Thursday, March 26, 2020

DRIVEN PERSONALITIES - THOMAS L. BRYANT by John Crawford

Today I post a formal farewell to one of my best 'mates' in the automotive media, although he passed away in early March.

Thomas L. Bryant, or Thom Bryant as we knew him, was Editor of Road & Track magazine (published in Newport Beach, California) from 1988 until he retired in 2008. He was the consummate gentle-man, and a staunch and loyal friend. He was also a very accomplished driver and we shared many test drives together over the period of our friendship.

Probably most notable, (because I have photos) was the press launch of the Bentley Continental GT coupe at Ackergill, Scotland in July 2002.

We had visited the ‘works’ in Crewe, and then flew to Scotland, where we were greeted on the tarmac at Wick airport by a piper.


The next day I was privileged to share a Bentley with Thom and the editor of Automobile Magazine, the great David E. Davis, Jnr.

It was a spirited drive across the top of Scotland, from Wick, to Ullapool. Both of them thoroughly enjoying the open, flowing roads and the Continental GT.


I sat in the back, revelling in the anecdotes which passed between Thom and David, and recognising how fortunate I was to be sharing a car with these two giants of the US automobile media.

Such close friendships are now very unusual at events like these nowadays. First, because the journalists who attend do not possess the qualities and experience which Bryant and Davis did; and also because the PR flunkies who attend these events, just want to ‘rotate’ the next bunch of journalists through the drive programs and don’t spare the time to chat, and get to know the media.

However, I digress. My first meeting with an Editor of Road & Track was with the incumbent in 1975, British-born Tony Hogg. He had come to Australia to participate in a Volvo launch. We became instant friends and I later visited him in California in 1982, sadly he died a year later. John Dinkel took over as editor, before passing control to Thom in 1988, who steered the magazine with considerable ability until he retired 20 years later.


I first met Thom in 1990 when I was appointed VP of Public Relations at Jaguar Cars North America, and one of the first visits I made to meet the Californian auto media was in 1991, and top of the list was Road & Track.

When I say it was a memorable meeting, I’m not kidding. Thom appreciated fine dining and wine, and announced that although I was picking up the tab (and the entire magazine staff was present), lunch would continue as long as we had matters to discuss. I took that as a compliment, that Thom thought I was a PR guy worth listening to.

Lunch finished at 4:45pm, and I drove Thom home to his wife Patty. From that moment, whenever I invited Road & Track to a media event, it was Thom who insisted that he would attend to represent the magazine. Consequently we met many times when I was head of PR at Jaguar, and many more times when I was Director of PR for Bentley Motors NA.

We met at our company events; we met at Pebble Beach; we met at Amelia Island, and many times in airport lounges, even when the event was nothing to do with me, but we crossed paths anyway.

As you can imagine, when you enjoy such a great friendship for such a long time, you appreciate very much the time spent together.

These words are as much a tribute to the strong and robust friendships I have established, as they are to Thom Bryant, because these friendships have been at the core of my enjoyment of my life.

Thanks Thom, it’s been great to know you.

John Crawford

HONDA HITS THE PANIC BUTTON by John Crawford

Is it possible COVID19 will influence lifestyle and community change on a much wider basis than we are currently witnessing? I think the answer is yes, and one of Japan’s smallest and most vulnerable carmakers’ actions this week, heralds a new process for the distribution and sale of vehicles.

Honda announced this week that it will adopt an ‘agency model’ which will reduce the number of Honda franchise owners, and will see the range reduced to premium (higher margin) models with a new national pricing structure.

This 'agency' model is already operated in New Zealand by Honda, and Toyota. A report, out this week, forecast that currently Australia’s 105 Honda dealerships operated by 71 owners would be reduced to 60 dealerships operated by just 12 owners.

Honda’s announcement said: “This allows us to design a Honda network more appropriate to the size of our business.”

The onset of COVID19 is likely to be the catalyst for big changes in distribution processes.

We could go back to the old days, in Australia and outlying foreign markets, when manufacturers were represented by large dealers, rather than 'owning' their own distribution rights, and retaining all the profits from distributor margins.


It suggests to me that the viability of small volume operations may soon be so threatened by overwhelming costs, the 'agency' method which Honda is espousing could become adopted more widely. With Australia offering roughly 65 marques, in a less than one million units a year volume, there could be a number of departures.

In Australia this week, the car dealers' lobby group pressured the federal government to offer aid to dealers nationwide, much the same as that offered to airlines, to help them stay in business.

However, my contacts in the Australian capital, Canberra, tell me the government is initially not willing to offer such a big pricetag assistance package.

One politician told me: "I think buying a new car is a thoroughly discretionary decision, unless you current car has crapped itself (sic), and I'm not sure taxpayers would thank us for pouring money into car dealers' pockets."

If that attitude really does prevail, then if I were a salesman, a mechanic or a receptionist, then maybe it's time to consider a different job. With Australia's new car market shrinking in volume progressively over the last 23 months, without the onset of COVID19, this might just be the final nail.

John Crawford

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A COLLATION OF CITROËN COLD CUTS by John Crawford

Why should my conscious mind be clogged with memories and tidbits about Citroën right now? It’s not exactly one of world’s best-known car companies these days, it’s probably best described as Peugeot’s poorer cousin, and has nothing of the influence represented by its founder André-Gustave Citroën, and its reputation as the world’s fourth largest carmaker, in 1932.

However, going against trend, Citroën has just launched a new passenger car! The DS9.
Top: 2012 Concept 9, supposed to be inspiration for DS9,
but hardly any resemblence. Just another concept car fantasy.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Sure, if you’re a car enthusiast like me, you know the name Citroën, and you might have an inkling of the great triumphs of engineering it produced courtesy of the inspiration of its founder.

The man was a genius.

André was best remembered and respected for the design of helical gears, but it was his curiosity for solving difficult problems, which inspired hls engineers to develop Citroën’s now famous spirit of independence, innovation and automotive excellence, which by far outweighs the many achievements of the young man who, at 41, launched his car company in 1919.

André graduated from the École Polytechnique in 1900, and that year he travelled back to Poland, to visit his late mother’s family. They introduced to him to a carpenter who was making a set of gears with a fishbone structure. André quickly saw the potential and bought the patent.

It was the development of the famed Traction Avant (right) which not only created its bona fides as a cutting-edge carmaker, but also contributed to the company’s financial collapse in 1934, Citroën being taken over by its largest creditor, Michelin. The company fought its way back to solvency, only to once again suffer bankruptcy in 1974. This time the French government forced the takeover of Citroën by its archrival Automobiles Peugeot, and as part of the restructuring of Citroën, Peugeot sold off the Maserati company, which Citroën had acquired in 1968.

It was ownership of the famous Italian sports car company which ignited my brain to look back at one of Citroën’s most enigmatic, famous, and infamous models – the Citroën SM.

More on the SM in a moment, but let’s ask a few people what they know about Citroën.

They will undoubtedly focus on the 1948 2CV and the 1955 DS19, which was also referred to as the ‘Goddess’.


It was probably these two cars, plus some exciting technological developments which earned Citroën a reputation as a carmaker known for ‘interesting’, unique and ‘expensive to maintain’ features.

The DS19 and the SM were ‘book-cased’ by the Traction Avant and another fabulous design, the Citroën CX.


As is always the case with most of my recollections, they are always attached to friendships with memorable people and great experiences. So it was with the CX 2200.

The late (great) Jim Reddiex
In 1974 I was in Brisbane on assignment for my magazine MODERN MOTOR and was introduced to the Queensland Citroën distributor, Jim Reddiex. Jim was already famous as an engineer and rally driver, and an enthusiast for the French brand.

He suggested we go for a drive in his CX 2200 demonstrator. We took off for what in those days were the undeveloped eastern environs of Brisbane, just south of the Brisbane River, with the only road leading to a dead end, marked by a huge quarry. The main road, although bitumen, was narrow and the edges had suffered the ravages of the truck traffic into and out of the quarry.

We launched onto a stretch that was dead straight for about six kilometres, but the edges could only described as a collection of  broken bitumen, culverts, holes, and exposed concrete drainage pipes.

As Jim edged the speed up to about 110 km/h he said: “Watch this,” promptly pushing the car to the left of the bitumen, so that the left side of the car was forced to traverse the broken roadside with its many depressions.

The ‘test’ left me absolutely amazed at the stability of the car, which was never influenced by the condition of the roadside. 

The CX sped smoothly along as if on a magic carpet, and was not only stable, but the frantic workings of the hydro-pneumatic suspension were almost unoticeable.

I had previously driven a DS19 in Sydney, and whilst I was impressed with the quality of the ride, and the handling, I had never experienced such an emphatic display of the CX’s abilities.

The CX also featured the famous 'resting' suspension as the DS19. When parked, the suspension slowly dropped the car lower to the road, as the suspension was depressurized, which allowed easier ingress and egress for the occupants.

A couple of years later, my good friend Steve Cropley (now Editor-in-Chief at Autocar) and I partnered in a CX2200 from London to Paris, to return the car to the press office at Citroën headquarters on the Quai André Citroën.

I dropped Steve off at Charles de Gaulle airport, and returned the car to a very attractive young PR lady.

I mentioned to her that the trafficator indicators did not self-cancel when you returned the steering wheel to TDC, to which she replied haughtily:

“Why should they? It’s a Citroën!” So there!

It was mid-1975 when I met my first Citroën SM.


With Citroën’s ownership of Maserati, the SM, designed in-house by Robert Opron (right), was intended to be a GT model above the DS19, and was engineered with the Maserati V6, to create a reputation as a high performance touring car.

Consistent with Citroën's front wheel drive philosophy, the SM had the V6 engined shoehorned in to achieve this practice.

Sadly, post-war French governments had inflicted a tax (puissance fiscale) on engines bigger than 2.0L, so although the Maserati V6 could be stretched to 3.5 litres, the SM launched with a capacity of 2.7L – leading to, not quite a high performance car. However, it was stylish, in a typically idiosyncratic French fashion.
But, there was a lot to worry about, if you owned one. Mainly getting it serviced. At the time I was good friends with Peter Warneford, who with his father, Wally, owned the Automotive Carburettor Company in Sydney's Woolloomooloo. He and his dad were wizards at tuning and servicing SU and Weber carburettors, and I used to hang around their workshop to see what knowledge I could acquire for free.

One day I dropped in to see Peter, and he took me to the workshop to reveal and explain what a design disaster the Citroen SM was.

The car was in a state of considerable dis-assembly.

The installation of the engine meant that the V6 engine was ‘canted over’ to the right, to lower the line of the hood (bonnet).

Peter, his father Wally, and a couple of mechanics stood around the front of the car, literally scratching their heads.

The Green cylinders are the pressure containers for the pressurised hydro-pneumatic suspension system
To adjust the tappets on the right side of the V6, you had to jack the car up, remove the right hand front wheel, then remove a panel in the inner guard measuring about 50x45cm, so that you could access the tappets to adjust them.

Then, he revealed that the side draught Weber carburettors needed constant adjustment; and the drive belts also needed to be constantly adjusted, and replaced every 35,000 miles (56,000km).

In addition Citroën had not issued dealers with a precise servicing manual, so many dealers had to work it out for themselves. This meant that the small number of SM owners in Sydney eschewed taking their SMs to Citroën dealers, they just drove them straight to Wally and Peter’s workshop.

In late 1975, Peugeot closed the famous Citroën factory on the Quai André Citroën.


This meant the remaining incomplete SMs had to be finished somewhere else, and the job fell to racer Guy Ligier, who made 141 cars at his factory near Vichy.

Meanwhile Maserati had fallen into bankruptcy and had been taken over by de Tomaso and the Orsini family. Work on the Citroën-Maserati SM engine continued and Maserati used it in the Merak between 1974 and 1982. One of the Maserati brothers, Alfieri, used it in the Quattroporte II. That car used the SM platform with a sedan body designed by Bertone.

Although the SM suffered an ignominious place in French automotive history, the SM Club in France remains very active, and has 600 members. There are many special-bodied SMs still in existence, which pop up all the time at various European Concourses. It was a totally-mad idea, but then France has always been the home of eccentric and ‘interesting’ design and engineering, which is totally proper.

Citroën has also been the supplier to the French Government of sedan cars for the President and most politicians.

French President Charles de Gaulle and his custom-built DS19.

It is probably this continuous history which has led to Citroën’s latest large passenger car – the DS 9.

At a time when SUVs have overtaken passenger cars in popularity, you’d have to ask what’s the reason for the DS 9? I think pretty soon, you’ll see fleets of these attractive black sedans conveying French politicians around Paris – that is, after we’ve gotten on top of COVID19, and they’re allowed out.

DS9 designer Pierre Leclercq
The DS 9 (codenamed X83) shares its EMP2 platform with the Peugeot 508, but is slightly extended to create more room in the rear. The design began under head of Design Pierre Ploue, but the final design was completed by Pierre Leclercq.

However, despite its good looks, the DS9 continues to follow Citroën tradition by including some tantalising new technologies. Most interesting of which is the ‘Active Scan Suspension’. This system uses a front-facing camera to scan the road ahead for imperfections while level sensors, accelerometers and drivetrain sensors take note of all other movements and adjust the damping of each individual wheel accordingly. A new take on unconventional suspension systems. 

For a tiny company, during its glory years between 1919 and 1975, Citroën contributed a couple of amazing technologies including its famous Hydro-Pneumatic (self-levelling) Suspension, plus in 1955 the DS was the first production car to use disc brakes.

The DS also featured a single high-pressure hydraulic system which was used to operate the power steering, the suspension and brakes; the brakes were power-assisted to multiply the force applied by the driver.


On the Citromatic (semi-automatic transmission) version, the hydraulic system also operated the clutch, through a system of pistons in the gearbox to shift the gears. From 1968, the DS also introduced directional headlights, that moved with the steering, improving visibility at night.

I think one of Citroën’s quirkiest features was that there was no brake pedal on the DS 19 – it was merely a ‘button’ which you had to train yourself to apply the appropriate light or heavy pressure to stop the car!


Now however, having virtually been swallowed up by Peugeot, Citroen’s historic link to innovation and eccentric design and engineering seems to have been supplanted by more conventional approaches to design and engineering challenges.

The new DS9’s suspension may not be quite as revolutionary as hydro-pneumatic, but it promises to be an excellent method of coping with poor surfaces.

It’s really sad, as I have been attracted to Citroëns over the years because of its eccentric and indifferent approach to solving challenges. Despite its relatively small size, and somewhat lowly position in the automotive industry firmament, I think Citroën was one of the great car companies to exist in this fascinating industry.
It's widely-accepted that the design of helical gears was the inspiration for Citroën's double-chevron logo

My good friend Peter Robinson (editor of Australia’s WHEELS magazine for 16 years and one of the great automotive journalists) says that in his opinion Citroën may only be rivalled by Lancia for innovative thinking. I agree wholeheartedly, although in its day I believe Cadillac closely-rivalled Rolls-Royce in imaginative thinking and product development.

John Crawford

Monday, March 16, 2020

A SWEDISH REVOLUTION by John Crawford

Christian von Koenigsegg is a very interesting guy, but right now he is leading a revolution - in powertrain design.

Sure the cars his tiny Swedish company has produced have been technologically brilliant, fantastic to drive (so I'm told) and absolutely exclusive - they are also expensive, but then so is anything with bespoke manufacturing, advanced technologies and tiny volumes.

However, when his new Gemera Hypercar debuted, what was under the curvaceous curves of the sleek wind-cheating body is much more interesting than just what an expensive, new hypercar may represent.



This car is all about the powertrain. There is a lot to say about it, but I have merely gathered a few snippets from the Koenigsegg site and some other sources to give you a taste of the TFG engine - which stands for 'Tiny Friendly Giant'.

Koenigsegg’s TFG 2.0-liter three-cylinder twin-turbocharged engine is a spectacular new design – producing over 600hp! It can run on essentially any type of combustible fuel including second-gen ethanol, CO2-neutral methanol, E85, or plain old gasoline.
The Freevalve system offers the ability to have independent control of intake and exhaust valves. For any engine load criteria, the timing of intake and exhaust valves can be independently adjusted. The ‘system’ decides how to operate the valves – depending on driving conditions; which combination to use in order maximise performance, minimise fuel consumption or regulate emissions.

The TFG engine has a dry sump system and Koenigsegg’s unique Freevalve design eliminates the need for a conventional camshaft. In lieu of a rotating camshaft the engine has a set of intake and exhaust valves, using solenoids to open and close them.
Koenigsegg claims the engine is 20-percent more fuel-efficient than an equivalent 2.0-liter four-banger. But in hybrid mode, the Gemera has a combined range of 590 miles.
The Freevalve system made it possible to create a patent pending, simplified two-stage turbo system. Quite simply, one turbo is connected to three exhaust valves – one from each cylinder. The second turbo is connected to the other three exhaust valves. During low rpm and part to high load, all exhaust gasses are pushed to only one turbo, by only opening one exhaust valve per cylinder – thereby doubling the exhaust gases to that turbine. When adequate boost is reached, the second exhaust valve is opened to start the second turbo.

The result is a three-cylinder two-liter engine that gives 400 
Nm of torque from 1700 rpm and max torque of 600 Nm. 
These never-before-achieved numbers in an engine of this 
size make the TFG the most powerful engine per cylinder 
and volume to date, putting it light years ahead of any other 
production three-cylinder engine today.


Instead of having a dual-clutch or CVT gearbox, Koenigsegg employed its very own single-speed direct-drive transmission (KDD). Invented by Christian von Koenigsegg himself. This innovative gearbox was first seen in the Regera plug-in hybrid and allows the Gemera to behave pretty much like an all-electric car.
In addition to this incredible engine there are three electric motors – two on the rear and one at the front, which can produce combined output of 800kW!
Mind you, the interior is just as spectacular!

Make no mistake the Koenigsegg Gemera and its tiny three-cylinder ICE and electric motors are a revolutionary combination, and this is truly breakthrough engineering.
Excuse the weird formatting, but Google inhibits complete freedom of design with its Blog templates.
John Crawford

Sunday, March 15, 2020

DRIVING WITH DAN by Paul Gover

Carsales’ global ambassador, and Australia’s favourite F1 driver, Daniel Ricciardo, says the key to a quick lap at Albert Park is smoothness, and now he is proving it at the home of the Australian Grand Prix:

We arrive at Turn Three, the tight right-hander under the trees where Fernando Alonso once smashed his McLaren into a pile of high-tech scrap.
2020 RenaultSport Megane RS

Dan is floating our RenaultSport Megane RS just a tad sideways on the brakes.
The RenaultSport F1 lead driver has a light touch on the steering and picks a gear early, using one fluid motion to change directions and get early on the power.

He eases the Megane RS up onto the kerb at the nothing-special left-hander that follows, but the next one is The Biggie. It’s a flat-in-fourth right-hander with evil concrete walls on both sides and tentacles of slippery grass on the exit.
There is a slight howl of protest from the tyres as he pushes for maximum cornering grip, then a brief rattle down the concrete kerb as he looks ahead to the next braking zone.


This is our five minutes with fame, but there is a twist. At his home Grand Prix Dan Ricciardo’s diary is so packed that Carsales’ one-on-one interview with Australia’s grand prix ace is being conducted as we hot lap the Albert Park track.
So I’m wedged into place, holding tight to the centre console, and trying to keep my recorder up close to his full-face helmet for the running commentary.

Belted-in, waiting for 'the off'

I’ve just strapped into the Megane RS road rocket right after Craig Lowndes had enjoyed a drive with Danny.
Craig Lowndes has chauffeured yours truly around Albert Park in the past with his Supercars Commodore, and I’ve also been on a hot lap with Mark Webber, including an off-the-road excursion at the high-speed flip-flop on the opposite side of the Lake, in a Porsche 918 hybrid hypercar.
“So I’m probably not going to scare you, then,” Dan says ironically.
“So do you want me to cruise, or give it some?”
As if he needs to ask.
We ease out of the temporary RenaultSport pit at The Carousel restaurant, then he is hard into the accelerator and up through the gears.
“Going fast here is all about flow. There are so many corner combinations that it’s important to maintain rolling speed through the corners,” Dan explains.

'One of my quickest interviews on record'


Riccardo finished the final hit-out of F1 pre-season testing in Barcelona in third place on the timing charts, but he says that’s no real indication for the Australian F1 Grand Prix, which would have been run on Sunday afternoon if not for the CoronaVirus.
“It’s nice to see your name towards the top. But it probably doesn’t mean anything for the first race weekend,” he says.
So where, then, is he aiming for at his home race?
“A top eight would be good. I don’t think that’s unrealistic. I would be reaching for a top eight,” he says.

But we’re still sprinting around Ricciardo’s home track, where he has yet to reach the podium after being disqualified from second in 2014 when his Red Bull team was caught with an illegal fuel flow.
“I do like the track. It is tricky,” he says.
“It’s not the easiest track to get right. But it is nice when you get it going.
“It’s a quick one. This one is good, you let the car flow all the way. It’s good,” he says as we lean through a right-hander that goes on forever before hard braking for a tighter right.
Now we’re coming into the ‘Webber Ess’ from the back of the track and Ricciardo is having time to assess the Megane RS. For me, he is gentler on the car than Webber with a style that is more like Lowndes. He is conducting the car, not brutalising it, working in a partnership and not as an impatient master.
“Wheee,” he says as we move into the second half of the lap and the chat.
“It’s pretty good. I’m still able to get the rear out in a front-wheel drive car. That’s always a good sign for me.
“The weight distribution is good, coming on the brakes. It does float the rear, and then you can get the power down.”

Dan is running up the gears, using the turbocharged torque instead of scraping for revs, and the digital readout shows our speed topping 175km/h without much effort. But then…
“Whoops, I missed the apex there,” he laughs.
“Alright, I’ll talk now.”
So, what’s different in 2020 for his second season at Renault F1?
The driver market is open at the end of the year, the French brand is hoping to have recovered from setbacks last season, and Ricciardo is facing up to a highly-rated new team mate, Esteban Ocon.
“Personally, I obviously feel much more comfortable. But even separating myself, I feel like the team has a lot more stability.
“There was still quite a lot of movement last year with personnel. It still took a while to get everything in line.
“I feel that this year there are a lot more things in place in terms of the team itself, and obviously with me. I think everything is going to flow better,” Dan enthuses.
With that, it’s time to peel off the track and then we have a quick fist-bump to celebrate the lap.
It’s been fun, and fast, even though it’s just another job on just another GP weekend for Ricciardo.
Even so, he already has one special memory from Albert Park in 2020.“It was pretty surreal for me to be driving Lowndesy around. I grew up watching him,” Ricciardo laughs."
Whilst I thank my lucky stars for the great experiences I have been privileged to enjoy.
Paul Gover
NOTE: This feature appears courtesy of Carsales.



Thursday, March 12, 2020

TAVARES TOPS THE POLL by John Crawford

Carlos Tavares, Chairman of Groupe PSA, has been named Top Car Person of the Year by the World Car of The Year judges, and I think it's a well-deserved accolade.

I can't think of any other current automotive industry leader who deserves this title more.

Tavares is clear-sighted, no bullshit, ruthless, but relaxed, and has not only an enviable reputation, but he has built a stable empire out of disparate parts, which is no mean feat.

I know from my own 'moles' that Carlos Ghosn and Carlos Tavares were considered a formidable team at Renault.


Whilst I originally had doubts about the decision to acquire GM's European operations, the fact that he got it at a big discount reveals his negotiating skills, as well as his prescience.

JOHN CRAWFORD