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 a smaller, lighter cars in general.

future proof

I used to lust after Alfa’s 164 Procar concept from the 80’s because it seemed like the most uncompromising and focused sports car ever conceived. It had a V10 from F1, seats and an enclosed roof. I find myself still wanting the same car but for very different reasons, its utter simplicity.

pure function

pure function

I look at contemporary cars, and they seem littered with fragile expensive stuff. What we actually need in a car vs what we convince ourselves we need are two very different things. What’s the realistic lifespan of power heated/cooled backseats with a massaging feature or an engine with turbo-charging, simultaneous direct and port injection, dual-overhead cams with variable inlet and exhaust timing, mated to an electric motor and batteries?

almost perfect

The perfect car doesn’t exist. There is not a single car that is perfectly suited to every situation: road trips, windy back roads, track days, and everything in between. Each scenario has its own unique set of demands. With that being said, if you want to explore the possibility of the perfect car for a particular scenario, there are definitely some cars that get pretty damn close to perfection.

If you’re looking for a sports car from the early 1960’s to do some vintage racing, I would have a hard time passing on the Low Drag Jaguar E-Type. Sorry but the Ferrari 250 GTO is the obvious and uninspired choice for this category. Effectively an all aluminum E-Type with a roof, the Low Drag is gorgeous. Like the Singer 911, it feels like a piece of art but for very different reasons. While the Singer is a testament to attention to detail and luxury, the Low Drag is stripped to the bare essentials, which amounts to little beyond an engine block, carbs and a steering wheel. It’s exercise in aluminum craftsmanship.

unconventional

If you were asked to start from scratch and design a purpose-built race car, chances are it wouldn’t be front-wheel drive or a front-engine layout. But Nissan has done just that with their front-engine front-wheel drive LMP1 GT-R LM prototype that will compete in the World Endurance Championship (and Le Mans) against Porsche, Audi and Toyota’s trio of mid-engine rear-wheel drive bias prototypes, and I’m hoping that Nissan destroys the competition.

This isn’t because I’m partial to Nissan or FWD, but because it challenges the status quo. Nissan has been on a bit of a roll with unconventional setups, first with the Delta Wing/ZEOD but that was more of a proof of concept than competitive challenger like the GT-R LM. Manufacturers understandably don’t take risks on this scale very often. It’s horrifically expensive to develop and race a competitive hybrid prototype in WEC’s LMP1 class, and Nissan’s gamble could totally backfire. Bottom line, you have to respect Nissan for the effort.

The ZEOD always reminded me of Tim Burton's batmobile

The ZEOD always reminded me of Tim Burton’s batmobile

It also doesn’t hurt that the GT-R LM looks absolutely insane. While its styling and packaging is all in the name of airflow and performance, it still ends up looking more hot rod than endurance car with the driver positioned low behind the long hood and the exhaust spouting flames in the driver’s field of view. Just completely ridiculous. FWD FTW?

sleeping giants

It’s been more than five years since American automakers received government bailouts or generous lines of credit, and we are finally seeing the fruits of the restructuring that took places as these companies were forces to refocus after decades of running aimless. Ford is on a roll and in the midst of a wild turnaround. They went from inconsistent and totally unique cars for each market to a strong consolidated global lineup.

I wrote a while back that the Mustang brand was better off dead. I stand corrected with the launch of the GT350R. With a high revving flat-plane V8, carbon fiber wheels and a stripped interior, the Mustang seems to suddenly have more in common with sports enthusiasts than anything besides a Porsche Cayman or Z/28 for the money. A Mustang that’s more of a sports car than an M4? It’s incredible what a few choice upgrades can do to the perceived value of something.

quintessential halo car

quintessential halo car

Possibly the biggest sign of the turnaround is debut of the Ford GT concept, which serves to garner hype for the production car that is set to arrive next year. The original Ford GT40 was possibly the biggest home run in motorsport history. Enzo Ferrari backed out last minute in the sale of his company to Ford. Henry Ford was furious and exacted revenge by building the Ford GT40 which beat Ferrari along with everyone else at the 24 hours of Le Mans from 1966 through 1968. While Corvette and Viper struggle with brand perception, the Ford GT name has possibly more cache than Ford knows what to do with. No one seems concerned about paying $200k for a Ford GT. Hopefully, the upcoming Ford GT lives up to expectations.

While Chryster and GM have each launched some interesting products recently, I’m less than convinced in their entire product line. Do I like the 707hp Charger Hellcat? Yes but it doesn’t make the Chrysler 200 anymore appealing. GM wants Cadillac to be viewed on par with the German brands but that’s a tall order. They’d probably have better luck starting fresh with a new brand. Their V performance lineup looks promising, but they have to be massively better than competition to steal customers. Brand perception is a bitch.

At the end of the day, all American brands have squandered so much cache over the decades. America is a high tech powerhouse in many regards but our automotive industry can feel at times like it peaked in the industrial revolution.

the bird

What’s wrong with Formula 1? Besides the fact that the playing field is painfully uneven, no one in F1 speaks their mind or displays any real emotion. Everyone tries to be as non-offensive as possible when the cameras are on them. Drivers seem about as genuine with their responses as someone on a first round job interview.

It’s so bad that Kimi Raikkonen, a mumbling Finnish driver of few words, has attained status as the most interesting driver to interview because one time admitted that he took a shit just before the race. Seriously, how depressing is that? So with that in mind, I just can’t get enough of this video of Red Bull F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo’s reaction to an audience member’s question on Top Gear.

F1 needs more of this. It needs to not only show people at their best, but also at their worst. We can tell when someone is holding back their feelings for the camera. F1 needs to focus on what draws viewers to sports in the first place. The opportunity to see people struggle, be imperfect and most importantly be unpredictable. F1 doesn’t have much unpredictability on or off the track at the moment.

current obsession

I pay way too much attention to almost every car on the street. I’m a prosecutor’s dream witness when they need someone to identity the car in question. Color, make and model? No sweat. I am dangerously aware of all cars, including those headed in the other direction, while I drive. My unhealthy appetite for all things automotive leaves me occasionally obsessed with seemingly minute details of particular cars.

Right now, I can’t get enough of the Mini Cooper Countryman color palette. Yes, that weird bulbous SUV interpretation of the original Mini concept. Put aside your feelings for that car, and just look at the colors, particularly their “light white”, “blazing red” and “starlight blue”. Do not pass judgement by browsing photos. Look at these colors up close in person.

Intentionally the right car with wrong color. Must see in person.

Right car, wrong color. Go see the right colors in person

Your first reaction is probably along the lines of, “so what?” One more shade to add to the countless variations on red, white and blue. What is important about these colors is not so much the particular shade unto itself, but rather these colors in the context of a Mini. They exemplify the brand. Fun, light and slightly eccentric could be used to describe these colors or the Mini brand itself. It’s a rare occurrence when color and car actually match.

Starlight blue or blazing red won’t translate to all cars, and likewise, Minis can’t wear all colors. But I see a lot of cars with drab or outlandish colors that don’t fit the brand or even the car itself. Color is a difficult thing to get right. People go for the safe choices, because most of the time the other options don’t suit the car. Just look at how popular silver and black are for reference. But when those colors are done right, they add another dimension to the car’s personality.