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The new sound of Volkswagen – female voice in ever commercial and introduction of sound logo (Video)

Back in September Volkswagen introduced its new brand design, which changed everything from the famous VW logo to the way the company is going to do commercials.You might have already noticed that every new Volkswagen TV commercial has a female voiceover. But why is that? And have you heard the Volkswagen’s new sound logo?

The reason why Volkswagen needed a new brand design is simple – the company wants to separate its present from the past. Volkswagen is shifting its strategy towards electric cars and wants to forget the infamous dieselgate scandal, which emerged back in 2015. And so Volkswagen launched the biggest design change in company’s rich history.



Volkswagen now has a new logo, which looks a lot like the old one, but is more flat, simpler and lighter. It works better in the digital space, while not losing its main features. Quite frankly, you may not even noticed it changed.

The new Volkswagen logo features a flat two-dimensional design reduced to its essential elements. (Volkswagen’s image)

Volkswagen has also launched its new sound logo. It is a short melody, composed just from a few chords, which is going to represent Volkswagen in media material (TV commercials and internet videos) as well as in vehicles of the brand. Germany’s largest car manufacturer hopes that this sound will translate the new image of Volkswagen into a memorable acoustic form.

Here, take a listen – the new Volkswagen acoustic logo:

At the end of this little clip you heard a female voice saying “Volkswagen”, which is both the name and the slogan of the brand. Volkswagen decided that from now on the voiceover in all of its commercials is going to be female. Woman’s voice is softer, warmer and friendlier – it matches the new image of Volkswagen better. For decades Volkswagen used a male voice, which characterized the image of brand’s vehicles as serious, dependable and solid. Female voice breaks this rather cold image and makes it brighter, while still showing confidence.

This is a good example of what you can expect from Volkswagen commercials in the coming years:

It is a bit odd though – why Volkswagen has to use male or female voice exclusively? Why the voiceover actor or actress is not chosen separately for every commercial? We presented these questions to Volkswagen and their marketing representative explained that they are trying to create a recognizable personality. These features – graphic and acoustic logos, female voiceover and new overall design make up the essence of what Volkswagen’s image is and so it is important to have these details nailed down.

The new visual language of Volkswagen will be bolder and more colorful with a stronger focus on people. (Volkswagen’s pic.)

Volkswagen changed its entire brand design. From now on a bigger emphasis in ads and commercials will be put on people and not just cars. Volkswagen will not focus on perfection, but will present realistic and relatable situations. More color and more emotion everywhere. We can’t wait to see how this will change Volkswagen’s public image in the near future.



Other interesting reads:

Volkswagen eKäfer – the new old electric Beetle;

Volkswagen Plattenwagen – one of the earliest Volkswagen vehicles;

EA489 Basistransporter – Volkswagen you probably don’t know;

Electric trucks are far from new – they were delivering goods a hundrend years ago;

JAWA 750 – did you know JAWA made cars?

FSO Syrena Sport – the most beautiful Polish car ever made;

Why cars used to have whitewall tires?

Jaguar XK120 and other British classics are going electric – the price is predictably eye-watering

Vintage cars are great to look at and even better to drive. However, people rarely use them as daily drivers, because they can be quite fragile, noisy and uncomfortable. But there is a good new way of making classic cars good enough for daily use – electric power conversions. A new British company Lunaz is about to start selling an electrified Jaguar XK120 and it sounds like an amazing idea.

Classic car conversions to electric power are more and more common. Not so long ago we wrote about the new Volkswagen eKäfer –  the classic Beetle with electric heart. However, electric Jaguar XK120 is going to be a completely different kind of animal.



Lunaz, a company founded by a former Renault F1 Technical Director Jon Hilton, is actually currently developing 3 electric cars. The conversion of the 1953 Jaguar XK120 is going to be the first one to hit the streets, but the 1961 Rolls-Royce Phantom V and the 1956 Rolls-Royce Cloud are going to come next. The process of transforming classic cars to modern electromobiles is quite a complicated one.

Electrified Jaguar XK120 is going to be the first car in Lunaz range. (Image credit: Lunaz)

At first, Lunaz engineers strip down the cars and restore their bodies. Of course, engines, transmissions and all the clutter associated with them are removed permanently. You could convert these cars back to ICE-powered vehicles, but that would require some effort as Lunaz is introducing significant structural modifications to these cars. Bodies are then scanned so that engineers could figure out the best way to mount all the electric gubbins, including motors and batteries. By the way, Lunaz is assembling battery packs and creating all the electronics in-house. The result – vintage design with modern technology in one package.

Quietness, which surround electric cars, will enhance Rolls-Royce experience. (Image credit: Lunaz)

Lunaz Jaguar XK120 is going to have a 80 kWh batteries, divided into two modules – one will be mounted in the engine bay and the second one – under the boot floor, where fuel tank used to be. Meanwhile a heavier 8-seater Rolls-Royce Phantom V will store its power in 120 kWh modules. Lunaz says that all its cars will feature fast charging, regenerative braking and will have a range of at least 400 km. Electric XK120 is going to be rather fast as well – 280 kW (380 hp) is much more than the original car ever had. Jaguar XK120, which at one point was the fastest production car in the world, was produced from 1948 till 1954. The maximum power that it ever had was 164 kW – quite a bit less than what Lunaz conversion is going to offer.

Electric Jaguar XK120 is going to be faster than the original ever was. (Image credit: Lunaz)

Of course, Lunaz is going to make sure that the suspension and brakes are going to be able to deal with the increased power and weight. Meanwhile, the design is not going to change much at all – electric XK120 will still have all its grilles and even the fuel cap. The interior looks classic as well, although a touchscreen and battery gauges are added. All Lunaz cars will have modern safety tech, including traction and cruise control.

Electrified vintage cars are not for everyone’s taste, but they are easier to live with every day. (Image credit: Lunaz)

There will be many people who will say that this is a blasphemy – Jaguar XK120 should never be electric. However, the truth is that these cars do not get driven much at all. Electric conversions will make them basically daily-drivable. On the other hand, Lunaz cars will start from 350,000 pounds (400k Euros), but that is predictable – exclusive cars tend to cost a lot.



Other fun reads;

The brand new old Volkswagen eKäfer – Beetle goes electric;

Electric trucks are far from new – they were delivering goods a hundrend years ago;

Why cars used to have whitewall tires?

JAWA 750 – did you know JAWA made cars?

Why modern cars have so much plastic under the bonnet?

JAWA museum in Konopiště will keep an enthusiast busy for several hours (Photo gallery)

JAWA is a well-known Czech manufacturer of motorcycles and mopeds. 2019 marks 90th year in JAWA history and during that time this company has created many memorable machines. The JAWA museum in Konopiště houses a nice collection of the very best of JAWA – come, take a look.

JAWA Moto was established back in 1929, in Prague, Czechoslovakia. It was founded by a local businessman František Janeček, who purchased the motorcycle division of Wanderer. In fact, that is how JAWA name was formed – JAneček WAnderer.



Czechs are very proud of JAWA. There are at least two JAWA museums in Czech Republic – one in Rabakov and one in Konopiště. If you’re a true JAWA enthusiast, you should probably visit both of them. In fact, you should also visit the National Technical Museum in Prague, where you can take a close look at JAWA 750 – a unique JAWA racing car. We visited the museum in Konopiště and this is what we saw.

The JAWA museum in Konopiště is rather small, but it is also packed with interesting motorcycles. Here you can see Suzuki and Hercules motorcycles, both featuring rotor engines.

The JAWA museum in Konopiště is around 1 hour drive from Prague. There are plenty of signs, directing you to this place. The museum itself is rather small, but it is packed with historic motorcycles, posters, pictures and trophies. All motorcycles in this collection still have original paint and, as far as we know, most of them are in working order.

In addition to a lot of polished motorcycles, the museum also displays trophies, historical documents, posters and pictures.

 

That’s what we call studded tires… Of course, this is not a motorcycle for street use.

 

The museum has a lot of racing bikes – in its day JAWA was big in motorsports.

The JAWA museum also has a nice collection of ČZ motorcycles. ČZ once belonged to Česká zbrojovka Strakonice, which was a major competitor of JAWA, but companies merged in 1948.

ČZ motorcycles.

 

JAWA enthusiasts will easily spend several hours in this museum.

 

Most exhibits are 100 % original and unrestored. We were told that they are also in working order.

 

JAWA 350 Nanuk with streamlined body – this motorcycle was used by Veřejná bezpečnost (Police forces of Czechoslovakia).

 

The oldest motorcycles are resting by the wall – some of them are over 80 years of age.

 

The museum displays several special Jubilee models from different decades.

 

If you want to see more, you will have to visit the museum itself. It is located very close to the famous Konopiště castle so it is definitely worth the drive.

JAWA Museum in Konopiště

Address – Konopiště 30, 256 01 Benešov, Czech Republic

The museum is closed on Mondays.



Other interesting reads:

JAWA 750 – a victorious sports car most people never heard about;

FSO Syrena Sport – the most beautiful Polish car ever;

What happened to pop-up headlights?

Tour in Tomark Aero airplane factory;

Why cars used to have whitewall tires, but don’t anymore?

Why cars used to have whitewall tires? And why did they disappear?

Your car’s tires are black – we can safely assume that. Pretty much all cars today have black tires, but that wasn’t the case in the middle of the previous century. Whitewall tires were very popular back in the day, but now we rarely see them. Why did they exist in the first place and where did they go?

Automotive design evolved very rapidly and many features that were popular decades ago are completely gone today. For example, have you noticed that there are no new cars with pop-up headlights?



Tires are made of rubber and rubber is black. However, pure natural rubber is not ideal material for tires, because it wears too quickly. Tires that wear out prematurely are good for nothing, but tires that don’t grip are even worse. And so manufacturers were looking for something to make tires better.  The answer they came up with was zinc oxide, which was relatively hard and easy to incorporate into rubber compound.

Completely white tires, made from rubber with zinc oxide. (DougW, Wikimedia)

And yes, you guessed it – zinc oxide is white. And so were some early tires – not just with white walls, but entirely white. However, although white tires provided the desired grip, they wore out way too quickly. Then manufacturers decided to add carbon black, which significantly enhanced the durability of the tires. In order to save some money, manufacturers incorporated black rubber only in the threads, which is how the whitewall tire was born.

Whitewall tires were beautiful, but difficult to maintain. (CZmarlin, Wikimedia)

Interestingly, at first completely black tires were considered to be more luxurious as they required a greater amount of carbon black and were easier to maintain. They were more expensive too. However, they had a little secret hidden in their construction.

Under the black layer of carbon-rich rubber the sidewalls were still white. Carbon black was needed for surface durability and so manufacturers only added it on the outside. This meant that damaged black tires in the first half of the 20th century revealed a good old white rubber, which was a real eye-sore. However, black tires were way easier to maintain as people didn’t have to wash them.

By the way, white lettering on tires also appeared due to this black-white construction. Owners or manufacturers would simply remove the thin black layer from the stamped letters, revealing white rubber underneath. Nowadays tires are made from completely black rubber and white lettering is made using dyes.

White lettering was achieved by peeling away the layer of black rubber. (Christopher Ziemnowicz, Wikimedia)

Whitewall tires grew in popularity and suddenly became more expensive than entirely black tires. In 1934 Ford introduced whitewall tires as an $11.25 option on all its new cars – that was a huge amount of money back in the day. But people loved whitewall tires, didn’t mind paying extra and taking time to clean them. They became a complimenting feature to the curvy automotive design of the time.

Whitewall tires complimented automotive design of the middle of 20th century. (Rex Gray, Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

Car design developed rapidly in the first couple of decades after the Second World War. The body became the centre of attention and tires were reduced back to being a functional detail that shouldn’t take away from the design. Actually, there were many cars that had partially hidden rear wheels.

Pontiac Streamliner – some cars had partially covered rear wheels, which made whitewall tires kind of silly. (Whizser, Wikimedia)

Whitewall tires fell out of fashion in 1960’s, especially when radial tires become the dominant choice. For some time a full white wall was replaced by a narrow white strip, incorporated only on the outside surface of the tire. These tires with white details were considered to be luxurious, featured on Lincoln Continental,  Chevrolet Corvette and similarly upmarket cars, but in late 70’s they fell out of fashion as well.

More subtle version of whitewall tires. (Morven, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

The truth is that whitewall tires were not that great. Sure, the contrast between black and white rubber looks beautiful, but they were a pain to maintain. The trouble began soon after manufacturing – whitewall tires had to be wrapped in paper in order for them to reach the dealerships while still clean. That didn’t matter though because they became dirty when getting mounted on the rim. Then they would be dirty every day, driving through gravel, touching curbs and splashing puddles. And dirty whitewall tires are much uglier than simple black tires.

Lincoln Town Car was the last car model offered with a variation of whitewall tire. (BrendelSignature, Wikimedia(CC BY 2.5)

Today there are only a handful of companies that are offering whitewall tires. Their popularity is growing due to the resurgence of traditional hot rods, retro-moded cars and restorations. However, most of whitewall tires that you see in various automotive-themed events are either painted white or have special add-ons.



Other interesting reads:

What happened to pop-up headlights?

Volkswagen’s legend becomes electric – meet eKäfer;

JAWA 750 – did you know JAWA made cars?

Brütsch Mopetta – glorious egg-shaped microcar from 1950’s;

FSO Syrena Sport – the most beautiful Polish car was denied and then mindlessly destroyed (Video)

Poland is not famous for its automotive industry, which is why many people are surprised to learn about all interesting cars made in this country. A lot of them were created by FSO (Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych), which worked in Warsaw from 1948 till 2011. By far, the most Polish car ever also came from the works of FSO – just look at the shapes of FSO Syrena Sport! Too bad it was mindlessly destroyed.

Syrena sedan was actually the second car ever created by FSO. First prototype were presented in 1953, but production started only in 1957. It was a simple and reliable car, which made it very popular in Poland. It also opened up the arms of FSO engineers to have some fun.



FSO engineers back in 1957-1960 were getting busy with their special project, designed by Cezary Nawrot. It was a sports car prototype, meant to test a number of solutions and production technologies that could be incorporated in Syrena sedan. Of course, this testbed didn’t have to be a beautiful sports car, but why not? Nawrot decided to have some fun with its design, especially knowing that it will never be manufactured on a bigger scale.

When designing Syrena Sport, Nawrot looked for inspiration in cars from the other side of the Iron Curtain. He later admitted taking some details from several Ferrari models, Mercedes-Benz 190SL, probably Chevrolet Corvette and some other popular cars. And you can definitely see them in the design of the Syrena Sport, but it is still a uniquely beautiful little car. It’s body is made from fibreglass and the engine is tiny, which is why FSO Syrena Sport prototype weighed only 710 kilogrammes.

FSO Syrena Sport weighed only 710 kg, thanks to its figreglass body. (Jakub Hałun, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

It was Nawrot’s best design and he hated the idea that a 2-stroke 2-cylinder S-15 engine from Syrena sedan could be rattling under the bonnet of his Syrena Sport. But he found a way to avoid that – Nawrot made the bonnet of the new car so low that the old S15 simply didn’t fit.

Instead, a completely new air-cooled 0.7 liter 4-stroke flat-twin S16 engine was developed and fitted in this car. Some of the auxiliaries were taken from Panhard Dyna Z. Syrena Sport used a 4 speed manual transmission and was front-wheel-drive, which is unusual for a sports car, but the engine wasn’t that sporty either. Although it was planned that the S16 will push around 50 bhp, but the first prototype developed around 35 bhp. However, Syrena Sport was pretty good in the corners, courtesy of its new independent rear suspension.

A 0,7 l engine was powering the front wheels through a 4-speed manual transmission. (Jakub Hałun, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

FSO Syrena Sport made its public debut on on the Labour Day (May 1st) 1960 and instantly became an international sensation. An Italian newspaper “Il Giorno” called the Syrena Sport “the most beautiful car built behind the Iron Curtain”. Everyone knew that Syrena Sport is only a prototype with no ambitions for production, but people were so impressed by the design that they started demanding that the car would be produced. Everyone was pressuring FSO and Polish Government, but it was not meant to be.

Some original footage showing FSO Syrena Sport in action

Being on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, Poland was a communist country. FSO Syrena Sport was not the sort of car communists would approve. It was too bold and not compatible with a regular working man of the country. The story goes that someone from the government contacted FSO and ordered an immediate end of the program. At that time Syrena Sport had 29000 km on the clock and had to be stored away.

One of the rare historic pictures of the original FSO Syrena Sport – other images are showing replicas. (historic picture by Zbyszk Siemaszk)

This story could have had a happy ending. Communism ends in 1989 and Syrena Sport reemerges from FSO’s storage – wouldn’t that be nice? However, there was no happy ending for Syrena Sport. Some time in 1970’s the only FSO Syrena Sport was destroyed alongside some other prototypes. Motif – a lack of space in the garage. No actual plans survived either, but some replicas later were created from some black and white pictures.



Read about other fantastic cars:

Volkswagen brings old Beeltes to 21st century – meet the electric eKäfer;

JAWA 750 – did you know JAWA made cars?

Brütsch Mopetta – glorious egg-shaped microcar from 1950’s;

7 interesting facts about BMW E30;

What happened to pop-up headlights?

The new sound of Volkswagen – female voice in ever commercial and introduction of sound logo (Video)
October 16th, 2019

Back in September Volkswagen introduced its new brand design, which changed everything from the famous VW logo to the way the company is going to do commercials.You might have already noticed that every new Volkswagen TV commercial has a female voiceover. But why is that? And have you heard the Volkswagen’s new sound logo?

The reason why Volkswagen needed a new brand design is simple – the company wants to separate its present from the past. Volkswagen is shifting its strategy towards electric cars and wants to forget the infamous dieselgate scandal, which emerged back in 2015. And so Volkswagen launched the biggest design change in company’s rich history.



Volkswagen now has a new logo, which looks a lot like the old one, but is more flat, simpler and lighter. It works better in the digital space, while not losing its main features. Quite frankly, you may not even noticed it changed.

The new Volkswagen logo features a flat two-dimensional design reduced to its essential elements. (Volkswagen’s image)

Volkswagen has also launched its new sound logo. It is a short melody, composed just from a few chords, which is going to represent Volkswagen in media material (TV commercials and internet videos) as well as in vehicles of the brand. Germany’s largest car manufacturer hopes that this sound will translate the new image of Volkswagen into a memorable acoustic form.

Here, take a listen – the new Volkswagen acoustic logo:

At the end of this little clip you heard a female voice saying “Volkswagen”, which is both the name and the slogan of the brand. Volkswagen decided that from now on the voiceover in all of its commercials is going to be female. Woman’s voice is softer, warmer and friendlier – it matches the new image of Volkswagen better. For decades Volkswagen used a male voice, which characterized the image of brand’s vehicles as serious, dependable and solid. Female voice breaks this rather cold image and makes it brighter, while still showing confidence.

This is a good example of what you can expect from Volkswagen commercials in the coming years:

It is a bit odd though – why Volkswagen has to use male or female voice exclusively? Why the voiceover actor or actress is not chosen separately for every commercial? We presented these questions to Volkswagen and their marketing representative explained that they are trying to create a recognizable personality. These features – graphic and acoustic logos, female voiceover and new overall design make up the essence of what Volkswagen’s image is and so it is important to have these details nailed down.

The new visual language of Volkswagen will be bolder and more colorful with a stronger focus on people. (Volkswagen’s pic.)

Volkswagen changed its entire brand design. From now on a bigger emphasis in ads and commercials will be put on people and not just cars. Volkswagen will not focus on perfection, but will present realistic and relatable situations. More color and more emotion everywhere. We can’t wait to see how this will change Volkswagen’s public image in the near future.



Other interesting reads:

Volkswagen eKäfer – the new old electric Beetle;

Volkswagen Plattenwagen – one of the earliest Volkswagen vehicles;

EA489 Basistransporter – Volkswagen you probably don’t know;

Electric trucks are far from new – they were delivering goods a hundrend years ago;

JAWA 750 – did you know JAWA made cars?

FSO Syrena Sport – the most beautiful Polish car ever made;

Why cars used to have whitewall tires?

Jaguar XK120 and other British classics are going electric – the price is predictably eye-watering
October 12th, 2019

Vintage cars are great to look at and even better to drive. However, people rarely use them as daily drivers, because they can be quite fragile, noisy and uncomfortable. But there is a good new way of making classic cars good enough for daily use – electric power conversions. A new British company Lunaz is about to start selling an electrified Jaguar XK120 and it sounds like an amazing idea.

Classic car conversions to electric power are more and more common. Not so long ago we wrote about the new Volkswagen eKäfer –  the classic Beetle with electric heart. However, electric Jaguar XK120 is going to be a completely different kind of animal.



Lunaz, a company founded by a former Renault F1 Technical Director Jon Hilton, is actually currently developing 3 electric cars. The conversion of the 1953 Jaguar XK120 is going to be the first one to hit the streets, but the 1961 Rolls-Royce Phantom V and the 1956 Rolls-Royce Cloud are going to come next. The process of transforming classic cars to modern electromobiles is quite a complicated one.

Electrified Jaguar XK120 is going to be the first car in Lunaz range. (Image credit: Lunaz)

At first, Lunaz engineers strip down the cars and restore their bodies. Of course, engines, transmissions and all the clutter associated with them are removed permanently. You could convert these cars back to ICE-powered vehicles, but that would require some effort as Lunaz is introducing significant structural modifications to these cars. Bodies are then scanned so that engineers could figure out the best way to mount all the electric gubbins, including motors and batteries. By the way, Lunaz is assembling battery packs and creating all the electronics in-house. The result – vintage design with modern technology in one package.

Quietness, which surround electric cars, will enhance Rolls-Royce experience. (Image credit: Lunaz)

Lunaz Jaguar XK120 is going to have a 80 kWh batteries, divided into two modules – one will be mounted in the engine bay and the second one – under the boot floor, where fuel tank used to be. Meanwhile a heavier 8-seater Rolls-Royce Phantom V will store its power in 120 kWh modules. Lunaz says that all its cars will feature fast charging, regenerative braking and will have a range of at least 400 km. Electric XK120 is going to be rather fast as well – 280 kW (380 hp) is much more than the original car ever had. Jaguar XK120, which at one point was the fastest production car in the world, was produced from 1948 till 1954. The maximum power that it ever had was 164 kW – quite a bit less than what Lunaz conversion is going to offer.

Electric Jaguar XK120 is going to be faster than the original ever was. (Image credit: Lunaz)

Of course, Lunaz is going to make sure that the suspension and brakes are going to be able to deal with the increased power and weight. Meanwhile, the design is not going to change much at all – electric XK120 will still have all its grilles and even the fuel cap. The interior looks classic as well, although a touchscreen and battery gauges are added. All Lunaz cars will have modern safety tech, including traction and cruise control.

Electrified vintage cars are not for everyone’s taste, but they are easier to live with every day. (Image credit: Lunaz)

There will be many people who will say that this is a blasphemy – Jaguar XK120 should never be electric. However, the truth is that these cars do not get driven much at all. Electric conversions will make them basically daily-drivable. On the other hand, Lunaz cars will start from 350,000 pounds (400k Euros), but that is predictable – exclusive cars tend to cost a lot.



Other fun reads;

The brand new old Volkswagen eKäfer – Beetle goes electric;

Electric trucks are far from new – they were delivering goods a hundrend years ago;

Why cars used to have whitewall tires?

JAWA 750 – did you know JAWA made cars?

Why modern cars have so much plastic under the bonnet?

Why cars used to have whitewall tires? And why did they disappear?
September 16th, 2019

Your car’s tires are black – we can safely assume that. Pretty much all cars today have black tires, but that wasn’t the case in the middle of the previous century. Whitewall tires were very popular back in the day, but now we rarely see them. Why did they exist in the first place and where did they go?

Automotive design evolved very rapidly and many features that were popular decades ago are completely gone today. For example, have you noticed that there are no new cars with pop-up headlights?



Tires are made of rubber and rubber is black. However, pure natural rubber is not ideal material for tires, because it wears too quickly. Tires that wear out prematurely are good for nothing, but tires that don’t grip are even worse. And so manufacturers were looking for something to make tires better.  The answer they came up with was zinc oxide, which was relatively hard and easy to incorporate into rubber compound.

Completely white tires, made from rubber with zinc oxide. (DougW, Wikimedia)

And yes, you guessed it – zinc oxide is white. And so were some early tires – not just with white walls, but entirely white. However, although white tires provided the desired grip, they wore out way too quickly. Then manufacturers decided to add carbon black, which significantly enhanced the durability of the tires. In order to save some money, manufacturers incorporated black rubber only in the threads, which is how the whitewall tire was born.

Whitewall tires were beautiful, but difficult to maintain. (CZmarlin, Wikimedia)

Interestingly, at first completely black tires were considered to be more luxurious as they required a greater amount of carbon black and were easier to maintain. They were more expensive too. However, they had a little secret hidden in their construction.

Under the black layer of carbon-rich rubber the sidewalls were still white. Carbon black was needed for surface durability and so manufacturers only added it on the outside. This meant that damaged black tires in the first half of the 20th century revealed a good old white rubber, which was a real eye-sore. However, black tires were way easier to maintain as people didn’t have to wash them.

By the way, white lettering on tires also appeared due to this black-white construction. Owners or manufacturers would simply remove the thin black layer from the stamped letters, revealing white rubber underneath. Nowadays tires are made from completely black rubber and white lettering is made using dyes.

White lettering was achieved by peeling away the layer of black rubber. (Christopher Ziemnowicz, Wikimedia)

Whitewall tires grew in popularity and suddenly became more expensive than entirely black tires. In 1934 Ford introduced whitewall tires as an $11.25 option on all its new cars – that was a huge amount of money back in the day. But people loved whitewall tires, didn’t mind paying extra and taking time to clean them. They became a complimenting feature to the curvy automotive design of the time.

Whitewall tires complimented automotive design of the middle of 20th century. (Rex Gray, Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

Car design developed rapidly in the first couple of decades after the Second World War. The body became the centre of attention and tires were reduced back to being a functional detail that shouldn’t take away from the design. Actually, there were many cars that had partially hidden rear wheels.

Pontiac Streamliner – some cars had partially covered rear wheels, which made whitewall tires kind of silly. (Whizser, Wikimedia)

Whitewall tires fell out of fashion in 1960’s, especially when radial tires become the dominant choice. For some time a full white wall was replaced by a narrow white strip, incorporated only on the outside surface of the tire. These tires with white details were considered to be luxurious, featured on Lincoln Continental,  Chevrolet Corvette and similarly upmarket cars, but in late 70’s they fell out of fashion as well.

More subtle version of whitewall tires. (Morven, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

The truth is that whitewall tires were not that great. Sure, the contrast between black and white rubber looks beautiful, but they were a pain to maintain. The trouble began soon after manufacturing – whitewall tires had to be wrapped in paper in order for them to reach the dealerships while still clean. That didn’t matter though because they became dirty when getting mounted on the rim. Then they would be dirty every day, driving through gravel, touching curbs and splashing puddles. And dirty whitewall tires are much uglier than simple black tires.

Lincoln Town Car was the last car model offered with a variation of whitewall tire. (BrendelSignature, Wikimedia(CC BY 2.5)

Today there are only a handful of companies that are offering whitewall tires. Their popularity is growing due to the resurgence of traditional hot rods, retro-moded cars and restorations. However, most of whitewall tires that you see in various automotive-themed events are either painted white or have special add-ons.



Other interesting reads:

What happened to pop-up headlights?

Volkswagen’s legend becomes electric – meet eKäfer;

JAWA 750 – did you know JAWA made cars?

Brütsch Mopetta – glorious egg-shaped microcar from 1950’s;

FSO Syrena Sport – the most beautiful Polish car was denied and then mindlessly destroyed (Video)
September 14th, 2019

Poland is not famous for its automotive industry, which is why many people are surprised to learn about all interesting cars made in this country. A lot of them were created by FSO (Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych), which worked in Warsaw from 1948 till 2011. By far, the most Polish car ever also came from the works of FSO – just look at the shapes of FSO Syrena Sport! Too bad it was mindlessly destroyed.

Syrena sedan was actually the second car ever created by FSO. First prototype were presented in 1953, but production started only in 1957. It was a simple and reliable car, which made it very popular in Poland. It also opened up the arms of FSO engineers to have some fun.



FSO engineers back in 1957-1960 were getting busy with their special project, designed by Cezary Nawrot. It was a sports car prototype, meant to test a number of solutions and production technologies that could be incorporated in Syrena sedan. Of course, this testbed didn’t have to be a beautiful sports car, but why not? Nawrot decided to have some fun with its design, especially knowing that it will never be manufactured on a bigger scale.

When designing Syrena Sport, Nawrot looked for inspiration in cars from the other side of the Iron Curtain. He later admitted taking some details from several Ferrari models, Mercedes-Benz 190SL, probably Chevrolet Corvette and some other popular cars. And you can definitely see them in the design of the Syrena Sport, but it is still a uniquely beautiful little car. It’s body is made from fibreglass and the engine is tiny, which is why FSO Syrena Sport prototype weighed only 710 kilogrammes.

FSO Syrena Sport weighed only 710 kg, thanks to its figreglass body. (Jakub Hałun, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

It was Nawrot’s best design and he hated the idea that a 2-stroke 2-cylinder S-15 engine from Syrena sedan could be rattling under the bonnet of his Syrena Sport. But he found a way to avoid that – Nawrot made the bonnet of the new car so low that the old S15 simply didn’t fit.

Instead, a completely new air-cooled 0.7 liter 4-stroke flat-twin S16 engine was developed and fitted in this car. Some of the auxiliaries were taken from Panhard Dyna Z. Syrena Sport used a 4 speed manual transmission and was front-wheel-drive, which is unusual for a sports car, but the engine wasn’t that sporty either. Although it was planned that the S16 will push around 50 bhp, but the first prototype developed around 35 bhp. However, Syrena Sport was pretty good in the corners, courtesy of its new independent rear suspension.

A 0,7 l engine was powering the front wheels through a 4-speed manual transmission. (Jakub Hałun, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

FSO Syrena Sport made its public debut on on the Labour Day (May 1st) 1960 and instantly became an international sensation. An Italian newspaper “Il Giorno” called the Syrena Sport “the most beautiful car built behind the Iron Curtain”. Everyone knew that Syrena Sport is only a prototype with no ambitions for production, but people were so impressed by the design that they started demanding that the car would be produced. Everyone was pressuring FSO and Polish Government, but it was not meant to be.

Some original footage showing FSO Syrena Sport in action

Being on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, Poland was a communist country. FSO Syrena Sport was not the sort of car communists would approve. It was too bold and not compatible with a regular working man of the country. The story goes that someone from the government contacted FSO and ordered an immediate end of the program. At that time Syrena Sport had 29000 km on the clock and had to be stored away.

One of the rare historic pictures of the original FSO Syrena Sport – other images are showing replicas. (historic picture by Zbyszk Siemaszk)

This story could have had a happy ending. Communism ends in 1989 and Syrena Sport reemerges from FSO’s storage – wouldn’t that be nice? However, there was no happy ending for Syrena Sport. Some time in 1970’s the only FSO Syrena Sport was destroyed alongside some other prototypes. Motif – a lack of space in the garage. No actual plans survived either, but some replicas later were created from some black and white pictures.



Read about other fantastic cars:

Volkswagen brings old Beeltes to 21st century – meet the electric eKäfer;

JAWA 750 – did you know JAWA made cars?

Brütsch Mopetta – glorious egg-shaped microcar from 1950’s;

7 interesting facts about BMW E30;

What happened to pop-up headlights?

The classic Beetle of the 21st century – meet the brand new electric eKäfer
September 6th, 2019

We love classic cars. We love their design, simplicity and that unique character that seems to be missing from modern vehicles. But it is rather difficult to keep them on the road. They are unreliable, noisy and not environmentally friendly to say the least. Now Volkswagen has a solution – take a look at this brand new classic – the eKäfer.

Käfer, better known as Beetle out of Germany, was actually the first car of Volkswagen. First examples left the factory back in 1938. It was actually Hitler’s idea to build a “people’s car” that would be affordable to everyone and could take advantage of the new autobahn system. Although WW2 halted the production of Käfer, it was resumed afterwards, which allowed Beetle to become one of the most iconic cars of all time.



Now Volkswagen Group worked together with ca company, called eClassics, to bring eKäfer to life. By the way, Käfer is the original German name of this model – if you read “Classic Beetle” or “Käfer”, know that it is one and the same model. And people love them – old Käfers look very unique in today’s traffic. However, keeping them on the road is not for everyone.

Volkswagen eKäfer – the classic design with modern technology. (Volkswagen’s pic.)

Old cars require extensive care. Oftentimes they are unreliable and too noisy. They also pollute quite a bit more than modern vehicles. And that’s where eKäfer comes in – it is an old design with modern technology. eKäfer is reliable, cheap to maintain (probably expensive to buy though), quiet and can use privileges of electric cars, which include special parking spots, exemptions from road taxes and congestion fees, cheaper insurance, special lanes and many more.

No tailpipes to see. (Volkswagen’s pic.)

eKäfer got internals from the new e-up! And so it is driven by the same 61 kW motor, drawing power from 36.8 kWh batteries, built into the underbody of the car. These lithium-ion batteries should be very reliable, because Volkswagen offers 8 years or 160,000 km warranty for them in the new e-up!

eKäfer got its new batteries and motor from the new e-up! city car. (Volkswagen’s pic.)

Volkswagen doesn’t think that eKäfer should live exclusively in the city – its 200 km range allows for short trips behind the city walls and it can be charged from flat back to 150 km range in just one hour. eKäfer is very aerodynamic and weighs 1,280 kg – a bit more than the original.

eKäfer is faster, more reliable and quieter than the original. (Volkswagen’s pic.)

It should be fun to drive too. eKäfer accelerates to 50 km/h in just under four seconds and to 80 km in just over eight seconds. Its top speeds is 150 km/h, which means it can keep up with highway traffic. Of course, the faster you go, the quicker the batteries are drained, but at least you can be confident in overtaking.

Volkswagen eKäfer has some additional storage place where the old engine used to be. (Volkswagen’s pic.)

eKäfer has an additional trunk, where the classic car had its boxer engine. Another interesting feature – eKäfer’s charging port is tastefully hidden behind one of the tailights. However, other than pronounced sills and the lack of tailpipes, eKäfer looks exactly like the original.

The charging port is tastefully hidden behind a tail light. (Volkswagen’s pic.)

Volkswagen eKäfer will make its official debut at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt. And it will not be the only electric classic in the future. Thomas Schmall, Member of the Board of Management of Volkswagen Group Components, said: We are already working together to prepare the platform for the Bus. An e-Porsche 356 could also be pursued in the future.”


Other interesting reads:

Volkswagen Plattenwagen – one of the earliest Volkswagen vehicles;

EA489 Basistransporter – Volkswagen you probably don’t know;

Electric trucks are far from new – they were delivering goods a hundrend years ago;

JAWA 750 – did you know JAWA made cars?

Why modern cars have so much plastic under the bonnet?

One of the rarest Volkswagens in the world – you’ve probably never heard of the humble Basistransporter
July 22nd, 2019

Volkswagen is one of the biggest names in automative industry. Volkswagen cars are sold everywhere and everyone knows them. However, you’ve probably have never seen this one – EA489 Basistransporter is now one of the rarest Volkswagen vehicles in the world.

We told you about the Plattenwagen – Käfer-based light truck. It is also a very rare vehicle, but the difference is that Plattenwagen was never sold to general population. Basistransporter was and yet almost all of them have perished in the unforgiving claws of time.



Volkswagen EA489 Basistransporter, manufactured in 1975-1979, was an extremely simple little truck. In fact, it was designed to be as cheap as possible to buy and maintain. At that time vehicles like this were very popular in a large part of the World. High oil prices and unstable economy fueled the demand for cheap light utility trucks and the market leaders delivered  –  Toyota, Ford, General Motors and several other major manufacturers introduced new basic utility vehicles. And so Volkswagen jumped on the opportunity.

Presentation of the Volkswagen EA489 Basistransporter in 1973. (Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F040857-0012, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0 de)

The Basistransporter was created for the developing countries. In fact, it is likely you’ve never even heard the name “Basistransporter”, but maybe you know Volkswagen Hormiga? It is the exact same truck – Hormiga (“Ant”) name was adopted in Mexico. Meanwhile in Turkey Basistransporter was sold as just EA489, in the Philippines as the Trakbayan (“Country Truck”), and in Indonesia as the Mitra (“Partner”). Interestingly, Mitra was not identical to original Basistransporter – it had the cowl of a Volkswagen Type 2 and was a little bit faster.

Mexican Made Volkswagen Hormiga. (Ernesto Ariel Gallegos Martínez, Wikimedia(CC BY 3.0)

A Finnish company Wihuri Group also made a Basistransporter-based truck, called Teijo. About 200 were made, some of them were sent to Africa as foreign aid. Meanwhile in the main factory in Hanover Volkswagen produced 2,600 trucks as knock-down kits for assembly in other countries. Another 3,600 was produced in Mexico. And this is why Basistransporter is one of the rarest Volkswagen vehicle today – not many were produced and most of them were worked really hard. No one really protects these light trucks – they are workhorses. And when they couldn’t go anymore, they were scraped. Today only several are surviving in private hands or as museum pieces.

As you might imagine, Volkswagen EA489 Basistransporter was powered by an air-cooled 1.6 litre engine, pushing out 50 hp (37 kW). It was coupled to a 4-speed manual transmission and by driving front wheels it could propel the truck to 85 km/h (Indonesian Mitra somehow achieved 93 km/h). That kind of speed is actually incredible for a truck like this, but you have to remember – it is the size of a modern Volkswagen Polo. Its length – just 4,1, width – 1,7, height – around 2 metres. Empty Basistransporter weighed just 1,29 tonnes. Manufacturer promised that Basistransporter can carry 1,000 kg on its cargo bed.

The Finnish Teijo truck. (Gwafton, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

You can tell that Volkswagen EA489 Basistransporter was very cheap – just look at its body lines. But it is still a rather interesting vehicle, which helped thousands of people to work during those difficult times.



Other interesting machines:

Volkswagen Plattenwagen – one of the earliest Volkswagen vehicles;

What is this tractor doing in the middle of a flower field?

Why Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 has just three wheels?

Electric trucks are far from new – they were delivering goods a hundrend years ago;

Scammel Scarab – it is not your ordinary semi-truck – it is the mechanical horse;

Goliath GD 750 – three-wheeler truck with a tiny engine was more useful than it looks;

General Motors Bison – a vision of trucks of the future from 1964. Why didn’t it stick?

Plattenwagen is a surprisingly important Volkswagen vehicle that no one remembers
November 7th, 2018

Volkswagen is one of the biggest automotive companies in the world and it has millions of fans, who adore the long history of the brand. Everyone knows that the beginings of Volkswagen were the Käfer (better known as Beetle) and the legendary Type 2 minivan. However, aren‘t we missing something? There was also a car called the Plattenwagen, which would appear on the timeline in between the Beetle and the Type 2,

Volkswagen’s history is actually quite simple. Käfer was conceived before the WW2. It was meant to become the car for the masses. Cheap, practical and a genuinely good way to travel – Käfer was bound to be a huge hit. However, the WW2 changed these plans dramatically. Instead of mass production of the new car, entire industry was employed to manufacture guns and military vehicles. And so instead of the Käfer the world saw a military off-roader Kübelwagen and an amphibian version of it named Schwimmwagen. However, once the war was over, Käfer was pushed into production and onto its global success. But there was another special little Volkswagen that helped making these little Beetles.



Meet the Plattenwagen – Käfer-based light truck. You have probably never seen one, because it was actually never sold to general public. Volkswagen built the Plattenwagen for itself – it was meant to distribute various parts inside the factory. And that’s what it did – workers would load heavy engines, transmissions and other car components into its front loadbed and the Plattenwagen would be on its way to the other end of the factory where these parts would be installed. Because of how utilitarian and primitive the Plattenwagen was no one even though of making them for sale – who needs a bizarre backwards pickup truck thing? But for Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg it was a very useful tool.

(Bundesstefan, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Plattenwagen was based on Käfer’s platform, but featured a somewhat weird layout. Its open cabin was situated right above the air-cooled engine. It had two separate seats or one bench. Just like the Käfer, Plattenwagen was rear-wheel-drive and had a simple manual gearbox. Its frame was a bit stronger than Käfer’s – it was constructed from heavy steel pipes, which were strong enough to support a huge load of cargo in the front.

Plattenwagen’s wheels were significantly larger as well and between the axles there was a big fuel tank. Even though Plattenwagen was not intended to be driven on public roads, it had a proper windshield wiper, headlights and side mirrors. In fact, some Plattenwagens even had a fully enclosed cabin protecting drivers from the rain, but the list of comfort features pretty much stopped there. The loadbed had simple wooden sideboards meant to prevent things from sliding and falling on the ground.

(Hasse A, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

For what it was Plattenwagen was quite quick and manoeuvrable. In fact, when a Dutch importer of Volkswagen cars Ben Pon visited the Wolfsburg factory in 1947 he immediately got inspired by Plattenwagen’s performance. He quickly sketched a new commercial vehicle, which could benefit not only Volkswagen’s factories, but also farmers and small businesses across the world. This simple sketch was the beginning of the history of the Type 2.

(Rhin0, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Volkswagen’s commercial vehicle division now is very strong, offering its customers extremely high-quality products. And now you know that the beginning of its history was the humble Plattenwagen, which was special enough to become an inspiration for one of the most iconic cars ever.



Other interesting machines:

What is this tractor doing in the middle of a flower field?

Why Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 has just three wheels?

Electric trucks are far from new – they were delivering goods a hundrend years ago;

Scammel Scarab – it is not your ordinary semi-truck – it is the mechanical horse;

Goliath GD 750 – three-wheeler truck with a tiny engine was more useful than it looks;

General Motors Bison – a vision of trucks of the future from 1964. Why didn’t it stick?

What is this tractor doing? What was its actual original function?
September 25th, 2018

Farming is what feeds us all, yet, most people know nothing about it. It’s a shame, because farming equipment is more than just some boring tractors – there are a lot of very interesting machines. Some of them are so strange that it is difficult to guess their function. For example, take a look at this picture of an International Harvester tractor – what is this weird machine doing?

We can give you a couple of hints. First of all, the picture was taken in the middle of California, USA, around September. Secondly, those orange flowers are marigold. Finally, the machine you see in the picture wasn’t actually made to do the job it is doing.



So what is this tractor doing? And what was its original function? Take a look at the picture – answers below.

International Harvester tractor in the middle of a flower field. The manufacturer created a quite different machine. (devra, Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

This tractor was manufactured by the International Harvester and it is pictured harvesting seeds. It is, essentially, a large vacuum cleaner, sucking in seeds straight from marigold flowers. These plants are known for their strong smell and a bright yellow or orange colour. Usually, marigolds are used as decoration – people simply plant them by their houses. However, some varieties of marigold can be used as food dye, soup flavouring, perfume additive and so on. In fact, marigold flowers are sometimes planted near gardens just because their strong aroma is believed to repulse deers and rabbits.

But, coming back to the tractor, this International Harvester was not actually designed to be a seed harvester. It started its life as 2-row cotton picker – most likely a 612 or 622 model. As you can see in the picture, all the cotton picking devices have been removed to fit vacuum nozzles and a big box at the back. It seems like this conversion was done at home, which would make this tractor unique. Collected seeds can later be processed, sold or planted in some fresh soil.

International Harvester 612 (622) cotton picker is actually a great machine for the task. It is tall, has a lot of ground clearance, its tires are quite narrow and it only has three of them – the rear wheel is steering the machine. This means that flowers are not too damaged during the deseeding procedure. Similar 2-row cotton pickers are sometimes transformed into sprayers, but several remain picking cotton – despite being not as efficient as some of the more modern machines. The International Harvester 612 (622) cotton picker used to look like this (from 2:10):

 

So that is the answer – the tractor you saw at the beginning of the article is a former cotton picker on seed-harvesting duty. It is interesting that people come up with these ideas and still employ these old machines. It is a nice way of preserving these old workhorses.



Other interesting machines:

Why Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 has just three wheels?

Electric trucks are far from new – they were delivering goods a hundrend years ago;

Scammel Scarab – it is not your ordinary semi-truck – it is the mechanical horse;

Goliath GD 750 – three-wheeler truck with a tiny engine was more useful than it looks;

General Motors Bison – a vision of trucks of the future from 1964. Why didn’t it stick?

Inflight smoking is forbidden not just for the comfort of non-smokers – there are actually technical reasons behind it
April 26th, 2018

Several decades ago flying was much less glamorous than it is now. Sure, people used to dress up for the journey, but everyone was smoking. Now we can appreciate fresh, even if a little bit dry, air in airplane cabins. But did you know that smoking in airplanes was prohibited not just to make flying more comfortable for non-smokers?

In fact, smokers in the airplanes didn’t bother people too much. They were typically seated at the rear of the cabin, where they could smoke without disturbing non-smoking passengers. Because air inside of an airplane is flowing from the front to the back smoke was evacuated pretty effectively, without filling entire cabin with unpleasant smell. When in 1988 smoking was banned from flights that are shorter than 2 hours, airlines were actually worried that people are going to fly less because of this decision. And now if you do try to light up a cigarette, you are facing a huge fine and/or ban from flying that airline again. Why is that?



Back in a day, you could buy cigarettes from flight attendances. That contributed to revenues of the airlines, which is why they were against in-flight smoking ban. Tobacco companies were also vocal about their disapproval or such decision. And, of course, smokers felt discriminated, especially when the ban included pretty much all longer flights. However, not airlines are very happy that no one is smoking in the airplane.

Smoking in planes was completely normal not so long ago. (Estormiz, Wikimedia)

The truth is that smoking costs money not only to people buying cigarettes, but also to airlines, because it increases the cost of plane maintenance. Smokers unintentionally drop ashes on the carpet, they fill up the ashtrays, sometimes damage the seats and so on. Cleaning airplanes that have been smoked in is more time consuming. Also, remember we said air flows from front to back?

The airplane cabin, as weird as it may seem, is not a completely sealed pressure vessel – it does vent out. The air pressure inside of the cabin is equal to the one at altitude of around 2-2.4 km. Air is constantly pumped into the cabin and so, some it has to be vented out through the main cabin outflow valve. The opening and closing of this valve is what controls the pressure inside. However, tobacco smoke can make this mechanism sticky. Thick sticky tar used settle all over the main cabin outflow valve. Sometimes it became so sticky that the system struggled to open it.

Now smoking in the airplane could result in a huge fine and even a ban to fly that airline ever again. (Kashif Mardani, Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

Furthermore, tobacco tar used to cover all the airways from the cabin, which were a significant hassle to clean during maintenance. Finally, smoking could have posed a safety threat as well, if the tar glued the oxygen mask compartment doors too. Pilots used to smoke back in the day as well, but that wasn’t doing any good for electronics.

And so now smoking in most airlines is forbidden. However, ashtrays in bathrooms still exists. They are there just in case someone breaks the rules. If there were no ashtrays and someone decided to smoke, they would probably put their cigarettes out on the toilet or in the sink, which someone would have to clean up later.



Why this funny-looking tractor has only three wheels? (Video)
April 23rd, 2018

Most tractors have four wheels. That is a standard configuration and deviations from it can only be found in history. However, there are exceptions – the Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 is a modern machine and yet it only has three wheels. Why? What does it do?

Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 is a self-propelled nutrient application vehicle. In other words, it spread fertilizer on the fields and does that very efficiently just because of how huge it is. It has telemetry equipment, adaptive suspension, GPS-controlled autopilot and loads of other technology.




The tractor in the picture below is spreading hard organic fertilizer- manure, but some other modifications can be used to spray liquid fertilizers. In fact, one three-wheeled Terra Gator can hold as much as 16 cubic meters of liquid fertilizer – that is more than 16 tons of weight.

Each of the three wheels is in its own track and thus the ground get driven over only once. (joost j. bakker, Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Despite the massive size of this Terra Gator, it is supposed to be easily controlled. After climbing a set of stairs, the operator will find a comfortable workplace with a supportive seat, touchscreen, climate control and other equipment. But we are not selling you this tractor – we are more interested, why it has only three wheels.

All three wheels of the Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 are the same size and all are driven. (werktuigendagen, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The reason why Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 has three wheels is weight distribution. Farmers do not want to compact the soil, especially when they are ready for fertilizing. It is harder for crops to grow in a compacted ground and heavy equipment squeezes out the air from the dirt, essentially reducing the harvest. Four-wheeled tractors may have a better weight distribution, but the rear wheels are following the front ones and, therefore, dirt that gets under the wheels gets driven over twice. It is also the reason why Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 has such wide tires – they spread the weight of the machine over a bigger area.

Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 at work

 

Other manufacturers apply different solutions to solve the issue of compacting the soil. Some use narrower front axles, while other fertilizers employ dual wheel arrangements. And then there are farmers who simply use lighter machines to not compact the ground too much.

Interestingly, Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 is all-wheel-drive – all three wheels are driven. The front wheel, used for steering, is powered hydrostatically. Three-wheel configuration also allows for a better manoeuvrability – the front wheel can be turned by 75 degrees – it would be difficult to achieve that having two front wheels.



The fastest propeller-driven airplane was developed during the Second World War?
August 10th, 2017

Science and technology is constantly moving forward, but that doesn’t mean that some records will just continue to be broken. While planes with piston engines are still being developed, many roles nowadays are being fulfilled by jets. Therefore, it doesn’t really come as a surprise that the fastest propeller-driven airplane was actually born during the Second World War. However, we’re not really sure which one would it be.

You may think that describing such record is simple – whichever one was the fastest is the record holder. But there are some layers to this question that we’d like to explore. But, first things first, the official record holder is Grumman F8F Bearcat – American single-engine carrier-based fighter aircraft.

Rare Bear, heavilly modified Grumman F8F Bearcat, is the fastest piston-engined airplane in the world. (Don Sleeter, Wikimedia)

It took off for its maiden flight in August 1944 and was a mighty impressive aircraft. It was so potent, so quick and so versatile it managed to stay in service up until 1963, but even then it never stopped flying. AT this point enthusiasts wanted to get their hands on one and many did.  Grumman F8F Bearcat became popular between acrobatic flying pilots and air racers. Of course, for these purposes plane had to be heavily modified. That was how the fastest of them all – the Rare Bear – was born.

Rare Bear, extremely modified F8F Bearcat, dominated Reno Air Races for decades. It was just too fast for others to even think of competing with it. Its official record is 850.24 km/h and so it is the fastest airplane with piston engine in the world. Or is it?

Hawker Sea Fury was fast in service already, but people have modified these planes for air racing. (Don Ramey Logan, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

Rare Bear holds the official record, but another heavily modified airplane, based on British Hawker Sea Fury. This fighter plane was also born at the end of the Second World War. Seeing that war is pretty much over, RAF lost interest in Hawker Fury, but the Royal Navy still wanted the fighter, so a Sea Fury version was developed. It was amazingly quick for its time, but, when got even quicker after it finished its service and got into hands of acrobatic pilots and air racers. Unofficial record of highest speed of propeller-driven airplane belongs to a heavily modified Hawker Sea Fury – 880 km/h.




So we know which airplane holds the record. But both of the contenders were heavily modified and it is kind of interesting to see, which airplane was the fastest straight from the factory. That would be German Dornier Do 335 Pfeil. It was introduced at very late stages of WW2 and didn’t manage to prove its full potential. However, we do know it was the fastest propeller-driven airplane in the entire war.

Blue Angels, United States Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, transitioned to the Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat in 1946. (USN, Wikimedia)

Dornier Do 335 Pfeil had two engines mounted in the fuselage and each one of them drove a separate propeller – one was pushing the airplane, while the other one was pulling. This peculiar arrangement meant that Do 335 Pfeil could reach speeds of up to 765 km/h and even if one of the engines was turned off or disabled it could still fly at 563 km/h. Only 11 fighter planes were delivered in 1945 until Americans took over the factory, but those Allied pilots who witnessed the Do 335 Pfeil could not believe its speed at level flight.

Dornier Do 335 Pfeil had to engines and two propellers – one was mounted on the tail of the airplane. (Guinnog, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Now the only surviving example is in a museum, so we will never know what speed could it reach in a dive. However, we do know that a British Supermarine Spitfire reached 1,110 km/h speed in a dive in 1952. That’s the closest propeller-driven airplane ever got to the speed of sound. That is an impressive performance, but it is far from the actual fastest plane in the world.

A similar Supermarine Spitfire got close to the speed of sound several times, but only in a dive. (RAF official photographer , Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

That would be Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, which in 1976 reached 3,530 km/h. This strategic reconnaissance aircraft is retired from 1988, but is still regarded as one of the best airplane designs ever.



Bugs in the building – is there an antenna in the top floors of the US Embassy in Moscow?
August 7th, 2017

US Diplomatic mission in Russia is facing some issue, since a couple of weeks ago Russia announced it has to reduce its personnel by 755 people. While it is an interesting move as a reaction to the tightening of the sanctions, we are not going to talk about politics. This turn of event made us remember the building of US Embassy in Moscow. Will it be empty now? Do you know why is it called New Office Building?

First things first – US Embassy in Moscow is not going to be empty. Employees of US Diplomatic mission in Russian Federation are scattered around through a number of cities and different facilities. Also, while we’re on the subject, Russians are going to suffer from this the most. American citizens, who will be forced to leave this diplomatic mission, will go home and will receive positions somewhere else in the diplomatic corps. However, most of people who are getting fired since the 1st of September are going to be Russians. Furthermore, because of lack of human resources, some consular services will take longer to fulfil. So it is a nice publicity move, but it will mostly affect Russian people. It did bring our attention to the building though.

Existing Office Building – that is how the old building used to be called. (NVO, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

The main building of the Embassy of the United States in Moscow, called the New Office Building, looks recently built. This is kind of odd, having in mind that US had an embassy in Soviet Union. We looked at why the building had to be changed and found out it was always getting spied. That had to be one of the motifs to move to a modern, more secure type of building.

For example, bugs were discovered in the old office building of Embassy of the United States in Moscow in 1964. It was removed and everything was checked, but the spying eye did not look away from the building.




In 1977 there was a mysterious fire on eighth floor of the building. Some valuable documents were lost. While we can be sure that some of them were lost in fire, some of them were definitely stolen. It is known that some of the fire fighters were KGB agents, who were well-informed about the structure of the building and information kept on that particular floor.

And so a new building was needed. Fire did not damage the old office building too badly, but it was too easy to spy. Constructions were officially started in 1979 and in 1985 they found bugs in the new building. They were installed by construction workers or, more precisely, KGB agents dressed like construction workers. The spread of spying equipment was so vast it actually caused a bit of a diplomatic problem. US did not let Soviet diplomats to move to their new embassy in Washington, until American workers were allowed to finish the construction of the new embassy in Moscow.

New Office Building –
are top floors used to listen to the “Moscor air”? (Pars, Wikimedia)

Of course, before the building could be finished, part of it had to be destroyed, since the possibility of spying devices was so large. The New Office Building was finally opened in 2000. The top floors, built by American construction workers, are now used to deal with classified information, while the lower ones are dedicated to consular work. Still, who knows if it is not being spied at the moment, but some believe it is actually a piece of spying equipment in itself.

The very top floors look different, because there are virtually no windows in them. Igor Korotchenko, editor of a magazine called National Defence (Национальная оборона) once commented that the top floors of the main building of the Embassy of the United States are actually an antenna listening to “Moscow air”. Although US does partake in a healthy dose of spying itself, this theory sounds funny and almost ironic, having in mind why these floors look the way they do.




Top 3 best looking headquarters of car manufacturers – why geko does not bring luck?
August 4th, 2017

Car manufacturers have to protect their image. While everyone knows that the looks of a car are very important, some companies make sure to establish their headquarters in amazingly beautiful buildings. In this article we look at three car manufacturers who are unexpectedly known for the architecture as well as good cars.

Why exterior aesthetics of a building matters for car companies? Well, as we said, it is part of company‘s image. Automakers are trying to put their best foot forward and to not be associated with something ugly or boring. While a bad car model will soon be forgotten, an ugly building is here to stay. These three, however, are anything but ugly.

BMW Headquarters

BMW Headquarters in Munich was built from 1968 till 1972 – it was finished for summer Olympics, since the building is standing very close to the Olympic village. Immediately it became recognized as one of Munich’s architectural greats and up until now people love how it blends into the skyline of the city. In fact, this 101 metre tall skyscraper has a status of a protected historic building.

BMW Towar and a museum – it is all made to look like engine components (Diego Delso, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

BMW tower is actually composed of four big cylinders, made to mimic cylinders of the engine. Interestingly, they are not even touching the ground as they are supported by the central column. Because a four cylinder engine is very important in BMW’s history, the building is made to reflect that. There is a museum building right next to the skyscraper and it is made to represent a cylinder head. Both buildings were designed by the Austrian architect Karl Schwanzer.

McLaren Technology Centre in Woking

McLaren is a famous supercar manufacturer that has a rich history in motorsports. Its headquarters, called McLaren Technology Centre, are located in Woking, Surrey, England and consist of four buildings. Everything is accomplished here: street car production, racing car manufacturing, technology development and so on. It is also home of McLaren Formula 1 team.




The construction of the complex started in 1999 and the first building was completed in 2003. However, the automotive plant was not ready until 2011, which is also when production of MP4-12C, the first model of the reborn brand, started. The complex looks very futuristic and features clean lines and green surroundings. There are four artificial lakes in the area, the biggest one is places side by side with the main building and together they form a circle. The McLaren Technology Centre was designed by architect Norman Foster.

There are four artificial lakes around McLaren Technology Centre. (Mike Dodman, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 2.0)

While no one knows for sure how much did it cost to build this complex, the investment was huge. But McLaren says it was necessary – it is much nicer to work in a clean, beautiful and silent place. It is more inspiring and is likely to attract the best engineers and experts.

Wiesmann factory and showroom in Dülmen

Wiesmann was one of those little, unique car manufacturers that disappeared because of financial problems. It was established in 1988 and released its first car in 1993. The speciality of Wiesmann has always been little, lightweight roadsters with running gear from BMW performance cars. They were fast, high-quality and rather beautiful. Even the Wiesmann logo – a shiny gecko – was quite unique and loved by automotive enthusiasts. For the most part, factory building was a very simple industrial construction, but everything changed in 2008.

Wiesmann, arguably, had the most beautiful building, but it did not bring financial luck to the company. (WinfriedSchneider, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

In 2008 Wiesmann built an addition to serve as a showroom. And, sure enough, it was shaped like a gecko. Many car magazines and TV shows showed this new feature of Wiesmann factory every time they were speaking about brand’s cars. However, not everyone knows that this gecko was made from wood. Sadly, it didn’t bring the company financial luck and Wiesmann was liquidated in May 2014.

Would you like to visit an automotive factory? Or maybe you already have done so? Share your experience with us via nodum2017@gmail.com




Kaunas is getting rid of old Škoda 14Tr trolleybuses – why? And 10 interesting cool facts about trolleybuses in Kaunas
July 14th, 2017

People of Kaunas have a new subject for public debates – the growing prices of public transportation tickets. While paying more for the same service is never a pleasant change, the quality of it is about to increase dramatically. Kaunas is going to get rid of old Škoda 14Tr trolleybuses, which is absolutely necessary. Why? What is the Škoda 14Tr and why it has no place in a modern city? We talked about this with “Kauno Autubusai” – the company taking care of public transport in Kaunas.

Škoda 14Tr is a familiar sight in Kaunas, but in a couple of years these trolleybuses will be gone

Kaunas, the second largest Lithuanian city, can be hardly imagined without its iconic trolleybuses. While there is nothing special or unique about public transportation in this city, trolleybuses specifically have a deep relation with Kaunas image. They have been around since 1965, when the first line was opened. Since then a lot has changed, including trolleybuses, and people grew to love them.

Made in Czechoslovakia – nowadays this sign looks a bit funny.

But it is a love-hate relationship, actually, because the majority of Kaunas trolleybuses are old and dreadful Škoda 14Tr vehicles. They are extremely noisy, very hot in summer and very cold in winter, have high floor and are very uncomfortable for the driver. All of this is about to change – Kaunas streets will be free from “Made in Czechoslovakia” trolleybuses in about two years.

“Kauno Autobusai” is doing a great job maintaining the good condition of these trolleybuses, but they are just too old and troublesome.

While brand new trolleybuses are good news for all regular users of public transport, it also means that ticket prices are increasing from 1st of August. Electronic tickets are going to cost 70 euro cents, instead of the current 58, and the paper ones you buy from the driver – 1 euro. People really disliked the change, but they will get better quality services for the money.




Not only Škoda 14Tr’s are making people laugh with their “Made in Czechoslovakia” signs on windows (despite most of them being made after the Czech Republic and Slovakia split apart), but they also torture passengers with heat, cold and sometimes water. They are technically and morally old and there is no way around it. “Kauno Autobusai” has 98 of them, their average age – 28 years. Together they covered more than 160 million kilometres and were rebuilt several times. While you can fix them up to keep them running safely, it is impossibe to introduce such things as low floor – which allows older people as well as parents with baby buggies and disabled people to get in easier -, more comfortable seating or air conditioning.

The driver’s workplace is really uncomfortable.

Škoda 14Tr trolleybuses had been manufactured since 1981, although first prototypes showed up in 1972-1974. The last trolleybuses of this model left the factory in 2004, although production was significantly reduced in 1998. In total, 3888 14Tr’s were made and delivered to various cities, mostly in Eastern Europe and Soviet Union. Currently, Kiev, Vilnius and Riga have the largest amount of these trolleybuses, but they are slowly moving away.

Technical look around

Not only Škoda 14Tr trolleybuses are pretty dreadful to ride in, they are also extremely unreliable at this point. The problem is that all electric gubbins, including the motor, are placed underneath the floor of the trolleybus (that is why the floor is so high and you have to climb some steps to get in) and is not sealed in any way. Water gets in and damages these parts all the time and workers at “Kauno Autobusai” have to race against time every night to fix trolleybuses and make sure that in the morning a sufficient number of them will be running.

On this pannel you can find turn signals, lights, doors, heater and other controls.

Škoda 14Tr has a 100 kW motor, which is enough to propel it to a speed of 65 km/h. It accelerates quite loudly, though, because gears in the final drive are basically worn out. The trollleybus has three sets of double doors, all opening to the inside. They are not very wide, which is not helping the already troubled ingress for some people. There are 29 seats and 71 people can travel standing, according to vehicle data.

The driver’s cabin is really not that great either. The steering wheel is not adjustable in any way whatsoever, so it is difficult to get comfortable. Controls are laid out randomly, although drivers find everything just out of experience. Seats are uncomfortable and the lack of air conditioning means that “Kauno Autobusai” had to fit simple fans, usually hanging above the driver’s head.

This is basically a key to the bus – a turn of this handle turns on power supply to the trolleybus, allowing it to start working.

However, as unreliable and uncomfortable as Škoda 14Tr trolleybuses may be,  “Kauno Autobusai” ensured us that they are completely safe to use. All of them have to go through thorough technical inspection twice a year and are maintained constantly. Every night workers fix minor defects and major repairs may take several days. “Kauno Autobusai” has a reserve of trolleybuses for such cases.

So where from here?

So now you know that replacing all tired Škoda 14Tr trolleybuses is absolutely necessary. And that is why ticket prices are going to increase. At the moment, it is still not decided which trolleybuses Kaunas will have, but some information is already known. They are going to be about the same capacity, but they will feature low floor, air conditioning and some other comfort equipment. And, of course, they will be much less of a problem in repair shops.

Saulius Alekna, the manager of the Kaunas’ trolleybus park, told us that in around two years Kaunas should have no Škoda 14Tr buses on the streets. All of them will be replaced with brand new units, but the manufacturer of them has not been decided yet. There is a contest under way and it is still not clear who will make the best offer. Alekna said that the company is looking forward to having electric buses as well, but only when the technology is cheaper, meaning that in the foreseeable future Kaunas will still be running trolleybuses. Think decades before they – and normal buses – are replaced with electric units.

But trolleybuses are definitely good enough. The contact network is already in place and these vehicles are very eco-friendly.




10 Interesting facts we learned while visiting “Kauno Autobusai”

  • Kaunas’s trolleybus park consists of 155 trolleybuses, 98 of them are Škoda 14Tr; 42 – Solaris Trollino 12; 15 – articulated Berkhof trolleybuses. 311 drivers are driving them.
  • Together, all these trolleybuses have covered more than 200 million kilometres in their lifetime, but 160 million of them belong to Škoda 14Tr.
  • Every day, Škoda 14Tr trolleybuses cover 14 thousand kilometres in Kaunas.
  • While new trolleybuses have only two pedals, Škoda 14Tr has three. Two of them are brakes: the central pedal engages electric brakes and the left one – pneumatic. Braking with the electric motor is useful when the trolleybus only needs to slow down a bit without coming to a complete stop.
  • While it is obvious that Škoda 14Tr is not a modern vehicle, it still has 2 kilometres of cables. “Kauno Autobusai” found out about it by themselves while repairing these trolleybuses. In modern trolleybuses this number is several times larger.
  • Not only Škoda 14Tr is an unreliable machine, it is also an easy target for pranksters who routinely pull contacts off the wires, immobilizing the trolleybus. It is easy to do so as the ropes holding contact poles are exposed. There is also a switch which can be easily deactivated from the outside, turning the trolleybus completely off. We were kindly asked not to show it to you.
  • In Lithuanian, contact poles are called “trolleybus moustache”.
  • How do trolleybuses know where to go when the lines split? There are two ways of dealing with this situation. In some spots there are switches that can connect to one or another line. There are blue arrow signs allowing the trolleybus drivers to know which one is engaged and they can change it with remote controllers. However, in not-so-modern splits, Škoda 14Tr trolleybuses have to use a different trick – when the trolleybus is coasting, it will always go left and, when it is accelerating, it will always go right. This is why it slows down so much in these splits or accelerates just before them.
  • All trolleybuses in Kaunas, except two, are painted green. “Kauno Autobusai” had an idea of painting all of them red (and they did with these two), to match the red buses. But they changed their mind, because it just didn’t look right and people seem to love trolleybuses being green and buses red. The green colour also fits the green character of the vehicle.
  • The number plates of most trolleybuses in Kaunas start with BEE, but it is just a coincidence. Most of them were registered at the same time, despite their different age. It is because some time ago trolleybuses didn’t need to have number plates at all – it is not like they can leave the city anyway.
That’s a Škoda 9Tr, specifically modified to accomodate parties – you can book it and it will take you wherever you want.

While Škoda 14Tr is by far the oldest trolleybus currently being used to carry passengers in Kaunas, sometimes you can see a much older Škoda 9Tr passing by. But it is not taking regular passengers. It is a party trolleybus, with tables, audio equipment and a light show installed inside. Anyone can book it for their personal holiday – the first hour costs 100 euros and all subsequent hours – 50. The driver will take you wherever you want to go with only one limitation – contact lines have to be available. There is also a dancing pole at the back, which, we were told, becomes the centre of the party.

Who knows, maybe someday Škoda 14Tr will become a party trolleybus too. The company said that they are going to keep at least one when the rest will be scrapped little by little with the introduction of new machines. We are not sad to see them go, but it is good we got to ride in it now so that we can better appreciate this change.




Why men’s and women’s bicycles are different?
July 7th, 2017

Have you ever thought that bicycles for men are a bit silly? If your feet slip off the pedals you’re in a big trouble as you get yourself caught on that weirdly high horizontal crossbar. But bicycles marketed for women do not have this straight horizontal piece. Why? Wouldn’t it be better if all bicycles did not have this potential safety-hazard?

No, that prominent crossbar is there for a reason. It makes the bicycle frame much stiffer and stronger. Because bicycles only touche the ground on two distant spots, there is a lot of bending force in the middle of the bike, which could actually brake it, if materials from which it was built were not so good. In the early days, bicycles often were made from wood, so that cross member was actually a crucial part for structural integrity. But why women’s bikes don’t have them then?

High crossbar helps keeping the frame of the bicycle strong and rigid. (Gajda-13, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

In the early days of riding bicycles women enjoyed wearing skirts and dresses. Lifting one’s leg over such a high horizontal crossbar was less than desirable – it was inconvenient and also could reveal an ‘inappropriate amount’ of leg. Which, of course, was a huge no-no back in a day. That is why women’s bicycle was invented with a slanted crossbar. It made the entire frame weaker and wobblier, but girls and women were not supposed to ride their bikes as hard as men did – it was not an activity recommended for ladies.

Slanted crossbar in women’s bicycles was invented having in mind skirts and dresses. (imoni, Wikimedia)

Nowadays we have better materials for bike manufacturing and that horizontal crossbar is not necessary anymore for cyclists. Without it, you can easily mount your bicycle and face less risks of injuring your family jewels. However, the tradition of separating male and female bicycles is still very much here, if you look at the ads manufacturers are putting out.

Of course, professional bicycles still have that dangerous horizontal crossbar, because it adds stiffness without adding excess weight.



JAWA museum in Konopiště will keep an enthusiast busy for several hours (Photo gallery)
October 10th, 2019

JAWA is a well-known Czech manufacturer of motorcycles and mopeds. 2019 marks 90th year in JAWA history and during that time this company has created many memorable machines. The JAWA museum in Konopiště houses a nice collection of the very best of JAWA – come, take a look.

JAWA Moto was established back in 1929, in Prague, Czechoslovakia. It was founded by a local businessman František Janeček, who purchased the motorcycle division of Wanderer. In fact, that is how JAWA name was formed – JAneček WAnderer.



Czechs are very proud of JAWA. There are at least two JAWA museums in Czech Republic – one in Rabakov and one in Konopiště. If you’re a true JAWA enthusiast, you should probably visit both of them. In fact, you should also visit the National Technical Museum in Prague, where you can take a close look at JAWA 750 – a unique JAWA racing car. We visited the museum in Konopiště and this is what we saw.

The JAWA museum in Konopiště is rather small, but it is also packed with interesting motorcycles. Here you can see Suzuki and Hercules motorcycles, both featuring rotor engines.

The JAWA museum in Konopiště is around 1 hour drive from Prague. There are plenty of signs, directing you to this place. The museum itself is rather small, but it is packed with historic motorcycles, posters, pictures and trophies. All motorcycles in this collection still have original paint and, as far as we know, most of them are in working order.

In addition to a lot of polished motorcycles, the museum also displays trophies, historical documents, posters and pictures.

 

That’s what we call studded tires… Of course, this is not a motorcycle for street use.

 

The museum has a lot of racing bikes – in its day JAWA was big in motorsports.

The JAWA museum also has a nice collection of ČZ motorcycles. ČZ once belonged to Česká zbrojovka Strakonice, which was a major competitor of JAWA, but companies merged in 1948.

ČZ motorcycles.

 

JAWA enthusiasts will easily spend several hours in this museum.

 

Most exhibits are 100 % original and unrestored. We were told that they are also in working order.

 

JAWA 350 Nanuk with streamlined body – this motorcycle was used by Veřejná bezpečnost (Police forces of Czechoslovakia).

 

The oldest motorcycles are resting by the wall – some of them are over 80 years of age.

 

The museum displays several special Jubilee models from different decades.

 

If you want to see more, you will have to visit the museum itself. It is located very close to the famous Konopiště castle so it is definitely worth the drive.

JAWA Museum in Konopiště

Address – Konopiště 30, 256 01 Benešov, Czech Republic

The museum is closed on Mondays.



Other interesting reads:

JAWA 750 – a victorious sports car most people never heard about;

FSO Syrena Sport – the most beautiful Polish car ever;

What happened to pop-up headlights?

Tour in Tomark Aero airplane factory;

Why cars used to have whitewall tires, but don’t anymore?

Freedom and Lenin up close: highlights of Kaunas Biennial (Video)
November 29th, 2017

Kauno Bianalė (Kaunas Biennial) is a very interesting event that takes places in Kaunas, Lithuania, every two years. It is very interesting in a way that you don’t have to notice it, even if you live in Kaunas, but the entire city centre becomes an art gallery of sorts. All the pieces were very interesting this year, but two of them were met with so many surprised faces we had to write about them.

Kaunas has its own Statue of Liberty – it is our “Laisvė” (“Freedom”), standing proudly on a tall pedestal in the very heart of Kaunas. It was created by a famous artist Juozas Zikaras back in 1921, but was demolished in 1950 by soviets, who did not want any symbols of freedom in Lithuanian eyes.



This is quite important piece of the story, because for 39 years Kaunas’ “Laisvė” was gone from the square, but not from the memory. In 1989 it was rebuilt as Lithuanian hopes for independence were growing stronger. Now it is one of the most important symbols of Kaunas, which is here to stay forever.

Juozas Zikaras “Laisvė”. (Algirdas, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

However, being 12 meters from the ground “Laisvė” doesn’t have a chance to meet people of Kaunas. And that is where Kaunas Biennial comes along. Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi created and installation, which basically puts “Laisvė” in a soviet-design kitchen. A mock-up of a room was built on some construction-grade scaffolding and it was decorated with furniture, wallpaper and utilities from the period, when “Laisvė” was taken away from Kaunas and Lithuania.

Tatzu Nishi managed to put “Laisvė” on the kitchen table without even moving the statue.

This very special art piece represents the time shockingly well and the symbolism is both deep and understandable. During that period when the subject of freedom was taken away from the public, people could only speak about it in their own privacy in their own kitchens. “Laisvė” lived on the tables of every Lithuanian house. Until it accumulated, grew stronger and emerged with such power no one could stop it. Not even Lenin’s in our squares and in our eyes. So they fell.

Huge part of the art piece is accurately recreated soviet style kitchen.

There is another piece of Tatzu Nishi in Kaunas. This one, called “Flat for rent”, is even more surprising. It is a small room for rent, typically used by tourists. But not for now. Now there is a Lenin sculpture, a copy of one that used to stand nearby “Laisvė’s” spot, lying on the floor.

Lenin occupied the room typically rented for tourists and other visitors of the city.

The appartment is completely contemporary, but the sculpture is not. The contrast is almost eye-openning. It was explained to us that it can be interpreted as remains of soviet mentality that are living within us despite our modernized exterior. Hopefully, they Lithuanian will get rid of those too.

Here is a little video we shot to remember these two impressive pieces of art

It is interesting that it took a Japanese artist to introduce us to our “Freedom” eye to eye. That’s the result of Lithuania breaking free and a good remainder of the times, when people were just dreaming of “Laisvės” return to the city of Kaunas. Seeing it up close was simply astonishing, but it is time to let it come out again and look upon us from up high – both installations will be removed this Thursday already.



I made a pencil – simple and rather boring woodturning project had unexpected challenges
November 8th, 2017

There are woodturners, who make nothing else, but pens. I am very new to woodworking in general – I’ve completed only a handful of projects – and I don’t want to invest into proper equipment to make pens. However, that doesn’t mean I cannot have some fun and make, let’s say, a pencil. So that is what I did and here is how.

Since I knew I am just going to have some fun without some specific goals, I did not pay much attention to the materials. I went to the office supplies store and purchased a box of leads for mechanical pencils. I asked for the thickest ones they had, but it still turned out to be pretty thin. Especially having in mind I wanted to make a fat pencil.



I cut a couple of pieces of black alder and sanded them on their flattest side. This gave me two flat surfaces for a good glue joint. Then I took a straight edge and made a faint line down the middle of one piece. I had to carve out a groove for the lead to sit in.

Wood is black alder

My method was less than perfect. The groove as not very consistent at all, but again – I was just having some fun without any specific goals. When both grooves were completed and I made sure pieces mate well enough, I glued in the lead with CA glue.

I glued in the lead using CA glue.

Since lead was floating around, I immediately glued both wood pieces together as well. This gave me a nice blank for my pencil. A couple of days later I mounted it on my tiny baby lathe and started thinking about the shape I should go for.

Ready for turning.

Of course, at first the blank became round. At this point I could leave it as is – it would be a very thick pencil.

Making it round produced a lot of shavings.

Then I started looking for a shape. I didn’t really know what I wanted, but I wanted an outside and inside curves and a small bead. At least, that is what I eventually decided. I used a single fingernail gauge for the entire project.

 




I sanded it to 600 grit, took it off the lathe and cut of that little piece from the end. Then I was able to mount it back to the lathe and carefully sand that little bead at the end.

I could have sharpened it on the lathe, but I decided not to try. It would be quite simple, but somehow my pencil ended up having its lead not in the very centre. That, of course, is a problem. So I sharpened it using just a pencil sharpener and a small chisel to bring tiny shy lead to the surface all around.

Weird shape fat pencil.
I had to sharpen it with a chisel too, since the lead was not in the centre at all.
Finished product does work.

This is nothing to be proud of, but it was a simple and fun project. Much simpler than that spoon I turned last time. Now, onto the next project – maybe it will be a pen this time?



Woodturning two spoons at once – good old paper trick worked
October 27th, 2017

Woodworkers know that at some point you have to start making spoons. It is a good way to experiment with different techniques and tools. Some people make nothing but spoons of different shapes and sizes. However, I don‘t have skills to do anything as impressive as these people do and so I decided to make a very simple pare of spoons using nothing, but a piece of paper, some tape, a tiny lathe and a couple of chisels. This is how they were made.

I know a couple of questions have to be answered at the very beginning. The lathe is called CNC007 Mini Lathe Beads Machine. There are several versions of the same thing in different Chinese online stores, snoop around and you will find something. It is a good toy for people, who want to woodturn in their living room (not even joking) or move a lot, or for children, or for model making. Not a substitute for a real lathe, I know. The gauge is made by Norex, wood is black alder.



So I got this idea I can woodturn a couple of spoons my tiny lathe with some wood that I had laying around. I saw somewhere online that glueing two pieces of wood together with paper in between allows for quick separation, but holds well enough while turning. So that’s what I did – I glued a couple of 14 cm long pieces of alder together with a piece of normal paper in between. I left it to dry for a couple of days (several hours would’ve been enough) and then put the blank on the lathe.

 

 

Now on a normal lathe you would likely have a proper 4-jaw chuck, which would hold a square-is blank very nicely. However, my lathe is so small I have to turn between centres. Live tailstock is also shaped like a cone. This combination got me a little worried that the piece will fall apart as both ends get wedges on a relatively weak glue-and-paper line. So I put some regular packing tape on both ends for my psychological comfort more than anything.

Lathe took asymmetrical piece rather well. There were some vibrations, but nothing dramatic and the tiny motor was spinning just fine. At first I rounded the centre between pieces of tape just to remove some mass. And then I got enough courage to make the entire piece round. It didn’t take too long and everything went very safely. At this point I had to start looking for the shape of my spoons. I knew from the very beginning it is going to be like turning a log to a toothpick, but that gave me a lot of room to see what I would like these spoons to be.

 

Of course, as I turned off most of the glue surface, pieces started coming apart – that was inevitable as the tailstock was wedging itself in.

However, I continued turning. Since pieces were small, I wasn’t so worried that they will fly apart and hit me to the face. I decided to go with a relatively deep, almost scoop-sized bowl, sweeping handle and a couple of decorative beads at the end.

 

However, I did manage to finish turning and do all the sanding on the lathe. Since pieces were small, I wasn’t so worried that they will fly apart and hit me to the face. Then I pulled it off the lathe, separated the pieces, cut off that little piece left on the drive end and sanded it to shape. By the way, paper trick worked magically, but you already know that since pieces were coming apart on the lathe already.

I sanded the paper off, but didn’t do anything else on that side. I decided to leave spoons on my desk until I have a carving chisel to hollow them out. But working get boring sometimes and I had this very sharp 2 mm straight chisel laying around so I started playing with it and in no time at all I hollowed out the spoons.

Obviously, that is not the way to do that and I didn’t plan this, but it just happened this way. If you are planning a similar project, I strongly advise you to buy proper tools, secure your work and not to get your hands in a way of a sharp edge.

Anyway, I sanded the inside surfaces to 600 grit sandpaper, because that is what I finished the outside with on the lathe. And this is the end product. Mind you, I could have sanded it better and using a proper carving gauge would’ve resulted in less deep grooves that did not want to sand away.

 

Nothing to be proud of, but I am glad I did it. Except the paper trick, all the ideas and techniques I came up with by myself as I was working along. This was the third thing I’ve ever turned and it turned out quite well. I already know a couple of other projects I am going to turn on this lathe and one of them is going to involve hollowing out a form on a lathe. So look forward to that.



Tour in Tomark Aero factory: how two-seater planes are born (Video)
October 18th, 2017

Travelling is different when you are an aviation enthusiast. While some are looking for the best places to eat, researching nightlife, trying to list all the must-see places, I am browsing the internet for something else. I like travelling through new airports, I enjoy visiting local aviation museums and I always hope I will get to sit in an aircraft I have never flown in before. However, my latest trip to Slovakia beat all of that, because I got the opportunity to visit an actual plane factory – a place where Skyper GT9 and Viper SD-4 ultralights and EASA certified Viper SD-4 RTC are born.

Visiting industrial sites is not for everyone and I fully understand people who don’t see any value in it. However, I, for once, had never been to any plane factory before, so I was very excited about this opportunity. I wanted to see how a mass-produced ultralight plane is made, what processes does it go through, how are they controlled, what drives the design decisions. So I was really glad I got to visit Tomark Aero – Prešov, a Slovakia based airplane factory.



Tomark Aero is actually part of a bigger company, called TOMARK. Its main business is metal working: manufacturing trailer subassemblies, pressure vessels and a number of other metal components for the heavy industry and agriculture. The CEO of TOMARK has been an aviation enthusiast for years, so one day he decided to form a team that would create the perfect plane for him. Long story short, the design was so good that soon the decision was made –Tomark Aero had to make airplanes for sale.

Tomark Aero factory is located in Prešov, Slovakia.

Viper SD4, the company’s first plane, took off for its maiden flight in 2006. It is a low-wing two-seater – a quite athletic design from where I’m looking. The second plane, the high-wing Skyper GT9 took off for the first time in 2014. It is a faster, more touristic type of a plane, but more about the differences between the two models later.

Viper – is a low-wing two-seater – you can easilly recognize it by its wingtips.

Tour of the Tomark Aero factory

I had never been to a plane factory before so I didn’t really know what to expect. Somehow in my head I pictured almost a laboratory setting with people rushing to complete their tasks in time and partially assembled airplanes moving along on a conveyer. Obviously, that couldn’t be further from the truth as we found out getting a personal tour guided by Tomak Aero airworthiness specialist Robert Benetin.

Skyper is a high-wing model. It is not just the placement of wings, it is an entirely different airplane.

I wanted to see the entire process of the airplane build so the tour started in the point where both TOMARK businesses meet. Sheet metal (mostly aluminium and stainless steel) is cut into shapes using an industrial laser cutter – the exact same machine is used to cut out parts for the trailer subassemblies. The laser cuts out all the holes, so that workers in the assembly line would not have to drill or cut anything. That is pretty much the only area where these two industries meet in the entire site. Interestingly, Tomark Aero always stocks up on parts, so that the manufacturing process would not be hindered by shortages.

Entering into the factory you see an unfinished Viper.

Then these flat parts are deburred and bent into shapes using other machines. Later they form all the needed components for the structure of the plane, including beams for the monocoque construction of the front part of the fuselage of the Viper SD4. The Skyper GT9 is a little bit different, since its front fuselage is actually constructed from thin steel tubes – a common architecture for this kind of plane.

This is where the engine is fitted. You can see the bare metal construction of the Viper.

Of course, before any of these parts get put together to form the basic structure of the plane, they are coated against corrosion and marked so that the assembly line workers would know which part goes where and what process it has to go through. Both Tomark Aero models are basically fully metal, so there are a lot of different parts. I was surprised to see how controlled the process is and to find out that quality check-ups are done at each and every stage.

You can simply feel these people love aviation.

When the basic structure is assembled, the engine is installed on a special frame at the nose of the plane and workers start putting the wiring in. That is a very meticulous task, because not only engine controls have to be installed, but also cables for avionics, whole-plane parachute for emergency landing, fuel tanks switch and many other devices. After that, the outside layer of aluminium is riveted on and the basic shape of the plane is complete.

In the main assembly room the wings of Tomark Airplanes are finished and stored before installation.

At the same time, the wings are being made – also fully metal. Skyper GT9 has slightly thinner wings, but both airplanes have fuel tanks with pretty much the same capacity. Interestingly, Viper SD4 has nice wingtip devices, with a gentle curve going up and back. They are made from composite materials and serve to reduce aerodynamic drag, but, at least for my eyes, they make the entire plane look much more elegant.

Some clips from our visit

When the plane is partially assembled it is time to put it into the paintshop. Tomark Aero has the biggest closed paint booth in Central Europe. Clients can choose from a selection of paint schemes, but, if they think nothing in the catalogue represents their taste, they can opt for a custom paintjob.

Viper with its canopy and engine cover in place.

Then the airplane is taken to a nearby airfield for final assembly and flight testing. At first, the plane is finished – all devices are installed, seats, cabin upholstery are put in and temporary number for testing is pasted onto the fuselage. Initial testing is done on the ground – quality control experts look over the entire airplane checking for defects. Then all controls and avionics devices are inspected and after that the plane is prepared for its maiden flight.

Preparation for the paintjob – planes are painted in-house and customers are allowed to choose whatever paint schemes they like.

This job belongs to a test pilot. He follows instructions about what manoeuvres he has to do in the first flight and registers all the defects if there are any. Then they are immediately corrected so that the customer would get his/her plane in perfect condition.

Tomark Aero planes have an emergency landing system – a parachute that shoots out of the plane in case of a technical problem or other potentially catastrofic issue.

Finally, when the customer decides to ship his/her airplane to aforeign country, the wings are taken off, the plane is packed into a crate and shipped to its owner. It is also possible to fly-over finished airplanes directly to the customers and there is also the option to pick-up the airplane at Tomark Aero test airfield. It typically takes around four months from order until delivery, but, in some cases, Tomark Aero can deliver an airplane quicker – stocking on parts allows for some flexibility in manufacturing time. Delivery time also depends on the customer paint-job scheme, whether it is one already available or if it is customized.

Skyper’s cabin is constructed from tubes.

Both Skyper GT9 and Viper SD4 look mighty impressive for an outsider like me, but how do you chose which one to buy?

Tail structure of the Skyper.

Skyper GT9 and Viper SD4

Skyper GT9 is a high-wing airplane, designed mostly for touristic-type of flying. Because its wings are mounted on the top of the fuselage, the ingress is simple, the luggage compartment is easily accessible from the outside and the plane sports an impressive performance. Meanwhile, the Viper SD4, although a bit slower, is a more robust airplane, which will appeal to more passionate pilots. It is more athletic looking and it is EASA certified to be used in pilot schools – that is a big part of its appeal.

 

Differences of variants of individual Tomark Aero Airplanes

  „Viper SD-4 RTC“ „Viper SD-4 LSA“ „Viper SD4 UL“ „Skyper GT9 UL“
Wing span 8,4 m 8,4 m 8,4 m 9 m
Length 6,4 m 6,4 m 6,4 m 6,3 m
Height 2,2 m 2,2 m 2,2 m 2,1 m
Engine Rotax 912 S / ULS (100 HP) Rotax 912 UL/A/F (80 HP)

Rotax 912 S / ULS (100 HP)

Rotax 914 UL / F (115 HP)

Rotax 912 UL/A/F

(80 HP)

Rotax 912 S / ULS

(100 HP)

Rotax 912 UL

(80 HP)

Rotax 912 ULS

(100 HP)

Maximum take-off weight 600 kg 600 kg 472,5 kg
Cruise speed 195 km/h 195 km/h 195 km/h 220 km/h
Maximum speed 240 km/h 240 km/h 240 km/h 250 km/h
Ceiling 4 725 m 5000 m
Runway (take off/landing) 240/ 176 240/ 176 150/140 m 120/80 m
Fuel tank capacity 100 l 70 / 100 l 70 / 100 l 88 l





In LSA specifications both planes are heavier (maximum weight reaches 600 kg), which means that a bit-longer runway is required. Also, instead of the 70l fuel tank LSA specified the Skyper GT9 and Viper SD4 get 100-litre fuel tanks.

In short, Skyper GT9 is easier to use and maintain and to live with. It is also faster than Viper SD4, although a little less rigid. Meanwhile, Viper SD4 is a sportier airplane. It is strong, reliable and looks good. It is also very easy to fly – a perfect choice for pilot schools. Viper SD4 can be also used as a great towing machine for gliders or banners. Ideal for flight clubs.

Wingtips of the Viper look very elegant, but are also functional – they reduce aerodynamic drag.

By the way, I asked about the safety record of these planes. This really not-polite question was met with a smile – while there have been several crashes, none of them were caused by mechanical faults nor factory defects.

Summing up

It is the first airplane factory I’ve ever been to. While I was expecting a busy and almost laboratory-like setting, it was much simpler – just an industrial site where everyone fulfils their functions. There are no robots as far as I could see and every plane was caressed by human hands on every step of the way. Kind of a romantic image, to be honest, but it is very technical.

Assembly is completed in a nearby airfield where flight testing is done as well.

Everything regarding the airplane manufacturing is done to the highest possible standards. The quality control is meticulous and watches over every airplane at every stage. However, make no mistake – Tomark Aero airplanes do have some passion about them. They appeared in this world because the CEO of the company simply loves aviation and this sense is visible throughout the factory. I saw posters with fighter jets in one of the stations where the cabin and interior get installed – these people just love what they are doing. And I loved visiting the factory, learning a lot about manufacturing of ultralight airplanes and seeing these birds before the wind touches their wings.


Huge THANKS to Tomark Aero for allowing us to visit their factory. Definately visit their website – Tomarkaero.com.

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