The Good Oil: Who gets bragging rights over hybrid cars?
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Who's the hybrid pioneer?
To (over) simplify, we have American panic over the 1973 oil crisis to thank for the electrification of mainstream vehicles. So yes, it took the car industry a couple of decades to get there with the right product.
Some went down the pure-EV route first — General Motors with the controversial EV1 (1996) and Toyota with the RAV4-EV (1997), for example. Neither were quite there tech-wise and neither were really for sale if you want to be picky — they were lease only.
It was petrol-electric hybrid technology that really made the breakthrough for alternative-fuel vehicles. So which company gets the credit? Most would say Toyota: it created the first true mass-market hybrid with the first-generation Prius in 1997 and it’s certainly the company that has pushed the technology hardest in the 23 years since. How does 15 million sales globally sound?
However, if being first counts for more than being successful, you could equally say Honda. It got the Insight two-seat hybrid into the US in 1999, becoming the first maker to export a petrol-electric model outside its home country and the first to present the technology to the crucial American market.
We’d probably rather choose a Porsche if given the chance, so let’s do that. Ferdinand Porsche built a hybrid called the System Lohner-Porsche Mixte back in 1899. It used a petrol engine to supply power to an electric motor for the front wheels; more than 300 were produced.
Lambo up on blocks
Lamborghinis are supposed to be a bit mad. So we have every right to expect that a Lego model of a Lamborghini should be a bit mad too.
The Lego Technic (we’ve ignored all the trademark logos, there’s only so much room on a page) Lamborghini Sian FKP 37 is the brand’s most expensive automotive set (Lego that is, not Lamborghini) at $649.99. It has 3696 pieces and includes reproductions of the real thing’s V12 engine, moveable rear spoiler, working front and rear suspension, and a steering wheel with authentic Automobili Lamborghini badge.
The cockpit features moveable gearshift paddles that operate a fully functional eight-speed transmission.
It’s to th scale (about 60cm long) and Lamborghini insists on calling it a “replica”, which is a bit hard to swallow. It looks like a Lego model, which is the point, right?
Anyway, the vivid lime green colour and “elegant” (Lamborghini’s words, not ours) gold rims are indeed available as options on the real Sian.
The front hood opens to reveal a Lamborghini overnight bag suitable only for the teeniest of outfits. But it does also contain a serial number that “unlocks special content”. The mind boggles.
The build instructions also contain a QR code to a series of videocasts exploring the design of the original car and the Lego model.
“The Lego brick is an icon in the same way as a Lamborghini super sports car,” says Stefano Domenicali, chairman and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini.
Lego supercars are really cool. Forced attempts to create brand synergies, not so much.
Why drive when you can fly?
This month marks the 110th anniversary of Charles Stewart Rolls — yes, he of Rolls-Royce fame — making the first-ever non-stop return crossing of the English Channel by aeroplane.
Rolls took off from Swingate Aerodrome near Dover at 6.30pm on June 2, 1910.
According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, his biplane reached an altitude of 900ft (275m) and a speed of “quite 40 miles an hour” along the coast of France.
Over Sangatte (where the present-day Channel Tunnel emerges) he threw out three weighted envelopes, each containing the message: “Greetings to the Auto Club of France ... Dropped from a Wright aeroplane crossing from England to France. C.S. Rolls, June 1910. P.S. Vive l’Entente.”
Rolls was safely back in Dover at 8pm, not touching the ground once in his 95-minute journey.
Not impressed? Remember this was just seven years after the Wright brothers made the first powered flight. Rolls’s craft was flimsy, made from wood and fabric braced with spars and wires, with a wingspan of just 12m; it weighed only 457kg including the engine.
Rolls decided to attempt the return trip only when he was actually over Sangatte and reassured himself everything was working well.
So for a short time, the co-founder of the company that made the World’s Best Car was also the World’s Best Aviator.
Rolls was killed in a Wright flyer just a month after his cross-Channel feat. On July 12, 1910, during a competition at Bournemouth, the tail-piece broke off and the aircraft plunged to the ground from a height of 30m, crashing close to a crowded grandstand. He was a few weeks short of his 33rd birthday.