Archive | June, 2010

Never met a nice BMW driver

28 Jun

Closing in on his target

You know there was that Spitting Image song, “Never Met A Nice South African”.

“He’s never met a nice South African

Well that’s not very surprising mun

‘Cos we’re a bunch of arrogant bastards

Who hate black people”

Now obviously not all white South Africans are arrogant bastards who hate black people. Shaun Pollock seems nice, and I have a very nice white South African friend called Jonas who by all accounts doesn’t hate black people. So that’s two there. But, as apartheid so neatly pointed out, some of them do. Or did.

Now in the same way, you could probably sing a song along the lines of “He’s never met a nice BMW driver/Well that’s not very surprising mun/‘Cos we’re a bunch of arrogant bastards” (I’ll leave out the black people bit). How has it come to pass that BMW drivers are almost universally such cocks? I’ve met nice ones, but they’re few and far between. What makes them so?

Perhaps it’s the knowledge that BMW produce some of the best engineered cars in the world. I suppose that would make you puff your chest out a bit. Or maybe it’s the fact that most of the cars are rear-wheel drive. This means that idiots who think that they’re racing drivers can pretend that they’re in a race every time they drive on the M62. And, because they’re in a race, they dislike being held up by backmarkers. This means that if you’re in the outside lane in your non-cock car, doing a sensible little overtake of a fellow backmarker in their non-cock cars, and you impede the progress of Mr. BMW, a behemoth, Senna-esque figure in the racing series that exists in his mind, he will come up behind you and attach himself to your bumper whilst flashing his (doubtless xenon) headlights at you and gesticulating until you have the good grace to get out of his way.

I was once joining the M4 from the M5 near Bristol. On the slip road that led around to the M4, the two lanes converged into one and we, the non-cocks, all politely moved into the outside lane that became the single lane. Meanwhile, a cock in his 330Ci drives up the inside lane at great speed, passing all the polite cars, and tries to nip in front of me, which I had none of, closing up the gap so that he had to slot in behind me. As he did, I looked in my rear-view mirror and shook my head disapprovingly at him. I have never seen a more comically angry little man in all my life, as he exploded in his car, swearing maniacally (I could tell) and giving me the finger. There must have been some sort of repression going on to have reacted that angrily to someone not letting you be a cock. He needed help.

So citizens, I’m going to let you in on a little game that I like to play to prove how cockish BMW drivers mostly are, a sort of cock litmus test if you will. For this, you will need to be driving a car on a motorway and need to encounter a BMW sitting in the fast lane. What you do next is, in the next lane over, drive your car so that you start to undertake the BMW, nosing gently in front of it. To the cock, this suggests being undermined and is not something a cock will tolerate. Then sit back and watch as he floors his little Munich-mobile as fast as possible towards the horizon. The hours simply melt away. Try it, it’s a fun game. And apologies to all the nice, non-cock BMW drivers out there, but honestly, some owners are letting the side down badly.

Carficionado’s Brave New World

26 Jun

Ladies and gentlemen, stop the presses. Unbelievable as it may sound, Carficionado is considering going back to school to get EVEN BETTER at journalism. I know, I know, “How?” you all ask incredulously. I don’t know, but I will put my genius in the hands of others and see what comes of it. A job, I hope.

However, and here’s another shock, it does present me with a problem in that the University I wish to study at is an hour drive away and, call me a charlatan if you will, Carficionado does not currently own a car. Nor does he currently own vast sums of money. So I’ve given myself a budget of around £1500 to see what I could find that was decent and the results have been…..mixed.

First off, let me say that I’m looking for something that’s easy to look after and economical on the old gasoline, or diesel as it may well prove to be. It also has to be comfortable for cruising down the motorway and have a vague sense of modernity so that when I’m stuck in an inevitable morning traffic jam, I can have the radio on (so anything after 1938 then). And, of course, it has to be a car that, if Carficionado is to find himself at a party and happens to mention his current whip, he does not damage the name of Carficionado in any way.

The funny thing is that, during my search, I have found myself inexplicably drawn to big, 90s French cars. Thus far, I’ve considered: a Peugeot 605 (605, mind!), a Citroen Xantia, a Citroen C5 and a Citroen BX. The advantage to these cars is that they depreciate like Zimbabwean currency, and they’re usually owned by octogenarians who do around 8 miles per year. Within my £1500 limit, I’ve seen a 1995 Xantia with 22,000 miles on the clock. That’s roughly 1,500 miles a year, which is nothing. Alas it was petrol, and does not sit well with my fantasies of fuelling up the car every Christmas like I would in the diesel. So back to the drawing board.

Other things I’ve considered on my search have been the under-appreciatedly (new word) handsome Volvo 960, or V90 as it came to be known. An E30 BMW 3 Series. A Volkswagen Passat or Skoda Octavia estate. The list goes on, and it’s a fun game to play, but fun is going to have to transcend into reality some time, and so I’m wondering what I would really go for. And I think I’ve come up with it. Unless I find a very cheap, very low mileage, very good condition post-92 Peugeot 605 (Pininfarina designed I might add), I think I’m going to try and find a Citroen XM. Cool looking, practical, rare but not exotic, cool suspension. And French cars have arguably the most comfortable seats of any car since time immemorial. So if you own one and are selling it, let me know. Meanwhile, the search continues.

Cars That Me or My Family Used To Own and That I Now Miss #2 – My dad’s Mercedes S-Class

23 Jun

Has anyone seen Arrested Development? It features the Bluths, a family whose fortune is based on fraudulent property development and who end up losing their vast amounts of wealth and living in disgrace, holding on to a few precious vestiges of their wealth. Now my family, to the best of my knowledge, were never involved in fraud, nor were we stupendously wealthy, but we do share one thing in common. The patriarch figures of both our families used to drive a big, 1980s, gold Mercedes S-Class.

I can’t remember how Dad came to acquire this car. All I remember were the big, beige leather seats, the acres and acres of room and the fact that it was the first car we ever had with an electric sunroof. See, children are stupid. I have always maintained that, once the mood for fatherhood strikes me, I will furnish my children, for birthdays and Christmas, with cardboard boxes as presents. Parents spend huge amounts of money on buying little Jimmy or Waynetta expensive dolls, £2000 replicas of 1950s sports cars etc. etc. And ultimately, if the box that these presents arrive in is big enough, the kid will just end up sitting in it. This is also true of days out. Angry parents driving into Brighton in their Vauxhall Merivas and then beating their children along the seafront to the sound of the Merry-Go-Round. If, however, the parents hadn’t been fools, they could have let the kids into the Vauxhall Meriva whilst it was sat in the family driveway and, if fitted with an electric sunroof, have let them spend the day happily wearing down the car’s battery opening and shutting it, climbing over the seats or whatever the little darlings saw fit to do.

I loved the electric sun roof and I loved the car. Perhaps because I grew up in them, 1980s Mercedes always seem very comforting to me. I love their notchy rear headlamps and the orange-handed clock in the dashboard, and the slightly cheesy wood and the metallic twirl of the engine, driven by the ubiquitous automatic gearbox. My Dad may have blocked this out, and with good reason, but one of my outstanding childhood memories was of driving down the motorway in the big Merc, with the sunroof open and Simply Red being played very loudly through the Blaupunkt stereo (which took CDs don’t you know!). Golden days indeed!

A day in the life of a Triumph owner

20 Jun

So, I have a 2008 Triumph Bonneville. Modern technology clashing headlong into classic design. Warms the cockles doesn’t it? She really is a beautiful thing to look at. Only problem is that my Triumph, who I have lovingly named Betty, is occasionally prone to geriatricism. Regard…….

Handsome beastie, eh? Shall we go for a ride?

Hang about. Who's this?

What's the truck for?

Where are we going, Mister?

Save me, Daddy!

Avenge Meeeeeee!


Pininfarina’s 80th Birthday

18 Jun

Pininfarina, or Carozzeria Pininfarina (it just means coach-builder) to give the company its full title, is 80 years old this year. The Italian design firm have used their pencils and French curves to come up with some of the most uniquely desirable automotive shapes of the 20th Century (and a few of the 21st). However, they’ve got a few skeletons in their closet. So behold, my Top 10 Notable (for better or for worse) Pininfarina Designs.

1. Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider

The achingly pretty Giulietta Spider of the 1950s became one of Alfa’s most iconic cars. Let’s consider the case of Federico Fellini. The great Italian director cast Sandra Milo, Anouk Aimee, Anita Eckberg and Claudia Cardinale in his films. He also drove a Giulietta Spider. Is that enough of an endorsement?

2. Ferrari 250 GT Cabriolet

By no means the most revered variant of the 250 (that accolade surely goes to the 250 GTO), Pininfarina did however create one of the prettiest incarnations in the 250 GT Cabriolet. Delicious clean lines, delicious Italian GT car.

3. Peugeot 504 Coupé

Also designed as a cabriolet, I prefer the beautifully purposeful styling of the coupé. It has a suavity and elegance which I find totally irresistible. Merveilleux!

4. Ferrari F40

Creating this car in the same year as they created the Peugeot 405 (go figure), Pininfarina were asked by Signor Ferrari to create something earth-shattering to stamp his marques’ dominance before he died. It was the last car to be commissioned by Enzo Ferrari and proved itself to be quite a swansong.

5. Hyundai Matrix

Well, they couldn’t all be teary-eyed and rose-tinted recollections on Pininfarina’s glory, could they? The other day I passed a Hyundai Matrix in the street and was shocked to see that distinctive squiggle down the side of the car: “Pininfarina”. A boon for Hyundai then, but I personally couldn’t see any redeeming Pininfarina features on the car. The best you could say about it, I suppose, is that it looks European. In a sort of 90s way. Not their best.

6. Peugeot 406 Coupe

In my opinion, though, the Peugeot 406 Coupe was one of their best. A strikingly elegant design, not entirely dissimilar from Pininfarina’s design for the Ferrari 456, it embodied that 1990s French boldness and optimism, along with TGVs and those aerodynamic cycling helmets. Considering the car that it was based on, Pininfarina executed a fantastic design for the 406 Coupe.

7. Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé

I’m not entirely sure how this qualifies as a coupé, other than the fact that the top’s been coupéed off it. But lordy, does it matter? This is the sort of car that is so beautiful it makes you feel like someone’s punched you in the sternum. There is a total rightness to the design, that look of powering swiftly and strongly into the future. May have caused the recession though.

8. Daewoo Lacetti Sedan

OK, clearly whilst simultaneously designing the Ferrari Enzo, Pininfarina had to give their interns something to do. “Go and design some Daewoo” they said, giggling. And so they did. And it looked like this. Pretty woeful stuff really. Only accolade is that, now under the guise of being a Chevrolet, it features as Top Gear’s ‘Reasonably Priced Car’. Replacing the Suzuki Liana. That’s about as prestigious a provenance as it deserves.

9. Maserati Birdcage 75th

I hope that this car will one day translate into how every car looks. Built, by deduction, 5 years ago to honour Pininfarina’s 75th anniversary and the name harking back to Masaerati’s famous ‘Birdcage’ racer of the 1960s, the strikingly futuristic design must have seemed like a very nice birthday present indeed!

10. Hafei Zhongyi

So, shall I end with something nice or nasty? Well, not to discredit Pininfarina, whose brilliant work I thinks speaks for itself (ignoring the fact that I just wrote about it), but sometimes you’ve just got to laugh, like looking back at pictures of some of the less attractive women you’ve dated. I know nothing about this car, or rather van, other than the fact that it’s Chinese and they presumably didn’t give Pininfarina a particularly large design budget. Pininfarina, you’ve made some exquisitely, dazzlingly, spell-bindingly good looking cars. But this isn’t one of them.

The Dockland Motor Expo thinginy-jig

15 Jun

So, this weekend, I had a hankering to watch the film Amelie. Don’t know why, these things just happen, particularly with Amelie which is an especially beauteous film. So off I went on my little bicycle to an HMV in Canary Wharf, purportedly my closest outlet. As I arrive there, what should Carficionado see before his very eyes? A car show. Suffice it to say that I had no choice but to get snapping and report back to you, the good people. Here’s what I saw, bearing in mind that I don’t think car manufacturers were waiting for the Docklands Motor Expo to unveil any of their latest offerings.

First off, I saw this rather tasty MX5 roadster type thing. I didn’t enquire as to what its purpose in life was (Mille Miglia in an MX5?) but it looked cool.

Then I saw what was for me a bit of a revelation. The new Saab 9-5. I like Saabs. My dad has an old 9-5 estate and it’s a very nice place to be. I personally thought the new car looked stunning (sorry for News of the World terminology there). There’s a hint of the Vauxhall Monaro about its rear fascia, which is fine but the overall shape and design of the front? Sehr gut! Echt gut! In the automotive world where so much slime carries on living regardless (I’m looking at you Kia Magentis), Saab’s a company that deserves a new beginning and particularly a GM-less one, and I hope that this 9-5 marks the start of that emancipation.

Elsewhere I saw a Tesla, which is no longer newsworthy I don’t think, but good to see one up close. The new Jaguar XJ which looks nearly very very brilliant. There’s just something that I don’t like about it though. Can’t quite put my finger on it. Although the interior, I can safely report, was luscious.

One genuinely new car was Mini’s new Countryman. Now I’ve been in a fair few regular Minis and they are very cramped. Considering Alec Issigonis’ original was roughly the size of one of the newer Mini’s wheels, it was certainly about as, if not more, practical. The Countryman is intended to target the Golf more directly, and doubtless will. It was notably bigger, a little jacked up as if intending to do some soft-roading and had a decent sized boot. I couldn’t get this image out of my mind though. Imagine a regular Mini sneezing….

Otherwise it was business as usual. The new Volvo S60 which looks….pretty good. A brace of Norton motorbikes which look the part but are heinously expensive, more than twice the price of my Triumph Bonneville. And the new BMW 5 Series, which looked so anonymous that I barely noticed it. Does have a very big boot though. So the Docklands Expo, or whatever it was called. Not the greatest car show I’ve ever been to, but always nice to spend a Saturday sniffing around some shiny new cars.

Now, something which I didn’t see at the Expo but is still noteworthy was this rather tasty Renault Alpine GTA that I stumbled upon in rural Oxfordshire. Didn’t get to hear its V6 unfortunately, but I always enjoy spotting a bit of curios.

Renault’s new executive zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

11 Jun

Oh my God! Renault have done a big saloon car! I wonder what it looks like? Does it have the robustness of a German car? Is it as involving to drive as Renault’s recent RenaultSport cars? Does it have the style and élan to match the Citroën C6? Oh wait, here comes a picture now, it’s……a Toyota Avensis. I mean the new Renault Latitude.

I mean, come on. The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, is married to Carla Bruni. Carla Bruni! This man has taste, this man appreciates the finer things. You think he’s going to want to drive around in the back of this? He’s going to choose the Citroën C6 every time. What worries me most about this car is that it borrows styling cues from the Dacia range. These are cars built to satisfy the automotive wants of people who hitherto fore have driven Yugos, FSOs and tanks around Eastern Europe. This is meant to be Renault’s dustbin, the dog food to Renault’s chateaubriand. Not the inspiration, the lifeblood of their top of the range exec saloon. The topflight at Renault must be wondering what they’ve done to deserve such treatment. The Citroën boys turn up to their gala luncheons in their C6s, the Audi boys have their new A8, Mercedes execs get an S-Class or maybe even a Maybach. And the Renault lads get a taxi. The one, solitary, stand-alone, hint of a decent feature that I can see is the Lexus LS profile of the rear quarter, which frankly they’ve nicked. That’s it. And let’s be honest here, the Lexus LS isn’t going to make it into the Museum of Modern Art any time soon. Not even the Skegness Museum of Modern Art.

So, clap clap Renault. After all the hard work your little RenaultSport team have been doing to give you an iota of credibility, you come up with this. Merdeque!

Jeff Koons’ BMW Art Car!

10 Jun

So Jeff Koons has been the latest artist to contribute to the BMW ‘Art Cars’ series. For a start, it’s good to see Koons going off on a bit of a tangent from his 90s fascination with making sculptures of him and his (now ex) wife in the throes of ecstasy (Google ‘Jeff Koons Made in Heaven’). I love the Art Cars series. It’s about the coolest thing BMW, or any other car manufacturer, have ever done. The series began in 1975 and has featured contributions by Andy Warhol (on a BMW M1), Roy Lichtenstein (320i) and David Hockney (850CSi). Koons, who was given BMW’s M3 GT2 Le Mans racer as a canvas, has created a rather excellent dazzle-paint effect which, coming up behind you on the Mulsanne Straight at 8 a.m. after you’ve been driving for 4 hours already, should be sufficient to scare the bejesus out of weary drivers and probably force them to crash. Cunning. Either way, it’s a handsome beastie and will be piloted by the talented triumvirate of Great Britain’s Andy Priaulx and by two German men named Dirk, namely Müller and Werner. Good luck to ‘em!

To read more about the BMW Art Cars, look here:

An idea too far?

8 Jun

I will now write something that will very probably discredit any sort of pedigree I have as a writer who claims to like cars. I was driving along the A34 the other day with my trumpet playing friend, who we’ll call X but whose real name is Adam. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a Skoda Yeti, in white. And do you know what my first thought was? No? Then I’ll tell you. My first thought was “that would be a really good looking 2-door cabriolet”. Like an MX-5 or a Honda S2000 or, even more dramatically, like a Renault Spider. Think about it though. It could share a platform with Volkswagen’s BlueSport thing, which by all accounts looks very good, and which I’m going to try and get my hands on for a test. Then you put on that Skoda face, which is quite handsome on the Yeti, if a bit ungainly on every other car in their range, paint it white and there you have it, a fun, “cheeky-looking”, environmentally friendly Skoda soft-top.

What with Skoda re-finding a place in the hearts of the nation after being cast-off into the automotive wilderness, this car would solidify their reputation. The Yeti is designed to look like your mate who’s going to help you get up that hill or mountain or whatever and then babysit your kids whilst you and the wife go skinny dipping in a stream (I haven’t read the brochure, but I imagine it’s something along those lines). This would do the same thing, but instead it would be for California-like trips to the beach, complete with cynical marketing to suit. Or some nice B-road bashing even. It’s a brilliant idea. It sounds stupid, but it’s actually brilliant. Build it Skoda. It will make you rich men. And women.

German Morphology

6 Jun

I’m determined not to make this blog purely about German cars, but that seems to be the way it’s going. German cars and lists. Either way, I’ve been noticing a trait in their car designing which I’m sure is very obvious to everyone else too. You know that video effect when one shape morphs gradually into another? I think the Germans are using this to design their cars.

Think about it. At BMW they take a picture of a 1 Series hatch back and one picture of an X5. They feed these images into the video effect thingy and watch it go. At separate (and many) points in the morphing process they pause the video, draw that car and they have their range of cars! So they start with a 1 Series. Then it morphs thusly:

1 Series Coupe

3 Series Coupe

3 Series Saloon

5 Series Saloon

7 Series Saloon

5 Series GT





(This is not to mention the 6 Series, which would fit in awkwardly somewhere!)

Now obviously most car companies have a signature fascia that they will use at any one time and BMW are no different. But I make the point because it seems that the Germans are trying to design every type of car that you could ever think of.

Now consider Audi. They have the A4. Then they have the A6. But what if you want a car right in the middle? Get the new A5 in the coupe/saloon style already seen in the Mercedes CLS and the Volkswagen Passat CC. But you want an actual coupe. So get the A5 coupe. Golf rival? That would be the A3. Mini rival? The new A1. Massive 4×4? Q7. Slightly smaller 4×4? Q5. Supercar? R8. Obviously this massive variety of cars makes sense in business terms. And why wouldn’t Audi want to monopolise the car market? I know for a fact that they have a big operation going to get celebs papped driving their cars. I just think that it’s a bit cynical. It’s a lot of brain and a very small amount of heart, in my opinion. You know that something strange is happening in Germany when Porsche, who have been content with one driver door and one passenger door for ever and ever amen thank you very much, start making executive saloons and 4x4s. Ferrari have never made an SUV. Lamborghini have never had a go at making an MPV (although they did make the four-wheel drive LM002 for the Italian military and for some people with small willies to drive on the road). But those companies know what they are and what they want to be. They make sports cars and they’re very good at it. The Germans know what they want to be, too. They want to be EVERYTHING! Deutschland über alles, indeed!