Adventures at the Goodwood Festival of Speed

I went to this year’s Festival of Speed at Goodwood. It’s a carnival for car lovers and a mecca for mechanics. To read about my experience at the FoS follow this link:


Put through the paces: Jaguar XKR-S

In the country of England, there’s a growing disinterest among young people in getting a license and owning their first car. There are a few theories on why this is: high gas prices, increasing trends in ‘going green’ etc. But the one that sticks out for me is the epic amount new drivers have to pay for insurance over here. New drivers have to shell out thousands in insurance, sometimes adding up to more than the actual car they’re paying to insure. In the U.S we long for the day where we don’t have to take that big yellow eye sore of a bus to school, no matter the cost. I’m glad to say getting my license was one of the greatest and most freeing experiences I ever enjoyed; getting out of the house whenever I wanted, unnecessarily racing my friends home in their cars, going to parties and not getting dropped of or picked up by the ‘rents. Not getting my first car? I can’t even fathom the thought. It actually took all my strength to type that first sentence with out being sick.

It’s because of this and being 23 that I have such a hard time driving worthwhile cars at press events. The first monthly Jaguar press event I went to, I could only drive the 2.0-liter diesel engine cars. Not exactly what I had in mind, especially since the monstrous XKR-S recently came out. No, because I was under 28 they barely trusted I could feed my self and go to the bathroom all on my own let alone drive their super-coupe. I tried to tell them that I’ve worked as a valet and had driven everything from Pontiacs to Porsches to Rolls-Royces (albeit only 300 ft to park them). It took a few more appearances at these monthly press events and some American charm but I eventually swayed the lady in charge of the keys to hand over the rest of Jaguar’s fleet.

After months of being jealous of all the veteran journalists getting a go in it, I finally got my ride in the XKR-S.

I don’t care how old you are or how many discounts you get on your insurance; everyone is 23 when they walk up to it and immediately 12 years old when they sit behind the wheel of an XKR-S. Jaguar built this car with one thing in mind and that was pure performance. A facelift at the front sees aero aids on the sides and a new splitter under a revised front fascia. Around back, a carbon fiber spoiler makes an appearance and quad exhausts hug the rear diffuser as well. All of which hint at Jaguar’s proven racetrack heritage.

I barely got out of the complex and on the main road before I jabbed at the accelerator and unleashed all 543 horses. The sound that came as a result was instantly addictive (epic WW2 fighter planes come to mind). 0-60 takes a mere 4.5 seconds and 100mph in 8.7. Trust me, I tested it and retested it and then my colleague tested it some more. The claimed top speed is 186mph, but I’ll take Jag’s word on that one.

Engineers just didn’t simply add more horsepower though; through the corners the Jag stays flat and planted. Stiffer suspension and retuned adaptive dampeners help keep the front facing forward and the rear tires behind you. I couldn’t even tell the car had any body roll until I saw the cornering shots. A lot of people have complained that the suspension is too stiff. But that’s like ordering apple pie and complaining that it has apple in it. The roads weren’t exactly smooth where I tested it but I just might be used to the track tuned suspension of my Kawasaki ZX-10. Therefore my spine is permanently lodged in the top of my skull and my pelvis had turned to dust long before I sat in the sporty bucket seats of the R-S. The steering wasn’t as confidence inspiring as I would hope in a high horsepower rear drive sports car, there wasn’t much feed back when something went out of line. Luckily the car is easy enough to handle that you can react quick enough and not do doughnuts every time you turn in to a corner.

This is where I question the dedication of the car though. Most sports car companies have sportier versions of their best cars and then track oriented versions on top of that. Porsche’s 911(the main competition) has the GT3 and then the GT3 RS. The problem with the XKR-S is that I don’t think the suspension was stiff enough. The GT3 RS is a much larger step up in the way that there is literally nothing left in the car except the essentials: seats, steering, A/C…and thats pushing it. Things that have been added are along the lines of a roll cage and a fire extinguishing system. The metal Porsche emblem on the hood is even replaced by a sticker just to save weight. Looking at the back seat that should have been the first thing to go in the Jag since it barely exists in the first place. The dedication towards the track is a little half-assed. If the R-S is going to be a top of the range, track oriented car, I wish it would separate its self from the next model down with a little more than tuned suspension and 30 extra horsepower.

For what it’s worth I’ve never had nearly as much fun in any other car, being a valet or journalist. I want make the exhaust note my ring tone and call myself over and over just to hear it on a regular basis. That’s what Jag did get right with this car, the whole sensory experience; the exhaust bark, your head getting pinned back when you hit the gas and the seats hugging you when you get side ways. Just making you feel like a kid and enjoying the ride. In an era where planned obsolescence is all too common I’m afraid the XKR-S may have fell victim to it, hinting Jaguar could have done more. But as a 12 year old, the XKR-S is one of those cars that would have me longing for my license and an empty stretch of road.


Something sensible and useful for a change…

Best bets on low insurance

 Whether seen as a right of passage or a privilege, passing your driving test is an exciting time for anyone. However, insurance premiums are guaranteed to rain on your parade. And if you’re under the age of 25 it can be a torrential down pour. According to the AA British Insurance Premium index, the average premium for the 25 and under bracket is £2,342 a year. The price of the quote depends on the type of car you pick. Insurers categorize different cars on a scale numbering 0ne to 20, one being the cheapest quote. Using we found which are the makes and models of cars are the cheapest to insure for buyers on the on the market for the first time.

Top ten cheapest cars to insure

Out of the 8,400 different cars available for purchase in the UK, this is a list of the top ten cheapest to insure.





Average Premium




Nova 1.2i Trip






Escort Ghia Tdi






Ami 8 Club






Mini Park Lane






Ibiza Salsa Diesel






Marbella Jeans






Escort Acapulco






Panda Selecta






Astra Arctic 2 16V





Driving down the cost of insurance

Part of the list is cars that are rare enough to not even bother looking for and are not going to be an option for most drivers. Many of the cars are actually special editions, which means they have more specifications on the trim in addition to the base level versions. Though similar models can be found through second hand dealers.

Along side choosing the right make and model, there are other means of driving down the cost of insurance. Research which grouping your vehicle falls into to get an idea of how expensive your quote will be with the Association of British Insurers.

Once you’ve given an arm and a leg for your car and its insurance, Telematics Technology might help you lower your premiums. Some insurers offer this technology that monitors driving habits through a tiny black box with a GPS signal attached to your car. The system rewards good and bad drivers accordingly.

Ducati Panigale 1199: a serious look

Ducati, the famed Italian motorcycle company, has recently released the Panigale 1199. Their 5th generation super bike, which they say is a “check mate” to the competition.

When looking at the facts on paper it sure reads that way. Boasting the highest power to weight and torque to weight figure of any production bike with 195 hp at 10,750 rpm and 98.1 lb-ft at 9000 rpm and a dry weight of 361.5 lbs.

“Without doubt, this has been the most ambitious project in Ducati’s history and underlines our engineering excellence and ‘product emotion,’ an aspect of our brand which, in such a competitive market place, has become more important than ever.” Says Ducati’s president Ducati President Gabriele Del Torchio. Those aren’t just words for the press either. The Panigale has done away with the Ducati signature tubular A-frame and gone with a monocoque chassis. To top it off Ducati has also bolted the engine’s cylinder heads directly to the frame making them a stressed component on the frame. They didn’t stop there though. The airbox is integrated into the frame and the swing arm is bolted directly to the back of the engine block, all this for weight saving sake. Ducati claims 22 lbs are shaved off, which is biblical in the motorcycle world.

The Panigale matches its mechanical innovations with its electronic wizardry. Utilizing systems such as ABS, traction control, electronic suspension, different riding modes and Ducati’s quick shift system (allows wide open throttle up-shifts), the Panigale becomes the most electronically sophisticated bike on the road. But sophistication has a price. The 1199 is tagged upwards of 20k.

That’s on paper, what is it like on the road? The ergonomics were altered to accommodate for the time spent off the track. The foot pegs are lowered, yet still relatively high and the handle bar reach isn’t as stretched. With all the electronic controls at you finger tips the inspiration for confidence is ripe and ready.

Having been to the UK press launch of the Panigale 1199 and followed reviews of first rides and so on I can’t help but shake a thought. After I admire the sleek simplicity and the sharp beautiful lines I think, “ if that’s not Italian I don’t know what is”. But I’m reminded of a poster I once saw of an old Ducati and underneath it captioned “ Ducati. Making mechanics out of riders since 1946”. That’s when I start to look past the PR sweet talk and the amazing rider-reviews and wonder what is it like to live with when maintenance becomes an issue.

I have dropped the engine out of my ’96 Kawasaki zx-11 to split the crank case to change the connecting rod…twice (In the bike’s defense the bike had 50k+ miles on it and in my defense I was young and stupid). It’s not a fun task. Engineers don’t think of the rider, they think of how to put the bike together and never about how to take it apart. Now factor in Italian engineering. Dropping the engine on the Panigale also requires the detachment of the swing arm as well. Attaching the swing arm to the engine block and putting the air-box as part of the frame works on the track but not in my garage and certainly not on my patience. If I had an army of Italians to maintain my Panigale 1199 I wouldn’t mind buying one at all. But I don’t… so I won’t

And there you have it. Its expensive, bright red, loud, loads of power, beautiful to look at and mechanically impractical for every day life… Traditionally Italian. By being innovative and steering away from tradition Ducati haven’t changed a damn thing.

Interview with Matt Humphries : Morgan Motor Company chief designer

Sense of humor. Something you don’t associate with a car company that’s existed since around 1900. Mercedes, Ford, etc. are all corporate companies with no funny bone.

Morgan Motor Company has been around since 1910 and they pride themselves on just that, their sense of humor. It’s clear after talking to Matt Humphries, the chief designer and relatively new face at the company, that jokes are still to be had.

Before Matt graduated from Coventry University in 2005 he started at the boutique car company on student placement. As part of his placement he had to present a design idea to the owner. The student project would later make it to production with Matt in charge.

“There was no official design department when I showed up.” Matt explained. Before he was employed the engineers and workshop teams just tried ideas out and saw what worked. Matt and his team of 3 stylists that are employed now try “to make the wooden frame a feature of the cars interior” Matt claims.

Using an ash wooden frame might seem idiotic to base a modern days car frame off of but not entirely. Matt defends “Compare wood to modern materials such as carbon fiber or aluminum. They’re all lightweight, strong and flexible.” He continues “now think of all the items in your house and think of which are wood…there is a reason we have been using it for centuries”. Sensibility and sense of humor can go hand in hand. “ Think of the wooden frame as a coat hanger for the aluminum chassis”.

Old-fashioned construction and 1920s styling are major parts in the character of Morgan. This is why it’s one of the few companies that can get away with bringing back the 3-wheeler. Essentially a tub with a Harley-Davidson engine in front flanked by 2 wheels and a third belt driven wheel in the back. With a design inspired by a B-52 bomber and a separate younger generation excited about it the 3-wheeler is the epitome of Morgan.

Three new models are in the pipeline at Morgan. All planned with wooden chassis. But as far as the styling they are extremely forward thinking. “As long as you have some of the Morgan elements you don’t need them all for it to be a Morgan.” Humphries explained. The designs more or less capture elements of the past with out being completely old fashioned. Matt uses the term “Story telling through design”.

A twenty-something as the chief designer at a car company from the early 20th century… a perfect fit at this plucky British Motor Company.

Ferrari Tailor-Made

  Automotive companies, in the past few decades, have adopted special branches to their companies. For the most part these special sectors of the company specialize in performance upgrades; Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT), Chrysler LLC’s Street and Racing Technology (SRT), BMW’s M division and Mercedes’ AMG division.

Earlier in 2011 McLaren Automotive started up McLaren Special Operations. Which deals solely with visual upgrades. Let’s face it the MP-4 12c doesn’t really need performance upgrades.

So it’s no surprise that long time rival company Ferrari has recently started up Ferrari Tailor-Made. FTM is Ferrari’s customizing service for clients who want to go the extra mile to make their baby unique.

Tailored to suite individuals’ tastes by the Ferrari styling center, clients can follow the car through every step of production. Each client also gets his or her own personal design advisor.

When talking personal tastes of Ferrari owners the spectrum can range from classy and subtle to a flamboyant eye sore. Which is why Ferrari has covered all the bases. Three categories of styling exist: Scuderia, Classica and Inedita.

Scuderia reflects the sporting heritage of Ferrari. With options such as carbon fiber, Alcantara and kevlar trims along side satin and matte finishes one can easily land at either end of the spectrum. Get it right you can have a subtle track weapon that makes you look like a driving legend.

Classica allows the client to put a vintage twist on a new model. Kashmir roof lining, a teak-trimmed trunk and interior inserts that match the exterior can easily make a classic looking GT.

Inedita is described as “experimental” and “innovative”. This is where the flamboyant eye sore options come into play. If a client wants his pale blue Ferrari convertible to have matching blue rims, sure. If said client then wants matching blue leather seats with denim trim alternating through out the cabin, no problem. But if blue denim isn’t your style ferrari have other suite fabrics at you disposal.

The idea behind this program is to create a more bespoke Ferrari for every customer. Every car is different. From the cool racer to the hip-hop mogul, Ferrari has options for you.

Drive – Movie Review

Ryan Gosling plays a Hollywood Stunt driver by day and wheelman for hire by night. That’s the basic premise. In the movie the nameless wheelman (Gosling becomes some what romantically involved with his neighbor (Carey Mulligan, Wall Street 2). Her husband is soon released from prison but owes protection money to a group of gangsters. Looking to protect his new affection, the wheelman helps out the husband and offers to be the driver for a job to get the money needed. A double-crossing from the gangsters ensues and the wheelman is left with the money and a choice to make: run with the money or set things strait and protect his neighbor and her child.

Since seeing the movie Bullitt, all cop drama movies with car chases are held to that standard that Bullitt set the bar for. If Frank Bullit (Steve McQueen’s character in Bullitt) were to work on the other side of the law this would be the story of that man. Now I know that is a tall order to dish up but bear with me. 80s style music was the choice of chorus in this film and I rather liked it. I complimented the subtle yet stylized cinematography beautifully. But it did more than that. In the movie Bullitt you will notice through out the movie that the music is used to not just set the mood of the scene but to direct your mood and prepare it for the scene. Whether it be a relaxed or high-tension scene it directs your pulse to calm or to go on the attack, most notably the build up to the big car chase through the streets of San Francisco. But then the music does something rare, something most production studios don’t know how to do to this day… it stops. It stops and lets the sounds of what the driver hears, the engine and tire squeal. It may seem small and insignificant but watch these two movies and try to notice your pulse and posture during the chase scenes. Drive’s main chase scene has the wheel-man in a Mustang GT (coincidence?) and the chasers in a Chrysler 300. I almost expected the 300 to end up plowing into a Gas station. It’s not just the chase scenes though. Gosling seems to capture that cool reserve that Frank Bullitt always seemed to hold. If Jason Statham had been cast for this movie he wouldn’t have know when to shut up. No cheesy one-liners here. Saying what needs to be said nothing more nothing less.

When I originally saw Ryan Gosling as the lead I was with some doubt about the movie. Having being forced to watch The Note Book by an ex-girlfriend I had what you would call a bias. After seeing the movie and appreciating it for what it is it is on my top 10 list and i highly recommend it to cinema fans let alone Bullit fans and automotive junkies

P.S if you have a keen ear you can hear, in Bullitt, the throttle blips on the up shifts (special FX and useless). If you also pay attention to Drive there are up shifts while driving the Mustang GT in reverse…