Archive | August, 2010

And it’s go, go, goat…..Martin Brundle’s secret texts.

29 Aug

Carficionado's homing in on your dastardly game, Brundle!

Welcome to a new era for Carficionado. Inspired by the Heat magazine currently lying on my toilet floor and belonging either to my girlfriend or gay brother who’s staying with us, I have decided to become an insipid little gossiper. I have to admit, I expect the number of these gossip posts to equal a grand total of 1, because no-one tells me any good rumours, but this one’s a good’un.

So, here goes. Carficionado has a friend who went to university with a certain daughter of Martin Brundle, who as you all know is the current BBC F1 commentator and former driver for the likes of McLaren, Ligier and Bennetton, and whose daughter was was going out at the time with my friend’s housemate. Well, it transpires that father and daughter have a system whereby she texts her father over the course of the race weekend and provides a word for him which he has to get into his commentary at some point. Now my friend who leant me this rumour didn’t manage to find out any specifics, but if you hear Mr. Brundle utter something slightly untoward during this afternoon’s Belgian Prix…..well, you heard it here first.

The Mercedes GLK

27 Aug

Lovechild, aka Fitzpajero

So, I expected to see some interesting Soviet rubbish/bits of curios lying around Mongolia. But to see a new car that I’d not yet glimpsed in Europe yet, and to be honest hadn’t been aware of at all, on the streets of Ulaanbaatar was slightly disconcerting. What was even more disconcerting was that it was this lumpen pile of crap. Regular readers of this blog (hi Mum) will already know that I feel that the Germans’ attempts to create EVERY possible variation of the car is cynical and faintly intolerable. Sadly, it appears the good folks at Mercedes didn’t read this blog, or at least for some reason, they do not fear the derision of Carficionado. Well derided they must be. I’m not going to talk about how the thing drives because…..well, because I haven’t started reviewing cars in that way yet. So let’s talk looks, which are subjective, but hey, get your own blog if you don’t like my subjectivity. Now imagine, if you will, a steamy late night romp on a second-hand car forecourt between a Mitsubishi Pajero Junior and a Subaru Forrester. Now imagine the lovechild of this illicit act. Now put a Mercedes grille on it. Are you with me, are ya, are ya?

Father

Mother

How could this have happened? I know, I know, BMW got to make the X1 and Audi got to make the Q5 so where’s Mercedes’ baby 4×4 that’s slightly smaller than the M Class and much smaller than the woefully misjudged GL. But I’m sorry, why are we all slowly creeping back into baby 4x4s again anyway, like a class of school children who are told in no uncertain terms to shut the hell up and in spite of the explicit telling off slowly start to chatter amongst themselves again. I mean what, is it 1996? Are we all going to end up back in Suzuki Vitara 3 doors and baby blue Toyota Rav4s listening to the Spice Girls? Hey Mercedes! Let BMW and Audi have that market. Bugger ’em! In fact, why don’t you not make stupid Mitsubishi/Subaru look-a-likes and then get someone in your PR department to say “well, we could have built a baby 4×4, of course we could, we’re Mercedes, but in an age where making 4x4s (or at least tall cars, maybe the damned thing is 2-wheel drive) for mums to then drive around Esher (or German equivalent) is a bit, well, massively backwards, we’re actually going to focus on making cars that deal with the problems that the world is facing, unlike BMW and Audi who have shown themselves to be the Flintstones to our Jetsons. We’re light-years ahead of those stupid suckers.” Spin the hell out of it. Then, when you’re done spinning, go and make that delicious looking Shooting Brake and that electric SLS. Don’t bend to the whims of these Esherians! Esherites? Whatever. Where’s your dignity Mercedes? Don’t let them trample all over you like that. Would Fangio have been proud of that? Moss? Hakkinen? Schumacher? Heikki Kovalainen? OK, not him.

Mercedes are trying to make themselves der Über-Manufakturer, and thus be as successful as they can be. And as Jack Kerouac wrote: “You kill yourself to get to the grave before you even die, and the name of that grave is success , the name of that grave is hullaballoo boom boom horseshit.”

My point exactly.

Dreamy cousin....

In praise of….the UAZ

26 Aug

During my time in Mongolia recently, I kept spotting these old Soviet vans dotted around the place. They looked ancient, such as you’d see in a documentary of 1960s Berlin, and yet this was the go-to vehicle for the police, the ambulance service and, of course, the tourists being constantly ferried to and from The Mongolian Wilderness.

Well, it turns out this van is called a UAZ-452. I imagine that its proliferation around Mongolia is a result of the Soviet ideal of everyone owning the same thing, which is why places like Budapest are still littered with those horrible Trabants. But, in an age that has given us the new Beetle, the new Mini, the Toyota FJ Cruiser, the Plymouth Prowler, the new Fiat 500 (shall I go on?), I think that the UAZ should be rehabilitated for the modern age. And more importantly, should be allowed the travel through Checkpoint Charlie and into the glorious West, filled as it is with that sense of liberty, equality and fraternity so often seen in place like the U.S…..

My idea, which I was kind enough to share with some Australians on a trip into The Mongolian Wilderness, and who looked most interested, was to ship one back to the UK, rip out its engine, which will doubtless be of a 1970s Soviet design (and therefore total crap) and put in something small and diesely, maybe the longstanding 1.9 diesel from the Volkswagen Audi Group (I thought that was better than writing VAG). Then, lo and bloody behold, you have an amazing looking van, which is significantly cooler than a Volkswagen Camper, not least because it won’t be driven by people trying to creat some sort of hippy parody, which will be built like the proverbial shithouse and it won’t break down. As much. Basically, a winner then. Get your orders in now.

(Addendum: my friend in Mongolia reliably informs me that the UAZ-452 is known colloquially as the Forgon, to differentiate it from the UAZ jeep, which looks very similar to the Jeep Wrangler or equivalent. Presumably it is called this as it’s a “Forgon” conclusion that the thing will break down somewhere in the middle of the aforementioned Mongolian Wilderness and you’ll be mauled to death by angry sheep intent on their revenge against the Mongolian people, who have been slaughtering them for centuries and serving them up in bowls of milk. This actually happens.)

Spotted…..

23 Aug

Here are a few things that I’ve seen around and about on my travels. And I do quite literally mean travels. First up, here’s a beautiful 1960s Mercedes 220 SEB coupe. I saw it in West London, next to Selfridges and though it was in slightly tatty condition, it at least was at odds with the quite staggering lack of imagination that rich people demonstrate most of the time. Do they get tax breaks if they buy Porsche 911s? Do they get an American Express Black card when they’re spotted in a Range Rover Sport or a Bentley Continental GT? Honestly, wealth is mostly wasted on the wealthy. Except Lord March…..

Now, a place where I expected to lay down my Carficionado hat in order to pick up my day-glo party hat was at a music festival in Oxfordshire. AND YET! Carficionado must never sleep, because all of a sudden someone will park a Porsche 356 in the car park. Although, in spite of having all the right Porsche badges and what not, the car appeared to be, according to its number plate, a 1971 model, which is peculiar, as Porsche stopped making the 356 in 1965. So I guess it was a kit car, despite appearances. But who can argue with the appearances?

Then up to St. John’s Wood in North West London, home to Abbey Road and rich folk. Rich folk who buy black Ford GTs. So they do have some class, discretion and taste after all. But wait, what does that number plate say? S3XSY? Oh well, never mind….

And speaking of class, discretion and taste…..for the Arab who has everything, why not buy a white Mercedes Maybach convertible? I spotted this little beaut at Dubai airport. Vulgar doesn’t even begin to cover it darlings!

Zipcar vs. My Car

22 Aug

All this meterosexuality could be mine....

So, on goes the continuing story of what car, if any, I should buy. See, I was having a little perusal of David Byrne’s book The Bicycle Diaries whilst I was in Mongolia. In it, the former Talking Heads singer talks a lot about urban planning and the fixation we have with the automobile. It’s an understandable fixation really. Man doesn’t like to move slowly across the land. Once he had found a way to not do, by entering into an entente cordiale with horses, well then there was no looking back. Then came the industrial revolution, and as we reached the end of the 19th Century, people started putting engines into horse carriages and thus came the fall of the 20th Century man. The car glistened in front of us and begged us to breach the horizon, pull it closer to us and to conquer the world at a speed hitherto fore available only to nature. This appeals, I think, to man’s innate desire to put everything, nature included, under its collective thumb. This is why we climb up Everest, jump out of planes, swim oceans etc.

Excuse the tangent, but all this made me think: should I look for a way to get around without a car? I know that I am Carficionado, but that doesn’t mean that I’m as bloody-minded as, say, Jeremy Clarkson, who is constantly assuming that people who stop and think about the effect of man on the planet want to build everything out of rhubarb. Getting around without a car is a legitimate option. Well, nearly. The main problem is, and I’ll let you in on a little secret here folks, Carficionado plays guitar in a band and thusly, I am forced to cart around a lot of instruments at the weekend. Not particularly easy to carry four guitars on a bicycle. I could use Zipcar, of which I am a member and which has now appropriated Streetcar, vastly increasing its numbers of cars (and, saliently, vans) available to users. I’m not big into maths, but I’d imagine it works out, in the end, more cost effective than owning a car. Bear in mind that when you rent a Zipcar, fuel is included in the price of the hourly rental, as are your first 60 miles, as is road tax, as is congestion charging. But until the Zipcar/Streetcar system becomes ubiquitous, it will continue to be not as convenient as owning your own car, which will be parked in front of your house. You also have to return the car to where you picked it up from, meaning that if you’re ever stranded and rent a Zipcar to un-strand yourself, you’ve got to eventually take it back to where it was you were stranded in the first place. Still with me? Plus, Oxford, where Carficionado shall soon be moving to, has Zipcar, but only at 9 different sites around the city. This may increase, but at the time being, I wonder how inconvenient it would prove.

Hmmm. You know what I think I’ll do, lovers of cars? I think I’ll try using Zipcar, public transport and my motorbike to get around in Oxford and to get to university for my master’s degree (an hour away). I may also get a bicycle, after mine was recently stolen, which will I think be the best way to get to the pubs and clubs in Oxford when my only baggage is me, myself and I. And I will see how this works. Do not think ill of me, aficionados of Carficionado. I am decidedly unrich at the moment, and just because I, woe is me, have considered using public transport to get around, and thus failing in the eyes of a certain Mrs. Thatcher, doesn’t mean I don’t know a good car from a bad one. Next time, let’s talk Ferraris or something. Or, as is more likely, let’s talk Russian motorbikes…..

In Mongolia

1 Aug

Dear Aficionados of Carficionado

I forgot to mention that I was going to Mongolia. My bad. Now in terms of Carficionadoing, that’s much more interesting than going to Greece due to the number of Soviet cars and bikes kicking about the place. Without really having a camera to my name and with disposable cameras seeming to be non-existent in Ulaanbaatar, photographing the things might be tough but Carficionado will, as ever, try his hardest.

Speaking of Soviet motorbikes, I’ve been riding some. Last Saturday, Tony from Thirsty Horse Motorcycles here in Ulaanbaatar (let’s call it UB shall we?) invited us down to have a play on some of his old Ural bikes in the Mongolian wilderness. The scenery was truly epic and even though the bastard things were a mite unreliable, it was still an excellent trip. The difference between a Ural and my Bonneville is really the analogue quality of the Ural. A gear change is not a mere flick of the toe, but a hefty kick of the heel onto the heel-toe gear lever to pull it up into second. It all felt very manly as we stood around priming engines and kick starting the bikes (another thing my Triumph doesn’t have). And these bikes had sidecars too, and you don’t need to wear helmets, so it was very pleasant to be able to sit and talk to someone whilst having a good old hoon around. There’s talk of a 4 day motorcycle trek in a week or so, too. Watch this space….

Anyway, for the uninitiated (as I was), here is what a Ural looks like, I believe that the Soviets nicked the design from BMW probably in the 40s, as evidenced by the lateral mounted engine. Just a hunch though….(further research tells me that the Ural is based on the BMW R71)