Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Sunday Drives - American Muscle, Devil's Beef

Spring has sprung! And in a much more wholesome way than we’re used to in Scotland.

This brings the obvious benefit of good weather, but with that sunshine comes a litany of motorbikes, cyclists, horses and sun-seekers with caravans-in-tow out of hibernation and on to the road network.

I don’t have a problem sharing the road with other road users, but many of us who prefer to travel on four wheels know the frustration of hitting the umpteenth mile of 40mph pootling behind a caravan that just won’t yield, while all the bikers zip past astride their insectoid machines.

This past Sunday, however, I was happy to trundle along at a sedate pace, in a fair-weather convoy of a rather different kind. On my jaunt back from visiting family in Dumfriesshire to Edinburgh on one of my favourite stretches of road, I came upon quite a special cavalcade.

Cresting the peak of the rollercoaster strip of the A701, which winds and whips its way around the Devil’s Beef Tub, a Pontiac Trans Am pulled out of the view point lay-by and into my way. Far from a regular sight in these parts, I was even more astounded to see it was following a Shelby GT500 Mustang, with another V8 monster joining the road behind me.

The pace of these cars was gentle to say the least, so I zipped by them and set myself up at a lay-by further up the road to grab some pics and footage, which I have to share today.

After the brief photo-op, I caught up to the convoy once more and sat behind the Corvette C6 for about 20 miles, enjoying the rumble of the combined roughly 2,000 horsepower ahead of me as we wound our way northward.

(Aye, the video's quite short, but the soundtrack is like God's own bees gargling warm honey.)

From what I could tell, the convoy ran:
  • Shelby GT500 Mustang
  • Pontiac Trans Am
  • Dodge RAM
  • Pontiac Trans Am
  • Shelby GT500 Mustang
  • Chevrolet Corvette C6
Though if I’ve mistaken any in there, those with a more trained eye feel free to let me know; as I said before American muscle the likes of this is not something often seen in the Moffat hills.

Not really much more to this really, just thought I’d pop in a bit about a nice Sunday drive.

I haven’t been able to find out anything about muscle car owners clubs on a run that Sunday (2nd April 2017), so if anyone knows more this please get in touch on Twitter (@Jack_McMotors) as I’d really like to catch up with the drivers and get to know more about their fabulous machines.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Sun, Sand and, er... Steel Wheels? - Almost a Week in Spain with a Renault Clio 1.5 dCi

Back in October, I got my first taste of continental driving on a short holiday in Spain. Having contacted our rental company in the run up to the trip, we’d been told by email to expect a Nissan Micra or similar – that last part being the roll of the dice in the lucrative “Class C” market at Tony’s rent-a-car. We’re not talking Mercedes here.

On arrival at Malaga airport, we were met by two representatives of Tony’s (one of whom could have filled out the handover form in his sleep if he’d had to) and, speedy paperwork behind us, we were led outside with our bags to a bustling bank of rental pick-up-and-drop-off activity. Here we were introduced to our car for the week. A car, which, in the bleary, dank darkness looked almost Micra-shaped, but was not itself a Micra.
Hey, that cloud looks like a Clio... kind of... if you squint maybe?

Our companion for the week was to be a Renault Clio 1.5 dci in rental-spec blanco, resplendent astride uncovered steel wheels and wearing a few battle scars from previous escapades at the hands of holidaymakers. Far from being downtrodden after a day’s travel I was delighted and practically ripped the odd little key card that Renault persist with for some reason from the poor rental rep’s hand.

Despite its small proportions the Clio easily swallowed our suitcase with room to spare – the real test for its luggage capacity would come later after we discovered the price of wine at Spanish supermarkets and went a bit overboard.

All the essential boxes were ticked as we left the airport: Bluetooth stereo and air-con were included, the latter absolutely vital on a sticky, rainy October night - the rain in Spain falls mainly on the motorway from Malaga airport to the foothills between Monda and Guaro as it turns out, and demisting was required for the whole of the run.
Welcoming, clear dials helped minimise the post-flight stress

Apart from one particularly understeer-ey moment on a very slick and narrow piece of Spanish back road, the Clio proved itself largely unflappable despite the less-than-favourable conditions. In such rain, the last stretch of our journey from Guaro town to our accommodation could have seriously troubled many much larger cars, the rain having turned dusty, rutted farm tracks into a constantly shifting sludge, quicksand with unknown drops on either side which clung to the edge of a thick fog wrapped in olive branches.

But still the Clio soldiered on, and having made it to our casita in the countryside, we went to bed confident it would take anything Spain could throw at it.

The next day brought the not-inconsiderable challenge of a supply run to town. Happily, the rain had stopped and the track back to tarmacked roads had settled. Driving back along the dusty stretch that the night before had appeared to have been constructed along a narrow ridge between two gaping bottomless pits, but in daylight it could easlily have been lifted and miniaturized from a stage on the Australian rally. I was even more impressed at the feat the Clio had managed the night before, and less-than reassured that many of the drops that had loomed out of the fog the previous night turned out to be precisely as perilous as feared.

Back on tarmac the Clio got into its stride, never breaking a sweat despite the 30-degree heat, not acting in a particularly fizzy manner but giving the impression that it would be dependable, in the same way the chair where you keep clothes you’ve worn once but which aren’t dirty yet is dependable. Mash your foot to the floor and the 89bhp, 162 lb-ft 1.5 dCi engine makes a bit more noise but not a lot more speed, though it’s torquey enough not to be troubled by hills or the odd overtake if required. The ruts and sudden drops along our little track made me glad Renault had opted for comfort over sportiness in the Clio, though its responsiveness still managed to get me grinning on the winding minor roads between towns.
The short hop to Coin provided an opportunity to get more acquainted with the little Renault. Most of the surfaces you touch on the interior – steering wheel, door handles, indicator stalks – feel fairly sturdy, and the main controls have a nice weighting to them.

My main gripe inside the car was the gear lever, which is a gawky, shoogly thing that feels out of character with the rest of the car. Some of the shoogliness may have been down to previous patrons of Tony’s being less-than-gentle with their gear changes, but it doesn’t stop the chrome-adorned handle looking near-enough identical to the lever in my mum’s 2003 Peugeot 206. 
I was a fan of the Clio's interior, and its impressive array of equipment, even in basic trim
(Also - note the offending gear knob. I may be overreacting.)

The dials and digital display are clear and bright and offer the driver a useful amount of information (unfortunately all in Spanish in our car, which took some getting used to), and they helped make things a lot easier after disembarking from an unfamiliar airport to drive on the other side of the road in the middle of a rainstorm after very little sleep. Combined with most of the cabin finish and the well-judged controls for the stereo and heating, the Clio goes a long way to shrug off historic ideas of rudimentary French hatches, which rattled and groaned and in my experience often leaked in their cabins; even this most basic model has been bestowed an air of quality. But the gearstick always irked me.

Ok, maybe I am being a bit harsh with the gearstick. In the short week I had with the little car it barely missed a beat, and proved that the toys and trinkets that at one point only adorned luxury German limousines are taking what feels like less and less time to dribble through to even the most basic of French hatchbacks.

On that first trip to Coin and back, it made light of the sun-crispened Spanish tarmac, the suspension dealing very well with constantly shifting and baffling cambers and short overhangs, and the super light steering made the narrow, tightly-packed towns a doddle to navigate.
The Clio had a very accommodating boot, which was lucky...

Even with a boot loaded with all we could possible need for the week (and more than a few bottles of €2 wine over and above that), it made easy work of the farm tracks. It wasn’t even flapped by an unplanned detour first up and then back down one of the steepest slopes I’ve ever come across, engine and brakes never breaking a sweat on an incline that Spiderman would likely have employed his hands to scale. Honestly, it felt as at home on the streets of super-chic Marbella as it did skipping across dusty farmland.

I’m not sure I agree fully with the concept of LED-running lights teamed with bare steelys, but on almost every other point I find it difficult to fault the little Renault. It proved itself as capable as cars twice or even three times its size and price, all with a bleary-eyed beardy Scotsman at the wheel, sitting for the first time on the opposite side of the car.

Would I buy one with my own money? As an economical runabout it did well, and barely any of our holiday Euros went into topping up the tank with diesel (and I promise I dropped it off with as much fuel as I'd picked it up with! 

In honesty, I'd probably be more tempted by a Fiesta in this class to live with everyday, but I'd still be dead chuffed to be handed the key card to a Clio again next time I put my fate in the hands of the airport rental desk. 

Friday, 27 January 2017

A Bit of an Update...

It’s been very quiet here on McMotors – TheScottish Car Blog of late, partly that’s due to my usual lackadaisical attitude, but this time it’s also down to the fact that I’ve been working on another project.

Back in October I started writing for Supercars.net as a contributor. Below are links to some of the pieces I’ve written for them, including most recently their Car of the Year 2016 posts. 

Car of the Year

As a new years resolution I’m working on striking a better balance between this and my other commitments (you know the stuff – job, life, staying fed and watered, breathing...) and my writing here on McMotors.

In the coming days you can expect my first review of 2017 to be posted here (one which admittedly fell on the backburner many months ago) and a bit of insight into the thought process behind my current daily driver. I'll also be keeping this blog updated with links to my writing elsewhere.

In the meantime, keep checking here and Supercars.net for updates – sign up for emails to be the first to know when new posts are published or follow me on Twitter for assorted ramblings and blether - find me @Jack_McMotors or drop me an email at mcmotorscars@gmail.com.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Part of the One Per-Cent - Aston Martin DB7 Zagato

It's not often the chance pops up to get up close with a one-of-100-built piece of automotive history in the metal, never mind the chance for an audience with such a machine.

Yes, the Lamborghini IS striking
Which is why, when I heard Aston Martin Edinburgh had a pre-loved DB AR1 DB7 Zagato in stock, I rushed along, camera in hand to take a peek at this rarity.

Upon arrival at the Leven Car Company's dealership on Bankhead drive, Edinburgh, I was greeted by the showroom host, Joe (@jk.automotive on instagram, give him a follow!), who took me round the range of high-end metal and carbon fibre they had in stock.

Alongside an opulent selection of Rolls Royces sat a very special collection of three Ferraris - spectacular enough to warrant their own website - for sale only as a complete set. Stunningly matched in spec, the 360 Challenge Stradale, 430 Scuderia and 458 Speciale span the last three generations of mid-engined performance-leaning Ferraris - stripped out and as ready for the racetrack as any road.
The trio of Italian racehorses share a stable
This end looks noisy
If you've got your heart set on this stunning set of Italian exotica, better get saving those bottle caps - Joe didn't have an exact price for the trio but says that the offer that takes them home is likely to be in the region of one million pounds.

I'm not normally a fan of personalised number plates, but this one...
Following my introduction to the Ferraris, Joe led me through to the main Aston Martin showroom, where I found the Zag currently takes pride of place amid a plethora of Vanquishes, DB9s and Rapides. Understandably, the keys to this pristine machine are kept locked safely away, so there was no chance of me gracing its plush leather seats with my cut-price jeans.

This car is one of only 99 DB7 Zagatos offered to the public back in 2003 (a 100th example was produced and kept by Aston Martin), the design having been first unveiled at the 2002 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

Aston Martin have worked with the Italian coachbuilders Zagato on several models, with the two iconic companies first collaborating in the '60s on the DB4 Zagato racing car.

The Zagato trademark double bubble roof - not included on Zag' Volante models
The two marque's teamwork has returned to the fore of late, with a convertible version of the Vanquish Zagato being unveiled shortly after all 99 of the coupe version sold out almost immediately after the concept was revealed.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

What Range Anxiety? EV Adventurers take on Longest Challenge Yet

Rarely are electric cars brought up in conversation without the phrase "range anxiety" following close behind. Two EV enthusiasts have come a long way to silently leaving that old stigma behind.

Chris Ramsey of Plug In Adventures has a history of breaking new ground for electric vehicles on Scottish soil, becoming the first person to complete the North Coast 500 in a electric car whilst racking up fuel costs of absolutely zilch thanks to his frugal choice of powertrain.

Earlier this summer, Chris teamed up with co-driver, Terry Mohammed of BMM Energy Solutions, a firm who specialise in electric vehicle charging points, for a somewhat more ambitious journey. Together, they decided to push the electric car boundaries even further.
BMW i3 electric car with range extender petrol engine parked in front of Edinburgh castle
The BMW i3 at the start line on Castle Esplanade. Massed bands just out of shot.

In a BMW i3 kindly loaned by Eastern BMW in Edinburgh (the very same car I tested back in June no less), the pair set off from Castle Esplanade for Monte Carlo, in a 2551 mile round trip beyond anything either had ever tried.

Whilst the trip south through the UK was nothing new for the pair, across the channel was a different story. "The charging infrastructure in the UK is extremely reliable, but on the continent was a bit of an unknown for me." explained Chris, who's no stranger to planning his ambitious journeys around charging stations.

Despite initial trepadation, and following a few hiccups after disembarking the Eurostar at the opposite terminal to the only charging point, Chris said the pair had little trouble once across the Channel "the drive through France was stunning, and the charge points worked perfectly."

A BMW i3 electric car with range extender petrol engine parked in front of Monaco casino
The car, named "Monte" by the pair, wasn't allowed in the casino to gamble.
Upon reaching Monte Carlo, time was short as Chris and Terry had been invited to join BMW in London at the Formula E race the very next day, meaning they only had time for one quick zap through the famous tunnel on the Monaco F1 circuit before having to turn around and head back to the UK.

Thanks to their agreement to stick to the i3's 80-mile electric-only range, all 2,551 miles from Edinburgh to Monte Carlo, on to London and then back to Edinburgh were covered without a drop of petrol, and with total charging costs of only 55 Euros.

In France, the charging network is maintained by Sodetrel Mobilité, run by EDF, and charging costs €1.50 for a 20-minute fast charge. Enough time for a quick rest on such an epic journey, but staying within the car's electric-only range meant stopping more than 30 times to plug in, all of which combines to make it even more impressive that the pair made the voyage in just 60 hours.
Turns out you can spec your yacht to match your i3's paint scheme... who knew?

Friday, 17 June 2016

Ignition Festival Of Motoring Brings F1 Action Screeching Into Glasgow

Ignition Festival of Motoring, a two day event celebrating all things motoring rolls into Glasgow SECC the weekend of 5-7 August. With it comes a cavalcade of past and present racing drivers and exotic metal the likes of which have never been seen on the banks of the Clyde.

With Grand Prix winners like David Coulthard and Mark Webber confirmed to be in attendance, alongside British Touring Car legend Gordon Sheddon and professional drift wizard Shane Lynch, you can bet that speed will very much be the order of the day.

The drivers won't just be on hand to shake hands and sign autographs. Oh no, streets around the SECC are to be closed to allow these monsters of motorsport to strut their stuff. The street circuit will be opened with laps from Jimmy McRae in Colin McRae's original Subaru rally car, which will be on display for the rest weekend alongside a collection of the rally legend's cars.

Team Red Bull driver Sergio Sette Camara will be tearing up the streets around the conference centre in the Red Bull RB7 Formula One car on Friday 5th, before local legend David Coulthard takes over the wheel for the rest of the weekend.

Static displays of supercars, classics, rally cars and a special performance grid hand-picked by the crew behind Top Gear magazine will be on show, allowing unmatched access to high-end exotica. Meanwhile, Top Gear Live's stunt team will be performing for the crowds, and there are whispers hinting The Stig may make an appearance, looking to put some of the named drivers to shame.

Tickets are available from Ignition's website prior to the event. Move quick, they're sure to be the fastest-selling tickets in town.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

i3 Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside - BMW i3 Range Extender Road Test

The BMW i3 is the Munich marque's interpretation the future of urban motoring will look. It's packed with clever little details and impressive tech, as highlighted in my previous post on the i3, BMW's city car for the future aims to be compact, quiet and sustainable, all while still retaining the driving dynamics their customers have come to expect. Powered by an electric motor driving the rear wheels, supplemented by an optional 2-cylinder petrol range-extender engine, it straddles the divide between the past and the future.

Thanks to this, the i3 has the snappy, instant power response you'd expect from a pure EV. Combined with the range extender, it has a comfortable quoted range of 150 miles. Around town, you'd have to neglect charging the thing for a couple of days before needing the extra capacity afforded by the petrol motor, so that extra range opens up the possibility of venturing beyond the city walls.
The i3 - breaking the barrier between then and now.

Which is why, when Eastern BMW let me take one out for the day, I decided to first head out of town, to the seaside, to show this very new interpretation of what a car can be some very old roads.

First impressions from the driving seat - and I mean to get this trope out of the way early - this car is electricBoth literally and figuratively.

The power delivery is predictably smooth, with the electric motor's 250Nm of torque and the equivalent of around 180bhp available from standing, That power constantly at the disposal of your right foot, and the sharp, city-oriented steering, whilst slightly lacking the sensitivity of a traditional mechanical system, still manages to engage the driver when the going gets twisty. On the hotch-potch A- and B-roads to the northwest of Edinburgh, the i3 revealed it still has plenty BMW tricks from up it's sleeve.

Take your foot off the accelerator whilst moving and you'll find the BMW slows rapidly thanks to regenerative braking, which takes excess kinetic energy and turns it back into useful juice for the car's lithium-ion batteries. To begin with it's strange, but quickly becomes second nature, and adds to the dollops of smoothness the i3 supplies. In normal driving, you almost forget that there's a brake pedal, but it's nice to know that it's there.
Charging points are becoming more widespread,
meaning the i3's usefulness looks set to increase.

South Queensferry, my first destination, clings tightly to the southern shores of the Firth of Forth. Here, the gradient drops sharply down to water level, and the town's winding, cobbled, and often single-file streets are as good a place as any to give the i3 a quite literal shakedown.

The i3's agility shines through in these sections, much more so than the somewhat upright profile suggests. BMW uses a combination of lightweight carbon fibre and clever positioning of the heavy batteries in the floor of the car to preserve giving it that desired low centre of gravity.

The little i3 copes well over cobbles, and draws many a gaze.
Thankfully, lightness doesn't mean compromise in the structure; carbon fibre's other strengh in building car body's is its, er, strength. Outside noise is dampened easily,  and even wind noise only begins to penetrate the cabin at motorway speeds. Impressive, considering the lack of engine note to drown it out.

Over the cobblestones of Queensferry's 17th century high street the i3 kept it's composure It rides firmly, but more so in a sporty way than in a bone-shattering race-ready manner. Even on ancient surfaces like this, rattling and shoogling is almost imperceptable, whilst the i3's tiny footprint and abrupt, ever-ready responsiveness meant it navigated the tight spaces of South Queensferry with ease.

Looking northward, across the Firth of Forth, it's impossible not to notice the bridges - each a monument to progression in personal transportation. Since the 11th century, South Queensferry was the port from where ferries crossed the water to Fife.

In the 19th century came the railways, and with them, the magnificent cantilever bridge that jumps to mind every time the place is mentioned. The speed and ease of rail travel soon saw it become the method of choice for those crossing the Forth.

In the trains' wake came the growth of  car ownership, and with increasing numbers of people taking to the roads, the Forth Road bridge, which opened in 1964, replacing the ferry altogether. It's swooping cables dangle the roadway high above the water, whilst the carriageway itself appears to lead straight into oblivion on days when the haar descends.

"My other car is a bridge."
Erm, what?
Beyond the road bridge, the parapets that will soon carry the future crossing tower high in the air. I sit in the BMW and gaze out at these three monuments of transportation tech progression. Each one overtook the chosen method of the age that came before it.

In a sense the i3 is something of a kindred spirit to the innovation that has taken place on these shores. It is a statement of intent from BMW - a 'look at what we can do' showcase, combining the best of economy motoring whilst managing not to dilute the driving experience people have flocked to the company for decades in search of.

It's BMW sticking its neck out, parading in a manner much the same as the rail bridge must have seemed to upon it's completion in 1890. These are very different times to the industrial revolution that spawned the bridge however, and today's revolution comes with it's own, more personable monuments.

The styling is definitely eye-catching - the i3 somehow turned more heads than a gleaming, red Ferrari 488 that burbled 'neath the gala bunting. As I passed through Edinburgh's orbital villages, people would stop and turn, perhaps taken as much by the looks as perturbed by the eerie silence that accompanies the i3 in electric only mode - a silence which became all the more obvious when I pulled up at traffic lights very exuberantly enjoying the Harman Kardon audio.
Sustainable materials, and excellent audio
from a car that's virtually silent.

Heading back towards Auld Reekie, a brief stint on the M8 revealed the i3 to be a comfortable motorway cruiser, though this is hardly it's natural habitat. Realistically, this is a capability of the i3 that will be tested only in short bursts, but one that is important for BMW to get right. Many large cities have an interconnecting system of ring-roads and bypasses, allowing a quick slingshot from one end of town to the other, and no doubt these will be utilised by the majority of i3 owners.

Edinburgh is a notoriously difficult city to drive in at the best of times - seemingly endless roadworks combine with an archaic criss-crossing of one way streets and legions of irate cabbies, meaning a degree of 'elbows out' driving is necessary. Scything into Corstorphine, I switched the i3 from Comfort mode to EcoPro+, which dampens the throttle response and ups the regenerative braking to conserve range. Whilst not entirely corking the car's teeth, this does have a noticable effect behind the wheel, taking a touch of zing out of the i3's get-up-and-go at the lights.

Maneuverability is a bonus in Edinburgh, something the i3 has in droves. BMW have had the foresight to bless the car with a teeny turning circle of just 9.86m. This proved ideal when, spotting a parking space outside a boutique cafe near Murrayfield, I was able to quickly wheech the car round and nab it before it was filled.
Fitting in well: slick steering and suicide doors
 add to the i3's city credentials.

Here, parked up amongst the bright leaves and chic hatchbacks of the suburbs, the i3 blends in well. It's well suited in the grey the example I drove wore, and the glossy surfaces and contrasting tones give it that multi-layered effect that sells the Minis, DS3s and 500s of this world in their millions.
i3 has the looks to take on more traditional city cars.

It's these details that build awareness and draw people in, and BMW's fine tooth comb has been run over the interior as well. Not only are all the materials lightweight, but sustainable, too. The dash is made from a mixture of kenaf fibres, extracted from a mallow plant which coverts more CO2 into oxygen during it's growth than most other plants, and intersected with swooping wood cut from fast-growing eucalyptus trees. Sitting in the olive-tanned leather seats stuffed with pure new wool, you really get a sense for the huge amount of thought that's gone into this fairly small car.

Pointing the i3 eastward, I pop it back into Comfort mode, ready for the sudden ducking and diving vital to survive a drive through Edinburgh City Centre. Cutting through Haymarket, even the tram lines don't manage to unsettle it, and progress is speedy as I head towards Charlotte Square.
Will it be long until this sight becomes commonplace in cities?

Sleuthing along one of the New Town's secretive alleys, the i3 feels sturdy, safe, at home. It should contrast these streets violently, the clashing of ancient and futuristic rarely easy to stomach.

And yet it doesn't.

Edinburgh is a city that has stood the test of time. Creeping between it's monuments, along ancient cobblestones, you can almost see the city move from one era to the next, changing with the seasons but still holding on to what makes it what it is at it's core.

It's a neat trick to pull, and I'm pretty convinced BMW has managed it with the i3. Wherever I took it, and whatever I threw at it, it remained prescient that the i3 is a BMW as much as an M3 is.

Think of it as a West Highland Terrier, with the M3 as BMW's Greyhound. Yes, the greyhound is much faster and bigger, but the terrier is compact and far suited to the cramped environs of the city. And day-to-day, the wee Westie's just as energetic and fun a companion to live with.