Thursday, 10 April 2008

The 4x4 craze, and why it should be stopped

Tell me, where is Sloane Street's Kilimanjaro? Cheyne Way's Everest? the Ben Nevis of Swan Walk? They don't exist. So why do people need expedition vehicles for a trip to the shops or to pick up the kids?

I'm referring here to what are known as Chelsea Tractors, the needless and wasteful piles of cow excrement such as the Porsche Cayenne and the BMW X5. They are huge, thirsty, and too tall to see through for dangers, should you have the misfortune to pull up at the side of one. Yeah, they go off-road, but only onto a footpath, and if you can drive an old Lancia Beta across an entire African country, a kerb won't defeat something like an Audi A4.

In fact, a kerb wouldn't defeat a bloody Caterham, so why do we need these six foot tall leviathans clogging up the artieries of Britain. They're clots, much like their owners. They should all be banned. Except 2...

'Series' Land Rovers, including the Defender, and Range Rovers, would not be banned under my system for 3 very good reasons. Firstly, they're British. They are made in the Midlands, at the former Rover SD1 factory in Solihull. Secondly, they are not bad looking - every time I see a Range Rover Classic or a proper Landie, I smile. And thirdly, they actually work off-road. However, to be allowed, they would have to do at least one tenth of their yearly mileage off-road. I don't object to 4x4s if they're used properly.

But the rest? X5s, Q7s, Cayennes and ML-Classes that are used, at best, on unpaved carparks?

Give them to the infamous Harry Seager - also known as Landie_Man or Rockdude online - for his next explosive film.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Spandau Ballet and the SD1

As a response to blogs seen elsewhere, I've decided to make my favoruite historical era into a blog.

And it's the 80s. The decade of Blondie, Ultravox, and Kraftwerk. The Thatcher years. Rover's SD1, the Audi Quattro, and the 205 GTi.

I just like the lot. The cars that were around at the time (this would have included cars of the late 60s and the 70s) were from what in my opinion were the best decades for motors - we had the excellent Rover SD1, the Golf GTi, and Ford's XR3 for a kick-off. The Capri had reached it's best generation, and we were to see one of my favourite MGs ever, the Maestro Turbo.

I am listening to 'Call Me' by Blondie as I am writing this. When I am not, I can be found listening to Roxy Music, Spandau Ballet, Midge Ure, and the children of my hometown, Human League. Even today, the music of this era remains popular - name me a single person (especially on the Internet, where it has featured in at least 2 pranks to my knowledge) who has never heard Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up".

And I admire the politics of the time. The Iron Lady inherited a poor economy, entered into war (which we won), and she managed to reduce the power of the trade unions. Her legacy (of a sort) has lived on, in Tony Bliar (who tried to emulate her as a conviction politician, but will now be remembered for the farce that was Iraq) and David Cameron. Indeed, we need another Prime Minister like her to succeed Brown if we are to avoid financial crisis in the coming years. Indeed, opinion polls suggest hat were she to stand today, she would easily win the next general election. Yeah, she made it hard for some, but overall the country was better off for having had her.

One factor on it's own could qualify the 80s as the greatest decade of the 20th century, but the strength of three seals it for me. Of course, if you disagree with me, start your own blog and tell us which decade you think is the best. I'm even thinking of abandoning my mop, and going for a mullet.

Long live the 80s.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes - what next for the Gene genie?

As people of taste (you have to be to be be a reader of this column) I'm presuming that all of you have at least some awareness of who Gene Hunt is. The right wing, outdated, outspoken Regan-esque copper from Life On Mars, and more recently, Ashes To Ashes. Philip Glenister, who portrays gene, has said he doesn't want to take gene into the 1990s or beyond, nor does he want to really go any further back. But I have a theory, a way that we get to see more programming of this format without forcing Gene to have moved with the times and lost some of what makes him special.

You know how Alex Drake and Sam Tyler both had severely traumatic incidents to take them back in time? Well, what about giving the Gene geneie of, say, 1989, an incident to bring him kciking and screaming into the 21st century?

I see Hunt struggling to comprehend things we see as simple today; logging into to the now compulsory computers, satnavs, and assorted paraphernalia. I see his stunned countenance upon learning of Community Support Officers, with little power, instead of having more proper PCs. I am able to picture how he will be treated; as an outated dinosaur, forever being within one word of being sacked, despite the fact he delivers results, because of his unorthdox methods. I can see his wheels: a black MG ZT260, and I .... can think of no good way to finish this sentence.

Anyway, we now need a disaster. And I have the perfect disaster to get Hunt embroiled in. Having grown bored of the southern ponces, he heads back north. However, as Manchester has painful memories (Tyler's death, his wife leaving him), he opts for the other side of the Pennines. Sheffield. He is called to assist with the now infamous incident at the Sheffield Wednesday football stadium on April 15th, 1989. Whilst attempting to control the crowd, he is pushed to the floor. Hundreds of fans are being forced, by sheer crowd pressure, over him. He passes out.

He awakens in one of the Spion Kop turnstiles, in 2008. No-one is in sight, despite the fact he is sure he was crushed. He staggers out onto the main road, and sees shapes, strange shapes. He makes his way back to the station at which he had been based in 1989, and the story unravels from there....

It's probably obvious that very little thought has gone into this, but it's an idea. Anyone else reckon it'd be damn good telly?

Monday, 7 April 2008

Does Retro work?

Looking at the past is something I have no problem with - so long as it's true to the SPIRIT of the original.

For example, the oh-so-gorgeous Jag XF is a car that captures the spirit of the MK2: An up-to-the-minute, cool, posh motor. The S-Type got it wrong.

The Rover 75 works as a retro car because whilst it looks like the P6, it captures the spirit of the Princess IMO perfectly - a soft, biggish, British saloon car.

The little Fiat captures the spirit of the 500 perfectly. The Panda, that is. A little car, that looks lovely, and was designed to be cheap. The 500's fine, but it's just a good car in a fancy frock. Not true to the original 500 ethos.

However, the Volkswagen Beetle fails on a number of fronts. It is a front engined, left wing, style icon, the polar opposite of the original Kraft durch Freude Wagen. That was a Nazi, rear engined, hateful, practical car that is still popular because of it's reliability.

And finally, the BINI. I would have no problem with this car had it been launched as, and styled similarly to, the Triumph Herald/Vitesse. A small car from a company known for it's driver's cars. That would have been fine, and I'd probably have bought one. I object to it because it is a big car with a small interior. NOT a Mini, and Issigonis would be turning in his grave.

To move on now to the Volkswagen Scirocco, I suspect that my response here will surprise a few. Yeah, Ray Charles designed the grille, but other than that it's a reasonably attractive car. And considering it's gonna be cheaper than the identical Golf GTi, you'd be mad to spend the extra money on the hatch. It suffers from the same affliction as the S-TYPE, the Vanden Plas 1500, and the Ford Scorpio. It's looks are an acquired taste. And with the exception of the Coke-sniffing Jag, I like all of 'em. I'm sure the Golf's a great car, but given the choice between a Golf, a Scirocco, and, say, a Focus ST, I'd take the coupe every time.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Is it time to say TATA to "the end of the British motor industry"?

As those of you who keep up with motoring news are probably aware, Tata Motors, creators of the Nano I referred to in an earlier blog, have bought Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford. This sale includes the Rover nameplate, and also those of Daimler and Lanchester. With such an armoury, I wouldn't leave two names languishing in the history books, and one more so under-promoted and seemingly undervalued it may as well not exist. I would create a full range of Western cars with the names at my disposal.

My plans are simple. Replace the X-Type with a new Rover, strengthen the Daimler brand, and introduce a large, green, limousine to act as a latter day Daimler DS420 under the Lanchester moniker.

The Rover first. I would replace the X Type with a rear wheel drive car of similar size, but a hatchback. This will be available with the 2.5 and 3.0 V6 petrol engines, and will use the 3.5 version of the Jaguar V8 that powers the XJ. I plan on calling this the Rover 2500, the Rover 3000, and the Rover 3500. These will be available in standard, S, and SE trim. A performance model will be available to rival BMW's M3, with the next-gen Jaguar 5.0 V8, and under the name of Rover 5000R. For fleet buyers, and Oli South, both a 2.2 and a 2.7 diseasal option will be available, lifted from the X and XF respectively.

The next model in my range would be Jaguar's excellent XF. This would remain as it is, no changes.

Then would be the XJ. I understand plans are afoot to make the next XJ into a modern interpretation of the old Mk X, far wilder than the XF, and indeed touted as the most advanced looking Jag since the XK120, some 60 years ago. I'm dubious as to whether or not this is a good thing, but as development is underway I am powerless to change this in the foreseeable future.

So we move to Daimler. I would keep the existing Daimler models in production until I had a replacement ready. This replacement would be a classically designed saloon, evolving from the current Daimlers as the XJ range has over the last 40 years. This will be, I understand, a niche model, but it will help retain people who feel alienated by Jaguar's new direction. It would be available as a saloon and as a large coupe in the mould of Mercedes' CL.

The Jaguar XK range is fine, no need to mess there.

Land Rover: I would introduce a V8 Defender. Besides that, the Freelander would be made front wheel drive, with 4wd as an option. This would attract fleet buyers and school run mums, tempted by cheaper fuel bills, and would also be considered greener and thus be placed in a lower tax band. Discovery and Range Rover can stay, however I see no point in the footballer's favourite, the RR Sport. So it would be axed.

And finally the Lanchester. This would be a car to rival the Bentley Arnage and Rolls Royce Phantom, powered by both a 4.2 litre V8 and an electric motor, used in conjunction to create a hybrid. Provision would also be made for an LPG tank, to further boost the car's green credentials in comparison to it's rivals.

I know, I'm wittering on about "green" this, and "hybrid" that, and as many of you know I couldn't give a damn about the environment. But green sells cars these days, so it has to be taken into account. And I know, I've left the most affordable and popular sectors of the market out of my plans, but there is method in my madness. When funds allow Tata to buy another name from our glorious past, be it from the defunct Rootes empire owned by PSA, or from NAC-MG's mighty stable, the motoring press would all be saying that the smaller cars that will wear this new badge were from the same company as the Rover range, or the Jaguar XF. And this association would help sales.

The cars would need to be good to even get the smallest look-in, but the team at Jaguar and Land Rover have proven themselves. And Tata's bean-counters have shown with the Tata Nano that it is possible to build a cheap car, so the cars can undercut their rivals to begin with if need be.

You know, I do believe I'm onto something here. I think that given good circumstances, this could work, work well, and prove to the world that Britain can do decent cars once more*.

*I know, they're owned by Indians, but the JLR factories, where these cars would be made, are in the UK. And the workforce are from the UK. And, let us not forget, India is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, and a former British colony.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Time machines and Triumph Dolomites

There is an ebay seller who has occupied my dreams for the last year. He goes by the name of thedoctor102, and almost every time I visit eBay he has at least one car from the 60s, 70s, or 80s with the sort of mileage and in the sort of condition you'd expect from your brand new Ford Focus. When I looked today, he had a mint 331-mile Morris Ital HL, and a 9000-mile Hillman Super Imp. In the past, he has had several Minis, Avengers, another Ital, Jag XJs, an early 316, and a late Dolomite 1300. All in better condition than the day they left the factory, and with under 20000 miles on them.

And it's got me thinking; if I had the time machine he undoubtedly has, what would I bring myself back?

It's tricky, the cars must have that special something. Speed, elegance, eccentricity, that je ne sais quoi that you just will not find in a Nissan Micra, or a Lexus.

I think I've managed to narrow it down however to a select few cars that I would love to have. I know this is similar to my 'dream garage' post of a few months ago, but bear with me.

I would bring back a Rover SD1 VP EFi, a Citroen CX, a Triumph Dolomite Sprint, and a Wolseley 'wedge'. I would bring also a Morris Marina Sun-Tor, a Daimler Double Six SIII, and also a Bentley S2 Continental MPW drophead.

And if you need to ask why those cars, or why I'd bring them from when they were new, you can't imagine why. It's one of those feelings that you need to experience to understand. I know a man who would bring back a Cortina MK1 Super and a Fiesta Supersport. It's the same thing. We all have our favourite classics, and for them to be factory fresh, to have that new car feel, it must be heaven.

Don't you agree?

Friday, 11 January 2008

The real new Mini?

Elsewhere on the Interweb, I have made the case to back up a belief I have held for months: namely, that the real new Mini is the Mitsubishi i.

And it's a solid case, it is a small car, intended for city use, with 4 seats, a tiny engine/drive package, and a boot. Is also is in keeping with trends, and I would imagine it appeals to younger buyers too.

But yesterday, I saw an article on the news about the Tata Nano. This is not, as those of you not up to date with Indian cars will find surprising, a variant of the Apple's popular MP3 player which resembles a root vegetable. What it is is the new Mini.

The entirety of the argument I built up for the Mitsubishi still applies, but for a few small modifications. The interior of the Nano, for example, has a centrally mounted speedometer and not much else. The Nano has wheels that are perhaps better suited to a supermarket trolley. And, best of all, like the original Mini was it is stupidly cheap. It sells in India for the equivalent of just £1277.

This is mind-blowing. Our cheapest car in Britain is the £4500 Perodua Kelisa, unless it's been replaced with the latest daihatsu cast-off. To import the Nano, and to perform a similar 'Eurofication' as MG-Rover did to Tata's larger Indica to make the CityRover, should still cost less than this. And it looks good too, as it is seemingly a carbon copy of the Mitsubishi i.

Tata are the company set to buy Jaguar and land-Rover. This sale will presumably include the Rover name also (Will it include Lanchester?). We could see this Nano marketed in Britain under the Tata badge, with a more plush version along similar lines to Ford's Ka Luxury using the Rover nameplate.

Of course, Rover had this car twelve years ago. It was called Mini Spiritual, but was never made. The car would have featured a rear-mounted K-series, Hydragas suspension, and seperate subframes. It was rejected by BMW as it was too advanced.

Rover had the perfect opportunity to clean up the market and make a killing with this. And they were forced to throw it all away.

Mini Spiritual - Rover's missed opportunity