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Thursday, 5 March 2015

Geneva 2015 - Bonkers Brits!

Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6, Aston Martin DBX Concept, Project Khan Flying Huntsman 6x6, McLaren P1 GTR
The Geneva Motor Show is upon us! This is a highlight in the automotive year, every year, because everyone from major players to small boutique companies from Europe - and, increasingly, beyond - show off their latest, maddest stuff. Mainland Europe's major contributions are practically off the scale in various ways, but this year we've seen a surprisingly vast and varied influx of new models and concepts from the British contingency. Just with the four cars above we have a completely unexpected compact sports GT, a completely unexpected electric crossover GT, a completely inexplicable six-wheel-drive modded Defender and a completely intoxicating 1000-horsepower track weapon... and that's not even the half of it!

Let's start with this quirky quartet though, one at a time:

Bentley EXP 10 Speed-6





The Bentley Continental GT does not appeal to me. There's still something Germanic about the upright nose design (despite the massive mesh grille...), much of the underpinnings were originally from a VW Phaeton and I associate it too much with Premiership footballers to ever desire one. Its homegrown rivals are far more elegant to behold. But the bigger problem right now is that the focus is currently on cars much smaller than that 2.2-tonne behemoth. It's on the Jaguar F-Type, with Aston Martin occasionally popping up to remind you it still makes the V12 Vantage. There will also be a rival from Maserati soon, and AMG recently released the highly accomplished GT, meaning that if you want a front-engined alternative to a 911, you're spoilt for choice. Bentley now want to spoil you even more, with this smaller, leaner, greener two-seater sports GT car. This completely unexpected EXP 10 Speed 6 concept car is a toe in the pool to see if people are interested in Bentley going in this direction, so if you're a customer of theirs then please tell them that this is a million times cooler and less ugly than the upcoming Benteke SUV... or whatever they're calling it.

It's not just about market segments, though. Styling cues, production techniques and interior features are all being experimented with here. The grille, door handles, side vents and exhaust tips are made of 3D-printed metal. The headlight/grille design and surfacing language have been played with. There's a 12" touchscreen in the dashboard (because of course there is). Typically, everything on a Bentley that isn't shipped in from VW is hand-made, but now they want to try adding machined parts in alongside the hand-crafted elements, blending traditional British-ness like the quilted leather and classically-correct proportions with modern tech and attitudes.

There's no official mention on what lurks beneath, but it could be a hybrid, or use the Conti GT's V8, or both. It could also sit in VW Group's "MSB" modular platform for front-engined, rear-wheel-drive cars, giving it a USP against their current two-door. The term "Speed 6" refers to one of the company's massive Le Mans cars from the late 1920s, but could it also refer to a 6-cylinder engine? Who knows. One certainty is that Bentley are serious about this, pointing out that the car's essentially production-ready in terms of layout and ergonomics and all the regulatory stuff. If it does get the green light it will cost a similar amount to the Conti GT, meaning around £130,000. That's two V6 F-Types......


Aston Martin DBX Concept





Even less predictable was Aston Martin's big reveal: an all-electric crossover GT. Oh yes, this high-riding four-seater has in-wheel electric motors powered by lithium sulphur cells to give it all-wheel-drive and extra luggage space where there would normally be an engine. It's even packing KERS! Like the EXP 10 above, this DBX Concept is Aston Martin testing the market's reaction, along with the reaction of those who could buy one of their existing products, but haven't yet. It was apparently commissioned just four days after former Nissan executive Andy Palmer started his new job as the big boss of what's officially the coolest car brand in the world, with Palmer telling the design team to "expand their thinking beyond conventions, to explore what the future of luxury GT motoring would look like in years ahead." Apparently the result is something that could silently transport James Bond* across the desert, with an interior sporting customisable head-up displays for both driver and passenger, active dimming glass and drive-by-wire steering. Unlike the EXP 10, this is "by no means production ready." The eventual production version of this car could even sport four doors and slot in under the Rapide, most likely not using all-electric power... but given what Nissan was up to when Palmer was there, you never know...

*I would like to humbly apologise for resorting to such a tired cliché.


Kahn Design Flying Huntsman 6x6


Well now. While Land Rover is paying tribute to the venerable Defender with special heritage editions, British modifiers of questionable taste are paying tribute with the maddest version possible. Kahn Design (formerly Project Kahn) have taken the iconic 4x4 and made it into something entirely else. They had already stretched the nose out by 400mm to make the "Flying Huntsman," but now they're gone a step further to create the best 6x6xFar... unless sir would prefer a G63 AMG 6x6, that is.

Like its four-wheeled sibling, the Flying Huntsman 6x6 is packing an entirely different powertrain to a normal Defender, having scored Internet Cool Points by swapping in an LS3 V8 from General Motors. The Corvette/Camaro motor pushes 430bhp and 425lb/ft through a 6-speed automatic gearbox to all six wheels, and retains low-range gears for epic off-road prowess. Adding an extra 800mm to the rear end means this car is 1.2 metres longer than the longest Defender Land Rover offers, so maneuverability might still be an issue in certain situations. But hey, who cares when it looks this cool?! It's a good day when there's a new 6x6 in the world.

Prices haven't been disclosed, but the "normal" Flying Huntsman with its measly four wheels is around £125,000 so don't expect this to be cheap. The weight hasn't been disclosed either, but expect that to be equally immense. Kahn are considering an armoured version too, which is probably one of few ways to make 425lb/ft seem like it isn't enough...


McLaren P1 GTR






So. We've sort of been here before on SmallBlog V8. I mentioned the preview concept to this car when covering the Ferrari FXX K in December, so I'll just go over the essentials again. This isn't road a legal car. It's the track-only, unrestricted hardcore variant of the McLaren P1 hyper-hybrid. The 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 is now tuned up to 800PS (789bhp), with the electric motor assistance adding 200PS (197bhp) to give 1000 metric horsepower - or 986 traditional BHP - sent through an up-rated 7-speed DCT. That's the same as a Veyron of course, but this doesn't weigh the same as a Veyron, not even close. It's not all-wheel-drive either. Add on slick tyres, an aero package that wouldn't look out of place on an FIA GT3 racing car and the same combo of boost button and DRS function as the road car, and you've got McLaren's ultimate track weapon. While it has the road car's performance gadgets and air conditioning, it doesn't have adjustable ride height. Instead it's like it's in Race Mode all the time, but 50mm lower with an 80mm wider front track and more aggressive spring and damper rates optimised for the GTR. Oh, and it has built-in air jacks. BECAUSE RACECAR.

The seven-figure price is basically irrelevant to you and I, but those that pay it will be given full access to McLaren's motorsport facilities, including the same simulator and training regimes that their Formula 1 drivers are entitled to. You then get to choose six of the twelve available track-day events to go to, and McLaren bring you your P1 GTR and a team of boffins to help you run it for the day. Grip the steering wheel from an MP4-23 Formula 1 car and hold on tight, you rich maniac! You'll need to when it's generating 660kg of downforce at 150mph and pulls well over 2g in fast corners.

Most importantly though, this one has a retro livery. The new McHonda MP4/30 does not have a retro livery. SOMEBODY needs to get the man that made this decision and transfer him to Formula 1 livery design......

Aston Martin Vulcan





If you don't fancy your track-only hypercar being a hybrid, or refuse to buy a car with fewer than twelve cylinders in its engine, then you'd best head back to Aston Martin. If the DBX is making you worried about the company's future models, then the new Vulcan - named after the huge bomber jet that was signed off at Gaydon, where AM's based - ought to sort you out. It's built around a carbon fibre tub based on that of the stunning One-77 from a few years ago, keeping the wheelbase of the ultimate Aston Martin road car too. But the V12 is different. Gone is the 750bhp 7.3-litre Cosworth-tuned engine, swapped for a marginally smaller race-spec unit from Aston's motorsport division, again mounted behind the front axle. If the phrase "800-horsepower 7-litre V12" doesn't make you deeply excited, then maybe you're not all that into cars...

The ultimate Aston Martin track car sends its screaming, monstrous power through a carbon propshaft to a rear-mounted 6-speed sequential gearbox and a mechanical LSD. Weight is 1350kg. Ensuring you can keep the grunt under control are 380mm/360mm carbon ceramic brakes with adjustable-strength ABS, and adjustable traction control. Oh, and up to 1300kg of downforce (at ~200mph). If those measures fail you then you'll be comforted by the car's full compliance with FIA safety standards as you fling your £1,800,000 track car into the gravel. I mean, er, tarmac run-off.

Mind you, because Aston Martin would very much prefer that you didn't bin it, that absurd price also buys you a similar driver training programme to the P1 GTR above, with simulator access and help from factory racing drivers including two-time Le Mans GT-class winner Darren Turner. So you won't be a n0ob for long. You'll just have more confidence to revel in that glorious V12 chorus and tune your adjustable "Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve" dampers as you experience some iconic race circuits on your "bespoke trackday events" in 2016. For all we know, this could be Aston Martin's last ever naturally-aspirated V12 engine before the downsizing trend and AMG links take over, so when you take it to the track, film it in HD and let us all enjoy it.

It must be neat being a multi-millionaire...




Some Less Mad Stuff


It's a good motor show when cars like these four are barely a highlight. Pictured above are new, faster models from four classic British names: Morgan, Aston Martin (again - they've really woken up!), McLaren and Lotus.

We'll go clockwise. First up is the new fifth generation of the neoclassical Morgan Aero 8. With thorough revisions in all areas of the car, from chassis to interior to body design tweaks, it's the fastest and most complete car Morgan has yet made. The rather spectacular rear deck opens up to reveal both a decent-sized boot and the fabric roof, the latter of which is covered up when it's down for the first time in Mogan's history. "Ooooh!!" you'll sarcastically say. It still has BMW-Mini headlights and Lancia Thesis tail lights, but the bodywork has been subtly refined in a wind tunnel. Yes, Morgan has heard of one of those before. Don't forget that they once raced the Aero 8 in GT3 and won twice at Silverstone! If you want more aero on your Aero, you can spec a hardtop which barely stretches over the length of the cabin. It's a very charming car, still packing a 370bhp BMW V8 originally from the E39 M5, but re-tuned the way Morgan likes it. I'd expect more from a 4.8-litre motor these days, but it's an old engine now and if we're honest, this is not a number-chasing car. Besides, an 1100kg dry weight gives it the power/weight ratio of a GT-R, so it'll still be a thrill. Get more info in this video from XCAR.

Next up is the Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3. If you can't afford one of the 24 Vulcans being made, then you'll be pleased to know that you can settle for one of 100 race-inspired Vantages for a mere £250,000. That's getting on for twice as much as a non-GT3 version, so what are you getting over the V12 Vantage S? A full carbon aero package with complementary carbon bonnet and door shells, all-carbon dashboard, wider track front and rear (15mm & 33mm respectively), lower ride height and a weight loss of 100kg, thanks in part to manually adjusting carbon seats, less sound deadening and a lightweight battery. If you spec a carbon roof, polycarbonate windows and magnesium centre-lock wheels then you can shed a further 25kg to bring it down to 1565kg. Add on reworked track-biased suspension with active dampers, tailor-made Brembo carbon ceramic brakes and sticky summer tyres and it all starts to add up. The rest of the £100,000 premium is probably the obligatory exclusivity fee as there will only ever be 100. It's not the lightest track car by any means, but with a 595bhp 6.0-litre V12 making 461lb/ft it's also not the dullest by any means either. 0-60 is dealt with in 3.5 seconds and the extra drag from the massive wings lowers the top speed from 205mph to 185mph. Not that you'll ever miss it on a race track with corners and stuff. You'll be more interested in the downforce those wings generate instead. And the noise. Oh, the noise......

In the '90s corner we have the McLaren 675LT. The 'LT' stands for "Long Tail," but in actual fact it's only 34mm longer than the 650S. The dubious title is primarily a reference to the McLaren F1 GT used to homologate a long-bodied racing version of Gordon Murray's masterpiece in 1997. That had a really long tail. The '675' refers to power output, but don't go thinking it's just a tweak of this and a winglet on that compared to the 650S. The front and rear track are 20mm wider to give it a squatter stance, the springs are 27% and 63% stiffer front and rear, there's 40% more overall downforce (due to a carbon aero package) and a double-size air brake, the 7-speed gearbox shifts twice as quickly and cuts the throttle for a split-second to give a racecar sound, the stability control is more precise, and it's been made a whole 100kg lighter by analysing and every single part on the car and making improvements for a third of them. With the engine modified from the conrods up to give 675PS (666bhp), and a dry weight of 1230kg, it has a power/weight ratio to trouble a Veyron. 516lb/ft of torque should make it feel pretty feral as well. This is yet another limited-production car at 500 units globally, so there's another high price at £260,000. If you can find an extra £5090, you can specify the Club Sport Pack, which adds a titanium roll bar, five-point racing harnesses and a fire extinguisher in case you find any 991 GT3s in trouble on your track day. The 458 Speciale drivers on your track day probably don't want to know that with your Pirelli Trofeo R tyres, you can do 0-60mph in 2.9 seconds, 0-125mph in 8.0 seconds and 205mph given enough straight road. I think I'd probably have this over the Vantage GT3, despite it not having a V12...

Finally, there was a major release from Lotus, who still exist by the way. The Evora 400 was unveiled alongside a 220-horsepower Elise at Geneva, and despite appearances we're told that nearly 70% of the car is completely new. I'm telling you that over 70% of the rear end is completely hideous (click here for image), but that's just my opinion. The facts, however, are thus: This is Lotus's first new car since Jean-Marc Gales of Peugeot-Citroën, VW and Mercedes fame took over the company, and it really is vastly different under the skin. The supercharger, intercooler and other elements of the Toyota-derived 3.5-litre V6 are new and add up to an extra 50bhp over the outgoing Evora S to make 400bhp, along with 302lb/ft of twist. The aluminium tub chassis has been improved - including lower and slimmer sills to improve ergonomics - without compromising stiffness. Despite using higher-quality interior materials and allying the all-new centre console with a reversing camera, heated leather seats and a (sadly still rather chavvy) Alpine satnav, it's 22kg lighter. Team that with a Quaife LSD for manual versions and you're looking at a car that's six seconds faster around Lotus's test track than the now-defunct Evora S. It's also a couple of tenths faster to 60mph at 4.1 seconds, and can hit 300km/h, or 186mph, the first Lotus to do so. The changes under the skin work, then, but the changes to the skin itself? Debatable. A new car should look new, where as this just has new wheels (and brakes) and more aggressive bumpers, of which I'm not really a fan. The fibreglass body is unchanged and there's thus a risk of this car going unnoticed. More risky is the price tag of £72,000. The Porsche Cayman GT4 starts at £64,500. Good luck Lotus, I wish you well. Find out more about their recovery plan on Pistonheads.

Stay tuned for non-British cars in the next few days!

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