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, and 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 race 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 a Miata at a 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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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.

 

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.

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?

quasi practicality

I can’t get behind the fast wagon movement. The only real benefit wagons have over a sedan is a larger trunk. If you’re going preach about the best form of fast practical automotive transportation, I fail to see how a fast SUV (Mecan Turbo/X5 M) doesn’t win that argument rather convincingly every time.

not cool. no matter what the internet says

not cool. no matter what the internet says

I’ve never seen a wagon at the track, and while I actually did catch a Cayenne Turbo at an autocross once, the point is that both SUVs and wagons predominantly operate in the real world where practicality demands heavy consideration. The SUV can simply match every task of a wagon and more. Off road? Try that in your RS6. A raised vantage point for navigating traffic? Good luck in your CTS-V. If you really think about it, an SUV is just a raised wagon. Its effectively taken the best traits of the wagon and (literally) built on top of them.

I appreciate cars that are tailored to their environment, and in the world of gridlock, shitty roads and steep driveways, SUV beats wagon every single time. While the absurdity of a sporty SUV is not lost on me, it’s massive breadth of ability can’t be ignored. There is a reason that fast wagons don’t sell in the real world, fast SUVs do everything better.

impulse buy

I read a depressing statistic recently that approximately 70% of lottery winners are broke within five years of hitting the jackpot. Just replace lottery with obscene tech company valuation, and this kid certainly isn’t bucking the trend. This video screams for a followup episode of VH1’s “Where are they now?” when he turns 25. This is ridiculous even by internet standards.

 

reference point

The 918 is undoubtedly the most polarizing car of the moment. A supercar focused on MPG? Ferrari and McLaren have hybrid supercars, but they’re for all out performance, not bragging rights at the gas station. Occasionally driving a battery-laden hybrid supercar in pure electric mode doesn’t make up for the fleet of gas powered cars their owners drive on a daily basis. Why cripple the weakest offender? It just feels backwards.

Shift your perspective

People talk about the purity of the driving experience as if it’s some sacred cow, not to be desecrated by electronics or anything synthetic. But when we break it down, every driving experience is synthetic. At its core, the car is a machine, and machines are inherently artificial by their nature. The term people are really searching for is predictable. Great cars feel intuitive because they operate in a predictable manner. They fall in line with our understanding of how cars are expected to behave.

My first driving experience didn’t convey much confidence. I remember sitting in a grocery store parking lot stabbing the brake as the automatic transmission crept the car forward without any provocation. It felt foreign. I simply had no frame of reference. I developed an understanding of how cars should react with that conventional car as my reference point. So I look at the 918 and see a car that is fundamentally different from almost everything before it, a new form of synthetic. It requires a dramatic shift from those familiar reference points.

Driving aids on

We often associate electronic systems with being a restrictive add-ons to the underlying vehicle’s dynamics, but the 918’s are just the opposite. They are essential to the car’s behavior. In full race mode with the electronics turned off, the systems are still juggling torque between the engine and motors. There is no true “off” switch.

Chris talks about the 918’s electronic systems deciding what the driver can enjoy. I fail to see how this is any different from the choice in spring rate or steering ratio. The engineers tested different iterations of software just like they tested different suspension setups in an effort to get the car to behave in a certain manner. Driving is about the experience. If that experience is enjoyable, does it matter the process?

How many hot laps?

My initial criticism of the 918 (here) still stands. There was never any doubt that the car would deliver tremendous performance. The question is more for how long can it go flat out? One hot lap in your million dollar supercar before you have to recharge your batteries? That would be ridiculously impractical, even by supercar standards.