Sunday, January 24, 2016

'CAROL' - NOT A FILM REVIEW

There is no doubt in my mind that 'Carol' is Oscar material for Cate Blanchett, who shares the screen with the very talented Rooney Mara.



Although the movie is set in 1940s New York City, it was actually filmed in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The production designer Judy Becker should get an Oscar too. The settings, production values and the set dressing is superlative.




However, for a movie buff and car enthusiast like me, it was the cars which really created the (almost) reality of the movie.


Of course Ms. Becker gathered them from collectors, museums and wherever she could, but every scene featuring cars, or a car, are right on the money.
Eric Hansford and his 1949 Packard

It's this sort of attention to detail which helps to transport the viewer back in time to pre-Eisenhower USA.




The movie itself? The storyline and the performances are powerful, the direction, editing and attention to detail is outstanding.

Did I mention that the cars are great!

Friday, January 22, 2016

TALL TALES

The Alfa Romeo 4C Spider.

What a beautiful piece of automotive sculpture. How wonderful that the marque has captured the essence of enjoyable, basic sports car driving with a simple adherence to time-honoured principles of light weight, a small, willing turbocharged engine and outstanding handling.


However, if you are more than 5' 7" (170cm)  tall, do not apply. You may be a well-heeled enthusiast, lusting after this great example of Italian sports motoring, but according to my local FIAT-Alfa Romeo dealer one of his customers had to have his $5000 deposit returned, because try as he might, he couldn't get into the car. He twisted his long and lanky frame this way and that. He stood up on the driver's seat and tried to slide behind the wheel. To no avail.

You've all heard the jokes about Italian drivers having short legs, and that's why the pedals were so close, but the 4C has apparently been designed by, and for, this same band of minature would-be race drivers.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

LIGHT BULB MOMENT AT LINCOLN

More than 14 years after the Lincoln Continental (and the Lincoln Town Car) disappeared from America's roads, Ford Motor Company has splashed out on a new Lincoln Continental, debuting the production version at the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

2016 Lincoln Continental

Why? Does America really need a return to behemoth motor cars?
Well, yes it does. Or, rather Ford Motor Company thinks it does.

You see in 2002 Ford did a really dumb thing, It decided not to replace the ageing Lincoln RWD sedan, which is spun off the ubiquitous RWD Ford Crown Victoria.
2002 Lincoln Continental


2007 Ford Crown Victoria
Both of these cars are an integral part of of the fabric of big-car America.

A sea of yellow in the Big Apple
They were everywhere - painted yellow, and black, and also Black & White.

Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor
Sure, the old Continental/Crown Victoria were body-on-chassis dinosaurs, but they earned big bucks for Ford as Police Cars, Yellow Cabs and black, chauffeur-driven limousines - or as they are quaintly referred to in the USA as: 'Livery Vehicles'. Most of the limos were the long wheelbase Town Car.
Long wheelbase Lincoln Town Car
At airports all across America, these are the cars you see most - cabs and limos. In fact near the close of their production life the twin behemoths sold very few cars to private buyers. Nearly all production went to livery fleets. 

However, to be truly accurate Ford did produce small numbers of the Crown Victoria up until 2011 solely for sale in the Middle East.

In its wisdom, Ford told the thousands of livery fleets across the country that the Town Car would be replaced by the Lincoln MKT.

Lincoln MKT

Ford Flex
The MKT was really the Ford Flex with a different set of clothes.

The livery market basically gave Ford the finger!



Most livery companies decided to keep giving their ailing Town Cars new injections of life rather than replace them with the MKT.
2016 Lincoln Continental

Interior 2016 Lincoln Continental
So, after being roughed up by the livery industry, I think Ford has surrendered, and this new Continental (which looks pretty sharp, although I think it's 'channelling' the Mercedes-Benz C-class) may well spawn a 'really new' Lincoln Town Car, because I think the Ford accountants have decided they'd rather have the money, thanks!




POLICE PRAISE AUSSIE METAL

Sat down at McDonalds in Ballina (northern NSW) recently to chat with four of our finest in blue about their assigned patrol cars. Parked up for a coffee stop was the latest Ford Falcon XR6 turbo, Holden Commodore V8 and Ford Territory diesel.

These guys are in the cars every day and often swap cars for various duties. As far as I'm concerned these are very useful 'User Comments' because they drive 'em fast, slow, and around town. I was interested in their high and low points, and any freely offered opinions.




All three cars will begin to disappear from the Australian motoring landscape from the end of 2017, so as they pass from view I thought these reflections were particuarly poingnant.

FIRST SERGEANT (Commodore driver): "I love the handling, and the ride. It's clearly the best-handling police car I've driven, and once you've gone through the first set of brake discs, the brakes are awesome. However, quite frankly, I like the powertrain on the Falcon best. That turbo six is really smooth. Despite that, the V8 really moves when you take off."
SECOND SERGEANT (Territory driver): This has got to be the best compromise for ride and handling. This SUV really does drive like a car, and I am very surprised how comfortable it is. The diesel engine is fantastic. I thought it would be slow off the mark, but the six-speed auto is well matched to the engine. I would definately buy one for personal use."
THIRD SERGEANT (Falcon XR6 turbo driver): "I'd like to marry the Falcon's powertrain with the Commodore's ride and handling package. In a pursuit, the Falcon tends to lurch and roll much more than the Commodore, and I don't think it is as precise in the handling. Also, the seats in the Commodore are more comfortable than the Falcon. I'm surprised by the acceleration of the turbo six, subjectively it seems just as quick as the Commodore."

There's no doubt that the final iteration of all three cars will be remembered as the best of all, when it comes to refinement and the integrity of the overall package. It's a pity they turned out to be dinosaurs.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

C63 AMG

'A Marvellous Growler'
These badges mean business! Not just applied affectation.

If you didn’t know it by its blood-red accents, sporty graphics and grey-black alloy wheels, then the moment the exhaust flaps open, the C63 AMG emits a marvelous growl to bellow its credentials.




First the numbers, because there’s more important things to talk about.

Cost? AUD$154,900. Power and torque? 375kW @ 5500-6200; 700Nm at 1750-4000. 

Acceleration? 0-100km/h in just four seconds! 


Stuffing a dry-sumped, twin-turbocharged 4L V8 into a new C Class shell means not only impressive performance, but also an invitation to explore just what makes this a great sports sedan.

Firstly, it’s the investment in time, engineering excellence, materials, innovation, and the integrity of AMG’s values. Designed and built in AMG’s facilities in Affalterbach, just 30 minutes north of Stuttgart, and in the middle of the 18th century former hunting grounds of the W├╝rttemberg family, this brand new engine, (M178) bears a striking family resemblance to the 2L engine in the CLA 45 AMG compact range.

They share the same bore and stroke ratio, which means the C63’s new engine is just a doubled-up, grown-up version of the four cylinder unit. The M178 will also be the basis for a new range of engines to power all new Aston Martins from 2017.


The C63 AMG bears the hallmarks of a premium European car, but actually reading the details of AMG’s development work on the V8 biturbo is more impressive than all the sporty/luxury flim-flam.


The new AMG V8 engine has two turbochargers, which are not mounted on the outside of the cylinder banks but rather inside the V configuration – experts call it a 'hot inside V'. The benefits are a more compact engine design, an optimum response, and lower exhaust gas emissions. Dry sump lubrication allows the engine to be installed lower, which moves the centre of gravity closer to the road and forms the basis for high lateral acceleration.

The aluminium crankcase is produced using sand casting technology and features a closed deck design. This ensures extreme strength whilst keeping the weight as low as possible, and enables high injection pressures of up to 130 bar.

The cylinder bore surfaces feature NANOSLIDE technology which makes them twice as hard as conventional cast-iron linings.

NANOSLIDE was developed by Daimler starting in the year 2000 and has so far been used in over 200,000 engines since 2006. The first unit with NANOSLIDE technology was likewise an AMG V8: the extremely successful predecessor to the new AMG 4.0-litre biturbo. The application scope for this multi-award-winning technology has been continually widened. Since the start of the 2014 race season it is also being deployed in the new Mercedes F1 V6 turbo engine.

'Spectacle honing' is another measure to reduce friction and therefore consumption: in this complex process, the cylinder liners receive their mechanical surface treatment when already bolted in place.



A jig resembling spectacles is bolted to the crankcase in place of the cylinder head mounted later. Any cylinder warpage that might occur during final assembly is therefore taken into account or eliminated as the cylinder liners are honed.

This has advantages in terms of both durability and oil consumption. The new AMG V8 has forged aluminium pistons featuring a lightweight design and high strength. A low-friction piston ring package further reduces fuel and oil consumption.

The cylinder heads are made from very expensive Zirconium alloy, for maximum temperature resistance and thermal connectivity.

If you're thinking, a big, powerful V8 engine like any old 350hp Windsor or Cleveland cast iron lump churned out in Mowtown, think again. The sophisticated AMG engine was expensive to design, develop, build and test – and that’s why it delivers such impressive stats. Not just efficient power and torque; but compact design, light weight, advanced materials, innovative solutions and a racing pedigree.

There are a range of techniques, applications and improvements which have flowed directly from AMG’s championship-winning Formula One engine developments.


The most obvious evidence of its breeding is when you let the C63 AMG loose on the road. Plant your foot and there’s absolutely no turbo lag. The exhaust growl, just like the suspension and engine settings, can be manipulated by the driver to cover everything from comfort to sport, sport+ and even race!

The handling is astonishing. The cornering stance is so flat it urges adventurous approaches to all corners. It can get a bit 'squirrelly' if power is applied at the wrong moment, but it's always controllable, ultimately thanks to electronics.

The Sport, Sport+ and Race settings will rattle your fillings loose, so I just used 'Comfort' and believe me the handling remains astonishing.


But that’s where passing my subjective evaluation on this car proves difficult. Yes, it’s got race car features oozing from its bloodline, and the silky-smooth Mercedes-Benz designed and built 7-speed multi-clutch transmission is a delight, but there are reasons why I wouldn’t be investing in a C63 AMG.

The number one reason would be the really dumb steering wheel design. Okay, with a squared off bottom it looks the business, but its stupidly thick rim has been covered in fashionable, slinky suede leather, which makes it impossible to grip in one position for any length of time. 

Unlike regular leather, your hands are constantly sliding along the surface, a problem accentuated by not being able to get your fingers around the wheel rim.

Try steering through a long series of S bends quickly, and you’ll be fighting to keep a grip on things.

I could not face driving this car every day with that steering wheel.

Second, forget about fuel efficiency and low carbon emissions. That’s the price you pay for performance on tap at the blink of any eye. Official fuel economy figures, maybe recorded from the combined test cycle on a bench in Affalterbach (or at a constant 100km/h on a flat autobahn) suggest 8.7 l/100km. Forget it.

You might get that number coasting down a hill, but try 12 -14 l/100km in normal use. Then there’s the emissions.

I’ve mentioned before on this Blog that the ‘magic number’ all car companies are trying to reach is something between 90-100 g/km. This little bitumen blaster produces 200 g/km. Not exactly environmentally friendly.

However, lets face it. If you want a grown-up, German-bred, premium-priced European sports sedan with genuine performance credentials from a respected engine and car maker - then the C63 AMG, warts and all, is for you.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A BAMBINO FOR THE BUSH? YOU BET!

When I saw the FIAT 500X debut in Geneva, my first thought was it was a tough task trying to make an SUV from a 500 Bambino. 

Probably just body kits, jacked up suspension, knobbly tyres and a badge.


No, no, no. Believe it or not this is the genuine article.
It is a bit of an  American Pie though, based on the Jeep Renegade platform developed in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

Jeep Renegade

However, despite some styling similarities, this ain’t a Bambino! But, the Italian car looks way sexier than its American cousin.

There’s the logo, the badge, the design elements, and FIAT’s very capable 1.4 MultiAir turbo engine, but that’s about it. The rest is a mix that emerged from a design and development blender.

However cynical I may appear about this new FIAT, I am mightily impressed by the finished product. It goes well, looks smart, is great off-road and solid as a rock.


I decided to take it deep into one of my bush hideaways to take some still photos, but found myself really enjoying driving the 500X Cross Plus up and down bush trails, over deep ruts, and slogging through some soggy waterholes.


It performed so well I just kept on exploring, until it was time to get back on the bitumen.

This is a very capable off-roader, which is a real surprise and delight.

Down on the centre console is the drive selector switch, and a quick flip to the right delivers pretty impressive terrain-tackling talent.


The car I’m driving is the most expensive model in the range, the FIAT 500X Cross Plus, at AUD$39,000 – but if want the look, without the off-road kit, you can buy a Pop version for AUD$28,000. There are two stages of tune for the 1.4 MultiAir turbo engine.


The Pop, and Pop Star have 103kW output, and the Lounge and Cross Plus have the 125kW version. Personally, I think the Lounge is the one to go for, at AUD$38,000.



Highway and suburban driving reveals a noticeable hum from the all-purpose tyres, but the engine noise is muted, and the torque-convertor 9-speed auto transmission is silky-smooth – either upshifts or downshifts.

It’s a comfortable car, with an amazing amount of internal space, given the 2570mm wheelbase, and 4248mm overall length.

The boot is a really useful size, because the spare is a space saver.




The cockpit layout is functional, but I wouldn’t call it one of FIAT’s greatest styling achievements. It’s a bit disjointed in terms of binnacle design, and lacks cohesion along the top of the dashboard and where it meets the instruments. The lower section is a hodgepodge of modules, bumps and aircon controls. Good thing is, from behind the wheel you get to see everything easily.


 The upper glovebox is good for, ah! Gloves!

The touchscreen system works well, very intuitive to use and the Beats sound system is excellent.


Could I see the Cross Plus down on the farm? Yes, I can. Maybe you could load up a hay bale or two, but you can certainly cart the kids around, carry some school bags, skateboards, luggage and golf clubs – and it will easily carry you through those boggy patches on the way to the farm gate.



Around town it's great for a pizza pickup, and great for the beach run too.

This is a well-conceived and well-resolved package, and I am confident it will help FIAT’s brand development in Australia – and indeed in the vital US market too. It’s cute, has a lot of Italian flair, and it’s practical.


I’d be happy to have one in my garage.