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 Forza 4 Playseat & Mad Catz Wireless Racing Wheel

Forza 4 Playseat & Mad Catz Wireless Racing Wheel


Recently when chatting with a mate of mine about cars and whatnots (as we chaps normally do), the subject eventually turned to racing.  He was wax lyrical about this new XBOX game called “Forza 4”- how realistic, amazing graphics blah blah blah.  I too have an XBOX360 and have played my fair share of video games, of which the racing genre ones make up the majority of my collection.  Sadly, the common thing that leaves me disappointed is, they just don’t have the feel of real racing and while we both agreed that nothing can take away from racing a real car, he felt that a recent acquisition had brought the game far closer to the real thing. “No longer do I have to struggle trying to make it around the track using a hand controller, I now feel like part of the experience” he said.  Intrigued I offered him the opportunity over a beer or two to proffer the news of his purchases. “Well sure I can tell you all about it, but wouldn’t it be better if I can show you the best way to enjoy your video racing” He’d apparently already contacted two of his “Forza Faithful” friends and was able to procure a few goodies for me to try out and review,

The items were –

  • A copy of the Forza 4 game for the XBOX360
  • A Playseat USA, Limited Edition Forza Motorsport 4 Racing Seat, with the optional Seat Slider kit.
  • A choice between 3 different brands of steering wheels to use with the Racing Seat

 Two days later, I received the ‘BIG, humungous’ box containing my seat. Note to self … I need to spend more time at the gym training for these moments where more strength is a desirable option especially in front of the UPS man that handled my package with indifference. Having suffered only mild concussion and a brief slight heart arrhythmia (Joking) after getting my box to the next floor for assembly I started to open it with some reservation. A little research online had produced a number of reviews that had suggested it was some task to put the seat together. The challenge then was set. I did what every Englishman does at the first sign of trepidation… put the kettle on to make a cup of tea! English PG Tips fits the bill nicely, others might break out a bottle of Corona at this point.

Forza Playseat Parts out of the box

First I unpacked all of the various individual boxes and arranged them on the floor so I could check off what I had against the parts manifest. Next I opened the first instruction guide, my technical career had started many years ago in the RAF and I remember my first instructors’ words as clear as though it was yesterday. Don’t disappoint me gentleman read your technical manual thoroughly before you attempt to either assemble or disassemble anything and continue to reference the manual often which means that you won’t be far along your process should you find that your heading in the wrong direction.

 I briefly scanned the ‘seat slider instructions’ then opened the Playseat Racing Forza Motorsport 4 document, deciding that it was more relevant to start with …. I began the build. Quickly the seat started to come together and I was really surprised and excited by the quality of the seat. I thought how cool to have a couple of these seats in my road car, I was also amused then shortly after wards when I noticed ‘Not For Use in Cars’ embroided into the rear of the seat…bugger! Couple of recommendations when assembling the seat however, although most of the necessary Allen keys are included I would also recommend a large mallet or rubber hammer, a large flat blade screwdriver and some latex gloves for the assembly of the seat slider section, this is because the seat adjuster and slide mechanisms are covered in grease and the handle or adjustment lever requires some forceful pressure exerted onto the assembly to put in place. Approximately an hour and two ‘cups of tea later’ I had the base assembly completed, leaving the upright steering wheel support panel adjuster left to assemble. My assumption that it was a ten minute job was well under estimated and I was still playing about with the adjuster and top plate some thirty minutes later, the directions of build being somewhat sketchy and ambiguous on this section. However it soon resembled a really cool ‘Xbox’ seat platform.

I had picked the new ‘Mad Catz Wireless Force Feedback’ wheel and pedal assembly to go with the Forza 4 seat. On unpacking the boxes in the same way as I did with the seat and having laid out all the bits I was very happy with my choice. Again just like the Forza 4 seat, the quality of the components shone through. As a side note a friend of mine had a laugh at my expense when originally discussing what steering wheel I wanted, he said I spent too much time reaching a decision but I disagreed, countering his argument that my decision was based off three factors, the first functionality, the second quality vs. cost and the last some would say perhaps the most important, will my wife like it in her lounge.  

It took a further fiteen minutes to get the wheel, its accessories and electrical connections together and connecting up to my ‘Xbox, so not a long job at all. I noticed too during the build some unique and cool facts about the Mad Catz wheel assembly. The aluminum (and that’s phonetically spoken Al.u.minyum not Al oominum) features a neat trick that it can be placed on the ‘left’ or ‘right’ of the wheel to suit left hander’s and additionally when reading the specs that the firmware is upgradeable, to ensure compatibility to new devices and platforms for future builds. The pedal set has to be secured to the Forza 4’s base plate platform with some Velcro and I while I would have liked to see a more supported and screwed or locked on position, it otherwise makes for a nice easy installation.

    Now with some anticipation of getting my first game underway I popped the seat back and squab cushion into place and climbed aboard…wow this was comfier than my race car, awesome.  Adjustability is the key here and moving everything so, I was really happy with the ergonomic, truly awesome position I found behind the wheel. Following two quick games at my favorite track the Nordershlieife in what I call my set up car the old E30 M3, I really started to enjoy the combination of seat and wheel. The Forza 4 has it all, quality, good looks and a great price point. It’s comfy as hell and has support in all the right places, allowing a great deal of time in the same position rattling off championships without any obvious aches or pains. As for the Mad Catz wheel, the wireless and ‘force feedback’ technology offers a true life experience and surely that’s the whole point. Functionality aside it looks great and the harmonized fit with the Xbox platform and Forza 4 Playseat makes for a winning combination… literally. The cool fold- down seat on the Forza 4 just adds to the quality feel of the seat. Of course it also means that it can be stowed easily and quickly out of the way should certain house guests arrive unexpectantly. Though don’t rush to do this, as my wife found out the other day, she asked me to lose the seat before friends arrived only to find that it became the hottest ticket in the house with everyone jumping in behind the wheel and trying out a game or two and reporting how realistic it felt.

Chasing off the competition…

While the jury may be still out then on when I might be adding another room onto the side of the house to keep my seat and gaming score up to date, discussions are not an option on my new addition to the family. Great choice, good looks, great quality and functionality, the Forza 4 Playseat and Mad Catz 2 Wireless wheel are an awesome combination.   

 Playseat USA website –

Forza Motorsport 4 Racing Seat, Item #: 11014

Playseat Seat Slider Kit, Item #: 80010

 Mad Catz website –

Officially licensed Wireless Force Feedback Wheel for XBOX 360®, Item #: MCB47502NM02/02/1

 Reference Pricing: – Forza 4 Motorsport Racing Playseat – retail price $599 Amazon offer $549

                                           Mad Catz Wireless Force Feedback Wheel – retail price $255 Amazon $246

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A brace of BMW 1000RR's

The 2012 BMW S1000RR

I recently had the opportunity to test ride the new 2012 BMW S1000RR from South Sound BMW Motorcycles in Fife just north of Tacoma here in the North West.

Ok, so of course you want to know how fast it is and if it handles. Yes of course you do, but let’s start by asking a few questions. First, when there are so many hot Japanese street bikes on offer from Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki why would someone want to buy the BMW? Fair question I hear you say. Honda’s 1000CBRR and Yamaha’s R1 are pretty much revolutionized each year to be kept near the top of the pile of affordable superbikes.

In comparison with a car, for the asking price of around $14000, you can buy some of the best technically designed but mass produced crotch rockets around. With power outputs of 160 to 180 bhp typical in this sector now, why should someone shell out that little extra for the 193 bhp Beemer?

But is it all about horsepower? Should this be the whole story as to why you want a superbike?

I first set eyes on the BMW’s revised 2012 S1000RR at the exciting Progressive International Motor Show in Seattle where us journo’s had the opportunity to see the latest and greatest for 2012. For sure the new offerings from Ducati with the next generation 1199 Panigale attempted to steal the show. The 195 BHP Panigale with the lowest curb weight in its class at 415lbs is sure to set a new standard, but at what exactly, with its ‘World Superbike’ fans? The ability to draw a crowd, such is its aesthetic design? We all know, most, will be used for a few hours on any nice Sunday, or like many of my friends who own Dukes, their bikes sit in either the garage or in the day room to admire and look at like an expensive canvas, similar to owning their own Monet or Amedeo Modigliani.

In fact, such was the desire of the assembled throng to capture some shots of the new Duke; I made my way over to the BMW stand where the S1000RR took pride of place beckoning onlookers to take rest on its saddle. It’s beautifully built, every inch of it, every component. You sense the BMW engineers kept the ‘bean counters’ locked, out of the design studio and forbade them to enter the engine dyno room, for sure with a list price of $15050 it’s almost like the product managers slipped it out of the back door while no one was looking and told them the S1000 RR stickers on the side were only for show and really the bike is a 600. Over the next twenty minutes or so, I cast a very speculative eye over the bike and asked myself the second most important question, could I use the S1000RR as my daily rider?

The 2012 model has seen a number of revisions to both the chassis and electronics. These are in principal to promote more rider confidence and usability. Though the engine pumps out a similar 193bhp and 93lbs torque at 13000 and 9750 rpm respectively, small changes have been made to the intake system, throttle bodies, ECU and DTC (traction control system) to achieve better low speed throttle response and provide increased driverability throughout the rev range. The 46mm throttle bodies have been modified and now incorporate small secondary part throttle butterflies to provide enhanced low speed flexibility, the DTC now features separate stage traction control settings or performance curves, for ‘Rain and Sport’ modes. The Sport setting has a subgroup featuring Race and a first for a road bike a ‘Slicks’ option making no pretense as to the primary purpose of the bike. The chassis too has gone undergone some major revisions both in the head-stock angle and offset. In addition the rear swing arm pivot has been repositioned. The new 66 degree angle for the headstock, not only allows the bike to turn in better than the 2010 model, but with the addition of the new 10 stage mechanical steering damper allows the Beemer to be settled earlier into the corner. Revised spring rates front and rear help the bike remain compliant deep into the corner further enhancing rider confidence. Make no mistake 193bhp could be a handful on normal tarmac, especially on the choppy poor surfaced Seattle based roads and the very typical varied weather conditions that we generally have to ride in. So imagine how surprised I was when this iconic superbike handled the conditions as easily as my daily ride, my K1200RS. Having scrolled through the on board computer, I didn’t think on this day I would get much use out of a lap timer, but with ‘Rain mode’ traction control selected, to arrest the full performance reaching the back wheel, the Beemer was easy to pilot around very damp, North West Peninsula roads.

Fun at the beach

Having completed about seventy miles out to Joemma Beach (pictured), I was indeed surprised at the ease in which it handled the conditions. Showing only 41 degrees I applauded BMW’s implementation of the heated grips, a first on a superbike. Although this is part of a collection of accessories, with others ranging from Race DTC & ABS control, I welcomed the two stage heated control function to keep the cold attacking my fingers. Normally the weather would put a spoiler on my biking, but I couldn’t wait to hop a leg over the very comfortable seat to continue my ride. Back on the rural roads and with a dry line emerging, though still taking consideration of the road conditions, I started to asses this bikes performance envelope, Though I would twist the grip, the motor would dispel its power in a smooth almost linear way, limiting both wheelies and wheel spin, keeping them both, under strict control.

BMW's Infotainment Platform (No I-Drive here)

As the weather marginally improved ‘Sport mode’ was selected and this transformed the engines character, a sharp bark from the motor and snappy performance delivered much more power to the fat rear 190 Metzler tire. Now the Beemer took on a very different role. I remember thinking ‘here we go then’ twisting the throttle now sent the bike tire squirming and looking for grip on the tarmac and with my instincts on full alert, I set about discovering what the BMW S1000RR is all about. As I punched through the ratios using the flat change no lift electronically controlled gear lever, the smile on my face said it all. This bike is beautifully balanced. You pilot the machine through a number of ever increasing tighter radius corners and the bike would follow every command that I inputted into the bars…in almost a subliminal, kinetic way. After spending the day with the bike I had unwittingly promised to return it back to the dealer on the same day. The journey back was one of reflection, yeah for sure I was smitten, I was in love, but how deep was my affection? I had been surprised how comfortable it had been to ride and although the rain was once again falling, this all too brief encounter simply wasn’t enough for me.  I remember trying to work out how this new S1000RR could find its way into my garage; how I could surreptitiously slip it under the nose of my wife, replacing the K1200RS.

The K1200RS meets The Dalai Lama

 At the dealership Sales Advisor Jon Bizjak asked me how I enjoyed the bike and remarked on the poor weather blunting my experience, but you know that was the amazing part yeah for sure, obviously the weather limited my performance testing of the new S1000RR, but it was a real test of character for the bike. If this was the worst I could throw it at and I stepped off beguiled by its virtues, imagine those lucky enough to enjoy and use it in great weather on the road, or better still at home on the circuit, where the S1000RR could really excel.

Every inch a ‘Superbike’

This new BMW is a beautiful bike. Stunning to look at and with the sum of all its parts having been beautifully put together, it’s fit and finish is better than any bike I have cast my eyes upon that runs the other side of 25K. The new BMW S1000RR also puts a great big fat smile on your face- especially when, you remember you only had to shell out, just over 15K to buy one. Whether you use it at the weekends or to commute every day, this new Beemer is a brilliant bike. To answer the question fully, would require you, yourself to ride this new bike. For me it comes down to being very different from the normal Honda and Yamaha. Yes the Beemer has more power, but it’s the way the guys at BMW have put it together. They have spent a lot of time developing this machine, you can tell that every nut, bolt and fastener has been weighed and only used if really necessary; with each component being used because it’s the best, the electronics tested and retested to ensure its compatibility to all the other features, very evident in its usability to put the power down on the tarmac. This BMW doesn’t come at the expense of bone shaking ride quality either, or the need to stop every fifty miles to get some feeling back in your lower limbs, roll your wrists and visit your chiropractor once a month. Yeah I may be getting older but this bike provides me with the joy of youth, it’s the Dalai Lama of superbikes, the pure embodiment of an ideal.

Even better, every time you park, people will flog around it like a supermodel at the Oscars, staring in wonderment as to its provocative style and performance.

For more info contact your local BMW motorcycle dealer or call Jon Bizjak at South Sound BMW Motorcycles on 253-922-2004

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Hyundai Veloster


Funny thing but it’s really becoming popular to look outside the box with car design. The recent shake up and changes that sent shockwaves through the whole automotive industry seems to have revived the need to create appealing design shapes, introduce new fundamental technology advances to act as product market differentiators to appeal to niche consumer groups. These two new cars while similar in concept are two such contenders.
The All New Hyundai Veloster & Honda CRZ

Honda CRZ

Both of these cars are good looking, sports oriented and full of the latest technology. However while they may appear similar from the outside they deliver their equal amounts of pleasure in very different ways.
The Veloster Hyundai’s newest addition to its impressive lineup, offers respectable performance in its initial guise with the same 1.6GDi (high pressure Gas Direct Injection) engine borrowed from the Elantra, 138bhp/123ftlbs. This efficient CVVT DOHC chain driven engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic complete with paddle shifters and allows for a reasonable turn of speed. One hopes however that news released from Hyundai suggests that there may be a 200bhp Turbo powered car planned for future production. That said there is little doubt that this turbo engine would likely not match the superb 30 city 40 hwy miles per gallon that this little 1.6Gdi engine does. The Veloster does boast some really ingenious interior and exterior design technology as well…
From the outside viewed on the passenger side you notice a clever three door design but the driver’s side reveals only two, clever packaging to look like a three door coupe but offering the additional practicality and added convenience of a hatchback. The Veloster then, presents a fairly unique personality. The body design is cute yet purposeful with nice flared arches and body-colored painted inserts for the very attractive alloy wheels.


Honda CRZ

Though the interior is less impressive than the outside, it is ergonomically sound and appears well built. From a technology standpoint the Veloster in the model tested, features a seven-inch touch-screen display, featuring Blue-Link, Hyundai’s answer to Kia’s Microsoft UVO impressive voice recognition platform. Blue Link offers Automatic Crash Notification (CAN) and Assistance SOS emergency assistance. Blue Link Guidance can locate the nearest gas stations, report weather and traffic conditions and provide turn-by-turn navigation. The remainder of the interior is a little too functional with little in the way of impressive new design cues, though it remains a very comfortable environment with nice support and good visibility at least while looking out the front. Reversing out of a parking place requires extra attention as the high waistline and small rear glass area brings on its own challenges.


The design of Honda’s CRz is based on the very successful eighties front wheel drive very successful. CRX. Intended as a small three door coupe oriented hatchback it’s visually slightly less impressive than Hyundai’s Veloster but equally entertaining from the driver’s perspective. Power though is derived from a very efficient hybrid/vtec-gas engine combined power unit. The integrated motor features a pizza styled electric motor that is sandwiched between either a six speed manual transmissions or the detent biased CVT (or CVW Constant Variable Whine) paddle actuated type gearbox and traditional engine unit. The 10 kilowatt electric motor is good for 13bhp and 58lbs of torque. The 1500 cc 16 valve Vtec engine delivers 112 bhp and 107lbs of torque providing a total combined power output of 122bhp and 129lbs of torque, Unlike say a Prius, while the electric motor will run briefly on its own the gas engine provides most of the forward motion leaving the electric motor to give high immediate torque for acceleration. Sport, normal and economy modes are employed to determine the exact active eco performance environments.
The exterior of the CRZ features an aggressive wedge shape design and as aforementioned, similar in design to the 80’s model CRX but this shape is brought right up to date with smoother lines and better overall architecture. The two door and hatchback design is striking though and from the integrated headlight, grille, hood design and nice fluted body sculptured into the side profile with the traditional squared off rear it’s quite a cutey, though in fairness not as muscular as the Veloster.
This, little two seater has lots of room up front and allows the driver to get easily accommodated behind the wheel. The ergonomic dash, with blue backlit gauges, offer a striking profile for the pilot and typical Honda precision controls feel just right in the users hands. The navigation system employed in my press vehicle was easy to use and featured Bluetooth connectivity, IPod USB integration and steering wheel audio versatility albeit the functionality for the speech processor didn’t quite catch my British accent as easy as the Hyundai system. No rear seat is offered and in fact a warning sign is evident to dissuade users from taking to using the rear seats for anything but for use as a load carrier.
Driving Manners
Both cars drive with a sporty pretence but in all honesty they are very far removed from anything that could be efficient within a track based environment. Nimble and accurate they are, On the road the Honda soaks up the bump and bounce more efficiently than the Hyundai who have taken the BMW M approach with a somewhat heavier spring vs. weaker shock combination which doesn’t quite sit well with me unless you spend your life pounding around a billiard smooth surface.
For me neither vehicle quite hit the mark and while they are both affordable and interesting they don’t float my boat as we say in England. For me although I like the CRZ design and loved the original CRX I yearn for the Civic SI Vtec engine to be nested within the engine bay. With the Hyundai it’s got such a great shape, a muscular build and a nice interior, yet with this 138bhp, my first thought after the drive is ‘what a wasted opportunity for Hyundai to change the brand image with a great affordable sports coupe with entry level pricing to sit under the highly capable Genesis Coupe. Now fit the turbo engine we all hope for and consumers will have the power and performance to match its great looks. Currently the MSRP ranges from $17,500 to $21,800 for the Veloster and $19895 to $22500 for the CRZ.

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What is going on with this great country, we seem to have lost a cohesive sense of self purpose and righteousness. Our political parties are either extreme right or extreme left and as fundamental as any that we are currently at war with, the political moderates on both the left and right floundering in the middle-ground without the know it all to bond and bring out the best in either side, a situation that while not unique in other countries leaves unrest and personal despair by normal people who go to work each day and pay their taxes.

Surely, one would think that senators and representatives of all states, irrespective of their own political belief would agree, (even using their own moral compass), that left unresolved the political unrest in the Middle East will make our current $14 trillion dollar deficit look like chicken feed in 12 months time and it will surely continue to grow.
At the same time I truly cannot understand that we allow the greed of speculators to raise the barrel of oil to a level un-sustainable to the stability, growth and well being of a nation such as the United States.
Additionally for a government to, not point out the inaccuracies of news reports that suggest that we rely on the purchase of huge quantities of oil from Libya each year is disgraceful. In 2010 we purchased just 2.72% of oil from Libya and the only reason why we bought any at all was to support the Omar Ghadafi regime in the hope of reducing the obvious real threat of terrorism, within the strategically placed country situated as Libya is between the Africa’s and the Middle Eastern region.
97% of Libya’s total oil output goes to Europe and China. Of even more interest and a very well kept secret to the American public is that 90% of Libya’s oil refinement is managed by Italy. Why? Because in 1910 Libya was an Italian colony and they pioneered the countries oil industry and though they lost the colony in 1947 they never allowed the Libyan’s to take control and nationalize their own crude oil fields.
There is such strong manipulation of the markets and illicit propaganda from the oil lobbyists to support fictitious rises and spikes in oil prices that really beggar’s belief and the government knows it. If left unchecked it could ruin this great country and its rise out of the most severe depression to hit middle class American’s since the late 1920’s.
As the barrel of oil spirals out of oblivion, the affects of financial inflation on all your daily purchases and everything you use to survive will also rise. The harsh reality is the food you and your family eat will rise as quickly as your transport bill. Heating light, water and all the other utilities will also rise exponentially as the industry that provide these services to all areas of our life will have to raise rates to justify increases in spend against significant rises in their own transport and refining costs. This kind of inflation will bring on an ever increasing vicious circle of abuse, and yet i believe t’s all preventable.
Yes that’s right preventable!
Last year the United States purchased 24.5% of the world’s resource of oil, that’s approximately 20,680,000bbl/day.
So at this stage you may quite rightly assume that I am advocating a huge reduction of our dependency on this resource (I think we should stop calling it a commodity because we need it as much as we need water) and I am, but we can do much more!
I am astonished that though high oil prices affect everyone, in every area of life, including ultimately a rise in the government deficit, the very same government while negotiating the return of billions of dollars in tax benefits and incentives to the oil companies who steal from us, also choose not to negotiate a national oil supply at a fixed rate, 12 months in advance. Do you think the oil companies would say no to 20, 680,000 barrels of oil per day? No didn’t think so. We know how much we use each year, we know what taxable revenue we obtain from every gallon and we are aware of how much extra we need the following year. This would fix the cost, control the market and be another worry out of the way. It would also completely eradicate the oil speculative investor forever.
A free market economy I hear you cry, really? Would you rather ride a bicycle everywhere and not your car or keep your heating on only two hours a day because you cannot afford the heating oil or liquid gas? Or your kids only staying in school for a couple of hours a day because the school can’t afford the running costs, perhaps only open Monday’s Wednesday’s and Friday’s makes you think doesn’t it, don’t think it could happen? Check out what happened in England and most of Europe in the Suez crisis in the mid seventies.
The other thing that makes me question the integrity of those reports is the reason why we are not refining more oil in the US. Do the oil companies really think we believe that there is less oil in America than in the Middle East, Really? Oil is part of the make up of the earth, just like coal, tin, uranium, gold and natural gas reserves. When the earth was made they didnt just put it in the Middle east region, everywhere companies have drilled for it, they have found it. Unfortunately its just expensive to get out of the ground and refine. So its the initial set up cost of getting it out of the ground then, not the fact that you cannot find it, so its no suprise that an oil company wont invest in a new area like the Bakken Formation in North Dakota with its vast oil reserves, when they can control market forces by reducing output, limiting supply, spread propaganda on the lack of resources and then make huge fortunes for doing so.

Wake up everybody, smell the bacon… call bullshit on this corporate theft from the oil companies. Send a message to your local senator to get them to act on your behalf and reform this decay on our society and their responsibility to act on our behalf and not spend our money allowing them to pursue their own bureaucratic political agenda. Check out this link for some interesting facts.

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2011 Ducati 1198 The true successor to 916SP

You can judge the acceptance of a product and sometimes a brand by the way consumers have personalized them with much similarity to the way we tend to nickname our loved ones, those closest to us. So for car and bike junkies everywhere as you must be, to be reading this blog, if you see the words Beemer, Scoobie, or Evo and recognize what they are, then you have started to look as these products in a different way. You have become seduced by the brand. Every company that supplies a product to a consumer tries to do this to us, even if it’s a bottle of shampoo or a chocolate bar, to make us more likely to purchase the item. Consumer branding is big business, just take a look at Coke and Red Bull to find the full effect of corporate brand messaging as just two examples. The funny thing is sometimes a product becomes seductive because it also grows to be inspirational. The secret intended desire to buy something that may be out of our current price range but one that becomes a personal dream or goal to make this an aspirational purchase.

The 1963 Porsche 911

When the Porsche 911 came out in 1963 it was very nearly a disaster, not something we class as the supercar we do today in fact, it wasn’t that fast, it was expensive and it swapped ends all too easily. Competitors of the German car like Jaguar’s E Type and Aston’s DB4 although similarly priced, went faster, handled better and were considered by many to be much more impressive brands with substantive racing history to support that belief. These cars needed the traditional corner set up ‘slow in fast out’ on a rolling throttle, on entry in the braking area prior to the corner you stood hard on the brakes, turned in and used the throttle to alter the position of the car towards the apex and then steered towards the exit point under consistent and increasing throttle, maximizing grip. But then something strange happened, race drivers that altered the traditional ‘brake corner entry’ method found that a 911 being a relatively light car could be manipulated into a corner in a very unconvential way, as opposed to the very heavy front engine oriented cars like the aforementioned Jaguar and Aston. Use the traditional corner set up in an early 911 and by the exit having spun, you would be facing the other cars coming towards you.  A new technique that drivers used to great effect, was to go past the braking point used by the other cars and enter the corner acutely on the brakes, all the way up to the apex, as the car began to rotate because of the braking action and steering wheel angle you began to neutralize the applied lock and await the certain movement at the rear of the car as it started its pivot action towards an oversteer situation. As the car came to be pointing relatively straight in relation to the corner exit, power was applied and you could accelerate out of the corner. While not ideal, and ultimately slower at the exit point, it did mean that although the traditionally faster front engine cars could beat you on the straights as they braked in a straight line prior to the corner to set up for the traditional corner entry the little Porsche passed them while they were on the brakes, there by effectively not only taking their space in front of them but also cutting off the acceleration point and more importantly their significant straightline speed advantage down the straight. As drivers became aware of this eccentricity, the 911 started to win races against their more powerful competitors and more importantly the racers who drove them started to become heroes and labeled the cars as giant killers, the seduction had started as did the exponential growth of the product. Years later the 911 became more powerful and though their handling improved, the model continued to dominate because of this strange handling trait. Its reputation grew off track too and ultimately although it had nothing to do with Porsche’s brand or message strategy, drivers who owned 911’s were judged to be fast and fearless, someone who could ‘tame the beast’. The 911 seemed to touch all the other sensors too. ‘Marketeers’ believe there are five human sensors to try and seduce us with, sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Visually the 911 looked very different from other European products and with its ‘boxer’ flat six cylinder engine the sound especially when being thrashed around a track with an open race exhaust, became intoxicating too. For those lucky enough to drive an early car the steering could be deftly maneuvered by just the lightest touches of the wheel, my own memory on first acquaintance was as though the wheel was alive in my hands.  That was over twenty five years ago and I still remember it that vividly. I was and have remained seduced by the 911, somehow such is the seduction, owning one as I am fortunate to have done almost feels like an amazing achievement, yet when all said and done  it’s only a car. Bikes are the same; mention the words Blade, R1, or a Gixxer for a Honda 1000CBRR, Yamaha R1000 or Suzuki GSXR 600/1000 respectively and true sport bikers know what you’re talking about. Fat Boy or Hog for the Harley boys but mention a ‘Duke’ and you have hit on another marque that while having a somewhat turbulent career have yet since their introduction, been the dreams of ‘boys and men’ since the fifties.  I was brought up in England in the late sixties and Ducati had already made a name for itself with Englishman Mike Hailwood who had already achieved success battling against the legendary MV Augusta rider, Italian Giacomo Agostini, Ducati had changed from making electronic goods after an allied attack destroyed their factory in Bologna Italy during world war 2 and following the war decided that it was better to make cheap transport for people to get around rather than radios that no one wanted to listen to. Their first bike could by today’s standards hardly be called a masterpiece in fact they called it the Ducati Cucciolo nicknamed the (Little Puppy) such was the yapping sound from the little 2hp 4stroke clip on engine which went onto a specially designed bicycle type frame. Yet by 1948 the T2 version could reach 60 klms and no longer just a popular machine to use around the town. It also won in tourism and sport competitions, including the 18,000 kilometer Paris-Tokyo ride in 1949 and world speed records at Monza in 1950. The Cucciolo won on the circuit at Zitelli and many other racetracks in the 50s, including the Six Day International off-road competition in 1951 with Tamarozzi. Ducati had started to seduce its buyers with brand messages like this slogan from 1950 “Come with me, I’ll take you on the Cucciolo, the moped is small but the beat of the engine is like my heart.” And it won over many hearts as demand outstripped supply for their little Ducati. As with the Porsche the Ducati was considered a strange bike by many, as it used single cylinder 4 stroke engines to beat twins and to this day uses a belt driven V twin cylinder engine to dominate against 4 cylinder units. Ducati’s continued success has much to do with the famous riders who rode for the brand too. Mike Halewood in the 50’s and 60’s Karl Fogarty in the 90s on the beautiful 916 and my own personal favorite the Australian Troy Bayliss. In fact one of the best motorcycle races I have ever witnessed was Bayliss enroute to winning the championship in 2006 at Imola, though he only had to finish fourth to win the championship, he diced tooth and nail on the twisty Italian circuit in a spell binding race with my own countryman James Toseland and Alex Barros, Haga and Kagayama.

Additionally just like a 911 the sight of the Ducati 916 is breathtaking, probably one of the most beautiful motorcycle designs I have ever seen. It looks just as good standing still as it does being ridden, and the sound of the large bore twin on a twisted throttle again intoxicating, they even have a name for a Ducati owner as you become part of their exclusive biking community the ‘Ducatista’… So now you see; it’s all part of the seduction!

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Welcome to the all new 2011 VW Passat.  Surprisingly unlike Europe who has to make do with a revised/revamped updated version of the 2009 model year car the US is all new. As one can see, this new bears a striking resemblance to the smaller new Jetta.

It is expected that Volkswagen will offer the new Passat with three power train options. The 170hp 2.5l inline-5 will be the base engine, the 3.6 VR6 with 280hp and a new version of the 2.0 TDI with 140hp (with a Jetta beating 43 mpg highway). With the size of the tank in the new Passat, TDI owners could stretch a tank of fuel over 750 miles (!) between fill ups. The 2.5l will be available with either a 5-speed manual or 6-speed torque converter automatic. The 2.0 TDI will be offered with a choice of 5-speed manual or 6-speed DSG. The 3.6l VR6 will only be available with a six-speed DSG. All models are FWD only and AWD isn’t planned for at this time.

Trim levels will be offered in S, SE and SEL configurations. Unlike the Jetta though, VW will offer significantly more luxury equipment ranging from the RNS510 navigation system to VW’s first remote start feature to dual-zone climatronic and more. VW reports that the interior has soft-touch plastic applications and a quick look at photos shows a bit more detail and substance than in the Jetta. Rear legroom is significant thanks to a 3.3 inch increase in the wheelbase.

VW’s press release points out that the new Passat was designed in Germany and made in America. Developed as a larger vehicle with premium features and handling characteristics that will perfectly match it with the tastes and lifestyles of Americans. It will be built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at the world’s newest, most advanced and environmentally responsible auto assembly plant. Though pricing is still to be set, the assembled throng of journalists were assured that lead in models would start below the $20000 which should assure success against many of its competitors.

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GM’s new Volt wins Car of The Year   

The Chevy Volt

Car of the year 2011 The Chevy Volt

Against stiff competition from Hyundai’s new Sonata and Nissan’s Leaf, judges declare that the winner of the 2011 Car of The Year award was to go to GM for their new mid size eco friendly hybrid ‘plug in’ sedan the Volt. The Volt has taken some time to come to market but has been extensively tested and although the result was described as most difficult such was the stiff competition from Sonata and Leaf, the verdict went to the Volt. GM’s future car is said to achieve between 30 to 35 miles just using just the electric motor, if a further distance is planned then an economical 4 cylinder GM Eco-Tec gas engine steps in and provides the power and combined with the electric engine offers a range of approximately 375 miles. GM’s CEO Dan Akerson told reporters “If the owner of a new Volt has a daily commute of less than 35 miles, then it’s quite plausible that they could just use the electric motor for the whole journey and then just recharge the car.  At current off peak rates, that’s only about $1.50, just by plugging in to a suitable power source in your own garage”. At 3800lbs the Volt is no road burner but said to whisper quiet and efficient on the road, with the change from EV (Electric Vehicle) mode to gas engine being indiscernible to the driver. All this technology does not come cheap though and at $41000 less a government tax credit of $7,500 (for cars with a 16 kWh battery pack which the Volt carries), it still makes for a considerable purchase decision over the other note worthy competitors, The Sonata’s efficient 200hp 4 cylinder eco friendly GDi gas engine with its stunning coupe styled silhouette, can be purchased for under $20k.

Hyunda Sonata Hybrid

 The Sonata achieves a commendable 35mpg average with a chart topping potential maximum range of 455 miles from its 13 gallon tank. The Nissan Leaf is the slightly more hard sell.

The New Hybrid 'Plug In' Nissan Leaf

While cheaper than both the aforementioned models by a considerable margin the Leaf is all electric, with no gas engine to increase journey distance. Therefore it really can only be used for dedicated journeys of no more than 100 miles before the required recharge.  Incidentally both the Leaf and award winning Volt require dedicated 240volt supplies to be fitted at the chosen charge station area to ensure timely charging events, less than 4 hours with 240v against 10hours for 120v supply.  I say well done to GM.

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Competitors of Hyundai’s small and medium car sectors, Toyota’s Corolla, Honda’s Civic and VW’s new Jetta should do well to take note of Hyundai’s latest small car iteration The 2011 Elantra. The previous model was popular to the masses and by appealing to no ‘one’ demographic, appealed to both young and old in equal numbers. It represented value for money motoring, good handling, economy, safety and one of the best aftermarket warranties in the US. These details alone provided more than enough reason to make the Elantra a viable alternative to its more established competitors, some of which were listed above.  The industry declares that the compact car sector, of which all the above vehicles are categorized as being ‘within’, is expected to continue to grow over the next decade, so, providing a ‘good quality’ vehicle within this sector will almost certainly allow manufacturers to harvest the most gains from units sold, profit and brand exposure, all very necessary, especially for a small car company like Hyundai. In the last year alone Hyundai have launched strong products like the much acclaimed 40 mpg Sonata and terrific 35mpg 274hp Sonata Turbo. These products are starting to acquire widespread interest with consumers. While Hyundai have undoubtedly played the ‘catch up game’ against other manufacturers, as 2010 plays out, it has easily been their most successful year. While GM and Chrysler were hit with huge losses creating cars that no one desired and Toyota had to worry about product concerns which are already detailed within the pages of Wide Open Throttle, the Hyundai Kia group have been steadily and almost stealthily working on their product portfolio.

The new Elantra continues this trend. If we reflect on the old Elantra momentarily, by suggesting that it was purchased because it was a reliable, safe and economical form of transport then we should also agree that it wasn’t very inspirational to look at, not bad, just not great and it was as many have suggested an almost ‘aesthetic blend’ between all of the popular models, with some fine features but none outstanding enough to allow it to differentiate itself from anything else within the sector. If this was your reason to purchase the old Elantra then great, if however you wanted ‘all of the above’ but with styling that get’s you noticed, a car with a bit more pizzazz, then welcome to the all new Elantra. Jeez this car actually delivers some ‘street cred’

 Some have already suggested that it looks like a baby Sonata, others say the lines are inspiring, I would say that while being similarly styled to the Sonata the shorter body makes it a more stubby rendition of the eye catching Mercedes CLs profile ‘coupe like’ shape of the Sonata but still provides a distinctive and attractive silhouette. The Elantra’s flanked wheel arches scream hot hatch. From the front the friendly grille, bumper and lower bibbed spoiler assembly, with the slats on the lower section being black on the lead-in models or chromed on the ‘up- spec’ Limited models make for an attractive combination. The trunk in its hatchback form is also good to look at and such is the performance advantage of the standard DOHC dual CVVTI 148bhp engine it may be a vision that many of the Elantra’s competitors see a lot of, especially the whimsical 4 cylinder 2.0 115bhp of VW’s new Jetta which replaces the previous models lovely sounding and performing 5 cyl 2.5 unit.

The all new Elantra out on test

So what is it like to live with? Well recently I had the opportunity to drive the new Hyundai’s Elantra in many different forms over approximately 1500miles and it honestly took me by surprise. I’m used to driving an older AMG Mercedes C43, so performance to me is a given and in every situation its noticeable when you jump behind the wheel of a car that hasn’t got any. But on first acquaintance I was really pleased with the performance level of this new car. At 2661 lbs the new Elantra is even lighter than the Civic and 62lbs lighter than its predecessor though the body shell is actually more than 37% stiffer in torsional rigidity. The 148bhp motor coupled to either the 6 speed M/T or 6 speed tiptronic designed automatic allows the car to get off the line briskly and efficiently outpacing all of its rivals onto a sub 9 second dash to 60mph. Although the engine gets a little vocal after 5000 rpm it remains crisp and punchy. The transmission in either form is a delight to use though interestingly I always found I could yield better fuel consumption figures in the auto version using the manual mode of the tiptronic box. At freeway speeds the car remains surprisingly quiet and here again Hyundai have identified a key area in which to outpace its main rivals. Though not as quiet as Chevrolet’s cosseting new Cruise, the Elantra is quieter than Corolla and Civic and this makes for easy driving. While unfortunately the independent rear suspension of the previous model has not been carried over to the new Elantra the suspension while firm generally offers a good balance between sports handling and comfortable ride, though it can be compromised over broken surfaces but never to an undesirable level. In fact slinging the Elantra around on the quiet largely deserted mountainous roads of Santa Ysabel in California was great fun, the car features great turn in and mid corner poise and an astonishing level of grip especially in the Limited version which wears nice 55 series 17” Continental tires. The margin of safety is further controlled by the standardized addition of the latest stability management control which will bring a wayward car quickly back into shape.

Inside the new Elantra

 Inside the new Elantra is a nice place to be. With 110.4 cu.ft of space, this latest model actually delivers more interior volume than Nissan’s Maxima and the Acura’s TSX which feature as competitors in the next ‘mid size’ sector. Lots of head and shoulder room await front seat drivers where even 6ft drivers can be accommodated easily, with height adjustable seats with reach and rake steering wheel adjustment, though for me I wished that I could gain another 1” of steering wheel adjustment to make room for my long legs, though I would agree that I tend to sit lower and further from the wheel than most. Ergonomically the interior has been thoughtfully designed and offers real flair over most of the competitor’s staid designs. The dash has been nicely crafted and as with Ford who started the trend for superb in car communication for cell phones Bluetooth and Mp3 integration with the Microsoft ‘SYNC’ platform system, Hyundai have chosen to follow with its own design. On the Limited version ‘sat nav’ is also standard and while easy to program and use, some extra thought should have been put into the design of the display as the midday sun can soon render the device difficult to read such is the rake of the unit. The seats are supportive and have nice materials, leather as expected in the Limited. Even in the rear, the 2011 Elantra delivers spacious accommodation though the ‘coupe like’ design does limit taller rear guests but it’s a comfortable environment especially in that the users are offered good quality trim colors and textures.  

In summation then, Hyundai’s all new Elantra is set to become a winner. Starting under the $15k threshold for the base M/T model it offers a true value for money package, great fuel economy 29mpg City and 40 mpg highway, drivability, functionality, a safety package of standardized features like ABS, VSC and frontal and curtain side airbag and a 5yr 100000 mile warranty. Additionally, while the dealer network continues to grow in size such is the ever increasing demand of the product, so too does Hyundai’s brand residual values, which mean that just like current Honda and Toyota models when trading in your older Hyundai there is an equal number of people that consider that it will still make a desirable purchase.

The 40mpg Elantra

The new Elantra then is all set to rewrite this sector. While offering younger buyers style, versatility an inexpensive motoring, older buyers and families will be enticed to purchase Hyundai’s new Elantra because it provides lots of room, good trim levels, safety, real world economy, great warranties and if it’s like the former Elantra strong long term service, whether being used as the daily commuter or as the family hack.!

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It’s possible to believe that a simple desire to go fast has always played an important part in engineering progress. 


If you consider Concorde, the master class brilliance of global supersonic travel, took engineers on an ever increasing spiral of design breakthroughs. During Concorde’s twenty year design process, engineers were faced with the necessity of manufacturing a supersonic aircraft that would take passengers into the upper stratosphere and then to safely bring them back down to their chosen destination. Why you might ask yourself? Was it the money they hoped to generate by getting passengers to their destinations more quickly? Was it because they expected that Supersonic travel would become the norm for the future and they wanted to be first?
Well principally yes to all of those, but the underlying theme of the design process was to go faster across the globe than any other airliner had ever been. Speed then was the key!
The Concorde design process began in May 1956 and although it took nearly twenty years to be launched, it was and is still, the fastest passenger plane ever to be produced. On 7th February 1996 twenty years to the day after its first maiden flight, Concorde flew from London to New York in 2hrs 59mins 58sec. It travelled above 60000ft and over 1356mph that’s twice the speed of sound, all while the planes passengers sipped on Champagne and eat truffles and caviar without even knowing they were all making history. Nearly twenty years on, such was Concorde’s success, that time still surpasses the latest offerings from either Airbus or Boeing beating the regular service to New York by some 2hrs 30mins. .
This philosophy and a passion to go faster than anyone else, is also mirrored within the automobile industry, in fact in the early 1950’s personnel from Rolls Royce, Hawker Sidley Aircraft and British Aero plane Company (BAC) often careered between these two industries such was the closeness in engineering practice.
Jaguar Cars, headed by William Lyons was such a company. 

Sir William Lyons

Lyons born in 1901 hailed from England’s northern seaside town called Blackpool and at the age of nineteen after purchasing a hand crafted side car for his Norton motorcycle from next door neighbor William Walmsley, Lyons decided that each person could help one another and the two should go into business. A year later in 1922 the two men formed a partnership to build stylish sidecars for other motorcyclists; the business was run out of Walmsley’s parents personal garage in King Edward Avenue (which ironically is only one and half miles from one of the only remaining British car companies TVR).
The company called Swallow Sidecars produced beautiful slim-nosed bodywork and a lightweight design which offered the purchaser of an SS car more leg room for its passenger and more performance from the combination. 

William Walmsley & The Swallow Sidecar

Austin 7 Swallow Cars

It was Walmsley who it is thought provided the necessary skill set and vision that carried Lyons well after their partnership dissolved in 1934.
By 1927, Swallow Sidecar had achieved much success, the company now moving away from bikes, started to both design and craft a more exciting hand formed body-shell onto the chassis of an Austin Seven.

By 1928 business was so successful Lyons convinced Walmsley that they should move from Blackpool a hundred miles south of the seaside town and down into the heart of England’s manufacturing hub, ‘Birmingham’. It was rumored that Walmsley hated the industrial city and craved for the water and close community of his hometown. However the move positioned them for more expansion and when Lyons persuaded ‘Standard Motor Company’ in Coventry to make engines, chassis and other components to Swallow’s specifications the company was well on its way to car production proper.
By 1931 Their ‘Foleshill’ factory in Coventry started to produce complete cars and Swallow’s first the SS90 used a big six cylinder engine but only pushed out a paltry 68hp. While the body was elegant and the car attracted lots of attention because it looked better than it went few purchasers came forward and only 23 were made. The SS100 came next and while similar in looks, now had performance to match. The engine now featured a specially designed cylinder head making it produce just over 100hp and more excitingly the car could now wrestle passed the magic ton… (100mph). The car was exhibited at the London Motor Show to rave review and orders came thick and fast, nearly 200 models were produced with a special even faster car with an experimental engine provided to Walmsley . The SS200 soon followed and albeit many suggest that Cyril Holland was commissioned to design this new body it seems unlikely, as the designs were already on the table for the three cars when Holland was brought on, so we can say these early cars where true Walmsley designs. Interestingly on first sight the SS100 was very similar to MG’s L2 Magna two seater sports car that was designed just under two miles away in Alfred Rd at Coventry Coachbodies and was launched in 1933.

Just one year later Walmsley decided to return home to Blackpool and Lyons bought out his share of the company. Lyons completely focused on the launch, set about creating new structure within the company and also took the opportunity to rename Swallow to SS Cars. Shortly before he brought in a brilliant new design engineer William Heynes and talented craftsman and coach builder Cyril Holland, the two men staying on with Jaguar for many years following its integration within BMC (British Motor Corporation) in 1966. Indeed it is Heynes design of the 1966 XJ6 which current Jaguar design guru Ian Callum focused his attention on for the very latest beautiful 2010 Jaguar XJ. The team at SS cars continued to produce new models and won many new orders. 

By the fall of 1938 Lyons was concerned that the country was heading towards a war in Europe and unfortunately in 1939 his prediction proved troublingly right. The countries war machine quickly got up to speed, and with the British government changing the use of most car plants, the SS plant in Birmingham was no exception. From early in the war effort the factory started to manufacture parts for munitions, tanks, airplanes. In February 1940, Lyons was asked to provide motorcycle parts and ironically started to reproduce motorcycle sidecars for army dispatch riders. With World War two quickly behind them Lyons returned the factory to making cars. However with peacetime a new direction and euforia set about England and Lyons felt now was the time to start production of what was to become the start of the Jaguar marque.  

First up for change were the company’s logo and name. The letters SS now having a seemingly haunting effect on many potential British buyers, as the same letters where the trade mark of the elite guard or ‘Schutz-Staffel’ responsible for so many atrocities during the war under Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. The name then quickly disposed of, introduced for the first time the now legendary name of Jaguar Cars. Incidentally the name was chosen much earlier than many assume. In fact ten years earlier amateur artist and Public Relations Manager Mr. Bill Rankin had created a sculpture of a lioness and stuck it onto one of the big chrome grilles on the first 1935 SS100’s. Lyons, at that time is reported as saying that the sculpture was awful, and looked like a cat shot off a fence. But the name stuck and from that moment internally, the company was known as Jaguar, so the main transition in 1946 was an easy external change for the factory. Now with the right name and belief that he could start to move away from grass root type cars and into the luxury car arena the following few years were all about the design and speed.
1n October 1948 at the then prestigious Earl’s Court Motor Show in London, William Lyons with his team unveiled the stunning XK120. The car was an instantaneous success and recieved many orders, but by now Lyons had already set his sights on yet another target. From his teenage years and his infatuation with motorcycles and speed and following many trips to the Isle of Man to watch the motorcycle TT event, Lyons had seen first hand how people reacted to a product or brand following their success on the small island. The Isle of Man was only eighty miles away from Blackpool and in the early years Walmsley had provided a stripped down sidecar to one of the TT racers. When he won using their sidecar design orders for the road version came flooding in. 

As an automotive visionary, he had set out his expectations to his team of his ambition on winning Le- Mans. He had additionally witnessed the global brand exposure that Bentley, Ferrari and Mercedes had already amassed by winning the prestigious annual motor race held in France. He envisaged that if his team could lower the aero resistance at the front of their cars, reduce drag on the super structure just like their sidecar designs and build fast engines based off the production cars, Jaguars could be faster, quieter and more efficient than any of those other competitors already winning at Le Mans.
To that end in 1950 Lyons hired gifted aerodynamicist Michael Sayer with the sole purpose of designing the fastest most efficient car for Le Mans. Sayer a previous employee of BAC was later recognized as the first man in the automobile industry to use mathematical formulas and aeronautical equations and principles in the design of an automobiles superstructure and then confirming these designs using a wind tunnel (owned by BAC) to quantify the results.
If one takes a look at Jaguars first blueprints for the XK series, it’s plain to see how aeronautical principles played so much influence in the company’s designs. The beautiful XK120 had been transformed into the XK 120-C for the assault on the 1951 Le Mans race. The ‘C’ standing simply for ‘competition’ used all the main running gear from the standard XK 120 but with a fabricated special lightweight space frame designed and fabricated by Bob Knight and featured an aerodynamic low drag aluminum body shell designed by Michael Sayer.
Jaguar’s success was immediate. At their first try at the event in 1951; the XK120-C blitzed the competition. The factory had entered three works cars with the paired drivers of Sir Stirling Moss and Jack Fairman, Leslie Johnson and 3-times Mille Miglia winner Clemente Biondetti, and the eventual winners, Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead. This put the British automobile industry in frenzy. Success at Le Mans had indeed added to the penchant of owning a Jaguar and Hollywood legends were quick to order the latest road going versions of the XK120. The first of which was movie star Clark Gable. The XK 120-C had started a tradition of winning and won again in 1953, but it also started a phase within Jaguar which continues to this day to develop cars that lead the way in design creativity, technology and speed.
Michael Sayer continued to work with some of the very best engineers and fabricators in the world at that time to create the next era of timeless classics for Jaguar. The design team consisted of Sayer, US born sheet metal craftsman and genius Bob Blake, brilliant design engineer William Heynes, talented coach builder Cyril Holland and engineer Bob Knight. Bob was much later recognized for his contribution to Jaguar by being appointed to the Jaguar board taking over Heynes duties following the designers retirement . Together the team set out on an adventurous plan to surpass their own success of the XK 120-C by creating the superlative D & E Types with all their racing derivatives. It is rumored however that Lyons, so passionate about the Jaguar product, continued to oversee every detail and sign off on every piece of the D Type design phases.
The Jaguar D-Type, like its predecessor the C-Type, was a factory-built race car. Although it shared the basic 3.4 litre 6 cylinder engine from the earlier car it was now bored to 3.8litres, however the majority of the car was radically different. Perhaps its most ground-breaking innovation was the introduction of a monocoque chassis, it was usual prior to this application that a separate chassis was attached to an equally separate body shell and while the older system had some advantages, it was costly to produce and much heavier than the one piece unit.
Michael Sayer again used his prior aeronautical experience to insist on the monocoque design not only to save weight and money, but also to allow him to design a much smaller frontal area than was standard of that time to reduce drag and lift even further. This also provided its now famous dramatic aero wing type shape. While this aerodynamic efficiency was primarily used for competition purposes people began to recognize the appealing shape and wanted it on their road cars too. 

The D-Type though introduced purely for competition once again dominated the racing scene taking Le Mans in 1955,56 & 57 even though Lyons had withdrawn the works team in 1955 following a devastating personal blow when his son was killed on his way to France for the Le Mans event . The company offered the remaining built race cars to private teams like the race winning Le Mans team of Scotland’s Edinburgh based Ecurie Ecosse, but during 1956 Heynes and Knight convinced Lyons that with a few modifications the unfinished race chassis could be turned into a road going super special and this was to be called the Jaguar XKSS.
By adding an extra seat, another door, a full-width windshield, lights and indicators some more instruments and a primitive folding top, as concessions to practicality, the first of these cars rolled out of the factory in late 1956.
On the evening of 12 February 1957 however, a fire broke out at the Browns Lane plant destroying nine of the twenty five cars that had already been completed or in semi-completion. Production is thought to have included 53 customer D-Types, 18 factory team cars, and 16 XKSS versions. The surviving D type’s however still proceeded to dominate at all forms of motorsport globally at national and International club level racing.
A racing pedigree that originated from their inaugural wins at Le Mans onto the prestigious Rheims 12 hour event in 54 & 56 in France.
In 1957 Jaguar took the top six places at Le Mans even though no factory where cars entered. It’s alleged that Competition Manager Lofty Williams from the Jaguar factory heavily backed the efforts of the small privateer teams in order so they could win.
Jaguar was continuing to build prestigious road cars introducing the Mk1 & Mk2 with the smaller 2.4 litre engines and the bigger Mk v11 sedans with 3 ½ litre engines now designed specifically for American market such was the draw to own this fast becoming exclusive marque. 

Not one to rest on their laurels, the team of Heynes, Sayer and Knight wanted an all new challenge and following the success of the road going D type they forged a plan to create a master piece. It was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland in 1961 and was called the E Type.

E Type Jaguar pictured with Lyons at his home in Coventry

This car still makes me salivate even today. My all time favorite the 3.8 litre fixed head coupe is breathtaking and a hoot to drive.
I had the pleasure some years ago while working as a long time race instructor at Oulton Park race circuit in Cheshire England, to drive an early factory example. Then owned by a very fortunate BRDC member, it reminded me of my childhood ambition of driving the E Type. This childhood image, captured when I saw an old black & white television film of the soon to be World Motor racing Champion Graham Hill driving around Oulton Park enroute to victory. The film discussed Hill having taken delivery of the recently launched and supposed standard E Type entering his car into a clubman’s event and thoroughly crushing the competition. He later went onto say that he wanted something quick to drive so he could get to know the circuit and didn’t expect to win with so much of a margin. 

During my drive though, I soon realized that the four famed disc brakes are not much use after five laps of healthy speed and the skinny series tires lose their grip even quicker, but after that education you can have so much fun. It’s actually quite easy to drift the car into the corner and using whatever is left of the braking system to trail-brake well into the apex as the car scrubs off its own speed, then go back on the throttle early to drift back out to the exit under acceleration. Driving that car, I realized the start of my own ambition to drive interesting historic cars. 

Recently I have been working at the impressive Historic Pebble Beach event for Jaguar in Monterey California. (I know what you are thinking, but this really was hard work)…. Making sure all of the remaining Historic Jaguar XKSS cars found their way to Laguna Seca for a few hot laps to blow out the cob-webs. Looking in my rear view mirror from the vantage point of the new XJSS as each priceless XKSS joined the convoy, it got me thinking of how beautiful these timeless classics still are and how many designers both new and old have considered their stunning form before putting pencil to paper (or perhaps turning on Cad Drawing aids planner) countless I would imagine. 

A collection of 14 Jaguar XKSS models & XK120C Laguna Seca 2010

Additionally to see current Jaguar designer engineer Ian Callum looking so at home behind the wheel of #766, a 1955 XKSS was truly a majestic moment. 

Ian Callum Chief Design Engineer Jaguar Cars

Additionally when you see the number of race winning Jaguar’s at the event it shows the depth of history and pride from a manufacturer such as Jaguar. All of the Jaguar series cars where represented at Pebble Beach and while the standard road cars of course hold an interest to me it’s the racers that spark my enthusiasm. A number of XK120-C’s, D & E Type racers and the stunning XJ12R of American Davy Jones’s Le Mans fame. Davy sadly wasn’t on hand as he is always great to chat with and is such an ambassador for Jaguar Cars. Jones currently works on new car launches for the company and instructs at the prestigious new Jaguar Race School, principally run for new Jaguar owners to become accustomed to the high performance nature of their cars performance. The school is the brainchild of Jaguar Executive North American Sales Marketing Manager BJ Colaric. BJ along with his professional duties at Jaguar is a passionate racer and car enthusiast. The school is run by Chris Munroe out of the terrific Willow Springs circuit near Las Vegas. 

If we revisit Jaguar Cars winning ways we can see that they have won events in every decade since Lyons first win in 1951. The company has not only prepared and raced in Le Mans, Jaguar’s competition cars have been entered and won events across the globe with wins in the Australian GT Championship with Bob Jane, in the North American SCCA series with wins by team Group 44 and the Group B championship in 1975 with Bob Tullius. They have also won in touring cars Tom Walkinshaw’s prepared XJRS raced in the British and German touring car events and of course won Le Mans in 1951, 1953, 1956, 1957, 1988 and 1990 with the beautiful Tom Walkinshaw’s Silk Cut XJR12 with drivers Martin Brundle, Price Cob and John Nielsen and The 24hrs of Daytona in that same year, this car was also represented at Pebble Beach. Jaguar put a factory team together and entered the 2010 Le Mans with successful racer Paul Gentilozzi with a modified XFR but sadly the car failed very soon into the race with fuel pump failure.
The other amazing thing to me is that Jaguar’s C; D & E Types are still winning races irrespective of age.
My good friend and fellow British instructor the awesome talented Malcolm Hamilton competed and regularly beat the competition in an awesome Rob Beere race prepared V12 E Type. It was rumored to be at 650 hp the fastest privateer E Type around. Competitors in modern machinery were regularly amazed at the speed of the 1973 based car. 

Malcolm Hamilton E Type

The 2008 Le Mans Classic was won by Class 2 winners Vary Paerson & Nigel Webb in a C Type. Webb and Paerson not happy with just the one win went on to stand on the podium again concurrently winning the Class 3 race in another Jaguar, a D Type. 

D Type Jaguar (image courtesy of Dirk de Jager)

Pebble Beach was used as the chosen venue for Jaguar’s 75th birthday celebrations as well as the introduction of the all new 2010 Jaguar ‘XJ SS’, nearly sixty years after the first special. This time it’s a road car as opposed to a special track racer but with 510 bhp, special color combinations and beautifully crafted charcoal grey alloy wheels this is sure to be a future classic. A road test specific to this new car will follow soon on Wide Open Throttle, however it would appear that as the international press and on line media continue to be inspired by each new product iteration that Jaguar produce, the future looks bright for Jaguar, you could say a bright future defined by its past achievements.

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Having had a number of requests lately to road test something affordable, something different and something unique, this incidentally is always quite difficult to determine as our readers never put forward a copy of their W2 to see if the 599GTB that resides in their garage is something they consider affordable. To others, something different could be the new radical F150 SVT 6.2 liter Raptor (I am trying to get a test in it as we speak), but unique… now that’s a challenge. A reader from Sacramento, Paul R suggested the new Porsche GT3 RS, another Steve G from Seattle suggested the new 2011 Land Rover LR4 and Barry H from Illinois the latest Avalon from Toyota, Erich B from Cologne in Germany the new Audi A8, all of which I intend to pursue.. But having taken a little leapt of faith and kept the literal criteria, for our latest road test I reckon I have nailed all three.

So at this point you have seen the pictures and already began reading the editorial so I hope I’ve already sparked some interest in this new Can Am machine called the Spyder Roadster RS which is truly unique, affordable to most and something mildly extreme. So if unanimous approval has been reached, then folks read on!

The Can Am Roadster Spyder RS spied for the first time, is indeed something very different. I can see the appeal, its open aired motoring similar to a bike, with trike like stability. Its visual aesthetics, distinctive from almost every angle.

My initial impressions then, having seen a number already on the roads of California, range from what is it and how does it ride to, is it a bike or a trike? The Can Am team, of President Jose Boisjoli and Mihai Raisidescu, VP of Product Engineering, had both suggested that this vehicle has the Y factor. In the first instance I wonder then, that using the word ‘vehicle’ and not bike, has even them confused. Or is it more likely in an age where companies are trying to capture business from inventing unique marketing initiatives, that early in the design the team where set on a path of creating a special type of vehicle and with it inspired this new ‘niche’ market for their Can Am Roadster. Well, we can all agree this ‘vehicle’ sure looks different from anything else out there at the moment. The specs suggest that it has a number of unique advantages over bikes by having better stability with two wheels up front as opposed to one. The world renowned team at Rotax has in their words “put together a reliable special V twin engine for the Can Am Spyder project”. A capacity of 991cc with 101BHP and 80 ft lbs of torque should provide enough power to have some fun with on the standard Spyder, that weighs in at around 780lbs, but it might be a slightly dulled experience for the RT model that when equipped with all the bells and whistles has to carry an additional 380bls.

In an effort to ‘fly’ the safety card banner and inspire confidence for its customers, the vehicle features ‘VSS’ (Vehicle Stability System) designed in partnership with Bosch and provides a small safety barrier to keep things in check when pushing on. But more importantly the question perhaps should be, is this type of vehicle to ‘push’ anyway, or is it more for the business commuter? Is it for the older ‘ex biker’ for a relaxed journey out to the country on a beautiful sunny day with the missus? Or is it just as one of our readers put it, a glimpse into the future of the commuter machine?

George Steele at Mission

You can see then, that I had a number of unanswered questions when I turned up at Mission Motorsports, Can Am’s premier dealer in Irvine California. George Steele one of the dealer’s top salesmen had the white Spyder all ready to go, but it was sometime before I actually got onto the bike because there is actually a lot of detailed safety information particular to the Spyder before you can cock a leg over it and go ride. This particular Spyder had the optional semi-automatic paddle lever type clutch-less gearbox.  Use of the paddle lever to go up the box, but no necessity to use it on the way down. No front brake lever on the handlebar initially freaked me out because I am so used to it being there, all the brakes incidentally are linked into the right side traditional bike style footbrake. A parking brake situated behind the footpad on the left of the vehicle, which must be for set prior to starting and be released after engaging 1st gear. So by the time I rode off, the thought that the Spyder might just be a bike with an additional wheel at the front had completely disappeared from my mind. My determined route already sorted, I set off down the road. The first thing I noticed is this vehicle is very stable, in fact when turning it kind of reminds me of a snowmobile with wheels or a quad with three, though there are differences. You cannot really use your body to turn it, and it doesn’t initially appear to lean into the corners so it certainly took me some getting used to. But as the mileage rolled on I started to relax and get a little more used to it. The Can Am in its Spyder guise is certainly brisk; hardly an R1 then again I guess I never thought it would be. There’s little vibration to speak of considering it is a V twin and in top gear its quiet and torque. You could hustle it through the corners much faster than I expected and in a short time felt confident enough to accelerate out of a long flat corner using full throttle. My ride came to end in all too quickly and I am sure George back at Mission was wondering where I had got to.

 So to sum up then, the Can Am is an interesting alternative to most other vehicles. I confess while it took a little time for me to become comfortable I really started to enjoy the Can Am Spyder. For sure it’s no motorcycle, that said, it’s no trike either. It is however a machine that you could comfortably commute on every day, that’s easy to ride and ultimately safer than a bike. The Spyder is also cool enough to take on your Sunday road trip and can offer a lot of fun for the buck and the missus will be happy too, especially if you dig a little deeper and buy the RT model which you could use as a proper tourer, even add a really great looking trailer option too if you need some more storage, my only reservation would be on the RT is if 100bhp is enough for it when fully loaded.

RT Model

 I don’t think you are going to see someone ‘chopping in’ his or her Fireblade or Ducati to go buy a Spyder RS but it would certainly capture as much interest if you were to pull up outside The Rock Store at the base of the Malibu foothills ready for your Sunday morning assault up Mulholland and its quick enough if you tried to put a smile on your face. This RS looks great especially in the pearl white that I had. My demo machine came equipped with standard sports wheels and even its own special luggage, a small suitcase which fitted directly into the small lockable trunk opening at the front of the bike under the headlamp.  A base price of $13000 isn’t inexpensive so it won’t be a purchase for everyone though it is a unique machine and I am sure it’s easy to live with, the only disadvantage I can see is clearing enough space in my garage for it to fit in.

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