The excellent Porsche 919 Hybrids that triumphed at Le Mans this year. Will they be back next year?

Leaving aside the likely impact of Dieselgate on Wolfsburg and the wider German economy,  the crisis rocking VW Group is likely to have a significant impact on their motorsport programmes and aspirations.  Will the money still be there to fund Audi, Bentley and Porsche works teams? Particularly the hugely expensive Le Mans hybrid racers?  If the Audi Le Mans programme was designed to show the excellence of that company’s diesel and hybrid engineering technology, how can it possibly continue when it and its parent have been exposed as using the excellence of their engineering to cheat the public and the regulators?  And if Porsche and Audi pull out of WEC racing will other manufacturers do likewise?
Just before Dieselgate broke there was speculation in the motorsport press that VW were about to buy into Red Bull.  The deal would have made sense. Red Bull have fallen out with Renault and Mercedes will not supply them with engines. The thought of only being able to run obsolescent Ferrari engines next year was understandably unappealing. A deal with VW would have allowed Red Bull access to VW Group’s proven hybrid technology  – rebranding as Red Bull Audi would have been a small price to pay.  Such a deal is now surely dead in the water. There will be no money to spare at VW Group for a luxury like a Formula 1 team.  And without such a deal will we see Red Bull and Toro Rosso on next year’s grid? I think there is a real risk that we will not.

VW Group’s admission that they deliberately and fraudulently installed software in c11 million of their diesel cars to fool emissions testers is startling. We are now sadly used to big business issuing mea culpa statements due to the activities of rogue employees (banks and the fixing of LIBOR rates) , refusals to admit defects in their products (Toyota) or plain negligence (BP in the Gulf of Mexico) but never before have we seen one of the biggest companies in the world admit (but only after being caught) to defrauding their customers and the regulators.

The legal impact on VW will be disastrous. The key issue will be less the fraud in terms of co2 emissions and fuel economy (many do not care about the former and have long believed the latter to be manipulated) but rather it is the issue of NOX emissions that may kill VW.  This is primarily because NOX emissions are believed to be responsible for many fatalities worldwide. As such, fines in the U.S. alone will amount to billions. A number of possibly quite senior people will go to prison. I strongly suspect VW will only survive if the German government intervenes and even then I expect we will see the company broken up.

Whilst it is possible to shed tears for the innocent workers of VW Group surely there can be no sympathy at all for a company that deliberately pursued a fraud that it knew would contribute to the deaths of thousands?

MG purists will of course be horrified at the thought of MG making a sport crossover. However it seems like good business sense to me. It’s an increasingly lucrative market and if the likes of Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguar and Lamborghini are going to make SUVs I see no shame in MG joining them.

MG GS – Better in the flesh

Photos of the MG GS (which is currently on sale in China) do not do the car justice. The pre-production model on show in MG’s London showroom (see below) looks better in the flesh than it does in print. Even the interior, which has been much criticised elsewhere, does not seem bad.   It appears, however, that the car will not be sold with a diesel engine in the UK. That seems like an astonishing oversight to me and will hurt sales quite significantly. Having said that I’m personally excited by the thought of a 220 bhp 2 litre turbo four-wheel-drive MG GS with a paddle shift gear box. If they can make one with a tow hook it would make a great tow car for some of my older race cars. This will be especially the case if priced as expected at less than £20,000 for a top of the range version. According to MG the GS is expected to be available to order in December of this year.

  
  

A year or so ago I was astonished when I found out MG had bought (not leased) this building on Piccadilly in one of the most expensive parts of London. Next to the Royal Academy and opposite Fortnum and Mason it is a considerably grander building than anything Jaguar or Land Rover have. The upper floors are apparently offices and flats for visiting executives.

Pride of place in the showroom is given to this smart electric concept car. Sadly there are no plans to build it.

The MG3 is apparently selling well – at least much better than the 6. I still do not see many but think they look good and believe they are tremendous value for money. If only they had a bit more oomph!

Also on display was a prototype MG GS sport crossover – production versions of which are now on sale in China. This was the Shanghai Motorshow car so fit and finish were not up to production standards. The marmalade orange colour is a bit of an acquired taste!

Nice vintage Shell petrol pump

Morgan Three Wheelers

Very nice 1904 Humber – a regular on the London to Brighton run

Driving through the little Kent village of Cranbrook I was surprised to see a sign pointing to a motor museum. Having found some on street parking (there is no carpark) I followed the signs through an antique shop to the rear of which was a large shed fronted by a vintage petrol pump.  Inside the shed (in fact a series of sheds) was a nice collection of Morgan three wheelers and other vintage vehicles together with a good collection of petronalia.  Whilst I am not particularly keen on Morgans it was an interesting place to spend 25 minutes and entry was only £3.

Recently, whilst driving through Oxfordshire looking at cars to buy I popped in to see the Aston Martin Heritage Trust in their beautiful converted mediaeval barn at Drayton St Leonard.  Entrance is free for Aston Martin Drivers Club members – for the rest of us its £5.  The Trust have a small collection of cars to view including A3, the oldest Aston Martin in existence, and a 1934 Ulster.  The cars, the delightful staff, the stunning barn and the extensive collection of memorabilia make a visit well worthwhile.

The relocation of high end show Salon Prive from London to Blenheim in Oxfordshire made it a considerably less convenient event to attend. When attending in the past an afternoon ticket usually sufficed as that wasn’t enough to see or do to justify a whole day ticket. This year only full day tickets were available at a considerable price save for general entry public tickets at the weekend. As it was the Brighton Speed Trials that weekend I decided to give Salon Prive a miss this year. I’ll be interested to see what people thought of the change of venue and format.

A pair of Dinos, one a spider. I can remember when they were sold for £30,000 and people replaced the Dino badges with Ferrari badges for the added cache! A nice car they seem ridiculously overpriced now.

Nick Benwell’s Lovely patinated supercharged Frazer Nash Shelsley. A regular attendee on the concours circuit it is always great to see it out and about.

The cars parked up in front of the RAC Club House at Woodcote Park

Ferraris a plenty – a brace each of 275s and 550s and a Daytona. Bentley Continental in the fore ground.

A feature of Salon Prive is a tour of some of the concours cars from the RAC Club at Woodcote Park near Epsom to the site of the event. I went along for breakfast to see the cars taking part in the tour before they left Woodcote Park. There weren’t that many but it was an interesting selection of vehicles.

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.

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. 

A couple of years ago I visited Hethel for a tour of the Lotus factory and a visit to Classic Team Lotus just down the road. I can thoroughly recommend the experience if you are at all interested in the Lotus brand.  Our guide for the day was former Lotus F1 driver Martin Donelly.  Martin is a great guy and was very frank about his short career in F1, first with Arrows and then with Lotus. His F1 career came to an end in a horrific crash in 1990 during qualifying at Jerez. Martin was lucky to survive the terrible head, lung and leg injuries he suffered.  Today he is a brand ambassador for Lotus.

Martin Donnelly's battered helmet and steering wheel show the force of his near fatal crash at Jerez in 1990

Martin Donnelly’s battered helmet and steering wheel show the force of his near fatal crash at Jerez in 1990

Classic Team Lotus still occupies buildings close to the old Team Lotus facilities and is run by Colin Chapman’s son, Clive. Whilst the team owns a number of historic Lotus racing cars they also restore and fettle others for their owners. What is remarkable is that many of the staff used to work for Team Lotus. Indeed when Martin was showing us round the garages he introduced us to his former race mechanic who now worked for Classic Team Lotus.

Lotus Workshop

The crowded workshop of Classic Team Lotus. In the foreground is Jim Clark’s 1964 F2 Championship winning Lotus 32. Next to it is a Lotus 23 and behind it is the revolutionary Lotus 88 from 1981. The Lotus 88 was the first composite monocoque F1 car and featured ground effects and twin chassis. It was banned before it had a chance to race.

Lotus Mansell

Nigel Mansell raced this Lotus 92 with little success in 1983. It was, however, a revolutionary car – the first F1 car to feature active suspension.