Spotted is Globe Drive writer Peter Cheney's weekly feature that takes you behind the scenes of his life as a vehicle and engineering journalist. We also highlight the best of your original photos and short video clips (10 seconds or less), which you should send with a short explanation. E-mail email@example.com, find him on Twitter @cheneydrive (#spotted), or join him on Facebook (no login required).
The Lion, the Witch and the Limo
I spent this week in northern Finland for an upcoming story on winter tire technology. This was the scene outside my hotel in Ivalo, a tiny town known for arctic cold, ultra-clean air and lots of reindeer. The snow-covered limo under the lamp reminded me of the famous image from C.S. Lewis’s classic childhood novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Welcome to the deep freeze
There’s a reason why Finland produces so many great rally drivers – this is a place where driving on ice and snow is a way of life. I shot this picture in the hills above the Nokian Tires testing ground in Ivalo (the story comes out soon).
As I learned this week, testing winter tires demands techniques and equipment you might not expect. Among them is this Nokian five-wheel traction-testing van. The cutout on the side is for a specially engineered mount that holds a test tire – engineers can raise and lower the tire while the van is moving, and measure how much traction the tire develops as it’s pressed against the road surface.
Necessity, the mother of invention
Nokian’s engineers dreamed up the fifth-wheel test rig and built it themselves. I thought it was pretty clever.
This is one of the tire development labs at Nokian. Winter tire engineers test prototypes on a wide variety of vehicles. This BMW i8 had just arrived.
Not your average winter beater
Many drivers keep an old, worn-out car to drive in the winter (like my well-worn Honda.) Or you could go with something like this Nokian tire test car – it’s an Audi RS-5 they’re using to experiment with rubber compounds and tire stud patterns.
The RS5 test car has all the right touches, including ceramic brakes.
Fake Finnish Ferrari
One of the tire engineers told me there was a Ferrari F40 in Nokia (the town that’s home to Nokian tires.) I was a little surprised, until I found out this was the F40 he was talking about –it’s a fiberglass kit car they sawed in half.
No licence, no problem
From a distance, I thought this was a Smart car. Up close, I realized it was something else again. This is a Bellier Jade, part of a unique European vehicle class that can be driven without a license. The Bellier is powered by a tiny diesel engine that’s normally used for backup power on small sailboats – it has five horsepower.
Europe’s snswer to the E-Bike
Because it will only go about 50 km/h, and can be driven without a license, the Bellier includes a giant orange safety triangle, like the ones you see on slow moving farm vehicles. Never mind – those “Racing S” stickers make it seem a lot faster.
The poor man’s Bugatti Veyron
The Jade is available in three versions, including this top-level “Racing S” edition. You get red bucket seats, Sparco racing harnesses, and these all-important stickers. On the downside, the engine is still only five horsepower. Your lawnmower may be faster.
How to avoid a Russian tire jacking
I spotted these Russian transport trucks outside the Nokian tire factory. Some of the trucks had been there for days, with their drivers sleeping inside. As it turns out, those nice Nokian winter tires have a way of disappearing into the Russian black market, so tire distributors send their own trucks, and order the drivers to wait at the factory until their order comes off the assembly line.
Finland, home of the luxury taxi
In North America, we’ve become accustomed to old, dirty taxis. In Finland, they do things differently. The brand-new Mercedes that gave me a lift to the Tempere airport was beautifully clean, and it had a leather interior. When I arrived in Helsinki, every cab I saw was a new Mercedes, BMW or Skoda. Back in the day, I did a series of investigative stories about Toronto’s corrupted cab licensing system, and how it gave us one of the worst cab fleets in the world. Now I’m wondering about the business model behind Finland’s luxury cabs.
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