Monthly Archives: September 2012

My favourite, definitely

English: 1986–1987 Honda Prelude Si coupe, pho...

Ask your friends and family to pluck a favourite car from their motoring past and 90% or so will undoubtedly select a steed from early in their motoring lives.  Why so?  You can only assume that access to freedom and coming-of-age plays a part in linking positive thoughts with crap cars.  It was the same for me, having learnt to drive in a hand-me-down Honda Prelude, passed on thanks to my Dad’s company car insurance policy offering blanket policies to all staff, their partners and offspring.  Lucky me then at age 17, in a wonderful car of its era, and my clear favourite of all time.

Spring forward a decade and a bit to my first house purchase.  I faced a mud bath ear-marked for driveway development and a Nissan 200SX with baggy shocks, a perforated fuel tank and a quote for repairs to make a Samaritan weep.

Ebay Motors, mated to a dab of subtle truth-bending did me a favour there, the house was completed and my second favourite of all time, gone.

Armed with the mantra of James Ruppert’s excellent ‘Bangernomics’ theorem, our search for cheap wheels ended during a chance meeting with a friend’s acquaintance, leading to the purchase of a Peugeot 106 Diesel, of alarming vintage.  And colour.

You see, the seller had a bizarre car collection consisting of a new Range Rover, Ferrari 360 and the 106, which he’d ‘customised’ with the obligatory blanked off radiator grille, and a ‘flip’ paint job so odd it could only be described as a mix of metallic rust and burnt brown.  He claimed he had toyed with the idea of bolting Saxo rear panels on to create a weird PSA hybrid, before wagging his outstretched finger at it and proclaiming, “it’s part of me that is”.  Then he left, with his £500, visibly upset.

The following couple of years saw the most unexpected motoring pleasure obtained from the wee 106.  Not only did it handle like nothing else on the road, it returned such stunning fuel economy from its 1.5 that long weekends away could be achieved for a total fuel cost of around £15 – £20.  You could get another quarter of a tank in the neck alone, keeping the needle jammed at full until a hundred miles had past.

Regular trips through Snowdonia followed a trend: powerful German saloons appeared rapidly in the mirrors on the straights, then vanished as the Pug maintained any speed you fancied through the twisty sections, only to steam up again on the next straight, drivers confused and probably ashamed when they heard the vocal diesel lump idling at the next junction.  The ride was sublime, and clearly from an era when Peugeot had a clue about dynamics, therefore rendering long journeys a delight.

It also developed a metallic whistle through the perforated exhaust as the revs climbed, mercifully heightening the sensation of acceleration.  Momentum driving was therefore the order of every journey, a real skill that focused the mind and raised concentration levels.

You could leave it anywhere you wanted without a care, open doors onto walls, stack boxes on it and most important of all, service it yourself with a simple manual.  My girlfriend even (belatedly) learned to drive in it, ramming into the front of the local Spar whilst attempting to park.  There followed hysterical laughter, a second-hand headlight, twenty minutes with a lump hammer, and life was sweet again.

Inevitable downsides included a poverty-spec interior with a broken tape player, poor radio reception (thanks to a pointless conversion to a 6 inch welded-in bee-sting aerial), a lack of power steering mated to the heavy 1.5, and of course, the ignominy of driving around in a Chav-special.

The obvious time to sell arrived when it began dripping oil from numerous areas, the tax and MOT expired and bits began falling off.   I parked it outside the house with no preparation, with a cardboard sign in the windscreen begging for £265.  Ten minutes later as I turned the shower on, the phone rang, “How much will yer take for the car mate”?

Twenty minutes after that, the doorbell rang and an excited young lad and his Dad took it, there and then, with a generous £15 knocked off.

“Take care of it mate”, I shouted after him, “it’s part of me that it is”.


A blast from the past

I remembered an amusing if infuriating chat with an ex-girlfriend I had a few years ago about the dastardly polluting ways of 4×4 vehicles.  She was from a trendy, misguided ‘green’ family who attended an annual ‘No Nukes’ protest in Parliament Square, walked to the local shops instead of driving (except when raining) and ate bird feed instead of chips.  That was the long and short of it.  She berated anyone who used a 4×4 and said she felt guilty even sitting in my old man’s Range Rover.

I asked her how polluting the Rangie was.  “Very” was her response.  I then asked if she meant C02 or pollutants.  She looked pretty vacant after that one.  And so it went on.  She did know that hot engines pumped out less of whatever she didn’t know, than cold ones, which rocked me a bit.  I enquired as to how she could slam all 4×4 owners when she, and her knit-wearing rosy-cheeked family hadn’t a clue how harmful they were, even in relation to other cars on the road.  She squirmed and raised her voice.

I then suggested that Mr Photocopier Rep who drove an Eco Focus  40,000 miles each year, polluted far more than Mr Retiree who drove his V8 Range Rover 5,000 miles each year.  No matter how I explained it, with arm gestures, pen and paper and 3D modelling, she simply couldn’t grasp that.  I suspect that if she did, everything her parents had drip-fed her over the years would suddenly mean nothing and then where would the anger be channelled?

I eventually proved my general point to her, entertaining myself in the process, but it’s always the same with the anti-SUV crowd.  They’ll happily pluck the most convincing statistics without fully understanding them and ram them down everyone’s throats for eternity until long after it becomes moot.  They’ll actively chase poor Mr Bumworthy down the street throwing eggs at his Discovery, whilst the empty number 67 chugs past un-impinged.

It’s a self-satisfying protest.  Backslapping all round after a thirty second appearance on the 6 O’clock news hoisting placards aloft outside the factory gates, whilst engineers the world over work tirelessly to improve each engine generation and seek out efficiency gains.

You can guarantee that the next generation Range Rover, with over 400kgs shed from its waist, stop-start and eventual electric running, will be hounded in exactly the same fashion.  They don’t understand and possibly would prefer not to.

Oh, you might be wondering what my ex’s family pootled around in when “absolutely necessary”…. A 20 year old Nissan Patrol.  Priceless.

Think, biker!


I’ve becoming increasingly irked this month by the manner in which the majority of bikers treat other road users.  It’s been said before, followed by mass denial by bikers, but it would appear that speed limits and driving etiquette simply don’t apply if you’re straddling a fuel tank.

I’ve never ridden a motorbike, except for my mate’s scooter, and that doesn’t really count.  So I can’t comment apparently.  That’s what I’ve been told.

Imagine the scenario, which you will have witnessed at some point, of a motorway steadily flowing in all three lanes.  A motorbike appears in lane 3, undertakes to lane 2, overtakes between lane 2 and 3, then swerves into lane 1, floors it up to about 100mph, and continues weaving.  A motorist checks their left hand mirror, indicates and moves over back into lane 1 after a safe gradual overtake.  Said motorbike suddenly appears in lane 1 alongside, travelling about 30mph faster having undertaken all lanes.  Rider furiously gesticulates with his right arm at the audacity of the driver who did everything right, only to be greeted by a bike undertaking well over the limit.  Rider accelerates back up to 100mph shaking his head for a quarter of a mile.

It deeply angers me.

I’m not anti-bike by any stretch and acknowledge the motorbike as a machine unrivalled for thrills and speed, and the skill required to ride them well, but what’s with the complete lack of respect for others?  Ask a biker what the biggest risk is on the road to them and they’ll immediately cite ‘the driver who doesn’t look’.  True, many drivers have little awareness, but why on earth should car drivers in general keep their eyes glued to their mirrors to placate the wild actions of bikers who break most motoring laws on every journey?  Deep arrogance.

Or put it another way; when did you last see a biker content to progress with the flow of traffic?

Maybe one day I’ll get on a bike and see for myself.  Or maybe I won’t.  Couldn’t trust myself.

National speed remit

  Interesting situation regarding the implementation of a 40mph national speed limit where local councils see fit.  The thing with councils is that they become incredibly blinkered about their own ideas, ignore any common sense advice and pretty much refuse consultation with groups who have the knowledge.  They will initially suggest that the narrowest, bendiest, victim-riddled roads will be cut down but within time you can guarantee there will be a move to reduce as many limits on roads as possible, to raise funds through fines primarily.  Watch how the quotient of ‘Speed Partnership’ liveried vans rises as the limits tumble…

Mate the lowering of the national speed limit to the continued introduction of 20mph urban zones and those of you well over 100 years old will sense a touch of déjà vu.  An article in Autocar (Seven of the best, 29th August) states that in the early 20th century ‘the UK’s tiny car industry was being hampered by a national 20mph speed limit.  There was literally nowhere to test production models at speed’.

If the 40mph limit became widespread, would the UK remain a test venue for the world’s manufacturers to develop chassis settings on our challenging surfaces?  No.  Would JLR for one retain its engineering centre in the UK?  No.  And would the British performance car buyer still have an interest in driving for sheer enjoyment?  No. 

The motoring media wouldn’t gain much feedback testing cars at 40mph and could possibly base their road test departments in Europe where the performance car market would be more influential.

Imagine the tailbacks on cross country routes resulting from these lowered limits.  The sense of getting nowhere dawdling along at little more than the pace of a fit cyclist, in a rigorously developed, highly capable 21st century car.  It’s patronising and plain weird.  Slower journeys stuck in a 2 mile snake of traffic can only result in a loss of concentration and massive frustration.  More accidents will result.

All in the interests of safety?  Highly unlikely given that the government’s motoring proposals are always reactive and never ever proactive.  Every professional motoring body and industry cries out for better driver training.  It’s so simple and obvious that the refusal to acknowledge it can only suggest dark agendas driving these mad-cap alternatives.

Of course we don’t know for sure what will happen and naturally assume the worst.  We could all be blown away by the subtle yet effective way it’s implemented.  Fat chance, but we’ll wait and see.