Saturday, December 14, 2013

Bentley Continental GT finishes 4th at Yas Marina!

Bentley’s test race debut of the all-new Continental GT3 racecar with Team M-Sport achieved an impressive fourth place finish in the Gulf 12 Hours of Abu Dhabi.

After completing the first six hour session of the race in third position, the second half of the race saw the team maintain that position until the final two hours, when a close fight with the Ferrari 458 GT3 of Kessel Racing was ultimately won by the more established car. The closing minutes were not without drama, with apparent damage to the underfloor, meaning a cruise to the finish line to bring the car home.
Bentley’s Director of Motorsport, Brian Gush, comments: “In running an all-new car for the first time, our main goal today was to finish the race and be consistent. We’ve achieved this, and then to finish fourth in a race with such established competition is extremely encouraging. We leave Abu Dhabi with confidence that we will have a reliable and competitive package for 2014, when the hard work really starts.”

Bentley’s success at Le Mans in 2003 was a great victory for the company - which had dominated the endurance classic in the 1930s. The company did the right thing to call it quits in 2003, and not contemplate campaigning a production-based car until the funding and commitment were absolute. This is the only way to race successfully in full public view.

Brian Gush, an old friend, is an eminently-qualified and prudent engineer and the  result of this shakedown race says as much about his team management as anything else related to the result. Go Brian! Go Bentley!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Going, Going, Gone!

This decision by GM to exit manufacturing in Australia should come as no surprise - to anyone. By the way, in regard to the fallout from the decision, there is plenty of blame to go around - GM, the unions, the workers and the various governments. They’ve all contributed impressively to the eventuality.

The unions bled the company; the company acquiesced; and the stupid governments (both Liberal and Labor) didn’t insist on higher productivity, they just doled out taxpayer dollars and hoped it would fix the problem.

So, with no-one doing anything about the structural reasons for the decline in manufacturing cars in Australia, is it any wonder we’ve ended up where we are. Will Toyota withdraw? Of course it will.

It is simply too expensive to manufacture cars in Australia. We are a sophisticated society that demands high living standards, and the high wages that pay for them. If productivity doesn’t match the wages demanded, then that industry is unsustainable - simple as that.

Productivity and efficiency is the simple formula which all companies, governments and workers must look to, to make business sustainable and profitable. Profit is NOT a dirty word, it’s ESSENTIAL.

Labor governments abhor productivity inquests, because they are enslaved to the unions and are simply required to support higher wage claims.

Liberal governments don’t like productivity inquests either because they inform the harsh reality of output matching costs, and that means a fight with the unions.

Interestingly in the entire history of the Australian automotive industry from 1948, in my opinion, only four politicians have ever truly understood, and tried to relate, productivity and efficiency to wages - and they were ALL Labor identities.

John Button, Paul Keating, Bill Kelty and Simon Crean. Button and Keating were far sighted statesmen-visionaries who were realistic about what needed to happen to make Australia competitive; and the two union-related men (Kelty and Crean) were realistic enough to know that you can’t have higher wage claims without increased productivity and efficiency.

As far as I’m concerned, no-one else has made any significant effort to realise the dream of blending the needs of industry/community/government to make our car industry sustainable and profitable.

Of course, I’ll be guilty of fabulous hindsight, but I have been saying (at least for the last 15 years), that car companies needed to be creating very flexible plans for the future, because doing the same old, same old had a very limited tenure.

By the time you add up environmental considerations, agitation from green groups, rising fuel costs, congested cities and roads, lack of infrastructure spending and inflation-boosted car ownership costs, then BIG cars were on life-support, and smaller cars and alternative fuels would be the only direction the market was going to follow.

I’m sorry for all the people at Ford and Holden; and the associated supplier support companies who are going to lose their jobs, but with a bit of clear thinking, re-structuring the Australian industrial landscape is not impossible, and it just may be possible to avoid long term unemployment on a scale not seen in Australia - ever!

Clear thinking? Don’t look to our politicians to provide it. The current lot (led by Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten) will just knee-jerk their way through the immediate future, without any real vision or answers.

Could we initiate a Think Tank including Paul Keating, Bill Kelty, Simon Crean , Martin Ferguson and Malcolm Turnbull to put their heads together and lead a restructuring solution? I wish!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

At Morgan, it's all downhill !

First up, letʼs get one thing straight - the title of this story refers to the slope of the site of the ‘works’, not the fortunes of the Morgan Motor Company, which are, thankfully, rising.


The Company will sell just over 1200 cars in 2013 - a record for the small, auto atelier based in the beautiful Malvern Hills in the south west of England. Its hand-built cars are treasured by their owners, many remaining in the same family after the owners’ death. Even now, the waiting time for a Morgan still hovers around a year from ordering!

Charles Morgan

Until recently, Charles Morgan, grandson of the founder Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan, presided over the production of the car worldʼs most contemporary anachronism. Thanks in part to a lack of ʻprogressive modernismʼ. 

This could have been at the heart of a recent management decision to remove Charles as head of the company. Now bound up in a Group, called Morgan Technologies, which was incorporated in 2010, Morgan Cars is increasing its rate of production - a decision bitterly opposed by Charles.

 The new Managing Director, Steve Woods, who together with Charles Morgan was, from 2003-2010, part of a ‘management team’ , says Morgan needs to take advantage of new developments, cut the waiting time for a car and improve profits. This suggests that Charles Morgan, like his father Peter before him, and the founder, Henry Morgan felt that the ‘old way’ of doing things was just fine.
Henry Morgan

The company was founded by HFS Morgan in 1909 and  its first model was a three-wheeler, designed and built around a tax structure for motor vehicles which favoured less than four wheels, thus not competing with four-wheeled, horse-drawn carriages, which were still popular in the early 1900s.


Today Morgan Cars employs around 170 people. Virtually all of them craftsmen and women, who toil over hand-made cars like no other factory in the world today.
Yet, despite the age old car-making traditions; the quaint assembly line process; and the smell of sawn ash timber, the Morgan Motor Company is as modern as it needs to be.

Although the waiting list for a car might be 1-2 years, the product will be the result of a company which has achieved ISO 9001 quality certification, so it’s definitely modernized many of its processes.



In 2007 just 640 cars flowed from the antiquated production process, where the ‘build’ begins in a large garage at the top of the hill, and as the vehicle reaches a particular stage in the manufacturing process, it is moved down the hill, to the next building.

The five buildings, descend the hill, to where the trim shop, and the new ‘final finish’ area awaits the cars.

A tour of the factory (which can be pre-arranged) is an eye-opener, because what looks like a period movie set surprises with many innovative manufacturing ideas lurking behind the apparently old-fashioned car-building methods.


The integrity of the structure, and tolerances are impressively tight for a hand-assembled product; the paint job is exceptional and the care and attention to detail of the assembly is enough to convince any would-be buyer that this is a car which has been lovingly put together, just for them.

The workers are a jolly lot, and the vibe in the ‘works’ is positive, confident and calm. Maybe that’s the secret - just like happy, contented free-range hens going about the business of laying eggs.


Does that make a Morgan as satisfying as a well-fed egg? Who knows, but anyone who has owned a Morgan will tell you there’s nothing like the exhilaration of driving one!
Enough said.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Jaguar's X-type - A Car Destined to Fail

Jaguar Land Rover has now confirmed it plans a new model, to slot below the XF sedan, intended to compete with the world’s most famous midsize luxury sports sedan, the BMW 3-Series.

I’m sure the management, designers and engineers will do much better this time around, after the much-criticised X-type. There were many lessons to be learned after that fiasco - I hope they are heeded.

Back in 1993 Ford Motor Company, then owner of Jaguar Cars, proposed a ‘small’ saloon which could challenge the BMW 3-Series. The idea was greeted by Jaguar’s management in Coventry as ‘interesting’, but ultimately of little interest at the time.

The company was about to launch the X300 large sedan and prospects looked good, and it was thought that a ‘small’ Jaguar might erode the image of the brand, which was always known for high performance, large saloons, with lashings of wood and leather.
Jaguar X300

There were also some realists among the engineering staff who realised that to ‘challenge’ the 3-Series was going to cost a LOT of time and money. They doubted Ford really wanted to commit ALL the resources and funds necessary to be completely successful.

As part of Jaguar’s North American senior executive team at the time I was involved in a number of discussions where we voiced our view that we did not want/need this car in the American market. However, we were always bluntly told that if it went ahead, Jaguar Cars NA would take its share of production.

Then politics intervened. In the UK, Ford of Europe, needed to shut a major Ford manufacturing facility in Britain, with the loss of thousands of jobs. A deal was done with the British Government that the trade-off would be that a ‘division’ of Ford would begin production of a ‘new model’ at the company’s Hailwood plant - which was hoped would soften the blow of massive unemployment.

Ford of Europe management then TOLD Jaguar Cars to stop ‘pfaffing around’ - the X-type would be a reality, and it should get on with the plans. Job done.

Design chief, the late Geoff Lawson, and his head designer, Wayne Burgess, did a commendable job of downscaling the styling of the current XJ6, to produce a ‘small’ Jaguar, but for reasons of economy the car would be based on the current Mondeo.
Geoff Lawson (sketch-Stuart Spencer)

Wayne Burgess
The sop to performance enthusiasts would be that the car would be All-Wheel-Drive, rather than FWD like the Mondeo.

My good friend, Steve Cropley, Editor-in-Chief of Britain’s Autocar told me at the time that the engineers had done a 'pretty good job' creating a small Jaguar based on the Mondeo, aka the "Travelling Salesmens’ Express".

Now came the hard part - selling it!

In the public mind, Jaguar’s image (say, since 1968 and the birth of the first XJ6) had remained the same for decades. Big, high performance, sporting saloons with lots of grunt, great ride and handling, wood and leather - all at a very competitive price. It was sort of like a Bentley at a bargain price.

Now along comes a much cheaper, smaller Jaguar, with no image at all, creating a perplexing situation for the market at large. It might even have been called ‘the answer to a question nobody asked’.

So, the marketing guys were given the task of ‘creating’ a market and then selling 50,000 a year! A big ask.
It was at this point that a series of differing, but intertwined decisions began to define a future for Jaguar, and the X-type, which was destined to fail from that moment on.

American Jaguar customers didn’t know what to make of the car. Thus, it was a slow starter in the States. Jaguar’s then North American management then compounded the problem with a major ‘marketing misrepresentation’ (and herein lies a warning for anyone selling a new idea).

The billboard ad campaign across America boldly stated “Under 40? So are we!” The intention here was to do what every luxury car maker dreams of - lowering the average age of its buyers, to create more sales potential. High priced luxury sport sedans are usually the domain of older, wealthy males.

Guess what? When you got into the showroom the 40 Grand X-type was a dog. It was the ‘starter’ powertrain package, stripped of the most desired equipment, poor paint choices and basically, whatever you wanted on YOUR car cost a lot extra. To the point where the most-favoured specification usually ended up taking the price north of $55,000.

Dealers were told this was their opportunity to make more margin out of a low-priced model, which didn’t offer a lot of profit margin in the first place.

After that Jaguar was in no danger of selling vast numbers of X-types, and despite lots of marketing dosh and discounts, the X-type never really took off in the USA. That’s not to say it wasn’t popular - just not with the people Jaguar hoped would buy it.

Younger buyers never even considered it, and most sales went to retired corporate CEOs who were used to a big Jaguar as part of their package, and the X-type meant they could still drive a Jaguar in retirement. It didn’t hurt that it looked a lot like the XJ6 as well. So when you watched the traffic in most major markets, X-types were mostly driven by old guys puffing cigars, or pink-haired grannies off to play golf.

Next, the X-type then set up Jaguar as a laughing stock inside and outside the auto industry. At the time of its launch, Ford strategists obviously briefed the financial media in London, New York and Frankfurt. It was what they told them that caused the problem.

Note, at this time, the briefings were conducted by Ford Finance Suits, not Jaguar management. The strategists told the most influential analysts (in New York) that Jaguar was on the verge of a huge leap in sales and with the addition of the X-type, overall Jaguar sales could top 120,000 cars a year, making the Jaguar division of Ford immensely profitable - rather than a company which soaked up money and returned very little in the way of profit.

The analysts, who wouldn’t know the truth of any of this and who just report what they are told, promptly wrote up the good news and then sat back and waited for profits to appear.

The Europeans shunned the car because there was no diesel engine; the Brits shunned it because they thought it was too downmarket (and they all knew what a Mondeo was, although X-type only shared 20% of Mondeo parts). The Yanks weren’t interested, so sales plateaued.

After a couple of dismal years, Jaguar Cars, and especially Ford, began getting damning press, with finance journalists claiming the company was not as profitable as they’d been told it would be, and began describing Jaguar as a dead weight around Ford’s corporate neck.

At that point the analysts were urging Ford to dump the goose and cut its losses.

The X-type soldiered on, eventually making just over 300,000 cars in total between 2000 and 2009, and in its final days Jaguar added a smartly-styled estate version (station wagon) designed by the current saviour of Jaguar Design, Ian Callum.

However, the damage was done and Jaguar Land Rover finally executed the X-type in 2009.

Consistent with this situation, Ford had jerked Jaguar Cars Chairman Sir Nick Scheele out of his job in Coventry and handed him a poisoned chalice as Chairman of Ford Motor Company, in Dearborn. Ford’s board then rotated a number of would-be’s through the office of Chairman of Jaguar, and the revolving door was kept spinning by guys who were more interested in ‘serving their time’ at Jaguar, before being posted somewhere else in the Ford empire.

In 2007 Ford actually did do something right, by appointing Mike O’Driscoll as Managing Director of Jaguar Cars. Mike and his team skillfully guided the company through the transition from Ford ownership to Tata Group. After that, things began to look up and Jaguar is now leaping from strength to strength.

Designer Ian Callum, Jay Leno and Managing Director, Mike O'Driscoll
A lot of this success is generated by Ian Callum’s great design sense, and the new cars he has been responsible for - XF, XJ, F-type - and now the new SUV, based on the C-X17 concept shown in Frankfurt this year.

It’s Ian’s vision, design talent and integrity, and respect for Jaguar’s traditions that has pushed Jaguar along to become not only profitable, and hugely successful in the USA, but also a credit to its current management and workforce.

Not to mention the gentle and visionary patronage of Sir Ratan Tata.

Don’t you love a happy ending?


Every year the Mayor and the people of the town of Cividale Del Fruili close off one of their local roads for the Cividale Castelmonte Hillclimb, which is open to all sorts of cars.

The area is just north-east of Venice, and the particular road winds uphill from an elevated village.

My friends at have just posted a video on the Blog which could just be the most entertaining and fabulous 'race drive' video I've seen in a long time.

Check out and you will not be disappointed.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Ron Howard has done it again! This is not only the best drama film based on motor racing that has ever been produced, but it is equally the best feature film based on Formula One racing. This is especially so because the Director, Ron Howard is not familiar with F1. However, the film is equally a triumph for the writer of the screenplay, Peter Morgan. The words are sensible, the scenes are logical and the story development very intelligent.

Don't miss this film if you're an F1 fan, F1 history buff, or even if you just want to see a well-crafted action-drama-documentary. 

The film is entertaining, engrossing and full of incredible motor racing action scenes, and the 'new' driving sequences are very, very good. 

Whilst Australian actor, Chris Hemsworth, is excellent as James Hunt, I think Daniel Brühl should be nominated for an Oscar - his portrayal of Niki Lauda is outstanding. A great piece of character acting.

Hemsworth and Brühl participated in many of the driving sequences, but here we should pay tribute to the Film Editor Daniel Hanley. The blending of the new footage with historic footage, and action sequences is exceptional.

Overall, this is everything a good movie should be. Sensible writing, accurate depictions of real events, well-crafted dramatic scenes, fast-paced and intelligent action scenes and top-notch acting. Go see it.

I was personally thrilled that the film dwelt on the 1976 Monaco Grand Prix, which I was privileged to attend, and take some historic photos, including the winner, Lauda, being interviewed, post-race.

At race start Lauda got away cleanly, with Hunt second.

Carlos Reutemann did not last one lap, retiring his Brabham Alfa after an accident at St. Devote and then just a short walk back to the pits.

James Hunt's engine expired on Lap 24, and I snapped a disconsolate Hunt trudging back to the pits around the harbour.

Lauda won, ahead of the two six-wheeled Tyrrells driven by Schekter and Depailler.

Lauda, post-race in the rear courtyard of the Automobile Club de Monaco, shows the strain of 78 laps around the tight Monaco circuit.
Surprisingly, Australian World Champion, Alan Jones, was exorcised from the final race, the Japanese GP. It was he, whom Hunt had to pass, to qualify as the World Champion for 1976. Jones and Hunt were great mates, and whilst Alan recognizes that Hunt was very devil-may-care, he says he was a good guy, and a loyal friend.

My own meetings with Hunt during the Australian Grands Prix in Adelaide bear this out. I had many funny moments with him and his entourage of women at our regular Jaguar cocktail parties at the Adelaide Hilton the night after practice.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Jaguar F-Type - This Cat Roars!

Tracking along a seductively winding road in the Australian bush the driver of the F-type Jaguar up front plants his foot on the gas pedal, the cat snarls from its quad exhaust pipes and with a long, fast-disappearing growl the Jaguar blasts out of sight. I can just imagine the grin on the driver’s face as he unleashes 364 supercharged kilowatts and enjoys the ride!

We’re out for the day, driving a Jaguar F-type V8 S and an Aston Martin DB9 Volante V12 - roofs down, an open road, sun shining, gorgeous female companions alongside, so everything’s right with our world.


Of course we’re having fun. With two such elegant, high performance convertibles, who wouldn’t?
As a former executive of Jaguar Cars imagine the thrill when I was  invited to test drive Jaguar’s new sports car.
What are you expecting me to say? As someone who lived through the Jaguar company’s ups and downs at a senior level for almost 20 years I have been expecting great things from the F-type - and it didn’t disappoint!

Pardon me if I gush, but this car is everything those who conceived it had in mind, when they transitioned the beautiful F-type from Ian Callum’s design sketches, into the howling success it has become.

But, back to the driving. First impressions are that this is not some lightweight, lithe, cosy little roadster. This is a big car, and you need to think about its performance potential as you wind up the spring and let it loose. By the time you pack a supercharged V8 engine, eight-speed ZF paddle-shift auto, sophisticated suspension, brakes and all the other goodies into the package, you end up with a car that weighs in at 1665kg.

Wait on! Did I say 1665kg? Yep, and it’s all down to the F-type’s lightweight aluminium construction. The body structure delivers incredible torsional rigidity, a stiffness which is essential in a convertible, to provide pinpoint steering accuracy and an impressive power-to-weight ratio. Yes, F-type has a relatively large footprint, but on the road it delivers true sports car handling and performance. The feedback when driving quickly is truly fantastic!

There is so much sophisticated engineering and technology in this car it’s difficult to comprehend the full breadth of the design and imagination which makes this such a great driver’s car.
F-type at the last remaining birthplace of Aussie motor racing - Mount Panorama
The proportions, married to the weight distribution, and the low centre of gravity are just applied mathematical calculations, but the adaptive damping system which monitors road-induced body motion 100 times a second; steering inputs 500 times a second; and then predicts pitch from both throttle and brake inputs 20 times a second is mind-boggling. Add to that a trunklid made from composites, not metal, so it can carry the antennae for the radio and GPS signals, and you have a car which is not only carefully-thought out, and thoroughly modern, but also a car which bristles with practical touches, like the cockpit design and features.

When you’re pressing on, especially on a glorious road of sweeping curves and gentle undulations, the driver has a great connection to the car’s dynamic responses and this is what produces true sports car sensations.

In styling terms I think the rear view is the most seductive. Crisp lines, beautiful shapes, delicate features and slick aerodynamics.

The front delivers a road presence unlike the current Jaguar range. It’s bold and purposeful.

This year F-type sales in the USA have taken off, contributing to a 30% rise in Jaguar’s Year-to-Date sales to the end of September!

Jaguar, under Tata Ownership has found its mojo and the company’s future has never looked brighter. But it’s at the individual level that the impact is being felt. 

My companion, whose Aston Martin DB9 Volante joined us for the day out said that although he preferred the sculptural look of the DB9, he pronounced the F-type as the BEST Jaguar he has ever driven! High praise indeed, from a man who has owned a variety of Jaguars over the past 20 years!

Now that I’ve sampled the king of the range V8 S, I think a spin in the ‘base’ model, V6 with 250kW would be an ideal follow-up. Something tells me that this model, which is 65kg lighter, may turn out to be a beautifully-balanced car with more than adequate performance. That’s a great experience to look forward to.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mazda - Credential Check

So Mazda will provide the basics for the next Alfa Romeo Spider! Is this a good choice?

You betcha!

Let’s look at Mazda’s sports car design and production credentials. With almost one million MX-5 roadsters on the world’s roads, it’s a fact that this car is a winner - of hearts, minds and competition trophies. It’s DNA began creation as a the ‘idea’ of a pure sports car. This was no cheap hatchback, modified for use as a roadster - it was specifically-designed for the job and the team which produced it, did so with impressive integrity of purpose.

The popularity and commercial success of the car has of course generated many ‘fathers’ of the concept - but, I turned to my good friend Bob Hall for real facts.

In 1978 Bob Hall, then an automotive journalist with MOTOR TREND, was on a private visit to Japan. Like many of us, whose automotive industry careers started as auto magazine journalists, Bob had begun close friendships with senior industry figures, in this case, the head of Mazda’s Product Planning department, Kenichi Yamamoto. During the visit Yamamoto-san asked Bob what sort of cars Mazda should look at building, to expand its model portfolio. Bob suggested a very basic, wind-in-the-hair, low-cost sportscar like the iconic British marques.

Bob Hall

In 1980 Mazda hired Bob Hall for its Californian design centre, and whilst working on some more mundane, but commercially vital models, Yamamoto, who by then was Chairman of Mazda, reminded Hall about his sports car idea, and suggested he get serious about the project (but, only as an after-hours job).

After a few back-of-an-envelope sketches, the first concept design was produced by Mark Jordan and  Masao Yagi. Despite alternative ideas, thrown in by two other teams, it was the Jordan/Yagi design which became the NA Mazda MX 5. During the viewing of the model (below), the team removed the hardtop, and the leader of a competing team said: "Let's build this one!"

1982, on the morning of the original Jordan/Yagi NA MX-5 presentation

The production engineering was led by Mazda’s highly-respected product development chief Toshihiko Harai. The detailed chassis and suspension work was done by Takao Kijima, who went on to develop the later NB and NC versions.

 Many of us reckon the Lotus Elan must have been a great source of styling ideas, because the first NA model certainly emulated many of its design characteristics, but Bob Hall says that was almost coincidental. The design team certainly used inspiration from cars like the MG A, MG B, Sprite, Austin Healey and Triumph Spitfire, but as Bob Hall said, if they slavishly followed those design cues the car would never have enjoyed the popularity it did, for being different.

1966 Lotus Elan

In any case, the Lotus Elan was already relegated to a niche in the sports car market, and was relatively more expensive, so it did not enjoy the sort of mass appeal of the more familiar British makes. That alone gave it a sort of snob appeal, so being ‘like’ the Elan is faint praise really.

I’ve spent many hours driving MX5’s in Australia and the USA, and it is a great car, with real sports car blood in its veins. So, combining Mazda’s excellent Skyactiv technology with Italian design and handling traits can only mean that Alfa Romeo made a great choice when it was decided to team up with Mazda.

Thanks, Bob. I think you guys did a swell job!