Autocar - - MOTORSPORT - Abra­ham Ge­orge

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

Cop­pen­hall, Stafford­shire

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.

Via email

Nova nos­tal­gia

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.

Chert­sey, Sur­rey

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.

Hawke­don, Suf­folk


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 steve.cro­p­ley@hay­mar­

XC40’S cabin is a hugely com­fort­able place to spend time in, aided by a smooth, quiet ride.


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

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