Sunday, September 30, 2018


During the 12 years I lived and worked in the USA, my job took me to many parts of the country that were off the beaten track. For that I must thank equally, the Bentley Drivers Club and Rolls-Royce Owners Club. They assiduously searched out interesting places to hold their annual meets, and I was fortunate to be invited as a guest each year.

They were always looking for historic locations, which included great driving roads, and points of interest, because the members of both clubs do not treat their vintage Bentleys and Rolls-Royces as ‘trailer queens’.

They like to get ‘em out of the garage and d-r-i-v-e.

In 2002 the RROC decided to hold its annual meet at the Hot Springs resort in Virginia.

This place is about as deep in the back woods of Virginia as you could find, but the accommodation was great, and the driving was stupendous.

As witness to the interest in the location, that year's club meet resulted in a record turnout of both Rolls-Royces and Bentleys.

Of course, I was unable to field a vintage Bentley for the occasion, so I made do with a Bentley Arnage T.
The region afforded two wonderful views of the America I grew to love. The Frank Lloyd Wright house, Fallingwater, and a typical small town, Ohiopyle.

Ohiopyle is located on the banks of the Youghiogheny River, a popular spot for summer swimming and white water rafting. It’s also a look back at small town America.

The centre of the village now boasts only one old building of any substance, the historic Holt’s Department Store – which is now a market.

The railway no longer runs through Ohiopyle, so the railway bridge has been converted to a bridge for walkers, who hike the many trails around the town.

When you come face to face with regular American citizens celebrating their small towns, and hiking the trails, it is a picture far removed from the view we get on the media of obese citizens downing fast food.

You can also bet that these same citizens will be friendly, welcoming, and really interested in our Aussie background. 

Yes, parts of the USA can be pretty insular communities, but there are many who have travelled the world, and remain interested in the parts they haven’t yet seen – like Australia, which is high on many American bucket lists.

Just a few miles from Ohiopyle is the iconic ‘Fallingwater’ designed by the famous American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. I had promised my wife that if we were to attend the RROC event in Hot Springs, we would drive to the event from Detroit and visit the famous architectural landmark.

Frank Lloyd Wright(L) & Edgar Kaufmann
Faillingwater was built for Edgar Kaufmann who was the owner of a couple of big department stores in Pennsylvania, the biggest was in Pittsburgh.

Kaufman was of German-Jewish extraction, and a man grateful to have opportunities in America to invest his energies in his potential. Edgar Kaufmann became not only a magnate, but a bountiful philanthropist, endowing many worthy causes with the profits from his stores.

Frank Lloyd Wright did not have an 'easy ride' with his client. Kaufmann would drive down from Pittsburgh every weekend to inspect the construction, and then have lengthy phone conversations with Wright about elements he wanted changed. It's said Wright was grateful when the project was finished.

When the cold of Pennsylvania winters became unbearable, he moved to Palm Springs, California, where he engaged another famous American architect, Richard Neutra, to design him a house – now known, of course, as the Kaufman House.

Both Fallingwater and the Palm Springs house are monuments to mid-century modern architecture, and further evidence that immigration introduced people to the USA who brought with them sophisticated and adventurous tastes, gradually promoting greater exploration of architectural style in the land of opportunity.

It is these triumphs of integration, differences and variety that we should celebrate in America today. Not division, insularity and fear.

I look back on those great car club events each year as another reason why we should all seek to travel and widen our horizons.

TRAVEL NOTES: As the maps show, Fallingwater is closest to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but the most interesting route to follow is Route 51 to Route 70, then to Route 76 from New Stanton to Route 1009/711 to Fallingwater.

The drive captures beautiful countryside, farms, woodland and open fields, but most of all it’s traffic free – the best way to enjoy America’s back roads.



So at 88 he’s seen the chequered flag for the last time. What a guy! One of Australia's greatest racing drivers.

Also, a great Australian.

He raced a variety of cars and was always competitive!

I admired Bob Jane for all his achievements, and his never-say-die attitude to life. Fortunately for me I had a lot to do with him when I was Director of PR for Jaguar Rover Australia.

We sponsored events at Calder Raceway, and we joined with Bob when he arranged for World Champion Alan Jones to drive a Williams FW07 in UNIPART livery in the Australian Grand Prix in 1980, which AJ won.

Yes, Bob was pugnacious and brash, but very loyal to his friends, and we got along very well. We never signed contracts or agreements, a handshake was all we needed. And, he would always deliver on his committments.

He once drove me out to Calder Park from Melbourne in his old Maserati Ghibli, which was a car with a typical Bob Jane story behind it.

The car was the 1969 Earl’s Court Motor Show display car in London, and Bob bought it while he was attending the show. Due to Australian customs regulations, you had to ‘own’ the car overseas for several months, and record a particular minimum mileage before you could import it duty-free.

Bob drove the car around Europe for a few weeks, and he told me that he then based it in Italy, and paid a Maserati mechanic to drive it around for the required number of months, and to get the mileage up, before Bob flew back to Italy and ‘legitimately’ imported the car. It was one of only four Ghiblis sold in Australia in 1970.

It also turns out we had a three-way friendship with Stirling Moss, and in 1986 Stirling, Bob and I had a great dinner in Melbourne where they told tales about racing Maseratis. Stirling was entered for the 1956 Australian Tourist Trophy in a Maserati 300S, racing against Jean Behra, and Australian Doug Whiteford in identical 300Ss’ brought to Australia by Officine Maserati.
1956 Australian Tourist Trophy, Albert Park. Maserati's lead - Australian Doug Whiteford on the left, Stirling Moss, centre, and Jean Behra on the right.

Stirling won the TT on November 25, 1956, but on that trip to Australia he also won the Australian Grand Prix in a Maserati 250F a week later, beating Jean Behra in a 300S.

Stirling Moss winning AGP 1956 in Maserati 250F. Note Moss's favourite number 7 with a cross. The car remains in an Australian collection.
Bob Jane bought the 300S from Maserati, and campaigned it from 1957 to 1962 at Albert Park, Phillip Island and at Mount Panorama circuit at Bathurst.

Stirling and Bob had a great friendship, but Stirling always said to me: “He’s a tough nut, I’d hate to get on the wrong side of him.”

That just about sums up Bob’s dual personality. He was most definitely what we call ‘a colourful character’.
TOP: Bob Jane at Bathurst 1963, co-driving with the late Harry Firth.
LOWER: Harry Firth, Bob Jane and George Reynolds reunited.
After winning Bathurst in 1963 with Firth, Jane teamed with Reynolds in 1964 to repeat the win in a Ford Cortina GT Mk.1.

Friday, September 28, 2018


Here’s how to keep your long time customers on their toes.

Ferrari has built two new limited-edition specials, and will only sell them to current Ferrari owners, who have proven their loyalty to the brand.

Called the Monza SP1 (a single-seater), and the Monza SP2 (a two-seater), they will cost God knows how much, and you can only order one if you’re a loyal Ferrari owner.

For my money, it's the SP2 which will grab the attention.

These roofless sports cars are inspired by the famous Barchetta 166MM built by Touring in 1948 (top); and the Monza 750 built by Scaglietti (bottom) in 1950.

These two examples from the fifties won countless races for the Scuderia and a host of private owners.

Carbon fibre is used for the body, and lots of interior parts too, and Ferrari has eschewed windscreens for both cars, designing a virtual windscreen as part of the body.

The SP1 and SP2 are powered by Ferrari’s 6.5L V12 producing 798hp, so with a weight total of 1497kg (3300lbs) the 0-100 km/h time is just 2.9 seconds.

Both cars are the first in a series which Ferrari have branded Icona; and no doubt will result in more ‘continuation’ models just as Jaguar and Aston Martin have produced – for huge profits!

Thursday, September 27, 2018


Back in April this year I forecast Cadillac would shut down its swanky New York office, known as Cadillac House, and move back to Detroit.

My intelligence came directly from some New York real estate brokers who are close friends of mine. They reported GM was already putting out feelers to end the lease, take a big loss, and shutter the expensively-renovated building.

Later, in June this year, the Blog GM AUTHORITY published this story, quoting current Cadillac President and CEO, Steve Carlisle:

Four years after Cadillac packed up and moved its headquarters to New York City, New York, newly-minted brand president Steve Carlisle will keep the luxury division settled in the Big Apple.

The Detroit Free Press reported on Thursday that Cadillac has no plans to move back to Detroit, Michigan, following ex-president Johan de Nysschen’s sudden ouster in April.

Carlisle (right) will commute to Detroit or any other location as needed, but will be based in NYC with the rest of Cadillac’s employees in the SoHo neighborhood

 A Cadillac spokesperson added: “ NYC is a short flight from Detroit and Cadillac is, ultimately, “still very much a part of GM and proudly so.”

This past Wednesday, this story appeared in the authoritative publication, AUTOMOTIVE NEWS:

Cadillac on Wednesday confirmed the automaker has decided to relocate the luxury brand's headquarters back to Michigan, citing the move "will further support" the brand's upcoming launch cadence of a new or redesigned vehicle every six months through 2020.

GM says Cadillac will maintain a brand presence in New York City with its current Cadillac House headquarters, which the company reportedly leased for 10 years and spent $12.7 million to renovate.

Since the move to New York was announced back in 2014, Cadillac's sales have dropped 12% and, according to industry watcher,, the brand's share of the luxury auto market has fallen from 9.3%t to 7.7%.

My sources close to GM tell me that Cadillac will take over the 150,000 sq ft building vacated by its longtime ad agency, Lowe Campbell Ewald, in Warren, Michigan.

GM acquired the building for a paltry USD$2 million back in 2014 (the year Cadillac opened its NYC HQ), so maybe the management folks in the GM HQ atop Detroit’s Renaissance Center were buying some insurance - if the New York move didn’t pay off.

There are about 110 employees at Cadillac House, and I figure most of that young talent, which Johann de Nyscchen hired to breathe fresh life into the brand, will likely turn up their collective noses at the prospect of moving to suburban Detroit.

In a related story, GM’s Head of Product Development, Mark Reuss, posted a photo of the updated ‘Beast’ which it will provide to The White House for the exclusive use of President Donald Trump.

The new car, based roughly on the Cadillac Escalade (at least the front and rear panels), replaces the current ‘Beast’ which was built in 2009 for President Obama.

Its body panels are heavily armoured, it has a steel-plate underbody to protect against bombs, run-flat tyres, bullet-proof glass, and an interior fully-sealed against a chemical attack. It travels in the cargo hold of Air Force One, to transport the President anywhere he goes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


This is a case of  ‘The New & The New-Old’, with Maserati’s Levante SUV (based on the Ghibli platform) entering the premium SUV market, dominated for decades by Britain’s upper-crust Range Rover.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Land Rover set the benchmark for this class of vehicle, and whilst many premium carmakers ignored the segment - as tastes have changed rapidly, and demand for SUVs of all classes skyrocketed – one by one they have all succumbed to the siren call of volume and profits from this ungainly, but practical  automobile format.

It was in 1977 when I encountered my first Range Rover in Australia. It was during the famous Singapore Airlines London-To-Sydney Car Rally, and with our Mini-Moke stranded west of Uluru with a broken driveshaft, we waited until a pale grey Range Rover appeared out of the dust with our service support crew arriving to get us on our way.

It was not until 1979 that I saw my next Range Rover.

I was newly appointed to the role of Manager of Public Relations for Leyland Australia following the London-To-Sydney Rally, and the company’s portfolio at that time included the Jaguar XJ6; the Triumph Stag and 2500TC sedan; the Rover 3500; the Triumph Dolomite Sprint; the Mini; the Mini-Moke; Land Rovers, and of course the Range Rover.

I set up a fleet of vehicles for testing by the automotive media, including at least one model of each marque. 
However, when it came to Range Rover I was told by the management that there was so much interest in them by dealers and potential customers, I would have to wait until 1978 to be allocated a new car for road tests.

Imagine my surprise when the car allocated to my fleet was the very same, very well-used Range Rover, which had come to rescue us on Tjukaruru Road on the western outskirts of the Kata-Tjuta National Park, about 25 kilometres west of Uluru (Ayer’s Rock).

Our product planning manager explained to me that Range Rovers were selling faster than hot bread, and I would have to wait another year to get a new one for my fleet.

The 'Rangie' was not only popular in the UK, but also globally, with the exception of the USA.

The reason was that Solihull was having difficulty just keeping up with demand. Production was also constantly disrupted thanks to Britain's militant unions.

Then, in 1978, we launched the Rover 3500 (SD1) Down Under, and I had the chance to meet, and form a close 32-year friendship with the man known as the ‘Father of the Range Rover', Spen King, who was awarded a CBE by Queen Elizabeth II.

The prototype Range Rover was very spartan, ‘just the essentials’ according to Spen.

Interesting however, is that the basic platform did not change until Land Rover was acquired by BMW.

That iteration was known as the #322, and was a complete change. BMW used the X5 platform and architecture including its own 4.4L V8.

Under Ford ownership, the platform changed to #405, and that remains the basic architecture today.

Years later, as Range Rovers threaded their way through Knightsbridge and Mayfair, Spen complained: “I didn’t design this vehicle for all these toffee-nosed prats to cruise around London. They’re a workhorse with comfort.”

Nonetheless Range Rover did occupy that highest echelon of the premium SUV market for so long it became synonymous with wealth, luxury, prestige and privilege.

Only occasionally did you ever see one with mud up to its axles.
Now it is being pursued by everyone – Audi; Bentley; Mercedes-Benz; BMW; Jaguar; Lamborghini; Maserati; Porsche; Rolls-Royce and maybe even, Ferrari!

Having driven most of the competitors, minus the Lamborghini Urus and the R-R Callinan, I have focused on the Maserati Levante because I think in its own way it actually comes closest to the ideals set out in the original Range Rover brief.

It’s competent, fast and comfortable. Its designer, Giovanni Ribotta (right), is a hero of mine. I think he has done an outstanding job for Maserati with updates to the Quattroporte, then the Ghibli, and the best one, waiting in the wings – the Alfieri.

Maserati started in Bologna in 1914, just building racing cars, and the three brothers, Alfieri, Ernesto and Ettore, did very well with a long period of winning performances, including Juan Fangio winning the 1957 German Grand Prix in a 250F, setting nine lap records in the last ten laps of the race!

Maserati built its first road car in 1947, and while passenger cars built from then until about ten years ago were often of indifferent quality, today’s Maseratis, with Ferrari-built engines, reveals that quality is a paramount consideration, alongside impressive performance, ride and handling.

As an SUV the Levante looks the business, and technically I think it is closer to the original Range Rover ideals than any of the other pretenders.

I don’t think the interior is as attractive as the exterior, but a lot of that comes from cost-saving, with much of the instrument panel (IP) using carryover bits and bobs.

The interior, apart from the seats, I don’t think lives up to the promise of the exterior – but to make substantial aesthetic and practical change, costs money.

Which is why you see so many components from the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles parts bin. The in-dash LCD system is barely competent and quite confusing to use.

However, on the road the car is quiet, comfortable and very competent. Does it really handle like a Maserati sports car?

No, it's still an SUV with a high centre of gravity.

But, it does point very well, it's very responsive and the 4.0L turbo engine almost sings - it's a great powerplant.

If you want to position Maserati in the panorama of today’s offerings, it’s probably best described as a Ferrari at Porsche prices.

Saturday, September 22, 2018


This is the latest Toyota Billboard, announcing the 2019 Corolla – the world’s best-selling car. As I approached it, my reaction was that the boldest thing about this car was the dazzling blue color – I expected nothing more than a totally vanilla driving experience.

After a 200km drive, that opinion was confirmed.

The car performed superbly, did everything right.

That is except for the very intrusive lane-control software, which initially made me feel like I was actually not in control of the car.

Also, the fact there was no Apple CarPlay. But, the fuel consumption was 4.7 L/100km.

Okay, it’s a hybrid Toyota – so don’t expect too much in the way of outstanding dynamics and sporty driving performance. I didn’t, but I have to say, the handling was pin-sharp and precise..

Now, we get to the bit where I do my research for this post, and refer to my notes. The 2019 Corolla may indeed be very vanilla – but, believe me there’s a beast lurking below the bright blue paint job. Yep, that’s right!

The genesis for this view is to map the path from design to production.

The Corolla is based on Toyota’s new architecture philosophy. No, not a platform-sharing program, but a new platform philosophy. It’s called TNGA (Toyota New Generation Architecture), and this philosophy will underpin every Toyota model from now on.

But, back to the genesis (sorry, Hyundai, but you don’t own the word), and it begins with the Toyota C-HR and its Chief Engineer, Hiroyuki Koba. Koba had planned every detail of the vehicle, which would be called C-HR, but its development was independent of TNGA.

That would translate into the fact that the C-HR was not Toyota’s current thinking. So he did something very rare for a carmaker – he scrapped the entire program and started again. This time observing all the protocols and disciplines of TNGA!

Koba is also a mad-keen racer, and it was important for him to include some racecar thinking into the new platform. 

Lo and behold, as the big boys lined up for the start of the 24-Hour Production Race on the Nordschleife in 2016, there was Gazoo Racing with a race-prepared C-HR.

Now, let’s backtrack to some Corolla development history. The year 1999 marked the time Toyota Australia stopped manufacturing Corollas, and began importing them from Japan.

This was a car which sold in the millions around the world, and in a couple of years became Australia’s most popular car – unseating the Holden Commodore and the Ford Falcon.

As you know, hindsight is 20-20 vision, and if not 2003, then 2005 is the year that GM-Holden and Ford should have started seriously thinking about investing all their time, effort and money in their big Commodores and Falcons.

Once Corolla took off to the degree it did, it should have become apparent to the Australian GM and Ford product planners that not only was there change in the air, but big change, and in 2017 local manufacturing in Australia shut down completely – because GM and Ford were building the wrong cars!

Then, in 2007 Toyota took another step, which also hastened the end of the ‘big’ sedans. The new Corolla featured a whole new approach to the combination of  design, construction and body tuning.

This car (left) included a lot of what rallycar builders would call ‘seam welding’ and resulted in a Corolla which had an extremely stiff body, and thus it handled more precisely, and more competently.

Remember, this is a very vanilla car for the masses, sold all around the world and driven by people who don’t particularly care if their new car was developed using race and rally build practices.

And so, now we come to the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hybrid ZR.

The TNGA philosophy now dictates just 'how' Toyota will build its future cars providing exceptional chassis stiffness, which not only results in more positive and sensitive handling, but also longevity and reliability - all stuff Toyota's long term owners know about.

As this C-HR graphic shows, Toyota is achieving rally car stiffness by choosing where and how to place differing strengths of steel in the body build process.

I’m not sure whether traditional Corolla buyers actually ‘want’ a hybrid, but Toyota reckons it will win over some skeptics, and create a whole different market for a car, which is already very successful.

The biggest problem for Toyota is that Hybrids are expensive cars to make.

So, will Corolla buyers be prepared to fork out for a car which some automotive experts say will cost AUD$3500, to have the batteries replaced? It's worth pointing out that the batteries do have an eight year warranty, and should (?) last the life of the car.

I have to say that this news makes the humble petrol-propelled Corolla a very attractive option.

Also, I should point out to any Greens found reading this post, that the humble petrol Corolla is far cheaper to manufacture, service and ultimately recycle than any hybrid, or battery electric vehicle.

The cradle-to-the-grave environmental costs for any petrol-fuelled car today is far less damaging than any new-tech car.

Just between us - the ICE petrol-powered car is still the very best option for personal transport - but don't tell the Greens, they'll have conniptions!