Tuesday, January 27, 2015


I wrote recently of my visit to the Alfa Romeo test track at Balocco, but I was reminded of what preceded the visit, and that was a press conference at Alfa Romeo HQ at Arese, north of Milan.

We were also able to visit the museum and see wonderful examples of Alfa Romeo's great motor racing history, like the Alfetta Tipo 159.

This was a car in which Juan Manuel Fangio won two world championships (1950-51).

Our host, Dottore Silvano Tagini, Managing Director of Alfa Romeo Australia had arranged for the journalists travelling with our group to meet the then President of Alfa Romeo SpA, Dottore Gaetano Cortese.

He was your typical urbane, charming Italian, with perfect manners and composure, especially in light of the usually-aggressive questioning from the Australian journalists.

However, I asked him about Alfa Romeo in motor sport and he turned towards me, with a glint in his eyes and an obvious affinity for the subject.

“Today, you will see the Tipo 33 at Balocco, and you will see why we invest in motor racing. It is the pinnacle of vehicle development and a chance for our young engineers to learn very quickly in a high pressure environment. I think overall, that motor sport is more than just winning races. It helps everyone in the company learn important lessons.”

Alfa Romeo Tipo 33

Sr. Cortese was, at that time not only MD of Alfa Romeo, but also an integral part of the senior management of IRI, the government-run corporation which managed all of the Italian government’s industrial operations, including Alfa Romeo, Alitalia and the Alitalia Hotels Group.

Dr. Cortese (L) at the launch of the Alfa Romeo 8c Competizione in Amsterdam

Recently, he served as Italy’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, and is a highly-respected member of Italian industrial society.

'WHEELS CAR OF THE YEAR' - An Award of Greatly Diminshed Value!

So, the WHEELS COTY for 2015 is the BMW i3 ???

Give me a break! Clearly, the editor and judges already know this is a dumb choice .....

In 'explaining' the choice, the judges admit:

1. With only a 4 Star result in NCAP testing, quote: "Perhaps it could do better on safety."

2. With poor pedestrian safety results, quote: "Perhaps it could offer better pedestrian safety."

3. On one test run, the i3 ran out of charge! Quote: "It didn't break down, it just ran out of charge." !!!

4. On distances, quote: "For the longer distances Australians travel, its range is not ideal, but satisfactory if you drive 40km a day." What ???

5. On broad appeal, the judges admit: "It's a niche car."

I have only one word to describe this latest award.

It's not even a car with advanced technology. The BMW i3 is nothing more than a BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle).

Why not reward a brave company like Hyundai Australia which is setting the bar at a new level by introducing an ix35 with a Fuel Cell stack?

That's far more commercially adventurous, and dangerous, but HMCA has at least held its breath and jumped in at the deep end with a technology that shows much more potential than a BEV!

Okay, if the ix35 FCEV is not yet publicly available do what the esteemed former editor, Peter Robinson, did one year. He and the judges didn't make an award!

I may have got the quotes above slighly incorrect, but who cares? I won't spend good money buying a copy of WHEELS to read the full explanation.

This year's choice only demeans the value of the award in the eyes of informed readers, consumers and car companies.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BALOCCO - "The Old Farm"

Being a paid-up member of the ‘Alfisti’ (Alfa Romeo Tipo 159) is a great privilege, because in the global auto world, we are few in number compared to the fan following that other famous marques can boast.

Special Alfa Romeo moments are cherished, and one in particular is indeed greatly treasured. On May 24, 1976 I was among a group of Australian Alfa Romeo dealers, and a small contingent of Australian automotive writers, who were allowed to visit Alfa Romeo’s high security test track at Balocco.

It isn’t until you read travel diaries of many Alfa Romeo enthusiasts that you realize a visit to “The Old Farm” by outsiders is very, very rare.

Here is a photograph of our group at the track, and during the morning we were treated to demonstration laps of the road circuit by Alfa Romeo’s chief test pilot, driving a Tipo 33 (prototipo due). It was a brilliant experience.

The test track was opened in 1963, and at the time the area chosen was little more than desert, about 70km west of Milano, just off the Autostrada del Sol.

The village, and the castle can be seen from the autostrada, but the test track is about five kilometres outside the village.

The facility has been much enlarged since my visit in 1976. Once FIAT absorbed Alfa Romeo, it has spent millions upgrading the facilities, and it's used by all divisions of FIAT.

Compare this with a photo from 1964 – showing the manager of the facility with his two young sons.

Occasionally, Alfa Romeo enthusiasts are allowed to visit Balocco and drive on the track, as this shot from the Italian Alfasud Club photo album reveals.

During our visit, a few of the journalists were selected to drive around the circuit in an Alfetta 1.8, a test drive that was fun at the time, but now I realize what a rare privilege that was.

Afterwards we all lunched together at the Ristorante La Badia, just near the hilltop fortress town of Orvieto – together a brace of wonderful memories from Italy in 1976.

Lunch was as usual a l-o-n-g affair (see; the original slow food  idea). At about 2:30pm the Italian PR chief rushes up to the group and says in an excited and agitated tone of voice:
"Come on quickly, finish your lunch, let's get on the coach!"

All aboard the coach and speeding along the autostrada towards Firenze, and one of our group asks what the great hurry is all about?

The reply is classic Italian: "Because, if we don't hurry, we will be late for dinner in Firenze!"

Friday, January 16, 2015


We have long enjoyed a love affair with La Belle France and visited many times, but the most recent saw us enjoying an early dinner in a Parisian sidewalk cafe on the Place de la Republic, near the site of the recent Islamist atrocity.

Sadly, the French have gradually allowed a dangerous erosion of their cultural values with a laizzez faire approach to multiculturism. The explosion of Muslim residents around Paris has set up the City of Light for even more such atrocities, unless the government begins to grapple with the huge youth unemployment issue, and stimulates infrastructure growth in affected areas, rather than turning a blind eye and hoping the problem will go away.

Ensuring new citizens and residents assimilate into the country's culture rather than demand it change to suit them should also be high on the list of priorities. Better late than never!

Vive la Paris, Vive la France!

Saturday, January 10, 2015


This year's Geneva Motor Show starts on March 5 and the lineup of new cars is (as usual) breathtaking.

Here's a quick look at some thumbnail photos of what's in store:

Mazda MX-5

Hyundai i20

Citroen DS6

Toyota F1 Graphite

Quant F

Range Rover Sport SDV6

Aston Martin Vanquish

Seat Leone X-perience

If the photos look a little fuzzy that's because this is the quality currently available on the Geneva Salon media website. To get the full blown, sharp shots you'll have to wait for the media output from Press Day, March 3.

Sunday, January 4, 2015


"Dear Santa,
You know I LOVE my Alfa Romeo 159, and have no thoughts of replacing it anytime soon, but a good friend in New York has told me what a fabulous driving experience he has just enjoyed in a Tesla Model S 60 (base model).

If you could start working on it now, that's what I would like to see in my garage next Xmas. Note: It's only 30cm longer than the 159, so it will fit perfectly!
Thank you,

Lest you think I am backtracking on all the nasty things I have said about pure Battery Electric vehicles (BEVs) in this Blog for the last few years, I do consider the Tesla Model S not only a truly innovative and refreshing design, but also a genuinely great drive experience.

Given its production capacity limitations the Tesla is never going to threaten Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz in absolute volume terms, but what it is doing is infiltrating the mind and soul of luxury car buyers.

When you get up close, you can truly appreciate the fit and finish, design innovations, and the overall quality of the car.

Even the price is attractive, because in the USA Tesla bundles the purchase with a number of re-charging options and service backup, to create a great ownership experience.

The Tesla is a genuine innovation, and shows what a brilliant thinker its creator, Elon Musk, is - and how a guy with no car industry baggage to haul around has been able to beat car companies on their own ground, by thinking, creating, and doing things differently.

Anytime a conventional luxury car executive pooh-poohs the Tesla, you can rest assured it's just jealousy talking.  Yes, the pricetag reserves Tesla ownership for a privileged few; but if you can afford it, get one.

You not only streak to the top of the pyramid of early-adopters, but you will love the driving experience.

Friday, January 2, 2015


British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted a reception at Number 10 Downing Street on November 20 to recognise the exceptional contribution motor sport and all its associated companies makes to the standing of Great Britain, and the British economy.

Encouraged by Lewis Hamilton winning the 2014 Formula One World Driver's Championship, Mr. Cameron met a large number of apprentices employed by British motor sport companies, as well as some of Britain's greatest motor sport luminairies including my good friends Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jackie Stewart and Derek Bell MBE.

David Cameron and Derek Bell
The Prime Minister told Derek he was very impressed with his record of winning Le Mans five times, the Daytona 24 hour race three times and twice winning the World Sportscar Championship.

Also noted was Derek Bell's continuing efforts to promote the Bentley marque through his work as a Bentley Ambassador.

Speaking at the reception, David Cameron said: "Backing this nine billion pound a year industry, which supports many thousands of highly-skilled engineering jobs is a crucial part of our long-term economic plan to rebalance the economy.

That is why I am delighted to celebrate the success of British motor sport and its contribution to the economy."