Today is the first sunny, warm spring Saturday in Zurich, and as always, it was the perfect time to wake some of the nice cars hiding in the garages round here out of their winter sleep. As can be seen, some twins (or close relatives) were underway as well. It may be interesting to know that all the pictures below were taken within a distance of 100 meters…
This was the first time I saw the DB11 live and it is truly a beautiful car. It is design evolution, not a revolution, and to me it doesn’t reach the heights of the DBS, to me the most beautiful of modern Astons. But desirable? Oh yes!
The 2017 Formula 1 season is slowly but surely getting up to speed, with most cars having been presented last week and the first of two four-day training sessions starting today, before the season then kicks off at the end of March in Melbourne.
The biggest change to the cars is a very visible one, namely the sheer size. The front aisle is now around 2 meters wide, and cars have also grown around 20 cm in length, in both cases contributing to giving them a more muscular look. The rear aisle has grown as well, and all these factors taken together should contribute to better downforce and hereby also higher speeds, estimated to as much as 40 km/h higher cornering speed.
This obviously puts increased pressure on tires and the (only) supplier Pirelli, and the solution is not only larger but also more durable tires that will make one-stop races possible again.
On the engine front the talk is about more than 900 hp and also the decision to continue to work on engine development during the season, something that could clearly benefit the smaller teams.
Taking all this together, larger cars with more downforce, larger tires and stronger engines will surely be capable of faster lap times. To what extent they also contribute to more exciting races and less Mercedes dominance remains to be seen once the season starts in a month’s time.
After decades of corporate maltreatment of truly epic proportions, and corresponding desperation for all of us car lovers with a faiblesse for the once so proud Italian brand, it truly warms the heart being able to write that it looks like Alfa Romeo maybe, just maybe, is on the way back. Sure, there was the 4C a few years ago, a car that as so many Alfas does the trick design-wise but was no real match for the usual suspects in the two-seat sport car class. But then last year the new Giulia followed, initially in the most powerful Quadrifoglio version, and it went on not only to do well in tests against the very best in the class, but actually to win a number of them. And when an Alfa without excuses beats a BMW M3 Competition Pack in a recent Head to Head you can see here, then it’s time to pay attention.
The new Giulia is rear-wheel drive (yes!!!) and is the first Alfa to be so since the Alfa 75 was discontinued in 1992 (which at least in my book was the last great driver’s Alfa). It has a perfect 50/50 front-rear balance and, as it seems a truly great chassis with fantastic handling. The engine is a new 2.9 lire biturbo V6 with 510 hp and 600 Nm torque, said to have been derived from the Ferrari California by Ferrari engineers. How much truth there is to that we will never know, but it clearly does the job very well indeed. Design-wise it’s… nice, but to me a bit too M3-like and quite far from the prettiest Alfa there has been. So it would seem that we have an Alfa that shines more on the inside than on the outside – strange world indeed!
Enough said – watch the video (if you didn’t click above you can do so here) and when you do so, remember that this is a car costing around EUR 80-90.000 new, at least EUR 20.000 less than an M3 with Competition Package – la vita è bella!
Our family car, the MB GL 350 also known under the nickname Helmut for a certain visual resemblance to a former German chancellor, has left our garage. He will be missed in some regards, most notably for his endless luggage space and superb long-distance comfort, but less so in others, particularly a number of larger and smaller problems of the electrical kind (the things that tend to make you nervous as the guarantee nears the end) and a turbo lag which sometimes felt as long as the Gotthard tunnel. And no, he was not really much of a thrill to drive either. I therefore took the decision a while back to cut the losses, and after the missus to my great surprise declared complete disinterest in what the replacement car would be (except for the small caveat that it should have a star on the bonnet and a decent luggage space in the back), the road ahead was all of a sudden clear as a star-lit night in the Alps.
Some of you may remembered my post from a wonderful morning in AMG-heaven a while ago, that can otherwise be found here. I never really got over the eye-opening experience from back then when I experienced the huge difference between a regular W212 E-class and the E63 AMG, not only in power but in the whole driving experience. So when the occasion presented itself to trade in Helmut against a one-year old, 4-wheel drive E63 AMG T in what can actually be described as a fairly good deal, it felt like a no-brainer. It’s been four weeks now, and having walked around with a stupid smile on my face every since, I figured it was time to convey some initial impressions.
Obviously, these need to start with the engine. Sweet Lord what an engine… A 5.5 litre V8 with twin turbos, it develops 558 hp and a torque of 800 Nm and can only be described as taking your breadth away – every time you floor the pedal. But even if it nails you to your chair, the delivery is smooth and above all tireless, with no turbo lag and the second turbo kicking in barely noticeably at… highly illegal speeds. Man am I happy to be burning petrol again!
They guys in Affalterbach aren’t much for acoustic discretion either, and the sound that accompanies this rapid automotive progression is as fantastic (and loud!) as a V8 can be. Driving with the windows open and the radio turned off in the middle of December all of a sudden feels fully natural. I also like tunnels a lot these days.
Next to the engine, the whole car has made enormous progress under AMG’s treatment. The chassis is responsive, the steering is precisely as heavy as it should be without the front heaviness of the regular car. The four-wheel drive setting sending 70% to the back wheels convey a lightness to the whole experience that is fare more reminiscent of a 911 than of a taxi Merc. Finally the heavily modified 7-speed gearbox going under the name Speedshift, although not quite as quick as a double-clutch, is still miles ahead of the regular box. And all this in a packaging that offers ample room for five and the largest cargo space on the market. If this is not the perfect family car, then I don’t know what is. As for the Thrill of Owning, let’s just note that the new E63 that will come to the market during next year will no longer have a V8 up front but rather a V6
Obviously the journey is only beginning and I will provide updates as I get to know the car better. Living in Switzerland where speed cameras are as frequent as holes in an Emmentaler cheese, it feels like a trip to the Autobahn will be necessary as soon as temperatures get slightly warmer (and preferably at night time…). Until then I must however find a suitable name for my new friend, but I can’t really think of a quick, agile German with an opera voice, so any suggestions are welcome!
Classic car enthusiasts gathered at the stables of The Classic Car Fund in Zurich last night for an evening together with Corrado Lopresto, Italy’s leading car collector and restorator and a multiple winner of the Villa d’Este and Pebble Beach competitions. He is also the only person on the car scene to have been awarded UNESCO’s World Heritage Award for his extensive work in restoring (rather than renovating) many classic automobiles through the years.
Mr. Lopresto spoke about his collection, the amazing restoration work he undertakes together with his rather large stable of mechanics/restoration workers/artists, and also as a world premiere showed a 1948 Isotta Fraschini 8C Monterosa Cabriolet Boneschi, the last car built by the little-known (at least outside of Italy) Milan auto manufacturer Isotta Fraschini, active in the first half of the 20th century, and probably destined to win many prices at automobile shows the coming years.
As always, the wonderful car stable of Flippo Pignatti’s Classic Car Fund that I interviewed a few months ago, an interview you can read here, provided the perfect setting.
I test drove an BMW M5 a long while back (I have a backlog of overdue updates for this blog…).
It started in a very dramatic way. Before handing over the wheel to me, the salesman did a loooong drift on the off-ramp of the motorway. He kept the car sideways for the entire 270 degree turn with the rear tires totally lit up… After these heroics, it was my turn to drive the car.
There is no other way to start this review, but to comment on the engine. With 560hp it is the most powerful car I have driven. The acceleration is brutal on the motorway and overtaking, on secondary roads, is a breeze. If you are really looking for it, you can feel a little turbo lag at low revs, but it is barely noticeable.
The sound of the engine is fabulous. It has a system that enhances the sound (Active Sound Design, ASD) which is rather controversial among car enthusiasts. But, to my ears, it sounds lovely and much better than the Bentley Continental GT V8 (see my review here, in Swedish).
How is it on the twisty stuff?
The weight, 1945 kg, is rather high, but some of the competing cars weigh more: 1995 kg for the outgoing Panamera GTS, or 2070 kg for the new Panamera Turbo. The Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG also weights more. The car masks it weight very well though, and it turns in sharply, which is a trait I have come to like a lot.
I really like the possibility to customise the different settings for the drivetrain, dampers, etc, separately, something I miss in my Macan. You can save two different sets of settings, which can be selected directly with their respective buttons (M1 and M2) on the steering wheel. It is very convenient to be able to change the character of the car with the press of a button on the steering wheel, instead of down on the centre console. Ferrari does this with the Manettino on the steering wheel; Aston Martin has buttons on the steering wheel as well. This is something I missed in the Porsches, which have not received a similar system until the recently released 991 mk2 (read my review here).
The head-up display is also very useful. In M-mode it shows speed, gear and a graphical representation of the rev counter and a shift light indicator.
As an everyday car the M5 is an enticing proposition. You could drive it daily as you would drive a 520d, the only drawback being tyre noise (you can read my review of the 520d here, in Swedish).
Would I like to own one? Yes for sure, but I am not sure it is an entirely practical proposition as a family car for us. We need to take the car to the mountains to go skiing, and a massively powerful, turbocharged, rear wheel drive car, might not be the best option. The next M5, which will be based on the new 5-series (that was introduced a couple of weeks ago) will have the option of 4WD, which adds a lot of practicality.
As mentioned in my post from last week, some of the cars intended for this section saw a price increase so steep before the time of writing that they disqualified themselves on the premises of being both great drives and sound investments. One of these was the wonderful BMW M3 CSL (Coupé Sport Leichtbau, a legendary name originally featured on the 70’s 3.0 CSL), a lightweight version of the E46 M3 built in 2003-2004, with more power, lots of carbon and various other weight-saving measures compared to the original car. If a year ago you could still find a low-mileage version of the CSL for around EUR 50.000, be expected to pay around double that today.
Interestingly however the “regular” M3 E46 has not seen the same price explosion and remains a very fine car – many would even call it one of the best M3’s ever. Built between 2000 and 2006 (the convertible from 2001) it features the legendary BMW 3.2-liter straight-six engine that here produces 343 hp (106 hp/l) with a tone that gets more Pavarotti-like the higher you rev it towards the 8000 rpm limiter. Still 80% of the max torque is available from 2000 rpm, and that’s actually quite good, since even if the tone towards rev limiter is increasingly intoxicating, just below the limiter the engine pistons travel at 20 m/s (yep, that’s meters per second). As the disclaimer on French alcohol advertising used to say, “à consommer avec modération”…
The E46 M3 was available both as a manual and with the second generation semi-automatic SMG box. The latter cost an extra 3.000 EUR new but does not command a premium today as it has been known over the years to be slightly problematic and prone to more or less serious breakdowns. Given BMW are quite good at building manual boxes that is a good alternative. One of the most popular after-sale improvements include reducing the gearshift travel of the manual box, making it even more dynamic and reinforcing the case for a manual even further.
In terms of looks, gone was the discretion of the predecessor, the M3 E36, which was hard to distinguish from a regular 3-series. The E46 M3 looks fat, standing on its 18″ or 19″-inch wheels under the slightly (roughly 4 cm) larger body, with the lateral air intakes and the four end pipes. To round it off, this is obviously the car that featured the Powerdome, which was not an onboard computer game but rather the slight elevation of the central part of the hood. This had absolutely no practical function at all given the engine fitted under the regular bonnet without problems, but it both sounds and looks cool, and all in all the package is highly attractive!
Both the convertible and the coupé with less than 80.000 kms can today be had for around EUR 30.000, which is nothing short of a bargain, also considering the price increase the M3 CSL has seen in the last year. As always the convertible weighs more (here around 150 kg) and is less rigid than the coupé, on the other hand it allows you to enjoy the engine tone singing out of the rear pipe better, so it’s rather the usage of the car (and the climate where you live) that should decide whether you need a roof or not. A manual will also probably be less prone to surprises than an SMG box. Ultimately however given the limited number of low-mileage, original cars available, the individual condition and service book are what really counts, as is the fact that it is an original, non-“improved” car. The powerdome is in all cases included for free!
It’s been awfully quiet lately under the Thrill of Owning heading, something unfortunately due to a rather hectic work schedule of yours truly. Another factor at play is however the steady rise in collector car prices over the last year, by no means a new trend and no doubt one of the side effects of a zero- to negative interest rate environment and investors’ feverish search for alternative investments. This actually has led to quite a few objects that were intended for the column rising so much in price before the time of writing that they disqualified themselves!
In light of that I felt it was time to go back and have a look at the cars presented so far. If you had purchased them (and who knows, maybe you did?), would they so far have been a good deal not only driving-wise but also investment-wise? Given we started this heading in 2015 the track record is obviously short, but summarized below is an estimate of the price evolution seen by the cars presented during 2015 as per today, i.e. in November 2016.
It would not take much academic effort to completely disqualify the methodology behind the price estimations in the above table, but at least it is consistent with how prices were initially estimated. Basically I have done a rough estimate of average market prices for the presented cars in Germany, Switzerland and partially Sweden, according to the specs (for example max kms) as described in the post. Given in all cases samples are also small and the individual condition therefore critical, it should really be taken as an indication at best.
Still, it is interesting to see how some models have seen spectacular rises in a short time, none more so than the Lancia Delta Evo, whereas others such as the Porsche 996 or the BMW Z4M have had a moderate, although still positive price evolution, probably also due to them being newer cars produced in larger numbers. However, you will probably struggle to find another investment in the current period that has a comparable performance on average whilst at the same time bringing true driving pleasure!
Even if the mission of the Thrill of Owning has become harder, the column will remain and I still have a few objects up the sleeve to enlighten the darker and colder season. Stay tuned!
Last year I was at a Porsche event and had the opportunity to drive the Boxster GTS, Cayman GTS and 911 Carrera back to back. The cars were evenly matched regarding power en weight. The Boxster GTS has 330 hp, the Cayman GTOS 340hp and the standard Carrera 350bp. The Carrera is slightly (25kg) heavier than the other two, offsetting the small advantage in power.
There were a couple of surprises.
Firstly, the Cayman GTS is much more hardcore than the Boxster GTS. This is partly due to the fact that the Cayman GTS we drove had the optional sports suspension; 20mm lower with no adjustable dampers. The Boxster GTS, on the other hand, was on standard adjustable dampers (PASM) and felt much more rounded and easy to exploit. The Cayman GTS (exactly the same car that I drove for my review here), is better suited for track work, though.
Secondly, the 911 Carrera felt slower than the two GTS cars, but not necessarily because it was slower, but because it was masking its speed. Looking at the speedo you realise that you are going much quicker than you think in the Carrera. On the other hand, with the Boxster and Cayman you feel like you are going faster, which adds to the fun.
The 911 is the practical proposition; it has back seats and it is very comfortable, in a GT way. The Cayman GTS, with the option of the extra sporty suspension, is probably more suited to track work and felt nervous on the Catalan mountain roads we drove. For me, on this roads, the Boxster GTS was the pick of the day.
A few months ago I wrote a short laud to the mechanical twelve-cylinder, which much like one of those friendly, vegetarian dinosaurs is heading towards rapid extinction.
Having given the matter some thought during the long and mostly sunny summer (isn’t that what summer is for?) and done some quick market research, it struck me that the damage is probably even greater; beyond not only the mechanical 12-cylinder but most probably any modern 8- or 12-cylinder engine that won’t pass modern emission standards (and that cannot be cheated with as easy as a VW diesel engine), it is a whole car segment that risks dying; that of the elegant, powerful, luxurious and highly desireable GT coupé. This is a car type that was never associated with strollers, Ikea furniture or skiboxes, but rather with leather bags for two, sunshine and magnificent drives in company of a lovely lady along the Grand Corniche in southern France. And importantly, unlike the flashy convertible, the true coupé is always be understated. If that is not a type of car worth preserving, then I don’t know what is!
The German magazine “Auto, Motor & Sport” a few years ago did a survey among readers on whether GT coupés fit the description in the above paragraph, or are rather meaningless, ugly and unpractical. Luckily 91% seem to love GT’s, which is some consolation. I would also think this is an interest helped by… a slightly maturing age. Sure, an Elise is a true driver’s car, but it’s also one that leaks water, kills your spine and lacks any form of practicality. Not so the GT, which will transport you in utter comfort anywhere you want, always in sublime comfort and with sufficient room for your weekend bags, and without messing up the little hair you have left. The kind of thing you start appreciating after a certain age!
The really great thing, and the reason for this post, is the fact that many of those true GT coupés with large engines have seen massive depreciation in spite of often having quite low mileage and a perfect ownership and servicing history. This is probably because those who had the money to buy them as new were, you guessed it, a bit older, and typically haven’t driven them that much. So if they were beyond your means as new, they are not any longer, in spite of not being more than 7-10 years old.
You could obviously define this segment in many different ways, but to stick to the theme of 12-cylinders and illustrate the point, I have chosen three fantastic coupés that cost somewhere around EUR 200′-250′ when they were new and have today dropped to EUR 40′-50′ with 50.000 – 100.000 kms on the clock, thus offering an extreme value for money. Whether they will depreciate further time will tell (but as we all know, when the offer is reduced, the price tends to go up…), but already at today’s prices, it is difficult to find better – and more stylish! – bang for your buck.
Bentley Continental GT: the car that made Bentley a mass brand (at least if you live in Zurich) was launched in 2004 and features the same VW W12 engine as the top version of the VW Phaeton at the time. In the Continental it develops a healthy 560 Hp and 650 Nm of torque, and has the additional benefit of being four-wheel drive. Contintentals are today in amply supply from EUR 40.000 for 1-2-owner cars.
Aston Martin DB9: launched in the same year as the Bentley, the utterly beautiful DB9 (which was co-designed by Henrik Fisker) has a 12-cylinder engine producing 457 hp, so less than the Continental, but then at 1800 kg the car also weights half a ton less. They can today be bought for around EUR 50.000, often with less than 50.000 kms on the clock.
Mercedes-Benz CL 600 and CL 65 AMG: the C216 CL-series was produced from 2006 to 2010, and both the 600 and the Überhammer CL 65 AMG, one of the most potent machines ever built by the guys in Affalterbach, was launched the first year and feature the same V12 engine which in the AMG version develops 612 hp, 100 hp more than the 600. At 1000 Nm, the torque of the AMG car is almost absurd, and just for the fun of it, the CL 65 does not have four-wheel drive, so that’s 500 Nm of torque per rear wheel… Still, this is a coupé on the S-class chassis, so comfort and refinement are sublime in both versions. Both the CL 600 and CL 65 AMG are a bit more difficult to find, but prices today start at around EUR 50.000, for both, again with less than 100.000 kms on the clock. If you are going to be unreasonable, why not be so all the way and go for the AMG version…
The enormous depreciation these and other GT’s have seen have the additional benefit of leaving you just enough money to afford running them – and especially for the CL 65 AMG, for buying a few sets of rear wheels per year… The purchase price may be comparable to a new Opel, the running costs are certainly not. But then again, grooming your image was never for free!
As you may have noted, the blog has been on summer leave and both Sven and myself have done a lot of driving. Sven recorded a clear win going all through Europe from Barcelona to Stockholm, for my part it was shorter but I did nevertheless cover the roughly 3.000 kms back and forth between Zurich and Sweden’s west coast.
Going north, from somewhere around Hamburg and onwards, you start noticing a large number of Teslas. Some in Germany, more in Denmark and clearly most in Sweden, although many of these are on Norwegian plates. The ones I saw all had one thing in common: none of them were enjoying the stomach-gripping torque and acceleration the Model S is capable of. In fact with one exception, they were all traveling in grandpa speed in the right lane, a number of them behind a truck or – God forbid – a caravan-towing car.
Surely this must be due to a combination of the laws of physics and human psychology. Physics to the extend that you can’t replace acceleration with distance/autonomy (only a larger battery pack will allow you to go further on a charge), and psychology insofar as when you see your remaining distance dropping quickly on the futuristic digital screen each time you use your right foot, you become careful. It doesn’t matter if you have planned your route and know that you should safely make it to the next charging station, it is human nature wanting to make sure you get there, so your speed drops. Surely you could claim that this phenomenon is temporary and that when there are as many supercharging stations as petrol stations (or at least vastly more than today) the problem will be solved, but then again charging will still take 20 minutes, something that will not change until battery technology sees a revolution.
Until then, it seems that the main reason people who enjoy driving quote when buying a Tesla, the torque and acceleration, is a bit like buying a Cayenne in southern California because it is four-wheel drive…
Yesterday I drove past Porsche’s research facility in Weissach. I was able to spot a few of the brand new Panameras. I must say it looks much more better than the old Panamera. My photos don’t do it justice, it is actually really beautiful.
After Weissach, I went to the Porsche Museum in Zuffenhausen. I will post photos from the museum soon. I will keep you posted!
This afternoon I saw the first “live” Bentley Bentayga in downtown Zurich. At prices from EUR 250.000 and upwards (with no upper limit…), the Bentayga is no doubt the world’s most exclusive, powerful (W12, 608hp) and probably also most comfortable SUV. Let’s say that whether it is also the prettiest is up for debate. The front is very… imposing, the rear has a clear resemblance to the new Mini Clubman. Sorry Bentley! But for the selected few, I’m sure it will be a ride, although not necessarily a drive, to enjoy!
Yesterday I went to buy a second-hand lawnmower in the countryside near Zurich. Not much excitement in that you will think and indeed, neither did I, until I made it to the address, followed the seller Markus to the barn where he had stored the mower, and discovered next to it a shining black Morgan Threewheeler, one of the most original and exotic cars of these last years. Markus was obviously very happy to find a soulmate and happily spent the next hour with yours truly, talking about cars in general and Threewheelers in particular, and then to round it off took me for a short ride in this strange creation, something that was a truly unique experience!
Morgan started producing the modern Threewheeler five years ago, in 2011. The car bears some resemblance to the original Threwheeler that was in production for more than 40 years until 1952. Hand-built around a wooden frame and weighing only 525 kgs, as the name suggests the car stands on three large and narrow wheels, and another (of many) peculiar features is that the engine, a two-cylinder Harley Davidson delivering 82 hp, is placed at the front of the car, fully exposed. 82 hp from two cylinders may not sound like much, but as I was soon to discover, in this car it is! If however you want even more power, it is apparently quite easy to trim it up towards 135 hp. Behind the engine, under the bonnet, you will find the oil tank and the battery, and behind the seats, the tank sits next to it the tiniest of luggage spaces that will accommodate a rain jacket, which is pretty good since the car has absolutely no roof and the only cover supplied is a tonneau.
The seating position is extremely low and narrow, as is space around the pedals, so you’d better be friends with your passenger beforehand, and the passenger had better not be a wrestler. If you try you will easily be able to touch the ground with your outer arm, an exercise that should only be tried out from the passenger side as the exhaust pipe runs alongside the chassis on the driver’s side. The pedals can be adjusted in length, which the seats can’t, but you can only do so with tools and it is a reasonably complicated exercise. Markus has replaced the original steering wheel with a smaller one, as the original wheel does not really leave enough space for a man of average length…
Before we squeeze in next to each other, Markus pushes the start button upon which the most wonderful, blurring sound flows from the exhaust. For obvious reasons it is more reminiscent of a Harley than a car, and the Threewheeler is actually registered as a motorbike in Switzerland, although you are allowed to drive it on a car permit as well. I squeezed in on the passenger seat next to my new best friend, rubbing shoulders with him as we took off among Swiss hills.
The standard Threewheeler does 0-100 in 6 seconds and the last thing you will wish for (at least as a passenger) is more power, since the extremely low seating position gives a very intense impression of speed – and everything else happening around you. The sound is gorgeous, there is an extreme feeling of lightness about the whole car, which actually feels like something of a hybrid between a bike and a car, obviously due to the size of the wheels and the single rear wheel. Especially quickly driven corners are quite hairy and speaking of corners, the short hand brake sits just next to the gear change. When I ask Markus about this he says it comes from rally sport so that you can hang out the rear around corners. Apparently he has a few friends doing this on alpine roads but says he is to old for it. “But they’re also quite crazy” he adds, something I find quite easy to believe from my squeezed passenger seat.
Markus bought his Threewheeler second-hand a year ago and says build quality has been so-so. As he has discovered, his car, although being a 2013 make, consists of parts both from 2011 and 2012, and he has had some pretty bad – and costly – mechanical failures. Each car is truly individual as tuning and trimming possibilities are limitless, and some mechanical details need to be modified if you do not want the car to break down straight away. But Markus says he wouldn’t hesitate buying it again and again and again, as he has never drive anything like it, neither car nor bike – of which a few were also parked in the same barn.
There is nothing practical about the Threewheeler, it is a pure toy best enjoyed alone on dry roads near a mountain somewhere. It will set you back around 40.000 EUR and it may be a pretty good investment, as quantities produced are small (no reliable number can’t be found but according to Markus around 30 have been sold in Switzerland, and this is a country where there are a lot of expensive toys with little practicality…). But above all, it is a unique driving experience and most probably a buy you will never regret!
I recently had the opportunity of spending a full Sunday morning on Swiss country roads with as only companion a Porsche 911 4S from 2015, and I can definitely remember worse Sunday mornings. The truth is that I struggle more to remember better ones… There are a lot of Porsche aficionados among the readers of this blog with far greater experience of the Zuffenhausen greats than I do (first and foremost obviously my fellow blogger Sven), but to those of you not yet familiar with the latest 911 I’d thought I’d share a few impressions.
“My” car was a silver-coloured coupé with black interior, a panoramic roof and the PDK gearbox. The power output was the usual 420 hp, bringing the car to 100 km/h in around 4 seconds. Obviously nowadays the boxer-six is turbo-charged even in the version without “turbo” in the name, and sure, the character of the engine is different to a naturally-aspirated six. If you look for it you will feel when the turbo(s) kick in, however power delivery remains very smooth and given the clear advantages in torque, now up to a max of 500 Nm, at least I fail to see any disadvantages with the new engine generation. That also has to do with the three buttons on the center console.
In Comfort mode, the 911 is the perfect long-haul companion, transporting two people and their luggage in utter comfort an sounding so civilized that you could trick quite a few people as to what it is really capable of. That all changes in Sport mode as the tone becomes much rawer, the suspension firms up and the fantastic gearbox hangs on to each gear longer. Had this been my car, this is probably the mode I would leave it in for everyday use. The last option is Sport Plus which, if Porsche had been slightly less serious and a bit more Tesla-like, could have been renamed something like AHBL, All Hell Breaks Loose. The mode certainly works best on track but let’s just say the sound is tremendous, the suspension is….firm and the gearbox hangs to each gear that together with the sound seem to tell you “come on, is that all you have”? Given the car was still on winter tires and the outside temperature was five degrees on a humid country road, it felt safest to answer that question by “yes, today it actually is”, but there is no doubt in my mind that with a set of sport or track tires and an appropriate piece of tarmac, this is a very potent car. So even sound-wise the new engine delivers a very convincing case.
Do I want one? Oh yes. Would this be my choice? Not certain. Although the four-wheel drive version is obviously more versatile, I remember a very inspiring drive a couple of years ago in a two-wheel drive car, so I would clearly want to try that out before deciding as it least as I remember it, it felt even more playful. In terms of power it would also be interesting to try the more potent turbo version (which would then again be four-wheel drive) – that is, if money was no issue. But sure, if someone threw a 911 4S on me, I would not mind. Actually not at all…
I meet up with Filippo Pignatti in a former Porsche dealership on the outskirts of Zurich that he, together with two other petrol heads, has transformed into a spectacular car showroom with exactly the right pit lane smell, featuring a selection of the cars in The Classic Car Fund (TCCF). This is also the HQ of the TCCF and where Filippo has his office. Italian and from Modena (where else?) by birth, he is a true European nowadays based in Switzerland where next to running a family office business he set up the TCCF five years ago, driven both by a passion for cars and for uncorrelated assets.
As Filippo tells me over an excellent espresso in the pit bar that is one part of the showroom, and as most readers of this blog know, well selected classic cars have provided better returns to investors over the last decade than most traditional and alternative asset classes, including things such as art, wines and gold. This is partly driven by the falling interest rates since the financial crisis, but also by baby boomers becoming solvent and realizing their childhood dreams and emerging market buyers that were not there a decade ago. “The Chinese have so far only been able to own classic cars abroad,” Filippo explains, “but that is about to change and that will create even greater demand in the future”.
The philosophy of the The Classic Car Fund is simple; buy well-selected cars at attractive prices following a thorough evaluation by an independent expert, and sell them later at a profit. The fund is not focused on any specific make or production year, but the emphasis is clearly on sports cars from various periods, especially Italian and quite a few of them from Filippo’s home city Modena. Holding periods vary vastly but the fund does not fall in love with its investments. Some cars have enabled the fund to realize a healthy double-digit profit in as little as three months, others will remain in the fund for up to a few years.
As always it is easy to be clever with hindsight and arguably you could have bought most Ferraris from the 90’s and earlier in these last years and realized a good profit. But it’s not just about finding the right model. “It has to be the right car”, Filippo explains, citing factors such as early production years, small, limited series, or, slightly surprisingly, famous previous owners. This last point explains two satellite positions in the fund’s current portfolio, a Maserati Quattroporte once owned by Elton John, and a fully-loaded and personalized Range Rover Sport initially ordered by David Beckham. “Obviously buying a famous person’s car brings an additional risk”, says Filippo and hints at the person’s reputation. “Should it come out tomorrow that David Beckham was doped through his whole career, that would not necessarily be good for the value of the fund”. Luckily though, the risks of that happening seem relatively small.
Next to selecting the right cars, the additional challenges of a car fund are the same as with a private car collection, most notably that you need a place to store them that is not only dry and warm but that also allows for regular exercising to avoid the cars being damaged from being immobilized. The TCCF stores its cars in various locations in Switzerland and Italy, and employs mechanics to keep them in shape. Two additional features of the fund further strengthens the link with private collections: subscriptions are permitted in kind, meaning that you can buy into the fund through a car or a car collection, following an evaluation by an independent expert. Ownership passes to the fund but the original owner receives a buyback guarantee at the same price up to two years from the point of purchase. Also, and perhaps of more interest for most, against a small fee, fund investors may borrow and drive the cars in the fund over a day or a weekend. Filippo smiles and says “take the Testarossa in the showroom down to St. Moritz over a weekend. If anyone asks you can truthfully say it’s your car, as it is part of the fund you are an owner of”.
In Filippo’s eyes, the tangible nature of the assets in the fund as one of its best guarantees of future value. “If something goes bad or the market turns completely, we can always sell the cars, making sure you do at least get part of your investment back”. He is also the firstto say that this is not something for the core of your portfolio but rather a satellite position. In terms of the current market he does not see any dramatic changes but some signs that it is becoming more selective, meaning greater expertise and competence will be required going forward. He also sees a breaking point relating to the electronic age: “the Testarossa, or Culo largo (large ass) as we call it in Italian, is a mechanical car. the LaFerrari is very complex electronically, which does not necessarily bode well for future values as it gets increasingly old and fragile”.
The Classic Car Fund has been running since 2012 and has provided investors with net returns of 7% on average p.a. after fees without any negative years (as per April, 2016). It shows no correlation to traditional assets and could thus be an interesting addition to a diversified investment portfolio. At its core though, it is really about the passion for cars. Before we shake hands and part, Filippo concludes with some very sensible words. “I always tell people that if you buy a classical car, do so because it is a car you like and that you like driving. After all, that is really what these cars are for”.
For further information on The Classic Car Fund you are welcome to contact me over the blog.
For various reasons I had to go and see the Mercedes dealership yesterday where a year and a half ago I bought our family car, an MB GL 350. The dealer is also what is called an AMG Performance Center, meaning you see more AMG of all kinds than regular MB models. This time he had something up the sleeve for me. There were a couple of cars he felt I should try out. I follow his advice, and boy was I happy that I did!
I was first handed the keys to the slightly surreal creature called GL (as from this year GLS) 63 AMG. The boys from Affalterbach never put their hands on the first generation GL, but they did so with the second, starting in 2013. The GL 63 has the same 5.5 litre, double turbo V8 engine as other 63 models, which in the GL develops 557 hp. Now as a reminder, the GL is 5.12 metres long and weighs 2.6 tons, so to make this work in any practical way they have worked quite heavily on (most) other parts as well. Notably the AMG version as standard features MB’s Active Curve System, basically aiming to remove the laws of physics.
Put your foot on the break and press the button and you will be greeted with a somewhat subdued but still gorgeous V8 sound of the type we don’t get to hear that often anymore. And when you put the AMG Speedshift in Drive, all hell breaks lose. The beast does 0-100 in 4.5 seconds whilst at the same time, to borrow an expression from Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman “corners like it’s on rails”. It is completely surreal how AMG have succeeded in masking the weight and the size of this machine and transform it to a completely different car. 760 Nm of torque seem to be available at whatever speed and in whatever gear, and acceleration is endless.
Coming back after a test drive including both mountain roads and motorway, I suspect my face featured more of a surprised than a smiling expression, but that was about to change. The dealer now handed me the keys to a sparkling, diamond-white E 63 AMG S Estate featuring lots of goodies, including the AMG Driver’s Package meaning the 250 km/h limitation goes out the window. The S version also means a boost of another 30 hp, so the same V8 engine now produces 585 hp and 800 Nm of torque (and tests conducted on these cars typically indicate a higher power output than that). Without being small, the car still weights more than half a ton less than the GL.
Where the GL exhaust sound at start-up was somewhat subdued, this is nothing but spectacular. The engine blubbers and blows in a way that will put a giant smile on anyone but the heartless and the Greens, and from that point on, that smile will never leave your face. Again, it’s what AMG succeeds at doing in masking the weight that is most impressive. I used to have the same car with a 292 hp V6 and an AMG chassis. That was a great car but it was never a sports car, rather at all times feeling extremely solid – and heavy. This is like driving a completely different car. It feels light, the steering is precise, the breaks have a solid bite and you can literally throw it around corners in a way I would maybe not have done had the dealer been sitting next to me. And then the engine… The reduced weight means a 0-100 time of around 3.5 seconds and an acceleration and torque quite simply blow your mind away, in any gear, at any speed, on any road.
Conclusion? AMG are great guys, but that we already knew. Still, the GL 63 to me is a flawed proposition. At the same time as it is amazing how you can move this thing around, its sheer size means it is not made for it. As I told the dealer, if I could choose between my car with all the AMG goodies and a diesel engine that produces maybe 100 hp more than the current one, that to me would be a better suited engine to this car than the petrol version.
The E 63 S is a completely different story. I know a new E class is on the way, that the AMG Speedshift is not as quick as for example BMW’s double clutch, and that Comand is not the best GPS system on the market. Thing is, I couldn’t care less – and neither will you, because the moment you press that button and floor the pedal, all that goes far, far away. If there was ever one, perfect car, this quite objectively has to be it. Driving pleasure like a track car combined with space for all the family and four-wheel drive to take you to the mountains on the weekends – what could you possibly want more?!? I feel negotiations are about to start….
If ever there was a God, he is sitting right below here!
Top Gear has just released the first trailer for the new Top Gear series, starring Chris Evans, Chris Harris, Sabine Schmitz and Matt LeBlanc, among others.
Not sure about whether it will be as good as the old Top Gear with Clarkson, Hammond and May, but I guess we need to give them the benefit of the doubt. Being a fan of Chris Harris I am somewhat hopeful.
I almost spilled my coffee yesterday sitting behind the wheel on my way into town when I spotted a car I was not even aware of, the newly-launched Range Rover Evoque Convertible! Except for the hard-core Defender and G-Wagen convertibles, Land Rover have thus the first modern SUV convertible and are a clear contestant for the title coolest convertible in 2016!