Noisome, Necessary, Brilliant and Bad

Sometimes I worry that Driventowrite is nothing but a collection of Lancia, Citroen and Opel musings strung together with bits of Ford Granada in between.

Historic Toyotas: Toyota UK

In order to make a token effort to acknowledge the wider world I went in active search of the news the manufacturers themselves put out.

At Toyota, the most exciting thing I found (and it really is exciting because we love Japanese cars here) is that there will soon be news about the Toyota heritage press fleet. They also have an advanced technology seminar on automated driving. I must look at that soon.

Nissan UK proudly report that the Leaf has been awarded AutoExpress prestigious “best used EV award”. Further, they also have news on automated driving and use an image of an Infiniti to make the point.

Over at Honda, the press office inform us that the Jazz (have we ever written about that car?) has been given a gong: “Most Reliable Small Car in What Car? 2017 Reliability Survey”. That was true in 2015 as well. In 2016 Vauxhall beat BMW and Mini came very last.

Mitsubishi would very much like us to know that the Mitsubishi Outlander has been voted the most reliable Large SUV, and the manufacturer voted the runner-up most reliable brand in What Car? magazine’s 2017 Reliability Survey. Also, you can buy Mitsubishis on-line just like books and underpants at Amazon. I also saw the concept for an e-SUV which you probably missed because of all the other things being unveiled simultaneously. The design notes are a pointer to something I could have taken a whole 900 words to say: graphics are eating up the surfaces of cars.

It’s not a Mazda. I forgot Mazda.

Subaru’s website announces the very last chance to buy their WRX STi. To commemorate the car and indeed an era in fast, furious motoring there is a “swansong” edition. The PR department penned a really long essay and I picked this bit for your especial attention: “Driving performance has been improved by [….] brakes with yellow painted calipers… Inside, high gloss black inserts are added to the instrument panel, gear stick surround, door panels and steering wheel with red stitching and red seatbelts fitted to tie the scheme together…The instrument panel design has also been updated…A Final Edition badge is positioned on the door…”

At Ferrari the latest news involves rather a lot of money being made. “A record third quarter on the way to 1 billion euro adj. EBITDA”. That is something. Ferrari sell a few thousand cars and make billions while Ford and GM sell hundreds of thousands and make almost nothing, ever. The second fact is more suspicious than the first.

I had to go back to September to find Ferrari’s news about cars and not finance: “The Ferrari Portofino is the new V8 GT set to dominate its segment thanks to a perfect combination of outright performance and versatility in addition to a level of driving pleasure and on-board comfort unparalleled on the market.” O-160 mph in 10 seconds. How big is the boot?

I found the latest news item from Bristol a bit paradoxical. As a very conservative brand, the point with Bristol is to leave things just as they are. However, in an act of radical conservatism, Bristol’s signage will revert to an earlier design: “After over 50 years of the red “BRISTOL CARS” signage, we return back to our roots.”** This is the funny thing about conservatism: it can’t leave things as they are but always has to revert back to something or other even older, despite the pointlessness and annoyance involved. Surely the underlying principle of convervatism is that once something has happened, let it stay that way. If you start trying to chase some ideals then you end up as a radical of another stripe and therefore aren’t really being conservative at all. Conservatism’s motto: let it lie.

Most Bristol owners like things the way they are: put the old red sign and get on with selling cars, just like the old ones, please.

** They might want to consult a sub-editor. You can only return back to your roots. You can’t return forwards. So strike out “back”. 

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

12 thoughts on “Noisome, Necessary, Brilliant and Bad”

  1. Strictly speaking, small-c conservatism pertains, as you say, to the maintenance of the status quo. Return to the status quo ante is more the central tenet of reaction. Lots of “proper” radicals do like to conflate being conservative with being reactionary, but historically they have been different (if related) ideologies with different proponents. Also, Burkean conservatives at least aren’t so much against change, but against rapid, large change. A change of signage would probably qualify as minor enough to be doable, as an act of organic renewal.

    I suspect that the issue with Bristol is that the old sign was looking very tired and needed replacement in any case (long overdue, in my view), and they decided whilst they were doing it to be faithful to the older sign, as a means of respecting heritage or somesuch. Probably not a matter of supreme importance to Bristol’s customers, but it does serve to illustrate the appeal of the brand, I think.

    1. It gladdens me when the name of Edmund Burke crops up. Yes, Burke recognised the necessity of gradual change. I’d go along with that as a good general principle. The general phenomenon I see today is “conservatives” pushing radical change which I just can’t reconcile with Burke’s social contract or the slow-grown links in society he defends. But to get back to Bristol, my inner Burke would prefer the BRISTOL CARS logo to be renewed not replaced. Going back to their 1898 logo is a form of revolution. Nothing good will come of it.
      Have you read Reflections or the Inquiry?
      Conor Cruise O’Brien’s “Great Melody” is still, for me, the definitive Burke biography.
      You might enjoy Roger Scruton’s work on architecture, if I might digress.

    2. Sorry I’ve taken so long to reply, Richard! Yes, I have read both the Reflections and the Inquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful. I actually very nearly ended up researching Burke for a doctoral thesis: I always found it fascinating that people in later years thought of him as a conservative (maybe even THE conservative) when in his own time (and his own opinion) he was most certainly a Whig (” arch-Whig trumpeter”, and all that!). I suppose Burke was proposing a way of going about governing, and not an “ideology”, and as such there was no conflict. One could theoretically be a Communist conservative (say, USSR c.1970), or a right-wing radical (Maggie c.1981). As a final digression before I bring it back to Bristol, Scruton is in my opinion the finest philosopher alive today. I can’t fathom why there are not more philosophers of aesthetics, so much of our belief systems are informed by visual stimuli and aesthetic judgements.

      On the note of aesthetics, one wonders whether the issue of signage reflects a broader trend at Bristol. Their three options stylistically are to keep the cars as they’ve been since the eighties, design something contemporary-looking on a tight budget, or go the Morgan route and go full retro. Like-sign like-car, I think they seem to be taking the latter route. I don’t remotely have the hatred of retro things that some people do, but I share the consternation that you seem to have been implicitly expressing above relating to the sign: Bristol, unlike say a bespoke Alvis modern recreation or a Morgan, has never really been a paen to the good old days as they used to be, but a monument to a rarefied class of rich countryfied male for whom the good old days never left, and presumably never will. They are made for the core of what Orwell called the Blimp class, and that class can never display weakness or doubt. For this reason, I rather wish that Bristol would adopt some styling shape, perhaps with the proportions of the 404 but the materials and detailing of a modern car, and then stick to that for thirty odd years, altering only to reflect subtle differences in market tastes over the years. To become a heritage product, while no bad thing in itself, would render the brand rather pointless in my view. There are better, more evocative heritage products out there.

    3. Andrew: You might be interested to know Scruton argues about philosophy is in the TLS this week.
      I’ve read his books on architecture and culture. He’s closer to my way of thinking on architecture than culture.
      Burke’s too good, I contend, for people claiming to be conservative. The left dismiss Burke because of his sentimental attitude to Marie Antoinette. Both the radical right (market liberals, Bannonites) and radical left should note his general observations about revolution. If the left have been dismissive of the role of the family (long discusssion), the right might want to reflect on the disruptive role of the market in sustaining family and other social relations. Burke’s fascinating in part because his thought cuts across boundaries.

    4. I absolutely agree with all you’ve written , Richard.

      Do you have any thoughts on where Bristol, a company that embodies keeping their product the same more than any other car company, can survive unaltered in a world where almost everyone believes in radicalism of one stripe or other? (even if it is of the questionable Gorden Wagener variety) If they were to take a new platform and treat it like they did the Blenheim (barely alter it for thirty odd years) would they still maintain the sales that kept them afloat previously? I’m inclined to think that they probably would, ironically emerging markets are very soon going to start really clamouring for luxury goods that are actually hand produced and not just hand finished like a modern Rolls or Bentley. Exclusivity is certainly central to the Bristol experience, but can it survive without fashionable bling? I’d love to hear the thoughts of anyone here who thinks they might know. Like most I would never actually own a Bristol, but I find their unique character beguiling.

    5. Andrew: now that Bristol have had their revolution, it’s hard to say what they need to do now. The spell has been broken and disenchantment has occurred.
      One obvious thing to do is design for stasis, design for durability and pursue quality (which not be only about walnut and hide). Plainly few want a Bristol for fashion’s sake. At this point only a gifted decision-maker or design director could operationalise those criteria (I charge reasonable rates).
      The car shouldn’t look like it has a V8 up front because it doesn’t. So – what form should it take? Ask the potential customers…

  2. FoMoCo’s EBITDA looks like it is many times (more than 10) that of Ferrari, but of course the underlying volumes differ by way more than that. Just don’t confuse turnover with profitability.

  3. Well done for calling out Bristol on the unnecessary use of the word ‘back’.

    A retrograde step in every respect. The old BRISTOL CARS signage was jarring and, therefore, iconic in its own way.

    The new old sign is seraph upon seraph… a very literal, boring and unadventurous way of signalling ‘heritage’.

  4. More Lancia, please. I never grow tired of Lancia.

    I have a long list of cars I’d love to see at DTW, mainly obscure Japanese barges from the 1990s (Diamante, 929, Maxima, Legacy, Lexus GS), the Citroën BX, pre-Jaguar Daimlers, any Bristol etc. Talking about Bristol, I can’t stop having ideas for this thing here:

    but I’m afraid I’m too faint of heart and funds to do something about it.

    1. Did you see the Toyota Heritage collection news? I wonder what that’s about. I think we did the Maxima and certainly have done the BX.
      I have my eye out for the Diamante. Very nice saloon, that.

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