There’s that Dream Garage that most car people compile at least once in their lives, and some car people compile once a week – or three times a day.
Generally these are straightforward cars, exotic maybe, but four wheels, internal combustion engine and at least two seats. Of course I have one of these which, with the exception of a couple of constants such as an R Type Bentley Continental, is usually in a state of flux. However, there’s also that other list of vehicles that are possibly even less practical than a Lamborghini Murceliago (a car I have so little interest in I can’t even be bothered to spell-check) but that exert a strange fascination. For me that list is less changeable.
Piaggio Ape : Ah-Pay, as in bee, not chimp. First seen in Northern Italy many years ago, where they still remain popular, particularly in the Alto Adige, as rural workhorses. I once tried one for size in the UK but, at 1.91m, I found it hard to turn the handlebars. But an opened top one might work and who could resist this Calessino?
Alvis Stalwart : First seen in an episode of The Troubleshooters BBC TV Series circa 1967, this go-anywhere amphibious truck had a style missing from many military vehicles. It developed a reputation for trouble from its differential system but that hasn’t deterred its civilian fans. The dates are close, but did the Stalwart design inform Thunderbirds, or more strangely, did Brains help out at the FVRDE in Chobham? I don’t have an unfulfilled Action Man fantasy and a Russian Tank has no appeal, but this always has.
Leyland National. First seen on the streets of Surrey, circa 1970. Like the Stalwart, this is another example of something that looks good, because it was designed purely around its function. It should have been gold for top bus salesman, Donald Stokes but, by then, he had bigger fish to fry to extinction. Another ambitious UK design that wasn’t backed up by development and quality control. The Mark 2 version addressed these issues, but lost the super-functional look of the original.
AEC Routemaster. Another bus, first seen on a visit to London with my Mum, probably early 60s. An obvious item in many people’s wish list, but I have a reason. At college, the late Douglas Scott, designer of the Routemaster and a decent gent, was my course tutor. On the bus to and from college I used to enjoy watching the drivers of original RMs, driving in the Summer with the door pulled back and twisting the big red knob that worked what I thought at the time was a pre-selector, but is in fact a fully automatic gearchange with manual option. It awoke that wanderlust that I first felt when I saw the film Summer Holiday – although the conveyance that took that group of hip chums through Europe was an earlier RT. I was a problem student for Douglas so, to belatedly connect with him, ownership of an RM would be good and, as a bonus, I could even pretend I was Cliff Richard …. or maybe not.
GMC Motorhome. First seen in a US magazine in the 70s – never actually seen by me at all in the metal. This purpose built wonder from the Seventies, based on a front wheel drive Oldsmobile Toronado subframe and running gear, has always fascinated. Its interior design, indeed the whole concept, is a bit Star Trek meets Little House On The Prairie but, if European roads were bigger, I could happily cruise around in this. Incidentally, if you’re ever following one, you might like to hold your breath if you know of the Thermosan option, which basically got rid of that waste that is euphemistically termed ‘black water’ by burning it though the exhaust.
Tatra 603. First seen in image in the Observer’s Book of Automobiles, circa 1963, first seen in the metal on a visit to the then Czechoslovakia in 1981 where Party bigwigs stormed confidently past my Renault 5 on snowy motorways. Strictly speaking this shouldn’t be here since it’s just another car, and indeed a fine one. However, there’s also something of the alternative dimension to it and custody of one would make you feel like Flash Gordon’s chauffeur. Who would want a Veyron when you could have an intergalactic invasion fleet of seventy of these for the same money?
Bentley 4½ litre Supercharged. Again a perfectly respectable vehicle to file under ‘cars’ but I’ll use Ettore’s waspish ‘the fastest lorries in the World’ quote to justify inclusion here. Famously loathed by WO Bentley, I spent several years of my childhood obsessed with the Blower Bentleys, in particular the much photographed YU 3250, then owned by Mr Harry Rose – I remember these details without looking up, but I have no idea of the registration number of the company van I drove yesterday. A Speed Six is the more sensible choice, and there are pre-War cars like the Alfa 8C that are technically more fascinating, but I imagine the driving experience this offers is quite unique.
Vignale Gamine. A perfectly silly vehicle designed by a studio that had bodied, Maseratis, Ferraris and Alfas. This Fiat 500 based vehicle is surely something in which it would be impossible to either demonstrate or attract road rage in whilst driving and that, in itself, is an endorsement. Did you know that Enid Blyton ordered a stretched version fitted with a Maserati V8 … or maybe not?
Lightweight Land Rover. Developed for dropping by parachute, and taking the LR back closer to the original Jeep inspiration, the British army seemed to be selling lots of the Series 1 versions off in the early Eighties. I once did a car swap for a week, which gave me custody of one of these and the chance to indulge my inner warrior. It was an excellent vehicle for those who found the standard LR too lush and decadent.
Kenworth W900 Truck Cab : Long before Chris Eubank (who’s a Peterbilt man), I knew someone whose brother drove one of these around London. Good visibility and seating for two, it seems the perfect city runabout, especially since it seems to have a small apartment built on the back which must, in London, be worth £1.2M on its own. In the world of US trucks, there’s also Freightliner, Mack and White (but they’re now called Volvo so that excludes them) but, for no rational reason, I’m a Kenworth guy. I think my American Truck lust is a not uncommon thing in Britain. Why is this Dr Freud?
Citroen Acadiane +. I’ve always been a fan of the Q Car, and the Acadiane van with an Esprit Turbo in the back seems one of the less obvious. Also, I’ve also always like the completely inappropiate punning name of this vehicle. Now the Citroen DS = Deesse = Goddess is fine and ID = Idée = Idea is OK. However, calling the replacement for the AK van with one based on the Dyane = AK/Dyane = Acadiane = Residents of a pastoral Utopia = The people who in reality became Cajuns has always seemed hilariously arbitrary.
Amphicar. After 50 years, I need to get this out of my system. Even more than a flying car, a floating one always sounded such fun. Of course the “handles like a boat on land and a car in the water” is probably true, together with the notion that if you don’t prepare it before you charge down the slipway it will sink like a stone. But, if it got marooned, I’d always have the Stalwart to tow it out.
The Beast. This is a single car and is the creation of someone else, so it is a bit impertinent to lust after it. Of course the aero-engined vintage car not unknown, but putting a V12 Rolls Royce Engine into a simulacrum of a ‘modern’ car is odder. It possibly lacks the obvious attraction of the Napier-Railton and, despite claims, the engine is not really the holy grail ‘Merlin’, but the unsupercharged Meteor tank variant. However, it is something that would give me pleasure to start up once a year.
Benelli Sei. I know full well that a motorcycle doesn’t really need more than 2 cylinders. That’s what mine has. In the late 60s, Honda brought us the 750 four cylinder, which changed the face of biking. They then went further with the 6 cylinder CBX which, despite LJK Setright’s support did not. Honda no longer make an inline six bike, but they do make an 1800cc flat six for the mega-tourer Gold Wing. which, much as I’d be fascinated to spend a few days on one, holds no long-term appeal. But what does appeal is the Benelli Sei, brainchild of arch fixer Alejandro De Tomaso, who unashamedly copied Honda’s 4 and stuck on two more cylinders for good measure, providing the answer to a question no-one had asked several years before the CBX. De Tomaso often gets a bad press, as though he was some sort of higher echelon Del Boy, but I find that totally unwarranted. He single-handedly saved whole swathes of the Italian motor industry that would have gone under, making intelligent and unexpected use of modest resources.
Chrysler Turbine Car. This was actually a proper, albeit limited, production vehicle where 50 cars were used by the public on ordinary roads. Unfortunately, most were destroyed after the pubic tests but three survive, one of which is owned by Jay Leno, an admirable collector whose interest goes far beyond the Pebble Beach concours mindset of so many. So not actually that practical a proposition to get hold of but, nevertheless, its probable omission from my collection should be noted.
Triking. Before Morgan brought back its 3 Wheeler, various companies were making vehicles inspired by HFS Morgan’s original. Of these, the best is reputed to be the Triking, powered by a Moto Guzzi V-Twin, an engine I’m very fond of. I think I’d prefer this to the new Morgan even if it wasn’t cheaper.
Rover BS. Also unavailable , since there was only one. This mid-engined, V8 pioneer by the clever Spen King was, apparently, well sorted and an excellent car even in its basic prototype form. Mean minded politics from Bill Lyons, unnecessarily concerned for his beloved E-Type, are supposed to have caused it to be canned. At this point I could comment on what a tragedy, and call it another lost opportunity for the UK industry, but I’ll console myself by imagining Leyland’s production BS, committee styled, parts bin lights from the Marina and withdrawn from sale after 2 years of warranty claims through crappy build quality.
Munch Mammoth. On sunny days when the 6 cylinders of the Benelli seem excessive and I’d rather be understated and stick at four cylinders, the Mammoth is the place to start, or stop. It also beat Honda to the straight four by a few years by taking the engine from an NSU and putting into in a purpose made bike frame. It might seems a bit silly, which is probably why I’ve always liked it.
Thunderbird 2. The only moving thing I can think of to put all of the above in. I assume that the kids who lusted over Thunderbird 2, rather than 1, 3 or 4 (did anyone ever want 5 – it didn’t go anywhere), grew up buying people carriers. I know I did. Ever since the compensation lawyers put International Rescue out of business, this has been rusting on Tracy Island. Various people have tried to acquire it from Virgil Tracy’s estate without success, but I’m hoping I might be able to pull a few strings.