A few weeks ago I bought a copy of Octane. The edition lay around the house and I dipped into it at various moments. What did I discover?
Tuesday, in the railstation I saw Octane and bought it along with the Interntional New York Times. I felt I needed to read more text on paper. The cover story first attracted my attention, a very Octane style of article where they discuss several generations of the same car. The first copy of Octane I bought, about eight years ago, dealt with the Maserati QP. This edition put the Bentley Continental under the spotlight. The cover showed a 1952 R-Type Fastback, the 2004 Continental and its successor.
I have to credit Octane for the high quality of the studio photography which placed the English white car in a dark setting. Charlie Magee, the snapper, did an excellent job of rendering the Continental as an almost other-worldly object. The interior photos had a believable aspect to them rather than the flat, overly-processed style that other magazines are favouring. If you look closely you can easily see the patina on the oxblood seats.
Glen Waddington’s text steers a careful line between purple prose and banality so you do have a reasonable impression of what the car is like to conduct. I’d judge the article to be a good example of expensive, time-consuming and well-researched prose.
Wednesday. I discovered the magazine again, in the downstairs toilet where it provided reading material – I suspect a lot of car magazines end their days in stacks by the loo brush and Andrex. I turned to the article about the new Continental. Contrasting the two cars’ interiors is instructive. The 1952 car has lavish materials and simplicity. The new car has an annoying landscape of shiny bits and self-conscious stitched surfaces along with fussy readouts and a screen large enough for a suburban home.
I’d be much more interested in a design that got rid of as much as possible and let me get on with driving or dwelling on my own thoughts rather than one which represented a designer’s idea of what a football player or Muscovite kleptocrat considered good taste. Then again, I am not the target market of this ostentatious missile.
Eóin Doyle has put in the hatchet on this car and I will hammer it a bit deeper. Octane’s road photography shows the appalling oval, chrome-edged rear lamps: a glaring solecism. Ovals are simple so let’s gird them in brightwork. The license plate recess is chrome-edged too. The man claiming responsibility for this is Stefan Sielaff who really ought to spend some time staring at high-end English design before producing an over-wrought gin palace such as this new car.
The car is worth another design-analysis drubbing. Octane’s writer Mr. Steven Sutcliffe likes it (rating it as better looking and more refined than the last car). He too needs to spend some time looking at English architecture and art before proffering his judgement. On page 57 Stephen Bayley reminded readers of Coco Chanel’s wisdom: “Luxury is not the opposite of poverty. It is the opposite of vulgarity.” Discuss.
The ads in Octane include double-page spread announcing a rally tour in Provence and one for Retromobile (for sale: a 1958 260 GT Series 1 Ferrari and 1938 Bugatti). The back page carries an ad for a mind-blowingly expensive wristwatch. The only “new” car ad was for the Alvis Continuation series and, oddly, the Peugeot 5008 seven-seater.
Thursday morning, wating for the coffee to brew. Probably the most interesting item dealt with a Corvette prototype designed by GM but built by Pininfarina: the Two Rotor (circa 1970). The story hinges on Zora Arkos-Duntov, John De Lorean and Ed Cole. Arkos-Duntov felt the future was mid-engined and Ed Cole thought rotary engines were the way forward. De Lorean wanted another trophy after he moved to Chevrolet in 1969.
GM’s design resulted in a very clean and still modern-looking shape. There are no feature lines, there’s an integrated nose-cone, flush door frames and a lovely triangular rear side glass. Overall it has a lot of similarity to the 1977 Porsche 928 but smaller and pointier. The article is well-researched and is thought-provoking.
Apart from the rotary engine, the package for the Corvette Twin Rotor is much more inspiring than the stone-age appliance Corvette offered for a long time after. The article also shows a simply beautiful clay model and shows GM stylists at the top of their game. Intriguingly, the same photo includes a small scale-model of what looks like what we call an MPV. Does anyone know where that idea was headed for? It looks like a Mk1 Renault Espace.
Thursday night: On Page 58 I read Robert Coucher who says: “The classic car trade is still largely run by unreconstructed sloanes, which I really like.”
On page 146 begins an article on taking a sea-plane to Lake Como. That’s a very specialised interest. I find this article as alienating as a leaf through the FT How To Spend It magazine or Monocle. Much like the Total Perspective Vortex, this glimpse at the lives of the rich reveals the tininess of my own meagre existence. I take out my own rubbish and know how to repair a dishwasher. People who land sea-planes on Lake Como don’t know what a dishwasher is.
Early Friday morning, more coffee. Octane does review new cars. Octane buyers who need a disposable motor may consider flim-flam like this: the Renault Alpine A110, a Porsche Cayman GTS, a BMW M5 or Jaguar E-Pace. Octane doesn’t like the latter – it’s too connecty, the Ingenium is rough and the ride is poor.
Friday. Browsing through the magazine while dinner simmers, I decide that the mix of ads for million pound cars and pricey exotica makes Octane more like a journal for people in the yacht and country house market than for those wondering about their next Ford Mondeo four-banger or company BMW 5-series.
This magazine is not telling you about a car you can buy in showrooms (plural) but is telling you about positional goods: I have one and therefore you don’t. The readers have money and the things being reported are particular not generic. Octane buyers are movers in a small but very rich market (Jay Leno ‘phones in a column).
This explains why the magazine is so thick and lavish – internet searches are still not the best way to reach the specific few who might drop a hundred thousand on one, exact car found in one exact dealer in Bern or Chiswick. I may not buy Octane again.