Monday, November 22, 2010

Small differences

"Hey, is that Renault Alpine lower in height than the Honda S800? Yep, looks like it. Matter of fact, it's a much smaller car than I imagined it to be." Staring at these three car models lined up in the cabinet has prompted this little posting. Just by chance they were lined up side-on, together as a trio: Mini Cooper S, Honda S800, Renault Alpine A110.

This visual comparison is much more rewarding than searching for specs
on the net. They're hopelessly inaccurate and contradictory, and so what
you need to do is find lots of sheets of specs for each, and use a 'vote'
system (ie, the figures quoted most often) and common sense to figure
out how tall, long and heavy each car really was. But just looking at
the diecast models is one of the best comparisons available.
I could be wrong, but I think it works out like this... The Mini is definitely
the shortest: Mini 3050mm long; Honda 3335mm; Alpine 3850mm.
The Alpine is the lowest: 1130mm; Honda 1219mm, Mini 1315mm.
As for weight: Mini 617kg; Honda 771kg; Alpine 685kg.
(The weight figures are the ones which are most untrustworthy. A lot
of people quote the Alpine at 620kg, but that's a stripped down rally
car's weight, not an 'ordinary' road car's weight). But they're all
littlies, aren't they? And they were all fast and fun to drive, so I
thought I'd take a closer look at each, and toss in some You Tube fun.

If I bought a Mini Cooper S model it had to be green, with a white roof,
which was the colour scheme of the Mini Cooper S owned by my brother
Bob. Some fink stole Bob's Cooper S one day while he was attending
lectures at Uni, and we never saw it again. Bob's four years old than me,
and so as a 15-year-old little brother the Cooper S was my first taste
(from the passenger's seat) of a fast car. And it went! We had a couple
of great drives down the coast in his Cooper S.

I won't bore you with a recounting of all its racing and rallying successes.
The Cooper S's history is well known. But I do have a You Tube video
featuring the racing/rally driver I most closely associate with the Cooper S:
Paddy Hopkirk. He came out to Australia in the 60s and performed
wonders in a Cooper S at Bathurst. The worst thing about this You Tube
video, as with so many You Tube videos, is the very crappy music. So
hit the mute button if you hate it. I did. But it is worth watching for the
Cooper S footage, including some of good old Paddy behind the wheel.

I've always loved the Honda S500/S600/S800 series of cars, but the closest
I have got to being in one is driving the S800 in Gran Turismo. Great fun!
This diecast model is the car which competed in the 1967 Suzuka 12-Hour.
As an owner of two different Honda bikes, and a rider of dozens of others,
I've always been a Honda fan. They make nice engines, no doubt about that.
The S800 had a twin-cam straight four which revved to 8000rpm.

The You Tube video I have of this is spectacularly crappy in video quality
(amateur in-car footage) but it feels right. The engine itself is definitely a hot
one with a loud exhaust, but you can see from the very frequent gear
changes that the driver has to keep the little 800cc four on the boil at
all times. And that's the beauty of small car driving. You need to work
hard to get the most out of them. They're definitely not a car for lazy bones.
You have to be Fred Astaire on the pedals to keep them going fast.

Finally, the Alpine A110. It's hard to talk that accurately about its specs,
as over the years it used engines from Renaults R8, R12, R16 and R17,
and many of the specs quoted are actually for the hot rally cars of the 70s.
However it started out mostly with the Renault R8 Gordini's motor, and
it won the inaugural World Rally Championship with a heavily breathed
upon 1600cc Renault R16 engine.

For this car I have two linkies to finish off this posting. The first is a road
test of the car from some German language TV show. It doesn't really matter
that it's all in German. The footage and the sound is the thing (including some
great rally footage from the 1970s) so here goes.

And finally, I found this remarkable 'ad' for an Alpine A110 which essentially is a partly restored car stripped down to all its components, with lots and lots of photos of everything from the body shell through to the instruments, brakes, wiring, engine, suspension bits – everything.
And here it is. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cheap at the price

"How much for that Mercedes Renntransporter?" I asked at the Sydney diecast model shop. "That one is $250," said the helpful sales assistant. "Wow" was my simple reply, not merely because that was a lot of money, but also because I knew that I already had one at home, ordered online, delivered brand new to my door, for just $83. So it was cheap at that price.

This is the Renntransporter, with Fangio's W196 Mercedes (not included in
that price!) mounted on the back. Both are models by Premium Classixxs
in Germany. I ordered both vehicles at the same time, 14 Euros postage
for the two. And the W196 cost more than the Renntransporter. These are
1:43 models, but Premium Classixxs is bringing out a 1:18 model of it,
and Bubmobil has a very nice little 1:87 model of it available, too.

It was the Renntransporter, however, which really excited my imagination.
Built at the Mercedes factory from all sorts of parts, it was designed to
carry around Mercedes race cars in the mid-50s. It used a 300SL motor, and
various other Mercedes trucks and other vehicles donated parts to the cause.
I love the "max speed 105mph" sign on its rump. Imagine seeing a sleek,
blue truck with a even more sleek silver GP car aboard, whizzing along
the autobhan, speeding back to Stuttgart, at 105mph! I'd like to see that.
The model is nicely detailed, even the ramps come off so you can do a
diorama of the GP car being driven onto the ramps, if you like. I love the
slight 'weirdness' of this thing, the way the cabin is so far out in front
of the front wheels. Must have taken a while to learn how to drive it.

Amazingly enough, Mercedes actually scrapped the two Renntransporters that they built when they closed down the racing team in the late 50s. They have now built a perfect replica of it, which probably explains why there are several lovely scale models of it popping up on the market now. A very good run-down on the story of the rebuild, and the original Renntransporter, can be found here, on Tamerlane's excellent blog.

FInally, a lovely walk-around You Tube video of the rebuilt version of the Renntransporter.