Car trials are practically as old as the motorcar itself. Take a vintage automobile and point it in the direction of a steep hill. Throw in muddy, rutted tracks and/or forest areas. Combine this with unpredictable British weather and you have the makings of a most rewarding, if rather sodden day out.
The Setting: A former limestone quarry in the heart of the picturesque Derbyshire dales. Now verdant and a haven for walkers and bike riders, its industrial heritage has become well hidden unless you Continue reading “John Harris Insists You Try”
“If things don’t change, they’ll stop as they are” is a traditional North Yorkshire saying for stating the bleeding obvious. But change is irresistible and inevitable, especially when it involves cityscapes or modes of transportation.
The picture above is of the South Street Kitchen, a particularly attractive section of the Park Hill Flats complex. A little background: originally built between 1957 and 1961 as a brave new concept in urban living, Park Hill’s concrete superstructure was constructed on former cholera-ridden slums. Initially heralded as an architectural triumph, the buildings suffered vandalism and neglect for many years before finally blossoming into a colourful Sheffield living space after a major redevelopment.Continue reading “Sheffield Steel”
The Pet Shop Boys considered them hell, Chevrolet named a vehicle after them eighty years ago. The award winning band Arcade Fire devoted an entire album towards them in 2010. According to lead singer, Win Butler, the album “is neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs – it’s a letter from the suburbs.” The Canadian band’s genre has proved difficult to pin down; journalists having dubbed them indie or art rock – one amongst them resorting to baroque pop. Today, let’s Continue reading “The Sprawl”
Today we muse upon the supposed relation between cars and their countries of origin.
Many years ago, in a British car magazine, I read an interview with an American car company executive about his employer’s attempts to crack the European car market (this was back in the days of efforts like Chrysler’s Neon sub-brand) in which he waxed lyrical on the subject of typically American virtues such as spaciousness in cars. Given that, certainly at the time, my primary association with the concept American car was the TARDIS-in-reverse quality of a typical land-yacht cabin, it wasn’t a terribly convincing argument. Nor did the executive in question seem to Continue reading “Country Club or Brand Values?”
The fallout from the 1956 Suez Crisis was a significant factor in encouraging the growth in demand for small cars across Europe in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Here is a brief summary of that historic event.
The 1956 Suez Crisis shattered the complacency that had prevailed in Europe since the end of the Second World War with regard to the security of Middle East oil supplies. With strong historic colonial ties to the region, Britain and France assumed that their interests could be protected via diplomatic ‘soft’ power and the perceived threat of military intervention in extremis. Continue reading “Micropost: The Suez Crisis in Brief”
We travel to Cortina – by Cortina. In a manner of speaking.
Back at a time when both the world and DTW was young, we had the time, imagination and intellectual bandwidth to employ a monthly theme, a literary device which would both inform the site’s content over the period in question and serve as something of a creative spur to the writers. And spur it did, garnering innumerable articles on subjects both diverse and arcane – many of which I would urge you to Continue reading “Regina delle Dolomiti”
It’s Spring 1981, and I’m in Charlottenburg, on the western edge of the British Occupied Sector of West Berlin.
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”
Let us briefly remind ourselves of Leslie Poles Hartley’s words, ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’.
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”
A car is for more than driving to Ikea, the shops and the petrol station.
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”
“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.
Much driving tends to be routine: schools, works, shops, petrol stations and futile trips to Ikea…
…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 joke’s on me: Cortina isn’t just a 70’s Ford. The 1956 Olympics took place there. The car came in 1962.
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 knew about Cortina the Italian town, please forgive this show of ignorance.
Think of it as a case study in the problems of borrowed names. As I said in my article on Ascona, a place name needs to be plausible. That means the image of the place and the image of the car must be in some kind of synchronisation. If the brand name itself is neutral then a model name can Continue reading “Theme: Places – Cortina”
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”
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.
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
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. Opel must have had in mind the image of a pretty lakeside village with roots deep in the Bronze age but which is first mentioned in 1224 as Burgus de Scona. Until the end of the 19th century Asconans occupied themselves with fishing and agriculture but they also sometimes went forth as masons to Continue reading “Theme: Places – Ascona”
There are some places you simply don’t want to go.
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”
For about a century, petrol stations have been the one place all cars had to go to. Their time may be running out though.
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”
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.
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”