest in a series of model-year upgrades to boost the relevance of the company’s flagship sportscar, which was launched in its home market in late 2007.

For now, the MY2010 version of the R35-series GT-R - which went on sale in Japan in December and has beaten a range of exotic racecars in the new FIA GT1 world sportscar championship - offers a revised satellite-navigation system, recalibrated suspension settings and an improved-flow exhaust catalyst.

The updated GT-R comes with a price increase across the range, but as ever, in Thailand it is think of a number, multiply by the month of your birthday and then double it. Grey import pricing is a black art at best and blatant usury at worst. I would estimate that you will be looking at around 12 million THB.

The current revised GT-R receives an HDD-based navigation system that operates through the same seven inch digital display, plus a new data logging function, automatic headlights, speed-sensing windscreen wipers and new entertainment functions such as Bluetooth audio connectivity and a USB/iPod port.

For 2010-11, the GT-R’s suspension has been retuned to offer improved steering stability and ride comfort, courtesy of revised rebound damping, stronger rear suspension radius rod bushes and fine-tuned wheel alignment settings.

Said to improve rear floor area cooling performance are rear diffusers with cooling ducts, which were previously available only on the GT-R SpecV available overseas.

Completing the mechanical upgrade are new hexagonal-mesh catalyst cells to reduce airflow resistance within the twin exhaust system, while the cooling efficiency of the transmission’s heat exchanger is said to have been improved by a larger diameter coolant pipe.

Nissan says the changes enhance low-end and mid-range engine response. Crucially, however, outright performance from the GT-R’s 3.8 liter twin-turbo V6 VR38DETT engine remain unchanged at 357 kW and 588 Nm.

According to Nissan’s management, Nissan reinforced the performance credentials of the new GT-R at the world’s toughest and best-known test track, the Nurburgring Nordschleife, where last year it clocked a record lap time of 7:26.70. In addition, the Nissan GT-R has already been successful in the new FIA GT1 world championship series against far more exotic machinery.


What did we learn from Valencia?

Kobayashi for a knighthood! Single-handedly he managed to keep everyone behind him for the entire race, managed his tyres for 52 laps and set up two stunning passing maneuvers on the last lap (including the scalp of the Sulky Spaniard) to take 7th outright. Magnificent! He got a standing ovation in Jameson’s for brightening up the entire race.

The other lasting memory of what was really a very dull race (yet again, when will the FIA listen and get rid of Valencia?) was the aerobatic display by Mark Webber after hitting Heiki Kovalainen’s “Lotus” (and more on that name later). After a dreadful first lap, front row man Webber in the Red Bull pitted, took on fresh rubber and then found himself behind Kovalainen in the “Lotus”. A combination of early braking by Kovalainen, very great speed differential in closing and Webber misjudging those two factors resulted in his hitting Kovalainen. Red Bull “Gives You Wings” - it certainly did!

Vettel in the other Red Bull drove well all weekend. Pole position and a dominant win has brought him up the points table, to now third behind Hamilton and Button. There should be a good fight for the rest of the year.

The FIA stewards were at their nit-picking best, with inconsequential wrong-doings and ridiculous penalties. The drive-through for Hamilton was a prime example, and brilliant team directions and even better driving, meant that he returned to the circuit still in second place, much to the displeasure of the even more Sulkier Spaniard as the race went on. The subsequent penalties of +5seconds to nine drivers (which took hours to be levied) was another example of ineptitude. The times recorded by each car on any particular lap are recorded electronically. Read the times off and you can instantly see transgressions. No deliberation needed and penalty can be applied instantly. A statement from Ferrari read, “A scandal , that’s the opinion of so many fans and employees who are all in agreement: there is no other way to describe what happened during the European Grand Prix. The way the race and the incidents during it were managed raise doubts that could see Formula 1 lose some credibility again, as it was seen around the world.” I will admit to bias, however, in motor racing, those who can do, those who can’t become officials.

Rosberg and Schumacher in the Mercedes are now an embarrassment to der faderland. Thankfully for them, Germany trounced England on the football field. The question is now, “Did Ross Brawn sell M-B a puppy?”

Hulkenberg put an entire new slant on “tyre kicking”, letting the barrier have a right footfull after his tyre delaminated and ate the rear bodywork of his Williams.

We know times are tough economically in Spain, so it explains the mad dash by one of the locals to pick up a bottle on the track to get the five pesetas deposit!

Finally, my beef with “Lotus”. Much was made of the “fact” that this was the 500th race for Lotus, but let me assure you it was not the 500th race for the marque. This current team has no shared DNA with the team run by Colin Chapman. Fernandez and his Malaysian cohorts bought the name, and that is it. The new Lotus and the old Lotus have nothing in common.

Roll on Silverstone, where passing has always been possible.