Renault ARKANA show car unveiled in Moscow

At the 2018 Moscow International Auto Salon, Renault unveiled the ARKANA show car as a world premiere, a coupé-crossover announcing a new global vehicle.

According to Laurens Van den Acker – Senior Vice President, Corporate Design of Groupe Renault – is the ARKANA show car a distinctive coupé-crossover, making a striking balance between the elegance of a Sedan and the powerful stance of an SUV. He continued: “We have dialed in specific Renault cues, with a strong design, strength and sensuality with a French touch”

Laurens Van den Acker unveils the Arkana…

Judging from the photos, Laurens Van den Acker and his design team have succeeded. This new production vehicle will be produced and marketed in different countries throughout the world, beginning with Russia in 2019. Renault ARKANA will be later manufactured and sold in Asia and other regions, with this same unique design but adapted also to local customers’ expectations.

All this is part of Groupe Renault’s “Drive the Future” strategic plan, by which it intends to step up the pace of international growth, expanding its product range to increase sales volumes up to 5 million units by 2022. ARKANA will play a key role in achieving this goal.

You might be interested to know that Groupe Renault claimed almost one-third of the Russian market in 2017 (448,270 vehicle sold / 28% market share). Russia today ranks as Groupe Renault’s number two market and is set to become the group’s leading market by the end of plan…

For the time being, just have a look at the photos…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

We drove the Fiat 124 Spider “S-Design” : dreams are made of this…

It is an evergreen wish for everyone who ever sat behind the wheel of a car: driving an open two-seater on gorgeous summer roads. The dynamic PR people of FCA Belgium made our dreams come true, when they offered us to test their pristine white 124 Fiat Spider, which now comes in a new “S-Design” version of the already totally iconic 124 Spider, which saw life two years ago at the fiftieth birthday of the original. This gem marries the very best of both worlds: the zeal of perfection and workmanship so typical for the orient when it comes to building this car, combining it with the panache and passion of Italian designers in shaping the contours and curves, last but not least adding to it the sheer genius of the engineers making the heart of a car: its engine. The result is an open two-seater car which is nothing less than stunning, offering incomparable driving pleasure in its class, and leaving you with a timeless iconic classic, which you can pass on to future generations…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Even more zest and panache…

This “S-Design” version has been presented on the latest Geneva Salon, and emphasizes still more the excellent “Gran Turismo” qualities of the 124 Spider.

The “Lusso” version became an extra Mopar® treatment. The roll bar, screen surroundings and the side mirror bodies have a smooth, polished finish, and the car is also shod with special 17 inch alloy wheels of very smart design, which adds an extra purposeful sportiness to this spider. On the rear end shines a three-colored logo, there is a sporty red striping running across the sides of the 124. The seating position has also been moved somewhat closer to the rear axle, and the contours of the dashboard are accentuated with clearly visible stitching.

A thoroughbred heart

Of course we expected quite a lot form the thoroughbred four cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet of this 124 Spider, and indeed it certainly delivered. Remember, Ferrari and Maserati blood is running through the veins of the Fiat group, and this certainly shows in the behavior and power delivery of this 140 hp 1368 cc unit.

Pushing the starting knob will already embalm your ears in a thoroughbred growl, and even at low revs – when driving away from cold – it lets you hear its noble pedigree. It sports sequential fuel injection, Fiat’s unique Multi-Air valve system, and a turbo running at up to 2.49 bar pressure.

When the engine has warmed up, it emits a beautiful staccato when you rev it, and this it certainly does. The engine pulls nicely at low revs, let there be no mistake, and the ample torque lets you potter through dense urban traffic at anything between 1500 and 2000 rpm, which delivers very nice urban consumption figures, which in practice boil down to around 8 liters/100 km.

But of course the real fun starts when you floor the throttle at let the engine breath beyond 4000 rpm. Marvelous accelerations in the gears really warm your sporting heart, and the slick gearbox with short and fast gearchange throws adds to the pleasure. This is superb sporting driving in the truly classic sense, and we thoroughly love it.

Under full power, the 124 Spider is of course a quite fast performer. 0 to 100 km/h is reached in merely 7.5 seconds, top speed is a good 215 km/h. Remember, this car is 1050 kg light.

But the bare figures don’t tell the whole story. It is how the whole car behaves when you drive it with spirit which brings the true magic into the driving experience. And here the chassis and suspension designers have done a fantastic job, and this is certainly an aspect where the collaboration between Mazda and Fiat has paid off. This is one of the finest handling cars we have come across in this class, and compared to any car for that matter. It steers with precision and without any perceptible roll, it just eats corners, gives ample feedback when you drive it close to the adhesion limit, is utterly stable and predictable. It awakens the better driver in you, and lets you rediscover what sporting driving is all about.

It is in our humble opinion also one of the crucial reasons why this car is being designed and built, and will be with us forever, in whatever (propulsion) version. It will always be with us, in roughly the same chassis and external dimensions, with the same handling characteristics, so much is certain.

The superb engineering and ingenuity which went into chassis also translates into the way it behaves on the road: even on the worst Belgian pavés, not the slightest rattle or judder will upset you, the car feels rock solid throughout.

All this is not at the expense of suspension comfort. This 124 Spider will not surprise you with any harshness, and even on well-worn secondary roads, you and your passenger never feel uncomfortable. True Gran Turismo qualities therefore for this 124 Spider? You bet… Long distance driving doesn’t cost your life and limbs at the pump either. Reasonably high top gearing, a small frontal surface area and an efficient engine all sees to that. The manufacturer quotes 8.5 liter for urban, 5.1 for extra urban and 6.4 liter for motorway consumption. (EU NEDC figures). CO2 emissions are quoted at 148 g/km.

A lot depends of course on your driving style, and here we kick an open door, we know…

An Ideal driving position

As long as you are not the very tallest amongst us, this 124 Spider will fit you like a glove. The very lay-out of this car does not allow you a very wide range in height adjustment, as it is limited by the tallness of the canvas top, with also the cabin platform and transverse sills limiting   fore and aft movement, but it is good to know that the steering wheel can be adjusted both vertically and horizontally over quite a wide range.

As said, an ideal seating position is soon found, with all the handles and knobs sitting snugly at your fingertips. Instrumentation and dashboard layout are virtually identical to the Mazda MX-5, and are a well-honed fit. The same can be said for the knobs and functions on the steering wheel, which took very little to get used to again, as we took the MX-5 earlier this year on an extended (wintery) early spring tour.

It is all very well thought out. On this “S-Design” version, we were even more spoilt in the sound department. The 124 came here with a Bose sound system, and indeed, if you would ever (hard to imagine…) get tired of the superb engine sound, this system has also everything in store to soothe your ears.

Surprisingly practical

One would think intuitively that a two-seater Spider is not your best mount for everyday use, but this 124 proved us again totally wrong, as did the MX5 by the way. Driving it with the top down even for the shortest stretch is perfectly possible, as the canvas top flicks down in one single arm movement, and it needs only a gentle push from your wrist to klick the canvas hood into place behind your head. A large handle above the central glove box between the seat backrests will unlock the canvas top out of its open position, and in one swoop with your right arm you pull the canvas hood back over your head in the closed position. Easy rider: it just needs the slightest form of training, and you perform this open and close routine like a movie star…

To assure an excellent cabin climate in all circumstances, the S-Design version has automatic air-conditioning.

The boot space seems rather small on paper with a good 140 liter, but it is in practice eminently useable, as it is rather deep and boxy. It takes easily two large bags, and this is enough for him and her for a fortnightly trip.

There is no visible storage room in the cabin, understandably as this is an open car, but as said there is a lockable storage bin between the seat backrests.

Safety has of course not been forgotten, as the S-Design comes with four airbags, and there is a zest of luxury with leather seats and a leather covered steering wheel.

Conclusion

If you want to experience car driving in its purest, timelessly classic sense to the full, then this Fiat 124 Spider has to be your mount. In this respect, nothing comes even close in its (price) class. But it is not only the way it drives, it is also the way it looks, which has stolen our heart. Well proportioned, its beauty will not diminish with age, just as its iconic predecessor.

On top of all that, it is incredibly well made and finished, rolling off the same production line as the MX-5, and it has an absolute jewel of an engine, which will you let cherish this car even more. This car belongs on your driveway or (apartment) garage, to be enjoyed throughout your motoring life, and – if you are a bit careful with it- to pass it on to future generation(s)…

 

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

A genial Fiat engine designer turned French: Walter Becchia

He was born in Casale Monferrato, in the Italian Piemonte region, and soon developed a keen interest in anything mechanic, with his main interest being engines. Soon enough, he was enrolled by Fiat and his first major feat was to develop the racing engine for the Fiat 804. In 1922, he was spotted by Louis Coatalen, technical director of Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq

In those roaring twenties, many automotive brands were rising and falling, and one of them was Talbot, resulting from the consortium Clément-Talbot, born out of the merger of the British businesses of Adolphe Clément and the count Schrewsbury and Talbot.

Becchia designed the  iconic T120 short wheelbase Talbot-Lago “Baby Sport” 

This brand Talbot had a British arm in London, and a French one in Suresnes. The Talbots built in Suresnes were sold as Darracqs on the British market.

The French division Talbot Suresnes was then led by two young talented engine designers, Vincenzo Bertarione and Walter Becchia, and they created in 1923 the 1500 Talbot 4 cylinder, followed by the 8 cylinder in line 1,5 liter engine in 1926.

The same Talbot-Lago T120 seen from the rear… 

While Becchia stayed at Talbot, he would concentrate on combustion technology, and he developed further the design the use of hemispherical combustion chambers with the valves angled in V, actuated through overhead camshafts. In this design work, he was actually inspired by the pioneering constructions and designs of… Belgian car builder Pipe(!).

The upcoming regime of Mussolini was not to the liking of Walter Becchia, and in 1926 he decided to become a French citizen. He continued to work at Talbot, also when the firm had been bought by the venetian engineer Antonio Lago, with the reorganized company continuing as Talbot-Lago.

The Talbot-Lago T 150 C which was built from 1937 to 1939 remains one of the most stunning automobiles ever… 

He became legendary as an engineer, capable of creating and designing an engine in detail within just a few days. In 1935, he designed the iconic T120 short wheelbase Talbot-Lago “Baby Sport” and of course his engine designs were even more famous. The V16 engines, both in 3 litre and 1,5 litre form, are from his hand.

 

The designer of the 2 CV engine…

In 1939, Citroën was eying to his design talents for good reason: Pierre Boulanger and his team were working on the development of the revolutionary “Bauhaus” principle 2CV, the minimalist people’s car. He hesitated for two years, and in 1941 finally took the decision to join them, and to succeed engine designer Maurice Sainturat, who had retired. His first major feat was to fully redesign the engine of the prototype, and rebuild it from scratch. The Citroën engineers and designers had used motorcycle engines for their prototypes, and history has it that Walter Becchia was inspired by the twin cylinder boxer BMW R12 owned by Citroën stylist Flaminio Bertoni. The result is known to all: the iconic and famous air cooled two cylinder boxer engine of the 2 CV.

Sainturat had drawn the outlines for a 375-cc twin-cylinder engine before he retired, and Becchia used this as the basis for his own design. Becchia first switched Sainturat’s design from water cooling to air cooling, with an eye on saving both weight and complexity. He added a fourth gear to the integrated transmission that Boulanger had first designed for the car. Becchia took things a step further, adopting light alloy for the engine block, making it very light.

This was one of the most important postwar engines that anyone developed, anywhere. It took Becchia all of a week to get it done.

A thoroughly modern engine, which it remains right until this day. Of course, without electronically controlled fuel injection, it could not meet the emission standards from the ‘90s, and that was the end of this formidable engine.

Becchia and the Citroën DS…

When designing the DS, Michel Lefebvre and his team originally aimed at building a flat six, which would be mounted ahead of the front axle. Walter Becchia built both an air and water cooled 1,8 liter six cylinder boxer engine. With the air cooled version, Becchia and his assistant, Corner, ran into cooling problems with the middle cylinders, and the engine also made simply too much noise, certainly when cold, with the whine of the fan certainly not helping things. The laws of physics cannot be escaped: everyone knows for example that an early Porsche 911 is not a very silent, albeit melodious machine either…

The water cooled flat six 1.8 litre engtine designed by Becchia never made it into production: too noisy, too expensive and developing insufficient power … 

The problem that the water-cooled six cylinders was not developed further for the DS is mainly the cost. For these reasons, the block of the Traction four cylinder was retained, with Walter Becchia and his assistant Poillot coming up in very short time (some speak of as little as eight days) with a new cylinder head to be fitted on the old block. The design of the cylinder head was based on the same principles Becchia had used at Talbot: pushrods operating the inlet and exhaust valves inclined under a V angle to give hemispherical crossflow combustion chambers.

Becchia designed further milestones at Citroën. In the ‘60s, Walter Becchia would still design a 3 liter V6 engine, but alas, also that engine never went into production. He kept working of course also on the CX, the SM’s, retiring only in 1968 at the age of 76!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

 

We drove the Fiat 500 L: your perfect travel companion

The stylish 500 L in front of the Amphitheatre in Nîmes…

We were always quite charmed by the clever rounded shape and styling of the Fiat 500 L. Its curves and lines are drawn by Italian designers which have an uncanny genial talent to hit those ideal, timeless proportions. Indeed, this compact people carrier will still hit the tune of the times within say, fifteen or twenty years. It came to us this time with a restyled front end, clad in charming Donatello bronze metallic and a black gleaming roof which sported a large glass panorama ceiling. We took it on an extensive continental tour through France, and it filled our car loving hearts with joy, every meter we drove it…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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