Monday, 31 August 2015

Sagaris - Where TVR Left Off

It's been said about the 2017/18 TVR comeback cars that the new two-car range will "pick up where the old range left off." Perhaps, then, we should look at the last model they made before their slow demise. They had the little Tamora, the big Tuscan and the middle-sized T350 (the latter either as a 'C' coupé or a 'T' targa). The ultimate model was the Typhon/T440R, a souped up, supercharged Tuscan variant to homologate the racing car that won the Spa 1000km in 2004 with a 1-2 finish. Only three such road cars exist as far as I can tell. But the one that really springs to mind was the hardcore version of the T350, given a proper name and some proper development: the 2005 Sagaris.

Pictured in its natural pose
Named after an ancient battleaxe wielded by people on horseback, it used TVR's traditional steel tube frame chassis and fibreglass body combo, but with an extra dose of aggression. A BIG one. It had two huge movable cooling vents in the bonnet, a gigantic see-through Gurney flap at the back to complement the Gurney bubble in the roof and gouges over the front wheels which were originally vents, but had to be filled in because they let the tyres throw stones at the windscreen. Oh, and the exhausts? It would seem they couldn't decide whether to have side-exit pipes or rear-exit pipes, so they compromised by putting side-exit pipes... at the back! Obviously. The result is totally badass by anybody's standards and couldn't be much more threatening if it had knives sticking out of it.

Making an obscenely loud, angry and frankly glorious noise was a 4.0-litre naturally aspirated straight-six of their own design, used in all their cars of the 2000s and in this instance chucking 406 horsepower and 350lb/ft of torque at the six-speed manual gearbox. Given that the car weighs 1078kg ready to go, that's rather a lot of power. In fact, to add context, its power/weight ratio of 383bhp/tonne is comfortably higher than that of a GT-R NISMO, and a whole 101bhp/t higher than the new Lotus Evora 400. Even a Porsche 997 GT3 RS 4.0 isn't quite on the Sagaris's level in this regard. It hit 60mph from rest in 3.8 seconds, equal to a 2011 Lexus LFA, and allegedly topped 180mph flat out. Maybe this is the point at which to mention that it doesn't have traction control, ABS or even an airbag, not even as an option? Delicate flowers need not apply...

When it landed a decade ago, it cost a smidgen under £50,000. For the performance that was great value - a GT3 RS was twice as much - although you weren't exactly getting world class build quality, despite Nikolai Smolensky's promises when he bought the company. Their customers knew what they were in for on that front, though. As the TopGear test above proclaims, this car was set up by the man who set up the brilliant Noble M400, and as such it provided all the lunacy those looks promised, minus a lot of the rough edges other models had in the corners.

The new cars will be light, powerful, manual and roughly the same size as this car. They will have to have traction control, ABS and airbags this time because otherwise they wouldn't be road legal, but hopefully the unhinged character that made TVR so special will carry through. If they really are picking up where the Sagaris and Tuscan II left off, then we ought to be in for something pretty special.

Oh! There's one more thing.

If you want to buy a Sagaris, there are two things to tell you: 1) Surprisingly they're still about £50,000, and 2) if you're quick you can buy a brand new one! Sort of.

This is the very last Sagaris ever made, although "made" is a slight overstatement. Currently in the possession of highly regarded specialists Racing Green TVR, it comprises a registered rolling chassis and an engine made using their own power/reliability modifications, giving around 430bhp and improved durability thanks to their "Finger Follower-Free" cylinder head upgrade among other things. The interior isn't done, so you can have them upholster it however you like, although as you can see the body has already been painted in rather striking colour-shift "Cascade Violet" hue(s). Just give them 4-6 months and a mystery amount of money and you can have the one and only 2014 Sagaris! There's no price given because it'll depend on a few things, but I'd imagine it would be around £60-70k at most.

See the ad here. Might buy a lottery ticket...

If you read this writing anywhere other than Small Blog V8, it's been stolen. Let me know here so I can attack the culprit with a battleaxe. And hammers. And maybe a shoe.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Woah, What If TVR Actually Comes Back?!

Speculative sketch-render of a new TVR
Hey, remember TVR? If you call yourself a reader of this blog (or indeed a car enthusiast) then you ought to, because I wrote about the history of their road cars and forays into motorsport back when they announced that their journey was coming to an end. Founded by one bloke in 1948 and going on to score a 1-2 in the Spa 1000km in 2005 (and outrun LMP2 cars at Le Mans while they were at it), their cars had a reputation for looking outrageous and being wild to drive... not least because you didn't know if you'd reach your destination or not. In a sports car world filled with Italian clichés and sensibly effective German dominance, the Blackpool bruisers brought a strong and distinct flavour to those who fancied something different, something "unplugged." Or perhaps "unhinged." Their cars had a tubular backbone chassis, separate fibreglass body, a manual gearbox connected to a big shouty engine - typically a deeply angry V8 or straight-six - and ergonomics that would baffle Sherlock Holmes, let alone anyone bonkers enough to spend Porsche money on something handmade from a small independent British sports car company that didn't believe in safety devices (not even ABS or airbags).

Their death wasn't surprising - they were rarely in good financial health, if ever - but it was sad, because they never failed to be exciting, and their inimitable character and brutal charm cultivated, well, a cult. Alas, sometimes even devoted fans can't keep a company afloat. They officially closed down in 2012, but really things had ground to a halt by the end of 2006, after which five sorry years of desperate attempts to put together a survival plan ensued.

Fast forward to 2015, and things are very different. The company's remains have been passed on to a new guy, who's brought in other new guys to put together a revival plan that appears from the outside...... to be working!

In the first half of this year, Russian businessman Nikolai Smolensky (who oversaw TVR's floundering decline in the 2000s) sold the company to Les Edgar, an entrepreneur and former games developer based in Surrey who is a TVR fan himself. What is he doing with it? Well, he has everything he'd need to bring back the 2004 range, but the plan is to do something new. How will he go about that, then? He's drafting in some very promising names indeed, for a start. Legendary road and racing car designer Gordon Murray has joined and will use his eponymous design company's unique "iStream" design process to produce cars in a way that's significantly more environmentally and financially efficient than normal means. It involves a large-diameter steel tube frame with recyclable composite panels cleverly bonded directly to it, giving a very strong and safe yet feather-light chassis with excellent interior packaging. This is essentially the same engineering philosophy as before, but through state-of-the-art methods with additional advantages, and has previously been used to produce a genius city car that sadly never got picked up by a car manufacturer.

This all-new chassis will reportedly be powered by an all-new engine made in-house. Well, in-house with the help of legendary road and race car engineering company Cosworth, that is. We know that it will be a naturally aspirated dry-sump V8 and it will be connected to a 6-speed manual gearbox. It's been speculated that it will produce 450-550 horsepower. There is also strong talk that it will weigh less than a Toyota GT86, putting the weight below 1200kg. They're actually targeting 1100kg, a whisker over the Sagaris's mass. Given that the super-advanced McLaren 675LT weighs 1230kg dry, that would be pretty impressive by today's standards. The body will have side-exit exhausts to facilitate a flat floor and unobstructed diffuser for good downforce.

The two images above are Autocar's sketch renders of the sort of thing they're planning. The new cars will have styling by an unnamed British design consultancy and be roughly the same size as the old Sagaris and Tuscan despite sharing zero components with them. There will be two models at first, closely related to each other and each available as either a coupé or a convertible. The style will take inspiration from the Peter Wheeler era (1981-2004) when TVR was at its peak, but will not be retro copies of any particular models despite possibly using old model names. The new company is run and populated primarily by fans and former customers of the brand, but they want to continue the brand's heritage and move it forwards, not shill it to nostalgic people through cynical history-pillaging. So, the opposite plan to the new MINI, then...

Will they be built up north in Blackpool? The new owners want to build it in the best place, which might be the old factory but could very well be a new location. Gordon Murray Design is based in Shalford, Surrey and Cosworth is based in Northampton, so somewhere in southern England would make logistical sense. Wherever it's made, the price is expected to be roughly the same as the old cars, putting them somewhere around £50-70k. That's squarely within range of a Jaguar F-Type, Porsche 911 Carrera, Cayman GT4 or even just a stretch away from an Aston Martin V8 Vantage. There's also the £72,000 Lotus Evora 400 for all your f*cking-fast fibreglass needs. Mind you, none of these plush luxury coupés are TVRs. That hardcore character hasn't been replaced by anyone else in the last few years.

How likely is all this to succeed, though? British car companies threaten comebacks as often as British rock legends, but they almost never materialise. Well, Mr. Edgar's investment group is well-funded, giving it the bite to go with its bark. Factor in Gordon Murray and Cosworth, and there's serious credibility to this effort. As for finding buyers, they recently announced that all 250 cars for 2017 have been spoken for with £5000 deposits (although TVR Car Club members were rewarded for their loyalty with a half-price offer and a financial donation to their club for each paying punter). The slightly bigger allocation for 2018 is also being filled up as you read this.

Oh yes, in just six weeks a car company without a factory or any real dealer network got over 250 orders for a car that won't exist for another two years! How's that for brand enthusiasm?!

I really hope this works. I'm highly intrigued by iStream production, everyone loves Cosworth and Gordon Murray, and the world could always use more lightweight driver-focused British sports cars. Especially wild ones proudly carrying TreVoR Wilkinson's name. The new car will have to have airbags, ABS and traction control (probably with an Off button) as per current regulations, but it has all the other ingredients for a properly exciting machine. The plan is for the initial 250 cars to soon swell to 1000-1500 cars per year, if all goes well. The boss - who seems pretty down-to-earth - has been saying all the right things [read his interview with Pistonheads] and his organisation has the money, support and some experienced, enthusiastic people behind it. It's a better chance at a comeback than most. I wish them all the best.

This isn't their slogan, but it should be!

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Thursday, 20 August 2015

The Nürburgring Nordschleife Is Finally Getting Sorted Out

While it has long been a notorious race circuit, test facility and YouTube gold mine, the Nürburgring has never been without its troubles. This decade it has changed hands and had its debts passed around a lot as people have had different ideas for what to do with it, but things really came to a head on-track earlier this year. In a VLN race that serves as the build-up to May's increasingly high-profile Nürburgring 24 Hours (N24), a GT3 car caught air over a large crest atop Quiddelbächer Höhe nicknamed "Flugplatz." It's named after the German word for airport partly because there's an airfleld nearby and also because cars leaving the earth for a moment is not unusual at this spot. The lead image in this post proves it. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, this time one Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 wasn't lucky enough to land on its wheels, instead catching the breeze and back-flipping into a spectator area on the outside of the fast right-hand bend which immediately follows. Jann Mardenborough - a mere passenger the instant the car was airborne - was protected by the car's safety cell, but one spectator was tragically killed in the crash.

This left everyone involved and the motorsport community at large shocked... but not wholly surprised. The Nordschleife (North Loop) is an old circuit which has survived essentially unchanged from the crazy old days, partly because Formula 1 deemed it too unsafe after Niki Lauda's horrendous fiery crash in 1976 and didn't return to the track until the much smaller Sudschleife section was reinvented as the Grand Prix circuit we have today, thus sparing the 12.95-mile north section from being tamed with tarmac run-off areas and the like. The flip side of preserving the old-school character is that modern racing cars are getting too capable for it, too aero dependent for such a bumpy surface. With a rudimentary spectator area consisting of a grassy hill, some catch fencing and little else, some critics would argue such an incident was going to happen sooner or later, tragic though it was anyway. Hell, a Flugplatz backflip crash has already happened before.

The initial response by the circuit's owners was to impose and strictly enforce speed limits in certain areas. They also temporarily banned cars of GT3 spec or similar during the initial investigation immediately following the crash, although they were later allowed to race in the N24 under these speed limits. In the image above, the red lines refer to racing cars as well as road cars, while green ones apply only to those doing laps when the track's open to the public. The section that runs up Quiddelbächer Höhe is limited to 200km/h (124mph), while the sweeping section afterwards is capped at 250km/h (155mph). Weirdly, the long straight is also limited, despite no incidents happening there. As a byproduct, the limits also put an end to lap record attempts by car companies or indeed anyone else.

This move caused certain amounts of outrage from fans and racing drivers alike, particularly with regards to the straight, because where some cars would have a speed advantage over their rivals and the driver could let the car stretch its legs and compose him/herself for another lap, with the limit in place the racing froze as everyone hit 250km/h, and drivers had to spend the time making doubly sure they didn't edge over the limit and face a harsh penalty. Much like road speeding penalties, the time racers were made to sit in the pits got longer the further over the limit you went. Apparently during a public day, one person went 280km/h (174mph) through a limited section and the whole track was temporarily red-flagged for everybody. So they're not to be toyed with...

SPOILER ALERT: It probably wasn't done in a McLaren P1.
If this leaves you wondering how long the archaic temporary measure will last, you'll want to know that the answer is "until early next year." After a round-table meeting with the other knights, Capricorn Nürburgring GmbH and other relevant organisations have together come up with and approved sixteen changes to be made to the circuit which will improve safety without compromising the character of the iconic race track.

These will include:

  • More security fences along various parts of the circuit.
  • A restricted zone in the Schwedenkreuz area (the fast stretch just after Flugplatz).
  • More guard rails and FIA-approved safety fences in select areas around the circuit.
  • Repaving some sections of road, including a stretch of roughly 500m along Flugplatz to smooth down five large bumps in the surface that have appeared over time.

Seven of the sixteen changes will be made between November and the start of 2016, at which point the speed limits will be taken away. CNG boss man Carsten Schumacher has made clear that "the unique character of the Nordschleife will be preserved. That’s not only important for motor racing but also for the industry, which has been testing its vehicles on this unique race track for decades." To that end, note that Flugplatz isn't being "reprofiled" or "redesigned," merely "repaved," meaning that they're just taking some old tarmac off and putting new stuff on. They're not neutering the mighty crest or anything scary like that. They're just making it the right side of dangerous to still be fun.

You can read the actual press release here.

Once all that's been sorted, we'll just have to wait and see what creative graffiti gets sprayed onto the new tarmac! Then Koenigsegg can return with the One:1 to make the lap record attempt they were denied earlier this year.

Note: If you see this text anywhere other than SmallBlogV8, it has been stolen. Let me know by commenting here with a link. That goes for any and all posts I write unless otherwise stated.

Honda Advert Banned Because of Two Oversensitive Pillocks

Honda have a legendary reputation for great TV advertisements. There was the Rube Goldberg epicness of The Cog. The choir's rendition of the FN-generation Civic. The Impossible Dream. The slightly trippy one about diesels that was like "♫Hate something, [ba-baaa-ba] Change Something, [ba-baaa-ba] Hate Something Change Something Make Something Betterrrrrrr♫." Apparently, in America, "you meet the nicest people on a Honda" motorcycle. It goes on and on. The one we've had since February - named Keep Up - might not be a greatest hit, but it is at least novel and engaging. Watch it below and learn to speed-read!

Obviously this is the online version, where you can click an annotation to watch progressively faster versions of it to test yourself and see how quickly you can read the captions. Honda say clearly that this ad is meant to encourage you to push your perceived limit (even the version on TV that's always the same speed). A perfectly respectable message and one you'd want associated with your brand if you prided yourself on innovation and the like.

Did it make you want to drive fast, though? Or just learn to read faster?

The cars - plus ASIMO and the HondaJet - are all computer-generated, appear to be in an empty desert or salt flat, and move in a slightly cartoonish/unrealistic manner with silly sound effects, so nobody's going to think they're promoting fast driving and glamourising irresponsible behaviour, are they?

Are they???

Yes. Apparently so.

A whopping TWO people have sent in complaints to the Advertising Standards Agency in the UK, which then had to review the ad to look for anything prohibited by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice Code. They clearly exercise zero tolerance, because the advert has been banned from British screens, lest your innocent and impressionable mind be molded into that of a mad crazy street racer who BRAZENLY goes 35mph on a 30mph road and doesn't slow down sufficiently when there's a cloud in the sky or a tree over there or something.

The official statement reads thus [emphasis mine]:

"While the ad did not include realistic depictions of the vehicles being driven in a dangerous manner, we considered, when taken altogether, the fast changing on-screen text, references to "pushing yourself" and "going faster", the scenes of the cars, sound effects and accompanying sound track was likely to leave viewers with the impression that speed was the central message of the ad.  For those reasons, we therefore concluded that the ad breached the Code, which states that speed must not be the main message of an ad."

Except that it really wasn't likely to be taken that way. The fast-moving text was merely a method to make you test yourself by trying harder to read it in time. The cars zip in and out of screen promptly because, combined with the sound effects, it makes them seem fun and maybe a little cheeky. The new NSX supercar zooming along at the end was equally cartoonish and also, y'know, happening in the middle of nowhere. How is going fast in a desert dangerous?! Are you going to shut down Bonneville Salt Flats next, alarmist complaint writer? Have you nothing better to do?

Of the two complaints, one was the straightforward "promoting dangerous driving" type. That was the one which the ASA upheld. The rejected complaint? That person suggested that the split second shot of a computer-generated Honda Jazz shutting its own tailgate (to demonstrate the practical hatchback-ness) and zipping off backwards "if emulated in real-life, could cause serious or fatal injury." So could using a ladder! Are you going to ban that too? Nobody's about to slam their boot shut and reverse at high speed for a laugh, least of all in a pious little Honda Jazz. At no point were humans shown in the ad, so there's no risk of anyone copying somebody they saw on TV - especially as autonomous cars aren't even nearly capable or sentient enough to want to mess around like that by themselves.

Clearcast, an organisation which helps brands avoid this kind of bullshit, made their stance clear by saying "the presentation of the cars did not condone or encourage dangerous driving due to the surreal nature of the ad. The message of the ad was clear—the innovation of Honda's new cars."

I wonder if these are the same two people who got the Toyota GT86 "Real Deal" ad banned? Or the ones who made Jaguar cut down the first It's Good To Be Bad ad because of that one bit where an F-Type overtakes a bus at about 30mph?

See, this isn't the first time we've been here at all. I'll say again that the soulless monotony depicted in the first half of the Toyota GT86 advert is very much where we're heading as a civilisation when a couple of stuck-up alarmist pearl clutchers on a mission to ban anything fun or exciting are listened to like this.

Imagine if the same strong-armed approach had been taken to actual telly shows like TopGear (ohhhh how they've tried and failed for the last decade)! Last night I was looking for something, anything to watch on TV - how can there be 800 channels and nothing on?! - and found a program on the motor racing network Motors TV called Auto Mundial, a show described as bringing you the latest news from the motoring world and stuff like that. It was, by far and away, the single most boring car-based thing I have ever seen in my life, by some considerable margin. Miles duller than any car restoration show or how-they're-made documentary could ever hope to be, less bearable even than Sky 1's desperate atrocity that was Vroom-Vroom. I tuned in to find stock footage of a white BMW X3 (not a new car) situated somewhere picturesque to the point of cliché. After slow panning shots from many angles, the white crossover drove around at 19mph while an old man who sounded almost as bored as anyone watching this drivel rambled on about exterior dimensions and list prices versus the X5 and the replacement coming in late 2016 "as a 2017 model" - thus confirming that this wasn't an old repeat and was in fact a new[ish] episode - and something about Land Rover being worried by it or whatever. Having managed not to slip into a coma before the ad break mercifully arrived, I decided to challenge myself to get through the rest of the show, for the experience. I went to the toilet.

Once it was back on, there was a 140-second history lesson about Rolls-Royce, with a timer to let you know when it would end. I missed the first 5 seconds, so I was only uninspired for 135 of those seconds. If you're trying to appeal to young viewers with this "Classic Tweet" feature, maybe do a little better than panning shots from some owner's club meeting and some black & white photos punctuated by a carelessly delivered series of dull factoids.

Having been promised the latest automotive news and been shown a four-year-old SUV followed by a context-less history lesson, I was then shown a dull saloon car from 2004 and told how successful the Audi A4 had been at being sold to people on the corporate ladder, or something. But don't worry, it was followed by the NEW Audi A4! Y'know, the one that came out in 2011/12... that was a facelift of the one that came out in 2007/08. So not new at all. Here's what a not-new Audi A4 looks like:

If you want to see the 2016 Audi A4 that's ACTUALLY the new A4, click here
Before too long, the jaded old man chimed in with a cringe-tacularly clichéd metaphor about sticking to a chat-up line you know works. This eventually lead into a quip about women buying dresses that was such an offensively dreary platitude, I can't remember the premise of it. I think it was something about buying into fashion, because the core message of it all was that Audi are sticking rigidly to the design formula that has given them much success (in fairness, that bit's true). I know this much because Numpty the Narcolepsy Narrator spent the next five or ten minutes finding several different ways to make the same point about Audi building what sells and not changing the recipe too much and blah blah blah what's the point of living. I couldn't make it to the end of the show, instead catching the last five minutes or so of some Hungarian Grand Prix highlights on Sky F1, which was like Die Hard 4 by comparison.

I'm not sure if I have made this clear yet, but I thought this show was fucking dreadful. I'm actually pretty sure that the "experience" of watching it is what being dead feels like. I also think that the people complaining about fun car ads to get them banned would absolutely love it and say that this is what the new-generation TopGear starring Chris Evans should be like. This isn't merely middle-of-the-road. It's the paint that denotes where the middle of the road is, and you're watching it dry to the sound of every motoring magazine cliché from the last 40 years. I've read more interesting Facebook posts. In fact no, I've read more interesting *press releases* than Auto Mundane Mundial.

But hey, watching uninteresting cars drive slowly can't offend anyone, can it? Sadly, animated Hondas appearing between captions apparently can. What a sad state of affairs when two oversensitive dullards with incredibly narrow lives can shut down a bit of fun the rest of us considered harmless.

It's people like them who make car companies resort to horrendous tripe like this to avoid trouble:


So where does this leave Honda? Well, they could edit the ad to remove all the cars and the HondaJet, but then they'd only have ASIMO and a logo shot at the end to link the thing to their brand... until someone complains that the lovable robot is walking too quickly, thus promoting irresponsibly fast waddling to young children. Don't rule it out......

Actually, I'll tell you what they'll do. They'll think "well that's a shame" and be thankful they already came up with a new ad campaign anyway, just six months after Keep Up first appeared.

Here's the new one, called Ignition. All the cool vehicles Honda makes, fast and slow, big and small, cheap and expensive, complete with an NSX echoing to the sound of Ayrton Senna, as well as people in F1 cars who aren't Ayrton Senna. It climaxes with them all in the shape of a space rocket about to launch into the unknown, as an act of "Honda daring" meant to inspire you to push the boundaries or innovate or something. Woo! Rockets! ASIMO again! Motorbikes doing mad burnouts! Formula 1 cars on fire possibly!

But of course, the rocket doesn't actually go anywhere. That would be promoting the act of irresponsibly creating a rocket shape out of things that aren't rockets, which could OF COURSE cause serious or fatal injury if emulated in real life...

Disclaimer: SmallBlog V8 does not condone the parking of many things in a formation and pretending to take off, as this is potentially very dangerous to the children and wildlife who watch this faked activity on television.