Bentley Azure

Returning Bentley CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer, it seems, waxes nostalgic for a convertible. He’d like to build a 2-seater but he’ll most likely follow Royce’s example and go for a 4-seater. He liked the 1995 Azure, which continued in various iterations for years. His options now, with W12, V8 and V10s available from stock, as it were, are wide and the Continental is a fine platform. The Complete Bentley recalled the first Azure (left).

By 1995, after the best part of a quarter-century, the Corniche-Continental’s time was up. When they drew up Project 90 in 1985, (below) which had evolved into the Continental R, Heffernan and Greenley conceived a convertible which as a result had been waiting ten years. Despite a good deal of strengthening and reinforcement, scuttle shake was endemic in the old Corniche, so it had to be done away with for the Azure. Basing it on the Continental R instead of the old Corniche brought a 25 per cent improvement in torsional stiffness.

Manufacture however was not straightforward. A joint project was arranged between Crewe and Pininfarina in Turin under which Park Sheet Metal in Coventry, which made Continental R body shells, sent sub-assemblies to Italy for completed bodies to be painted and have the intricate power-operated hood mechanism fitted by specialist Opac before being shipped back to Crewe for completion. Bodybuilding was done at Pininfarina’s San Giorgio Canavese factory, where Cadillac Allantes had been put together. The unitary hulls still had to be strengthened to make up for the absence of a roof, with an additional 190kg (418.9lb) of reinforcement under the rear floor, deeper door sills, thicker A-posts and screen top rail.

All that remained of the Corniche’s shivers, I recall from a 1995 road test, were tremors that could still be seen in the rear-view mirror and vibrations felt through the steering column. Door sill plates proclaimed Bentley Motors’ and Pininfarina credit for the structure, in particular the power hood designed to close in 30sec, although one famously failed on the Cote d’Azur press launch. The Azure’s interior was furnished like the Continental R with traditional veneers and leather, woollen fleeces on the floor and, by virtue of a 1992 co-operative agreement with BMW, electrically operated front seats with integral seat belts from the 8-series coupe.
Final Azure 2005


Several generations of fast turbocharged Bentleys had transformed road behaviour, from the early tentative 1970s when Bentleys carried the legacy of Rolls-Royce town carriages, to the dawn of the 21st century when they were more able to compete with fast rivals. Steering was now 2.9 turns from lock to lock, faster, sharper, with more feel; braking more progressive with ever-bigger discs, and body roll, although by no means eliminated was less pronounced.

INTRODUCTION Geneva 1995.BODY Convertible; 2-doors, 4 -seats; weight 2610kg (5754lb);
ENGINE V8-cylinders, in-line; front; 104.1mm x 99.1mm, 6750cc; compr 8:1; 286kW (383.53bhp) @ 4000rpm; 42.4kW (56.86bhp)/l; 750Nm (553lbft) @ 2000rpm. ENGINE STRUCTURE pushrod overhead valves; hydraulic tappets; gear-driven central cast iron camshaft; aluminium silicon cylinder head; steel valve seats, aluminium-silicon block; cast iron wet cylinder liners; Garrett AiResearch TO4 turbocharger .5bar (7.25psi); intercooler; Zytek EMS3 motormanagement; 5-bearing chrome molybdenum crankshaft. TRANSMISSION rear wheel drive; GM turbo Hydramatic 4-speed; final drive 2.69:1
CHASSIS steel monocoque, front and rear sub-frames; independent front suspension by coil springs and wishbones; anti roll bar; independent rear suspension by coil springs and semi-trailing arms; Panhard rod stiffener; anti roll bar; three-stage electronically controlled telescopic dampers and Boge pressure hydraulic self-levelling; hydraulic servo brakes, 27.94cm (11in) dia discs front ventilated; twin circuit; Bosch ABS; rack and pinion PAS; l08l (23.75gal) fuel tank; 255/55-WR 17 tyres, 7.6in rims, cast alloy wheels DIMENSIONS wheelbase 306cm (120.47in); track 155cm (61.02in); length 534cm (210.24in); width 188cm (74.02in); height 146cm (57.48in); ground clearance 14cm (5.5in); turning circle 13.1m (42.98ft).EQUIPMENT 2-level air conditioning, leather upholstery, pile carpet, 8-way electric seat adjustment, galvanised underbody PERFORMANCE maximum speed 249kph (155.1mph); 64kph (39.87mph) @ 1000rpm; 0-100kph (62mph) 6.0sec; fuel consumption 19.3l/100km (14.64mpg) PRICE £215,000 PRODUCTION 1311

PICTURES above right 2003 Limited Azure edition. Left Road test GTC chez nous

Another COTY winner

COTY jurors aren’t voting for Car of the Year. They are voting to look Green. Why else would they have elected the Ampera in 2012? They surely can’t have expected it to sell more than a handful. They’re not that stupid. No, they are spooked, along with governments round the world, by what WS Gilbert called greenery yallery Grosvenor Gallery foot-in-the-grave young men. Or women.

Opel and Vauxhall dealers, who hadn’t a lot of choice perhaps, accounted for the first year’s 5,000 or so Amperas. That sank to 3,184 last year and collapsed to 332 in the first five months of this, of which only 46 were in its German home market. GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky vented frustration at Geneva: “All the governments in Europe said, ‘We want EVs, we want EVs.’ We show up with one, and where is everybody?” The answer is that they were off buying something else, real cars mostly.

COTY jurors are like governments appeasing Green voters with inglorious wind farms and wasteful subsidies. By any standards the Ampera was a disaster. Production is stopping and although GM will redesign the broadly similar Volt next year it won’t come to Europe.

There wasn’t much wrong with the Ampera. It was sensibly-sized and quite handsome, drove smoothly and quietly and as a hybrid didn’t have the range anxieties of milk-floaty plug-in electric cars, attracting complaints now about how costly they are to top-up. Apparently charging stations take money by the hour, without knowing how much electricity is actually being used. The cost can be just as much for a battery flat or near full.

I have said before that there is a FIFA flavour about Car of the Year. In 50 years COTY has never elected a Jaguar, Range Rover or Land Rover. It can’t be anti-British-ness. Munich doesn’t come off well either. There has been no BMW; a range that goes from Rolls-Royce to Mini has never made the grade except for second last year for the i3. It elected an electric Nissan yet COTY doesn’t do safety. Volvo and Saab never featured. Engineering excellence? Bentley has never made it. Production quality? There have been no Hondas. Value for money? No Skodas, no Seats but 9 Fiats, 6 Renaults and 5 Fords. I can’t understand why manufacturers get so excited by it.

Rufus J Flywheel

It has taken me a long time to read Rufus J Flywheel on car names 19 January 2012 if you must know. He meditates, if that is the word for someone with a monicker that smacks of casually made up, on names. How easily the Dacia Lodgy could become Dodgy. Volkswagen’s Sharan Carat was close to Sharon Carrot and Mitsubishi’s Carisma didn’t have much.
Nothing’s new. Does he not remember Singer Vague and Humber Septic? Hillman Scavenger, Ford Crappi, Cretin (Cortina), Angular and Coarser (Corsair), or should Coarser be a Vauxhall? Rolls-Royce’s first idea for the Silver Shadow was Silver Mist until somebody told them Mist in German was something like MR2 in French.
CARkeys is a treasure-house. Well-written, well presented, up-to-date it has obscure material seldom found elsewhere, like David Finlay’s feature on a BMW based on the 1940 Mille Miglia 328. Shown as a Concept at scrutineering for the 2006 Mille Miglia, it was a bit like the real thing I drove in 1992 (left). I had it on good authority that the replica was a serious project at a time when quirky “future classics” were fetching silly prices, and BMW was tempted to follow Porsche with the 959 and make a few 328s. It didn’t last; Jaguar was among those that got into a muddle with the XJ220 and lived to regret it.
The 1940 BMW I drove to John o’Groats was insured for £2million even then, but what an exemplar it was. Lightweight, precise, stiff and quick I could have won the Mille Miglia in it. In 1940 it had been up against ponderous underpowered 2500cc Alfa Romeos, gaggles of Fiats and a couple of 815s cobbled-up by Enzo Ferrari, forbidden by his end-of-contract with Alfa to call them Ferraris. In 1938 Count Giovanni Lurani (an Anglophile, he affected the nickname Johnny Lurani and drove MGs) had suggested the race should move to Libya, Cyrenaica and Tripolitania having been taken from the Ottomans by Italy in 1912.
By1940 Libya was no longer an option so the April 28 race was truncated to nine times round a 104-mile circuit Brescia-Cremona-Brescia. Italy was still officially a non-belligerant but Germany had already invaded Poland and was busy assaulting Norway yet the race went ahead. BMW recruited Lurani (he ran with the hare and hunted with whatever hounds would let him drive racing cars), who acted as go-between in the Hotel Vittoria, where both German and French teams were staying but forbidden to meet because their nations were at war.
BMW won the race at a canter and all three roadsters survived the war. In 1945 H J Aldington of AFN in Isleworth, which imported BMWs (as Frazer Nash-BMWs) in the 1930s, went over ostensibly to reclaim a 328 he had left in Munich in 1939. He came back instead with one of the Mille Miglia cars to save it from the depredations of the occupying forces.
It was converted to right hand drive, equipped with a Frazer Nash radiator and displayed as a prototype. Production never prospered, it was sold to racing driver Gilbert Tyrer, and I saw it racing at Turnberry in 1952 and took it back there for the picture (left). In the 1960s, very down-at-heel, it was bought by my colleague on the road test staff of The Motor, Michael Bowler who restored it and sold it back to the BMW museum in the 1980s.
By the time it had been reconstructed by BMW it felt thoroughly modern. It was roomy and the gear lever was a bit long and springy - not quite the short stubby lever of contemporary sports cars - but the change was slick and precise. Steering was surprisingly light and although the springing was firm it probably felt luxurious in 1940 when sports cars were generally rough and ill-mannered. The classic tall 328 engine (above right)revved to 5,000rpm, with an emphatic crackle from the exhaust at 4,500.



The main disadvantage driving it round Scotland (that’s Ackergill Tower near Wick, above) was that you looked over, rather than through the windscreen and there was no hood. All very well in the sunshine of an Italian spring, but venturesome on the Lecht road by the ski-slopes in wintry May.
Biggles knew what he was about. Goggles and a leather helmet are necessary when your head is in the slipstream. A BMW motorcycle suit made a difference. Rain trickled onto my lap but an inner layer of Gore-tex and zips and studs made it all-of-a-piece, kept me dry in six hours' downpour but it did not protect my face. Snow and then hailstones evoked sympathy for grouse dodging grapeshot in August. Rufus J Flywheel would have a word for it.

BMW Z4M Coupe

What I thought about the BMW Z4M Coupe in 2006
The BMW Z3 Coupe had seemed something of an afterthought. A roof was added later to the original 2-seater, which cost a lot and ruined the proportions. It was not well thought through, although the steel top made the structure stiffer so it handled better than the open car and earned glowing reviews. Introduced at the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show, it was distinctive, a bit quirky, very fast and ought to have had resonance yet it never really caught on.

The main reason was price. It cost twice as much as an entry level Z3. By 2006 BMW was determined not to fumble the Z4, so despite what Adrian van Hooydonk head of design said about the roof being done in the design office’s spare moments, this time it looked as though it was designed from the outset. Van Hooydonk called the Z4 Coupe a GT car shrink wrapped round two people to be “the smallest possible package that can accommodate occupants and luggage, while retaining the strong muscular stance of the roadster.” He described it as a Pocket GT.
Contentious perhaps from the country that gave us the Pocket Battleship.

The Z4 Coupe was certainly small, cramped, and except for the agile, not easy to get in and out. You could find yourself leaving a leg outside because the door did not open wide enough. “Shrink wrapping” extended to a double-bubble in the roof and while it looked pretty, the Chris Bangle origami remained contentious.

The Z4 of 2006 was a bit wide of the mark. While the Z3 Coupe was a better car for driving than the open one, the Z4 Coupe sadly never was, even with a bodyshell twice as stiff. A Z4M was fine for track days on a smooth classic racing circuit like glorious Goodwood, but in the real world of an average highway it was harsh and uncompromising. Bumps unsettled it; cambers threw it off course. Supple modern sports cars should not be so demanding.
The Z4 came from Spartanburg South Carolina, and while every bit as well made as a BMW from Munich, maybe it was designed for the wrong sort of customer. Americans expected sporty cars to be “difficult”, which was why they liked Porsches with engines overhanging the back wheels. Americans did not feel fulfilled unless they were fighting oversteer; not getting their money’s worth unless a car felt dangerous. They wanted to be James Dean fighting it out (and ultimately losing) his Porsche Speedster.

The Z4 was nothing like that, but it was not very compliant and a BMW with such a turbulent ride was an historical anomaly. In 1936 when sports cars were uncomfortable, noisy, draughty, stiffly sprung and had a chassis that twisted, BMW came out with the 328. Softly sprung, the 328 had a chassis frame of strong tubes that did not flex and bend, and was, as they would have said then, streamlined. Enthusiasts thought it effete until they tried keeping up with one. It outpaced everything. The splendid 6-cylinder engine survived into the 1960s as the Bristol, gave 100mph performance, and touring-car refinement. Even the sleek shape survived. The 1948 Jaguar XK120 of William Lyons was inspired by the 1940 Mille Miglia BMW 328.
In BMW-speak M means Motorsport and in the case of the Z4M engine it meant Magnificent. The Bavarian Motor Works has always been best at engines and this one was a masterpiece in magnesium alloy, the lightest production 6-cylinder in the world, revving to a glorious 7,900rpm, thrilling to drive. Achieving 100bhp per litre took it into the realms of racing engines, with the pistons moving at a mind-bending 24 metres per second. Those on BMW’s Formula 1 engine did 25 metres a second, although it only had to last two race weekends, while the Z4 straight-6 was expected to last something approaching a lifetime.
Alas behind this paragon of power units was a pedestrian transmission. Its long-throw 6-speed gearshift made driving a series of leaps and bounds, instead of a smooth seamless progress. It needed a shorter travel lever, less obstructive synchromesh and a quicker clutch. Perhaps Americans knew no better.
BMW said it would only bring 200 Z4Ms to Britain in a year. It was probably well advised. The ordinary non-M Z4 suffered similarly from road reverberations, making long journeys tiresome, for which the high cornering power was some recompense. The huge brakes were strong; just as well with all that power. Porsches, on balance, were better.

SPEC: Engine 6 cylinders in line, magnesium alloy, 3246 cc @ 7900rpm; 343bhp (255.8kW); 6-speed manual gearbox, Variable M differential; price £41,285; Coupe; 2-doors, 2-seats; weight 29.2cwt (1485kg); maximum speed 155mph; 0-60mph (96kph) 5.0sec; fuel consumption 12.2mpg. (Below) Test Z4M by Charles Rennie Mackintosh masterpiece, the Glasgow Art Lover's House.

Back to the Future

Drivers in cars will seem bizarre. Future generations will never understand why we put up with the congestion, danger and inconvenience of cars driven by people. Allister Heath, editor of City AM points out presciently that the £35 billion HS2 will be obsolescent almost as soon as it is built in 2032 or so, as driverless cars develop. Driving as we know it will be relegated to a leisure pursuit rather like riding or carriage driving with horses. Motor racing? It has already become so far removed from the real world of cars that, like the Grand National or the Derby, it will survive in its own anachronistic way. (Above: Fisker had the vision)

Nothing’s new. On 30 April 1989 I wrote in The Sunday Times: An automatic pilot for cars is practical. Prometheus, a pan European research and development programme now in its third year looks like getting into the driving seat by the end of the Century. "Driving along motorways without electronic controls will be seen, in years to come, as savage and dangerous," according to Sir Clive Sinclair in a report on traffic published last week by the Adam Smith Institute. "Fighter aircraft perform in ways which would be inconceivable if a human brain had to regulate them. Cars under electronic control could travel at 100 miles per hour, closer together and in great safety. I envisage motorways where the control of the vehicles is taken over by the road," says the inventive Sir Clive.

One of the pioneers of Prometheus (PROgramme for a European Traffic with Highest Efficiency and Unprecedented Safety, not a catchy title), Dr Ferdinand Panik of Daimler Benz agrees. "Present day traffic with individual elements will evolve into an integral system of co operating partners." He regards the electronic revolution in cars as analogous to typewriters. "Twenty years ago, as a purely mechanical product, the typewriter had reached a very advanced state of development. Everyone was satisfied with it. Yet within a short time, computers and communication systems had brought about a change from independent typewriters to interlinked word processors, and conquered the market."

Jerome Rivard, former chief of electronics at Ford, now Vice President of Bendix Electronics in the United States believes we are entering the final phase of handing over control of the car to electronics. "Phase 1 was from the mid 60s to the late 70s, when we saw the solid state radio, electronic ignition, and digital clocks. Phase 2 brought integrated circuits and microprocessors which started to link components together. This included electronic engine controls, instruments, and anti lock brakes, now familiar to many drivers. Phase 3 began in the mid 1980s, in which we will see the total integration of vehicle electrical and electronic systems."
(Jensen and successors will survive)
What this means is that with developments such as anti lock brakes, and its corollary, electronic traction control for preventing loss of grip through wheelspin, coming into use, the stage is set for electronics to take the wheel. "We shall drive on to motorways, but once we are there, control of the vehicle will be taken over by the road," says Sir Clive. Rivard puts it another way, "The skills required in handling an automobile are, in some cases, beyond the capacity of the average driver. The advances in steering, braking, and suspension technology during Phase 3 will allow him to employ the full performance potential of the vehicle even in exceptional situations like avoiding accidents." The immediate safety related task of the new systems will be to create an electronic field round the car with ultrasonic, radar, or infrared beams, to measure the distances and speeds to other vehicles. Approaching a parked lorry at night or in fog, the driver will be alerted to the danger of collision. Before the invention of anti lock brakes (ABS) he would have put the brakes on, or swerved by himself. Now the car can do the job better than the most skilled driver, and on the Sinclair motorway, will apply its own brakes. The same applies to unwise overtaking. The on board computers calculate the speed of the lorry ahead, the speed of the car overtaking, decide there is danger of an accident, and over rules the driver's decision to pull out. Research chiefs such as Professor Dr Ing. Ulrich Seiffert of VW see measures of this sort as a solution to the problem of congestion on motorways. "With electronic controls regulating the cars, you could double or treble the capacity of a motorway," he told me during a meeting at this year's Geneva Motor Show. "And automatic traffic will also be more fuel efficient, and so less polluting."

At the inception of Prometheus in 1986, Professor Werner Breitschwerdt, Chairman of the Daimler Benz board of management defined its target as cutting road traffic casualties by half before the year 2000. At a meeting in Munich earlier this year by the participating companies which include most of Europe's principal car manufacturers (Jaguar, Rolls Royce, Renault, Peugeot Citroën, Fiat, Volvo, Saab Scania, VW, BMW, Volkswagen Audi, and Daimler Benz), the research and development phase of the programme was officially inaugurated. "It was a meeting to provide the project's board of management with a progress report," according to Daimler Benz, the prime mover and still the principal co ordinator of Prometheus. "The first year, 1987, was taken up with defining the programme, in 1988 the participating companies were discussing how to do it, and research proper starts this year."

I rode in road trains of vehicles on test tracks 25 years ago. (Below - Nissan Leafs at a Silverstone demonstration - imagine them driving like this on the motorway at 100mph without drivers) I marvel now at Google’s vehicles that have covered 400,000 miles without an accident. With 360degree sensors, lasers, GPS and learning algorithms everything is in place to make driverless cars practical. Public transport, except in close-packed cities, is doomed. People will travel by night, dozing off and waking up at journey’s end. Commuting, along with everything else, will be transformed.

Sex in Cars

Half Britain’s male drivers apparently have sex in cars with a third of the female. Confused.com has done a survey. Either a lot of male drivers are sharing or they’re fantasising. I am more inclined to believe another bit of poll that says nearly 55 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women argue in the car.

Wales is sexier. Fifty two per cent of drivers there do it in cars but in London it’s only 35 per cent. What’s wrong? Street lights? Traffic wardens? The survey uncovered more guilty secrets. Passengers partying in the back – 15 per cent of men and 9 per cent of women allow it. Not sure about “partying”. More than drinking and singing lewd songs surely. Racing away at the lights – 21 per cent of men and 13 per cent of women drivers do that.

Dumping boyfriend/girlfriend in the car – 10 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men broke up behind the wheel. It doesn’t say whether this was included among the arguers. Flirting with another driver sounds like more male fantasising and does not reveal how the flirting ended up. Some 22 per cent of men and 15 of women claim to have tried to attract other drivers on the road. Traffic jams where you can catch an eye perhaps. Must be more than a passing fancy.

Surprisingly 64 per cent of men and 71 of women eat snacks in the car.

Women voted Audi drivers the sexiest (21%) but, better news, BMW drivers were second (19%), followed jointly by Mercedes and Porsche drivers (6%). Men find women sexiest when they drive a Mini (19%) followed by Audi drivers (12%) and BMWs (10%).


Picture of my BMW in sylvan setting below. Other pictures - Mini publicity of the 1960s.

Gareth Kloet, Head of Car Insurance at Confused.com said:
"The results of this demonstrate that we truly are a nation of car lovers in every sense of the word.
"The number of men and women who tell us they have had sex in their cars has increased since last year's poll*: 37% of women (compared with 30% last year) and 50% of men (compared with 48% last year). Male Audi drivers are on top for the second year running, as voted for by female drivers. The men chose female Mini drivers as the sexiest on the road: overtaking Audi who came top last year."

To compare with last's year's results please see confused.com.

Lanchester luxury

Often thought luxury cars too big. Lanchester showed 65 years ago that you could have a small luxury saloon, as well-appointed as a big one, just as quiet and every bit as classy. That was when Aston Martins were 2litres and Jaguars a bit big at 3½. Cars fitted roads and 200mph was what they used to do at Daytona Beach. Lancia Aprilias handled beautifully; you didn’t need big cars with huge engines.
Automotive News Europe’s Paul McVeigh says competition for luxury car sales is going to be decided by who does the best small premium cars. “Current No. 1 BMW believes its new front-wheel-drive architecture will give it a competitive edge against Audi and Mercedes-Benz.” BMW will go front wheel drive in its next 1-series. The current 1-series is rear wheel drive, but it has not a lot of legroom in the back so it is likely to follow the Mini and go front-drive.
BMW’s fwd architecture, known as ULK (somebody at BMW might tell us why ULK) is likely to be key. BMW executives hear complaints from traditional zealots that fwd dilutes BMW's rear-wheel-drive heritage. Klaus Draeger, BMW's head of purchasing, who helped create UKL when he was head of r&d, said that by 2020 it expects to make a lot of fwd models. Automotive News quoted him: "We are entering into new segments and getting new customers who learn you can drive very well with front-wheel drive.”
BMW’s Concept Active Tourer shown at Paris in September previewed BMW's first major model with UKL. A production version is due next September as a rival to Mercedes B class and Volkswagen Golf Plus. It's not greenery yallery to look askance at over-large cars. They're fine in America or Russia but there is a place here for the compact, refined, manageable and medium-sized.

Mazda Most Worthy

It was a toss-up between buying a Mazda MX5 and a BMW Z3. Sometimes I think I made a mistake. BMW offered me a better deal and I love the 6-cylinder engine, but service has been rubbish and reliability disappointing. What Car? finds 96 per cent of MX5s, built after 2005, fault free. Their reliability was the best in its survey. Owners report an average repair bill of £165. I hate to think what I have spent on the BMW.


The MX5 was more like the MGs and Sprites I enjoyed in my youth, but the BMW seemed up-market and premium, carefully made, less likely to wear out. The Mazda was not exactly down-market but didn’t measure up in the status stakes. It was a 4-cylinder, not raucus but scarcely as refined as the BMW. And, back then, a body with lots of aluminium and plastic and galvanised steel was not wholly convincing. Yet MX5s never seem to wear out. Last time I tested one was 2005; it was lithe, nimble, quick, responsive. The Z3 has always been a bit “touring”, which was what I thought I wanted. It seemed superior, I suppose.


I’m not sure now. The MX5 is prettier, younger, better proportioned. I have always thought of the BMW as “the classic in the garage”, and used it rather less than the practical cars getting wet sitting in the drive. I thought Z3s looked the part.


Pretentious? Moi?