Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rides of Heads of State (Part 21)

When this blog's images and content end up being results on google searches, I know I've covered too much ground. Nevertheless, random word searches on google and trolling through government websites yielded a few more nuggets. I can say unequivocally that the Tajik President's website has the slowest bandwidth out of any third world government, and that is saying a lot.

134. Guyana. When the current president's wife left him, she lost her car privileges. She had to plead with the Guyanese people for a car to borrow to get to charitable functions. Though the separation was amicable, I don't see the president sharing his Land Cruiser.

135. Mali. I was a little bit surprised when I found the president of Mali also riding in a Hummer H2. It seems bad taste knows no boundaries.

136. Moldova. Like his Romanian brother, the Moldovan president rides in an S-class-- albeit a little dirtier.

137. Malaysia. Although the Malaysian PM is always seen riding in classic British convertibles, his official car is the domestic Proton.

138. St. Vincent & The Grenadines. Here is a pic of the PM being driven in a Land Cruiser Prado.

139. Costa Rica. This one is complicated. When Oscar Arias came back into power, he was handed an old Lexus, which was used by the last two presidentes. He then opted for a Kia, which was donated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the Korean government. When the Kia was thought unbecoming, Motores Britanicos, whose owner was under investigation, conveniently donated a $58,000 "Range Rover" to Arias. With import duties, the only possible model to fall within that price range is the LR3. To date, Arias has not given up his Rover. I say, give the Nobel Prize winner whatever he wants.

Updated tally:
S-class: 46
7 series: 14
Land Cruiser: 12
A8: 8
Maybach: 6
Phaeton: 4
Caddy: 4
Holden-Chevy-Opel: 3
G-wagen: 3
Jag: 2
ZIL: 2
Volvo: 2
Touareg: 2
Mitsubishi Montero: 2
H2: 2

One of each of the following: Lancia, Hyundai, Skoda, A6, Peugeot, Renault, Lincoln, VW van, London taxi, Daimler, Suburban, Toyota Century, Hongqi, Bentley, Rolls, Ford Fairlane, Aston Martin, SEAT, Ford Expedition, Nissan Patrol, Stutz, Suzuki, Camry, Toyota Crown, Toyota Sequoia, Proton, Land Rover


The End of the (Toyota) Century

In Casino Royale, a couple of Ugandan goons are stuffed in the boot of a ZiL 117. Only the rear end of the sedan is shown. I love the rear end of that ZiL. For the longest time, I thought it belonged to the back of a first generation Toyota Century, the ubiquitous chariot for the low-profile Japanese CEO. Here are some shots from a lucky Queensland owner named Andy. Pure beauty, that.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

How the 2008 Election Year Is Going to End Up Like F1 2007

As I eagerly await the South Carolina Democratic primary returns this afternoon, I come to the realization of the chilling similarities between America's elections this year and the 2007 Formula One season. Allow me to explain.

1. Obama as Hamilton. The most obvious similarity is superficial: they are both biracial, but seen in the eyes of others as blacks. But there's more. They are both relatively young upstarts in their respective fields. Critics and admirers alike spoke of their potential to be great-- years from now. But instead, they've captured everyone's imagination by being great now. Their meteoric rises cannot be more similar. But alas, Hamilton went into the last GP in Brazil with a razor thin lead and lost it all.

Straight out of Obama's wardrobe.

2. Hillary as Alonso. Both Hillary and Alonso went into their respective seasons believing that they should be the ultimate winner because they've worked hard, paid their dues, and have the talent. They did not expect their younger teammates (fellow Dem Obama and McLaren teammate Hamilton) to take over the spotlight and outperform them. As the season progressed, Hillary and Alonso were portrayed negatively as having a sense of entitlement. Just as the feud between Alonso and Hamilton cost both men's chances of winning the driver's championship, all the mud slinging between Hillary and Obama will cause the underdog, a Republican/Ferrari driver, to win it all.

I deserve to win. Wah!

3. McCain as Kimi. For years, both men have had a reputation of being honest, talented mavericks. But their prior attempts at winning the championship/presidency ended in abject failure. To better their chances, the two sold their souls. McCain hugged Bush and kissed the asses of right-wing religious zealots. Kimi joined Ferrari (which is arguably more shameful). While Alonso and Hamilton (Hillary and Obama) had their hissy fits with each other throughout the season, they ignored the damage they were doing to each other and the team and allowed Kimi to eke by with the championship. That McCain could pull off an equally spectacular upset is very probable.

At the 2009 Inauguration. Note the Republican red racing suit.

But then again, before the 2007 season started, I predicted that Honda were going to take the constructor's title. So there you go.


Shooting Brakes Redux

W116 shooting brake/estate. Created in England by Crayford using Ford liftgate.



Lotus Elan.


Bentley T series.

911 (Yeah, its engine is still in the rear.).



Friday, January 25, 2008

Freestylo! Kazakh Style

The spawns of Pop Idol, the British forefather to American Idol, have infiltrated every nook and cranny of this planet. Its Afghan analog, entitled Afghan Star, is huge. While searching youtube for clips of season one's winner, a Hazara named Shakeb Hamdard, I came across this clip of Superstar KZ, the Kazakh version of Pop Idol/American Idol. The young man shown below did not win but his spirit and creativity have made him a cult hero throughout the former Warsaw Pact nations.



Quantum of Solace or Much Ado About Nothing?

WTF? How could a blog in which "007 Movies" is proudly and prominently touted as an integral and recurring theme poo-poo the next Bond film?

Good question.

Loyal readers of this fair blog will recall that I thoroughly loved watching Casino Royale and respected Craig's role in it. They will also remember me disparaging Craig, calling him an inept, towheaded, jackass before I watched Casino. Well, I have every reason to believe that Bond 22, a.k.a. Quantum of Solace, set for release in November, will be just as dark, fantastic, and brilliant.

So what am I complaining about? It's the revelation yesterday of the film's title. Specifically, it's the fact that on google news, there are currently 735 articles from the last 24 hours reporting the film's title, and nothing else of substance or interest about the film. Despite all the fanfare and hoopla, the only news is the title itself. That 735 paid scribes can fill their columns with hundreds of words, when the only substantive information can be summed up in a sentence, i.e. The next Bond movie is called Quantum of Solace, tells me that the "legitimate" media's work product is 1% fact-based and 99% fluffy bullshit.

This just in: Bond film to have beautiful female co-stars!

While the media is using barrels of ink on this story and other pressing matters like Mary Kate Olsen's phone log or Matthew McConaughey's abs, five million people died in the Congolese civil war, opposition protesters and innocent bystanders are shot and killed point blank in Kenya, and Israel has the Gazans locked and caged like rabid, feral animals. But wait, this breaking news: Media coverage of Britney Spears' slow meltdown is worth $100-120 million to our faltering economy.

Shocking report: The next Bond film may contain gratuitous violence!

I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade, least of all the parades of fellow Bond fans. But the coverage of the non-story that is Bond 22 today perfectly exemplifies our society's blindness to what matters, and what doesn't.

Now that I've bummed everyone out, how about a pick-me-up or two?

Unofficial Fan-Created Trailer

Quantum Theme Song Audition


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Rides of Heads of State (Part 20)

Having exhausted the exponential powers of google search, I have switched to altavista to find those harder-to-find images of leaders of more obscure nations and their sweet, sweet rides.

128. Angola. For such a wealthy (oil-wise) country, it was difficult to find pictures of O Presidente. Here is one with his white Gelandewagen behind him.

129. Belize. Overall, I must say Central America and the Caribbean regions have the most interesting and eclectic mix of cars for their leaders. Here, the president's chauffeur is seen walking to the official Toyota Camry (foreground).

130. Antigua and Barbuda. No question here, after a thorough review of the rear door, c-pillar, rear window, and trunk, the PM rides in a W220 S-class Mercedes.

131. Grenada. The PM on this tiny island rides in a nice Mitsubishi Montero.

132. St. Kitts and Nevis. This may be the coolest find. The PM heads to a budget meeting in this rare (outside of Asia) Toyota Crown Royal.

133. El Salvador. President Saca rides in a Toyota Sequoia.

Updated tally:
S-class: 45
7 series: 14
Land Cruiser: 10
A8: 8
Maybach: 6
Phaeton: 4
Caddy: 4
Holden-Chevy-Opel: 3
G-wagen: 3
Jag: 2
ZIL: 2
Volvo: 2
Touareg: 2
Mitsubishi Montero: 2

One of each of the following: Lancia, Hyundai, Skoda, A6, Peugeot, Renault, Lincoln, VW van, London taxi, Daimler, Suburban, Toyota Century, Hongqi, Bentley, Rolls, Ford Fairlane, Aston Martin, SEAT, Hummer H2, Ford Expedition, Nissan Patrol, Stutz, Suzuki, Camry, Toyota Crown, Toyota Sequoia


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Rides of Heads of State (Part 19)

For a while, I thought I had exhausted all of my research sources. But thanks to google news and babelfish (French to English), I was able to squeeze out a few more rides.

120. Jamaica. Last year, an investigation revealed that tens of millions of dollars were spent outfitting public officials with brand new SUVs. But to my surprise, Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller is still riding in the Volvo S80 assigned to her in 2004 when she was the Minister of Local Government. Kudos to her!

121. Ecuador. The young-ish, and toothy, Correa rides in a Nissan Patrol.

122. Gabon. When an Excalibur just doesn't scream "cheese" enough, you get a Stutz Royale. Behold, President Bongo's ride.

123. Dominica. This small Caribbean republic has a population of barely 70,000. No wonder in such a small and poor country, the prime minister drives an old Suzuki.

124, 125. Guinea, Ghana. Mercedes S-Class.

126. Namibia. Land Cruiser.

127. Kosovo. Just like Taiwan, Palestine, and the Vatican, Kosovo is not a member of the U.N. However, in a few weeks' time, it will declare independence from Serbia. Hopefully, no violence will ensue. This morning, I saw the new prime minister step out of his black Touareg on BBC News.

Updated tally:
S-class: 44
7 series: 14
Land Cruiser: 10
A8: 8
Maybach: 6
Phaeton: 4
Caddy: 4
Holden-Chevy-Opel: 3
G-wagen: 2
Jag: 2
ZIL: 2
Volvo: 2
Touareg: 2

One of each of the following: Lancia, Hyundai, Skoda, A6, Peugeot, Renault, Lincoln, VW van, London taxi, Daimler, Suburban, Toyota Century, Hongqi, Bentley, Rolls, Ford Fairlane, Aston Martin, SEAT, Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Hummer H2, Ford Expedition, Nissan Patrol, Stutz, Suzuki


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Bathurst: The Most Underrated Track

Nurburgring, the streets of Monaco, Laguna Seca. Any self-respecting race fan has heard of and fantasized about driving these courses and venues. But not many people have heard of Bathurst, officially known as the Mount Panorama Circuit in New South Wales.

The legendary (to Aussies and Kiwis) track is home to Australian V8 Supercars' Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, which is held every October. Words, and pictures, cannot describe why this venue is so exciting. Hopefully, the following hand-picked videos will convey the nerves, stamina, and concentration it takes to complete just one lap here.

An introduction to the track

Speed comparison between old and new Holdens

What a skilled driver in a Lotus Elise can do


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Six of One, Half A Doz(higuli) of the Other

In Marat Akchurin's Red Odyssey, the author took an epic road trip through Central Asia just as the U.S.S.R. was imploding. An elite member of the nomenklatura, Akchurin had all the trappings of a decadent capitalist, owning not one, but two automobiles.

For the first leg of his journey, he rode with his mechanic friend Liberman in Liberman's VAZ-2101 (Zhiguli). Always the show-off, the author noted that he has an almost identical Zhiguli at home.

To his horror, after Liberman abandoned the trip, and the author, Akchurin was forced to ride in a pedestrian Moskvich 412. But in his self-deprecating style, Akchurin confessed:

"But when I saw that he had a Moskvich-412 I was a bit upset. Like every other Soviet Zhiguli owner, I was biased against Moskviches. When a country produces just two brands of cars, the customers inevitably fall into two parties-- those who like to eat their boiled eggs from the top, and those who eat it from the bottom."

Here are a few eggs in your face.

Nice orange Zhiguli

Zhiguli sold as Lada in the decadent West

What a looker!

Plebian 412

Massive 1500 cc engine



Saturday, January 05, 2008

RWD Alfa 159 Coming Stateside!

After talk about serious matters such as sexism, apartheid, and terrorism, it is time for a breather. I just read in the latest issue of Automobile magazine, which I deem the New York Times of car rags, that the Alfas coming to America in 2009 will be rear wheel drive. This major about-face will apply to the much-coveted compact sports sedan, the 159.

I've had my eye on this beauty since seeing it live for the first time a few years ago in the Land of the Rising Sun. With the rear wheel drive set-up, I think I've found my next ride! So without further ado, here is some eye candy...


Killing Dakar

The Dakar Rally is a "vulgar display of power and wealth in places where men continue to die from hunger and thirst."

The above excerpt is not from the latest AQ fatwa against the (in)famous rally. Rather, it was from the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. This week, sports pages around the world reported on AQ killing the Dakar Rally.

Dakar Rally's lasting contribution to Africa

As a point of full disclosure, I have been a fan of the Dakar Rally since I was a child. But the race's cancellation led me to stand back and assess the damage the rally has done to the African environment and people.

The 2008 route would have led hundreds of race vehicles, along with thousands of mechanics and journalists in cars, trucks, helicopters, and airplanes, through Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, and Senegal. These nations are the 109th, 132nd, 166th, and 149th richest countries in the world, respectively, when measured by per capita income. Western drivers and teams, often sponsored by oil companies and other multinational conglomerates, zoom through pristine wilderness and underdeveloped villages at breakneck speeds.

Aside from the dozens of participants who have lost their lives, countless locals have also been killed. There is no official figure for the local casualties. Many of their names have not been published. What is known is that, unlike the participants, these people did not voluntarily accept the risks of the race. Some of these victims include:
  • Baye Sibi, a 10 year old Malian girl who was killed while crossing the road in 1998;
  • a Mauritanian mother and daughter who were killed in 1998 by a film crew's vehicle;
  • three passengers who were killed in a stampede in a train which was precipitated by a wildfire started by racers in 1998;
  • a 5 year old Senegalese girl who was crushed under the wheels of a service truck in 2005;
  • a 10 year old boy who was hit and killed by a Latvian racer in 2006;
  • a 12 year old boy who was killed by a support truck in 2006.
Stay clear!


Turkmenistan: It Ain't So Bad

Nalatia Antelava, BBC's intrepid Central Asia correspondent, recently submitted a piece on nightlife in the Turkmen capital, Ashkabat. This piece was followed by an interview Antelava gave to ferghana.ru, which explored further her observations of everyday Turkmenistan.

The few in the West who have heard of Turkmenistan are familiar with its weird dictator (may he rest in peace) and his bizarre pronouncements. He named everything after himself-- a town, a meteorite, even the month of January.

But according to Antelava, the people are not brainwashed, half-starved automatons. They are rather satiated and there is even a legitimate night scene in the larger towns. It's not Cancun or Ibiza, but it's fun nonetheless.

Despite low wages, almost everything in Turkmenistan is cheap. The government has passed some of the revenue from the country's vast natural resources onto its people in the form of subsidized prices. It costs a dollar to fill up a gas tank. $1.60 will pay for a flight between Turkmenbashi and Ashgabat. A loaf of bread costs a few cents.

When you buy a round of vodka for everyone at a happenin' bar, just make sure a portrait of Turkmenbashi is on the label.




Back in the 1980s, what with apartheid and the divestment movement, South African performance cars were not attracting too many people's attention. While gratuitously pawing through a recent issue of Classic & Sports Car at the local book purveyor, I came across the South Africa-spec BMW 745i. This, along with the 333i, defined South Africa's penchant for bucking the trend, to put it generously.

The 333i was conceived at a South African happy hour with the help of cocktail napkins. Although the 323i was already robust, the 2.3 liter was a bit asthmatic in the high veldt (which was about 1,500 meters in elevation). So the South Africans decided to stick the 3.3 liter M30 powerplant from the 7 series into the E30. With the help of BMW Motorsport in Munich and Alpina, the Rosslyn plant near Pretoria assembled the 333i.

The project was not easy. Due to the smaller engine bay and the right hand position of the steering wheel, buyers had to choose between power steering and air con. The aero kit reduced lift in the front by 35% and 40% in the rear. The "triple three I" was shod with 16" Pirelli P7s all around. Larger brakes, with an ABS option, helped stop the car. With 197hp and 210 pound-feet of torque, the car zoomed to 100kph in a little over 7 seconds.

The 333i's big brother was the E23 745i, which was also assembled at the Rosslyn plant in the mid 80s. At the time, 745i's everywhere else had the turbocharged M30 under the hood. But because this unit could not fit under the hood of a right hand driver, South Africa's 745i had a normally aspirated M88 (of M1 fame) instead. This essentially made the car an unofficial M7.

With just a few hundred sold, this is a rare bird indeed. Many used versions ended up in Australia, New Zealand, and Britain. No doubt in another decade or so, the 333i and 745i will show up on auction blocks worldwide, selling for many times their current price.