Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tricycle For Big Boys.

While enjoying a drink at a bar along the river in the city of Amiens a few weeks back, I spied this this exciting machine in a parking lot on the opposite bank...
From a distance it appeared to be old, but up close it was clear that it was a modern, retro-styled vehicle. The badge showed that it was a Morgan 3. Old car fans know the Morgan the name, but I had never seen a 3-wheeled model before.
A quick internet search led me to the Morgan 3 website, where I learned that the Morgan company was actually founded on the 3-wheeled predecessor of the 3 called the 'Runabout'. Probably more well known for their 4+4 convertible, Morgan appears to have had great success with their original 3-wheeler after basically creating the genre.

This modern version sticks to the original equation of 3 wheels + 2 seats + open body + motorcycle engine and transmission = lots of fun! This lightweight aluminum-bodied vehicle has a 1983cc 'V-twin' 2-cylinder engine creating 80hp, which gets to the back wheel through a 5-speed gearbox that also includes reverse (a luxury original Morgan 3 owners did not experience!).
True to its origins, this new 3 does not offer many comfort features, though leather seats and steering wheel are standard. No radio, no airbag, no heater... not even a roof or windows are provided. This is a true open-air driver's toy, and it offers the best blend of roadster and motorcycle possible.
The simple body is highlighted by lots of chrome at the front, and a fully exposed engine that leads to exhaust pipes running down either side to the rear. Narrow wire wheels complete the retro look outside, while the simple but attractive interior fits the character of the car very well. An exposed tubular frame, visible inside the cockpit, reminds the driver that they are piloting a basic, no-frills machine and not some soft luxury mass-market-mobile. To top off the look and hint back at the motorcycle lineage, two round headlights and tiny windscreens are present.

I already have a hard enough time trying to pick a favourite 4-wheeled car... and now I have to add a 3-wheeler to my list!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Go Go Twingo!

The Frankfurt auto show is on this week, and while most people are interested in what Mercedes, BMW and Audi had to show, it was pictures of a concept from Renault that caught my attention. The third generation Twingo, Renault's city car that first appeared in 1993, was hinted at with the Twin'Run prototype. This car clearly takes its inspiration from the Renault 5 and yet manages to look thoroughly modern at the same time.
Like it or hate it, it's not the design that is the most interesting aspect of this car. Renault has teamed up with Smart on the replacement for the Twingo, the basis of which will also become a new Smart Forfour 4-seater model. What makes this platform a standout amongst small city cars (which are a dime a dozen in Europe) is the fact that it is rear engine, rear-wheel drive...
While this tidbit might not mean much to everyone, especially typical city-car drivers who just want to get from point A to point B, car fans like myself get very excited when something like this is announced. A rear-wheel drive, rear-engine configuration is inherently an entertaining and dynamic set-up for a car, and a small, light-weight model like the Twingo certainly sounds very promising. Few details exist on the car, though apparently no diesel version will exist. Smart is likely going to provide an electric-motor model, though Renault isn't expected to follow with the Twingo.
I was a fan of the original Twingo, which ran from 1993 until 2007. It was a cute, toy-like car that looked like it belonged more on the set of the movie 'Cars' than on the street. A massive success, it sold-out a bit for the second generation and became a more respectable but less interesting mini-Clio from 2007 on. It would seem that the third generation is heading back down the quirky route, and I am confident that it will once again make its mark as a stand-out city car.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Trabant Trailer.

If I can't have a Trabant, why not the next best thing? A friend sent me a link to this Trabant trailer for sale online the other day:
It is based on the wagon-version of the regular 601 that I was interested in a few months back. Apparently the donor car was in an accident, and all the owner could save was the rear end. According to the ad he already has a similar trailer made from another Trabant.
This little trailer appears to be quite well finished, with fresh paint and a wooden floor, and road-legal lights and wiring. As the seller states, it would make a great trailer for car shows and publicity for small businesses and events. He goes on to say that the price of 450 euros is what was spent building the trailer.
My Trabant fixation continues... and if anyone needs proof, I've mentioned this funny little car before...
While I think I'd prefer to start with a whole car, this trailer would be quite a fun toy for someone who already had a Trabant. I'm glad to see that some people are helping this goofy plastic wonder live on!

Monday, September 16, 2013

How To Become A Junkie In One Click.

Looking for a fix? You're one click away. And it doesn't cost a thing. This isn't spam, this is the real deal... trust me, I clicked once and now I'm hooked.
The only requirement? Be a fan of car reviews, test drive, and news tidbits from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Aching to see a comparison between all the hottest 1992 compact coupes? Itching to watch a commercial for the 1984 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera? Suffering withdrawl of AMC promotional videos from 1978? Satisfaction found:

This comprehensive website is the creation of a super car fan named Joel Ratts from the USA. He has compiled what has to be the most extensive collection of videos about test drives, comparisons, crash test, promos, commercials, concept cars, industry news and auto shows on the internet. I have had the chance to discuss a bit over email with Joel (who I have never had the pleasure of meeting), and he explained that his videos come from a vast collection of laserdiscs (google it, I had to!) he has amassed over the years.
He transfers the videos to digital files that he uploads to his site. The website is separated into the various categories I mentioned. You can search by vehicle name or manufacturer, or scroll through the drop-down lists to find exactly what you're looking for.
Or, if you're like me, you will head there not knowing what you're looking for at all, and instead stumble across forgotten gems that you hadn't thought of in ages! One great find for me was this video for the 1985 Oldsmobile Calais:
My first car was a maroon 1988 2-door Calais which was almost identical to the car in this video. A nostalgic car fan like myself can't get enough of this type of video, and it's also a good laugh taking a peek back to the 80's video quality, hairstyles and muscle shirts!

Joel really goes above and beyond to provide a super resource for car fans, as not only does he upload the videos, but even goes to the trouble of taking screen shots and providing a written summary of each video. The amount of effort he puts into his website is impressive, and it is my new favourite stop for my daily automotive fix.
One can see from the 'S-10 Baja' page on his site that Joel has his own personal addiction, the rugged off-road version of the Chevrolet S-10 compact pickup produced from 1988 to 1991. I haven't had the chance to watch the Baja videos yet, but I can tell already that it's a vehicle that I am really going to like!
I apologise in advance if I help create any addictions, but Testdrivejunkie.com is too good to not share! Skip school or work, take your phone off the hook, lock yourself in the basement if you need to, but take a look at this website!


After a month shutdown for maintenance, the site has been relaunched and better than ever! Check it out and become a Junkie...!


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bad Reputation.

A coworker of mine has figured me out. Last week he came up to me and said "Oh, I saw a car the other day and thought of you!". I knew exactly where he was going with that statement, he had surely seen a beat-up old wreck of car for sale for a couple hundred euros somewhere and thought "Well there's something that only Paul could like."


It was a 1970's Renault R5, the predecessor to the Renault Super 5, which was known as "Le Car" in North America in the late 1980s and early 1990s. While I am fan of the slightly more modern Super 5, and still see many on the roads, I have always loved the 'original' 5. They are becoming quite a rare sight on the roads, so I was glad to hear there were still a few around.
This isn't the first time I have heard the "Oh hey, I have a car for you!" line. I've become known as the person to turn to when someone has an old pile of scrap metal on wheels to get rid of. I once had a coworker tell me that anytime he saw a new strange little car show up in the parking lot that he automatically knew it was mine. I suppose it is good to be known for something, and I can think of worse reputations than that!

My R5 source is going to try and find the owner and get me his phone number next week, so with luck I'll be able to go and check this one out. Apparently it's a white 3-door, which is great news, because I much prefer the 3-door to the 5-door version. And if it doesn't work out or has been sold, it's no big deal... it's only a matter of time before someone comes up to me again and says "Hey, I know of the perfect car for you...!"

Friday, September 13, 2013

That's My Kind Of Pope!

A recent article on the BBC UK news site really made me smile. Father Zocca, an Italian priest, has given his own 20-year old Renault 4 car to the pope! This gesture was apparently inspired by Pope Francis' humble lifestyle, and message of simplicity and humility.
Apparently the new pope has a desire to create a "church for the poor", and is encouraging austerity within the Catholic Church. One example is his suggestion that church officials forego luxury cars and limousines in favour of more understated vehicles for transportation.
This is an example of a Renault 4 that I photographed this summer
Transportation doesn't get more basic than with a Renault 4, the French-makers small utilitarian people and cargo mover that was built from 1961 right up until 1992. With over 8 million sold over 30 years, the Renault 4 is still a very common site in Europe, and can truly be considered one of the 'people's cars' of France.
Apparently the pope was touched by the gift, and it has been reported that he used to drive himself around in Argentina in his own Renault 4, before arriving at the Vatican. The security guards were left amazed and surprised when he drove off in his new car last Saturday. I can only imagine the look on their faces as the 76-year old head of the Catholic Church climbed into a 20+ year old Renault with 300,000 kms on the odometer, fired it up, and took off into the streets! Good for Pope Francis! A car fan is a car fan, no matter their age or position or wealth (or lack thereof).
And I may not be Catholic, but I get a kick out of having something in common with the pope... a love of cars like the Renault 4! I was trying to decide what I want as a future project car... if the 4 is good enough for the Pope, it's good enough for me!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What Could This Be?

Last week I was sent a few photos of a lovely red convertible with the message "Guess the make!" I guess it's only fair, I go on and on about being a hardcore car fan, I deserve to be tested from time to time!
Well I am embarassed to say that I could not name this one! I could tell that it was European, but couldn't guess the brand. The grille made me think British, but the hood and fenders weren't like any MG, Triumph, or Austin that I could recognize.
The profile view didn't help... it didn't look particularly French, and the car overall lacked the ornementation of the German brands. I was stuck. When I saw that there was an interior view I figured I'd be able to recognize a logo on the steering wheel, but no such luck.
Despite not knowing what it was, I really liked it... especially the simple dashboard design that flowed into the doors. The shiny red paint job really highlighted the clean lines of this old roadster, and the curved windshield and fender-mounted mirrors were nice touches that added character to the car.
In the end I was never able to guess the brand, and was quite surprised when my source FINALLY stopped teasing me and told me what it was... and while a kinder person wouldn't play the same game, I'm not ready just yet to say what it was... I think I'll let you all try and guess...

Monday, September 9, 2013

Bigger, biggerer, biggerest!

When the newest, 4th generation Renault Clio sub-compact car came out last year it really caught my attention. It is a very attractive redesign of what I considered to be a rather awkward looking car. The new Clio also stands out for another reason… it is significantly bigger than the 1st generation car that came out in 1990. All four generations of the Clio have been very popular vehicles, and it is common to see the older ones next to the newer ones on the road and in parking lots.
To make sure that it wasn’t just my eyes playing tricks on me, I looked up the dimensions of the Clio over the years:
As I suspected, each generation has gotten larger than the previous. The only exceptions are the lower height of the newest Clio compared to the previous one, and the fact that the weight has dropped slightly for 2012. Otherwise, each generation grew a few cm in all directions and gained closed to 100 kg with each evolution. While this may not seem like much when you compare, say, a Clio 2 to a Clio 3, when looking at the original Clio 1 next to a brand new Clio 4, you have 35 extra cm of length, which is significant.

Perhaps manufacturers don’t have any choice. It might be that consumers get familiar with a name, and when trading in their old car consider the same model but want it to grow to accommodate them and their additional family members and stuff. At some point, though, what was originally a sub-compact car like the first Clio becomes closer in size to a compact. If all of the cars in a brand expand at the same rate then models shouldn’t end up stepping on each other’s toes, but it does mean that at some point a new sub-compact car needs to be introduced to take the place of the ‘one that got too big’… and that at the top end, the largest model gets so big that it either has to stop growing and starts fighting for space in the lineup with the model below it, or has to disappear to leave the next model in line the spot as top-dog.

I wonder if any brands keep their cars the exact same size with each generation. While this is far from being a gravely important question, and it’s only people like me that scratch their head over such things, I AM curious if manufacturers put much thought into it, or if it’s just natural for them to upsize every generation. For the McDonalds generation, I suppose it’s normal to want to ‘Biggie-size’ everything, including our cars!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Dash of Inspiration 2.0.

A few months ago I wrote about an artsy van I had seen in Paris with a wild, graffiti-inspired paint job and even crazier dashboard covered in toys and figurines and assorted objects:
It would appear that the owner of the vehicle has a sibling in Portugal. In August I came across this red Volkswagen Golf and immediately though of the van in Paris.
While the outside of the Golf was a little more discrete than the van, the interior was just as wild. The dash was covered in small figurines. It would appear that the owner is a fan of Easter, with chicks and ducks and bunnies everywhere. There was also a Santa, and some dogs, and a SpongeBob SquarePants, and dozens of assorted animals and hearts and plastic plants... was this vehicle in an accident with a Kinder-Egg delivery truck?
While this is far from my style of car decoration, I always get a kick out of people that personalize their cars. This person, like the van owner, clearly enjoy their ride and want to show off their collection. I must still have a few old HotWheels cars lying around from my childhood, maybe I should go find a glue gun and start decorating...

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Wallace and Gromit Mobile!

My summer vacation offered up many great automotive sights, one of which was a lovely Austin van, which just happens to be the vehicle used by the cartoon caracters 'Wallace and Gromit'! This red utility van from England was parked in front of a store, and while it didn't look like it moved often, it appeared to be complete and in good shape.
Other than the cartoon version, I had never seen one of these little vans before. After looking up some information, I learned that it was called the Austin A35, and produced from 1956 until 1968. The Austin A35 also existed as a saloon (2 and 4-door car), station wagon, and even as a small pickup (for one year). 
When viewing the van from the side one can really appreciate how small the A35 is. The wheelbase is barely longer than the doors, which aren't very long themselves. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, I am a huge van of small, useful European vehicles, and so I am naturally impressed by this little van. And while the Austin appears very rounded, the passenger and cargo area is really just a box with the corners knocked off, so there is much useable space behind the front seats.
My favourite part is certainly the tiny hood. Instead of the large, full-opening hood that we see on modern cars, the small curved opening of the A35 hints at the tiny 950cc (or optional 1100cc) 4-cylinder engine that resides there. It looks more like a trap door to a basement than the hood of a car, and allowed for beautiful, clean sculpting of the front fenders and grille.
The Wallace and Gromit version was in the 2005 film 'The Curse of the Were-Rabbit'. I saw this movie years ago, and only have a vague recollection of a van in it, so I am definitely going to have to track down the movie and watch it again! I was already a Wallace and Gromit fan, but have an even deeper respect for these characters with such discerning automotive tastes!
Check out the original trailer for the movie and you'll see the blue twin of this lovely little red one I got to see!