My Alfa GTV6 in Hemmings S&E magazine

I feel like a proud Dad!

The guys at the Hemmings group of magazines are long-time Saab fans so it’s no big surprise that I’ve got to know a couple of them over the years.

When I wrote about acquiring my Alfa Romeo GTV6 recently, I got an email from Mark McCourt asking if I’d mind if they did a little article on it in one of their coming editions?

Would I mind? 🙂

It was with great pleasure that I checked our PO Box today and found my copy of Hemmings Sport and Exotic Car for June 2012. And on page (sweet) 16…..

Nice.

It’s great to see those pictures in print and nice to share some of the good experience of buying the Alfa. I’ll have to do some film and an update soon.

Here’s the cover. Saab fans might want to note that this issue also includes a buyers guide for the Saab 93, 95 and 96.

Hemmings is a great magazine. If you’re into older cars with character then it’s a must read (esp for people in the US). I’ve had the opportunity to read through a number of editions from time to time as Saab stories have popped up in there. It’s well worth a look. Check it out at your local news stands or get a subscription from the Hemmings website.

Thanks to Mark and Dave at Hemmings!

ANZAC Day 2012

April 25 is ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand. It is the anniversary of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps troops (ANZACs) landing on a beach at Gallipoli, Turkey, on April 25, 1915.

Australia became a nation on January 1, 1901. Prior to that we were six self-governing colonies of the British realm, even if we acted like a nation in many respects.

The Gallipoli landing in 1915 was the first military action by ANZAC troops during the first world war and is generally regarded here in Australia as the point in time that we ‘grew up’ as a nation.

We don’t celebrate ANZAC Day because Gallipoli was a wonderful military victory. In fact, it was a disastrous defeat.

We remember ANZAC Day because it was the first time that we, as a nation, learned about the collective pain, sacrifice and heartbreak of war. We honor the sacrifice made by those who serve and choose to reflect with sobriety on the tasks our servicemen and women have undertaken in various theatres of war since Gallipoli.

The objective of the Gallipoli campaign was to take Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman empire (they were chummy with the German enemy at the time) and make the straits of the Dardanelles available to the allied naval forces. What ensued was an eight month campaign in an area now called ANZAC Cove – the Turkish government officially recognised the name in the 1980’s – that saw more than 10,000 ANZACs killed, along with 21,000 British soldiers, 10,000 French and over 1,000 British Indian troops. There were tens of thousands of casualties on the Ottoman side, too.

I’m not a pro-war person, but I do recognise the need to protect our borders, support our allies and be present and accounted for in a time of need. Today we remember those who have placed themselves in harm’s way on behalf of our nation. Some have returned, many have not.

The following verse, originally written by Laurence Binyon, will be recited in services all around Australia today.

They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

LEST WE FORGET.

Just how popular is Jeep?

I like the Jeep Wrangler. In fact, when I first visited my wife’s family in Canada back in 2004, I wanted to move to Vancouver and buy a Jeep. They were everywhere. They’re a cool looking vehicle, styled to look as tough and capable as they’re reputed to be. When Chrysler was poised for closure in the height of the global financial crisis, it was the Jeep brand that was regarded as the jewel in the Chrysler crown.

I was surprised a few weeks ago, whilst walking around a shopping mall in Melbourne, to see a Jeep clothing store. Not a Jeep section in a bigger clothing store. A whole shop dedicated to Jeep apparel. It had the same Jeep branding we know from the automotive company, just printed on jeans, T-shirts and other bits and pieces. Yes, I was surprised.

I don’t notice Australian Rules Football club sponsors that often, but I do know that there are a few car companies supporting clubs in the AFL. Ford have been a long-term sponsor of the Geelong Football Club (they have a plant there). Hyundai are a sponsor of my favourite club – Carlton. Skoda sponsors the leagues newest club in Greater Western Sydney and of course, Toyota are the major sponsors for the whole competition as well as one of the two clubs based in Adelaide.

There are probably a few more, too, but the one relevant to this article is the Richmond Football Club, which is sponsored by Jeep.

And then there’s the TV campaign they’ve been running here in Australia – I bought a Jeep. It’s died down a bit now, but a few weeks ago it was absolutely everywhere.

So why are Jeep doubling down in Australia this year?

Well, believe it or not, they’re actually building on success that they’ve already had here. Jeep has a reputation for capability and they’re reasonably well priced here. People are noticing, too, with Jeep sales up 108% in March 2012 (year on year). Jeep are not amongst the top 10 companies here, but with SUV sales growing at a steady rate, perhaps they see some potential for that to happen in the future.

BUT…… looking at reports about Jeep and their sales figures here has made me wonder: just how popular are Jeep around the world?

The USA is Jeep’s #1 market. In March 2012 they sold just over 45,000 vehicles, which was a gain of 36% year on year. That’s pretty good.

I don’t know Jeep’s exact Australian sales figures in March, but I do know they weren’t one of the Top 10 companies. Kia, at position #10, had sales of just 2,738 vehicles for the month.

And here’s why that Australian sales figure is rather important when it comes to this discussion – according to Go Auto, one of the most respected industry journals here in Oz, this great southern land of ours is Jeep’s #2 global market.

As the second-largest Jeep market in the world, Australia has considerably more clout within Fiat and Chrysler than might be expected.

So the US is #1 with 45,000 sales in March and Australia is #2 with less than 2,700?

I don’t fear for the future of Jeep at all. It was the jewel in Chrysler’s crown and now it’s one of the jewels in Fiat’s crown.

But how solid is your base when little old Australia is your #2 market in the world? When your sales drop off from 45,000 in your #1 market to less than 2,700 in your #2 market????

Heck, even tiny Saab had three markets of complimentary size atop their sales tree. Of course, Saab didn’t sell in a year what Jeep sell in a month inside the US, but still…..

It makes me wonder just how significant Jeep is in the world, and how lucky they are to have a collection of brands around them to provide some external support. The Wrangler is their bread and butter and in terms of appeal, their models fall away pretty quickly after that (for me, at least).

I hope they can lift the range as the world is a better place with brands like Jeep in it.

Australian soccer will wither with divas diving like this

Fans of the round-ball game – you can keep it.

Australia is not a traditional soccer nation. We are sports crazy, however, so we’ll watch absolutely anything. It’s been said that in Melbourne, you can get a crowd to watch two flies crawling up a wall.

Personally speaking, I had quite a few 1AM and 3AM alarm calls back in 2010 so I could watch the world’s best actors footballers play for the World Cup. And that was despite the most annoying sports soundtrack in history – the vuvuzela. I’ll most likely watch a lot of the European Championships this year, too. Why? Because like most Aussies, I’ll watch just about anything if it’s being played to a high standard.

It must be said that soccer is growing here at the grassroots level, thanks mainly to a generation of ‘helicopter parents’ who like the fact that their precious little darlings are less likely to scrape a knee or be touched by another human being (!) during the game. Maybe one day that generation of young, bruise-free athletes will lead soccer in a complete takeover of the Australian sports landscape.

Hopefully it won’t be during my lifetime, though.

Last weekend saw the Grand Final, the championship game, for our domestic soccer league here in Australia – the A-League. Let me tell you something; if this is truly the kind of player, if this is the kind of play that can decide a championship game in this football code, then it will never dominate Australian sport.

May the sporting gods strike us down if it does.

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If you were a Brisbane Roar player (that’s the team in orange), you’d have to feel like the medal that’s now on your mantle is a little tarnished, wouldn’t you?

The video evidence is clear. Berisha did well to maintain posession in such heavy traffic but then he used the situation to milk a penalty. He took a dive. He acted. He cheated the fair-play spirit of the game, the spirit of all sport, and what makes it so much worse is that he did it in what was supposed to be the showcase game of the year – a grand final.

It’s not like the grainy film from Maradona’s hand-of-god goal back in 1986 (thanks Phil R!). This is clear. There is no contact. He cheated to gain advantage and his team won the championship as a direct result.

I hope the FFA is feeling a little embarrassed about this. I have never watched an A-League game and it’s not likely I ever will.

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A new love: Cervelo

After months of deliberation and literal/metaphorical tyre-kicking, I’ve finally bought a new bicycle.  Unusually for me, I resisted all manner of used bike deals and temptations (both online and off) and actually bought a new one. From a proper, bricks & mortar shop. Unheard-of for me, but there you go. Time reveals all sides to a coin.  Ok, I did pick up a slighly used SRAM Force groupset on-line to switch out for the bike’s standard Rival one but essentially, I bought a complete new bike, fresh out of the box.

Why a Cervelo?  Well, mostly just because I like them.  I like their design, their engineering, their approach.  I like lots of the guys who ride for their pro team.  Hard to explain but I just like them. The model I chose is an S5 which is interesting fit between traditional road bike and a TimeTrial (TT) geometry.  This means that the rear wheel is stuffed up under the seat post, allowing the seat tube to be a few degrees more upright than usual. It rides like a standard road bike – the Garmin Barracuda pro team use S5’s as their standard bike – but it can also do a nice turn as a time-trial bike if you want to change things up.  The seat post has a reversing function which, when combined with some aerobars, can allow you to sit that bit further forward and cheat the wind a little bit more. Helpful, that. 

Cheating the wind is a bit of an obsession with road cyclists and triathletes.  Less of an issue for mountainbikers, of course (let’s discuss that another time…) but if you’re just pounding down the tarmac it inevitably occupies your thoughts. Never mind the countless online forums (hello, www.slowtwitch.comwww.bikeforums.net) where you can obsess about yaw rates and drag coeffcients all day long. Estimates are that once you’re riding above 30km/h, upwards of 80% of your effort is pushing the wind. Thus, cheat the wind and you’ll gain speed/distance for the same effort.  For a Saab fan, it brings a smile to my face every time I hear people discuss this magic combination: aero.  The S5 is aero. Along with Specialized’s Venge (co-development with Mclaren F1), the S5 is apparently the most aerodynamically efficient road bike around.  Aero.  Invisible, free and yet so hard to find.

Weight is of course, a whole other world that cyclists LOVE to to obsess about.  Must be one of the few products in the world where the more you pay, the less you get.  Carbon fibre, hmmmmm.  Perhaps I’m a cynic and I can see it as a wonderfully marketable aspect of the love of cycling – it’s so simple and tangible to weigh things – but it’s fascinating, nonetheless.  Mind you, the professionals don’t always seem to sing from the same hymn book and will often have bikes well above the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) minimum limit of 6.9kg.  Aero bikes, interestingly, are often not the lightest bikes and so it’s a weigh-up between the two components. 

For a hacker like me, who frankly could lose a lot of weight and become a lot more aero before I should reasonably expect the same of my bicycle, it’s mostly academic but nevertheless irresistible.  It’s a lot of fun to have a nice bike, after all.  

Anyway, after a long hiatus while I was without a road bike over the course of summer (I sold my LOOK unexpectedly in December)  I’m back on the road and enjoying it more than ever.  I’m no threat to Cadel Evans or Thor Hushovd but I’m having a blast. 

Post Script:

Strange name, Cervelo; took me years to work out its meaning. Cer: cerebral or brain. Intellect. Velo: from the original French velocipede, for bicycle. 

Thus: Cervelo – the intelligent bicycle.  Now, that’s a pretty lofty claim which could possibly be staked by many, many bicycle manufacturers but it’s as original and catchy as much as it is meaningful.  Whatever….seeing it on the roof of my 9-3 Sportcombi brought back some memories of watching pro bike races a few years ago in 2008 when Saab had a prominent role as the vehicles for the Mavic neutral service course guys. 

Ahh, those were the days.

Weekend Snippets

In today’s snippets entry – How do you know what tyres are good at what things? Sniff Petrol does Anders Breivik. Don’t eat the mother-cake! And how small an accident does it take to write off a Saab Turbo X?

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Pierre, over at the CRS Blog, has just fitted some new tyres to his 1992 Saab 900, choosing to go for comfort instead of his usual search for all-out grip. The improved ride has given him a renewed appreciation for his classic Swede.

A question that I’ve always had but never researched: How does one know which tyres are better suited to one or the other – grip or comfort?

Personally, my knowledge is restricted to what the man in the store tells me. That’s a flawed situation, of course, because the man in the store quite likely makes a better margin on one tyre compared to another.

I might have to tap Pierre for the answer, or simply get off my arse and do some research myself.

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Sniff Petrol tackles Bernie Ecclestone’s ambivalence to the situation in Bahrain in it’s usual, confronting style.

Perhaps this is where Jeremy Clarkson gets some of his more controversial lines from? Sniff is, after all, written by Richard Porter, who’s name you’ll see in the credits for Top Gear every week. He’s the script editor.

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Porter is also one third of the team that supplies the Gareth Jones on Speed podcast every few weeks. It’s well worth a listen, especially if you’re into Formula 1. And there just happens to be a new episode out today.

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Fans of all things Swedish will get a laugh out of this: Nine things that don’t translate so well from Swedish to English.

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A quick, personal update on Targa Tasmania – I just found out yesterday that the guy who now owns my Saab 9-3 Viggen is competing this year. He’s not driving the Viggen, however. Wayne has a fleet of vehicles and he’s driving a Porsche 911 in Targa this year.

Will try and catch up with him when the race finishes in Hobart tomorrow.

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And speaking of my Viggen…….

When I bought it back in 2005, it had been repaired after a small front-end accident. The accident really was a minor one – I saw the photos – but the relative rarity of Saab parts caused the insurance company to put it in the too-hard basket and they declared the vehicle to be a write off (which it obviously wasn’t as it’s still running beautifully to this day, even after I had a major accident in it).

I received some photos during the week of a Saab 9-3 Turbo X that appears to have been in an even smaller accident than the one that first wrote off my Viggen. The owner is a guy in the US, a reader from the TS and SU days whose car featured on those pages some time back.

His website seems to be hanging as I write this so I can’t get on there to extract some images right now. From what I remember from a few days ago, it looks like he’ll need a new front bumper, grille and headlamps.

I was going to cover this accident as an exercise in seeing how long it would take for Saab Parts to supply the necessary bits to his repairer. As it turns out, that won’t be necessary. As with my Viggen, the insurance company has deemed the repairs significant enough to classify the Turbo X as a write-off.

I’m amazed. Here in Australia, the Turbo X is still a $40,000 vehicle. That such a fine car can be considered a write-off after such a small bingle is a real head-scratcher for me.

I’ll update with photos when his website is back online and yo’ll be able to see for yourself. And if anyone’s interested in buying the ‘wreck’ from the insurance company, I can put you in touch with owner.

Targa Tasmania 2012 – so far….

Targa Tasmania is the state’s premier motor racing event. It’s 5 days or so of tarmac racing, giving entrants the chance to see the state at high speed on closed public roads.

Here are a few videos of the fun that’s been had so far. The white Lamborghini in the videos, driven by Jason White, is currently leading the modern category.

Day 0

Day 1

Day 2

Has anyone tried an e-cigarette?

I just thought I’d throw this one out there…..

My health is slowly deteriorating. I can feel it. I’ve been able to feel it for a while now. Things took a turn for the better when I was in Sweden as I was enjoying my work and had a flat landscape which made it easier for my lazy arse to get some exercise. Here in hilly Hobart, that’s a much less attractive proposition, no matter how bad I’m feeling.

Of course, the big health hazard in my life continues to be smoking. I’ve never been a truly heavy smoker – less than a pack a day and I smoke the lightest cigarettes you can buy here (yes, I know they’re still bad, only have tiny holes in the filters, etc. I’ve heard it all, thanks). Nevertheless, I’m still a consistent, habitual smoker and I can feel it affecting my throat and my breathing. My physical fitness left me a long time ago thanks to the cigarettes, a predominantly poor diet and this blogging habit that took over from playing basketball around 7 years ago.

I’m facing an elephantine task and how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, of course.

Hence my wondering if anyone out there has tried and/or had any successful outcome with e-cigarettes. These are the ones I’m thinking of. I’ve tried patches and a medication called Zyban and both came with some initial success. Part of my problem, however, is that I enjoy the ritual that comes with smoking – getting outside for 5 minutes and having a chance to think about stuff, having a chat with a colleague or a friend.

From what I’ve heard/read about these e-cigarettes, the ritual can remain but they serve up a cigarette-like experience without all the really nasty chemicals that go into traditional cigarettes. No tar, no carbon monoxide, no ash, etc. You still get nicotine as per a normal cigarette so the base chemical dependency is taken care of.

Many users seem to report feeling the benefits of not taking in all the really bad stuff and of course, a large number of people use them as an aid to quit smoking, which is my intention, too.

The idea of inhaling something delivered to you via power from a battery is rather odd. Ironically, it worries me because it doesn’t sound healthy. E-cigarettes are not able to be sold legally within Australia right now as they haven’t been approved by health authorities. You can source them from overseas, however.

I’m willing to give them a go based on my own limited reading. The way I’m feeling right now, they can’t be any worse than what I’m on right now.

Has anyone used them? And if so, what did you think?

A small ray of hope for Saab, thanks to Brightwell

For months now, we’ve heard GM spokesman James Cain come out and say things like this:

TT: Why did you not agree to meet them?

– We stand by our policy not to sell technology licenses to a new owner for Saab.

TT: Not in any way?

– No.

TT: Typically in business, everything has a price tag.

– Not in this case, says James Cain.

So…… They stand by this policy and from earlier in the original article at e24, they responded to Brightwell’s requests for discussions with a big, fat “not interested”.

Not according to Brightwell’s President, Alphan Manas.

We have to rely on a Googletrans from Manas’ own blog here, but it sounds very much like they reached some agreement with GM in relation to the 9-4x before GM demanded a $73million “tooling fee”. This was apparently an unexpected development and it’s quite possible that tactics like this are part of the reason that Brightwell dropped out of the race to acquire Saab.

Of course, it’s not the first GM has done something like this, either. Back in December 2009, GM halted negotiations with Spyker – quite suddenly – and announced that Saab was to be liquidated. Later they backflipped once more and ended up selling the company.

What does all this mean?

Not a lot, really. The changing of terms in business deals is commonplace and GM are as prone to it as anyone else. The fact that a Saab fan might find it distasteful doesn’t alter the fact that it happens (nor that PR people would ‘forget’ such things in public statements).

Perhaps the ‘tooling fee’ is a blessing in disguise for a Saab fan. If I’ve interpreted what Manas has written on his website correctly (a significant “if”, but I think I have), it means that GM might actually be willing to negotiate with a possible purchaser of Saab Automobile under the right circumstances. I’m sure they’ll charge a massive fee for such access, but it’s a glimmer of hope if ever I saw one. The 9-4x deserves to be produced for longer, and as a Saab, too.

Again, I have to stress that I’m relying on a web translation of Manas’ blog. I tried to get in touch with Manas via Twitter last week but got no response. The translation is all I’ve got to go by at the moment. If you know Turkish perhaps you can clarify things a little for everyone.

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Thanks to Gregg for the tip.