Saturday, October 31, 2015


Okay, it’s as simple as this:

“Dear Santa, I want one. I have been very, very good!”

I am happy to join my colleagues who write about cars for a living and say that this could be the most fun you can have sitting down!

If you want some of this action it will only cost you $31,990 – and that’s only $2,400 more expensive than the original NA model, launched in 1989! This one's got aircon, bluetooth, iPod connectivity and electric windows!

The price may have stretched the original boundaries, but the latest ND version is true to its creators’ intentions.

MX-5 1982 concept

It’s a plain and simple sports car with (nowadays) a lot of creature comforts that even today still delivers driving fun in big bundles, just like the original.

MX-5 1989 NA model
Quite frankly, I can’t see why anyone would want anything more than the entry level car shown below.

The 1.5 litre naturally-aspirated engine is willing and happy to rev to the redline, and despite me having too much fun behind the wheel, the MX-5 is still delivering 6.5 l/100km!

The manual transmission is a gem. The six-speeds offer enormous flexibility and the slick and well-sorted change action is pure delight to use. In fact I cannot believe how flexible this car is in 6th gear at just under 2000rpm. You can ease down on the throttle at that engine speed and the MX-5 will pull easily, without shuddering and complaining. It’s not something I would recommend, but it is evidence of the elegant combination of power/engine curves and gearbox ratios.

The other outstanding feature of this new MX-5 is the chassis stiffness. Not an ounce of any form of scuttle shake, or bending. This is a big contributor to its pinpoint handling.

Let’s check off a few benefits: the sound system is excellent, the instruments are simple, clear and easy to read; the seats are comfortable; the lowering and raising of the roof exceptionally easy, and the storage cubby holes (whilst they test your body’s flexibility) are very useful.

The MX-5 isn’t perfect. Few things in life are, but the biggest bitch is reserved for the poor old passenger. The height of the front seats is not variable, the seat belt can’t be adjusted to suit someone of small stature, and just such a person complained about poor thigh support in the seat, and the possibility of being throttled by the seat belt in hard braking.

So, let’s go driving. Having been brought up on a cousin’s MG TC, my own Austin Healey Sprite IIA, and a friend’s MG B where does the MX-5 sit in the sports car firmament? Right where it should. It’s zippy, great handling, excellent roadholding, terrific brakes and just a touch of exuberance will flick the tail out at times.

The ride is firm, but in no way uncomfortable. Smooth bitumen reveals good secondary ride, but the occasional concrete highway can be a bit bouncy. I think the Mazda engineers have got it just right.

As you'd expect the trunk is small, but certainly not miniscule. It will easily take a couple of overnight bags, but yes, you're right. There's no spare, just a pressure-pack can for dealing with a flat tyre. Whatever!

When I was in Florida last year I spent a good deal of time in a friend’s Honda S2000, and the latest MX-5 shows that both Honda and Mazda studied British sports car blueprints very carefully – creating their own unique recipes for delivering plain and simple, exhilarating, sports car motoring. 

They might be just a tad more comfortable than their historical antecedents, but in a contemporary milieu they both follow a pretty simple formula for fun.

In a word, I would call the MX-5 - SUPER!

Friday, October 30, 2015


For almost ten years when I served as Director of Public Relations for Bentley Motors North America, I was privileged to be invited by the North American Bentley Drivers Club, to join the members each year for the North American Vintage Bentley Meet, usually held somewhere in the North-East United States.

Being basically car enthusiasts the NAVBM was often held inside collections of rival makes to Bentley.

In 2004 I was very privileged to join the BDC in Lyme, New Hampshire, to see the fantastic collection of Bugattis, belonging to the late Dr. Peter Williamson.

Susan and Peter Williamson

Peter Williamson was a very distinguished neurosurgeon, specialising in epilepsy. He was an enthusiastic teacher, and a tireless philanthropist. He passed away in 2008.

Yes, I took photos, which I have reproduced here. 

However, the special moment was meeting Peter and listening to him recount the details of his rare Type 57SC Atlantic coupe.

There are only two original 57SCs remaining in the world, the second owned by fashion icon Ralph Lauren (also a Bentley owner).

The 57SC Atlantic was based on the Aerolithe Electron Coupe, a show car built for the 1935 Paris Auto Salon. The car’s low-slung, pontoon-fender design was designed by Jean Bugatti, son of founder Ettore Bugatti.

The show car was made from magnesium panels that were difficult to weld, and so Bugatti employed the car’s distinctive riveted seams. And while the three production Atlantics were built of weld-able aluminium, the seams were retained as a design cue.

At the time I visited the display I understood the significance of Peter’s collection, because Dr. Ferdinand Piech had desperately tried to buy the Atlantic coupe to add to his own collection, which includes a Royale. However, following Peter’s passing the entire collection was sold by Gooding & Company, and the final price of the Atlantic coupe moved me to mention the visit to Peter’s barn in Lyme and reveal the wonderful photo opportunities the visit provided.

The estate of Peter Williamson sold the late car collector’s prized 1936 Bugatti 57SC Atlantic to the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, Ca., for between USD$30 million and USD$40 million.  Any figure in that range would make the Williamson Atlantic – a heartbreakingly-beautiful piece of European automotive sculpture, considered the epitome of French Art Deco styling – the most valuable car known to have changed hands.

A very large proportion of the sale funds were directed to a variety of foundations which will benefit the work of epilepsy research teams nominated by Peter Williamson.

The Mullin Automotive Museum, founded by noted car aficionado Peter Mullin and housed in a facility formerly owned by Los Angeles Times publisher Otis Chandler, is dedicated to the preservation of French classic cars of the 1930s.

When one looks back on life’s experiences, it’s moments like this which place a great value on where life takes you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


What’s the value of a brand? Depends of course on how long it has been established; its integrity; its performance; its delivery on the promises.

What’s the value of the FORD brand? I’m not going to guess, let’s turn to one of the best purveyors of ‘Brand Values’ – FORBES magazine.

Okay, so there's the cold, hard numbers. Ford may only be Number 41, but it's in the Top 100.

Here's another view of 'brand values' from the respected company B2B International:

Problems of Capitalising the Value of Brands:
Brands are vulnerable in being dependent on such intangibles as people's perceptions of them. Building these perceptions can take many years as reputations are earned by repeated proof that a brand justifies its position. The perceptions can, however, be destroyed overnight.

So, which brightspark FORD AUSTRALIA CEO signed off on allowing the creation of the FPV badge, to replace the FORD badge on all Ford Performance Vehicles unleashed on the Australian public? Why would you knowingly piss away such well-establised brand values?
What are we looking at here? Is it a FORD product, or what?

What brainless idiot thought this was a good idea? To substitute the FORD oval for a badge, which in the public eye, has been around for five minutes, and essentially meant zero?

FORD fanboys will tell me FORD AUSTRALIA was just following Holden's HSV; Mercedes' AMG, and the like. Sorry guys! What preceded all the other 'division' titles was the BRAND!

Whomever talked FORD AUSTRALIA'S President and the rest of the Board of Directors into the badge substitution should be put in charge of the Sales division. That guy could sell ice to eskimos!

So now, common sense has prevailed. Along with forcing FORD AUSTRALIA to get on board with the 'One Ford' policy, Dearborn has now lumped all the performance monikers under one title - and it makes perfect sense.

Ford Performance global vehicle chief engineer Jamal Hameedi says dumping FPV was a necessary casualty in “Ford becoming One Ford”.

“There was FPV, there was SVT, there was Team RS, and actually the only way we could do it, is we actually went and did a global study on what names and what brands would resonate with a global audience,” he said.

“This was an extremely emotional debate. You have these various sub-brands that have been making fantastic products and there were a lot of different opinions on it.

“That was the way we got everyone to buy into it, because everyone’s 'special' brand was thrown into the hat…and Ford Performance was a winner.

“It’s so simple, everyone gets it. I don’t have to explain what Ford Performance is. One, it’s by Ford. Two, it’s about performance. Keep it simple.”

Ford Performance Global Engineer, Jamal Hameedi and a Focus visiting Jay Leno's garage