Cool Video: Alfa Romeo factories in the 60’s

This weeks video follows the story of the completion of the then new (1966) Arese Alfa car plant north of Milan that would slowly replace the ageing original Factory in portello. The video is in Italian but it’s a great watch just to see the classic 1960’s proper Alfas like the Giulia and Gt being built in the old fashioned way, plus at the end as a special treat we see the TZ going through some testing on a track.


It’s hard to watch without getting the old rose tinted spectacles out and reminiscing about the pre fiat days for Alfa. Take a look for yourself below.

When Fiat took over Alfa in 1986 just like Portello, Arese began to lose importance to Fiats home city of Turin and slowly but surely Arese became almost abandoned when production of the v6 engine ended there in 2005 and the design studio closed its doors in 2009. Sadly below is footage of how the factory looked in 2011, it’s a weird contrast to see the buildings in several states of disrepair that were shown in the previous video being constructed from scratch. It makes for really eerie viewing now the once bussling roads and units are now empty and devoid of activity.

On the upside it does look like Alfa Romeo are beginning to shine and separate themselves from the Fiat car range and become relevant again, it’s just a shame they have lost that connection with Milano.


If you are interested in the Arese plant it is still home to Alfa Romeos Museum and a definite place on my bucket list to visit.

Jack Wood

Cool Video: Reliant- Trouble at the top

Reliant is a company that has cemented itself in British culture. They built a car that we love to laugh at, with the Trotters and Jasper Carrot, a car that we also love to misname constantly to the point where people genuinely believe it is a Robin Reliant, never the less the three wheeled Reliant is a car recognisable to everyone. Despite the humour, Reliant was a hugely successful company throughout the the first three quarters of the 20th century. They were masters of the fibreglass craft and built a GT car in the scimitar that managed to become synonymous with the hard working Royal Princess Anne. Times changed for Reliant though in the 80’s when Robin became Rialto and Scimitar became the awkward looking SS1. By 1990 Reliant went bust, to be purchased and fail twice more by Christmas 1995. The company was in a tragic state but in 1996 a consortium was led by ex-Jaguar man Jonathan Heynes who had big plans to turn Reliant around. This BBC business education piece follows Reliant through its first year under Jonathan’s leadership.

Heynes seems to be almost like a child with a new set of toys when he drives his plush Range Rover through the gates of the Tamworth plant for the first time. He makes out clearly that the three-wheelers take priority but from the outset we see that a new Sports car is on the cards for Reliant.

Sports cars are in the blood for Jonathan Heynes who did much work on the interesting but flawed Jensen Healey, but this video seems to show that Heynes was somewhat living in his father Bill Heynes’ impressive shadow. Bill was a man that was a very big part of building Jaguar through its heyday, introducing the XKE engine and the race/sports cars through to the prodigious E-type, Bill was honoured with a CBE for his services to British export (big boots to fill). Reliant seemed to be the challenge Heynes needed to prove himself through and as a challenge, Reliant in the 90’s was clearly gigantic and if it worked it would be an impressive feat. The enthusiasm however was lost on the returning staff. Heynes was constantly at loggerheads with his engineering team especially when he states in the video his interest in reintroducing the ageing Bond Bug (11:24). You can’t really blame them for losing their spirit working through late Reliant, that could break any spirit. As well as being a bit cynical, the workforce seem very set in their ways, appropriate for a company that forgot to stop building Micro cars when everyone else did in the 60’s. For reference, just watch the argument over implementing the use of a chopper gun in the body building process (28:00). But this is what I love about the factory at Two Gates, it seems hilariously old fashioned. It’s particularly interesting to see the cars in several stages of assembly as this era of Robin I remember seeing a lot of living as a child in Rotherham in the 90’s. It’s easier to overlook the Robin’s foibles when you see the human side to it.

I particularly like the loyalty of the owners (19:05), with one man claiming to be on his eighth three wheeler. He’s not ashamed by any means on how his life has panned out, he’s someone who is proud of his car and who wants the company to succeed. I really do feel for the Reliant die hards out there, theres no way the company could have survived as long as they did without the few thick skinned drivers out there.

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Spot the imposter

 

Overall though Heynes does seem to win the staff over, and while he never built the 50 cars he set as a quick goal, things do seem to be looking up, despite the uphill challenges for the parts team and the fact all of the seized machinery is “a good collection a museum would want eventually”. By the end of the video we can see that there appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel for the project as investment is upped by the backers. It’s true. In fact, business was better for Reliant in the following years. The mighty Robin got  restyled and updated with natty retrofits that actually did gain the car popularity again for a bit, but the sports car unsurprisingly was never going to happen and neither did the new Bond Bug which supposedly could have been diesel or electric (a similar vein to the popular Aixam Quadracycles). Sadly when one investor got cold feet, a replacement was found who did not want to waste such money on a fantasy (Geoff Wardle, who also helped on the beleaguered Tatra T163 project, came up with some designs, including one with an intriguing mid cockpit engine layout to be powered by a 1000cc Nissan unit). So, with that, Jonathan swiftly left the company in 1999. Perhaps due to being unable to emulate his father by building Reliant up to what he thought it could be. By 1997 Two Gates production had already ended and Reliant moved up the road to Brentwood where it limped on until 2002 when the car operation was stopped to focus on parts.  A sad end to an eccentric part of British motoring history.

Alot of work was going on behind the scenes at Reliant

Reliant was not always in such a sorry state. Only 10 years earlier things were far more prosperous, with numerous factories including Shenstone which took on the enviable job of assembling the homologation Group B killer Ford rs200. Reliant were the people to go to for anything GRP and became one of the biggest users of fiberglass outside of the caravan industry in Britain. Reliant also did much to help Israel and Turkey set up a small car industry through the beautiful Sabra and workhorse Anadol which were designed as CKD kits in Tamworth. A happier time is documented through their promotional film shared below. The contrast between the size of the operation is huge but Reliant were an incredible outlier to the standard industry, and managed to carve a niche where companies like Jowett could not.

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A company to be proud of

Late last year I visited the sites of the original factory but unfortunately, like many old car plants, Two Gates is now a housing estate with only a few subtle nods to the past through road names. Sad to think not so long ago Robin Close would have been a hive of activity.

End of an era

On a lighter note, in 1972 the factory had quite a humorous and unbelievable issue (as you can see below if you skip to 1:40): “No, we’ve never lost a chassis or a man yet and I’m sure we never will, but they have to look a bit lively at times”  .

Come back soon for more blog posts and videos!

Jack Wood

 

 

Vauxhall-Opel Sale (A Positive spin)

With the shock news that GM has agreed to sell its European arm to the PSA (Peugeot-Citroen) group, there has been a lot of doom and gloom about the future of the two companies especially  Vauxhall. The news outlets have already started to mention job fears before Peugeot had the chance to set out its intentions, but you really have to ask yourself is this really the worst thing that could have happened for two brands that consistently fail to make any profit?

  • First things first, General Motors do not understand foreign markets and they’re finally realising it. Vauxhall-Opel isn’t the only casualty and, to be frank, they’ve gotten out of the relationship lightly, they have a future. Holden of Australia weren’t so lucky. With all manufacturing ending in October 2017, the next generation of Holdens will just be rebadged American built cars. Then you have to look at what happened with Saab being sold in a horrendously bad deal 6 years ago to a pipe dreamer who struggled to get anything off the ground. Whichever way you look at it, Vauxhall and Opel needed to make a case for themselves and fast under GM leadership. General Motors aren’t even exclusively cutting jobs and plants on foreign soil either as at a similar time to news of the sale of Opel-Vauxhall it was announced 1100 jobs are going to be cut at its Lansing plant in GM’s home state of Michigan of all places. It was only a matter of time before Vauxhall, then Opel, would have come under the axe. Ellesmere port was only just saved 4 years ago when GM made it fight competition from Germany and Poland to get the contract for the new Astra.

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  • Theres even already chemistry between the manufacturers. Opel-Vauxhall have already come to the end of a joint venture, meaning they already have a relationship and Peugeot-Citroen must have seen value in the company from this project to suddenly offer a considerable amount of money to what must be considered a very risky investment. This also shows they can  already work with each other. In fact, it wouldnt be that surprising if Vauxhall and Opel pushed GM to make the sale.

thumb_24836_default_large.jpeg                                   Still looks like an Opel/Vauxhall, but much of it already isn’t

  • Peugeot-Citroen would be foolish to close down any UK manufacturing operation such as Ellesmere Port until at least they see how Brexit pans out. If it is in fact a ‘Hard Brexit’, then tariffs of French cars could become a serious problem for PSA. It’s even conceivable to think that Peugeot-Citroen in such a situation could return to the Ryton/Slough era and build their own cars over here again, potentially piggy backing from Vauxhalls existing factories in Cheshire and Bedfordshire.

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  • All eyes are already on Peugeot, they faced backlash not too long ago after the end of 206 production at Ryton. If they killed off Vauxhall, it would almost definitely effect sales of their own models in one of the biggest new car markets in Europe, social media has made protesting all the more visible than back in 2006.

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  • Vauxhall-Opel may share a price point with both Citroen and Peugeot but stereotypically its loyal customers are very different. Vauxhall owners are seen to be more conservative in nature and value dependability more than flair. I think many of the Vauxhall owners I have come across would never buy into an Astra that was obviously a Peugeot 308 in drag (no matter how good a 308 may be). Platform sharing is a given but I believe Opel-Vauxhall will have more freedom than Citroen in the mechanical department.

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  • PSA now have the opportunity to overtake Volkswagen (who are still having to fight ‘Diesel-gate’). They can’t do that if they run either Opel or Vauxhall into the ground: now is the time to build a European automotive empire.

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  • Both companies have built some great cars, and theres no reason they can’t do that again in the future. The 3008 has just won European car of the year and the new Insignia Sport Tourer looks a cracker .But still, just imagine what the range would have been like if this happened 25 years ago!

The future isn’t certain by any means, but I think it’s brighter than Twitter would have you beleive.

Gran Turismo 2 Turns 17!

On december 11th  (2016) Gran Turismo 2 turned 17 years old meaning in the uk it is finally old enough to order its provisional license, so to celebrate I wanted to write about how it became an important part of the car world.

THE DREAM:

The idea of making a licensed car simulator was born inside the incredible mind of die hard car enthusiast Kazunori Yamauchi in the early nineties, when he felt his dream of becoming a racing driver (a dream he later fulfilled) was unobtainable in his native Japan. He decided his game needed to be much bigger than anything that had come before but unfortunately had no credibility so his then studio poly decided against the costly risk.

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A different kind of game:

Motortoon gran prix 1 and 2 became Yamauchi’s first gaming projects, they were silly, none serious and comedic games aping the popular kart game genre that nintendo originated with mario kart. This game seemed as if it was as far as conceivably possible from the seed that would grow into the gran turismo series, but all was not as it seemed, the game became a secret skunk works for testing handling models.

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Each car/kart had different characteristics which were albeit exaggerated but through this experience Kazanori and his small team discovered the capabilities of the first sony playstation system, this research and anal attention to detail meant motortoon was a good polished game and meant Kazunori had real weight at poly (soon to become polyphony digital), meaning gran turismo was on.

The unexpected hit:

The first Gran Turismo came onto the scene in 1997 and it was automotive perfection, Yamauchi somehow managed to convince Subaru, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Chevrolet, Aston Martin, Dodge, Tvr, Mazda, Honda and Chrystler to not only license there cars into the games but also to lend the cars to game developers to tear around the track until they believed they could accurately simulate the experience, and yes there were some casualties. Gulp.

Sony who made the playstation and owners of polyphony saw the potential the game had to bring in a more mature audience to their system. They quickly decided the controller was not really good enough to get all out of the simulator, so they got to work on creating the playstations first analogue controller which proudly shipped when the game released in december.

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Gran Turismo was Driving perfection which offered much more than any driving game ever had before, the graphics pushed the limits of what was possible and a level of detail that the rest of the industry couldn’t catch up with until the next generation of consoles. The level of tuning for instance was insane for such an early console, everything from gear ratios to tyres could be set just to the players spec, you needed to be a race engineer to get everything out of the game. Its no surprise that it was a run away hit that went on to sell 10.85 million copies.

The best gets better:

If Gran Turismo was to have one complaint, it would be that it was a bit too much of a Jap Fest with just a couple of uk and us manufacturers added at what seemed like the last minute. This is unsurprising when the company had little contacts in the industry and the game was thought to only really sell well in Japan. It didnt just sell in Japan however, GT1 was a success on the world stage and Yamauchi got straight to work on the sequel. But this brought in a problem , the team already pushed the limit of the playstation with its engine and graphics and the game was near perfect so GT2 became sort of GT1 on steroids which was in no way a bad thing, you cant fix what isn’t broken.

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Gran turismo shipped with 173 cars and 11 tracks, Gran Turismo 2 shipped with 650 cars and 27 Tracks which now included rallying, the game even had two disks due to the size of the package on offer. The game was no longer a jap fest , although it did have a Japanese bias (but can you blame them?) now the worlds manufacturers wanted to be a part of this phenomenon and the play-station generation became the new baby boomers.

How a game changed my life:

As a young child in the late nineties I was never really really too passionate in anything, I wasn’t that into sport and it would take a couple more years before I started paying attention to music, until I got my playstation in 1998 all I really wanted to was watch the simpsons. Video Games were fun but as I was only 6 I was never really that capable of finishing games like crash bandicoot and spyro the dragon, so to get past bosses or particularly difficult levels I would buy a lot of cheat books. Managing to sneakily get a pirated copy of grand theft auto 2 from a friend on the playground at the start of the new century. I went straight to my cheat books to get the best weapon pack, but accidentally the page slips and I see a walk-through for Gran Turismo 2, the background was an achingly cool black and white Image of a Colin McRae impreza getting air on what looked like a dirt road, I was hooked and by christmas I had my copy (this time legit as I wanted the booklets).

The game was a real revelation, there was no longer levels to complete to move on, there were cevents and license tests but the order you did everything was your own choice, also how you did it was your own choice and to be honest there was never any pressure to do anything. Some people I knew ignored gran turismo mode completely and only played the more basic arcade mode. I however persevered with with Gt mode and I found it so cool to be playing a game where I had imaginary money to spend (now commonplace on car games). Gran Turismo 2 like every gran turismo is a game which rewards knowledge above driving skill, which was my downfall on christmas day 2000 as my first car was chosen on looks alone, the achingly weird and cute Daihatsu Midget 2. Safe to say I lost every race I entered (unsurprising for a 660cc commercial vehicle).

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Reluctantly I decide to start the game from scratch but carefully think out my second car, I looked through all the specs for kg and hp and after a good 10 mins i settle for the common starting car, the sprinter trueno (ae86). This effort was rewarded and even better when I got attached to a car I could read a two page summary of everything about it from history to interesting facts, never before had I enjoyed a game that could be considered to be educational.The license tests meant I could master the corkscrew at laguna seca 9 years before id touch my first roundabout, I became a petrolhead and spent my whole life since then buying books, magazines, documentarys and playing the subsequent sequels. But nothing beats the memories of my tuned 300zx on apricot hill and when I replayed the game today using my 16 year old save the aged graphics did not get in the way of the brilliant gameplay and the nostalgia hit was almost too much. And then there’s the replays:

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How a game changed the car industry:

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The nineties to many is seen as a bit of a low point for good cars, great cars were there but a lot of cars were very samey and very cheap. Japan however was on fire in the nineties going through the 276 bhp ‘halo’ era. The supra,the nsx, skyline, impreza and so on were knocking straight on italy and germanys door. Problem was before gran turismo a lot of these cars were unheard of in the west as japan saw no market for them. Gt1 and 2 changed all this, in 2000 subaru of america were reportedly getting inundated with requests for wrx imprezas despite the cars never selling or even rallying there. Subaru listened and started importing wrx’s in 2001. Nissan had noticed the influx of grey imports into the uk and in 1997 (gt1) imported 100 r33 gt-r’s officially and in 1999 (gt2) imported 80 r34’s. This was no small task, as type approval is time consuming nissan decided to sva each car individually (much like a kit car) just to get the cars into showrooms quickly. The import scene became massive at the time of the millennium and even Hollywood wanted in on the action through the fast and furious films , Gran Turismo has been a huge influence on car culture and buying patterns.

car_photo_411526The uk benefited from a few potentially jap only cars

Japanese companies were not the only ones to benefit, Blackpool bruisers Tvr always featured heavily in the series and as the cars were so insane they became a favourite from a young age. Tvr stopped selling cars in the states in 1986, but the cars were powerful and cheap so became a common staple in the game meaning thousands of Americans will have owned a virtual replica of the cars that they could never own. So is it a coincidence the American film ‘swordfish’ decided to use a Tuscan s as its hero car? So close to its debut in Gran turismo 2 (just over a year prior). I doubt it, because as gran turismo 2 came out the internet got a lot bigger and forums for car and game enthusiasts started to talk a lot about gran turismo , which was a notoriously difficult game to complete (100% could never actually be attained anyway as many people found out, oops). Tvr , venturi , ruf and vector became manufacturers of intrigue for many people who would never actually be able to see the cars in the flesh.

I was pleased to see the excitement of many people on forums this year celebrating that the first griffiths are now old enough (25) to be officially imported into America due to historical importance.

tvr-meme driving a car Iv been driving for 16 years on my tv

Gran Turismo is so big now it works directly with the automotive industry, companies now design bespoke concepts just for the games through gran turismo vision, nissan even made a gran turismo 4 edition of the 350z. A far cry from the days of Polyphony going cap in hand trying to convince people of the benefits. Gran turismo 2’s ability to keep the momentum going was a huge part of this.

How Gran turismo changed motor racing:

It might seem unbelievable but Gran Turismo now has the ability to turn you into a fully fledged sponsored racing driver , but through Gt academy gran turismo is doing just that. The lessons learned from license tests are based from real motorsport exams, so through an online tournament anyone with a game and online capabilities can try to beat the world and if they are talented enough they can drive the cars for real and potentially become the next big thing. No longer do people have to buy the car and the kit to enter motor racing, sure the chances are slim but this really is giving back to the community that made the games a success.

How Gran Turismo changed the gaming industry:

Racing games before gran turismo were very basic, and for the most part completely unlike actual driving. Games like ridge racer were fun but the cars were fake and generic and the handling was more like driving a trolley than a car.

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Alternatively you could race the brilliant codemaster games , but they had limited cars and focused on only the one racing discipline. Both were fun but did not offer anywhere near the depth of play that the Gran Turismo series did.

It wasn’t until arguably forza hit the xbox that Gran turismo had an actual competitor that could play to a similar scale (although forza is as good if not better in areas of gameplay, Gran Turismo could let you drive your own mundane cars for a laugh due to its silly amount of cars). Now the market is awash with similar games such as project cars and drive club and no matter what your opinion is on what game is best you have to concede that Kazunori did it first, and with that I say happy 17th birthday to Gran Turismo 2 . (Gran Turismo 1 turns 19 in just under 2 weeks!)

GT SPORT HAS A LOT TO LIVE UP TO.

Failed opportunity: The Jensen Sv8

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Against the odds;

The motoring industry is not one noted for its newcomers, or at least successful ones, there’s not much more than the old guard that were lucky enough to survive the tumultuous birth and evolution of the modern automobile. The sector is very much about the establishment which many of whom have blown much more than a hundred candles on their birthday cakes. That is not to say people don’t have a go at it but for the most part concepts don’t get of the ground and bank managers are disappointed way before a customer gets so much of a whiff of the actual car. Its a very difficult game to get into but if anyone was going to do it, it should have been the dynamic duo of Keith Rauer and Robert Bowyer, two directors at Leyland Daf who saw an opportunity to go it alone in 1993 as the van and truck producer went bankrupt (eeeek!) . Creative manufacturing systems was born the same year and quickly made a name for itself as a tooling and manufacturing system constructor/consultancy for the automotive industry. The company almost instantly became a multi-million pound concern, but one project from across the Atlantic was about to change everything again for Keith and Rob.

humble-beginingsHumble origins

On the prowl;

In the 90’s the American car industry was really in a bit of a pickle, the cars were duller than the cheese and just as wobbly. Even the Mustang, a poster boy for Americana cool became a fat, old and wheezy mess. America’s heyday was well and truly over and Detroit was about to begin its long and painful decline into obsolescence. Everyone there was making forgettable cheap crap with no real soul and no real engineering clout, but no company was producing more dearth than the Chrysler corporation, famously the least successful of the infamous American big three. Even good ol’ boy patriotism couldn’t stop Americans buying German or Japanese instead. These conglomerates were too fat with too many brands with too much internal competition (see British Leyland), some careful trimming was required leaving all brands up on the chopping block with very little time to produce new models to prove their worth. Plymouth was perhaps in the worst position in the whole of the sector, Plymouth’s were historically badge engineered Dodge’s with perhaps a bit more prestige and muscle. Cars like the Superbird were the things of American legend in the 70’s but by the late eighties and early nineties they awkwardly became the entry brand for Chrysler. The confused company was the most disposable of any of the brands in the company portfolio, they had no recent memorable models or any real meaningful following. The proposed saviour had to be something impressive and different, to prove they had much more potential than the badge engineered Neon (yes, we got it in the UK as the beautiful Chrysler). The designers obviously excited by this new found freedom drew up an impossible beast, the prowler which was a sort of futuristic retro 1930’s hot rod 2 seater roadster/sports car. It was clearly a concept but an exciting one that did very well with the public at auto shows, if Plymouth was to survive it needed to build it for real.

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A car like this could not be built using traditional American techniques that Plymouth were accustomed to, so they sought a new and exciting creative manufacturing team to help. The project was lucrative but also compromised, the car needed a v8 to  its hot rod image credibility but Plymouth’s place in the Chrysler pecking order was set. A v8 prowler with its high-tech lightweight bonded aluminium structure could have made mince meat of the brutal but basic Dodge Viper halo car. So sadly the order of the day for the Plymouth was a wheezy v6 mated to a slow 4-speed slushomatic gearbox, it makes you wonder why they bothered to make the body so high tech. Still the Prowler did reasonably well but nowhere near as well as was imagined and the next car the Pt Cruiser (which started concept as a Plymouth) became a Chrysler when Plymouth died in 2001. Creative took the money and decided they needed their own car but one with no compromise to show what the company truly was capable of.

superbirdEnd of an era (1928-2001)

The new Jensen-Healey;

Keith and Robert decided that if their new sports car was to be successful it would need a badge with history and prestige, and being a British company there really was no shortage of defunct names to choose from, but not many names held as much cache as Healey. Donald Healey, like Creative, was a man who managed to get things done with the help of established manufacturers, also similarly his first real important collaboration also came aboard from America (Nash-Healey), so the name suited the project down to the ground plus who can argue against a name which has created some of the most lusted after sports cars of all time? Discussions with the Healey family seemed to be going well so there seemed to be no danger in inviting senior Jaguar designers Howard Guy and Gary Dore to get scribbling the new Healey, nicknamed Rio.

1950-nash-healey_031951 Nash healey

The big Healey look is evident from the early design sketches, and the original plan was to take the 6 cylinder engine and gear box from the GM omega giving it a real family connection with perhaps the greatest healey of all, the 3 litre. Sadly the car was coming along much quicker than the discussion and with motor shows on the horizon an alternative solution was required and fast.

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The Jensen name was so much easier to acquire, and so with a few awkward alterations the team managed to make the car look similar to perhaps one of the lesser loved Jensen, the cv-8. Out with the 6 cylinder Rio and in with the v8 a-la Ford mustang, the Rio transformed into Project Vulcan. Bish bash bosh, the story of the sv-8 begins. These last minute almost awkward alterations did nothing to stop the public’s enthusiasm for the new Jensen sports car at the 1998 N.E.C National Motor show.

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Demand, in fact, was much higher than anticipated with 60 orders were placed for the Jensen Sv-8 directly at the show despite no knowledge of how and when the car would arrive, and scarily a further 240 orders were secured by the following year when the car re-appeared at the 1999 Earls Court motor show. Like the prowler the company worked on before, the sv-8 had complex and expensive aluminium construction, the car was much more difficult and expensive to produce than the usual efforts found from the cottage sports car industry. This was a proper job that even bigger manufacturers would struggle to produce.

The car needed presses and proper tooling and with demand an actual facility. Speke in Liverpool has an awkward history with the car; Triumph had two factories there with varying results, but the tr7 spelled the end for British Leyland production in Liverpool. Ford had more success in nearby Halewood, and as this factory was now under Jaguar’s helm, it seemed the perfect neighbourhood for Jensen’s new factory. Ten million pounds of funding was secured from several sources, local schemes sank half a million into the project and the rest was found via investment banks and also excited potential dealers. Realistically the car wouldn’t be ready for some time so the project had to keep interest coming while the tooling and factory was being set up.

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In 2000 the press got the first drives of the pre-production prototypes and they seemed to like the cars despite maybe being a little rough around the edges. Road testers at the time seemed particularly impressed with the car’s ride, which was not overly hard but most importantly there was an apparent lack of scuttle-shake (a real task for a convertible car with a monocoque construction). Things went from good to great when The Jensen was set to be one of the star cars of the hotly anticipated  ‘The Getaway’ videogame for the newly released Playstation 2 console.

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The game suited the car down to the ground and was set as a cockney crime thriller similar to the popular films of the 70’s which gave fast Fords and Jags massive street cred, but all was not as it seemed unfortunately.

The cursed marque strikes again;

Jensen was a name synonymous with celebrity and high-class, people from Led Zeppelin drummer Jon Bonham all the way to beloved comic Eric Morcambe, and with cars like the Interceptor and 4×4 FF it was not hard to see why. The old Jensen company had similarities to parent company Creative as they too subcontracted into production and tooling, producing the earliest Volvo P1800’s and also coincidentally the first big Austin-Healey , the 100. But sadly the similarities didn’t end there with the original Jensen. Sales began to slump on the ageing Interceptor in the 70’s and the company went into administration in May 1976 and it laid dormant until 1982 where it suffered the indignity of 3 failed rebirths at the hands of 3 different dreamers all in the space of 10 years when the company finally fell into the hands of Jaguar parts specialist Martin Robey (an ex pressing agent to Jensen) who wisely decided to do little with it.

The-Simpsons-Season-8-Episode-18-11-27cb.jpgBeyond the 1970’s Jensen jobs were not so stable

 

The company suffered with a lack of development, the Interceptor was never all it could have been, and for the price charged it was not particularly well screwed together (parts such as steering racks could change randomly with whatever was available that week), plus it was growing very old in the tooth very quickly, a big Chrysler engine didn’t suit the oil crisis of 1973. The original Jensen Healey should have come at the right time in 1972, the car boasted a Lotus twin cam engine  and should have been a barnstormer but with a lack of development and constant strike action (familiar?) the cars just didn’t leave the West Bromwich site in the numbers needed.

Much like the Jensen Healey, the sv8 was never built to demand, but for perhaps completely different reasons. By the start of the millennium, Jensen didn’t focus on fulfilling the 300 or so orders. In fact, they already were unveiling their new model, the c-v8, which admittedly suited the Jensen name much better. You can imagine customers who placed their orders getting quite annoyed, waiting 2 years to find out the company was seemingly more occupied with the new model.

Richard_Hammond_Checks_Out_The_Jensen_S_V8_Coupe_2000The cv8 is beautifully sculpted, but focus really should have been on the existing car

This fear turned into a nightmare when demonstrators finally arrived in the hands of dealers, the cars had canyon sized panel gaps, exposed wiring and a roof that didn’t even fit the car. What was the point of owning a car with such incredible construction when the basics are wrong, demand began to slump fast , this was the beginning of the end for yet another failed attempt to bring Jensen back from the ashes. Things were so bad that the owners were willing to completely abandon their state of the art (part state funded) factory in Liverpool in favour of a cheaper workforce in South Africa, but this never came to fruition.

The hype machine was to be the undoing, but at least there was an exciting Playstation game on the horizon right? Well the Getaway’s development literally got away: much like the Jensen it was not ready in time. The game was supposed to be a launch title for what would eventually become the most successful games console of all time. You cannot underestimate the power the video games industry has on cars, the industry has surpassed both television and film, and they can be the saviour of independent companies. My enthusiasm for cars (and for TVR in particular) was born out of the Gran Turismo series, so the Getaway could have breathed new life into the project, but sadly it was released a whole 12 months after the Jensen project failed in 2002. Sad.

The_Getaway_All_Cutscenes

 

The Car;

When Jensen ended, an embarrassing ten cars were built, but there was parts left over which meant there was value to the company. The company was split into two parts SV Automotive who managed to iron out the niggles and produce a further twenty eight cars or so for a much reduced price, and Rejen Automotive who were set up to sell upgrades and parts to existing owners.

So do I believe the car should have been a success? Absolutely, the price was not excessive for something with such advanced construction, at under forty thousand pounds it fit well with TVR and Morgan (which still utilised wood!) . The engine was a smart but perhaps safe choice for the segment, the Mustang v8 may have been lazy  but just as TVR were producing their own v8 (to sometimes disastrous results) it could have proven favourable, perhaps they should have chased a more traditionally Jensen Chrysler unit.

The styling may always be hindered by it’s ever changing design spec, but it is not overly ugly and it undeniably still has presence which in the market is all you really need to make an impression in the golf club car park.

With such rarity, you might think market speculators will have scooped them all up, but no, occasionally they do come up for sale. This car became available knowing the development costs is seemingly a bargain at 41 grand (ten million divided by 38 means the car has a theoretical cost of over 260,000 pounds). This car is also supposedly the very last one, number 38 making it even more tempting, with just over 1000 miles and a gun metal finish its unsurprising it was snapped up in under a week.

The Legacy;

The Jensen name has seemingly become a bit of a challenge, as the story did not end with the failure of the sv8, in 2011 Coventry based CPP bought the rights but this rebirth again didn’t get off the ground again due to over ambitiousness as the company was also struggling to bring insane Dutch supercar producer spyker back to market.

cpp-jensenCpp’s proposed new interceptor

In 2013, Interceptor updater Jensen International Automotive decided they wanted a crack at the curse by introducing a concept Jensen GT, now this car looks like there was no doubt it was going to be Jensen from day one, it looks incredible and I wish the project the best of luck.

Jensen-GT-Fr-final.jpgThe next Jensen?

The curse did not seem to end with the name either, the sv8 seemingly left the factory in a sorry state as well. At the time of publication the site is left empty, following several failed attempts to get it working. I really feel for the area of Speke, as this wasn’t the first time the car industry promised so much and gave so little.

jensen-factory-carProbably the first parked car in months

The factory next door is hopefully proof of change for Speke as coincidentally a car company is manufacturing there, and successfully too. Briggs automotive company are the makers of perhaps one of the coolest track focused cars available at the moment, it’s also one of the most expensive. Despite this its gained nothing but praise from the motoring press and an order book that’s presumably full from the hive of activity I could see from the Jensen ruins. The BAC Mono could be used as evidence for karmic realignment, as where Triumph failed with the Tr7 and Jensen with the Sv8, Speke finally found a sports car that worked, and a much more prestige one at that. Fronted again by a dynamic duo of Neil and Ian Briggs, perhaps then BAC are the people who can truly stick it to the automotive establishment.

basc-mono-pressAt least one happy ending

sneaky-peekA sneaky peak

jensen-bac-factoryLiterally next door too.

 

By Jack Wood

pedalheadia – the weird relationship between cars and bicycles

There’s a tall tale often spoken about that’s become a lot more relevant this year, you know the one about that power struggle between the light and dark side of the force, that one about those million or so evil guys trying to take over the galaxy with those thousand or so weird hippies led by that green dude trying to fight back. You know the one, car wars? Or something

at-at-vw-bug

Recently with the vw scandal in full swing as an evil petrolhead I have sensed a real disturbance in the force (or at least in the popularity of one way I’m fond of converting energy into force), the rebel scum from university I know no longer find the car that cool, they see it as a phantom menace that not only poisons the air but one that threatens to destroy an entire planet.

 

VW_Death_Star_02

 

They always talk to me about how they’ve found ‘a new hope’, the bicycle. They talk of how this machine is the most efficient way of creating momentum, how it can take you across a city in less than twelve parsecs while also burning fat and calories. An amazing invention that will save us all, but the thing that many people do not realize about the modern bicycle is how it’s a product of a long time ago, from an industry not so far far away from the car corporations we know today. The automobile is very much the son to the bicycle as Luke is to Darth Vader (I apologise for the spoiler), two very different adversary’s that grew up under similar circumstances.

 

As soon as the bicycle gained momentum and popularity at the end of the 19th century bicycle manufacturers soon became interested in new methods of transportation, the car and the plane. This is why so many early cars and planes look so awkward as if they are on stilts, most of the mechanisms were stolen from the parts bins of the cycle factories. And while the car soon became the desired tool the bicycle remained the transport of choice for the working class up until the 60’s and remained supremely popular as a vehicle of pleasure till this day. Today the car and bicycle have an almost reversed relationship where technology and materials such as carbon fibre Monocoque mostly trickle down from the car to the bicycle. So with all this fighting on the streets between the cyclist and the motorist it’s odd to think that the bicycle and the car have always had a very close and often interesting relationship.

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Here is the story of some of the important companies that grew out of the bicycle (star wars pun free from here I promise).

 

Rover:

 

When people look at rover they see two different companies, most people see the mess (unfair criticism for many of the cars/ people) that was created with and after BL which spectacularly collapsed in the mid noughties. The rest see the company before the merger, a conservative manufacturer of luxury motors for discerning customers including her majesty the queen.

Neither company really get the credit they deserve for being real innovators, the original land rover, and jet 2 of the golden era really showed a company looking to the future and the k series as infamous as it is really was a marvel of design at the time. So looking at this history it’s to no surprise that the first popular bicycle that is related to the ones we see today was the start of this amazing empire.

The rover safety bicycle hit the scene in the 1880’s, it was the design of J.K Starley , its known as the safety bicycle for the simple reason that unlike the comical penny farthings, falling off at low speeds need not kill or paralyse you on the rover. The importance of this bike is not to be understated, this bicycle became one of the most copied and imitated designs of all time.
The bike was so popular, especially among the lower classes that the polish and Belarusian words for bike are Rower and Rovar respectively. As well as pretty much inventing the way all people will transport themselves before the age of 17 Starley also invented illegal street racing, to promote and prove his machine.  On September 25th 1885 14 riders rode 100 miles on the great north road racing each other between Peterborough and Twyford. This was all set up last minute to avoid the attention of the police, a tradition followed by the midnight club racers of today. The rider who came in first completed the trip in 7.5 hours , which math fans will realise is a respectable 13.333 mph average.

r4

 

Rover would not build its first car for 20 years, 3 years after the death of starley, but it wasn’t until 1924 that bicycle and motorcycle production finally ended. Lessons learned from production and refinement of the early bicycle gave rover an advantage when it came to creating early cars, the mechanical principles and challenges are similar in many respects meaning that unlike many at the birth of the automobile Rover already had a name and experience. Oh and if you’re interested in an authentic 1880’s safety bicycle they’re a bargain at £7K auctions! I’d like to see you try and get a Benz patent motorwagen for that.

 

 

 

 

Peugeot:

 

Peugeots tale with the bicycle is very different to rovers , the French company never fell out of love for simplistic two wheeled vehicles, with motorcycle and bicycle production carrying on to this day. In 1882 Peugeot were famous for creating the beautiful “Grand BI” big wheel bicycle , while the bike can be looked at as a piece of art, but as a form of actual transport it was just as dangerous as the rest of the penny farthings. Later on in the decade though they created bicycles not too dissimilar to the safety bicycle.


Now did Peugeot see the safety bike before production? Well the answer to that question depends on which side of the channel you ask it, but either way Peugeot quickly made a name for themselves and in 1889 the lion badge was finally introduced to the world.

 

Peugeot did manage to beat Rover to car production producing their first automobile before the end of the 19th century, but bikes outsold cars considerably for the first half of the 20th century. In 1955 when the 100,000th car rolled of the production line at the Beaullieu in eastern France, Peugeot were making 220,000 bikes a year. They’re were bikes and trikes of all descriptions, the bicycle obviously made a lot of sense for poverty stricken France which was still rebuilding itself after years of war.


When cars like the 2cv, beetle and original mini became affordable the bicycles moved much more up market with a focus moving towards the popular cycle racing scene. There was money to be made from international events such as the famous tour de France. It’s interesting to note that the evolution of the Peugeot bicycle is very similar to that of their cars. In the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s the cars were practical and dependable but when this market started to dry up Peugeot moved its focus onto the sporty gti’s we know and love. I actually own an 80’s Peugeot road bicycle and in my opinion the decals wouldn’t look out of place on an 80’s hot hatch. Oh if you’re wondering, this piece of steel cycle history only set me back £90 on gumtree one year ago and has been the most reliable tool I have ever had the pleasure of using.


AutoBianchi

 

Bianchi are a name synonymous with the top end of competition cycling, but only four years after the formation in 1885 (around the time the safety bike became popular) the first car left the factory in Abruzzi Italy, like the bikes of today Bianchi cars were famous for being specialized and prestigious. The cars were made with great attention to detail and for the people who could afford such a motor car very little could compare. The company gained a good reputation but unfortunately after the outbreak of the second world war everything went wrong for the company. Bombing runs destroyed the factory and worse the genius behind the name Edoardo Bianchi died in a car crash leaving his son Giuseppe the unenviable task of picking up the pieces.


It soon became apparent after building the new facility in Desio that it was not possible to resume car production so Bianchi went back into producing Bicycles, the passion for the automobile inside the factory gates didn’t die out however and the company continued to look into viable new models that could be built if the situation ever changed. Bianchis general manager Ferruccio Quintavalle in particular was interested in re-joining the market, but he realised it would not be viable without the help of a much stronger backer to provide finance and resources.


In came Fiat and Pirelli in 1955, it was decided the new venture needed to separate itself slightly from the popular bicycles and became autobianchi. The new bianchi cars were quite different from the pre war efforts as they were in a sense tarted up fiats. Autobianchi soon found itself an important part of fiats empire, it became in a sense the companies canary down the mine shaft. Fiat realised autobianchi was a good means of testing markets and drivetrains which could eventually be used by their own cars , if an autobianchi failed or was deemed unreliable the damage would be far less of a hinderance than if it was a fiat.

 


Reliant

Unlike previous entries reliant didn’t evolve from bicycles to cars but instead where an offshoot of the famous Raleigh bicycle company of Nottingham. Raleigh were pioneers in the cycle world in the late 19th century, creating patents for some of the earliest braking and gear changing systems that today many cyclists take for granted. By the start of the 20th century Raleigh had become a household name famous around the world, they were a great exporter for the uk which eventually became a multinational corporation in its heyday.

Raleigh moved into car production of sorts when it introduced its first three wheeler three Raleighette which was later improved in 1906, but by 1908 these vehicles were making considerable losses and it was decided production would end to focus back on bicycle production.

 

12 years later due to the economic situation of post war Europe cheap transportation made sense so Raleigh introduced a van range which was basically a 500cc motorcycle with an extra wheel and a wooden body attached. Despite its obvious humble origins the vans sold relatively well, allowing small businessmen and tradesmen to cart much more around reasonably cheaply. In the early 30’s Raleigh moved back into the passenger tricycle market with the safety seven but by 1936 Raleigh again lost interest and decided once and for all to leave the car sector to focus on the bicycles. In 1934 chief automotive designer at Raleigh, Tom Williams could see the slow wind down and decided he disagreed with the management’s decision so set about making his own prototype three wheeled van. What would become the first Reliant prototype was very similar to the raleighs, but the main change was an important one, the Reliant had a 600cc air cooled jap engine which meant at the time it could be powered on the lowest grade and therefore lowest priced petrol available. This van made a lot more business sense to the early van driver than the slightly higher strung Raleigh vehicles.

Over the next year Tom with a few other former Raleigh employees converted an old bus garage and school boot factory into one of the uk’s greatest fringe manufacturing plant. The three wheeled vans obviously evolved into the comical ‘trotters van’, but reliant also designed indias anadol , created the brilliant scimitar sports car range (the gte was even the earliest car to boast folding rear seats for added storage!) and even built much of the infamous but brilliant ford rs200 rally monster. The factory survived all the way to 2002 when sadly like many other similar sites it was converted into housing.


Puch


 

In 1889 another man was inspired by the safety bicycle, this man was proud Austrian Johann puch. A small workshop grew into a large manufacturing concern in just 10 years. The puch plant in Graz isn’t muck about with just bicycles for long, bicycles quickly grew into motorcycles and engines which in 1904 grew into cars first puch car. It’s unbelievable to think that so soon into car production in 1909 a puch broke the world speed limit with a respectable run of 81 mph.

Steyr like autobianchi gained a reputation early on for high quality vehicles and produced official cars for the Austrian-Hungarian royal family. And when the First World War came about they became prolific producer for the war effort. Following the war, puch left the automotive field to focus on motorcycles and bicycles. Production of course ramped up again when the Second World War broke out, they famously merged with rival manufacturer steyr (who also produced bicycles and cars). Steyr-puch became known for making some of the coolest off-road commercial and military vehicles.


As a sideline steyr-puch also produced vehicles and parts under license for fiat, Volkswagen and Mercedes. They should perhaps be most famous for collaborating with Mercedes in designing and producing the Hollywood favourite, the g-wagen.


Steyr puch fell through in 2002, but interestingly the puch bicycle range continues under Austrian ownership, but produced by French company Cycle-Europe.
Triumph

 

Triumph as a company has a very complex history, the original company WA set up by German Siegfried Bettmann in Coventry 1883. Initially the company imported German sewing machines and bicycles which were re-branded as bettmanns.

left side sept 2011 1200.jpg


In 1887 the company becomes “new triumph co”, engineer and fellow German Mauritz Schulte convinces Bettmann to start producing his own products. In 1902 the first english motorcycle was prodcued but bizarrely in 1903 Siegfreid set up another triumph company which built motorcycles to a different design in his German hometown of Nuremberg. It took until 1921 for the first triumph car to be produced.



In 1913 things started to become even more complicated when the German motorcycle company went independent, in 1936 the car company did the same before in 1944 becoming part of standard before in 1960 becoming involved with the infamous leyland until its demise in the later 70s. The bikes continued independedntly until 1951 when it was swallowed up by car and bike producer b.s.a . Bsa in 1956 sold all the cycle assets tp raleigh who kept the triumph name going till the late 70’s. The motorcycles of course went through several failed mergers and plans caused by the japanese bike invasion but found an unlikely hero in property tycoon Jon Bloor who brought new life into the company making them one of the market leaders today.

triumph415

 

Special Mention – Dunlop

dunlop.jpg

Car suppliers as well as manufacturers grew from the bicycle industry, and without one of the biggest breakthroughs in cycle engineering the car probably never would have caught on. At about the same time as rovers pivotal safety bicycle , a Scottish vetinary surgeon by the name of John Boyd Dunlop was playing around with rubber and came across a breakthrough which really helped the bicycle gain momentum, he created the first practical pneumatic tyre. Before Dunlop’s tyres, most wheels had a leather coating or worse which made even the relatively low speeds attainable by the bicycle incredibly uncomfortable. Now if this was an issue for a bicycle imagine the pain it would afford a motorcar, it’s probably the reason that the decade after Dunlop’s tyres hit the scene that car production became a real serious matter.

 

Special mention – Dr Alex Moulton (1920-2012)

moulton_2423536b.jpg

Inventors are a funny thing, it’s a popular to trope to show a madcap inventor in a shed or lab creating weird and wonderful mad lap designs. Usually this trope is way off, most inventors work in research labs with massive teams coming up with relatively dull solutions for even duller problems. But one guy broke the mould (or should that be moult?) in the last century. Like Dunlop the Moultons before Alex were rubber pioneers, so it was to no surprise that after leaving the Bristol aeroplane company he would set up several businesses around the material. Moulton was famous as an innovator in both the bicycle and car world, a great mind that thought outside the box. He created two of his most famous products (car and bike related respectively) bizarrely at relatively the same time. Alex was good friends with famous mini designer Alec Issigonis, he became involved with the suspension design of evolved versions of the car. It is believed both Alec and Alex were impressed with the hydropneumatic suspension system used by citroen in their Ds but saw a flaw in its complexity, and by 1962 had created his solution, the sometimes infamous hydrolastic suspension. It first saw use in the prototype which would become the loved Austin/Morris 1100 but went on to support much of the Bmc line up. At the same time as revolutionising the way British cars drove Alex brought his incredible portable bicycle into production. An ingenious design that could be split in half relatively quickly allowing it to be stowed on transport or in the boot of a car. Now folding bikes had been popular before the moulton, but they were famous for being compromised in both speed and comfort due to a combination of high weight, no triangulation and tiny wheels. But the moulton design was different, thanks to a rubber cone suspension (similar to his design for the original mini) it was comfortable, thanks to triangulation of the chassis it was stiff which when added to the low drag wheels meant the Moultons could gather incredible speed, in fact the 200m cycling speed record that still stands today was performed on a moulton. (52.3 mph).

1963-Coventry CC.jpg

Moulton eventually sold the company on to Raleigh in 1967 but was said to have instantly regretted the decision and in 1980 bought the rights back to fully develop the idea. The 80’s was also the decade that he revolutionised his other baby by creating his own metro with interconnected hydrolastic suspension, a solution that even rover couldn’t beat, this system lived on in the mcf until 2002. The Moulton bicycle company however still exists today, the bikes range from 1000-15000£ and fill a weird niche in the bicycle world.

2226613223_f6d2621e67

Conclusion

By no means are these the only manufacturers to have grown out of bicycle production, most companies in fact will trace some heritage to the bicycle. what is odd now though is there are many companies who are reversing the trend, and moving from car production to bicycle production. As the bicycle evolved from transportation tool to lifestyle accessory and with popularity of the grand tours increasing the bicycle itself has seen a huge resurgence recently. This means companies like Ferrari and Porsche are more than happy to produce and license bikes with their names.

porsche.jpg

The bicycle will never overtake the car again, as a vehicle it is much too compromised , but their is one caveat. When I lived in the center of Manchester running a car as inner city transport soon became a misery of car parking charges and congestion, it soon became apparent that cities were never designed to accommodate the car. Not only is the car an inconvenience for its owner at certain times they’re also a hindrance for pedestrians and more worryingly the emergency services which year on year as car ownership rises see response times getting longer in heavily congested cities. So maybe a compromise should be met somewhere to leave the car as much as possible for longer faster travels where they are infinitely more fun, and save the cycle for traveling through rush hour Deansgate. Plus there’s another advantage to the bicycle, you can own a collection of all the prestige marques and best of all they’ll all fit into a single garage.

 

 

 

 

 

Why did the french lose their je n’est c’est quoi? and how can they regain it?

broken down renault

It feels odd that one of the stories gathering the most steam from the Frankfurt motor-show is the excitement over Renault’s new talisman estate, which on looks alone seems to be a very pretty and well thought out design. This must be the first time in years that a none small car from the Boulogne factory has got anyone in such a state. The sad fact is that it isn’t just Renault that has been struggling to capture the imagination of the buying public but its all of the big 3 that have been stuck in a rut since the late 90’s. French cars of this generation have gained poor reputations, whether due to designs on either end of the ridiculous to dull spectrum or due to misplaced prestige aspirations or possibly just due to the image that they aren’t built particularly well any more. This is a real shame as from history France has brought us some of the most ingeneous, interesting and dynamic cars of the last century. So where did it all go wrong? , and what hopes apart from the talisman has Citroen, Peugeot and Renault got on the horizon to bring hope of a new French renaissance.

A brief history

r5

All 3 manufacturers have forged there place in history in 3 very different ways to remain relevant in the market place through the difficult years where Simca, Panhard and Talbot simply couldn’t. Renault gained ground by becoming the experts in clever packaging, producing what I believe to be the first modern car. Now many people claim the most important car of the 20th century was the original mini, due to its transverse engine allowing an amazing amount of space for the size, but with issigonis’s marvel came one major flaw, the boot. The saloon boot of the mini could become a real pain in everyday use, I owned one as my first car and as soon as I needed to transport items as well as people at the same time, tetris style packaging became very interesting. Today its rare to see a car without a hatch, but when Renault introduced the 16 in 1965 it was quite novel, it wasn’t the first hatchback by any means but arguably it was the first one to get it right. Place any c-segment car next to the 16 and its clear to see the similarities, the focus, golf, astra , civic etc all owe their existence to some extent to Gaston Juchet’s great design. Now the c segment has always remained popular where saloon cars have seen a fairly sharp decline in sales recent times, but the c segment is nothing compared to the most popular of all, the super mini and guess who came up with the first true supermini? yup,Renault again. When people think of the France’s people car they wrongly imagine the tin snail but the 5 easily outsold the 2cv in its shorter lifetime and was by far more important to the development of the motorcar. The car proved to be so well packaged but it was also given a ride and drive that only France at the time could produce in a small car. The five was so perfect that it gave Renault a real problem when it came to eventually replacing the car, in fact much of the five lived until the early noughties underpinning the first retro design car the original twingo. Renault were full of great ideas in the 20th century I mean look at the espace, europe’s first mpv which again is another market that generates alot of sales. But what happened to this mary poppins bag of tricks? how did the range become so stale so fast?

1965-renault_16_boot  MK1-Renault-Espace-1980s

If Renault were making cars for the not too distant future then Citroen were making cars for a different zargon-esque dimension. Citroen in the 20th century created some of the coolest cheap cars from the farmers favorite 2cv family to the max power boys saxo, but it wasn’t just the cheap end of the market Citroen comfortably fought in they also made some of the greatest luxury cars of all time. Andre was an inventive type and he saw the potential in monnocoque construction extremely early on in the development of the car, his company also created one of the greatest suspension systems ever envisaged that neither Mercedes or Rolls Royce could better (they both eventually licensed the technology of hydropneumatic suspension for many years) . But the use of hydraulics didn’t just make the ds,gs,cx,bx and xantia (particularly the activa) more comfortable than the competition but it gave a real safety advantage , it made braking sharper and when things go wrong as they did for french president Charle de Gaulle it could even save your life.

ds

140 Bullets and 3 flat tires couldn’t stop this godess

Citroen often fell victim to its eccentricities and did require bailing out of a sticky situation with Maserati by Peugeot, but not even they could sanitize the company too much (until the 90’s at least), and Citroen arguably created the first truly desirable turbo diesels in the late 80’s/early 90’s. I feel that Peugeot to a certain extent survive on Citroen at the moment as they still seem to produce cars that are popular, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t made their fair share of mistakes in recent times.

1972-Citroen-GS-Front traction

Peugeot-504-Africa1 peugeot_404_cabriolet

Finally we reach Peugeot, well unlike the other two Peugeot have never been too inventive but what must seem strange to the owner of a ten year old 307cc is that Peugeot had a reputation for building dependable and stylish automobiles. If you travel to Africa you will see the place is littered with old 404/504’s which are still very much in service , nothing apart from a w123 comes close for classic reliability. Peugeot formed a relationship with Ferrari favorite Pininfarina early on but also created some brilliant designs by themselves such as the timeless 205 (pinin only helped with the convertible). Peugeot did learnt fast that they couldn’t fall into the trap of making dependable but dull cars ( the Japanese at the time could do that cheaper ), so in the 80’s they transitioned into making some of the greatest drivers cars of a generation, the gti’s and mi16 were in another league to most of the competition thanks to a chassis and suspension set up guru, but all this trickled down to the more basic cars and even the diesels. Until the late 90’s at least Peugeot’s really could provide you with the drive of your life, but then at the turn of the 21st century everything seemingly just turned to cheese, but more of that next.

peugeot-405-mi16-7peugeot-205-gti-gets-modern-tuning-conversion-44264_1

So what went wrong?

bx  ororion

Firstly when looking into what went wrong if it did I think I must argue the point that it could have been more to do with the competition than it was to do with the French as a whole. For example lets take Ford who for most of the 20th century made money on ‘bread and butter’ car’s, they built products that usually had old but tested components and very conservative styling, so in the late 80’s if you drove an Orion and BX back to back the bx would feel a million times more modern, however in the late 90’s if you pitched a Xsara against a focus the results would be very much reversed. The Japanese started to design the cars as well as engineer them and even the descendants of the bl legacy Rover experienced a few hits in the 90’s and it wouldn’t be too long till even the koreans could make a car you would desire for more than just pricing. German auto’s which were also starting to really look at the lower ends of the markets must have made a big difference, and when Vw managed to build skoda and seat up the situation must have become incredibly difficult.

Citroën_Xsara_in_St_Trond    or  focus

Nowadays a Countries reputation in making cars can be as or more important than the companies own reputation, this allows the Germans who we see as fastidiously efficient to make poor cheap cars that sell consistently well, where Italian and French cars can be good but struggle with an international reputation of perhaps being a little lazy. I mean can you remember this recent campaign by Citroen (I doubt this advert was used in France)

but like many stereotypes unfortunately usually a grain of truth is found, in the 90’s Psa had cars out like the 306/xsara and 106/saxo that consistently in their relatively long lifespans spent time at the bottom of the JD power and reliability rankings. The cars dynamically were very good, class leading even and the press raved about them, but as soon as the public got a hold of them the electrical and mechanical gremlins started to come through. Also much of the re-engineering to make the saxo and 106 in right hand drive for our market was ill thought out leaving the driver with an offsett pedal set which could really p*** you off on a long journey (Having experienced constant service station break stopping with my mates saxo). I also remember my dad looking at 2 one year old c5’s in the early noughties that had a curious habit of lowering random rear windows for no reason at all, leaving him to buy a Laguna instead which in his words was the worst car he ever owned, I mean remember this situation with the mk2 megane?

Its almost as if Renault became over obsessed with built in obsolescence as a means of making money, the quality today does seem to be on the rise which is a good thing but even in respected cars like the new 308 there are areas where others have gone further. Take the new psa range of Adblue diesel engines which pre empt the banning of diesel cars in many cities in mainland Europe , they are great engines like all french diesels are but there is no easy way to refill the additive when it runs out meaning its a dealer only job where most of the competition have a much simpler and obviously cheaper system. Is it accidental or is it for financial gain that psa ommited a simple filler for the additive? well that’s for you to decide but its an oversight which in a few years time could create some very unhappy consumers as the main reason anyone would buy a diesel over the amazing new era of turbo petrol’s is to save money.

In 2009 the french were very happy at the bottom of the Jd power customer satisfaction survey

jd

Reputation has been a killer for the french but I think another point that must be made is the misunderstanding of brand values from the start of the century, Peugeot started seeing themselves as an upmarket manufacturer and made many of their cars more expensive compared to the competition. This would have been all well and good if the cars were well built and dynamic but most of the cars were neither and arguably in this market Citroen the traditional lower end stable has been more successful with its Ds range of cars (and the c6 deserved to do better still).

Peugeot_607_-_2.7_HDI_Facelift

Renault also fell into the prestige trap, but actually their problem has been dull cars which have been really unrewarding to drive (not my words Carol but the words of topgear magazine) , they did have a go at inventing new markets with the bizarre and interesting Avantime and Velsatis but these cars were more in the mould of a classic Citroen than a Renault.

laguna or 05

Peugeot and Citroen both had a go at reinventing the car  themselves with the 1007 and pluriel but both of these cars were much worse than Renault’s attempt, the 1007 was all based on a gimmick of electric doors on a jazz sized car (and yes they do go wrong)  and the c3 pluriel which was aimed to evoke images of the 2cv,  ended up being impractical and ill thought out (the complete opposite to the brilliant 2cv).

even at the motorshow launch you couldnt getting past having to dump the pillars on the floor

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I think it is a mix of National reputation, improved competition and dodgy designs/manufacture that has led to all 3 companies being in a position where they’ve had to reduce the ranges available in our market (especially Renault) , but should they do a lancia and call it quits in what is famously a tough market to crack?

 

The new French Renaissance

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Thankfully I think all 3 companies are in the best position in years to mount a comeback in the Uk , I feel for one thing alot of the competition is losing steam, Ford are now chasing the prestige market which I think will be their downfall, Vauxhall’s adam hasn’t really been well received and the lower end viva isn’t all that cheap. The Japenese haven’t really made an interesting car (bar the religion of mx5 and Hondas recent return to sporty cars) that has properly captured the buyers imagination for some time. But also the French have been really looking into the design of the cars, Peugeot have started to build cars properly again and with the rcx and 208 gti they have recaptured some of the dynamics they were famous for in the 80’s. The new Fractal concept will also hopefully move the design language forward and away from the frumpy looks of the moment.

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Renault have always had success with the Renault Sports (bar the new auto clio) and I hope this translates into the new alpine sportscar that is on the horizon, but im actually more taken with the new twingo which shares much of it’s development with Mercedes (smart). It takes me back to the days of the old R8 and I am really surprised they don’t advertise the rwd-ness of the car more and I pray Renault change’s its stance on making a hot Gordini edition. I also know the Talisman will never set foot in blighty but much of what makes it looks work is being transported into the new Megane which I beleive is the first truly good looking Megane (4th time the charm) and we know that Renault Sport are going to make a stonker out of it.

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And then there’s Citroen, well im not a fan of the c range although I do really like the ds car’s but all of the range is completely eclipsed by the new cactus, I think its chuffing Brilliant and I cannot think of one modern car that I would rather own. So if the French are up to the challenge I think in ten years again they could be the kings of the car’s that real people actually drive and that makes me very happy indeed.

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Economical classics – the art of having your cake and eating it too

Back in 1972 one gallon of petrol would set you back an average of thirty five pence, so its no wonder cars like the aston martin vantage were launched to much applause that year. But nowadays in the uk the cost of one gallon of fuel is five pound fifty and this is why theres so many xj’s on ebay selling for half a grand, the money is no longer in gas guzzling cars. But how can you get more miles for your buck in a classic? , where even a 1300 cortina with no performance to offer at all will struggle to better 25 miles to the infamous gallon. Here is a bunch of cars which are small on costs but high on fun, and with prices only going one way they could all be a shrewd investment.

Citroen 2cv (47-60mpg)

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One of the most perfect and pure designs ever given to a car, its the most basic form of motoring imaginable. Basic motoring these days would equate to a dull heavy piece of tat, a car you dont want to drive as much as not be seen in. It will be a cold day in hell for instance before the daewoo matiz gains entry to the classic car club. But the 2cv despite being made for empoverished gallic farmers has both style and a great drive. People from all walks of life fall for the charm of the 2cv and its derivatives, the tin snail has only 602cc of aircooled twin in its most potent form to drag it along but never has anyone said the driving experience is boring. More fun can be had in a 2cv at 30mph than in a bmw m3 at 100, you just hop in keep the engine at full revs and roll about the corners until the doorhandles scrape the road. They will go places range rovers cant and make you more freinds than any other classic imaginable. If you watch for the rot theres not very much to go wrong in a 2cv, and despite driving everywhere on full tilt the engine should provide mpg comparable with a modern car of twice the cappacity but with a fraction of the fun. The 2cv was a long lived design that lasted from 1948 all the way to 1990 and if you want to grab any of them be quick as lately the prices are on the up and a good one starts at about 3 grand , if you want even more fun id suggest an imported mehari or better yet a lomax 3-wheeler.

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Berkeley T60 (45-65)

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The Berkeley has always been a bit of guilty pleasure for me , its not really a car but more of a go-kart or toy. Designed by genius engineer Lawrie Bond to be a pretty sportscar that would be competitive in small cappacity racing events. The car was to be built in biggleswade by a caravan company to keep the factory moving in the slower months. An innovative design that mechanically beat the mini to transverse front wheel drive and from some angles beat the e-type to a few design cues. The Berkeley came with engines from all manner of british motorcycle stables, but for the lower weight and rolling resistance important to fuel economy the Berkeley in question here is the three wheeled t-60 with the 2-stroke 328 excelsior engine. Like the 2cv the fun is raking all the noise out of the lawn mower engine, the car is sprung fully independently and were famous at the time for the near perfect handling. Annoyingly they were also famous for blowing up there temperamental engines so one area you may want to look into is cooling perhaps fitting electric fans (especially if you see yourself driving in town). This car could never be a daily driver but as something special for those few nice weekends we get in the uk I cant think of anything that would make the journey more of an adventure. Good berkeleys seem to be like gold dust with prices fluctuating all over the place, luckily the t60 was the most popular but be warned these cars have an amazing following in the states so grab one now before they’ve all emigrated.

Austin Metro 1000 hle (40-50mpg)

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A British car to beat the world? , perhaps not but the metro shortcomings may well be what makes it a smart buy today. Once out the car was miles behind the 127, polo , 5 and cherry the famous ad sent back into the ships but there are worse cars to inherit from than the mini. The a-series in my opinion has one of the nicest exhaust notes in motoring, much nicer than fords cvh it went up against in the 80’s that sounds like a bunch of spanners. The hle may not be the most fun application of the engine with its ludicrously high gear ratio’s but once you finally get up to speed you shouldn’t ever need to drop down again no matter what the road throws at you thanks to the wheel in each corner layout. Rust again is the killer here , and the hydragas suspension is famous for making comically lopsided cars but get yourself a pump off ebay and then you can have a slammed street cruiser or bouncy mini suv for very little outlay. Plus it seems theres money in kitsch! so get a one thousand pound metro while you still can.

citroen ax 1.5d (50-61mpg)

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Arguably not a classic yet but a fun car none the less , the ax is often lost behind the endless list of interesting cars from the citroen stable. But this simple car is great fun and paved the way for the immensely popular boy racer halo saxo, but it was probably better made and more fun than its successor. The Ax was especially potent in gt and gti form but with any engine they can be a hoot. Ultra light weight construction takes little power to move meaning even a measly little non-turbo diesel engine can make this roller skate go as shown by the video below.

these cars are especially popular with hyper milers with some people on the forums claiming 100mpg with special alterations to the aerodynamics of the car. It may be tempting to go for the alloy 1.4 diesel over the 1.5 iron engine but they have a reputation for eating cylinder linings and headgaskets, the peugeot engine makes much more sense, plus with the slight power advantage allegedly it will hit 60 in 13 seconds which even now is not too shabby for a car of this sector.

Bond Bug (44 mpg)

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Designed to be a cool futuristic sports coupe to appeal to younger buyers and complement the reliant range, the Bug looked like nothing on the road or even on the planet but underneath they were very old fashoined. The engine design traces its roots to the Austin 7, the bug also came with a chassis that reliant had forgotten to stop making ten years prior (with its arse cut off) and the suspension was more at home on an ox-cart. But who cares when you have an orange bumpercar with a canopy from a jet fighter. The 700-750cc engines are low powered but like the ax there is nothing to push plus as the engine (up to 850 in later forms) powered reliants until 2001 parts are plentiful and extremely cheap. But as these cars are rare and collectible the cost of purchase is extremely high for what you get but classic pricing only makes sense to enthusiasts. If it was my money I would look out for a super rare webster converted 4 wheeler bug as then I wouldn’t  have to worry about toppling over (remember you need to lift the roof to get out of the car!) but who knows, maybe the three wheeler bug can be caught.

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And on that bombshell – thanks for the 13 years

There are three main catalysts (that i can think of) that made me fascinated by motors, the earliest being my first car and one that probably many people born post 1979 will remember. My little tikes cosy coupe was possibly the car Iv spent the most time in over my life, it doubled as a camper when I was young and could do almost half a mile an hour I reckon. The second and third catalysts came around at the same sort of time , as a child of the play station generation the 1998 release of Gran Turismo was a real game changer and its sequel made me spend an agonizing amount of time trying to learn its 650 cars from top to bottom, the more obscure the better (still waiting for my Venturi Atlantique). But the influence that has had the longest lasting effect on me has to be top gear, I even watched the last of the old format religiously when a car could be considered interesting for having just the one wing mirror.

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Now arguably this format was the last time that top gear was a motoring show, and it really does bore me to tears when you get someone saying “i wish top gear actually spoke about cars”, I mean all these people ignored fifth gear to the point where it spent its recent life channel hopping with lackluster views. Top gear for all its silly dadishness made the impossible happen, it made cars accessible to everyone (even in countries where car ownership is a distant dream). At its heart top gear became a comedy show that even people who had no idea what a differential was could watch and enjoy. The only time i could talk about cars with my mum or flatmates without sounding like a bit of an anorak was on Sunday at 8pm, and I loved it. The magic despite being terrifically staged by the geniuses of Porter, Wilman and the other 3 could not be replicated by anyone, the chemistry between May, Hammond and Clarkson is not replaceable. So as I see it top gear on the bbc is dead, I really cant imagine the middle east and the states warming to the ginger sod from radio 2 in the same way they did the famous orangutan. Now this blog is not a forgiveness article for what Jeremy did, but it is a sad farewell to a show that for me at least has given me hours of dave repeat enjoyment for the last 13 years.

Here are my best bits

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Vietnam

The epic trips are the highlights of any series for me, especially when a ridiculous budget is given , now controversially this episode does not actually feature cars at all but bikes. Of course this is much to Hammond and Mays delight as avid bikers but much to Clarksons disgust, when i first saw this episode I couldn’t see how it would pan out but now its possibly my favorite. The comedy is all there and of course the ‘mishaps’ such as the wrong train incident but the actual reason I love watching this ep is how amazingly beautiful Vietnam looks. The spa Jeremy goes to and that amazing mountain road has given me a real travel itch to scratch. I really didn’t get why Argentina kicked up such a fuss about top gear coming, the three boys were even complimentary about the war torn middle east and I really wonder how much tourism revenue the show has generated from replicated adventures. This film is great from start to finish in my opinion and the only hard bit for me as a man with extreme squeamishness is clarksons epic fall, I mean they even made three of the worst watercraft I have ever seen (excluding the dampervan or hovervan mk1) to end the ep.

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The polar special

One of the first real adventure episodes and also one of the earliest controversies, but it really did show how far these three car journalists were willing to go in the name of entertainment. It was also the first real time (that I can think off) that James was put at the forefront of the banter which was a real turning point because I think James is as brilliant at making a joke as he is in explaining how things actually work and its great that top gear pushed him into other shows such as toy stories and I hope he can continue with the bbc making the docs (there is a building a bmw mini from scratch show in the work which sounds very interesting). At no point did this adventure seem easy, even with the monster of a hilux James and Jeremy were “sailing” in, we saw the polar bears and the extremely low temperatures but I think through the episode the biggest risk to life was the relationship turning sour between may and clarkson, at any point either of them could have ‘disapeared’  never to be seen again just to end the abrasive relationship, just like poor Mays spam.

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Communist cars

Occasionally the show actually was about cars (if even for just ten or so minutes) and could even provide a sort of history lesson usually with the joke or expense being on the cars. One example of this was a short segment where James and Jeremy took some cars from the eastern blocks to greenham common to see if the communists ever made a good car. In a sense its just an opportunity to laugh at some of the cars many were forced to and a few now choose to deal with. No car was chosen as good enough but the niva almost made it! and it was good to see a velorex if even for just a second.

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Reliant Robin

Well I like this for purely selfish reasons, as I live in south yorkshire and the epic voyage is from Sheffield to Rotherham (at one point half a mile from my childhood home) it is weird to see the top gear antics in my stomping ground, and someone from my school is even at the cricket practice on camera. It also has the advantage of making me rollover (much like a reliant) laughing with the calamities and its good to see the reliant fanatics taking Clarkson in with a good sense of humour, but I guess they don’t have the pianos constantly falling on their rooftops to complain about. Plus I like seeing all the local z-listers helping Jeremy out of trouble, great segment.

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80’s Hot Hatches

now there’s plenty of great car challenges and it was really difficult for me to narrow down my favorite but I think for me it is the 80’s hot hatch challenge. Now the cars overall are not too interesting, id have rather have seen a 205 and an earlier golf but the real bit for me that sets this episode apart out is the finale with the tgpd or top gear police force. Its so farcical but brilliantly top gear, full of explosions and mustaches. We all know its staged but I don’t think anybody really cares.

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And the finale

This Frankenstein episode was never designed to be the end of top gear as we know it, it was also cobbled together due to issues with Jeremy but despite these setbacks the episode I feel is a fitting goodbye. The classics were cool but the off road segment was so epic and funny that it let the show end on a high note, and while its sad its ended this way im at least happy for the fans of which there are many that the episode wasnt the cop out that many feared it would be. I just wish the bloody bbc announcer didn’t speak over the silent credits.

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The great thing about top gear is its one of those shows which has too many great moments to actually write about and I know everyone else will have a different list to me. I really am grateful for all the work the top gear team put into the show and I am excited for the future and I hope its called last of the summer gear. There is a future in my eyes as the name and the stig are the smallest part of the shows success, so I hope for a few years atleast ill get my fix but for now I  sadly must say the immortal words And on that bombshell, Good night

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Petrolheadia is dead – Long Live Petrolheadia

I do not know if anybody noticed and if you had not then I am making a huge mistake admitting to all this, but it has almost been three months since any content meaningful or otherwise has been uploaded to the blog. Now I know you have all been very worried about whats happened to the Internets most bestest blog ever and I know for many of you just getting through the week without my all important opinions and expertise has been a struggle. But there have been reasons for me splitting up the one man band for a bit. Sadly no the rumors in the papers are not true, I haven’t eloped to Tahiti with Beyonce and I have definitely not grown tired of cars or jumped off a cliff to the news that Chris Evans after all is helming the bbc’s titanic of a motoring institution (I give it a week). In fact the reasoning is quite the opposite, if anything cars have been the one thing keeping me going. The truth is I have been in a bit of a tough patch reaching the end of a grueling 4 year engineering degree. Amongst other things this made me deal with constant mind numbing dissertation meetings, endless uphill exam revision struggles and the realization that soon the days of loafing around as a student are over and the real working world awaits eeek. To be honest (hoping no potential employers are looking here)  I have known for some time that my future is not in engineering, I fell for all the Issigonis paper napkin romance only to find that now its a completely different world and I honestly cannot say the word dynamics without getting a migraine  the size of spain. Its just no fun to me and the whole future thing has been a bit of a stressy problem to think about and I needed a little break from the blog and just writing in general if i was to get excited again. So I think what im saying is It wasn’t you it was me. So im back with some petrol station flowers, a copy of ronin on dvd on my knees with a poorly scribbled apology begging for you to take me back.

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So where have I been since I ran away?

well im glad you asked, its been a busy one

Bubble car museum (april 17th)

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Well where else do you go for your 23rd birthday party?, the same place you always go (my poor poor parents). seriously if you have never been to the museum near Boston (in Lincolnshire, they also have New York near by bizarrely) you have too soon. Iv been about 20 times now and I never get bored of the oddities and the displays make it a great hour or so out plus the cafe is unbelievable value. I really need to put a review up to do this place justice!

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Lake District twice (may)

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The middle two weekends in may I took off from revision to go explore the lakes, it was meant to be once but I missed the museum the first time enjoying too much mx5 gravel road hooning (within all the lawful limits of course), a beautiful couple of trips through some awesome landscapes which I also should post about sometime and yet another great museum. was awesome to finally see the oldest surviving trevor and to be reunited with the speed 12 for the gazillionth time (i think my visit was what prompted the exciting murray and cosworth news, more on that later also). Plus if you happen to go to the Lakes, take a trip out to Morcambe bay, well worth a trip out on a nice day for an alternative sea side excursion.

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11329814_10206952156860023_597858545614449014_n                                                               “A funny man and a statue”

Speke 2 (may)

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yup i did the unspekeable and traveled to Liverpool after my first exam just to see if i could find any left overs of the old bl triumph plant.  Turns out its a bit of a guarded building supply depot or something now (I got told off for trying to drive in d’oh), by the way if you do not know what speke is then have a look at  this not dated at all BBC video

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London, Luton, Biggleswade and home to Sheffield (June)

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Once my exams were finally over I filled the mx5 with all the crap I ‘need’ to survive and left the glitz and finery of Manchester for a trip to the scary south offering my services as an experienced dogsitter to my girlfriend. I hadn’t become romantic or even thoughtful but saw an opportunity for free board while also getting to go on abit of a jolly. Luckily Vauxhall had heard of my sneaky plan and opened their heritage centre specially for the occasion (yet another future post if your not bored by then), so I got to have a good ‘dropsnoot’ 😉 around the collection which was awesome and I got a glance of the new viva (nothing post worthy there).But I still wish to thank Vauxhall for the time they spent setting up the event, I really wish other manufacturers were more open to the public with the private collections, i’m looking at you dagenham! .They didn’t even give a sales pitch which was nice.

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Once they finally managed kick me from the premises by force, I hopped on the train and asked my mate Borris if I could borrow his bike for a bit. He only agreed once I left him my debit card, a bit cheeky of him but it was still fun to pootle around the capital for a bit, I even got to visit the queen for tea who now drives a nice fiat 500 convertible don’t you know.

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After a 6 day sleep I finally gathered the strength to face the A1 again to head home, but not without an excursion to a place i’ve been wanting to see for years, nope not the taj mahal or the great wall of china via luton airport, but Biggleswade. The silly named small Bedfordshire market town is a place I have streetviewed a million times from google earth, for many boring reasons I have never really had the time or money to go till now and boy was I excited to do a bit of automotive archaeology  . Berkeley did it all for me when I first heard of them years ago, a fringe manufacturer based in a location quite far from the Brummie norm that decided to build mini motorcycle engined bond designed go karts for the road. Like most carchaeology trips all I found was a housing estate with a few road name nods as opposed to a factory, but just to stand on the ground where up till 55 years ago was making crazy cars and caravans and up until 20 years ago was making Womens knickers was exciting enough. I could still get a sense of the scale and that while to the outside world the cars are mostly forgotten Biggleswade is still influenced ever so slightly. I walked around for a good 2 hours hoping to hear or smell a two stroke as the sun was out but sadly nothing apart from a knackered old Bedford van could be heard or smelt. So at four pm today I clambered back into burtle the turtle and headed north through the endless sea of roadworks and jams remembering my neglected blog. I had a thought (the first thought since university broke my spirit), I thought of how fickle the motor industry is and how many great companies,people, ideas and designs fell by the wayside over time for reasons deserved or not. I finally was excited to write again and thought that whilst Berkeley may never open its gates again (without upsetting 150 or so home owners) there was no good reason (That I wasn’t willing to ignore) Petrolheadia towers shouldn’t.

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Here’s to the future no matter how scary it may be.

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