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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?

We’re the fastest nation on earth. £25m is a small price to pay to keep it that way

If successful Bloodhound SSC will be the first vehicle to be driven at more than 1000mph
I’M SURE that by the time you read this, Richard Branson will have saved the day.

Or perhaps Simon Cowell could do the honours – he likes cars and isn’t short of a few quid. Maybe Jeremy Clarkson could chip in. Either way, I’m sure someone’s about to step up and stop Britain’s land speed record bid from stalling on the final straight.

You might have seen in the news that the team behind Bloodhound SSC – that’s SSC as in Supersonic Car – have had to call in the administrators, who are calling on someone, anyone, to step in with £25 million to make sure the nation’s bid to be the world’s first to crack on 1000mph without taking off goes ahead as planned.

Yet the administrators’ statement is about as far from, say, a department store going bust as it’s possible to imagine.

“Bloodhound is a truly ground-breaking project which has already built a global audience and helped to inspire a new generation of STEM talent in the UK and across the world,” said joint administrator, Andrew Sheridan, who went on to say that while bankrolling Bloodhound will cost a fraction of what it’d take to run a rubbish F1 team anyone who does so will leave “a lasting legacy”. Not exactly the sort of thing the administrators said when Woolies or BHS went bust.

The fact that even the suits with the red ink talk about Bloodhound in such evocative terms goes to show you what Britain loses if – as is widely feared – the project runs out of money in the next few weeks. The land speed record is an area in which Britain is indisputably the world champion, and the new project was being backed by big business and government ministers alike to inspire a new generation of science-loving speed freaks. Yes, I know it’s been promising big things for over a decade, but when you’re planning to propel a bloke along the ground at Mach 1.3 you can’t afford to fluff it up.

Which is why I really hope that a country that’s somehow managed to keep Aston Martin going through seven bankruptcies and rescued Lotus from oblivion seemingly every other week will find the £25 million – to put that into perspective, £18.7 million less than what Liverpool paid for Fabinho – needed to make sure Britain’s the fastest nation on earth. Even if the money comes entirely from Ronan Keating record sales, it’d be worth it.

But then I hope that by the time you read this someone really has stepped in and that all this is entirely redundant – in which case, I’ll happily run a correction in next week’s Champion.

Over to you, Richard.

Vinfast – great looks, shame about the name

No, it's not a new Tesla or BMW - but Vinfast would be flattered if you thought it was
VINFAST. It sounds like the name of some nasty new energy drink or a pill you’d pop to cure ingestion – but it’s actually a new range of cars dreamt up over in Vietnam.

The new wave of carmakers not-so-quietly plotting on world domination in Asia have never been terribly good with names. The first one I can recall coming over here was the Great Wall, a double-cab pick-up truck from China which not only referred to a mighty landmark but also the vehicle’s aerodynamic and performance qualities. Then there’s the Byton, which its makers said was meant to sound well-heeled and vaguely aristocratic but just reminds me of four children and a dog going on adventures.

But one thing Vinfast definitely didn’t get wrong was the styling. I actually did a double take when they sent me the first pictures of their two debut models because I thought they’d mixed up with a press release from Tesla or BMW – but no, the first Vietnamese car company to have a crack at winning over cynical Brit motorists have utterly nailed it in the looks department.

It’s early days so there’s no word on what sort of engines its new off-roader and saloon will have under the bonnet, whether you’ll be able to plug them into a three-pin socket in your garage or if they’ll be able to navigate Switch Island on a busy Friday night autonomously, but they have at least revealed how they managed to make their new offerings look so good. They didn’t – they gave the job to some Italian blokes instead.

If you’ve got this far down this week’s column without giving up and heading straight to the Champion’s sport page then you won’t need me to tell you who Pininfarina is, but it’s worth remembering that they did the Ferrari F355, the Peugeot 406 Coupe, the Jaguar XJ6 Series III and the original Fiat 124 Spider. So it should be no surprise that with a new carmaker eager to get peoples’ attention paying the bills and no previous history as baggage that the Italians would be able to turn a blinder – and they have. Okay, so the V-shaped logo on the radiator grille smacks of late Nineties Vauxhall, but the rest of it is as good as anything you’d find coming out of Turin or Stuttgart.

So you’ll be able to buy it here next year, right? Erm, nope. Despite Vinfast launching its cars at the Paris Motor Show next month it says it wants to play it safe and focus on selling cars back home – and it might launch them here in a couple of years, by which time they’ll be starting to look a bit dated. It’s a shame, because on looks alone I reckon it’d do well here.

Still, at least it’ll give ‘em time to come up with a better name!

The Ford Mondeo still has its fans. Me, for one

The Mondeo might not be a bestseller any more, but it still has plenty of fans

THE Grim Reaper will have to pop round another time. Contrary to what you might have read elsewhere the Ford Mondeo is alive and well, and I reckon it will be for a while yet.

The car’s makers have been forced to defend its family favourite this week, after a financial analysis suggested that it – and the Galaxy and S-Max people carriers too, for that matter – be quietly pensioned off (with a few thousand job cuts too, unfortunately). The Mondeo, it says, is a core part of its British range, even if when you look at the sales stats its spot in the bestsellers list has clearly been snatched by the trendier Kuga.

It’s also abundantly clear that the family saloons the Mondeo traditionally squares up to are a bit of a dying breed. Brits can no longer buy a brand-new Nissan Primera, Citroen C5, Renault Laguna, Honda Accord or Toyota Avensis. Rover and Saab are long gone. Vauxhall is still doing admirably well with its Insignia, VW offers a triple whammy with the Passat and its Octavia and Toledo cousins, there’s the Peugeot 508 and Mazda6 – and that’s about it. Mondeo Man has either moved up to an A4 or 3-Series, or ditched saloons altogether for SUVs. Both, whichever way you cut it, have rather more panache than living in the past with the poor old Mondeo.

All of which makes me a bit sad because it reminds me of a bit of a recurring car nut truism; everyone I know who really, really likes cars rates the Mondeo. I have many fond memories of stuffing unreasonably large amounts of IKEA clobber into the back of an ST TDCi Estate and then blasting up the M57 on its seemingly endless reserves of mid-range torque. Or that time I drove 2.5-litre V6 Cougar – the Mondeo’s short-lived coupe cousin – and being so impressed that I nearly bought it. Or the time I tried a 2001 Ghia X and was so won over that I actually did buy it. It’s the same with all my petrolhead pals – almost of them have owned a Mondeo at some point, because they do everything you could ever ask a family car to while still being a joy through the bends.

The Mondeo’s a bit like Three Lions – inescapably associated with the Nineties, but on the right day and with a suitably optimistic bunch of England fans it can still top the pop charts in 2018. There’s nothing wrong with Calvin Harris and Ariana Grande, of course, but I think I’ll stick with the Lightning Seeds…

Volkswagen’s new camper van is massive – but that’s a good thing

The VW Grand California is a lot bigger than its more fashionable brother - but that's not a bad thing

REGULAR readers will know that earlier this year I bought a house for the first time – but I’m beginning to wish I’d gone to Volkswagen rather than my local estate agent.

That’s because for all the fanfare over finally making a GTI version of the Up and the new engines being fitted to the T-Roc and Touareg off-roaders the Germans have finally given their official backing to something the aftermarket modifiers have been doing for years. They’ve turned to the biggest van they make as the basis for their latest campervan – and the result genuinely sounds like something that should be next to The Champion’s property ads rather than popping up here, in a column about cars.

Having driven the latest Crafter a couple of times I can confirm that it might as well be a Passat-on-stilts once you’re behind the wheel, but you’d be better off arranging a viewing of the Grand California, which goes on sale here next January, than taking it for a test drive. It has – deep breath – a double bed, bunk beds for the little ones, two skylights, a front door with an electrically-operated step to help you get in and a mosquito net to keep unwanted visitors out, Bluetooth speakers you can control with a smartphone, a separate bathroom with motion-activated lights, a solar panel on the roof, a satellite dish and a WiFi router. And a cuddly toy. Probably.

But the reason why it catches my eye – even in a week when a Welshman got into serious trouble for breaking 33 speed limits in a rented Lamborghini while on holiday – is because it surely is a much better bet for travel lovers than its smaller California sibling. Forget the fact that the older offering’s a bit of a campsite fashion statement and the direct descendant of the hippy-endorsed VW campers of the Sixties, because the brutal truth is that it’s still bit cosy if there are more than two of you staying in it.

Basing the Grand California on the rather larger Crafter – so essentially, it’s a Mercedes Sprinter van given the full Kirsty ‘n’ Phil treatment – sounds like a much more sensible idea, because you’ll be able to chill out in your air-conditioned rear quarters and catch up with Netflix while folk in smaller VW campers are still banging their heads on the roof.

The only thing Volkswagen hasn’t announced on the Grand California is the price – but you can expect it to be rather more than the £46,625 its smaller brother starts at. Maybe I can apply for a mortgage to cover it…