domino effect

Until recently, sports cars were road cars with sporting aspirations, being built for the road first with high-performance parts added after the fact. BMW’s Motorsport or Porsche’s GT department are basically well-funded tuners, but better motors, suspension, and aero can only push the underlying package so far. This uprated road car philosophy has started to come under serious fire.

Ford wanted to win Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of their much-heralded string of wins over Ferrari with the original GT40. Initially, they tried to modify the Mustang, but it quickly became apparent that the Mustang platform wasn’t going to be competitive. So Ford decided to develop a car to win Le Mans and sell enough road variants to satisfy the FIA rulebook. The result was the 2017 Ford GT.

2017-Ford-GT-front-three-quarters

Ford GT in “track mode” aka default

It’s a term that gets thrown around too often, but the Ford GT is legitimately a race car for the road. The suspension, aero, engine, and packaging are all designed for racing, and Ford subsequently crushed the competition. It was such a convincing win that Porsche’s 911 RSR, which competes in the Ford GT’s class, has gone mid-engined (sacrilege!) in an effort to remain competitive.

A similar phenomenon happened in the late 1990’s. McLaren’s F1 won LeMons outright with fewer modifications than you’ll find on most Miata at your local autocross. In response, Porsche and Mercedes produced the GT1 and CLK-GTR respectively. Similar to the Ford GT, these entries were designed as race cars first and road cars second. The difference between this instance and today’s is that the Ford GT’s class consists of conventional road cars (Corvette, 911, 488 and V8 Vantage) while the F1’s era was composed entirely of limited production multimillion-dollar race cars with license plates. The performance first mindset has trickled downmarket.

Screenshot 2017-09-24 at 10.55.15 AM

GT1 and CLK-GTR make the F1 look tame

And yet, the Ford GT feels almost tame compared to the upcoming crop of super/hyper/ultra-cars that are in the pipeline. If you can buy the car that won LeMans for only $500k from Ford, what do the premium brands have to offer?

Aston Martin is in the midst of preparing to release the Valkyrie. Like the Ford GT, it is built from the ground up for performance (read: high aero grip). Unlike the Ford GT, there is no racing series rulebook to direct or compromise its design. Adrian Newey, Red Bull F1’s head aerodynamicist, has been given free reign. The car promises near F1 levels of performance, and it looks to share more with an LMP1 prototype than a road car. It will be absurdly fast.

Valkyrie

The Valkyrie eschew’s heavy complex hybrid turbo power for a naturally aspirated V12

While the Valkyrie focuses on low weight and high aero performance, Mercedes has decided to build a car (the Project One) around their winning F1 engine. This is not the conventional approach where concepts are borrowed from F1. This engine is the same unit used in the race car: a hybrid split-turbo 1.6 V6. It will rev to only 11,000 rpm vs the race car’s 13,000 limit, but two electric motors have been added to power the front wheels for a total output in excess of 1,000 hp. Think Porsche 918 with more power, more aero grip, and less weight.

The downstream effects of these cars’ arrivals will play out over the coming years as other manufacturers design their next generation of cars with this competition in mind. I can’t wait to see what those engineers cook up.

PS. I imagine driving the Valkarie or Project One on public roads to be something similar to this.

 

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stupid fast III

The notion that electric cars are sterile or boring couldn’t be further from the truth. Watch as the Tesla Model X, a 5,300lb minivan with gullwing doors, runs the quarter mile against the Alfa Romeo 4C, a 2,500lb mid-engine sports car. Motor Trend really puts things into perspective at the end of the video. I’m not exactly sure if there will be a place for the sports car in the supposed future of autonomous electric ride-sharing minivans, but it won’t be for a lack of performance.

 

 

in a perfect world

Riversimple has devised a completely different approach to nearly every aspect of automotive design and ownership. Whether or not it is a feasible business model is up for debate. Regardless, it’s definitely worth watching.

 

No love for the truly hardcore.

The automotive industry only seems to have appreciation for one kind of hardcore and that is track performance hardcore (think GT3 RS or M4). But what about a truly hardcore road car? One that is uncompromising in its approach to the realities of 99.9% of real world driving.

While Riversimple’s concept really nails the conceptual economics of driving, I don’t think it succeeds in the realities of driving. Storage and extra seating is non existent and while it’s not sexy, that’s a deal breaker. Who’s going to buy a car that blatantly ignores the fact that people own stuff, have families and friends, or buy more than two bags of groceries at a time?

Engineered obsolesce is the name of the game.

Cars are abhorrently expensive to maintain. If you were to buy all the individual parts necessary to build a car from scratch, it would cost you 10X the car’s MSRP. This creates a huge conflict of interests between the car’s owner and the manufacturer.

bentayga wiring

Bentley Bentayga’s electrical wiring minefield

Not to mention the fact that there seems to be no foresight during a car’s design for its inevitable future maintenance. What’s the usable lifespan for increasing complex and inaccessible system?  Your car is effectively”totaled” if a complex part breaks.

 

low friction

Having fallen in love the Ariel Nomad, the Atom with off road suspension and tires, Evo decided to assemble quite the collection of vehicles to give the whole rally thing a try.

 

Chasing the dragon.

Perfect is predictable. Perfect is boring. Sometimes the most bizarre and fundamentally ill-suited car can produce the most memorable driving experience. The 911’s rear engine layout may be the textbook example but the seemingly top-heavy chainsaw-loud Bowler Defender stole the show. Just absurd. I want one.

Less grip equals more fun.

Most are of the mindset that you can never have enough grip (or horsepower) but too much grip robs the driver of involvement. If you have more grip than skill, it masks bad driving techniques by asking little of the driver. MotoGP and F1 drivers are known to participate a variety of dirt races during the off season to sharpen their skills. Having to finesse a car around a corner is coincidentally the most rewarding part of driving. Evo’s tagline is “the thrill of driving”. They just get it.

 

entry level

I recently drove the new-ish 5.0 V8 Mustang GT. Rather unsurprisingly, it is not a sophisticated and nuanced sports car. It felt more like a brute instrument, and I mean that in the best possible sense.

McQueen Bullitt green please

dark green in a nod to McQueen’s Bullitt Mustang

Serious horsepower and torque coupled with relatively soft suspension provides for a lot of drama. Step on the gas and the rear suspension squats, pushing the long hood even higher into your field of view while the engine’s wave of torque pins you back. Heavy braking does just the opposite, with the car pitching forward giving you a better view of the immediate pavement. Commit to a turn at decent speed and the car leans hard on its outside wheels. There’s a real sense of speed and momentum that makes the Mustang a genuinely exciting drive.

A shameless part of me really wants a muscle car because it’s just so much fun. For driving on the street, I’m betting the base Mustang GT is more fun that the hardcore GT350R model with its screaming 526hp flat plane V8 and ridiculously wide (305/315 front/rear) carbon fiber wheels. The reason being that you can’t push the GT350R to its limit often in the real world. It’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.

gross exaggeration

gross exaggeration

This notion of the entry level car in the ranks often being the most fun extends to a surprising number of cars. McLaren’s newest model, the 570S, is getting a lot of love. McLaren intentionally focused on driving enjoyment, leaving the lap record to the more expensive and less renown 650S. BMW’s 1M was more highly regarded than the corresponding generation of M3, and the upcoming M2’s seems poised to continue the trend. How about Porsche? The GT4 has too much grip and is effectively geared for top speed runs on the autobahn, leaving the base Cayman (not Cayman S) as the real driver’s car.

So if money was no object, do people have the self control to spend less and get the more fun but more basic cars? Probably not. Sports cars are about the theater, and it takes many forms. Is the GT350R’s fancy kit really necessary for a road car? Not even close but the appeal of a car is as much in the story behind it as anything else.

NASCAR knows best

NASCAR gets a bad rap. Is it the pinnacle of automotive technology? Hardly, but that’s besides the point. NASCAR is all about putting on a good show. There is genuine competition among the field (if you drive a Chevy, sorry Ford). 10 different drivers have won races this season. F1 and WEC have elected to focus on outright performance as opposed to viewer enjoyment and both series are dominated by single teams.

That being said, NASCAR isn’t for me. My new favorite form of 4 wheel racing is Stadium Super Trucks (SST). It’s essentially trophy trucks racing on paved road courses with jumps added to the straightaways. Off-road tires coupled with the huge suspension travel gives these cars poor on-road performance but makes things terribly entertaining. The trucks are either on three wheels in the turns, launching 20 feet in the air or crashing. This might be the best form of motor racing I’ve ever seen.

short slow mo

onboard

accomodations

How much of your city’s layout is compromised to accommodate the car? Probably more than you realize. Consider a stationary car’s footprint on the road in the image below.

footprint of 60 people when commuting by bicycle, car and bus

click to expand – footprint of 60 people when commuting by bicycle, car and bus

Now consider how much additional space each car requires when moving. The higher the speed traveled, the more space that’s required between cars. A car traveling 25 mph on the road probably needs around to 1-2 car lengths between it and the car ahead, and that figure doubles for every ~25 mph increase in speed.

Even still, it is pretty shocking to learn that the total percentage of land dedicated solely to the automobile can exceed 50% in some cities. Beyond that terrifying land usage statistic, consider how much of the remaining land’s development is influenced by the automobile’s close proximity or the preference for people for traveling by car. In short, cities are built around the car, and cars are a huge waste of space.

So why does no one seem to care about this backwards set of priorities? Why isn’t there an aspirational city car to match every enthusiasts aspirational sports car? Gordon Murray, the man behind the McLaren F1, has turned his attention to the city car, but it has attracted minimal attention. Part of the problem stems from the ridiculous correlation between vehicle size and perceived luxury.

Mini Rolls anyone?

Mini Rolls needs more grill

Small cars are always a brand’s entry level model. You simply can’t buy a truly luxurious small car. It’s almost an oxymoron. The rational for this is that automakers build cars based on consumer demand, and most cities do little to incentives people to drive smaller cars. If anything, consumer preference has favored increasingly large cars. The current 3 series is now as large as the 5 series from two generation ago.

We already incentive people to drive fuel efficient cars through taxation. Why not place the same emphasis on vehicle size or correspondingly weight? I can’t wait for the Mini Rolls or maybe just smaller (and lighter) cars in general.