Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Round Up

2014 is almost over folks and you might have noticed that TV shows and news bulletins are filling their airtime with yearly round ups of all that has gone on over the last 365 days. So not wanting to miss out I figured I'd do the same for my blog. The only catch being I've only been doing this for 6 weeks. Not to worry though, consider this my month a bit a review instead! Have I achieved what I set out to do so far?

My main aim,by drawing on personal experience, was to show people new to Australia and Australians alike that buying a European car in Aus didn't need to be expensive nor difficult. Second to this was to show people some absolute automotive crackers for sale, cars that some might have thought were only attainable in Europe. All this would be mixed in with a little bit of news and some reviews. As of yet there have been no reviews, no one wants to give me their car quite yet! However some will come in the new year, I have given you readers out there some new car news though, so expect that to continue. 

What I am most proud of though is my car of the week feature, a chance for me to do my favorite thing, search the classifieds for lovely, reasonably priced European motors. Since November I've shown people everything from hot hatches, German super coupes to bonafide classics all for under $20,000 in almost every state in Australia. Which given a brand new Kia Cerato could set you back that if not more, the chance to own something a little more interesting is a tempting proposition. 
Plenty S3's out there for under 10k
Or how about becoming a driving god in an M3 for under 20k?

Now I know that there are some flaws with my reasoning, lots and lots of people pick a new car for the security they offer, things like reliability and warranty's. So for this I offered a comparison between some brand new Asian and European mid sized hatch backs. And low and behold a Skoda Octavia turned out to be one of the cheapest new cars you could buy in Australia, with French manufactures like Renault and Citroen offering 5 year plus warranty's on their cars. Since writing that piece though manufacturer offers have changed but I will say if your in the market for a new car right now, Volkswagen are offering the new Polo for under $16,000 and a big new Jetta for $19,990 (that's Kia Cerato money by the way). I'll be sure to do more comparo's like this in the new year.
Octavia is cheaper than you might think, it's just a Golf in Czech suit don't you know
My final thought of the year though, if you still need a bit of convincing about acting on my car of the week feature is this. You want the reassurances a new, reliable Japanese car can give you, especially in a country as vast as Australia, fine, I totally get it. You budget $20 to $30k for it, also fine. But how about opting for a model or spec below, an S instead of an SE for instance, who really needs a rear view camera anyway? With that extra wedge of cash you've just saved go get yourself a European weekend warrior! A two car garage is always better than one in my book.
One of these in the garage for the weekend maybe?

Thanks for reading thus far, Happy New year everyone!   


Monday, 29 December 2014

Bruce's Car of The Week: Alfa Romeo 147 GTA

Iffy reliability, horrendous understeer and the ability to depreciate in value faster than a politician loses credibility after an election, not a great set of credentials to kick of my latest car of the week is it? These though are just some of the afflictions which hang over this weeks car, the Alfa Romeo 147 GTA and come to think of it the Alfa brand as a whole. My goal then is to educate you, undo the myths and focus in on what a wonderful buy the GTA could actually be.

Italian beauty 

Let us begin by getting some Alfa cliches out of the way before I inevitably slip them into my write up later on, starting with appearances. The 147 GTA is a very pretty car, it embodies all that is good with Italian design and squashes it into a neat hatchback package. Just admire it for minute, the pert rear, short overhangs and low sculpted face of the normal 147 are just enhanced by GTA's wide bumpers, low stance and flared nostrils either side of that iconic vertical grill. The GTA wears it's looks with a certain smugness, it knows how good looking it is, as any true Italian should!


Electronic malfunctions shouldn't be an issue in modern Alfa's 
I guess the next thing your thinking is, like any Italian, I bet it can be a bit of diva when it comes to reliability. Well, no, unreliable GTA's are a bit of a myth. The GTA was and still is a proper performance car, which means the buyers, usually Alfa enthusiasts parted with a lot of cash to own one brand new. This tends to mean they wanted to look after their Alfa and do anything they could to keep it going, so fully documented service books are almost the norm when you start looking at used ones. The common weak points like a cam belt that needs replacing every 60 thousand km's tend to have been done, combine this with regular servicing and your looking at a very reliable engine. Dodgy electronics is also another myth, at least on modern Alfa's, so don't be worried about the ECU suddenly deciding it'd like a day off or the window wipers only working every second Tuesday, that's just no the case any more.

The oily bits

Alfa didn't mess about when it came to picking a power plant for GTA. By drawing on decades worth of producing what can only be described as engine pornography Alfa chose to squeeze into the 147 the last incarnation of their in house V6. Bored out to 3.2 litres and 24 valves it produced 184kw and could take the GTA to 100km/h in 6.4 seconds. With the move for economy and small cc turbo charging well under way the Alfa V6 is an engine of the likes we will never see again, especially squashed into a hot hatchback.
Phwor.... check out those manifolds!

Oily bits cont.

The Q2 diff, if you care for what it looks like
Naturally though shoving a heavy V6 into a FWD hatchback and expecting it to cope when the road got twisty was a tough ask. The GTA suffered with terrible understeer and the standard front differential didn't cope too well with the load, often blowing itself up. However there is a fix for this, a stronger Q2 differential, a direct and easy replacement it not only betters the cars road holding and mechanical strength but is cheap and readily available as it came standard on other Alfa Romeo models. Around $800 should get your GTA set up with a Q2 or you could just buy one with the diff already installed!


Lastly I come to depreciation, it's what years of bad press will do to a brand and unfortunately the aforementioned foibles, no matter how much they can be disproved have hurt Alfa resale values. Although for potential GTA buyers in Australia I don't see this as a bad thing. What other car can give you so much soulful V6 Italian flair for relatively little cash? I'm struggling to think of one. However, if I do I'll be sure to let you know, after all I wouldn't have much of blog if I couldn't show you awesome European bargains. Which brings me onto this weeks selection of lovely GTA's.

The cheapest well maintained GTV I could find in traditional Alfa red. A whole heap of new parts have been fitted to keep this V6 signing for many more km's, also has the uprated Q2 diff. Bit of lacquer peel on that pretty red paint might be whats pushed the price down. Nothing a good polish shouldn't fix.
2003 Alfa Romeo 147 GTV, $9500

Another 2003 car, this time in silver with black leather. The seller thinks its the best one in the country. It's certainly priced very well and again has been fastidiously well maintained. No mention of the Q2 diff being installed though so might be worth factoring in a bit extra cash for it.
2003 Alfa Romeo 147 GTV, $10000 

My last pick is a little bit more expensive, justifiable I feel as it has very low km's and is a year younger than the other tow above. Again it appears to be another cherished example having been serviced regularly, it also features the uprated diff.
2004 Alfa Romeo 147 GTV, $14000

Left field choice

Not everyone needs nor can afford the mighty GTA though, so this weeks alternative is a 2 litre Twin-Spark 147. Still achingly pretty just minus the body kit. This particular car appears very loved with a recent cam belt change and low km's, it also features a gorgeous red leather interior. How very Italian!
2003 Alfa Romeo 147, $7500

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Uber rare BMW M3 R for sale in Australia

As its Christmas I'll just make this a quickie. When I was researching my car of the week this week something pretty unique popped up on carsales.com.au, a 1995 M3 R, one of only 15 in Australia, it is a car that I just had to share.

The advert gives you pretty much all the history and information you could possibly need so I won't bore you repeating it, all I will say is, this is one seriously awesome BMW and although priced a tad higher than my usual COTW at $65,000, this M3 could be one heck of a future investment. Have a read of the advert, look at the pictures and if you do happen to buy it and be reading this, can I have go please?

1995 BMW M3 E36 R, $65,000

Merry Christmas! 
Photo's: carsales.com.au

Monday, 22 December 2014

Bruce's Car of the Week: BMW M3 E36

It had to happen sooner or later, you simply cant do a blog about European marques without mentioning the daddy of driver focused motoring, BMW. And when it came to car of the week there was really only one car from Munich I could start with, the M3, which handily is also a bit of a performance bargain down under.

It's not for cocks 

Firstly lets deal with the matter of image and I'm not talking about the E36's chiseled Germanic good looks here. I'm talking about what, traditionally, an M3 said about it's owner. Where I'm from in the UK, M3's, to coin a certain Jeremy Clarkson, were driven by cocks, tailgaters, forever hash tagging, protein shake enthusiasts. At least that used to be case, now though the E36 generation M3's have entered the classic realm. Being seen in one no longer gets you a "wanker" muttered under a passer by's breath, no, it gets you an admiring nod, I know this as I gave a white E36 this very nod the other day. Now this image thing may not have been such a big deal in Australia, but it is reassuring none the less that people in the know will respect your motoring decision and what a lovely decision it could be.
M3's were available in some wonderfully garish colours

The oily bits

E36 M3's are quite rare in Australia, expensive when new the ones that have survived the modifying, donuts and drifting are growing increasingly collectable and for good reason. They are a pure drivers car, designed in the 90's just before fun sucking driver aids became the norm and people started thinking, oh we're screwing this planet up, best introduce emission laws. Powered by one of BMW's trademark engines, a 3 litre (later 3.2) straight 6 there are no turbo's, no active exhausts flaps and crucially no flappy paddle gearboxes (there was a semi auto but why you'd have this I have no idea). The M3 shrieked to a 6800rpm rev limit and made 210kw (3.2 upped that to 236kw). Reviewers back in the day hailed the M3 not only for that engine but for its wonderful chassis, precise steering and on the limit control too. A very worthy set of credentials for a car to have I'm sure you'll agree and still adequately quick enough by today's standards, 0-100km/h is done in 5.6 seconds.
An M3 cabrio was also available
As was a 4 door saloon, but these weren't officially imported so good luck finding one!

To conclude

The E36 M3 is an awesome piece of German kit, it has shaken off any image issues it might have had and come out the other side a as desirable piece of BMW history. I can't stress how much you should consider getting one. The M3 in my humble opinion beats the best of the RWD Japanese opposition, cars like the Toyota Supra and Mazda RX7, which coincidentally can also cost more than double that of a used E36. Here then are the obligatory selection I found on the interweb.        

Quite possibly the cheapest M3 with rego for sale in Aus at the moment, not a lot of info in the add except "priced to sell". It looks to be very clean and straight from the photo's, paints not faded either. However I'd still be checking for accident damage at this price. It could turn out to be the buy of the century.
1994 BMW M3, $12,500

My next pick is a year newer, the advert is quite generic but you get the feeling the car has been well looked after. I personally think these Motorsport wheels were the best style fitted and white suits the M3's appearance very well too. Not a lot of rego left so might be a bargaining tool.
1995 BMW M3, $15,000

The last M3 I've found is a later 3.2 litre car with the 6 speed gearbox. Being sold by a dealer the car comes with a warranty and certified history report. Priced at $16,990 I've actually just received an email from the dealer knocking $1,450 of the price because I showed interest.
1996 BMW M3, $15,540

Left field choice 

Despite the superb value offered by the above cars, considering they cost $130,000 plus when new, I understand that they may still be out of reach for some. So how about this, a very rare manual 328i M3 lookalike convertible. Still powered by a wonderful straight 6 albeit making do with 142kw, this 328i has been very well cared for with a huge list of mechanical work carried out to keep the car in tip top condition. The car really does look just like an M3, so if you can forgo the extra oomph this car could be a really good buy. 

Photo credit's: carsales.com.au

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Powersliding Range Rover Sport SVR

The words in that title statement probably don't fit so comfortably with one another do they? Range Rovers are big, heavy, cumbersome things by nature, how could one possibly pull of a powerslide? After watching this video though that statement might make a little more sense.

Shot in entrancing slow motion what we see is Range Rovers new SVR taking a sledge hammer to the world of physics by doing exactly what your mind thinks is just not possible in a 2 tonne SUV. Driven by Mike Cross, Chief Technical Engineer for Jaguar Land Rover we see a pretty convincing demonstration of how balanced, poised, controllable and sports car like the new SVR is as he slides it around a very damp looking Rockingham circuit in the UK.
The new SVR in case you aren't familiar is Range Rovers new performance flagship packing a 5 litre supercharged V8 making 410kw and obliterating the 0-100km/h sprint in 4.7 seconds. It is also the car that pummeled its way around the Nurburgring in a ridiculously quick 8 minutes 14 seconds earlier this year. That's a second faster than BMW's 1 Series M Coupe and a 997 Porsche Carrera I'll have you know.    

Why the world needs such a sports car like SUV is still up for debate, but much like the ludicrous AMG G63 6x6 I'm pleased Range Rover have had a go. The motoring world would be immensely dull if it weren't for bat shit crazy cars like this. Ones that take a double shot of probability and physics, gargle it, then spit it out in a delicious V8 burble. The SVR will be available in Australia form the second quarter of 2015.      

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Top 5: Big European luxury brands with little prices

I've been scouring the internet for a number of weeks now, picking out what I think are the best and most overlooked European cars you can buy in Australia. For me at least it has been both enlightening and immensely fun, but it got me thinking, how cheaply can you buy luxury motors that once upon a time had a price tag on the distant side of $100,000? Turns out quite cheaply, allow me to enlighten you a little more with a top 5 count down, god I love depreciation.

5. Range Rover 4.6 HSE

Coming in at number 5, the Range Rover. What car signifies countryside pomp and ceremony more than a Rangie? As comfortable cruising city streets as it is up to its axles in mud the Range Rover is potentially all the car you could ever need. That iconic British badge, a commanding high driving position and not to mention supreme comfort meant that back in the day Land Rover could charge you $114,500 for the privilege of owning one. Nowadays though you can comfortably pick up a good late 90's car for under $10,000.
Posh stone arch and gravel drive in the background, check

Admittedly the big lazy 4.6 litre V8 isn't going to break any land speed records, but it will make a wonderful burble and if you want it too pull your house down so you can build a new one more fitting to the Range Rover image, it'll do that too. I'd suggest installing some palatial pillars when you rebuild, the Queen has a Range after all!

4. Mercedes Benz S-Class (S320)

Expensive hotel in the background, check
Another icon of luxury travel comes in at number 4, the Mercedes Benz S-Class. A class leading car
since it's launch in 1979 the S pioneered things like pretensioning seat belts, airbags, ABS and a whole heap of other driver aids, not to mention massaging air conditioned seats. The W220 model was built from 1999 to 2006 with even the early cars getting the option of in car TV's, DVD player, in car phone and self leveling air suspension. Unsurprisingly when new in 1999 an S320 would have set you back a cool $170,300 but now these mobile Dick Smiths can be bought for under $15,000 

3. BMW 7 Series (735iL)

Opulent country house in the background, check
Remember when James Bond drove BMW's? He screeched a 7 Series around a car park in 1997's
Tomorrow Never Dies. It was quite possibly the shittest bond car ever, I mean a German limo with zero sex appeal for goodness sake, not very "shaken not stirred" is it. Anyway I digress, don't let that foray onto the big screen detract from what a excellent BMW the 7 Series is. You see for the non Bonds among us the understated 7 Series is potentially all the luxury one would ever need, with a little bit of legendary BMW driving dynamics thrown in for good measure. A wonderfully smooth 173kw V8 powered the 735i meaning, that if sir wanted, 0-100km/h could be dispatched in 7.9 seconds. The cost of Bonds BMW new? $172,500. Now one can be had for a little over $10,000

2. Jaguar XJR

In life there are villains, cads, playboys and generally people who, on the surface seem like chuffing ruddy nice blokes, but after dark get a little devious. These people have long been affiliated with Jaguars, or should I say, Jaaaaaags and I'm not going to argue. Number 2 on my countdown of bargain luxury is the Jag for villains who want to do the driving themselves, the Jaguar XJR. Perfectly suited for chasing any heroins sports car the XJR offers up 276kw of shove from a 4 litre supercharged V8 dispatching 100km/h in 5.3 seconds. Back in the day a villains unscrupulous activities would have had to net a profit of $178,000 to buy one, whereas now about $13,000 should do the trick.
Bad Ass powerslide for the Jag, check

1. Rolls Royce Silver Spur

There could really be only one conclusion to this run down of once expensive but now affordable luxury and that is a Rolls Royce. Quite simply a Rolls is the quintessential posh persons wheels, hand built and highly regarded as one of the best brands in the world. Sitting in one is akin to gliding along on a magic carpet, albeit with a bit more wood and a set of leather chairs thrown in for good measure. Powered by a 6.75 litre V8 engine designed to waft rather than set your trousers on fire a Silver Spur is surely the luxury bargain of the century. When new a Spur cost way more than an average house, $328,900 to be precise, but now, some 20 years later you can get one for about $35,000. A tempting prospect when you realise that Hyundai's new luxury Genesis saloon could cost you double that!
A ruddy big castle in the background, obviously!

Now go get one

Not content with just telling you this though, my blog wouldn't be complete if I hadn't done the hard work for you already. So here picked from Ebay, 5 real examples of my top 5. I'm not saying buy these exact cars, merely showing you whats out there after a quick search, plus these 5 won't stick around for sale forever anyway.
1998 Range Rover HSE, $8,500

1999 Mercedes Benz S320, $11,990

1998 BMW 735iL, $10,900

1998 Jaguar XJR, $12,950

1991 Rolls Royce Silver Spur, $37,000

Monday, 15 December 2014

Bruce's Car of the Week: Peugeot 306 GTI-6

Cue the use of some obligatory French cliches as this week my car of the week is the rather lovely 90's hot hatch the Peugeot 306 GTI-6. Please come with me as I guide you through why this little Frenchie might be an even better used buy in Australia than a Golf GTI, sacre bleu!

3 doors are better than 5

Let me start with doors, something I'm sure you'll agree we need to get from the outside of our cars to the inside. But have you stopped to consider how much better cars look the fewer doors they have? Probably not, but I have and when it comes to hot hatches some have too many of them. Maybe it's my inner rev head but more doors signal more commitment and ultimately less fun. So while yes a 5 door Golf GTI (most Aussie GTI's are) is hugely practical it also shatters the care free nature of a hot hatch in the process. Which brings me to the 306 GTI-6 which you guessed it, was only available as a 3 door, period. No room for commitments, just some 2 litre naturally aspirated nonsense. And from a technical standpoint, bear in mind that a 3 door hatch without the burden of having to carry 2 extra doors, will be a slightly sweeter drive too.

The design

Moving on from the number of doors for a minute, my next reason to consider the 306 is to appreciate on the whole what a good looking car it is, especially given the rather fat and bloated Peugeot design language of recent years. Designed by Pininfarina the 306 took all that was good with the classic 205 and brought it into a modern age. Yes it was bigger and heavier but it had a pretty face and neat rump. Also with the wheels pushed into the four corners, it's clear that from the outset the 306 was designed to handle well. All in all the car was blessed with a real, jua de vivre.

The oily bits

With a chassis so sweet under pinning the 306 the performance GTI-6 can properly exploit it. Powered by a tweaked version of Peugeot's 2 litre 16 valve petrol engine the GTI made 123kw which it delivered to the front wheels through a close ratio 6 speed gearbox, meaning it could dispatch 0 to 100km/h in 7,4 seconds. Engineers also fiddled with the 306's already capable chassis and suspension set up to make sure the GTI-6 could live up to it's hot hatch promises.

The reason why

The 306 GTI-6 I think makes quite a compelling argument for itself in the world of second hand hot hatches. It is a real drivers car that doesn't give two French horns to commitment's or the practicality of carrying back seat passengers. It is a car often overlooked because of the strength of it's German opposition, but actually the 306 GTI-6 is a cheap way into the world of European hot hatches in Australia. Peugeot's have quite a fan base here and a wide dealer network, specialist garage and forum/club scene should mean maintenance will never be too costly or difficult. Better than a similarly priced Mk4 Golf GTI? With less weight, fewer doors, a sweeter chassis and a smidgen more power, I think the Frenchie might be, tres bien!

Whats out there then?

My first choice is this 1998 GTI-6 being sold by a dealer. Has low km's given its age and comes with log books and a service history. It is priced very well with rego until April 2015

1998 Peugeot 306 GTI-6, $3999

If you have a little more to spend and like the security of what that can get you, the next 2 might be more up your street. The first is a genuine 1 owner example that appears to have been extremely well cared for. The second a later 2000 car, again enthusiast owned and meticulously cared for. Both look excellent, so really its down to whether you prefer red or black?

1998 Peugeot 306 GTI-6, $7250

2000 Peugeot 306 GTI-6 $7750

Left field choice

Before the GTI-6 there was the S16, same engine, bit less power, one less gear in the gearbox. Still a hot hatch, still a good buy if your on a budget. This one looks to be in really good condition, an un-faded red paint job in hot, hot Queensland says a lot about how this car was cared for. The exhaust looks pretty shinny and new too. A shame the dealer hasn't described the car a little more though!


Friday, 12 December 2014

Audi release new RS3 details

Hot hatch backs are the have a go hero's of the car world, based on cars you see everyday they offer maximum thrills for not a lot of dollar. Show one a twisty a back road and they'll make sports cars sweat. At least that used to be case, over recent years hot hatches have changed and now don't just keep up with the sports cars of the world, they just outright overtake them. And today see's no let up in the hot hatches quest for even more power, with the unveiling of the new Audi RS3.
Audi's new RS3 develops a face bending 270 kw and 450Nm of torque delivered to all 4 wheels through Audi's familiar Quattro set up. It can dispatch 100km/h in 4.3 seconds and if you opt to remove the limiter will romp onto a top speed of 280km/h. Blatantly with figures like that Audi have aimed the RS3 squarely at Mercs A45 AMG which for the record makes 265kw. Whereas the Merc uses a 2 litre turbo four though, Audi have made enthusiasts of thrumming engine notes happy the world over by sticking with an updated version of the last cars 2.5 litre turbo five cylinder. Go on have a listen, its wonderful.

Audi's expertise at all wheel drive may mean the RS has the handling edge over its rivals too and judging by the wording in Audi's press release the car definitely has a fun side. With a trick differential and various driving modes, flick the RS3 into sport and it can send up to 100% of its torque to the rear wheels. Audi point out that,
In this mode the driver can even perform controlled drifts on low-friction surfaces
that's what we like to hear Audi! A car that isn't afraid to embrace it's rallying roots. Building the car on the existing A3's MQB platform means this car is not only lighter than its predecessor but also sits lower and wider than the previous Sportback RS3 model.
The increased width explains the RS3's flared arches, traditionally a trait of Audi RS models over their lesser powered siblings. The other design touches that signify this as an RS are subtle in true Audi style, but there are enough to hint that this car means business. Things like those massive 370mm front, 310mm rear, brakes behind those lovely 19 inch alloys, a re-profiled rear bumper with diffuser and space to accommodate those large noisy exhausts. There is also a rear spoiler and a smattering of RS badges to convince any left over non believers that this is one very quick hatch back.

Like any new car, especially a performance one, the options list for the RS3 is long and includes some spectacular and no doubt mightily expensive upgrades for the more committed driver. For example, those big brakes not enough for you? How about a set of carbon ceramic's for your 5 door hatch back? Seats not quite racy enough, then there's the option for light weight carbon shelled RS buckets, with for the first time in a seat like this integrated airbags, just in case that low-friction surface drift goes awry. Magnetic ride adaptive dampers can also be optioned to firm up the car and better the handling even more. There is however one option buyers can get for absolutely free, and I urge anyone who buys this car to opt for it. Audi are offering a no cost upgrade to the exhaust system so you can make your understated Audi slightly less, well, understated.
From humble beginnings hot hatches have morphed from cheeky sports car baiting scamps into supremely capable thoroughbred road cars. Audi's new RS3 due for release mid to late 2015 by the way, has taken that already high hot hatch bar and raised it another few notches. Other manufacturers appear to already to be taking note with Ford also today confirming a new Focus RS. I can sense an almighty super hatch war on the horizon.