Saturday, March 17, 2018


Driving and Life is 'off-road', currently sailing the Caribbean and enjoying a SMOOTH JAZZ CRUISE, populated by jazz lovers from all over the world, but the majority are from the USA, the birthplace of jazz. As is the nature of these events, it is a happy ship filled with smiles and laughter and a shared love of music.

Everybody mixes easily, black, white, Jewish, Catholics, Japanese, Aussies and Brits.
On board, from the USA, there are Southern Baptists, Pentecostals from Oregon, Catholics from New York, and of course Republicans and Democrats.

However, once you divorce all the Americans on board from their personal politics everyone gets along famously. You are greeted by everyone you pass on the decks and corridors, and everyone has a smile on their face.

It is a great environment, and it reminds me that during the Kennedy Presidency, John F. Kennedy exported American culture to the world – music, theatre, art and community service – and in the vanguard were the enthusiastic and energetic members of the Peace Corps.

It was glory days for America, as the world embraced its jazz, rock’n’roll, hamburgers, jeans and a seductive attitude of confidence and optimism. It’s a far cry from the Gunboat Diplomacy employed by latter day politicians.

It is this confrontational environment which pervades the USA today, along with the almost complete political polarization of communities across the country.

When you’re travelling in the United States today this nasty atmosphere is widely prevalent, and represented by harsh personal judgements, depending on the politics involved.

Now, I know John Kennedy was a Democrat, and even back then, political battles between the two major parties were fought just as fiercely as they are today (well, maybe), but Americans were more optimistic about their future, they were accommodating of each other’s politics in a way that is definitely not the case in the current climate.

Having lived in America for 12 years and been actively involved in the communities where we lived, I know all about the change from good manners and tolerance, to today’s harsh realities, and I sincerely feel sorry for the country. It seems to have lost the lustre which accompanies optimism, confidence and aspiration.

I am not saying that a President other than Donald Trump can restore the country, far from it, but it seems to me that the Republican Party has done more to polarize the people, encourage vicious personal attacks on opponents, and generally ridicule any sort of broad, liberal and tolerant views.

With the rise of the Tea Party, and the GOP’s almost seismic and continual shift to even more far-right conservatism, I believe it will be a long time before the America I knew and admired for its tolerance, and encouragement to strive for success, returns.

I think it will take the emergence of a leader of the caliber of John F. Kennedy to re-energize, re-invigorate and restore the American community to the welcoming and easy-going nature of ‘the good old days’.

Sad to say that at the moment I can’t see any statesmanship potential in the ranks of either party who could achieve that.

However, like I said, when you divorce jazz-loving Americans on board the MS Celebrity Summit from their personal politics you’re left with a ship full of happy souls, just enjoying the music together.
It’s a great place to be, if only for seven days.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


After all that carry on about Car Of The Year awards, here we are talking about one company which has carried off the European COTY twice, in two important categories, in the last three years, and it’s France's Peugeot.
When I attended the 2014 Geneva Salon, Peugeot had just won the coveted award with its new Peugeot 308.
So why is this important?

Two reasons. First of all during the production run of ALL of the 07-series Peugeots, Groupe PSA was locked in a massive cost-saving program, and doing all the usual things like substituting plastic components which were formerly metal; using sub-standard trim materials and adhesives (which didn’t adhere to anything); and generally shaving the quality levels to barely acceptable.

This mean’t that the 107, 207, 307 and 407 models generated huge amounts of customer dissatisfaction, with owners practically arranging overnight accommodation at their dealer’s service workshop, because their vehicles spent so much time there.
I don’t have any idea what happened internally, but I suggest that the architects of Peugeot’s cost-saving program got booted out, demoted, excommunicated or sent to work at Lada. Whatever, something happened around 2012 and things turned around so quickly that the 2014 Peugeot 308 won COTY.
The second reason why this is an important win is that the market segment to which the 308 belongs is probably the hottest hatch segment in the European market – with the competitors all boasting high levels of fresh design, componentry, powertrain and quality levels. Think of cars like VW’s Golf, Ford’s Focus, the Opel Astra, Seat Leon and Renault Megane.
You’ve got to be good to best any of these competitors, and in 2014 it was a formidable bunch including, in order of points scored: BMW i3 (2nd); Tesla Model S (3rd); Citroen C4 Picasso; Mazda 3; Skoda Octavia and the Mercedes Benz S class.
Given that all the judges were aware of Peugeot’s abysmal quality and reliability levels across the previous 07 range, the decision to give the trophy to Peugeot’s 308 means it must have been a very impressive package, especially to win with a wide margin of 84 points.
Now we fast forward to 2017, and the Lion of Belfort scored another decisive win in another vital category in today’s automotive landscape, with its brand-new Peugeot 3008.
It had a very slender majority of only 23 points, in front of the much-admired Alfa Romeo Giulia, but daylight was the big winner in front of the third-placed Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Accepting the award at the 2017 Geneva Salon, the current Peugeot boss, Jean-Philippe Imperato, subtly acknowledged Peugeot’s dalliance with cost-cutting, when he said: “We made it! The long way from Hell to Heaven, and never again will we flirt with bankruptcy, we will put our money into the product.”
Well said, that man!
Because the compact SUV segment is NOW the hottest segment around the world, Peugeot’s new entry is a striking design, beautifully proportioned, well finished and presenting a host of interesting new technological approaches to some commonplace features.

The most fascinating (and at times challenging) is the i-Cockpit, Peugeot’s attempt at minimalism, hi-tech, and a completely ‘different’ approach to delivering visual information.
I’m guessing some traditionalists will hate it, and apart from a frustrating 40 minutes attempting to ‘pair’ my iPhone 6S, I thought it was a very snappy design.
There are of course multiple choices for what you wish to display, and, left, this is just the 'opening screen' - but it is pretty smart-looking design.
Driving the 3008 is a real surprise. The second-from-the-bottom Allure version is powered by a turbocharged 1.6L four cylinder, which has surprising urge, and is a very thrifty consumer of gasoline. I managed 5.2 l/100km without resorting to ‘coasting’, or deliberately light throttle applications
The platform of course is shared across Groupe PSA’s range, but it’s all new and provides outstanding interior space, although the layout of the cockpit gives you the impression there’s not much hip and legroom width.
Moving on to the interior design I have to hand it to the Interior Design Leader. The choice of materials; the actual design of the surfaces and shapes; and the quality feel of the overall cockpit is very modern, and very impressive.
I can’t be as fulsome in my comments on the vehicle dynamics. It has a firm, not uncomfortable ride, but the spring/damper calibrations means it’s a bit sloppy going around corners, and in fast lane-change tests it lurches – which is one of the main reasons I detest SUVs with a passion.

However, I have to hand it to Peugeot, the 3008 is an excellent overall package, including exterior and interior design, powertrain, and general comfort. I think it has enough ‘la differance’ to push its head above most of its competitors, and for me it’s the most contemporary compact SUV I’ve seen so far this year. Now, all the others have to do, is catch up to the new benchmark.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


Is this really an important achievement? What is the true value of the award? As far as consumers are concerned it sometimes appears to be of little consequence. Are the cars that win, really that good? That much better than their competitors?

There’s a precedent in Australia, which for me puts all such awards in perspective. Australia’s most prestigious car magazine, WHEELS, declined to award Car of The Year on three occasions, because the Editor, staff and associate judges did not feel that there was a worthy recipient among the competitors.

I asked my good friend Peter Robinson, who was Editor of WHEELS for 16 years about those occasions:

I withheld the COTY award on three occasions: 1972, 1979 and 1986. In those years the obvious winners (consecutively) were the XA Falcon, XD Falcon and Nissan Skyline.

“Put simply, the road test staff of the magazine, plus senior contributors deemed none of these cars were deserving of the honour.

“The XA was no more than a re-skin; the same applied to the beautiful XD which suffered from the late inclusion of a three-speed auto, when the six-cylinder engines were tuned for Borg-Warner's new (but late arriving) four-speed auto; and the retention of a leaf sprung rear suspension that severely impacted its dynamics; while the Skyline was guilty of poor packaging, and was an ageing design.”

Mind you, there were times the award felt a bit like, “We’re really appreciative of your effort, and although it’s not really a World Class car, we’re going to give you the award anyway.”

Which takes me back to 1973, when WHEELS anointed the infamous Leyland P76 as Car of The Year.

Mind you, the car wasn’t a dud, it just never had a future, being the last gasp from a dying company, British Leyland Australia.

The company was closed down in 1974, and the P76 disappeared like a puff of smoke.

However, in the recent WHEELS COTY judging it seems the Australian judges arrived at a decision, which is also shared by the magazine’s peers in a number of countries.

Surprisingly I think the most valid is the result in Japan, where its COTY judges joined with WHEELS to give their award to the Volvo XC60.

As I have already written in Driving & Life, I too agree with this decision. The Volvo XC60 is an outstanding car, and a worthy winner.

In the last few days, the European Car of The Year award, announced on the eve of the Geneva Salon, was given overwhelmingly to the Volvo XC40, with light years between it and its competitors. That’s pretty impressive.

Volvo Cars, rescued from obscurity by Geely of China, has grown, prospered and delivered an exciting range of new models. They are fabulous to drive in all conditions, adorned with impressive safety features, and clever technology and fully deserving of the praise the company is basking in.

They are also good looking with beautiful, sophisticated interior design, very practical, and generally, a delightful place to be in.

On this occasion I think the Car of The Year award(s) recognizes a fantastic effort to resuscitate a venerable brand, and restore it to World Class.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Ford’s Mustang reached iconic status a long time ago. It was the original ‘Pony Car’ – meaning a lightweight, high performance ‘American’ sportscar - cheap to build, and cheap to buy.

Its success is measured in millions – both in sales volumes and profits. But, boy did it have humble beginnings.

In 1961 Ford’s engineers in Dearborn began playing around with a concept a long way from the Pony Car which came to market.

The 1962 Mustang I concept was a small, lightweight, two-seater with a wedged shape, one–piece aluminium body riveted to a tubular space-frame chassis and powered by a German Ford Cardinal 1.5L V4 engine. It also featured four wheel independent suspension and front disc brakes. This was leading edge stuff for the Dearborn guys.

Design was by Eugene Bordinat, and Exterior Designer John Najjar positioned the small engine right behind the driver. The seats were fixed, and the foot pedals could be adjusted to suit the driver.

Ford built only two cars – a fiberglass mock-up, and one running prototype. The company revealed the prototype at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in October 1962, driven by Dan Gurney, who drove the little concept car so hard, he lapped just seconds slower than the F1 cars!

So, what happened? Mustang 1 looks nothing like the Mustang we’ve come to know.

Lee Iacocca was an early champion of the original concept, but bowed to pressure when the whole thing was re-imagined and redesigned as a much more conventional coupe and convertible. Mustang was launched in 1965.

The original business case was reduced to laughing stock very quickly. Ford’s numbers guys said the company would sell less than 100,000 cars. In the first 18 months, Ford sold one million Mustangs – which is not hard to figure when you see the price – USD$2368!

Now, to the humble beginnings. Once the dealers got wind of it, Iacocca wanted the car on sale asap.

The original Mustang borrowed heavily from the humble Ford Falcon.

Most of the running gear, the platform, the six-cylinder engine, the 3-speed auto transmission, and suspension all came from the family Falcon. The only element which survived from the concept car, were ‘fake’ louvres in front of the rear wheels.

However, given the humble bloodline, the Mustang came on sale within five months of being signed off!

Ford and its dealers started making money straight away. The long-standing residual affection for the Mustang continues to bring sales success, almost regardless of shape.

Let’s fast forward to 2018, and the latest convertible is ‘On My Drive’ and what a pleasure it has been to drive it.

Powered by a 5.0L V8 the Mustang has tons of power, a surprisingly stiff body, and pin-sharp handling.

Although, if it’s rainy and greasy, the GT is very tail-happy. Actually, if I'm truthful it can be a handful, despite the grip provided by the Pirellis.

The original design sketches for the 2014 concept are credited to a Croatian designer from Ford’s Cologne studio, called Kemal Curic.

However, after some clinics, and a Board level pow-wow his initial theme was junked, and the whole design team worked to come up with the shape you see on my driveway.

The program was overseen by Group VP of Design J Mays, but both Moray Callum (Director of Design, The Americas), and Joe Piaskowski (Exterior Design Director) had considerable influence on the outcomes.

I think Interior Chief Doyle Letson, and Interior Manager Bill Mangan, deserve mention too, for a good job on the interior.

It certainly is evocotive of the original ragtop Mustang.

Like I said, it’s a very successful formula – although just lately sales have wobbled a bit. In 2016 just over 6200 Mustangs were sold Down Under, and 9165 were sold in 2017 – but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Sales have been on a downward slide over the last six months.

Part of that may be due to a scare story about Mustang only achieving TWO STARS in the ANCAP crash tests! That’s something that will definitely cause a hiccup in the sales charts for any affected car.

Turns out that occupant safety is not the issue, but the lack of some electronic whizzgiggery, which Ford has now decided to include in the specs sheet.

However, the whole issue has been embarrassing, because ANCAP made sure its press release got maximum media coverage, with the motoring scribes pointing out that the last car to achieve TWO STARS was the Chinese-built Chery hatchback back in 2011.

I have no doubt that the current Mustang will protect its occupants, but it’s a concern that Ford’s engineers appear to have produced the ‘Dog Ate My Homework’ excuse for why it failed in the first place – especially if it was just a failure to include some high-tech software.

I like this car, but my first impression from the driver’s seat was that I was looking out across the deck of the Fleet Battle Carrier.

The hood goes on forever, and your only way to figure out where the front is, is guesswork, or a bump!

There are some neat design touches.

A brushed stainless steel feature on the dash; the absolutely jewel-like rear tail-lamp lenses, and the fact that this body shape is the closest I’ve seen to the original 1965 car.

I also love the 'Ground Speed' indicator - aka, the speedo!

In Australia the Mustang is in a HOT market segment, and it appears to be holding its own, with a 50% share of that sector.

But buyers are fickle, and I figure when something 'different' comes along – like a Walkinshaw-pimped Camaro, the Pony Car buyers will look elsewhere.

But, I certainly don’t mind opening up the throttle in the right conditions, so the V8 can bellow to its heart's content.

My good friend, David Ford, who was a senior development engineer for Ford Australia (now retired), told me that Ford Australia brought about 200 1964/65 Mustangs into the country in 1965. He thinks they were converted to RHD at Ford's old Homebush facility in NSW, which was building the Cortina, and later Ford Escorts.

I called an old contact from Homebush who told me that they were an easy conversion because of the number of parts common with the Falcon, and also because the dash was symmentrical.

Back to today's re-imagining of the famous mid 60s Pony car. I think this new Mustang delivers on all its promises. It's throaty, powerful, looks pretty sexy and because of the residual admiration for the Mustang line, it has plenty of fans Down Under.