Archive for the ‘General’ Category

 

Ferrari and Ford have both been in the news lately. A record euro amount was paid at auction for a 1957 335 Sport Scaglietti and Ford are back at Le Mans after 50 years with an ambition to win again.

The success of the Ford GT40 from the 60’s is well-documented and today remains one of motor racing’s all-time great successes. Thanks to Signore Enzo Ferrari.

So the story goes, the great man was willing to consider the sale of his company to Henry Ford II back in 1963 but because of a disagreement over how the motor racing division would be run Enzo cancelled the negotiations. HF II had spent a fortune in lawyer’s fees up to that point and was pretty miffed that EF just upped and walked away from the table.

As a result of the falling-out of the two alpha-males the racing division of Ford were tasked with building a Ferrari-beater to give Enzo a good spanking for his tantrum. A partnership with Lola ensued and the creation of Ford Advanced Vehicles Limited in England whose first-born was the fabled GT40. The rest is history as they say and now we look forward to the new Ford GT.

At about the same time Mr Ferrari was having another spat with a gentleman called Ferruccio. The chap who was making tractors had a few tips for Enzo to improve the ‘drivability’ of his cars which resulted in him receiving a bloody nose from the man from Maranello. Ferruccio Lamborghini decided to start building his own cars. Oh dear, Enzo did it again but we really should be grateful for the Miura, Countach, Gallardo, Aventador, Sesto Elemento etc etc.

On the face of it, if Enzo Ferrari had been a mild-mannered, passive, congenial individual neither the GT40 or the multiple creations from Lamborghini would have ever existed. Quite fortunate therefore that he wasn’t and not only did he create some of the world’s greatest cars himself but he also had a hand in the creation of some that did not wear a Ferrari badge.

Grazie mille Enzo Ferrari!

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January 2016. A memorable month perhaps for not many good reasons. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Lemmy and even Terry Wogan all gone from our world in a couple of weeks. Gone but of course never forgotten since each has left a legacy that will remain with their respective fans forever, including yours truly.

In the world of cars another British icon said farewell this month too. The Land Rover Defender is no more. Exactly 2,016,933 have been produced since 1948 and the car is probably one of the most recognised vehicles anywhere in the world and quite likely one of the most loved too.

Famous owners have included the Queen (of course), Winston Churchill, Steve McQueen, James Bond, Richard ‘The Hamster’ Hammond and The Car Spy (haha). There are many more ‘famous’ owners, of course, worth mentioning but that’s enough name-dropping for now.

Because you like music does not mean you would be be obliged to appreciate the many albums of David Bowie and because you like cars you might not appreciate a Land Rover (Series I, II, III, 90, 110 , Defender etc) and that is ok.

Notwithstanding individual opinion in cars and musical taste both the names of ‘Bowie’ and ‘Land Rover’ have been engraved into the stone tablet milestones of British history. You just know that in 100 years from now they will be a part of our ‘historical culture’. Just like Shakespeare.

Today this blog article was to be about a highly collectable Italian exotic that is the subject for a photo-shoot next week but instead it has turned out to be a eulogy for the Defender. But ‘eulogy’ means praising somebody or something that has just died so it’s really more of a ‘lifetime achievement award’ speech.

To appreciate a Defender (we’ll just stick to that moniker for simplicity’s sake) you have to consider a car that did not pretend to do anything else that what it was originally designed for. It was meant to be basic but very fit for for purpose.

Stick it on the edge of a muddy field on the side of a steep hill and tell it get to the top of the hill. Whichever variant you picked it would get the job done. No computer-assisted driving aids but pure mechanical engineering genius to carry out the task in hand. That is why farmers the world over relied on them. You could do the same thing thing in a tractor but you couldn’t park it in Waitrose for the weekly shop on the way home. Well you could but you just wouldn’t.

A Defender didn’t need aerodynamics, satnav, electric windows, aircon or airbags. It was the antithesis of today’s ‘modern car’. Our workshop mechanic said you only needed a Philips screwdriver and a pair of pliers in your toolbox to look after one. A slightly optimistic view but nonetheless not that far from the truth.

And therein really lies the problem with the Defender and why it had to be terminated- it does not make any commercial sense for a car manufacturer in 2016.

Cars have to be complex these days. Profits are made not from just building the thing in the first place but from the spare parts and workshop bills accumulated thereafter. We live in a world of consumerism and therefore everything has to be disposable. We have suddenly got used to upgrading to a new iPhone very year even though deep down we know don’t really need too.

But hey ho this is how the world turns now.

However, just like the music of David Bowie the Defender hasn’t died at all. You can buy a 70’s variant and have access to the same after-market support offered to the latest (and last) model. You can do almost anything yourself to keep the car on the road. It is the last of the Meccano-cars and if you have even the basic of interests in car mechanics and engineering then buy yourself a Defender. It is a deeply satisfying experience and it should be a mandatory part of any engineering course at university.

So why all of the fretting of the so-called replacement for the Defender?

One of the reasons that Land Rover have not rushed in with a new ‘evolutionary replacement’ is that they don’t know what to replace the Defender with. They haven’t got a clue. Defender purists want a car they can strip down and rebuild themselves but the market wants designer handbags or at the very least a ‘lifestyle’ accessory. Good luck with that one JLR!

On the other hand if you are not a fashion victim and fancy getting your fingernails dirty over the weekend then you have a big pond to fish in and for some time yet. Over 2 million ‘Land Rovers’ have been made and most are likely to be on the road still so get stuck into the classifieds!

Until the EU bureaucrats and Whitehall mandarins ban these types of cars forever then there is still life in the Defender yet.

Dead maybe but not gone for a while yet. Long live H166 HUE!

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TVR Launch Edition

There are plenty of new releases in the car world this year and we thought it would be a great idea to bring you some highlights and predictions for the coming year…… 

Fresh off the back of our attendance at the 2016 WhatCar? Awards, we are looking forward with anticipation to some hot new models this year that are set to become future collectables and cult classics.

It is well known that 2015 saw a real increase in consumers continuing to invest in ‘modern collectables and classics’ with manufacturers now notably choosing to build special editions and models that are likely to become future classics. (For example BMW M2, Ford Focus RS, et al).

We have found interest in buying these types of models (both new and used) at an all-time high, with many vehicles fetching crazy premiums on the open market over and above the manufacturer’s list prices. The UK market has truly become a hotbed for speculators taking advantage of this situation.

For instance we have seen a huge influx of collectables heading our way from overseas such as the Lamborghini Murciélago SV, Ferrari Scuderia and GTO models, plus Porsche models consisting of the sought-after RS derivatives.

In the meantime new models to look forward to this year include the following….

Audi‘s new A5 and Q5, the Aston Martin DB11, Alfa Romeo’s Giulia, the most hotly anticipated BMW of recent times – the M2 plus a new 5 Series and the M4 GTS. The game-changing Bentley Bentayga and deliveries should also start for the Ferrari 488 Spider. The Ford Focus RS is definitely coming and ‘maybe’ the GT, the all-new Honda NSX, Jaguar‘s first SUV offering – the stunning F-Pace, two stunning Lamborghini Spiders – The Aventador SV Roadster and the beautiful Huracan Spider. High hopes for the new Land Rover Discovery 5 and the Range Rover Evoque ConvertibleMaserati will also join Bentley and Jaguar with a new SUV – the LevanteMcLaren‘s world-beating 570 and 540C start to hit the UK streets and Mercedes-Benz will deliver the new E-Class – a true benchmark saloon and (hopefully) an AMG GT Black SeriesNissan are penciled-in to bring us more NISMO lines and Porsche will be replacing the controversial yet brilliantly engineered Panamera. Renault should be bringing us a new Megane with an ‘R’ version to follow. The highlight of the summer months will arguably be the beautiful Rolls Royce Dawn. Tesla will be looking to head deep into the corporate sector with the new Model S, a smaller 3 Series and C Class competitor and finally, Volkswagen will be launching the potentially bonkers Golf R400!

Phew, quite a list! I’m sure you are as excited about the coming year as we are since there are going to be some cracking new cars to drive.

Next stop the Geneva Show in March when we will be giving further updates to the individual model releases!

For more information on the new releases for this year please call MARK on 0044 (0) 7894 501457 or RICHARD on 0044 (0) 7809 890969. You can also email us at sales@thecarspy.net

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Here in my (electric?) car….

Posted: January 15, 2016 by The Car Spy in Audi, BMW, General, New Cars, Tesla, Volkswagen
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The company hack recently got t-boned by a Defender and whilst the latter shuffled off with a slightly bent front bumper the poor Audi S3 looked like it had been side-swiped by a demolition ball. Even before making the tentative call to the insurance company the phrase ‘write-off’ was the only polite way we could think of describing the state of our car. And so began the search for a replacement.

The prospect of choosing a new car, depending on your budget of course, can be a daunting prospect not least of which there is simply too much to choose from these days.

However, the criteria were simple. The new car had to be everything the S3 was in terms of practicality, sportiness, fun factor and reliability for a company runabout.

Too many cars are good right now at that level and you have to allow for a bit of subjectiveness when it comes to the badge on the bonnet. Well, you don’t really have to but you end up being picky about that sort of thing in the final stages of choosing the car.

Very long story short, the choice was whittled down to one of the following:-

Another S3, the BMW 135i or the Golf R?

Another S3 was quickly discounted because, well, we had owned one already and we might get bored very quickly with a similar replacement.

The 135i was a tempting proposition. Not the best-looking of sporty hatches but extremely practical and a complete hoot to drive. Not a car for the winter though. Where we are based in the bowels of Kent the roads can suffer from black ice and appearances by council gritting lorries are a bit hit and miss so anything with 300-plus bhp on tap at the rear end is a potential drift machine. Having got used to the S3’s quattro system the fun factor could quickly disappear with the 135i. Strike that one out then.

The Golf R at least has four-wheel drive and based on the press reviews of the latest car it has to be one of the favourites. Great handling, terrific build-quality, very useful performance and you can turn it into a small van if you need to. It very much ticks all of the boxes on paper and yet on a visit to the local VW dealership there was one thing that made us think twice. The Golf Gti.

The Gti is essentially the same car but with a little less power and just the front wheels being driven. It is also less adorned with some of the cosmetic frippery of the R which is a good thing and of course it is cheaper to buy. Given the way this car will be used the Gti just makes the most sense and the deals on the table from VW dealers right now suggest that it is the right time to take the plunge for this hot hatch.

But hold on tiger, there was a left-field player waiting to be considered. A visit to the BMW dealership just down the road from VW threw a surprise candidate into the mix. The i3. Yep, an electric car.

Now don’t get us wrong here but we have a growing respect for (certain) battery-powered automobiles. If you have any doubts about the forthcoming world domination of this form of transport then go and test drive a Tesla Model S. Break yourself in gently with the 70D and then work your way up to the P90D. Even the slowest version will reach 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and the fastest will get there in 2.8 seconds. Speed freaks will love the way the car gathers momentum and in the fastest version you will be hunting down 911 Turbo’s and the odd Aventador to embarrass at traffic light drag races. For the moment though, the Model S is outside of our budget and is a bit too executive-saloon for what we need right now.

Enter the i3. To some it is a freakish design but to us it is a spacious funky-looking little machine that has some interesting and endearing features, like the eco-friendly materials used for the interior. Bits of the door card look like compressed paper but so what? We have suffered decades of naff black plastic interiors in our cars so it’s about time for a change. It is cute and very clever too, like a pet dog. Lots of goodies for the iPad generation will make you feel as though the car knows exactly where it is going all of the time and it will give you lots of notice about running out of juice. Range is about 100 miles but the Range Extender version adds another 80-plus to that.

BMW claim the i3 is their fastest accelerating car to 30 mph and in the real world that actually matters since that is about as fast as you can get most of the time on the South East of England’s horribly congested, pot-holed roads.

A decent drive on a dual-carriageway and stop-start town driving allowed us to test the mettle of the car and impressed us it certainly did. BMW had just released some very attractive financial incentives for buying an i3 so suddenly this little car was heading to the top of our list. And apparently we could bring an end to the melting ice-caps to boot!

But we didn’t buy it. In fact we didn’t buy any of the above. We put a deposit on a BMW M2.

Yep, in spite of it hardly ticking any of the boxes and contradicting our thought process completely the M2 was the car that won our hearts and not our minds.

So not electric this time, but pretty soon battery ranges will be 400 miles plus according to Tesla and that will be a game-changer in the car world. According to a recently published government report for ULEV’s (Ultra Low Emission Vehicles – our bureaucrats love an acronym) registrations of electric vehicles doubled last year from 2014.

Our M2 might be the last of our combustion-engined indulgences, forever. Still time to change our minds though.

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RS3 Sportback – DRIVEN

Posted: July 6, 2015 by The Car Spy in General

Snap, Crackle, Pop.

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80’s kids will remember the trio of ‘Rice Krispies’ mascots and their relevant monikers…some 80’s kids (Well not many actually) will also remember the original Audi Quattro that blitzed the international WRC Rally stages and genuinely elevated Audi into the UK and European mainstream of household names…The spiritual ancestor for this car – The road going Audi Quattro ‘Coupe’ was of course recently serialised in the ‘Ashes to Ashes’ BBC 80’s cop drama.

On the way back from collecting a brand new Bentley GT Speed from leafy Surrey, James Scanlon at Tunbridge Wells Audi invited me to drop in and take the new RS for a spin. He said I could drive it as hard and as fast as I wanted and the only rule was if I crashed it – I bought it… (Only kidding James!) But of course, I duly obliged.

This new RS3, powered by a 2.5 litre 380 BHP Turbocharged 5 Cylinder (Half the Lamborghini V10 I’m told by James – he could be right there) sounds absolutely raucous. It almost at times has the same engine note, just a slightly muffled version as the Lambo block – the Gallardo V10 was one of our favourite cars to sell at TCS towers during the mid to late 00’s…

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So what’s so special about this then and why should you buy one?

– It’s not chintzy like a Mercedes A45 AMG so you wont look like P-Diddy on a pay cut. Audi genuinely are the masters at understatement. Nobody – (but you and a few keen-eyed enthusiasts) will have a clue what the car is, and more importantly what it’s capable of). The only clues are – Wheels, Arches, Exhausts and maybe the subtle rear roof spoiler (take note Mercedes).

– It’s (currently) the most powerful hot-hatch on the market. Mercedes are due to increase the power output of the AMG A45 to 381 BHP – from 355 BHP – in a strange game of ‘My D is bigger than yours’ with their Ingolstadt rivals…There is of course the BMW M135i, lots of rear-wheel drive hooning – but I couldn’t live with its sad face or fat bottom. The RS3 hits 62 MPH in 4.2 seconds from a standstill.

– It feels lightweight and nimble, I had thought that the RS3 was lighter than the A45, but it turns out the A45 is actually lighter than the RS3! (Credit to Justin Rick @ Mercedes Tonbridge for pointing this out!). The A45 felt a heavier car, maybe through the more weighted steering feedback…

– It’s practical. Genuinely. Having been a ‘hot hatch’ fan-boy for many years now (After owning and driving all different types of cars) I feel that a fast hatchback is the ideal car for UK roads. UK roads are terrible, the weather is largely mixed and the roads just aren’t big enough to drive everywhere in something like the Bentley I had arrived in. This suits the Audi pocket-rocket and its fantastic Quattro system perfectly.

– It’s limited to 155 MPH. I know that the Germans have been doing this for some time now, but this car really feels like it could easily push through that barrier (174 MPH Unrestricted)…Of course I didn’t try this on public roads!

– It’s reassuringly expensive. Not joking, this demonstrator lists at over £42,000 OTR (WOW.) – Why is it a good thing? Because it’s a genuine performance car. I happened to be standing in a BMW dealership recently, looking at an M3 Saloon whist I was waiting to see somebody. I couldn’t help but notice the OTR price was quite a way over the £60k mark. £60k! Yes, it has 40 BHP more and looks quite fancy but come on…a 20k premium? ‘Small’ cars are getting bigger and more powerful…bigger cars are becoming more fuel-efficient and environmentally conscious. (Note the Audi A8 E-tron Hybrid, Mercedes S400 Hybrid and BMW Active 7 Hybrid). This is the way the market is being driven due to demand and customer buying attitudes.

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So whats it like to drive? Quick. Very quick.

Like the rapid A45 AMG this RS3 is a genuine license loser. The soundtrack is addictive BUT it really can be driven sensibly when you aren’t pretending to be an 80’s rally driver. It isn’t deceptively fast, it feels physically fast with a soundtrack to match. This car had the standard exhaust system but I’m told it can be upgraded to a Sports Exhaust system – this I would be interested to hear! The whole thing (Engine et al) is mated to the superb 7 Speed Twin clutch (think DSG) gearbox that helps to really pull the car enthusiastically towards the horizon.

The suspension and ride are fantastic compared to its predecessor, I expected it to be a bit of a bone-shaker like the much maligned (but now collectible) previous 8P RS3 but it really coped exceptionally well over a large range of road surfaces. Interestingly the car seemed to adapt to my driving style through different conditions. You can change the driving dynamics of the car by using Audi’s drive select function activated through the MMI Screen. Settings are; Comfort, Auto, Dynamic or if you are feeling particularly ambitions – Individual. Audi’s often come under fire from road testers and the general motoring press in the UK for having a lack of steering feel or slightly underwhelming handling, my argument is yes, they often do feel like driving a car in a computer game, but they are often – like the RS3 – extremely competent. It does exactly what its supposed to do. It feels surefooted and well planted 99% of the time and only really skates or skits across the surface somewhat if you start to get a bit too trigger happy through some S-bends. For most drivers, this car is perfectly adequate and capable and will probably make you feel like a better driver than you actually are.

Fuel consumption, No idea. You don’t buy a car like this and worry about fuel, but the Audi boys tell me that the RS3 achieves around 34.9 MPG. Fascinating!

As a brief summary then – Yes, the RS3 gets my vote. A much improved and needed upgrade from the previous generation. Go buy it, even in that daft ‘primer’ grey colour. You can throw in your wife and kids (plus some luggage) and have a sensibly rapid, rally stage drive to the next town with a Sainsbury’s local.

Oh and if you were wondering – Snap, Crackle, Pop is the sound that comes from those exhausts (and the ensuing whiplash).

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For more information about the new RS3 please call James Scanlon at Tunbridge Wells Audi on – 01732 808620‎ or of course contact us! Mark@TheCarSpy.Net or 01892 506970

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You know those ’scam’ emails you get, the ones where a man from (insert dodgy unspecified country) offers you either a large amount of money from a recently deceased, previously unknown family member, or they offer you a LaFerrari for 50 grand? Well of course they are always too good to be true. This was almost one of those situations. The email had come via Dawn at Rain PR, it came through to Richard and he forwarded to me along with the words ‘Wow…that is some invite!’

It was a private invitation to Le Mans for one of us, plus 39 other guests. Aston Martin pit access, your own private Le Mans ‘Fixer’ private ‘glamping-style facilities’ on site, there would also be booze and food also offered as part of the hospitality…

After speaking to the lady in question on the phone and confirming that everything was kosher, the short straws were drawn and fortunately I (Mark) drew the longest one, so would be the representative for TheCarSpy.Net over the duration of the weekend.

Dawn at Rain PR (Pistonheads PR partner) e-mailed me to say everything was confirmed and I would be receiving a special package via UPS the day before I would be due to leave (Friday the 12th). Katie Blake from Rain called me to check that I had received my parcel and that I had everything I needed for the trip, she would be our guide and personal assistant with us for the duration of our stay. It contained tickets, instructions and a PHLMS 2015 T-Shirt and Hoodie.

Thanks Pistonheads! #PHLM2015

Thanks Pistonheads! #PHLM2015

Friday 12th – Le Mans arrival day

It was confirmed that I would be travelling to Le Mans by train, there was an option to travel by Bentley – (more on that to follow) but I decided that with the likely high intake of alcohol about to be consumed the train would be the better option for me. My Rain PR Le Mans prep pack informed me that I would be travelling with Stuart Masson from The Car Expert, I hadn’t met Stuart before but had heard about and read his blog. We exchanged a few messages before leaving and agreed it was easier to meet at the Eurostar Terminal at St Pancras.

After doing some last minute emails I left our offices just after 9 am and headed up to St Pancras to meet Stuart, he had told me to keep an eye out for his ‘Olympic Sized’ Australian flag (I thought he was joking!) that he had bought with him in support of fellow Aussie and Porsche LMP1 driver – Mark Webber…so as you can imagine it wasn’t particularly hard to spot Stuart when I did arrive at the terminal!

Meet and greet, Euros withdrawn and check-in sorted, we grabbed a quick snack and boarded the Eurostar to head to Paris.

We decided not to drink until we arrived at LeMans, the journey was spent mainly discussing current cars, general car chat and just about anything car-related. One thing that became obvious to me pretty quickly was the fact Stuart is hugely into motorsport – with a particular passion for the 24 hour race. I’d like to think I know quite a substantial amount about cars but to be fair, other than F1 I really don’t know a great deal about motorsport. The Car Expert then set about educating me on the different classes within Le Mans, what they meant, the drivers, which manufacturer was likely to win etc, etc.

The journey passed relatively quickly, we were booked on a train from Paris Montparnasse to Le Mans so would have to use our limited knowledge of GCSE French to navigate the Metro system (which is massive, slow and very hot) but we survived and resurfaced from the catacombs of Paris to board our train to LeMans. I must admit I was impressed with the TGV, its arguably quicker, cleaner and more efficient than the Eurostar. 

We were receiving constant updates on WhatsApp from the PH crew travelling by Bentley convoy of their arrival times and status. Bentley Cambridge had kindly provided Pistonheads with four brand-new Bentleys – a Continental Flying Spur (CFS – as it’s known in the trade), GT Continental (GTC), GT Speed and a stunning flagship Mulsanne.

CFS, GTC and Mulliner

CFS, GTC and Mulliner

GT Speed W12

GT Speed W12

@Bentley_Cambs ...you know you want to...

@Bentley_Cambs …you know you want to…

Upon our arrival, Catherine had texted us to say that Katie’s phone had died so we had some time to kill. Stuart suggested we head to the town square to watch the drivers parade. It was absolutely jam-packed so we headed to a bar with some outdoor seating to take in the sights, sounds and have our first pint (or two) together. If we could see the actual parade then apparently it looked something like this: (WOW. – thanks McLaren!)

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The text from Katie came, so we headed to the tram stop that would take us all the way to LeMans. It was a short and relatively easy journey and the stop was a 5 minute walk from our private PH camp. After some faffing around and general confusion about which direction we were supposed to be heading, we managed to find Katie and she led us to the camp.

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Upon arrival at the camp, we were shown the facilities and our tents for the trips, and introduced to the rest of the guests. The PH team made themselves known to us and the rest of the guests and within 20 minutes we were sat having a drink and a superbly cooked meal with Lee Williams (Executive Director of Pistonheads). After talking about cars, business and general PH-type chat for a long time, we decided it would be best to head to the ‘Pie and Piston’ – a Pistonheads-themed English Pub to mix it with other PH’ers and members. It was a quaint little set up that enough space for a beer garden and general pub-rowdiness. We met some interesting people including a great chap called Mike that had just taken delivery of his brand new Bentley GT3 R. He had been invited down by Bentley Cambridge to drive the car on the Mulsanne circuit as part of the celebrations. After chatting and drinking for quite some time (I even bumped into some old school friends – Si, Sean, Rob etc!) we decided it was probably best to head back (at 3am!) to be fresh for the big day.

Mike's GT3 R - Supplied by Bentley Cambridge

Mike’s GT3 R – Supplied by Bentley Cambridge

Does exactly what it says on the tin...

Does exactly what it says on the tin…

Saturday 13th – Le Mans Race Day 

The day I lost my Le Mans virginity.

Full-English was the best start to the day in such circumstances. Waking up at Le Mans is a bit like waking up in some kind of war zone, all you can hear is helicopters, screaming tyres and people shouting. Feeling slightly groggy, and the temperature at 26 degrees C (at 9am) some of us decided it may be an idea to go for a wander and see what we could find.

Stuart and I walked down to the car park not far from our camp site to be greeted by the PH VIP cars and also the McLaren VIP’s next door. It was a compound full of P1’s, F1’s, 575’s and just about every McLaren imaginable…BUT it was cordoned off and I couldn’t see anybody from McLaren that I recognised. We really wanted to get in so we started to charm the lady at the gate in our best/worst English ‘with a French sounding accent’ whist pulling sad faces and somehow it worked…we were in! We managed to have a quick chat with a few people that we knew (between the photos) one being Tim Burton, AKA Shmee150 who’s fresh back from his Gumball 3000 trip across Northern Europe and the USA.

Can you guess what it is yet?

Can you guess what it is yet?

McLaren were making quite a large song and dance about their involvement over the weekend – This was because it was the 20th anniversary of the F1 GTR winning the Le Mans 24 Hour. As you can see from the photos below, they really wheeled out the big guns….

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We decided it best to walk up the race village, this is a purpose-built area full of bars, display cars, show cars, sponsor items, and interesting things (there was a 911 GT3 RS Cup built from LEGO!)…It was also a good time to catch up with some more of the VIP crew and chat about cars and life in general. Katie introduced me to Nihal, a lovely Land Rover enthusiast from op’ north who’s big into cars and shooting (that’s clay/game shooting not drive-by shooting). After grabbing some supplies (and a lot of water) we decided to find a good vantage point to see the start of the race. Sadly there was no way of getting near the start finish line so we found a space on a banked corner instead….by this time it was absolutely boiling! Anticipation was rapidly building amongst the crowd with the clock ticking closer to 3PM. Fortunately a bunch of really, REALLY shouty French guys positioned themselves right next to us to keep us entertained (We had no idea what they were shouting). Anyway, with ‘La Marsellaise’ blasting out of the PA system and the huge partisan crowd belting out ‘Marchons..Marchons…Qu’un sang impur…’ etc, it was LIGHTS OUT and the race was on!

Wouldn't fancy your chances in a crash...

Wouldn’t fancy your chances in a crash…

Decent vantage point for the first few laps

Decent vantage point for the first few laps

Katie had kindly arranged with David Adams at Aston Martin Racing for us to go backstage during the race, we weren’t quite sure what to expect, or what we were going to see even, but all I can say is that it was far beyond expectation. David led us through security, reminded us to be super careful – this was very much a live area and literally anything could happen at any given point. On a couple of occasions we had to watch our backs as mechanics raced past us with tyres etc for the pit stop teams at the side of the track. David showed us various parts and tyre sets for the cars, he explained that one of the Astons (#97) was an ‘Art car’ designed by German Abstract artist Tobias Rehberger. As we navigated through to the front of the garage we were placed in a pen of sorts and told to wait there as two cars would be coming in for pit stops, it was fascinating to experience this just a few feet from the drivers and mechanics, you gain incredible awareness of the gravity of the situation, almost like you can feel the tension in the air, but the most awe-inspiring part was the noise! THAT NOISE! It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard…like a really angry loud dog mixed with thunder? Fortunately I grabbed a recording of car #99 pitting to show you all.

Yes...that's how close we were!

Yes…that’s how close we were!

Aston Martin Art Car detail, pic courtesy of Aston Martin Racing

Aston Martin Art Car detail – ©Aston Martin Racing

After our Aston visit, we headed back to the camp for our evening meal, most of the talk was about our experience so far, particularly the noise and tension in the pits! As soon as the sun had set we decided to head back out and do pretty much the same as the night before. This time we had the fascinating prospect of seeing the cars race at night, somehow it all looks much faster and seems more visually dramatic. With the clock heading into the early hours of the morning we were starting to feel really drained, I ended up rambling to Luke from PH about our skiing experiences and favourite jaunts in Austria (mainly about how rubbish I am) the Pro Plus tablets just weren’t working and there definitely wasn’t a can of Red Bull in sight…I had boldly predicted that I would ‘easily’ stay up the whole night, I was in bed by 3.30.

Sunday 14th – Le Mans Final Day

Awoken at 8.30 by some serious noise! It’s at that point you actually realise the race genuinely lasts 24 hours. We were positioned probably less than 100 meters from the race track so you really could hear every gear change and every dab of the throttle. Its strange because you almost ’tune out’ the noise during the day and night, it becomes normal – like a constant. (It also definitely proves that I have selective hearing!)

Whilst filling up on breakfast, Stuart was informing me about latest state of play, Porsche had a 1-2 in the LMP1 Class and in the GT Class Aston Martin were winning, he was happy with Webber’s performance and so was happy with Aston’s, but he did advise me that anything could happen. The drivers become extremely tired and the focus drops off allowing for elementary mistakes that would usually never happen in other disciplines of motorsport. Later that day at 2.15 pm, almost twenty-three and a half hours into the race, the leader of the GT class in Aston Martin number 98 momentarily lost his concentration and wrecked his car, sadly his and his teams race over with nothing to show for it but it proved exactly what Stuart had told me earlier.

Le Mans fact: Did you know that each team is supposed to have at least three drivers to share the endurance? Years ago however some drivers would actually do the whole event solo – can you imagine 24 hours behind the wheel without sleep while racing a 1000hp behemoth?

I had decided my personal itinerary for the day was: firstly, visit and scale the ferris wheel, the view from up there is incredible. My only regret is that I didn’t go up at night – I highly recommend you to do this if you have the chance!

Dove from above!

The dove from above!

Secondly to check out the new Aston Martin GT12 and Corvette C7 ‘R Edition’ for a customer – Objective achieved. (I’ve even managed to place an order for one)

LM3

Then to check out the new Renault Alpine concept, a sub £50k lightweight affordable sports car for 2016 – Sadly I only managed to get a shot of the rear…

LM57

To visit the Ford v Ferrari showcase. Some seriously valuable cars here…a few that you may even have diffic!ultly placing a value on. For example – the first car we stumbled across was a 250 GTO!

LM8

LM10

To witness the winner of Le Mans and the end of the 24 hours. This time it was Ex F1 star – Nico Hulkenberg’s turn in Porsche (LMP 919) number 19 completing a massive 395 laps in total with his team.

Porsche #19 Hulkenburg and Co...Winners 2015!

Porsche #19 Hulkenburg and Co…Winners 2015! ©Autocar

Finally, it was time to say our goodbyes to the rest of the camp and dash back to Paris in time to catch our Eurostar home…it was almost emotional! Stuart and I had Ben Travis from the Evening Standard and his long serving friend Jack in tow to keep us company, a really top couple of guys.

That’s all from me…I must say it was fantastic meeting everybody and I would love to head back next year.

I had a couple of Le Mans ‘Car Spy’ T-shirts printed for the weekend but I guess they aren’t of any use now other than to wear whilst I’m running or gym-ing…still, no publicity is bad publicity they say, right?

M (The Car Spy)

Thanks to:

Pistonheads (and the PH crew) http://www.Pistonheads.com

Rain PR – http://www.RainCommunications.co.uk

Bentley Cambridge – http://www.vindis.bentleymotors.com

Aston Martin RacingIn particular David Adams – http://www.astonmartin.com/racing

Haymarket Media Group – http://www.haymarket.com

All of the welcoming accommodating people I had the pleasure of meeting.

Special thanks to:

Lee Williams and Ruben Burton (Pistonheads) – Fantastic pair of guys – the future of Pistonheads is in safe hands.

Stuart Masson (The Car Expert) – Race informant/Le Mans Knowledge Specialist – 5 times Le Mans Veteran.

Katie Blake (Rain PR) – Thanks for organising everything – and looking after me – the Queen of PR!

Full Album here (Photos taken on iPhone 6)

12 months is not a long time. Only yesterday, it seems, we were waltzing through the airport terminal in Geneva and turning left into the Palexpo to ogle the latest automotive eye-candy. And now it is 2015.

Last year was okay and kind of worth the trip but this year we were gagging to get there. Over 70  new models on display plus the inevitable bunch of interesting concept cars that never see the light of day. So on with the show.

With so much to see we’ll just focus on the cars that were of particular interest to us which means you can exclude most of the mass market offerings.

Cutting to the chase our show hero was the Koenigsegg Regera – ‘robotic’ body panels, 1500 hp, 0-60 mph in minus 2 seconds, brain-mashing top speed, everything about the car is mental. The car is from Sweden and is the antithesis of ABBA. It is Black Sabbath on acid. Everybody now go back to the drawing board.

Koenigsegg Regera

Next up is the Ford GT. Only 250 cars will be made and the launch date is some time in 2016. For a car that looks this good and performance will be up there with the best it is hard to believe that it will cost around £200k. Speculators and investors form an orderly queue now.

Ford GT

Aston Martin. They really are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The brand is bullet-proof, up there with Apple in terms of global recognition and Bond’s perennial favourite weapon of choice. The cars are drop-dead gorgeous and yet they struggle to persuade die-hard Porsche buyers to consider AM as a viable alternative. The GT3 (Aston Martin) is all sold-out – yep 100 cars gone in the blink of an eye without a single car being built so there are some real fans out there. The Vulcan, to be honest, does not look like an Aston Martin. It looks like it came from the planet Vulcan and driven by Mr Spock (RIP). Designed for those who have enough money to have a spare car for track days (at Paul Ricard not Donington) the detail of the car is truly impressive. The rear light assemblies are a work of art and deserve a place in the Louvre. Bravo Aston Martin for surprising all of us!

Aston Martin Vulcan

Yes the Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 is a concept but the car is real and very likely to be gunning for 911 customers in the very near future. The car on display was rotating gracefully while the crowds gawped and wiped the dribble from their mouths. The EXP is a truly lovely design and there is a little bit of Aston Martin in the profile. The interior is lovely too and you know they will sell zillions of them if they actually start making the car which we think they (VW) will. It is a no-brainer so all they have to do is come up with a sensible name for the car.

Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6

If we all accept that the internal combustion engine will one day no longer exist but at the same time pray that we will not be driven around by a car made by Google there is a ray of hope in the form of fuel cell technology from nanoFlowcell AG. The Quantino F is a concept right now and maybe a little too avant-garde for mass market tastes but it bodes well for the future of green motoring. With a range of 1000 kms and a top speed of 200 kph we can all put away the razor blades – cars can survive without petrol.

Quantino F

Other highlights for us were the Alfa Romeo 4c Spider (prettier than the Coupe), Ferrari 488 (even more desirable than a 458), McLaren 675LT (they seem to going from strength to strength), Lamborghini Aventador SV (how can you make an Aventador even more terrifying?), Sergio by Pininfarina (not a game-changer but such a perfect design and future classic), Audi R8 (looks the same but then again doesn’t – if that makes any sense), Lotus (shouldn’t they be dead by now? The Evora and Exige still look damn good), Porsche 911 GT3 RS in orange (they couldn’t have picked a better colour), Porsche Cayman GT4 in yellow (they couldn’t have picked a better colour) and Renault Sport RS 01 (the bastard child of the Caterham/Renault love affair? At the right price this car will sell well).

There are even more exhibits that are probably worth a mention and we did manage to take a few shots of nice cars during our visit to the show so please take a look at our slideshow when you have time.

For now then we have stocked up on Toblerone, Swiss cheese and cuckoo clocks albeit with less Swiss Francs left than last year but roll on 2016 – not sure if it will be as interesting as this year though!