Tag Archives: BMW

Mercedes-AMG Hammer Wagons – and why not?

25 Jan


Don’t ask me why, but I have always had a thing for fast estate cars. Couldn’t explain it to you. Perhaps it’s a latent love for Rickard Rydell honing about in the British Touring Car Championship in a Volvo 850 estate. Or hearing the V6 burble of the Audi RS4 the guy at the end of our road used to own. I actually think that, to explore the real reason that I love fast estate cars, you have to look at my penchant, as a boy, for Swiss Army knives. Here was something which fitted in your hand and was convenient to carry around, but could replicate the experience of owning a saw, or a pen, or a knife, or a magnifying glass. By replicate, I really mean ‘do an impression of’. Because if someone presented me with a piece of wood and said ‘OK pal, you have to cut this and you could either use a real saw or spend the next 7 months of your life eroding the wood away with the saw in this Swiss Army knife,’ I know which one I’d pick. It’s the saw, by the way.

My first crush, Rickard Rydell

Now those of you whose brains aren’t entirely starved of oxygen should be able to make this analogical leap with me. If someone gave you a racetrack and said ‘OK pal, you can either go around it in a Lotus Exige or a BMW M5 Touring’, you’d probably take the Exige, because its entire raison d’etre, if I might be so pretentious, is to go around a racetrack, just as the saw’s job is to saw through wood. BUT! If I was dropped in a forest somewhere and was only given a saw, I’d think longingly about that Swiss Army knife with all of its flawed features all snugly collapsed into its red body. And similarly, were I to be told that I was only allowed to own one car ever again and found myself owning a Lotus Exige and trying to fit my hypothetical future wife and two small children into it, I think that I’d rather begin to miss that M5 Touring.

A Swiss Army knife, earlier today

And this is what’s so great about fast estates. They’re the only car you’re ever going to need in the real world. You can go down to Homebase and buy some curtain rods and on the way home you can outdrag a Ferrari and totally remasculate yourself! No, they’re not as sharp as a sports car around a track, and they’re almost certainly not as economical as a Nissan Micra on the road, but if you’ve only got space for one car in your garage and you’re a petrolhead, a fast estate should win out every time.

So anyway, that long preamble is by way of discussing the daddy of powerful estates and the subject for today’s little monograph: the Mercedes-AMG ‘Hammer Wagon’. Now for starters, if you’re going to drive around in something, it may as well be called a Hammer Wagon, right? Right.  And the Hammer aspect does accord with the engineering principles behind earlier AMGs, namely stick a very large, very powerful engine in the car and then….sell it. In the case of the original Hammer Wagon, AMG started with a W124 E-Class chassis, into which they dropped a 5.6l 360bhp V8. Yes, it may have had the cornering ability of a train, but it packed a hell of a punch when it was released in 1986. It would pack a hell of a punch now….although you rather feel that a modern engine tuner could extract more power out of a 5.6l engine. And because it was a Mercedes estate, you could have two people in the front seats, three in the middle and ANOTHER two on the weird, flip up, probably now illegal bench in the boot. And then you and these six other people could travel at 186mph down the autobahn. Wunderbar!

Homoerotic Hammer saloon

But why should I mention the Hammer Wagon at all? Well, for one, because I like educating you all out there, dear Readers, about these fabulous cars. But also, I’ve recently written a couple of articles for a BMW modifying magazine and, reading the publication that my articles appeared in, have had the hitherto largely unknown world of car modification illuminated to me. I think I had rather written off car modification as the preserve of sex-starved adolescents from some of the England’s lesser-known counties. But it can be done with taste and with discretion. And this has got Carficionado’s little grey cells ticking. Could I buy a W124 estate and turn it into my own Hammer Wagon? There must be thousands of boggo W124s out there, and no shortage of written-off cars just waiting to have the V8’s scraped out of them. Mercedes themselves are famed for their collection of spare parts for their old models, so sourcing them wouldn’t be a problem. Then just buy some tasteful AMG bodykit and wheels (tasteful, mind), upgrade the suspension, and there you have it: a Hammer Wagon! And then you could drive it around and feel like an 80s banker, or murderer, or something. I can only see two flaws in my plan. One of them is money. The other is that there are bonobos with a greater flair for engineering and mechanics than me. Maybe it will just be a little pipe dream then <sigh>. Either way, ladies and gentlemen, doff your caps if you will to the Mercedes-AMG Hammer Wagon.


Top 5 German Cars in Red

24 Oct

Italian cars can come in a multitude of colours and look sexy. Let’s take Ferraris as an example. Now, if I ever perchance to buy a 355, I would buy one in red, naturally, and the same will probably be true when I get my Enzo, and almost certainly true when I get my F40. But what if I were to buy a 456? I’d get that in dark blue. A 550? Silver. My 250 Lusso? Did they do it in British Racing Green?

Travel north to Germany, however, and things are a bit different. I know I seem to give Germans a bit of a hard time about taste, but they do get it badly wrong sometimes. And, seeking to emulate their Italian automotive counterparts, they sometimes produce their cars in postbox red, or bucca delle lettre rosso, if you’re in Rome. And nearly every one looks, in the immortal words of Samuel Pepys, “bleedin’ ‘orrible”. Would you drive a red E-Class estate? A red R8? A red 5 Series? I thought not.

But sometimes, there is a synergy of colour and teutonic car that transcends nationality and just looks excellent. And so below is my run down of the Top 5 German Cars in Red, in no particular order:

1. Porsche 959

The Porsche 959. In a quarry of some kind.

What a great looking car this is. Like a 911 turned up to….well, 11. Sparred in the 80s with the aforementioned F40 for the title of World’s Fastest Production Car and yet, unlike the F40, it was also used for rallying and is thus imbued it with some fairly major kudos. And it looked good in red, hence its presence here.

2. Audi Quattro

"Fire up the....." blah blah blah

Originating in the heady days of Group B rallying, when no limits were put on a car’s maximum output, the Audi Quattro has emerged as something of a legend. It was the first car to introduce four-wheel drive into rallying, which would have been a comfort to the driver, given that some Quattrtos had close to 600 horsepower. Homologated for the road, the car offered a tantalising mixture of performance and discretion that made it the ultimate Q car of the 1980s. Unless you got it in red. Which it looks good in.

3. BMW M1

The BMW M1. In a sexy puddle

Originally built in 1978 as a collaboration between BMW and Lamborghini, the M1 was essentially a homologation special intended for competition (kind of like the Porsche 959. And the Audi Quattro). It was mid-engined, had a cool slatted roof, was designed by Giugiaro and….looked good in red.

4. Mercedes 190SL

Mercedes 190SL. Looks good in red.....

We’ve been hanging out in late 70s/early 80s Germany so far for this list, so let’s take it back a bit. The 190SL, essentially a cheaper, slower, less roofed and thus less gullwing-doored, version of the 300SL, was an archetype of graceful 1950s style. It only had a 1.9 litre engine, as its name suggests, which meant that your only option was to cruise slowly around the Riviera, with the top down, taking in the sights. Sounds terrible. Quite nice in red, too.

5. BMW Isetta

The BMW Isetta. Plus man.

OK, not a German car in the strictest sense, as the car was licensed to BMW by an Italian firm. But BMW put a lot of their own bits on and in it, it had a BMW badge, and that’s good enough for us. Released in the same year as the 190SL, but entirely different, the Isetta is a little cutie pie, albeit a cutie pie that uses the flexibility of your knee joints as its crumple zone. It seems ironic that, despite all our advancements in the automotive industry, automakers are now (non leg-based safety devices aside) trying to emulate the simplicity of the small cars of the 1950s like the Isetta, as well as the Mini and the Fiat 500. All of which look good in red. But only one of which can be counted as German. The Isetta. In red.

Well there you have it. And I appreciate that whether or not a German car looks good in red is subjective (well, it’s objective really, but for politeness’ sake let’s say it’s subjective). But then again, this is my blog, so lump it. Or, better still, tell me your Top 5. Comments welcome!

Interview with BMW i’s Uli Kranz

21 Oct

I met with Uli Kranz, the head of BMW’s new sub-brand BMW i, at the Frankfurt motor show last month to discuss the unveiling on their first two cars, the i3 and i8. The i3 is an all-electric city car, whilst the i8, already mentioned in these hallowed pages, is a plug-in hybrid sports car which will be able to outperform an M3, whilst returning a claimed 104mpg. Both introduce some seriously futuristic design language into the BMW brand, or will do when they go on sale in 2013. Are hybrids and electric cars becoming sexy? Dear Lord…..Anyway, take it away, Herr Kranz!

Carficionado: As BMWs, the i cars are surely going to have to be pure drivers’ cars. Presumably you haven’t been been sending them around the Nordschleife, but will BMW i cars still be “pure driving machines”?

Uli Kranz: I can simply answer ‘yes’. These cars will keep the BMW sheer driving pleasure alive because this is key and this is why we introduced the sub-brand as BMW i. We did our homework on that, because if you see the BMW i3, this is a car with a powerful electric engine installed in the rear and we have rear-wheel drive which is perfectly fine for a BMW.

We have an architecture of the vehicle which puts the centre of gravity very low, because in the middle, there’s the battery which is really low above the floor. And we’ve put our focus on lightweight materials. We reduced dramatically the weight of the vehicle by using carbon fibre for the passenger cell and for the drive module we are using aluminium spaceframe. So we have a very light car and with the material choice, we could really offset the additional weight of the battery. So I can assure you that this car will have the BMW DNA and it will be a perfectly dynamic, fun-to-drive vehicle.

Carficionado: Surely one of the big problems you have to overcome with starting a sub-brand like this is that you have to entice people in who won’t be enticed solely because you are using electric power – you’ve got to sell it to them in a unique way. Has that been the main problem to overcome?

Uli Kranz: We had to make sure that [the i3] is a premium vehicle, that it is a BMW and for that reason we also decided very early to develop the complete powertrain, including the battery, gearbox, power electronics and the electric motor in-house and we do all the application in-house with our experts at BMW. And we know how to build cars that are really fun to drive. And the same applies to the i8. The i8 is a plug-in hybrid super sports car that will have performance comparable to an M3 but with a fuel consumption below 3 litres per 100km and we think this is a very good answer for our customers [so that] they see that the future BMW programmes will still be fun and that we will keep the sheer driving pleasure alive with both cars as well.

Carficionado: Why has it taken BMW, who have been seen as a leader in every other aspect in the automotive industry, so long to bring in hybrid systems or electric systems when the Toyota Prius is already 15 years old?

Uli Kranz: We always actually worked with different powertrains, and you will have seen in 1972 with the Olympic Games in Munich we introduced an electric 1602. So we have always worked on very efficient combustion engines and also electric engines, and we introduced also some concept cars like the E1 in the 90s. The reason why we decided now to go into serious production is, of course, the battery technology, because all the batteries we had in the past, they were not as good as we [needed] them to be and the thing with lithium ion technology is that we could overcome all the problems with memory effects and difficulties in charging. With lithium ion batteries we can offer our customers a reliable, good-working car with good performance. This is the reason why we started now with electric vehicles like the i3 and i8. But in parallel we always work on even more efficient diesels and combustion engines. And we’ve introduced the complete EfficientDynamics package with start-stop engines, brake-energy recuperation and on top of that, we focus on low-rolling resistance tyres and also on very efficient aerodynamics. And this all, in combination with the new lithium ion batteries, gives us a very good opportunity to introduce the next step towards the future.

Carficionado: So it was a question of you not wanting to inconvenience your customers by using sub-standard technology?

Uli Kranz: Absolutely. Our customers expect from a premium car manufacturer premium quality and premium products

(l to r) The i8 and i3. Better than a G-Wiz!

Carficionado: The i Division is obviously at the other end of the spectrum to the M Division. But do you feel that there’s any room for this modern technology creeping into motorsport, or are they mutually exclusive?

Uli Kranz: What we are doing with the BMW i sub-brand and with the M, which is a sub-brand also, is perfectly balancing the core of the BMW brand. The BMW brand benefits from the M division because they highlight even more performance and even faster, quicker and more dynamic [cars]. On the other side, the BMW i is supporting BMW in new technologies and new design language and both sub-brands benefit from the core brand of BMW. So in the future we will benefit from both, so that means that some of the ideas that we develop you will see in the M division or the BMW core brand. Just think about the lightweight materials; this is something that the core brand will see in the future and will use in the M division as well.

Carficionado: How much money has been put into the i Division?

Uli Kranz: I cannot give you a figure on how much money we have put in, but I can assure you that we have the task to make money.

Carficionado: But you’d like to see the technology from the i brand trickle down into other BMWs?

Uli Kranz: Of course. One of the tasks we got within Project i is to pave the way towards new technology but not only focussed on the vehicles, also on the production and the production process, introducing new materials and new processes, and this is what we are doing with the electric powertrain, as well as the carbon fibre lightweight materials.

Carficionado: Has there been any co-operation with the German government in terms of incentives for the company?

Uli Kranz: No.

Carficionado: Would you like to have had incentives?

Uli Kranz: Actually we are not asking for incentives because we do our developments in-house. On the other hand, what we expect from the government is that we have clear rules and standards. This is key because then we have reliable targets to work towards.

Standardisation is key for electric vehicles because at the moment there’s still different standards in Asia, the US and in Europe, but we would be happy if we had three clearly divided standards for where our customers could plug-in and charge the vehicles. Infrastructure is key.

Carficionado: Do you think the same customer who buys an M3 will buy an i8?

Uli Kranz: We will still have customers, I’m sure, who will opt for an M3, because an M3 is a very emotive car. But with the i8 we have the opportunity to bring new customers into the BMW brand and this was also the reason why we established BMW i, because one of the targets we got from the board at the very beginning is to bring new customers into the BMW brand. And this is what we think we can fulfil with the i8, because the i8 is a real sports car but at the same time has a very low fuel consumption and the complete vehicle architecture is very sustainable and the compete production process is very sustainable as well. So therefore I guess we are talking to a different audience with the i8, and this is the reason why we decided to establish a sub-brand. And the same goes for the i3, because we are absolutely convinced that it we will bring new customers to the BMW brand.

Carficionado: Do you envisage a future where there will be an i1, i2, i3, i4 and so on?

Uli Kranz: We are focussed now on the i3 and the i8, but there is enough room between these two figures, 3 and 8, for additional derivatives, even above and below. This is all I can say at the moment.

Carficionado: But you’ve got nice brackets?

Uli Kranz: Exactly!  

BMW Unleash New 3 Series

17 Oct

New 3 Series

BMW unveiled their new 3 Series at a special event in Munich last Friday. And it’s a bit of a cracker. Obviously the unveiled car was red because, as previously mentioned in this blog, our Teutonic friends sometimes drop the ball on matters of taste (incidentally, I can count on the fingers of one hand German cars that look good in postbox red – but perhaps that’s a blog for another day). But the car itself looks great. For me, the most interesting aspect of the new 3 Series is that it points to the future direction of BMW’s design language, joining the dots between the current range and the rather fabulous i8, a petrol-hybrid produced by BMW’s cannily named sub-brand Project i, which is scheduled for release in 2013.

The forthcoming i8. Note the similarities

And, having personally been disappointed by the styling of the new 5 Series (which hasn’t grown on me at all) it’s nice to see BMW being a little bit edgier with its styling. Well, at least with the front fascia. See the way the lights blend into the front grille? Very i8. Admittedly the rest of the car looks like a smaller 5 Series, but at least it has a handsome face.

5 Series. Yawn.

The car will be powered by the usual array of BMW engines, with the 320d looking likely to be the volume seller in Europe, as it was with the previous-gen model. Will there be an M3, I hear you cry? Yes, probably. But ecological conditions being what they are, BMW won’t be shouting about that at this stage, preferring instead to talk about the EfficientDynamics options on offer for the car, such as brake energy recuperation and oil and water pumps that only operate when required.

What will it be like to drive? Well, doubtless it will be like most BMWs, that is, very very good. You’ll just have to wait and see if they let old Carficionado have a go in it (advice: don’t hold your breath).

So what do you, dear Readers, think of the new 3 Series? Carficionado appreciates any comments!

Oh, and as for the aforementioned i8 (and its baby sibling the i3), I’ll be bringing you an exclusive interview that I conducted with Uli Kranz, direction of Project i, in the coming days….

This is the 335i model. Check the twin exhausts

Cabin is set back to emphasise RWD. Presumably.

Audi uses its Teutonic technical tools to create RS3

22 Nov


Audi have unveiled their new RS3. And it looks pretty good, in the rather staid way that all Audis these days look pretty good. But its figures are faintly staggering. I was in the pub at the weekend watching Tottenham vs Arsenal and there was a man at the bar whose scarf I would have quite willingly used to throttle him. And this man kept going on and bloody on about how he wasn’t a stat man but if you look at Peter Crouch’s scoring record for England blah blah blah. Now, I’m not a stat man, but if you look at the Audi RS3’s….well, stats, they beggar belief. To-whit…..

Price – £40,000

0-60 – 4.6 seconds

BHP – 335

OK, this is very nice. But not trouser immolating.

This makes it faster than a BMW M3, itself a very fast car. It puts the little Audi in amongst supercar territory. But I can’t help thinking that I’d rather have something with a bit more joie de vivre. I mean, we’re talking £40,000 for a start, not to mention high insurance. Have a look on pistonheads.com and see what you can get for £40,000 – a most enjoyable, saliva-inducing game by the way. A £39,000 blue Ferrari 355 with 40,000 miles on the clock, which leaves you a grand to spend on a Ferrari bicycle, or skis or whatever crap they’re pedaling (arf) to their customers these days. A 45,000 mile Aston Martin DB9. Why not buy a brace (brace mind) of Volkswagen Phaetons? What about a 1959 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud? Now of course, all this is a bit silly. For a start, those cars aren’t new, and thus miss out on warranties and all the appeals that having a new car brings. And frankly, people in the market for an Audi RS3 probably aren’t in the market for Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. But even its competitors seem more interesting than it. I walked passed a Focus RS on the South Bank the other day, and I felt a tremor of vaguely homo-erotic excitement at its muscular haunches and implied potency. And even I, basher of Bimmers, fancy the similarly priced, similarly powered 1 Series M Coupe more than this. But, at the end of the day, there’s little doubt that the Audi will be very good. I just hope that a bit of Lamborghini spirit has drifted through the Volkswagen-Audi group and seeped into it.

Neat and tidy.

The Mercedes GLK

27 Aug

Lovechild, aka Fitzpajero

So, I expected to see some interesting Soviet rubbish/bits of curios lying around Mongolia. But to see a new car that I’d not yet glimpsed in Europe yet, and to be honest hadn’t been aware of at all, on the streets of Ulaanbaatar was slightly disconcerting. What was even more disconcerting was that it was this lumpen pile of crap. Regular readers of this blog (hi Mum) will already know that I feel that the Germans’ attempts to create EVERY possible variation of the car is cynical and faintly intolerable. Sadly, it appears the good folks at Mercedes didn’t read this blog, or at least for some reason, they do not fear the derision of Carficionado. Well derided they must be. I’m not going to talk about how the thing drives because…..well, because I haven’t started reviewing cars in that way yet. So let’s talk looks, which are subjective, but hey, get your own blog if you don’t like my subjectivity. Now imagine, if you will, a steamy late night romp on a second-hand car forecourt between a Mitsubishi Pajero Junior and a Subaru Forrester. Now imagine the lovechild of this illicit act. Now put a Mercedes grille on it. Are you with me, are ya, are ya?



How could this have happened? I know, I know, BMW got to make the X1 and Audi got to make the Q5 so where’s Mercedes’ baby 4×4 that’s slightly smaller than the M Class and much smaller than the woefully misjudged GL. But I’m sorry, why are we all slowly creeping back into baby 4x4s again anyway, like a class of school children who are told in no uncertain terms to shut the hell up and in spite of the explicit telling off slowly start to chatter amongst themselves again. I mean what, is it 1996? Are we all going to end up back in Suzuki Vitara 3 doors and baby blue Toyota Rav4s listening to the Spice Girls? Hey Mercedes! Let BMW and Audi have that market. Bugger ’em! In fact, why don’t you not make stupid Mitsubishi/Subaru look-a-likes and then get someone in your PR department to say “well, we could have built a baby 4×4, of course we could, we’re Mercedes, but in an age where making 4x4s (or at least tall cars, maybe the damned thing is 2-wheel drive) for mums to then drive around Esher (or German equivalent) is a bit, well, massively backwards, we’re actually going to focus on making cars that deal with the problems that the world is facing, unlike BMW and Audi who have shown themselves to be the Flintstones to our Jetsons. We’re light-years ahead of those stupid suckers.” Spin the hell out of it. Then, when you’re done spinning, go and make that delicious looking Shooting Brake and that electric SLS. Don’t bend to the whims of these Esherians! Esherites? Whatever. Where’s your dignity Mercedes? Don’t let them trample all over you like that. Would Fangio have been proud of that? Moss? Hakkinen? Schumacher? Heikki Kovalainen? OK, not him.

Mercedes are trying to make themselves der Über-Manufakturer, and thus be as successful as they can be. And as Jack Kerouac wrote: “You kill yourself to get to the grave before you even die, and the name of that grave is success , the name of that grave is hullaballoo boom boom horseshit.”

My point exactly.

Dreamy cousin....

In Mongolia

1 Aug

Dear Aficionados of Carficionado

I forgot to mention that I was going to Mongolia. My bad. Now in terms of Carficionadoing, that’s much more interesting than going to Greece due to the number of Soviet cars and bikes kicking about the place. Without really having a camera to my name and with disposable cameras seeming to be non-existent in Ulaanbaatar, photographing the things might be tough but Carficionado will, as ever, try his hardest.

Speaking of Soviet motorbikes, I’ve been riding some. Last Saturday, Tony from Thirsty Horse Motorcycles here in Ulaanbaatar (let’s call it UB shall we?) invited us down to have a play on some of his old Ural bikes in the Mongolian wilderness. The scenery was truly epic and even though the bastard things were a mite unreliable, it was still an excellent trip. The difference between a Ural and my Bonneville is really the analogue quality of the Ural. A gear change is not a mere flick of the toe, but a hefty kick of the heel onto the heel-toe gear lever to pull it up into second. It all felt very manly as we stood around priming engines and kick starting the bikes (another thing my Triumph doesn’t have). And these bikes had sidecars too, and you don’t need to wear helmets, so it was very pleasant to be able to sit and talk to someone whilst having a good old hoon around. There’s talk of a 4 day motorcycle trek in a week or so, too. Watch this space….

Anyway, for the uninitiated (as I was), here is what a Ural looks like, I believe that the Soviets nicked the design from BMW probably in the 40s, as evidenced by the lateral mounted engine. Just a hunch though….(further research tells me that the Ural is based on the BMW R71)