Journalist takes Aston Martin Vulcan for spin on F1 course

vulcan top gear 3

Journalism is anything but a growth industry. Cutbacks, mergers and changing consumer habits have resulted in fewer jobs and a dramatically different environment for reporters than even 15 years ago.

Many reporters now find themselves covering an array of beats, everything from town council meetings to local crime to business, all while writing puff pieces on such “events” as parades and festivals.

Yet, there are still a rare few that draw assignments that can only be considered plum. Ollie Marriage could safely be said to have received one of those coveted assignments when he was given the task of putting an Aston Martin Vulcan, valued at $2.5 million, through the twists and turns of Abu Dhabi’s Formula 1 course for TopGear.com.

Aston Martin is building just 24 of the high-end vehicles, and the car is about as close to a rocket ship on wheels as one can purchase from a manufacturer: It possesses a V12 engine that delivers 820 brake horsepower at 7,750 rpm and 575 pound-foot of torque at 6,500 rpm.

The Vulcan features a carbon fibre monocoque structure, a pushrod-actuated suspension with adjustable dampers and carbon ceramic racing brakes. Its horsepower is delivered to the rear wheels through a race-specification six-speed sequential shift gearbox

Not surprisingly, Marriage was impressed with his opportunity to get behind the wheel of a Vulcan.

Here he describes the Vulcan’s speed:

Driver's view from inside Aston Martin Vulcan.

Driver’s view from inside Aston Martin Vulcan.

“One-fifty on the back straight at Abu Dhabi becomes one-six-five, becomes one-seven-five plus. At the 200-meter board I hit the brakes with everything I have. Everything. You can do this when the car currently weighs about 2.5 tons and is wearing 305-width front slicks. The carbon Brembos have massive power and mashing the brakes, knowing you’ll never lock them, trying to release the pressure gradually as the aero grip bleeds away and the car lightens, carrying braking all the way to the apex to keep the nose locked on line – it’s an addictive business.”

He writes that the sensory experience isn’t for the faint of heart.

“Five laps and I’m spent – I start to get a headache, I need to drink, sweat gathers, ears ring. I haven’t heard a word from my engineer on the pitwall, because even with the intercom turned right up, he’s fighting an unwinnable battle against the V12. When someone else goes out you can hear them around the whole circuit, each gearshift, each lift. When they howl down the pit straight, shockwaves battering the grandstands, it’s actually painful. Moments later, you can taste the pungent fumes.”

Of course, driving a Formula 1 course in and of itself would be spectacular; factor in that you’re behind the wheel of ultra-high performance car and it’s difficult to top the experience if you’re a gearhead.

“That was just so cool,” Marriage writes. “Abu Dhabi has no noise restrictions and runs until midnight. I’ve had some ridiculously good moments in my job, but I can genuinely say that each lap in the Vulcan was a privilege, particularly the fast third gear double apex right hander as you plunge down to the glowing purple Yas Viceroy hotel, whapping down two gears, flames spouting, making sure you punish every apex and kerbstone in front of the spectators. Every lap feels naughty. Illicit. Mischievous. Great. Can’t say fairer than that really. Pure magic.”

(Top: An Aston Martin Vulcan is taken through The Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. Photo credit: TopGear.com.)

Just like old times: Citroën to roll out another French eyesore

e-mehari

The French, for all they have contributed to Western civilization, remain an enigma for a variety of reasons, not limited to their public toilets, their habit of greeting each other with kisses on both cheeks and their penchant for driving like maniacs.

Among things that have set the French apart from the rest of Western Europe is their approach to building cars. As my dad has said more than once, the French design cars as though they’d never seen one before.

He was speaking specifically of Citroën, which has been manufacturing vehicles for nearly a century.

While living in California in the early 1980s, I spied the occasional late ‘60s and early ‘70s Citroën DS about, which, in an area that not only had its share of modern sports cars but also a sizeable number of classic American cars, stood out like a great Gallic mutation. (One supposes they were driven by aging hippies who had tired of their Volkswagen vans and wanted to move on something more pretentious.)

In the intervening years it appears the company began to pay attention to other more stylish automakers and actually managed to churn out a variety of decent-looking cars.

However, in a nod to its perplexing past, Citroën will soon release the E-Mehari, an open-top electric runabout that reinforces the company’s willingness to throw caution, and taste, to the winds.

While the BBC’s car reviewer gushes over the new model, the E-Mehari is balky, ugly and looks to be something more akin to what a group of children, given access to plastic molding equipment, would fashion given the opportunity.

It has a top speed of 68 miles per hour and a cruising range of 125 miles.

It’s obvious that the PR folks at Citroën had their work cut out for them in trying to make chicken salad out this mess of chicken feathers.

Continue reading

The Bugatti Veyron: What I won’t be driving this summer

2006 bugatti veyron

For those saving up your nickels for a nice used car, keep your eyes peeled for a prize coming on the market this summer.

RM Sotheby’s will hold an auction Aug. 13 at Pebble Beach in Monterey, Calif., that will feature several high-performance vehicles, among them a 2006 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 that bears the chassis number 001.

The vehicle, whose owner is unidentified, was last auctioned in 2008 by Gooding & Company for $2.9 million.

“Given the unchecked appreciation of Veyrons – engineering showcases producing in excess of 1,000 horsepower – it seems safe to say the first in the Veyron line would bring significantly more,” according to the BBC.

The Veyron features an 8.0-litre, quad-turbocharged, W16 cylinder engine, equivalent to two narrow-angle V8 engines bolted together. The engine features four turbochargers and displaces nearly 488 cubic inches.

The vehicle has an astounding 10 radiators: three heat exchangers for the air-to-liquid intercoolers; three engine radiators; one for the air conditioning system; one transmission oil radiator; one differential oil radiator; and one engine oil radiator.

The Veyron’s average top speed was 253.81 mph during test sessions in April 2005.

By comparison, the fastest official speed recorded by a NASCAR driver is nearly 213 mph, by Bill Elliott at Talladega Superspeedway during qualifying in 1987, while the fastest speed run by an Indy car is just over 236 mph, set by Eddie Cheever at the 1996 Indianapolis 500.

Whoever comes away with this trophy better have a little extra cash on hand.

The Veyron uses special Michelin PAX run-flat tires that cost $25,000 per set. In addition, the tires can be mounted only in France, a service which costs $70,000, according to Car and Driver magazine.

If interested parties can’t land the Veyron, there are a number of other outstanding vehicles going up for sale at the August auction, including another Veyron, four Ferraris (288 GTO, F40, F50 and Enzo), a Lamborghini Reventon, a Maserati MC12, a Mercedes SLR McLaren, a Porsche 959 and a McLaren F1.

I wonder what they charge to allow plebeians to come and drool?

Aston Martin to pay homage to god of fire with new model

aston martin vulvan

Outside of an occasional James Bond movie, about the only experience I’ve had with an Aston Martin is the time years ago my son and I were traveling and decided to stop at an exotic car dealership outside Greensboro, NC.

Amid the Ferraris, Maseratis and, by comparison, rather plebeian Porsches, were a handful of eye-catching Aston Martins.

Having never seen an Aston Martin in person, we were both taken aback by the make’s elegance and glamour. (Well, maybe me more so than my son, who at 12 was definitely more fascinated by the nearby Ferraris.)

Also not surprising: There was no clamour among the dealership’s salespeople to see if they could help us. I suppose a 40-year-old in jeans and sweatshirt with 12-year old dressed the same doesn’t inspire dreams of a big sale when one is peddling very big-ticket items.

As I glanced at the Astons, some of which topped out at more than $200K, I began to understand why I had come across so few of them on Southern US roads.

It appears Aston Martin is about to launch another sharp-looking ride that I will likely never see outside the big screen.

Called the Vulcan, it features a 7-liter V12 engine, a carbon fibre monocoque structure, a pushrod-actuated suspension with adjustable dampers and carbon ceramic racing brakes, according to the BBC.

The motor generates in excess of 800 horsepower, delivered to the rear wheels through a race-specification six-speed sequential shift gearbox, the media outlet added.

Additional details are scarce at present, but it appears production will be limited to just 24 vehicles. The price tag for the track-only car, with a top speed of 225 mph, is approximately $2.3 million.

Those able to snap up the Vulcan – named for the Roman god of fire – will be put through “a series of intensive driver-training programs on a roster of famous circuits,” led by Darren Turner, two-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Vulcan owners will work their way up from the V12 Vantage S and One-77 road cars and the Vantage GT4 racer before slipping behind the wheel of their new Vulcan, the BBC added.

Sounds like a car-driving fantasy camp.

The company has said it will reveal more details about the Vulcan at its debut at the Geneva International Motor Show on March 3.

A whole lot of mid-life crises just got put on hold …

Hoegh Osaka

One can only hope that whoever owns the Hoegh Osaka has plenty of insurance.

The above ship, carrying at more than $50 million worth of high-end cars, was deliberately run aground off the coast of the United Kingdom this past weekend to keep it from capsizing after it began listing dangerously.

While the ship remains afloat, it’s almost certain the 1,400 Jaguars, Land Rovers and BMWs, along with a single $375,000 Rolls-Royce Wraith, aboard the vessel took a beating.

The worst may not be over as winds estimated to reach 50 miles an hour winds are expected to batter the stricken vessel Wednesday. Similar conditions are expected again Friday

The 57,000-ton Hoegh Osaka was run aground between Southampton and the Isle of Wight. It was listing at an angle of 52 degrees as of Sunday night.

The salvage operation, which could take months, cannot begin “in earnest” until the bad weather has passed, according to a spokeswoman for the Maritime & Coastguard Agency.

The cars may have to be scrapped to avoid future legal action, according to The Telegraph.

Audi’s R18 hybrid: Beautiful and spectacular

WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps 2014

While there’s likely nowhere on Earth where the above Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro is street legal – except perhaps Antarctica, which isn’t known for its road system – one can dream of getting behind the wheel of this stunning vehicle and opening it up.

That is, until one comes across an older couple in a late-model Buick chugging along in the fast lane at 48 miles an hour.

The Audi R18, the first hybrid race car to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, is one of the favorites of this year’s race, not surprisingly.

The car possesses an unusual combination: It features a conventionally powered rear axle together with an electrically powered front axle. The system located in the front of the car contains two drive shafts and a motor generator unit, together with planetary gearbox, which retrieves its own energy from the electric flywheel accumulator mounted alongside the driver in the cockpit, according to Audi.

The energy is stored during deceleration, and then transferred to a flywheel that can shoot it back to the front axle for added acceleration.

In the process, the front wheels drive the motor generator unit. This accelerates a carbon-fiber flywheel, which runs in a high vacuum. Once the car takes a corner and the driver accelerates, the system delivers the energy to the front axle – but only above a speed of 75 mph, the manufacturer added.

The 3.7-litre V6 engine can muster 510 horsepower and speeds of more than 185 miles per hour.

As for price, if you have to ask, well, you know the rest …

Plymouth muscle car fetches $3.78 million at auction

1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible

The Chrysler name has taken a beating in recent years, between the automaker declaring bankruptcy, being bailed out by the US government and choosing to discontinue such venerable lines as Plymouth.

While sales have rebounded over the past few years, proof of just how high automaker once flew was evident this past weekend when a Chrysler muscle car from more than 40 years ago sold for $3.78 million.

A rare 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda convertible fetched one of the top prices ever for a muscle car June 14 at Mecum’s Seattle auction.

The $3.78 million figure makes the ’71 Plymouth the most valuable Chrysler product ever sold. The final total included an 8 percent commission for Mecum.

The Hemi Cuda was one of only two built for the US that year with a 4-speed manual transmission and a 425-hp big-block V-8 engine. Of the two, the bright blue beast sold Saturday is the only one with its original motor, according to Mecum’s.

Chrysler made just 11 Hemi Cuda convertibles in all in 1971.

1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible 2Muscle cars – the name attached to high-performance automobiles – came into prominence in the 1950s and ‘60s, with the major American automakers all producing their version of souped-up cars with powerful engines.

The segment was ultimately waylaid by rising insurance rates, the OPEC-inspired fuel crisis of the 1970s, which drove up gasoline prices, and the Clean Air Act.

According to Mecum’s, the car in question was purchased new by a “famous cartoonist” who later sold it to someone in Oregon. A few years later, however, it was confiscated in a drug bust and ended up at a police auction in 1999, where it went for the then-astonishing price of $410,000, according to Fox News.

(Photos show the 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda convertible that sold this past weekend for $3.78 million.)