Cape Town - Heritage. It’s why makarapas exist, kwaito bests foreign beats, some of us wear two-tone khaki outfits, and we all love pap.
Having inherited tradition, we are given a burden of responsibility: its custodianship in the present. Alter and reinterpret it a bit, sure; but respect it, and then gift it to those who follow.
As in life, so also in octane-powered vehicles with wheels but no second-row seats. Automotive heritage is the reason Porsche 911 Rs trade for R8m, when they cost less than a third of that new. You can’t counterfeit heritage. There’s no app for it in the PlayStore.
A lineage of remarkable cars and noteworthy happenings either detail your brand or product history, or they don’t. It transcends the balance sheet. And it takes time. Reference example: Kia and Hyundai. Perhaps… even Audi.
Enter the R8
Audi R8. The German Gallardo, a mid-engined supercar from Merkel’s economic miracle when there were none available from BMW, Mercedes or Porsche. Boldly designed, impeccably built and purposefully named to profit from Audi’s rampant Le Mans domination over the last decade, the R8 was even good enough for Iron Man.
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A Hollywood product-placement request is perhaps the ultimate validation of super car status, which - much like an SAA Voyager Platinum card - is not easily earned. The original R8 was a symbol: that Audi’s time had come.
Regrettably, time is a cruelly duplicitous entity: a decade in the automotive product cycle is similar to suffering through agonisingly slow, 30-second Snapchat image renderings. Attention will be diverted to other things. And the original R8 was around for far too long - nearly a decade.
Paradoxically, a decade’s also far too short to establish heritage. Tricky. That’s why the new R8’s not been all that kindly received: it looks too familiar, with an engine that’s the same too.
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So to discover whether it’s worthy of championing Audi’s cause - to establish itself as a genuine supercar brand - we’re going to head out and do a very South African thing: braai. Why? Because September is heritage month, with braai day on the calendar; and our South African automotive heritage is unrivaled on the continent of which we got the little bit at the very bottom.
Image: Supplied / Top Gear
The relevance of existence
The journey to this heritage braai is our uniquely native supercar test, and it’s one that could only be quested in Mzansi; the roads and the cars to measure the R8’s worth simply aren’t all available in Africa’s biggest economy (that’s Nigeria, allegedly), or in any of the other 53 states. It’s our proudly RS-of-A heritage: we’re the African car people.
McLaren. Sounds Scottish, but its heritage is inarguably more Southern Alps than Highlands. Although the road cars, especially our 570S test unit, have only been around for six years since the post-F1-three-seater revival, the brand’s heritage is indisputable. It could be due to the Formula 1 heroics of Senna and Häkkinen, but McLaren founder Bruce (McLaren) was a revered automotive innovator. A petrolhead of great courage, crippled by polio, he migrated from his native New Zealand to become a force in European racing. He died tragically young, at 32, in a 1970 testing accident at Goodwood.
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When your founder passes into legend, that’s a heritage that’s difficult to undo. It might be the most affordable (relative term, that) and least powerful of McLaren’s current offerings (despite being the biggest car, dimensionally, that they’ve ever made); but its suite of technology is astounding. McLaren’s F1 team (also known, colloquially, as ‘Jenson Button’s retirement employer’) may have become a little bit rubbish, since the road-car division restarted – hazard a guess where all the best engineers went? – but that’s done little to discredit the calibre of machinery on offer.
WhattsApp call requests. Screen-distracted Pokémon Go geeks walking into you at the park. Sexting autocorrect fails. Not one of these everyday struggles is testing in quite the same manner as an Audi spokesperson speaking about… aluminium. You’d think aluminium was the key to Middle East peace and brings families together as a metal token of reconciliation, the way Audi evangelises about it. Problem is, despite all its clever aluminium bits, the R8 is about 200kg heavier than the bigger but carbon-fibre-chassis-ed McLaren. #Awkward.
Image: Supplied / Top Gear
Stacking the R8 up
The failed F1-team road car is but half the jury for our heritage outing’s measure of what the R8’s worth. Enter Porsche: the original prancing-horse-badge performance-car brand, and with a heritage more valuable than any other.
It remains the seminal sportscar company, Porsche. With its quarrelling Piech and Porsche family members, Le Mans heroics, and incorrectly-engineered, rear-engined 911s, it should have failed decades ago. Instead, Porsche’s coolness factor in 2016, especially with the 911, is nearly inestimable. Hence the presence of a 911 GT3 – one of the very purest of all 911s – in our convoy.
Our three heritage-month, braai-questing supercars are – comparatively – greatly different in configuration. Audi R8: mid-engined, naturally-aspirated V10, all-wheel drive. McLaren 570S: mid-engined, turbocharged V8, rear-wheel drive. Porsche 911 GT3: rear-engined, non-boosted flat-six, rear-wheel drive. The R8 has a desperately clever locking centre differential, the Porsche a slip-countering one at the rear; and McLaren? There’s just an open differential between you and 600Nm making peripheral scenery into primary.
The only similarities in configuration for all three is the number of pedals, and the number of gears: two and seven of each, all with dual/twin clutches managing the shifts between. It’s a warning, of how taxingly fast these cars have become to drive at the true tipping point of their potential, that manual transmission is now undesirable in any. Even the GT3.
This an extract of an article featured in the current issue of TopGear magazine.
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