Friday, 22 August 2014

Fuel consumption tests

They are trying to change the rules for “official” fuel consumptions. Like the recent yes-no diesel fiasco it’s another example of a politicians’ fix. They created what they thought was an equable system, then discovered they really didn’t know what they were doing. As a road tester I found out how difficult it was to measure fuel consumption accurately. Frugal little saloons gulped fuel driven fast. Gas-guzzlers were surprisingly economical going slowly.

In the 1970s legislators decreed that manufacturers had been telling lies. A formula for working out fuel consumption was no easier for an official mind to work out than mine had been. A single mpg wouldn’t do. There had to be one at a steady slow speed, one at a steady motorway speed and one in traffic. It never worked very well. A slow-speed fuel-sipper could be a gushing drain going fast. Low-geared economy cars could be disappointing in town. A high-geared one could flatter only to deceive on the open road. Introducing Urban Cycle and Extra-Urban Cycle didn’t help much.

Even officials admit the figures are obtained under specific test conditions, “…and may not be achieved in ‘real life’ driving. A range of factors influence actual fuel consumption, driving style and behaviour, as well as the environment. Different variants or versions of one model are grouped together so the figures should be treated as indicative only.”

Averaging out the figures didn’t help. Last year testers were discovered taping up car doors and windows and driving on artificially smooth surfaces to gain a drop in “official” CO2 emissions, linked with fuel consumptions. Now, according to an anonymous EU official who blabbed to Automotive News, proposals for “a new real-world testing method,” are expected this year.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Deft design at Jaguar

Jaguars inspired designers beyond Jaguar, but none had the certain touch of Sir William Lyons. Bertone, Pininfarina and Giugiaro never matched Jaguar’s founder for identifying Jaguar customers. They were Italian of course. Jaguars were essentially English and middle class. From sunburst upholstery and faux nautical ventilators of the 1920s SS, to lookalike Bentleys of the 1940s Lyons understood his clientele. He provided them with big headlamps and walnut interiors, good proportions and discreet understatement. Jaguars looked not-too-racy and in perfect taste. His skill rarely deserted him although he probably over-embellished his second thoughts. No XK 140 or 150 matched the purity of the XK 120. Later E-types never had the plain elegance of the 1961 original, much the work of aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer.

It all went wrong with the XJ-S, also partly Sayer’s, and made uncharacteristically with advice from fashionistas, who encouraged square headlamps, and salesmen pushing Jaguar up-market.
Nuccio Bertone had a go in 1957 with a car based on the XK150. The effect was quite close to the Jaguar idiom and in 1966 he did a nicely proportioned 2-door coupe on an S-type saloon. It looked a bit like the Sunbeam Venezia by Superleggera Touring three years earlier launched, if that’s the word, with gondolas in Venice. Pininfarina’s 1978 XJ-S Spyder was a stretchy E-type and William Towns tried an origami one sadly no more successful than his knife-edge Lagonda.

Giugiaro had a go in 1990 with the Kensington based on an XJ12 platform, shown at Geneva, which in my 11 March Sunday Times column I thought important. Jaguar style at the time was being obliged to address a wider market than the English middle class. Giugiaro occupied the high ground of automotive haute couture in 1990, with big commissions from the Far East as well as a series of VWs and Alfa Romeos in Europe. It was deceptive. Giugiaro was never into voluptuous curves and his Jaguar was heavy and rotund. Detailing was good. The grille and classically Jaguar rear window were fine but it remained a one-off. There was no encouragement from Jaguar, which regarded it very much as ‘not invented here’. Bertone tried again in 2011 with a slender pillarless saloon, the B99 hybrid.

The inhibitions designers face now make anything profound or distinctive in car design next to impossible. Crumple zones, pedestrian impact rules and headlamp heights are so constricting that anything ground-breaking is unlikely. Jaguar head of design Ian Callum’s hand is far more repressed than ever Lyons’s or Sayer’s was. Committees lobbyists and legislators, mostly now in Brussels, call the tune. Customers play second fiddle.

Pictures: (top) Sir William Lyons (left) with Tazio Nuvolari, XK120, Silverstone. (Top right) Bertone XK150. (left) Pininfarina XJ41. right Bertone's "Venezia" and left Giugiaro's Kensington. Below Pillarless hybrid at Geneva.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Doubts on Diesels

We should have known better. Take politicians’ encouragement for diesels, then about-facing to say no diesels are really bad. They never say oh we’ve changed our mind or anything and Very Sorry. Boris and the rest of them are quite impenitent, They are going to charge diesels more whenever they get the chance.

It was so predictable. It’s not simply that politicians are self-serving, we can all be self-serving, but they just look so stupid. There seemed to be votes in going along with diesels in the 1990s when they could sell them on the back of “environmental” opinion. They may even have thought they were doing the “right” thing. People voting for them maybe believed it too. We in the media told them, quite often as it happens 25-30 years ago, that they were barking up a wrong tree. I liked diesels. They didn’t need sparks and electricity, which always gave trouble in the cars I could afford but they were never clean. Diesel was a byword for soot and smoke.
We, and I mean in this case me and many others, were far more convinced about the merit of lean-burn petrol engines rather than the catalytic converters about which lobbyists had convinced the politicos. It was the same with diesels. They’re sooty, we told them. Particulates are bad and you’ll be sorry, which they now are of course even though they can’t use the word. They listened to noble metals lobbyists and “environmentalists” panicking about global warming and CO2.

The “greenhouse effect” had been scary for years. In the 1960s I suppose, I had read a cautionary paper about it written by somebody I respected. I half-believed in it myself. There were motor industry people I trusted who apparently believed in it as well. I felt obliged to take it seriously and it was years before it became apparent that it was the greatest scientific fraud in the history of the planet.
It wasn’t so much that I was in denial about global warming, as increasingly sceptical about the alarmist messages over its cause. In the 1980s I remained open-minded. But what the reality was, as revealed to me years later by the head of research at Mercedes-Benz, was that industry engineers were only acknowledging a movement bound to enrapture politicians, much as they had in the Los Angeles smogs of the 1950s. The motor industry knew it would have to pay lip-service to greenery and for decades it was forced to continually reinvent “solutions” to appease political vanity. Engineers, it turns out, were more concerned with meeting the demands of legislatures than ever they were about man-made global panic-mongering.

Dr Thomas Weber was a member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, and responsible for Group Research & Mercedes-Benz cars’ development. He told me Daimler was spending €4.4 billion every year guessing what wheeze the politicians would decide on next. Throughout Europe they were obsessed with climate change or safety or whatever cause celebre lobbyists were coming up with.

And now, with diesels, they have changed their mind. Why am I not surprised?

Pictures (top): Not a diesel 1. 1940 BMW 328, tall 2 litre with three downdraught carburettors. OZ80 on cam cover denotes racing engine of Mille Miglia car I drove on Scottish event. (right)
First production diesel car, Mercedes-Benz 260D 1936-1939. (left) And its engine. (Below) Not a diesel 2 Mercedes-Benz test track, Unterturkheim, not as scary as it looks, I drove identical car here with test driver instructing precisely on speed and place on the banking.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Footballers' cars

Earning £31,000 a week you could buy a new Range Rover every fortnight. Yet fifty Premier League footballers are having to borrow the money. Oracle, which describes itself as a luxury finance broker, says players use Oracle Finance as a tax-efficient way of buying supercars. The broker’s insight into super-rich sports stars’ buying habits shows most of them go for Range Rovers. The average Premier League player, according to Deloitte’s annual review earns £1.6 million; the top clubs’ combined salary bill is over £1.78billion. Manchester City’s wage bill alone is £233million. Ahead of the start of the Premiership season this weekend Oracle names football stars’ top 10.

Range Rovers win. Oracle Finance managing director Peter Brook says: “We looked back at our records over the last five years and weren’t surprised the Range Rover was top. We can’t say which footballers use us because of client confidentiality, but we work with some of the biggest names in the footballing world and have helped hundreds of players, managers and agents fund their dream cars.”

The top 10 most popular are:

1 Range Rover 28
2 Bentley Continental GT 26
3 Range Rover Sport 24
4 Audi Q7 21
5 BMW X5 18
6 Porsche Cayenne 16
7 Lamborghini Gallardo 13
8 Ferrari 458 8
9 Maserati Gran Turismo 4
10 Aston Martin DB9 3

Mr Brook said: “Bentley was extremely close to taking the number one spot in our Premiership poll with the GT, but it’s clear SUVs are a favourite with footballers. Our clients like their cars to be luxurious with high-up driving positions, which is why they prefer 4x4s to out-and-out supercars. Few cars offer all that like a full-fat Range Rover.”

I drive Range Rovers (top and bottom) at Land Rover’s testing track, Eastnor Castle and (middle) on the 1970 press launch at Goonhilly tracking station. Picture from The Land Rover 65 ebook £8.04 on Amazon

Tuesday, 12 August 2014


It looked as though America was about to ban open cars so a headline writer at The Guardian titled a Jensen-Healey column, “The last open sports car?”. Well, it wasn't; America changed its mind on going topless. Another edition of the newspaper called it a “West Brom Bomb”. Alas, the Jensen-Healey was not as good as real West Bromwich Jensens.

Otherwise the words were accurate and well intentioned. I was careful with a caveat in the first paragraph. My brief half hour's drive was too short for more than a superficial assessment. It was a time, I felt, for hedging bets. I had been unconvinced by Kjell Qvale, the Norwegian-American who made a fortune selling sports cars in California and was by then frustrated. With no beautiful Austin-Healeys to sell he became president of Jensen, made Donald Healey chairman and Geoffrey Healey a director. It lasted until 1973 when Donald resigned, frustrated at the changes between prototype and production, not to mention endemic cam cover oil leaks from the Lotus engine, which had been designed with a dry sump for racing.

There was an unusual problem parking a Jensen-Healey on a hill. Dell'orto carburetor needles allowed petrol to drip into the sump, one of the misfortunes (others included water leaks) that dogged the car throughout its brief production life. Later estate-car versions, known as Jensen GTs, were laden with luxury but weighed down by US safety bumpers. Poundage was up, performance suffered and only 473 were ever made. Total Jensen-Healey production was 10,926 This edition of the newspaper spelt Tony Rudd Tondy Rudd, by way of illustrating why whimsical Fleet Street called it The Grauniad.

MOTORING GUARDIAN, 16 September 1972 ERIC DYMOCK on the new Jensen-Healey sports car. Jensen Motors has put into production the Jensen-Healey announced at the Geneva motor show in March. Production will soon reach 200 a week, with about 60 per cent bound for North America. Coinciding with the start of production, I had a brief, 30 miles’ drive, too short for more than a superficial examination, but enough to suggest that it is going to be a better car than it looked at Geneva.

The philosophy of the Jensen-Healey is straightforward. It is a replacement for the Austin-Healey 3000. A robust sporting car produced by the British Motor Corporation and latterly British Leyland, it dated back to the 100/4 of 1952. The Austin-Healey 100/6 of 1957 was made up till 1969, when American safety regulations made demands it could not meet. The design, by then nearly 20 years old, could not be changed to satisfy the rules and the “Big Healey” that had done so much for BMC and BLMC prestige, winning rallies like the 1961 and 1962 Alpines and the 1964 “Liege”, was dropped. The production line at Jensen in West Bromwich, where Healey bodies had been made, was summarily stopped, and sports car dealers all over America found themselves without one of their best sellers.

One of these dealers was Kjell Qvale, and no sooner had Lord Stokes pronounced sentence on the Healey than Qvale was in Britain negotiating a replacement. British Leyland was not inclined to build it, so to ensure that its subcontractor Jensen would, Qvale stepped on. He brought finance to help the firm over the crisis caused by the loss not only of the Healey, but also the Sunbeam Tiger, which Jensen made under contract for Rootes, later Chrysler. Donald Healey and his son Geoffrey set about the design of a new open 2-seater, and searched for a suitable engine.
The layout of the car sustained Healey’s tradition for strength, making use of as many standard components already in production as possible. The idea was to keep down the cost of development, buying parts cheaply. By motor industry standards, Jensen-Healey quantities are relatively small, but using the same rear suspension links as Vauxhall, which orders them by the 10,000, the Jensen benefits from other manufacturers’ volume production. The engine chosen for the Jensen-Healey was an inclined twin overhead camshaft 4-cylinder Lotus, developed for a sports car not yet announced, designed by former BRM chief engineer, Tony Rudd. This was installed in a Healey-designed body shell as developed by a Jensen team under Kevin Beattie, who had been responsible for the Jensen Interceptor.
Beattie had also been responsible for the brilliant four wheel drive FF, one of the world's safest cars, ironically forced out of production by the same American Federal Safety regulations that threw Austin-Healey production lines into idleness. While the Jensen-Healey is in the mould of the old Austin-Healey as a fast, open sports car in the style of the 1950s, it is completely new. In contrast to the old car's rather ponderous iron 6-cylinder engine, the die-cast aluminium Lotus four is high-revving and responsive. Also a contrast to the heavy steering and stiff gearchange which, in an inverted sense, many owners of the Austin-Healey actually enjoyed because, like exercise, they thought driving a thoroughbred sports car ought to be strenuous, the Jensen-Healey has light steering and an exemplary smooth change with a short crisp movement.

The Jensen-Healey would benefit from slightly firmer springing. It bounces over bumps instead of riding them smoothly but the handling is otherwise good. Acceleration is swift and although there was no chance to see how fast it would go, Jensen's claim of 120mph (193.1kph) will not be wide of the mark. It also claims 24mpg (11.8l/100km), which sounds about right for an efficient 2litre engine in a 2650lb (1202kg) car with low frontal area. The last of the big Healey 3000s had polished woodwork and a quality look about the interior. Alas, safety rules have changed that too and the Jensen-Healey has padded plastic, better to knock your head against, but less elegant. Any colour may be specified for upholstery but all you will get is black. By way of compensation the seats are comfortable, and with reclining backrests they can be adjusted to people of most sizes. Cushions and backrests are shaped to hold occupants in place on corners.

For a sports car in which sacrifices are implied for the pleasure of style or performance, or providing an excuse for leaving someone behind, luggage space is adequate and well shaped without being generous. A fuel capacity of 11gal (50l), giving a range of only just over 250miles (402.3kms) between fillings seems niggardly. If the Jensen-Healey is as rust-resistant and trouble-free as its predecessor and provided the legislators do not force it out of existence this car could keep the workers at West Bromwich in business for another 20 years. Priced in Britain, with tax, £1,810.

It wasn’t rust-resistant or trouble-free and didn’t keep West Brom going for 20 years. The Yom Kippur War of 1973 pulled the plug on Jensen. Sales of the splendid Interceptor slumped. American dealers subscribed briefly to the flawed Jensen-Healey but to no avail. Jensen foundered in 1976 and an unsympathetic Government, which would later subsidise Delorean to the tune of £75,000,000 to buy a few votes and a trifling popularity in Northern Ireland, refused a paltry million to save one of Britain's fine cars. Like MG, Jensen employed good craftsmen, honest workers - but not enough of them to create a political crisis and motivate a bail-out.

Pictures: (from top) Motoring Guardian column. Jensen-Healey 2-seater. Troublesome sloper Lotus engine.
Austin-Healey 100S at Goodwood. Exquisite lines with roll-over protection. Jensen FF II I road tested, still on trade-plates at Hyde Park Corner. Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III.

More on Jensen and Healey in Sports car Classics Vol 1 and Sports Car Classics Vol 2, both £3.08 ebooks

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Frank Page

Sad that the irrepressibly optimistic Frank Page has died. The Observer, Mail on Sunday, presenter on Top Gear; his career was wide and his judgements usually fair and precise. He was a joy until strokes and illness dogged him. His enthusiasm was boundless. Meet him at the airport going on a press trip and he would be bubbling over with joy to let you know what Denis Thatcher had just told him during a round of golf. Generous and funny, a worthy Guild Chairman with a keen sense of occasion and a credit to the profession. Another light gone out. Picture: Bentley event at Le Mans.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Bentley Azure

Returning Bentley CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer, it seems, waxes nostalgic for a convertible. He’d like to build a 2-seater but he’ll most likely follow Royce’s example and go for a 4-seater. He liked the 1995 Azure, which continued in various iterations for years. His options now, with W12, V8 and V10s available from stock, as it were, are wide and the Continental is a fine platform. The Complete Bentley recalled the first Azure (left).

By 1995, after the best part of a quarter-century, the Corniche-Continental’s time was up. When they drew up Project 90 in 1985, (below) which had evolved into the Continental R, Heffernan and Greenley conceived a convertible which as a result had been waiting ten years. Despite a good deal of strengthening and reinforcement, scuttle shake was endemic in the old Corniche, so it had to be done away with for the Azure. Basing it on the Continental R instead of the old Corniche brought a 25 per cent improvement in torsional stiffness.

Manufacture however was not straightforward. A joint project was arranged between Crewe and Pininfarina in Turin under which Park Sheet Metal in Coventry, which made Continental R body shells, sent sub-assemblies to Italy for completed bodies to be painted and have the intricate power-operated hood mechanism fitted by specialist Opac before being shipped back to Crewe for completion. Bodybuilding was done at Pininfarina’s San Giorgio Canavese factory, where Cadillac Allantes had been put together. The unitary hulls still had to be strengthened to make up for the absence of a roof, with an additional 190kg (418.9lb) of reinforcement under the rear floor, deeper door sills, thicker A-posts and screen top rail.

All that remained of the Corniche’s shivers, I recall from a 1995 road test, were tremors that could still be seen in the rear-view mirror and vibrations felt through the steering column. Door sill plates proclaimed Bentley Motors’ and Pininfarina credit for the structure, in particular the power hood designed to close in 30sec, although one famously failed on the Cote d’Azur press launch. The Azure’s interior was furnished like the Continental R with traditional veneers and leather, woollen fleeces on the floor and, by virtue of a 1992 co-operative agreement with BMW, electrically operated front seats with integral seat belts from the 8-series coupe.
Final Azure 2005

Several generations of fast turbocharged Bentleys had transformed road behaviour, from the early tentative 1970s when Bentleys carried the legacy of Rolls-Royce town carriages, to the dawn of the 21st century when they were more able to compete with fast rivals. Steering was now 2.9 turns from lock to lock, faster, sharper, with more feel; braking more progressive with ever-bigger discs, and body roll, although by no means eliminated was less pronounced.

INTRODUCTION Geneva 1995.BODY Convertible; 2-doors, 4 -seats; weight 2610kg (5754lb);
ENGINE V8-cylinders, in-line; front; 104.1mm x 99.1mm, 6750cc; compr 8:1; 286kW (383.53bhp) @ 4000rpm; 42.4kW (56.86bhp)/l; 750Nm (553lbft) @ 2000rpm. ENGINE STRUCTURE pushrod overhead valves; hydraulic tappets; gear-driven central cast iron camshaft; aluminium silicon cylinder head; steel valve seats, aluminium-silicon block; cast iron wet cylinder liners; Garrett AiResearch TO4 turbocharger .5bar (7.25psi); intercooler; Zytek EMS3 motormanagement; 5-bearing chrome molybdenum crankshaft. TRANSMISSION rear wheel drive; GM turbo Hydramatic 4-speed; final drive 2.69:1
CHASSIS steel monocoque, front and rear sub-frames; independent front suspension by coil springs and wishbones; anti roll bar; independent rear suspension by coil springs and semi-trailing arms; Panhard rod stiffener; anti roll bar; three-stage electronically controlled telescopic dampers and Boge pressure hydraulic self-levelling; hydraulic servo brakes, 27.94cm (11in) dia discs front ventilated; twin circuit; Bosch ABS; rack and pinion PAS; l08l (23.75gal) fuel tank; 255/55-WR 17 tyres, 7.6in rims, cast alloy wheels DIMENSIONS wheelbase 306cm (120.47in); track 155cm (61.02in); length 534cm (210.24in); width 188cm (74.02in); height 146cm (57.48in); ground clearance 14cm (5.5in); turning circle 13.1m (42.98ft).EQUIPMENT 2-level air conditioning, leather upholstery, pile carpet, 8-way electric seat adjustment, galvanised underbody PERFORMANCE maximum speed 249kph (155.1mph); 64kph (39.87mph) @ 1000rpm; 0-100kph (62mph) 6.0sec; fuel consumption 19.3l/100km (14.64mpg) PRICE £215,000 PRODUCTION 1311

PICTURES above right 2003 Limited Azure edition. Left Road test GTC chez nous


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