[Opinion] Hypercars don’t excite me anymore

It’s been a while! I took a little hiatus while I was setting up the site’s new store, but now I’m back! The new print store will be up this week!

-W

The gorgeous Pininfarina Battista. Image © Autotimesnews.com

The Geneva International Auto Show is underway…

…And already there are some poster-ready sports cars and concept cars that could adorn the walls of teenagers who aren’t really into Fortnite. The most notable car for me is the Pininfarina Battista; a technical tour-de-force from one of Italy’s most well known car design studios, famous for penning the sultry bodies of Ferraris for decades. The Battista itself is a push forward towards the limits of electric drivetrain technology, with a motor in each wheel making a combined 1,874 horsepower and 2300 Newton meters of torque. And of course, its very good-looking.

So, why is it that I’m not very impressed with it?

Don’t get me wrong; I think the Battista is an absolutely gorgeous car, with plenty of references to one of my favorite concept cars of all time; the Maserati Pininfarina Birdcage 75th Anniversary Concept. It’s just that with all of the super sports cars and hypercars that have come out in the last couple of years, I might be a little jaded hearing about another sports car for the uber-rich. It just seems kind of pointless, doesn’t it?

The Pininfarina Battista and the Maserati Birdcage 7th Anniversary Concept car. Definitely a family resemblance.

On one hand, of course a car like the Battista is going to be ridiculously expensive; it’s essentially a concept car for the road. I should be glad that a car like this even exists as it represents the cutting edge of automotive technology. On the other however, I’ll likely never get to own or even drive something like this as fast as I want, because I live in a country with an average maximum speed limit of 55mph.

It could be a multitude of things that are making me feel this way about this car. Could it be that I’m now more cognizant of the current issues of our society, such as poverty and income inequality? When viewed through that particular lens, the Batista becomes another tool of which billionaires can use to flaunt their wealth to the lower classes. Maybe it’s the practicality of it, or lack thereof. I’m certainly someone that believes a car is meant to be driven and enjoyed, especially with a standard transmission and a short throw shifter. A car like this is likely going to take up space in a climate-controlled garage filled with other pieces of beautiful automotive engineering, only to be brought out for special events and gatherings; not that I don’t appreciate it. Certainly there will be people who would drive the Battista, but then we run into the first issue again.

Mostly, I think it’s my own preferences evolving as I get older. As I said before, I’m not interested in things that I have little to no chance even owning, let alone driving. Instead, I’ve noticed a trend toward interesting, quirky cars that don’t break the bank for owning and maintaining. In fact, I’m more impressed with cars that tick all the right boxes and still reside in the land of feasible ownership. A Lotus Esprit or an 90’s Acura NSX fall within this realm for me, and lord knows how much I’ve drooled over something like the Mazda Autozam AZ-1. Even new cars like the Alfa Romeo 4C interest me more than the Battista, because there’s a slight chance that I’ll be able to own or drive it.

I used Alfa Romeo’s Configurator to spec out a 4C. Base models go for around $66K

I suppose this is just the thoughts of someone shedding their teenage desires for owning an exotic car and settling with something more in my socio-economic standing. How many of us grew up with a Jaguar XJ220, McLaren F1, Lamborghini Diablo, or a Ferrari F50 taped to their bedroom walls, and are currently driving those around? I personally can’t answer that. But I can say that I could get a 90’s Lotus Esprit for around $25k and still feel like a million bucks.

The Pininfarina Battista is still a good-looking car though.

I wanna put Alfa Romeo wheels on the Shinsen Miata

My ideal rims! Photo taken from Google somewhere

Have I gone mad?…

…or is it just the sex appeal of those five spoke “Teledial” wheels on the 2000’s Alfa Romeo 156?

I have a fondness for wheels with simple geometric shapes. It must be because one of my first car obsessions; the 1990 Lamborghini Diablo. The wheels on that car had a simple five spoke design that consisted of basically a solid wheel with five circular holes cut out of it. It was so simple, when I sketched cars in my composition book during class, I always drew those wheels. In fact, I still do!

Hnnnnng! Photo taken from NetCarShow.com

Recently I was chewing the fat with one of my best friends, and the subject of wheels came up. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting something a little more eye-catching for my Shinsen Miata, but finding wheels that I think look better than the stock five-spoke alloys is easier said than done. I could do what everyone else is doing and buy some JDM-style rims, but that option can get pretty pricey. Plus, I’m not exactly standing out at any Cars and Coffee events since there’s always a Miata with JDM rims anyway.

I started to lament that there weren’t a lot of aftermarket options that looked like my ideal design. I’d love to put Teledial-style wheels on the Shinsen, but my options were severely limited. Then, I had a thought: Why not look at used wheels from cars that used the Teledial design? I started doing more research, and almost immediately I found the ideal wheel.

And it belongs to a car never sold in the USA.

The Alfa Romeo 156 and the gorgeous Teledial alloy wheels. Photo taken from
Autoevolution.com

The (near) Perfect Wheels

Alfa Romeo has been using the Teledial-style wheel designs for decades, especially most recently in their current lineup of US-import vehicles. Of course, those newer wheels are pricey and too big for my diminutive Miata. Thankfully, Alfa Romeo made a 16-inch wheel that is nearly identical to the Miata’s stock wheels, and they’re pretty inexpensive (not factoring shipping)! The 2003 Alfa 156 and 147 had the option of a lightweight aluminum wheel with five circular “Teledial” spokes, and they look gorgeous. Aside from being based on a classic Alfa design, the treatment of the wheels is also nearly identical to the Miata’s, so they aren’t gaudy or too distracting like some other wheels I’ve seen.

I dug deeper trying to learn as much as I can about these particular wheels. I was worried that the wheel size and the lug pattern was too different from the stock Miata wheels to even consider as a replacement, but then I stumbled across Wheel-Size.com; a massive database for wheel fitment and tire sizes. With it, I was able to find the the exact specifications for both my Shinsen Miata’s Wheels, and the Alfa Romeo Teledial Wheels:

2003 Shinsen Miata 1.8L 5spd:

  • Wheel Size: 16in x 6.5in J
  • Lug Pattern: 4x100mm
  • Offset: 40mm
  • Center Bore: 54.1mm
  • Tire Size: P205/45R16

2003 Alfa Romeo 156 1.6L-2.5L

  • Wheel Size: 16in x 6.5in J
  • Lug Pattern: 5x98mm
  • Offset: 41.5mm
  • Center Bore: 58.1mm
  • Tire Size: P205/55R16

As you can see, not only is the rim size practically the same, but the Offset, Center Bore and Tire Size are incredibly similar! The only drawback to these wheels however is the lug pattern. Instead of the 4 lug, 100mm diameter pattern, Alfa Romeo utilized a 5 lug pattern 98mm in diameter. This means that if I were to find these wheels somewhere, I would need to rely on a PCD Wheel Adapter that changes the lug pattern from 4x100mm to 5x98mm. And that’s even if I find the wheels; because Alfa Romeo never sold this car in the states, all examples of this particular wheel is sold overseas. That means more shipping costs!

Alas, it might be more trouble than it’s actually worth. Still, I’d like to imagine how surprised people would get when I roll up with a Shinsen Miata using Alfa Romeo rims!

You know what? I don’t think Navy Blue Powder-Coated rims look half bad on the Shinsen either!

Opinion: A 1000HP Hybrid Lotus completely misses the point

The Hot Wheels Lotus 40th Anniversary Concept. Photo © TopSpeed.com

Lotus is reportedly making plans to create a 1000HP Hybrid Hypercar…

Is it just me, or does that statement seem kind of…wrong?

I know more than a few people that own a Lotus sports car. I also know a handful of people that have more than one Lotus. When I asked them what got them into Lotus in the first place, the most common answer is “Because they drive like nothing else.” Any Lotus is the culmination of a single ideal: to create a sports car that enforces the connection between man, machine, and the open road. To drive a Lotus is to eschew modern amenities for the sake of an unparalleled driving experience; without unneeded distractions, the need for more horsepower, and a high price tag. 

In other words, Colin Chapman said it best when it came to designing his cars: “Simplify, then add lightness.” A 1000HP Hybrid Hyper-Lotus then, would be the exact opposite of what a Lotus should be.

The Lotus Exige Cup 380; So fast and light, it could only be used on a track! Photo © Road & Track

When the Chinese automotive giant Geely purchased a controlling stake in Lotus back in 2017, a lot of Lotus owners held their breath. What would Geely do now that they controlled a small British sports car company with deep racing roots? Most feared that Geely would pivot Lotus from a boutique sports car maker into something that wouldn’t have stayed true to the brand, and Colin Chapman’s ideals.

However, with the introduction of newer and more powerful models of their current line up (including the fastest road-going Lotus ever, the Evora Sprint 430), most of those fears were abated. Recently, Geely announced plans to make a super SUV that utilizes Lotus’ suspension technology and tuning techniques, likely to be introduced as a vehicle under another marque within the Geely portfolio: Volvo. While that’s all fine and dandy (there have been cars with Lotus-tuned suspensions before, like the ill-fated DeLorean DMC-12), Lotus announcing that they are beginning development on a $2.2 million hypercar with a hybrid drivetrain seems to be a slap in the face of the brand itself.

When is a Lotus not a “Lotus”?

The fabulous 1991 Bertone-Lotus Emotion Concept. Photo © Motor1.com

Lotus has never been a super-exotic car marque like Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, or even Bugatti. Anyone can learn to drive one without breaking the bank: Lotuses are not that expensive compared to other marques to own and maintain, and they have a cult following of like-minded and esoteric individuals who are simultaneously cocky and super-friendly (“Nothing drives better than a Lotus! Jump in; I’ll show you!”).

On top of that, Lotus cars are designed to follow Colin Chapman’s philosophy right down to the nuts and bolts. If a part is unnecessary, it’s tossed in an effort to save as much weight as possible. And with a lightweight car, minimal amounts of power is needed in order to create a sporty driving experience. This was how the legendary Lotus Seven was created. It was essentially a go kart with some creature comforts like lights, electric start, and not much else. Therefore, if Geely does create a Lotus hypercar with an electric hybrid drivetrain making over 1000HP, it can be argued that it’s no longer a Lotus since it’s such a large departure from what Lotus should be.

The “Lotus” Alternative

The “Blue Lightning” Electric Lotus Evora. It uses the battery pack from the Chevrolet Volt, mated to the Tesla Model S 85 drive unit. Photo © OnPointDyno.com

Instead of spending ridiculous amounts of money developing a one-off hypercar with an electric hybrid powertrain, why not refocus on developing a lightweight car designed to take an existing electric powertrain? Several car companies have already used the Lotus Elise as a template for a sporty, fully electric car, including Detroit Electric’s SP:01, and the original Tesla Roadster. However, the design limitations of the Elise chassis meant that the hardware had to be designed around the body. This meant that room for the AC motors and the battery packs were severely limited, which translated to lower ranges for these electric sports cars.

Instead, Lotus could use existing hardware, and then design a lightweight chassis to house the powertrain. In fact, Lotus has always used off-the-shelf parts for developing the engines for their sports cars. The engines used in the Elise, Exige, and Evora are all Toyota engines with Yamaha-tuned top-ends. What’s not to say that Lotus couldn’t take the engine and drivetrain from the Prius Hybrid, lighten the engine and the battery pack, and then wrap the whole package in a new chassis design based on an existing product? Maybe Lotus and Geely could develop a faster, electric successor to the Elise, or even the Evora?

In the end, it all boils down to market share. Lotus has captured less than 0.01% of the European Market since 2001. Even if Lotus were to develop an electric sports car using existing technologies, then they would have to build to volume in order to recoup the the money spent in development. If that’s the case, then it does make sense to build a multi-million dollar hypercar. 

That being said, Geely runs the risk of alienating the core fan base of Lotus by developing this proposed hybrid hypercar. Then again, if it does help Lotus recoup losses because of it’s minuscule market share, we’d all have to be content with Colin Chapman rolling in his grave.

Maybe we could hook up a dynamo to him then?