Friday, September 30, 2016


It’s early September 1986 (some 30 years ago), and a group of top-shelf Australian motoring journalists are settling into after dinner drinks at the bar of Dunkeld House with the Chairman of Jaguar, Sir John Egan.
Dunkeld House on the banks of the River Tay

Having just dined on a traditional Scottish meal, including the infamous Haggis, the group reflects on a day of driving the new Jaguar XJ40 in the Scottish Highlands.

Egan is in full flight, selling Jaguar’s latest model to the Aussies, who quite frankly, don’t need much selling. They are delighted to be in this cosy lounge, talking cars with a variety of Jaguar engineers and executives.

Tomorrow, they leave for London, then across to Europe, to drive the latest BMW 7 Series. A back-to-back comparison.

The XJ40 is a make or break car for Jaguar, and John Egan explains that the management and the workforce have invested their expertise, energy and emotion into its success. 

Egan is basking in the glow of bringing Jaguar back from the edge, and standing side by side with Chief Engineer, Jim Randle, he tells the journalists that Jaguar’s future rides on XJ40’s success.

It’s a calculated gamble, because both Jaguar executives know the car was brought to market by a tiny team of 250 engineers, battling with budget overruns, last minute revisions, and optimism based only on faith.

Rewind to four months earlier, and in early June I am taking one of Australia’s most cynical and experienced motoring journalists to drive an XJ40 prototype on rough gravel roads  in western New South Wales.

John Wright and I are flying in a chartered Beechcraft twin to Cobar to meet the last remaining technicians, who were wrapping-up the Australian test program, and a single XJ40.

If we can convince John Wright of the car’s credentials, then we too will have optimism for the future of the new saloon.

For almost six months, XJ40s clad in heavy disguise have been pounding the roads in the far west of the state, clocking up valuable testing kilometres, looking for weak points, and confirming the work of the development team back in Coventry.

We mount up in the parking lot of a small country motel on the outskirts of Cobar and take off for two days of punishing driving.

The car returns to Cobar with no serious damage, just a broken headlight from a flying stone.

While 1986 is a year of celebration at Jaguar’s Browns Lane headquarters just outside Coventry, the project had been a stop-start affair for more than 14 years! During British Leyland’s ownership, Jaguar management contemplated a replacement for the 1968 XJ6, and began drawing up the project parameters.

The very first clay model was finished in 1972 (top left), and through to the final design ‘freeze’ in 1984 (bottom left), more than eight full size clays were created.

In addition there were  design suggestions from Italian carrozzeria Ital Design (top) and Pininfarina.

The first prototype emerged from the experimental workshop in 1983, and was the first built to achieve a targeted weight reduction of almost 400kg – compared to the outgoing Series III.

Most of the weight reduction was due to come from the extensive use of aluminium in the platform and body shell.

However, the holy grail was simply not attainable, especially with such a small team of engineers. Back in 1983 a mass produced car based mainly on aluminium was a complex engineering task, so gradually weight was added back in as steel replaced alloy. In the end, the project team reduced overall weight by a mere 125kg.

Where real advances were made was the design of the suspension, and the success of the ride and handling package. This was Jim Randle and his team at their finest. Many eminent experts still acknowledge the XJ40's outstanding ride and handling characteristics.
Despite the well-worn state of the prototype we were testing in Cobar, John Wright was hugely impressed with the ride and handling.

In production however Jaguar’s XJ40 was unable to realize the management’s dreams, before the Ford takeover in 1989. Post-launch the car suffered legendary unreliability, and the company completely failed to lift the quality of the cars it produced.

It wasn’t until early 1994 that the new Chief Engineer, appointed by Ford, Jim Padilla was able to bring impressive quality improvements to Jaguar’s cars.

The fact that Jaguar survived such a dent in its image is widely acknowledged as a tribute to the residual affection Jaguar enthusiasts have for the famous British marque.

Now, 44 years after the first XJ40 clay was ready for viewing, Jaguar under Tata ownership is riding high, not only funding all its own future developments, including building new engines, but also paying dividends to its Indian parent.
I think the word resilience, should be spelled J-A-G-U-A-R.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


The October 13 collector car auction at Mandalay Bay casino in Las Vegas hosted by Barrett-Jackson continues to turn up some unique cars for the auction block.

Texan Charlie Thomas has signed up 150 cars from his extensive collection of American and European cars.
Check out this classic 1946 Chrysler convertible, with woody side trim:

Also this 1952 Nash Healey. Only 224 of these sports cars were produced, featuring Pininfarina coachwork:

I think catching a flight into McCarran Airport, and lining up as a spectator would be worth the airfare!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


In the raceway environment, the Lexus GS F laps the snaking, ribbon-smooth track surface with speed, precision and predictability – thanks to the varied-sized front and rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, and slick torque-vectoring software.

The 5.0L naturally-aspirated V8 pumps out its 375kW (470hp) with a somewhat muted roar, despite active baffles in the exhaust system aimed at giving a throaty rasp when the GS F is at full pitch.

It won’t take more than a couple of laps to realise that compared with its obvious European competitors, BMW’s M5, the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG and Audi’s S6, the Lexus has their measure, and more.

Only badge snobbery could deny this car its rightful place in that high-powered selection of sports sedans.

The Lexus brand doesn’t enjoy any mythical associations with iconic castles and Cotswold roads, but despite appearing on the scene only 27 years ago, the Lexus engineers have in fact perfected a car that could boast European traditions.

Its Oriental heritage is evidenced in intensely-focused attention to detail. The V8 engine, which first appeared in 1989 in the LS 400, is one of the finest engines I’ve experienced – and in fact was the benchmark engine for Jaguar’s AJV8.

The GS F boasts all the usual sports sedan trademarks – quad exhausts, carbonfibre front and rear spoilers, and a massive side vent to exhaust heat from the front brakes, but truthfully, this car goes as well as it looks.

The detail development of the engine is worth a full chapter. The 32-valve cylinder heads were designed by Yamaha, and there are lightweight, forged connecting roads, plus titanium inlet and exhaust valves.

Despite its impressive performance credentials the GS F achieves 11.3 l/100km on the  ADR 82/01 combined fuel economy cycle.

The combination of Aisin’s exemplary eight speed transmission and the programming of same by the Lexus ‘skunk works’, results in a super-smooth delivery of power. Just as well, because with maximum torque produced between 4800-5600rpm, this means both power and torque curves are steep, and it’s only the flexibility from the 8-speed ratio spread which provides mid-range grunt.

However, for my money it’s not a car you could live with easily as a daily driver. The ground clearance is so ridiculously low that the dimension is not even included in the press kit! This car scrapes on a lost credit card lying on the roadway! A few bumps and scrapes later, and you'll burn through your deductible (excess).

Even returning the car to Toyota’s Sydney office, the GS F scraped on every speed bump in the long driveway (8 in a row), before we even reached the reception area, despite literally crawling over them. When insuring the car you need to pay a higher premium to lower your deductible (excess).

Behind the wheel however, the GS F shines in terms of its handling and steering precision, but, the ride is very lumpy, and that is one area where the Japanese failed the test – passed easily by companies like Jaguar with its F-type twins.

Before even unlocking the car though, sit down and read the back story to the development of the GS F and you can’t help but be impressed – very impressed.

The inspiration behind the GS F comes from Yukihiko Yaguchi, the father of F-Sport, a man who worked ‘underground’ inside the Lexus division to produce cars like the IS F, the RCF and the LFA. He is the emeritus engineer of this latest GS sports sedan, and the integrity of the development speaks to his relentless pursuit of perfection (to use a past Lexus advertising tagline).

The GS series may have started with a very well-used rear wheel drive platform (known as the N platform), which dates back to 1991, and originally was the basis for very pedestrian, large cars, like the Crown, Cressida and Mark II. 

GS styling however was created in Italy, by Ital Design’s founder, Giorgetto Giugiaro.

Toyota Aristo
The first GS concept was badged as the Toyota Aristo, but in its later iterations, as a Lexus, has taken on a much more sophisticated personality.

The L10 platform now underpins the Lexus GS F, and along with extensive use of high-strength steel, features widespread use of aluminium in both front and rear suspensions.

The GS F body is also larger than the standard GS range to accommodate the larger wheel/tyre combo, and increased body rigidity comes via additional bracing, high-strength adhesives and laser-guided welding.

Front tyres are 255/35R 19, and the rear tyres are 275/35R 19 – fitted to quite exquisite light alloy 19 inch wheels. The grip at the limit is eye-watering, and as I said, combined with the torque-vectoring differential, you can absolutely count on the GS F responding to any steering input, instantly and confidently.

Apparently the F in F-Sport is an honorable bow to the Fuji Speedway, and I can imagine Yaguchi and his acolytes putting in many hours tuning the suspension, and getting it just right!

The cockpit ambience is very pleasant, and the finishes are superb, and tasteful. Touches of faux suede emphasizes refinement, and the form-hugging seats are very comfortable – for me. Big guys may have some issues.

However, I do think the switchgear and feature controls are much too fussy. Clearly the engineers spent all their time on the performance package, leaving the interior design team little time to fine-tune the placement and intuitive action of the controls.

The ultra-sensitive central control ‘mouse’ is just plain ridiculous. It’s impossible to use on the move, and even difficult when you’re stationary. Owners will spend many minutes cursing and re-selecting their choices.

Let me finish by saying that the GS F has credentials the equal of any of its European-bred competition, and the performance to back them up. If you really must have a sports sedan, with potent performance, and very low centre of gravity – then the Lexus GS F is the car for you. Forget badge snobbery.

Your peers may question your decision, but you’ll be smiling all the way to country roads or the racetrack, and the bank too. At AUD$148,800 it undercuts the Europeans by around one hundred grand!
That’s right, all that, and it’s $100,000 cheaper!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


A specific shade of red is the trademark of one of the most flamboyant billionaires in Hong Kong, and just to prove it, he’s ordered 30 bespoke Rolls-Royce Phantoms all painted ‘Stephen Red’.

Stephen Hung, promoter of the new Louis 13th  hotel to be opened in Macau next year, is famous for his red clothes, red hair and now, his red hotel.

Hung’s 30 Phantoms have been loaded for their sea voyage to Macau, where they will provide transport for Hung’s super-rich clientele.

On the basis of ‘Build It and They Will Come’ Hung says you can’t offer exclusive amenities and experiences to the super rich unless you are super rich yourself. He doesn't lack confidence.

Stephen and his Mexican-born wife
Deborah Valdez-Hung
However, it may be a gamble too big even for the Hong Kong dealmaker. In competition with Las Vegas, Macau has the reputation of being a gambling backwater. After investing huge sums in casinos in the former Portuguese colony, many casino operators veered close to bankruptcy. So Hung’s bright red hotel is perhaps a chance for the new Chinese ‘special territory’, Macau, to get back in the dollar-churning limelight.

Some observers say Macau’s potential to bounce back is very good, and its gambling revenue could top USD$77 billion by the end of 2017! Especially when the minimum wager at hotels like The 13th hotel is USD$650!

Apparently Stephen Hung does not gamble, but with his new hotel, and its 30 Rolls-Royce Phantoms, he better hope red is the lucky color.

Personally, I think it's a little tacky.  

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Okay, so the new Tesla can accelerate from 0-60mph in 2.5 seconds! Wow, that's fast! According to Tesla, the same car will travel 400 miles on a full charge. Great, providing you stump up USD$140,000.

For USD$38,500 Chevrolet in the USA will sell you the 'Crossover' BOLT EV. No room for a spare tyre, so it comes with Michelin self-sealing tyres.

The BOLT's drag co-efficient (isn't) at 0.32cd, so no word on the 0-60mph time; but Chevy says the BOLT can travel 238 miles. Not bad for much less than half the cost of a Tesla.

But, here's the kicker! All that electric car convenience slows down dramatically when it's charging time. Chevy says the BOLT can be fully recharged in...wait for it...just under 10 hours! Wow!

And that's if you have a 240 volt house current. Wait for it; most U.S. homes only have 110 volt house current! That means the neat and stylish charging point in the photo below, costs a bundle to install.

Take it from me, this is NOT the future, yet!

Sunday, September 18, 2016


The current Aston Martin silhouette and styling cues began in 1993 when the company was then owned by Ford. The venerable British company had been basically bumping along the bottom of the car ocean – almost buried in the silt.

Ian Callum
At the time Ian Callum worked with Tom Walkinshaw, in Kidlington, Oxford and had been commissioned by Walkinshaw to come up with a design for Jaguar.

Walkinshaw, via his company TWR had managed all of Jaguar’s racing activities from 1984 and had brought Jaguar victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1988 and 1990.

Project XX

Knowing Jaguar’s perennial lack of funds, Callum developed a prototype from the XJ-S platform, called Project XX.

Jaguar XJ-41

At the same time Jaguar designer Keith Helfert was smarting from the fact that Ford had rejected his XJ41 (F-type) sports car design as being too big and too heavy. The TWR Project XX also got the thumbs down from Jaguar.

When Ford agreed that Aston Martin needed a new design direction, and the cars should appear to be more modern, it hired TWR to provide a solution.

The ever-pragmatic Callum joined Keith Helfert and between them they concocted a car, which although still based on the XJ-S, was a blend of XX and XJ-41 featuring a different ‘top hat’ design, and codenamed DB7.
DB 7 clay model

This clay was then developed into the production version of the 'first' modern Aston Martin - the DB7.

From this production model onwards, the styling of Aston Martins has been in the hands of only two prominent and very talented designers – Henrik Fisker and Marek Reichman.

Fisker (left) was responsible for the DB9, and the Vantage V8 – both models conceived by the then Chairman of Aston Martin, Ing. Dr. Ulrich Bez. 
Ing. Dr. Ulrich Bez

Dr. Bez had successfully convinced Ford to sell Aston Martin, and Bez lined up financing from a wealthy American banker, and two investors from Kuwait.

Aston Martin DB 9
The DB9 was a huge leap forward for Aston Martin as it was the first model to feature the new VH platform architecture. 

Then came a DBS volante convertible.
Aston Martin DBS Volante

The V8 Vantage, a strictly two-seat coupe followed, also constructed using the VH architecture, and evolved into a V12, with wicked performance potential.

Aston Martin Vantage V8

Henrik Fisker left Aston Martin to start his own company, and was replaced by the very skilled Marek Reichman.

Marek Reichman

Working alongside Bez, Reichman is responsible for the successors to the DB9, and also the limited edition One-77.

In 2010 Reichman penned the Aston Martin Rapide, a stylish four-door car, with fastback coupe styling.

Aston Martin Rapide sedan
 Along the way Aston Martin has collaborated with Italian carrozzeria Zagato, and returned to sports car racing, although not as a factory team.
Aston Martin racing cars are purchased and prepared by privateer teams, however, they have enjoyed widespread success.

Although Dr. Bez has stepped down as Chairman, and the ownership has changed, Aston Martin continues to ride a wave of success, as opposed to bumping along the bottom. 

At the Geneva Salon in March 2016, Aston Martin introduced the successor to the DB 9 – the DB 11.

The aggressively-styled coupe follows the themes established back in 1993, but includes some neat touches from Marek Reichman.

The roofline over the rear doors takes the eye across a pair of C-pillars which create a channel between them for air flowing over the roof. The airflow meets a subtle spoiler, which rises from the trunk lid to provide the necessary downforce as you extend the DB 11 to its top speed, around 320km/h!

The muscular stance of the DB 11 is evolutionary design at its very best. If you consider the design of Aston Martins to have evolved over time from neat and trim, to very aggressive with the promise of latent power, then with the DB 11 you’ve hit the jackpot.

Well done Ian, Henrik and Marek!