I have been driving my Mini for about 18 months now and I have come to a few conclusions. The first is that BMW make a very good car and the second is that I don’t want a new one. A bit of a contradiction? Maybe, but my reasons are firmly fixed in my personality, let me explain a bit further. Continue reading
Tag Archives: driving
I’m very rarely surprised these days, I seem to have contracted a state of mind that has grown over my psyche, encompassing it in a hard shell of cynicism and grudging acceptance. Sex, violence and swearing on TV hardly raise an eyebrow, but I remember back in the 1980’s when Channel 4 tried to advise the viewer that their late night movie might contain a flash of breast or the odd profanity, by putting a little red triangle in the upper corner of the screen. You can imagine how the ratings soared when that little symbol flashed up. Continue reading
I have said in the past that owning a car and then moaning about putting fuel into it to make it work is proof enough of the stupidity of some people. Its like buying a cat to keep you company and then being astonished that it needs feeding and taking to the vets once in a while. Since the dawn of time (well since I started driving) people have been moaning about the price of petrol. I remember when we all went nuts as it hit 50p a litre (yes I AM that old) and again when we all fainted as it tipped then infamous £1.00. Now its heading for £1.50 and I think all of us will just keel over and die. Continue reading
You need to prepare a little for this blog entry. A deep breath is a good idea and maybe a big pinch of salt. I need you to try and forget any prejudice you might have, loose any brand loyalty and blot out what you consider beautiful. Done that? Got your pinch of salt? Tongue firmly in your cheek? Good because today we are going to talk about ‘France’ and ‘interesting’. I want to talk about what makes a car interesting and why.
I have been looking at a Citroen 2CV, and have to report this is one of the most interesting and clever cars I have come across. For years, like you I have seen them as a hilarious mode of transport for hippies and French peasants, laughed at their bicycle like tyres and tiny 600cc engine, but if you have the smallest interest in cars and how they work, and view your car as something other than a means to lug your subwoofer about you will take my advice and have a peek at this amazing little car. I will put some links at the end for further reading, I have neither the space or the authority to talk in detail but I have picked up some interesting titbits. Did you know there was a production model with twin engines and four wheel drive? The suspension has always been soft enough to drive over a ploughed field and not break the eggs but do you know how it does it? It has independent suspension to all four wheels but only uses two coil springs, the front and rear suspension are connected and work together. This gives a smooth ride and, despite its tiny tyres, decent handling. There are so many clever things designed into this car, things that keep it simple and practical, the entire body shell can be lifted from the chassis if you fancy it, and the engine is so small it can be picked up with just the use of a few burly peasants. Its economical too, it will give you 60mpg and trot along at 50mph all day long, and when the sun shines its canvas roof rolls back to let the rays in.All of the above must seem like an advert for 2CV’s, but its not.
I am trying to draw attention to cars that you might have missed out on because it wont do 0-60 in under 4 seconds and wont make girls (or guys) swoon with envy as you swish by. I really believe there are cars out there that don’t need to be fast and powerful to be interesting. Have a look at the Citroen DS, it was just slopping over with innovation, headlights that turn as you turn a corner? WOW! It only took Vauxhall a decade or two to copy it. Peugeot 504, Renault Alpine, Renault R8 are all examples of a long list that I’m sure you could add to. The thing you will notice is that there are no modern day cars that I have listed as interesting, this is a fault of mine and despite what I said at the beginning I cannot shake off the feeling that modern day cars are ‘white goods’ a bit like washing machines, useful and clever in their own way but oh so utilitarian in their conception. Its left up to the French again to save the new generation as they give us the 106 Rallye and the Megane loony machine for the speed freaks and the oh so sexy Citroen C6 and the interestingly styled 406 Coupe from Peugeot.
Regular readers will know of my love of Japanese cars, but the land of the rising sun has done nothing to peak our interest lately, with the exception of the R35 Skyline and the 350/370Z all from Nissan, owned by Renault.If you own a utilitarian car and are reading this, it must mean that you have some petrol slopping about in your blood somewhere otherwise you would be reading a DIY or worse a gardening blog, so do yourself a favour and get on Ebay and find something interesting to play with over the winter. Take it to bits, marvel at how its made, annoy your spouse by dismantling the valve gear on the kitchen table while it belts down in rain outside. And next spring, when its all mended, take it for a drive but make sure you listen to some Matt Monroe as you swoop through a sun speckled lane toward a secluded café for lunch, and leave the brown 4 wheeled box for the weekday grind
Further reading, all from Wikipedia I’m afraid, but if there is a particular car that gets you interested, get Googling and find an owners club.
Citroen 2CV (Check out the Safari one!)
Well perk up readers! If you want to laugh then look no further than our own self appointed guru of cars, Mr Jeremy Clarkson! How I laughed when I read how the ultra secretive, key stone of Top Gear, beloved by all, Stig had finally been unmasked! Just in case you don’t know who it is, I wont spoil it for you. Just get on Google and have a poke around. You wont be that surprised because most Petrolheads had their suspicions anyway, and most of them were right.
So what of the fallout? Clarkson spat dummies, threw toys and gave interviews on minority TV stations* (Show 17 fast forward to 27:10 to skip the Belly vs Morris dancing…) saying how hurt he was, how he and the Stig had drinks together, only to find out that crazy Stiggy had been writing a book. Greed is bad said our Ferrari driving star to camera in the piece, before heading off into the night back to his tiny house.
If you like Top Gear, you will be horrified to know that Clarkson feels that its been ‘damaged’ by this, and he has been doing nothing for the past three weeks except thinking “what on earth to do.“ Well I can see his problem. Good old TG haven’t had a decent fresh idea in the past 3 series, Stig was fun and all that, but did we really care if he didn’t know anything about ducks? Or that his nipples were shaped like the Nurburgring?
If you were over seven years old and actually enjoyed cars and driving, you probably couldn’t care less who he was or what shape his nipples are. As long as he got that supercar around the track as well as he could, and as fast as he could it didn’t matter. An hour long show held together by a minutes worth of track time by a bloke in a Simpson helmet listening to Morse Code while and old bloke tries to do funny commentary? Really? Is everything else filler then?
I used to love Top Gear, some of the films that were made were very good. The Vietnamese trip springs immediately to mind. Even if it was all scripted, the fact that you saw the country as a place and not a war was a brilliant bit of TV. But now it seems that its being hosted by people more at home on Saturday morning TV for kids, Timmy Mallett would be a refreshing change.
Even James May, my favourite presenter has fallen foul of this insane thought that the show is ruined because we all know Stig’s name. May has suggested that one of the shows next stunts should be “driving to the Stigs house and nailing his head to the table.”
So what’s going to happen to old Top Gear? The diehards will still watch it endlessly on Dave, the first episode will have them glued to see what Clarkson’ three weeks of intense creativity have come up with. Don’t forget, he has done this little stunt on TV before with his old mate Schuey. Stig took his helmet off to reveal that it was Schuey all the time right? What? Wasn’t it? Oh and the death of Black Stig, what would we do? TG should really look hard at itself then switch over to watch Tiff and Vicky Butler Henderson for a bit. Tiff can drive the doors off most things and who wouldn’t want to be Vicky’s seatbelt? Turn off the Saturday morning cartoons and turn on some cars!
Oh! I just had a thought! We don’t know who Stigs African or American cousin is! And what about Mrs Stig? Surely she could have his job now he has been sacked?
* Credit to my colleague Darren Moss of Moss on Motoring for pointing this clip out to me.
A good mate of mine has just bought himself a new toy. He parted with quite a few of his hard earned pounds for something to have some fun in, a tweeked Peugeot 106 Rallye. It has a tuned engine, a weird differential and suspension that makes it go on three wheels at every corner. Surprisingly he has had it for a fortnight and has traveled less than 50 miles in it.
You see, as soon as he got the thing home, before the engine could stop its ticking cooldown after the, let’s be honest, enjoyable-with-spirit drive from its former owner, he had the spanners out and was taking the thing to bits. A phone call later and another friend arrives with an angle grinder and more spanners and set about pulling whatever he could out of it. This includes seats, trim, carpets, and even the rear wiper. Brackets, bolts and bits of the wiring loom that are no longer needed succumb to the grinder and manical eye of the new bloke, until we are left with a box with two seats and an engine that is capable of pulling it all along at a speed that would make most sane people faint. This car is so empty and light that it has to be kept tied to the house on windy days.
Why do all of this to a perfectly good, functional car, that’s already a light, nimble, sporty model as good as Peugeot could make it? Apart from the obvious power to weight gains, this car becomes his. There will never be another like it, and the car will be used to its full potential which suits my friend very well as driving on the edge round tracks is what he loves best. Curious about this, I asked ‘What if you crash it?’ Theres quite a lot of cash tied up in this, and I realise its relative, but money is money! ‘Meh’ he shrugged his shoulders ‘Then we fix it’
All of this got me thinking. There is a guy who also has a little Peugeot that he has as a project, and again its being stripped and fiddled with but this time its being done to such a standard that makes OCD look normal. Every nut and bolt is polished or painted. Custom made, bloody expensive wiring looms make everything neat, the paintwork is perfect on all surfaces, including the engine bay. The whole thing somewhere stopped being a car, and become a very expensive work of art. The guy is obviously getting a huge amount of pleasure from this but I wonder how long lived that pleasure will be? Car restorers are similar people. Here are a bunch of guys that trawl autojumbles and Ebay to find the exact toolkit to finish their 1961 Mini Cooper, that has been restored exactly how it was when it rolled off of the production line. I’m not sure about these types of people. For one, this perfect Pug will be great until it rains, or someone bumps it in a carpark or a seagull craps on it.
These things can be avoided if he chooses never to take it out and keep it under a sheet in the garage like those dreadfully boring blokes who buy Ferrari’s do, and whats the point of that? What about that restored Mini? Dull I’m afraid, whats the point of spending a years salary to make something the same as everything else that came out of that factory? If you go to a classic car show, you will see rows and rows of the same restored marque but your eye will be caught by the loony that decided to make a monster truck out of a Mk2 Jag. My old VW is great, It has dings, dents and scratches but It has one thing a sterile ‘perfect’ show car doesn’t have and thats character.
If my mate bins the car at a track, I bet that if the damage isnt life threatening to the car, he would beat it out with a hammer and then spend the next two years telling everyone the story of how the power caught him out on that nasty hairpin at some track somewhere in Europe, and then, probably with a beer or coffee in hand, they will crowd around it and offer opinion and ridicule in bucketloads, probably from the bloke with the grinder.
Telling someone your showcar once got pooped on by a seabird is just dull, wear your dents with pride.
Driving throws up many questions, like why do rubbish lorries have a cuddly toy tied to the front of them, and why the hell do they leave it to get all dirty and disgusting? Another favorite is why do some people drive at 28 mph everywhere? And why do the people who drive at 28 wear straw hats?
My current question is why the hell do we pay road tax?
I have a nice new car (well it was new in 1989, but its new to me) and it has a nice set of firm springs and dampers to enable me to have a fun quick drive round some fun quick corners if the mood takes me, without the car lurching and wallowing like some drunken fishing trawler in rough seas. Every six months, regular as clockwork, the government send me a nice bit of paper reminding me that my car is not meant to be any fun, I should sell it and get a small soulless eurobox with a sewing machine engine, and stop killing the planet. They do this in the form of a road tax reminder/SORN.
The idea is a good one, we all pay a bit toward the upkeep of the roads, keeping them clean and smooth, free of dead things and building new ones when we get fed up with where the old ones go. We are all reminded that if we use the car on the road then we should pay for it and will be fined and frowned at by a policeman if we don’t. Actually we don’t even get the pleasure of a frowny policeman as these days a faceless silicone monster that lives in DVLA headquarters checks its calendar, complete with fluffy kitten picture, against your registration number and if you are a day out fires an automatic fine direct to your house.
Its worse if you DON’T have your car on the road! Heaven forbid you forget to tell the computer that your car is broken and is currently sulking in your garage. I committed this terrible crime and was hit for 65 of my pounds for not telling anyone my car wouldn’t move. So we pay up promptly, send bits of paper back and forward to Swansea keeping the bureaucracy and computers happy.
So why are we not sending them a million fines and bits of paper because they are failing to keep up their side of the bargain?
It snowed a bit in January, and this (I am told by a bloke who knows) speeds up the formation of potholes. Fair enough. Why then are there potholes in May? Why can I not drive my car without getting double vision? Why is it better to drive on the beach than the road? Who is going to pay for my shot suspension? But the best bit is Why the hell do we put up with it?
There are currently some three million unemployed in the UK, most of which would rather watch daytime TV than actually go outside, and a larger part couldn’t count their own legs, however I am sure with a weeks intensive training they could be taught how to stick a bag of tarmac into a hole an flatten it. I realise this is nowhere near what we should be expecting for our £200 or so a year, but its better than smashing your springs for the hundredth time in 10 yards as you painfully make your way along the dirt track they laughingly refer to as road.
My car is insured, MOTd, taxed and in good, safe working order. I don’t care how much petrol costs because I get what I pay for, petrol goes in, goes bang, moves me along. The roads, however, are a forgotten no mans land of craters, scars and forgotten weather. I paid my dues and play by their rules, the twits in the government just buy moats, porn and duckhouses.