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Monday, 14 January 2019

Lamborghini Murciélago

Lamborghini Murcielago

The Lamborghini Murciélago was styled by Belgian Luc Donckerwolke. He was head of design at Audi - who had been taken over by Lamborghini, in '98. Traditionally, Italian styling houses had been recruited by Lamborghini. And indeed, Bertone had been briefed to draft the new car. Their mock-up was ready to go into production. But at the last, that project was canned ... and the design reins passed to Donckerwolke.

The Murciélago was launched with no lack of fanfare. Mount Etna provided a fittingly explosive backdrop for the new supercar. The accompanying son et lumière show was suitably spectacular. Including, as it did, a volcanic eruption!

Donckerwolke decked the car out in razor-sharp lines. Bodywork was carbon-fibre and steel. Beneath, the chassis was fashioned from high-tensile tubing. A low drag coefficient was a gimme - given the car's shape. Top speed was 205mph. 0-60 arrived in just 3.85s. Steady torque delivery - and electronic engine management - rendered the car relatively tractable. Suspension and brakes were, of course, state of the art. Lamborghini's decision to give the design gig to Donckerwolke had paid off. The Belgian had delivered in spades. The Murciélago overflowed with Italianate exuberance and panache ... and then some!

Friday, 11 January 2019

Porsche 356

Porsche 356

The Porsche 356 was the beginning of a design dynasty. Ferdinand Porsche had opened his studio in 1931. It was another 15 years, though, before the first production car was sold under the Porsche brand-name. It was no coincidence that the 356 was similar to the VW Beetle. Ferdinand Porsche had, after all, previously penned that utilitarian classic, too - for the German government. The 356's compact, rounded shape endeared it to those with an eye for understated charm. Indeed, it was the small - but perfectly-formed - 356 which cemented Porsche's reputation, in the '50s. Right up to '65, in fact - when the Porsche 911 series took over centre stage.

For the first four years, the 956 was manufactured in Austria. It was fitted with a flat-four push-rod engine. Rear-mounted - and topped off with a cute grille - the air-cooled motor kept time in pleasingly pulsing fashion. With a capacity of just 1,100cc, it made a mere 40bhp. Top speed was 87mph. Suspension was via trailing-link up front - and high-pivot swing axle at the rear. There was a 4-speed gearbox. Certainly, the 356's split windscreen was a sweet design flourish.

The Porsche 356A model - released in Germany, in '55 - was less rotund than the original. It came with a curved, one-piece screen. Front suspension, and steering had been revised. A bigger 1,600cc engine had been installed. B and C versions continued to uprate the 356 technical spec. There would be Roadsters, a Karmann coupé, and the Super 75 and Super 90. As well as 356 Carreras. After the 911 had taken over the Porsche reins, the 912 still had a foot in both camps. It was powered by a 356 engine - beneath a 911 body shell. In Porsche legacy terms, then, the 356 could not have been more pivotal!

Thursday, 10 January 2019

VW Beetle

VW Beetle

21,000,000 VW Beetles were built. That makes it the most popular car ever to turn a wheel! To this day, the 'V-Dub' commands cult status. Providing plenty of scope for engine-tweaking and customisation, the Beetle is a treasure-trove of creative possibilities. But if all you required from a car was reliability, the Beetle was still the car for you. The designer of this paragon of automotive virtue was Dr Ferdinand Porsche. It was born out of Hitler's call for a motor-car for the masses. Not many Beetles were built before the war ... but after it, the floodgates opened. To begin with, things Beetle were pretty basic. It came with a non-synchromesh gearbox, cable brakes - and little by way of ornamentation. But with hostilities over, the US started to catch the V-Dub bug. It made the perfect second car - dependable, practical and economical. In short order, thoughts were turning to its 'development' opportunities. Heck, the Beetle's formidable traction even made it a great beach buggy!

But not even its most ardent fan would claim the Beetle as a performance car. With capacity peaking at 1,584cc - and power at 50bhp - the Beetle was never going to break land speed records! It maxed out at 84mph. The air-cooled motor, though, kept a rock-steady beat. And while no oil painting, the Beetle was not without visual allure. Indeed, the Kharmann Ghia version was actually quite pretty. And the split-rear-screen model, of the early '50s, was positively voguish.

Come the Sixties, however, and buyers began demanding a more modern driving experience. VW responded with 1,300- and 1,500cc units - replacing the time-served 1,100. Beetles were now fitted with an all-synchromesh 'box, disc brakes, and semi-automatic transmission. Production was based at the Wolfsburg factory - in Lower Saxony. Not even in his wildest dreams could the Führer have forecast the heights to which his utilitarian little automobile would soar. The second most popular car of all time is Henry Ford's 'Model T'. It clocked up 15,000,000 sales. It was in the early '70s that the VW Beetle outstripped the Ford Model T's tally. Probably because it came in colours other than black!

Monday, 31 December 2018

Caterham 7

Caterham 7

Above all, the Caterham 7 was fun to drive! The car was Colin Chapman's baby. It began life as the Lotus 7. Chapman - boss of the legendary British marque - claimed to have built the prototype in a weekend. That was in '57. Lotus went on to manufacture the '7' for the next 15 years. It was sold by Caterham Cars - under the stewardship of Graham Nearns. In '73, Lotus stopped producing the Seven - the rights for it passing to Caterham Cars. Encountering problems with the plastic-bodied Series 4 model, Nearns and his team reverted to the aluminium-bodied Series 3 Seven.

Caterham were committed to the 'pure driving experience'. Key to that was light weight ... always a priority for Chapman, too. The 7's nose cone and wings, then, were glass-fibre. And the rest of the bodywork aluminium. There was a tubular steel chassis. The original rear axles were sourced from Ford and Morris. Later, Caterham came up with their own De Dion-based set-up. To begin with, Caterham stuck to the Lotus 'Twin Cam' engine. The 126bhp motor was spot-on ... until stocks ran out. Ford rolled to the rescue. Tuning options came in the shape of GT, Sprint, and Supersprint. Still more power was provided by the Cosworth BDA engine. And even more by a Vauxhall 2.0-litre unit. It made 175bhp. From '91 onward, Caterhams came with Rover 'K-Series' engines ... in 1.4, 1.4 Supersport, 1.6, and 1.6 Supersport varieties!

Top-of-the-range Seven was the JPE - Jonathan Palmer Evolution - model. Named after the F1 driver who helped develop it, the JPE car encapsulated the Caterham creed. Technically a roadster, its race-spec 250bhp engine catapulted it to 150mph. It hit 60 in less than 3.5s. Indeed, the JPE 7 out-dragged a Ferrari F40 up to 100mph. At the time, that made it the fastest-accelerating car in the world. With no windscreen - and carbon-fibre wings - the JPE 7 had 'race-track' written all over it! All in all, then - as Caterham had intended it would be - the Seven was a one-stop shop for automotive exhilaration!

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Audi Quattro

Audi Quattro

The Audi Quattro revolutionised motoring. On its launch - in 1980 - it was the safest car on the planet. Its state-of-the-art 4-wheel drive set-up had taken grip to a new level. Top speed was 142mph. 0-60 took just 6.3s. That came courtesy of a turbocharged, 2.1-litre 5-cylinder engine. Top-spec output was 220bhp.

Certainly, the Audi rally team had taken 4-wheel drive to its heart! As with the roadster, the Quattro rally car significantly upped traction in the rough stuff. Somewhere between the road and rally cars was the Quattro Sport - a 2-seater 'homologation special'. It was fitted with a 300bhp motor. Just enough production cars were built to qualify it to go rallying. Its shorter wheelbase meant it handled even better than the standard version. Though it was three times the price of the base model, a top speed of 155mph made it more than tempting!

When Audi announced they were pulling the plug on the Quattro, there was uproar. Audi succumbed to public pressure - and production continued until '91. Motorists had fallen in love with four-wheel drive. The Audi Quattro rally car's remarkable tally of wins only intensified that love!

Lamborghini Murciélago

The Lamborghini Murciélago was styled by Belgian Luc Donckerwolke. He was head of design at Audi - who had been taken over by ...