THIS ISN’T THE FIRST SEPTEMBER LE MANS
The 24 Hours of Le Mans traditionally takes place in the middle of June, but this year’s pandemicdelayed race isn’t the first time it has been held later. In 1968, a period of civil unrest in France pushed the race back to 28/29 September.
That date switch meant around 11 hours of the race were run in darkness – about three hours more than usual. But the bigger change for the competitors was the addition of the Ford Chicane to slow the cars approaching the pits. The entry was dramatically different, too: a year after a record-breaking Ford versus Ferrari scrap so good that Hollywood made a film out of it, the entry list was largely comprised of privateer teams. Ferrari boycotted after a rules squabble with organisers, while Ford withdrew its factory team. But a clutch of privateer Ford GT40S still competed and proved both fast and reliable.
A quartet of Porsche 907s led the way early on, but they hit mechanical trouble, so the JW Automotive Engineering GT40 of Pedro Rodríguez and Lucien Bianchi took the lead heading into the night and eventually went on to take a comfortable win.
The French method
While agreeing (more or less) with the thrust of Ian Atkinson’s letter (12 August), I smiled at the irony of his and everyone else’s pothole complaints and our collective short memory. Once upon a time, it was we who mocked the French for their shockingly bad roads. When I was a child (1940s and 1950s), we had a few motoring holidays in France, and my father explained why French cars had such comfortable and compliant suspension. Roads in town were left deliberately unrepaired to slow the traffic (cheaper than speed humps, on which we have to spend money making instead of letting frost and neglect do it for nothing), which the motor manufacturers countered in their suspension design.
Roderick W Ramage
It doesn’t ad up
I’m sad to hear that Volkswagen no longer sells the Passat Alltrack in the UK, as I bought one last October and on the whole am very pleased with it.
It’s not the obvious choice in the way that an Audi, BMW or Mercedes is, which was part of its appeal, but it met my needs for the security of four-wheel drive; an elevated driving position without being an SUV; great comfort and space with a large boot; and being well built. The downsides? It’s too pricey for a VW, at £40k (it should have been pitched at around £35k), and the only engine choice is a diesel. VW also didn’t market this car, so nobody really knew about it.
I drove it to Brussels recently on its first long motorway trip and this is where it works so well, being comfortable and refined. I fear the new Arteon Shooting Brake will go the same way unless VW puts some effort into advertising it.
Interesting piece from your archives on the Nova (‘The first practical hybrid’, 12 August). In the mid-tolate 1980s, a couple of examples of
Letter of the week wins this Valetpro exterior protection and maintenance kit worth £48
What happened to Parcour?
Your article on exciting concept cars that frustratingly didn’t make it to production (‘They were the future once’, 5 August) threw up some interesting examples, and there are plenty more. One I’d like to have seen was the Italdesign Giugiaro 4x4 Parcour, a coupé-suv (unlike some that claim to be) revealed at the 2013 Geneva motor show.
At the time, Lamborghini was toying with the idea of joining the SUV market. No doubt the business case concluded that the design that became the Urus was the way to go. The best Lamborghinis, however, have always been a bit outrageously different, from the Miura through to today’s Aventador, not me-too efforts following the market trend. Within the vast resources of the Volkswagen Group, of which both Italdesign Giugiaro and Lamborghini are part, there should be the possibility to do something left-field, and the Italian supercar maker is the ideal vehicle for that. An opportunity missed.
Drawing fire away
What was Harley Earl thinking when he came up with the Firebird XP-21 concept, you ask? He was thinking: “Jets are all the rage; I want some of that for General Motors.” He put designer-engineer Robert Mclean in charge of making it happen, including his patent on the air brakes at the ends of the ‘wings’. Mclean would go on to head design on the Firebirds II and III. Robert Schilling designed the suspension, including De Dion linkages at the rear with a brilliant mechanism to reduce roll stiffness to ensure stability. With Tony Ingolia, Mclean designed a rugged safety cell that saved the life of a high-placed GM executive. The designated driver and tester was Mauri Rose, a GM engineer and triple Indianapolis 500 winner. The turbine engine? GM Research said it wasn’t interested, so Earl told them that was okay, he would get one from Boeing. Sudden change of mind! Bill Turunen and his GM team designed the Firebird’s turbine and several more generations for cars and trucks.
WHY WE’RE RUNNING IT
To see how much it matters in daily use that this smaller BMW has ditched rear drive for front-biased four-wheel drive
’m not going to lie about this. In this first of six months’ episodes about running our new M235i, I’m supposed to come over all concerned that the smaller breeds of BMW are now not the purist reardriven cars they were but commonor-garden transverse front-drivers with a bonus capability (in the more powerful editions) to shunt 50% of the torque to the rear in case the going gets really tough.
The BMW enthusiast circle has been pretty concerned about this. Powerful rear-drive cars, especially with limited-slip diffs and their traction control disabled, are supposedly easier to slide neatly and
Isatisfyingly than other cars. The perception is that BMW has done a bad thing by removing this from the owner’s remit. But I’m from a school that, while it likes pressing on a bit at times, also believes that on the public road cars should be driven neatly and in line. It keeps you out of the ditch. And the makers of electronic traction control and chassis balance systems tend to agree.
So, rather than being greatly bothered by which wheels are driven, the truth is I’m just glad to be back in a powerful and compact car with 300bhp-plus on tap, the potential for sub-5sec 0-60mph sprints and the kind of willingness that BMW builds into its cars almost by instinct.
Going in (and, as this is written, I’ve driven only a few hundred miles), I trust BMW to make this a rewarding car. And I see in the Gran Coupé a distinct bonus: it’s great to have a machine with reasonable rear room yet the sporting, bum-on-floor, sight-down-the-bonnet driving position I’ve always preferred. I don’t even mind the low-roof, pillarless four-door styling to which some have already objected. It grows on you, especially when coloured in BMW’S lovely Misano Blue.
So far, the car feels a lot like any BMW from the sporting end of the spectrum: plenty of power, a sporty-sounding (and responding) engine, distinctly sporting suspension rates, excellent roadholding and chassis balance in corners and a firm-to-heft thickrimmed steering wheel quite similar to the last BMW I tried, an 8 Series that was quicker still and much further up the Munich pecking order. Our car – equipped with £5000 worth of good stuff such as LED matrix headlights, some terrific 19in alloys, a head-up display and active cruise control – seems quite reasonably priced, at £42,280 all in. I can’t help thinking that if there
As much as the idea of a four-wheel-drive BMW performance model that’s based on a natively front-driven architecture might irk purists, the M235i is an impressively competent machine. I had one parked outside my flat over lockdown and felt a bit dejected about the fact that I couldn’t really use it. I’m slightly envious that Steve will get more wheel time than I managed.
were a Vauxhall with this balance of capabilities, it’d cost as much. A top-value BMW? I’d say this is one.
I’m also full of admiration for the powertrain. The four-pot engine is configurable in two ways: you can select Sport via a console switch, changing the note and speed of response, firming the steering and instructing the gearbox to hold ratios longer; or if quick action is needed without warning, you simply snick the transmission selector lever sideways for prompt action.
I’m already choosing to drive mostly in Sport, because I prefer those regimes, but I especially love that lever-sideways thing: do it while drifting along at 45mph behind a truck and it immediately selects third gear, depositing you right at the top of the torque curve and putting all of the car’s impressive acceleration at your instant disposal. All of this while accompanying it with a fine song from the engine. This may not be a straight six, but it’s a great powertrain – especially since when you choose just to drift along, it pulls and changes almost imperceptibly.
I’m not so happy with the chassis, though. I’ve already talked about the balance and grip and both suit me fine, although I’ll be interested to see how things go on wet roundabouts
next time it rains. But I’ve got a beef with the ride quality.
This car has first-rate body control, as our cornering shots show. It stays flat and corners neutrally. But the ride is pretty aggressive and there’s no ride control (that facility isn’t part of the driving modes) to calm things on bumpy roads or when you’re not in the mood. It’ll crash heavily into bumps and has such low-profile tyres that you find yourself driving around the worst of them, which never makes for happy progress on the UK’S plethora of bad roads. Brilliant on smooth surfaces, mind.
My other early beef is with seat comfort. Although the handbook shows a lumbar support adjustment on some 2 Series buckets, ours don’t have that – even though they do have a far less important side-bolster adjustment. For the first time in my life, I’m reduced to carrying a small cushion for the lower back, a move until now I’ve always looked down on in others. Not very good, BMW. My previous Vauxhall was much better.
Still, in most respects, I’m really enjoying the Beemer – even the fuel consumption, which, courtesy of an extended 50mph section on the M4 motorway I’ve had to use repeatedly, is running close to 44mpg. That disguises the effects of the small fuel tank, whose real range would fall well below 300 miles if you used the car with all the elan designed into it. Still, nearly all great so far. As long as I don’t make the mistake of leaving my little red seat cushion at home…
BMW M235i GRAN COUPE email@example.com
XC40’S cabin is a hugely comfortable place to spend time in, aided by a smooth, quiet ride.
WAKING THE FOUR-POT
Petrol engine is relatively unobtrusive but still feels gruff when it kicks in after the quiet of electric running.
Nova was a long-lived, popular kit car
Move gearlever sideways to go faster
Body control is excellent but it could ride more pliantly Cropley is a fan of the driving position but not the lumbar support