Sunday, August 02, 2015

When Cars Weren't Crap



I have, true to form, thoroughly enjoyed this week’s Ashes Test match at Edgbaston. The newly-revamped ground, situated in a green (and pleasantly English) suburb of Birmingham, looks better than ever. I know it well, and have watched all formats of cricket match here since my early twenties. On one occasion, fifteen years ago, I took a bus from the city centre on the morning of a Warwickshire County Championship fixture. A mile out of the urban chaos, I noticed a road sign bearing the scrawled graffito: ‘Cars Are Crap’. I was amused, in a curious fashion, and remained so throughout the day’s play. Such an absurd generalization, was it a despairing, middle-finger message from some disgruntled Brummie with persistent motor trouble? Or did it pertain to a specific make of vehicle? Or was it relative: cars are crap, compared with ... buses, bicycles or whatever?

As I write, in anticipation of the third day’s action, on a still and sunny Midlands morning, it is likely that England will defeat Australia sometime before tea, rendering days four and five (Saturday and Sunday) redundant. That being so, I have had to devise some other way of keeping my brood entertained over the weekend. (I shall publish this article if the Test concludes as I predict.)

*     *     *     *     *

England won the Test, just minutes before the tea break, by eight wickets. They lead the series 2-1 with two matches to play. It was time for Plan ‘B’.

I have sometimes wondered whether vintage car shows are a uniquely British phenomenon. Are any non-Brits – I refer to the male of the species – prone to spending more time with their beloved cars than with their other halves? Maybe some are. Regardless, I admire those that are prepared to nurture their links with the past, and who refuse to ‘upgrade’ simply to satisfy the deceit and desperation of 21st-century sales and marketing spivs. ‘Progress’ can mean the exact opposite. Preservation, for me, beats continual consumption.

Whether this labour of motoring love is peculiarly British or not, the weather certainly was. After spending half an hour sheltering from an unscripted blast of rain under the canopy of a vintage tree, we spent the afternoon inspecting and photographing row after row of immaculate exhibits (Figure 85.1), and, where possible, talking with their proud, and often wonderfully eccentric, owners. In addition, there were food tents, stall exhibitions for enthusiasts (Figure 85.2), and live music courtesy of an equally eccentric bunch of old timers who appeared, and sounded, as though they had just rolled out of the pub.

Figure 85.1: Rolls Royces ’R’ Us

Copyright © 2015 Paul Spradbery

Figure 85.2: The rally was enjoyed by male and female, young and old, and even four-legged enthusiasts.

Copyright © 2015 Paul Spradbery

There were some car models that I had not seen close-up since childhood. The owner of a 1968 Triumph Vitesse lifted its bonnet – the front wing panels are integral to it – revealing a brand new engine (Figure 85.3) which he himself had only recently installed. ‘Third time I’ve rebuilt it,’ he said, with a mixture of satisfaction and disbelief. ‘Only car I’ve ever owned. 450,000 miles and still counting.’ There was not a scratch on it. The chrome was polished like new; the wood-and-leather interior had been preserved to perfection; and even the (original) number plates were blemish-free.

Figure 85.3: Almost too good to be outdoors

Copyright © 2015 Paul Spradbery

Despite the torrential downpour, the show was a hit. My elder son summed up both his feelings and his innocence: ‘Dad, when I pass my driving test, I think I’ll buy an Aston Martin.’

Is it me, or are today’s cars, in comparison, stupendously ugly? There are few elegant idiosyncratic features, and there is neither sleek beauty nor instant recognizability. Post-2000 designs are generally similar, over-rounded, amorphous chunks of paper-thin metal and identikit plastic. On our way to the show, we found ourselves in dense traffic behind a brand new Mini Cooper Clubman. This so-called ‘mini’ vehicle was almost as big, bulky and shapeless as one of those ghastly SUVs. An old version could have fitted inside. The same goes for many other mid-range cars. They seem to have become bigger – perhaps bloated is a more fitting description – over the past decade or two. Funnily enough, though, despite having larger external dimensions, some models are deceptively small on the inside. Thanks to today’s preference for huge wrap-around seats, driving can be like being in a padded cell – strapped in. Modern sports cars are no better. I sat in a £42,000 computer-on-wheels a couple of months ago, and the top of my head scraped against the ceiling. I had to do a ‘Quasimodo’ to see properly through the windscreen; and being no taller than six feet, I am no giant. Compare that with something like a 1970s Austin Maxi – yes, I remember how comically unreliable they were – whose interior was the size of a sports hall.

The major change in recent years, however, involves the universal installation of multiple low-grade computers. I admit, features such as antilock braking systems are advantageous, particularly to poor drivers, but repair costs have skyrocketed. An old friend of mine, proud owner of a tank-like lump of a Mercedes Benz, encountered a minor ignition hitch which cost £600 to put right. As a result of ‘technology’, only a registered dealer had the wherewithal to fix it. Ker-ching!

Another pet hate of mine damns Mercedes, along with German counterparts BMW and Audi. Why is it that front lights must be switched on in broad daylight? Not only that, but they are often xenon-based and intensely bright. Being tailgated by one of those ugly road-monsters seems to convey the message: I am driving a Merc/BMW/Audi, which makes me very important, so you must give way at once! Instinctively, I hold my ground and touch the brake pedal.

Perhaps I am in a minority. Still, give me a 1968 Triumph Vitesse any time.

To demonstrate my point with regard to aesthetics, I have included photographs of a few old favourites (Figures 85.4, 85.5, 85.6, 85.7 & 85.8).

Figure 85.4: 1968 Aston Martin DB 6

Copyright © 2015 Paul Spradbery

Figure 85.5: E-type Jaguar (Year unknown)

Copyright © 2015 Paul Spradbery

Figure 85.6: 1956 Jensen 541

Copyright © 2015 Paul Spradbery

Figure 85.7: 1971 Triumph Vitesse Convertible

Copyright © 2015 Paul Spradbery

Figure 85.8: 1977 Triumph Stag

Copyright © 2015 Paul Spradbery

Copyright © 2015 Paul Spradbery

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.