BMW


Competing in the legendary MM is the dream of many classic motorsport fans, but getting an entry is very difficult indeed. To enter you need a car of a type that actually ran in the MM in period – preferably a car that actually competed in the race. As the idea of speeding through some of the most beautiful places in Italy in the footsteps of the likes of Moss and Fangio is so appealing, cars that might get you an entry attract a premium. So, for example, a works MGA with MM provenance will set you back over half a million pounds, five times its value without the MM provenance. And don’t think you will get an entry with a non works MGA – you won’t, the event is just too oversubscribed and preference is given to cars that actually took part in the race in period or which have an interesting history. Moving up market and buying a Jaguar XK120,  Aston DB or even Mercedes SL Gullwing won’t help you much either for the same reasons. In fact, as the MM is sponsored by Mercedes and (UK purveyor of Jag XK’s with provenance) JD Classics, trying to get an entry in a Merc or Jag is even harder as most available slots for those marques are taken by the sponsors.

The upshot is that the modern MM, a very competitive regularity rally rather than a race, has increasingly become the preserve of very rich individuals from all round the world who are able to buy genuine MM cars with the crucial provenance to guarantee a MM entry. Many of those cars, the Ferraris and Maseratis et al, are worth well in excess of £5m.  But they do make the old works MGAs seem like remarkably good value!

I had never thought that I would be able to take part in the MM as I did not think I could afford it. Yes the entry fee (7000 euros) is steep but that does cover some excellent organisation, good hotels, a variety of receptions and – crucially – a rather nice limited edition Chopard watch. Indeed the watch alone is worth nearly as much as the entry fee. So you could say that the entry fee for the MM is actually pretty reasonable. The real problem is the cost of buying a car that could guarantee an entry.

I knew my ex Gregor Grant Autosport Magazine MG YB saloon (UMG 662) had led an eventful life between 1952 and 1954. As well as being the office hack it was rallied on the Monte (see other posts) in 1954 and the Scottish Rally in 1953 and it was raced at Silverstone in 1953. I knew it had also been a press car on the Monte in 1953 and at Le Mans, Goodwood and elsewhere. I knew it had not competed in the MM but some diligent research pointed to it having been a press car on the MM in 1953 when Autosport journalist Anthony Hume covered that year’s race from Brescia and Rome.  I checked the regulations and found to my surprise that the organisers had a “special list” for interesting cars of a type that could have raced in the MM in period but did not. I thought it was worth applying for a place in that category and stuck a speculative entry in.  I was under no illusions that getting a place on the list would be tough as it was restricted to only 27 cars (out of a total of over 450) and I did not think my little old saloon would be interesting enough to the organisers. As such I was very surprised when in March I was told that my car had secured a place.

As UMG 662 had just successfully completed the Monte Carlo Classique Rally without problems I did not need to do much to the car to get it ready. Given that summer in Italy promised to be a lot warmer than the Alps in January, I fitted a Kenlowe fan to help with cooling. The regulations also specified an accurate trip meter so a retro Brantz was fitted. Then all I needed was a co driver! Luckily Brian Mackrill, an old friend and fellow MG enthusiast from Australia, was keen to join me.

The car was shipped to Brescia on a transport with a number of other British competitors and we flew out in early May to meet the car.

mm2

All shiny at scrutineering in Brescia, Healey Drone on left.

mm7

This Works MGA competed in the original Mille Miglia in 1957. Now in Fitzwilliam Team colours it is a regular participant on the retrospective MM.

mm20

The day before the start all participants parade through Brescia to the Plazza della Vittoria for the sealing ceremony. A lead seal is attached to the steering column of each car to show it has been scrutineered and is ready to go.

tutti_moto-251

On the start ramp in Brescia. After the glorious sun of the previous few days the heavens opened and it rained for the first two days of the rally – sometimes very heavily.

tutti_moto-359

The route of the MM this year took competitors from Brescia to Rimini on the Adriatic coast for the first afternoon and evening of the rally. This is Sirmione in the torrential rain.

tutti_moto-255

Following a late night arrival in Rimini there was an early start the following day. The first main check point was in the centre of the Republic of San Marino. The weather was little better on the second day of the rally.

dsc_4293

By the time the cars made it to Civitanova Marche in the late afternoon of the second day the weather had started to clear. Note battle scar on nearside front – reversed into by a vintage ambulance!

8r0_0515

At the end of the second day on the ramp in Rome. A police escort took us round the sights of the Eternal City late at night at high speed with blue lights flashing!

mm28

Early morning check point in Ronciglione

img_1650

The MM route took us through the centre (often pedestrianised) of many ancient towns and villages. This is Viterbo late in the morning on the third day of the rally.

mm31

August British company! The D Type Jaguar is the real deal. Nice Aston Martin DB2/4 behind. This is the lunch stop near Buonconvento on the third day.

mm36

Priceless 1939 BMW 328 Mille Miglia. This car won the race in 1940 (whilst much of the rest of Europe was in flames..). In 2016 it was factory supported and was crewed by the boss of BMW UK – nice perk of the job!

mm37

1957 Porsche 550 Spyder. Usually resident in the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart it was crewed this year by legendary Belgian racer Jacky Ickx. Every morning he would pass us with his entourage of Cayenne support vehicles at about 11. We would pass him pulled over at some nice cafe for lunch at 1230 and he would re pass us at 3pm (we sadly had no time to stop). He was usually through with dinner and in bed long before we made it to the final check point each day. But not on the last day.. The Porsche broke down an hour outside Brescia and I can now say I have beaten a multiple Le Mans winner in a motoring event!

_fab2368

Motoring through beautiful Tuscany

244

Old loyalties don’t fade – San Quirico D’Orcia

img_0795

Check point in the historic centre of Sienna

mm41

The biggest challenge on the third day was climbing both the Futa and (1000m) Raticosa Passes – at the hottest time of day and in the Summer. Despite the heat (over 30 degrees centigrade) we got to the top with no difficulty but we were grateful for the new Kenlowe fan!

mm42

The only problem we encountered was a recurring blown fuse that knocked out the temperature gauge (!) and, more seriously, the brake lights. Here Brian utilises our last fuse.

img_4777

An evening check point at the great Ferrari family works in Modena. A shame we had no time to look around the superb new museum.

mm44

A priceless trio! Early morning on the last day, just before the start in Parma. The short nose D Type Jaguar again, a Ferrari 250 MM Berlinetta and a pretty little OSCA MT4 roadster

img_1656

No embarrassment to be passed by such a beauty – 1954 Maserati A6 GTS/53 Fantuzzi

img_2641

In the tyre tracks of the greats – on the old banking at Monza for one of the tests.

_mcb2062

Trying harder on the road course at Monza, on the rumble strip. Don’t like my line!

mm57

At the finish in sunny Brescia. Special list cars have no handicap and as such we had no chance of winning. As it was we came a creditable 271st out of 456 cars, 12th of the 27 cars in the Special List and 5th out of the 10 MGs!

Advertisements

The new Jaguar XE is an important car for Jaguar.  If Jaguar are to achieve the volumes and income they need for long-term viability they need to compete in the C segment with BMW, Mercedes and Audi.  Press reaction, at least in the UK, has been favourable with Autocar, amongst others, ranking the XE above the equivalent BMW and Audi.  I have seen a few XEs now and it is certainly a nice looking car. However its interior is nowhere near as good as the equivalent three series BMW.  Nor is the fine looking exterior helped by the surprisingly large panel gaps. I have not driven an XE as yet so maybe it makes up for these deficiencies with its handling. It will have to because it is priced at the same level as its German rivals.  No doubt the XE range will expand over time but at present it seems very restricted given the huge variety of different models offered by Jaguar’s German rivals. Where is the coupe? Where is the all wheel drive car? Where is the V8 R range topper? Where is the hybrid? I suspect Jaguar are chasing fleet sales and the current range will probably appeal to fleet managers. But it does nothing for me. 

Apart from the odd auto solo, the Goodwood Road Racing Club’s Easter Monday Sprint is the only opportunity for most non professional GRRC members to compete against each other.  Even so, this year a fair number of professional drivers were invited to compete including ex Works MG BTCC and Le Mans driver Anthony Reid.

When MG were developing the MG SV Anthony Reid actually tested my car. A photo of him reunited with The Beast was too good an opportunity to miss.

 

This year Anthony was in my class driving a Works Noble M600.

The fabulous looking M600 has carbon fibre bodywork and eschews high tech for simple power, lightness and rear wheel drive.

 

This is the works M600 in which Anthony Reid came close to setting FTD at the Festival of Speed in 2014. On that day and at the Easter Monday sprint, traction proved to be a problem. Getting all that power down cleanly with no traction control was tricky and cost the team vital time.

An eclectic mix of cars took part in the sprint. This Piper Le Mans racer attracted lost of attention. Behind, can be seen “Old Nail” the Vauxhall Droop Snoot Firenza of the late Gerry Marshall.

Its rare to see an X150 Jaguar XKR racing. This neat example entertained the crowd with a howling supercharger

Anthony faced stiff competition for the day’s record time from two Nissan GTR’s, which were also in my class.  The rest of the cars in the class were similarly modern and all were much more powerful than my MG.  The only car with which I could hope to compete was a early Porsche 911 S (997).  Eventually I came out on top in that particular duel but all attention was on the battle for overall (not just the class) fastest time of the day between Anthony’s Noble and the Nissans.  In the end one of the Nissans pipped Anthony to the award.  The fact an amateur driver in a £60,000 car was able to beat a professional racing driver in a £235,000 car was telling.

Another popular entrant was this immaculate BMW CSL racer

 

My first visit to Bombay for nearly 20 years was always going to surprise me. Much has changed since I was last there. International brands are more prevalent, poverty is less overt and wealth is more ostentatious.  Such is the pace of change in this vast metropolis (one suburb, Anderi, has a population equivalent to that of Greater London) that in twenty years I expect it will look little different to the cities of Southern Europe.

What appeared to me to be the most striking change was in Bombay’s road transport. Twenty years ago you were likely to see only three types of car on the city’s roads.  Hindustan Motors Ambasadors dominated the government market and were favoured by those with big families and a traditional mindset.  Fiat Padminis dominated the taxi trade.  The more aspirational consumer favoured the little Maruti hatch back.

In today’s Bombay I saw only one Ambi in three days.  Most of the Marutis had vanished too. Only a few battered Padminis hung on in the taxi trade but they were clearly fighting a losing battle with newer uglier Suzukis. Bombay’s streets are now thronged with Renaults, Suzukis, Skodas, VWs, Audis and lots of Mercedes.  

Skoda, Suzuki, Hyundai .. this Bombay street scene could be anywhere

The once ubiquitous auto rickshaws are now restricted to the suburbs.

The vanishing Bombay Auto Rickshaw

 I passed Aston Martin and Porsche showrooms and saw Land Rover, Jaguar and BMW heavily advertised. There is a Lamborghini showroom and no doubt, somewhere, Ferrari are plying their trade too.  Sadly comparatively few Indian brand cars were apparent. As in China, it seems that if you are aspirational you want to drive a foreign brand car even if it is built locally.

Ubiquitous Suzuki Taxi – so much less classy than a Padmini

 

Bombay’s impressive 3.5 mile long Sea Link, connecting Bandra to Worli. One stretch of road in Bombay where you can stretch a car’s legs!

A rare car in Bombay, Perseus Bandrawalla’s immaculate BMW 330. The car previously belonged to cricketing ledgend Sachin Tendulkar

The Dacia Duster is built in numerous locations around the world, including in India at Madras. It is sold in India as the Renault Duster and, unlike its Dacia sister, is aimed at an aspirational rather than budget market. In Renault form for the India market it comes with full leather seats, aircon and lots of other “luxury” kit as standard. They should sell similar specified cars in Europe!

Whilst in Bombay I saw very few of the much maligned Tata Nano, but I did get to ride in two. Whilst not great to look at they are remarkably spacious , easily taking four adults in a level of comfort surprising for such a small car. The Nano’s 624cc two cylinder engine sounded harsh under load but proved more than adequate for city driving. The Nano supplied to our (Tata owned) hotel as a courtesy car had leather seats , aircon and other bells and whistles. It was a great little car and I I think it would sell well to cool urban dwellers in Europe, particularly if produced (as promised in the future) in electric form.

Apart from clashing with the Autosport show in Birmingham, this new London show looks promising. It is been many years since there has been a large classic car show in London. Given that the core of the high end classic car market lies in London and the South-East of England, this absence has always struck me as strange.

The new show was held at Excel in London’s Docklands. This is a great venue, easy to get to and with good facilities. As this year’s show was relatively compact it had to share Excel with the Cruise Show and the London Boat Show. I attended on a Friday afternoon and Excel was already busy. I imagine it would have been extremely busy over the weekend.

Whilst the show was much smaller than the NEC Classic Car Show, what it lacked in quantity it made up for with quality. There were no club stands but the organisers showed innovation in how cars were displayed and a large number of very high-end dealers were present. I was able to buy an afternoon only ticket at a much reduced price. This provided plenty of time to see the show. Certainly this year a full day ticket would not have been necessary.

From what I hear, due to heavy ticket discounting,  the show almost certainly made a loss this year . However it was very busy so hopefully it will return again in the future.

2015/01/img_7923.jpg

Motor Sport Magazine put on an impressive display at the Show, pairing historic race cars driven by members of their “Hall of Fame” with covers from the magazine showing the cars in period. Here we see Jackie Stewart’s 1973 championship winning Tyrell and Jim Clark’s 1963 championship winning Lotus 25.

2015/01/img_7924.jpg

The Motor Sport Magazine pairing here is Mike Hawthorn’s 1958 championship winning Ferrari and one of the clever but flawed V16 BRMs.

2015/01/img_7925.jpg

An unusual feature of the event was a central boulevard where every few hours some of the cars on display were run. Whilst an interesting idea, viewing was limited, the exhaust fumes noxious and there was little scope for really demonstrating the cars’ potential. Here a Lamborghini Miura makes a very sedate pass.

2015/01/img_7926.jpg

One section of the hall was reserved for Le Mans cars. I never get tired of the sweeping curves of the Jaguar XJR9. This car finished 4th in 1988, the year a similar car won for the Coventry mark.

2015/01/img_7927.jpg

A rare Vauxhall Firenze Droop Snoot. Ugly as sin when compared to the contemporary Ford Escort RS2000.

2015/01/img_7928.jpg

The £90k MGB. Yes really. Produced by Frontline Developments with a Mazda engine and modern running gear, the car is capable of a sub 4 second 0 to 60 time. But why would you bother? If you want a classic looking car buy a concourse MGB for £30k. If you want a fast car, for that price you could buy a Jaguar F Type R.

2015/01/img_7929.jpg

A stunning BMW CSL Bat Mobile.

2015/01/img_7931.jpg

There were two other special displays at the Show. The first was a selection of Cars That Changed the World curated by James May. The queues for that display were so long all afternoon that I gave it a miss. The second, probably far more interesting display, was of cars that inspired or were designed by Adrian Newey. Here we see three of the best – Mansell’s active suspension 1992 Championship winning Williams FW14, Mika Hakkinen’s 1998 championship winning McLaren MP4-13 and one of Vettel’s championship winning Red Bull’s.

2015/01/img_7932.jpg

Newey’s first F1 car, the Leyton House CG901

Last summer I drove a Tesla for an hour. The sudden, smooth acceleration was a revelation. It dispatched nought to 60 in about five seconds but it’s nought to 30 time was the quickest I’ve ever experienced in a the car. Apparently it was quicker to 30mph than a Ferrari Enzo. It certainly felt it.  The new four-wheel-drive Tesla can apparently reach 60 in about three seconds, similar to a Bugatti Veyron for a 10th of the price! I can’t wait to try one.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dd2/39612197/files/2014/12/img_1089.jpg

Tesla – good looking and fast

 

Whilst the Nissan Leaf was nowhere near as quick as a Tesla it still felt very nippy up to 40mph. In urban driving the Leaf’s acceleration is probably more than adequate, certainly more than enough to embarrass a warm hatchback.

When I picked up the car it had been fully recharged and showed a maximum range of 78 miles. To drive it home to Surrey the quickest route was via the M25, a Journey of about 30 miles. I drove the car like I would any other. As such I did not have it in eco-mode and I had the climate control, wipers and headlights on. By the time I reached home the range remaining showed only 22 miles. I was not that worried as I intended to charge the car overnight but I was surprised at how quickly the battery had depleted.

The following day I found the car had not not charged at all. I thought I had made a mistake in fixing the charging cable, although everything had seemed correct at the time.  As I only had a short journey to do that day I didn’t bother trying to charge it further. However my short journey, with wipers, climate control and headlights, again drained the battery faster than I anticipated. The last couple of miles home were rather fraught as the car was showing zero mileage left on the remaining battery charge. Range anxiety became a reality.

When I tried to charge the car again that evening I found it would not take a charge. It would start charging for a short period and then would cut out. The next day I rang Nissan to see if they could help. They thought it could be a problem with the charging cable or potentially the car. They told me to ring Nissan Assist who would arrange for the RAC to come and look at the problem. The RAC, however, said they were not able to look at any problems with electric cars as they were not qualified to do so. All they could do was recover the car back to me Nissan. This they did so after only two days my test drive was over.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dd2/39612197/files/2014/12/img_7877.jpg

So what have I learnt about electric cars?

Firstly, home charging with a three point domestic supply is not practical. You really need a fast charger and to get that in the UK you have to do battle with the incompetent British Gas if you intend to buy a Renault or Nissan. You also need offstreet parking.

Secondly, the range of current electric cars (except the Tesla) is simply not enough even for average suburban or urban driving. This is especially true when driving in winter. Even the range of a Tesla is hardly sufficient for winter driving of any more than 150 miles.

Thirdly, unlike a petrol or diesel car, if your electric car has a problem, no one will be able to fix it at the roadside. The best you will be able to hope for is being recovered to the manufacturer’s nearest garage.

On the positive side I enjoyed the smoothness, rapid power delivery, silence, lack of vibration and zero emissions of the electric motors. Once you have driven an electric car anything with a combustion engine feels like driving an antique. Electric cars are undoubtedly the future, just not yet.

I have , in the past, wondered what was the point of hybrid cars. I can now see the point. Electric cars are just not yet able to provide the worry free motoring that the public require. Maybe in the future people will look at hybrid cars as nothing more than a complex and expensive step towards electric cars, but for the time being they seem to offer the correct balance between usability and efficiency. I hope to try some hybrids soon.

Notwithstanding the debacle with Renault and their Zoe I was still determined to try an electric car on a long-term test. I saw that Nissan were promoting seven-day tests for their Leaf electric car. My nearest participating dealer was Nissan West London at Park Royal. I made arrangements to pick up a car on a Friday afternoon so my seven-day test would cover both driving at the weekends and also potentially a longer commute into London.  Nissan did not insist on my house being fitted with a fast charger and said the Leaf would be fine being recharged overnight from a three-point domestic supply. So, so far, so good.

My initial impressions of the Leaf were mixed. Externally it is very ugly, particularly its ungainly rear end. In fact it is so ugly it makes a Prius look like a 50s Ferrari. I’m not sure I could drive a Leaf every day without losing a great deal of self-respect.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dd2/39612197/files/2014/12/img_7876.jpg

Nissan Leaf – goggle eyed monstrosity

 

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dd2/39612197/files/2014/12/img_7871.jpg

Nissan Leaf – bulbous rear end particularly unattractive

 

Why should electric and hybrid cars be generally so ugly? Is it because manufacturers expect them to be driven by people who view them just as a means of of transport? Who care more about making a bold environmental statement than they do about driving something that hurts the eyes? Or are they supposed to be “cute ” like the execrable Nissan Figaro and Fiat 500 and therefore appeal to women drivers?  Do manufacturers assume women care more about the environment then men and are therefore more natural customers of such cars?  BMW have shown with their sublime I8 that an environmentally compelling car does not have to look bland.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dd2/39612197/files/2014/12/img_5971.jpg

Stunning BMW I8 demonstrates how to design the rear of an electric hybrid car

 

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dd2/39612197/files/2014/12/img_5968.jpg

The front of the I8 is equally stunning. A 6 month old one sells for a 45% premium. A 6 month old Leaf sells for an equivalent discount.

 

Inside the Leaf is a much better car. It’s spacious and there’s plenty of room in the back for a grown adult, unlike in the back of the Tesla where anyone over 5 foot eight would struggle to be comfortable. The quality of the interior is also pretty good, but this is a £30,000 car (without the current Government grant of £5000) and so it should be. I found the satnav system to be very good though the absence of a DAB radio as standard seems stingy. In addition, in common with some other electric cars such as that Tesla, the seats are uncomfortable over anything but the shortest journey. The controls, however,  are clear and intuitive and I had no trouble in driving the car after only a quick briefing.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dd2/39612197/files/2014/12/img_7874.jpg

Clear and futuristic instruments on the Leaf and intuitive and well thought out. However, for electric cars I fear the message shown is all together too familiar.

 

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dd2/39612197/files/2014/12/img_7872.jpg

Nissan Leaf – good quality and spacious interior marred by uncomfortable seats.

 

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/dd2/39612197/files/2014/12/img_7875.jpg

Nissan Leaf – excellent satnav but no DAB radio

 

Next Page »