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What I learnt from Autocar – 18 March 09 March 19, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What I learned today.
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… I saw a heavily cloaked test car a few weeks ago on the M42. Looked like a Jaguar, beneath the disguise. It was – the new XJ, which Hilton says will be unveiled in June.

what-i-learnt-from-autocar-18-march-09It was going to be a reskin of the current model, but is much more than that. Jaguar’s taken the lessons from the XF – a rehashed S-Type – and applied them here, for an extensive overhaul using the same air-suspension wheelbase.

Styling will wow. Jaguar designer Adam Hatton stressed as much over a beer late last year, at a function in the Cotswolds… and I believe the Malvern-dwelling dude (who rates the Citroen C4, but doesn’t like the new MINI).

There’s even going to be an all-glass panoramic roof.

Jag’s 3.0-litre V6 diesel will feature: this is so powerful and eco, it makes the V8 diesel redundant. Range Rover only for that, then? Seems an expensive way of doing things.

… VW’s said it’s planning a Bluesport range of green performance cars. Like Bluemotion, but faster. Raking in more profits, then.

… Mercedes will sell a diesel version of the next SLK, due in two years. As it’s based on the fine current C-Class platform, expect the brilliant C 250 CDI engine to feature.

… Sweden is not to ban petrol and diesel in 2020. It will ban them in 2030 instead. So that’s why Saab and Volvo are so big on biofuels…

What I learnt… from Autocar, 11 March 2009 March 18, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What I learned today.
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… Top VW product man Ulrich Hackenberg says customers are prepared to pay more for Bluemotion ‘green’ cars. That’s because they’re 5-10mpg more economical. Win-win for VW, then. It gets more cash for each car, which customers are happy to buy in decent numbers.

what-i-learnt-from-autocar-11-march-2009With such a business model, why would it thus apply the Bluemotion changes to all models, cutting such a profitable revenue stream?

VW’s rivals may snipe and say that ‘all our cars are green, not stand-out green specials’ – but they ‘aint getting the profits of VW. That’s why Bluemotion’s here to stay.

Hackenberg also says customers are understand that they must look at engine technology, not size, to gauge performance. Good news for the downsizing trend.

… Next year, MINI will start selling patterned soft-top Convertibles. Not easy to productionise down at Oxford, but extremely lucrative, I’d have thought.

… Renault reveals the Megane Renaultsport 250’s carryover platform has been re-engineered to take a short-shift 6-speed gearbox. Why go to the trouble? Unless there are future transmission developments we’re not aware of…

… The Golf R32 will lose its heavy V6 for a more eco four-pot turbo. Probably the TTS’s 268bhp unit. It’s for handling as well as emissions, says VW.

… the origins of the TTRS’s five-pot turbo are revealed. It’s actually a tuned-up version of an engine seen in the US-spec VW Jetta. Not, as Audi claims, half a Lamborghini V10. Ahem.

Mini search over already? If I’m lucky… March 16, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What I've mused upon today.
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I’ve been immersing myself in the classic Mini community over the past few days. It’s all come from last week’s conclusion that I need a classic Mini in 2009. But how to go about getting one?

Well, research is all – so I’ve signed up for all the big forums, such as The Mini Forum, Mini World and the British Mini Club.

It was the latter’s David Hollis who e-mailed me today, with quite a tempting deal. Attend the club’s British Mini Day at Dudley’s Himley Hall on 10 May – and potentially drive home in a peach of a Mayfair! All for the price of a raffle ticket. Heavens, Footman James will even throw in £250 for insurance. He even popped an image in the post, for my delectation.

himley-mayfair-2Now, clearly the 10,500-mile, one-owner-from-new car will be mine. Not will be, IS mine. It’s just a small matter of buying a ticket on the day to confirm this. Problem, therefore, solved!

It’s got the velour I’m after, looks a peach in the pic and, I’m sure, will absolutely rock. Particularly when I’ve completed my custom iPod install, using all accumulated knowledge from The Mini Forum.

Yes, Richard. Of course.

However, just in case, by some quirk of fate, I don’t happen to be given it on the day, I’ve decided to ensure a backup plan is in place. I like the look of this car, so will be dropping Dave a line to see if I can’t get a closer look beforehand. If I do, I’ll report back here.

In the meantime, the search will continue…

£3 billion classic car industry goes green March 15, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What randomly caught my eye today.
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A classic car mag has launched something I’ve been wondering was possible for years. Making old cars green.

Classics Monthly has just launched the ‘Engenius Awards 2009’. This is a hunt for classics that have been made as green as a modern car.

Such as? Well, a fully-catalysed Mini, using a 60mpg Toyota Aygo 1.0-litre engine would be quite cool. If not, indeed, a version using the 85mpg smart diesel engine?

Or, how about a Golf GTI MkI with VW’s 50mpg 1.4 TSI engine? A Jaguar E-Type with a BMW 3.0-litre diesel? Let’s hang it way out – what about an NSU Ro80 with a full Toyota Prius hybrid drivetrain transplant?

3-billion-classic-car-industry-goes-green-and-ecoThis is proper inventor territory. Classic car nuts do amazing things, when they turn their minds to it. Creativity in the business is rife. By giving them a green agenda, Classics Monthly is focusing this spark of invention on sustainability.

And I, for one, can’t wait to see what readers come up with.

There are two awards on offer, one for the industry and one for enthusiasts. It’s going to run throughout the year, with shortlisted cars appearing at the NEC Classic Motor Show in November.

My challenge is to drive some of them beforehand… Maybe even adding a twist to my fledgling Mini project?

Oh, and how about this for a killer stat. Gary Stretton, Editor of Classics Monthly, revealed that the classic car industry’ contributed £3 billion to the economy in 2006.’

£3 billion!

That’s even more than the Government pledged to bail out the car industry back in January. Classic car owners to the rescue, then. sounds like just one more justification for me to buy a Mini.

Land Rover MINI has big future March 15, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What I learned today.
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Land Rover is going to do a MINI with the new baby Range Rover. Due in 2011, it won’t just offer fuel economy comparable with a Ford Focus.

It will also, once again, see the brand changing with the times.

They started out as farmer’s hacks, Land Rovers. Posh farmers led to the Range Rover, but as farmers farmed out their fields for posh houses, so the models themselves became more Sloane Ranger. Growing in size, stature, and price.

A hole at the cheap end of the range developed, so the Discovery came in. then, a whole new sector was created, with the Freelander. The Land Rover for those to whom farming meant Saturday market.

Now, big is bad. Pricey is bad. The market has shuddered, and Land Rover’s core has with it. If Land Rover is to not only survive, but have relevance, it needs to change.

land-rover-mini-has-big-futureWith the LRX Range Rover, it’s doing just that. Big? Thirsty? Brash? Less popular than a foxhunt on Playgroup day? Not a bit of it.

It’s the anti-SUV, a Range Rover for those with an eye on the future.

But who want iPod, not just generic MP3 player.

I reckon it’s likely to be a winner (Land Rover has a knack of this: see, well, every new model it’s ever launched). Not only does the production-intent concept look great, it’s crucially about the size of a Focus. Perfect. Even the very first diesel on sale in late 2010 will do 50mpg.

In time, there’ll be a 60mpg hybrid version, with sub-120g/km CO2 emissions. Comparable with a VW Golf Bluemotion, then.

It won’t be cheap, of course (not least because £400 million is being in vested in it – on top of Land Rover’s £800 million green investment. It’s too clever to not be: don’t expect many variants for under £30k. But, as it’s going to be the must-have car of 18 month’s time, that’s not going to be an issue.

Land Rover started off small, and only became big with time. To ensure it stays big, it needs to go small again. Come 2011, this model will have a big part to play in achieving that.

Can you help me buy a Mini in 2009? March 14, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What I've mused upon today.
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We motoring journos are a lucky lot. We drive a heck of a lot of cars – this week alone, I’ve had an Audi A5, a Merc A 150, plus the current steed, a Toyota Avensis estate.

The trick, Chris ‘Drivers Republic’ Harris told me, during work experience at Autocar back in the day, is to approach it thus.

Whenever you’re driving, you’re working.

Good motoring journos don’t drive and switch off, he said. They’re thinking, comparing, contrasting, questioning. And this, curiously, makes even the dullest cars interesting. WHY are the brakes on a Citroen C3 so tiresome? WHAT is it about the ride quality of an Avensis on 18”s that’s so contradictory? And so on.

This creates problems for the cars we drive in our spare time. Here, we’re looking for drug cars – a quick-hit fix of insanity, that we can get into and be wired straight into. Ones with immediacy. Long-distance seat lumbar support and high-speed wind noise suppression is less vital.

It’s why most motoring journos’ stables are so nutty. Lord knows, when some of us do meet up for a tea in deepest Wales on Saturday mornings, the sort of stuff you see is crazy: stripped 205 GTIs, Clio Cups, Caterhams, scratch-built 1950s MGs, Minis with Honda engines, really dodgy old bikes, even dodgier old BMW 6 Series with no interior trim, etc and so forth.

Me? Golf GTI MkII. It was. Until this week.

can-you-help-me-buy-a-mini-in-20091Now I need an original Mini.

I drove a single-seater at Silverstone, you see. Bit random, but there is a connection: I Loved it. Had forgotten just how special they are. Remembered what a buzz ‘pure’ motoring is. And the logical way of recreating this is with a noisy, uncomfortable, hard-riding old Mini.

With, of course, impeccable FWD handling, plus feel, intensity and spirit by the bucketload. I can tinker with it, get involved in the scene, maybe even bang a VTEC in it at some point. All for well under a grand for my favoured route of 1980s Mayfair (for the uber discreet look – and velour – no?).

How wrong could I be.

Minis. Not cheap, are they? As in, thousands. Grands. Many of. Oh, my.

So now, I’m a journo on a mission. To find a good 1980s Mayfair, for decent money. Does such a thing exist? For obvious reasons, I think I need one by this August, which gives us plenty of time. Are they out there?

And in the meantime, if anyone can offer me a quick-fire education course on buying and running all things Issigonis masterpiece (that’s not dissin’ the 9X and ADO17, of course), do please take the opp. I think I’ll be needing it…