Tuesday, December 30, 2014


The Fuel Cell Vehicle bandwagon is finally gathering momentum. Like a snowball coming down a hill, it has picked up bulk and speed in the last few months.

DRIVING & LIFE has written extensively about Fuel Cell-powered vehicles being the big hope for low emission cars for the future; and after all the research and Fuel Cell development projects we have witnessed it’s our opinion that Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCEVs) could become a major part of a ‘portfolio of powertrains’ – internal combustion/hybrid/Fuel Cell/Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVS) – powering cars of the future.

The only obstacles to rapid uptake of FCEVs are two things; (1) The initial coast of the vehicle, and (2) Hydrogen Gas Refueling infrastructure. Both of these dragons are about to be decisively slain.

Four vehicle manufacturers are currently making FCEVs in commercial production:

       Hyundai, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Honda

Hyundai iX-35 FCEV

Toyota FCEV

Mercedes-Benz 'B Class' F-Cell
Honda Clarity FCEV

These companies all have cars on the road, and both Hyundai and Toyota have announced availability of their FCEVs for consumers in 2015.

Toyota Fuel Cell
Honda will launch its ‘Clarity’ FCEV in 2016, and Mercedes-Benz says its cars will be ready by 2017.

Now, what about refueling stations?

Germany proposes to have 1000 hydrogen refueling stations throughout the country within the next five years.

The State of California is leading the way in the USA with a plan to build more than 100 refueling stations across the state in the next few years.

Once commercial vehicle production begins, and consumer acceptance grows, then the price of the cars will reduce rapidly.

Then the only other hurdle to overcome is the production of hydrogen gas by renewable technology. Hyundai suggests two low-emission pathways – biogas, made from methane captured from sewerage plants; and electrolysis from solar electricity.

Hyundai Fuel Cell
Hyundai Australia is banking on solar power to provide the electricity required to make hydrogen, and has even proposed a ‘Hume by Hydrogen’ concept, where hydrogen refueling stations would be constructed along the Hume Highway to allow FCEVs to travel easily from Melbourne to Sydney – leaving just ‘water vapor’ in their wake.
Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell

Mercedes-Benz engineers say it’s also possible to create hydrogen using algae. This could mean that fuel to make hydrogen could be taken from, or even grown in, rivers and lakes where there's potential to create normal algae growth.

So, the only remaining challenge is to make the electricity to create hydrogen gas by a ‘totally green’ method, such as renewable energy (solar/wind/wave) or from plant algae, or methane from sewerage. For instance, providing the electricity from a grid of coal-fired power stations is a no-no – as there is no benefit to the environment.

The age of commercialized FCEVs is coming closer, quickly.

To prove its point about the practicality and drivability of FCEVs, Mercedes-Benz drove a fleet of three ‘B’ Class FCEVs around the world in 2011.

The cars were accompanied by support vehicles which were able to provide hydrogen gas for refueling in places where there were simply no supplies.

However, the program was completed on time, and was able to prove to the world’s politicians and environmental groups that FCEVs were feasible and could be cost-effective.

It’s sad to note that the only country which did not send any politicians or public servants to view the Mercedes-Benz project and experience the cars, was Australia. Shame!

Dr. Andreas Truckenbrodt
The former head of the American Fuel Cell Corporation (AFCC), a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz and Ford Motor Company (now joined by Nissan) is Dr. Andreas Truckenbrodt, he also accompanied the Mercedes-Benz project ‘World Drive.

He has said that Fuel Cell technology is not only achievable, feasible and easy to put into production, but that once an infrastructure building program for refueling stations is undertaken, then the last obstacle to wider acceptance has been overcome. 

When the Mercedes-Benz ‘World Drive’ reached Sydney I took a test drive with Dr. Truckenbrodt, and this revealed the cars had excellent performance to keep pace with Sydney's traffic.

Although the technology relating to fuel cells is by no means new science, adapting it to ‘drive’ vehicles is only recent. Mercedes-Benz has been working on Fuel Cell technology since 1994, when it produced the first FCEV. Later came buses powered by the technology, including a fleet of Fuel Cell buses operating in Perth, Western Australia since 2004.

Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell Bus - Perth, Western Australia
 FCEV is a concept that can keep owners, drivers, politicians, environmentalists, scientists and the man-in-the-street happy on all counts.
Hyundai iX-35 Fuel Cell Monitor
 Also, the FCEV concept is likely to be far more easily accepted by consumers outside of cities, or people who drive long distances.

As we know pure BEVs suffer from short driving range, and long re-charging times (up to 8-10 hours) – whereas a FCEV has a range of up to 600km, and can be refueled in similar time to a current petrol/diesel car.

With a FCEV personal mobility is maintained, emissions consist of only water vapor, and the production of hydrogen gas from renewable energy lowers the carbon footprint related to using hydrogen gas.

It truly is a win-win all round. The only thing to do is put pressure on politicians around the world to embrace the technology. Especially in Australia!

Sunday, December 28, 2014


If you’ve been lucky enough to be visiting Naples, Florida when The Collier Collection has been open to the public, then you’ll appreciate the importance of our visit in mid-January this year.

My good friend, racer Derek Bell, arranged a private viewing very early on a Saturday morning with Curator Scott George, so that I and two of my best friends from the USA could see the exhibits up close, and get all the background info direct from Scott. What an experience!

The only downside turned out to be my brand new Panasonic Lumix ZS30 digital camera. What a disappointment. I purchased it based on one review, but found that the size of the CMOS sensor was smaller than in my trusty Canon S90 pocket camera. The result was dark and out-of-focus photographs. It has taken me a good long time working with software to recover some depth, clarity and exposure so I can post them here.

It’s not easy to find The Collier Collection, as it’s in a very plain, unmarked building buried away on an industrial estate at 2500 South Horseshoe Drive, Naples. Entry is by reserve ticket only which you can obtain by calling (239) 687-7387.

The Collier Collection is open Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays from 10am-4pm, and general admission is just USD$17; If you want to be accompanied by one of the Collection’s excellent docents, it’s just $3 extra.

Miles Collier and his brothers were the beneficiaries of inherited wealth, but as a sign of the guiding principles behind the Collection, they devoted much of their wealth to philanthropy. Miles is also a talented painter, and canny investor.

The Collier siblings are credited with bringing sports car racing to America in the 1930s; and Miles competed for almost 10 years in his Porsche Speedster.

In the late 1980s Miles Collier decided to create a collection of definitively important cars, that is, cars with a specific history, design or achievement.

And this is a huge element of the absolute enjoyment of touring the Collection. Every car inside this building has a reason for being there, and the story boards will keep you as entertained and intrigued as the cars themselves.

In 1986, Miles Collier acquired the Cunningham Museum collection of longtime family friend Briggs Swift Cunningham, which included the first Ferrari racing car ever sold in the United States, and one of six Bugatti Royales ever produced.

Miles Collier
What is now known today as The Collier Collection began to take shape during the late 1980s and 1990s as Miles Collier continued to grow his private collection of the finest, most original examples of sports and racing cars.

He soon also became widely recognized for his groundbreaking preservation aesthetic.

L. Scott George
I cannot speak too highly of the Curator, L. Scott George. He is not only friendly and affable, but his detailed knowledge of every car in the Collection is breathtaking. The Colliers and Scott George are very lucky to have found each other.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that The Collier Collection is still collecting, and what is currently on display is not everything it owns. There are many cars in storage and some still being restored, so that Scott can ‘freshen’ the display by rotating exhibits.

The cars I photographed and used here have special meaning for me, because they are all cars and marques I have long admired.

However, probably the most special is the 1971 Porsche 908/3 raced by Derek Bell, simply because I was there with the man who drove it.

Then, in recognition of the many years I spent with Bentley Motors, our group posed with a 4 ¼ litre Bentley with James Wood coachwork.

In some ways, this was a contentious car, because it represented what Rolls-Royce Motor Cars did with the Bentley marque after it acquired the bankrupt company from W.O. Bentley in 1931.

Everyone recognized that Bentley’s 4.0 litre straight six was an outstanding engine, but Rolls-Royce engineers increased its capacity and smoothed the rough edges to create the 4 ¼ litre version, which powered more than 2500 Rolls-Royces and Bentleys – the Bentley version was known as ‘The Silent Sports Car’.

By the time this car was released W.O.Bentley had tired of working as a ‘consultant’ for Rolls-Royce, and had moved on to Lagonda, to create another great engine for that company.

Next I turned my attention to Peugeot and Alfa Romeo. I worked with Peugeot for almost 10 years, and when I was delving into the company’s fascinating and trend-setting history, prior to the 1988 launch of the Peugeot 405 Mi16, I discovered the modern DOHC 16-valve car had an impressive distant relative 75 years earlier!

In 1913 Peugeot decided to participate in the Indianapolis 500 and presented a ‘baby car’ up against  6 & 8-litre behemoths which were common at ‘The Brickyard’. 

The car had a 3.0 litre inline four cylinder engine, with twin overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder.

Scott George with the 1913 Peugeot Indy Car
Entered privately by the owner of a French chocolate company, the Peugeot smashed the lap record and led most of the race, with the driver (having made his point) backing off for a ‘comfortable second’ behind the winning 6.0 litre Delage. Race reports at the time marveled that the Peugeot engine was a mere 6 cubic inches larger than the Ford Model T!

I’ve written before about the wonderful designs which Bertone produced to help build the Alfa Romeo legend for creating beautiful, sporty cars.

The 1958 Giulietta Sprint Veloce was the car which launched the former racing company into volume production, and the rest is history.

Next I spotted a beautiful racing coupe designed by Zagato, the 1964 GTZ.

Back in 1951, owing to lack of cash, Alfa Romeo closed its competition department, Alfa Corse, but its engineers created a skunk works in concert with Zagato. In 1963 they created a purpose-built, alloy-bodied racer, the Giulia Tubulare Veloce.

Also in 1963 Alfa Romeo had decided to support a racing company called Auto Delta, headed by ex-Ferrari wizard, Carlo Chiti.

Chiti produced the magic again with the GTZ winning the 1600cc class in the 1964 Sebring 12 Hour race, up against an Abarth-Porsche, Jim Clark’s Lotus Cortina, and two Lotus Elans.

Speaking of Lotus, the Collier Collection has a beautiful 1962 Lotus Elite Series II SE.

The Elite was probably the single most important creation by Colin Chapman at the time. I've been in love with the Lotus Elite since I first saw one racing in Australia in 1963.

The original 1957 prototype, which received rave reviews, was designed by Peter Kirwin-Taylor (an accountant who ‘liked to draw cars’), and refined by aerodynamicist Frank Costin.

The car featured a stressed roof design, which precluded an open version, but the GT coupe was light, slippery and a beautiful car to drive. Elites won their class in the Vingt Quatres Heures du Mans six years running!

Despite its popularity among enthusiasts looking for the ‘ultimate sports car’ Lotus lost money on every Elite GT it sold.

I’ve long been a Lancia fan and the gorgeous quad-cam 2.5 litre V8-powered D50 Formula One car of 1954 was notable for being the race winner which destroyed the company.

Ascari testing Lancia D50, Monza 1954 (Photo: LAT Photo)

In its race debut at the 1954 Spanish GP, twice World Champion Alberto Ascari put the Lancia on pole.

He won two grands prix in 1955 and was leading in Pau, when he crashed into the harbor. The Lancias were the only cars feared by the dominant Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows team, and its drivers Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio!

Ascari at Monaco GP 1955 (Photo: Antonio Azzano - formulapassion.it)

Gianni Lancia spent so much money on this beautiful racer, designed by Vittorio Jano, that it bankrupted the company, and all its designs including the D50 were handed to Ferrari!

The car was notable for its side pannier fuel tanks, which concentrated the fuel load inside the wheelbase, plus its asymmetric placement of the drivetrain where the driver sat beside the prop shaft feeding power to a rear mounted transaxle gearbox. It was a truly inspired layout.

Juan Manuel Fangio won the 1956 world title in the D50a Ferrari-Lancia derived from the original car!

Juan Manuel Fangio reunited with Ferrari D50a (Photo: turkiyeF1.com)

True car enthusiasts the world over should try to visit The Collier Collection. There a great many private collections around the world, but for me, the fact that each exhibit tells a special story, makes The Collier Collection hard to beat.

My sincere thanks and those of my friends go to the Collier’s spirit of generosity and their love of cars which is willingly shared with the world, plus Scott George for his wonderfully informal imparting of knowledge, and of course Derek Bell for arranging the visit.

* This is a very long, and very self-indulgent post, but because of the time it has taken to prepare the photos, and the special significance of the visit, I wanted to give it the prominence I think it deserves, and you might enjoy some of the stories and photos I have been able to capture. Naturally, there are many more special and more important cars in the Collier Collection, these are just my favourites.

Saturday, December 27, 2014


When you dig a bit deeper Toyota Motor Company takes on a whole new personality, eschewing its 'cookie-cutter, boring-but-competent image', for a very racy identity. After all, this is the company which gives us the fabulous Toyota 86!

Introducing the Toyota GRMN Mark X, with personality plus.

Powered by a 320hp version of Toyota's outstanding V6 engine that we see in the Aurion and the Avalon, plus a six-speed manual feeding power to a Thorsen differential on the rear axle, this car is a bullet!

The car is intended solely for the Japanese domestic market, and only 100 cars will be built, with a pricetag around AUD$55,000.

It's a stylish addition to the range, which celebrates two things (courtesy of the initials). 

Firstly, GR which stands for Gazoo Racing, the race and special tuning division run by Toyota's number one man, Akio Toyoda. 

The MN stands for Master of Nurburgring (in memory of Hiromu Naruse, Toyota's test driver who tragically died there in 2010 testing a Lexus LFA).

The GRMN Mark Ex is absolutely 'fit for purpose' with its Brembo brakes, 2WD or 4WD, 19 inch alloys and open exhaust system.

In size the current Mark X is a little bigger than a Camry, but traces its lineage as far back as the Toyota Cressida, which Toyota in Japan used as the basis for a limited edition GT car, with its strong and gutsy in-line six cylinder engine.

The Mark X has been around for about 20 years, but the GRMN only debuted in 2004, and this firey version came on the scene at this years Tokyo Motor Show.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


The Uruguyan round of the Formula e World Championship has been run and won in the beachside city of Punta Del Este.

Punta Del Este, known as the 'Monaco of South America'
A couple of hours north of Montevideo, Punta Del Este is a wealthy enclave of rich Uruguyans, and it's easy to see why this round of the Formula e championship attracted a full field. Nice place to spend a weekend.

A quick look at the results board shows that a number of F1 pilots who can't get a ride in Formula One, are getting their rocks off in the all-electric formula.

What's more impressive are the people associating themsleves with this new-age racing category. Renault, Andretti, Prost, Piquet, Trulli, Senna, Alguersuari, Brabham and Heidfeld.

The Uruguyan winner, Sebastian Buemi (above) played second fiddle to Jean-Eric Vergne for most of the race, but Vergne bounced off a wall, and the battle went to Buemi.

You can check out the racing on YouTube, but it seems it's almost as exciting a contest as a Formula 1 race, just a lot quieter.

Young Matthew Brabham had a weekend he'd rather forget, with a lot of car problems, and incidents during the race, resulting in a DNF. However, Team Andretti says they love the guy and he's welcome back any time.

An interesting sidebar - it seems the race cars don't hold enough charge to complete the race, so instead of normal pitstops the drivers head for the garage - and change cars!

Not sure if this is going to really take over from Formula One, just yet.

Especially with oil at $56 a barrel - it seems we've got a bit more on hand to burn up through the exhaust pipes.


Not heard of Jim Cobb? Okay, then you don't live in New York, are probably not a major car buff, and you don't read the New York Times Automotive Section.

My good friend Jim Cobb has been the Editor of the Automotive Section of the New York Times for 28+ years, and he leaves the newspaper at the end of the year. His retirement, and recent announcement of the death of the auto section, are the result of more, and deeper budget cuts aimed at saving the paper from going under.

He will be a sad loss to automotive journalism in the USA. He is honest, resolute, a great writer, and an even better editor. 

Jim and I became friends back in the early 90s when I was PR Director for Jaguar Cars North America. It was a period when Jaguar was selling unreliable, badly-made cars, and I was fearful of a bad review in the NYT, thus Jim and I tacitly agreed we would not go through all the angst a bad review would engender, so I would decline to loan him a press car. It worked.

Jaguar Cars got its act together, made better cars, and a year or so later I rented a car to the New York Times (the NYT PAID to drive test cars!). We got an honest review. He didn't omit comment about the poor quality of previous cars, but he acknowledged the efforts to improve. Can't ask fairer than that. We've been good friends ever since.

A very nice story about Jim's life at 'The Times' has been published on a website called THE AWL (from which I knicked this photo of Jim in Times Square). Here's the link:


James Cobb (photo: theawl.com)

Jim Cobb chooses to live outside Manhattan, but Jim is All New Yorker. I guess you could call his departure from the Big Apple an enforced move, so I'm not sure how Jim will cope with not setting off each morning to join the high-voltage buzz in that fabulous city. I wish him well.

He's a hell of an auto editor, and a helluva guy. Good Luck Jim. It's been great working with you.