Not very many books on cars demand as much as LJK Setright’s social history of the motor car. It offers a lot in return though.
To be very honest, there are very few motoring writers who can write well. And there seems only to have been one who could write outstandingly well. LJK Setright was that one. This fine book is quite probably unique because it’s a towering monument to a rich understanding of motor vehicles showing most clearly why an intelligent, cultured person might find them a worthy object of contemplation. Continue reading “Theme: Books – Drive On!”
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.
Richard’s fine introduction on this topic began with two quotes, both holding a high degree of truth to advertising in general, yet both I’d suggest are not always relevant to that branch of advertising that deals with cars.
Edwin Land, who brought us Polaroid, as well as other products of intelligent research, said “Marketing is what you do when your product is no good” but, although Edwin Land was a remarkable inventor, it was easy for him to say that since, for years, his instant film system was the best in a group of one. Car manufacturers don’t have that luxury – if only Karl Benz had employed patent lawyers as good as Land’s we’d all be peering through that silver star on the bonnet. Also the problem is that, essentially, all cars are good these days – it’s a fair time since VW could point to a Korean upstart and state, quantitatively and overtly, that it didn’t make the grade. So you can’t just sell on actual superiority. Continue reading “Theme : Advertising – Who The Fun Do They Think We Are?”
Only a few puritans and some design dogmatists dislike chrome. However, a bit of tinsel would have made all the difference to emphasize the inherent goodness of some plain-Jane cars of recent years.
Chrome’s application on car exteriors is based on its capacity to resist corrosion, ease cleaning and increase surface hardness. It also has the pleasing ability to draw attention to the outlines of door frames, lamp housings and bumper pressings, among other features. Even at dusk, a chromed window frame shows up clearly and reveals the car’s character which would otherwise be hidden. Continue reading “Reflections On Chrome”
It’s hard to explain this to people who view cars as polluting, selfish devices, that kill, maim and generally mess up lives. And it’s equally hard to explain it to people who see cars as pure, powerful pieces of engineering, that mainly offer them control and prestige. But the car is a flawed but hugely romantic device, and that has been its true enduring strength.
What defines a car? For some it’s outright speed, or acceleration. For some status. For some it’s sheer practicality, for others it’s individuality. For some it’s handling, steering feel, lightness of touch, whilst others want weight, bling and intimidation. There are so many criteria for what makes a good car and, if you are trying to explain why you like a car to someone else, it’s tricky. Watch their eyes glaze as you lasciviously trace the curve as the C pillar kinks round the inset vent to join the rear wing. See them shuffle with embarrassment as you present one fisherman’s yarn too many about lifting the front wheel in Tesco’s car park. Risk them questioning your manhood as you mime the ingenious folding mechanism of the rear seats in your MPV.
Driven to Write met three (of four) Germans outside a supermarket in Aarhus. They had travelled in a VW camping van with two Simson mopeds.
We don’t really do motorbikes at DTW and VW camping vans aren’t part of our repertoire either but here is a brief report on the trip of Markus, Judith, Ludwig and Victoria from the Bodensee in Germany to Nordkapp in Finnmark, Norway. I met them as they were eating a spot of lunch outside my local supermarket. They were travelling in a rather used series T3 VW camper van (1979 to 1992) and two Simson mopeds. Continue reading “Northward Bound”
Some cars defy one’s capacity to describe or discuss them except in the most general terms. Here’s another, a Porsche of some type.
There was a 1970s example of one of these things parked on the road today. They are very rare around my district. I chose to look at a Vectra parked one space ahead of it. I’ve always admired the 2002 model’s headlamp design. When I was in Germany at Easter I saw a rare high-spec 2002 saloon in green metallic that made me Continue reading “Cars I Can’t Write About 2: Porsche”
Some cars defy one’s capacity to describe or discuss them except in the most general terms. One of them is the 1996 Mazda Demio.
Here at DTW we spend a lot of time staring into the walls trying to fight off the ideas that spring up. The problem is that there are more ideas than time to do them justice. I’ve just blown three hours of my life penning a tract about Buicks and Opels. This was based on half a thought about the Opel Astra saloon that nobody cares about. How then can I Continue reading “Cars I Can’t Write About 1: 1996-2002 Mazda Demio”
How much fun do you really get out of driving like you stole it?
Speed is a measurable quantity. One of the characteristics of the modern age is the increasing dominance of quantity over quality. I see the two as dependent parameters, as necessary as the left and right wing of a jet. In the spirit of the times motoring journalism in recent years has tended to Continue reading “Theme : Speed – Quantity and Quality Thereof”
Which cars are for today’s ophthalmologists, vets and professors of Medieval law?
About three decades ago certain makers sold cars for easily identifiable groups in society. Saabs were for well-paid university lecturers. Citroen could appeal to the Francophile and arty middle-class man. Lancia sold to intellectuals and business men who probably saw their work as a vocation. Humber appealed to bank managers of the bigger branches. But today, these brands are gone or unrecognisable
The upper-middle class coupé is almost extinct. We trace its demise.
Large upper-middle class coupés only made commercial sense if they could be produced to appeal to both domestic and US audiences. Mercedes-Benz, BMW and the Japanese manufacturers alone seemed to understand this, ensuring they could export their offerings to the sector’s natural habitat. Success in automotive terms had traditionally been predicated on success in America and for that, a luxury coupé was highly desirable. Continue reading “Coupé de Grâce”
For the purposes of this piece I will henceforth refer to the Doughnut as the Donut. I choose an American English spelling because I really do hope that this most futile of driving manoeuvres was not invented in the UK. I don’t relish the shame of inventing the Donut being shouldered by America, I just don’t want it to be shouldered by my country. Historically it seems unlikely, since it is not easy to perform in a Ford Anglia, but much easier in a Chevrolet that your Dad has ticked the big V8 option on. The name, of course, is imprecise. An Edible Donut is a Torus, a three dimensional shape. The shape defined by the Driving Donut occupies only two dimensions and is, more or less, circular – just a big zero.
A sermon about why car museums are to be avoided if you like old cars.
Every car museum I have visited in the last 2.25 decades has been a disappointment. Cars are inherently space-consuming selfish monsters and even when they are caught, killed and pinned to plinths this quality does not diminish. They need plenty of room, alive or dead.
My father was an old-school Freudian in his outlook. He wouldn’t miss a chance to make an association, and my obsession with cars was fertile ground. He pronounced that many cars were just phallic compensation symbols and I, in what I thought was a witty response, said that a phallus was just a compensation for not having a decent car – it sounded better when I was sixteen. Cars and Sex, Sex and Cars, they’re an old pairing, but I’ve never been entirely convinced.
Once upon a time a trip to France from the UK was special. Not only did the cars look different but, at night, the roads came alive with lamps that were, uniquely, amber coloured. I admit that I enjoyed this. It gave French cars the same ‘interesting’ look that Jean-Luc Godard’s tinted glasses gave him. French cars were more intellectual.
The past few years have been difficult for manufacturers trying to sell new cars in Europe. But, even if people can’t afford them, one thing car makers take for granted is that everyone likes a new car. How many new cars have you sat in as the first driver? I’ve sat in a lot, not because I’d bought most of them, but because I once delivered them as a job. But when the car is yours it’s something else, that very special moment you’ve been waiting weeks, months or, sometimes, years for.
My French teacher at grammar school, Mr Roberts, had a small collection of Austin 7s from the 1920s, which he alternated using as transport to work. I think that he considered me a bit of a prat (history might have vindicated him on some levels, certainly) and, sensing this, I reciprocated with contempt for his collection of little, old and, at the time, very cheap cars. In hindsight, I might have had a more rewarding time discussing the niceties of the Ulster, Ruby, etc with him and he might have decided that I had some redeeming features. I deeply regret my glib teenage contempt, though it was entirely my loss. He was right, I was wrong.
I am a cry from beyond the pale. I have spent all my driving years reining in my hooligan element and, for much of the time, it has been my personal circumstances, rather than my self-control, that have prevented me from totally inappropriate purchases.
The first Audi RS6 Avant really fulfilled a long-held fantasy for a big, very fast, estate car, marrying the hooner with the homely. Lately, the AMG C63 Estate has taken my fancy, and I now see that they have produced a more powerful version, addressing the problem of the standard model’s woefully inadequate 451 bhp.
Seeing a Jaguar XJ hearse on the Westway a few weeks ago, made me realise that modern design does not adapt well to the production of a dignified funeral wagon. Consider Coleman Milne’s latest offerings based on Mercedes and Ford base vehicles. Try getting out of those back doors with your top hat in place.
Archie Vicar represents a different generation; people who came of age in an uncertain period where a World War followed a World Recession. Few of these men (and we cannot deny that they were all men) set their youthful sights on Motoring Journalism as a profession. They came into it through circuitous routes, bringing with them, for good and for bad, a worldliness that is, perhaps, missing today, where a childhood spent poring over EVO magazine, followed by a spell at journalism school, leads directly to employment on a national magazine. Where is the wisdom; where is the experience of a wider world? Continue reading “Archie Vicar”