Goodwood Friday 1st July 2011

If you have a modicum of interest in cars you should go to Goodwood Festival of Speed, there I’ve said it simple as. It’s hard to describe Goodwood to car people and non-car people alike without resorting to clichĂ© so I thought I’d keep to the point, if you like cars you will love Goodwood. For me 2011 was my third visit out of the last four years and I fully intend to keep coming back for many more to come, it’s not a cheap event but it’s one of those very rare things in the modern world in that you do feel you are getting every penny’s worth of value. It’s an exceptionally professional and well organised event, with parking and traffic control organised with real precision.

I woke my six-year-old son Max up at 05.45 in the morning, I’d managed to keep myself from telling him that I had bought tickets this year, so I whispered in his ear that we were going to Goodwood today and that no, he did not have to go to School. Well, I never take a holiday in term time and his attendance is exemplary, so I always think what the hell to one day close to the end of the Summer term! An excitable forty-five minutes later we were on our way. The journey from Colchester is not a long one and the only delay is when you hit the village of Petworth about fifteen miles from Goodwood itself. I really should plan ahead one year and research some local knowledge that would mean avoiding this bottleneck. The sheer volume of traffic forced through this tiny villages one way system adds another forty-five minutes to an otherwise just over two-hour journey. I really must also go back to Petworth on a normal day, as this is just one of the numerous picture box villages dotted around the stunning South Downs. I also should have had the courage to continue following the supercharged Range Rover that peeled off just before Goodwood that was festooned with FoS 2011 stickers and obviously endowed with some local knowledge to avoid the traffic. But, I feared my light pressure turbo would be no match for his Supercharger and I would lose him, however, on the country back roads I could exploit every last inch of the 500s performance while the Rangie had to watch not loosing his wing mirrors. On its second proper long journey the 500 acquitted itself fantastically again, on the motorway I achieved 50mpg at 75 to 80 mph and once off the motor way I enjoyed all of the rev range only denting the economy slightly. With just over 2000 miles under its Michelin’s the tiny engine is really loosening up nicely and I will never tire of its rorty rasping note. The turbo works wonders on this engine giving it enough torque to surprise a lot of much larger engined cars down the drag strip of af a clear duel carriage-way especially if they are caught napping.

Now if you couldn’t afford entry to Goodwood itself, petrolhead fun begins in the car park, fields of cared for exotica and rarities greet and mingle with the everyday, it’s a wonder some people make it to the gates. A couple of rows down from my spot was a stunning Audi R8 GT the first and only one I have seen, as well as the most superb example of a TVR Tamora resplendent in its raspberry red metallic paint. Oh and this lovely little 500 Essesse!

If you arrive nice and early like we did the walk to the entrance is never too far away and once inside the grounds the first port of call is some refreshments, I won’t say any more other than the catering is excellent but boy do you pay through the nose for it, having said that you would be a very foolish person to expect any different at an event like this. Suitably fuelled a quick glance at the programme reveals it’s nearly time for the Indy cars and contemporary F1 to climb the hill. It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that this is a serious timed hill climb and every day the cars tackle the hill split into classes, although friday is classed as practice so you don’t get quite the same commitment from some drivers as you do on Saturday or Sunday. Now, I’ve not been on a Saturday and Sunday for a couple of reasons and I may be missing out but so far I’ve convinced myself of this. The car is the star, I would dearly love to be within spitting distance of Button or Hamilton but I just don’t know if the thousands and thousands of extra people and all that pushing and jostling is worth it, especially with a six-year-old in tow. I like the relaxed air and extra space, literally, that a friday at Goodwood gives you eighty to ninety percent of the cars are present so I’ve yet to feel I’m missing out too much yet.

You never stop spectating with your ears at Goodwood because even away from the track your eardrums are always vibrating to something powerful and exciting. But to see, you need to line the trackside or purchase one of the Grandstand tickets. The purpose built grandstands are raised and covered and provide excellent and comfortable viewing which is why I fork out for them, coupled the cleverly placed giant video screens and truly excellent commentary it means your never missing out on the action whatever your budget.

Every years event has a theme or themes and this years was ‘racing revolutions’ as well as a celebration of the Jaguar marque and the Indianapolis 500. This meant some truly iconic Indy cars to see in action as well as a stunning central sculpture based on an E-Type Jaguar on the main lawn. I will confess to being slightly underwhelmed when I saw this sculpture on the internet on Thursday night, thankfully I was wrong, up close this really was perhaps the most technically challenging and moving central sculpture. The detail up close was fantastic and being able to look through the hollow steel tubes added another dimension. A very fitting tribute to Jaguar and the E-Type.

Some other highlights of our day included Mark Webber piloting the 2010 F1 Red Bull car up the hill and seeing this genuinely likeable and truly down to earth driver interviewed at the top of the hill. We also had a close encounter with Murray Walker being dropped off by golf buggy at the BMW hospitality suite and perhaps the low light just moments before a brush with TV and radio’s Vernon Kaye!

Which neatly allows me to segue into one of the little topics of this blog post, the ‘stars the car’ and it is on that note I leave you with some photo highlights of just some of what you could enjoy at this years festival of speed. We left tired but buzzing with happy memories as ever, that will keep us going until this time next year!

Abarth 1500 Biposto BAT 1 (1952)

Maserati A6G 54 owned by JK (1954)

Fiat 500 Scuderia Ferrari Support Car!

AMG powerplant of Pagani Huayra

LOVE this colour!

Alfa Romeo 4c concept

Just like the 8c I really hope the Alfa Romeo 4c makes it into production, it really is a stunning little sports car up close with some wonderful detailing. I believe Alfa are aiming at 35 to 40k with the superb 1.7 turbo from the Giulietta Cloverleaf pushing out 235bhp and 251lb per feet another great engine from Fiat Powertrain Technologies. With a kerb weight under 1000kg this 4c will fly. Almost just as exciting is the plan to use the same chassis for a halo Abarth two-seater sports car, I’d be proud to have either on my drive in years to come.

And now for something completely different, I have a real love of the Mercedes marque at the moment and their manufacturer stand as always was one of the very best, with some captivating cars on display celebrating Mercedes 125yrs of innovation.

Mercedes SLS AMG 2011

Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing.

280SL Convertible

Shooting Brake concept available 2013

faux pas of the day – supercar paddock, white Lamborghini Aventador its scissor doors skyward, my son unbeknown to me clambers in, moments later a man wearing a Lamborghini rugby shirt is saying to me ” iz a no possib-ly ze child can be inside ze car” oh, OH sorry I stutter and bark at Max to make a sharp exit which he does backwards over the sill shoes scuffing on finest leather and delicate looking switch gear. Thankfully no harm done and as consolation the nice man started her up and gave her the full beans – a sublime noise. I think that quite possibly Max is one of the first six-year olds to get behind the wheel of this new Lamborghini, stationary or not. That’s what you get for playing hooky from school!


Dear Ego

I read a lot of car magazines which happily combines the great pleasure I get from reading with the thirst for knowledge of all things four-wheeled. But there is one section of the magazines that are beginning to infuriate me to the extent that I now just ignore them or skim read them at best, I’m talking about the letters pages.

I’ve got nothing against letters, they are an established route of reply and I like to think that some people even still put pen to paper and not just finger to keyboard, however they arrive at the intended publication, I would hate to see them disappear altogether.

What does turn me off is the incessant amount of automotive willy waving, that almost always spoils what would have otherwise been a perfectly reasonable letter. A typical example might go something like this:

Dear XXX,

I loved so and so’s drive of the new super-duper thingy in issue 123. I must point out though that I disagree with so and so’s assessment of its on limit handling. I drive a generic reasonably powerful german saloon for my daily commute and have a lovely Italian Stalion that I keep for weekend use. For the track I’ve got some steel tubing wrapped around a Japanese hot hatch V-tec lump, so you see I too know something about on limit handling. Of course my wife has a tiny european thingy, I can’t even remember the name, but sometimes I love ragging the nuts off that too.

By the way I thing your mags great.

yours of small appendage and crushing social status anxiety,

Northampton.

And so they go on and on and on. I love cars and I love talking to people about cars and I especially love meeting owners of Super cars but I do not want to hear about people’s cars especially when they bear absolutely no relation to the point they are trying to make. What makes me chuckle is the stuff they trot out and name drop just to try to prove their point, it’s like people who name drop…”oh of course when we had the M3″. You can literally read between the lines and see how they’ve just had to get in what they own, have owned or have driven just so they come across as a particular type of person, or rather the type of person they believe the people who write for the magazine would be pals with.

So please keep the letters coming but drop the compulsion to justify and glorify your entire car history, I won’t think anymore or less of you and neither will the magazine you are writing to.

Oh, and you can bet that tiny european thingy is actually their car, not the wifes.


Forza III Pictures

Hi,

Thought I’d use my blog space to share some pictures with you that I have taken using Forza III’s in-game photo mode. I have just begun to scratch the surface of what can be achieved given enough time and knowledge of the features tools. I hope you like them and I can post more soon; comments as ever appreciated. Look out for an upcoming review of the game also. Forza III might be over a year old now, but I also plan to expand my blog to reflect my interest in and enjoyment of video games, so Forza III would be a good start.

Ferrari 458 Italia Amalfi Coast

Chevrolet Camero SS Fuji

Ford Focus RS

Alfa Romeo GTA Sprint Amalfi Coast

BMW M3 Rockstar Games Livery

Volkswagen Golf GTI

I think my favourite so far is the Golf GTI and the Camero SS, what’s yours?


ECO,ECO!

I promised this blog wouldn’t be about fuel consumption but one of the first things people ask you about the twinair, if they’re still around after I’ve bored them senseless telling them how innovative this engine is, is ‘what will she do mister’ not in the traditional sense of speed but just how economical is it?

Fiat official figures suggest 69 mpg on the optimal cycle, but lets cut to the chase we all know that manufacturers figures are almost always impossible to obtain and obtain consistently. My first proper journey was a trip to my Mum’s in the West Midlands about 140 miles from my home in Essex, filled with regular Tesco 95 Ron unleaded, and with a few stints at about 10% above the national limit I achieved 44.0 mpg according to the on board trip computer. Not bad for a brand new engine I thought.

Some words now about the performance. Firstly, yes for possibly the smallest mainstream petrol engine in production, the twinair is not just a town and city car. It happily cruises at 70mph and slightly above with performance in reserve if required. Don’t get me wrong it’s no AMG Merc or large diesel cruiser drunk on pints of torque, but it is not dangerously underpowered as some people assume of small engines; in fact it’s not underpowered at all full stop. funny I should mention diesel torque, because it’s torque that is the twinair’s trump card 107lbs p/ft delivered in the low to middle of the rev range. This is more than a fair amount in a car that weighs just over 1000 kg and means that the twinair feels more than good for it’s claimed 10.7 0-62 sprint. Happily, with less than 1000 miles on the clock, more performance is to come.

Getting the best mpg is also dependent on the use of the ECO button, unlike the sport button fitted to…er… sport models of the 500 with the 1.2 or 1.4 engines that sharpens up throttle response and other inputs; the twinair has the ECO button. Placed to the left of the hazard lights in the centre of the dashboard a press of the ECO button effectively re-maps the engine in an instant curtailing a percentage of the engine torque. it makes perfect sense to leave the ECO button on when cruising on the motorway (the word ECO is displayed permanently on the digital display when in operation) and most of my current consumption figures have been achieved using it, including the 44.0 above. You only really need deactivate ECO when you need full power e.g. to overtake something safely or tackle a steep incline. The only slight criticism I have of the ECO button is, well, the button itself or rather the placement of it. It’s too much of a left arm stretch away a far better idea in my opinion would have been to integrate the function on one of the stalks, or perhaps a steering wheel button, so that if you needed full power again quickly, it would only be a finger flex away rather than an arm movement away. Just a thought.

Once in the Midlands a mix of A and B road driving was enjoyed and the mpg actually crept up a little to the higher 40’s. don’t write the West Midlands off if you’ve never been, yes it’s an urban conurbation purely man-made with the UK’s second City at its heart, but its edges and the surrounding Counties, particularly Shropshire hold some stunning sites. The beautiful town of Ironbridge, perhaps birthplace of the industrial revolution is just one of them.

Nearly a week later and no fill up needed since leaving Essex it was time for the trip back. The tank was nearing empty and a full fill with Shell Fuel Saving Regular unleaded was selected and the trip computer reset. The return journey yielded exactly 52.1 mpg for an identical route and near identical conditions, an improvement of 8 mpg. Too early to tell, but could this point toward what I’ve suspected for a while, that Shell’s fuels really are the best on the market? Another week has passed with purely urban driving and the trip reading dropped to around 49mpg.

I filled up again on Friday (missing an awesome Audi R8 V10 Spider spot) as those who follow me on twitter will recall! I decided to try Tesco’s Momentum 99 Ron, so far in purely urban driving this is returning a very disappointing 36.5mpg with ECO mode on. It does seem to have smoothed out the engine’s slight hesitance at the very bottom of the rev range just above idle speed and it does feel more eager even with ECO engaged, but these aren’t reason enough to stick with this fuel and its increased cost, unless consumption drastically improves.

next post – some early driving impressions. Thought’s and comments always welcome please.


Italian Coupe Poll

Trying something different and interactive with this post and it might help me out too. At some point in the next twelve to eighteen months I might have to bite the bullet and run a second car again, but I’d like it to be interesting and hopefully a bit sporty. So, what would you choose between these three?

Obviously the Fiat is the cheapest option in either turbo or non-turbo guise, and the GTV is pricier especially the 3.2v6 and the gorgeous cup edition. Finally the Brera being by far the most recent model is the most expensive but most likely more reliable in the long-term and those looks…….mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

Or would you go for something different something German perhaps, I’ve run an Audi 80 Coupe and enjoyed it but the 2.0l was uninspiring performance and sound wise. Maybe a 3 series is the default sensible choice?

Some pictures to help you decide

Anyway, it’s all a bit of fun…for now! Enjoy.


First Impressions

At time of writing, almost to the hour, I’ve owned my Fiat 500 just over a week, so I guess now’s the time to start writing about it properly. I suppose that I should also explain why I came to sign on the dotted line for another new car; well the over-riding reason was that I’d fallen well and truly out of favour with my then current Fiat a Grande Punto T-Jet (120) Sport. I’m sad to say that the Grande Punto is the first and hopefully last Fiat that I did not enjoy owning. I’ve owned five Fiats all later than model year 2000 and one Alfa Romeo, I’ve also been lucky enough to drive other Alfa’s and Fiat’s too, so while I’m not presumptuous enough to call myself an expert, I’m also not new to the brand. Since I got into Fiat’s I have seen their quality in all areas increase markedly and bought the Grande Punto (GP) with no reservations or worry, but I think I got what I’ve heard described as a lemon or a friday afternoon car. Within the first year it needed a new wheel bearing and drive shaft and it was discovered that an engine mount was missing, that meant the whole engine was shifting when turning making a very unpleasant and disconcerting noise. In its third year, outside of the comprehensive manufacturer’s warranty, it needed new front suspension components and worst of all and quite unbelievably an entire new clutch assembly and gearbox. Had I covered 100,000 or possibly 40,000 to 50,000 miles I would not have batted an eyelid regarding maybe the clutch if not the gearbox, but I’d done less than 25,000 miles in a car that had not had its third birthday. The bill would have been well into four figures, but the dealership got in touch with Fiat who sent one of their what I imagine to be men in black suits to assess the problems. Thankfully this mysterious man from Fiat UK signed the cheque for the work, quite rightly too. I must say the dealership D Salmon of Colchester was very supportive throughout, even when I was getting quite stroppy with them because of the stress these sort of problems bring. I got the my Grande Punto back and it ran fine, but I felt I’d always be waiting for the next thing to go wrong and it was for this reason on the off-chance that I went into D Salmon one day looking at the used 500 and Panda’s. I’d owned a Panda and my Mum also has an 07 plate and I loved the fact that you could drive it on its door handles or just potter about, either was fun. There were plenty of tasty Panda’s and 500s to choose from, including a lovely red Panda 100HP, this blog could have been about another car entirely! After falling for said Panda and a couple of 500’s, I uttered the words “what about a brand new 500?” and a couple of days later some different finance figures had been put together. The figures themselves were very reasonable and coupled with the next to nothing running costs of the Twinair, the deal was done, bye-bye Punto

I ordered the Twinair at the end of February and was told there would be about a 12 to 18 week wait, so I was surprised to get a phone call at the end of March to say my car had been built and shipped and would be ready for me early April – result. The specs are in a previous post so I won’t repeat them again, apart from to say that a worry over my colour choice did creep in during the wait for delivery. I thought that I had ordered one of the dark metallic greys only to realise at too late a date to change that it was actually a special pastel paint. Now, the 500 can be a girly car and is driven mostly by women, but I’m sure enough in my masculinity for this not to put me off a 500. I bought one because they are an excellent town and city car and just a good car full stop. Nevertheless, the word pastel did make my stomach turn slightly, so I just hoped it wouldn’t be too insipid a colour in the metal; thankfully as my 500 came into view driven out of D Salmon’s workshop I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It didn’t look like a girls car, not in my opinion anyway.

The hand over by D Salmon, my second car from them, was relaxed, efficient and overall a very pleasant experience. I got a very good deal on fitted 500 logoed car mats, an iPod spool lead and a model car for my son all for less than the price of the mats alone. A healthy amount of fuel was also in the tank. How that Dominic Littlewood ever got free mats and a full tank of fuel out of any dealer on that TV programme he used to host, the name of which escapes me now, is beyond me! Already being familiar with the 500 and the placing of all its major controls, it is of course near identical to the Panda on which it is based, I didn’t have to hang around for long having things explained. What I did get a demonstration of, however, is the stop/start feature, this being the first car I’ve owned or indeed driven with this fitted. It’s pretty simple and works thus; if stopped in traffic or at perhaps a set of red lights that you know won’t change for some time, you knock the car into neutral and the engine stops, with a symbol illuminated on the dash to let you know the start stop technology is in operation. As soon as you touch the clutch to engage first gear again the engine restarts. Of course it starts much quicker than a normal start as you don’t touch the key and the fuelling and ignition is already pre-primed. The other clever thing about this is that, as long as conditions allow, all ancillary functions will continue when the engine cuts out, so your iPod track, CD or radio is not interrupted and perhaps more importantly neither is the air conditioning. Note, if conditions allow – like anything else on a modern car a myriad sensors and the ECU have the final say if these electronic guardians think there is a danger of not having enough juice to run all ancillary functions and start the car again, the feature will disable itself. In real terms, having not been stuck in any really heavy traffic yet, the start/stop works just as expected i.e. most of the time. Only today in temperature of 25c when I had the radio and the air con on cold fan speed three, did it not engage and I don’t think that was unreasonable. The whole idea of this of course is to cut emissions and improve fuel economy and I’m sure it’s this that helped Fiat’s engineers achieve CO2 g/km of 95 and around a 60mpg consumption figure. It’s too early yet to try to form a realistic opinion of how this helps in real world ownership, but of course that’s why my blog is here.

So, I hot-foot it home, where I knew I could relax with the car and check out all the little details. Within in metres of leaving the forecourt and its speed bumps, I knew that one thing was a vast improvement over my Grande Punto, ride quality. The suspension and chassis set-up in the GP was quite frankly abysmal. It crashed over the smallest bumps as if it had no damper or body control at all; it was ok at medium to high-speed on smooth surfaces but of course those are becoming fewer with the state of UK roads, so in real world ownership it was almost embarrassingly uncomfortable. The 500 on the other hand absorbs and isolates the driver from those imperfections and while not in the league of Citroen or Jaguar for ride quality, it is the best riding small Fiat I have owned or driven yet.

The other thing that I felt good about was the sound. I would describe it as a gruff buzz, which in print doesn’t sound appealing but trust me it is, unless your familiar with two-cylinder engines in cars and lets face it who is as there hardly common, you won’t have heard anything like it. Some sound clips will grace a later blog.

At home my attention turned to admiring my choice again and noticing how the subtle two-tone alloys really complement the tech house grey paint option.

I’m also chuffed with the grey/black check cloth (no cost) interior option, which again makes this quite a mature and stylish looking 500.

Next step was to ensure my geeky but functional ‘life-style’ stuff worked – in other words my iPod and mobile phone. Fiat launched blue&me a few years ago, a joint venture with Microsoft it is basically an entertainment and telematics technology that allows you to play music via USB memory sticks, MP3 players, iPods and to synchronise with any mobile phone via bluetooth for seamless hands-free calling via the steering wheel controls. While all Fiat’s with blue&me I’ve come across work, there were problems in the early days with some makes and models of mobile phone and also, perhaps not surprisingly for a Microsoft product, Apple iPods and iPhones. However, each iteration improved and this is the best yet. My iPod plugged in and played perfectly and is controllable via the steering wheels controls. My Windows Phone 7 based mobile (Samsung Omnia7) also synched perfectly and copied my contacts to the blue&me memory. It did this too for my wifes Sony Ericsson and can tell the difference between the two – simples as the meerkats would say.

First impressions were good and I did not do much else with the car that day, other than to fill the tank ready for my trip to the West Midlands the next day, about a 140 mile journey. I will experiment with different brands and RON ratings of petrol, to try to ascertain what difference if any they make to engine performance and consumption, but for the first fill it was regular Tesco 95 RON.

Details of the first week of driving soon…


Less Than 24 Hours to go

Ok, so I pick my 500 twin air Lounge up tomorrow lunchtime, here is the spec:

Lounge trim comes as standard with air con, fixed glass roof, chrome detailing, steering wheel tele/audio controls, blue&me etc

Optional extras include:

15″two tone alloys
Tech House Grey
Chrome Mirrors
Grey Check Cloth w/ Black Ambiance

Love getting a new car and the whole experience, I haven’t poured over brochures this time either and have managed to keep anticipation in check! but I know I’ll wake up early tomorrow thinking about it like my six-year-old on Christmas morning. I’ll post pics as soon as possible and my first proper trip will be a visit to the West Midlands, so I will see how it copes with a motorway slog almost straight away.