Theme : Places – Another Snapshot from Occupied Europe

It’s Spring 1981, and I’m in Charlottenburg, on the western edge of the British Occupied Sector of West Berlin.

lloyd-arabella

The picture is taken on Wundtstraße at the edge of the Lietzensee. These names are still powerfully evocative of the time I spent in Berlin, half a lifetime ago. German big city carscapes are, in my experience at least, underwhelming. The urban dwellers’ favoured cars are small, cheap, usually French, Japanese, or Korean, and very old by British standards, but not quite old enough to be interesting. Continue reading “Theme : Places – Another Snapshot from Occupied Europe”

Theme : Places – Snapshots from Occupied Europe

Let us briefly remind ourselves of Leslie Poles Hartley’s words, ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’. 

viva-in-e-berlin
All images: The Author

The country photographed is now in the past, the Deutsche Demokratische Rebublik, a failed state which ceased to exist in 1990, and they really did do things differently there. When I took these photos nine years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the DDR was dysfunctional, but very much extant, and didn’t look as if it would be brought down any time soon. Continue reading “Theme : Places – Snapshots from Occupied Europe”

Theme: Places – Destinations, Take 2

A car is for more than driving to Ikea, the shops and the petrol station. 

Chantilly, France
Chantilly, France

On the way we are supposed to enjoy the experience (driving dynamics and all that) yet they are a means to an end point, aren’t they? So, how much of car ownership is about the idea of going somewhere nice whenever the mood takes you? This provides me with the opportunity to reflect a little on the destinations I have not yet reached with a car. Continue reading “Theme: Places – Destinations, Take 2”

Theme : Places – Mountains

‘Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour…’ 

I’ve already expressed my infatuation with the confines of the underground car park. Now I visit the other extreme, my desire to Climb Every Mountain – as long as I can do it in a car. Although I’ve shaken off most my youthful fears, some things remain. I’ve always hated heights for instance, even though a part of my working life has involved climbing ladders and towers, but I’ve never been at my ease. And take me to the edge of a precipice and the inevitable desire to either launch myself off it or to run away takes hold. So I guess I’d make a lousy mountaineer. But put me in a car driving along the edge of that precipice at 100kph and I’m fine. Mid-Summer sun, torrential rain or snow are all fine by me too, though the last does demand the right tyres to make it less of a gamble. And the view from a mountain top is one of those rare times you do get a reasonable and refreshing confirmation of your own insignificance. Continue reading “Theme : Places – Mountains”

Theme: Places – Oxford, Cambridge, Blenheim, Hereford, Somerset

Indeed. Quite a list of destinations for the person interested in cars named after UK places.

1961 Morris Oxford: source
1961 Morris Oxford: source

And they don’t do that anymore, do they? Yet the Americans are still happily driving around in Aspens, Tahoes, Malibus and Colorados. Seat, to my knowledge still sell an Ibiza, Ateca and Leon. The French and Germans are less willing to use their place names for their products, are they not? Continue reading “Theme: Places – Oxford, Cambridge, Blenheim, Hereford, Somerset”

Theme: Places – Destinations

Much driving tends to be routine: schools, works, shops, petrol stations and futile trips to Ikea…

Hell: source
Hell: source

…where you remember why it is you hate the place and never want to come back. I am quite far along with that resolution now. It has taken about 14 years to realise that everything they sell is worse than useless and that even focused purchases such as a child’s desk will end in disappointment (the hole in the top surface for the lamp cable is very annoying).

The Ikea experience is heavily suburban. It relies on a large, cheap expanse of land which is usually a long way from human habitations. This entails a large expanse of Continue reading “Theme: Places – Destinations”

Theme: Places – Cortina

The joke’s on me: Cortina isn’t just a 70’s Ford. The 1956 Olympics took place there. The car came in 1962.

Cortina, Italy: source
Cortina, Italy: source

Ford make decent affordable cars for people like you and me. Even if we may never buy one, most people could imagine owning a Ford whether they really want to or not. So, how plausible is the Cortina name?

I will immediately admit that until I started writing this, I knew nothing about Cortina other than that it was a town in Italy. Prior to that (sometime about a year ago) it dawned on me it was a place-name. If you Continue reading “Theme: Places – Cortina”

Theme : Places – The Multi-Storey

Concrete Hell, or one of life’s small pleasures?

When I was 17, a few months after passing my driving test, I took the family Fiat 124 up to London on my own. This was the first time I had driven in a city and I was both wary and excited. Various bits of that trip remain vivid. Although the M4 was opened by then, I came in on the A4 Great West Road so that I could pass the various factories at Brentford, including the Art Deco Firestone Factory. I remembered these from the back seat during earlier trips with my parents, and they seemed an essential part of the romance of visiting London. After Hammersmith I joined Cromwell Road and found myself in the centre lane of quite fast moving traffic rising up a flyover on a left hand curve. This seemed a great challenge, but I held my nerve and learned Rule One of City driving – as long as there’s space ahead, just keep going, don’t lift. Continue reading “Theme : Places – The Multi-Storey”

Theme: Places – The Danish/German border

One drives at a sedate 120 kmph along the Danish motorway to the border with Germany. Not so long ago there were guards controlling this boundary.

Space-time breach: source
Space-time breach: source

One stopped or came to a rolling halt. If you were sufficiently ethnically correct you’d be waved through. Or, if they didn’t like the cut of your jib, a quick look at the passport might have been required.

Either way, one usually had to go from standstill or walking pace back up top speed (unrestricted on the German side). At this point I commonly experienced a shock as a car doing light speed would zoom past, seemingly having accelerated from near-zero (just like me) to 220 in the time it took me to get to

Continue reading “Theme: Places – The Danish/German border”

Theme: Places – Ascona

A reflection on the car and the town: Ascona.

1972 Opel Ascona: source
1972 Opel Ascona: source

Ascona could be a place that takes you to other places, as in the driver’s seat of the Opel Ascona (1970-1988) or it could be the town in the Locarno district of Switzerland. I have to admit that until very recently in my life the Opel’s Swiss association lingered at the very far back of my mind. It lurked somewhere with Portuguese kings and medieval musical instruments. For most of my time on earth Ascona meant not a nice Swiss town but an unremarkable shape that usually rusted by the side of the road.
Continue reading “Theme: Places – Ascona”

Theme: Places – Scene of the Accident

There are some places you simply don’t want to go.

Image: Motorauthority
Image: Motorauthority

In his transgressive 1973 novel, ‘Crash’, novelist JG Ballard explored a netherworld where a group of symphorophiliasts play out their fetishes of eroticism and death amid the carnage of motor accidents. But while most of us might find ourselves staring luridly against our better instincts at some roadside crumplezone, we recoil in dread from the blood and the bone. It could after all so easily be ourselves trapped and lifeless inside some shattered hatchback. Continue reading “Theme: Places – Scene of the Accident”

Theme: Places – Pakistan (classic motoring)

One of the things I like about libraries is that you find things by chance in a way that an internet search does not. 

1983 Chevrolet Caprice (?): www.pakwheels.com
1983 Chevrolet Caprice (?): http://www.pakwheels.com

Exceptions occur such as this discovery of the Vintage & Classic Car Club of Pakistan. Pakistan’s most popular cars are the Toyota Corolla, the Suzuki Mehran and the Sukuki Cultus which we know as the Swift and sometimes the Subaru Justy. Next is the Alto which now looks very aggressive… and so on through a list of practical, useful and not very expensive cars. However, it’s not all low-cost motoring… Continue reading “Theme: Places – Pakistan (classic motoring)”

Theme: Places – Petrol Stations

For about a century, petrol stations have been the one place all cars had to go to. Their time may be running out though.

Gone: wikipedia.org
Gone: wikipedia.org

In Europe, Italy has the most petrol stations (21,000), followed by Germany (16,000). Quite possibly in less than a few decades, the petrol station will be as rare a sight as a horse trough. Already their numbers seem to be dwindling. Three quarters of UK petrol stations have closed since 1975. In Londonland there are 34,000 cars per petrol station. Part of the loss is to do with changes in the economic geography of the stations. Many of the oldest ones were in urban centres and quite probably it is more profitable to put an office or apartment building in the same location than to Continue reading “Theme: Places – Petrol Stations”

Theme : Places – Introduction

Our Editor returns late to his desk following an unfortunate delay at the hands of an industry PR man holding a particularly fine Oloroso and is, for the first time in his life, late with his copy.

Image : Les Hill Collection: Mount Gambier Library via abc.net.au
Image : Les Hill Collection: Mount Gambier Library via abc.net.au

The year’s end approaches and our thoughts traditionally drift to where we have visited this year, and where we might visit next year. This last month, our minds have been on South America, a place that distance still renders as slightly mysterious and exotic to we Europeans.

If you travel with a car, it’s impossible to avoid noticing that its character can suddenly make more sense or, conversely, that it can become out of its depth, depending on where you are. It’s a matter of place. Continue reading “Theme : Places – Introduction”