Monthly Archives: September 2009

The whole truth


Japanese cars. I love em. I have a soft spot in my heart that you could drive a Skyline through.

Here is the thing tho, they have no soul whatsoever.

Hell they are good! Fast, safe and very exciting to drive (well, some are) a few are even stylish too, but you really cannot get passionate about them. They are a bit like the fridge when you go on holiday, Michael Macintire said that the fridge is the one appliance you put total trust in, and he is right. You go around just before you are due to go to the airport and make sure everything is unplugged, just in case the tv, hifi and Playstation go into electrical meltdown while you are away and conspire to burn your house to the ground. But the fridge? No, we are safe in the knowledge that it will sit there quietly keeping the cheese cold, humming to itself while you are gone, just like any Japanese car, total reliability.

So heres the thing, I have had a sort of ultimatum thrust upon me and I need some help. The wife (long suffering) Is off to do some studies to be come a Midwife (Lord knows why, child birth and the movie ‘Alien’ are much the same to me, although Alien has less yelling…) So she has to quit working at the hospital in the next year and become a student once more, and that means student pay, and that means cold baked beans until she qualifies, so no more splurging unless I get that motoring column (Editors take note! Employ me!).

Now I have been told by beloved that as she is getting what she wants out of life its only fair that I get something too (she is a wife and a half eh!?) So I have the choice of getting a new car, nothing stupidly expensive (if I want it quickly) but then again not a knackered 15 year old wreck. This is wonderful news but puts me in a weird position, do I go for a Civic type R? Very expensive, and at the top, if not over the budget, but fridge like reliability? Civic R is a nice car, fast, sporty and has that wonderful k20 engine. Add to that its a hoot to drive and will never break down and you think we have a winner! But its as a soulless as a hoover, and the price I’m looking at they will have had 10 owners that have wanted to hear Vtec over and over again at 8000 rpm (Vtec is HIGHLY addictive, a dear friend of mine had the addiction so bad he had to ‘see’ if he could ‘hit Vtec’ whilst being loaded onto the Eurostar…) So that wonderful engine will be more than a little battered. There is however another choice, a choice that given I had loads of cash I wouldnt even think about.

I’m talking about an Alfa Romeo.

Regular readers will know of my kink for Alfa Romeo, its like a dirty little secret that everyone who has a whiff of  petrol in their blood has, but wont act upon because like me, they are absolutely bloody terrified of owning one. Alfa owners are so brave, so square jawed and manly (even the girls) That they make the SAS look like the Tufty Club. And I’m not talking about all the namby pamby slack wristed company car drivers out there who have fleet cars, you guys are just big pansies, as soon as the Alfa throws a fit you are on the phone to your fleet manager, telling him how he should have given you that v6 Mondeo so you could have been at the meeting on time and sold more copier toner, but secretly you want the damn Alfa fixed because you have a nice cozy date with that little blonde from data processing…
Owning an Alfa must be like being married to the most beautiful woman in the world, expensive to run, and everyone wants a go!  You have no idea when she (The car!) is going to throw a major Italian wobbly and you have to go on bended knee to the bank or put more hours in at that terrible day job just to keep her on the road. But owning one, opening the bonnet and seeing that Alfa badge stamped on everything, even if it doesnt move makes it all worth it.

But is it true?

If Alfas were really that bad then why would people buy them? Why would fleet managers choose them over BMW or Audi? I think that its down to care and attention, and the good folk over at the Alfa Drivers Club seem to agree. For some reason you can screw the bonnet shut on a Honda and it will run for years, but an Alfa needs a little care, regular service and maybe (gulp) weekly checks of oil and water. But Im not even sure that the Honda thing is accurate either, I know of Hondas that have sat and refused to move for weeks because of some undiagnosed reason. Even my own Civic had a weird problem that no matter what, I couldn’t figure out. It took a load of money and time and irritatingly it turned out to be something cheap and simple. I think the same will be with the Alfa. It doesnt have an engine made from glass, it just needs looking after, just like we used to years ago before cars became throwaway items like biros. Alfa Romeo can trace its history back almost to the dawn of the 20th century, it was one of the first marques and one of the best racers ever, so a little good ol’ fashioned TLC isnt too much to ask.

I have driven a few Alfas, and have to report they are really very nice indeed, but is it enough? Is buying a slice of automotive history enough? Is having that ‘I drive an Alfa’ feeling when everyone else is in Escorts enough? My brain tells me there is no smoke without fire, and it will explode one day, but my heart tells me to shut the hell up and buy an Alfa.

There is a third choice, the Ford Puma looks nice…



Filed under Motoring

The Air Facts


Years ago, accessories for cars were limited to what you could bolt or stick on.

Some of the more memorable and comical ones have disappeared, who can forget that rubber stick that used to hang down from the back of every Ford Cortina to stop static electrical shocks everytime you touched anything vaguely metallic. Removing the vinyl seats and nylon trousers would have been more effective, my Dad tells me that it also cured travel sickness too, but I think that was a ruse to stop me throwing up all over his Beige Estate. What about those blue or green plastic stick on sunstrips, remember them? There was never a more informed time on who was driving the car (Gaz) and who his current girl was (Shaz, Mand, Tray, Sheil etc…)

Car accessories are huge business and always will be, as innovative marketing men come up with new and better ways to part us from our hard earned cash, and we will be more than happy to part with it too as some of the population have more love for their cars than they do people (I have to admit I am teetering on that group ) If its yours and you have had to pay for it, your car becomes very personal to you and you want to do the best for it, and make it your own. Some go to extremes and add comedy bodykits, spoilers and huge stereo’s to their poor car in the view to becoming unique and a one off, but they end up looking like everyone else. The middle lot will do it subtlety, maybe just a set of alloys and a de badge but there once again it fades to obscurity. But at least they have tried, the very worst lot is the people who see their cars as tools and don’t care a jot what colour it is. So with all the glue on, bolt on, tie on and weld on items in your local shop how on earth can they possibly get more cash out of your pocket?

The answer is simple. Years ago, F1, rally, touring cars and the like were in some ways showcases for ordinary cars. If you went and watched touring cars back in the 60’s and 70’s you could see cars rubbing the paint of eachother as they hurled round Paddock Bend, the same cars that you could walk in to any showroom and buy. Rally was better, you could grab yourself a nice RS Escort that you had just watched pelting round a forest in Wales and drive it round your housing estate in Doncaster. It would have a more powerful engine and suspension lifted from the rally car. F1 was said to develop technologies that would be bred in to the car you bought at the showroom. But we are all grown up now and don’t belive a word of it, and besides the cars on the Touring car and Rally circuits are light years from what we can get our hands on these days. But F1 can still sell us stuff.

The Nissan GTR R35 is an amazing thing. Hand built and matched engines and gearboxes, sloshing over in computers, four wheel this and active steer that, oh and its got Nitrogen in its tyres, just like a race car! (or a jumbo jet) Now there is probably a very good reason to put Nitrogen in the tyres of a race car, holding pressure under extreme variations of heat is one, being inert and therefore not a fire risk is another. If you buy a GTR and use it to go to the shops everyday, which is totally your choice and the car will happily do it, it’s a Nissan after all. The risk of a tyre fire or low pressures causing you to spin off at that nasty corner in Sainsbury’s car park is quite small. But the GTR was born to be used on the track, it’s well known that the GPS inside it disables the electronic nanny that restricts this that and the other when it detects its on a track, and all hell breaks loose.


However (Yep, here it comes) There are companies out there that will happily fill the tyres of whatever you decide to drive on their ramps with Nitrogen, and be very happy to charge you for it. So there you are, your 1986 Mk2 Fiesta, tyres filled with Nitro, ready to take on the cut and thrust of the M25, safe in the knowledge that the pressures wont change, and they won’t ignite. The clever lot you are will no doubt be shouting at the screen now, and saying ‘Yeah! but the bloody local garage has charged us 20p to use the airline for years, and besides one 20p is never enough because it always cuts out just as you reach the last wheel! so what?’ I can accept a charge of 20 (or 40!) pence to cover the costs of maintaining and running costs of the airline, and even better (so a little O level science and a bit of Googleing tells me) the air thats squeezed into the tyres from the humble bicycle pump, through the Halfords foot pump, up to the lofty heights of the forecourt airline is 70% nitrogen. Indeed, the air you are breathing now is 70% Nitrogen, the stuff in my Civics tyres are 70% Nitrogen and i squirted that in all by myself for nothing.

Now I am not arguing that Nitrogen filled tyres are a bad or good thing, Ill show you some quotes for and against at the end of the blog, but what irritates me is that some tyre companies (I won’t name names, but you know who you are) Will charge  for it and people will pay through the nose for it because of marketing, not because it will make the car run better. Still, it makes for a good debate over a few pints, personally I think that filling your tyres with Helium would be a better idea, it’s inert and would make your wheels lighter than air.

Here’s a quote from the Kwik-fit website

“Filling your tyres with nitrogen may seem odd but that’s exactly what motor sport and aviation professionals have been doing for years. Nitrogen is completely safe. And by using it in a mixture with oxygen to inflate your tyres the theory is that it’s possible to negate the issue of slow deflation, which is caused by oxygen slowly infusing through the tyre wall from the atmosphere.

Having a tyre that does not deflate means you will improve fuel consumption and will probably improve safety standards too. It’s not yet standard practice but Nitrogen could well be here to stay as a result.”

Here is a link to the other side of the argument:

Makes you think eh?

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Filed under Motoring