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by Dr. Iain Corness

San Marino GP this weekend

One of the only two counter-clockwise circuits on the racing calendar (the other was the Brazilian GP at the Interlagos circuit two weeks ago), this event should see a fired up David Coulthard (right) ready to go the distance with Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher, whom he convincingly trounced in Brazil. Join me at Shenanigans in front of the big screen. Telecast starts at 7 p.m. Sunday.

However, the BMW Williams duo of Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya have been the revelations of this 2001 season, both taking the fight right up to Ferrari and beyond McLaren Mercedes, also leaving the Honda powered cars of Jordan and BAR in their wake. The BMW engine appears to be an excellent unit, giving the Williams F1 cars some sensational top line speed. If Ralf Schumi can avoid being hit by Rubens Roughhouse Barichello, the Brazilian brawler, then I would not be surprised to see the second Schumacher on the podium.

The other quiet sensation has been the Saubers of Heidfeld and young Kimi Raikkonen. Heidfeld’s 3rd last outing was well deserved in the wet conditions, and Raikkonen has also driven very well. This time last year, the press were all saying what a wonderful job Jenson Button had done, never having raced on the tracks before. The same can be said for Raikkonen, but I suppose because he is Finnish, the English language press has not been so effusive.

Motor show press days, two door coupes and lots of vinyl

Spent an interesting couple of days at the Bangkok International Motor Show which was held at BITEC at Bangna. There were some RHD cars given their Asian release here, as our motor show is one of the most prestigious events in the region. A very influential Malaysian magazine compared KL, Singapore and Bangkok shows and admitted that the Bangkok one was way in front in all respects.

The stars of the show were for me the two door coupes, with the new C70 Volvo being a very pretty motor car, the Audi TT coupe the living example of Form follows Function thinking, the Peugeot 206 CC a great funky little two door, the Alfa 147 a clean styled pocket rocket and finally, for me the Car of the Show - the Mercedes C Class Sports Coupe.

Press Days are a strange mixture of motor cars and dancing girls. Every manufacturer seems to think that what the motoring press wants to see are some strangely made up young ladies, dressed in weird vinyl outfits, rabbitting on about the new vehicles. At the end of the verbal offerings, the “press” then descend on the stand and get given presents. It amounts to a shark feeding frenzy, and there appears to be about 100 “motoring writers” from the Thai press. This performance is done in rotation from stand to stand. Having so many chrome pole dancers in Pattaya tends to make one a little jaded and not so enamoured of the dancing routines, so I avoided the rotational bunfights, but still ended up being given a couple of free shirts (thank you VW and Mazda), a clock (thank you Volvo), and a couple of key chains (thank you Mercedes and Jaguar).

The big push in this year’s show was to get the public to buy new cars, with various manufacturers offering all sorts of financial inducements in the way of low interest rate repays over thousands of months, low or no deposits and even “cash back” incentives. For example, it is now possible to step into a Mitsu Strada bottom of the range model for less than 100,000 baht deposit and 7,000 baht a month for the next 4 years. Volvo had several options in the buying department, going as low as 1% down payment with Volvo chipping in another 9% to get you up to the 10% deposit needed. Terms went over 5 years at 5% interest. However, with the S70 and S80 you could opt for a 40% deposit and pay zero percent interest if you wanted. You also got 10,000 baht worth of Q8 gasoline.

I honestly worry about this sudden easing of the credit restrictions - while it will produce a momentary upswing it can also herald another financial credit squeeze driven crash. We’ve seen this type of marketing all over the world, and never with good long term results.

While still discussing money, do you want to save a cool 5 million baht? Of course you do. One stand was offering this with the Park Ward Rolls Royce and the Bentley Arnage.

The Roller was about 40 million, give or take a Satang or two, while the Bentley was much cheaper at 35 mill. So there you go, buy the Bentley and save, save, save. I’m sorry, even though both these fine vehicles had lumps of tree nailed to the dashboards, they cannot possibly warrant that sort of price tag. But then, as a friend of mine pointed out, you don’t pay that sort of money for the car - you are purchasing prestige as well. At this stage, I’ll stick with my VIA Rentacar Daihatsu Mira! Perhaps I would be able to purchase a piece of after-market tree.

Next week I will go through some of the more interesting vehicles spotted at the 22nd Bangkok International Motor Show, plus any other snippets from the associated stands of accessories and motorcycles.

Automania Quiz

Last week I mentioned the Gordon Buehrig designed FWD Cord which was released at the New York motor show in 1935 and nobody was allowed to have a test drive. I asked why was this so. This really was an easy one. The Cord Company was so short of time to get to the Motor Show, they managed to produce 100 cars for shows, but none of them had any innards in the gearboxes. The gear change was a weird electro-pneumatic device and at the end of the 1935 year was still problematical. Customers were given bronze replicas of the cars to keep them happy while the manufacturer struggled to overcome the problems. Later owners changed the linkage to straight manual.

By the way, when I mentioned the Daimler Dart, with the correct answer being the Dodge Company which had taken a trademark on the name “Dart” or whatever, the first correct was again Eric Servaes from Belgium. Well done Eric!

So to this week. Let’s stick with the Cord Car Company and in particular Errett Lobban Cord, the erstwhile owner of the company. Cord went bust with his Cord Corporation, but it wasn’t because his cars were no good. Why did he have to fold up his tents and disappear?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to fax 427 596 or email [email protected]

TTCC this holiday Monday

The Thailand Touring Cars are out on this Monday 16th, the public holiday. It is a one day event and will cover practice and qualifying in the morning and racing in the afternoon. Bira Circuit is on Highway 36 around Km marker 14. Easiest way is to go to the ISR and then follow Highway 36 to Rayong. The circuit is on the right hand side before you come to the Highway 331 fly-over.

For sale, car factory, ten quid

That is correct, as that is what BMW sold MG Rover for 12 months ago. The Phoenix Consortium has managed to keep the place afloat for the past year and are now talking with General Motors and Fiat about using engines and transmissions from the two automakers. The talks, said to be in the preliminary stages, are the first contact the Rover group has had with major automakers since it was sold last March.

BMW said it lost $798 million by shedding Rover and selling Land Rover to Ford last year. BMW also gave MG Rover a dowry of about $720 million, but has said it expects to be repaid once MG Rover returns to profitability.

Partnerships with larger automakers would help MG Rover receive better economies from parts makers. The small British automaker plans to produce 200,000 cars a year, including a new lower-medium car, at its lone plant in Longbridge, England. It produced 226,000 units last year.

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