Electric Cars


The last time I competed at the Brighton Speed Trials was in 2012 when the event was marred by the tragic death of motorcycle sidecar passenger Charlotte Tagg. The Green local authority siezed on that as an excuse to try and ban the Speed Trials from being held in the future (see previous posts). However they had not reckoned on the passionate support the event has and a campaign organised by the Brighton and Hove Motor Club led to the Speed Trials returning in 2014. Unfortunately I was unable to attend that year but was pleased to be able to get an entry for this year.

It was good to bring the Beast back to Madeira Drive. As miraculously always seems to be the case the sun shone and several thousand spectators turned up to watch what is one of the oldest motorsport events in the world.

Nadine Geary’s immensely powerful Brock Daytona Cobra Coupe. Nadine is a former owner of the Beast – which she always made go rather faster than me!

Whilst not one for the purists I rather liked Richard McCann’s Jaguar XKE / E Type series 2 with its series 1 headlights and flared wheel arches

For years John Scanlon has enetered the Speed Trials in a variety of seemingly inappropriate Bentley saloons. This year he entered his Bentley Arnage Black Label. These are fantastic cars – the last of the real Bentleys (before they became Volkswagons). Crewe built they look stunning and have the final iteration of the venerable 6.75 litre Rolls Royce V8 – this time built by Cosworth and fitted with twin turbochargers. They are rare and ludicrously cheap and if I had a barn I would fill it with good examples.

Tesla brought along a P85 which performed well but perhaps not as quickly as they thought it would.

This year Stuart Gilbert beat me to the fastest MG crown (though sadly the Benn Trophy that used to be awarded for fastest MG has been discontinued) in his ferociously quick 5.3L V8 MGB GT

Fastest Time of the Day went to crowd favourite Jim Tiller in his heavily modified 7.3L Allard J2. Jim has been modifying and competing in his Allard at the Speed Trials for nearly 50 years. This was only his second victory – the first coming in 2004.

Mexican company Vuhl entered one of their new cars for what was the first competitive outing for the brand. I suspect the car is better suited to events with corners than drag strips!

Its hard to imagine that Jim Tiller’s Allard once looked like this J2X. The smart Cooper Jaguar T33 next to it went on to win the first race at the Goodwood Revival the following weekend.

Robert Oram has been competing in his E Type at the Speed trials for many years. This year he also entered and drove the Ferrari F40 behind. A nice way to spend a day!

An unusual entry was Alan Collett’s rare ISO Rivolta GT. Like an Italian Gordon Keeble or Bristol it combines European running gear with a big US V8.

Third fastest car on the day was John Church’s standard looking Audi 80 Quattro. It was anything but being blisteringly fast. Note the portable engine cooling fan – no point wasting power and increasing weight with permanent mechanical or electric fans!

The General Lim rat rod Plymouth

Carole Torkington prepares the SBD OMS CF08 for its final run. She came within fractions of a second of beating Jim Tiller’s Allard and becoming only the second woman (after Patsy Burt in 1968) to win the event.

As per usual the event attracted an eclectic mix of vehicles.  And whilst I improved my time on previous years, running with list 1A road tyres made a class victory all but impossible.  I was, however, gratified to beat a Ferrari F40 in two of the three timed runs.

The video below shows Pierre Lequeux in his Austin Healey Sprite starting his timed run. The car has been wonderfully restored and competed at Brighton in the 60s.

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I encountered a rare car at a service station on the M6 toll road yesterday evening. The owner of this gorgeous Porsche 918 Spyder hybrid supercar very wisely chose to park well away from everyone else and possible door opening dings!



887 hp and a 210mph top speed. Stunning looks and 4 wheel drive. A better car in all ways than the P1 and La Ferrari



Yes that really is gold leaf on top of the 4.6L V8



Two black beauties! Parking the Jag next to the Porsche shows the Porsches compact dimensions



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.

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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.

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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.

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Nissan Leaf – goggle eyed monstrosity

 

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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.

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

 

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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.

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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.

 

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

 

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Nissan Leaf – excellent satnav but no DAB radio

 

My daily drive is a Jaguar XKR. Designed to cover long distances in comfort and at great speed, it is perhaps not so well suited to short suburban journeys to the station and shops. In fact despite a top speed of 175mph I was surprised to find that in the last year I have averaged less than 30mph. If I stripped out longer journeys of over 100 miles I imagine my average speed would decline still further. In addition, whilst not an avid environmentalist, even I am embarrassed by my average fuel consumption over the year of less than 17mpg.

Suitably ashamed of my environmental foot print I am considering buying a second car for use as my daily driver which would allow me to reserve the Jaguar for more long-distance travel. Whilst I could have look at a frugal diesel hatchback of some description, the thought of an electric car caught my imagination. As such, when I was contacted by a journalist working for the Honest John column of the Daily Telegraph to see if I would like to run a Renault Zoe electric car on a long-term test, I jumped at the chance.

Arrangements were made with Renault to deliver a Zoe but first they insisted I had a domestic fast charger being installed at my house. Apparently the Zoe charges so slowly from the mains using a three pin plug that Renault required each car taking part in the test to have access to a domestic fast charger. This is where my troubles began.

Renault and Nissan have contracted British Gas to install home fast chargers. Ironically seeing they are sister companies, the chargers are different for each company. I tried ringing British Gas to agree a date for them to install a charger but it proved almost impossible to get a date within a six week window. Renault interceded on my behalf and gave me a special number to ring to get an accelerated installation. I eventually agreed a date with British Gas and then waited in all day for them to turn up. They failed to do so and when I complained they could offer no excuses as to why they had missed the appointment. This happened twice and in the end, rather than waste any more time, I pulled out at the test. As such I’m afraid I cannot tell you whether the Renault Zoe is any good or not. What I can tell you is that British Gas are not up to the job of installing domestic chargers for Renault or Nissan. I can also tell you that presumably it is not very satisfactory to charge a Renault Zoe from a domestic supply. So if you are intending to buy a Renault Zoe, make sure that you have a home fast charger installed before your car is delivered.

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The Renault Zoe is a nice looking little car. Here is one doing something I could not manage due to the incompetence of British Gas