Hydractive suspension – some more anecdotes

Posted in Desirable machines, General opinions on 24/06/2016 by Alexander

Hydractive suspension was the s**t. You can read the previous stories here.


#4 Change a tyre in a jiffy
Anyone owning a Citroën must have done this at least once. I was with a friend, and we were going somewhere in my BX and we were late. To add to my troubles, I got a puncture, and my friend began to despair due to our lateness. I reassured him verbally, but when that failed I simply showed the ease with which Hydractive-equipped Citroën owners could change tyres. In short, suspension height to the max, a pre-extended jack placed to hold up the car, suspension to the minimum, old tyre off, new tyre on, suspension to the max, remove jack, drive away!

#5 The shortcut
Northern Portugal, 2005. Stuck in standstill traffic, I noticed there was a road parallel to the avenue where I was. A deserted, minor road that led into some side-streets. All that separated me from it was a simple, 20 centimetre-high slab of curb pavement, high enough to wreck the underside of most cars. What should I do? Sit in the traffic and wait, burning expensive fuel? Or ease my car over the obstacle and find my way (this was before the wide use of GPS, kids)? I made up my mind as soon as I saw a jeep with big knobbly tyres run over the curb and disappear into the side-streets. Hydractive suspension to the max, over the curb, goodbye traffic.

#6 Cross country
Simple case of the weird, quasi-offroad capability of Hydractive-enabled cars. Basically it’s the most fun you can have with cars that don’t have four-wheel drive and gigantic expensive tyres. I did this a couple of times in rural areas and once on sand (I was lucky enough not to get stuck), and it struck me what a clever thing this was. The extra ride height allowed me to use country lanes with deep furrows that only jeeps can use, and I could transform the BX into a normal, road-going saloon once it was over. Fan-tas-tic!

God is in the details – Volvo S60

Posted in Car conception, Desirable machines with tags , on 15/06/2016 by Alexander

Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, the German-American Modernist architect, once said God is in the details, referring to how a work of architecture isn’t just valuable as a whole, that delicious little mannerisms on a small scale. In my humble belief, this adage is applicable to cars, and even some cars that can be considered bland, insipid or just plain, might have funky little design minutiae that jump out as unexpected eye-candy. So that’s what this entry is all about – the emphasis on wonderful little details most people perhaps overlook on my own beloved Volvo S60.

Detail #1 – The way the roofline melds into the bootlid.
Contrary to what you might have read or think, the Mercedes CLS is not the forerunner of today’s so-called four-door coupés. Years before, Volvo introduced the S60, a sports saloon with lines do smooth it doesn’t even have protruding bits like radio antennae, and even the door handles aren’t salient as in most cars. This could be said of the car on which its styling was based on, the original S80, but the main difference was the swooping roofline, and the sleek shape which resulted. I’ve had my S60 for more than three years, and I’m not tired at gazing at its tail and the beautiful lines that compose it. It curves beautifully inwards, and it melds with flanks with a sharp corner that flows down and turns into a strong but curvy shoulderline. Exquisite.

Detail #2 – Wing mirrors
I don’t know why, but I’ve always been fascinated by wing-mirrors. When I was a very young boy and still learning to draw, The details I paid most attention to when drawing cars was the antenna on the roof and the mirrors on each side (even though, at that time, many cars only had a wing-mirror on the driver’s side, which violated my imagined perfect symmetry every car should have). And today, I still regard them one of the most important aesthetic traits of a car, as an ugly wing-mirror can ruin a car for me (e.g., the old Citroen C4). The S60’s mirrors are gorgeous, sculpted and balanced, in sync with the rest of the car. Here’s a confession: it was the first thing that made me want to get an S60.

Well, there are far more details I’d like to write about, but my fear is that it might come off as overtly sycophantic. I’ll leave more details for another time.

Hydractive suspension – some anecdotes

Posted in Car conception, Desirable machines with tags , , on 13/06/2016 by Alexander

Hydractive was the fancy marketing name for Citroën’s now-defunct hydropneumatic suspension. Unlike other cars that rely on shock-absorbers and springs for ride quality, a Hydractive-equipped vehicle has a system of LHM fluid that self-levels the car, allows for a driver-variable ride height, and ironed out bumps, holes and all the other crap bad roads throw up like no other system. It also ran the power steering, which made it incomparably easy to steer a Citroën, and was used in the brakes, which made it safer than most other cars on the road since brake fluid was incredibly flammable.

If that isn’t enough to convince you how good Hydractive was, then a few real-world examples might. I had a lovely Citroën BX as a first car, and that fancy suspension got me out of a few tricky situations.

#1 The street thugs
One day upon leaving work, I got back to my car and found it was being used as an impromptu bench by some street thugs. I asked them to piss off (though not in so many words) and this seemed to annoy them and their stance gave me the idea I was in for a whooping. I got into the car and started it up, and it began to rise as it always did, and the street thugs little faces suddenly lit up. They gestured me to go higher so I did – no, wait, I decided not to pander to their whims so I gestured that it didn’t rise any higher and drive off without getting whooped.

#2 The lake on the slipway
A sudden and intense shower in the middle of summer in the city where I live caused a sort of flash flood on a slipway to get on the motorway. Part of the tarmac was submerged where the terrain dipped, mainly due to a clogged drain. There was one part of the road that was juuuust shallow enough for an ordinary vehicle to pass, as long as they stayed very, very closed to the guardrail and didn’t stall, as the water reached the cars’ door sills. The resulting queue of regular saloons and hatchbacks was tremendous, while lorries and 4x4s all took a shortcut and simply ploughed through the middle of the gigantic puddle, as did a certain Citroën BX with its hydraulic suspension set to maximum height.

#3 Crap but unpunishable parking
I was late for work, but it wasn’t my fault. It was one of those days where it seemed half the city had decided to drive to wherever it wanted to go, and I couldn’t even find a decent illegal parking spot, i.e., a place that will get you fined, but doesn’t really hinder traffic or pedestrians. I only found a spot beyond the pavement, on a patch of unkempt, wild and weedy grass. I drove the BX onto it, then slotted the suspension setting into its minimum height, and literally slammed the car into the weeds. Result: I could get a ticket, but there was no way I could get towed away. This became a favourite trick of mine.

Some more stories will be furnished at a later date!

Alt-fuel dot pt

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Green Tech with tags , , , on 11/06/2016 by Alexander

If you haven’t sussed it before, I live in the westernmost country of Continental Europe, Portugal. You’ve probably heard of us through the doings of Cristiano Ronaldo, and not much else. Perhaps the odd international bailout?

Thing is, I was born in England, and for all the flaws the English might have, I have a sensation that things back in old Blighty were a bit more civilised. I could rant for paragraphs to follow on all sorts of corrupt sectors of Portuguese society and our backward mentality, but this is a car blog after all, so I’ll stick to criticising in the context of automobiles.

The Portuguese are a paradoxical bunch of misers who are at the same time squanderers. They will spend €50,000 or more on a brand new Merc, even though they’re not sure they can afford it, but buy the cheapest, crappiest diesel with the smallest, most under-powered engine ‘to save money’ on fuel. They won’t take their cars to the dealership after buying it because it’s slightly more costly, and are willing to let their cars be subject to hack-jobs undertaken by shifty, lazy mechanics to save the odd euro. They drive like maniacs, with the throttle glued to the floor, and then go on national television to complain how fuel is expensive and how close to bankruptcy they come to after filling their tank. LPG sells quite well here, only due to the inherent savings on fuel. The plus-side of it being more ecological is, to most, a minor advantage. To be perfectly honest, I can count myself to be one of these cheapskates, and I must be fair to LPG-users, they are somewhat smarter than the average motorist. The general picture to be had of car-owning Portuguese are people who want the nicest, most expensive, status-enhancing car while wishing to pay next to nothing for running costs.

With this sort of mindset, I would’ve thought there would be the odd entrepreneur or two who’d be interested in the whole alt-fuel market. Let’s face it, in a country where people are so conscientious regarding the money they need to fork out to keep their cars moving, it’d be natural to assume there would be those willing to invest in offering alternatives, since there’s a big market to tap into. So does anyone do this? No. Google something like “biofuel in Portugal” and you get back paltry, outdated results. And this is what annoys me so much about living in this country. Any clever new niche always takes far too much time to be developed, and when it is there are all sorts of hindrances.

I’m one of those people who still believe biofuels may still play a significant role in keeping vehicles in motion in years to come, and I wish I lived in a country with more than shadowy prospects that this will happen. But alas, this rectangle of Iberian Peninsula has many hurdles to overcome, such as:

  • A previous government passed legislation years ago stating that by 2010 a certain percentage of fuel sold in the country has to come from alternative, non-fossil fuel sources. 2010 came and went and it proves that the said laws were no more than lip-service, since nothing has changed.
  • Said government did nothing to remove all the red tape anyone who wants to pursue alt-fuel develop has to wade through to do so, nor has any government since.
  • Galp, the largest national petroleum-derivative retailer, has its nasty tentacles everywhere, and try to stamp out alt-fuels whenever possible. I have little doubt they’re the lobbyists behind all the previously mentioned bureaucratic demands.
  • People in general are too stupid to see how much money they can save. If they did, there would be demand for change. Nothing gets the mob grumbling more than trying to put your fingers in their pockets.

So, in summary, I’m screwed. I’ll have to wait for electric cars.

Citroën – doing what it does best

Posted in Car conception, Desirable machines, News, Upcoming cars with tags on 10/06/2016 by Alexander


I’m a big Citroën fan. Always have been.

In fact, I’m a second-generation Citroën man, since my father owned most models of Citroën manufactured from the 60’s onwards. He had a wonderful olive-green Ami8, e had a couple of Visas, but he never had a GS simply because his car of choice was the CX.

Thanks to him, the CX is my favourite car to this day, and it represents what most purists argue was the last true Citroën that was 100% faithful to the core philosophy: innovation, lateral-thinking, standing out, no compromises.

The CX launched in 1974, and the following year, the company had to be bailed out by Peugeot. Peugeot did all it could to kill Citroën’s flair and innovative style, but a lot of crackingly good, original Citroëns managed to make their way to the showrooms.

There was the BX, which thankfully ended up being my first car, which was so good it inspired a cult following still vibrant to this day. There was the Citroën AX, a car everyone assumed would be just a cheap, forgettable urban runaround, but still chugs around transporting proud their proud owners in 2016. The Saxo, with its “street” following, the C6 with its unique stance… the list goes on.

The past decade or so has made me sad, in that it would seem that everyone now likes Top Gear-endorsed, overpriced German cars, with rock-hard suspension and seats that seem to be made of granite. Everyone now prefers cornering and a badge over common sense and an intact spine.

So it thrills me that Citroën, for years the last automotive stalwart for comfort and treating its passengers’ bodies well, has announced Citroën Advanced Comfort, a few simple technologies to make the car as comfortable as possible. Let me just pause by saying that this is a sad day for some die-hard Citroën fans, as it marks the definite end of the Hydractive suspension system, responsible for the Marque‘s “magic carpet” ride quality, and present in most mid to high-end Citroëns since 1955. I’m part of this number, since it was a fantastic bit of kit to have on your car (that adjustable suspension got me out of a few pickles), but let’s look at the bright side: at least Citroën is on the path to regaining its status for innovation and comfort.

The tech is comprised of cushioning the suspension further, as well as using different and supportive materials in the seats. Heightened body rigidity adds to he comfort, as does further sound deadening to isolate occupants from the outside world. You can read the testimony of someone who has tried this in this Autocar article.

Perhaps the main advantage is the low cost, which will allow even the entry-level Citroen offerings to be equipped with the extra comfort. I personally can’t wait, as this news plus the announcement that the PSA group plans to introduce a range of new vehicles including electric ones, means I might have an electric mega-comfy Citroën I can actually afford in the future.

The Tesla Model 3

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, Desirable machines, General opinions, Green Tech, News, Upcoming cars on 03/04/2016 by Alexander

Tesla Model 3I’m very surprised by the reactions to the launch of the Tesla Model 3. The BBC were balanced as usual, but I believe failed to underline how significant 115,000 pre-orders in 24 hours actually is. Then there are articles like the Daily Beast, that prophesizes Teslocalypse, where the brand will be irrevocably DESTROYED by the Model 3. A lot of criticism is being heaped at Tesla and the Model 3, and although much of what being said is factually correct, I definitely feel as if behind these nay-saying opinions are the voices of motoring journalists who either feel that their time of being lent petrol-swilling supercars is being threatened, or who think Tesla’s aren’t so much cars as they are gadgets, so as experts on grease-and-oil-driven machines they’ll be made obsolete. Maybe it’s just me being unnecessarily bitter. Here are some facts:

Tesla is hemorraging money
Yes, and so are Uber, Shazam and Spotify, and even YouTube only managed to break even as recently as 2014. Airbnb loses $150-million a year and may not make a profit until 2020. Funnily enough, I don’t see this referred to in related articles concerning all these aforementioned companies, but Tesla gets a special financial-loss mention.
Unlike all these other companies above that are pissing money away, Tesla has invested very heavily indeed on R&D, as recently proved by the Autopilot function (however, Tesla also wasted money on stuff like those pitiful “falcon” doors which add nothing but complexity to the Model X, a car that should have been postponed until after the Model 3). It’s a perfect criticism to try to frighten potential punters away, implying that Tesla won’t be around long enough to honour warranties and such.

Tesla won’t be able to meet demand
This will probably happen. Overwhelming demand is a double-edged sword, and cuts very sharply both ways. The positive view is that, in theory, lots of demand means whatever leaves Tesla’s production line for the next few years is guaranteed to be sold. The negative view is that in reality, not being able to meet demand means overdue delivery times, customer frustration and consequently, damage to the brand image.
However, there’s alway’s the Gigafactory, which will definitely boost Tesla’s fortune’s once it’s up and running, even if it only reaches full capacity in 2020.

No-one’s mentioning how good (or bad) it looks
The Model S is bite-the-back-your-hand beautiful. The Model X isn’t. The Model 3 is sort of halfway between them. Am I the only one who thinks the glass area above the body looks bulbous, and badly-proportioned to the rest of the car? I hope I’m wrong, because I’m one of those people who were eagerly antecipating the Model 3’s unveiling, in the hope of it ticking all the right boxes to being my first electric car. Nothing puts me off quite like an ugly ride.

Hardly anyone mentioned the terrible interior
I couldn’t believe it: no f**king instrument cluster. A screen that protrudes from the centre as if it were an aftermarket item nailed into place minutes before the cars unveiling. I hate this design with a passion. Recently, I read how this might indicate a really autonomous car, which is just as bad. I like driving. Unless the Model 3 has something like a HUD replacing a conventional instrument cluster, or an ACTUAL binnacle included in the production version, this is a deal breaker.

No-one’s talking about the brilliant glass roof

On the other hand, the interior might be saved by the wrap-around glass roof. If I understood what Elon Musk said, and if the pictures and videos are correct, the roof will be entirely in glass, save for above the driver and front passenger (for sun-visors, lights and such), and the boot lid will basically hinge in the middle of the car. This is brilliant. I love glass roofs and I think sunroofs and such should be mandatory on cars. This Model 3 has hit this particular nail right on the head.

No-one’s talking how disruptive and revolutionary this is
The number of pre-orders has hit over a quarter of a million. Pre-orders. In just over 48 hours. Established car-brands with highly-awaited models don’t get that many orders, and they must see by now that if they don’t get into the electrification game soon, they may be very well left behind with their dinosaur-juice-burning contraptions. And the more car-brands go electric, the more the market will follow. The more the market follows, the more things will change to enable/cash in on this. Infra-structure will have to be updated, car and road tax will have to change to pay-as-you-go. Even mundane habits will be altered, as there won’t be such a need for 24/7 fuelling stations, because you can plug in at home, but then there’ll be nowhere to buy fags at 3am.

Like it or not, the Model 3 is a big deal.

Save these other cars

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Desirable machines, Green Tech with tags , , , , , , , on 26/05/2015 by Alexander

Yesterday I linked a beautifully-written article on what cars are worth saving from their ICE. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth having a look because the fundamental premise is saving cars that had crap engines but were otherwise lovely.

And because I’m a bit of an unoriginal simpleton, here are some of my own picks:

Citroen DS

Credit: Boldride

Credit: Boldride

No-one in the automotive world can deny the Citroen DS was revolutionary. Materials, aerodynamics, technology, safety and comfort were all redefined by the iconic French car, but it’s Achilles heel was the engine. There was nothing revolutionary about it, in fact, it was quite the contrary. On release, it had a 1.9l petrol unit, derived from the old Traction Avant, a car from the 1930’s. Subsequent engines introduced electronic injection, but you probably won’t see it written down as part of the huge range of the DS’s groundbreaking innovations.

Such a legend deserves to live on, and a technological advance like electrification would suit it like a glove. How you’d get the complicated hydraulics to work is for boffins, but it can’t be beyond the ken of man.

DeLorean DMC-12

Credit: DeLorean

Credit: DeLorean

A no-brainer. The DeLorean had a 2.8-litre Peugeot V6, which was underpowered for such a heavy car. Solution: a torquey electric motor, that suits its subsequent sci-fi credentials perfectly. Back to the Future, indeed.

And the best thing is, someone’s done it!

Alpine A108/Willys Interlagos
I love old Alpines, so much that I put the A110 in my Dream Garage. This particular Alpine was the type of old car powered by one those tiny engines that are bang-slap on the fine line of being suitable for cars or only good for lawn-mowers. The largest put into one I believe was for the Brazilian version (with the lovely name “Interlagos”, and manufactured by Willys, and pictured above) and had 945cc. And as anyone who has had this sort of car knows, the racket these cars make can be unbearable, making it perfect for EV treatment. You’d reach your destination without your ears bleeding and head pounding from a constant thrum of a noisy engine.

And because the A108 is so small, aerodynamic and light, I reckon it would be rather efficient in its energy consumption.

Volvo 200 series
Because classic cars can’t all be sports cars or legends, here’s an example of a humdrum everyday car made famous for its safety and practicality. According to some motoring journalists, the only reason some models had large six-cylinder engines was to be able to lug so much weight around. So hey presto, there you have the perfect excuse to electrify it.

And that’s just the excuse, there are other good reasons to bring one up more to date. There are its fabulous lines that have aged unbelievably well, its comfort or that wonderful interior. Plus, since it was rather reliable, and always a contender for the Volvo High-Mileage Club, it’s probable that 200 series engines have so many miles on them that the pistons have worn down to nubs and all the wiring is flaky and brittle. So you might as well prepare it for even more miles by transforming it into an EV.

Another of the best reasons I can think of is to stop them being slammed by tastless modders.

I loved doing this. I’ll think I’ll do some more later