We drove the Dacia Duster TCe 125: your true friend on all roads…

We all love a car which is a faithful companion to all places you want to go in this magnificent world. A car which fulfills your dream of mobility no matter where or what. Without costing you an arm and a leg, giving you rather the freedom to spend your money on those long voyages and travels you always wanted to do, of course with your four wheeled companion.

Well, such a car is the Duster, now in its second generation, aptly named Duster 2. It now comes in a most attractive package, as it has been expertly restyled, undergoing also a state of the art makeover of the mechanics. We took it through its paces for you here. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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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

 

 

The genius who designed the D Type Auto Union: Robert Eberan von Eberhorst

We treat you this time, dear reader, on a following story about famous men who changed motorsport and/or made such an important contribution to the development of the automobile, that the automotive world has never been the same again since then. Such a man was the Austrian nobleman Robert Eberan von Eberhorst. He made his mark as a formidable engineer not only before WW2, but also throughout the war and also in the fifties, and one of his post-war creations, the Aston Martin DB3 sports racing car, is still raced in historic sporting events, right until this day…

But there is so much more, just read on!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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With their new 8 series coupé, BMW redefines sportiness…

With this BMW the Bavarian brand enters the luxury segment with a broad premium model initiative. This new coupé opens a new chapter in what sporting driving is all about for BMW: a superb combination of luxury, inspiring sportiness and last but not least Gran Turismo comfort.

Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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Citroën sells 41% more in China, and launches in Beijing a new C4 Aircross SUV…

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A new C4 Aircross for the Chinese market…

Car lovers like me vividly remember the publicity photos where little red painted AX Citroëns drove on the Chinese wall, amply showing that the brand with the double chevron always had a heart for the Chinese market. It seems this love does not remain unanswered: Citroën chalked up an impressive sales gain in this continent, and China is now its second biggest market, after France(!).

Citroen AX op muur

Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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We drove the new VW T-Roc 1.0 TSI 115 HP Style: A car standing out like a rock…

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VW has an enviable reputation of building rock solid cars, which truly stand the test of time. They just launched another one here, aptly named T-ROC. Standing strong on its longer legs, it carries state of the art 3-cylinder petrol engine technology, together with a host of very clever infotainment and other electronics. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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Good Mazda news at the Geneva Show…

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The 88th Geneva International Motor Show will see also a fair amount of Mazda news. Indeed, the new Mazda6 Wagon (see photo here above) will make its world debut, and there is also the European debut of the new Mazda6 Sedan, alongside with two stunning concept vehicles -the Mazda VISION COUPE and Mazda KAI CONCEPT.

For the technology buffs, it is good to know that Mazda will show its SKYACTIV-X next-generation gasoline engine. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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New Mercedes C- Class Saloon and Estate in Geneva…

Mercedes-Benz C-Klasse Limousine AMG-Line, Exterieur: designo selenitgrau magno, Interieur: Leder platinweiß pearl/schwarz Mercedes-Benz C-Class Sedan AMG line, exterior: designo selenite grey magno, interior: platinium white pearl/black

Mercedes-Benz C-Class Sedan AMG line, exterior: designo selenite grey magno, interior: platinium white pearl/black

Mercedes unveils at this year’s Geneva Motor Show in a world premiere the new C-Class in Saloon and Estate guise with new petrol and diesel engines, and as plug-in hybrid models. Important news for the brand with the three pointed star, as the C-Class is the most successful model series from Mercedes-Benz: The brand sold a combined total of over 415,000 Saloon and Estate models worldwide in 2017.

Now in its fifth year of production, the design of the exterior and interior gets a stylish makeover. The electronic architecture is also completely new. Options include a fully digital instrument display and multimedia systems featuring customized information and music offerings. The assistance systems likewise benefit from the new electronic architecture and are now on a par with those of the S Class. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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Julien Mampaey passed away: our very personal memories…

Julien Mampaey

A formidable figure in Belgian motor sport has recently left us. We have known him for a very long time. Actually, when I lived with my parents as a young law student, I was the happy and proud owner of a dark blue second hand beetle, and Julien Mampaey serviced it with dedication.

He owned a small Esso service station at the corner of the Fruithoflaan in Berchem, Antwerp; right across our apartment, and I came to appreciate his mechanical talents. But I was also struck by his generous enthusiasm, and soon we embarked in hours long conversations about cars, me telling him bold stories about fast rally and racing cars, as I went with my father often to the Zolder circuit to see the races there. I entertained him with my stories, when I needed an hour or so break from my studies, and he was listening with awe while of course he continued to work and service the cars for his clients. His interest was awakened, and I decided to coach him somewhat more and gave him copies of the German magazine “Auto Motor & Sport”, which he read feverishly after a hard day’s work in a nice warm bath.

He devoured then everything there was to know about Alpina BMW’s, which were then all the rage. His eyes lightened up when he told enthusiastically about what he had read. Soon his gold metallic 1100 cc Renault 8 Major had to go. In its place came an orange second hand BMW 2002, with matt black accents around the bonnet. He decided to test his talents, go to Zolder and race it. “I put one litre of oil more in the sump than prescribed, so the engine gets oil in the corners”, he said proudly. He made its first successes, got bitten by the bug, and the rest of the story is well known.

There we the glorious victories of the Juma team in the Spa-Francorchamps 24 hours, which his team won in 1977, 1982 and 1983.  One one of these victorious races, I vividly remember a pitstop where quick work had to be done on the engine. I stood in the Juma  pits, was very close to the action. Actually, the radiator was leaking and had to be replaced. Not a second was to be lost. Of course, no easy thing on a red hot racing engine. Here, the immense bravery and commitment of Julien Mampaey clearly showed. With boiling water splashing all around, he grabbed the radiator both hands, then unbolted the hoses together with the other mechanics. He gave the brave example, as a true team leader should.  He didn’t hesitate to come very close to the red hot exhaust manifold too. The job was done in no time, the engine growled again, and the car shot away from the pits, towards victory.

He had started the JUMA team up in 1975, and raced right away to victory with a 530iUS. The name of the team got even more famous when in 1998 his son Bart Mampaey achieved the last victory for BMW in the touring car championship at the wheel of a BMW 320i. Bart had then founded already his own R(acing)B(art) M(ampaey)  racing team. Julien Mampaey and his team had also won the Belgian Championship with the BMW 535i, with Jean-Michel Martin, the father of Maxim at the wheel. Today, Maxim drives as a BMW Motorsport pilot in the BRM team of…Bart Mampaey.

Julien Mampaey was a man of passion, with a generous heart, which he devoted to cars and motorsport, to family and friends.

His daughter Pascal, which I remember as a small child in the Esso shop, now runs the succesful BMW JUMA concession in Mechelen together with her husband Gunther Van Lent. It is heartwarming to see the work of this valiant man continued, and his name living on.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

 

 

E-discovery tour: we drove the new BMW 530e iPerformance, and tested the Shuffle recharging point of outdoor lighting specialist Schréder.

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E-power in synergy: The BMW 530e  iPerformance parked in front of the Schréder R&D centre in Liège.

E-mobility is set to conquer our (mega)cities, and car manufacturers are revamping their model range to prepare for the electric age. BMW is indeed also at the forefront of this development with it’s I-drive range, and also with the plug-in hybrid iPerformance models, which combine combustion engines with electric power. The latest 5-series comes now with a 530e iPerformance, and we were keen to drive it.

But that is not all. The dynamic PR people of BMW Belux Group decided to combine the presentation of the 530i Performance with a visit to the Belgian R & D Centre of Schréder in Liège, where we could see how the cars were charged by their clever 11 or 22kW electric vehicle (EV) charger, incorporated in the multi-functional Shuffle streetlight column, of which more here below.

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Your servant pulling out the socket at the Schréder “Shuffle” modular lighting/recharging pole… 

Got curious? Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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