Sunday, June 30, 2019


Back in 2011 I had an opportunity to road test the then new Lexus CT200h Hybrid during a trip to the UK. At the time we were keen fans of the ‘hot’ British TV comedy series ‘Doc Martin’, so we decided on a trip to the mythical Portwenn, actually the Cornish fishing village of Port Isaac.

This exercise included everything I enjoyed about publishing ‘Driving & Life’ – a new car; a great drive program; idyllic locations; meeting new people; watching the filming of a TV series, and offering the chance to marry fantasy to reality.

We picked up the Lexus at Heathrow after arriving from Australia, and covered the 240 miles in about four hours. When we arrived outside the pub, locals told us that today was the filming of the final sequences in Series 4.

The film crew was set up on the beach just above the waterline, with the star, Martin Clunes, looking entirely out-of-place (as he mostly did) in his smart grey suit and tie, with the support crew and onlookers all dressed in casual gear.

The crew had just stopped for lunch, Martin grabbing a sandwich roll and water on the beach, while the director discussed script changes before filming got back on schedule.

Having spent quite a lot of time on film and television sets over the years, it never surprises me how much ‘pfaffing around’ goes on. Rarely is anything rushed, and any ‘fluffs’ require an immediate re-shoot. Actually, being a TV series on the usual tight time and money budgets, I was very impressed how many times the Doc Martin scenes were completed in just one or two takes.

There’s no doubt Port Isaac is an ideal choice for the setting. It’s typically picturesque, with a long history dating back to the 14thcentury, when it was mainly used as an export location for coal and tin. When that enterprise shut down, it turned to fishing, which still sustains the town today.

Naturally, as the TV village name is mythical, the producers have ex-appropriated a number of existing buildings to play different roles in the storylines. A private house is the scene for Doc Martin’s surgery, just up the hill from the town, and the general store has been renamed the Portwenn Chemist. 

Only the The Mote restaurant managed to escape being re-cast.

The county of Cornwall is absolutely beautiful, with green rolling hills ending abruptly at towering cliffs, where the Atlantic Ocean incessantly bashes the rocks into submission. The pounding waves also open up some great spots for dedicated surfboarders at a number of beaches along the coast.

Actually, if you drive a few more miles north along the Cornish coast, you'll arrive at Tintagel, which was 'apparently' the home of King Arthur, and the court of Camelot. Needless to say the entire Arthurian legend is hotly debated, with many locals arguing that the village of Cadbury, once the site of Cadbury Castle, is the real location for Camelot.

I visited Cadbury once, and met a dairy cow behind a farm gate at the top of the hill wearing a sign around her neck, which said 'Guinevere'. Maybe I was in Camelot.

Thirty minutes drive, and 16 miles south down the A39 is the fishing village of Padstow, a much bigger town than the compact Port Isaac. Today, it’s much better known as the location for TV Chef Rick Stein’s range of restaurants. There’s the eye-wateringly-expensive ‘The Seafood Restaurant’, which fronts the western side of the busy harbor, right next to The Metropole Hotel.

Top row: Padstow harbour
Middle: Rick's Cafe; The Seafood Restaurant; The Golden Lion
Bottom: Rolling hills and outstanding natural beauty

A short walk away, in Middle Street, is the much more affordable Rick’s CafĂ©, but find a seat early, because it’s very compact, and very popular. Rick also runs a deli on South Quay, close to the restaurant.

If, after emptying your wallet at The Seafood Restaurant, you want to punt further south, another 55 miles will bring you to 'Land's End'.

Given that it’s mostly two-lane ‘A’ roads, that will probably take close to two hours from Padstow. But, it’s worth it to say you’ve been there.

Although I’m talking about Doc Martin, perhaps a more dramatic BBC show has better links to Cornwall locations. ‘Poldark’ was filmed around St. Agnes and St. Just from 2015. The somewhat dark plot was set in the late 18thcentury and garnered millions of viewers around the world over its four series. A fifth series is currently planned for later in 2019.

Cornwall is my very favourite county in England. Lots of quaint villages, with postcard houses.

Accommodation in the Port Isaac village is mostly small BnB's, but if you look to stay on the outskirts, the Longcross Hotel (below) gets excellent reviews.

It’s one of Britain's most beautiful areas to visit, and these days there’s even a ‘foodie trail’, probably pioneered by Rick Stein’s fame.

One final note on Port Isaac’s continuing fame in celluloid, as it’s the setting for a new film called ‘Fisherman’s Friends’, based on the real life exploits of a bunch of local Port Isaac fishermen turned singing group, known as ‘The Shanty Singers’. It's due for release this year.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


It’s easy to see why FCA Chairman John Elkann is peed off that he wasn’t able to pull together a merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Groupe Renault.

Actually, as has already been reported, it was actually the Agnelli heir who scuttled the deal by picking up his toys and going home, when Renault CEO Senard wasn’t able to get Nissan on board with the deal.

FCA REALLY needs a merger like this, especially when you trace what’s happened to the FIAT passenger car line-up over the past 14 years.

Mind you, there was a moment of hope when FIAT announced it would use the latest Mazda MX5, as the basis for a new attempt to leverage some past loyalty to the Italian brand, producing a new FIAT 124 sports car.

Alas, despite badging some hotted-up versions as the Abarth 124, the project went down the gurgler big time, and the FIAT 124 is no more.

The only thing keeping FIAT still in the passenger car game is the baby FIAT 500, and the FIAT 500L mini-SUV (which is built off the Jeep Renegade platform).

Jeep Renegade

But, it’s the passenger car catalogue which really needs help, and this collection of photos underscores just how serious things are for Italians and Italophiles hanging out for a 'really new' FIAT car.

The story starts in 2001 when FIAT Centro Stile produced the slab-sided Stilo model to replace the ageing Bravo/Brava, which were heavily criticized as being too quirky and ‘too Italian’ – meaning they had no sales prospects outside Italy.

Then in 2007 Centro Stile, produced a pretty stylish ‘top-hat’ on exactly the same platform and mechanicals of the FIAT Stilo. I drove more than 1500km around Italy in one of these in 2007, and it was a delight. Very economical, handled well, and managed to easily keep up with the speedsters on the autostrada.
We move right along to 2014, and once again FIAT’s in-house designers at Centro Stile in Torino, picked up their pens and paper, and using the same platform and mechanicals as the Bravo, came up with the latest iteration of a car which debuted in 2001. This time FIAT decided to call the new car, the TIPO.

1988 FIAT Tipo
Now, Tipo is actually the Italian word for ‘type’, and the latest Tipo is known internally as Tipo 356. Even this badge harks back a long time to the first FIAT Tipo, which was Tipo 160 designed outside FIAT, at the IDEA Institute.

Yes, there’s something to be said for keeping the flame alive by renaming new models after old, but the real point here is that FIAT’s passenger car division is hanging by a thread with the basic platform and mechanicals of its latest hatch, dating back 18 years!

A successful merger with Renault would have seen FIAT pick up the Common Module Family (CMF) platform, which is used extensively by both Renault and Nissan.

This would have resulted in a brand renewal of major proportions for FIAT’s old car lineup which plods along, trying to fight off not only excellent European and Japanese competitors, but significantly, outstanding cars from Hyundai and Kia.

When the MX5/124 sports car project was first mooted, I opined that FIAT could do worse than make a joint venture with Mazda.

Giovanni Agnelli
A JV with Mazda would have given Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, founded 120 years ago in 1899 by Elkann’s great-great grandfather Giovanni Agnelli, access to some outstanding automotive technology.

The 43-year-old Elkann is a pretty smart guy, but I think he is very much regretting his lack of tact over the difficulties Renault faced trying to craft a new operation by merging Renault, Nissan, Mitsubishi and FCA.

FCA is weak in so many areas of future model replacement, that if anything happens to the Jeep/RAM 'cash cow', FCA will become roadkill!

UPDATE: According to US sales data to the end of May 2019, US FIAT sales were down 39% in the first five months, selling just over 1000 cars so far this year. When the FIAT 500 was launched stateside, FIAT became a very popular brand, but now sales data says it only sold 33 cars a day, nationally, in the USA, in May. It seems the FIAT 500 market is now saturated - and with the 124 sports car disappearing FCA cannot count on US sales to bolster the FIAT brand.

Monday, June 10, 2019


Looks like Hiroto Saikawa had a secret accomplice in the ending of moves to merge Renault with FCA.

FCA's Chairman, John Elkann!

Revealing a complete lack of understanding of the cultural sensitivites which are an important element at the heart of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, young Elkann, figured he didn't have to worry what Nissan thought of the merger plans.

He would leave it up to Renault to sort those out.

One of Carlos Ghosn's most impressive traits was the way he handled those cultural sensitivities between the French and Japanese allies.

Ghosn has great respect for the ancient culture of Japan, and always ensured he managed the partners delicately. That was until Saikawa turned renegade.

As reported in the global media, when John Elkann found out that either Renault was unable to talk Nissan into getting happy about the deal; or believing that, naturally, Renault would welcome FCA's advances, Elkann spat the dummy.

Elkann called Senard, CEO of Renault, and said "The deal's off" and promptly hung up the phone

Saturday, June 8, 2019


So, FCA has withdrawn from talks with Renault, aimed at forming a merger to assist with the co-development of EVs and autonomous vehicles.

Who shot down the deal? That fierce and determined Japanese warrior Hiroto Saikawa, CEO of Nissan.

Mind you, Nissan has reason to harbour doubts, because the Renault CEO only told Saikawa about the FCA merger talks 48 hours before they began, by email.

I now have a window into what's happening in the Nissan boardroom. Thanks to the resumption of a close friendship from more than 40 years ago, I can speak with authority about what's happening in Japan.

When I was editor of MODERN MOTOR magazine I had a close relationship with a motor industry writer, who contributed to my magazine from Japan, under the pseudonym, Paul Andrews.

He retains all his close contacts within the Japanese automotive industry and is well-placed to advise me what is going on at Japan's number two carmaker.

He tells me that the Nissan boardroom is conflicted between confusion, confrontation and rage. To recall, Renault owns 43.4% of Nissan and has a controlling interest; Nissan owns 19% of the Alliance, but has no seats on the Renault Board.

The reason for the conflict at Nissan is that it sees a merger with FCA as further diluting its overall importance, and leading to an incredibly complex confusion over ownership of intellectual property currently utlised by the Alliance, and whatever it is that FCA wants from the merger with Renault.

One of my key 'moles' at FCA tells me that, broadly, FCA doesn't give a toss about Nissan, because FCA is so severely stretched when it comes to EV and Autonomous technology development, it just wants to align itself with Renault because of the strong position it holds in the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.

From this viewpoint you can see why Nissan declined to participate in the Renault-FCA talks. As I have written previously, Nissan is nowhere without the Alliance. Nissan is integrated very deeply with all future platform and technology developments within the Alliance, and still it has a weak voice, due to the architecture of the 'deal' which former Alliance Chairman, Carlos Ghosn, created to initially form the Alliance.

Having 'saved' Nissan from ignominiously disappearing down the bankruptcy plughole, Ghosn and Renault were in a key position to call the shots. Thus, Nissan inherited the 'rump' of the deal.

Ghosn was smart enought to know that Nissan's overall strength in terms of product diversification and its tentative steps into electrification with the LEAF, made it an ideal partner, but he needed a 'compliant and passive' partner.

Along comes Hiroto Saikawa, who not only convinces Ghosn to make him Nissan CEO, but under the camouflage of 'developing'  the Alliance, Saikawa harboured plans to undermine any talk or action on an official Renault-Nissan merger, because he knew Nissan would come off second-best.

Then Nissan constructed this silly and pointless conspiracy to blacken Ghosn's reputation and get him out of the way.

So, here comes FCA, with offers of a merger - however, unlike the old Chrysler-Daimler 'merger of equals'(?) this was not the true situation this week.

FCA, whilst it has gradually climbed out from under its mountain of debt, is no stronger. FIAT is still suffering from poor sales in its domestic market, and lack of product development. Especially as Chrysler has nothing to offer. And, FIAT really needs Renault.

While ever FCA has Jeep and RAM to bring in profits it's looking good on paper, however, in terms of forward planning and actual future technology, the cupboard is bare and that's why it needs a strong partner.

Remember, when the late Sergio Marchionne proffered an 'obvious' merger with GM, he was rebuffed by the very smart, and switched-on GM CEO Mary Barra - because she knew FCA had nothing to offer, it just needed someone to lean on.

The same is true today. FCA may be debt free, but it's also 'idea free' and basically is alone on a desert island in this current rush towards development of EVs and autonomous vehicles.

Then there's Nissan, which becomes the elephant in the room. It would not be smart to ditch the Alliance, but it's in bed with someone it doesn't trust and doesn't particularly like.

The Alliance was the creation of a strong, capable, politically-savvy and smart man - Carlos Ghosn - and quite frankly without someone of his ability driving any alliance or merger, it's like trying to herd fleas. Nissan is out on a long limb.

Nissan may think it's strong, with a huge cash pile in the bank, but from a technology point of view it has a lot of vehicles which need replacing just to stay in the game today.

Saikawa still thinks Nissan is a passenger car powerhouse (not); and there's still the issue of all the future technology challenges.

Nissan's Board is very proud of the fact that it's now the strongest of the Alliance partners, and is highly profitable. It rightly feels it should have a stronger voice, but the French hold all the cards.
Pardon the language, but this is a shitfight. 

It's clear the FCA-Renault merger won't happen, especially as the French government (Renault's largest shareholder), represented by France's Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire (left), is trying to intimidate the companies; and Nissan doesn't want any part of any of it.

Watch this space. It can only get uglier, and uglier.

Friday, June 7, 2019


This report appears on the website of SPORTS CAR DIGEST, which is published by Jamie Doyle and the photos are courtesy of BMW Group. If you're into classic cars, subscribe to SCD's email newsletter, which covers events, notable cars and auction results. Read the complete 2019 report, and 18 pages of outstanding photos at

The Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 took place May 24-26 on the grounds of the Grand Hotel Villa d’Este and Villa Erba on Lake Como in Cernobbio, Italy.

Set against the breathtaking backdrop of Lake Como, the 2019 Villa d’Este Concours presented the chance to not only admire 50 classic cars spanning eight decades of vehicle history, but also take in the myriad of sights off the show field.
First held at the same location in 1929, the Villa d’Este Concours d’Elegance has been held each May since 1999 on the grounds of the Grand Hotel Villa d’Este and the adjacent parkland of Villa Erba under the patronage of the BMW Group.
The motto of the 90th edition of the event was “The Symphony of Engines — 90 Years of the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este and BMW Automobiles.” 
The Trofeo BMW Group for Best of Show Jury and the Coppa d’Oro Villa d’Este by public referendum was awarded to the 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Berlinetta Touring owned by David Sydorick.
As the first of five vehicles with a long wheelbase, the doubly successful coupe was also clothed in a Superleggera coachwork bodied by Carrozzeria Touring.
Touring Superleggera of Milan, the surviving entity of the original company, Carrozzeria Touring, which now builds bespoke creations based on the platform and running gear of modern production cars, also takes the opportunity to display its latest creation.
The Sciadipersia cabriolet, based on the Maserati Gran Turismo is this year's bespoke model, which debuted at the 2019 Geneva Salon.


This is aimed at all those crazies, whomever and wherever you are, who regard electric vehicles powered from the grid as the answer to reducing CO2 from current ICE-cars.

Read this link very slowly and carefully, and remember, this is ONLY talking about the United Kingdom:

Memo Bill Shorten and Richard de Natale - you're both full of it, and complete idiots, because you're putting forward an unrealistic aspiration which totally conflicts with the real and actual science. But hey, who cares? We're used to Lefties and the Greens (same thing aren't they) spouting BS instead of reading the fine print.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019


Jaguar Land Rover has announced that Ian Callum will retire from his 20-year career at Jaguar, and effective July 1, 2019, Julian Thompson will become Jaguar's Chief Creative Office.

I have had the fortunate privilege of knowing Ian for almost 30 years, and I completely supported his fresh input to Jaguar design from Day One. He has had an outstanding career in car design, beginning with the Ford Escort RS rallycar in 1984, and despite great success with Aston Martin (DB7 & Vanquish), he has left an indelible mark on Jaguar's history by developing a completely new approach to revitalising Jaguar's design language.

We regularly met at motor shows, and my most recent meeting was at the Cafe de Paris in Geneva in 2014 (below), which is a famous meeting place for the world's leading car designers on the night of the first Press Day at Geneva Salon.

I can't honestly see such an inspiring designer going on extended 'gardening leave', but I can't help feeling that Ian considers his run at Jaguar is coming to an end as Jaguar Land Rover is facing significant financial losses, many cuts to jobs and resources, and with the (apparently) impending takover of the British company by Groupe PSA.

I can't help feeling these devlopments may certainly have been a trigger for Ian's decision to retire.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019


VW Golf 3
VW Group has mastered the art of breeding genetics. Its engineers can mix and match genes with great success and impunity. 

Modular design has been around since Golf 3, and since then all manner of offspring are delivered by multiple parenting genes.

Take the VW Phaeton and Bentley Continental GT coupe; the VW Golf, Audi A3 and the Skoda Octavia, just to mention a couple.

Actually, dig deeper and all is revealed. Whether the engine is MQB (transverse) or MLB (longitudinal), it just doesn’t matter.

What impresses most auto industry insiders is how each marque has been able to develop unique characteristics for powertrain, performance, ride and handling and other overall capabilities within VW’s modular system of engineering its vehicles.

For example, the Porsche Macan S, and the Lamborghini Urus.

Both vehicles were created from Audi gene donors, but both SUVs are true to their respective marques’ DNA, and their origins are completely obscured by brilliant engineering.

The Macan S shares its underpinnings with the Audi Q5; whilst the Urus is bred from the Audi SQ7. The Bentley Bentayga also uses the same platform architecture of the Urus/SQ7.
However, in the Urus/Bentayga example the two vehicles could not be more different. Whilst the Bentayga is a decent off-road performer, the Urus is quite frankly, hopeless. The Lambo is much more cut out for autostradas than straddling creek beds.

The Porsche Macan S is also a very different animal to the Q5. It’s stiffer, handles better, and the full-throated roar from the turbo V6 tells you much more about its Porsche heritage and development than the various VW-sourced components under the hood.

However, to the Urus – Urban Cowboy? Yep! Stradale Screamer? Yep! Bush-Basher? Nope!

I shifted the ‘surface selector, from ‘Strada’ to ‘Terra’, drove into my secret off-road test location, and after several attempts at climbing a slippery slope, I reversed out and crossed that ability off my list.

This AUD$500,000 SUV is aimed at ….. “I don’t know”? I guess the buyer profile is someone with mucho money, a few more cars than the average owner, and a desire to escape pursuing police cars. If you want to make a statement, this is the car to buy, but apart from that I can’t see the point.

Now, the Macan S is a whole different kettle-of-fish. Mounted on specialist SUV tyres, with lots of suspension travel, the Macan S performed very well off-road, but was very at home in an urban setting.

A neighbor who recently forked out AUD$50,000 for an Audi Q2 expressed desire for the Macan S, but when confronted with the AUD$100,000 pricetag, retreated to their garage, and lovingly patted the Q2 with passion.

If you want an SUV-thingy with a Porsche badge, the Macan is entry level, because you’ll pay another AUD$55,000, for its Cayenne S big brother.

The big difference with the Urus are the rather 'dinky' interior/exterior graphics, which seems to me a very overt effort to 'appear different'.

But, in both instances, you get what you pay for. Personally, if you follow this Blog regularly, you will know SUVs of any size/type/performance hold absolutely NO appeal for me, but I thought that sampling these two cars recently made for an interesting comparison of the actual differences between various VW badges, and the unique qualities of both SUVs.

I must say the ride quality of the Urus was exemplary, and at least as impressive as its acceleration. Yes, it's much more a sportscar in SUV clothing than any sort of competent off-roader.

One of the most impressive features of both cars are the big wheels and brakes.

Driving the Lambo was a blast, literally, but my fuel consumption never dropped below 12 L/100km – would a Urus buyer care? An emphatic NO!

The Macan S pointed like you expect from a Porsche, and the interior quality was absolutely great.

Materials quality, trim margins, fit-finish and comfort was truly First Class.

And at the end of it all, I am still impressed with how the VWAG marques engineer badge DNA across the ranges, with a small number of genetic donors.

That’s why VWAG is Europe’s biggest carmaker. They know stuff!