30 October, 2007

Creative resignation letter

In 1992 James May was fired from Autocar magazine

At the end of the year, the magazine's "Road Test Year Book" supplement was published. Each spread featured four car reviews and each review started with a large, red, drop capital letter. May's role was to put the entire supplement together, which "was extremely boring and took several months".

29 October, 2007

I went to Geneva for the atmosphere

According to the BBC Formula One runner up Lewis Hamilton is to move to Switzerland to escape the excessive public and media attention he has had in Britain over the last year.

The reason is definitely to escape the excessive attention. Definitely, no question. It's just been insufferable hasn't it? And the sympathetic tax status is just an unfortunate coincidence of moving in next door to best pals Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen in Switzerland.

"Over there people don't come up to you, they leave you alone and give you space," the 22-year-old told BBC Sport.

A space that was made by shifting a few gold bars, but schtumm about the deutsch bullion eh?

Reports that James Allen has been holding a tearful candlelit vigil outside a Kart track in Stevenage listening to a Chris De Burgh mixtape that he made especially for Hamilton are as yet unsubstantiated.

25 October, 2007

I am the Stig

Latest news from the Tokyo Motor Show is that Top Gear has hooked up with Sony to make their iconic test track part of Gran Turismo 5.

I've got a crisp £5 that says the next series will have some kind of viewer challenge to do a lap time in a control car.

22 October, 2007

Nice exhaust

15 October, 2007

A platonic relationship with one's car

I've just watched some footage of Jason Potato getting slightly hot under the collar testing a Caparo T1 for Fifth Gear. I suspect he may take the time to don a pair of nomex gloves and a balaclava as well as the skid lid next time he drives something that was knocked up in somebody's shed.

I could bore for Britain about the indefatigable optimism of people who decide they've got something to bring to the supercar table and eagerly solicit deposits at the NEC with promises of beating Stuttgart and Modena at their own game. Automotive history is littered with their corpses, Horace Pagani arguably the only one of the lot who's even managed to get a toehold.

But enough of my carping. What's it to me if somebody want to burn up several millions creating another derivative two-seater that handles like a cow on acid and smells like a canoe?

What irks me is the way this vehicle was presented to the public was the continual insistence that it was "the ultimate trackday car" and "a racing car for the road".

The crux of the problem was that it really was designed as a racing car on the road, i.e. fucking useless.

Trackdays if you've never had the pleasure of taking part in one are supposed to be exactly that, a pleasure. You are not allowed to race, because it's dangerous and that is not what a trackday is about. Trackdays are still full up with Caterhams, a car designed by Brunel one spare weekend, because they are an absolute blast, a hoot, great big gobs of fun. And racecars are useless on the road for all the reasons so blindingly obvious it would insult your intelligence to list them.

A racecar designer doesn't give two shits about whether the driver is enjoying himself - the driver is paid (sometimes quite handsomely) to do a job of work, and if they can extract two tenths of a second per lap at the expense of some comfort... well boo fucking hoo.

The Caparo handles like a racecar, taught, twitchy unforgiving, but not actually as good as a racecar on it's road spec tires. All of the (very expensive) downsides of both worlds but none of the hilarious grin inducing fun you get in a modest Caterham at 60mph.

Still it's always fun when you know you're having approximately seveteen times as much fun in a vehicle that cost less than matey's toolkit (£5,000 for the Caparo - I shit you not).

10 October, 2007

He made the 'drinky drinky' sign

Canadian video game developers hope their software that simulates drunk driving will make teenagers think twice about driving after a night of heavy drinking.

The game 'Booze Cruise' was developed by Jim Parker, a digital-media professor and a number of his students at the University of Calgary.

"The basic story is that this person is absolutely pissed and woke up in the trunk of their car and now is going to drive home," Parker said.

The player, with vision narrowed and blurred and reaction times slowed to mimic the reality of driving drunk, has 90 seconds to get home while navigating past obstacles that include pedestrians, other cars and a police checkpoint.

Apart from the obvious knee-jerk reaction of 'do we want to train train children how to drive drunk?' my personal experience of playing GT3 outside a few strong martinis is how surprisingly smooth my driving could be. Worrying.

While many teens are familiar with driving video games, Parker said the hope is that this one will persuade them that alcohol will affect their skills.

Those old enough to remember 'Big' Bill Werbeniuk may have a different perception of the effect of alcohol on a Canadians motor skills. Bill said he suffered with a benign essential tremor, bad luck for a snooker player, so he medicated his condition with copious amounts of alcohol before and during matches. He said that he generally drank around six pints of lager before a match and then one pint for each frame. If memory serves he even tried to offset the cost against tax as an essential tool of his trade.

My advice is get yourself a skinfull and a taxi home.

09 October, 2007

Wheely good

Power is nothing without control, as the good folk at Pirelli cautioned us years before a certain webslinger nicked the line. And with the undoubted power that'll be on offer from Gran Turismo 5 on the Playstation 3 joypads seem a little feeble.

Worry not. Those fine teutonic minds at Fanatec (Advanced German Gameware) can offer you the Porsche 911 Turbo Wheel.

Marvel at the original Porsche 911 Turbo S steering wheel design. Gasp at it's licensed by Porsche Lizenz- und Handelsgesellschaft mbH status. Coo over the authentic metal Porsche logo on wheel. Sniff the hand stitched leather wheel manufactured according to Porsche quality standards. The list goes on. No it really does, this is what happens when the worlds of tech geek, petrolhead and brand snob collide - it ain't gonna be pretty and there'll be an awful lot of detailed spec lists involved.

But it's not just the wheel. Oh no. There's also the authentic 6+1 Speed H-pattern gear stick with realistic shifting feel. The wireless pedals featuring realistic clutch pedal with declining resistance and pressure sensitive brake emulation with soft-stop. Actually that last couple sound quite cool if they've managed to pull it off, and who wouldn't back the Hun to something technical? Oh no I'm being drawn in...

Good job I don't have a PS3 I suppose. And even if I did, as well as the 300 Euros this controller costs burning a hole in my pocket I think I might be more tempted by 10 tanks full of fuel for my bike.

There's only so much fun to be had sitting in the front room holding a dinner plate.

05 October, 2007

Inside the cylinder head

01 October, 2007

Vintage rides

Whenever you see vehicles in period films and tv shows they look unreal. That's because the art department called up a vehicle collection and said "this film is set in 1956" and were supplied with a dozen '55 and '56 motors shining like new pins.

Who after all is going to keep a collection of dented faded cars? In fact they're unlikely to keep a collection of worthy but dull average cars... as the Ford Escort 1.3 Popular becomes an ever more rare sight on our streets nobody is tucking away a couple of prime examples complete with a little wheelarch rust and an Exeter University sticker in the rear window ready to decorate the set of an eighties film, and yet they used to litter the place. When was the last time you saw a Vauxhall Viva?

So every scene set in fifties New York features serried ranks of gleaming Cadillacs and Hudson Hornets, when anybody who has visited that fair city knows that only Paris has more dented vehicles on display at any given time.

And as it is with cars so it is with every other aspect of film and tv, they only show you the antiseptic scrubbed clean facade rather than the gloriously grubby reality. Which is why this collection of pictures is a wonderful peek into the real past in all its unvarnished glory. Even the ones without cars in are great.