The Gongoozler

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?

Octane, Feb 2018

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.

1952 Bentley Continental Type-R: source

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.

Ovals and lots of chrome: source

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.

Corvette Twin Rotor prototype: source

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.

What is this?

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.

Connecty rejecty. Image: daily express

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.

Author: richard herriott

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

11 thoughts on “The Gongoozler”

  1. In theory, Octane should be exactly my cup of tea: vintage and current automobiles are featured, as well as non-automotive issues.

    The trouble is that those non-automotive issues tend to cater exclusively to Simon Kidston’s clientele, or those who fancy themselves to enter that realm somewhen, somehow. This is also reflected by the cars featured, which is why a comparison test of Fiats 128, Ritmo, Tipo, Bravo, Stilo, Bravo & Tipos is conspicuous by its absence.

    That whole ‘shall we take the Miura or the Delahaye to lunch at Troisgros?’ spirit embodied by Robert Coucher, Kidston and their ‘ol muckers is the crux of this particular publication. It is a common misunderstanding that high standards entail ‘aspirational values’, and Octane suffers from falling into the ‘premium’ trap. Not everything that’s expensive is good and interesting. Unfortunately, too much emphasis is put on the value, rather than the worthiness of the magazine’s topics.

    However, I believe Richard is selling one element in this particular issue of Octane far below value. And that would be Stephen Bayley’s column, which is about the all-new top-of-the-top-of-the-line Range Rover (whose interior is covered with virgin dodo hide). It doesn’t happen very often that this sort of vehicle finds itself at the receiving end of extremely elegantly written, piercing vitriol – even more so in the context of a magazine such as Octane.

    This simply is among the best pieces of automotive writing I’ve come across in a while.

    And to prove just how attentively I read Octane, I must admit to not having realised that Steve Sutcliffe is now part of the Octane team. I guess every magazine needs its own overly enthusiastic driver/writer with a penchant for oversteer and simplistic worldviews then.

    Stefan Sielaff’s influence over the new Continental should’ve been of the minor variety, by the way. If we want to put the blame at someone’s feet, they should belong to Luc ‘but I designed the A2’ Donckerwolke.

    To get back to the original topic: The day Stephen Bayley is allowed to write an article about Fiat’s compact class history, accompanied by high quality photography of a pre-facelift Ritmo’s cockpit, Octane will have gained a lifetime subscriber.

    1. Be prepared for a long wait, Kris…

      I always enjoy Mr Bayley’s outpourings as I peruse at the newsstand, before placing it back on the shelf unpurchased. Frankly, his column is the only item worth reading. In addition, I would council putative readers to avoid the desperate cries for help buried deep within Robert Croucher’s outwardly self-satisfied prose. I find the subtext too upsetting.

      I have a single copy of Octane in my possession. I find that a little goes a terribly long way.

    2. I will note your point about Luc D´s contribution to the Bentley. Maybe Mr Sielaff could have been a bit more stand-offish about it.
      Is it possible that mint/concours quality “ordinary” cars of the land-mark type are every bit as rare as the Ferrari 213 Lasagnettis and what not and therefore not likely to scare off the owners/would be owners of such? I mean, yes, Octane could cover the BX or Lancia Trevi and not frighten its Villa d’Este readers.

  2. “200mph for £25,000″ – Bargain Continental GT”

    Interesting that Octane is not immune from front cover exclamation marks, and that the Phaeton Turbo Coupe has now sunk to the ranks of cheap muscle.

  3. Octane didn´t use a lot on ink on the 1991 Bentley Continental T which, for my money, is the one to have. I´ve seen one of these in the metal and the depth of the quality is easy to see. The proportions of the car work really well with the rectangular forms. That car is a statement and should you park it next to anything else made after it, the later cars will all seem as durable as BMW 3, Ford Mondeo or VW Passat even if they are also Bentleys and Rolls.

    1. I preferred the ’90s Continental R, a scaled-up Alfa 1900 C Sprint except for the front obviously, which was by Touring.

      But Octane really isn’t for you or me — maybe lottery winners, otherwise Harley St doctors’ waiting rooms, and wherever Russogarchs wait (Do they ever have to wait?).

  4. I discovered Octane magazine as a reference on the Jaguar forums, several years ago. I’m a regular on that forum seeking information on maintaining and repairing my 1989 XJS and now, two other old Jags, a 1951 Mark VII and 1997 XJ6. I do enjoy the quality of the photography and the presentation of the editorial content. I have enjoyed the emphasis on classic models of most British and European marques. I’ve come late to that party, as I have been focused on American makes in my youth. I have been a subscriber for the last three years.

    I especially enjoyed the article on the Continental. The photography was very appealing but the content was obviously hyped up as a lead in to the article about the new Continental coupe. So many superlatives. The earlier car was an outstanding car for it’s time, but I don’t think that a modern driver would be that impressed.

    The October 1993 issue of Thoroughbred & Classic cars had a more realistic, better assessment of the Continental provided by four of their editors.

    I am a blue collar California kid that grew up during the 1960’s. I am now a greasy handed Jaguar fan. I enjoy the magazine, but don’t take it too seriously. Yeah, it’s a rich man’s rag. In my younger days I would have hated it, but I’ve mellowed over the years. By the way, I discovered this site through a reference on the Jaguar forums also. I just started visiting this site and really enjoy it.

    1. Jose, thanks for your comment and welcome to Driven to Write. That’s a nice collection of older Jaguars you have there. You’ll find a lot of Jaguar-related material in the DTW archive. The Coventry cat is something of a fixation here – well one of them anyway… Hope you continue to enjoy the site.

  5. No matter what your opinions and views are on the new Bentley the fact remains that the company is out to make a profit and will make cars that the customer wants to spend his/her money. I live in Australia and decades ago a visiting Ford executive said that if the customer wanted bananas, we’d build bananas. Look at my favorite Citroen, dared to be different for the right reasons but scared the customers away and you go broke.

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