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…

What the Reliant Scimitar taught me about MoT exemption

A VALIANT quest I set out on last November is nowhere near journey’s end. Over the past few months I’ve been on what feels like an epic voyage through the classified ads – and I still haven’t found the right Reliant Scimitar.

It’s not even casual browsing this time; it’s the serious, hardcore end of the car buying spectrum. I’ve sat for hours on end in front of computers, poring over the tiniest details in online ads. I have gone out and been on test drives. I’ve even, and this is a genuine top tip for anyone thinking of buying an old car, pre-emptively joined the owners’ club to get their help. It’s been three months, and yet I still haven’t found the right one.

I reckon having the patience of a saint and the persistence of a right pain in the proverbials will eventually get me there, of course – but it’s got be the right one. It has to an SE5 or SE5A-series GTE in any colour other than red or black, and it’s crucial that it’s one that’s been cared for.

Nor can it be the one I gave a miss the other day, which proved that changes to the MoT test last summer are a bit of a double-edged sword. Browse the ads for old cars at the moment and there are plenty being advertised as being not only tax-free, but exempt from the annual visit to the garage too. The idea is that it’s a good way of saving money on a car that you might only take out on a couple of sunny Sunday afternoons a year, and no MoT is one less thing to faff with.

So it sounds like it’s a bit of a sales pitch – but it’s also the reason why I gave one Scimitar a swerve entirely. These days you can pop virtually any car registration number into a Government-run website and it’ll tell you all of its mechanical misdemeanours, going back years at a time. It’ll tell you, for instance, that my MX-5 picked up two advisories when it was tested last month and that my Toyota Avensis needed its brakes tweaking, but for the car I checked out there was nothing. Not only no records of previous faults, but no records of it being tested at all. Anywhere. Ever. This, on records going back 15 years.

Don’t get me wrong – it could be a bit of a hidden gem with impeccable underpinnings (in which case, it should have no problem earning an annual ticket anyway). But, given the choice between one old car that’s been looked at on a ramp and has a record of all its little foibles, or one that doesn’t, which would you go for? I didn’t think rolling MoT exemption was a great idea when it was first announced 18 months ago because of all the safety implications, but on this occasion it’s about appealing to my wallet, rather than my conscience. An old car with an MoT, to my mind at least, is better value than one without.

So I’ll continue with my adventures through the car ads for now, thanks. Speaking of which, anyone thinking of flogging a Reliant Scimitar?

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…

Morgan – a very British success story

SUPPOSE Donald Trump – a US president who, whether you love him or loathe him, once vowed to sort out North Korea by chomping on cheeseburgers with Kim Jong-un – starts a nuclear war.

Without wanting to go all When The Wind Blows on you, I reckon there’s a fair chance all of us would be completely obliterated in the subsequent missile exchange – except, of course, the cockroaches.

And Morgan, I’d like to bet. Even in the most ridiculously over-the-top post-apocalyptic scenario I reckon there’ll still be a queue of people cheerily lining up to buy a Plus 4, completely unmoved by whatever’s going on in the wider world because they’re delighted that there’s no longer a seven-year waiting list. The Malvern sports car manufacturer just quietly got on with doing its bit through two World Wars. It shrugged off The Great Depression, the Three Day Week and The Credit Crunch. Where Armstrong-Siddeley, Austin-Healey, Alvis and Ascari have all come and gone (and those are just the defunct Brit carmakers beginning with ‘A’), Morgan’s just carried on regardless.

Which is why I suspect, that in a week when Nissan announced it was pulling X-Trail production from Sunderland, Jaguar Land Rover posted a £3.4 bn quarterly loss and Ford’s global profits dipped by 50 per cent, Morgan’s announced record profits for the third year running. Despite, at it turns out, actually making fewer cars than it did a year ago.

All this even though there are many people – including lots of devoted car nuts – who hate Morgans. There are plenty of perfectly normal, well adjusted people who just don’t understand why you’d spend the best part of forty grand (and that’s the starting price for a 4/4 these days) for a creaky throwback of a car that’s been in production since 1936 and has bits of wood in its construction.

But there are, as it turns out, an equally sizeable army of driving die-hards who really, really love Morgans – me included. If I ever won the Lottery (which is extremely unlikely, given that I don’t play it) I’d be straight on the phone with an order for a 3 Wheeler and a Plus 4. Chances are they’ll be outhandled by any contemporary hot hatch, but that’s missing the point – where else are you going to find a car that feels quite so organic to drive? Morgans are old-fashioned and make you work for your thrills, but that’s why people find them so endearing.

It could happily churn out Plus 4s for the next 1,000 years and people would still be sticking orders in, but instead it’s busy working on a new model – the new ‘wide bodied’ car, which will fit in where the old V8 models left off last year.

I’m glad that Morgan’s on a roll. As long as people are queuing up for quirky sports cars with ash frames, you just know that everything else will be alright…

Why closed roads motor sport would be a win for West Lancashire

I WOULD love to see the day that Lord Street in Southport – which is almost exactly, give or take a few yards, a mile long – is used as a drag strip.

Before you start hammering the keyboard with an indignant email to The Champion’s letters page, expressing your outrage at the sheer stupidity of an elegant shopping thoroughfare being temporarily used for such a low-brow, knuckle-dragging excuse for a weekend’s fun, it’s worth pointing out that Brighton’s been using its seafront for just such a purpose for decades.

What’s more, it’s been much easier to do this sort of thing legally for about two years, since the Government introduced a law allowing event organisers to temporarily close off public roads and use them for motorsport. At the time it was even championed by David Cameron (remember him?), but very few people have taken advantage of it.

But – if a conversation I had the other day with the organisers of the Ormskirk MotorFest was anything to go by – Aintree Circuit Club could be about to. It’s already proven with its annual visit to Ormskirk that people (roughly 15,000 of them, if official counts are anything to go by) are more than happy to watch E-types and Ferraris doing laps of a one-way system, but now it wants to up the stakes and have a fully-fledged, competitive event where cars will really be able to strut their stuff.

It’s not been decided where such an event should take place – although it’s likely to be somewhere a bit quieter than Ormskirk’s one-way system, for all sorts of logistical reasons – but I reckon a properly managed, safety-assessed bit of driving against the clock would be a great way of putting the North West on the petrolhead map. Remember I said that very few people have actually used that change in the law? A couple of event organisers down south and over in North Wales have put their own events on rather successfully, but the only comparable example I can think of is the Coventry MotoFest, which used parts of the city’s ring road for timed sprints. From what I gather, it was a big hit, but there’s nothing in this part of the world that’s comparable.

I can see all sorts of applications (and, if you’re the shy and sensitive type, I suggest you skip this bit and go straight to the Sports page). Half Mile Island in Skem would be perfect – would it possible, given sufficient skill and a tuned Nissan 370Z, to drift it in its entirety in front of a mesmerised audience? Or what about Parbold? The Parbold Hill Climb has a lovely ring to it – in yer face, Shelsley Walsh!

Obviously, I fully suspect that anything that does materialise will be at least a little bit more sensible (and fully risk assessed, of course). But anyone does have a valid economic case for closing off Lord Street for the afternoon – and a burning desire to find out whether a Nissan GT-R would be quicker than a 911 GT3 RS in a straight line – just tell them that I sent you…

Why the mid-sized Vauxhall you need isn’t this one

IF YOU’RE reading this in The Champion – as opposed to having it beamed into your eyes by a laptop or smartphone – then you’re already way ahead of me. There is still a sizable constituency of normal people who like doing things the old-fashioned way, and that includes getting your weekly motoring fix through a proper, printed newspaper.

There are plenty of us who still prefer to ring people up rather than WhatsApping them, bemoan the fact that Tesco is trying to ditch its deli counters and were quite happy with just the four channels on their analogue TVs (I suspect there are still a few poor souls out there still trying to tune into Channel 5, even now).

I know this because at the last count, when it comes to Europe-wide sales that include both Vauxhall and its continental Opel cousin, the Astra still comfortably outsold the Mokka. Which, on the face of it, shouldn’t really make sense.

The Mokka X, to give it its full name, is Vauxhall swiping right at just about every Millennial would-be buyer it finds – it’s a petite crossover with the same sort of cutesy styling that makes the Corsa such a big hit with younger drivers, it’s easy to park and get in and out of, and it has the sort of high driving position and bags of interior space that make its Juke and Captur counterparts such big sellers. The Astra, on the other hand, is the seventh generation of a sensible family hatchback that’s been around since The Jam’s Going Underground was top of the charts. Your dad probably had an Astra. And your granddad too, for that matter.

But having spent a couple of days driving around in both it’s not hard to suss why more of you are still driving around in Astras. It’s a better car.

I know that, yes, technically the bigger and newer Grandland X is the closer relative to the Astra, but it’s also more expensive – whereas the Astra and Mokka I drove both had turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engines, similar equipment levels and cost a shade under £22,000. The Mokka X is the more 2019-relevant of the two, but the Astra has a bigger boot, a smoother ride, better composure through the corners and is much nicer to drive. It’s also easier to see out of – Vauxhall evidently listened to everyone who moaned about the enormous A-pillars on the outgoing Astra – and, for what’s supposed to be a dowdy old five-door hatch, it’s still rather easy on the eye.

I know that crossovers are meant to be the future but I reckon you ignore the good, old-fashioned Astra at your peril. I’m sure it’ll still be around in another 39 years’ time. As will The Champion, of course…

£1000 workplace charges are a great idea – if you live in London, and that’s about it

THERESA May is definitely the most Prog Rock Prime Minister that Britain’s ever had. Regardless of whether you voted Remain or Leave you’ve got to hand it to her; the outro for Brexit is way longer than anything Genesis or Pink Floyd could have rustled upSo I’m mightily relieved that over the weekend – day 4,372,918 of discussions over the nation’s EU departure, to be exact – the national press had something other than Theresa’s comeback gig to tune into, and just to get things off politics it was motoring-themed, too.

Nope, not whether it’s right that a 97-year-old who pulled out in front of some suspecting drivers should be told off for being spotted not wearing a seatbelt barely a day after being involved in a horrendous collision. Or the shock discovery that the husband of Her Majesty the Queen is given a Land Rover Freelander – a car that’s been out of production for nearly five years – to tootle about in.

In fact, the thing that got quite a lot of people wound up was some AA research revealing that at least ten local councils are considering introducing charges on workplaces with more ten parking spaces that works out roughly at a grand a year, per person. It worked a treat in Nottingham – so now Edinburgh, Glasgow and parts of London are playing with the idea too.

Go for it, London – you can handle it, if your swanky DLR, Crossrail and Croydon tram network is anything to go by, and I reckon Glasgow and Edinburgh are well connected enough to make it worth their while, too. But I can’t imagine that the mate of mine who drives half an hour from Birkdale into Rainford every morning would be terribly thrilled at having to fork out an extra £1000 for the privilege – or face a journey that’s three times longer, massively more expensive and which he has to take all his tools on the bus with him. Equally, I’d love to take the train rather than the car into work from the quiet market town where I live – if trains and buses ran that early.

Parking levies only work if people have a realistic choice in the matter. I’m sure it’s fine if you live in Bootle and work in the middle of Liverpool, but what if you live in a small village in one of the remoter bits of West Lancashire? The AA called the plans a Poll Tax on Wheels but I’d go further than that – it’s picking on people who, I’d put my not-terribly-well-connected house on, are driving into work because that’s the only option they have.

The only crumb of comfort is that it’s something that’s only being considered by individual councils rather that being a nationwide, blanket charge that’s been dreamt up in Whitehall – but then I suspect that the Government’s a bit busy with other things right now.

Like reminding Prince Philip that it’s about time for him to replace his Freelander with a Discovery Sport, for starters…

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…

Why I’ve ruined 2019’s most exciting new car

IT’S A SLIGHTLY strange child who gives the Ford Puma pride of place on their bedroom wall, beside the Ferrari F355, Lamborghini Diablo and TVR Cerbera.But this isn’t just any old bedroom wall – it’s mine, circa 1996. I mention this curious gallery of petrolhead goodness, where even a Wannabe-era Geri Haliwell didn’t make an appearance because there were so many cars to peruse, since price, fuel economy, MPG and insurance groups didn’t matter one jot. A car just had to look great and have a certain panache about it, so a tiny Fiesta-based coupe which later developed a horrendous reputation for wheelarch rot made it up there.

But were I to have a pint-sized Simister nurturing a passion for cars I’m not sure any of today’s more affordable offerings would qualify for a few inches of bedroom wall real estate. I had a look through some of the new cars due to hit the showrooms later in 2019 and once you dip into the real world realms of cars that aren’t an Aston Martin Valkyrie or Aventador SVJ there’s an endless succession of anonymous crossovers. Even the Polestar 1 – which looks like a posh Volvo, because essentially it is one – is expected to cost upwards of £100,000

But there is one that I’m really, really looking forward to. The Honda Urban EV has a delightfully Ronseal name – it’s an electric city car made by the chaps who brought you the Jazz – but it’s so much more than that. When it struck a pose at the world’s motor shows about 18 months ago it made so many jaws drop that it was promptly named as 2018’s World Concept Car of the Year, and since then Honda has said that it’ll appear, virtually unchanged, in showrooms here as a fully-fledged production model.

Good. There are plenty of electric cars out there that’ll do everything you ask of them (which is why UK sales were up 69 per cent in 2018), but only the endearingly bonkers but utterly impractical Renault Twizy and the lovely-but-pricey Jaguar I-Pace have even registered on the Simister want-one radar. With the Urban EV there might be a third, because it looks like it’s escaped from the set of Ready Player One.

It has that reimagined Eighties look that’s so in vogue at the minute completely nailed; take the ‘H’ badge off it and I’d swear the chunky, bluff-fronted grille, round headlights, skinny window pillars and tight proportions screamed MkI Golf. In fact, I can just imagine the Urban EV with a red stripe around the edges of the grille and a GTI badge on the back! Inside it’s brave too – two benches instead of individual seats, and a huge, touch screen slab rather than a dashboard.

In fact, there’s only one problem – the Renault Wind, Toyota IQ and Nissan Cube were also uncompromisingly brave small cars that won me over, and none of them were exactly sales hits here. So I’ve essentially, if precedent for praising small cars in these pages is anything to go by, just given the Urban EV the kiss of death.

Sorry about that, Honda. I really hope I’m wrong this time!