Tag Archives: nostalgia

A trip to the Nurburgring, and virginity lost

Error code 10 on a Vauxhall Insignia is a hard one to pin down. A quick google doesn’t turn up much and a bit of off tangent clicking can get you into all sorts of dark corners of the internet (bookmarks updated) although I am sure that there are a few of you reading this from the Vauxhall community either yelling at your screens or emailing me the answer. Continue reading

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Vive La France!

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 DS

Citroen 2CV (Check out the Safari one!)

Renault R8

Peugeot 504

Ugly as hell but don't you just want a Renault R8 Gordini?

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Electric Dreams from Tokyo

Harajuku

I have just returned from Tokyo, for the second time in two years very nice to once again see  the land of the rising sun. Obviously I had an excellent time, its hard not to have fun in Japan whatever you are into. Cars and motoring play a large part of my interest so I was keen to see how things have moved on since my last adventure there.
Visiting any foreign shore throws up differences in their  motoring habbits. For example, when I was in Germany, playing on the Nurburgring, the German marques outnumbered the rest two to one, lowly Golfs stealing the limelight as they overtook just about everything! Japan is no different. There are a wide diversity of cars that you will never see unless you visit the country, from mundane stuff like small trucks zipping around the narrow streets of the suburbs, to the crazily priced Toyota Century, that looks like it was designed in 1980 but sports a V12 engine and a 12,000,000 Yen price tag (yes, thats twelve million yen…) Toyota Century

12000000 yenFrom what I saw in the Toyota showroom it seems Hybrid engines really are the future, big 3 litre v6 both in front wheel and rear wheel drive transmission sporting an electric motor in its gearbox. I am not sure on the performance of this arrangement but the way its pitched and the majority way of thinking about motoring it Japan this really doesnt matter.

From my observations, the Japanese driver doesnt want to be bothered too much about 0-100km speed, he isnt too fussed about cornering ability or redline noise (which is odd from a country that gave us the Honda B series and Toyota 4AGE engine) No, the average Japanese motorist wants a gentle soothing ride, his emissions low,  his engine economical and his cogs swapped for him. He wants a decent cup holder rather than a snappy gearbox. From the outside it’s nice to watch, on an average day at Shibuya crossing, cars, vans and trucks glide quietly on super smooth tarmac almost as if they were already fully electrically powered.

RWD Hybrid
It’s all very nice, but the question kept nagging me, ‘what happens when it all goes horribly wrong?’ When the computer goes wobbly or the electric motor refuses to switch over to petrol? Who is going to fix it? Not your home mechanic, indeed it’s almost impossible to do any real home repairs on modern cars these days, even changing a headlamp bulb involves removing half the front of the car, something most people would rather leave to the dealers. Then it struck me, these are Japanese cars that are as reliable as a sunrise, added to the fact that the Japanese tend to change their cars every week due to stupidly expensive testing, like our MOT on steroids, they dont really have to worry that much as warranties cover most of the really pricey bits.

We get all of their cast offs, the Skylines and Chasers that are just too expensive to fix, which is great for us now, and probably for a few years to come but soon there will come a time they will dry up and the only hot import you will get from Japan is a Toyota thats half milk-float. Still, it’s not all doom and gloom. The rebellious spirit is still very much alive, take a stroll along Harajuku bridge any given Sunday and see cosplayers in all sorts of strange clothes, a little further on guys dressed in 1950’s leather and sporting huge, gravity defying quiffs dance to Rock and Roll. Wait there longer and you will see the odd Mustang burble by. Let it get a bit darker and then the modifieds come out, Skylines, Soarers, Hachi-Roku, Mercedes and Civics making an ominous growling from under their bonnets, mingled with the roar of customised motorbikes straight out of an Akira anime, and the ragged edge of Japanese sub culture pokes a finger at that most polite of societies.

DSCF0082DSCF0323

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New cars are toasters.

There are many things you can blame your parents for.

Unmanageable hair, being forced to wear unfashionable tank tops, annoying little sisters. I have to blame my parents for my disinterest in new cars. My dad used to be a biker, and had many of the British greats. tanktopVincent, BSA, Ariel and so on and I can remember him lovingly fiddling and caressing these things as if they were alive. Then we had cars, a green Mini that made a lot of noise, an old blue Vauxhall who’s suspension collapsed and door handle fell off on a trip to the Isle of Sheppey (its not a romantic, golden sandy paradise, its a windswept desolate place with a prison in the middle) and more, but none of that mattered because he bought these cars himself and all the care and maintenance to make them last another week was up to him.

Then dear old dad did something monumentally stupid.

He got a good job, that paid well and supplied him with a company car.

Looking back, this was a mistake, it took away the importance of the car, not only for him but for his very impressionable young son. Gone were the Saturday morning oil changes, gone were the addition of gauges and tinsel from the local motorfactors (a place that smelled so good, a mixture of oily wood and paraffin) If the car blew up or something fell off he got another one, or it was driven to a garage and fixed, to hell with the cost, the company was paying. If the tyres wore out then Kwik-Fit’s finest could change them and not a penny of his money or hour of his labour was spent. This turned the car from something interesting and something worthwhile knowing about, into the automotive equivalent of a toaster.
Dad had a number of company cars, all of them dull, most of them Vauxhalls. cortinaA few stood out, the huge Cortina estate that we slept in all the way down the M4 to out Devonshire holidays, the red Mk1 Astra with alloy wheels was nice but sadly it was a mish-mash of Cavaliers and the odd Rover 214.
What this did to me was make me loose sight that new cars could be exciting and interesting, hot Golfs and Peugeot’s passed me by, Honda’s type R was just a civic with big wheels, and as to even thinking about tuning the engine, uprating the suspension or even bothering with better tyres was lost on me, I mean, would you try and improve the toaster? make the washing machine wash faster by changing its bushes to polycarbonate? Lower the fridge so it chilled lettuces better? No of course not and I saw new cars in the same light.
When it was my turn to buy a car I looked backwards, partly because a £40 Escort Mk1 was all I could afford, but partly because I had no idea that anything modern could be remotely interesting. This view can be laid firmly again at Pop’s feet as he then, just as I bought my first VW Beetle (sourced by him, rusty as hell and totally knackered BUT I had the time of my life fixing it, and received a HUGE feeling of satisfaction when it passed its MOT) vwDaddy went out and bought a 1974 VW Camper, orange and white.This re ignighted his passion for tinkering and could be found most weekends either under it  trying to fix it, trying to make it start or adding some ingenious ‘thing’ to it that made it more funky, so of course I was inspired to get the beetle done, but it drove home the message that old cars=worth playing with new cars=frankly, no.

Its funny how things change in your life, it was not until I met the good friend I keep mentioning, who showed me how with a few bolt ons, a tweek here and there a new Civic can be improved on and even more so can be safe, more fun and indeed faster than the old rattleboxes that I nostalgically pine for and imagined to be better because they were not the ‘throwaway appliance’ that I had been taught . Old cars are wonderful, Dad taught me a lot about the importance of maintaining and caring for what you have when its your money.

The company, forcing beige repmobiles onto its workforce has a lot to answer for, but thankfully at last I realise, all cars are just brilliant.

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Geeked out on speed

Last week I kind of geeked out.

Writing this blog is teaching me a lot, and getting your point across in 1000 or so words is something I am learning is not easy to do. The point was to show how driving games can help in the real world, to show how different parts effect the car, how different lines give different results and what’s good and not so good about tuning. So there you have it, last weeks blog, that I agonized trying to get under 1000 words, condensed into a few lines. This points out a big weakness in my writing, I tend to go on a bit.

Well, I intend to continue going on a bit this week, because I think its high time for a good old fashioned rant.

If you have a puncture and are forced to use one of those skinny space saver wheels, if you have just had your front brake pads fall out or if you are just taking  your pet goldfish for a spin in the car and don’t want to spill his water, then its perfectly acceptable to drive through a 60mph speed limit at 28. I bet that one of the above doesn’t happen very often. Unfortunately, there are people out there who drive at 28mph no matter what the limit is, and this happens very often, normally when I have just found a nice stretch of smooth and twisty tarmac and the car is running well. For the life of me I cant think why they do it unless one of the reasons above or they are scared stiff of third gear.

When I become King it will be punishable by firing squad to drive slower than 5mph off the limit, people under this speed will have their cars crushed and be forced to use the bus. I simply cannot understand it  unless there is a darker reason. They get off on it. They get a sexual thrill of having the knowledge that they are holding people up, they have, for a little while in their tiny mean screwed up little minds power over all the people behind them.915 Caravanners have a similar mentality, but they get punished enough by having to spend two weeks in a field, living in a tin box and pooping in a bucket, oh and yes while Im on the subject, this goes out to the bloke who tried to smugly tell me through the medium of the bumper sticker that ‘I may be slow, but I have more holidays than you’, listen mate, I would rather never go on holiday again if I had to spend five minutes either towing a caravan or sitting in a field in one.
Now don’t get the wrong idea, I think speed limits are important and to be honest on the whole sensible, with the exception of motorways, but Ill get on to them in a minute. 30mph in town is  a good idea, 40 out of town is not too bad and 60 through the lanes is a right laugh, unless you meet a train of cars in the wake of a caravan or buffoon in a Bee Em doing 30, or even worse, a horse. What is the damn problem with horse owners? for god sake ride the bloody thing in a field! “The horse was here before the car” they wail and glare at us dissaprovingly as we trundle by, well its not the poor horses fault that some middle class moron wants to wear stupid trousers and try to relive Imperial England, yes and we used to think the earth was flat, but technology proved it wasn’t, progress happens, get off the road and ride that walking Pritt Stick in the woods! But watch out for Land Rovers with big v8s ‘greenlane-ing’…

Maximum speed is good but when was the last time you saw minimum speed? I looked it up, its in the Highway Code, its a round blue sign with a number in it, normally a very low number like 5 or 10, and in all my driving life I have only seen it once, on the Dartford Tunnel, and as that hardly moves its just doesn’t count. No in my Britain there would be fines that made your pee blood if you di300px-Speed_Limit_65_Minimum_55_sign.svgdn’t go fast enough. The thing is, they already do it in America, America for goodness sake!
All of this makes me sound like a speed hungry, reckless hooligan, but honestly I just like driving, even if its just to work I cant get enough, the best bit about working (apart from the pay packet) is the fact I have to drive home. Now look there are some of you out there who will work in the city and whinge and moan and go on about how awful it is sitting in a jam waiting to get through Blackwall then sitting again waiting all along Commercial Street. Look chaps think of this, yes you are sitting still but look where you are, you are comfortable, dry, warm and entertained (if you think a bit ahead and you know you are going to be stuck, why not bring along some favorite cds? or for as little as £10 you can get a celebrity to read a story to you on one of those audio books) but the best bit is you are in your own space, you can stretch out, pick your nose, talk to yourself and no one cares. 2 hours in a car or 1 hour standing crushed under someones armpit in a train? no contest! It annoys me so much when on the way home, I have taken a detour along a really nice bit of road, with some swoopy bends and great tarmac I get stuck behind some guy doing 28 and the limit is 60. Im not asking for everyone to drive like I do (ie badly) but come on, look in your mirror, if there is a huge train of cars behind you and nothing in front, surely that tells you something? It should tell you to drive faster, move over or take the bus.

Oh and the subject of motorways is simple up the limit to 80, as everyone does 80 anyway, there are no bends and everyone is going the same way so its a safe number, but boring as hell to drive along. When it rains or is foggy, drop the limit, now where do they do this already?

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Memories and Regret

This week, lets go for a walk down memory lane.

Now don’t panic, I’m not going to get all misty eyed and nostalgic, no reminiscing over the girl you should have married or the boy you shouldn’t have kissed in a drunken mistake. History can teach us many things, if you don’t learn from it you are doomed to repeat it, (that’s a quote I heard years ago and can’t for the life of me remember who said it. If you know, then please feel free to tell me!) But in my case, I would be very very happy to go back to 1985 and do it all again.

Car history can be a fun thing to think about, and an even better subject to discuss over a beer. Can you remember your first car? I bet the older you get the faster it was. Many of us have a favourite, a car that at 4am we wake up and think ‘Why the hell did I sell that?’I have many little gems in my jaded past. Looking back, if I had just kept a few of them then I would be able to sell them all now and buy something half decent. Ill give you an example. My first car was a blue Mk1 Escort, with a small hole in the rear floor, well OK, a largish hole, OK a Flintstones car sized hole, but anyway… I bought it for a princely sum of £40 in about 1987.  A quick look round e Bay tells me that a non runner that’s been stood for 9 years in a ditch will cost me over £1000! It gets worse. My 1980 mini van (Hand painted racing green with a white roof, ex police dog transport, all decked out in rubber in the back for an easy clean, essential when you fill it with drunken mates that are sick a lot) is now worth in excess of five grand! FIVE GRAND?!? it cost me £295!!

My list is a seemingly endless line of cheap crap that I could just about afford, but that could now fund a small war. 1968 VW Beetle, sloping headlights, small rear window, ‘W’ boot lid and American bumpers (Aircooled VW enthusiasts will be getting a little moist by now) a great car, it had 6 volt electrics so if it rained at night you had to make a choice of either wipers or headlights, and the windscreen washer was a bottle pressurised by taking air from the spare tyre (I’m not making this up). A few Vauxhall Chevettes (I had a Silhouette and a rare HS that only ran on all cylinders when it felt like it) A brown Hillman Imp 1968_hillman_impthat had a racy steering wheel and a bag of cement in the front so it could steer properly (again, all true!)  Now there is a big following of these cars, they were big in motor sport, hill-climbs and (then) touring cars, even today enthusiasts race them, but this little Imp was way off any of that, I’m not a fan of being anecdotal, but there’s a great story attached to this one.

From the age of about 15, me and a few mates would meet at a local pub (people who have known me a while will know this particular  pub well. It was a sleepy, country sort of pub. A pub in a small sleepy village that had no less than 5 pubs within walking distance of eachother . The landlord would have lost most of his business if he turfed us out. Thing is, in all the years I went there, there was not one incident, not one fight, not one nasty moment. We went in, had a few drinks and a few laughs and then went quietly home. No police, no complaints, nothing. Says a lot for 15 year olds of today. It was a happy time and taught me a lot, thanks Lou, you know who you are.
I digress.  As we grew up we were absorbed into the motorcycle club that also used the pub as a meeting place, a great bunch of guys who I miss dearly, I could write a book using just the stories from those crazy nights. A few years of this and a few motorcycles later, I graduate to cars and wound up buying this Imp.
For those of you who don’t know, this is a tiny tiny car, its powered by a tiny tiny all aluminium engine mounted in the rear, Google it for the specs but don’t expect to be impressed. So it was decided that on this occasion we would forego the local and head up to Brands Hatch to have a few beers at another pub delicately nicknamed ‘the flying bottle’ (again this will be instantly recognised by those who know, incidentally another pub that we used to frequent was known as ‘The Mudhole’ more on this in a later blog…) Packing more than one rather large and hairy biker, decked out in leather and customary denim waistcoat (used also as oily rag on the bike as necessary) is an interesting business. Packing four plus me is just plain hilarious.

Brands Hatch Circuit is at the top of a hill that used to be called (and is still known to most) ‘Death Hill’. I suppose for some reason someone at the council decided that it hadn’t spent enough council tax one year and changed the name to ‘Gorse Hill’ God knows why because if you look at the name plate for ‘Gorse Hill’ (yup there is one, I used to read it every time my little 50cc Yamaha strained up it in 2nd gear to take me to the racing, no idea if its still there but it was in 1986) in brackets under the name it states ‘formerly Death Hill’ Pah, what a waste of money.
Wow I seem to digress a lot this week, so lets get back inside the Imp. Its struggling up Death Hill with 4 Bikers and me, intent on getting to the ‘Flying Bottle’ before last orders (we had that sort of thing back then, no drinking to 5am for us) when out of the darkness we see a bike parked at the side of the road, tool roll out and rider scratching his head. Without a second thought I pulled the Imp over, jumped out and walked up to the guy to see if I could help (no mobile phones either!) he looks up, I smile and give a cheery ‘Need any help mate?’ Its then I notice he is not paying attention. In fact he is not looking at me at all, he is looking past me at the four large and hairy men getting out of the tiny, steamed up Imp and who are making their way toward him and his bike. His shock passed into  astonishment as they all set about the machine, looking for the source of the trouble.
For the life of me I can’t remember what exactly it was, I think it was a loose spark plug cap, loose or broken, I’m not sure, however for some reason in order to fix it we had to go to the pub.

Imagine his bewilderment as he is then bundled into the Imp with me and four bikers, driven to a pub and had drinks bought for him while I was dispatched back to the local for some expert or other to fix it.
The story ends as you expect, the bike is fixed, ridden to the pub, the expert is plied with drinks of thanks and the grateful, no longer stranded rider goes on his way. I cant even remember his name but I do remember the good humour, and friendliness of the whole affair.

Weird thing is, I don’t know if I would stop and help now, god knows what sort of thing could be lying in wait for the unsuspecting motorist, trying to do a good deed, but then again with four large bikers in the back, I don’t think I would have any trouble. Thing is, all of my biker buddies have now swapped their bikes for nice sensible  Vauxhalls with baby seats.

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