Saturday, August 20, 2016

BMW 2002 Hommage celebrates four decades of BMW's turbo tech

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Perfect for the Sunday morning breakfast run!

It's cars like the BMW 2002 Hommage that make BMW what it is - a German car manufacturer that makes sportscars like no other. Volkswagen is joyless, Mercedes-Benz (which I love very much by the way) is a better embodiment of grace, elegance and luxury and Audi does technology very well but often falls short when it comes to establishing that direct, emotional connect with the driver. BMW, on the other hand, does cars like the 2002 Hommage, which is just brilliant. Unveiled earlier this week at the Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach, in the US, the 2002 Hommage has been built to "celebrate the birth of the turbocharged car," according to BMW. Back in 1973, the BMW 2002 turbo was the first series-produced car in Europe to feature a turbocharged engine. "The BMW 2002 Hommage celebrates the extraordinary feats of engineering on which BMW turbo technology is based and re-interprets them in the form of a design study. With its iconic orange/black paintwork, the car has a colour scheme and livery synonymous in the minds of many motor sport fans with the triumphs of the 1970s," says Karim Habib, Head of Design, BMW Automobiles.

No tech details have been provided by BMW and for now, the 2002 Hommage is just a design study. I hope they build a limited number of these cars as a production model though. It just deserves to be built. It's glorious. I love it!

Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Volante, the car I'd be driving in an alternative universe

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Driving a Zagato Aston Martin must be life affirming in wonderful ways...

The stark realities of life dictate that I'll probably be driving Marutis and Hyundais for the foreseeable future, and perhaps even for all my life. In an alternate universe however, one that's free of all financial constraint, one of the cars I'd have in my garage is definitely the Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Volante. Unveiled at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in the US today, the Zagato Volante is a limited edition machine (just 99 units will be produced) and is powered by a glorious 592bhp V12, which pushes the car from zero to 100kph in 3.7 seconds. Its interiors are embellished with wondrous things like herringbone carbonfibre (don't know what it is, but sounds good anyway...), anodized bronze detailing and the finest Weir leather, with ‘Z’ quilt pattern stitch on both seat and door sections, as well as the trademark Zagato ‘Z’ embossed on the headrests and stitched into the centre console. Yes, I want one...   :-)

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Play it again, Sam

"I've been here before,
But always hit the floor.
I've spent a lifetime running,
And I always get away.
But with you I'm feeling something,
That makes me want to stay..."
-Sam Smith (Spectre)

I started my writing career non-career about two decades ago, with a few tech-related pieces for The Times of India, in Lucknow. Moved to Bombay in the late-1990s and went on to write about computers and technology for a bunch of magazines and websites. But then, given my lifelong obsession with supercars and superbikes, switched from tech to automotive journalism and for the next 10 years, wrote for various car and motorcycle magazines. That was a time of wish fulfillment and many, many automotive fantasies came true.

However, with time came additional financial responsibility and the need for a few more pennies in the bank, which led to an extended stint in PR / Corporate Communication, and a few years spent working for India's only F1 racing circuit and then, for the biggest German car manufacturer in the world.

The money was not too bad I suppose, but things were a bit dull and the boredom was deathly, hence a 6-month sabbatical and then, very recently, a return to automotive journalism - this time, with the Delhi-based Auto Tech Review.

I'm happy to be back, no question, but I have to admit that the world of journalism - and more specifically automotive journalism - seems to be completely different from what it used to be 10 years ago. Just yesterday, I attended a media event hosted by a major Indian-owned, Europe-based car manufacturer and to my dismay, found out that I barely knew one or two people from among the two or three dozen who were present there. Where was everyone whom I used to know?! (Answer: They're now all 'senior' editors who only attend 'important' events and/or events that are hosted in exotic, faraway lands...)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Party like it's 1999

With close to 200bhp from its slick, free-revving inline-four, the Suzuki Hayabusa is capable of intense acceleration and a near-300kph top speed. I love this bike!

"I was dreamin' when I wrote this, so sue me if I go too fast
But life is just a party and parties weren't meant to last.
War is all around us, my mind says prepare to fight
So if I gotta die I'm gonna listen to my body tonight.
Yeah hey, they say two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time,
So tonight I'm gonna party like it's nineteen ninety-nine."

With a top speed of about 300kph, the Suzuki Hayabusa can keep up with just about anything on two wheels. At least in a straight line. And that's nothing short of amazing, because the Hayabusa, which was launched back in 1999, is now all of seventeen years old. To give you some perspective on how old that really is, 1999 was when the Euro was first introduced, Keanu Reeves starred in the first Matrix movie, the Khmer Rouge was officially disbanded in Cambodia, movie DVDs were still a novelty and listening to music meant buying a CD rather than downloading an MP3. Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp hadn't been invented yet, and people actually used to have face-to-face conversations rather than WhatsApp chats, can you believe that?

The world of fast motorcycles, too, was very different back then. Yes, ABS was available, but traction control and the dozens of other electronic-nanny bits that are common today simply did not exist at that time. You bought very powerful, very fast motorcycles only if you were an expert, experienced rider. Then, you opened the throttle and hung on for dear life. Pre-1999, Kawasaki had the mega-fast ZX-11 Ninja and Honda had the CBR1100XX Super Blackbird - both were capable of doing about 260-270kph. And then the Hayabusa came along and asked everyone to fork off. The first-generation 'Busa's 1300cc inline-four pumped out 175bhp, pushing the bike from zero to 100kph in well less than three seconds and on to a top speed of 312kph. Well, it was the 1990s after all. Sharon Stone was doing a full-frontal Basic Instinct, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were going at it in the White House, and Meat Loaf would do anything for love (though he wouldn't do "that"...), so why the hell not a motorcycle (without ABS, remember) that could do 312kph on the street? Screw the safety Nazis and just ride. The dotcom boom and the subsequent bust still hadn't happened, and life was still a party. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, baby.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

This is Z.

Kawasaki Z1000 Kawasaki Z1000
Kawasaki Z1000 Kawasaki Z1000
Kawasaki Z1000 Kawasaki Z1000 Kawasaki Z1000
Unveiled at the EICMA in Italy last year, the new Z1000's aggressively evil styling and 142-horsepower inline-four make for endless two-wheeled entertainment. Burnouts? Power-wheelies? Stoplight drag races? Yes, let the madness begin...

That the new Z1000 is a rocking, rollicking ride should hardly come as a surprise to anyone. Of all the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, Kawasaki have the most significant heritage of producing over-the-top supernakeds. The story started with the early-1970s Z1, which could hit a top speed of more than 200kph back then because of its 80-horsepower 900cc inline-four. This machine, the most powerful Japanese-built motorcycle of its time, was replaced by the Z900 at about the same time when John Travolta was rocking the world with his Tony Manero dance moves in Saturday Night Fever. And at the time when Rocky Balboa was taking on Apollo Creed in Rocky II, Kawasaki were ready with the totally outrageous, Honda CBX-rivalling, six-cylinder Z1300 that pumped out 120 horsepower, even if it did weigh close to 300 kilos.

The point I'm trying to make here is that Kawasaki have never been ones to shy away from building madly powerful naked motorcycles. No fairings or fancy electronics - just a really big, revvy engine, competent chassis and suspension, real-world-relevant ergonomics and mind-blowing performance. This formula, which Kawasaki adopted so successfully in the 1970s, continues with the current Z1000 that I rode, and loved to bits.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Living with the Beast: One week with the Kawasaki ZX-14R

The 200bhp Kawasaki ZX-14R Ninja. Pure awesomeness. I love this bike so very, very much. Have to buy one someday...

With the ZX-14R Ninja, Kawasaki have managed to pull a fast one over the motorcycling populace in general. The Japanese company has managed to convince everyone that this motorcycle is powered by a conventional four-cylinder 1400cc internal-combustion engine. But that’s not really true. Neatly tucked away beneath the big Ninja 14R’s muscular bodywork is the world’s most compact Nuclear reactor, a fearsome, weapons-grade set-up that actually uses Nuclear fission to power the bike. After all, why make do with petrol when you can use the rather more potent Uranium-235? Take that, Hayabusa!

Of course, the ZX-14R certainly isn’t the first Nuclear-strength motorcycle that Kawasaki have made. In fact, my obsession with mad, bad Kwackers started almost a quarter of a century ago, with the March 1990 issue of Cycle magazine, where they wrote about the Kawasaki ZX-11. I was 17 back then, and the fastest, most powerful motorcycle I'd ever ridden up until then was the 32bhp Rajdoot Yamaha RD350. So, Cycle's story on the 125-horsepower ZX-11 blew my brains out. “This machine is the speed freak's midnight fantasy, a ride on the blast wave of an endless explosion,” they said about the ZX-11, which could do the quarter-mile in less than 11 seconds and hit a top speed of 280kph. From that day on, all I ever wanted to do was ride a ZX-11. After all, what superbike fanatic wouldn’t want to ride the blast wave of an endless explosion…?

As the years rolled by, I went on to work with various car and motorcycle magazines, and even snagged a furtive, all-too-brief ride on the 170bhp ZX-12R, the ZX-11’s successor. But for 25 (okay, 24…) years, there was never an opportunity to ride a big, fast Kawasaki without any restrictions whatsoever. I still wanted to ride a 200-horsepower Kawasaki, on which I could wrench open the throttle fully in each gear and, hopefully, hit 300kph on some isolated highway. The schoolboy fantasy remained unrequited until last month, when everything changed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

2012 BMW M5 driving impression

2012 BMW M5 driving impression 2012 BMW M5 driving impression
2012 BMW M5 driving impression 2012 BMW M5 driving impression 2012 BMW M5 driving impression
With its 560bhp twin-turbo V8, the BMW M5 is one of the fastest four-door saloons in the world. Driving it was a childhood dream come true...

I blame my obsession with the BMW M5 on magazines like Car & Bike International and Indian Auto. In the late-1980s, when I was in school, in Lucknow, these magazines provided a tantalizing glimpse into the forbidden world of European supercars – fast, powerful and exotic machines that were so very, very far removed from the Premier Padminis, Hindustan Ambassadors and Maruti 800s that most people in India used to drive in those days.

Sometime in the late-1980s, I read about the first-generation BMW M5, which was fitted with a 3.5-litre, 285bhp straight-six. It was the fastest four-door saloon of its time and for a 15-year-old who was then just getting started with his lifelong love affair with fast cars (and, well, fast motorcycles…), the car was simply mesmerizing. And if I’m honest, I have to admit that at that time, I was happy to just look at pictures of the car, in magazines that cost a good part of my monthly ‘pocket money’ back then. I never thought I’d ever actually get to drive an M5 someday...

Fast forward to 2012 and there I was, last week, ripping along at 300km/h on the new Yamuna Expressway that connects Greater Noida to Agra. In, what else, a brand new BMW M5. In sixth gear, the M5’s 4.4-litre, twin-turbo, 560-horsepower V8 was howling furiously, with the needle on the rev counter hovering at the 6,000rpm mark, the car travelling a distance of 1km every 12 seconds. And at 300km/h, the M5’s engine wasn’t maxed-out yet, it was still about 1,000rpm short of hitting its redline – unbelievable performance for any car, doubly so for a four-door saloon.

Audi Sportscar Experience at Buddh International Circuit

Audi Sportscar Experience with Audi R8, at Buddh International Circuit
Audi Sportscar Experience with Audi R8, at Buddh International Circuit Audi Sportscar Experience with Audi R8, at Buddh International Circuit Audi Sportscar Experience with Audi R8, at Buddh International Circuit
Conducted at BIC, the Audi Sportscar Experience was a very enjoyable learning experience. Getting to drive 10 laps of the circuit in an Audi R8 was quite memorable!

ASE: The Course
For a lot of people, it’s all too easy to believe that even if you’ve only ever driven humble family saloons and hatchbacks, you can suddenly jump into a 500-horsepower supercar one day, floor the throttle and be the kind of driving superhero you’ve seen in all those Fast and Furious movies. Reality is… er, a bit different.

Very powerful sports cars and supercars are precision tools that need you to be properly trained before you use them. And in India, while a lot of supercars are now accessible to the wealthy enthusiast, there are still not too many options when it comes to advanced driver training and expert instruction. Thankfully, that is changing – manufacturers are now organizing track days and training schools for owners, prospective customers and regular enthusiasts, where high-quality instruction and training is made available. Another major factor in all of this has been the availability of Buddh International Circuit (BIC), a truly world-class racetrack that’s an excellent venue for such training sessions.

Ducati Hypermotard 1100 S riding impression

Ducati Hypermotard 1100 S
Ducati Hypermotard 1100 S Ducati Hypermotard 1100 S Ducati Hypermotard 1100 S
The Ducati Hypermotard 1100 S looks super-cool, sounds awesome and you won't believe the way it goes around corners. It's light and nimble, fast and FUN!

Designed by Pierre Terblanche, the Ducati Hypermotard looked pretty radical and unconventional when it was first shown as a concept bike back in November 2005, at the Milan motorcycle show that year. The Hypermotard is Ducati’s tribute to supermoto, a form of motorcycle racing that’s been around in the US and in Europe for more than three decades but is largely unknown in India. It’s a weird combination of road racing, flat track and motocross, demands an awesome amount of riding skill and is spectacular to watch.

Supermoto-style bikes have the tall stance and long travel suspension of off-road machines, with street-spec wheels and tyres. This combination allows a supermotard to be ridden like a conventional sportsbike on tarmac and like a dirtbike off it. Knee-down cornering, massive feet-up drifts and slides, wheelies, stoppies – you name it, supermoto has it. Motorcycling hooliganism at its spectacular best!

While the Ducati Hypermotard is indeed a supermoto-style motorcycle, you don’t necessarily need to have Ruben Xaus’s skills to be able to ride one. With its upright riding position, slim proportions and nimble handling, it’s actually a very practical, comfortable, all-around capable sportsbike that you can happily ride to work every day.

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