Sunday, 23 February 2014

Design Highlight - Boomerang Taillights

1998-2001 Maserati 3200 GT
One of the key parts of designing an attractive automobile is getting the proportions right - balancing glass and metal volumes, balancing overhangs, putting the roof in the right place, etc. - but quite often the thing that sets a cars apart from others is a detail of some kind. A signature grille, perhaps, or a well-judged piece of surfacing, or even just fancy lights (a trend that has recently exploded). One recurring design feature that I always like is the "boomerang tail lights," first seen and best demonstrated on the Maserati 3200 GT above. Back when this car came out around 15 years ago, the vast majority of cars still used conventional bulbs in big red and grey shapes on the back, so to see these skinny little boomerangs with LEDs in them was very, very cool. It helped of course that they were sitting on the back of a V8 grand tourer, but they work pretty well on other cars too, such as these.

2002-06 TVR T350C

2013 Volvo Concept Coupé

2014 Lamborghini Huracán

1968 Pontiac Bonneville
I'm not sure why I find it so appealing, but I really do. In fact, when designing something I'll put them on anything I can get away with. They can be used to accentuate the width of a car like they do on that massive Pontiac above, or frame the tail like they do on the Maserati. The tragic thing about the latter is that when they revised it to make the 4200GT and GranSport models, the boomerangs were taken away and replaced with the most generic tail lights imaginable, I think because US regulations people didn't like them. Curse you, US regs! First the hideous sticky-out "impact bumpers" in the '70s and now this! Anyway, if you want to see boomerangs flying then feel free to watch the video below of a 3200GT at Spa Francorchamps. May the boomerangs one day come back!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Rise Of The Cool Economy Engine

NISMO president Shoichi Miyatani holding the new Nissan ZEOD RC's engine
This picture's actually photoshopped, but it makes a point about its size
Historically, the coolest version of a car is the one with the biggest engine and the most kit. The best hatch is a hot one, for example, and if you don't have eight cylinders in your executive car then maybe you just aren't executive enough yet. However, we now live in a world that looks up at the sky and frowns, so the keyword for most engineering and design advances in the automotive world these days is "efficiency." Getting the most out of the least. Even Formula 1 has been affected, with the new V6 Turbo hybrid engines that are getting around 700 horsepower out of 1600cc and then boosting that further with electric motors and energy harvesting. As a result, some of the coolest and most advanced cars coming out are actually the ones packing the smallest engines.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Someone Please Explain The Trackday GT

The inspiration for this rant, from evo's Facebook page

There are many things about the motoring world that I still do not understand. Why can't they advertise cars as exciting? Why are safety regulations so different even within one continent, let alone comparing the EU to the US? Why do most foreigners insist on driving on the wrong side of the road? Why are there now Minis and Fiat 500s that are so big? And why are small crossovers such big business when they make no logical sense at all?

But flicking through my blog, you might start to think I'm only really interested in sleek, sporty stuff or racing cars. This isn't true, and in fact there are some small niches in this part of Motorworld that make little sense as well. One of them is the stripped-out GT car.

This is a car that was born as a big, comfortable long-distance four-seater which is then given a big daft wing and lashings of carbon fibre to make them more track-oriented and "hardcore." Usually they take the rear seats out as well, so they lose their practicality in the transformation. Prime examples include the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupé Black Series ("C63 Black" to its friends), Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale, Bentley Continental GT Supersports and the new Jaguar XKR-S GT. Oh yeah, they also tend to have pretty long names, too...

I just don't get these cars. If you want a car that's track-oriented, why would you get one that's so big and heavy? Nissan GT-R aside, because that thing is magic, a heavy car is bad on a track because it's slower off the line, slower on the brakes, slower in the corners, less aerodynamic and thirstier. Plus it's more likely to slide around because of the stronger centrifugal forces and has to have less give in the suspension in order to control that weight, meaning that the journey to/from the track will be unpleasant, so it's no longer a good GT car either. It's the same paradox as the "performance SUVs" that were so popular about 5 years ago. You're trying to put two opposites together into one car, making something that's compromised at both and best at nothing. They aren't true sports cars, they only pretend to be in order to grab a few more sales of an ageing model that's not in the limelight any more.

What's more, the manufacturers try to make up for this weight issue in two ways. The first is Clarksonian - more power. If you can't make it light and agile, then what's wrong with a bit of brute force? Some people like being Goliath instead of David, plus grand tourers tend to have a pretty big engine in a fairly relaxed state of tune, so waking up the 5.0 supercharged V8 in the XKR to add another 50 horsepower, for example, gives you a 560PS (552bhp) missile. Yes, high horsepower makes a fat car fast, but it also makes it wayward, so you end up with a hulking great drift machine instead of something to hunt down and dispatch all those Porsche GT3 RS's and tuned Godzillas. I'm sure it's hilarious fun and you'll look like Chris Harris, but you won't be going all that quickly and you'll get through rear tyres like Welsh weather gets through umbrellas (especially recently). Except that high-performance quasi-slick tyres cost an awful lot more than a new umbrella...

Another thing that bugs me about the Jaguar particularly is that when I think of Jaguar, a brash carbon fibre areo kit with matching giant rear wing and go-faster stripes isn't the look that comes to mind at all. Their old motto was "Grace, Space and Pace," and something with all those letters and carbon canards isn't graceful. With the rear seats taken out there isn't much in the way of space (for humans, at least), and with a meaty kerbweight of 1713kg all of its pace will most likely be in a straight line despite the downforce that the aero add-ons provide. But maybe that's just me. Adding "GT" to the name having made it less of a Grand Tourer is also slightly ironic, although they're instead referencing the FIA GT racing cars that Jaguar...... don't race against? Hmm.

How much better would an F-Type R-S GT be? Smaller, probably packing the same engine with the same power and about 100-200kg lighter. It would be a better track car and a better road car (assuming they calibrate the suspension well) because it'd be more forgiving and more agile at the same time. Only the shorter wheelbase would make it more of a handful. It could even rival the Porsche 911 GT3 (991), which even with a double-clutch gearbox and four-wheel-steering weighs about 300kg less than the XKR-S GT. That's half an original Mini!

I don't know. Maybe it's one of those things you don't get until you do it. Anyone got one I can borrow? I'm pretty handy at Gran Turismo, so I can probably manage a six-figure which-GT-do-you-mean GT car...

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Allan McNish Imparts Some Mad Knowledge On F1 2014

In case my F1 2014 previews for both the cars and the drivers didn't cover everything - and it turns out it didn't, because hey, KERS is automatic now! - then you need to watch this /DRIVE channel video where (IMO slightly annoying) motorsport nerd and former driver Leo Parente gives his buddy, newly-appointed BBC F1 authority and multiple Le Mans winner Allan McNish the space to explain the tech, make observations on the rather underwhelming Jerez tests (it's "herr-eth", Leo...) and use his experience with hybrid LMP cars to explain the differences that drivers will feel with these new hybrid V6 Turbo cars and their significantly bigger torque outputs. It's all very interesting and well worth a listen.

Speaking of bigger torque outputs, it turns out that the new engines (not including the combined Energy Recovery Systems' boost) are punching out close to 700 horsepower, as opposed to the ~600bhp that was predicted before this season. Add in the 150-160bhp of the two ER systems and we've got F1 cars with around 850 horsepower! That's at least as much as the V8s, which were making about 750bhp plus the 80bhp of the smaller single-element KERS. Reduced downforce means they won't be as fast in the corners though...... yet.

For more F1 stuff on SBV8, look to the Formula 1 page!
There you'll find (some) race reports and news from previous seasons too.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

By The Way, Marussia F1 Still Exists

2014 Marussia MR03
Just so you know, the Marussia F1 team is still alive. They turned up for day four of the largely-uneventful Jerez test after their lorry got stuck in traffic or otherwise delayed, and took up their usual spot in the bottom two on the lap times board (which on day four saw Felipe Massa dice with Fernando Alonso for the top spot and ultimately beat him).

Their new car - powered by Ferrari for the first time, as Cosworth has pulled out of F1 - will be driven by the same people as last year, namely Max Chilton (number 4) and Jules Bianchi (number 17), the latter being part of Ferrari's young driver programme which explains the Italian power unit now used by the Banbury-based team. It joins the Anteater Club founded by Williams.

That is all.