Tag Archives: Volkswagen

Brooklands: An Elegy to British Motorsport

14 Feb

I can often be found travelling between Oxford and Brighton, negotiating some of Britain’s least inspiring roadways that lie between these two cities. I’m usually in my Golf and it’s fine. You put on Radio 4, put it into sixth and cruise home, the only excitement coming on the motorway slip roads, where you can pretend you’re on a racetrack.

However, driving like this, the Golf is reduced to its most perfunctory level. Trundling along at 70mph, keeping to M and A roads, I could just be one of those apathetic people who say that a car is just “a box with four wheels”, driving along in a Volvo 440. And I hate those people!

A beautiful old Triumph. Note the vertical handlebar configuration. The people that rode these were nuts!

And do you know what the biggest tragedy is? As I’m driving prosaically along the M25, I am mere miles from a place where, in the early part of last century, cars were allowed to reach the pinnacle of their abilities – the famous Brooklands circuit.

Brooklands was finished in 1907, the first ever purpose-built racetrack in the world. The construction of the track was financed by an aristocratic gentleman called Sir Hugh Fortescue Locke-King, who ordered that the circuit should feature banking to cope with the high speeds of the cars. It was a massive undertaking. Look at a map of the circuit on Google Maps. You see that river that runs through it? That had to be moved to accommodate the track. In two places! That’s a level of logistical bravado that is currently only in evidence in the Emirates. Because tarmacking the banked parts of the circuit, parts of which are 30ft. high, was deemed too complicated, these parts were rendered in rough concrete, giving the banking its distinctive look. The concrete was also distinctive for being bumpy. Witness John Cobb thrashing a Napier around the track in 1935 and getting air! On banking! That’s bravery.

John Cobb jumping his Napier on Brooklands' banking in 1935

The first race at the circuit was held on 17 June 1907, and it was used for racing until the war broke out in 1939. There is now a Brooklands museum on the site and Mercedes have their Mercedes World headquarters there. And so, on one of my inter-Oxford/Brighton jaunts, I left the boring motorway and took Thor the Golf for a bit of a heritage trip. Brooklands has been preserved in its interbellum style, with a proper paddock area and clubhouse, whilst a scattering of planes and hangars represent Brooklands’ aviation heritage. Dip into one hut and you find a collection of Formula 1 cars, including one of Senna’s McLaren’s and James Hunt’s Wolf from the 1979 season. In another building, you find a collection of old motorbikes made by the likes of A.J.S., Norton and Brough, evocative names now largely forgotten by the modern motorcycling fraternity. The museum has even maintained the shed where Malcolm Campbell built his Blue Bird cars, which first broke the land speed record back in 1928. It’s a wealth of British motorsport heritage, and it was all…..thoroughly depressing.

A wing-less British Airways jet

Patriotism is a sport for idiots, but Britain used to be a really impressive country. We had a confidence and a swagger in the way we did things. And yes, that confidence had its roots in the violence and domination of the Empire, but in pacific pursuits, it meant that Britain could compete at the top echelons of whatever it put its hand to. Look at our manufacturing sector. British companies, purely British companies, used to make the majority of the world’s cars. Let’s list some names: Napier, Woolsley, Alvis, Austin, Morris, TVR, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Armstrong Siddeley, Hillman, Lagonda, Vauxhall, Riley. These companies today are all either defunct or have been taken over by companies from other countries. And there are many more besides. How can Brooklands hope to celebrate this heritage if by celebrating it, you have to acknowledge that that culture is dead. It’s the same feeling you get at a great person’s memorial service. You acknowledge the amazing deeds and accomplishments of the deceased, but all of that glory is given an edge of melancholy by the collective understanding that those achievements are now very definitely relegated to the past.

The banking today

It didn’t help that I was there on a rather bleak day and that the museum itself has the impression of being left to rot, whilst somewhere like Goodwood is always spick and span. But the saddest part of all, after you’ve dragged yourself past the dismal huts and shacks and the wingless planes, is walking over to the banking, now overgrown with moss and castrated by modern developments, and trying to listen to the ghosts of those cars hammering around the circuit. The dreams of Sir Hugh have been left to die in that inevitable, modern British way. Mercedes World stands almost embarrassingly proud and glassy right next to the museum. As I drove out of Brooklands, I drove past a part of the banking which stopped abruptly, having been cut off to allow Tesco to move a superstore in. Further along the road, I passed a modern retail complex housing a PC World and an Argos. It was called The Paddock, a glib, chummy, hollow gesture, an acknowledgement of a heritage trampled on. I guess that’s why I’m driving a Volkswagen and not a Sunbeam.

The Malcolm Campbell shed

Mercedes 190 2.5-16 – don’t be a fool Carficionado….

28 Oct

Have you ever been using your Smartphone of choice, and tried to make a phone call on it. And yet, straining under the groaning weight of all the technology, the screen freezes, unable to do the ONE task that it was definitely, specifically designed for. “I” “Phone’ – no you don’t. And when this happens, do you sometimes get the urge to travel back in time to when telephones were made out of iron and spit and, when you dialled a number, there was that cool, twisty mechanism that you’d spin round before it reset itself? That wasn’t going to break! And if it did, you could probably fix it – I could probably fix it! And I can’t fix much…..

Anyway, I digress. This is not Phoneficionado. The point I’m making, dear Readers, is that as sexy and slinky as our modern technology has become, it seems to me that its central concern is keeping the user away from the actual processes going on within it. A signal box and a centre where they digitally control trainlines do the same task. But one has big levers, the other is done on a computer. Trainficionado.

A signalbox yesterday

I’ve been thinking about my Golf GTi in this capacity recently. It is arguably one of the best all-round cars of the last decade. It’s spacious inside but not too big outside, can keep up with anything on a cross-country thrash, has sexy little touches like the tartan seats and the honeycomb grille with red surround, a big boot. But, in the seven months I’ve owned it, I can’t say I’ve ever really felt a connection with it. There’s just something a little….anodyne about it. It saddens me to say it, and perhaps I’m being overly harsh on the car. How best to explain this? I know! A sexual robot analogy: if they created a robot that was programmed to have intercourse with you in such a way that you would be robotically taken to the highest heights of sexual bliss with it, it would still be sex with a robot. Do you get me, dear Reader?

Somebody else's Golf GTi. Like a sex robot

 

The 190 in DTM guise. I haven't put the real picture of the car I want here, because secretly I don't want you bastards to steal it from me

And then I saw her. A Mercedes 190 2.5-16 Cosworth. Black. Leather seats. That tight-fitting bodykit, that strangely enticing blank stare of its facia. And under the bonnet, bits of engine I could actually recognise, cylinders I could see. A 2.5-litre, 16-valve engine bred for German Touring Car racing (or, technically, for rallying). I immediately imagined myself cruising down the autobahns, everyone looking at me going “Ooooo what an interesting car. That person must be interesting, not to mention interested in cars. How interesting”. I’d have kudos coming out of my earholes! And, most of all, to my mind I’d feel in touch with something more alive, not my trophy wife Golf but an old Mercedes with a preposterously long name where I could feel the mechanics all working.

Plus, as I’ve previously mentioned on these pages, my family used to be a Mercedes family. When I was growing up Mum had a 200T estate, whilst at various times Dad had an S Class, an SL280 and, yes, a 190. So there’s something about 80s/90s Mercs that gives me the warm fuzzies.

I want it desperately. But I’m hoping it’s just a passing crush, like Alan Rickman fancying the girl in his office in Love Actually. I’ll go back to my Golf and we’ll be happy. Probably. And I just hope that someone has bought the car in question by the time the weekend’s over. Otherwise, there’s a serious danger that I’ll make a visit. Uh oh.

l to r: Mercedes 190 2.5-16 Cosworth, Carficionado

Not so fast, Jamie Oliver!

18 Oct

Mr Oliver behind the wheel of his "Porsche-powered" camper

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out at a noted Porsche specialist in Essex, as I am wont to do from time to time. Around me were 993 Turbos and beautiful 1970s 911s with Fuchs wheels and a couple of “future classic” 996 GT3s. However, taking pride of place in the garage was a beautiful, blue split-sceen VW camper, or as it’s known more informally in Germany, Kombinationskraftwagen, which was being renovated for a customer. I remarked to the salesman that it looked similar to the one owned by local Essex celebrity chef and all-round pukka geezer Jamie Oliver – in fact, I thought it might have been his. It wasn’t, as it turned out.

However, I also remarked, thinking that it would impress said salesman, that I happened to know that Mr Oliver had dropped a 3.6 litre Porsche engine into the back of his camper, as he proudly announced on Top Gear a few years ago. This, however, drew a wry look from our salesman. It transpired that a friend of the salesman had been responsible for doing up Mr Oliver’s camper originally, and had put in the common engine upgrade that camper drivers tend to get, that being a modified 2.1 litre Volkswagen engine. However, the engine put into this particular camper had a Porsche fan on it which, according to our nice salesman, had led Mr Oliver to believe that he had in fact put an entire Porsche engine into his camper.

True or false? I don’t know, but I will say that the salesman seemed a very pleasant and honest chap who knew his Porsches, and especially those in the Essex area. If it is true, it seems that the Naked Chef’s motor may not be quite as nippy as he would like to think.

The Black and White Volkswagen Up! Show

14 Sep

I forgot a category in my Awards Ceremony yesterday.

It was the “Shoot everybody in the marketing department team” award and it goes, without reservation, to Volkswagen, in particular the savvy, culturally informed marketing buffs working on the Up! project. Because everyone wants a different type of Up! don’t they? Consequently, at the Frankfurt Motor Show, they displayed your basic Up! Then for the person who wants a car that looks rugged, there is the Cross Up! Your little 18 year old wants “street cred” (a term marketers probably think is very “hip”) and so they’ve made a GT Up! Fine. Nothing wrong with them.

But there is, apparently, a niche market for people who are in black and white minstrel shows and want a car colour to match their grease-paint covered faces. But don’t worry, VW have got that covered too. Ladies and gentlemen, I kid you not, the Black Up!

"Mammy!"

Alright, up against the wall boys.

Frankfurt Motor Show Awards Ceremony!

13 Sep

So Carficionado ist in Deustchland. And using his mastery of the German language, and disguising himself as a small Schnitzel, he managed to sneak his way into the Frankfurt Motor Show! Other, very reputable, automotive publications will tell you in a more prosaic way how it went down, but I’ve decided that that is too….well, prosaic, so here is Carficionado’s Frankfurt 2011 Award Ceremony. Cue fanfare.

Most Star Studded Cameo of the Day:

Why, it’s the Weltmeister himself, Sebastian Vettel, who turned up at Infiniti to unveil his “Inspired by Vettel” FX50 concept. And reinforce why, when you want to discuss matters of class, taste and discretion in tuning a car, Germany doesn’t usually get the call. (Other notable entries in this category: Michael Schumacher, who drew a big crowd; Nico Rosberg, who didn’t; and Bruno Senna….but more on him later.)

Pomp and Circumstance Award – an award given to the manufacturer who provided the most amount of bullshit in an unveiling:

It has to be Mercedes. Unveiling the new B-Class, F125 and SLS Roadster, along with the Smart Forvision,  a posse of what can only be described as gay Thunderbirds pranced around the stage, interacting with the massive LED screens and doing some light trampolining, before a couple of wizened German management-types shuffled on stage to bore the pants off the gathered audience. Who were all journalists and who thus didn’t applaud with the great aplomb that I’m sure Mercedes were hoping for.

Most awkward unveiling:

This award goes to Lotus, who summoned poor old Jake Humphreys (‘cos he’s from Norfolk and that) to help do a big unveil on some cars that, frankly, didn’t really seem worthy of a big unveil. Poor Mr Humphreys stood, his ubiquitous iPad by his side, looking for all the world like the beleaguered television presenter that he frankly was, wearing a sickly smile as some dodgy, sub-porn lighting illuminated an updated Evora, the new Elise (including the R-GT 16…..OK, that was quite cool) and Lotus’ 444bhp Evora GTE, their most powerful ever road car. Bruno Senna was waiting in the wings to come on, but I had had enough.

Best surprisingly cool car:

This award goes to Volvo, for their Concept You, err, concept. At a time when another Swedish car maker that shall not be named is in dire straits, it was surprising and heartening to see Volvo offer up this rather swish looking exec saloon, which integrates some of the company’s classic design language with some modern sweeps and tweaks (Oh, like every other car on the market you mean? Yes.). But it looks cool. Well done Volvo.

N.B. Volvo have subsequently had their award revoked for offering Carficionado a bribe in the form of a delicious coffee. Mazda are also not eligible, having provided Carficionado with a rather sizeable brioche and some sparkling water.

Most barren stand:

Sorry to pick on you Ssangyong, I know you’re weak and pathetic and no one’s bought one of your cars since my Mum, presumably as an act of charity, took delivery of a Musso in the 90s. But your stand was more dismal than a Bratwurst floating in a puddle. But your concept looked good. Well if Kia and Hyundai can do it….

Worst dressed person of the day:

Well, this was always going to be a difficult choice. There was such a crop of poorly attired, misled Germans this year. Heck, every year I’m surpised and delighted by the lack of sartorial direction amongst the Teutons. I mean it’s one thing when they’ve obviously given up on life. But it’s when they’re trying and failing that it hurts my heart the most. And so, regrettably, because in my eyes they’re all winners, this chap wins. See, scenesters are everywhere!

And last but not least, best concept car:

A rather dour, serious category I know, but it must be done. And I’ve decided that I’m going to be progressive and say that my favourite concept at the motor show was (drum roll)….the Volkswagen Nils (cymbal crash). You may have noticed an environmental bent in Carficionado’s blog over the years. Not much of one, admittedly, but it’s there. But it came always with a slightly rueful feeling that in the future, big bugger V8s and the like would be eradicated and this would be an awful thing. But this car made me feel that what we’re looking at is a future of economical single-seat (or two or three seat) racing cars! And if they handle well and are nippy and economical, bring them on, I say!

So there you go, awards over. Next year I’ll book Billy Crystal to do it.

What’s going on

25 May

Hello friends of Carficionado

Well, I’ve been taking a little break since November, not entirely sure what I’ve been doing. BUT! News. Here are the headlines:

-Carficionado has sold out to the man, and will be doing some work experience at a major UK car magazine in July. He will then presumably be hired by said car magazine, because he’s the tops.

-Carficionado will be attending the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend. He will take a suit and seek to schmooze with the great and the good, and perhaps bag himself a St. Tropezian bronzed countess to keep me in my dotage.

-Carficionado has bought a new car.

And it’s the last point I want to talk to you about today. I was fortunate enough to buy, from a very nice Scottish man, a 57-reg Mark V Golf GTi with 20,000 miles on the clock. For £12,000. In dull grey colour. Now this I considered quite a coup, considering some of the cars I’d driven during my search for the right one. In one famously bad example, my brother and I drove out to a very dingy industrial estate in the middle of nowhere, the sort of place where gangland murders happen, to look at a 55-plate black GTi. The garage was actually pretty well stocked, with RS4s and AMG Mercs sitting around. Then I saw the GTi and, from a distance it was fine. But up close there were weird anomalies. Like on the VW badges there was this weird creamy sperm-like thing that looked like it was beginning to erode them from the inside. The dealer didn’t help his case much. Balding, but not in the triumphant, Prince Michael of Kent style way, more in the ‘my wife’s just run off with her bull-fighting coach’ way. He was also about as warm as a fish freshly pulled from the Arctic Ocean and had a handshake like a used Kleenex. Not only that, but he hadn’t done his homework on the car, and so to every (perfectly reasonable) question I asked, he responded “Yeah, well as I say, there’s a lot of cars here and I can’t remember the precise details of this one” – remember, dear readers, this was in the middle of nowhere, and he hardly had any trade. So me and my brother left, and said we’d be in touch, but the whole experience was just dismal.

So I was very happy to find my baby, who I’ve lovingly called Thor, because in the grey paint, with that menacing red line around the grill, it had something God-like about it. And as a far, it’s fairly hard to fault. The only thing is that I thought, with its 6th gear, it would be a touch more frugal than it is. But it seems to be a pretty thirsty wee beastie, not helped by my ragging it around Oxford in second gear to scare my friends.

My only two complaints would be these.

1) It’s good. You know those kids at school who are in the top sports teams, and they’re bright, and good-looking, but you can’t imagine them having sex. That’s a bit like the Golf. It’s a bit fastidious, a bit Teutonic. It’s not really grabbed me by the heart strings in the same way that I feel a Fiat 500 might, or that my old Peugeot 106 did.

2) Well, my other complaint isn’t really a complaint. But when I drive the car fast, and my friends all say “Crikey, this is fast” and in my head I’m usually thinking “Is it?”. This is because, I think, my perception of speed has been ruined by motorcycling, which is very much a case of “I will have that horizon here, now thank you very much”. So I’m perhaps not appreciating the speed so much. I’d love to take it around a track there and really push it. I also think that the car needs quite a bit of work to be kept “on boost” with the turbos. Ayrton Senna used to famously pump the accelerator as he was disengaging the clutch to keep his turbo Lotus F1 car on boost. Maybe I should try that.

Anyway, nonetheless, the car’s so good that you really have to nitpick to find fault with it. Even the boot’s decent. So I’m very happy with him, and very happy to be back, some 6 months after my last post. I’ll try and keep it up this time, and I’ll let you know how Monaco goes!

OK, this isn't my car, but it looks almost exactly the same. I'll post some of Thor soon

Prius vs Bluemotion

28 Sep

So I’ve just finished my first assignment for my university course. Apparently the Police have taken delivery of 94 Toyota Priuses (Pria?) to be used by members of their ‘Safer Neighbourhoods’ teams. In their press release, the Police claim that the Prius is “the most sustainable alternative to conventional means of transport”. Now I’m not sure if that is necessarily true. Jeremy Clarkson, he of the obtuse and retrogressive anti-environmentalist stance, has been vehement that the environmental impact of making the Prius outweighs its benefits on the environment, and he’s got a point. The car sources materials from all around the world and, in real world driving rarely returns a fuel economy better than 50mpg. I used to have an Audi A4 that could do that.
In contrast, I think that the best alternative that we currently have to conventional engines is…..the conventional engine. Specifically, I’m talking about the Volkswagen Bluemotion range. See, Volkswagen have used their heads and said “frankly, we feel hybrid technology is under-developed and we wouldn’t want to compromise our customers with something we don’t know enough about. So instead, we’re going to take our existing diesel engines, give them longer gearing and make them more aerodynamic and thereProxy-Connection: keep-alive
Cache-Control: max-age=0

2s your answer for now.” It’s so simple that it’s brilliant. Why use hybrid technology when it’s not optimal yet? There’s time for it to develop, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be driving it while the developing’s happening. And I think I’m right in saying that the Bluemotion range all rate over 60mpg combined. Now that’s what I call a solution!