cars, classic cars, History, longstone, motoring and cars, renault

A luxurious future?

A friend of mine was telling me about his new car. It’s a brand new small Renault Twingo. ‘Its just a cheap basic run-around’ he told me.  Then he listed some of the technology that comes with his new car. Automatic headlights, Automatic wipers, Electronic Brake Assist, Park Assist, DAB, Electric Windows…. This list started to make me think about two things; Firstly, how reliable is this technology going to be in 10 yrs time (when I am likely to be driving a 2016 plate car). And secondly, do we really want all these extras?

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I have had  ‘modern’ cars in the past, a  Golf 115 PD and a Ford Mondeo 130 TDCI . By the time I brought them they were about 9 years old with a high mileages. They both went like stink with good fuel economy, but they both went wrong alarmingly frequently. One had a habit of cutting out on the fast lane of the motorway, and the other used to go into ‘limp mode’ and use tons of water. I took both cars to a number of garages, but no one could get to the bottom of these issues. Even the water problem did not appear to be anything obvious like the head gasket. Sensors were thought to be the root cause of most the problems, but no one knew which sensors! This has left me with major suspicions regarding any car built after 2002. This is when cars appear start to become riddled with sensors and ‘fly by wire’ controls. If cars are full of computers and micro switches then there is the opportunity for manufactures to program in obsolesces into the their products. This makes me think that if manufactures cheat fuel emissions tests, who knows what ethics underlie any company’s drive for economic sustainable growth?  Even components such as electric windows could have a built in shelf life.vehicle-sensors

The first car to have electric windows was a Packard 180 built in America in 1940. This soon became a popular addition to American cars but did not filter down to the ‘Top of the Range’ British Leyland cars until the late 70’s. Britain’s idea of luxury motoring was Walnut trim, leather seats and Axminster carpets. ‘If it wasn’t found an a Mayfair Gentlemen’s club, then it had no place in a car’. That was fine, whilst  due to the lack of real competition, Britain was the largest producer of cars in the Common Wealth. But once we joined the common market in 1975 and trade restrictions were lifted from countries that only a few decades earlier were WW2 enemies, the new competition offered a fresh perspective on what a normal car could be. German cars had unrivaled build quality, Japanese cars had the audacity to start on cold mornings and all but the most basic models had electric windows and central locking as standard . Suddenly the novelty of gadgets seamed very appealing and  a bit of wood stuck to the dash with an engine from a 1950’s Morris Minor didn’t seem enough!

40packard180club-048      Packard 180

My friends cheap Renault raises alarm bells for me. A company that once curated the Renault 4, the car for the people that provided everything required to transport people and goods around rural france, now has automatic headlights on its cheapest car!

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I believe that there is now a new emerging market for a basic car that is designed to last. Now Britain is in danger of ostracising itself from the rest of the EU we now need a new market sector to utilize once more. We can’t do cheep (South Korea do that), we can’t do executive (the Germans do that) we can’t do flamboyant (the Americans have that one). But we could do basic and well engineered. We know what brakes, it doesn’t have to be cheap if it’s well conceived.  Billionaire Jim Ratcliffe plans to start manufacturing a rugged off-road car in the style of Land Rover’s discontinued Defender. I hope that this could be the start if a new/old way of thinking. We should be planning make a rugged family car, with the minimum of electronics and gizmos. A car with a 30 year life expectancy. This is thought to be financially unsustainable, but the world is a big place and there is the scope to sell a lot of cars to a lot of emerging markets.

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I’m not suggesting that we live in an totalitarian dictatorship, where we only have one choice of vehicle for the masses, but it would be good to have the option of a car that was designed to do 300,000 miles. A passive sensor system could also be used, one that just informs the driver of a problem with a pacific component and does not confuse the car’s ECU in the process. It is very environmentally damaging to produce a new car with only marginally better fuel economy, that only lasts ten years then scrap and reproduce a new car !  Dougal Cawley, owner of Longstone Tyres once jokingly said ‘we all know that a panda dies every time a new car is made’. Although this statement is not entirely true, the sentiment remains.

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campervan, motoring and cars, VW, vw camper

A Colourful Past

Air-cooled VW culture is universal appealing. Over the years VW Campervans  have come to symbolise freedom, peace, surfing, hippies and good times. Camper T shirts are warn by people of all ages and economic status. Millions of bags, mugs and posters with VW campers on are sold every year. All this from a commercial vehicle that was born out of the rubble of  Nazi Germany, and was based on a car commissioned my Hitler!  This has got to be the best re branding exercise ever.

As vans started to get older and more affordable it became a cultural statement  for the baby boomer generation to paint their vans in vivid colours. People adorned their vans in flowers and ban the bomb symbols as an act of rebellion. A very powerful way of informing the establishment that ‘the times were a’changin’. All types of vehicles we used, but early  VW’s were relatively reliable and lasted the longest. Therefore people have become to associate them with the whole movement.

art_bus A 60’s van

I’m one of millions of people that have been drawn into T2  (VW van) ownership. My Stepbrother owned several campers before I got mine.  He had tales of being helped out by friendly villagers whist stranded in Mexico, exploring Sweden and driving to Spain in campers. All of this sounded really exciting and I was soon sucked into the world of the VW Camper.

The cheapest and most practical way to get a VW campervan was, and still is to buy a T25. (Known as a Vanagon or T3 in other parts of the world) In my opinion these vans are not the most stylish, but they are practical with a good range of engines. The only van I could afford was a 2,0 air-cooled panel van. This cost me £450,  but I did have to do a lot of engine work.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The van was peppered in rust so I gave it a quick coat of white paint.

The novelty of having a plain white van soon wore off and I started to think about changing the colour.  It doesn’t show in the picture above, but I hadn’t managed to achieve the best quality paint job. This left me with a blank canvas and very little funds.

I started to think about the iconic ‘Flower power’ vans of the 60’s and 70’s.  My friends and I had a website called Nightmonkey, so that seamed like a good word to paint on the van! As the van was built in Wolfsburg, it seemed fun to write this in German. We therefore sprayed ‘Nacht der Affe’ down the side of the van. At the time these vans were only just accepted into the air-cooled VW world and were still widely commercially used, so it didn’t seem too much of a sacrilege to have a bit of fun with the paintwork.

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This was a laugh, but it wasn’t in the best taste so I toned it down (a bit!)

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By this time the van had adopted the name Veggie. Friends still ask after Veggie as if the van was also an old friend.

After a few years of ownership I was on a roll of bad taste spray jobs and I had my favourite band’s (The Levellers) logo sprayed on the van. This looked great for a while, but then started to peel.

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All of these incarnations cost very little.

After a couple of years of messing around with the van, I finally paid for a better spray job that was more befitting of an ageing vw.

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I loved the final red spray job. The van stood out, but now for the right reasons!

I sold Veggie for £1700 in 2012 to fund my bay window camper project which was always my goal. I saw ‘him’ a few years later on eBay  with a nice camper interior fitted for £4500. I sometimes wish i’d kept the van. But in order to explore other vehicles, sometimes you have to let a few go.

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motoring and cars, Uncategorized, vw camper

Why classic cars?

I have always loved cars. Much to my parent’s dismay, my first word was not Mummy or Daddy, it was Mini. Toy cars became my favourite things to play with. Even as a small child the motorcar represented freedom and adventure.

It would appear that cars made during and before the 1970’s often displayed many human characteristics. They could be temperamental, unreliable and unrefined. The construction of cars also appeared to done largely by hand. Nuts and bolts were not concealed behind plastic trim and the bare shell was clearly visible from inside which gave them a down to earth feel. Like humans, for no apparent reason car seamed to have their off days and sometimes faults would rectify themselves without any mechanical intervention.

In an old car your senses are often stimulated in a way that the modern Eurobox fails to do. Smells of oil, petrol, wood, leather or leatherette helps to give the car a personally. Poor fitting panels bring in drafts and smells from the outside. Noise and vibrations coming from the engine and drivetrain let you know the car is working. These are traits that the modern motor manufacture has tried to eliminate over years of development. Producers respond to costumer expectations of owning a silently operating, reliable, draft-free  form of transportation. But this often curates an artificial perception of speed, control and invincibility.

In the 1970’s, car’s often became to feel like part of the family. This was certainly true is my family’s case. My father’s first car was a 1967 Morris Traveller which he brought after my younger sister was born in 1975. My father called ‘him’ Denis, after a footballer called Denis Law. Denis (the car) had come out of the factory as a tortoise coloured Morris, but by the time my father had brought it (from a vicar apparently) the rust had started to set in. My father painted the wings with red oxide paint in a vain attempt to halt the rust process. After many years of ownership Denis failed the MOT. My father didn’t part with the car (maybe due to my demands?) and parked ‘him’ in a yard at the back of a friends house. For a year or so we took regular trips to visit Denis as if he was an elderly family member in a retirement home. After a while my father reluctantly sold the car for spares. I still remember going to say goodbye. I still own the chrome hub caps and ornamental bonnet handle, which I have on display in my living room.

a1 Me at the wheel of  Denis c 1977

Over time both my father and my stepfather had various cars that won my affection. At one point stepfather had three Renault 4’s (two for spares) and an very rusty Austin Healey  Sprite. I used to play for hours in these partly dismantled vehicles, pretending to drive for miles. Growing up in a very rural part of Shropshire, this was the best playground for miles. (possibly the best playground in the country!) For years my father had an 850cc Austin mini with the reg YUK 226M. Yuk became as much part of the family as Denis and took all over the country. After this family motoring became very boring, with exception of a Morris minor  convertible  my parents brought a predictably dull series of metros and montegos. leading me to conclude  that anything produced after 1979, particularly if it was British, is soulless, dull and uninteresting

thumbnail_img_20170122_192044409 Me and my mate Jim with YUK

jr26 My dad’s brand new metro  in 1984. He looks like a proud man…. It was the city x model after all!!!

As the years have past and I too had own a series of predictably dull euroboxes. After many conversations with friends I became nostalgic about past motoring icons. In 2001 my friend Chris, who owned many old vehicles convinced me to buy myself a classic car. After reading countless classic car mags I opted to by a Triumph Spitfire 1500. I will write about this at a later date  but needless to say it expanded my mechanical knowledge and highlighted how extremely fortunate I am to have such a supportive and dear group of friend around me who enabled me to experience the ups and downs of classic motoring on a shoestring budget.

joel-spitfire2 A quick engine swap in 2004

Since 2001 I have owned a few spitfires and a number of VW campervans. At home my drive is currently full of vehicles owned by myself and my girlfriend that are in various states of repair. All of which I intend to write about in the future.

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