The Old Quarter in Hanoi

Well, well, I’ve been gone for long enough I think.  Now it’s time for a much needed update.

The reason for my long absence, to be quite frank, cannot be appropriately explained, other than saying that I was distracted by life.  Yes, life – that quirky, irritating thing that tends to tap you on the shoulder and beg your attention when all you really want to do is ignore it and continue pursuing your hobbies.

Life isn’t all that bad though.  I recently had the opportunity to do a short tour of Vietnam, a really interesting nation.  Being a fan of history in general, and also after having seen Vietnam in one of the TopGear specials, I thought that this was a country that was suitably different and exciting enough for a bit of an adventure.

Now you’re reading this and wondering: “What on earth does this have to do with motoring?”  Well, here it is.  The traffic in Vietnam’s cities is really something else.  The TopGear special really doesn’t do it justice.  The amount of small bikes that populate the roads is just beyond ridiculous.  It’s a veritable chaotic buzz of mosquito-like vehicles that swarm around the roads, filling every available space.  If I remember correctly, there are about 5 million motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City alone.

I had the opportunity to ride pinion on one of these bikes, and although it wouldn’t necessarily work in many other parts of the world, it makes total sense in Vietnam.  Weaving in and out, and then hitting the rural areas, a motorbike can go and fit anywhere.  After having been immersed in this traffic, I finally figured out how it works.  Just like in Chaos Theory, if you study it long enough a pattern emerges.  Generally, it’s much easier to be in this traffic if you’re the one of the millions on the bike!

Mad traffic in Saigon

When it comes to crossing roads, well, it’s a bit of a leap of faith, especially during your first attempt.  Most people are tempted to make a mad dash across the road, but doing this will only result in your being sashimi-ed by a dozen speeding bikes.  The trick is to make slow progress, as if wading through a river, so that bikers have the time to see you and manoeuvre around you.

Although the trip fulfilled every bit of adventure I was looking for, I have to be honest and admit that I’m glad I’m back in a place where the lines on the road are treated as a bit more than just a guideline.

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Ford has set about marketing the new Focus – to be released in 2012 – using a viral marketing campaign that will give you a good laugh.

He comes in the form of an orange puppet, and his name is Doug.  The slightly chauvinistic, yet disarmingly charming puppet has been brought in as Ford’s spokespuppet with the aim of… Well, I’m not quite sure what his job actually is.

He’s been at this for a while now and he’s getting quite settled into his new role at Ford, but at the same time he seems to be unsettling his co-workers.  Watch the videos below and see for yourself.

 

 

I found this video today, and it made me laugh, so it’s now here on the blog.

On the Friday practice of the Malaysian GP, Hispania Racing’s Vitantonio Liuzzi’s F1 car runs into some trouble.

So Liuzzi heads off to the pits while some F1 Marshals are kind enough to push it off the road.  And then it happens.  Watch the video and have a chuckle.

From me to you...

As anyone who may actually be following this blog will have noticed, this “Hong Kong Car of the Week” thing is not happening on a weekly basis.  This is entirely my own fault, because sometimes I am human and can be lazy.  Other times, I can actually be really busy too.  Either way, to quote Top Gear: “We were ambitious, but rubbish.”

So I’ve decided to change the segment to “Spotted” for a couple of reasons.  This will now give me more freedom to blog about vehicles as I see them, rather than seeing one and waiting up to a week before writing about it, whilst also giving some leeway for a period of not spotting any cars.  This also gives me further freedom in that I just have to change the end of the segment’s name to suit my location.  So say I’m in the UK for a holiday and I see a gorgeous Aston.  Now I can snap a pic and write about it, with the title “Spotted in the UK”.  Great right?  Awesome.  Here’s one to freedom…

 

Spotted in Stanley - Tesla Roadster

I found it quite serendipitous when, after having read just this morning how Tesla were taking Top Gear to court on defamation charges regarding a review done on their roadster, I bump into one in person.  This was the first time that I had seen one, and to be honest I was a little stumped at first, until I got close enough to see the badge properly.

The Tesla Roadster is a battery electric vehicle sports car, produced by the electric car firm Tesla Motors in California.  Now, you may look at this car and think “Why, it’s a mid-engined, rear-wheel drive sports car.  How marvelous.”  Marvelous indeed, except in that it has a crucial element missing – that lovely internal combustive growl, but that’s just my opinion.  If you want to save the planet and look pretty while doing it, this car is a good thing.  As you peruse its Wikipedia page you can see a whole mound of interesting facts and figures that proclaim what a wonderful vehicle it is, and how far it can go.  Personally, I’d love the chance to get behind the wheel and see for myself how it performs.

I’m probably being archaic in my ways, so lets flip the chart for a bit.  It’s an electric vehicle, pioneering the lithium-ion battery cell’s abilities to power a sports car.  Which is damn good thing to be pioneering.  I’d rather be in a Tesla than a Prius any day, and what with new regulations constantly being passed, we have to be honest and look toward a future of alternatively fueled cars.  All in all, it’s a good thing to have people working away on something as important to our futures as the humble sports car.  I look forward to what the future, and Tesla, has in store for us.

As the motoring enthusiast you probably are, you’re bound to have seen the legendary Gallardo patrol car.  Well, I happened to come across some shocking images of its demise; so I thought I’d blog about it.  This happened quite a while ago, so it doesn’t qualify as news, but it is something worth revisiting.

The Gallardo LP560-4 was a gift from Lamborghini to the Italian State Police, fully kitted out with all that you may need as a police officer including guns, radar, video-broadcasting and GPS.  The official story is that the officer driving the supercar at the time of the unfortunate mishap, swerved to avoid a collision with a car moving in the opposite direction, forcing him to plough into a row of stationary cars.

The officers inside weren’t too badly injured, apart from a scratch and a broken rib here and there, but the Gallardo was not as fortunate.  Although it could be salvaged and repaired it would never be able to return to its former, criminal-menacing glory.

Ok, I probably used up my exclamation quota on that title, but it’s fairly appropriate.

Here’s a random thing to happen: a tractor, with no driver, doing laps in a Walmart car park and destroying poor, innocent by-standing vehicles.

Fortunately, a good Samaritan had the foresight to record the mayhem, so that everyone outside of Richmond Hill, Ontario, can gawk in horror too – thoughtful, yes?  Most of the action takes place in the second half of the video, so be patient.

Mercedes look set to rival Mini with the unveiling of their new Concept A, which will be revealed at the Shanghai Motor Show taking place later on this month.  At first glance, you can hardly believe that it’s descended from the same ultra-utilitarian A Class you currently see running around.

First up, the specs: a new four-cylinder turbo engine with a twin-clutch automatic ‘box and 210bhp.  The range will have smaller engines as well, including a 1.6 diesel.

Inside the car you have four individual seats, with an aluminium centre rail going the length of the cabin.  The overall concept hinges, apparently, around the inspiration of jet planes, as the vents are “reminiscent of jet engines”, the red instruments are “inspired by afterburners”, the whole dash “has the shape of an aircraft wing” and the gear selector “takes the form of a reverse-thrust lever”.

A bit of healthy competition for Mini, if done right, could spark off something interesting, let’s just hope that the finished product doesn’t look too much like a flashy Corsa / Focus… Now enjoy the pictures.

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Not the most clever of headlines, but it works.  I’ve found a couple of cool vids from around the net, the first is a nice high-def video of a Dodge Viper pulling off some great burnouts, but due to copyrights or some story, I can’t post it on my blog, so click here to watch it on youtube.

The next one is not as exciting to watch, but the content is great as it shows the highlights from this year’s Geneva Motor Show.

And lastly, I just thought that this was a cool looking game, and you can watch the launch trailer for it below.  Driving supercars and buying luxurious houses on an international scale… What’s not to like?

So I’ve been reviewing what I’ve been writing on the blog, and I think it’s about time for another opinion piece.  I figured that this would be a good time to explore just why I enjoy motoring so much.

If I’m honest, this is going to be difficult to explain without sounding completely vacuous.  Hardcore journalists would argue that writing about cars is a generally vacuous exercise, as I discovered when I visited Hong Kong’s FCC (Foreign Correspondents’ Club).  A couple of people had asked me if I was a journalist, and if so what did I enjoy writing about.  I answered as truthfully as I could and said that I just enjoy writing, but that motoring journalism is a hobby of mine at the moment.  Some met this with scorn, as they felt that I should be fulfilling the grandiose and romanticized stereotype of a journalist: hiding behind bullet-ridden walls in Godknowswhereistan, with only a microphone in my hand.  Call me unconventional, but if I ever did find myself in a war zone, I’d want to be able to shoot back.

Those questions did prompt me to start questioning why I enjoy motoring as much as I do.  Is it just a blind faith in all things shiny and loud, or is it something more?  Maybe it’s something of profound, life-changing importance, or maybe just a fad?  I won’t lie; I was concerned that I wouldn’t like the answer.

Heading to the beach during Matric holidays...

Looking back, some of my favourite memories are closely linked with vehicular transport of some fashion.  For me, having a car, a motorbike, or even just a bicycle, was the ultimate freedom.  I grew up in Johannesburg, not the safest place for kids to be out roaming the streets and exploring the neighbourhood.  Don’t get me wrong, I was in a good neighbourhood with lots to do, but the area was still not very conducive to free movement.  Then, at the age of 15, I moved to a small town in the Western Cape of South Africa – Knysna.  What a glorious place this small tourist town turned out to be.  This was a chance to reinvent myself from the unpopular, awkward person in Joburg into a new and interesting person.  Whether or not this worked, I have no idea… I was too busy having fun.

At first, I rode my bicycle wherever I could, and that was everywhere.  Knysna is a much safer town, where a teenager could easily go about by himself.  There wasn’t a hill I wouldn’t climb, or a friend that I wouldn’t visit.  Then a good friend of mine got a scooter, and so I would often hitch a ride.  We looked ridiculous, the two of us on this tiny 125cc Yamaha, but it got us everywhere, except for maybe the steeper hills where one of us would have to jump off and jog alongside.  When I say one of us, I suppose I mean just me, as it was his scooter and he always pulled rank.  When finally I could drive myself around in my little Fiat Palio, life was grand, and every weekend was a new adventure.

Then came university.  Easily the best four years of my life, where I’ve made friends that’ll be by me for the rest of my life.  And in this time we would often travel to the beach, or along the coast to discover a different place, to 21st birthdays, and so on.  The four-hour drive back home on holidays was an event in itself, warranting the purchase of several unhealthy foodstuffs, and a customized playlist for the journey.  To this day a song can still take me back to driving through the Tsitsikamma on my way home.

Just arrived for a canoe trip down the Kowie River - My baby, a 2000 Opel Astra 2.0L

So I guess you can say that my love for motoring stems from a history of positive experiences, coupled with a fascination for all things fast.  Top Gear, I won’t deny, has been a massive influence, having started watching the show when I was 13 or 14.  The trio of mad-driving and bad fashion opened my eyes to a whole realm of amazing and graceful engineering victories.  The fact that supercars exist is proof in itself that Man can produce something incredibly beautiful, powerful and joyous all in one casing.

Over seven hundred words later and I still feel that I haven’t been able to properly explain myself.  Maybe that’s just it.  Maybe I can’t explain it.  Maybe I just love cars for what they are.  And you know what?  I’m ok with that.