Saturday, November 29, 2014

BENTLEY BOYS HEAD FOR BATHURST

A team of modern day Bentley Boys will drive two of M-Sport’s Bentley GT3 Continental coupes in the 2015 Liqui-Molly 12 Hour Race at Mount Panorama on February 6-8. The race has an impressive 57 entries!

The final M-Sport driver lineup has not been announced, but Bentley Motors Chairman Ing. Dr. Wolfgang Durheimer confirmed the entry to journalists in Europe last week. Bentley Motors Director of Motor Sport, Brian Gush, says the team is looking forward to the challenge.
 
(Photo: Nathan Wong)
Although the Bathurst 12 Hour is not part of the GT3 world championship, teams and drivers relish the possibility of driving thoroughbred sports cars on the demanding circuit.



The two factory cars will complement the Bentley GT3 entry by Flying B Racing which will be driven by David Brabham. 

David Brabham finished second in a Bentley Speed 8 racer at the 2003 24 Hours of Le Mans, and says he is very much looking forward to driving the GT3 on the mountain circuit.




The Liqui-Molly Bathurst 12 Hour race will be telecast live on Australia’s 7 Network.


Friday, November 28, 2014

ROUGH DIAMOND? NO WAY!


This matrix is the ‘Diamond Grille’ that is a feature of the new Mercedes-Benz CLA. The design team went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that each pinpoint was exactly the right distance apart, and the right angle depending on your viewpoint, so that the scaling of the diamond ‘pins’ best represents the sense of style Mercedes-Benz has lavished on its new compact car range.

The CLA’s no rough diamond though – the headline was simply meant to intrigue.

After spending almost 300km in the CLA 250 Sport, this is a very accomplished car with fine breeding, and very acceptable road manners.


The test car featured Mercedes-Benz’s excellent 7-speed dual clutch transmission and 4-Matic all-wheel-drive, plus of course the modified ‘chip’ in the computer of the 2-litre, turbocharged four cylinder, which in 250 guise pumps out 155kW.


That may not sound like much in the power stakes, but mated to the ‘paddle shift’ transmission (with ‘sport settings’) and AWD, the CLA 250 Sport becomes a very nicely balanced performance car.



At AUD$64,990 it may appear a bit expensive, but in performance and handling it really delivers a lot of enjoyment; and there’s lots of extra ‘gear’ as standard equipment to impress your friends.

Viewed in this perspective, it’s a bargain.


There’s lots of AMG touches, like the contrast red on the brake calipers and grille, red stitching on the seats and dash, red seat belts etc,; nifty alloy wheels; and firmer spring/damper rates for a finely-tuned ride and handling package.


During the test we had a typical Sydney rain dump, almost bordering on flooding the test route, but here the 4-Matic dealt very safely with the downpour.

So, it’s compact, performs well, but how does it fit the occupants?

Nicely, thanks for asking. It will easily accommodate adults in the rear seat with adequate legroom, but that’s because the designers lowered the H-point in the rear bench, so the bonce doesn’t bounce off the headlining.


Talking of design, the car was penned by a designer who comes to car styling from an unusual background – fine art. 

What is fine art, you say? 

Well, think landscapes, portraits, still life, oil and watercolours etc.


Artist Mark Fetherstone joined a degree course in car design, only to find that his peers had been at it for years as amateurs, doodling at car designs in their bedrooms and classrooms. He told his father he was way behind, when it came to drawing cars.


Fatherly advice was to stick with it, and before you know it he’s got a design apprenticeship with Mercedes-Benz, and now he’s introducing his great design triumph – the CLA sedan!

Watching the video of his design presentation it’s not hard to be seduced by his passion for art, his keen observations of the design challenge, and his highly-skilled renditions and interpretation of the brief.

Liking, or disliking particular cars is universally independent, so you can make up your own mind what you think of the CLA sedan. You’ll probably be comparing it to a BMW, featuring the ‘flame design’ styling theme created by the legendary Chris Bangle at the ‘Munchen Motorwerks’.



But, whatever your opinion of CLA styling, it IS original and it adheres to many contemporary readings of current trends. Including its bigger brother from Benz.

I said previously that Australian designer Peter Arcadipane left a strong design legacy at Mercedes-Benz when he departed to work in China - like the original CLS.

Original CLS

Of course you can see that in the development of the new CLS models with their sculptured flanks.
 
2014 CLS

This design element is very much at play in the CLA. Fetherstone has successfully scaled the positive and negative surfaces to give the CLA family resemblance, but retaining individual flair.


Will the CLA be a winner for Mercedes-Benz? I reckon it will, given that prospective purchasers are being told by their Australian dealers to put their name and phone number down on the list inside the dealership’s front door – and we’ll get back to you when it’s time to decide on colours and trims, and complete the order form.


I believe that’s a good measure of success.


BTW, in my opinion the CLA 250 Sport with all its features and performance appeal is the best of the bunch. Sporty, good-looking and great to drive. Anything else you’re looking for?


DRIVEN PERSONALITIES – Patrick Le Quément

One would expect a man from Marseilles to be French to the core, but Patrick Le Quément is a true internationale. Although born in the French port city, he moved to the UK with his family and after schooling in Britain, won a degree in design from the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design.

After he graduated he returned to France in 1965 to train with Simca; but in 1968 accepted a senior design job with Ford, where he designed a Ford Cargo truck, and in 1982, working in the Merkanich Design Centre in Cologne, Germany, he penned the seminal Ford Sierra.


He then went to the USA with Ford, but in 1985 was hired by VWAG Chairman Carl Hahn to set up an advanced design studio for Volkswagen in Wolfsburg.

Over at Renault sales were falling. Since 1956 the company had used Italian Carrozzeria Ghia for a number of designs, plus external design consultants, and in-house design staff to create its new models.

The Chairman at the time, Raymond Lévy decided that ‘pure French design’ would improve the product identity and boost Renault’s image, so he lured Patrick to Boulogne-Billancourt in 1987.

Before he agreed, Le Quément demanded structural reporting changes. He no longer wanted Design to be run by Engineering, so Lévy agreed that Patrick and his design centre would report direct to the Chairman.

Then began a period of unique, inspired, original designs. Some were instantly well received, some took a while to win acceptance and others never took off at all. However, Renault under Lévy achieved its aim, to offer a refreshed lineup of totally-unique French cars, with typically eccentric appeal.

1992 saw the incredibly successful Twingo city car.

In 1994 Le Quément then created a new face for the Espace, which in 1984 was the world’s first people-mover and a brave design move.


His second take on the cute Renault Megane, with its ‘Bustle Back’ was more ‘out there’ and although a fabulous little car that sold well, it was certainly controversial. 



But, there was more to come which challenged current design thinking. Again, the designs were unique and controversial. Patrick served up the Avantime, which was a combo coupe/MPV which sold poorly.

Avantime
 It was followed by the luxury sedan badged as the Vel Satis, which was also too unusual for the market.

Vel Satis


However, Patrick’s design team saved the day by coming up with the stylish, and popular Laguna.


Patrick Le Quément retired from Renault in 2009, but left a legacy of striking ideas, innovative design and a reputation as a risk-taker with a great sense of personal style.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

VIVE LA RENAULT. VIVE LA FRANCE!

A chance sighting of a humble, but beautifully-restored Renault Dauphine for sale at an auction in Italy this week got me thinking about some of Renault’s glory days.


From 1956 Renault produced some very beautiful, and very successful cars.


The story of Renault’s car-making is intriguing. Following the Second World War the French Government told Renault it would now be a truck maker, which offended then Chairman Pierre Lefaucheux.

Pierre Lefaucheux with Renault 4CV
He was damned if he was going to let arch rivals Citroen, Simca and Peugeot have the field to themselves.

Lefaucheux instructed his designers and engineers to get to work designing a new car, positioned above the ‘poverty-specials’ which its rivals launched after WW2. 



Because of the government’s desire to keep Renault out of car-making, Lefaucheux instructed his teams to work in the dead of night, and in total secrecy. Engineers Fernand Picard, Robert Barthaud and Jacques Ouseet began work on 'Project 109' in 1949.



Luigi Segre of Carrozzeria Ghia did the styling, but the car was created, tested and built in secret. Sadly, Lefaucheux died before the Dauphine was launched, when his Fregate careered off an icy road. He was killed when hit in the back of the head by his luggage flying off the back seat!

Pierre Dreyfus

The Government installed civil servant Pierre Dreyfus in the top job and it was he who brought the Dauphine to market in 1956.

It was just what the French wanted at the time, an attractive, stylish, economical and practical 5CV.

It was built up until 1967, and there was even a racing version prepared by Amedee Gordini.
Dauphine Gordini


The Dauphine was also assembled in Italy between 1954 and 1966 by Alfa Romeo, and was badged ‘Alfa Romeo Dauphine’!

One of the main reasons for the popularity of the Dauphine was Lefaucheux’s appointment to the team of designer Paule Marrot, a graduate from L’Ecole des Arts Decoratifs.


She insisted on a wider range of colours and trim materials, which included pastel body colours and patterned trim. These choices offered a much brighter package than the somber blacks and greys from Peugeot and Simca, ensuring women had greater influence over purchase decisions.



Dreyfus further impressed the automotive world when, in 1961 at the request of his American dealers, he asked Ghia to design a 2+2 convertible based on the Dauphine platform and running gear.



The result was the undeniably beautiful Renault Floride. It was named ‘Floride’ because it stemmed from a discussion at the American Renault dealers’ conference in 1959 which was held in Florida.



Later, Renault executives decided that naming it after the state of Florida may offend other US states, and hurt sales, so in the USA, and many other markets it was badged as the Caravelle.




Again, the stylish French embraced the car, especially after publicity shots featuring Brigitte Bardot.

Pierre Dreyfus further consolidated his reputation as a risk taker when he ordered his managers to create a car which would match and exceed the achievements of the Citroen 2CV.
1939 Citroen 2CV prototype
This time they came up with what I think is the logical successor to the Deux Chevaux – the Renault 4.

Dreyfus avec Renault 4



Conceived with practicality top of the list, the R4 was a brilliant 4CV car, which was unstoppable. You couldn’t kill it with a stick!

Between 1961 and 1992 it was assembled in 18 different countries and went on to sell eight million units!



I have fond memories of driving a friend’s Renault 4. It had soft, long-travel suspension like the 2CV, and you could drive it easily over rough roads, tarmac and paddocks chasing sheep. It would go anywhere and ran on the smell of an oil rag.

Pierre Dreyfus ruled Renault for 20 years and during that period it became France’s number one carmaker. He was much admired and respected and unusually for a civil servant he was stylish, flamboyant and a pretty cool cat. Still, he was French!


He died in 1994 and Renault lost its King, and its influence in the market.