Ford Escort

You wouldn’t settle for an old motor – so why should rail commuters?

LUCKY YOU. You did well at school, landed a decent job, worked your way up to managing a small team of talented colleagues…and you can finally afford BMW’s new 1-Series.

It’s an exciting prospect. The 1-Series might have traded in its party trick – being the only rear-driven kid in a class of me-too hatchbacks letting the front wheels do all the work – but it’s better packaged, better built and very nearly to nice to punt down a sweeping B-road as the old one. It’s also, at £279 a month on personal contract hire for a 118i Sport, tantalisingly within reach.

But imagine if, having stuck down your deposit, the sharp-suited man from the BMW showroom dropped off an Austin Maestro instead. Yes, the five-door hatch that took the fight to Ford’s Escort and Vauxhall’s second-generation Astra, and endorsed 35 years ago by a youthful-looking Noel Edmonds in some rather excitable TV ads. You’d be pretty peeved, right?

“Ahhh, awfully sorry sir”, the chap from BMW might say. “Your new 1-Series isn’t quite ready yet. It’ll be ready early next year, we can assure you, but we wanted to make sure you can still get to work in the mornings. Yes, we know it went out of production 25 years ago, but it’s still a five-door, front-wheel-drive hatchback, and it’s great on fuel.”

“But it’s a Maestro, for heaven’s sake,” you protest loudly. “It’s nothing like a 1-Series….and more to the point, I’m paying £279 a month for it!”

The response is polite, but firm. “It’s all we’ve got, sir.”  

“Haven’t you got a MINI Cooper – you make those as well, right? What about an old 3-Series? I used to have a secondhand 335d, and I loved it. Couldn’t you get me one of those instead?”

“I’m sorry, sir. All of our other BMWs and MINI Coopers have been reserved for people in London and the South East. You live in the North of England. All we have for people in the North…are Maestros.”

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that this would never, ever happen at your nearest BMW showroom…but something not entirely dissimilar is happening to a lot of people who, for whatever reason, choose to commute by train rather than at the helm of a new 1-Series. They’ve been promised new trains to replace the frankly rubbish ex-British Rail Pacers on their regular journeys into work – and now they’ve been told they have to put up with them until at least early 2020, and probably longer.

In much the same way that I actually rather like the Maestro but would understand entirely that you wouldn’t want to trade in your Golf GTD or Audi A1 for one, the Pacer deserves recognition for propping up rural communities a generation ago, and a genteel retirement on a heritage railway line somewhere. But to continue inflicting them on people who think an iPhone 6 is old hat is just mean. Especially when they’re paying for something newer and better.

As much as I love old British Leyland engineering it winds me up immensely every time I see one of these noisy, shaky, cramped and non-wheelchair-friendly excuses for a train creaking into a station in front of a crowd of depressed-looking commuters.

This, or a 1-Series? It’s a no-brainer. In fact, given the choice, I’d take the Maestro over a Pacer too…

Forget the weather – the Ormskirk MotorFest had all the right cars


IT’D TAKE more spin than a wayward TVR to pretend otherwise, so I might as well deal with the rather damp elephant in the room first. Last weekend’s Ormskirk MotorFest was a bit of a washout.

West Lancashire’s Bank Holiday homage to horsepower has had it lucky right from that inaugural outing way back in 2011 to last year’s event, becoming Ormskirk’s single biggest trading day in the process, but the winning streak with the weather had to run out eventually. The town centre displays looked as striking as ever but the crowds that turned out to see them were rather smaller than in previous years, and during the afternoon parades what would normally be heaving crowds behind the barriers turned out to be a  gathering of brolly-wielding onlookers braving the awful weather. Turnout was down too, with some car and bike owners deciding it wasn’t worth the soaking.

But if you didn’t go you missed a treat, because on a day defined entirely by the downpours there were plenty of rays of automotive sunshine.

There was, for instance, Pauline Ryding’s delightfully daft Dodge Viper GTS, which I admired principally because it attempted to deafen me every time it thundered past the commentary box – but even that wasn’t a patch on the stock car parade, the most vocal of which had Chevy and Chrysler V8s doing their bidding. I also couldn’t help but smile when Ian Williams’ Triumph TR3A and David Grant-Wilkes’ MG TC whizzed their way around Ormskirk’s one-way system, roofs down despite the constant downpours, because that’s how leaky old British sports cars are supposed to be driven. Then there were the concours entrants, which fellow old car nut and motor sport commentating legend Neville Hay and I had the joy of judging over a rather damp two hours. George Cross’ meticulously maintained Ford Escort – which has covered just 12,000 miles in 41 years – was a deserving winner, but I couldn’t help having a soft spot for Tony Bates’ Datsun 260Z and Damian Lynch’s Ferrari 330.

But the one that really caught my eye, even in a show dominated by the plucky and British, was something chic and French. Edward Bernand’s 1965 Panhard wasn’t only wonderful to look at but the culmination of a 32-year-restoration, courtesy of an owner who’s cherished it for 50 years. What’s more, because Edward finally finished restoring the car last year this was its first-ever outing in Ormskirk – for me, it was the star of the show.

So even when the MotorFest doesn’t have the weather on its side it can still chuck a few genuinely exciting cars in Ormskirk’s direction. As for next year, maybe if we all chip in we can get the council to stick a giant umbrella above Coronation Park. Just a thought!