Some of you may already know that, when I first started out as a journalist (back in 1990), I began as a motoring journalist. I wasn’t writing about technical matters though – all the car mags employed their own army of techno-nerds who could strip down and reassemble engines blindfolded…and as a freelance I couldn’t possibly compete with that. So, I wrote about general motoring issues (anti-drink-driving initiatives, police in-car video cameras, vehicle recycling programmes, future fuel options etc). I’ve maintained a love of cars/motoring since I was a small boy – and they feature in my writing too: my work-in-progress novel, LITTLE BASTARD, features James Dean’s eponymous Porsche 550 Spyder (see several previous blog posts on this very topic on this very site) and cars/the car industry features significantly as a thematic sub-text in my latest novel – the thriller LOVE, GUDRUN ENSSLIN (out now – and selling well, I am very happy to report!)
The irony, of course, is that my own car is utter rubbish! It is currently off the road as a result of a combination of the recent cold snap and…er….being rubbish! Thus, I thought I’d dedicate this brief pre-Xmas blog to a few of the many cars I have admired from afar over the years. Meantime, I shall continue to buy lottery tickets in the hope of one day replacing my unreliable jalopy with a vehicle that is not eight years old, has not been towed four times in eight years, has not had its exhaust fall off six times in eight years, has not munched its way through four sets of batteries and does not reset the clock to ‘0000’ every fifth or sixth time you turn the ignition!
OK, on with the parade! I’ll start with British-made cars – which means going way, way back in time to an era before the dreaded phrase ‘British Leyland’ entered the automotive lexicon!
Shown above is a 1920’s Bentley ‘Blower’. These monsters used to thunder round Brooklands racetrack in Surrey. These were the cars that defined ‘British Racing Green’ as a colour. This was Biggles’ car of choice – put on your flying goggles, wrap your white scarf around your neck, shout “What ho!” and “Tally ho!” and leap aboard to enjoy some “dering do!” No such thing as power steering in those days, of course – the skill of the drivers of the era cannot be exaggerated. When you see them up close these are huge vehicles – and what an iconic design; it must have been poetry in motion to see them whipping round the high banking. Take a look at the image above – is that not truly a thing of beauty, amigos?!
Next up (see above) is a Morgan Plus 8. The Plus 8 was the first car I fell properly in love with – at a motor show (The London Motor Fair) in about 1972 – when I was just a snot-nosed little kid jumping into everything on display! For years afterwards I wanted one – in British Racing Green of course. They were handmade examples of bespoke British craftsmanship – using a wooden sub-frame and evoking a bygone era of style and grace. They lasted an extraordinarily long time as a viable option (for those who could afford them) but are now finally anachronistic (by 21st century motoring standards) even though they are still being produced. So, even if I do ever get that major lottery win, I won’t now be buying one! Still, that long bonnet with the air vents and the iconic radiator grille both still look good, don’t they?!
The AC Cobra is another classic British sports car – the car that launched a thousand kit-car copyists. These cars had great performance, great handling and a fabulous exhaust note. Avoid the kit versions though – they really don’t build ‘em like this any more! The Cobra was a joint Anglo-American effort (with the collaboration of the legendary US racer Carroll Shelby contributing his motorsports know-how). In addition, the Cobra was developed with the help of the secretive and exclusive Bristol Motor Company (Bristol – which is still operating from its sole showroom in Kensington – is so secretive and exclusive that it seeks no publicity, never supplies vehicles to motoring journalists for testing and reserves the right to refuse some clients! I’ve added a picture of the latest Bristol – the Bristol Fighter – below the pic of the E-Type Jag so you can see one for yourselves. The Bristol Fighter cost £256,150 on its release in 2005, has a 0-60 time of 4.0 secs and the ‘T’ version is more powerful than the Bugatti Veyron! I believe Jay Kay owns one…then again, Jay Kay owns just about every sports car ever made methinks!)
The D-type Jaguar is quite literally the most beautiful car I have ever seen in the metal. I finally saw one (British Racing Green, of course – as in the pic above) at the Jaguar museum when I was on a journalism assignment over a decade ago. The term ‘automotive sculpture’ really was invented for this car. The sweeping curves and sheer solidity of the body has to be seen in reality to be fully appreciated. Jags were once built like tanks – very fast tanks, mind you! Most people prefer the E-type Jag but, trust me, in the metal the D-type knocks the E-type into a cocked hat! If I want one, it’s going to have to be some lottery win…in 2008 Bonhams’ auction house in London sold the first ever production model D-Type for £2.2 million.
Which brings me to the E-type Jag itself. (Well, you can’t like cars – especially classic British sports cars – and not have some degree of appreciation for the E-type Jaguar!) The 1960s lothario’s vehicle of choice, the E-type Jag revolutionised sports car design, launched the market for hard-top sports coupes and sported those iconic spoked wheels with nunchuck-style blades attached! Even Enzo Ferrari called the E-type “the most beautiful car ever made” – and he knew a thing or two about sports cars! Oh and…here’s that pic of the Bristol Fighter I promised a couple of paragraphs back:
After Xmas I may well post about a few more cars (…this time non-British ones!) that also set the pulse racing. Meantime, I thought I’d leave you with a pic of me in my car. Here it is amigos!……