Opinion

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?

Advertisements

Why the Renault Captur made me learn to love buttons

BUTTONS. Until this week I didn’t realise how fundamentally important they are to my happy, wholesome life – but an outing in a Renault Captur changed all that.

Not only are buttons fairly important in keeping my shirts intact and preventing any unfortunate colleagues from being treated to an Austin Powers-esque helping of unwanted chest hair, they’ve also given their name to one of my favourite chocolate snacks. Buttons also provided the premise for the brilliantly barmy spacefaring children’s show Button Moon – admit it, you watched it too – and allow you to switch everything from calculators to Sony Playstations on and off.

But the Captur – and to be fair, just about every family hatchback on offer these days – doesn’t have nearly enough of them, because it relies on an infotainment system with a touchscreen to manage all the vaguely important stuff. Which is great when you want a screen with satnav directions built into it, but an utter nightmare when you’re trying to do anything remotely complicated.

I was in the passenger seat when a colleague asked me to switch off the Captur’s audible speed camera alert. Its occasional beep is a useful feature to have, but on a stretch of the M1 with a camera seemingly every three feet Radio 2 was being drowned out by what sounded like a drunk communicating in Morse code. Shutting it up should’ve been a simple task, but the Captur’s infotainment system is so complicated that I ended up buried in sub menus of sub menus, desperately tapping every option to stop the incessant beeping.

I opened the glovebox up to find an empty space where the owner’s manual would normally live; it later turned out this would’ve been useless anyway, because while a handbook deciphering the infotainment system’s various modes does exist it wouldn’t have been supplied with our car anyway.

So I ended up looking online, finding the Renault Captur Owners’ Club – no, really – and learning, after scrolling through many pages on its advice forum, the correct way of navigating the system’s labyrinth of options to turn the speed camera alerts off. Success, but it’d taken nearly 20 minutes and every ounce of my concentration to crack it. Had I’d been driving, I’d either be dead or somewhere near Dundee by now.

The other problem is that I have no problem with swiping through the touch screen on my smartphone because it isn’t attached to something that’s jolting its way down a badly surfaced motorway at 70mph. There are lots of different systems plumbed into all sorts of cars nowadays – I drove a Peugeot 308 last weekend for instance, which was fine – but the Captur’s controls made things surprisingly tricky. Not great on a car that has quite a choppy ride to begin with.

The Captur has many things to commend it, but most of all I applaud its ability to make me appreciate buttons. Buttons are underrated, and don’t take 20 minutes to work out. And anyway, can you imagine your kids watching Touchscreen Moon?

I would love the Alpine A110 to be European Car of the Year – but history is against it

ONLY in an age of boss of Nissan-Renault being under arrest, Volkswagen suggesting cable ties as a fix for broken seatbelts and a former Top Gear star vowing to quit TV for good if he wins I’m A Celebrity can European Car of the Year be considered a bit ho-hum.

The seven-strong shortlist was announced on Monday and – from what I could see, at least – seemed to barely register a faint blip on the nation’s motoring radar. Part of me likes to think it’s because fewer of us care what motoring experts in Sweden or Spain make of the continental car choices when we’re busy trying to order a Full English Brexit, but I suspect it’s got rather a lot more to do with history not being in their favour. The Renault 9, the 1982 victor which is all but forgotten now, being a prime example.

There are many, many examples of the 60-strong panel of motoring writers – proper, learned scholars of the profession who fuss over mid-range torque and intuitive infotainment systems in the same way I worry about MGs with dead batteries – getting it right. They called it right on the first Focus, a genuine game-changer among family hatchbacks, for instance, and the Rover P6 that won the contest’s very first outing is fondly remembered as a brilliant bit of British design. But every time I look back at the Peugeot 307 picking up the plaudits in 2002 or the me-too VW Polo beating the radical Toyota IQ to the top spot in 2010, I cringe a bit, because it just smacks of going for the best all-rounder rather than the one that genuinely moves the cause of the car forward.

This year’s contenders are – deep breath – the Alpine A110, Citroen’s C5 Aircross, Ford’s latest Focus, the Jaguar i-Pace, the Kia Cee’d, the Mercedes A-Class and Peugeot’s 508. I would love to see the 60-strong jury devour a crate of wine between them, throw all caution to the wind and go for the sports car, which is what they did 40 years ago when the Porsche 928 won. But I’m happy to bet that won’t happen (and I’ll happily write a column in The Champion eating my words if it does and the Alpine does a Leicester City).

If it were up to me it’d be the I-Pace strutting home with the silverware, because it’s an eco-friendly, on-message electric car that just happens to look and handle like a Jaguar should, and to hell with the fact you need the thick end of £60,000 to afford one. But it isn’t, so I reckon the smart money’s on either the Aircross or the 508, both of which are perfectly worthy but a bit forgettable.

Whatever happens, we’ll have to wait ‘til next March to find out the winner. In a TV special presented by Noel Edmonds, I’d imagine…

The future of motoring is not an electric SEAT scooter

MY FEET have, I reckon, just about recovered. The one thing that always sticks with me after seeing the 3000 cars at the Classic Motor Show every November are the blister plasters. It’s a brilliant show, but it takes a lot of walking to get around it all.

Happily, the boffins at SEAT have been working on a solution (which is weird, because I’ve been to Barcelona’s classic show, and it’s nowhere near as big as ours). Turn up to a big car event – or indeed, any supermarket, school fun day or any other outing that involves a long walk at the end – in one of their cars and you’ll be able to turn to their, ahem, “electric urban mobility solution”.

That’s how SEAT’s top team of engineers have put it, but in Layman’s English it’s a folding electric scooter. Which, as far as I can make out, brilliantly answers a question that nobody’s ever asked.

The eXS KickScooter, to give SEAT’s newest offering its full name, responds to what the Spanish carmaker reckons is a growing demand for people, fed up with being stuck in traffic jams, to ditch their Ibizas and Atecas and do the last mile of their journey on something else. Anything else. Yet surely, if it’s a single, measly mile, you’d just walk?

Aha! SEAT have already thought of that. The KickScooter can, on a full charge, actually crack closer to 25 miles, but if you were going to do the equivalent of Southport to Crosby and back, there’s no way you’re going to do it on anything that looks as ridiculous as this. You’d either do it in the car or, if traffic really were that consistently awful, on any number of Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki or Piaggio scooters designed from the off with that task in mind. Even if you lived in the busiest bits of Central London – which you don’t, because you’re a Champion reader – you’d give all this electric folding scooter stuff a steer, park up at Cockfosters and hop on the Piccadilly Line.

Happily, I realised there is a scenario where the eXS KickScooter makes perfect sense. I was in Edinburgh the other day and needed to get from one part of Scotland’s capital city to the other, minus the use of a car, and it was a long walk from the nearest bus stop. Here I’d have killed to get my hands on a SEAT scooter – because I’d left my car 300 miles away and got the train up instead.

So, it’s a motoring spin-off that only works if you don’t have a car. I’ll stick to the Leon Cupra and the occasional stroll, if you don’t mind…

The Reliant Robin isn’t technically a proper car – but I still love it

I’VE JUST got back from three days of exploring the national classic car show – where one question seemed to be asked more than any other. What’s it like driving a Reliant Robin?

Regular readers might remember earlier this year I snapped one up for £600, and promptly discovered that virtually all of it was broken. It’s taken several months of frustrating repairs to get the little three-wheeler up and running again, but now that it’s through the MoT I can finally reveal the answer.

Or rather, I was about to, but then the radiator decided to drop all of its coolant across a busy dual carriageway, prompting a tail-between-legs phone call to the fourth emergency service and a lengthy roadside repair. Then it needed a boxful of bits and a morning with a timing gun because it was richer than Donald Trump and coughing like Theresa May at a political party conference. So you probably get already that the Reliant Robin is a proper classic car – the sort that people enjoy tinkering with on a Sunday morning. Or in a layby at rush hour.

But then I – by which I mean the talented folk at the Reliant Owners’ Club – finally got my £600 three-wheeler to behave like a car and I could finally go for a proper drive. I’m now happy to report that it’s addictively good fun to buzz around in.

Anyone who’s seen a certain episode of Top Gear would be forgiven for thinking that every corner is a rollover-in-waiting but it just isn’t true. A Robin that’s set up properly will happily flick through roundabouts or through even quite tight bends perfectly happy, and is only going to throw you into a hedge if you really muck about it.

In fact, the bigger problem is Britain’s proliferation of potholes. You end up hitting them a third more of them than you would in a normal car, and if it’s the front wheel that hits one the ride’s particularly unpleasant. So you end up driving it constantly thinking about where the middle of the car is, which is strangely rewarding because it encourages you to really think about your driving to get the best out of it.

But it’s worth it because the steering – which only has the one wheel to control, of course – is light and nimble, the gearchange is wonderfully direct and the engine loves to rev. In fact, it’ll comfortably overtake things on a motorway at seventy, even if the 850cc lump next to your left knee is doing about a million RPM.

It might be noisy and have a habit of breaking down, but it’s a car that’s overflowing with character. Which makes it more than alright in my book.

The Porsche 911 makes no sense – and as a result makes complete sense

There have been many different 911s over the years - and none of them truly make sense

WHO remembers Cheesy Peas?

It was a fictional delicacy popularised on Nineties funny-fest The Fast Show – and, to my mind at least, shorthand for anything that sounds inherently wrong but actually ends up working unexpectedly well. Go on, admit it. Cheesy Peas sounds like a stomach-churning concept but I bet you’d happily wolf it down if it was served with sausage and chips after a cold November night out. It makes about as much sense as Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five being played over a fight scene in Deadpool 2 or Jeremy Clarkson being given Chris Tarrant’s old gig on Who Wants to be a Millionaire – yet all these baffling concepts somehow work.

The Porsche 911 is very Cheesy Peas. Any car nut who knows their stuff is educated from an early age that a sports car has its engine up the front, some wheelspin at the back and a driver grinning childishly somewhere in the middle, yet the chaps in Stuttgart decided to launch one with all the important gubbins at the rear. It’s all out of sync, yet in Porsche’s 70th anniversary year it went so far to refer to the 911 as “our icon” in its own business assessment.

Having now driven one for the first time, I have to agree. There have been all sorts of 911s over the years but the car I was entrusted with was a 1970 model, which represents a sweet spot between Porsche realising it’d cocked up the original car slightly but before it started adding turbos, four-wheel drive, wider bodywork and water-cooled engines into the mix. So it has a 2.2-litre flat six rather than the two-litre, and a slightly longer wheelbase to tame the original’s appetite for lift-off oversteer.

It is the oddest sports car experience, yet it really works. With no mechanicals weighing down the front wheels the steering feels super-light, yet it’s packed with feel, and while it’s a bit weird hearing a boxer engine fire up behind you, it’s hard to deny that it revs beautifully and pulls – sorry, pushes – really well. You also sit far too close to the windscreen, the steering and pedals are offset, the dashboard layout is a complete mess, and yet it all adds up to a package that’s weirdly addictive.

So I’m not even remotely surprised that for all the attempts to replace it with the 928 and decades-long process of little improvements that Porsche’s mainstay is still a car that has a boxer engine slug out miles between some barely usable rear seats. Sometimes things don’t have to make sense to be enjoyable, and long may it continue sticking two fingers up at motoring convention.

Stranger things have happened, after all. Cheesy Peas have been made into a Jamie Oliver-endorsed real-life recipe, for instance…

Why the Citroen C4 Picasso makes total sense in today’s Britain

The C4 Picasso might not be the sharpest MPV through the bends, but David thinks it's all the better for it

I DON’T mind saying it. I’m a bit slower than I used to be.

Not in the sense that I’m no longer any good at the brainteasers Channel 4 chucks at me during the commercial breaks on Countdown or that I no longer know how many were going to St Ives – but that it takes longer to cover ground, no matter what the car. Regardless of whether I’m in a Suzuki Celerio or the new McLaren Speedtail, the age of 50mph average speed restrictions that go on for ten miles at a time have seen to that.

Not that it matters one jot, because speed isn’t the luxury it used to be. Do the one percent jet across the globe in three hours on Concorde? Nope, because these days they can do it overnight in an A380 first class cabin that’s better equipped than most hotel suites. The sleeper trains to Cornwall and the Scottish Highlands have been kitted out with more upmarket furnishings because the operators know plenty of folk are happy to fork out for the hotel-on-rails experience. Making the journey more enjoyable, rather than quicker, is where the smart money is these days.

Which is probably why I emerged from Citroen’s latest C4 Picasso with a content smile the other day. It might be a distant relative of the Peugeot 5008 that I tried a few months ago, but unlike that car it doesn’t pretend to be a chunky off-roader – this unashamedly sets out its stall as a people carrier, and feels all the better for it.

Nope it’s not the most razor-edge family bus through the corners but it handles capably enough, with the reward instead being a soft, supple ride. Visibility is excellent – no turgid, safety-paranoid A-pillars here – and the full-length panoramic glass roof makes it feel like something like out of Grand Designs inside. You can slide the sun visor mountings back into the headlining too, to give you even more light through that massive windscreen.

Kevin McCloud would approve of how avantgarde and well appointed it is inside too – I love the dashboard plastics and the way all the dials have been moved into a single digital slab on the centre of the dashboard, including a strip-style speedometer reminiscent of what your granddad had in his Rover P6. The seats heat up and give you massages too – and the front passenger one comes with a leg rest not entirely like something you’d get on a living room recliner.

I even like the way it looks – those headlights make it seem like it’s squinting at you with faint disapproval, as if to say you’re an idiot for buying an SUV instead. In fact, the only real chink in its armour is that something this massive really ought to have seven seats – for that you’d need its Grand Picasso sibling, which doesn’t look as good.

So there you go – I’m championing an MPV because I think it’s a bit of a looker. Maybe I am a bit slower than I used to be…

The new Top Gear presenters? I’d rather have Chris Evans

Chris Evans fronted Top Gear for a single season but was already known for organising the CarFest shows 2.jpg

PADDY McGuinness and Freddie Flintoff presenting Top Gear? Yeah, right.

The fact that I initially responded to this week’s big news – admittedly delivered secondhand by a mate rather than through any vaguely official news source – as someone taking the mick pretty much sums up what I made of the situation.

Yet there it was on the programme’s official website, complete with a photo of the pair posing with Chris Harris and a freshly polished Porsche 911. Obviously, it was some elaborate publicity stunt by the Beeb, and there’d be a hyperlink somewhere directing me to that ancient internet meme with that shot of Leonardo DeCaprio from The Great Gatsby, winking smugly at you as he clinks a glass of Martini. ‘ONLY JOKING!’, it’d scream in enormous white lettering, and we’d all have a good giggle.

Except it didn’t. I’m sure that Paddy and Freddie are both entertaining blokes who’d buy you a pint if you bumped into them a pub and asked them nicely enough, but that shouldn’t be nearly enough to land them the biggest gig in petrolhead-dom. I can only assume that the Take Me Out star has an innate knowledge of lift-off oversteer and the ability to make variable valve timing sound interesting, because Britain’s biggest motoring brand is about to take a massive hit on its credibility if he doesn’t.

It matters because, for all its form for deliberately setting caravans on fire and cartoonish mystery racing driving drivers, Top Gear is still a respected name with clout with the people who make cars, people who work with them and yes, you, the people who buy them. It’s no longer be the place to go if you want to know if the current Astra’s any good but it can still do authoritative as much as entertaining – and that’s because the people fronting it had genuine credibility.

In its mid-Noughties heyday it was fronted by a bloke from Performance Car, a chap who used to present Men & Motors and someone who once got fired from Autocar ­– yep, that’s Clarkson, Hammond and May. You might have found Chris Evans annoying in his single series at the helm but he’s a classic collector who founded and organised his own car show, and Chris Harris has been writing for evo and putting together YouTube clips on cars seemingly since time immemorial. Even Matt LeBlanc has spent an eternity collecting cars and hanging around F1 races.

So I worry that putting two presenters who are massively popular but don’t appear to have any motoring background – even the best thing the official Top Gear statement could reassure us with is that McGuinness is “a massive fan” of the show – is a step entirely in the wrong direction. The next season is the last with the current LeBlanc-led presenting trio, but with Paddy and Freddie taking over and the excellent Rory Reid demoted back to the Extra Gear spinoff, Chris Harris will have a lot of work to do to convince people it’ll still be a show that deserves to be taken seriously.

Me watching it? Yeah, right.

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.

The new London taxi – probably the best car you’ll never drive

It might look traditional but the new black cab is very high tech

AWFULLY sorry, readers. I’ve quite openly failed this week to provide the sort of sensible consumer advice The Champion sticks up for – because the most eye-opening car I’ve driven in years is one which you’re unlikely to ever hop behind the wheel of.

Not that it’s some decadent chunk of carbon fibre supercar or a leather-lined saloon fit for the reserved spaces in the company, although it does cost £55,500 – about the same as a high-end E-Class or A6. In fact the reason why you’re unlikely to ever end up in the front seat is that the whole point is to experience it from the back – because it’s the new London taxi.

Apparently there are three LECV TXs plying their trade on Merseyside but the London Electric Vehicle Company – as the black cab’s makers are now officially known – is already ramping up production, so chances are that one will end up ferrying you home after last orders in the near future. Even if you’ve had an entire evening’s worth of real ale, the back’s a nice place to be, with a panoramic glass roof, in-built WiFi zone and a little gadget to accept contactless card payments without having to stretch towards the driver. It’s also the first black cab that allows wheelchair users to sit facing forward rather than sideways – the sort of stuff that matters when it’s a tenner a ride.

But it’s actually at the business end where things get really clever. The new arrival only weighs 100kg more than the outgoing TX4 black cab but it’s stuffed full of batteries and electric motors rather than a clunky old turbodiesel. It’ll glide about for 120 silent miles, so that any conversations you force on your passengers about how the country’s going to pot won’t be interrupted.

What about the chap in the suit who wants you to drive him to Leeds – and to hell with the cost? No problem – there’s a petrol-powered 1.5-litre engine for back-up, and although it sounds a bit like a very quiet air con unit when it kicks in it’ll still plod happily up the M62 at 70mph. You can also charge the batteries up to 80 per cent in just 25 minutes – and reassuringly, it still looks like a black cab.

Yet the reason why it’s such an eye-opener is because no car the size of a Range Rover Sport should have a turning circle that’d make a Smart owner jealous. You hop in and you have the sort of high-up driving position you’d expect from a Transit van, and yet everything feels light and effortless. It’s quiet, handles far better than anything its considerable size really ought to and the way the electric motor and petrol-back up works feels wonderfully natural. Get the hang of the engine braking and you can almost drive it using one pedal.

Back in the day you had to be either a fully-fledged cabbie or Stephen Fry to want to spend hours at a time driving a black cab. But even without a single fare to pick up I’d happily have the new one – it’s that good. That’s sensible consumer advice, surely?