Showing posts with label automobiles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label automobiles. Show all posts

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Champion Frenchman at the wheel

This 41-year-old Frenchman, Sébastien Loeb, is the most successful automobile driver in the history of the World Rally Championship (WRC), having won it nine times in a row.

Having retired from WRC competitions, Loeb has decided to compete in this year's Dakar trial, which starts today from Buenos Aires. At the wheel of a Peugeot, he is accompanied by his faithful co-driver Daniel Elena. He should find the local road familiar, since Loeb happens to have won the Argentina rally eight times in a row!

I once spent twenty minutes or so watching a video created from inside Loeb's vehicle, along a quite ordinary mountain road. I soon had the distinct impression that Sébastien Loeb is infinitely more than a normal human animal like you or me. His visual system is surely some kind of extraordinary space computer coupled to his brain.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Cars with a difference

This is a new Renault Kangoo: the same brand-name as mine, with a similar external appearance.

But it’s no ordinary automobile. Judge from the fuel station where this vehicle fills up.

In fact, it’s an ordinary electric version of the Kangoo ZE that has been enhanced by the insertion of a hydrogen fuel cell, located in small compartment behind the front seats. This unit, referred to as a range extender, can be seen in the following photo of one of a fleet of 50 such enhanced Kangoos.

The general idea is that the range extender burns compressed hydrogen, producing electrical energy that is either consumed directly in moving the vehicle or used to recharge the vehicle’s battery.

I happen to be living in the middle of the geographical zone where the two major partners in this fascinating technological adventure have their headquarters. The hydrogen fuel cell has been created by a company named Symbio FCell in Grenoble, founded by Fabio Ferrari, seen in the above photo. [Click here to visit their website] The hydrogen consumed by the cell is produced by the French McPhy company, located in the tiny village of La Motte-Fanjas in the Drôme department, and directed by Pascal Mauberger. I drive past their neat and tidy little production plant every time I go to Valence. [Click here to visit their website.]

It’s interesting to note that these two high-tech businessmen—Ferrari and Mauberger—were recently invited along to the Elysée Palace for a luncheon with François Hollande in the context of planning for the forthcoming COP 21 conference in Paris.

Finally, another prestigious French company, Air Liquide, is playing a downstream role in this fabulous project as the creator of hydrogen refueling stations such as the one seen in the first two photos, located at Sassenage, between Grenoble and the Vercors mountain range.

Readers might be wondering why several major partners in this Renault Kangoo ZE-H2 adventure happen to be located, as I’ve pointed out, in my corner of the Dauphiné region. One significant explanation is the existence, on the outskirts of Grenoble, of a laboratory of the CNRS [Centre national de la recherche scientifique, France’s national science-research organization] that bears the name of Louis Néel [1904-2000], who was awarded a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1970 (along with the Swedish astrophysicist Hannes Alfvén). The fundamental research work that is now being exploited by McPhy, concerning the storage of hydrogen in the solid form of magnesium hydride, originated in the laboratory of Daniel Fruchart at the Institut Néel. McPhy was also able to take advantage of the industrial expertise of Michel Jehan, in charge of a company at Romans, MCP Technologies, that had become a specialist in the processing of magnesium. So, the “green hydrogen” of McPhy (or is it rather blue?) provides an exemplary illustration of synergy between basic research and high-tech industrial partners.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

France is more backward than you think

People tend to think that France is a modern nation (well, some people, at least) and that Paris is a great city in constant evolution. I myself spread this legend through my blog post of August 2011 entitled Redevelopment of Paris riverbanks [display], which seemed to suggest that "imagination is in power" (an antiquated slogan of the ferocious rioters of May 1968).

Thankfully, my favorite French website, Gallica (emanation of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, click here to access), has readjusted the understandable enthusiasm of an Antipodean expatriate such as myself. The following photo proves that, a mere century ago, archaic Gauls were still rolling into the City of Light with their primitive horse-drawn wagons.

When you see that photo of the wagon bumping across the primitive cobblestones of Paris, it's amazing to think that the luxurious 2-horsepower Citroën—the gem of the French art of automobile construction—was just half-a-century down the road.

With the cold season at Gamone just around the corner, I'm trying to make up my mind whether I should maybe invest in a Gallic wagon. Apparently the wooden wheels work wonderfully well on the icy macadam. And, even if I were to get stuck in the snow on my way back home from the supermarket, I could always camp down overnight in the straw in the wagon, with Fitzroy to keep me warm.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Billy has a Kangoo

OK, the vehicle I brought home yesterday is not a kangaroo... but maybe the next best beast, named Kangoo (because of its spacious pouches).

Renault Kangoo

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bad weather for driving

Yesterday afternoon, I had made plans with Serge Bellier to drive to a hardware store in St-Marcellin, today, to pick up an Invicta Bradford cast-iron wood stove:

When I awoke this morning, however, a thin layer of snow covered the ground, and it soon started to fall quite heavily. Within a couple of hours, a thick blanket of snow covered the road up to Gamone. So, we had to postpone our project of picking up the stove. Meanwhile, I was amazed to learn that the Monte-Carlo Rally had been set in action in nearby Valence.

In a press interview, Sébastien Loeb appeared to be a little daunted by the idea of racing along mountainous slopes in such conditions. Friday morning, they'll be leaving St-Jean-en-Royans for the final day of driving that takes them down to Monaco. I would like to go along to watch the departure, but we're all likely to be snowed under.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Rally Australia

At Coffs Harbour, over the four days starting next Thursday, this is the Citroën automobile to admire:

Here's a rear view of this vehicle:

And here's the driver, Sébastien Loeb:

For the moment, Loeb is leading the 2011 championship, but he could still be beaten by the other Citroën driver, Sébastien Ogier. Meanwhile, with three rallies remaining after Australia (in France, Spain and the UK), the Finns Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala, in their Fords, are unlikely to catch up with the Frenchmen.

Click the banner to access the Rally Australia website. I've been looking at the four-day schedule and the various maps, and trying to figure out what I would do if I were a spectator out in New South Wales. On the opening day, it would be good to spend some time at the Jetty Precinct in Coffs Harbour, in the hope of glimpsing the drivers and vehicles before they actually get into action, late in the afternoon. Then, on Sunday afternoon, it would be interesting to watch the final so-called "power stage" up in the vicinity of Wooli and Red Rock.

The rally covers such a big area—of what appears to be bush country (?)—that I have no idea how spectators are expected to move from one place to another. Nor do I know how spectators can actually obtain real-time information on the results of the latest stages. Maybe by means of an iPhone capable of linking to the above-mentioned website?

Early Australian automobile rally

Starting next Thursday, Rally Australia will be taking place near my birthplace: more precisely, in several rural zones in the vicinity of the coastal town of Coffs Harbour.

I shall never forget my first contact with an automobile trial in Australia, in 1956, at a time when I was living with my grandparents at Robinson Avenue in Grafton and preparing my final high-school certificate. I am referring to the 1956 Ampol Around Australia Trial. My grandfather was the Ford dealer in Grafton, and his garage had a gasoline pump alongside the roadway in Fitzroy Street, at the spot where the entrance to an automobile business existed up until recently.

This address was indicated as an official refueling station for the Ampol contestants, who had left Sydney during the day. When the vehicles started to arrive in Fitzroy Street, it was late in the evening. I was there, alongside my grandfather's gasoline pump, participating in the excitement. After all, in quiet old Grafton, we had never before seen anything quite like this. I remember in particular the third car to arrive, with its headlights blazing. It was a charming little MG TF sports car (manufactured by Morris), much like this:

On the local radio, I had heard about this vehicle and its occupants, Les Slaughter and Bill Mayes, no doubt because their vehicle was so much more elegant than most of the typical sedans engaged in the trial: bulky Holdens, Peugeots, Fords, Standard Vanguards, etc. I was so close to the car that I had time, while it was being refueled, to gaze down into the cockpit, where I could see clearly the two drivers, both of whom were wearing woolen bonnets (because it must have been quite cool, of an evening, beneath their flimsy canvas hood). To my innocent eyes, unaccustomed to harsh sporting adventures of this kind, there was something unreal about the vision of these two fellows emerging from the darkness, and waiting impatiently to take off once again. As they drove off into the dark, I had the impression that I was watching a pair of daring pioneers, heroes of a new kind.

The next morning, we learned from news bulletins on the radio that Slaughter and Mayes had never reached the next town, up on the Great Dividing Range. They had disappeared mysteriously somewhere along the mountainous Gwydir Highway between South Grafton and Glen Innes. However nobody in any of the other 31 vehicles, racing through that rugged and sparsely-populated region in the middle of the night, had witnessed anything unusual. Later on in the day, an intrigued automobile specialist, Evan Green, came upon telltale tracks in the gravel, indicating that a vehicle had left the dangerous road. Police found the little MG down at the bottom of a gorge. The two drivers had been ejected by the impact, and they were lying face-down in a creek, side-by-side, where they had in fact drowned. I was no doubt one of the last people to see Slaughter and Mayes alive, in the cockpit of their beautiful little automobile. I've never forgotten that tragedy, which marked me enormously. Curiously, though, I felt that it was almost inevitable that such exotic and intrepid heroes should meet their destiny in this dramatic fashion.

Finally, the trial was won by two Australians—Alan Taylor and Wilf Murrell—driving a run-of-the-mill French car: a Peugeot 403.

POST SCRIPTUM: It's quite possible that this archaic gasoline pump, which apparently still exists today at the Fitzroy Street premises, is the place where Slaughter and Mayes fueled up for the last time.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Efficient fake

I like this trivial news item, which provides us with a fine demonstration of innovative imagination and private enterprise. Down in the city of Fréjus on the French Riviera, a retired gentleman was fed up with motorists disregarding the speed limit on the bend in the road where his house is located. There's a sign stating that the limit is 30 km/hour, but most drivers dash around the corner at more than twice that speed. And there are never any gendarmes at this spot to catch speeders. So, the guy decided to take the matter into his own hands. He did this by building an empty wooden box that he set up on his front fence.

At a glance, it looks a little like the familiar radar machines installed on the edge of highways.

But the rectangular openings are quite different, and the black-and-yellow stripes around the edge of the empty box are not slanted. The fake radar nevertheless had the desired effect. Vehicles now rounded the corner at 20 km/hour. The local gendarmes were impressed by the efficiency of this device, but they could hardly be expected to condone its use, particularly since many tourists were now stopping their cars on the corner to take photos of the fake radar. So, they asked the fellow to remove it.

Meanwhile, the authorities have promised to ask the gendarmes to increase their checks for speeding offenders at this spot. And there's already talk about placing a genuine radar machine on this corner.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mysterious scoreboard

The French online digital library called Gallica gave us this puzzle.

QUESTION: This certainly looks like some kind of a scoreboard. But what's the game?

ANSWER: In 1912, this scoreboard was erected in an open field at Versailles, alongside a big muddy puddle. An automobile, backed up against the scoreboard, would be driven off in a roar, whereupon the mud that splashed up onto the scoreboard would measure the quality—or rather, the lack of efficiency—of the car's rear mudguards.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Basic stuff

For a few hours after a lengthy plane trip (of the kind, say, between Europe and Australia), I always have a weird intermittent feeling that I'm still floating in the sky. I imagine that this is a common experience (like jet lag), but I've never known what it's called.

People who've had the privilege of traveling in a 2-horsepower Citroën automobile are likely to discover that their body memorizes the sensation of going around corners. I don't think I've been back in a deuche (slang abbreviation for "2 chevaux", 2-horsepower) for a quarter of a century, but my body can still feel the unsettling way this vehicle swoops down into corners. I say "swoops down" because the vehicle gives the impression on corners that the suspension is so slack that the chassis is going to grind into the macadam. It feels as if you're riding along in a hybrid contraption composed of a rocking deck chair on wheels, enclosed in an enlarged and slightly glorified sardine can.

Why am I evoking this amazing and unforgettable automobile? Well, I still laugh when I recall a shocked American couple in Paris, decades ago, describing the 2-horsepower Citroën as "basic car". I've always loved that quaint expression, which says all that needs to be said... just as the vehicle itself comprises all that is really required, with no frills attached, to get from A to B.

In fact, what I adore is the adjective "basic". It's a handy old-fashioned word... which became the name of a computer programming language with which we all had a love/hate relationship at one time or another. Nowadays, of course, just as nobody uses the Basic language, practically nobody uses the adjective "basic". In environmental contexts, people prefer more sophisticated words such as "ecological", "renewable", "sustainable", etc. For me, "basic" means all that, and more. It's an adjective that evokes, for me, the time-honored philosophical principle of Occam's razor, which stipulates, in a nutshell, that "simplicity is beautiful". If there are several hypothetical solutions to a problem, it's often a good idea to start out by preferring the simplest one.

That's my basic cake. I've been baking it regularly for years.

-- Mix 250 g of melted butter with 250 g of sugar.

-- Add 5 eggs and beat.

-- Mix in 250 g of flour. Add a packet of yeast and vanilla sugar.

-- Cut up a few apples and place them, along with sultanas, in a glass baking dish. Pour the cake mixture on top... and let your dog lick the emptied bowl.

-- Bake for 40 minutes at 200 degrees. Ease out the cooked cake (with a flexible trowel) and turn it upside-down.

In terms of culinary simplicity, I don't, of course, get anywhere near my dear mother, whose recipe for basic chook (chicken) was: Fill it with bread crumbs and dried herbs, then stick an onion in its bum and bake it until it smells good.

Friday, May 1, 2009

By the roadside

The other day, on my way to St-Marcellin, I came upon the scene of an accident on a stretch of country road where there's never much traffic.

In fact, I've often noticed that certain local drivers, taking advantage of the fact that there are hardly any vehicles on this road, step upon the accelerator, ignoring the presence of several tricky little bends where the macadam hasn't been designed for speed.

The scene was a symphony of glaring red, orange and yellow.

Even the crushed automobile was red. I was impressed by the calm behavior of the accident personnel. They moved around in a determined but unhurried fashion, without even the sound of voices. Then the silence was interrupted by the motors of a waiting helicopter, which had just been loaded with a human form on a trolley.

I asked a gendarme what had happened. He told me that a local 32-year-old lady—alone in her little red automobile, and alone on the road—had simply failed to get around a minor bend, no doubt because she was driving too fast. Her vehicle left the road and bounced off the embankment. Apparently she had her seat belt on, and wasn't severely injured. In the future, she'll certainly need to buy a new car, and maybe drive a little more cautiously.

PS I've asked my neighbor Madeleine to obtain the name and address of the injured driver, so I can send her a little souvenir collection of roadside photos in dominant tones of red, orange and yellow.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Future Citroën goddess

Did I really say goddess? The little mongrel reminds me of country mates I used to see in South Grafton, when I was a kid, who suffered from what adults referred to as "stunted growth". This simply meant that such children didn't seem to blossom into healthy-looking youngsters. They remained stubby, as if their bodies didn't wish to expand. We were told that this was brought about by the fact that these kids had the secret habit of smoking cigarettes...

The new Citroën looks to me like a plump little teenage girl in the suburbs who eats fast food and drinks beer. She dresses in a trashy punk Gothic style, and communicates in monosyllables. She probably smokes, too. In fact, she's quite cute. But not exactly Aphrodite, nor even Athena.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

When the world was wonderful

This publicity photo for the Citroën model DS was taken in Italy in 1961. What a nice clean image! It's hard to believe that we're looking at a scene that's almost half a century old. The heroine of the idyll is, of course, the shiny automobile, with a Milano license plate. Its chocolate gleam echoes the tones of the windows of the contemporary office block in the background, while the three elegant gentlemen on the sidewalk wear suits of the same hue... at a time when males in the English-speaking business world (I was employed by IBM in Sydney at that time) were clothed in gray or navy blue. Then there's the presence in the background of a slim blond secretary, clothed in a pale shade of reinforced concrete. Notice how she's positioned on the outskirts of the man's world, ready to dash off a letter in shorthand if ever one of the males were to call upon her services. But the men aren't really interested in this poor female outsider. Their true goddess is parked alongside, waiting to be caressed. [The letters DS are pronounced déesse in French, which means goddess.]

Apparently Citroën plans to bring out a new version of the DS. I wonder how they'll update their publicity photo...