Monday, 22 March 2010

Classics; The Next Generation.

Who says the young are apathetic towards classics?

Almost one in five classic car owners feel that a lack of interest from the young is the greatest threat to the classic car movement, according to a 2009 Practical Classics/Footman James poll. That's right. The apathy of youth ranked second only to the fear of draconian 'green' policies banning the use of classic cars save for to travel to the odd show. A greater threat even than worries over parts. Now I'm sorry, but I refuse to accept this - for not one, but two very strong reasons.

Firstly, there is a surprising support for classics amongst the young. I know people with Peerlesses, with MGBs, Austin 1100s, old Land Rovers, you name it - and all these people are under 21. All of what I would call undergraduate or college age. There's a clear answer to this obviously; that I know all these people through old car communities and forums; that we met because of our love for old motors. As such, it's hardly representative of the views of the man on the campus. Not the case. A friend of mine was recently out driving his MGBGT when he came across a young woman driving a Triumph Spitfire. I know a chap with a Sunbeam Stiletto, whose girlfriend owns an Imp. A chap I was at college with had a Bond Equipe 2-litre and a Reliant SS1. And another presenter on the student radio station to which I contribute drives, I found out the other day, an Applejack Green Austin Allegro.

The second point is that the classic car movement is gradually evolving. What makes a car a classic to us? A topic oft-debated down the pub over a pint of best, but I think we can quite easily codify it. My personal definition of a classic car is one which evokes particular memories for the individual. Therefore my fond memories of holidaying in Wales with family in a Rover 827 mean that for me, the car evokes a feeling of nostalgia. If someone feels that with, say, a MK3 Escort (a car I cannot bring myself to desire) then to that person the family Ford is a classic. And if that same person sees a Rover 800 as a soulless barge with no right to classic status, then fine.

Take a look at the people who buy classics now. I know a man in his late fifties, who spent time working for both Triumph and Jaguar in the 1970s. He owns a Daimler Double Six S2 and recently restored a Dolomite Sprint. I know a chap whose first car was a Rover 2000TC - he's bought another P6 thirty years on for the memories. Cars that meant something to the individual at the time will one day be exhibited for the misty eyed to roam amongst at shows.

A mate of mine is selling his late 90s Honda Civic Coupe; a car into which he's put much time, love, and money. He's heartbroken, but he cannot afford to keep it whilst at university. When he's got to where he's going in life, he'll probably buy another as a hobby car and weekend toy. Another friend has a Fiat Punto which he adores, and wants to keep for when he has kids, and they wish to learn to drive. He'll end up keeping it as a second car, mollycoddling it and caring for it almost as one would for a pet, until then. These are the sorts of car we'll find on the show field in, say, 2035.

My point is this; as long as people love their cars and cherish the memories, there will be a classic car community. Yes, the number of us who love cars of the 60s and 70s will decline, but then look how few (relatively) old car fans prefer pre-war motors to those of the 1960s and 1970s. The young don't pose a threat, more that people of my generation represent the future of the hobby.

And regardless about how it may make you feel, it's going to happen.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Ugly duckling a blast from the past

Aston Martin Cygnet.

I want to talk, for what I think is the third time on these pages, about Aston Martin’s Cygnet. It was formally unveiled last week at the Geneva Motor Show, and my comments can now contain rather more than mere opinion or speculation. But there will still be a lot of the former.

Back in July I speculated that it would be put on sale at a price of £20-25,000, suggesting on Octane’s website in December that the sale price would be towards the lower end of this price bracket. No. Aston Martin think they can get away with selling the £10-13k IQ for nearer to £30,000 with an Aston grille and hand-stitched interior. I could have a fully specced MINI Cooper S Mayfair (Yes, another example of BMW’s Mini nomenclature misuse) and £1645 change for that. Or a Jaguar XF.

Yes, that’s right. Aston Martin are charging XF money for a Toyota in drag. That has a 1.3 engine, does 60 in thirteen seconds, and looks like a cross between a dishwasher and a rollerskate. Something doesn’t add up quite properly there, in my view.

Next criticism. It uses the standard Toyota drivetrain. I have always said it would, as in their defence have AM. But is it really right that a supercar manufacturer launch a car with less sporting performance figures than the company’s products of fifty years ago?

But I’m only halfway through this article, so you know there has to be a ‘however’. Well, there isn’t. I’m going to say ‘That said’ instead.

That said, I can see exactly what Aston are doing. They’ve chosen a base car that’s far too small and weedy to bear the Aston badge, but look at that £30,000 as high end Mondeo money rather than base XF money and it starts to slot into place. The Allegro-based Vanden Plas 1500 was a little car with a plush interior and slight cosmetic workover to ape the larger cars VP worked with; in this case Daimlers. Leyland saw fit to charge Dolomite and Princess money for the car, which in modern parlance becomes high end Mondeos and low end 3 Series BMWs. So what Aston have done is launch the car I’ve been bemoaning the loss of; a small luxury car.

They’ve done it in the wrong way, I stand by that. The iQ was the wrong base; if I’d been responsible I’d have chosen to base it on the Prius and given it a Rapide style makeover – assuming Toyota would have allowed it. You see, Aston could then claim a hybrid to it’s range, and the car would have been a suitable size to become a miniature limousine. And £30,000 wouldn’t look quite so steep in comparison with a £20,000 base as it does when the base car is half that. But the basic idea of a little limousine is one which is to be applauded, so the car gets a slightly reserved thumbs-up from me.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

One for the estate?

A Bentley with a difference; Touring's delightful take on the Continental.

This week sees the start of the largest and most prestigious European Motor Show, somewhat strangely held in Geneva - part of Europe's least car-friendly country. There's a lot to see, but there are two cars which really interest me. More on the second to come later. For now though, I'm going to concentrate upon the efforts of a small Italian company called Carrozeria Touring.

The name's familiar? Well, it should be. Touring are a styling house, known for the quietly elegant Sunbeam Venezia, the jaw-dropping Jensen Interceptor, and the shape that launched Aston into the big time; the DB4. They haven't lost their touch, either, if their latest idea is anything to go by.

Someone there must be very like me. I've always had a lot of time for sensible sports cars - things that go and handle but can take the family and the shopping. True GTs, in other words. And the bets of the affordable ones has always been Reliant's Scimitar GT/E - a four seat, comfortable, plush GT car with such a huge estate rear you could use it to go shopping, or to the south of France. And Touring have re-created this brilliant idea of a sports estate, using the most sporting car from my favourite marque as their base.

Bentley estates have never been what you could call common - the only ones I can really think of off the top are the Jankel Val d'Isere and it's Provence sister, both based on the Turbo R. But there's now a third, thanks to Touring. The Bentley Continental GT/E. That name's mine, by the way - I can't read what they've written in ornate script on the plates of the show car.

What they've done is take a GTC - for the stiffer floorpan - and rewored everything aft of the A pillar. And what it looks most like it a smoother and more stylish version of the Scirocco, combined with the aforementioned Reliant. It even has split fold rear seats, for added practicality. Given the lightning performance of the original, I'd not expect anything but an autobahnstormer in the unlikely event I'd get my hands on one of these - certainly 60 should be despatched in around 5 seconds or so, and 180+mph at the top end.

If the interior's unchanged, this car has joined my top ten dream cars. It's pretty, lovely inside, sensible, practical, and best of all, it's British. OK, styled by Italians, but so was the Interceptor. As the Elgar starts to become audible and the Union Flag falls behind me, I can well and truly describe this as potentially the best of British.

But it's half a million quid. Did I not mention that? The estimated price of about $800,000 works out at just over £530,000, which by my standards is stupid money. If memory serves the base car's about £120k, so marketing this at a hundred and fifty would be fair - there's the mods to cover, and the design fees. Touring seem to have realised they've been overambitious with the price - which is why they've announced that the Conti estate will be restricted to just twenty cars, split between standard and Speed models depending upon interest. This means I'll probably never see one.

But you never know. Bentley's boys may think it great - they did after all have a hand in making sure the quality was up to scratch. The VW Group director of engineering certainly likes it, as does RR designer Ian Cameron. And I hope and pray they they make it a factory model.

Sam has since discovered that the car will be called Flying Star - but as he feels this is pretentious he will not be editing the above article to correct this.