Monday, April 30, 2018


As you’ll appreciate, driving 30,000km, in 30 days through 30 countries means there is a big discrepancy between time spent sleeping in the car, and a restful night in a hotel room. 
In fact there were only eight nights in the comfort of a hotel bed in the entire 30 days.
They were:

Athens (5 hours); Ankara (4 hours); Tehran (6 hours); Kabul (5 hours);Madras/Chennai (3 days); Penang (2 days); Singapore (1 night) and Brisbane (5 hours).

The rest of the time we slept in the car, usually outside the control point, so that when we awoke to the alarm, we could drive into the Control at our ‘due time’. 

Hotels: Athens; Tehran; Madras/Chennai
However, there were times when tiredness simply overcame the need to ‘press on’, and a few catnaps were taken on the roadside.

On one of those occasions, between Delhi and Bombay, I was following American Brian Chuchua's Jeep, and he pulled to the side of the road, for a rest.

Due to exhaustion, I simply pulled over behind him.
I was awoken some time later, by the Jeep getting back on the road.

The problem was, I didn't record what time I had gone to sleep behind the wheel, and we just made it to the Bombay control inside our alloted time!

So, when we finally came to the end of Europe/Asia sections, and checked into the Connemarra Hotel in Chennai, we had blissful rest for three nights, before flying to Malaysia.

Perhaps the most extreme example of absolute exhaustion came in Central Australia. Our Australian service crew had driven out to Alice Springs from Sydney in a company Range Rover, and the plan was to meet up at the service station at Uluru (Ayers Rock).

The team included my good friend, Mike Breen (right), David Gausdon and Garrie Bain. They became concerned when we didn’t turn up on time, so they began driving westwards from Uluru, and we finally met up west of Kata Tjuta (the Olgas).

We had a problem with the left hand tie-rod. I was driving, whilst Hans Tholstrup got some sleep, but I was totally exhausted. As we approached the Range Rover our speed had apparently dropped to virtually walking pace, and I know this, because Mike Breen told me later:

“I was walking alongside the Moke, and told you to park under a nearby tree. You replied, “No, I can’t we’re in a dreadful hurry to meet our service crew.”
Mike then said: “Look, let’s stop right here.”

With that he reached into the Moke and turned the ignition key to off. We stopped, I pulled on the handbrake, got out of the Moke, laid down next to the vehicle and went to sleep for an hour. That’s exhaustion.

A couple of hours later, we were back on the road. Thanks Mike, for stopping our speeding vehicle so adeptly!

Saturday, April 28, 2018


Sure, the current crop of self-driving cars do look pretty silly festooned with antennae, and radar domes.

But it does remind me of earlier times!

Friday, April 27, 2018


See these two cars – Ford Mustang and the Ford Focus. From 2019 these will be the ONLY conventional passenger cars sold by Ford Motor Company in America!

Ford's Board is sick of getting bent out of shape investing in, building, and trying to sell passenger cars in a market that has clearly turned its preferences to Crossovers and SUVs.

Imagine all of the resources that can be directed to more profitable SUVs and trucks, and you can understood how attractive this decision is to Ford's management.

In the USA that means Taurus, Fusion and Fiesta bite the dust!

Overnight Ford has also announced it will close down ‘unprofitable operations’ and that could mean Ford of Europe; Brazil; even Australia!

Ford’s CEO Jim Hackett says Ford will build Crossovers, SUVs and trucks, and at the same time attempt to cut USD$25billion from its costs. 

Just how it will manage that, and invest in new models and self-driving cars, means just one thing – many, if not most, of its international manufacturing operations will be shut.

All of the global carmakers are weighed down by over-capacity. Closing down plants is a godsend to cost-cutters, and bean-counters.

This should not be staggering news. That’s the way the auto business is going. GM will most probably follow Ford, having just axed the Chevrolet Sonic; maybe the Chevrolet Impala will be next.

I’ve already written about GM Chair, Mary Barra, explaining that her vision of GM in the future will be just the USA and China – GM's product changes I suspect will be similar to Ford’s news.

Thursday, April 26, 2018


The Moke and the Terrier left Sydney on a Scan Austral ship, bound for Copenhagen. 

Naturally, with Hans Tholstrup's family connections, one of his uncles knew the Wilhelmson family from Norway, owners of Scan Austral.

Once unloaded the Terrier went off to Denmark's largest Leyland truck dealer, Nellemann, for a 'health check'.
Gavno - 1850
Then once I arrived from Sydney, and collected the Moke, we all drove about an hour south of Copenhagen, to another of the Tholstrup family piles, the famous Gavno Castle on the small island of Gavno.

That night we stayed in yet another family manor, Kjaerstrup House. When we awoke at 4am to catch the ferry to Europe from Rodby, I found a note Hans' uncle had left on my door reminding me to remember to take a huge basket of food that his kitchen staff had prepared for our trip.

Once in Amsterdam, and after a quick sightseeing tour along the canals, we loaded the Moke onto the back of the truck, for the overnight ferry journey from Vlissingen to Sheerness.

Hans and I took the Moke to a specialist BMC tuner in Leicester, Blazespeed, whilst the Terrier crew took the truck to the Coca Cola HQ in Isleworth on the western outskirts of London, to prepare and pack the spare parts, the luggage, food and supplies.

After all that, the guys could not resist a trip around London, and a quick flash past Buck House!

After the Rally start in London, the competitors drove en masse to assemble at the ferry port at Sheerness, for the overnight trip to Vlissingen. Needless to say Hans' connections meant that he and I slept in the Captain's cabin, whilst he was busy on the bridge.

At Vlissingen Big Mama emerged from the ferry for the first leg to Madurodam, and then on to Paris, where we arrived on a very foggy morning in the French capital.

From that point, the Moke was running well ahead of the Terrier, denying me opportunities for photos, but we caught up to Big Mama in what was then Yugoslavia (below), and probably the scariest moment of the event for our team.

After midnight, and the ascent from Kotor, on the coast of Montenegro to the capital, Cetinjie, we approached a suspension bridge over a deep ravine.

A sign displayed the load limit for the bridge which the truck easily exceeded, but the truck's team leader, Allen Hausler, decided to ignore it and followed the Moke across the bridge.

As the truck arrived on the opposite side, four men stepped out of the darkness. Two in uniform, and two dressed in trenchcoats, wearing hats, symbolic of Yugoslavia's secret police.

They stopped both vehicles, demanded our passports, and literally dragged Hausler from the Terrier cab, and proceeded to beat the hell out of him, and then Barry Allen.

Hans speaks fluent German and demanded to know the reason for the beating, and they replied that they were teaching the truck crew a lesson for ignoring the sign. Once the Secret Police recognized that one of our party probably understood the local language, they threw all our passports on the ground, got into their car and drove off. We cleaned up the bloodied Hausler and Allen and proceeded to Skopje, and on to Athens.

This next shot, taken in Iran, is a photo of the Moke following a carload of Savak (the Shah's Secret Police), which shadowed both the truck and the Moke from our entry into the country, right up until we checked in to our hotel in Tehran.

From Iran, we entered Afghanistan via the city of Herat, and the Moke is following Big Mama across the baking, featureless desert on Afghanistan's only continuously-paved road, passing through Kandahar until we reached our hotel in Kabul.

From Kabul we climbed the Khyber Pass and entered India, from Pakistan, at Amritsar, from where the route took us to Bombay and then Chennai (top) - where the vehicles were loaded aboard two freighters for the sea journey to Penang (bottom) in Malaysia.

The trip from Penang to Singapore was completed in an overnight transport stage, but included a publicity stop at the Palace of Perak, home of the Sultan of Perak, one of Malaysia's wealthiest sultans, and owner of the vast Taiping Plantation.

The Sultan and his 21 year old son were complete car buffs, and demanded that the MMSC set up a 'Control Point' in the palace grounds.

From Singapore the rally vehicles were loaded onto a freighter and shipped to Perth to begin the final leg of the event.

We rarely got to see the Terrier on the Australian section, apart from a fleeting moment as it powered past us whilst we were searching for petrol pumps on an aboriginal reserve.

Finally, the finish line at the Sydney Opera House and the end of a gruelling, but thoroughly adventurous time in the lives of all of the crew.

It's great to have participated in the last great overland car rally, and I admire the entreprenurial tenacity, the dogged determination, and the sheer chutzpah of the Rally organiser, Wylton Dickson, and his willing accomplice, Ken Tubman.

I remained close friends with Wylton and Ken until they sadly passed away, and will always remain grateful that Hans Tholstrup asked me to join him on such a fabulous trip.
The crew - (L-R) JC, Hans, Barry Allen, Allen Hausler and Doug Francis

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


I’ve written a number of times about the adventures I shared with Hans Tholstrup on our epic competition in the 1977 Singapore Airlines London-to-Sydney Car Rally in the tiny Leyland Mini Moke.

Sure, the Moke was an unlikely choice, but almost a typical idea from the ever-inventive Hans Tholstrup, who could always recognize a good story when he saw it.

The original Moke design was conceived at the same time as Alec Issigonis presented the first Mini back in 1959, but Moke did not eventuate until 1966.

He intended it as a farm vehicle, and even he described it as: "like a buckboard".

A simple steel platform, with the engine and suspension from the Mini. It was never a hit with British farmers, as the wheels were too small, and it wasn’t practical for roughing it across the furrowed fields and forests.

However, after Leyland Australia began making it in early 1967, it became a big hit Down Under.

Many were sold to resorts on islands of the Great Barrier Reef, and other Queensland vacation spots.

The company's export manager, the tireless, but sadly late, Hans Tiedemman travelled the world, and Leyland Australia ended up developing a healthy export market to places like the Far East, the Middle East and on lots of the Caribbean holiday island resorts.

There's even a news photo showing HRH Princess Margaret on the island of Mustique in her own, customized Moke which she used every time she visited her Caribbean hideaway.

The original little ‘buckboard’ with its canvas seats and roof, grew up to be a very handy vehicle, and graduated to padded seats, a more stylish canvas top, and even (!) floor mats.

Production continued until 1982, and Leyland Australia built a total of 34,704 - before production shifted to Portugal for the remainder of its life, when it eventually ran afoul of tightening safety legislation.

Time travel to 1977 and the Moke Hans built up for the Rally, with the help of famed Mini expert, Ron Gillard.

Instead of the humble sub-one litre engine, it was fitted with a mildly-tuned 1275cc Cooper S engine; disc front brakes; 13 inch Sunraysia sports wheels; Recaro seats and extra fuel capacity in both side beams, plus a jerry can, and Halda Rally instruments.

Now, and this is where the story gets interesting. Hans recognized the Moke would need solid support, and some capacity for our spare parts, tools, luggage, food and supplies.

So Hans came up with the idea of a ‘Big Mama’ – which was a Leyland Terrier 5 ton truck.

Big Mama was indeed our 'lifeline' when we needed a change of clothes; to replenish our food, and copious cans of Coca Cola, and occasionally some mechanical help from our resident 'wizard', Barry Allen.

There was a full-size bunk bed in the rear of the Terrier's cab, so one of the team could grab some sleep.

The Leyland Terrier was part of Leyland Australia’s truck range, but was lumbered with a low performance engine. In the dying days of Leyland Australia’s manufacturing complex, hurried along by the failure of the Leyland P76 sedan, the company decided to fit the Terrier with the P76’s 4.4L alloy V8 to improve performance, and hopefully, sales.

Part of the reason for this dash of brilliance, was that when car manufacturing ceased at Leyland Australian 1972, it had produced a large number of extra engines, for which it had no homes.

So, 400 Terriers were fitted with the V8.

The company recognized that dealers and customers may be concerned about the viability and reliability of the ‘car’ engine in a truck, so it jumped at the idea of jointly entering its ‘export star’, the Moke; and the V8-engined Terrier truck in what was to be the longest (and last) trans-global car rally.

Hans Tholstrup’s next masterstroke, was to ‘enter’ the truck as a competitive vehicle, with agreement from the organizers that it would always be the last of the competitive vehicles, so as not to impede faster cars.

I’m reminded of the need to pay tribute to our Big Mama, and its crew, thanks to my old mate, and one of the crew of three in the Terrier, Doug Francis (far right), who recently sent me this rather over-exposed photo of the whole team on the steps of the Sydney Opera House at the end of the rally.

Sadly, the other members, Barry Allen(3rd left) and Allen Hausler(2nd right) have passed away, but Doug still lives happily in Adelaide, South Australia – dining out on the memories from his big adventure.

The Terrier came to our aid a few times, when we had small mechanical troubles with the Moke, but thankfully both vehicles completed the rally. The truck finished 33rdand the Moke finished 35th, which was a heroic effort by the whole team.

I’ve put together a portfolio of photos of the Terrier during the Rally, which will follow in the next post.

Monday, April 23, 2018


Digging a little deeper into the current Cadillac conflagrations, and talking to some old friends among the huge American network of multi-franchise dealers, there are several new tid-bits of information dribbling in.

It seems there are some flash new cars in Cadillac’s future product plan; created by the design team led by Australian-born Andrew Smith.

However, the pressure to oust Johan de Nyscchen did come from the dealers – and it’s due to big changes in dealer operations in the USA.

Dealer consolidation is all the rage these days.

Big dealer groups and venture capitalists are buying up smaller dealers and consolidating into huge networks which rely solely on turnover to make money – so units sold is all the managers care about.

AutoNation, led by Mike Jackson (centre) is probably the largest owner of multi-franchise new dealerships, and huge used car operations in America, and they weild a big stick.

There are fewer and fewer Mom and Pop, family-run dealers these days, and they simply can’t exert any pressure on the carmakers. However, the consolidated networks have a loud voice at GM headquarters, and they are simply too impatient to get buyers through the door, to wait for de Nyscchen’s ‘Project Pinnacle’ plans to come to fruition.

These big groups, like the Penske Automotive Group (left), have got Cadillac franchises amongst their vast holdings and they want sales, and soon!

It’s just about numbers right now - never mind brand building for the future.

Also, Johan de Nyscchen has an abrasive nature. It’s his best-known character feature, which many have experienced. I'll just bet when GM’s President Dan Ammann (right) told Johan he had to create a ‘Plan B’; dump Project Pinnacle; and quickly come up with ideas to get buyers into dealerships, I can guess what happened.

Johan said no, and the GM management said ‘go’ – and that was that.

Stay tuned, this drama has more developments on the way.

Saturday, April 21, 2018


Cadillac, as a car company, with a long and proud history and traditions is finished!

General Motors may as well shutter Cadillac’s glamorous new head office in New York City, rent some cheap office space in crumbling, downtown Detroit, and immediately stop building all the current car range.

It should increase mass manufacturing more Cadillac badges - to be worn by a series of anonymous GM crossovers from its current range.

This week Cadillac’s independently-minded knight on a white horse, Johan de Nysschen left Cadillac to ‘pursue other opportunities’ – meaning, he was summarily fired by GM’s top brass. And that’s a real pity.

Johan de Nysschen was, in his own words, ‘a change agent’ and dramatic change was what he said Cadillac needed. After joining Cadillac in 2014, he moved as swiftly as he could in the lumbering giant, which GM has become. He invigorated the design of fashionable and stylish sedans, pumped up spending on flashy crossovers and attempted to shift the GM managements’ and Cadillac team’s mindset to becoming more like Rolls-Royce than Chevrolet.

Was it working? The dealers, who damned de Nysschen’s “Project Pinnacle”, were the driving force behind his departure. According to the stats, after Johann joined in 2014, Cadillac’s annual sales fell 11% since 2015, but last year the decline was only 8% - however, in a market as big as the USA that’s a lot of lost sales.

The dealers said Cadillac was producing too many cars, not enough 4x4s and crossovers, and they needed a sales boost ‘now’, not when ‘Project Pinnacle’ kicked in, in a few years.

Did Cadillac enjoy any success from de Nyscchen’s moves? Yes, sales were increasing in China, where deliveries rose 8% - however, even that good news story failed to deliver a silver lining. Cadillac was forced to heavily incentivize its cars in China.

In the USA, incentives rose dramatically to – wait for it – USD$8700 per car! That’s up 57% on last year! I can see why GM’s Boardroom was getting nervous, as Sir Johan rode on his merry way saying: “all would be well, in a few years”.

However, as Johann drops the keys to his office on the desk, slamming the door behind him, there’s good news on Cadillac’s sales, which will produce a record number of deliveries in 2018; following 2017 sales of 356,467 – an increase of more than 16% over 2016. How’s that for ironic?

I am certain Johan de Nysschen would eventually have broken Cadillac away from the GM herd, and would have managed to find a balance between more crossovers, and stylish new cars like the beautiful Escala concept.

But, in a business that big, balance often takes a long time, as does shifting the perceptions of customers (and dealers), and there was just no collective patience to allow Johann to give his steed its head.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


After the celebration of style and creative expression at the Geneva Salon in March, the Easter week opening of the New York Auto Show was totally dominated by a beautiful new electric coupe from Korea’s Genesis.

With the covers off at the Manhattan centre of automotive style and fashion, the Hyundai upmarket marque revealed more than beauty.

The Genesis Essentia Concept is the work of an extremely talented European designer, Belgian-born Luc Donckerwolke.

He was head-hunted from VW Group by Peter Schreyer (right), the former Audi designer who is now el Supremo of design at Hyundai-Kia.

The Essentia concept is striking not only for the cohesive flow of design elements, but also its practicality and efficiency. It's clearly conceived by a designer who understands concepts are worthless unless they have practical application.

Luc Donckerwolke is the man who stepped in and took Dirk van Braeckel’s striking Bentley Bentayga from design concept, to production reality.

However, what is more important is to me is a very fundamental truth. European designers grow up, mature and create designs of great subtlety, sophistication and maturity.

I have spent countless hours during the last 40 years talking with, and interviewing Oriental designers, to try and understand their design training, ideas and execution. In almost every sense they aspire, but in my opinion just fail to match their European counterparts.

It's not just a simple matter of design maturity.

Although the Europeans have a long tradition of blending perspective with flow, cohesion of surfacing, and refinement in innovation, the Oriental studios often produce designs which conflict with the European design ethic.

Marriage of the competing themes often prove impossible.

What has happened in the past 30 years is that the Japanese, Korean, and latterly Chinese designers have gradually managed to blend their own unique ideas with European basics, to create attractive concepts.

Undoubtedly young Korean designers contributed to Donckerwolke's initiatives and their skills will grow with experience; but it is the finishing touches from Luc's management of the overall theme which has produced this elegant concept.

Another element in the almost unstoppable rise of the Genisis brand will be the combination of Luc Donckerwolke and the Global Head of Genesis, my friend Manfred Fitzgerald.

I knew Manfred when we worked in the VW Group and he ran Lamborghini Sales & Marketing.

Manfred is truly a renaissance man, with both vision and experience.

I believe his track record, and his experience, combined with Luc's imaginative design talents is likely to rapidly propel Genesis into the sector dominated by the established European luxury leaders. Notwithstanding badge snobbery.

Hyundai certainly has the cash and the committment to make this a reality.