Dirty business: VW’s “Dieselgate”


I have to admit, I have been off my blog for nearly a year (my last post was in October). Mainly because I have never got myself round to writing, secondly because I had too many fingers in too many pies, and finally – because there were too many things to talk about and none that I thought about writing about…until last week.

VW Diesel

For those of you who have no idea what so many car nuts are losing their heads about and why the VW Passat unveiling was not over the news (like if it ever would be. A “Passat” is like saying “A4 paper”. It’s the same kind of reaction), Volkswagen Group got into a bit of trouble over their 2.0 litre TDI engines. Volkswagen advertised their engines as being the benchmark for power and efficiency and having exhaust gasses that are cleaner than white clouds in a Summer sky over Iceland. Because of that their new customers all over the world bought loads of cars with these engines in them, around 11 million between 2009 and last Friday, in fact. But now it seems that this number won’t increase for some time. All is because Volkswagen were lying. Not about them being reliable or anything, but that they are actually not as clean as clouds over Iceland. They are actually dirtier than a Smog over London in the 1960s. But why it was unnoticed? Why nobody screamed about it before? Because they couldn’t tell.

THE PROBLEM

Oh if only everybody knew it then

Oh if only everybody knew it then.

They couldn’t tell because VW, being the “Dr. Evil Enterprise” installed a device which basically when engaged turns the cleaning systems in the engine on, making exhausts as clean as advertised in the brochure. This device was programmed to start automatically, when it detects that an emissions test is in progress. After the emissions test is over, this device turns all of the cleansing systems off and the engine burns dirty fuel mixture. And how much dirtier is it? If you’re going to say “twice”, I’d say “don’t be too humble.” Five times? Nope. It emitted BETWEEN 10 TO 40 TIMES OVER THE ALLOWABLE EMISSIONS NORM. So that means if you have a VW Golf, Audi A3, Seat Leon or any other car with a 2.0 litre 4 cylinder Diesel engine and think that you’re actually saving the planet, you’re probably making the air dirtier than a footballer in a 6.0 litre W12 Bentley Continental GT. Maybe even four footballers.

THE INITIAL RESULT

The prime suspect: VW group's 2.0 litre 4-cylinder TDI engine.

The prime suspect: VW group’s 2.0 litre 4-cylinder TDI engine.

Nobody knows exactly who blew the cover first – either United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, America’s environment agency who sets the emissions targets and do the testing. They probably don’t feel to well after realising they’ve been fooled right under their eyes) or some automotive company, who, like many others, buy competitors’ cars, disassemble them and see what makes competitors’ cars better. What we do know is that this has been the biggest PR disaster Volkswagen group have ever experienced. Because of that, and because of a very powerful and overly-sensitive nature of an average American consumer, the sales of diesel cars and loads of other VW Group models in the U.S. stopped overnight.

And it’s not like they are going to go and buy them anyway. So Volkswagen, who so far have handled it quite humanly, paid the dealers for diesel cars standing in dealer lots, as they know they will not be selling them anytime soon, if not at all. It has not been specified how much, but I believe it will be enough to keep these dealers afloat for some time, because VW really needs their dealer network now more than ever, as after this scandal it is hard to believe that anyone else will step in to help to sell their cars. VW also told them to stop selling them until the issue will be fully resolved with the EPA.

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Speaking of EPA, Volkswagen are shaking nervously while they await their verdict on what fine they will have to pay. If the worst case scenario happens (which seems like it will, as Americans will see another opportunity to protect their local car industry against foreign competition), then VW will have to pay $37,500 per car in fines, which results in a total fine of $18 BILLION. That’s a fifth of their profits gone. However, VW still have the 10.5 million diesels elsewhere with the same device and the same mistake made by them. So…it could skim Volkswagen until they have no money in them. A massive risk.

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Further, adding to their problems, VW saw $26bn of shareholders’ money just flying away in front of their eyes, as their share prices dropped from around $1.40 per share to 60 cents. That’s more than a half of company’s value gone. Adding more to that, their share prices could go further down in the future until the sales figures will be revealed for this quarter, showing actually how many cars they have actually sold less than before, especially diesels, which made 20-25% of their total U.S. sales. Shareholders would run faster than sprinters from the company, selling their worthless shares left and right. It scares me imagining what will happen next to them. All I know now is this: there is a chaos in the company.

First, their CEO, Martin Winterkorn, resigned just today (23rd September, 2015). The captain jumped ship before it sank. Everyone knows it was his fault, himself included, but you fix the problem and only then go. Second, VW aimed everything for their goal to become the biggest car company in the world by 2020, beating GM and Toyota in Sales, profits, and share prices. Looks like that goal is gone.

Shortly after the "Dieselgate" hit the fan, VW removed all of their "clean diesel" adverts, including these "Old Wives' Tales" commercials, which even I saw on TV when I was in the States.

Shortly after the “Dieselgate” hit the fan, VW removed all of their “clean diesel” adverts, including these “Old Wives’ Tales” commercials, which even I saw on TV when I was in the States.

Worse still, VW’s credibility as a reliable manufacturer is seriously damaged. Last time someone had this much damage from a bad publicity cos of a diesel engine was Oldsmobile, the very reason why Americans don’t like diesel. In 1970s Oldsmobile, after the oil crisis, thought they could earn money on customers looking for a cheap, efficient car. A diesel was a perfect bet, as it consumes less fuel and is as powerful as petrol cars. However, because of typical GMness, the design for the diesel engine was simple and rushed. All they did was replace petrol spark plugs with diesel ones, rearranged spark plug timing and hey presto. It wasn’t – the engines used to blow up or not start at all, so by the time they solved the problem, diesel sales stopped completely and the reputation of a diesel engine was forever ruined for Americans. Same as now.

POSSIBLE OUTCOMES (MY PREDICTIONS)

Firstly, let’s look at this graph:

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As you can see, VW from all brands contribute the least to their profits, yet earns most for their revenues. That means either they’ve allocated a huge chunk of money into development of new models, or they’ve reallocated it elsewhere to cover some losses or development of other projects, such as Bugatti Veyron’s successor, Bugatti Chiron. Then you see some higher value brands such as Audi (which are united with Lamborghini, because Audi branch exclusively own the brand) which are mechanically almost the same as VW, but here they pay that extra for the brand. The best example is Porsche/Bentley. According to Bloomberg, Porsche makes $23,000 on every car they sell, so they earn a VW Golf on each car they sell. Stronger on the brand spectrum than them is Bentley. I already talked about it in my previous blog post about VW’s badge engineering – Bentley Continental Flying Spur is nothing more than a VW Phaeton with a Bentley badge. The difference in price between VW and Bentley for this model is $100,000. Of course, Bentley has better leather and some wood, but in other ways it’s exactly the same. So Bentley earn an Audi A8 over every car it sells on top of the earnings of a VW Phaeton.

On the other end of the spectrum you have smaller brands like Škoda and Seat. For Škoda I could argue in favour more than against. They are the more differentiated than Volkswagen, as they have the Yeti and Rooster, which sell like cupcakes (at least until recently). However, the same cannot be said about Seat. For years VW executives have complained about how difficult it is to sell Seats and no matter how hard they’ve tried, they just don’t sell. Partly because they’re only sold in Europe, but mainly because they are just too similar to Volkswagens and Audis. I already showed this in my blog before, but they once actually made a Seat that’s exactly the same as an Audi A4. If you covered their brand logos up with sellotape, you could easily mix them up. There hasn’t been badge engineering this severe this side of GM.

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So my guess is this: if Volkswagen will have a massive chunk bitten off their finances (which, at this moment in time, it looks like it most certainly will), Seat will be the first brand to leave VW. As you see in the graph above, they make a loos on every car they sell, which in every sensible business would be a case for a closure of the brand. They could do two things: either sell the brand to a different manufacturer, or sell just their factories and get rid of the brand completely. The problem with the former one is, to Volkswagens own regret, Seats are just too similar to every other VW group model out there, so every Seat will hold an answer to every mystery of VW Golf, Polo, Scirocco, Audis etc etc. It would be a goldmine for other manufacturers and a death sentence for VW, who would give away the competition a huge market share. On the other hand, the latter version could not bring in enough cash and bring in a huge outrage in Spain, as the brand is part of country’s history. It’s their own, SPANISH brand, a national pride (I know the feeling, living in a country that used to make Fords for Eastern Europe in late 1930s). Also, who would want to have an empty factory in Spain? Ford? They already have one. Jaguar Land Rover? They have factories under construction in Brazil and will be in the U.S. GM? They have Opel in Germany which nearly went under in the Financial Crisis. So there’s no demand. One thing for certain, though, is this: they will keep Porsche and Bentley. They bring in too much money to get rid of them.

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If their efforts to raise cash quickly by selling brands will fail, then they will have to tighten their belts in the R&D department. Not only it will mean a reduced superiority over other brands, it will also mean a fall in reliability. So far they have been built really well, but as the graph before shows, they do not have a lot of profit cash to use to mend those problems, so they will have to use more of that revenue to cover their problems. That will further impact their sales globally, which is a real shame.

THE BRUTAL AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY

I am a fan of VW cars. But what I found most disgusting in this story is this: VW with this fault polluted the atmosphere more than initially everybody thought and they lied about it, but they killed nobody. General Motors, on the other hand, because of their lies and neglect, killed 31 people and injured 244. VW are facing extinction, yet all GM have done so far is pay mere $1.4bn in fines to shareholders and in fines to the U.S. Federal Government. In comparison, GM got away by paying pennies, yet their clueless, manipulated customers still buy their cars. Their sales actually were not affected by much. And VW are facing extinction. RIDICULOUS! Absolutely disgusting, that human lives are worth less than company’s integrity and truthfulness. All GM did was blame it on “Old GM”. Excuse me, but that’s exactly the same company. There is no difference. You screwed it up? You are responsible for it. That means VW’s new CEO has to say “that was Winterkorn’s VW. We’re different now” and prosecutors will forgive them? That is how it looks like.

But this shows how horrible the automotive industry can be – you never know what you’re gonna get (like Forrest Gump said). Whatever happens, I wish Volkswagen all the best of luck in the coming months, because that is what they will need most. They cannot hope on anything else for now but survival.

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Can you feel the love tonight?: Why a car is more than a piece of metal on four wheels


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“A way of transport that takes you from A to B”. I have heard a lot of people saying this about cars, including my dad. That is partly true, but I think there is way more to it. Jaguar co-founder, Sir William Lions, once said: “The car is the closest thing we will ever create to something that is alive.” Let me prove it to you by breaking the article down into three parts: voice, body and character.

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VOICE: I am 110% sure that you have listened to music at some point in life (if not, you need help). So you definitely have your favorite singer or band. Not just because of what is being played, but also the power of singer’s voice. And I am talking about music, not your Chris Wests or Kanye Browns, unless their favorite car noise is the one made by Toyota Prius. Everyone has their favorite that they love, and the one they don’t care about as it sounds like any other band. It’s the same with cars. Everyone loves a good noise of a car. Some might love their four-cylinder Fiesta engine noise, others – the bellow of a V8 Dodge Charger muscle car. Then there are those I understand the least – those who love Nissan Skyline engine noise. But that’s just my taste.

Car & Woman

BODY: girls go crazy over guys like Ryan Gosling, guys can’t get over how great Jennifer Lawrence looks like. And everyone has his or her favorite look of a car. Someone might love the perfect, human-like lines on a Lamborghini Miura. The opening scene in “The Italian Job” is to petrol heads what watching Gisele Bündchen on a catwalk is to the rest. It is so darn beautiful and sensual. A celebration of beauty.

Then there are others who like cars that have been designed with a ruler, like Lamborghini Countach. An angle has a beauty in an engineering sense. The whole car model culture (which, in my view, is pathetic. That shows you’ve made a car with such a bad design you actually need women to stand next to it and hoping it somehow is going to make it look better) started in the 1970s. The age of angles in the car industry. All those Lincolns, Italian wedge-shaped sportscars and boxy family cars. They all started in the 70s and progressed in the 80s. Then there are those who are un-traditional. Like me – I love the DeLorean DMC-12, but others just look at it and thing “ugh, ugly.”

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CHARACTER: there is always a car that has some sort of a character like a human being. You have your nerds, who are like Honda Jazz– they get a chemistry experiment perfectly right, but you will not jump up and down when it happens. You probably will be distracted by the guy next to you who in his hangover will make all things go horribly wrong – that’s a Russian car. You laugh about them and their faults amuse you.

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Then you have your temperamental lovers, which, stereotypically, are Italians and French. Same with cars: Italian and French cars have their culture of breakdowns and faults, but you don’t want to leave them. They kiss and woo you when they’re happy, but when they break down, they give you the biggest headache.

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Then there’s a car that always looks little and cute. Someone that always make you smile and waul out a little “awwww.” And every time you drive it, the car cheers you up and puts that endless smile on your face, which you cannot resist even in your dullest days. It’s a car that always smiles at you, always is happy. Like a little puppy labrador, that is waiting for you impatiently until you will take him out for a walk. That’s how a Mini is. Every time I see one and all the times I’ve been driven around in one I always cannot stop smiling. It is a happy machine. Probably that’s why the most careless, childish and most positive Englishman in the world was driving one.

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Then there is Aston Martin. Have you ever seen an Aston Martin with an aftermarket wing on the back? No. So it cannot be someone who wears gold chains, walking around, looking for attention, like a Bentley or a Ferrari. Also, it is elegant and smart. It always looks like it has to be parked near an opera. It whispers quietly, but when it speaks, you can’t forget its voice and you can hear it coming from miles away. It perfectly reflects James Bond. Thank God Ian Fleming swapped Bond’s car from Bentley to Aston Martin. It is just like him.

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Also, part of character is the bondage you get during some of your big events in life. Your first car, the fastest car you’ve driven, the car you drove to that successful interview. You will never forget those ones. See? A car is way more than a lump of metal with wheels that with some mechanics applied to it moves forwards. It is your friend, your pet, your favorite art, and your memory.

The Guy Near the Car

Why is it still alive?!: Cadillac Escalade


SNN2315AA-682_972184aI was walking one day, minding my own business. I think I was on my way to see my friend who I haven’t seen since I left for England to study in 2009. Anyway, I was just having my usual walk (80s music in my ears, enjoying the sun) when suddenly I was interrupted by something visually horrible. Ok, I am not an Art historian or a fashion designer, but these kinds of shapes can be drawn up by a 4-year-old kid. It was a black Cadillac Escalade. I have always hated these cars. Not because I am jealous. I believe jealousy is one of most fatal traits of any human being, because it eats you from inside (you keep mentally hitting yourself) and outside (losing your friends). It is just because this car is AWFUL. And to this day I still have no idea why there are some people who walk into a Cadillac showroom and say “I would love to buy an Escalade”. Actually, up until recently I had no idea why people walked into Cadillac showrooms at all, they were terrible. The Cadillac dealership went bankrupt soon after SAAB went away in 2010. How horrible does a car brand have to be, when the dealers survival is depending on another clinically dead brand? Just recently Caddies have finally managed to be somewhat competitive. I’ve seen the new CTS and I can’t even deny that it feels quite decent inside. As good as BMW. Of course it has some design flaws, for example, a glossy interior finish. It is so sensitive to dirt that if someone got shot in a Cadillac nowadays, the police would just need to photograph the climate control panel as all of the fingerprints are visible.

Back to Escalade. I just have not seen a reason why someone has bought one. There might be a couple of reasons why they WOULD buy one.

The main one is psychological. It was once written in The New York Times about this. They said:

Sport utility [SUV, i.e. large off-roaders, the class the Escalade is related to] buyers tend to be more restless, more sybaritic, less social people who are “self-oriented,” to use the automakers’ words, and who have strong conscious or subconscious fears of crime.”

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Basically, those who buy SUVs are all about being flashy, desperate to show off, to tell all world that they exist and they are cool. I read somewhere else that this is because some of these people have been bullied and abused in their childhood. I get this. But some just pretend that they have been suffering and just have an excuse to flaunt. That’s why so many low-class rappers are driving Escalades with too much chromed bits on it (oversized wheels with spinning discs, “gold-wrapped” (like the one I put in before), tinted windows and so on). They want to threaten, to make sure that everyone is afraid of them, rather them being afraid that they might be bullied again. Eminem? Well…it’s hard to count him in. Yes, he has a SUV (Dodge Durango), but it’s not as flashy as those the others drive. I respect Eminem as a rapper. His songs make sense.

Now that’s the only reason I see why would someone buy it. But on other levels that car is RUBBISH.

It is engineered and built by the biggest automotive tyranny on Earth – General Motors – so it is doomed to have some stupid flaws in it, and it does. It was one of the cars that got caught in the big GM recall craze (when more than 8 million cars got recalled for technical problems that they should have had resolved BEFORE the car hit production). Not just the old ones, but the new one too. And for one truly appalling flaw – faulty air bag units. A 21st century car maker having reliability flaws with one of most crucial safety systems in a modern car is a medicine for company’s downfall, but because of people’s stupidity they somehow managed to gain profits during that period. And who knows, maybe there are some more faults in the design that no one, not even their makers, know about. I am actually laughing right now as I write, because I just cannot believe how stupid the GM are by letting such faults just get through. Everybody in the company knew, but did nothing. Some might say it’s risk, but a risk of losing someone’s life over a 5 cent economy is a bit of a bad relationship, if you ask me. If it was at least $1000 dollars per car, I would understand their economy, but still would feel mad about it.

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Then someone says “well some might buy it because it’s comfortable.” Trust me, if someone would like to sail about in an Escalade, the least thing they are thinking is comfort. Maybe the comfort of their dealer’s car service lounge chairs, while waiting until their Escalade gets its recalled bits changed. If someone wants a comfortable car that looks like an Escalade, they would buy a Range Rover. It is the comfiest SUV there is. I’ve driven it and I was surprised on how comfy it was. It was literally like being on a cruise liner. And it would suit design taste of those buying Escalades, because it is just as boxy, just as large, but way better looking. A lot of celebrities are swapping Escalades for Range Rovers.

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And the price is not the issue either. I highly doubt that there will be someone saying “no, Audi Q7 is a bit too expensive for me. I rather buy an Escalade for that”. There are a few issues with that. First: nobody would think about the economy when deciding on which premium SUV to buy. It is what it says in its class description: PREMIUM SUV. People buy the brand, not the value in the premium world. Secondly: if they made the stupid decision and bought the Escalade because of it being cheaper than the competition, they will be suddenly disappointed by its gas mileage, because all that difference will be wiped away by fuel bills. The Escalade has ONLY petrol V8 engines. Highly unlikely recipe for money saving, isn’t it?

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If it’s national identity (Americans buying American cars cos they are helping the country), Escalade loses again. Ford Explorer sells better, so does Dodge Durango. And true Americans would buy a pick-up truck like the Ford F-150. Again an argument against Escalade.

Hated or loved, the Escalade is still here. And will be here for some years as they have introduced the 2015 model. Though I hate it to bits and so do a lot of other petrolheads, GM is still letting it through factory gates. I can’t wait for the day that these people owning an Escalade will finally realize that they cannot feel special with the Escalade. That it’s vulgar, ugly and as big as Florida and will eventually shift to Range Rover, Porsche or BMW. Though they are not American (except BMW; the X5 is built in South Carolina), they will still be better both in sales and in being a car than that pathetic Escalade.

Hot Pursuit: Countries where you really should obey the law on the road


Today let us look at various police forces around the world. But we are not after just speed ticket fines here, oh no. We’re after police cars that are powerful and quick enough to give the baddies a hard time.

USA

The land of the free – free speech (sort of), free enterprise (that they are blindly following), free choice to hold a gun (this has entered a dead end, unfortunately) – but when it comes to police cars, it’s not as free as you think it is.

First of all it’s the violence of the police force when attempting to stop the bad guys. You have seen endless hours of footage where police cars are ramming the “bad guys” off the road. And it’s not some soft push, saying “please, can you stop now?” It’s like in the films: “FREEZE, BASTARD!” Like they do in Gran Theft Auto.

Then they have proper cars for the job. Long gone are those fat, long Ford Crown Victorias you used to see in films. Now there are new kids on the bloc. First one is Bloomfield Township Police Department’s Cadillac CTS-V. For those who don’t know, the V in a Cadillac model name is the performance designation, i.e. it is a hard core version of that model. Same as the M is for BMW, AMG is for Mercedes, the R for Jaguar etc. This car is powered by the same 6.2 litre V8 engine that you find in Chevrolet Camaro. It’s no surprise, as everything GM does is then freely shared among other cars in the company. Cost saving at its best….or maybe finest…or purest…it’s hard to find the right word because this kind of cost saving practice isn’t anything positive. Why not? Google “GM Recalls” and you’ll see why.

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But there are some cars they have that don’t spend their time at a dealership having everything stripped and rebuilt. One of more famous recent police fleet updates are Dodge Chargers. Just recently, Dodge updated the Charger and, indeed, made a police version of that new car too. Unless you have a high-end exotic like a Lamborghini or Pagani or Bugatti, when you see the Charger and red & blue lights in the mirror, pull up, just for your own life’s sake.

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UNITED KINGDOM

On the other hand you have the UK and the police force mainly containing old Vauxhall Astras and Volvo V70s. On the plus side, before police leave the station to trace down and apprehend the miscreant, they have to go through the thing Britain is doomed with nowadays – health and safety checks, so by the time police cars in London will get the backup they’ve asked for, the criminal will already be in Poland by then. And there is no ramming or bashing either. They are tactical there. So I would like to imagine police trying to catch a fast, out of control maniac who’s going all over the place on the motorway.

But luckily for them they have a couple of cars that could be up for the job. One of them is one of ultimate “I-didn’t-know-it-is-that-fast” cars: Lexus IS-F. Yes, a Lexus IS-F! In a fleet alongside those Astras and Volvos the Lexus is like a unicorn. A quick unicorn too. it has a 5.0 litre V8 engine, a top speed of 168 mph (270 km/h) and 0-100 km/h time of 4.7 seconds. This very car is one of official vehicles of the Humberside Police squad. The reason for that is, as one of police officers said, “to help the force run down drug dealers in high-powered sports cars, and it has been used to seize criminal assets, too.” Good thing Breaking Bad wasn’t set in Humberside.

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Another surprise is in Norfolk. Of course, to represent local car manufacturing traditions, Norfolk police use Lotus Evora. It actually is one of the best cars for the job, because it is quick enough to stop runaways and it sticks to the road like glue (as you would expect from Lotus). There’s only one drawback – it’s Norfolk, the county that has the lowest crime rate in the UK. That’s like getting bouncers to watch there are no fights in the kindergarden. But it is still cool.

2010_Lotus_Evora_-_UK_Police_003_1128Finally, London Metropolitan police. They made one of the stupidest decisions in the world. What they did was they bought a Lamborghini Murcielago (which alone cost around £200 000 when it was new. And that’s tax payer’s money, ladies and gentlemen, that they used. They said they didn’t, but so did Viktor Yanukovych when he built a villa for himself) and turned it into a police car. So they got a bit over the top with expenditure. Secondly, it’s completely useless. They did make it just for an MPH Car Show in 2006, but a Lamborghini supercar as a police car in CENTRAL LONDON? Where fastest you can go is walking pace? Besides, of all the beautiful cars in 2006 (like Aston Martin DB9, Jaguar XK, Pagani Zonda or Mercedes SLR) they chose one of the ugliest Lamborghinis ever made. Well done, Rozzers.

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GERMANY

Of course Germany have been known for those fantastic autobahns with limitless speeds and fantastic cars. It seems like it is a country that has a match made in heaven. But just to be sure that this limit is not exceeded too far, they have made sure that those on the Autobahn still obey when they see Porsche 911 police cars in the mirrors. You have seen them, probably, in Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed, but they are real. German “autobahn politzei” actually use 911s in their fleet for a good reason – most of production cars nowadays come with a speed limiter of around 250 km/h or 155 mph. The Porsche 911 top speed in its model range starts from 180 mph or 290 km/h.

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UAE

When it comes to exclusive police cars we have to talk about Dubai. They have the fleet of police cars so exclusive that some actually want to break the law just to be apprehended and taken around in one just to enjoy the ride of their lives before landing behind bars and getting lashed by their judges.

Just have a look at this escort:

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Back to front in this picture you see a Bentley Continental GT, McLaren MP4-12C, Ferrari FF and Bugatti Veyron. And judging by those people taking photos in the background, this picture is absolutely real.

I have no issues with the Dubai police….well I didn’t, until I saw THIS:

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If it was a Bugatti Veryon, I wouldn’t be bothered. But it isn’t. It is, in fact, an Aston Martin One-77. A car that is a masterpiece. It is the ultimate toy of a petrolhead car collector, an ode to automotive industry. What those morons in the Dubai police force did was take the actual painting of Mona Lisa and with a graffiti spray paint wrote “PROPERTY OF THE DUBAI NATIONAL ART GALLERY!” Why? The name One-77 is a clue. This car has only 77 hand made, patiently crafted beauties on the road. They basically ruined one of them. Just strapped some police lights, put some liveries on it and just ruined it. This car deserves to be driven around Stelvio pass with windows right down, stereo off and revs going as high as possible, NOT to be a show car for the wealthy. I just can’t stand when such delicate car brands are being ruined by these filthy-from-money individuals. First it happened with Bentley. Before the Continental GT came out Bentleys were known for their Le Mans history, for being elegant and fast get-about for the true gentlemen. Since the Continental GT came out, people from such “talent shows” as “The Only Way is Chelsea” or “Made in Essex” (I know I’ve written it wrong but I am so mad I just can’t be bothered to write it correctly) are buying these cars to show off. Therefore the whole reputation of the brand is RUINED. Everyone now who looks at a Bentley is thinking “oh look, a snobs car”. Same applies to Mercedes. I don’t want Aston to be part of this terrible fate. It is supposed to be like James Bond – mysterious, sharp and masculine – not like James Packer.

Next time, let’s talk about countries where you don’t have to fear from police.

I am rolling: why are so many people ignoring Volvo?


So after all this ridiculous heat wave we’ve been having here and a lot of adventures I’ve been having outside (unlike some of you who, judging by my stats, have been coming in here and checking out my blog almost daily. Thanks so much, guys).

And so…back to business.

 

“Jag rullar”: Why are so many people ignoring Volvo?

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For the past three weeks now I have been in business selling cars…..well…trying to, but it’s not as easy as it seems. I am working a partially voluntary job at a Volvo car dealership at home in Latvia. Before I joined the team I was well aware of the brand and what they stood for. I owe a big deal of respect to Volvo, because it has played a huge part in my life as a passionate car guy. It was the first car I could remember of being in, because my dad used to work for a Swedish company who had a fleet of Volvos. He had a 940 and a 240. Both were estates, cos they were in the league of their own when it came to taking stuff around. My dad told me he used to take HALF A TON worth bags of cement (I’m not kidding, he used to take lots of stuff around) and it would remain in one piece. I liked those cars. As you can see from the picture below with me next to my dad’s 240 (why it had Swedish plates, don’t ask. I don’t know):

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Then, in 2005 I think my dad bought his first Volvo in years – XC70 T5. That car means a lot to me because that was the first car I drove on public roads. And it has to date been the fastest car I’ve ever been driven around. 180 km/h. Still to this day I haven’t beaten it. But it’s sort of a good thing because that thing accelerated like a rocket. And it was the first time in my life I learned about traction control. My dad wanted to demonstrate. He drove on a snowy field one winter day, I was sitting next to him. He said “watch”, after which he floored it and yanked the wheel all the way to the left. But the car followed. It didn’t spin, eating its own exhausts; it followed where it was directed. But then he turned the traction control off (you have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the combination in which the switches have to be pressed to turn it COMPLETELY OFF) and all hell broke loose. The car span out every time the car started moving. I was fascinated by it.

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But I’ve noticed that I am one of a handful who gets excited about Volvos. So many guys who think they know their cars (ones I’ve talked about in one of my older blog posts) say the things EVERYBODY are saying – that they are boxy, noisy, don’t go anywhere, are driven by old people, torque steer…blah blah blah. People, where have you been all these years?! That could have been the case with Volvos in the past (those facts they are mentioning are of the Volvo 850. It did torque steer but…they seem to forget that they won a couple of races in the British Touring Car Championship. Not bad for an “old man’s” car). I have to admit, I have missed out stuff on Volvos and paid too little attention to their lineup. Until now, that is.

First thing that I noticed straight away and was startled by was the unbelievably perfect build quality and the upmarket feel of it all. I am not saying they have not been this way in the past, but there was a bit of a decline during their Ford years when the floating console appeared. But I have to say (and this is not biased) they are better put together than many of the German offerings. Believe me.

I have to say I am a sucker for that TFT gauge display. Volvo have done a fantastic job on it. Unlike Cadillac, Jaguar or Mercedes, who have just shoved a large display behind the wheel, the Swedes have made it look delicate by making it look like analog gauges would belong there, with separate screen for every virtual gauge, all of them based around a huge tunneled gauge which is for the speedo/tachometer (change to whatever you like, up to you). There’s a reason for that. It is an option for about €400 here in Latvia. As standard you get a set of analog gauges, but do tick the box for the TFT display. They are worth the price.

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Then the whole interior feel and quality. It may not be up there with Audi, but I have to say they are very close with it. What I am definitely sure about is that the quality is by miles better than that in current BMW range. It just is. It may not be as minimalistic, but it sure has the quality feel to it. And can those car journalists shut up about the centre console having too many buttons cos that’s rubbish. Even though it might look like a phone from 1980s, the buttons are laid out very logically and they are easy to use. Those many buttons in the middle are a keypad like you find on a phone which you could use for (yup, you guessed it) the Bluetooth telephone. But what people fail to realize that the only two other options they are used for is for entering Navigation details (which is way easier with a keypad than with the iDrive in BMWs. I hate entering address with an iDrive. Think of texting. You never thought texting on old phones was complicated, didn’t you?) and for preset radio stations. That’s it. Don’t let the looks and car journalists fool you. Try it for yourself.

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Also, you can chose an option that could turn your car into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot for your usage (if you’re too stingy to share it). And Volvo is one of few car makers in the premium brand market who offer a Digital TV use on their cars. Until now this option has been available on S-Class Mercs, 7-series BMWs and A7 & A8 Audis. Yes, Volvo have chosen to pursue the luxury world. Good idea, as their projects for masses have been disastrous (the S40 and other NedCar Dutch built Volvos) and they have covered the basics of a luxury car for ages – comfort, safety and performance. The latter one did not occur up until the introduction of the T5 5-cylinder Turbo engine which gave Volvo some victories in motor races too.

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Speaking of comfort, I can put my hand on my heart and say that I haven’t yet found anything as comfortable as a Volvo. Every time I got to sit in one it was like laying down in a lounge sofa. I am not exaggerating, it really is like that. No other car has been close. Maybe Lexus, Jaguar and Land Rover have, but others have not. Audi? Nope. BMW? After 2 hours of driving I need a massage because my buttocks ache so badly. But not in a Volvo. Even looking at them makes you feel cosy. All that comfort is benefited by the sound of the stunning stereo system. Any range – from standard to the upgraded Harman/Kardon sound system – their sound quality is worth a million dollars…probably.

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If you still thinking “you’re nuts. It’s not a well built car.” Well let me show you a brilliant example. First, let’s look at a BMW X3 engine bay. This one is a 2 liter Turbo.

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This shows that BMW have become so arrogant they have stopped paying attention to quality. HOW CAN A £30 000 CAR HAVE WIRES TAPED  TOGETHER? And some of them are even uncovered to water, bud and dirt that comes beneath the engine. Looks like BMW have begun cost cutting. Even in the inside it feels very plastic-fantastic. But that does not bother me, cars have had plastic interiors, but this kind of rough work I’ve only seen in either French cars or in American cars. And that’s no coincidence because all BMW X-cars are built and most of designing is done in South Carolina, USA. But this, the X3, is not the only case of such “quality”. The brand new X4 has exactly the same wiring with exactly the same tape with exactly the same uncovered wires. So slow down when you go through puddles if you drive an X3, because you might create a short circuit.

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But in a Volvo (in this case, a D4 engine (even though a Diesel, the changes are dramatic. The quality is the same in a Diesel BMW as well), well, just look at it. It is so tidy and all those open wires are where they belong – in plastic boxes!

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And long gone are the days of boxy designed Volvos. They are truly amazing to look at and, some of them, a lot of fun to drive. The brand new Drive-E engines are particularly good. I drove the S60 D4 Drive-E with 181 BHP and 8-speed auto gearbox. I have to say I had a time of my life. It made me want an S60. It corners brilliantly, has lots of grip though it has FWD, there is NO torque steer (whereas an Audi A4, which is in the same class, tries to kill you with torque steer) and is very sharp on acceleration. The seating position is absolutely spot on (it suits you both when you’re cruising, when you want to rest your elbow on the door panel’s hand rest, and when you’re going fast) and all but XC70 and S80 have a sport-grip steering wheel as standard. The grips are so comfy and deep that the wheel wouldn’t slip even if you held hard on it while your hands are covered in butter.  It might not be as sharp to drive as a 3-series (it is as good and sharp as everyone says) as it has the inevitable FWD trait – understeer – and it has a number steering feel than the bimmer, but it is definitely the best FWD saloon there is. I WANT ONE. 😀

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But don’t think for a minute I am here to write an article because I work for them, oh no. For instance, though Volvos now do look great, the design has wiped away their long term top position in practicality league. The V60 boot, though it is convenient, it is quite small. From cars I’ve driven, Subaru Outback has a bigger boot than a V60. Same applies for V40. It is fun to drive as it is based on a Ford Focus platform, but the boot is tiny. And it is just too much cash for the product. People at the dealership have said that too.

And though S60 is a fantastic car to drive, that can’t be said about the XC70. First of all, that car has been quite old. It still has a lot of Ford in it. Then there’s the ride. It is very comfortable but because it is about 4 centimetres higher above the ground than the V70 on which it’s based, it does feel like a duck around the corners. It tilts to one side quite a lot, so it’s more of a cruiser, not a bruiser.

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And finally,  I have to be a bit of a perfectionist. Though almost all of the buttons feel very high class, there are a couple who don’t and those are reading lamp buttons above the driver. They feel like they belong in a Toyota, but not in a premium brand car.

But that’s it. I have started to love Volvo. It is a great car brand. It’s not like with SAAB, where I loved the illusion that the brand is the same as it was in 1980s (with airplanes and good quality). No. The older you grow the wiser you get. And that is why I have started appreciating the truly great things.

 

So don’t hesitate and have a look at modern Volvos. You will be surprised.

 

About GM’s Ignition Switch Recall


I was thinking of writing today about the “Auto 2014” Car show that is in Riga today for the last day. I was expecting it to be marvelous, gigantic, spectacular, full of different brands, chance to have a seat in each of the cars (as they promised it to be on ads on internet and radio)…but  I was utterly disappointed by it. Not only I didn’t have a chance to have a seat in any of the cars, there weren’t many of them. Apart from Fiat-Chrysler group cars (including the Ghibli), the new Mini Cooper S (which I do like), couple of Golfs, and Mercedes, there were just dull brands there – Nissan/Renault, Peugeot, [falling asleep at this point already] Hyundai, KIA……and GM cars – couple of Chevys, Cadillacs and Opel (Vauxhall, for the British audience, Buick for American readers). And today I would like to talk more about this disastrous, pathetic Detroit cash cow.

 

Turn Me On: GM’s Ignition Switch Fiasco

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After recent developments in that dirty car company I have decided to turn my back completely against all GM’s product line up because their attitude regarding the recent problem has been sickening. I am talking about the 2.6 MILLION (!!!) car recall regarding a small mechanical fault in the ignition switch mechanism that turns GM cars from way of transport to high speed coffins. And because of their reaction and ways to solving the problem, this big bankrupting organization deserves to collapse.

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The problem in the ignition switch mechanism is a tiny spring plunger in the mechanism that is too short [in the picture above, the higher plunger is the faulty one]. Because of that, the whole mechanism is more fragile, i.e. it doesn’t get firmly fixed in its position. Because of this, the ignition can freely switch from “Run” to “Accessory” position, when a car key has a heavy key chain and it drives on an uneven surface, causing the keys to swing about, hence, turning the ignition key. Because of this, when the ignition is turned to “Accessory” position, the engine stops, turning off power steering, power brakes and airbags. This has resulted in 12 reported deaths linked to the accident (no one knows the actual number of injuries and deaths. Maybe GM hides it).

The problem was first reported in 2001 but only until now there were no measures taken to do anything about it. GM just kept on putting these defective ignition switches in and producing these cars with defects like crazy. The most ridiculous part of the story starts after the new CEO, Mary Barra, takes charge of this evil organization.

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It turns out that Barra found out about this all defect scam during her training for her CEO position, i.e. JANUARY OF THIS YEAR! The woman has been working in the company since age of 18 and gone through all these ranks to find about this 2.6 million car affecting deadly problem only when she takes charge of all that darn company? Also, GM as an organization denies any involvement with this problem, because they say it was the problem of the “Old GM”, and after the 2008 bail out they are the “New GM”. WHAT?! A turd covered with a blanked for no one to see it is still a turd. It doesn’t change anything.

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Here’s the “fun” part – recalls. Guess what was the first suggestion from GM regarding this problem? “Take to the dealers?” No. “Avoid driving and call an evacuator truck?” Wrong again. The first suggestion was “Use less heavy key chains when driving.” Which is ridiculous, because the fault can still occur without a key chain, from heavy vibrations from the road (like hitting a pothole). The next absolutely ridiculous mistake they made was when actually changing these ignition switches. They changed the defective ones…to fresh ones with the same problem. ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS!

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It is no question that GM’s reputation is forever damaged with this…well…when I say “damaged”, I mean “more damaged than it was before”. I mean it had some wonderful brands in its control – Pontiac, SAAB, Isuzu – that were destroyed because of the company being so vast and so inefficient at managing itself. SAAB itself had the problem of being Americanized. Before GM SAAB was known for quality, safe and exhilarating to drive automobiles. But GM’s poor management and allocation of finances ruined the brand beyond repair. Same story with Pontiac. Within GM Pontiac was a star player, selling exciting, fun pony cars. But as the years went by, some ridiculous models started to roll out of GM’s factories – Solstice (a roadster with no luggage compartment …in 2005!), G6 (it was just…some car. Even Oprah Winfrey’s give-away didn’t make this car more interesting), many ridiculously lazily restyled badge-engineered GM cars and Pontiac Aztek, the worst looking car in the known world ever.

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So this is why I am now no longer considering to get behind the wheel of a GM-branded car (might be a passenger, but I wouldn’t drive one myself, even if it would be given to me). I just think that this kind of attitude from a car company to their highly valuable customers is totally unacceptable and childish and any other car company that has done that in the history of car industry have met a fatal outcome for them.

About being a true petrolhead


Who do you think you are?!: What makes a true petrolhead?

 

 

I hesitated to talk about this topic for long but, after a desperate invitation on Instagram I’ve decided to let it loose and expose these “petrolhead wannabes”.

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The guy in question invited to follow his profile on Instagram. He said it’s about “cars” and I just thought I might check out this guy. But as soon as I opened it, it was yet another one of those million profiles out there, one of those who think they know about cars and think that the flashier the brand is, the cooler the car is. Umm….NO. STOP IT!

 

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Just to give a flavor of what I’m talking about here are a few of his (not sure if his, but they are there) photos. Just a bunch of ordinary midlife crisis cars.

 

First of all, if you are a true petrolhead, you can’t possibly like just new Ferraris (he had quite a few on there). If you say “hey, I love that Ferrari 458” or “Ferrari F12 Berlinetta is the best car in the world”, I laugh my insides out (in my mind, of course), because a true petrolhead doesn’t like just recent Ferraris…or Ferraris in general. Do you know why? Because anyone in the world knows what a Ferrari is and non-enthusiast’s first supercar of choice will always be a Ferrari. It’s a dream car for unimaginative businessmen and for those who think “LSD” is a drug, not a piece of car technology that improves handling. Someone who likes a Ferrari can be regarded to be a petrolhead ONLY if they have a knowledge of the brand and they like the genuine Ferraris (Daytona, 250 GTO, Flat-12 engined Testarossa). They have knowledge and they can say that those cars then were Ferraris. If Enzo Ferrari was alive today, he’d punch Ferrari executives of today directly in the face because the company nowadays go completely against his principals – he made cars to be piece of art and don’t even try and think of doing excessive mass production of them. Enzo made cars primarily to fund his F1 team.

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Ferrari Daytona. If you can tell more about Daytona, then I might think you are a petrolhead

Then there’s the “crown” of petrolhead wannabes – Bugatti “Škoda Headlights” Veyron. Some post pictures and write that that is the coolest, most beautiful car in the world. Excuse me? Lamborghini Miura is beautiful, Aston Martin DBS is cool. Veyron is an example of over-engineered, overpriced, overrated car for people with “SCS” (Small Cock Syndrome); for those who just don’t know what to do with their money and they waste on a car that you can’t drive (more about it in my

About Veyron drivers and Bertone” article.

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Tell me once again that Bugatti Veryon is cooler and prettier than this Aston Martin DBS and I will recommend you an optician to visit because you are possibly blind.

 

Then there are those who think wrapped cars are cool. How in the name of God can you call yourself a petrolhead if you cannot appreciate car’s original looks? The ones that really get on my nerves (and there have been quite a few of those wrapped in shiny wraps) are Bentley Continental GTs, the ultimate show-off Napoleon’s car (and by “Napoleon” I mean a guy who makes himself look “greater” by buying these “bling-bling” automobiles. I know Napoleon himself was an interesting character, but let’s stick to showing off). There will always be someone driving around town in a Bentley at night…wearing sunglasses. That’s just their nature. No wise man will buy a Bentley. You say “oh hang on, but what about the Flying Spur?” Sorry, Gullible Gustav, but “Flying Spur” is just a VW Phaeton with a Bentley badge stuck on the bonnet (one of worst badge-engineering examples ever executed by VW). Don’t get me wrong, Phaeton is a great car, but why waste thousands more buying a Bentley when you can buy a VW for a fraction? If you want prestige, buy a Jaguar XJ, Maserati Quatroporte or a Mercedes S-Class. Or, in worst case, an Aston Martin Rapide. Use common sense.

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Bentley Continental GT. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse…well…this happened. WHY?

 

So, now you might as, if you are a petrolhead, how can you prove that? Simple. I like cars based on their heritage, technology and personality, not based on what everyone else thinks. The most important thing of being a petrolhead is to be individual, to not be afraid to share views on any car or any brand. Then you might ask “what cars do you like then and why?” Ok, let’s list just a few, shall we?:

 

1)   Jaguar E-type 4.2 liter Series 1:

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It has to be Series 1, because, personally, I have a feeling that those sealed headlights make that car complete. And the Series 2 and 3 are too American (Jaguar had to customize them to American needs), so they became fatter and more ordinary. I think the ugliest E-type of them all is the E-type Series 3 2+2. Simply because the cabin silhouette is a bit too big, it starts to make this British beauty look like a fishbowl on wheels. Anyway…Series 1 4.2 liter simply because it gave the power that Jaguar promised and because that noise is my favorite car noise in the whole world. I can listen to it day and night and never get tired from it.

2)   DeLorean DMC-12:

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Ok, some might protest now. I know, I know. DeLorean wasn’t that brilliant. It had its flaws such as its engineering (doors, if opened to rapidly, can be deformed, hence that plastic line on the side might look “broken” because of increased panel gaps), performance (the PRV-6 engine combined with laughable American emission restrictions made this car as powerful as a base trim Hyundai of today) and its infamous creator, genius and felon John Zachary DeLorean . But at the same time this story is so mysterious and crazy that it makes me to love this car. I am one of few people in the world who loves the stock car more than the Time Machine in “Back To The Future” and I am definitely considering of owning one in the future when time will be right.

3)   Face-lifted SAAB 900 Turbo Coupe:

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The classic one, obviously. It still is a rather cool and great to drive car. Coupe somehow is well proportioned and it is, I think, the best-looking SAAB there ever was and will be. Also because, though being fast and great to drive, it is still as comfy as Queen Elizabeth’s bed and is one of few coupes that can sit 5 people easily.

4)   Jaguar XK:

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It is the best looking car of today. Forget about the useless rear seats, this car is for gentlemen. Because it saved Jaguar in 2000s, when Ford made such a hustle of it (but it was nothing compared to the disaster that GM created out of SAAB) and because it is a car that truly can be treated like a woman. It’s hips over the rear wheels, the long hood, cat-eyes and the window frame (somehow classic). And because it’s a Jaaaaag.

5)   Lamborghini Miura:

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The genesis of supercars and a Mona Lisa of automotive culture. Read more about it in my “About Veyron drivers and Bertone” article.

6)   Rover Mini Cooper:

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The pre-2001 Minis were Minis. It’s hard to call the post-2001 ones Minis as it’s hard to see in what way are they small. But the original Mini, I’ve driven it, it is brilliant, corners like nothing else out there, is super cute and it is the only car that I’ve seen who’s drivers are waving at each other as they pass. Gives you a feeling that you’re part of another big family, doesn’t it?