News

Motoring News

Electric isn’t the threat to classic cars – autonomous vehicles are

I MIGHT have to take an extended retreat on a mountain-top monastery and try and meditate my way out of having what – to a dyed-in-the-wool petrolhead – are clearly unholy thoughts. For a split second the other night, I thought buying an electric car might actually be a good idea.

They have, from the various ones I’ve tried, come a long way in barely a decade. If I was being sensible I might be tempted by a BMW i3, but if I wasn’t it’d be an emphatic yes to Renault’s Twizy. What’s more, either would make perfect sense on my current commute; a 20-mile drive to and from an office which, helpfully, already has charging points on site.

That’s the way the nation’s moving; for all those longer drives I do to North Wales and the remoter bits of Yorkshire I’m still very much an advocate of internal combustion, but for an increasingly large swathe of the population it’s getting ever easier to go all-electric, especially with unleaded nudging £1.30 a litre.

But that’s not the worry I had for a classic owner who wrote to me the other day, pondering what implications Britain’s lunge towards zero emissions motoring had for his Jaguar Mk2. For me, it’s autonomous vehicles, not electric ones, that pose the biggest challenge.

Again, these are getting better every year, but until you remove humans and their awkward habit of making irrational, last-minute decisions out of the equation, you’re still going to get crashes. Logically, the only way to do that is to have autonomous-only roads – a sort of Docklands Light Railway for cars, if you like – where cars that don’t have that driver-free capability can no longer roam.

There are no plans from the Department for Transport to do this, but it’s already looking at technology that’s pointing in that direction, the most obvious being smart motorways that beam traffic information straight onto digital displays on car dashboards. The EU’s already mandated that new cars from 2022 onwards will have speed-limiting tech pre-installed. Even in an all-electric world it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario where people with classic cars would still be able to get petrol from somewhere, but I dread the day when they’re confronted with roads they’re no longer allowed to use.

What’s more – and I know this is a hugely indulgent, selfish thing to admit in our bid to become a cleaner, greener, safer Britain ­– I like driving. Not thrashing a car to within an inch of its life, but taking a great car, learning all of its little facets and characteristics, and exploring our wonderful country with it. Seeing quaint buildings in villages you didn’t know about. Stopping off at canal-side pubs on summer evenings just for the hell of it. And yes, pondering whether the Jaguar Mk2 is better in 3.4-litre form is actually somehow more satisfying and better balanced than the 3.8-litre one, even though prices still suggest everyone’s after the latter.

These are the sort of things you just can’t do if you pre-program your destination into an autonomously-guided electric pod – no matter how good an idea they might briefly seem. Think carefully, chaps in Whitehall…

Ford Fiesta – still brilliant in a high-tech Britain

THE future can hang on a minute.

I know that we’re supposed to boldly sailing – on a solar-powered catamaran, presumably – into a brave new world of lab-grown, meat-free burgers delivered by drones, but right now there’s still a McDonalds on every busy road and a JD Wetherspoon in virtually every town centre. Your whole life can be conducted on Android and yet sales of vinyl records are up year-on-year. Perhaps most pertinently, for all the talk that electric cars and automation are the future, last time I looked the decidedly analogue Ford Fiesta was still Britain’s best-selling new car.

At the moment all the muttering is about how the humble supermini is about to embrace zero-emissions motoring. Renault’s Zoe has been chipping away at this bit of the market for a while (don’t worry, the Clio’s still very much available), but Vauxhall is being brave and launching its Corsa in all-electric form first, and it’s a similar story for Peugeot’s latest 208.

But while there is a plug-in hybrid Fiesta on the way the current range depends on a blend of rather more familiar petrol and turbodiesel engines, and it feels all the better for it. It’s as bit like Liam Gallagher – yes, it’s the same old act, and yet only last weekend it was good enough to headline Glastonbury.

I know because last weekend I spent 700 miles thumping up and down the British road network in a Zetec-spec EcoBoost – and couldn’t, with the exception of three very minor moans, couldn’t knock it. With the current Fiesta, introduced 18 months ago, it feels like you sit on the seats rather than in them, it still lacks mid-range thump in one-litre form, and on the motorway the ride’s a bit more fidgety than I’d ideally like, but that’s about it. In other respect Ford’s taken what it had with the 2009-era Fiesta, revisited absolutely everything, and quietly made it better rather than reinventing the wheel.

So while the turbocharged three cylinder engine still revels in a few revs to get results, it managed to average a fairly hefty fifty to the gallon – and I wasn’t on any sort of eco run. On the motorways it was long-legged enough to make light work of a voyage to Scotland and back – and when it wasn’t it could still entertain me on the B-roads, offering just enough feedback through its chunky, three-spoke steering wheel. Even the little things won me over; plenty of superminis integrate their stereo systems into a touchscreen system these days but the Fiesta gives you old-fashioned buttons beneath it as well, so you could flick between Joy Division and The Cure without losing the sat nav.

I suspect the reason the Ford Fiesta, even when every other new car is a crossover, electric car or plug-in hybrid, is still Britain’s biggest seller is because it’s ruddy good at what it does. The Suzuki Swift might match it when comes to generating grins, VW’s Polo has a more premium feel and the Fiat 500 is a lot more charming, but it’s tricky to think of a better all-rounder.

Kia XCeed – I hope it’s as good as it looks

CROSSOVERS are chunky, supermarket-friendly beasts of burden. Coupes are sinewy, slippery conversation-starters that put looks above all else, and to hell with the practicality. So combining the two is about as sensible as getting Stormzy to present the next series of Planet Earth, right?

Erm, wrong, if the number of just such cars – Coupe Utility Vehicles, or CUVs, if you like your cars summed up by an irritating set of initials – on the way is anything to go by. They’re jacked-up hatchbacks with off-roader proportions, in the vein of Nissan’s Qashqai, so they should be perfect for stuffing full of mates and suitcases for a long weekend away, but then they’ve been treated to swooping rooflines that rob rear headroom and steal valuable bootspace.

That’d be fine if they looked the part as a result – and I know style’s an entirely subjective thing – but I’m not sure at least two of the latest arrivals do. The person who did the front end of BMW’s second-generation X6 has done a superb job of matching a nicely aggressive ‘double kidney’ radiator grille with some neatly-shaped headlights – but then his sketches appear to have been blown up to 300% on a photocopier and hastily attached to an entirely different car. But that’s a £53,000 flight of luxury, we’re as the key battleground here and rather smaller CUVs costing well under half that.

Ford’s Puma is rather better but I can’t help unseeing the mental image the delightfully mischievous Sniff Petrol website has stuck in my head – it’s a good-looking CUV that, judging by its facial expression, has just walked in on its parents when it shouldn’t have.

If it were my money I’d go for a crossover that nails handsome proportions and neat detailing without passing itself off as a small coupe – take a bow, Skoda Kamiq – but if you reckon a rapper really can do BBC wildlife documentaries then I’m going to have to point you in Kia’s direction.

There’s a reason why the new XCeed, which essentially the C’eed hatchback on stilts, looks far better than I’d been expecting. It’s styled by the same man who worked on the original Audi TT, and the same eye for detail that made that such a hit seems to have worked its way onto this new arrival too. I even like the little flourishes of body-coloured trim on the inside too, which definitely have a hint of Fiat Coupe about them. It’s sensibly priced, too, starting at £20,795 when it goes on sale here in September.

So if you insist on an off-roader-inspired car that willing chucks some of its practicality in the bin in favour of a rakish roofline, I’d make it this one because it actually delivers on the looks front at sensible money.

Although I’d still buy a Kamiq and a secondhand Ford Puma – the two-door coupe from the Nineties, that is – instead. Sorry if I’m being boring, but I’d rather Stormzy stuck to rapping…

The London taxi – now available in van form

THE MOST surprising car I’ve driven in the past year has just pulled another hankerchief out of its sleeve. The London black cab is now available – as a van.

It just doesn’t sound right somehow, does it? The Friday night ride home of choice across much of the capital – and an increasingly familiar sight in this part of the world too, particularly in Liverpool and Manchester – has been transformed from the B-pillars backwards into something that resembles a bloated Volkswagen Caddy, but beneath the skin shares the same combination of electric motors (and some internal combustion back-up, in the form of a 1.5-litre petrol engine as a range extender) as its more familiar, fare-fetching cousin.

While the London Electric Vehicle Company claims it can travel 377 miles in one hit – meaning that should The Champion ever launch an Inverness edition it’ll be able to deliver a freshly-printed batch without having to stop to charge up – it’s actually pitched as a response to what it calls “the Amazon-isation of retail”. In other words, all those short trips from parcel depots to your door because every other person on your street orders their stuff online. That’s a lot of short hops for blokes in vans – and a lot of air pollution if it isn’t kept in check.

But I reckon the van has the potential to be a hit for much the same reason the black cab is – it’s really, really good at what it does. When I drove the TX taxi last year I reckoned its ability to take contactless payment and provide drunken passengers with an in-built WiFi zone for their Instagram selfies was smart stuff – but not half as clever as the way it drove. A seven-seater that’s roughly the same size as a Land Rover Discovery Sport had the sort of turning circle you’d expect from a Smart, was a doddle to drive and had all of its electronic trickery harnessed by a Tesla-esque touchscreen that dominated the dashboard and was intuitively easy to use. If LECV can give a van – even one that does look a bit like a drunken Austin A35 from the front – the same sort of qualities in something than can carry two Euro pallets, then I reckon it’ll quickly build up a healthy queue of fans.

In fact, the biggest battle will be the one thing LEVC hasn’t announced yet – the price. All that’s been confirmed is that it’ll be less than the £55k its taxi cousin currently costs, but bear in mind Nissan’s all-electric NV200, with a 174-mile range, costs £19,116 before VAT.

You might not be able to get to Inverness in it, but that’s a 35-grand saving. The black cab makers might have to pull off some more magic to square that difference…

Ferrari F8 Tributo – terrible name, very important mission…

YOU might not believe it, but a hefty new Government report that’s officialdom’s equivalent of a ticking-off from a stern headteacher and the new Ferrari are setting out to do roughly the same thing.

Yep, Public Health England are tackling the same case as the chaps at Maranello – but from wildly different perspectives. Both, you see, are trying to win over the hearts and minds of the next generation of petrolheads – by convincing the next generation of motorists-in-the-making that cars aren’t their enemy.

Whitehall first, then. I’m not entirely sure about its suggestions for scrappage schemes in its new report, but I’m actually in agreement with the idea that cars sat idling outside schools is not a good thing. In fact, I’d go even further than their suggestion of fining the culprits and let local authorities do their utmost to prevent children from being chauffeured to class in a never-ending slew of Audi Q5s and BMW X3s. I’m happy to go on record as saying that proper investment in getting kids to school on buses, not cars, is the way forward (and the fact it’ll make my commute much quicker has nothing to do with it, honestly). Why? Because in the long-run a school run devoid of oversized diesel off-roaders will weaken the argument that cars are the enemy.

That’s the stick out of the way – which is a good thing, because Ferrari and Aston Martin have some particularly fresh-looking carrots, if this year’s Geneva Motor Show was anything to go by. Kia, Hyundai and Skoda did turn up with some new stuff, of course, but the recurring theme at the latest outing seems to be that mid-engined supercars are back in fashion. I’m not sure if they ever went out of fashion in the first place – and my baggy t-shirts, Tears for Fears albums and side-parting mean I’m not exactly in a position to judge anything fashion-related – but there are definitely plenty of carmakers giving them another crack.

Let’s skip straight past Bugatti’s Voiture Noire, billed as the world’s most expensive car, despite the fact it’s only made one and it’s already sold anyway. Aston Martin have decided to ditch decades of tradition and launch its new Vanquish not as a front-engined GT, but as a mid-engined Ferrari rival, and it looks fabulous.

Which is where we get to Ferrari, of course. Forget the fact that its new F8 Tributo has a terrible name – Tributo, translated from Italian in Layman’s English, means ‘Tribute’, as in Ferrari’s tribute to how marvellous its own award-winning V8 engines are. Look past the new arrival being a heavily updated version of the outgoing 488 GTB, too, and the fact that it contributes precisely nothing to the hybrid/electric conversation because it has a 710bhp twin-turbo V8 that relies on setting things alight to do its business.

None of this matters a jot because it looks utterly mesmerising – the F40-aping heat vents in the rear window, especially – and sounds like a Ferrari should at full chat. It is unapologetically bedroom wall stuff – which fills me with hope, because what tomorrow’s petrolheads need are things to stick on bedroom walls.

That and a school run that isn’t choked up with diesel fumes from cars sat idling outside the front gates, of course…

Why I’m glad that the Jaguar I-Pace is European Car of the Year

BIT disappointed that yesterday didn’t begin with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight thundering through the skies overhead.

Church bells across the country would’ve rung out in unison, followed by politicians of all parties breaking off from the Brexit negotiations to offer congratulatory speeches, and schoolchildren would’ve been invited to send in their drawings and paintings marking the big moment.

Perhaps I’m over-egging it a bit, but a panel of motoring experts have finally freed themselves from the shackles of sensibleness and voted in a Jaguar as European Car of the Year.

It’s an historic moment – although probably not one that requires the entire nation to break out the Union Flag bunting and hold street parties in a patriotic frenzy – because never before has a Jag won. You might find it hard to believe, but the original XJ6 didn’t even come close. Nor did the XK8. In fact, the only Jaguars that got within sniffing distance were the X-type (beaten by the erm, Peugeot 307), and the XE two years ago, which finished third.

So I’m glad that the I-Pace has finally walked off with the silverware, and not just because it gives a manufacturer staring in the face of 4,500 painful job cuts a much-needed shot of adrenaline. It shows that, for a change, the collective opinion went with the car that genuinely moved the game on the most, as the I-Pace has done with zero-emissions electric cars what the Mk2 did with stuffy small saloons. Made them genuinely, want-one desirable.

The other big surprise was that – had it not been for a pre-agreed clause in the rules – it would have been joint winner with a sports car, in the form of Alpine’s A110. In other words, a panel of judges that has a habit of picking family hatchbacks as worthy-but-boring winners gave a £46,000, two-seater Cayman rival what would be a contest-winning amount of points. The last time they did anything that brave was more than 40 years ago, when the Porsche 928 won.

What all that means is that European Car of the Year just got interesting again – finally it feels like there’s a realistic chance that a Porsche or Lotus might walk off with the coveted rear window sticker, rather than being relegated to third place by a brace of hybrid hatchbacks. Imagine if the new TVR Griffith won it next year? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.

In the meantime, it means that the I-Pace is not only a proper Jag that just happens to be zero-emissions too, but it means that a bunch of motoring writers far better than this one agree that it’s award-winningly good too. Makes up for the Peugeot 307 winning, and all that…

New Defender interior leaked – but not in the proper Land Rover way

AS BIG motoring stories go, this was no damp squib. It’s still another couple of months before we finally get to see Land Rover’s new Defender – but the interior’s leaked.

A slew of shouty headlines from the motoring magazine websites said it all; NEW DEFENDER: INTERIOR LEAKED AHEAD OF UNVEILING, LEAKED: NEW LAND ROVER DEFENDER INTERIOR, and, perhaps most promisingly of all, 2020 DEFENDER INTERIOR LEAKED FULLY. As someone who spent most of his childhood in the back of old Land Rovers and still reckons a Series IIA isn’t really complete unless its cabin comes with a slighty musty, countryside-ish whiff, this was great news, because it meant someone at Solihull had really been paying close attention to what old Land Rover owners are used to. If the new Defender’s interior has leaked before it’s even been launched, it’s still a proper Land Rover!

Unfortunately, the story the motoring mags had, er, splashed with referred to a leak of the metaphorical rather than literal sort, and for legal reasons I’m obliged to point that there’s no indication that Solihull’s next mud-plugger will actually allow in the occasional dribble of rainwater every time you take it off-roading. But, if the latest images are anything to go by, it looks like Jaguar Land Rover have spent a lot of time getting the mix of chunky, hard-wearing plastics and the details that are bang-up-to-date, like the neatly-integrated digital dash display, right. A copy-and-paste of the Discovery’s cabin it ain’t.

It’s had to tread a very tricky tightrope with the new Defender – it is, after all, the direct descendant of 1948’s Series I, so it’s got to look, feel and sound like a Landie of the old school while simultaneously meeting all of today’s safety regulations, doing more than 25 to the gallon and comfortably sitting at seventy on the motorway. I’ll happily accept that the farming set have all moved into Nissan Navaras and Mitsubishi L200s now, but the new Defender’s also got to hit it off with those vastly different swathes of people devoted to the old one – so that’s the British Army, Kanye West and the entire readership of Your Horse. Tough call.

But I’m keeping my fingers crossed, largely because JLR (which has just cut 4500 jobs) could use a lucky break, and because the precedent set by the Jaguar XJ nine years ago shows that it is possible to reinvent a British icon that everyone previously declared impossible to reinvent. The new Defender won’t please absolutely everyone, but I’d rather that than there be no new Land Rover at all. Whatever happens, it’ll still be devastatingly effective off-road and bang up to date.

Probably better built than the old one, too. Although if the interior leaks, at least you’ll know why…

The Woodvale Rally is gone – but not forgotten

SO LONG, Woodvale Rally. You’re gone, but not forgotten – but I’ll remember you in your prime whenever I look back.

Chances are you’ll have already read about the cancellation of this year’s event, but for me it’s a bit more than just any old car show being culled. The Woodvale Rally is the first one I remember going to, and the one that I’ve grown up with. It is the show that nurtured my love of anything with an engine in it.

For a long time since the early Nineties one weekend in early August meant wandering around an air base for hours, getting sunburnt. I remember going twice with the cub scouts on litter picking duties (and getting a nasty gash on my knee during the latter), as a youthful helper-out with various Land Rover and model railway stands, as a Champion reporter and – perhaps best of all – as a classic car exhibitor when my Minis and MGB took part.

The masses of old motors, the endless model aircraft displays, trade tents covering just about every hobby imaginable – I lovedall of it. Even the queues stretching right the way down the Formby Bypass as everyone crammed through the gates were somehow part of the fun. Sure, it was congestion, but it was a traffic jam with Triumph Stags and Jaguar E-types in it. I can understand completely if your local summer treat was the air show, or the flower show, but for me it was always the Woodvale Rally, and it was for most of the other car nuts I grew up with, too.

That’s how I’ll remember the Woodvale Rally, as the big, bustling, and normally stifling hot get-together at RAF Woodvale. Not the show at Victoria Park that followed it from 2012 onwards. I know that the discovery of asbestos at the original venue forced the organisers’ hands, but it just wasn’t the same. Family-friendly and fun? Undoubtedly. A weekend’s worth of great engineering and model aircraft displays, just as the event’s instigators intended when they set up the Rally back in 1971? Erm, not really.

I reckon that the original Rally’s petrolhead pull has been taken on by the Ormskirk MotorFest and, to a smaller extent, by events like the Lydiate Classic Car Show, but with the cancellation of this year’s event and the loss of the Manchester Classic Car Show I mentioned last month that there’s a real gap for another car-focused event in this part of the world. A full weekend packed with old cars and motorbikes, plus aircraft displays, model railways, steam engines and tractors. I reckon that the Leisure Lakes Steam Rally – back in Tarleton in June following 2018’s cancellation – will do the trick, but there’s room for another.

Hopefully someone high-up at RAF Woodvale is reading this. You know what to do…

My petrolhead New Year’s resolution for 2019

595A6064 psSPACE, Renault once reckoned in one its old ads for the Espace, is the ultimate luxury.

Nonsense. If the Mini Cooper, increasingly petite smartphones and Rutland – which manages to pack a lot of cracking roads, beautiful countryside and a rather impressive reservoir into England’s smallest county – are anything to go by you can squeeze rather a lot info a something that isn’t exactly abundant in it. In fact it’s time, especially in a Britain of 50mph average speed cameras and cities where anything slower than 5G on your mobile simply isn’t good enough, that’s been really precious throughout 2018.

And I haven’t spent nearly enough of it on my own cars, sulking at me in the garage. I’ve spent plenty of time looking at other people’s prized petrolhead possessions, having visited something in the region of 30 car shows over the past 12 months, but as a result my trusty Mazda Eunos Roadster has chalked up a pitiful 2500 miles in that time. Admittedly most of those were glorious afternoons exploring sun-kissed B-roads – the sort of thing MX-5s were invented for, then – but more often than not it’s been left at home because I’ve been off exploring a show some far-flung corner of Britain instead.

It’s the same story with the Classic Car Weekly Reliant Robin; admittedly it spent most of 2018 sulking at various garages while it was having its rotten undersides remedied, but in the time I’ve had it back it’s barely done 300 miles. Not because I don’t want to drive it – if anything, it’s a right giggle to run about it – but because I’ve invariably been off doing things that require something a bit more sensible than an 850cc three-wheeler. The MGB GT, meanwhile, decided to go on strike, eating through its battery and developing a fuel leak while being sat unloved.

So my New Year’s resolution is a simple one – I love going out and enjoying classic cars, but I really need to spend a bit more time messing about with the ones under my wing.

Including one I’m shopping around for and hoping to finally get behind the wheel of in early 2019. Watch this space…

Why I’m sad that the Manchester Classic Car Show is no more

IT’S the most wonderful time of the year. For wandering around exhibition halls looking at old cars, that is, because it’s too cold and miserable to be doing it outdoors.

The big one for anyone into Jaguar E-types, Triumph Stags and the like is the three-day show down at the NEC in Birmingham, but I’ve long advocated doing your homework, booking a budget flight and checking out the foreign ones, because there’s so many of them. A couple of years ago I had a great weekend wandering around Barcelona’s big classic show – and a bit of sightseeing, of course – because it was cheaper to hop on a big silver bird at John Lennon than it was to spend a weekend going to many of Britain’s bigger car shows. Paris’ Retromobile and the big German shows are just around the corner. Top tip if you’re looking for a Christmas present with a difference!

But I’m saddened this week that the North West’s entry in this big round-up of indoor shows is no more. Over the weekend the organisers of the Manchester Classic Car Show, held every September at Event City by the Trafford Centre, said it won’t be returning in 2019 due to rising costs. Or in “the foreseeable future” either, according to the organiser’s official statement. Which is a shame, because it was a proper, petrolhead day out that dialled down the hog roasts and live bands because it knew everyone wanted to look at Triumph Dolomites instead.

The frustrating thing was that, confronted with rising costs at Event City, the organisers had nowhere else to turn to, because no other venue in the North West can stage a big, indoor car show (neither Manchester Central nor the Echo Arena in Liverpool have that sort of floorspace, since you’re asking). Over in Germany virtually every city has a Messe – a trade fair, or in other words a massive indoor venue geared up to holding Crufts-sized mega-shows, so there are loads of options if you want to put on a car show. But in the UK you’ve got the NEC, ExCeL down in London’s Docklands, Event City – and that’s about it. Even rosy old Earl’s Court, which I loved going to as a kid, is under some swish new housing now.

Which is frustrating, because I know from the sheer volume of cars that turn up to the North West’s many outdoor shows that there’s an appetite for at least one decent indoor one, which we can all enjoy when it’s tipping it down with rain.

Maybe it’s time for a new venue altogether. Anyone got a disused aircraft hanger or an unfeasibly large warehouse going spare?