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Drive Life : February 10th 2012
1HERSA1 F003 The Sydney Morning Herald Friday, February 10, 2012 3 DriveLIFE What happened to light? Throwing their weight around . . . Lotus founder Colin Chapman gets a lift on Jim Clark's Lotus. TONY DAVIS Frequently Unasked Questions It was once easier to be light because you could simply build something grossly unsafe. The official Lotus magazine recently quoted company founder Colin Chapman saying -- sardonically, one hopes -- that ''any car that holds together for a whole race is too heavy''. The same man uttered: ''You'd never catch me driving a Lotus race car.'' A Lotus official nervously explained that Chapman didn't mean his cars were so light and frail as to be dangerous, as many interpreted it. Chapman meant they were so quick that, if he were driving one, you'd never catch him. In both cases, let's give the man the benefit of the doubt because his basic philosophy -- ''simplify, then add lightness'' -- is music to any sports-car lover's ears. Lotus ingenuity in that department went a long way -- occasionally too far. The original Europa of 1966 had fixed side windows because winding or sliding mechanisms would add cost, complexity and increase the all-up weight of 610 kilograms. Who needs air anyway? Despite Chapman's mantra, and despite incontrovertible proof that a light car can deliver smile-inducing performance even with a modestly powered engine, cars have been larding up since the 1960s. Despite all the new technology we've brought to bear. Part of the problem is that sports-car drivers have turned into a bunch of precious princesses. The Europa had seats that were fixed, too. If they didn't suit, you simply crawled down the coffin-like footwell head- first with a torch and spanner and adjusted the pedals. Today's Lotus Elise Club Racer does without decent weather protection, seat padding or soundproofing in order to deliver an all-up weight of 852 kilograms. But does the average buyer want such austerity? No, siree. They're far more likely to specify the soft trim, sound system and aircon, undoing much of the good work. Today's sports-car drivers even demand safety features, further proving how soft they've become. Look at some of the things we're calling sports cars: the Bentley Continental GT coupe, which weighs nearly 2.4 tonnes. Even the four-wheel-drive -- the McMansion of the Macadam -- has somehow acquired the moniker ''sport utility vehicle''. In its most extreme form, the Hummer H1 ''SUV'' was nearly 3.5 tonnes. Some sport. Porsche once called a car the 550, after its weight in kilograms. Its best-selling product is now the Cayenne, which is nearly four times as porculent. Some good news: Mazda engineers are apparently working towards making the next- gen MX-5 roadster -- now up to 1177 kilograms -- clock in at less than one tonne. BMW is pioneering the mass-production of carbon-fibre body panels for its i range. Fiat has announced its tiny TwinAir engine -- a two-cylinder 850 turbo -- will be available in a 105kW version. Can't wait to see something like that in a carbon-fibre- bodied roadster. Admittedly, it was once easier to be light because you could simply build something grossly unsafe. That's how the Zeta Sports -- an oxymoron if ever there was one -- could lightly dust the scales at 400 kilograms. Today's Bugatti Veyron -- the point at which all weird car statistics converge -- certainly boasts sports-car acceleration and cornering. But, at nearly 1900 kilograms, it requires 736kW to achieve its 400km/h-plus top speed. Stick its eight-litre W16 engine in, say, a new-generation Morgan three-wheeler and then we'd all be reminded of the days when driving a sports cars meant you were brave, skilled and completely insensitive to weather or having the end of your spine centre- punched at every bump. The one place great weight isn't a problem -- or a sign of princess-ness -- is at very high speed in a straight line. It can keep you on the ground, which is always handy. The supersonic ThrustSSC weighed 10 tonnes. The same team's Bloodhound, chasing 1600km/h, will be a comparatively lithe seven tonnes despite having on board an E200 jet, a Falcon rocket and a Cosworth formula one engine. I'd call that sports. Just maybe not car. Drive Life editor Richard Blackburn firstname.lastname@example.org National Drive editor Toby Hagon Sales manager Ian Bellert, 9282 3709 Cover image Rodger Cummins Drive writers abide by a code of ethics. Read it at drive.com.au/ethics. ii This is the car I needed in high school. --- US PRESIDENT BARACK OBAM AFTER CHECKING OUT THE NE FORD MUSTANG SHELBY GT50 AT THE WASHINGTON MOTOR SHOW. ' 1 Jeremy Clarkson 2 Katie Price 3 David Cameron 4 Kate Moss 5 Carol Vorderman Source: Continental Tyres poll Who are the most dangerous drivers? NET POLL Neither 32% Over 70s 10% P-platers 58% NEXT WEEK'S QUESTION: Will the more fuel-efficient four-cylinder model revive Falcon's fortunes? Go to drive.com.au/vote MA W 00 ' TOP WORST BRITIS CELEBS TO G OFF--ROADING WITH SH GO NG WITH5 IN DRIVE TOMORROW Hyundai gets sporty with the new Veloster.
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