MMR Blog

From Ugly Duckling to Somewhat Attractive Swan

Posted on May 23, 2011 Comments (1)

Several posts ago we said some “less than pleasing” things about the new McLaren MP4-12 street car.

McLaren MP4-12C

In summary, we said that while it may be technically brilliant, it was terribly plain and had a stupid name. In an effort to help, we re-christened it the “Britannia”. We thought that even though that wouldn’t make it any prettier, it might sound less like they forgot to name it and are still using the engineering code number.

The recently revealed MP4-12C version is almost double the cost of the street car, far more attractive and with a limited production run of 20, it is also quite exclusive. Labeling it a “gentleman racer” rather than a “factory racer” puts less pressure on the factory to re-produce the highly successful racing introduction of the McLaren F1.

McLaren MP4-12C

At just a hair over a half a million (US) dollars, the car is being first marketed in Europe and then Asia and Australia. We can understand why Europe should be first, after all that is where they are made and offering them to immediate neighbors is good politics. America should have been the next logical market. McLaren instead are going next to Asia and then Australia? How far down in the pecking order have we fallen and why? We can all guess, but it would be nice to hear it from them.

What Price Laughter?

Posted on April 26, 2011 Comments (0)

Ste. Justine II

“It is the first time in long time that I have seen him smile.” said the sad looking man. There was no mistaking the relief on his face and in his voice as we looked down at his 13 year old son, Danick, sitting happily in the black Ferrari.

Ste. Justine

Ignoring the clumsy tubes connected to his right arm or the drip bags above his head, he stared intently through the windshield, one hand on the wheel and the other stirring the shift knob with determination.

We had returned to the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal in 1997 and to the children’s hospital, Ste. Justine, where we had visited with our cars one year before. This time we were parked on the front lawn and only children from the cancer ward were brought out to us.

The story of our previous visit had gotten around the Ferrari community and now we had the full quota of six Ferraris that space would allow.

The father went on to say that his son had never stopped talking about how comfortable he felt in the 308. As though this was the Ferrari meant for him. I asked him if Danick had been here since our last visit and was told that no he had been home but now, sadly, he was back. I learned from my contact, Robert, that Danick’s prognosis was not good.

Ste. Justine

Borrowing a roll of white 1” medical tape, I asked Danick to move to the passenger seat and then disengaging the drip rack pole from its four legged base, I taped it between the seats and to the back of the Targa top on the 308. As I started the car and moved toward the access to the street, our intent became very clear to the staff. They rushed to inform us that hospital rules and insurance restrictions forbade what we wanted to do. We kept rolling until we hit the four lane street. We accelerated through first and second gear and squealed the tires around the corner. It was a very long block and on the long street behind the hospital we again accelerated. We were probably doing a very noisy 50 MPH when Danick touched my arm. Fearing something may be wrong, I immediately lifted and looked over. He was pointing at the drip bags that were now “flying” from their perch and parallel to the ground. Danick was laughing.

Through the Looking Glass

Posted on March 31, 2011 Comments (0)

I dub thee “McLaren 388 Britannia”

McLaren MP4-12C

Borrowing the Ferrari nomenclature to rename it the “388 Britannia” won’t make it prettier but this car needs help to make it memorable.

The folks, sans Gordon Murray, who gave us the timeless beauty of the McLaren F1 have delivered the MP4-12C, a technically brilliant disappointment. If ever a car looked like it was designed by a committee and named by a chemist, this is it. Sadly, after reading all the accolades in the traditional media, someone has to shout it, "the Emperor has dull clothes!"

McLaren are constantly reminding us that they are an engineering company. From an engineering viewpoint their MP4-12C must make their hearts sing. And if you are the kind of person who revels in advanced engineering features, join their chorus. If you aren’t, like me, you will be left standing on the sidewalk and asking one question; Why? Who needs a car that goes 205 MPH, and would you pay 200 large for 500HP and an ingenious suspension system?

So far the new McLaren has won the technology battle of this model year. In significant ways it is deemed more advanced than its competitors the Ferrari 458 Italia and the Lamborghini LP-560-4. Unfortunately it has lost the war for the hearts of its target market because while definitely not ugly, it is definitely plain.

The F1 was a success because out of the box it was a striking looking car. Then the factory took three to LeMans and finished 1st, 3rd and 4th first time out. That’s gravitas. And that sells cars. The only car that ever sold due to its suspension system was the first car that had one. After that it was all subjective.

Go to an auction and you will find that the most desirable sports cars in the world are not of this or even the last decade. By today’s standards, they are certainly not engineering marvels. Most don’t have a computer and some don’t even have power windows. They are known not so much by manufacturer name and designation but by the titles we, the fans, have bestowed upon them: In no particular order this is our short list: Atlantique, 250SWB, 275, P4, Dino, Testa Rosa, Muira, GTO, Shelby, Grand Sport, Carrera, C-type, D-Type, SS, E-Type, Speed 8, 6C, SS, 8C, DB-4 and of course the incomparable F1.

On the other side of town the 458 is simply stunning and the Lambo is edgy-scary. Sitting still, both look like live rockets. They reach emotions. They say “Don’t you want to sit in something beautiful that gets your heart rate up to the max your cardiologist will allow?” Be honest, if you had to have someone drive you home and you had a choice between Pamela Anderson and Sebastian Vettel, who would you give the keys to?

The sad truth is that the majority of Ferrari and Lambo owners will never drive their cars anywhere near their potential. It’s illegal and they’re neither interested nor capable. And that is OK because that is not why they bought them. They didn’t buy a Ferrari or Lambo to stop, go and turn better than any other car. They bought them because they are beautiful and make beautiful sounds. And that makes them feel very, very good. Plus, they hope that some of that magic will rub off and that they will be envied. And they are.

So, if the car love of your life is an MGB, TR-3, a Sunbeam Tiger, a Miata, a Z-car, an Elise, a Morgan, or an XK-120, or so many other fun cars, you are a hell of a lot closer to getting it than the committee that delivered this baby.

Curves Are Back

Posted on February 24, 2011 Comments (0)
Ferrari 458 2010

Ferrari 458 Italia

The design of the Lamborghini Muira pulled them away from the stodgy GT’s they were building and gave them the most beautiful sports car of its day.

Their Countach design was their most important. It ushered in the age of edgy-ness from which Lamborghini has yet to emerge. With it, the straight line became the dominant silhouette of sports cars.

Ferrari, with last year’s F1 car and now with the stunning 458 Italia made a bold statement. The curve is no longer just in the road, it is back on it.

Am I wrong?

Pointy Heads and Pointy Boots or Who’s Nervous Now Nellie?

Posted on September 30, 2010 Comments (0)

The boffins* of F1 race engineering will take their skinny little cars and their trailer loads of fashionably thin entourages to Austin beginning in 2012. Will the rich and clamorous follow them to the land of big hats and big egos?

Austin, TX: Tilke
United States Grand Prix (USGP) Track design

Austin, TX: Tilke United States Grand Prix (USGP) Track design

Bernie’s buddies and the Texas Gov bet they will but Bernie won’t rule out a second location in the US!

In 2007 Tony George explained to Bernie that in the USA the government won’t write checks to support F1 races and that the Speedway was not a charity. He was at least half right and that was the last F1 race held in the USA. F1 outgrew the independent entrepreneur’s ability to organize and fund a race many years ago. From time to time even governments in France, Canada, Belgium and the UK have balked at the financial commitments required to support “their” national F1 race.

As American F1 fans have learned, the stars ALL must be aligned for a successful F1 USGP. The major keys appear to be: a safe smooth track, a large amount of hotel rooms, a huge nearby population and the ability to throw a great party. And, oh yes, the reported $12M upfront cost of a date.

Austin United States Grand Prix (USGP)

Austin United States Grand Prix (USGP)

Now Bernie has an agreement with Tavo Hellmund, whose has family history with Mr. E and his respect and support. They apparently have $200M now and $25M annually from the great State of Texas to pull it off. They have purchased 800 acres and a track designed by the ubiquitous Herman Tilke.

This sounds a little like the Field of Dreams theme of “build it and they will come”. But the ingredients are there: Knowledge of F1, access to Bernie and the Texas treasury, land near the Austin airport that could be developed as a race track and industrial testing facility. Sounds easy and Austin has been told that the glamour of the FIA circus will put their city on a world map and also bring in $25M in cash.

I’m skeptical because I’m not convinced that there are enough people in the “huge nearby population” portion that care enough about F1 to spend the price of a ticket to see this type of racing. I further doubt that F1 fans will spend the money to fly from all over America and the remainder of the world to be seen in a Texas town famous for being the “Live Music Capital of the World”. And as they will learn when they get there, that’s not the only area Texans believe is either the biggest or the best in the world.

The F1 circus will go, because that is their business. I doubt anyone else will, twice. And I don’t think Bernie does either. That is why he has left the option of another race in America open. That would be fabulous for F1 but probably not so fabulous for either event organizer. Should the folks in Austin be nervous? Would you be?

*Boffin is a British term for “nerds”