Sunday, November 25, 2018


Everyone needs a break, so DRIVING & LIFE is taking a couple of weeks to look for new trails.

Feel free to look back through the archive - there may have been something interesting you missed.....

Saturday, November 24, 2018


Standing high on a giant red dune at the edge of the Sahara desert, deep in the primitive heart of Morocco, is hard to explain.

It is majestic and beautiful. Ancient. The power of nature is all around me, shaping the world in ways I cannot understand but only observe and absorb.

Sometimes, standing on a high dune there's the quite eerie sound of a windsong, occasionally whipping up a dust devil.

I wish my son, nine-year-old Eli at home, counting down to Christmas, could be here beside me. Perhaps we will return at some time in the deep future, but with me standing beside a man.

Morocco, like a lot of north African countries gets a bad rap, but I found the people warm and friendly, and certainly more hospitable than the geography.

What would it be like to be here truly alone, not just a member of a Volkswagen press party taking an early pre-drive in the Touareg that’s coming in the middle of next year?

There is so much to see and so much to take in.

They filmed Lawrence of Arabia just over there.

Also, I can now feel the visceral impact from my memories of another favourite film, The English Patient.

There is no doubt, once you're here - this is a tough environment, that breeds tough people. Remember this is the country of the Moors, who centuries ago conquered Spain and most of southern Europe.

It’s something to think about, but only briefly . . .

The views themselves are terrifying. 

It’s not just the epic climb to one particular dune, that is double the height of Uluru, in a Touareg scrabbling for grip through sand that is softer than anything I have touched before - or the prospect of the sheer descent I will soon have to tackle.

Just over there is Algeria, a total no-go zone for anyone with an Australian passport. Terrorists train there.

Various rallies staged in the Sahara over the years have even managed to reduce celebrity drivers to quivering idots, such as the 1982 Paris-Dakar.

However, enough of that. Back to our own adventures, and there are plenty in this desolate landscape.

All around me are challenging and dangerous roads, as a British biker discovered yesterday when he collided with a car.

He is lucky that it’s only a broken leg and a trip home, as his once-pristine BMW has been bundled into a body bag.

Also, it's quite amazing how inventive you can be with temporary repairs when you realize where you are - the middle of nowhere!

Even the food needs to be treated with suspicion. Eat the wrong thing and the gut bugs can tear you apart. This is a matter I treat very seriously, having succumbed to various local bugs over the years when travelling in strange and different lands.

But the people are warm and friendly, like the two boys playing marbles in the dust, and the berbers who happily take around $2 to play extras in a short video for one of our crew.

I even managed to make friends with a camel!

I cannot talk in detail about the Touareg for a few days yet, because of an embargo, but it is hugely enjoyable to be travelling this land in luxury, and more than a little humbling to see the reaction from the locals we pass in our eight-car silver convoy. We wonder if they think we’re rock stars, or aliens . . .

It’s always the people you meet who make trips like this so memorable. There is transplanted Briton David Mather, who leads motorcycle adventure tours from his base in Spain, and Artem Doronin, who leads a giant Russian off-road team that races hulking trucks in the Dakar Rally. David and his crew chat over lunch, and Artem tells me about his work before heading into those giant red dunes to train for racing in Chile in January.

But it’s the locals who are so wonderful. They are calm and gentle, with warm eyes and open hearts. Surely they must compare our situations, and wonder about their end of the deal.

But there are many youngsters going to and from school, even the cats look happy and relatively well fed, and tomorrow there is rain to ease the barren landscape.

The roads we travel vary enormously, from the untracked dunes to European-style highways and hundreds of kilometres that could have been ripped up at home in Australia and dropped here. It’s strangely familiar, but if you look away from scenery which varies from snow-capped mountains to parched savanna and a marching line of big red dunes that dwarf anything outside Birdsville, you know this is a totally unique experience, not to be taken for granted.

It’s an epic country and an epic visit. In all my global travel I have never experienced anything like it.

The Touareg is only an extra in a life-sized adventure that will stay with me forever.

Marrakesh, a former imperial city in western Morocco, is a major economic centre and home to mosques, palaces and gardens. The medina is a densely packed, walled medieval city dating to the Berber Empire, with mazelike alleys where thriving souks (marketplaces) sell traditional textiles, pottery and jewellery. A symbol of the city, and visible for miles, is the Moorish minaret of 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque.

Friday, November 23, 2018


Yes, that’s right – the speedo is sitting on 235 kmh, and we’re on a public road.

It’s March 1990 and we’re on the highway from Aswan to Abu Simbel. 

My friend Paul Gover is at the wheel of the new Peugeot 605 sedan.

 Paul and I shared the driving - at one point seeing which one of us could hold the accelerator flat to the floor before getting a leg cramp.

Gover won. But he's a more dedicated performance driver than me - I think he lasted 34 minutes!

The Egyptian authorities had completely closed the road to all other traffic, as 74 journalists from all over the globe drove 605s flat out from their luxury Nile River cruise boat to Abu Simbel – for lunch.

The highway is just over 166km of dead flat road piercing the desert sand like a black ribbon.

And, aside from our fleet of 605s, there’s not another vehicle in sight.

Oh yes, then after lunch we had a tour of the magnificent and historic ruins of Abu Simbel built in 362BC, which had to be broken down, all stones numbered, and then rebuilt on higher ground.

The project to construct the Aswan High Dam was begun in 1960, and completed in 1970. It also produces about 20% of Egypt's power needs via a hydro scheme.

How surreal - blisteringly-hot desert, nothing to see, and then arriving at a luxurious resort to lunch on fresh fish and fresh local vegetables. Plus, of course, the obligitory French wine!

The idea to dam the Nile at Aswan, and control its flow to the Mediterranean was certainly controversial, but has since proved to be a lifeline for Egypt.

Next day we headed north for what I consider to be the highlight of the trip.

The 605s were spruced up overnight, and ready for what turned out to be a very slow drive to Luxor. Local traffic had not been disrupted this time, and we did battle with tour buses, taxis, private cars and horse-drawn carts on a narrow, two-lane road.

It was well worth it. The ruins date back to 1264BC, and have certainly suffered degradation by desert winds and ageing, but sufficient remains in place to allow visitors to gaze in awe at the achievements of ancient Egyptians.

This was a particularly important and poignant trip for me, as my father served with the Royal Australian Air Force during WW2, and was stationed near Alexandria, and Giza.

When he arrived in Eygpt he joined 451 Squadron at its base at Marsah Matruh, on the Mediterranean coast.

The Squadron was active when he arrived, but as the situation in North Africa was volatile and very fluid, the Squadron was stood down for a few months months, awaiting a new batch of aircraft from England.

In December 1943 a fleet of Hawker Hurricanes arrived, and the Squadron was listed again as active, with the pilots flying support missions for allied shipping in the southern Mediterranean.

He and a few members of his squadron were taken on a trip to Luxor, the day before they were shipped back to Australia in late 1944.

As I said, this current event was the international press launch of the Peugeot 605.

The whole production (because that's what it was), began with an unveiling of the car  at the Geneva Salon, after which we piled aboard an Air France 737-200, chartered by Peugeot.

We flew from Geneva to Paris Orly to pick up the French group, then back to Linate, near Milan to pick up the Italian contingent, then direct to Lake Nasser (below).

The four Aussies were completely overwhelmed by the noise of lively conversation in French and Italian, but it was a fantastic trip.

I distinctly remember the wonderful quality of the French food and wine served on board the four hour flight.

On arrival, we were simply whisked through the terminal into coaches and taken to our cruise boats - with a warning: "Don't drink local water; don't eat salads washed in local water; and clean your teeth with mineral water."

Sadly, one of our number had ice cubes in his Coke, and you can imagine the outcome - don't stray too far from a toilet.

I have to hand it to Peugeot’s head of PR, Corrado Provera, he had everything covered.

We had an official from the Egyptian Foreign Office on board the 737, who stamped visas in all our passports; then also ensured everyone on board purchased a minimum of 20 Egyptian pounds – which was a pretty neat way for the Egyptians to haul in some hard currency.

When I was back in London, I went to my Barclays Bank branch in Bruton Street to cash in my prized foreign currency, and the 20 Egyptian pounds were worth a little over two pounds sterling! I bought a sandwich and coffee for lunch with the proceeds.

I was accompanied on the trip by three of my best friends among the Australian motoring press corp. John Carey, representing WHEELS magazine; Paul Gover, Editor of CAR AUSTRALIA magazine; and the late David Robertson who was with The Sydney Morning Herald.

We had a whale of a time. I decided we would fly from Sydney, into Zurich, and switch across a number of different trains for the journey from Zurich to Geneva.

One section included the fantastic Golden Pass route from Zweisimmen to Montreux, arriving in Geneva, in time for the first Press Day at the Salon and the 605 unveiling.

This life lived among cars, and outstanding journalistic talent has been, for me, the mark of a life well lived, much enjoyed, and representing fabulous good fortune. Plus, I got to see a lot of the world, although the trip to Egypt was very special.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


“Okay, okay, ich gehe jetzt, um Frau Merkel vom Reichstag abzuholen“ I say, speaking into the sleeve of my jacket.

Sorry, translation required: 
“Okay, okay, I’m leaving now to pick up Chancellor Merkel from the Reichstag.”

I'd better get my skates on, can't keep an important lady waiting.

Fire up the whisper-quiet 5.0L diesel and wind through the streets of Berlin, along with a dozen other black Audi sedans.

There! In one sentence I’ve zeroed in on the frontline customers for Audi’s A8 sedan.

This is a car built to demonstrate Audi’s unquestioned ability to deliver exactly the right automotive formula for ferrying around German Chancellor Angel Merkel, and her buddies in the Bundestag.

It’s a statement of national pride, and I’m not sure Audi had much say in the matter – “We need sumptuous luxury, performance and comfort for our politicians and VIPs.” End of story. Purchase order signed!

Sure this is Audi’s pinnacle sedan, helped along by the heft of a 5.0L, turbocharged V6 diesel, pushing out 210kW, and a monstrous 600 Nm of torque, from just 1250rpm, via an 8-speed paddle shifter.

It sprints to 100km/h under 6 seconds. Not bad for a 2200kg lump of steel and alloy (about 4700lbs). Which could be very handy if the chauffeur has been instructed to outrun a pursuing carload of crazed terrorists.

You will undoubtedly see fleets of black Audi A8s constantly in German news clips, with pollies and VIPs easing themselves as gracefully as possible from the (tight) back seat. But apart from diplomats, and members of Germany’s federal government, for the life of me I can’t see who else would buy this publicly-purchased Uber.

Driving the A8 however, is a sublime pleasure, and so it should be, in its role as a Chancellor’s chariot.

It steers well, rides beautifully, has all the power you might need, and is s-m-o-o-t-h. Very understated, well finished and of course, has ALL the techno bells and whistles.

But, on behalf of Germany’s Foreign Ministry Purchasing Managers, and any other deluded consumers about to sign on the dotted line, I think it’s worth starting with a bit of old-fashioned horse-trading.

The A8's thirsty and, very expensive for what it is.

Here’s the Australian pricing sheet, and yes, you are entitled to a minor heart tremor at the bottom line. I also think it’s very cheeky to offer all the stuff in the Premium-Plus package for an optional AUD$11,000.
When you read through the inclusions in the Premium-Plus package, I reckon every item ought to be standard equipment included in the base price. Remember, this is supposed to be a diplomat’s delight, and yet again Audi finds a way to screw the customer!
The other issue which I am sure will completely alarm Audi aficionados is the disappearance of Audi’s famed MMI system controlled by a circular knob in the central console. 

After all, when BMW launched its totally impossible-to-understand-and-use i-Drive, Audi floored everyone with a system that was intuitive, easy to use and very impressive. It made all choices easy, and the execution was simple as.

Now, just to show off how clever their techno boffins are, it’s all been moved to two touchscreens in the centre of the dash, and quite frankly, is a massive disappointment, and a major fail.

It is certainly NOT intuitive; it IS distracting; it IS complicated, and finally - bloody frustrating.

I simply reverted to using Apple CarPlay - a much simpler, and more effective solution!
The Audi PR machine will probably now issue a fatwa on me, for being so stupid as to not be able to instantly figure out its new-age technology, and for insulting its cyber-superiority. Sorry, but it has to be said – the new system is definitely a backward step.

After a day or so at the wheel of most older, MMI-equipped Audis, drivers could just about drop their fingers exactly where they wanted, fiddle about, without taking their eyes off the road, and get things done – ‘tout suite’.

Sorry for the French phrase, but the German translation, 'jetzt sofort', sounds like an ad for jet-powered breakfast cereal! 

So, is the A8 worth the money? Yes, and, No! It’s a sumptuous cruiser, solid as a rock and beautifully built, but there are literally dozens of competitors out there, both cheaper and also more expensive, which would result in lots of A8s sitting on dealers’ showroom floors.

For example, on a purely practical level, the new Mazda 6; the KIA Stinger and Holden’s new Commodore do all the same things probably just as well, and for much less money. The A8 exists purely because Audi needs a topline sedan, and I don’t think Audi cares very much who (if anyone), other than German government purchasing managers, buys it.

NOTE: The V6-powered A8 is NOT Angela Merkel's daily driver. One of her cars is weighed down with armour plating, and bullet-proof windows and is powered by Audi's superb V10 - also used by Automobili Lamborghini.


Yes, it's much too early to jump to conclusions, but even the suggestion that Carlos Ghosn committed corporate fraud is an insult to this man, his character and his many achievements.

I, and many other close friends, have met Ghosn and he is as straight up a guy as you would want leading your company.

Two very close auto industry friends of mine have worked very closely under him, separately, for years and have the highest regard for what he has done to pull Nissan back from the abyss, and to create the very strong Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi-Alliance.

Ghosn has also signed a number of joint ventures with Daimler AG Chairman, Dieter Zetsche (another executive with an unblemished record, and honest character), and I am certain that Zetsche would never have dealt with someone even remotely capable of corporate fraud.

My guess is that this is the work of a strong cabal inside Nissan which wants to get rid of Carlos Ghosn, because they are suffering major loss of face that it was this Brazilian-born 'wunderkind' who pulled Nissan back from the abyss.

The current senior Nissan management are in fact a bunch of old dogma donkeys, who want Ghosn out, and will do anything to achieve that.

It wouldn't surprise me that any fair and transparent investigation will show that it was Nissan itself which was responsible for under-reporting Ghosn's Japanese incomes, via its own Japanese federal filings.

How easy would it be to 'fiddle the figures' over a period of years, and then call 'foul'.

Let's wait and see how this plays out, but personally, I wouldn't believe any statement that comes from the Nissan Japan PR machine.

For starters, the head of Nissan PR in Japan can't even speak or read English!

NOTE: I have sought advice from an Australian-born accountant who spent 20 years in corporate Japan, dealing with tax and income filings. He says it is actually Nissan's responsibility to ensure the remuneration filings are correct.

His initial reaction is interesting. His first question is: "Why would the head of the company which Ghosn saved from certain financial collapse (a well-known circumstance in corporate Japan), be the person who reports Ghosn for inaccurately submitting his details?"

His reaction continued: "It is well known in Tokyo that the Japanese Nissan hierarchy despise Ghosn, and have actively been seeking any way to have him barred from any future influence at Nissan."

Sunday, November 18, 2018


I vividly remember when Honda in F1 was recognized as a real force to be reckoned with.

I was too young to see Ronnie Bucknam and Richie Ginther race for the upstart Japanese team, and claim points with the original Honda F1 car. Honda designed and built its own chassis, along with its powerful home-grown engine.

Richie Ginther driving the Honda RA272, scored a win in just its second year, in Mexico, powered by the mighty RA271E V12 cylinder 1.5L engine!

The engine was transversely-mounted and compared to its competitors, often blasted away from the standing start. It produced 230hp at 13,000rpm.

Honda led the Mexican GP from start to finish, making it the first Japanese brand ever to win a Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Then came the glory years.

First with Williams (23 wins between 1983-87), and then with McLaren. Keke Rosberg, and then Nigel Mansell put the F1 world on notice; and then came wins from 1988 onwards with McLaren-Hondas driven by Alain Prost and the late, great Ayrton Senna.

I attended the 1987 Tokyo Motor Show, and on Press Day, stopped by the Honda Racing display, checking out the Frank Dernie-designed Williams FW11 chassis, and the latest 1.5L RA167-E V6 engine.

I was virtually alone at the time, and was approached by a Honda Executive and we discussed Formula One. The executive turned out to be one of the designers of the original RA272 1964 F1 car, and we discussed where the ideas and conception for the 1964 design had emanated. He confided that Lola's Derrick White had provided valuable guidance, but it was all-Honda.

He sighed, and said that the facts were that you either build your own unique chassis; you could ‘copy’ someone else’s; or you ‘buy’ a chassis design from a British F1 specialist.

He said Honda had decided that Williams could provide the perfect test bed, and race chassis, and Honda could just concentrate on what it did best – engines.

He then introduced me to the Head of Honda F1’s engine team Yoshitoshi Sakurai (right), and despite his limited English, I could recognise ‘a driving force’ when I saw one. Sakurai was the man who designed the championship-winning RA167E engine for 1987!

The 1987 F1 season turned out very well for Honda, resulting in 23 wins and 19 pole positions!

As an engine supplier Honda went on to win both 1988 and 1992 Australian Grands Prix.

Honda-powered cars won 71 Grands Prix by the end of the 1992 season, 69 of them as an engine supplier between 1983 and 1992. Williams had 23 wins (75 races) and Lotus 2 wins (32 races) while McLaren gave the Japanese company 44 wins from 80 starts with the team.

However, since Honda’s return to F1 in 2015, it has been a dismal period for the mighty Japanese company. Failure after failure of its engines has led to the ignominious position as the laughing stock of F1.

Honda cites the complexity of the twin hybrid design in the current formula, and that it had started well after teams like Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault, which had built up both experience, and thus reliable performance.

It is a sad indictment on the image of a company which for decades has been highly-respected for the quality, innovation and brilliance of its engine designs – not forgetting its many victories in motorcycle events, and touring and sports cars.

Now that Honda has signed on with Red Bull for 2019, there is even greater pressure on Honda to deliver!

It’s not too dramatic to say that next year will be make or break for Honda.

The team management bravely says it is confident its engines will be competitive, powerful, fast and reliable from the get-go – but that prediction will have to wait to be carefully evaluated, only after winter testing begins next year in Spain.

Personally, I dearly want to see Honda return to the F1 winners' circle again. I have so much admiration for this wonderful company started by Siochiro Honda, a man respected by everyone in the automotive world.

Friday, November 16, 2018


It’s not the same as riding a bucking bronco like, say, an unbroken mustang, but it’s not far from the experience. Driving the latest Camaro delivers huge power reserves, tenacious grip, deep guttural roaring, and a wild ride. This car is all muscle.

Thanks to the impeccable workmanship at Holden Special Vehicles in Melbourne, Australians can now get a taste of ‘that other pony car’ in right-hand-drive. HSV does the conversion locally, but its constrained production potential limits the first year’s supply to just 550 cars.

If you lusted after the now defunct Holden Commodore V8, then I reckon you’d better sign up for the AUD$86,000 Chevy – they’re going to be snapped up quickly, once the word gets out.

Make no mistake, despite its prodigious performance and grip, you won’t be comparing this car to any of Italy's sophisticated prancing horses and charging bulls.

The Camaro is raw, rambunctious, racy, and tons of fun.

After I’d been on my special section of test road for a while I suddenly realized how relatively irrelevant the paddle shifters are. If you want to go fast, just floor the gas pedal – and hang on for what comes next.

The rumbling rises to raucous growling, and the Camaro takes off into the distance at warp speed.

Camaro is every bit a match for Ford’s Mustang. Termed ‘pony cars’ in the 60's these two cars became iconic legends, very quickly, to many fans around the world.

However, the only reason you are seeing the Generation 6 Camaro Down Under is because of GM Holden’s decision to shut down the manufacture of the famous V8 Commodore. Had that car survived, nobody would have bothered cranking up the processes to convert Camaros to RHD.

This exercise has cost millions, as HSV shifts its focus from turning out sporty Commodores, to sexy Camaros, OTT SUVs and trucks. But, whilst many Australian component companies, which supported the three manufacturers (Holden/Ford/Toyota) have either suffered from drastically-reduced revenues, or shut up shop, the RHD Camaro is a truly good news story for the Australian companies which have played a major role in the execution of the program.

This is a list of Australian suppliers for the RHD conversion program:

Technically, Chevrolet’s 6.2L Generation V LT1 Direct Injection V8 engine is mated to a GM-built 8-speed, paddle-shift automatic transmission, and generates up to 339kW of power and a lofty 617Nm of torque.
With variable Valve Timing and Active Fuel Management, the LT1 offers efficiency when you want it and an abundance of power when you need it. 
Like a number of multi-cylinder engines, the Camaro’s V8 shuts down four cylinders when the fuel consumption falls below 12 l/100km. It is a seamless change, and driven carefully you can achieve surprising fuel economy. 
The vehicle’s Independent Rear Suspension, with twin-tube shock absorbers, provides a well-planted connection to the road. Brakes are Brembo light-weight, front & rear, with fixed calipers. 
High Intensity Discharge headlamps deliver front-end appeal while stylish 20”, 5-split-spoke alloys (8.5” front & 9.5” rear) are wrapped in 245/40ZR20 (front) and 275/35ZR20 (rear) Goodyear Eagle tyres.
From a ride and handling perspective HSV has preserved all the spring/damper/rollbar settings developed in the USA, HSV just does the RHD conversion. Having said that I see no reason to change it. The ride is undoubtedly firm, and at high speed on indifferent surfaces it has a tendency to 'tramline', but overall it's a good balance.
This Camaro corners like it's on rails, helped along by raw power!
As you can imagine, when you take on the exercise of shifting the steering wheel from left to right, there are myriad, small elements, which need to be reproduced locally.

The test car was an impeccable example of tight margins, high quality materials, excellent fit and finish, and the impression that this car just rolled off a regular production line.

AUD$10 million has been invested in the program, and I believe it will pay off big time.

Especially if we see Camaros joining the grids for future rounds of the Supercars championship.

Part of that multi-million dollar spend was a lot of on-road testing, in addition to many laps at the Lang Lang Proving Ground, but I'll bet the residents of the Red Centre hardly bothered looking up when the Camaros flashed past.

They're very used to a lot of European exoticars blasting up and down the Stuart Highway between Darwin and 'The Alice', during the fiery Australian summer.
Camaro pre-production cars at Coober Pedy (South Australia), and Uluru (Northern Territory)

During my test drive, jumping in an out, taking photos, I was certainly glad of the seat cooling - that was much appreciated on a very hot day.

Talking of seats, like the Mustang, you can forget about anything but legless beings in the back seat, this car is all about the driver and front seat passenger.

The design of Gen.6 was managed from the top at the Chevrolet Performance Studio, by Tom Peters (top). The interior was done by Ryan Vaughan (below).

The surfacing changes between Sangyup Lee’s Gen5 car and the Gen6 car are quite significant, but it’s all about refining the lines, and the ‘jewelry’, such as grille openings, lamps, sidelines, rooflines and fenders. It is significant enough to give the Gen6 car a really different personality.

I know I’m guilty of ramping up my fondness and admiration for European design, but the teams behind these American muscle cars are designing for a specific home-grown audience, which has distinct preferences in just ‘how’ a muscle car should look – and I think both Gen 5 and 6 Camaros achieved their objectives.

For Australians brought up on the image of mid-60s American muscle cars, the Gen6 Camaro has arrived at just the right time, as Ford tries to steal the limelight with its Mustang GT.

In their way, Camaro and Mustang are great cars, and I reckon the people who put them in their garage will be very happy with their choice.

Even for me - it was a blast, from the past!