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by Dr. Iain Corness

Spanish GP this weekend

Traction control, traction control, traction control. Those are the buzz words this weekend as the teams are now “officially” allowed to use traction control in the F1 cars (again).

Now this traction control is not like a slippery diff, which is a mechanical method of attempting to stop wheelspin, but an electronic whizzbang that cuts engine power as the car accelerates out of the corner if it gets too much wheelspin. Now this was developed a few years back, but was outlawed; however, the FIA acknowledged that it was almost impossible to police this as it wasn’t a component, but a computer programme. Consequently they have allowed it back at this meeting. The interesting thing will be to see those cars which will now have better performance with the introduction of traction control compared to those who stay the same.

After Ralf Schumacher’s maiden win at Imola and Juan Pablo Montoya’s sensational passing manoeuvres, all eyes will be on the BMW Williams team in Spain. I do not believe it was a “flash in the pan” for Ralf, as the BMW Williams concern has been looking good all year, with crashes thrust upon them being the main reason for non finishing.

Join me Sunday in front of the big screen at Shenanigans at 7 p.m. (I think, at the time of going to press, but check with the UBC programme, or with Kim).

Some more bits from the Bangkok International Motor Show

Another obvious difference at this MoShow was the presence of the Europeans, with a couple of Spaniards along to see the SEAT stand and help make its presence felt, and a fistful of Italians involved with the FIAT - Alfa Romeo - Lancia groups. That the Alfa 156 is to be assembled on the Eastern Seaboard is a certainty, as well as the fact that it will be assembled at the GeeEmm plant which has capacity for 130,000 units annually. The plant is scheduled to produce 75,000 Zafiras this year and will begin producing 40,000 Isuzu pickups a year in mid 2003, so it has plenty of available capacity. This would benefit Alfa with a fairly low cost start-up, as well as assisting GM. A win-win situation for both. I spoke with John Mack, the president and CEO of Fiat Auto Thailand who confirmed that Thailand would be the base for all S.E. Asia sales and that the 156 was the model of choice, but would not come clean about the assembly site.

The 156 was introduced in 1997 and a face lift is scheduled for later this year, so it would all fit in nicely. The production run is planned to go through till 2004.

I should add that no-one would verify the GM connection at the show, but there were several smiling gentlemen with Italian names like Mario and Rocco on the Alfa stand. The new Alfas are very nice cars, and I would like to get my hands on one to test over here. If you are reading this, Mario and Rocco, you can get me through the Pattaya Mail!

Interestingly, William Botwick, president of GM Thailand, confirmed that GM planned to collaborate with an unnamed automaker to produce a car at the Eastern Seaboard site. Fiat and GM agreed last year to swap equity stakes, merge their powertrain operations and cooperate in platform development. Under the agreement, GM owns 20% of Fiat and Fiat owns 5% of GM. Oh such wonderful intrigue in the most incestuous of all businesses - the car game!

Automania Quiz

Last week I mentioned that the 1972 911 Porsche had two filler flaps. One on the left front guard and one on the right rear guard. This was the first time they did this and they scrapped it after only one year, reverting to one filler on the left front again in 1973. The question was simply, why? The Porsche Factory reverted to the tried and true because the new filler was supposed to be for oil, but service centres were pouring fuel down it instead - with disastrous results!

So to this week. Let’s go back to Ralf Schumacher’s maiden win at Imola. The BMW Williams runs on the French tyre Michelin. His brother runs on Bridgestone. When was the last time Michelin won a round of the F1 Grand Prix championship?

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

Road Test - top 3 Series BMW 330 Ci

While the 3 Series BeeEmms are assembled just down the road at the Eastern Seaboard Amata Estate, it doesn’t mean to say we get the complete line-up of 3 Series models. One we don’t get, and more’s the pity, is the 330 Ci, but it is for sale in Australia, where our Down Under correspondent John Weinthal spent a week with one. Here are Words from Weinthal.

“I will never protest that there is any great hardship attaching to the job of a motoring journalist. Most people join a library and it issues books. The motoring journo’s library proffers cars -one a week, for a week, every week of the year.

“Most of these cars suit their intended market pretty well. Others excel as outstanding value in their class. Thankfully, very few earn the tag ‘automotive dog’. But only a very few each year are so exhilarating that you hate giving them back.

“If the latest technology is your turn-on, the new C Class Mercedes could well be the car of choice. So far this year the toys-for-very-rich-boys award goes to the AUD 170,000 Lexus LS430, while, for sheer value, it’s hard to pass the Hyundai Santa Fe - and so it goes.

“So far, however, there’s really only one car I could lust after - one to rest in my driveway for months, even years, to come. Not surprisingly this paragon of motoring attainment is absurdly beyond most of our purses at a tad under AUD 94,000, yet there’s a lucky few queuing for it, and I promise they will be overjoyed when, finally, they can pocket its keys.

“This automotive jewel is the 3 litre, 170kW BMW 330 Ci coupe. It’s a two door, four seater of admirably elegant style, with an interior which combines an irresistible blend of fine taste and functionality.

“This is one great car to look at; and even better to ride in. Driving it is simply a privileged extension of the total 330Ci experience. Although it is a sister to the latest 3 Series sedans there is not a panel in common, and for me at least, it is a much more involving car to drive. This coupe really does enhance the BMW slogan - ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure’.

“As for high tech; it has just about the lot. There are eight airbags, the latest in anti-lock braking and automatic stability and traction control and so it goes. The memory settings built into the key can be modified to pre-select your favourite seating position and air-conditioning setting and a number of other fundamental functions.

“Standard gear includes full leather interior trim, 17 inch alloy wheels, TV and computer monitor, six stacker CD of course (although it is inconveniently boot mounted) and memory power seats. The side mirrors dip to show the kerb when reversing and - something I’d never seen before, there is electric operation of the rear quarter lights. This proved to be genuinely valuable in a coupe where drumming is almost inevitable for those who prefer driving with the front windows open rather than using the air con.

“I won’t elaborate on the driving experience beyond stating the obvious - ride, handling, steering and brakes are all but exemplary and wonderfully driver-involving. The ultra low profile tyres ensure some ride harshness on really bad surfaces, but that’s it. Noise levels are very low, apart from the operatic cry of what may well be the world’s finest six cylinder engine - a sublime sound to any enthusiast’s ear.

“Moans are few and distinctly personal: I don’t like automatic dimming interior mirrors or air-conditioning which comes on whenever the car starts. The large doors are fairly heavy but this is not uncommon with two-door cars.

“The test car had a few extras; satellite-navigation cost AUD 4041; the superb xenon headlamps with washers would set you back a further AUD 1820; the Harman Kardon sound system added AUD 750 and metallic paint is surely a snip at AUD 1475.

“Even so, we had to make do without the AUD 850 powered rear window blind and an AUD 2500 electric sunroof. But these deprivations we survived!

“This 330 Ci Coupe was a very memorable experience - a car I really would love to have over the long term - a joy for the long term I am sure, just like BMW’s stunning M Convertible of ultra-fond memory.”

Thank you, John. We take it that you liked it. Now if I can just get Karsten Engel (President BMW Thailand) to bring one out over here!

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