Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Back To The Future

Rolls Royce Phantom, in brown with a brown Everflex roof. STOP IT!

It's odd that a man who secretly thinks we're still living in 1987 has become a style and fashion guru. And believe me, it was entirely unintended - whilst I own silver suits and red braces, I don't parade the fashionable streets showing off, I've never contributed to fashion boards, and I let so few people photograph me I'll never become a pin-up.

My style icon status hasn't even been personal - for which I suppose the masses should be glad, though a return to the days of shoulder pads and perms needn't be a bad thing. No, my impact has been felt in the world of motoring.

You might recall my jubilation last year in discovering my first prediction had been right; that brown has returned as a colour option in many companies' motoring palettes. At the time I was unused to this sensation; having been right when predicting the return of a left-field choice many would rather forget. As such I focused my sights on the one item I genuinely thought would be left hidden at the back of the design cupboard of much shame in the stylists' sitting rooms.

But no. I've been proven right again to my eternal dismay. The vinyl roof, for so long considered passé, consigned to the history books and the world of the Las Vegas Limo, is starting to make a comeback.

We saw elements of this earlier in the decade with the Audi TT quattro Sport, with it's gloss black roof serving no purpose than to trumpet the return of vinyl-style contrat roofs. The Jaguar XJ's misguided black D pillar was strangely reminiscent of the P6 Series 2, too - that was the point at which I made my ridiculous prediction. But now two more manufacturers have come out in blatant support of the Everflex roof - and annoyingly both are REAL vinyl rather than a coat of paint.

Rolls Royce have offered vinyl roofed Phantoms for a fair few months now, including the Saudi spec Baynunah pictured above. And now Mazda have joined the act with the Mazda2 Black - complete with, you guessed it, a black vinyl roof.

What I'd normally have done at this point is blithely predict the return of the Ro-Style wheel or something like that. But I'm concerned I'm becoming something I hoped never to be. The trouble with fashion icons is they're revered briefly, then cast aside like the plastic seat protectors in a brand new Royce. I've always hankered after style, which is permanent but less adored. This explains my love of the Rover Sterling, the XJ40, and various old bits of tin from Crewe. Before long we'll be looking at cars like the M3 decked out in brown with a tan vinyl roof, and I'll have to become a hermit until all the fuss dies down. God in heaven, it'll be awful.

But what I am going to do, despite that rant, is make further predictions. We've seen the return on the Polo Bluemotion of Austin Rover economy spoilers as seen on all the best Metro and Maestro HLEs. I think that in these days of eco-friendliness we shall see more tributes to economy from the back catalogue of motoring. Let's see what we can suggest.

Clearly, first to go will be the large diameter, wide wheels. These only increase rolling resistance, meaning greater amounts of fuel are needed for propulsion. They'll have to go, bringing the pleasant side effect of less road noise. I predict that with them will go the craze for the alloy. Small steel wheels are bound to be lighter than anything sporting could ever be - readers will note that most sporting additions to cars make them heavier. All the toys will go, the quest for saving weight and thus fuel will put an end to on board computers, standard electric mirrors and windows, air conditioning and many more items. We'll end the craze for tall cars too, the lower a shape the better it cleaves through the air, and thus the better it'll be on fuel.

There. Four predictions for cars of the future that are unlikely to happen. And if they do, I'll give up and find a job in IT.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Railing against motorway miles

As I write, I'm on a train somewhere between Chesterfield and Derby. And I'm wondering if the environmentally friendly leftist public transport types might not have a point.

SHOCK HORROR! A petrolhead praising public transport? Stop pinching yourself; it's true. But I'm not about to start a soliloquy about the bus, nor shall I wax lyrical on the virtues of the tram. The train is my one public transport weakness.

Of some 13000 miles travelled in the last twelve months, I would estimate that about 5000 have been by train. And there's a good reason - in fact, there are a few. I've just hit Derby, thirty minutes after putting down a pint glass in Sheffield. In just over two hours from the point of writing I shall have hit Bristol, where my journey will break for the evening. I've listened to half of the Rio album, but then I could have quite easily done that on the M1 in a Rover Sterling. Big deal. Show me the motorist, however, who has had time to read the Telegraph between Sheffield and Derby. In return, I'll show you the motorway barrier he crashed into. I also have copies of The Times and Private Eye to entertain me on my journey - motorway man has not.

I shan't pretend that train travel is cheap - a standard class ticket from Meadowhall to Bristol Lawrence Hill is the nasty side of fifty quid even at student rates. But consider my taste in tin - how many old Jags, big Rovers or Merc W124s can cover 200 miles on fifty quid, let alone do the return leg for just 25p more?

It's also rather comfortable - my handwriting isn't legible but the ride of this train at least ensures it's less illegible than it would be when written in the back of a chauffeured XJ40. I'm over six feet tall, yet the only encumbrance to space is the overnight bag I have wedged behind my legs. This could have gone in a luggage rack but I prefer to keep smaller items of luggage with me. So as far as provisions go, it's excellent.

I have access to food and drink too - not hastily snatched like a sausage roll from a motorway service station. I also can't leave crumbs in the car if I'm on the train. Try that in your S320. I know it's hardly a la carte but the only time you get that in a car is if you're Ian Richardson in the Grey Poupon advert.

But the key benefit is that things GET DONE on the train. I make no apology for having a schedule that calls for multitasking whilst travelling, but consider this; if I'd taken the car, another week would have gone by without a From The Captain's Chair update.

The downside is it's not really fun to get on in one place and just get off in another. It's the real-life equivalent of a matter transference beam. But consider the alternative, for the trip I'm making. M1, M42, M40, M5, M32. Is that REALLY such fun> Motorway driving requires just enough concentration to stop you reading something awful like the Guardian, yet returns just enough boredom to make you long to.

For long haul dull trips why take the car? If, like me, you find motoring an art and pleasure, what is motorway work but the eternal scratching of infinite nails down the blackboard of your own despair? If Toad Hall had been just off the M4, would Toad have enjoyed screaming POOP POOP! long enough to get locked up? I don't think he'd have bothered.

So why should you?