Monthly Archives: December 2016

Special E Type trilogy with the Spyder GT

Ever imagine what a great world it would be if the Jaguar E-Type had lived on past the 1970s, and not just in name, like other classic car models that have evolved into completely different animals, but in all its curvy, original-form glory? That’s the world Eagle lives in, its series of restored, modernized and reimagined cars ensuring that the E-Type family remains small but thriving. This month, it launched its latest special edition, the Spyder GT, a convertible tourer with hardcore sporting on its mind.

Founded by Henry Pearman, Eagle started off in 1984 as a traditional restoration business, buying, restoring and selling original E-Types to customers. Engineer Paul Brace joined the shop in 1989 and helped Pearman transition from simple restoration into high-caliber restomods.

In 1991, author John McLaren came to Eagle with needs that a standard restoration couldn’t meet. McLaren wanted to fuse the pure driving experience of his classic E-Type with everyday reliability and performance fit for the new decade. Eagle got to work, and the Eagle E-Type was born.

Instead of a standard restoration (which Eagle still offers today), the Eagle E-Type is stripped down until every part down to the tiniest bolt can be carefully inspected and replaced where necessary. Eagle then rebuilds the car to the customer’s specifications, pulling new pieces off its shelf of modern components and packages. The new car has the look and character of a classic E-Type with the technology, reliability and performance of a more modern car. It’s a process that takes around 4,000 hours, according to Eagle.

Twenty years after launching the successful Eagle E-Type restomod series, Eagle took another big step forward in its quest to preserve the E-Type legend. Working with an American client to identify something truly special – more special, that is, than a fully rebuilt, modernized, custom-spec E-Type – Brace sketched out the E-Type Speedster. The client fell in love, and the Speedster (pictured below) launched in 2011.

Touring cuts through the madding SUV crowd

Four-wheel drives might be taking over the roads, but old-fashioned station wagons are still getting some love in Europe. Volvo, king of the wagons, launched the V90 last year, and Mercedes has kept the ball rolling with the slinky E-Class Estate. Never one to be left out, BMW has whipped the covers off the G30 5 Series Touring, which has been treated to the same tech-onslaught as the sedan, but has room for the family, pets and all their baggage.

Before we go any further, it’s worth looking at why wagons deserve a bit of love. Although the world has gone crazy for faux-wheel drives, the whole city SUV concept is flawed. Extra ground clearance is crucial if you’re taking on the Rubicon Trail, sure, but it dulls handling and adds drag on city street. It’s the same story with four-wheel drive, which is crucial for scrabbling up sandy dunes, but just adds weight and ruins fuel consumption on a dry, smooth freeway.

Because they’re not pretending to be something they’re not, wagons don’t need to make these compromises. They usually have more luggage space than the equivalent four-wheel drive, and because they’re not designed to look tough and off-road ready, they drive like normal cars. To our eyes, the traditional wagon shape is damn sexy, too.

On paper, the new 5 Series Touring checks all those boxes and more. For one, it rides on the same platform as the sedan, and comes with the same set of semi-autonomous systems. That means it will handle steering, throttle and brakes at up to 210 km/h (130 mph) on the highway, provided the driver is on hand to take over should anything go wrong. Wayward pedestrians are protected by the auto-emergency braking system, and the car will actively steer itself to aid drivers swerving around an obstacle.

Free form platooning on the fly

As self-driving cars continue to develop, there are a number of big questions that need answering. For one, we need to know how autonomous cars will deal with their human-driven counterparts, because what makes sense to a tired driver doesn’t necessarily make sense to a computer chip. A team from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) might have found a solution, developing an algorithm for self-driving cars to platoon, merge and move around more freely.

Anyone who’s been keeping an eye on self-driving vehicles will have read about “platooning,” where wirelessly connected autonomous vehicles move in close formation at the same speed along public highways. Because all the vehicles in a platoon are connected, they can travel closer together than their human-driven counterparts, cutting traffic and improving aerodynamic efficiency.

This has been put to the test in Europe (among other places), where fleets of autonomous trucks drove from their respective factories to Rotterdamwithout human input.

According to EPFL, the problem with platoons is the fact they move as one big block. That works fine when there are three or four vehicles involved, but big convoys can be difficult to manage. They also don’t communicate with traffic around them, so human drivers are in the dark about what’s happening.

The team in Lausanne proposes a “cooperative and distributed system.” Instead of a single leader dictating what the rest of the fleet does, this system suggests each vehicle adjust its speed and position individually based on what the other individual (connected) cars around them are doing. As all the vehicles are linked up, each knows what the sensors on the cars around them is seeing, helping deliver something approaching 360-degree vision.

When a car wants to join the convoy, the algorithm uses the information it’s receiving from the cars in the platoon to reshuffle them. This could involve making one car slow down to form a gap, something humans do daily on the highway. The research team started by testing the system in simulations, before scaling up to miniatures and, eventually, actual cars.

There are a few potential issues, mainly stemming from the fact that the algorithm is rooted in the idea of vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Although connected car technology is widely regarded as crucial to successful self-driving cars, very few cars currently on the road are kitted out with the requisite wireless capabilities.

Even cars with a human driver can benefit from the software, however, using a modified display to show drivers when the autonomous cars around them plan on merging, changing lanes, speeding up and slowing down. The team at EPFL is hoping this proof of concept will be enough to convince manufacturers it’s worth developing software to bring older cars up to date with more modern connected vehicles.

Successor to be a lighter

The McLaren 650S is still fast and handsome but its basic shape and design is rooted in the MP4-12C launched back in 2011, making it a dinosaur compared to its rivals. That’s all set to change at the Geneva Motor Show in March, when a new Super Series model launches. We don’t know what it looks like yet, but we do know it will make use of a new carbon tub, run with a more efficient aerodynamics package, and pack in a drift mode. Excited yet?

One of the biggest calling cards to any McLaren is the clever adaptive chassis system, which allows the character of the car to be altered with the flick of a switch. The system has been given a comprehensive makeover for 2017, using 12 more sensors than previous iterations to provide more information about what each wheel is doing. This information is fed to the central Optimal Controller algorithm, which adjusts the suspension setup accordingly.

If the adaptive chassis is the greatest strength of McLaren cars, it has also been criticized for making them feel a bit disconnected. It doesn’t help that turning off traction control involved pressing three buttons, twisting two knobs and hoping the wind was blowing in the right direction. That seems set to change with Variable Drift Control, which will allow the driver to fine-tune the amount of Stability Control intervention through the central touchscreen.

“Proactive Chassis Control II generates a significant amount of additional grip, but not at the expense of the balance and feel of the car,” says Mark Vinnels, Executive Director of Product Development at McLaren. “The depth and breadth of handling precision and ride comfort in combination with the peerless level of driver involvement in the second-generation McLaren Super Series is simply extraordinary.”