Friday, 30 October 2009

The must-have Mulsanne

It was August when I first set eyes upon Bentley's new Mulsanne. I wrote about it on this very site at the time, saying I thought it too bling, too overt, too 'non-U' to appeal to we Bentley connoisseurs.

But I was wrong. I still stand by everything I said in August; that the wheels were too big and too chromed, that it was far too 50 Pence, P Diddly or Acorn for my liking. The chromed window surrounds were too heavy-handed, the colour didn't suit it, and it was not elegant. The biggest issue in my view was that the wide wings and grille, and single round headlights, made the nose look pinched.

Bentley's mistake was smaller than I first thought. The problem was to launch it at Pebble Beach in it's blingomatic guise, rather than in a more tastefully sporting spec. I've since seen pictures of the Frankfurt show car. In Neptune Blue and set upon five spoke alloy wheels, the car looks infinitely more upmarket than it did in Champagne and with 4 chromed dustbin lids masquerading as wheels. It also seems - though this could be a trick of the light at Frankfurt - that the chromed window surrounds are an optional extra.

But I've been playing around, as is my wont, in Photoshop. And in Brooklands Green, on those 5 spoke wheels, it looks damn good. Good enough, certainly, for me to change my mind and conclude that it really does look like a proper Bentley. The Frankfurt car also helped me see what is even more apparent in the recoloured car at the top of this article; just how close I got to the real thing in my pre-launch photoshop from early August.

Bentley seem to have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat here. But, in fairness, I can see why they did what they did. The fact is, most cars of the Mulsanne's ilk are bought by blingsters nowadays. Bentley were trying to sell the car to it's prospective buyers. We connoisseurs could wait, they must have thought, because we're more likely to buy them secondhand than new. I hope that Bentley see fit to display one at the NEC this year - I understand there is a hall for the high class modern stuff as well as for the classics - to give me a chance to judge it for real. But until I see it in the metal, I'm now happy with it.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The camaraderie of classic car connoisseurs, and my first tastes of Leyland

Written for AROnline

Last Sunday I went to a Rover 800 forum and M+MOC forum meetup at the premises of my friend Mal Watson near York. I met up with several old friends, and met some new faces. However, I will remember the weekend mostly for two things. Mal's barn is on a farm, with several private roads, and I was lucky enough be offered the chance to try two cars I have never driven before.

Firstly, Chris from the Rover 800 board offered me a spin in his Startins Regency. For those who don't know, a Regency is a Rover 827Si with two feet added to the middle. I've always liked big cars, and the Rover 800 is an old favourite, so I relished the opportunity to drive my first 800. The first thing I noticed was that the steering is very light indeed - there is feel but it's a very easy car to drive. Secondly, the extra length didn't seem to adversely affect it that much - only when trying a three point turn - that became 5 due to the width of the roads - did I have any problems. It's also cemented my desire to own an 827 - although maybe not one quite that long to begin with.

Secondly, Ray Greenwood, who had given me a lift up from Sheffield, gave me the keys to his Austin Montego 1.6 Mayfair; the car I used to illustrate my last blog.. This was the first manual car I'd driven since passing my test, so my first thought was not to foul up and stall it before I'd set off. However, the gearbox wasn't a worry at all. What was a concern was the steering. Perhaps I'm a limp-wristed fairy nancy-boy, but I found the non-assisted steering unbelievably heavy - here is a car which needs power assistance. I'm assured by Ray that it frees up at speed. From a passenger's point of view, the car surprised me in it's civility. Even at motorway speeds it was relaxed and quiet; more so even than my father's 2001 Jaguar. A twenty-five year old design it did not seem. Again, I'm impressed enough to want one - although a Vanden Plas EFi auto is more my thing I think.

The event also taught me something that those into the old car scene will appreciate. It's not just about the cars, nor even the shows. It's about the friendships you form. This was the first time I had met Chris, and only the second time I'd met Ray. And yet both were willing to let me drive their cars; when neither had seen me drive before. It was only the second time I'd met Mal Watson, and yet he was kind enough to welcome me into his premises like an old friend. I knew a number of people from previous events, and some were new to me. Yet all of them greeted me as an old comrade, and made me feel at home. And because we are BL enthusiasts, there's no elitism such as you'd find in Mercedes, Jaguar, or Rolls Royce circles. It was the perfect way to end the show season.

Except that it isn't the end. In a fortnight I'm doing the NEC show, which should be just as good.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Back to

Written for Practical Classics

Forgive me if this blog doesn't seem to talk about cars that much - I accept that it doesn't. I have however got a point to make, so if you're not doing much - washing the dog, taking the dishes for a walk etc - stick around.

There is - or seems to be - a stigma attached to the colour brown. Don't ask me why, there just is. Brown is a colour that most of the fashionista would dismiss as just being uncool.

Why? Lots of nice things are brown. Cask ales are by and large brown. My old, worn, and much loved pair of shoes are brown. Dogs are brown. Wood is brown. And yet when somebody chooses brown from a list of available colours somehow he becomes a social pariah, liked only by those whose guide dogs cannot tell the difference.

As somebody who wouldn't know if Ralph Saint Laurent were doing anything new or daring this year (or decade), it will come as scant surprise to you that I rather like brown. I do. From here I can see my brown curtains, brown bedsheets, brown quilt cover and pillow, brown wardrobes, brown door and brown noticeboard. The eagle eyed may also have spotted that the titles of blogs here are picked out in Leyland Mace brown - a particularly questionable shade.

Which brings me onto a more relevant topic. Brown seems to have fallen from most car manufacturers' colour charts now. I can think of but a few cars I know can be ordered in such a hue. Toyota's Avensis and the new Smart are the most prolific examples. And the number with brown interiors is fewer still - cream doesn't count. I'm having trouble thinking of any cars from the last 2 decades with brown seats and a brown dashboard.

And yet in the right shade and application it can look sublime. I once saw a metallic brown Maserati Quattroporte which looked like it had just come out of the pages of a fashionable motoring magazine. Which was exactly where I saw it. The brown Montego Mayfair at the top of this article manages to look fantastic, even though it's brown. And a Montego.

Brown is due a comeback, and the cars we have today are ideal to do this with. The new Jaguar range. the Aston Rapide. Hell, even the new Bentley Mulsanne would look stunning in metallic brown. So I've decided to form a society; the Brown Car Appreciation Guild. This will serve not only to unite those of us with such taste, but to convince car manufacturers that there is a market for scatologically shaded saloons and sportsters. Who's with me?