- Post is under moderationOne of my favourite characters from architectural history is Adolf Loos, a superlatively odd Viennese. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the city’s American Bar, a perfect jewel of a drinking hole: uncompromisingly modern, but also dark, intimate and charming. And a roaring success. Loos was a great aphorist as well as a great designer and one of his best aphorisms was ‘ornament is crime’.
‘SUCH IS ITS POPULARITY, IT’S DIFFICULT NOW TO REMEMBER HOW BOLD THE ORIGINAL AUDI TT WAS’
Quite correctly, I think, Loos believed that tattoos are a reliable indicator of depraved, criminal tendencies in the wearer. All of civilization’s progress, he said, could be measured by the rejection of decoration. Curlicue? Chuck it out! As an idiosyncratic independent, Loos belonged to no movement, he was a school of one, but his ideas flooded into mainstream Modernism.
So when Jeremy Clarkson describes the #Audi-TT as 'Bauhaus’, a nod must be given to Loos. Jeremy paddles in a shallower end of creativity’s gene pool than Adolf, but acknowledgement of the Audi’s architectural clarity shows how far Loos’ ideas have penetrated the brackish waters of pop commentary. They have made half a million TTs, so it is not a classic in any definition that includes a concept of rarity, but nonetheless the TT is a design masterclass: one of the least tattooed vehicles you can find.
It’s worth wondering why. Soon after its #1997 introduction, at dinner with J Mays (who has a very good claim to being the car’s author, although things are rarely quite so simple), J snatched my notebook and did some evocative scribbles that showed how the TT’s surfaces and profiles were derived from the pre-war #Auto-Union-Type-C . A few years later, Walter de Silva did something similar in explaining the evolution of the modern Audi face. That distinctive gaping mouth is also sourced in a historical memory of Dr Porsche’s Silver Arrow, which Nuvolari and Rosemeyer hassled around Europe’s circuits. Never mind that the TT was a Golf in drag, it was marvellous evidence of that German concept of Nachleben-. the after-life of things. Even the TT name refers to Audi’s parent #NSU and its successes in the Isle of Man bike races.
Besides history, the TT drew inspiration from design theories inspired by Adolf Loos. The bold surfaces, confident radii and absolute refusal of frivolous detail were astonishing. But there were professional designer’s tricks too: cars almost always look good when front and rear overhangs are minimised (witness: #Citroen-DS , Mini) and the TT has overhangs so exiguous they scarcely justify use of the term. And those radii are as close to formal Bauhaus geometry of cubes, spheres and cones as manufacturing technology would allow.
Difficult now to remember-especially as the car has, in Britain, become almost a spiritual successor to Everyman’s #MGB , such is its popularity - how thrillingly bold the original TT was. I once slowly drove a then-new #1999 cabrio past Charles Saatchi, a well- satisfied car enthusiast, and he almost fell off the kerb. I showed the interior designer Nicky Haslam the cockpit and he purred and tutted with approval. Couldn’t get him out. It was just like Harley Earl’s description of what a car’s cabin should be: a place making you think you are on vacation for a while. So sweet a thought captures the absolute essence of what designers aim to achieve.
The original TT was one of the least compromised designs ever. It could be dismissed as designery indulgence, had it not been so successful. I asked J Mays about the #2006 successor. He said he admired it more, but loved it less. And now there is a third generation. With a lot of what the Germans call Forschung, a word that combines the notions of research and development, the new car manages that fantastic trick of appearing to be explicitly evolved from the original while being, at the same time, completely different in everything but spirit and quality of execution.
Ornament is crime? Less is more? Form follows function? I adore these classic design tropes, but none can quite explain the intense attraction of the TT. Besides my admiration for its gloriously spare handsomeness, the latest car has extraordinary dynamic agility and a direct contact with the mystical idea of ‘driving pleasure’, rather lost ordinarily in my part of the Congestion Charge Zone. It is simply a delight to look at and to use, a marvel of practical aesthetics. And one of the very last: in 30 years time, hedonism will have been criminalised by tattooed busybodies and cars like the #Audi TT will have disappeared. #1995 #Audi-TT-Concept
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- Post is under moderationOSCA 1600GT. What Maserati’s founding brothers did next. Size doesn’t always matter.
This tiny Italian concern built a tiny number of tiny cars - but its founders are among the giants of Italian motoring lore. Words Richard Heseltine. Photography Mark Dixon.
Great changes tend to have great side effects. For Italian carrozzerie, the 1950s and early '60s represented a period of tumultuous upheaval as grandees of the movement expanded out of all recognition. Traditional coachbuilding gradually made way for mass-manufacture as the likes of #Bertone , #Pininfarina and #Zagato became subcontractors to major players. Touring of Milan was among their number, the difference being that adapting to new circumstances and chasing volume would prove to be its undoing.
In #1961 , Touring bodied only two OSCA 1600GTs, but the parallels between marque and coachbuilder are apposite. OSCA had struck a deal with a major brand that should have acted as a protective cloak for a company that was habitually underfinanced. Yet OSCA failed to see out the decade.
Italian motoring lore is littered with fallen acronyms and few ever matched OSCA for sonority and brevity. Strictly speaking, it should be OSCAFM, but the last two consonants were dropped on account that it was impossible to pronounce. Yet it's the 'FM' bit that matters, for it stood for Fratelli Maserati. You see, for a decade or so, 'real' Maseratis were OSCAs.
The fratelli were Ernesto, Bindo and Ettore, who had sold the marque that bore their name to #Adolfo-Orsi in #1937 , five years after sibling and guiding light Alfieri perished in a racing accident. Retained under contract for a further ten years, a decade that was said to have been less than amicable, the brothers left #Modena the moment the agreement expired. They regrouped and set up shop in a disused part of the original Maserati factory in their home town of Bologna to build small-displacement racing cars. Orsi retained the rights to their surname, so the brothers contrived the alias Officine Specializzate per la Costruzione di Automobili - Fratelli Maserati SpA.
With Ernesto as designer, Ettore the artisan and Bindo running the show, the trio introduced their first model, the MT4 (Maserati Type 4), in 1948. This skimpy device was aimed at the 1100cc category that was popular on the home front. OSCA was soon at the sharp end of the tiddler class; often in contention for outright wins, too, attracting such stars as Gigi Villoresi, Felice Bonetto and Luigi Faglioli. After an embarrassing foray into #Formula-1 (and F2), the brothers stuck to sports cars thereafter, the highlight being outright victory in the #1954 Sebring 12 Hours for Stirling Moss and Bill Lloyd aboard their MF4 1450 barchetta.
By the dawn of the 1960s, it was a different story: OSCA was ill-equipped to bat away competition from the emergent British garagistas. There was some light on the horizon, however, as the firm's 1.5-litre twin-cam engine, as used for that Sebring win, had attracted the attention of Fiat. The Turin giant was looking to create a competitor for the sporting Alfa Romeo Giuliettas, and approached OSCA with a view to using the alloy-headed four in its proposed 1500 model. The brothers were receptive to the overture, but OSCA was in no position to produce the engine on an industrial scale given the amount of machining, honing and laborious fettling required per unit. Fiat was undeterred: a deal was struck whereby it would manufacture the engines in volume and supply them back to OSCA.
In a roundabout way, this led to OSCA producing proper road cars as opposed to street-legal racing cars. This began with an approach from an existing customer who requested a small gran turismo, the resultant Tipo 1600GT becoming a catalogue model after it broke cover at the #1960 Turin motor show. The work of ever-creative pen-for-hire Giovanni #Michelotti , the prototype was dramatically - some might say controversially - styled, but it struck a chord. Beneath the square-rigged skin, this new strain featured the proven four-cylinder allied to a five-speed gearbox, mounted in a tubular ladderframe chassis. Suspension was all independent by double wishbones and coils, and there were Girling disc brakes front and rear.
Predictably, numerous styling houses treated the 1600GT as a blank canvas, with Zagato's pretty take on the theme proving the most popular. Offered in various states of tune from 95 to 140bhp in twin-plug GTS spec, a full-house 710kg (down from 817) version was added to the line-up in 1963 with dramatic - some might say ugly - #Zagato coachwork. Only one was made. That same year saw the Maserati brothers sell out to the Agusta motorcycle/helicopter combine, and 1600GT production ended.
The new regime instigated new models in time for the #1964 Turin motor show. The 1600TC (Trave Centrale) featured a backbone chassis (hence the name) and 'shock-proof' glassfibre body, but it failed to find favour. Same for the 1050 Coupe and its Spider sibling, which were based on #Fiat 850 platforms. The final ignominy heaped on this once-respected marque was the bizarre MV1700 - which featured 1.7-litre #Ford-V4 power and open or closed bodywork moulded by boatbuilder Corbetta. In 1967 it was all over. Tooling was destroyed, as were remaining spares.
That wasn't quite the end of the story. The name was revived in #1999 using Japanese finance, yet the Ercole Spada-styled, #Subaru flat-four-powered 2500GT (or Dromos) remained unique. To many, the 1600GT remains the last true OSCA, yet precise production figures are a source of debate. Chassis numbers started at 001 and ended at 00127, of which Zagato bodied 98 (with three subtly different body styles), Fissore 24 (three of them convertibles), Touring a pair, Morelli just the one and Boneschi a trio of angular coupes. The problem is, some historians believe there are gaps in the chassis log and that the actual figure is closer to a mere 66 cars.
Either way, the 1600GT is uncommon in any of its many flavours. 'Our' car was first seen on the OSCA stand at the #1961 Turin motor show, Road & Tracks Henry Manney III going so far as to describe its outline as being 'pleasant'. He went on to ponder the likelihood of it entering series production as a standalone variant. No chance: Touring had bigger fisher to fry.
That same year saw Touring's principal Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni entertain George Carless, the ironically named general manager of the Rootes Group's newly established Italian headquarters. This led to an agreement whereby Touring would open a facility big enough to accommodate production lines. Britain was outside the European Common Market at the time, so it made sense to have a manufacturing site within the EC's borders. Sunbeam Alpine and Hillman Super Minx models would be assembled there, with Touring tailoring niche models.
Touring had contracts with other manufacturers, but they were pared back in preparation for the manufacture of 10,000 Rootes products a year. Rootes then got cold feet and Touring employees went on strike in 1963. The firm's Nova Milanese factor}’ was never used to its full capacity - not even close - and it lurched into receivership in March 1964. There were attempts to turn around its fortunes: a batch of 400 Hillmans was assembled in short order from CKD kits, along with 100 Sunbeams. There was also the stop-start construction of #Lamborghini-350GT and #Alfa-Romeo Giulia GTC bodies. A year later, Touring was given the task of repainting a thousand unsold #Lancia Flaminias that had remained on the company's books. There were other orders, but none that could possibly return the company to prosperity. By late 1967, the game was over.
It was a sad end for a carrozzeria that had produced a slide-show succession of design icons spanning several decades. Following its Turin showing in #1961 , chassis 0014 was sold to a trader in Genoa who moved it on the following year to a woman from Pasaro. She retained the car for 50 years before selling it to a dealer in Bergamo. It was acquired by arch-collector Corrado Lopresto in 2012. He is at pains to point out that the car hasn't been restored so much as titivated. It was mechanically overhauled, while the bodywork is largely original. The 1600GT has, however, been returned to its original colour, having been painted in a lighter shade of green early in its life. It has since gone on to win several concours prizes on more than one continent, most recently at the #2014 Warren Classic.
Photographs don't really lend a sense of scale: the OSCA is barely 3900mm long, 1497mm wide and approximately 1200mm high. As such, there's an art to getting into it that doesn't involve you banging your noggin against the delicate ally skin. What's more, it's worth the effort. The cabin trim, from doorcards to carpeting, is all original, having merely been cleaned. The body-coloured dash is fronted by an attractive alloy-spoked wheel, its array of Jaeger instruments bearing the legend 'Fratelli Maserati Bologna' at their bases. The speedo runs to 200km/h, the revcounter to 8000rpm. There's no redline.
Prior experience of OSCAs informs you that they're unhappy in traffic, not least because of the high-profile cams, yet this example is wonderfully well-mannered, if noisy. That rather goes with the territory - but what a noise. There's little urge below around 2000rpm but, once free of hectoring commuters and on less congested roads on the outskirts of Milan, the 1600GT comes into its own. It thrives on revs, becoming increasingly choral past 5000rpm. It feels like a thoroughbred engine, and it is precisely that. While Fiat made ample use of the OSCA unit, it supplied the blocks to OSCA unmachined. These in turn were honed and modified to the point that there were significant differences, not least increased oil flow to the journals, the use of special pistons and so on. Its competition heritage is palpable. It crackles with energy.
The in-house gearshift is close-coupled to the point that it's all-too-easy to fluff a change and move from first to fourth but, with familiarity, it's delightfully precise. The steering, too, is light but accurate with it. You guide the #OSCA with smooth, minimal input rather than sawing at the wheel. Turn-in is crisp, and there's little discernible weight transfer. The ride is a little unyielding, but even the briefest of sorties is an immersive experience. It's a wonderful car, and one with bags of character.
Whether success eluded the #1600GT or it eluded success is a moot point. It's a step above most small-series sports cars of the day, one that was capable of sub-8 second 0-60mph times, depending on state of tune. What's more, it had an enviable competition pedigree and wore distinctive outlines conjured by some of the more celebrated styling houses of the day. If not quite its final curtain, this was OSCA's last triumph.
THANKS TO Corrado Lopresto, his son Duccio, and Massimo Delbo.
Car #1961 #OSCA-1600GT
ENGINE 1568cc four-cylinder, DOHC, twin Weber 38DCOE carburettors
POWER 115bhp @ 6800rpm
TORQUE 105lb ft @ 4800rpm
TRANSMISSION Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
STEERING Rack and pinion
Front: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar.
Rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers.
PERFORMANCE Top speed 118mph
'This ear was first seen on the OSCA stand at the 1961 Turin motor show’
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- Post is under moderationBrooklands turns back the clock.
The world’s oldest motor racing circuit is about to be restored to some of its former glory. David Burgess-Wise unravels just how significant that will be. Photographs & Images courtesy of #Brooklands Museum.
NO MORE HANGAR STRAIGHT!
No, not a redevelopment at #Silverstone but a major re-engineering of the #Brooklands-Museum , where a confirmed grant of £4.681 million from the #Heritage Lottery Fund will see the last survivor of four #1940 Bellman hangars (erected on the requisitioned Brooklands racetrack - the world's oldest purpose-built motor racing circuit - to meet wartime aircraft production needs) shifted sideways from its present location in the middle of the Finishing Straight to a new location alongside the track. That will at last leave the iconic vista up the straight to the steep rise of the Members' Banking uninterrupted for the first time in 75 years.
The relocated hangar will be restored as part of the new 'Aircraft Factory and Flight Shed Exhibition' that will not only house many of the museum's collection of pre- and post-1945 aircraft but also create an authentic aircraft factory environment. This will showcase manufacturing techniques from the 'stick-and-string' pioneering era to the modern age, encouraging visitors to apply their own inventiveness and give them hands- on experience of working with materials. 'It will be a kind of "mini apprenticeship",' museum director Allan Winn told me. 'Visitors will don work coats and clock on in the factory and try their skills in building aeroplanes.
We want to get people inspired by what has been done here and make them want to get involved in engineering.'
The museum has already raised more than £1.6 million in match funding for the project and is now fundraising for the remaining £370,000. The overall cost of the project will be around £7 million, making this the largest endeavour the museum has ever undertaken.
Comments Allan Winn: 'This is a project that particularly attracted the Lottery Fund, because it's not - only dynamic, involving moving vehicles and aircraft, but it engages the public in a way that a stately home, which is static, cannot. The chief executive of the fund hadn't seen Brooklands before she came here for the announcement of the grant, so I took her for a tour of the site in the #Birkin/Holder #1929 Double-Twelve 4 1/2-litre #Bentley . She was captivated.'
Explaining the fund's rationale for the grant, Stuart McLeod, who heads Heritage Lottery Fund South-East, commented: 'The Brooklands site has played such an important role in the country's history - today's glitzy Grands Prix and state-of-the-art airliners can all be traced back to innovation that took place here - and the Heritage Lottery Fund's investment in this remarkable site will help the museum create a unique experience for visitors by helping them understand the pivotal role the UK has played in the field of engineering.'
A key part of the project is the restoration of the track's Finishing Straight to its pre-1939 appearance, allowing it to be brought fully back into use for motoring and aviation activities. Not only will cars be seen in action on the restored straight, but the Museum's active aircraft, such as its Sopwith Camel and Hawker Hurricane, will be taxied in front of the new 'Aircraft Factory and Flight Shed' complex. Vanished features such as the giant lap scoring board in front of the Edwardian Clubhouse will be recreated: 'We're planning to visit Taunton Racecourse, where a similar lap scorer survives, to study its complex mechanism,' says Allan Winn. 'There'll also be a viewscope machine alongside the track so that when the visitors click the button they will be able to see racing cars speeding past.'
'Key to the project is to restore the track’s Finishing Straight to its pre-1939 appearance’
As well as witnessing pre-war cars in action, visitors will be able to learn how to drive them; soapbox racing - another feature of the pre-1940 Brooklands scene - will return to the Finishing Straight. Its surface, badly deteriorated after so many years of idleness, will be repaired to an authentic appearance. This will be ensured by employing a special concrete mix, approved by English Heritage, which matches the old surface.
Authenticity of appearance is particularly important at Brooklands, because the track - laid amazingly quickly by hand and barrow by an army of 2000 navvies between September #1906 and June #1907 - represented the first significant use of concrete as a road surface in Britain. Some 200,000 tons of concrete were used to make the track but it was only six inches thick, laid direct onto the earth, which meant that the track surface not only settled and became notoriously bumpy over time but also needed almost constant repair during its racing lifetime.
Brooklands was the brainchild of wealthy landowner Hugh Locke King, who - in an age when British motorists were hamstrung by a nationwide blanket speed limit of 20mph - realised that the country was being left behind in the new world of international motor sport. Believing that 'England should no longer lie behind the rest of the world, but take her place in the very forefront and reassert herself as the Arbiter of Sport', he decided to finance the building of a closed speed circuit where, able to go as fast as they liked, British racing drivers could practise their skills and the country's motor industry develop new models to compete against their Continental rivals. It would be the world's first track of its kind, and was built on his Brooklands estate in Weybridge, a site that 'nature seemed to have formed for the purpose'.
Locke King had planned to build a conventional tarmac track round the edge of the property at an estimated cost of £22,000, but his consulting engineer, Colonel HCL Holden of the #Royal-Engineers , persuaded him that 'for the safety of cars travelling at highest speed' it was essential to have a banked oval track with 30ft-high curves to allow cars to run at 100mph without steering effort. He claimed that this would be 'naturally safe' at 120mph and 'reasonably safe at higher speeds with the driver counteracting centrifugal force with his steering'.
Though Holden had designed the world's first four- cylinder motorbike in #1897 , his experience in building racetracks was nil. His well-intentioned advice would cause a near sevenfold increase in the building cost to a crippling £150,000 (equivalent to around £8.7 million today) and almost break Locke King.
The new track took its lead from horse racing: drivers wore racing silks like jockeys, cars were assembled in the paddock, and the oval circuit was transected by a finishing straight in front of the clubhouse. This had a major disadvantage, for spectators who had been watching the racing on the outer circuit from the members' enclosure had to run down the hill to see the finish...
The convention of a finishing straight also cost crack racing driver (and champion rollerskater) Dario Resta the Montagu Cup race and a purse of 1400 gold sovereigns at the opening meeting in 1907, for the man who operated the red disc signal to tell him to turn into the finishing straight at the end of the race left it too late. Resta - overtaking another car in his 135hp Mercedes - missed seeing it, and did one lap too many.
Brakes were uncertain in those early days, so the straight incorporated a noticeable upgrade at its top end to help cars pull up before they reached the banking and crossed the path of cars still racing on the Outer Circuit. This didn't always work, as Keith Davies, veteran of the 1907 Opening Meeting, told me when I interviewed him at his Grosvenor Square fiat in #1966 .
'I remember that somebody put his foot by mistake on the accelerator instead of the brake at the finish of a race, went straight forward onto the periphery of the track, and went over the trees and somersaulted to his death. He didn't stop at the finishing line; he just continued on, hit the track, and it was rather like how Diavolo the Great used to do his loop-the-loop - the man shot into the air and finished up where you could expect.'
Between #1907 and 1939 the banked and bumpy Brooklands circuit was the focus of British motor racing; it was only in the 1930s that it faced rivalry from new tracks at Donington and the Crystal Palace. But there was a cuckoo in the Brooklands nest in the shape of the aircraft industry, which had found a home in the centre of the track almost as soon as it had opened, for the towering bankings shielded primitive aircraft from the force of the wind. Indeed, in 1908 AV Roe had managed to leave the ground on the Brooklands Finishing Straight in a biplane of his own design, the first powered - if not particularly controlled - heavier-than-air flight in Britain.
Vickers built an aircraft factory alongside the track, and Sop with - which later became Hawker - assembled and test-flew its aircraft at Brooklands, so it was natural that, when war was declared in #1939 , Brooklands was requisitioned for all-out military production of aeroplanes. Hangars were erected on the racetrack to augment the production of aircraft for the RAF, with the Bellman hangar on the Finishing Straight carrying out final assembly work on Wellington bombers.
Though the requisition of both the racetrack and the Bellman hangar was meant to last only until the end of hostilities, the post-war Labour Government reneged on the arrangement. Racing was never resumed and the entire estate remained a closed aircraft production facility, developing many significant aircraft right up to its pivotal role in the development and production of Concorde. Those who wanted to 'Bring Back Brooklands' were only allowed limited access to the site at the annual Reunion meetings until the museum was opened in #1991 on the 30 acres surrounding the clubhouse.
The track - largely intact, but with holes punched though the bankings at either end of its central runway to allow heavy aircraft to take off in safety - became a dumping ground for discarded jigs and pallets with shrubs growing though its cracks, which is how I saw it when I first trespassed on the Members' Banking as a teenager around #1960 , having scrambled up the back of the bank with a friend after we'd parked his Bullnose Morris at its foot.
There was even a hangar on the banking, snuggled under the bridge that afforded a privileged route into the trackside enclosure for the private cars of members of the Brooklands Automobile Racing Club. That, happily is long gone, the Members' Bridge has been recreated, and the surviving hangar on the Finishing Straight was Grade 2 Listed in #1999 as a rare surviving example of the taller type of Bellman; it notably retains its original corrugated-iron sheet cladding.
However, the Bellman hangar was designed for quick assembly during wartime; a stable internal environment wasn't a pressing need in its specification. Unrestored, that flaw leaves the often fragile structures of the historic aircraft inside it vulnerable to the elements. Its relocation and refurbishment will enable that problem to be addressed. The adjoining 'Flight Shed' will not only house the museum's active aircraft, but will incorporate new workshops where museum volunteers will learn and practise aircraft restoration skills, enabling these vital techniques to be handed down to a new generation. Importantly, there will also be a purpose-built storage area where Brooklands' internationally significant archives will be maintained in a controlled environment.
Building on the work done years ago by the track clearers of the Brooklands Society, who first undertook the task of removing the undergrowth from the banking, the Brooklands Museum has done sterling work in maintaining the section of the historic track that lies within its site, which regularly plays host to the activities of car clubs. This latest project, which will at last reveal the Finishing Straight in its pre-1939 state, opens what Allan Winn terms 'the most significant chapter in Brooklands' rich and varied history since the museum was founded'.
FOR MORE DETAILS visit brooklandsmuseum. Com
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- Post is under moderationROBERT COUCHER THE DRIVER
‘CLASSIC ENTHUSIASTS HAVE A BOND WITH THEIR CARS, SO THEY SEE BEYOND BRAND IMAGE - DRIVERS OF MODERN CARS DON’T’
Let’s face it, we all like an underdog, especially here in Britain. I suppose you can apply the idea of an underdog to motor vehicles. Without wanting to anthropomorphise inanimate motor cars, human beings have had a long and illogical relationship with their motors. A car is a strong reflection of its owner’s personality and position in society and there is no brand stronger than a motor vehicle. #Audi , #Bentley , #BMW , #Ferrari , #Mercedes-Benz , #Jaguar , #Porsche , #Rolls-Royce and so on spend a fortune burnishing their brand credentials and it works. Aston Martin was recently the coolest brand in Britain, ahead of #Apple , #Nike and #Rolex .
People very seldom just purchase a ‘car’. They buy a product that reflects themselves. As the doyen of advertising David Ogilvy said: ‘You have to decide what "image" you want for your brand. Image means personality.
Products, like people, have personalities.’ Sure, people buy cars based on price, but the mid-market 3-Series has long outsold the perfectly good #Ford-Mondeo - because it has a BMW badge on the front. And why do so many urban dwellers want a 4x4?
Because a soft-roader is a lot cooler than a sensible saloon.
Of course, those of us who are ‘into’ classic or historic cars have a real attachment: we actually love our old cars, which is faintly ridiculous, though also great fun and rewarding. Apart from the engineering and performance, classic car types are acutely aware about what their cars say about them. Both an E-type Jaguar and Mini are cool icons of the 1960s but are totally different, only having the fact that they are motor vehicles with four wheels in common, unlike a Morgan three-wheeler. Classic cars offer a wide canvas for tweedy types and Teddy Boys alike.
But because classic car enthusiasts actually have a bond with their cars, they can see beyond just the brand image in a way drivers of modern cars don’t. Of course, modern cars are built to hammer down endless motorways and sit in traffic, whereas classics are for enjoyment. That’s why many classic car owners will often have an underdog in their garage along with a more recognised classic. As well as his C-type Jaguar and #Rolls-Royce-Silver-Ghost , the late Alan Clark MP also enjoyed A #Citroen-2CV and a #VW-Beetle (the latter admittedly with a #Porsche-356 engine shoehorned into the rear).
Americans call these ‘trinket’ cars. Fiat 500 Jollys used to be trinkets but, now that owners of superyachts want them as tenders, they are priced like expensive jewels. I’m sure, like me, you have a soft spot for the automotive underdog, a classic that is not about the smart badge on the bonnet. The first time I drove a classic Mini I was shocked at how good it was on a tight road. It made the Porsche 356 I was driving at the time seem a bit numb. And years ago my father had an immaculate #Lancia-Aurelia-B20GT . To be fair it was the last of the line, a heavy sixth-series example. But when I raced him in my boxy, four-door #Alfa-Romeo-Giulia saloon, I’d blow his (two) doors off every time.
As a member of the #Drive-My team I’m fortunate to get to drive some pretty impressive pieces of kit. And it is interesting to see quite how good some cars are - often the underdogs - and quite how lousy some of the supposed great classics can be. My good friend Ray Jones of Sydney, Australia, invited me to take part in the #Mille-Miglia with him in #1999 . We were to drive his #Chrysler-75 .
Some in the vintage world look down on these Americans. Halfway through, #Bentley specialist Stanley Mann wandered over. ‘What sort of supercharger do you have fitted to the Chrysler?’ he asked (we’d overtaken his vintage Bentley a number of times). Ray opened the bonnet. Its two huge SUs and banana-branch exhaust header would have given your average VSCC scrute heart failure but there was no blower. Stanley was amazed. And the #Chrysler had excellent, original hydraulic brakes.
In 2007, deputy editor Mark Dixon and I competed in the #Mille-Migila in a bog-standard #Triumph-TR2 , mustering just about 90bhp. Not powerful, but it handled well. In the mountains this light car was ace because of its overdrive gearbox, which operated on second, third and top. The #Triumph really annoyed a number of drivers of heavy Mercedes-Benz Gullwings with their wide-ratio gearing. Up the steep mountain roads we indulged in some of the most impertinent overtaking ever.
Yes, it was a proper underdog.
Robert grew up with classic cars, and has owned a #Lancia-Aurelia-B20GT , Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Porsche 356C. He currently uses his properly sorted #1955 #Jaguar-XK140 as his daily driver, and is a founding editor of this magazine.
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