Once elected president of France, there are innumerable decisions requiring your attention, including that most tricky one regarding which national brand to have ferry your presidential self around. Over the years, some have taken the double chevron route, others the lair of Robert Peugeot. Today’s episode takes up the grinds from those pepper millers and looks back at over a century of leonine presidential chariots.
Alexandre Millerand became the republic’s third president on 23rd September 1920, choosing a Type 156 Peugeot the following year as his presidential vehicle. Wielding a six-cylinder 5954 cc sleeve valve engine, this behemoth measured 4800 mm on a 3670 mm wheelbase. Peugeot’s original Sochaux-made vehicle, only around 180 of these sold from 1920-23 – a most egalitarian Presidential choice. A front-engined, rear wheel drive beast, that mill mustered all of 25 bhp and a top speed of 96 Kmh, ideal for more leisurely engagements.
DTW has quite the history concerning car ashtrays; an entire section devoted to nothing but covered in great detail by Richard Herriott. Fascinating regarding detail and engineering, smoking and driving were once considered under a more roseate light. Concurrently, the modern day car’s lighter socket can sometimes be found empowering the tobacco smokers alternative, the vaping machine. However, for the (extremely) well heeled, Rolls-Royce can offer a real world experience, if not, perhaps within the confines of the plush cabin then a geste, al fresco.
Recently released to those whose world revolves around the Spirit of Ecstasy, one can have fitted in one’s boot space the Cellarette – a bespoke whisky and cigar chest. Historically, the Cellarette was used to store bottles of your master’s favourite tipple in something other than a wicker basket within the confines of the motor carriage. Whether stopping to Continue reading “Have A Cigar”
If we can ask what that sportscar is doing on that rough, narrow road or jammed in urban traffic can we also ask where are the passengers for all those lovely saloons?
With a sportscar or indeed any performance orientated car one is aware of a contrast between what the vehicle is capable of versus what it is asked to do. When I see a Lamborghini in Ireland, for example, you clearly see that the car’s capability is at odds with the environment it sits in, like seeing a speedboat on a mill pond.
At a less extreme level, the saloon car suffers a similar problem, unless it’s a taxi. The missing passengers in the back make one wonder about the real purpose of the car. Why did the owner buy it? You can see this on any long drive on a motorway as you pass car after car with three empty seats.
You also notice it when you take a look inside of any old car. There will be a worn bolster on the driver’s seat and when you inspect the back seat it will be box-fresh or, at worst, a bit faded. Evidence, then, of under-use. In its own way, the saloon car is as over-engineered as any high performance two-seater.
How often do you see four people get out of a car? It’s rare enough that I notice it. For example, last year I saw two couples emerge from a Peugeot 508 somewhere in NW Denmark. The car had Dutch plates so I concluded this was one of those rare occasions when four adults decided to have a motoring holiday together. I can’t recall the last time I saw what should be an occurrence too banal to remark.
Why then do people buy four seater cars when 98% of the time the extra seats are unused. The ashtrays remain pristine. The armrest is always tucked up in the seat back. Some people even leave the plastic on the rear seats for as long as they can, a conceit I always despised as it’s laughably suburban to want to have furniture that looks like no one ever uses it.
Think of those semis with a “good room” that visitors are shown into now and then. If you contrast that with the opulent tattiness of many stately homes you can see that the rich don’t have “good rooms”. Rich people wreck stuff. Middle class people can only afford to buy it once.
What I am getting at here is that the passenger is a rather mythical creature. They exist on public transport though or in taxis. The passenger compartment is generally an underused area, designed to look nice enough in a showroom when the buyer – for one time – opens the rear door, pats the seat and finds nothing alarming. For the rest of the car’s career the rear footwell is a good place to put a bag of shopping so it won’t fall over. The boot is even further from their thoughts.
This is perhaps why in recent decades mainstream saloon cars have developed rather cramped and unwelcoming rear comparments and designers’ time is rarely spent bothering with the rear of the centre console. On my 25 year old car the rear console is a little piece of design excellence: an ashtray and an electric socket nicely styled to look of a piece with its surrounding trim.
These days I see cars with a blank expanse of plastic. There’s £185,000 worth of development cost saved. Pity the person who put all that effort into the rear centre console of the last Saab 9-5. It was lavishly worked-over. Not only would no-one see it if it was used as normal but the car ceased production after a few months.
As a fan of saloon cars I have to admit that my fond notions of travelling four up to somewhere other than the in-laws’ house with kids are probably never going to be realised. And the kids don’t really appreciate the limousine-like space they are perched in.
More often than not the saloon is a statement of aspiration just like the sportscar. It suggests uses to which it is seldom put. I wonder how many times the walnut tray of an Allegro Van Den Plas was ever pulled down in anger. And Opel know to their cost that designing a car that put rear seat passengers as a high priority was not a path to profitability.
The Signum, with its huge rear leg room and unusual packaging didn’t go over as too few people thought “Yes, this is the car I’ll take my friend in on that trip to the Ardennes”. The Renault Vel Satis* is another passenger’s car and again, it fell on stony soil.
You might not think it at first glance but passenger cars are mostly statements of intent or the manifestation of dreams never realised. These days as saloons become more sportscar-like they are getting even further away from a felicitous blend of utility and form.
*This is a super article from The Truth About Cars dealing with the Vel Satis.
In the mid Seventies, living in London, fresh from college, unsure of myself and facing a stagnant economy, I took employment doing something I knew I’d be capable of. I became a Hertz delivery driver. Back then, Hertz were the envy of Avis. All car hire chains end up with too many, or the wrong type of cars in one place, and not enough in another. Avis solved this by loading cars onto a big transporter and dropping them off where needed, imagining that one guy driving 6 cars around would be cheaper than six drivers. Hertz knew differently.
The Hertz scheme was simple and old-fashioned. They employed drivers on a casual basis. You signed on with them, showing a clean licence. There were three shifts, and you could only attend one a day. You turned up at Hertz in Marble Arch and signed in. The dispatcher would start at the top of the list and call out as many names as he had drives for. If your name wasn’t called you could Continue reading “Theme : Passengers – A Hire Education”
I don’t know about you, but I have shameful memories of my motoring youth. The worst was the time when a mother walking her two young children on a country road flung them into a ditch at the sight of me executing what I imagined was a most elegant four wheel drift through a long corner. Her action wasn’t necessary, I wasn’t actually intruding into their space, but she wasn’t to know that and I had a chastening lesson that day. Not that I’d pretend that quelled my driving style entirely, but I became more thoughtful of what other road, and pavement, users might think. I tried to keep a comfort area between them and me.
Imagine being stuck for six hours in car with a total stranger. It’s terrific.
For a while I was a long-distance taxi, ferrying strangers from the middle of Europe northwards and sometimes from the north of Europe downwards. I’d get a message via an in-box on a web-board that, say, someone wanted to get from Cologne to Hamburg, or to Flensburg or to Aarhus. After some short discussions on price, (the passengers dictated as supply exceeded demand) I’d arrange to meet the passengers at an agreed point and off we’d go on a six or seven hour trip together. “Hi, I’m Richard….you must be Helen/Erich/Jonas…” Continue reading “Theme: Passengers – Mitfahrergelegentheit”
As soon as cars got wide enough, it was taken for granted that you would fit three people in front. So the bench seat was joined in the 1930s by the column mounted gearstick allowing three people to sit abreast in comfort. Of course, as GM’s rather coy little illustration above suggests, the bench had other attractions but, for most, it meant you could squeeze more people in.
By the late 60s, though, the bench seat was reaching its end in Europe. As cars got faster and better handling, seats that located your bum in a single position became more desirable. Also, seatbelts were becoming mandatory and that central passenger was beginning to Continue reading “Theme : Passengers – Threesomes”
Iggy Pop’s song The Passenger springs to mind now that Simon has launched another theme of the month.
In the great tradition of advertisers misunderstanding lyrics, Toyota chose Iggy Pop’s 1977 song to sell the 1997 Avensis, a car so incredibly uninteresting** that even I won’t be caught trying to discover its appeal. The external appearance is as close as you can get to a characterless vehicle while still being convincingly realistic. The theme Toyota were trying to get us to understand was that by being so incredibly relaxing, driving an Avensis was like being a passenger. Continue reading “Theme: Passengers – The Passenger by Iggy Pop”
Since you are on this site reading this, I’m sure that you probably agree with me. Passengers are of limited worth. They have their uses. They can coo in admiration of your driving skills. They can unwrap sticky sweets and pass them to you. They can scurry out into rainy nights and get you fish & chips. They can ….