Category Archives: Cars


Audi Q8 concept debuts, production version coming in 2018





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The Joy of Complex


What did the Cizeta-Moroder V16T and the Mazda MX-3 have in common? Wait—do you even remember the Cizeta-Moroder V16T or the Mazda MX-3? I’d forgive you if you didn’t. Neither one of them made much of an impact on the automotive landscape. So here’s a brief recap. The Cizeta-Moroder V16T was a small-batch Italian supercar built by a bunch of ex-Lamborghini engineers. The Mazda MX-3 was a competitor to the Honda CRX, Geo Storm, and Nissan NX2000. Does that help at all? And if it does, if it brings some vague memories swimming back up … what did those two cars have in common?

The answer, of course, is this: unnecessary complexity. The Cizeta-Moroder V16T, shown above, had a transversely mounted “V16” that was actually two V8s driving a center-mounted transfer gear. The Mazda MX-3 contained a tiny 1.8-liter quad-cam V6 with a unique computer-controlled variable resonance intake. In neither case did this deliberately Byzantine approach to engine technology result in quantifiable benefits. The 1990 Lamborghini Diablo made similar power with a version of the aging Countach’s V12; the Nissan NX2000 was faster than the MX-3 thanks to an SR20 engine borrowed from the Sentra SE-R.

I could have added Ducati’s 916 and Honda’s RC51 to my question; the V-twin engines in those bikes were thoroughly and lovingly engineered, but they still couldn’t match the power on tap from the inline-fours available in various Suzukis, Kawasakis, and Yamahas at the time. Yet all four of these vehicles were the subject of intense interest at the time of their release and they still maintain strong, if small, followings today. Which leads me to another question: Why?


I’ve long thought that car enthusiasts could be split into “Timex people” and “Tourbillon people.” A Timex, as you know, is the watch that takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Cheap, durable, accurate. The perfected expression of the Timex philosophy is probably the Casio F-91W, a twelve-dollar watch that was given to al-Qaeda operatives upon their graduation from training. Although millions of the F-91W have been made, the watch became so closely associated with terrorism that the mere ownership of one was apparently enough to sweep a couple of suspicious-looking fellows into Guantanamo Bay. I once dated a young lady who worked for the FBI and I sent an F-91W to her house anonymously as a joke. Stuff like that is why I’m going to die alone. But that’s a discussion for another time. Time—get it?

A tourbillon, on the other hand, is an extraordinarily complex mechanical device used in very high-end watches. It will cost you at least $100,000 to get a tourbillon-equipped watch from the major Swiss brands. In fact, it’s so hard to make a tourbillon that there was some agitation in the watch press a few years back about the “$5000 Chinese tourbillons” that were supposedly going to take the prestige-timepiece industry by storm. Think about that. The Chinese can make a whole watch for under a dollar—look in a Happy Meal for proof—but it would still cost them five grand to make a tourbillon.

The tourbillon is the alpha example of what watch fans call “complications.” A complication is something that adds functionality to a traditional mechanical watch. My old IWC Spitfire UTC had a “complication” that let you see two different timezones at once. It was an additional layer of clockwork laid over top of the basic movement that literally complicated the watch.

In regular life, complications are bad. There’s even a song about it: Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated? But in watches, complications are desirable. They cost extra. People want them. They are considered to be a sign of true enthusiasm in the owner. Chances are that you’ll never use them; setting the extra time zone in my IWC was such a hassle that I never did it, even when I was actually in a different time zone and could have used the information. It’s enough to have the capability, to know that your watch is more complicated, more interesting, than the one on the wrist next to yours.

Dive into any aspect of the automotive hobby and you’ll find both Timex people and tourbillon people. Spec Miata is the ultimate group of roadracing Timexers. They just want to compete in the simplest machine possible. The NASA Championships of 2008 had about fifty Spec Miatas. It also had one guy who had built a Morgan Aero 8 into a Super Unlimited road racer. That is a tourbillon person. It didn’t bother him one bit that he was racing heads-up against a bunch of Corvettes and ASA stock cars, all of which went just as fast for between one-quarter and one-half as much money. He wanted to race a Morgan.

Many of history’s most memorable and/or unusual specialty and sports cars have been deliberate attempts to satisfy the tourbillon people. The Mosler TwinStar. The first-gen Corvette ZR1. The Cadillac XLR-V. Even the E30 M3 could be considered a “complication;” it was no faster on the street than the cheaper 325i.

You’re still our favorite

The appeal of the Mazda MX-3 wasn’t raw speed. It was the knowledge that you had this wonderfully complex little V6 humming away under your hood while everybody around you was stuck with a droning inline-four. The same is true for the Ducatis; why not have a characterful twin? It’s why I consider my VFR800 to be an “upgrade” over my old YZF600R even though it isn’t even a tiny bit faster. The V-four VFR has a unique sound and behavior.

This natural love of complication comes off like snobbishness to the Timex people out there. They just want results. If the numbers say that a Corvette Z06 and a Ferrari 458 Speciale are equal, why would you buy the Ferrari? You can’t explain tourbillon thinking to a Timex fanatic.

Nor can you explain it to car companies that are hell-bent on maintaining a profit margin in the face of blistering competition and ever-fiercer government regulation. And that, my friend, is why the bland, charmless, lumpy low-pressure turbo four-banger has become the de rigeur motivating power of everything from the Honda Civic to the BMW 5-Series. The thriving engine-design ecosystem of 20 years ago is collapsing into monoculture faster than a farmer’s field with the Monsanto seeds blowing in on the wind. Inline sixes, high-revving naturally-aspirated fours, straight-fives, even the once-omnipresent V6. They’re all fading away. It’s the triumph of the Timex people.

We should rage against the dying of this light, if we can. There are still a few cars left that offer unique engines, manual transmissions, station-wagon bodies, that sort of thing. That’s why I have a two-door, V6, manual transmission Accord; all three of those distinguishing features won’t be around much longer.

The wealthy will always have tourbillon choices like the Cizeta and its modern equivalents from Pagani et al. Those of us without trust funds, on the other hand, will have to get our complications where we can find them. And it’s getting tougher. Maybe we should bring Avril Lavigne back from obscurity so she can sing, on our angst-ridden behalf: Why’d you have to go and make things so simple?

Born in Brooklyn but banished to Ohio, Jack Baruth has won races on four different kinds of bicycles and in seven different kinds of cars




Source: The Joy of Complex

Can You Get a DUI for Drinking Too Much Coffee?

We all know you shouldn’t “drink and drive” and usually understand “drink” to be a euphemism for consuming alcohol. A man named Joseph Schwab, however, has a case that could obliterate that understanding. He has been charged in California with driving under the influence of a drug. The drug? Caffeine.

Mr. Schwab was arrested on August 5 of last year after being pulled over by a California alcoholic beverage control agent in an unmarked car. The agent claimed Schwab’s driving indicated he was under the influence of something. A breathalyzer revealed a blood alcohol content of zero. Zero point zero zero to be precise.

Convinced he was on something, authorities took Schwab to jail and drew blood which was tested in a laboratory. The blood test came back negative and that was after it had been screened for cocaine, opiates, oxycodone and all kinds of other drugs few people can pronounce. Never one to give up, law enforcement sent the sample out to another laboratory, presumably to see if they could find anything in the blood. And then they found something: caffeine.

They charged Schwab with driving while impaired.

Despite caffeine being the only thing found in Schwab’s bloodstream, the authorities are pursuing the case against him. But here is where it gets murky. The district attorney’s office insists that Schwab is not being prosecuted on the basis of the caffeine in his system. But if not caffeine, then what? Beyond the caffeine, all he had in his veins that day was blood. Good, clean, unadulterated blood.

I assure you that defendants in this country have the right to know the charges against them and the basis of those charges. It’s a fundamental right of our legal system. Schwab’s attorney has asked for any evidence beyond that which is mentioned above–the reports which are all negative except for caffeine–and so far she has been given nothing.

Now, I will point out to you that a prosecution for driving under the influence of caffeine is theoretically possible in California. This is largely because California defines “drugs” so broadly: They are any substance (excluding alcohol, which is prohibited elsewhere) affecting your brain, nervous system or muscles. And if you have those “drugs” in your system and they prevent you from operating your vehicle in the same manner as a sober person, they you are impaired. Could coffee do that to you? Seems possible. So could many cold and allergy medicines too.

Court cases like this often involve forensic toxicologists, like you might see on TV. One such toxicologist, Jeffrey Zehnder, called this case “really stupid.” He noted that in his forty-plus years of working on cases of impaired driving allegations, he has never seen one where the “drug” in question was caffeine or coffee. He suspects it is because no one has ever even bothered to study the links between coffee and driving ability. That could be because there really isn’t one. Or it could be that the Starbucks lobby is too powerful for anyone to take on.

Meanwhile, Schwab’s attorney has asked the court to throw out his case so he can get on with his life. If the case proceeds, we can all find out whether it really is illegal to drive while hopped up on coffee.

Steve Lehto is a writer and attorney from Michigan. He specializes in Lemon Law and frequently writes about cars and the law.

Source: Can You Get a DUI for Drinking Too Much Coffee?

How the Internet Killed Canada’s First Supercar

In the early 1990s, a company called Motion Concept Vehicles began work on what it hoped would be the first Canadian supercar. The plan was to build 100 cars per year, selling them for a quarter-million dollars each. And unlike most pipe-dream auto startups, MCV came scarily close to succeeding, which ultimately made its failure that much more of a disappointment for the founders.

Canada’s Autofocus recently wrote an in-depth feature on MCV that you should definitely, absolutely read, and it’s fascinating.

The gist of the story is that a group of enthusiasts got together and built a chassis. Then, they hired a designer they found in the newspaper to design a body that would fit around the chassis. The result is the car you see above, called the CH4.

But unlike most supercars, the CH4 ran on natural gas. That decision got MCV a sponsorship deal with two natural gas companies, which helped fund the project. The other benefit was in performance—natural gas is 130 octane.

The car debuted at the Canadian International Auto Show in 1995 and got tons of attention, but then the real work began for the team. They’d built one car, but they had to figure out how to put it into production. Even with a goal of only building two per week, it was still going to be difficult.

Despite the CH4’s curvy design and sub-4.5-second 0-60 time, MCV struggled to find funding. Why? According to the founders, it was because the Internet was booming, and investors were putting their money there. They wanted to hit it big with the next popular website, not invest in a natural gas-powered supercar from Canada.

With his wife was diagnosed with cancer, founder Bob Waddell was forced to shut down the company. But he still has that first car. “You look at the car now and it still looks great, and it’s aged well,” Waddell told Autofocus. “It really hasn’t lost its appeal after twenty years.”





Source: How the Internet Killed Canada’s First Supercar

Honda Self-Balancing Motorcycle – Autonomous Motorcycle Drives Itself

Dropping your bike at a stop sign or during a low-speed maneuver is the fear of any new motorcyclist. It’s easy enough to keep your bike upright at speed, but sneaking through a parking lot, all that mass is dying to tumble. Honda seems to have the perfect solution, with a new concept bike that can balance itself either during a low-speed crawl or when stopped completely.

Honda Riding Assist was first demonstrated today at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The system is brilliantly simple: When engaged, the system increases the fork angle, lengthening the bike’s wheelbase and, apparently, disconnecting the front forks from the handlebars. The system then uses minute steering inputs to keep the bike perfectly balanced, without the use of heavy gyroscopes or other mass-shifting devices. The concept bike Honda built to demonstrate the tech can even silently propel itself along, following its owner through a hallway like an obedient puppy.

Honda says the technology was developed as an offshoot of the Uni-Cub, the automaker’s nifty self-balancing mobility unicycle concept. At the company’s presentation at CES, Honda demonstrated Riding Assist by having a motorcycle slowly wheel itself onstage, following a Uni-Cub.

While Honda hasn’t announced any plans to put Riding Assist into production, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the technology included in a future Honda motorcycle of some sort. It’s not exactly an autonomous, self-driving motorcycle, but it’s a step in that direction—and one that, while slightly eerie to watch, would be a huge help to newbie bikers, or anyone who’s struggled to squeeze a 900-lb. Gold Wing out of a packed garage.




Source: Honda Self-Balancing Motorcycle – Autonomous Motorcycle Drives Itself

Don’t Buy a ‘Cheap’ Used Supercar If You Can’t Afford the Insane Maintenance Costs

Now we're getting into the recent used-car realm, so much so that Car and Driver published a buyer's guide to this model, which replaced the 348 in 1995. More than addressing the doubts we'd expressed about the 348, it was a leap forward in both performance and refinement, and the of our reviewers called it "easily the best eight-cylinder Ferrari" to date. The 3.5-liter V-8 has five valves per cylinder, spins up beyond 8000 rpm, and propelled the little two-seater to 60 mph in well under five seconds. In '97, Ferrari added the optional F1 paddle-shift manual gearbox, and it was a revelation—but it wasn't as comfortable in automatic mode as later dual-clutch variants and wasn't yet faster than the version with a clutch pedal. F355s came in Berlinetta (GTB), Targa (GTS), and true cabriolets (starting in '96). Average examples of a '98 coupe are at about $45,000 with the best ones near $60,000.

  Dick Kelley

we love the magic of depreciation. It lets us buy cars we never could have afforded when they were new, and it makes for some incredibly entertaining window shopping. Heck, just last month, we published a list of 10 400-horsepower cars that we managed to find for less than $10,000.

Were they clean, well-maintained examples with a lengthy service history? Of course not. But when you see a Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG for only $9500, it can be tempting to take a chance on it. After all, everyone deserves to own an AMG at least once in their lives.

But the dark side of depreciation is always going to be maintenance. A BMW 850i is a beautiful thing, but that V12 luxury coupe is going to force you to dip into your savings every few months, even if you do most of the work yourself.

With supercars, it’s even worse. Yes, you can buy a used Aston Martin for the cost of a new Mercedes C-Class. And yes, someone in the market for a new BMW 5 Series could buy a used Lamborghini instead, but getting these cars serviced costs a truly insane amount of money.

Just let the guys from JR Garage explain how much their Ferrari 355 cost over only 1000 miles:

Yep.$38,000. Even if you baby your used exotic and barely drive it, you’ll still have to sell a kidney to keep it running. And half your liver. The Ferrari 355 isn’t unique, either. A few years ago, we spoke to a few automakers about the yearly cost of owning their supercars, and the figures they quoted were mind blowing.

If you ever bought a McLaren F1, for example, you’d be on the hook for $30,000 in maintenance costs. Per. Year. But at least the car is appreciating in value fast enough to still be worth it. Plus, it’s virtually impossible to total one.

And don’t forget about the Bugatti Veyron. No one’s buying one of those thinking it’ll be affordable, but one owner broke down how much it costs to maintain one. Even for a seven-figure car, the prices he quoted were still out of this world.

Don’t let us stop you from window shopping for heavily depreciated luxury and supercars. That’s always going to be fun. Just be careful if you ever decide to take the plunge and buy one. We don’t want anyone going bankrupt because they spent their retirement on a used Ferrari.




Source: Don’t Buy a ‘Cheap’ Used Supercar If You Can’t Afford the Insane Maintenance Costs

Lamborghini Rolling Out Super Sport Utility PHEV in 2018 

The long-awaited Lamborghini Urus super sport utility vehicle will transform from a concept SUV to the brand’s first plug-in hybrid, says a company executive.

Lamborghini R&D chief Maurizio Reggiani told Autocar that the new model will likely be revealed in 2017 and go on sale in 2018. Along with the plug-in hybrid version, it will also come as a twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V8 model, he said.

The concept SUV was first shown at the 2012 Beijing Motor Show, which Lamborghini praised as becoming “the ultimate super athlete in the SUV segment.” It will be the first Lamborghini SUV to come to market since the LM002, which was sold from 1986 to 1993.

Turbocharging will be a critical power source for the PHEV and twin-turbo V8 versions. Lamborghini’s other models can find a good fit in normally aspirated engines, but this type of “superports car” needs the right responsiveness from the engine, and to feel the spark of every cylinder, he said.

”Turbocharging will be ‘completely mandatory’ for the Urus,” he said, because as an SUV it needs a lot of torque to do its job.

A 48-volt motor will also power some of the SUV’s other necessities. It will be sharing a platform with the Audi Q7 and Bentley Bentayga, and will also feature a 48-volt-powered active anti-roll suspension. Lamborghini is part of the Volkswagen family and is owned directly by Audi.

Autocar says it will be the only hybrid in the Lamborghini lineup. It will actually be the first electrified variant of any of its available models.

In October, German publication AutoBild reported that the Italian sports carmaker would be tapping into Volkswagen’s Porsche division to bring over the Mission E all-electric concept supercar to build a Lamborghini model on.

Reggiani said the company will concentrate its R&D efforts on power, weight, and aerodynamics, because “handling is a function” of these factors. Along with handling and performance, Lamborghini is likely balancing its efforts with concern over global emissions rules that will becoming stricter by 2020.

In the end, Lamborghini is known for high performance.

“We want to be a leader here and have a chance to change the rules of the game,” he said.




Source: Lamborghini Rolling Out Super Sport Utility PHEV in 2018