Monday, June 28, 2010

Three Letters Red

Man invented the wheel. And two hundred years later, when the tube light came on, he tried covering up his folly under a sheet of traction control linen. For years, I’ve covered my nose with a handkerchief, making faces at the very mention of electronic driving aids. Yes, when it snows, you’ll try as much to reverse out of your driveway in your rear wheel drive supercar. And you will always end up in a donut. But it doesn’t snow here, and we don’t drive supercars to work.

This morning, I read an article by someone who allegedly ghost-writes my column every week. Traction control, he said, made a good read in the spec sheet. Very true. When someone says his car has traction control, I don’t have to look at his wrist to tell he’s wearing a big watch. Traction Control Man has a steady girlfriend, wears impeccable driving shoes, and has a Playstation 3.

Coming to which, I had a go on the Need for Speed Shift game a few days ago. And it’s fantastic! They’ve got the audio just right, the visuals even more so, and gameplay is more interesting than foreplay, once you get the hang of it. They’ve even managed to make the Merc SL65AMG feel realistically hateful. You have roughly two dozen cars to choose from – starting from an Audi S3, all the way to the Blue Whale of supercars – the Bugatti Veyron.

And then, you have the Lamborghini Murcielago LP 670-4. Wow. What a rocket. It’s like a Monica Bellucci F16 fighter jet. It’s like having frantic sex on a roller-coaster, with an AK 47 resting point blank on your temple. It is a fright. If I owned one, I’d peel off the Murcielago badge, and write BASTARD all over it with Lion blood. It is, really, a Rottweiler hypermachine in a world of Alsatian supercars.

The Germans have nailed it. True, Lamborghini is Italian by birth. But that’s rubbish. Today, Lamborghinis are made in a factory full of mad German bosses from Audi. And Germans wouldn’t know democracy even if it jumped out of the bushes, brandishing a bloodied dagger.

Look around. The best in everything comes from Germany. BMW owns Rolls Royce, and that really is a shame for the Brits. As if that were insufficient, the Germans murdered England in the FIFA World Cup with a 4-1 defeat last evening. Volkswagen makes the fastest production car in the world. Okay, they don’t, but they own Bugatti. So it’s the same thing, really. Sebastian Vettel has proven, time and again, how much better he is than his spider-eating team mate, Mark ‘Flying Shag’ Webber. And this is just off the top of my head.

The Murcielago, in this scheme of things, is more than just a mad-fast hypercar. It is a sign. It’s a sneak peek into the largest dictatorship the world has ever seen.

And the Schutzstaffel of the new world is going to be Mercedes GP. You’ve seen that commercial during the F1 races. Tell me you don’t see a Hitler-in-anticipation in that red helmet, and I’ll show you a blind man. Those eyes, they’re it. The micro-moustache will sprout. Or maybe they’ll sacrifice it in the name of weight reduction. But world domination for Germany has just begun. And three letters will rule the world – MSC

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pig beats Pyromaniac, hands down

Being the ‘auto guy’ is fun. Women love you because you’ve got a motorcycle. People reckon you’re the outdoorsy type – hungry for adventure, and an expert in survival tactics. Show up at a party with grease-stains on your jeans and men will loathe you, while you’re busy chatting up cleavages of varying dimensions.

You make good friends with the opposite sex. And when the holiday season arrives – and it happens thrice in India – you’re the one who gets to keep the wheels. “Love, my boyfriend’s taking me to the Andamans. I wish you could come too. Have a lovely Christmas. Oh, and here, just keep her running, will you? Muah!”

The ‘her’ is obviously a car, and not, as would have liked, her horny seventeen year old sister. Being a dyed-in-the-wool, you find it hard to refuse a chance to drive anything at all. So you’re there, in a battered black Mitsubishi Lancer Sfxi, wondering why it has that big spoiler on the boot, and a stupid python teddy on the parcel tray. Women do strange things to cars. But unless you’ve got embroidered seats, consider yourself decently fortunate. Oh, and don’t bother with that jar of Elle 18 nail enamel that has just rolled out from under your seat. It will jam itself behind the brake pedal, and is going to kill you.

Now, I’ve often been accused of having a fetish for bad news, and Mahindras. It’s no secret that I love all Mahindras except, perhaps, the Scorpio. I will write good stuff about their cars even if they come with lizards in the glove box and occasionally spray battery acid into the cabin from the air-con vents.

Much to my delight, hence, an English lady in her fifties left behind a car I was rather looking to drive. It’s an MM 540 DP, and it’s featured on my shopping list for ever. It’s got the works - short wheelbase, two doors, a canvas top, a rugged diesel engine and its party piece, a four wheel drive unit. I’d like mine with a camel-beige (or deep blue) body, and painted-white wheel rims.

This one, however, is a colour that, as Jeremy Clarkson once put it, should be called ‘old’. Oh, and it’s not a four wheel drive either. In fact, it’s a no wheel drive.

Well, okay, it works. But we barely reached 30, in fourth, when the clutch caught fire. And then there is the braking. Or rather, there isn’t.

You have to hold opposite lock for the simple task of travelling in a straight line. Oh, and you daren’t get out at night even if you have murderers helping themselves to your cash and your daughter; the headlamps are pathetic. And if you crash into something (which you will), the steering wheel will gatecrash your anatomy, leaving you crippled, and homeless.

And for this very reason, I absolutely love it. Drive a Honda CR-V, and you will fall asleep in a couple of hours. At 180kmph. On the expressway. Eight minutes later, you will have rolled over onto a field, covered in some blood and six airbags.

But in the MM 540DP, sleep is impossible. And if you do roll over, it will simply plough on, as if nothing happened. In the slushy stuff, it is better company than Chitrangada Singh. And if you ever run out of fuel, feel free to relieve yourself in the fuel tank – it will run, no sweat. You may as well be dead and decaying in the cabin, but as long as the engine’s running, you’re unstoppable. And Evo san, here’s my retort to your ‘flames or no flames’ comment to my previous rant.

There is an unbelievably large difference between being on fire, and not being on fire. So if you want a car for a lakh, buy a used MM 540 DP. You couldn’t be more politically incorrect, but at least you won’t be on fire.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


On Tata Nanos catching fire, word is that it’s a manufacturing defect. Some say, alternatively, that it may have been a case of owners’ negligence. To which, I say, bull.

It is going up in flames, because owners are setting it on. In the first odd case, I typically suspected the hand of a correspondent from Overdrive – they have a tendency to do unbelievable things to test vehicles – but we will, obviously, never hear about it from them. But to be fair to them, I believe the entire deal is in fact, a conceptual defect.

You see, every mass-centric idea in India (HH Splendor and M800 duly excused), has been a big ticking atom bomb. Local trains in Bombay are bombarded by working-class crowds on a daily basis, occasionally leaving the task to neighbouring countries. When Reliance launched mobile handsets for Rs.999, offering 500 minutes of free talktime, everyone bought one. And showed it the way to the bin, when the bill came knocking on the door. Reliance Mobile, today, is sulking in a corner, licking its wounds.

In India, ‘cheap’ works. But ‘cheap and best’ does not. Simply because while a product is cheap, it is not the best. Best as compared to what? Grapes? The fact is, the Nano doesn’t excel at a single thing. It is inexpensive, yes, but the used car market clearly overshadows the fact. It isn’t spectacularly fast, except of course when it is over 80kmph, and on fire – which is more spectacular than fast, really.

Autocar India took the Maruti 800’s speedo past the bump stop, to an outrageous 141.1kmph – but nothing happened. The doors didn’t fall off, and more importantly, it did not catch fire. And the 800 could seat five, had 5 gears, fuel injection a surprisingly peppy engine and an a/c that worked just fine. We owned one. Look ma, no burns!

But to buy a Nano, first, you have to get past the waiting period. Now I enjoy the concept of having to wait a year, at times two, for my Bentley Arnage to arrive home. Simply because I know they have spent two years finding that Lion in Zambia, whose hide I wanted for my steering wheel cover. In the Nano’s case, you can’t even chose the b(lo)ody colour until the lot has arrived in the stockyard a year later. Where you have to beat other Nano customers with thorns so they don’t pick the only colour you want - yellow, of which there is only one.

And then, with blood gushing out of one eye, and a dangling nose, you make your way out of the dealer’s in a not-so-bad Gray. But now you’re on the four lane. And you have to follow run-in instructions. So you’ll have to move into the slow(est) lane. Oh, but you can’t see – there’s no LHS rear view mirror. Great, now the idiot in front of you has decided to do a u-turn at the junction. Woohoo! The brakes don’t work. Obviously – it’s raining, and drum brakes won’t work even if you propose to feed them to lions. So you’re rocketing towards a fast decelerating Audi Q7, stuck in the fast lane with brakes that don’t work and with no clue what’s coming from behind you on the left. Bloody merry, innit?!

Put me in this situation and I’ll most gently smear aviation grade fuel all over the car’s dull gray, and hire an F16’s afterburners to do the decent thing. Others will perhaps just go the traditional Indian kerosene-matchbox way. Moral of the story; if you love the idea of being alive, with zest, forget the Nano. But on the other hand, if using a laptop frustrates you but you can’t afford to lose all the valuable data – buy a Nano. It’s cheap to buy, plasticky, and admit it, there’s nothing more fun than watching a car parked. And on fire.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Motoring Mayday

A month-long vacation can hardly be something to be wary of. Unless, of course, you have had to contend with a week-long bout of viral fever. And downtrodden cricket performances on the TV.

May is hardly a significant month. No country I have heard of rose to independence in May. No formula 1 championship was won in May. And I’m sure it means nothing to you that my amazingly lethargic dog came home in a basket, on the third day of May in 2008. May is hardly an example of vibrant nomenclature, as opposed to, say, January, which sounds like a flame orange berry, picked by full-lipped women, and grown in valleys surrounded by snow-capped peaks. May, is just that – may; uncertainty.

May 2010 wasn’t any different. The first week was a blokey affair – endless beer, surfboarding nude towards newly-weds trying to make their presence ‘felt’, filling dozing mates’ trunks with mint toothpaste - try it; apart from letting through a gripping cold sensation, it takes three hours of vigorous scrubbing to rid oneself of it (private parts can take longer, and may come off) .

The rest of May was quite a revelation, honestly. Basking in the glory of not having lost any private organs, I spent the month at my best conduct. This means more free mbs were eaten into on my beloved point-and-shoot, the dog was walked that extra mile, and most importantly, the iPod got substantial updates.

I have often found myself to be noticeably hateful of electro-wizardry. Most of it, I consider unnecessary, and the rest, garbage. But still, my kit-rack is piled with the most comprehensive of gadgetry. There are a few USB drives, at least eight cables which plug every audio device in the world to a car or to a set of ice-cool portable speaker units (of which I have four), a spare Nokia, more cables, and a pretty elaborate calculator. There is also a digital compass, needless to say, for the day I decide to go for a spot of climbing up Mt.Everest’s famed sidewalls, on my way to a haircut. And lastly, but very much the centre of my daily life, is the iPod.

It connects to the car, all four portable speaker units, the home theatre (it took some indigenous cabling), the amplifier in the gym, and INSAT – your friendly neighbourhood satellite. Well, of course I made up the last bit, but what the heck. Great, so now I have music on my way to the barber’s, music in the gym, and music when I’m with people I’m pretending to listen to. I even have an album of Osho’s discourses, thanks to a generous download offer I found on the web the other day.

But last week, disaster struck. Almost the same day as the Boeing 737-800 went down in Mangalore, my father’s laptop (I don’t think I’m ever going to buy one) crashed. And my entire audio library was, in a word, gone. Now, I have no clue how I managed this, but the moment I plugged my iPod in for a fresh update, everything on my iPod was gone too.

A friend later said “Ah, you idiot! That can’t be it. I’m sure you must have got a prompt asking you whether you wanted sheep in your jelly.” Or something like that. Now I never really bother with prompts unless they’re glowing red, with skull-and-bones imagery. But now, every time I plug in an electronic device onto a laptop, I read everything, even all the fine print. Actually, I don’t.

Last evening, which is when everything happens in my life, I took to the best alternative out of more such digitally processed misery – the motorcycle keys.