My Frankfurt Motor Show
The Frankfurt Motor Show is arguably the best such event on the planet. Unlike Geneva in March, and Paris in October, Frankfurt happens only once in two years, and gives visitors a chance to see new concepts as well as models that have been launched over 24 months instead of just 12. For a Sri Lankan, rarely getting the opportunity to see the world’s best in the steel and carbon, it was petrolhead heaven.
To make the experience even more unique, I was accompanied by Petrolhead Junior, aged 8. This would be our first car event together, a moment of great importance, even without the prospect of checking out the new baby Jag or sitting in an Aventador.
With just three hours to explore the show, we both knew what we wanted to see; so this post isn’t a comprehensive article on the exhibition, but a breakdown of what the Wee Man and I liked.
The Bavarian giant easily had the largest area to itself, practically the whole of Hall 11, crowding Rolls Royce and Mini into two small corners at the back. Even the Italian capos of Ferrari and Lambo didn’t get that much space. Hall 11 even had a track running just below the ceiling, and visitors watched spellbound as Beamers pulled out of their raised parking slots and roared — or in the case of the hybrids, hummed — around the track, only pausing in formation on the wide banked section behind the presentation stage.
While BMW was giving its new 1 Series — including the highly praised 1M and various hybrid versions — top billing, I wasn’t really interested. I think the 1 is the ugliest Beamer ever made, and not even the 1M’s flared wheel arches can change that. The last M3 was still pretty popular with the punters, as was the Z4, but for me the new M5-led 5 Series and the gorgeous new 6 Series stole all the attention. I still like the looks of the old 6, but the slightly retro lines of the new one are just perfect, though that’s one big car, mind you. Hopefully we’ll see an M6 soon.
This was also my first close up look at the i8 concept, and with it was BMW’s new urban concept, the i3. The i8 is a petrol/lithium-ion hybrid 2+2 sports car that promises 0-100kmph in under five seconds, while the i3 is a pure electric city car that can carry four. Both cars are planned for a 2013 launch.
I was never one for the Mini, particularly the new rendition, but the kid liked them, and I must admit that the John Cooper Works Coupe and the Countryman WRC racer do look the business; just not pretty business. Coupes should look pretty and sporty, and the Mini Coupe just isn’t. It looks like someone’s squashed a baseball cap down over its ears. Hopefully, future versions could iron that out, but it’s hard to see that happening without changing the overall proportions; and then it just won’t be a Mini will it? The 17-in alloys looked pretty cool, though. Another nice touch was the display of Mini accessories going all the way up the pierced steel wall, giving the whole stand a kind of grunge-pop feel.
One thing I wasn’t there to see were 4x4s and other assorted SUVs, but it was just impossible to walk past the Landy stand without commenting on the new Defender concept. In fact, flying in to Frankfurt from Muscat, I discovered that my neighbouring passenger was the Land Rover dealer for Nepal, and he was coming to the exhibition just to have a peep at the new product. Displayed alongside the now not-so-new Evoque, the DC100, as the new concept is called, certainly seemed the manly one of the two, even in the primary yellow DC100 Sports guise. However, if this is going to replace the battle-tested Defender as more than just another SUV for MILFs, it’ll have to try harder. The concept is based on the Evoque platform, but Land Rover is open to creating an all-new one that can be more utilitarian and rough-neck; something they will have to seriously consider if they want to retain those customers using this baby to get across the Kalahari, run medical supplies to Pakistani earthquake victims, or fight their way out of an ambush in Kandahar. The 24-in blinged up wheels didn’t help the picture either.
The Lambo stand was one both the Wee Man and I didn’t want to miss, no matter what, and it didn’t disappoint. We were there for the Aventador. The first all-new V12-powered Lamborghini since Christ was a carpenter. The car on show was in matt black, and looked every inch the exotic supercar it was. Long and low — it’s actually a bit narrower than the Murcielago — every last component looked perfectly crafted, from the angular intakes to the slit-like tail lights to the black brake calipers behind the black wheels, 19-in front and 20-in rear. It’s a cliche that has been done to death, but there’s still no getting away from the fact that dropping down into that driving seat is like strapping into the cockpit of a fighter plane. Except that my knee kept bumping the indicator stalk and the peddles were offset so much that reaching for that accelerator pedal just isn’t a natural move. It was a left-hand drive, and for me to keep my right foot planted on that pedal would be a bit uncomfortable, I imagine, on a longish drive. I guess it would be better on a right-hander. But the view out, especially over the shoulder, is much better than I expected; certainly a lot better than the Countach I sat in almost fifteen years ago. The Murc is still my favourite Lambo, but I must say that’s a lead that the Aventador is rapidly demolishing, just as it will most of its competition.
Hard as it is to believe, the big Aventador didn’t take center spot on the Lamborghini stage. That spot was taken by a new blood red Gallardo, the Super Trofeo Stradale, a street legal version of the Blancpain GT racer, which Lamborghini claims is the “most extreme Gallardo model yet”. The Stradale may have a new carbon engine cover and the Blancpain car’s massive rear wing, but it’s 562bhp engine is the same as the one in the LP570-4 Superleggera, and the weight and 0-100kmph speed of 3.4 seconds are identical. Top speed is just 310kmph, thanks to that big wing, unlike the Superleggera which can touch 325kmph. Lamborghini plans to build 150 of them.
Another bit of news is that they plan to build a limited run of 20 Sesto Elementos, the 562bhp sub-1000kg V10 car that they launched in Paris last year, and which promises 0-100kmph in 2.5 seconds.
Bugatti had its outrageous Veyron L’Or Blanc on show with its crazy contour-line paintjob and porcelain hubcaps and fruit plate for picnics. They better hurry up and bring out the Galiber just to have an outlet for all that decadence.
Aston used Frankfurt to launch the chop top version of the Sri Lankan-sounding Virage, though I can’t say I really like the way modern Astons look with the top down. They also had the aggressive-looking Zagato on view, another limited run of 150, the first of which will be available next May. I was hoping to get an actual first hand glimpse of the long-awaited One-77, but no such luck.
There was just one car in the Porsche area that everyone wanted to see, and that was of course the new 911 — or 991 as it’s officially labeled. In fact, the crowds were so heavy that I gave up on trying to sit in it. The thing is, unlike new Ferraris or Lambos, new 911s are… well… like old 911s, and to be honest, I was a bit underwhelmed. OK, this new car’s a bit wider and longer and a bit more slippery, but I can’t say I’d really have noticed it on the road. In fact, most of the new bits on this Porsche can’t even be seen, like aluminium panels instead of steel, thinned down plastic panels and new tech like an improved twin-clutch system that might very well usher out the manual gearbox in all future 911s.
If there was any car that was awaited with more eager anticipation than the Porsche, it was the baby Jag, the long foretold heir to the E-Type’s crown. Now this is what you get when an Aston DB9 sneaks in and impregnates an XKR — the Jaguar C-X16. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cars I’ve seen, Jag’s first two-seater in a long long time. The nose and bonnet is certainly Jaguar, but as you stare at it, you just feel that Astonesque gene, like that of an illegitimate father; it’s in that more squared-off grill, the fold lines along the bonnet. And then you walk round and stare at that DB9 arse. What also makes the C-X16 even more attractive is how real it looks. This is a concept in name alone. There’s no fancy jet propulsion, or a cockpit that looks like the bridge of the Enterprise. This is all real. OK, there are a few car show pieces like the carbon-backed seats and the side-opening E-Type tribute boot that won’t make it into production, but I can very well see this car on the road tomorrow.
Once the concept “C” is dropped, a production X16 would have a 375bhp 3-ltr V6 driving the rear wheels via a 6-speed ZF automatic box, with a 93bhp “performance hybrid” 1.6-Wh battery pack that could give additional boost for overtaking. 100kmph will come up in 4.4 seconds and top speed just under 300kmph. This is 911 country, not Cayman, as had been initially predicted. Looking under that bonnet, however, will tell you that there’s enough space in there for Jag’s 5-ltr V8, which means we could also be talking Vantage and 358 Italia territory.
I was hoping that Maranello would use this car show as an opportunity to show us what the 599’s replacement would look like, but I guess we’ll have to wait ’til next year for that. We were, however, given a close-up look at the FF and the new 358 Spider version of the Italia — the first mid-engined supercar with a folding hardtop — and they both looked magnificent, alongside my favourite Ferrari — the 599 GTO. The Spider is more or less identical to the coupe once the top is up, except that there’s no transparent perspex panel giving you a view of that 562bhp 4.5-ltr V8, which is covered up by the folded roof. 0-100kmph is still 3.4 seconds, but the top speed drops from 325kmph to 318kmph, missing the magic supercar standard of 200mph that the coupe beats by 2mph.
Lotus launched a full range of future cars at Paris last year, and His Nibs and I were hoping we’d see some finished concepts — or even a prototype or two — at Frankfurt, but again, we had to be satisfied with more current fare. Like the new Exige S. It now comes with the 345bhp 3.5-ltr supercharged V6 from the Evora S. They also took the opportunity of announcing Lotus’ return to rallying with the R-GT version of the Exige S. The rally car shares the same engine, but an air restrictor cuts power down to 300bhp. Looked at head on, the extra lights on the R-GT’s nose gives the car a definite Stratos-like look. Lotus also had the Evora S on show, but not the awesome-looking Evora GTE, which while great as a computer rendering, is some way away from an actual car show concept.
The striking Evos concept at the Ford stand was certainly a crowd pleaser, though the only part of that concept likely to be seen on the street is the new aggressive nose which will be attached to all new Ford models. The four butterfly doors were pure car show stuff, and a chassis that carried that sort of a design would be so fragile in the centre that it would probably snap in half. Nevertheless, this new “Kinetic 2.0” design language would look brilliant if only Ford went the whole hog and actually designed something that looked like the Evos. It doesn’t need those doors to look stunning. In fact, until I saw the doors open, I thought it was a two-door coupe/GT.
Peugeot had a simply beautiful concept in the HX1 scissor-doored four- or six-seat MPV that looked like a blunted Rapide. The second row of seats slide into the first when unneeded, turning the MPV into a luxury saloon, albeit a bloody long one. A hybrid that plans to have a combined 300bhp from a 2.2-ltr turbo diesel and an electric motor, it is without doubt the sexiest MPV ever.
Spread out over eleven sprawling halls, the Frankfurt Motor Show, can easily take up a full day, and a ticket is under 20 euros. In addition to the new cars and racing jobs, there were areas devoted to new technology and materials, a full floor of classic cars, after market stalls, a motorcycle section, book stalls, souvenir shops, and tons more. If you needed a break from all that motoring, you could just step out and grab a currywurst and a beer in one of the numerous food courts. There were also a range of simulators in which you cane your favourite Lambo or other supercar down a track while qualified test drivers stood at your shoulder and talked you through a fast lap.
Wandering through those halls, there were a few other cars that caught our attention, including several race cars. Peugeot had an LMP car on display, and Audi its new RS5-derived DTM car. There were also a couple of Corvette GT racers. After market tuners and “redesigners” like Brabus and Mansory had their own stalls, and both of them seemed to be going for a black-and white corporate look this year, though I felt all of that carbon, spoilers, and tarmac-scraping side skirts and splitters just made the cars look as if they had been reinvented by Hot Wheels. Both Artega and Wiesmann had some beauties on show, including an electric version of the eye-popping Artega GT. Even Jay Leno was having a closer look. Volvo had its ballistic Polestar in its now familiar electric blue; but what really is the point? They say they’ll never produce it, so the only Volvo that interests anyone can’t be had. The Toyobaru Twins were back too, and the Toyota half of the duo — a red FT-86 — was getting a lot of attention. Subaru decided to be too cool for school with their twin, choosing to display it without any of the aggressive grills and massive wings, deciding instead to clothe the BRZ in clear perspex so that you could see all the moving components of the actual car. Good thing too, since the actual body shape looked decidedly dull. Fisker’s Karma — the world’s most beautiful production hybrid — was joined by a 5-door station wagon/hatch named the Surf that hasn’t lost any of the beauty of its older brother.
So that was my Frankfurt Motor Show Experience. The kid and I bonded over a subject we’re both passionate about; something I can look back on wistfully when those nasty teen years arrive. Our only regret was that we had so little time there, and if it’s at all possible we’ll be there in 2013.
Unless otherwise indicated all pictures are the property of David Blacker.