Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Driving across America in a big old V8 (cross-country road trip)

Surely, driving across America is on every motorhead's bucket list.  I was lucky enough to do the trip seven times.  Six times, I drove a four cylinder soft top Jeep Wrangler with no air conditioning and no radio.  On my seventh trip, I drove a lumbering moving truck with a glitchy "Check Engine" light.  Despite the discomfort and stress, I loved every minute of it.

Here, three Brits bought a 1970s Cadillac coupe for $1,000 on ebay and drove it across America.  It's a great story.  If you get lost, just follow their trail of power steering fluid and coolant!

Porsche Panamera police car

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Thoughts from a Swiss car collector and dealer

Alex from Geneva lives and breathes classic sports cars.  With his dad being a classic car dealer, Alex has been surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of rare and interesting cars since he was born.  In keeping with his passion, he studied mechanical engineering and aerodynamics at school.  Now, he is in the classic car business and has an enviable personal collection as well.
What type of cars interests you the most?
I love long, low, front-engine, rear drive cars.  Minimum of 6 cylinders (rather in-line, I don’t like V6s).
My preference goes to V8s, my favourites being Maserati and Aston Martin matched to a ZF gearbox.  I’m more interested in Gran Tourers rather than pure sports and I like when a car has enough power AND can give you a minimum of ride comfort.

I love a lot of different cars, regardless of their value.  I have a dealer’s vision as well which is quite different from an aficionado’s one.
What cars have you owned?  
I have owned quite a lot of cars.  I can’t even remember everything that I have owned. To name a few :
Alfa Romeo Alfasud Ti & Sprint, Spider 2000, 75 3.0 V6 QV;
BMW 320/6 & 323i E21, 323 Ti Compact E36, 330 Ci Coupe E46;
Aston Martin V8, Virage;
Alpina B7 Turbo E12, B3 3.3 E46;
Autobianchi A112 Abarth;
Lancia Beta Coupe & Spider;
Reliant Scimitar GTE;
TVR Taimar, S3C;
Lotus Esprit S2, Turbo Essex, Turbo SE, Europa Twin Cam, Elan Sprint;
Renault Clio 3.0 V6;
Maserati Mexico, Kyalami, Biturbo (nearly all models);
Porsche 968;
Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG;
Peugeot 205 GTi;
VW Golf GTi;
Jaguar XJS, XK8;
Datsun 240 Z.


You have owned nearly all of the different versions of the Maserati BiTurbo.  In the United States, the 1980s BiTurbos (they came as a coupe and a sedan) had a terrible reputation due to reliability problems and their non-exotic looks.  As a BiTurbo fan, what would you say to the skeptics?  What do you like about the BiTurbo?  Are there qualities about the car that most people do not appreciate or know?

They are not as unreliable as we always hear. Of course the build quality was not optimal at first and many interior details were finished in cheap materials.
We have to bear in mind that Maserati was on a budget at that time and headed by DeTomaso who was a very good businessman looking for profit.  Mechanically, the first cars were not as reliable due to new turbo technology and lack of time for correct development but it’s not as bad as one says.
Unreliability is due to the customers buying a Maserati and driving them like a BMW 3-series everyday.  With such a power to capacity ratio, the Maserati engine couldn’t be treated the same way the BMW was.  
Waiting for a car to be hot before pushing it and doing services strictly at intervals were probably not on the minds of the kind of people who then (1980s) had access to Maserati cars.  I think these cars mainly suffered from this.
I would be more concerned with rust or interior quality problems rather than mechanicals failing.  Of course the tip is to buy the lowest KM car possible with the best service history. That’s the best way to get yourself a bargain.
I like the fun/money factor. No other car will give you so much sensation with so little money.  The kick when the turbos come in is phenomenal, the brakes are powerful to cope with performance.  The compact size of the car makes it a very usable hot rod.  The lines are discrete but very elegant on the coupes. The interior is a very cosy living room. A very nice place to be, very baroque.
I would recommend buying a late version (with so many improvements and constant development over the years) 222 with injection and improved materials, the cream of the crop being a Ghibli II.
What do you have in your collection now?
I don’t have a lot of time to enjoy owning and driving a large collection so that I try to keep only the very specials ones.  I currently have four cars: 
  • Maserati Ghibli 4.7 (1968)
  • Jaguar D-Type replica
  • TVR Chimaera 400
  • Alpina B3 3.3 (as daily driver)

What 2010 model cars (under 100,000 Euros) will become classic collectibles 20 to 30 years from now?
Anything that has something special to it (limited runs, small manufacturers) will someday become collectable.  Anything that is a pure A to B everyday connector without soul will disappear.
What current coach builder, tuner, or small-scale car manufacturer do you like?  Why?

I love Alpina cars that retain sport/exclusivity, refinement in chassis and engine developed from a good (BMW) basis.
Otherwise, I think that cars today have no taste so I would look at manufacturers like Morgan or even unknown replica manufacturers who do awesome jobs like Hawk Cars.
This is the only way to have something “tailor made”. I like modern classics because with speed limits everywhere, you can enjoy something cool with emotion without the need of driving fast.
You are a car aficionado who also happens to have a background as a car dealer.  With that background, how do you go about finding a car to purchase?  Once you come upon a car that you may purchase, what specifically do you look for before you make a decision?
I only buy the best quality and I pay the price for it, so my problem is always to source impeccable cars.
That’s very rare and usually people do not give them away as gifts so there is no other solution to pay for quality.
I recommend ANY buyer to buy the best they can afford-- a car that’s ready to enjoy and that will keep its value.
What is the state of the (under 100,000 Euro) classic car market in Europe right now? 
The market is doing very well here in Switzerland. People invest in classic cars, but they also enjoy them.  
With steady increase in classic cars value and the speed limits everywhere, it makes more and more sense to have a classic in the garage.
Plus, people really enjoy them, they stay out in the traffic and there are opportunities to meet other people who share the same passion.
What classic cars (price range does not matter) are currently under-appreciated or represent a great value?
As we go forward in time, classic status/collectibility will move as well, and is actually already extending to cars made in the 80s and 90s and maybe 2000s.
So if you are willing to buy something under-appreciated or that represents a great value for money, you should think forward and look at the cars made from the 1980s to the 2000s
Not only are they now true classics, but they are more reliable and useable than cars from the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
A new generation of buyers is now able to buy the cars they have seen and known in their childhood.
I would say, anything special (read: with sporty touch) made in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s can be (or already is) a great value and will certainly become a true classic(Mercedes 190E 16v, Renault Clio V6, Honda Integra R, Peugeot 106 Rallye, etc., to name a few).

Random question: Why is there no uniformity in the make and model of taxis in Geneva?  There are Japanese wagons, Korean SUVs, 1990s American sedans, 1980s Mercedes, everything.  How and why did this happen?

As taxis operators are independent, they choose what they want as cars.
Generally speaking, in Switzerland, the cars ARE from very diverse provenance as Switzerland is not a car manufacturer AND is located in the middle of countries that are traditional car makers.
Despite the small country size, Switzerland always represents an important market for car makers as the income of the population and the car per person ratio are high.  This is why you find such diversity here (German, Italian, French, British, Swedish, Japanese, US cars).  This diversity extends naturally to taxis.
Why do you love cars?
I love cars (read: classic and sports cars) because – contrary to a beautiful painting – they not only look good, but they have a sound, smell, they move, and we can use them for various purposes.
So I look at cars as useable works of art.  They put in touch people having the same passion and enthusiasm.  I avidly learn new things and the domain is so vast that you learn something new everyday (even when you’re into it from morning to night like me)!

***The photos in this post were randomly found on the internet.  They are not of Alex's cars.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Currywurst history and restaurant

I'm about to try German currywurst for the first time and I'm stoked.  The combo of sausage, ketchup, and curry powder sounds as intriguing and delicious as Hawaiian loco moco (burger patty, brown gravy, fried egg on top of rice) or Quebecois poutine (French fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy).

Here is a primer on currywurst:

Here is Curry Queen in Hamburg, which would fit right in on 4th Street in Berkeley:

Photo credit.

VW Passat W8 4Motion: The most needlessly complicated car ever

I spied one of these at the local Bed, Bath & Beyond parking lot.  (Don't I lead an exciting life?)

It's one thing to own a Citroen SM or a 450SEL 6.9 with a complicated suspension.  But to stuff a mid-range Volkswagen with a W8 (two V4s sewn together), 4Motion, a Tiptronic transmission, and hundreds of gremlins-feeding electronic gizmos?  It's sheer insanity.

VW went through all that trouble and this is the result:

  • A car that is 75% more expensive than a base Passat.
  • Extreme front weight bias.
  • A FOUR liter eight cylinder capable of a whopping 270 hp.
  • Less than 500 were sold in America in 2004.
  • It weights almost 3,900 pounds.
  • No power below 2500 rpm, max torque just 250 rpm later.
Nevertheless, there is a still a small and rabid cult that worships this car.  Go figure.

Photo credits: Badge and engine.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Andy Warhol Mercedes art

Just before he died, Andy Warhol was commissioned by Mercedes-Benz to produce art of the company's 20 most important cars.  He did not finish the project, but the completed pieces are on display at an Austrian museum.


Mercedes C111

300SL Gullwings

Mercedes W196s

Mercedes W125s

The original Mercedes

Perfume ads with Bond girls and cool cars

Sophie Marceau (The World Is Not Enough) ad with Citroen XM:

Carole Bouquet (For Your Eyes Only) Chanel No. 5 ad with Ferrari:

F1 Australian GP recap analysis

  • Button.  I’ve always thought that he got lucky last season.  I’m ready to say he’s slightly better than I give him credit for.
  • Kubica.  With raw talent, an average car, and a bit of luck, he got up to second!
  • Massa.  If it weren’t for Alonso’s first lap spin, Massa would be behind his teammate.
  • Alonso.  I watched him on my F1 timing app for most of the race and watched him go from way behind up to 4th.  That passing reminds of me Schumi in Monaco in that year when he cheated by intentionally crashing during qualifying.
  • Hamilton.  He’s got balls (and a bad attitude).
  • Webber.  Poor race, but at least he finished ahead of Vettel.
  • Rosberg.  He may be my favorite driver-- as he’s consistently kicking Michael’s ass.
  • Heidfeld.  Even had he been an active driver at Mercedes, he has no chance of winning this season.
  • Vettel.  Reliability problems remind me of Kimi and Mika at McLaren.
  • Kobayashi.  Somebody check his front wing fasteners, stat!
  • The drivers for the new teams: Sad, pathetic.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

KRE House: Luxury home with 9 car garage on 2000 sq ft (186 sq m) lot

The title says it all.  Oh, and the owner wanted to be able to see one of his nine cars in the living room.  That's where the elevator comes in.  It's in Tokyo.  Look at the schematics for the garage.  Aside from the Countach and Bugatti EB110 Diablo 6.0, what else does this guy have?  (Via stipistop.)

Leif Mellberg Volvo cabrio convertible conversions

Famed Swedish Saab and Volvo customizer Leif Mellberg (of Saab EV-1 fame) created these two.

Volvo 740 cabrio convertible:

Volvo 760 cabrio convertible:

VW Corrado Magnum kombi shooting brake

Originally, 200 of these were supposed to be built.  But that was not meant to be.  Only two were actually built.

Review of Maserati BiTurbo on MotorWeek

Friday, March 26, 2010

DeTomaso Deauville wagon estate (Viewer discretion advised)

The DeTomaso Deauville sedan is a rare car.  Barely 200 were made over 17 years.  What's even rarer?  The Deauville wagon.  Only one was made, for Mrs. DeTomaso herself.  I've been looking for a picture of one for a couple of years now.  I found one tonight by chance.  I wish I hadn't found it.  It is much better looking in my imagination than in real life.  Ugh, it's ugly.

BMW M3 wagons estates tourings

BMW E30 M3 wagon estate touring:
This Swedish one-off was based on a 325i wagon.  I think fashioning those signature rear wheel arches was probably the most challenging aspect of the transformation.

BMW E36 M3 wagon estate touring (belongs to Dutch drifting pro Paul Vlasblom):

BMW E46 M3 wagon estate touring (by Rogue Engineering):

BMW E91 M3 wagon estate touring (Manhart Racing stuffed the V10 from an M5 into this E91 wagon:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Citroen XM Multimedia

At 9.6 kbps, this 1998 one-off barely kept up with your Geocities addiction.  But it's still an interesting bit of history (pun intended).  What's truly scary is that Citroen that ran on Windows.

1992 Jensen One (Citroen XM)

What a monstrosity.

Danish designer Jacob Jensen created this out of a Citroen XM.  The body is made of kevlar and carbon fiber (why?).  It's got more gizmos than a modern-day BMW with iDrive.  And, it remembers FOUR separate seating positions.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to sell your car by taking pictures

Bahman Cars in Geneva is a purveyor of exquisite classic and used cars.  The inventory is eclectic and fascinating.  What really stand out on its website are the professional photographs of the cars for sale.  The company can surely open a lucrative division just selling paper calendars and digital wallpapers of its car pics.  They are that good.

1982 Corvette Collector Edition for sale

1970 Jaguar XJ6 for sale

1971 SIMCA 1000 Rallye for sale

1973 Mini Cooper Innocenti 1300 for sale

On Thin Ice: Ice racing in New Hampshire

This is a truly touching story about an out-of-work blue collar family and their love for cars.  Very sad and endearing.  Puts 24 Hours of LeMons to shame (no offense).  Video here.

China's territorial/border disputes

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Will Schumacher quit F1?

It may well be that if Schumacher consistently qualifies and finishes behind teammate Rosberg for the first third to half of the season, he may feign an exacerbation of his neck injury and gracefully bow out.  That means you-know-who will step in!

Trading Places: Australian V8 Supercars Champ Jamie Whincup and Jenson Button Video

Today, Vodaphone sponsored drivers Jamie Whincup and Jenson Button traded cars in Melbourne.  Whincup drove Lewis Hamilton's 2008 McLaren F1 car (750hp) and Button drove Whincup's 2009 Holden Commodore (650hp).  What were their reactions?

Whincup on the F1 car:

  • In his first lap in the McLaren, he tied his fastest time in a V8 Supercar.
  • He drove half of his first lap at half throttle.
  • He got more grip whenever he pushed harder.

Button on the touring car:
  • It's like an oven in there!
  • Very heavy and not a lot of downforce.
  • "I ran off the tarmac at one point and I'd be closing my eyes at that point in an F1 car, but in this thing it was great. It was very impressive."