safety

Fair play to Ford for making the Mustang safer

The pre-facelift Mustang was criticised for its poor crash rating

SUPPOSE you opened a posh restaurant specialising in the sort of gourmet grub that’d make Jamie Oliver envious.

It doesn’t take long to pick up rave reviews aplenty from the foodie set, but a council inspector smells a rat (quite literally) and slaps a poor hygiene rating on the door for the standard of the kitchen. It’s a serious dent in your reputation – but you’ll do everything in your power to put it right again.

Which is pretty much exactly the place Ford’s found itself in with its latest Mustang. Reviewers loved it – me included – for its V8 soundtrack, tempting prices and pert good looks, and it was wonderful to have the American motoring institution over in Blighty for the first time, officially sold through nearby Ford dealers with the steering wheel on the correct side.

But even though you could escape the reality of commuting through Crosby or Crossens on a wet Wednesday morning by turning up the Beach Boys CD in your American muscle car, there’s no way you could get around its fairly dismal safety rating. Regular readers might recall that earlier this year it was given just two stars by the crash test experts at Euro NCAP, in an age where anything less than five stars on your new family saloon is considered a disappointment.

But it’s fair play to Ford for actually listening and doing something about it. It can’t go to all the expense of completely re-engineering the Mustang’s crumple zones, but it’s responded to the criticism by bringing out a lightly facelifted version with vastly improved airbags and a lane assist system as standard.

Naturally the crash testers responded by immediately shoving it face-first into a concrete block – and hey presto, the two-star Mustang is now a three-star Mustang.

Okay, so a three-star rating still isn’t amazing, with Euro NCAP’s boss calling it “unexceptional” but it does show that one of the car industry’s giants cares about your safety. It also proves just how seriously the powers-that-be take crash test results. Two decades ago the Metro scored so poorly it was promptly taken out of production altogether after sales dried up, but the small cars of today, including the latest SEAT Ibiza, are routinely picking up top marks for their teacher’s pet approach to safety.

So the Mustang’s a lot safer than it was before. Which means we can get back to enjoying why we came to that metaphorical restaurant in the first place – four courses of V8 muscle, with the engine for the Focus RS as the vegetarian option. Where’s a waiter when you need one?

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Why one ruined Metro made your car safer

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NORMALLY saving lives involves noble things like vaccinations, charity fundraising and the Heimlich Manouvere. But you wouldn’t think deliberately destroying a Metro would have the same effect.

20 years ago that’s exactly what happened, when some chaps with clipboards and clever cameras gave one (well, a Rover 100 if we’re being picky) a 30mph introduction to a concrete block. Not for a laugh, but in the interests of scientific research. What they discovered sent shockwaves through the car industry.

The car wreckers in question belonged to an organisation called Euro NCAP, which has just celebrated its 20th birthday. Their mission was to mark as many new cars as possible with independent safety ratings, and they gave the poor Metro a miserable one star out of five. The resultant drop in sales meant Rover dropped it altogether a few months later, and ever since Euro NCAP’s findings have been taken very seriously indeed.

The results kept coming. 1990s Volvos weren’t as indestructible as pub wisdom had long dictated. The original Ford Focus wasn’t as good at protecting pedestrians as the Escort that preceded it. The old Chrysler Voyager was a deathtrap, and the G-Wiz electric car might have as well have been made out of cardboard after its appalling crash test performance. Even today Euro NCAP is still unafraid of ruffling the car industry’s feathers, giving Ford’s latest Mustang a dismal two stars when five is increasingly the norm.

But your car’s almost certainly safer as a result. Ever since Renault picked up the first five star rating for its Laguna back in 2001 – and paraded it on every TV, magazine and newspaper ad it could as a result – manufacturers have engaged in a sort of safety arms race to ensure they’re top dog. 

Multiple airbags, ABS, autonomous braking, whiplash-responsive headrests and cleverly designed crumple zones are no longer novel additions to car brochures. They’re everyday motoring addenda, and anyone who doesn’t offer them is shown up in the test results as cheapskates who aren’t that bothered about customer safety.

It’s impossible to calculate how many lives Euro NCAP’s boffins have saved by forcing car companies to smarten up to avoid embarrassing crash test results, but it’s fair to say you stand a much better chance of surviving a 30mph shunt in a new Clio (a five star car) than you would in its 1997 equivalent (just two stars).

So it’s worth thinking about Euro NCAP’s experts next time you go out for a spin. They’ve genuinely moved motoring on – and all it took was one utterly ruined Metro.

Why you should act NOW to save classic car MoT tests

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SO IT’S your lucky day. You’ve won a free pleasure flight in a vintage aircraft over the North West – but when you arrive at the airfield things don’t seem right.

The aircraft in question looks a bit rusty, there’s mould sprouting from the window frames and the engines seem to splutter as she starts up. It looks like something that’s been dragged out of a hedge rather than anything you’d entrust your life with.

So you ask about what safety certificate the old girl has – and sure enough, it doesn’t have one. The pilot tells you it doesn’t need a safety check he’s done all the checks himself and everything’s fine. Or rather he would, but his voice is drowned out by the propellers stuttering and spluttering.

Still going to don those flying goggles, then?

That’s pretty much the exact position the Government wants to put me – and a few hundred thousand other car nuts – in this week. The vintage aviation buffs can bring their letters of complaint to The Champion’s editor to a shuddering halt because I know their aircraft are covered by tight safety legislation, but if Whitehall has its way all cars made before 1977 won’t be. That’s a long list of cars for which an MoT will no longer be necessary.

A list of cars that includes my 1972 MGB GT. I’d happily give you a lift home in it because I know it’s been checked over by experts in a garage at least once a year, and anything nasty they find is quickly rectified, no matter what the cost. But the idea of old cars being allowed to tootle up and down our dual carriageways and motorways with no legal safety check whatsoever is a recipe for disaster.

Sure, there are plenty of classic car owners who are fastidious, have their vehicles checked and lavish whatever attention they need, but it’ll only take one accident caused by an old car with an undiagnosed fault for all hell to break loose. 

I’ve no intention of allowing my beloved MGB out onto Her Majesty’s Highways without the experts giving it the once over first – but under the Government’s proposals I no longer have to. So there’s absolutely nothing to stop some unscrupulous soul dragging a Morris Oxford out of a 30-year slumber, sticking some fresh fuel in it and driving it to the shops.

Yet there’s a very real prospect that MoTs will be dropped entirely for older cars – and if you’re worried about it you’ve barely a month to have your say. There’s a consultation on the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s website, but it closes on November 2.

If you like your classic cars to come with the added thrill of not knowing if a tyre blowout or brake failure is imminent, then do flick through to the sports pages. But if you care about people’s safety, do the right thing and have your say.

Tesla should keep at it with autonomous cars

Tesla is one of the champions of autonomously guided cars

THE LIST of inappropriate things to do during a Harry Potter movie isn’t very long.

My contribution to the ranking happened during a screening of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in one of those old-fashioned cinemas that stops for refreshment intervals mid-flick. The brick-like Nokia in my coat pocket buzzed and – in a moment straight out of Trigger Happy TV – I answered it and rather loudly described to a mate how rubbish I thought the film was. Offending about 60 nearby children in the process.

But it turns out becoming a cinematic pariah is a fairly safe thing to do during a Harry Potter film. Driving a Tesla while watching one, as you might have seen in the news last week, apparently isn’t.

The story – the Tesla incident, not JK Rowling’s fictitious wizard – goes that a chap driving a Model S was so confident of the electric luxury saloon’s autonomous driving mode that he allegedly fired up the in-car TV screen for a quick diversion to Hogwarts. Back in the real world a lorry pulled out in front of his car, and – according to Tesla’s statement on its own website – neither he nor the car’s autopilot picked out the truck’s white trailer against a brightly lit sky in time.

It is – like any fatal car accident – a tragedy that should be learned from in order to reduce the chances of it happening again. The difference is that this one puts the question of how much trust you’re prepared to put into self-driving cars in a whole new perspective.

Only a few weeks ago I argued autonomous cars were a belting idea, and even after this horrific accident I’d still argue the idea has potential. But to suggest that taking drivers out of the picture will spell the end of car accidents is dangerously naïve.

Think about how many times you’re being flown somewhere on autopilot. The chances of being involved in a crash are miniscule compared to being injured or killed in car – even more so when you discount the air crashes that are caused by human error – but there’s still a very remote chance something will happen. Regardless of whether it’s you or the electronics dictating the drive it’s impossible to eliminate the risk completely.

Both the Tesla accident and a crash between one of Google’s self-driving cars and a bus back in March show there’s a lot more work to be done before you can hire your Ford Focus as its own chauffeur. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

If you do like your Harry Potter films, I’d suggest sticking to your sofa for now.

Originally published in the 13 July edition of The Champion

All cars should be limited to 70mph? Nonsense, and here’s why

The Mitsubishi Evo VIII is more than fast enough to get you into trouble..jpgALL CARS – from the Dacia Sandero to McLaren’s new 570GT – should be limited to a top whack of 90mph. Not my opinion, nor that of some Whitehall bureaucrat, but the man who got me into cars in the first place.

You’d like my dad. He’s not, contrary to popular rumour in the motoring world, the John Simister whose prose you’ll find running through the pages of Evo, Autocar and Practical Classics. But he is a petrolhead who loves an old Land Rover and would happily scour an autojumble looking for bits to keep it going.
Yet he put it to me only the other day that it’s pointless any of today’s cars being able to do more than 70mph. Perhaps, after a lot of persuading, he conceded they might have to crack 90mph in some one-in-a-million emergency situation, but no more than that. Not one measly mile an hour. Cars capable of that should be verboten.

Which is, of course, nonsense, and all you need to prove it is a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII FQ-300. It’s exactly the sort of car that appeals solely to speed freaks; the name might make it sound like your office’s next air conditioning system but it knocks out 300bhp and can hit 60mph in under five seconds. It also looks like a boring Japanese saloon and has an interior with more grey than a wet Monday morning in Manchester, so you’re definitely buying it for performance rather than its ability to impress pedestrians.

A mate of mine’s got one, and frequently reminds me it can hit 157mph. Impressive, but suggesting he’ll actually do that on the Formby bypass is a bit like suggesting I’ll go chopping down trees in the Formby pine woods if I buy a top-of-the-range chainsaw.

You can break the law with just about anything if you think creatively enough – but that doesn’t mean we should ban pillows, golf clubs or copies of Coldplay’s more recent albums. The Bugatti Chiron is only as illegal as the squishy bit of mush driving it, and to suggest otherwise is to take a dangerous step into the world of banning things because we might do something with them.

Sorry Dad, but my vote’s with the FQ-300 and appreciating cars for what they’re capable of, not what they’re limited to. Providing they’re driven at no more than 69.9mph, of course…