Sunday, 19 August 2012

Bedtime Story - Where Is Godzilla Hiding?

Taken a little while ago. The Stagea is now sporting a substantial skirt to make it look lower. Looks cool for an estate!
The mind works in funny ways. When I walked to school, I used to walk past a particular house every day, which is clearly inhabited by a Nissan fan. Every day for literally as long as I can remember, there has been - no word of a lie - a black Nissan R32 GT-R sitting in exactly the same place on the driveway. There's also a Stagea and there used to be a Lightning Yellow R34 GT-T with Tommy Kaira aero bits on it, but that seems to have been replaced by a black R32 GTS-T on aftermarket wheels about 3 or 4 years ago. Oh, and a Mk.IV Golf "for her".

I've never seen the guy outside the house, so I've never talked to the owner, but every day for the last 5 or 6 years I've walked past that GT-R and it hasn't moved an inch, so because I'm a big fan of GT-Rs (Gran Turismo since I was 7 will do that :D), I've always admired it and often looked it over, occasionally imagining that in a few years I can turn up and buy it off him, as it's clearly not seeing any use. There's even some naturally-occurring green stuff of some sort coming down the bootlid now, and I'm pretty sure one of the tyres is flat, but I'm rambling.

The point is, over the years I've expected it to be there, and it always has been. I even pointed it out to my driving instructor when we went past it in a driving lesson (to which he replied "It's a bit old, isn't it?", perhaps thinking that as a 17-year-old, I'd want something new and shiny). Late this evening, when I was out walking, I went down the path that comes out where I stood to take this pic. As I approached the house, my walking pace halved, and I slowly ground to a halt with my mouth open a little bit, about 2/3rds of the way across the road from the house... the GT-R had gone. After all this time, it hadn't just moved an inch, it had vanished. The Stagea, Golf and GTS-T were all present, so had it been sold? In its place were some building materials and a skip, so maybe it had moved. I walked round (there's a second drive around the corner leading uphill to a garage, as you may be able to see in the pic) to see the Stagea and GTS-T, and the garage door was outlined by light, so for now I'm going to assume the GT-R has migrated indoors while building happens for shelter and... maybe a bit of renovation of its own?

The only reason this is in any way noteworthy is because of the effect it had on me. This is a car I've technically never had anything to do with, but its absence shocked and worried me, as if a friend had moved away without mentioning it, or some such like. I'm not sure why one can become attached to an object they don't own like that. I had half a mind to walk up the drive and peek in the gap in the garage door to look for it, but then I remembered that, again, I've never actually had anything to do with this house, and at night looking the way I do, it would've looked pretty suspicious to onlookers...

For now, I'm just going to assume the GT-R has a roof over its head while the driveway space is needed for guttering and stuff, but what if it is gone? What if someone else got there first? And again, why is it a big deal to me? I don't really know. Maybe I actually believe(d) I'd have it one day. Now that would be a story to tell...

For a more positive wistful bedtime story, read this one I wrote a year or so ago about a Ferrari in the middle of nowhere.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

McLaren X1: MP4-12C Meets Art-Deco Spaceship

Moving around in front of people for perhaps the last time...
There are rich people, who buy shiny Land Rovers and drive them around London. Then, there are very rich people, who buy a Porsche or Lamborghini, perhaps as a second car, and drive around in them on occasion, just to remind you that they are very rich. A step or two up from these pests are the obscenely rich. These are the people who could buy a £12million house on Portland Road or an 80ft yacht in Monaco this evening if they felt like it. These people on't just look at cars as transport or machines to operate, they see them as investments and/or status symbols. Much as I hate this way of looking (down) at cars, it does mean that there is demand for a higher level of customisation than metallic paint, leather and foglights. Some can even go as far as to ask nicely for an entirely new, personalised coachbuilt body when they buy one of the headline supercars, such as Eric Clapton and his 512BB-inspired 458 Italia, or this land-gracing spacecraft you see here, from McLaren's new Special Operations division, called the X-1. It almost definitely cost more than a million pounds.

Dihedral doors remain in place. Frankly it would be an insult if this car had
normal doors. Badge made of Super-Platinum (not really)
Up until now, said SpecOps division has only gone as far as special paint and materials (as in rare animal hide or super-paint that heals itself and perfectly matches the buyer's favourite shoes... probably), but now they've flexed their muscles to let us all know that this division exists by creating something for an Anonymous Rich Man which it seems nobody can take their eyes away from. While the interior is the same as the MP4-12C upon which it's based - save for carbon fibre trim with a titanium weave for a 3D effect, and special "Harissa Red McLaren Napa" leather trim, whatever the hell that means - the exterior shares approximately 0% with the standard car, which has been unfairly criticised by many as "too boring". Such criticism cannot possibly be applied to this 12C, though, which still has the standard oily bits, meaning 616bhp from a 3.8-litre V8TT.

One reason for this is probably the different influences that McLaren design chief Frank Stephenson and Anonymous Rich Man (henceforth referred to as ARM) used to create this body, which include, but are not limited to, the following:

Cars: 1961 Facel Vega, a 1953 Chrysler D'Elegance Ghia, a 1959 Buick Electra, a 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K and a 1971 Citroën SM.
Architecture such as the Guggenheim museums in Bilbao and New York.
An Airstream trailer.
A Jaeger LeCoultre art deco clock
A Thomas Mann Montblanc pen.
A grand piano.
A black & white photo of Audrey Hepburn.
An eggplant [The client liked the shiny texture of the finish,' notes Stephenson].

Crikey. With all those things affecting the design, it's a wonder it came out looking like a car at all! They spent three whole years putting McLaren levels of obsession into every detail, and this is the result.

McLaren X-1 at Pebble Beach, alongside a commoner's MP4-12C.
An article on an design-driven car shouldn't feature opinions too heavily, as the reader should really develop their own opinions from it, but what I will say is that it works better from some angles than others, and that photos of it outdoors look much better than the official studio photos, something I suspected to be true as cars like this are much better-appreciated in person (well, outdoors, at least - sadly I'm not in Monterey, California at present, so these aren't my photos). The details and complex shapes and surfacing are something to behold, with some almost looking liquid and some looking sculpted, and all accented by slinky chrome lines. The rear fascia is a little less graceful in my view, but you may think otherwise. At any angle, though, you can definitely tell it was inspired by stuff from the '50s and Art Deco. The covered rear wheels are inspired by the '71 Citroën SM and because the MP4-12C doesn't have hydropneumatic suspension, it's the wheel covers that have to rise up to give access to the wheel, enhancing any kind of Batmobile aura it may be giving off.

If you don't like it, who cares? There is only one of these cars in existence, and if ARM has anything to say about it, it shall remain as such forever. This is its only official outing, and knowing what the ARM types are like, Pebble Beach's Concours d'Elegance - happening now - will probably be the only time it gets driven around outdoors, which is, of course, a terrible shame. McLaren spent years honing and developing every component of the MP4-12C, Frank Stephenson spent three of his own years drawing and redrawing every single crease, surface, angle and chrome highlight, and what do they get as thanks? A seven-figure cheque, yes, but the fruits of their labour will now disappear into a private collection, sitting proudly alongside a McLaren-Mercedes SLR, F1 road car and a regular MP4-12C... because only when stationary are this and the other 12C not exactly the same (well OK, the X-1 doesn't have an air brake). Other people will put tens of thousands of miles on their advanced British supercar, with its clever anti-roll system giving it an uncanny ride quality over bumps this car will never see.

So enjoy the photos you see coming out of Pebble Beach. They may well be the only ones until the collector dies and/or passes it on to another ARM who brings it here again to auction off for more money than a house on Portland Road. Here's one more, of the rear wheel cover. Just 'cause it's cool:

Sunday, 12 August 2012

NISMO To Bring Gran Turismo 5 Into Reality, Tune Nissans

Many car companies have what are known as a "Tuning Arm". No, not a big mechanical arm, silly. A tuning arm is what AMG is to Mercedes-Benz, or STI is to Subaru, or M is to BMW, or RenaultSport is to Renault, or - to some extent - what Mugen is to Honda. Nissan has had one for quite some time now, but only really in Japan. Called NISMO (NISsan MOtorsport) they've made a variety of racing cars from GT-class cars to Le Mans racers, and given Japan tuned Skyline GT-Rs, Silvias and Fairlady Zs of varying natures and power levels since the 1990s, but now that tuning arms are increasingly numerous and productive in Europe, Nissan has decided to share its racing magicians with the world. And unlike Renault's failed attempt to bring back Gordini, it won't just be a few expensive stripes and a few badges (although they will be doing a lot of that, with red highlights and other little things). No, it'll be a proper tuning arm, and that extends to engines. Thank goodness.

We've already seen the two different sides to this coin - Mugen have given us both an obscenely expensive 276bhp Civic and a bunch of meaningless styling upgrades for the CR-Z - but with their presence at Le Mans being felt and their domestic success and history long and illustrious, NISMO is being serious about being Nissan's AMG of sorts, saying there will be more than just the tweaked Juke we've already seen, with the Leaf, 370Z and GT-R all getting a makeover.

The Juke NISMO - previewed recently as a styling concept and not as extreme as the wonderfully daft Juke R - will have 215bhp from a 1.6 Turbo four and will thus be the closest thing the convention-dodging company has to a hot hatch, but according to WorldCarFans, the aforementioned models will all get 15% more power, styling touch-ups (which they're concentrating on more than they should, going by the wording) and suspension modifications to match the added poke, while at least one track-focused "RS" model will appear at some point. This all comes from Nissan executive vice president Andy Palmer, so it must surely hold water.

Let's see what that 15% means in numbers:
GT-R: 542bhp ---> 623bhp
370Z: 323bhp ---> 372bhp
Juke: (see above)
Leaf: 108bhp ---> 125bhp (plus a big lump of instant torque, of course!)

Yup, those seem like healthy increases! An RS version of the R35 GT-R and the eventual "Z35" next-gen Fairlady Z may also appear, along with a lightened, 270bhp Juke. For a rough idea of what the R35 GT-R NISMO RS would be like, just play Gran Turismo 5. A Stage 1 weight reduction (at most), Stage 2 suspension and a turbo upgrade ought to do it. Oh, and a big wing. And Sports Soft tyres. I can't wait to see this kind of tuning in real life from the people who made my dream car (yeah, blame Gran Turismo for that too :D). Also, a fast Leaf would be electrifying. Hopefully the range won't be shocking after they amp up the power. Not that I'm trying to plug EVs or anything. I hope they sell it in Lighting Yellow.

Original news source: Auto Express

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Chris Harris For President (Sort Of)

9/8/12, 3:55, 301 views (when posted)

The Drive Channel on YouTube are having a competition to see which host can get the most views, so to help my favourite - Evo's and Pistonheads' Chris Harris - about 1%, I'm reposting his video here. It's a short blast, and incorporates two big cheeses at Jalopnik, which is where I spend much time, and another big cheese at Pistonheads, which is where I should be spending much time. Most of all though, it involves a 564bhp Cadillac CTS-V SportWagon doing drifts around A Man. Also green shorts. Those are worth a vote on their own...

Simply watch to vote for him, and then share it around. DON'T WATCH THE OTHER VIDEOS. Even though one of them has a model in it. She's probably a dude. Don't bother.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Pikes Peak 2012 - The Mountain Awakens

15/6/12, 2:25, 56927 views (when posted)

After being delayed due to most of Colorado being slightly On Fire, the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb is finally upon us, which means the big road-laden mountain in Colorado Springs, CO, USA will once again play host to some of the maddest machines known to man, woman and golem. One such example is this, the Banks Power Special made and driven by noted race winner Paul Dallenbach. Improved from last year and running on methanol, power and torque have increased by 93bhp and 95lb/ft respectively over last year's car, giving an overall total of 1400bhp and 1301lb/ft from a Twin-Turbo V8. Yeah, that should be enough.

Mind you, it needs to have a lot if it want to stay quick, as with higher altitude (the race goes from 9390ft to 14,110ft above sea level) comes thinner air, which is bad for engines as they run on an air/fuel mixture. The enormous turbochargers - which compress exhaust air and force it back into the engine, of course - go some way to aiding this, which is why none of Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima's eleven race-winning cars have used big naturally-aspirated engines, but the power figure will drop notably at those altitudes.

Speaking of the Monster, there is of course one solution to the loss of air, which is to use a power source that doesn't need air, like, say, electricity. To that end, the car to your left if the first Monster machine in a long time not to enter in the Unlimited class, instead being designed from the ground up by his own company "Tajima Motor" as a hillclimb car which, he hopes, will set a new record for electric vehicles up the mountain. Well, when you've dominated the "Race to the Clouds" and won the last six races in a row, setting multiple records and being the first to break the 10-minute barrier, you might as well mix things up a bit. Mitsubishi are also trying this with something that appears to have swallowed and compressed an i-MiEV, but the first day of practice today hasn't gone well for them. Nobody seems to know the specs of Tajima-san's new leccy racer, but come on, it's not going to be slow, is it? We'll hopefully find out how not-slow it is over the coming practice days, as they spend each early weekday morning making sure nothing but GoPro cameras will fall off their cars as they race to the Colorado clouds on Sunday. Sadly, I won't have time to cover the race, but if you want to follow it, Speedhunters are promising full coverage, or you can go to the race's official site.

Who will win now that Monster has bowed out of the top class? Odds are it'll be an American driver, given that 5 of the 7 Unlimited entrants are from the US but which one? We'll find out this Sunday!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Week In Interesting Motoring News

Logo may change if this becomes a feature
Spending a week away without internet is made easier when you have increasing amounts of British Olympic success and the occasional seaside town to keep you going, but the motoring world moves fast, and missing seven days of news is missing a lot. Happily, from my perspective at least, most motoring news is the same, be it a new facelift, intriguing new technology, obscure supercar, new model rumours and spy shots, miscellaneous industry news or more "works" from tuning companies that think they can improve on cars the world's biggest and best have spent millions getting right in the first place. Thus, I can pick out seven highlights of the week's news without too much trouble, by simply filtering the normal stuff out and picking out what interests me. Hopefully it interests you too.