Otherwise Engaged

Found this interesting pic somewhere on Teh Intarwebz:

What made it interesting to me (I don’t care about the Dakar Rally) is that Graham Duxbury and I are old friends from back in our schooldays at St. John’s College.

One day in (I think) “Potty” Chamberlain’s Maths class, he went round the classroom and asked each of us what we wanted to be when we left school. (We were, if memory serves correctly, aged about 14 or 15.) Most of the boys said the usual middle-class crap: engineers, doctors, lawyers, whatever*… except me (professional singer) and Dux (racing car driver).

Well, I sort of followed through (not as a classical singer, but rock musician — it was the Seventies, shuddup), but Graham did indeed become a racing car driver, mostly in sports cars (in what’s now the Word Endurance Championship — WEC —  but was called something else back then). In fact, unlike me, he was actually very successful in his chosen career; he won the Daytona 24 Hour Race, amongst others. Here’s his car at Le Mans, and here he is (left) during his brief stint in Formula 2:

He was also a celebrity spokesman for Brut, and there’s a great story to be told about that, but it can wait for another time.

A while back, I invited Graham to join me at the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin but he couldn’t make it because of some nonsense about getting involved in rallying. Because he’s always been into stuff that involved driving fast, I didn’t ask for details.

Well, now we know.

And Dux, if you ever read this: the offer’s still open. Always will be.

*One guy said he was going to be a test pilot, but he ended up becoming a priest. I know, I know…


Following a link from Insty, I was reading Car & Driver‘s review of the Audi A7 (not that I’ll ever own one, but reading about any car beats reading about Nancy Pelosi’s bullshit by about a dozen country miles). All went well: car drives well, is comfortable blah blah blah, looks good etc.

Then came the speed bump.

For us, the chief benefit of the 48-volt system is that it allows the auto stop/start feature to operate more smoothly and more often. Cleverly, that system can trigger a restart when the forward-facing radar sees that the vehicle ahead begins moving, rather than waiting for the driver to lift off the brake.

Of all the bullshit inflicted on us by the Glueball Wormening cult, this “auto stop/start” thing is one of the worst. I remember driving a rental car in Britishland not long ago, and while waiting at a red light, the engine died — this, in a car which had only about 1,200 miles on the odometer. Panicked, I punched the ignition button, the car restarted (phew) and as luck would have it, the light changed and off I went. All was well until the next light, when the engine died again. This time, however, I didn’t panic, realizing that the 1100cc engine was being governed by “auto stop/start” on the basis that a tiny engine idling for two minutes at about 200 rpm is going to cause polar bears to die of heatstroke or something.

Here’s my problem with all of this. A starter motor is an electro-mechanical device, and as such has a defined lifespan before it stops working. It doesn’t matter how well it’s made — the higher quality simply means the mean time between failures (MTBF) is longer than for a cheaper economy starter motor. It is going to stop working, at some point: and as with all motors, the more it is used, the sooner that point will arrive.

So let’s do the mathematics on this one. Let’s assume that a particular starter motor has a lifetime of 20,000 operations. Let’s assume also, for the sake of argument, that a typical week sees you operate the starter about five times per day, while going to work, stopping at a couple of stores, running errands and doing chores, then going home. That’s 365 x 5 = 1,825 operations per annum, which means that your starter motor is going to last 20,000/1,825 = 10.985, in other words, about eleven years. Now with “auto stop/start”, instead of five operations per day, you’ll be hitting nearly twice that number, assuming that each day you have to stop at a couple of red lights or wait for traffic before you can make a turn, and so on. All of a sudden, that 11 years turns into 5 years — or much less, if you live in an area with more than a few traffic lights or which has heavy rush-hour traffic.

The actual numbers aren’t important, of course; what’s important is that at some point, your engine is going to stop, and then not restart. This would be bad enough at a traffic light; it would be much worse on a congested freeway like L.A.’s I-405 or the Long Island Expressway (which, as any fule kno, is an egregious misnomer).

I know, I know: the stupid engine-killing device can be overridden, which begs the question as to why it should be there in the first place.

And don’t even get me started about the wisdom of having a device which “can trigger a restart when the forward-facing radar sees that the vehicle ahead begins moving“. Quite apart from the issue of involuntary forward motion (a topic all by itself), it means that in stop-start traffic you’ll go from 5 operations per day to 20 or 30. Do the math yourselves.

It’s a stupid, pointless device and we should do away with it. Other than for “saving the environment” (i.e. specious and untrue) reasons, it has no place in a car. And if one day we reach the point where it can’t be turned off, it would be a reason not to buy that particular car, wouldn’t it?

Sensible Precautions

It’s one of those things that few people think about carrying in their car; but like a gun, you’ll never need it until you do need it, and then you’ll need it really badly.

I speak here of the car fire extinguisher — which admittedly is hardly ever necessary when you’re driving your minivan to the supermarket — but which, if you’re pushing your car a bit, may be essential. Here’s one example, from a recent BBC-TV episode of Top Gear:

The car in question is the newly-relaunched version of Renault’s Alpina A110 which, fiery end apart, is a lovely car. Here it is, next to its predecessor from the late 1960s:

Yes, it’s a little bloated compared to its sleek and sexy ancestor (see here for my opinion on that phenomenon), but it’s svelte enough, Renault have kept several of the design motifs more or less intact, and I love them for that.

Anyway: if you’re going to buy one of these beauties, and if you’re going to enter the Monte Carlo Rally with it, you may just want to add a fire extinguisher to the options you choose in the showroom.

Of course, this piece of advice is aimed at my Brit- and Euro Readers because needless to say, we Murkins will never get a sniff of the pretty A110 Over Here. [1,000-word rant deleted]

Smelling Salts, Please

A recent comment by Reader Velocette got me thinking about old Alfa Romeos, so off to the Internet I went… and found this on the first try.

This little beauty was offered for sale about a year ago:

The asking price was $125,000 and it was sold. Read the article to get the full flavor of the car. I’d say the buyer got the best bargain of 2017.

I’m so jealous I could spit.

The Real Bridget

In yesterday’s Comments, Reader Darwin pointed me to his “review” of the Bridget, revealing an unashamedly-retro yearning for sports-car driving of yore. And I’m in full agreement therewith.

Of course, somebody already made the Bridget: it’s called the Caterham 7 Sprint, and I want one so badly my toes are twitching:

Read both linked articles, if you want to know what kind of car man I am.

My only gripe with the Caterham (and for that matter, the Bridget too) is that once seated therein, one’s ass would be mere inches off the ground. That means, in my case anyway, the assistance of one of these to get me out of the damn thing:

Other than that, I’d already have one of the Sprints. Or the Bridget. Or, if Honda ever decided to restart production, the S600 (which the Bridget resembles, according to Reader Darwin), or… don’t get me started.


As one who succumbed to the so-called “middle-age spread” long before I actually reached middle age, one would think that I have little room [sic] to talk about bloating. But I can, because I’m not talking about people here, but cars.

Let me get this right out of the way first: I don’t like big cars. I’m not just talking about Cadillacs or SUVs here, which is a whole ‘nother rant; I’m talking about how ordinary, nay even small cars, seem to have ballooned out of all proportion — turning what was once a small car into something close to a medium-sized one. And cars were small back then; here’s a late-1950s Alfa Romeo Giulietta next to its owner (who looks like a giant, but only by comparison):

…and a 1955 Lancia Aurelia B24 ditto:

Alas, those lovely little cars are long gone and out of production; but others are still with us, albeit bloated versions of their former selves. Allow me to post a couple of pics to illustrate the point.

When Britain introduced the Mini to the world, it was a brilliant small car not only for its design but for its utility. Tiny, nimble and quick (even with its teeny 850cc engine), the Mini was the perfect city car for the time (1960s and 70s), and the ads and pics reflected the car’s ethos to a nicety. Note this one, featuring a very Swinging Sixties sex symbol, Charlotte Rampling:

Note its setting: some backstreet mews in (I suppose) London, maybe even one near the iconic Carnaby Street.

But look at what the German BMW-spawned Mini has become, by comparison to its predecessor:

Now I know that a lot of the bloat has come about because of the Nanny State’s insistence on airbags and similar safety features [25,000-word rant deleted] and the fact that in today’s obese world of fatties and such, only anorexic supermodels could get in and out of the old Mini without needing the Jaws Of Life. I know all that, and I don’t accept the excuse, because back in the 1970s I knew a 6’11” tall man who used a Mini as his daily driver, and I , at ~230lbs, used to hell around with him when clubbing and so on. Was it a tight fit (as the actress asked the bishop)? Sure it was: but we weren’t driving thousands of miles either, so temporary discomfort was quite acceptable.

Here’s another example of bloat. After WWII, FIat came up with a cheap, tiny car with an even smaller engine (479cc, later 499cc) than the Mini’s: the fabled Quinquecento (500) — the later version of which, the 600, was actually marketed as a family car despite being if anything, slightly smaller than the Mini was. Like the Mini, however, the 500/600 was mostly marketed as a single person’s car (and especially for young women):

Unlike many, I have actually driven one of these pint-sized creations — no small feat in that I was a 50-gallon-sized guy, even back then — and my gripe was not about the dimensions but about the crappy little engine.

I have since driven one of the new Fiat 500s, by the way (Daughter has one) and I love it despite its crappy little engine — some things never change* — but again as with the Mini, the new one is a bloated fat cow by comparison:

And note the not-so-subtle change in Fiat’s marketing:

Are the New Fatties better cars than their tiny predecessors? Of course they are. Times have changed, and engineering has improved. But with all that improvement, some character — okay, a lot of character — has been lost along the way, and I, for one, lament its passing.

I seem to do that a lot these days. Gah.

*I’ve been in the Fiat 500 Abarth, by the way — Longtime Friend Knob drove me around Monaco in his a month ago — and it is a monster: it’s like a pocket-sized Ferrari. And don’t get me started on how Ferraris have got wider and fatter either, or we’ll be here for a week.