Pub talk: my cars

December 31, 2010

You know when you’re up the pub of a night and the conversation inevitably turns to the subject of cars. It might be the latest car that’s been introduced (although I have to say modern cars seem to be much less interesting these days); perhaps a discussion on the types of cars certain people drive (car vs owner type). But possibly the most common car conversation starts when someone says, “so hows the motor then?”. You then launch into the latest happenings of your current car and of course comparisons with your previous cars will crop up from time to time.

Thinking about this I thought I’d list all the cars I’ve had the privilege of owning thus far, along with a little description. So here goes:

1. 1983/A Austin Maestro 1.3 – Blue

First car at 17. Great engine and a reasonable drive with good practicality. Dreadful construction quality (nice bit of industrial unrest at BL…)

2. 1989/F Peugeot 405 GLX Saloon – Metallic Grey

Bought with student loan at university. Great to drive and good quality too with plenty of toys (to go wrong…).

3. 1990/G Audi Coupe 2.0 – Metallic Blue

Hewn from granite. More of a tourer though. But surprisingly good if driven hard.

4. 1990/G BMW 325i Touring – Silver

Lovely silky-smooth engine and gearbox. Great build quality and sounded like a racing car. A bit wayward in the wet; nightmare in the snow.

5. 1997/R Peugeot 306 1.8 GLX – Metallic Blue

Great handling car (Lotus developed suspension/chassis) and surprisingly rapid. Nicely put together and a classic and practical design that hasn’t dated.

6. 1985/C Audi quattro – Red

Amazing handing and performance, apart from turbo-lag. Superbly built and comfortable.

7. 1995/M BMW 318iS Coupe – Red

Great to drive.

8. 1997/R Fiat Barchetta – Metallic Blue

Handled like a go-kart. Great whizzy engine and throaty exhaust. Soft-top a doddle to put down and up.

9. 2000/W Audi TT 225 – Silver

Amazing performance and surprisingly good handling when pushed. Fantastic quality construction, apart from the dash (repaired under warrantee by Audi).

10. 2005/55 BMW 320d Touring – Black

Very comfortable drive. Great handing. Quite poky. Amazing fuel economy. Practical. Great quality. Best all-round car? Debate…

11. 1989/F Audi quattro – Lago Blue

Very fast and smooth (no turbo lag now!); fantastic handling.

Other cars I’ve driven (but not owned):

Porsche Boxster 2.7not as fast as I thought it would be but very nice drive.

Maserati 222Emad turbo lag and violently quick – I so very nearly bought one!

Maserati Karifas 222E, but even madder – 0-60 in 4.8s!

Ford/Vauxhall/Peugeot/Nissan hire cars – some good, some anodyne. Best: Ford Focus; worst: Nissan Primera.



Sounds of the WRC in Wales

November 30, 2010

My visit to the WRC in Wales recently added some more interesting sounds in to my archive.

The cars themselves all had different and interesting sound signatures and I’d like to briefly describe some of the sounds, based on the cars that generated them.

The outgoing current generation Ford Focus WRC has a 2 litre engine engineered and tuned for lots of torque. As a result it tended to rev relatively low compared to the smaller engined models and the resultant sound was much more concentrated in the lower frequencies with little sound from the engine itself and more sound coming from the exhaust: generally quite throaty and almost effortless, even when accelerating full bore out of a corner. The car tended to output the usual puff of flame from the exhaust when coming off the power, which is totally usual for high powered turbo-charged rally cars cars, especially when using the Anti-Lag System, when the air is cut and excessive fuel ignites in the super-hot exhaust. This is accompanied by the usual loud ‘bang’, echoing around the forest hillsides like a shotgun had just been fired.

The Mitsubishi Evo WRC exhibits a similar sound when accelerating to the Ford but the overrun is accompanied by much more popping and chugging as un-burnt fuel is exploded and expunged. The sound of these pops echoing around the forest hillsides and through the trees is an aural treat unique to the WRC forest stages.

A contrasting car is the naturally aspirated Skoda Fabia WRC screaming it’s way through the forest with the engine sounding like it’s about to loose its anchoring and not unlike my washing machine at full tilt…

Soundwise the forest strikes a balance between absorbancy (soft ground and vegetation) and reflectivity (tree trunks and hard gravel tracks). This sound signature is what makes watching the WRC so exciting for me: you hear the reflected sound of the cars accelerating and poping in the distance not really sure how far away they really are then suddenly it appears, slamming around the bend! It’s always so difficult to gauge the distance of an oncoming car so the marshall’s whistle often comes as a surprise to the onlookers. The whistle is one of the classic sounds of rallying and tells spectators that the next rally car is about to come along. These days you only hear the whistles near the ‘designated’ spectator areas so if you want to head off the beaten track into the forests you’ll have to remember that there’ll be no warning of an oncoming car. This does make it particularly exciting, however the cars are so loud and with sounds reverberating of the trees you normally hear an approaching car well in advance.

So the real excitement of watching motor sport, and the WRC in particular stems not only from seeing the cars but also from hearing them to0 – be that directly, or indirectly via the forest reverberation! So next time you’re at an event just listen to the variety of sounds around you – there’s more than you might at first think…

WRC Wales!

November 16, 2010

Last weekend we traveled to Wales to see the final rounds of the WRC. We headed for the classic Fourways Crychan stage, which made use of both asphalt and gravel roads this year and is situated near the Epynt military ranges. At 25km in length this is one of the longest stages on the WRC and also perhaps one of the most grueling: wet slippery gravel and asphalt, pot holes and track-side ditches all add to the hazards to make it a real test for both driver and car. I decided to take the quattro to the event as it hadn’t seen a decent run for a couple of weeks and I thought it quite appropriate that the quattro, which so revolutionized rallying should show up here. The drive up was faultless and when we arrived we were clapped at one point by a small group of rally fans who looked like they’d been camping the night. Found a great parking spot in the middle of the viewpoints and made our way to the popular hairpin corner halfway round the stage. the crowds were pretty thin on the ground, perhaps due to the weather conditions that had prevailed the previous day. We had a trackside seat and here are some photos from the bend:

We went to every viewpoint along the way and also ‘explored’ the forest away from the usual spectator areas, which was much more exciting. The highlight was probably Petter Solberg in his Citroen C4, who finished 2nd place in the Wales Rally behind Loeb. Solberg runs the team as an independent outfit (as opposed to a works team) but may well find it difficult to raise funds for next season as getting enough private backing to keep a WRC team going is always going to be difficult. We wish him luck as he is such a superb and committed driver and a real bastion for the sport of rally driving.

Already looking forward to next years WRC…

I’m now the proud owner of a 1989 MB series Audi ur quattro. Bought from Prestige Vehicle Sales and Consulting in Barrow, Sussex, they were selling on behalf of a client. It certainly looked a bit forlorn parked out the back on a patch of grass when I first saw it. However I’ve had one of these before (a 1985 version) so knew pretty much what to look out for.

There are so many nasty quattros out there, mainly a result of accident damage. I remember seeing one around 6 years ago that seemed OK on the outside but something just wasn’t right and upon interior inspection I found a good amount of filler behind the rear seats – turned out it had been a total loss write-off. Twice!

So naturally I tried to find something wrong with this one so I couldn’t possibly want to buy it. Unfortunately for me (and my wallet) I couldn’t find anything serious and in fact it seemed decidedly original, even down to the original supplying dealer number plates. So after the usual bargaining I shook hands on a car that had only done 2k miles in the last 12 years! Not always a good sign.

The journey back was fortunately without event, despite high outside temperatures and rush-hour queues on the M25. I took the precaution of winding the windows down and keeping the hot airs on though.

I then took it Dialynx Perfomance. Based in Lydiard Millicent, they are one of the the country’s foremost specialists for the Audi quattro. After a full service plus much needed 4-wheel alginment, proprietor Keith Murray took the quattro out and pronounced it, ‘a bloody good example’. This I was chuffed to hear, especially it being only my second ur quattro. Looked like I’d bought well, which certainly bode well for my ‘investment’ purchase justification to my wife!

So far I’ve fixed passenger side door lock, electric window switches on both sides, and new rear view mirror (thanks to those eBay sellers!). Future aim (in the not to distant) is the treatment of rust around the wheel arches. I want to get this done before winter, for obvious reasons.