Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Spoiled kids, alcohol, and a 500HP BMW M5 don't mix.

Lots of people have been following this story involving 5 Ocala, FL teens who were killed when they were travelling in a 2008 BMW M5 being raced down an active private airstrip in the middle of the night. The driver apparently misjudged the runway length and the car hit an embankment at the end of the runway, launching the car into the air and into a tree where it broke into multiple pieces, killing all on board. The Florida Highway Patrol initially suggested that alcohol may have played a part in the accident based on some information from friends of the kids in the car.

I've read additional follow ups to the story which seem to indicate that the 2008 M5 belonged to the 19 year old driver even though it was registered to his father. The driver, just days prior to the accident had joined an M5 forum asking how to make the car faster and inquiring about a clunk that the car made while shifting at wide open throttle in excess of 140mph. The people on the forum expressed disbelief at the fact that this 19 yr old owned the car and cautioned him regarding his inexperience in driving in general, let alone in a 500HP super sedan.

Various different forums I check in on are discussing this in length and the majority of the sentiment is that of no sympathy toward the kids in the car or their families. I have to agree. I find it hard to understand parents just throwing a kid the keys to a new M5. How can you expect a 19yr old to respect or control a car like that. At 19 most people have a total of what, a couple of years of driving experience. I've been driving for about 20 years and I'd be scared shitless to explore the limits of an M5 and I'd certainly be smart enough not to try it anywhere but on a track. I also wouldn't attempt it after drinking. Unfortunately these are decisions based on experience and maturity, things this kid did not have. At least he was smart enough not to try it on public roads.

This accident is as much the fault of the parents of the driver as it is the driver's himself. Not only did they give him this car capable of almost 200 mph and let him loose on the streets to potentially kill innocent people but they did it after this kid had racked up more than a few moving violations in his very short driving career. As a matter of fact, I think every kid in the car had more than one violation on their record. Sure, the passengers aren't responsible for the accident and I don't know the circumstances surrounding what happened in the car. For all I know they were begging him to slow down. Having been a teenager once, I think it was more likely that they were egging him on. They should have been smart enough to not get in the car if the driver had been drinking.

I'm not a huge fan of spoiled kids, having grown up in an area full of them. Parents that overly indulge their kids as a substitute for good parenting disgust me as well. Have you ever seen the show "My Super Sweet Sixteen" on MTV? I've seen it once and I was about to put my foot through the TV. It's amazing seeing parents surprise their spoiled brats with $50,000 + cars and then the kid throwing tantrums because it wasn't the color or the car they wanted.

Even if I was ridiculously wealthy and could afford to get my son an $80,000 car, I wouldn't. Not until he had some more driving experience and not until he proved he could be responsible enough to take care of it and drive it properly. He would have to show me that he can save money toward a first car and I would make sure it was a car he could handle. If I ever did get him a car with reasonable performance, I'd take an active role in teaching him how to properly drive it. I'd send him to a performance driving school, hell, I'd go myself. We all could use some additional driver training. Then I'd point him toward a safe way to experience the performance and limits of the car. Something like autocross or track days.

Yes, this kid probably would have done something stupid and dangerous even if he was driving a 100HP Honda Civic. Still, an M5 can hit triple digit speeds in the time it takes a Civic to hit 50mph which makes any stunt that more dangerous and deadly if you don't respect or control that power.

Finally, I would not be the least bit surprised if someone related to this finds some way to try to sue BMW or even the airstrip. Why not, no one in this country is responsible for their own actions anymore.

Friday, January 25, 2008

"Official" and "unofficial" Dodge Challenger shots on the web

Since everyone and their mother in the auto journalism sphere have been leaking photos and breaking Chrysler's embargo on info related to the Dodge Challenger, Autoweek has joined in and released "official" photos of the Challenger SRT8's exterior on their web site.

The car looks pretty much the same as the latest round of un-disguised recent spy shots showed.

Some additional "unofficial" spy shots of the possible production interior have also surfaced which show a lot of sharing of components with other Chrysler products. The new take on the "pistol grip" shifter is kinda cool though.

Friday, January 18, 2008

January 2008 Dream Car of the Month - McLaren F1

In 1988, Gordon Murray, a successful Formula 1 racecar designer, came up with the design for a lightweight, high powered, 3 seat supercar while waiting for a flight after the Italian Grand Prix. He drew a sketch and presented his idea to Ron Dennis, CEO of the McLaren Group. Based on this idea the subsidiary McLaren Cars (now McLaren Automotive) was formed to build road cars based on the technology and experience of the McLaren Group's Formula 1 efforts. In total, just 100 cars would be built which included 28 race versions. The McLaren F1 held the title of the fastest (top speed) production car ever built for over 10 years and turned out to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, supercar ever produced.

Early development consisted of a pair of "mules" built from Ultima kit cars used to test components such as the gearbox and engine as well as cooling and exhaust. These "mules" were destroyed to avoid any info being leaked to the press and to avoid the production cars being associated with the kit car industry. Murray was insistent that the engine for the car be naturally aspirated and initially approached Honda to supply an engine capable of 550HP based on their F1 powerplants. Honda at the time was the dominant force in F1 and they had a well known reputation for making reliable engines. Honda, however, refused and BMW eventually agreed to supply a 6.1L V12 built by the BMW M motorsport division. The engine produced 627HP and 480TQ with a redline of 7500rpm. The car used a transverse 6 speed manual transaxle and limited slip differential. Murray had apparently wanted to use carbon ceramic brakes on the car but that was an unproven technology at the time. They settled for non power assisted 13.1 inch front and 12.0 inch rear discs with 4 piston calipers.

The car's body and chassis were made of exotic materials like carbon fiber, titanium, magnesium, and even gold. The gold was used in the engine bay as insulation from the heat of the huge V12. The car was also one of the first production cars to feature a full carbon fiber monocoque chassis. The McLaren made use of active aerodynamics which included a automatically adjustable power rear spoiler along with an underbody tray to maximize downforce. Driver controlled electric fans were also employed to decrease pressure under the car in order to further increase downforce. Inside, the McLaren F1 had an unusual seating arrangement. There was room for the driver and two passengers. The driver sat in the center of the car and to the left and right, offset toward the rear of the car, are the passenger seats.

On May 28, 1991 the car was debuted at a launch party in Monaco. Five prototypes of the road car were built for testing prior to the car being offered for sale. The first car crashed and rolled over during testing but the test driver was able to walk away thanks to the strength of the car's construction. The second prototype was also destroyed during crash testing. The remaining prototypes were used for publicity and testing by journalists. The first cars sold to the public arrived in 1994 and production continued through 1998. The purchase price exceeded $1 million.

The production McLaren F1's performance was simply out of this world. The car could rocket to 60mph in 3.2 seconds, 100mph in just 6.3 and 200mph in 28 seconds. Stock, the car has an unbelievable top speed of 231mph. On March 31, 1998 the final prototype (now over 5 years old), chassis number XP5, set off on the Volkswagen test track in Wolfsburg, Germany with it's rev limiter bumped up. The result was a production car world record top speed of 243.08mph. That record stood until the Bugatti Veyron blasted to a 253mph record on the same track in 2005.

This performance is attributed not only to the massively powerful V12 engine but also to Gordon Murray's dedication to making the car as light as possible. His goal was a weight of 1000kg and the production car actually came in at a weight of around 1140kg (2513lbs). This slight increase in weight was more than offset by the powerful BMW V12 which produced 627HP, a bit more than the 550HP Murray had requested.

1995 McLaren F1 LM

There were a few different variations of the F1 throughout it's production run. McLaren produced 65 examples of the road car including one that sat in the McLaren London showroom for almost 10 years until it was sold in 2004 as a new car. There were five F1 LM models sold to commemorate the F1 GTR race car's win in the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans. These cars featured further weight reduction, different aerodynamics which included a large fixed rear wing, a different transaxle, and 18 inch magnesium wheels. The cars also used the same engine as the race car but with more horsepower, 680HP, due to the deletion of the race required restrictors. All of the F1 LMs were painted Papaya Orange in tribute to Bruce McLaren. Two F1 GTs were built to satisfy homologation rules for the FIA GT Championship. These cars featured extensively reworked bodies which included a extended rear tail and wider fenders. The remaining 28 cars produced were all F1 GTR race cars.

McLaren F1 GT

The McLaren F1 is one of those rare cars that became a legend the instant it was produced. It was simple yet at the same time a technological marvel. Time was not needed to make it desirable and hindsight was not necessary to see it's impact on the automotive world. It's effects were instantaneous and it's place in automotive history secured.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Oh The Horror! - Shipment of BMWs damaged on cargo ship.

I was just reading a story on autoblog about a ship carrying BMWs that apparently tipped over at port in New Jersey causing damage to over 370 new BMWs. Most disturbing is that among them is a shipment of BMW's new V8 powered M3. Very sad day indeed.

The story states that about 70 of the cars were reported as total losses and the most badly damaged will be crushed. The remaining cars with minor damage from the incident will be repaired.

That really sucks if you are one of the people who have been waiting eagerly for your new M3 to arrive. Unfortunately, many will have to wait a bit longer.

Monday, January 14, 2008

2008 NAIAS in full swing in Detroit

The North American International Auto Show is under way and there has been no shortage of interesting debuts and concepts already. I'll try to highlight some of the more interesting ones along with my personal favorites.

Cadillac CTS Coupe Concept

This is just downright sexy. No word on powertrain options if, or more likely when, they build it. We can only hope there will be a CTS-V Coupe. That would be awesome.

Lexus LF-A Roadster Concept

The coupe concept debuted at the Detroit show in 2005 and they decided to roll out a vert variation this year. Assumed to be powered by the same 500+HP V10 as the coupe this concept is formed from carbon fiber and aluminum to keep weight down and maintain rigidity. This should be a good sign that the coupe is nearing production even though there is a new story every month or so that the production if off again - on again.

Dodge ZEO Concept

This is a pretty cool looking concept. Powered by a 64kWh, 268HP electric motor sending power to the rear wheels it is said to have a range of 250 miles before recharging. Production is doubtful.

Mazda Furai Concept

This is absolutely my early favorite concept so far. Its just wonderful looking. Sporting a 450HP 3-rotor 20B and a Courage racing chassis, it's more like a LeMans racer than a street car.

Audi R8 V12 TDI

Audi unveiled the new R8 concept powered by the V12 TDI engine from the Q7 that puts out 500HP and a huge 738TQ. That grunt is enough to push the R8 from 0-60 in about 4.2 seconds and to a top speed of 186mph. All the while getting about 23MPG. The concept has some reworked body parts including splitters, vents and a larger side "blade", as Audi calls it.

Hummer HX Concept

Consider this Hummers version of a Jeep Wrangler. It's a two door convertible powered by a Direct Injected Flex Fuel V6 powering all the wheels via a 6 speed auto. Not only can the roof panels be removed but so can the doors and fenders for off-roading fun. I think they should build it.

2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart

Ralliart is Mitsu's in house tuner like Nissan's NISMO, Subaru's STI and BMW's M. The new Lancer Ralliart is an EVO "lite". It's slotted to compete with the Subaru WRX where Mitsubishi previously didn't have anything comparable. The Ralliart will feature a slightly detuned version of the EVO's new 4B11T engine with 235HP coupled to a full time AWD via the twin clutch sequential manual from the upcoming EVO X MR. The car doesn't look much different from the EVO and should be a performance bargain if they keep the pricing around what the WRX goes for, which is about $25,000.

2009 Corvette ZR-1

I think I've already done enough drooling over this. GM went all out for the intro having Kid Rock singing and Jeff Gordon driving the car on stage. As the GM execs stood in front of the car the platform the car was on elevated 15 feet into the air. Now that's an intro!

2009 Cadillac CTS-V

I've already gone on about this sweet car as well. Found some photos from the reveal in Detroit.

2009 Audi TT-S

I was never a really big fan of the original TT but I do like this one a lot. Now it has gotten the "S" treatment with the unveiling of the TT-S which features a 265HP/258TQ direct injection 2.0l turbo 4 cylinder. It will be available with 18 or 19 inch wheels and either a 6 speed manual or DSG.

That's about it for now.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

2009 Cadillac CTS-V Revealed

GM will officially unveil the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V at the upcoming 2008 Detroit Auto Show. Apparently they gave the OK to the press to reveal the car ahead of time as the internet is now awash with official specs and photos. The second generation CTS has been out for a while but we have had to wait and sift through speculative articles and camouflaged spy photos until now.

As was the case with the original CTS-V, which I have driven and it was great, the new one will have an engine derived from the Corvette. This time around, it will be a version of the 6.2L supercharged V8 just introduced in the Corvette ZR-1. Some reports are calling the engine the LSA. The engine will produce 550HP and 550TQ and be mated to either a 6 speed manual or a 6 speed auto with paddle shift. This will be the first auto available on a CTS-V. The chassis will also undoubtedly receive the full Nurburgring treatment as well. Curb weight should be around 4000lbs. No lightweight for sure but that motor should be enough to get it moving pretty quickly. Look out M5!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

GM Unwraps The 2009 Camaro

Word has come down from the man, Bob Lutz, to remove all camo from the pre-production Camaro test cars from here on out. Lutz indicated that this was to get better aerodynamic and cooling test data. GM then proceeded to release an official photo of the undisguised car. Most people who are interested in the car already know what it is going to look like from previous spy shots so, it's not really that big of a deal. Here is the official photo.