Intimations of Alemania.
For a place where locals appear to think nothing of maintaining thirty-year-old cars as daily runners, the proliferation of German-manufactured cars in this part of Southern Spain amounts to less than one might reasonably imagine. Did German cars fail to chime with the Andalucían sensibility, or was it more a factor of up-front cost? Only a native could possibly cast any meaningful light upon this, so all I can offer you today is supposition, speculation and commentary. Plus a few photos…
No matter where one travels in the developed world, Volkswagen Golfs can be found; they are amongst the least remarkable automotive sightings imaginable. Yet here, Golfs were comparatively thin on the ground, and of those, most were of an older variety – the majority hailing from the third and fourth generations. (Latter-era examples were by contrast of the pullet’s teeth variety).
The Golf II was one of those inherently durable cars which go on and on, assuming one stays on top of the upkeep. Rust-free examples were plentiful on the streets, in various editions and levels of disarray. This one however, really stood out. Firstly, owing to its wholly unmolested state, its admirably sound condition, and the fact that it was a GTI. On this side of the world, it would have been classed as a cherished classic by now, squirreled away and certainly not parked at a giddy angle on a side-street corner.
The second-generation Golf is a curious looking car when viewed over this distance in time. On one hand it appears wholly familiar, yet at the same time, something of a caricature of the ItalDesign original. Looking at it now, it strikes me as odd that it resonated so well with the buying public. It really could have gone either way in 1983. I have only driven two examples of the Golf II in my time on earth: a diesel van and a 1.3 litre Golf C. Both brand new and both 3-door models. Equally slothful, yet both were oddly enjoyable. There was a lack of guile to them, and a solidity, which suggested a propensity to long life. I imagine the GTI was a nice car. Golfs aren’t nice anymore, are they?
Well, there had to be one, hadn’t there? The 190E is one of those great automotive survivors, and this mid-80s example was a prime example, being as largely unsullied by the passage of time as the Golf illustrated above. While I am a great admirer of the W201 series, I did for the first time detect a certain brittleness to its appearance – something the facelifted versions, with their ‘Sacco-Bretter’ lower body cladding seem to avoid entirely. But in either form, I never tire of looking at these cars. The geometry of its surfacing, the delicacy and balance of the volumes, the exquisite taper at the rear. There is such richness in detail. Masterful.
Mercedes’ of this era would prove to be common-enough sights over the period of my visit. Too gobsmacked to react in time, I encountered an Irish-registered (what were the chances?) 560 SEL on the move, an American-specification C126 in late evening traffic and a couple of very tidy looking R129s – again, in motion. No W123s, however.
The W202 on the other hand has not weathered well at all – neither in longevity, nor design integrity terms. Proving somewhat frangible – in Britain or Ireland at least – yet the kinder Spanish climate has allowed the first-generation C-Class to endure in number, (ditto W210s, to my anguished regret). I captured this one, largely because I thought it might make for an interesting visual contrast to the 190. I’ve always felt a marked ambivalence to the 202 C-Class, and recall being hugely disappointed by its appearance when I first saw it revealed. But Mercedes design always took a while to percolate into my system, so I felt I needed to give it time.
I think I’ve given it more than enough. I can see what Bruno Sacco’s design team were trying to achieve; to evolve the 190’s aesthetics and surfacing to a cleaner, softer look, but what they finished up with was slightly amorphous, and in the lamp unit detailing, somewhat casual. It lacked gravitas, a quality the W201 had in abundance. But in its favour, the proportions were good, the transitions handled well; there were no obvious howlers, à la E-Class, and yet, it all amounts to so little. The 201 is forever, the 202? More of a one-nighter, if even that.
And so, to Bavaria. Like the Mercedes above, the E36 is not a BMW I ever felt much affection or indeed admiration for. Not as an aesthetic object anyway. I hold to that; in my view the saloon is a dumpy looking thing and worse, it looks cheap. In marked contrast to our damp islands, these cars proliferate here to an extent, and unusually, in largely un-mucked-about form. This meant there was a sizeable pool of potential subjects for my camera phone, but this was the only example encountered which spoke to me at all.
Possibly the rarest of the breed, the Touring, I seem to recall, was a later addition to the range and to my eyes, by far the best resolved. The manner in which the glasshouse has been handled, where it appears to have been drawn rearwards, like a bowstring, is thrilling. Probably the best maintained of the E36s that came within my purview, the owner clearly appreciates their steed. And with good reason.
I run the risk of offending the sensibilities of an esteemed member of the editorial team in saying this, but in the cause of full disclosure I will admit to never having much cared for the appearance of the Opel Adam. It has always come across as being a little contrived and in particular, the spatial relationship between headlamps and grille was never one I could get along with – jarring every time. But every once in a while, and especially while on holiday, one simply has to let go of these little orthodoxies.
In the town, there was a little shop selling the most delicious ice-cream. In the evenings, queues would form. So rich, one only needed a small pot, despite the devil in one’s ear whispering; again, more, more! Their helado de pistacho was a thing of bliss, and this little Adam, in its bright and cheerful colour combination put me in mind of such simple joys. We all scream for ice cream. And from this vantage point, one doesn’t have to view Adam’s awkward visage while doing so.
‘Everything merges with the night’, as Brian Eno sang in 1975. And here, this Ford Mondeo was doing its utmost to achieve the former (I expect the latter was beyond it). A late-era facelift model, these cars are now vanishingly rare in any shape or form – certainly, it was the only example spotted during my stay. What is there to say about the first-generation Mondeo? A fine-driving car which started life as blandness on toast, before gaining almost as bipolar a facelift as the Scorpio that sat above it in the pricelists.
This was a dispiriting time to be a blue oval aficionado – or a designer at Köln-Merkenich for that matter. Fortunately, better heads would prevail. The Mondeo that followed was a styling masterpiece in comparison.
It doesn’t seem right to end on such a dreary note, so here is something a good deal more cheerful. Now, it had already become clear to me that surprises could lurk in every corner and down every side street, but nothing quite prepared me for this vision. Parked outside a rather exclusive looking coastal resort-cum-restaurant, the kind of place with valet parking, the beautiful set and malevolent-looking sentries, was this fall-at-its-feet gorgeous Mercedes 300 SL.
Resident in London a good thirty years and counting, one encounters just about everything eventually. I’ve even shared the road with a Gullwing or two in my time, but this was a first. Restored to perfection, it was one of the most heart-stoppingly beautiful cars I have ever seen in the wild. It isn’t difficult to understand why the 300 SL was the doyen of roadgoing supercars in its day. Who wouldn’t covet something as magnificently realised – then or now? Unfortunately, circumstances prevented me from doing it any real photographic justice. I just about nabbed this shot and… sashayed away.