Friday, June 27, 2014

Broken Breakdown.

A broken down car on the side of the road isn't necessarily an uncommon or shocking sight. One in the state of this Renault, however, certainly is. A few weeks ago I noticed this grey Laguna on an on-ramp to a local highway. Naturally I was curious, and stopped to take a closer look and take a few pictures.
Apparently I wasn't the only one who had noticed it. There were no clues as to why it had broken down, but it had clearly suffered greatly during its stay on the side shoulder. Many parts had been removed (headlights, taillights, grille, hubcaps), and the rest of the car had been smashed.
The windshield and side and rear windows had been shattered, and someone had clearly taken a baseball bat or crowbar to each of the body panels. Even the inside of the car had suffered, as the dash, door panels and seats had been ripped, torn and beaten.
I was disappointed to see the car in this shape, and consider it a silly waste. Even if the car had suffered engine failure, the rest of it appears to have been in decent shape before its savage beating on the side of the road. The engine could certainly have been fixed or, worst case, replaced. As it is now the car is good for the scrap yard, as every single body panel, window, and interior bit needs to be fixed.
Breaking down on the side of the road is already a big enough pain, but I can't imagine coming back the next day and seeing this. I am going to think twice about letting my car run out of gas in the future, if this is what is waiting for it on the side of the road!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Practical Nudity.

The looks of a car, especially something like a sports roadster, are very important. While the ride, handling, performance and quality all have to be aligned, it is the design of the car that is going to attract the attention of the buyer. It usually isn't possible to dissociate the visual aspect of a car design from the rest. Except in the case of the Z1. 
The BMW Z1 was an uncommon, untraditional roadster. A 2-seat convertible, it didn't have regular doors that swing open, but instead had very hill sills and low doors that dropped down into them. The goal with this design was to harken back to British-style roadsters with simple canvas doors, and it could actually be driven with the doors open, as the high sills offered the necessary legally-required crash protection.
Few would call the Z1 (built from 1989 until 2001) outright beautiful, even by 1989 standards. It's not really curvy, not really angular, and doesn't have a particularly graceful profile. But the beauty in this car appears when you strip it down to its birthday suit. 
The Z1 chassis was a marvel of engineering at the time, and a test-bed for BMW. Lessons learned from the Z1 project would be applied to future BMWs for years to come. The body was almost an afterthought. The plastic panels could be removed, and the car could still be driven (according to BMW at the time, the whole body could be removed and replaced un under an hour). The backbone of the car was a sturdy welded steel chassis designed specifically for the Z1.
Function over form. BMWs offbeat little roadster has been forgotten by some, and those that do remember it don't do so because of its timeless beauty or elegant styling. It wasn't particularly fast, and wasn't the all-out best handling roadster of the era. It was rather expensive too, given the performance. What made this car stand out then and still does today is what you see when you undress it.
NB: I don't have any of my own pictures of the Z1 undressed, but a friend has some photos and even a video showing the prototype Z1 in all its naked glory. Check them out at:

Monday, June 16, 2014

Lonely Old Garage.

Just as there is something oddly charming about an old abandonded car, I am always drawn to old abandonded garages. While I would certainly prefer to see small local fix-it shops continuing to repair old cars and help keep them on the road, these old relics have a special appeal.
This garage is close to where I live, and I have driven by it countless times over the years. I finally stopped to take a few pictures this past weekend. This garage had also been a service station, as evidenced by the broken gas pumps out front. The building and pumps may not be ancient, but they certainly are from at least a few decades ago, and haven't been in use for quite a while.
There is a small tidy house right next door that appears to belong to the same owner, and the grass around the shop is kept trimmed. I spied an old car inside, but otherwise the garage looked empty. The 'Toutes Marques' sign above the building explained that the garage serviced all brands.

The old, worn-out gas pumps still had their prices labelled in French francs, which were phased out in favour of the euro by 2002, so this station certainly hasn't seen any action in at least 12 years. As a dreamer I like to think that someone will someday open up this garage again, but I know that it's not very likely.
While there will always be a call for small automotive repair shops to take care of old collectible cars, the days where people stopped by their local shop for general repairs is gone. The complexity of new cars means that they need to be serviced in specialised shops and dealerships, and a small, traditional garage like this one simply doesn't have its place in the modern automotive world. As for the gas pumps, just a minute further down the road is a modern gas station that belongs to a major chain. There's little room left for the small guy in the modern automotive service world!

Still, I hope that this building and its pumps will stand for years to come, as a nostalgic reminder to a different motoring era.


Friday, June 6, 2014


Lesson learned. Sometimes being a cheapskate doesn't pay off. I thought that I would solicit some advice on what would make a nice small, entertaining car. There are some appealing, attractive small cars available in France, and I enjoy their tossable nature, and thought that some general input would help me decide which one might be the best choice.
I found a website where I could post a question, but it was pay-per-word. My original question of "What is the most entertaining small car available?" seemed a bit wordy and pricey, so I tried to distill it down to the essence of what I wanted to say. I came up with "Car4Play?"
Lets just say that I got lots of responses... but not really the ones I wanted... and a few suggestions that I had never even heard of before...
Back to the point. Since it came out in 2001, the 'New' Mini Cooper has been a favourite of mine. I even got to do a test drive at an abandonded airport near Toronto, Canada when it was released, and absolutely loved the go-kart feel to it. I know several people that own a Mini, and all seem to agree that the driving experience lives up to the looks. It certainly is a little tight inside, and should probably be considered a two-seater with two extra seats in back for show, but as far as small fun cars go, it's pretty well the benchmark.
One look at the Citroen DS3 is proof that Mini was the target. Citroen based their mini-chic model (introduced in 2010) on their mass-market C3 car, but turned the style dial up to 10. Park it next to a Mini and you'll see that Citroen went for the same youthful, customizable look... there are countless body and roof colour combinations, stickers, and other finishing touches. The DS3 has been a hit for Citroen, and it always turns my head. A couple sporting versions exist, but even the base model is a decent drive. It certainly isn't a hard-carving sports car, but for its price range, the DS3 handles well enough.
Opel wanted a piece of the pint-sized toy car market, and certainly wasn't getting it with their competent but mundane Corsa small car, so they came up with a much more swoopy and attractive coupe called the Adam. Certainly inspired by the success of the DS3, Opel copied their strategy and focused on the upscale look and customization options, so that each owner can personalize their car they way they like. The similarities to the DS3 continue to the driving experience; the Adam is no more a sports car than the Citroen, but it's small size and slightly improved suspension (relative to the Corsa) makes it entertaining in the twisties.
To round out the list, I wanted to include the Alfa Romeo Mito. Several other entertaining small cars exist (like the Audi A1 and Fiat 500), but the Mito is a standout to me thanks to its beautiful design. It is the oddball of this group, as it doesn't offer the personalisation options (colours and trims bits and add-ons), but it still manages to look fun even at a standstill. The base model is more looks than performance, though the Mito can at least keep up with the others, and encourages the driver to look for the longest, curviest route possible to get from point A to point B.
Lots of choices! I still haven't convinced myself to switch my current car, but when I do I want it to be a small 3-door with a 4-cylinder engine and manual transmission. All four of these cars fit the bill, and can be had with similar performance and handling. Pricing starts around 11,000 euros for the Adam, 12,500 for the Mito, and climbs to around 16,000 for the DS3 and Mini. A bit of a spread, but to get comparable equipment levels the price difference shrinks, to the point that it wouldn't be the deciding factor for me. All four cars push the 'fun' button for me. None are designed for maximum acceleration or handling, but in my opinion, that actually makes them all the more fun to drive: you really have to work to wring the most out of them. In the end it would probably come down to looks, thought that's still a toss-up.
I might need some more help. For my next poll I think I'll have to find a better question than 'Car4Play?', though...