Archive | March, 2013

Shelby Mustang Delivers More Muscle

The New York show has revealed some more new cars coming to a dealer near you but for this article we’ll stick with just one of those cars which is so daft as to be highly desirable.

Despite all the trials and tribulations of modern motoring the yearning for a proper American muscle car still beats strongly in the hearts of true petrol heads. There are at least three digital channel TV programmes on right now dedicated to the repair and renovation of historic models; and even today car manufacturers continue to build new vehicles with the muscle car legacy in mind.

Probably the most iconic name in the muscle car history of the USA is Carroll Shelby. Sadly, the great man himself died last year and left behind a name that is synonymous with old school performance cars. Give the man a bog standard Mustang (the greatest of the American ‘pony’ cars) and he would most recently have given you back a Shelby GT500. A good car becomes great.

Shelby may have gone but his name lives on and the company continues to push the boundaries of performance as he would have liked. At last year’s New York show an enhanced GT500 was offered in a limited edition but this time packing 1100bhp! No, that’s not a typing error. The Shelby 1000 delivered over 400 horses more than the base car. This year the Nevada based company have decided to refresh that model and have shown the Shelby 1000 S/C on the basis that what we really want is 1200bhp. That’s quite a lot of grunt.

Power comes from a stripped down 5.8L V8, beefed up by a massive supercharger and many other performance parts. Shelby reckon that this car will out-perform anything on the market. Mindful of the criticism that yank tanks can’t go around corners the company have fitted adjustable suspension and huge brakes. They insist that the car now tracks as it should and corners with grip and a minimum of body roll. This of course depends on what you call a corner.

Lucky buyers of the limited edition one hundred that will be built will get all this power for a measly $154k plus a donor car. That’s incredibly good value in the scheme of things and is probably because in the American tradition the car is simple. No banks of computers or fancy downforce effects here, just raw power. Hopeless in the UK obviously. Can you imagine the sound of your insurance agent’s voice and the size of the premium once he picks himself up of the floor? For most of us cars like this are just a pipedream but isn’t it great that they still exist?

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Car Cloning Is A Crime

Rather like Dolly the cyber-sheep, some things are not always as they appear. The advances in car security have meant that the criminal fraternity have become even more devious when it comes to ripping off motorists and one of their favourite tricks is the cloned car.

This is where the details of one perfectly legitimate car are used to mask the true identity of a similar stolen vehicle. Crooks like to lull potential buyers into a false sense of security with a nice clean vehicle at a bargain price, but, as we always say, if it looks to good to be true etc, etc.

It’s a case of buyer beware. If a car that you buy proves to be stolen then it will be returned to its rightful owner and the duped buyer will be out of pocket to the tune of a lot. The trouble is, a professionally cloned car can be hard to spot. Often, the only clue is some minor discrepancy on the paperwork.

The solution is to be thorough. The assorted paperwork offers a history of a car. Try to check that all the VIN and chassis numbers match up. It’s always a good idea to take someone with you as a dispassionate pair of eyes may well spot something dodgy. When you buy a vehicle always check to see that you are viewing it at the address shown on the documents. This will probably not be the car park of a dubious looking pub.

Check pricing. If the offer price is around seventy percent of the trade / private sale price then walk away. There are plenty of magazines that show this sort of information. Try not to pay with cash – a seller who will accept payment through the banks is more likely to be honest; although this may not necessarily be so. Of course it is always possible that the documents you see may also be stolen and doctored.

For true peace of mind it is a good idea to have an official vehicle check. There are plenty of companies that offer this service, gleaning their information from official sources. Remember though, you get what you pay for. The cheap deals certainly give you an honest report as to whether or not the car is stolen or has been in an accident but do they check for outstanding finance, for example?

The more expensive companies ensure that all the facts are verified. Some even offer a guarantee in the form of financial recompense should their info be wrong. Certainly it is more costly, especially if you are viewing more than one car but at least it helps to ensure that your efforts not to be duped are backed up with additional security. If you are not sure of the deal – don’t do it.

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New Mini Paceman Has It All

We should all be used to Mini variants by now. The original Mini was customised by enthusiasts but with the current model there’s no need because, like a variety show, there is something for everyone. This is a good thing. Mini have clearly understood that motorists have taken the Mini to their hearts and all needs are being catered for.

Whatever reason you choose to buy a car – frugal, family sized, hardcore – the company have a version for you but still they keep on coming. This time it is the Paceman and it is a treat for the eyes.

It’s a strict four-seater based on the larger Countryman platform and is the seventh unique member of the family. Essentially it is a three door coupé version of the model on which it’s based. It has a new exterior with a sporty design and sits hunkered down on lowered suspension. There’ll be five versions including the always desirable Cooper S.

As you can see from the image the Paceman is extremely good looking. The design is modern and expressive without being OTT. We like very much the interior, especially the seats. At the front they look comfortable with good lateral support but the real innovation is in the back. There’s no concession to squeezing in an extra body; instead, two individual chairs provide a lounge-like environment, separated by the Mini Centre Rail storage system onto which several (expensive) options can be clipped.

You either like the Mini dashboard and centre consul or you don’t. If you do then this one is better than ever. If you don’t, well, you probably won’t be buying this car anyway. Although only a two (large) door, practicality hasn’t been sacrificed for the sake of form. The rear seats fold down to make the smallish boot capacity of 330 litres expand out to a cavernous 1080 litres. Access to this space is via the large and high-opening tailgate.

Some say that the handling of the big Mini has been compromised by the bulk. That’s not an unfair criticism because this Countryman version isn’t as agile on the road as the standard Mini; this won’t bother most buyers though – it’s still good. There’s an all-wheel-drive option which is fine for stability on snowy roads or grassy terrain but is a long way from being suitable for any mud-plugging. A useful safety feature though.

Power comes from a choice of two petrol and two diesel options linked to six-speed gearboxes. High milers will like the 2.0L diesel with over 60mpg but for the most part the choice of petrol engines and bhp (184 in the ‘S’) will be the motors of choice.

New car buyers are seeking bargains wherever they can but for some reason seem happy to pay the asking price for the Mini. Not the cheapest car on the market the Mini seems to transcend price and the same is sure to be true of the Paceman.

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P Is For Probationary

The trouble with young people is that they will insist on going out and enjoying themselves by having fun and so on. Sometimes though they enjoy themselves a bit too much and the results can occasionally be tragic. An 18 year old driver is three times more likely to have an accident than, say, his parent.

The under twenty five age group are, according to statistics, responsible for one third of all motor accidents despite comprising only one eighth of the driving population. As an understandable consequence, young drivers are penalised by hugely expensive insurance premiums.

For this reason the Department for Transport is reviewing a number of measures to try and cut down the amount of youth related accidents and deaths. In a rather sweeping statement a government spokesman stated that young drivers were prone to “immaturity and reckless driving” and were “easily distracted by others”. That’s tarred them all with the same brush, then, although it is true to a certain extent.

Measures being considered include a ban on novice drivers carrying ‘young passengers’ and the need to display probationary plates on their cars. These are sometimes used on a voluntary basis by new drivers, probably at their parent’s behest, and seem like a good idea. After all, learners have to use L plates prior to passing their test and – since most people would agree that newbies only really learn to drive after the official examination when they are out on their own – a P plate would seem a natural progression.

The government believes that introducing youth calming measures would in the long run bring down the accident rate and the punitive insurance premiums that young drivers have to presently endure. The insurance companies would, one suspects, want to see a long and consistent reduction in claims for this to actually happen.

They have a similar system in Northern Ireland where novices have to display an R (for restricted) plate for the first twelve months after their test pass. They are also required to keep speeds below forty five miles per hour. Overall, it makes sense. Young drivers might not like it but if ultimately it saves their money and their life then it’s probably a sensible move.

Maybe it could be extended to other various classes of motorists. There could be, for example, be an I for ‘irritable’ driver plate or a W for ‘woman driver’ plate. Hey; just throwing out suggestions here – don’t shoot the messenger.

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Car Repairs Overlooked As Households Struggle

A total of sixty people have just been convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, one of the UK’s biggest ‘cash for crash’ scams. Drivers living in the area of these scams have had to pay up to one hundred pounds more for their car insurance as a consequence of this criminal activity.

The cost of these inflated premiums is just another burden for struggling motorists who are battling to balance the books at home and on the road. It has now been estimated that a million car owners are driving around in accident damaged vehicles because they are wary of losing their no claims discounts and, as a consequence, having to pay much higher premiums as the insurers seek to recover their outlay.

The problem is that although the damage may appear superficial it could in fact be compromising the safety of the car. It’s understandable of course; with household expenses fighting with high fuel prices and other motoring costs for supremacy, somewhere, something has to give. As a result car repairs are being ignored because drivers are selecting the highest possible ‘excess’ offers on their policies – some as high as £750 which greatly reduces premium cost – and then finding they don’t have the funds to effect the repair privately, unless it is of a very minor nature.

National average mileage has dropped significantly as motorists cut down on driving to save money but the number of accidents has remained largely static. What has changed is that the percentage of accidents reported to authorities has fallen by 2.2% and, crucially, the number of recorded repairs has dropped by an scary twenty one percent.

The safety risk is that the damage done by minor prangs may be more than cosmetically skin deep. The structural integrity of the vehicle may have been affected in some way. There are components at the front of the car; the structural ‘crash box’ (a zone in the front of the vehicle designed to collapse under heavy impact thus reducing the consequences of the crash on the passenger cell), radiator, hydraulics or airbag sensors could all have received part of the impact which could at a minimum have moved them out of true. The worry is that, in the event of a further unfortunate accident, the car may be less able to withstand the collision.

There seems to be no let up on the populace. Bills continue to increase even as income drops. It is therefore unsurprising that desperate drivers look at further ways to save. The trouble is, how long will it be before an accident becomes a tragedy as a consequence?

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BTCC Racing Stays On Free-To-Air TV

It’s always nice to report good news and for motor sport fans the news is especially great. Hot on the heels of the report that ITV4 will be showing World Rally Championship highlights (MB 12/3) comes the report that their deal to broadcast the British Touring Car Championship has been extended to at least 2017. That’s hours of live coverage from every event. This makes a change from a lot of sport that disappears onto the pay channels and puts further strain on pockets if, indeed, viewers can afford it at all.

What’s more, 2013 should be a bumper (literally) year for this series as the grid is completely full with a total of thirty two cars entered, the maximum allowed. This is top flight motor sport that guarantees high speed, close fought competition from the best drivers in the country. As usual Fifth Gear’s Jason Plato will be bidding to become champion again after last year’s bitter loss to Gordon Shedden.

An incredible thirteen models from eleven different manufacturers will compete over three rounds at every meeting; that’s a total of thirty races in the season. As well as the established stars there are some young guns eager to topple their idols. The factory supported works teams are from Honda and MG and the independent teams will be fielding cars from Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Proton, Volkswagen, Vauxhall, Toyota, SEAT, Ford plus a couple more Honda Civics.

Dunlop continue to sponsor the series and this year, to add a bit of spice, they will provide a softer compound tyre for the teams to use in one of every three races, as well as the more usual harder compound. There’s a reason for this. Although the new rubber will aid performance the teams will have to nominate which races they will use them – the day before. The idea is to cause the teams to have to mix up their strategies for each different circuit which is sure to enliven the races.

A lot of motor racing these days can sometimes be a bit dull. Mostly this is down to safety rules but, on the other hand, the number of fatalities in the sport has dropped dramatically so we can’t complain. The cars are safer too which is just as well in the BTCC because these boys don’t quit and the racing is shoulder to shoulder. Viewers who are new to this will soon be rooting for their favourite drivers and yelling at the villains on the grid. Racing starts at Brands Hatch on the 31st March. Tune in – you’ll enjoy it!

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FIAT 500 Grows Up And Starts A Family

La Dolce Vita. A lifestyle that spawned a car; or maybe it was the other way round. Either way the current FIAT 500 is a reminder of the iconic original that belonged to that carefree epoch and has, as a consequence, become the company’s best selling car.

Because of the popularity of the 500, FIAT have now produced a bigger brother, the 500L. Thankfully, it is not simply a lardier version of the original but rather a modern and very Italian take on the small MPV. This is the start of the branding of the 500. A ‘trekking’ version has already been announced – more of which below – and there’ll be a seven seat version and a mini-SUV to follow in due course.

There are four engine options with the 500L including a diesel and the now ubiquitous Twin-Air two cylinder motor, which seems like the right choice for this car. Reactions to the body shape and high-riding stance are mixed. Some like the quirky approach to styling, others think it is a little ungainly. The company seem to be aiming this car at young families who have outgrown their 500 but it is also likely to appeal to older drivers who like the raised ride height, comfortable cabin and great all-round visibility.

The 500L is designed for practicality with sliding, splitting rear seats and a height adjustable 400 litre boot. Overall it’s a winner and the coming version choice seems to emulate the approach taken by Mini with something for everyone in the family catalogue.

For the more adventurous, FIAT showed the ‘Trekking’ option at the recent Geneva Motor Show. This looks like the one to go for if your family like the outdoor life as the car features FIAT’s innovative Traction+ system. This is not, as the name might suggest, a four wheel drive but rather a clever way of boosting the front wheels’ ability to find traction and thus be able to cope with gnarly or slippery surfaces. This is a great idea that helpfully avoids the additional running costs of a traditional 4×4 whilst giving the driver more confidence on the road.

All the expected features are on offer, Bluetooth and the like, and the cabin is well appointed although it is not the same as the smaller car. It’s more like the interior of the Panda, but that’s no bad thing. Road test reports suggest that the 500L isn’t really a drivers car. The comfortable ride mean there is some lean in corners and the steering is light and maybe a little vague. Most buyers won’t be concerned about this as sportiness isn’t the vehicle’s raison d’être. Overall, FIAT have cracked it with the 500L, the only caveat being the price. The Twin-Air model is almost £15k; that’s considerable more expensive than similar competitors, but the 500L is a stylish offering and it is sure to appeal to the modern customer.

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Mercedes-Benz S-CLASS Documents Leaked

Leaked documents show that the 2014 Mercedes S-Class will go into production in August and launch in September. To add to the information, the car has also been spied on the roads and photographs are already making rounds on the internet.

In addition to this, it has also been suggested that the car shall be unveiled in May during an invitation only event; the S550 4MATIC and S63 AMG 4MATIC are likely to follow later in the year, around October and November.

The information was apparently released by an insider at Mercedes and released to WCF, who published their story earlier last week.

The car is to have an evolutionary design and will be fully kitted out with aluminium roofing and front end components.

Although very little is known so far about the exterior of the vehicle, it is expected to feature wood/leather steering, LED lighting and a Burmester audio system.

According to the documents, there will also be a “dramatic reduction” in noise vibration and harshness.

It is also expected that the car shall be moving somewhat upmarket from its predecessor, with rear “chauffer seats” being offered, alongside a ten-way adjustment and foot rest.

As for the other seats, they shall feature heat/ ventilation systems and Nappa leather seats which are supposedly available in up to six differing colours.

Looking at the prospected technology, the car shall also feature advanced Night View Assist PLUS, which is able to detect both human and animal presence. If a collision were just about to take place, the system would therefore alert the driver to take immediate action.

The car will be revealed in Germany on May 15th, though we may just hear a little more about the vehicle before this, and although it will be some time until we expect to see the car in second hand showrooms in the UK, you can of course by any approved Mercedes Benz from companies such as Inchcape Mercedes-Benz.

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Whiplash – New Car Insurer Proposals

The Association of British Insurers tell us that there are some fifteen hundred whiplash insurance claims every day. As a result Britain is known as the whiplash capital of Europe and the effect on individual car insurance premiums is to raise them by around £90 per annum on average. Now that really is a pain in the neck.

We all know that a lot of this is down to criminal activity or the interest in short term gain by the terminally stupid but some claims are also legitimate. We all want something done about this scourge but at the same time the solution has got to be fair. To put our plight into perspective the figures quoted by the ABI state that 70% of road accident personal injury claims in the UK are for whiplash, compared with 47% in Germany, 32% in Spain and, intriguingly, only 3% in France.

The ABI have put forward a set of proposals for discussion. They suggest that all such claims undergo a rigorous medical assessment by an accredited expert who would have to show their complete financial independence from solicitors. The assessment should take into account the circumstances of the crash rather than just taking people’s word for it. Because whiplash is so hard to diagnose, the examiners should be trained in the very latest diagnostic techniques.

The accreditation of the medical experts should be handled by a board comprised of government, judiciary, claimant interest groups, insurers and other medical experts. This sounds suspiciously like a committee that could grow into a quango but it does seem the best course of action for now. This board of luminaries would standardise the procedure.

The ABI also suggest that the threshold for Small Claims rise from £1000 to £5000 as a speedy and effective way of settling smaller amounts. Finally, there should be a prescribed and unbreakable scale of damage awards, set independently. Any exaggerated or spurious claims would be dismissed automatically and completely.

The problem is that whiplash is hard to diagnose so any system could still be open to abuse or, conversely, treat honest claimants unfairly. It is a tricky path to tread but the ABI is not wrong when it says that something must be done. At least with a system like this everyone knows where they stand and anything that cuts fraud and reduces (hopefully) insurance premiums has got to be a good thing.

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Ultimate Movie Cars

Hollywood: where all the rules go out the window and literally anything is possible. No wonder, then, that we’ve seen so many incredible automobiles on the silver screen over the years.
In no particular order, here’s some of our favourite movie cars of all time.

Mini Cooper, The Italian Job (1969)
A trio of Mini Coopers featured in what’s possibly the most famous movie car chase of all time, ducking and diving their way through the Turin traffic. A dedicated fan has recently taken parts from the sixteen cars used during filming – which were scrapped soon after – to restore three to their former glory.

’77 Pontiac Trans Am, Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
The Trans Am should have got star billing for its prominent role in this action comedy. The filmmakers used four cars to complete the films many challenging stunts, and all four were totally trashed by the time the picture wrapped.

The Tumbler, Batman Begins (2005)
Batman’s always had pretty awesome cars, but The Tumbler took it to a whole new level… It cost $250,000 to build each of the four cars used in the film, one of which featured an actual jet engine, and the design and development process took nine months.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
Six models of this vintage inspired car were created for filming, including a road-worthy one that could actually be driven (though its lack of manoeuvrability made this pretty tricky); bizarrely, it’s rumoured that filmmaker Peter Jackson is the current owner of this version of the car…

’32 Ford, American Graffiti (1973)
This coming of age film perfectly captures a moment in time, and the cars featured play an important role in creating exactly the right kind of look and feel. Interesting fact: the license number on Milner’s car is ‘THX 138’, which is a reference to one of George Lucas’ first film, THX 1138.

DeLorean DMC-12, Back to the Future (1985)
This four-wheeled time machine with distinctive gull-wing doors became a true Eighties icon. And, as the movie car was just a modified version of a widely available model, film fans could actually buy their very own DeLorean (time travelling ability not included, of course).

Herbie, The Love Bug (1969)
A Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of its own, Herbie was much loved by film audiences – so much so that his film debut was followed up by numerous sequels, including 2005’s Herbie: Fully Loaded.

Greased Lightnin, Grease (1978)
During the course of this ever-popular musical, a clapped out 1948 Ford Convertible is converted into a sleek, high performance machine that made the girls come running, wins the race – and even flies off into the distance at the end.

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