TO ANY of you who saw me running like a nutter down Blackpool’s seafront at around 9pm last Wednesday night; I’m sorry.
Members of the Southport and Ormskirk District Mini Club had journeyed up to the see the resort’s world famous illuminations, and because my very own Mini is currently on strike, I was their designated photographer.
The resulting photos are very arty (by which I mean rubbish):
And a few more highlights from a true Mini adventure...
If you would like to see your classic event feature in Life On Cars, get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, 26 October 2009
Friday, 23 October 2009
DID you know that we Brits buy more open-top sports cars than the French, the Germans and the Spanish put together?
Racy roadsters are big business these days, so I was glad to get taken for a spin last week in one of my favourite British sports cars; Mazda's MX-5. I appreciate that it's actually made by robots in Hiroshima, but in terms of its concept it's about as English as cramming sausages, bacon and eggs onto the same plate.
I like the little MX-5 a lot - and given that it's the world's best-selling roadster, so do lots of you - but the whole wind/hair experience got shattered by one of my co-driver's comments. As much as we both love the MX-5, he reckoned it made us look like a gay couple.
Why? I've got lots of gay friends, and as far as I know, none of them drive MX-5s, or any other convertible for that matter. Yet it's still one of the most tired clichés in the motoring world.
Top Gear viewers probably remember a piece a few years ago trying to find the manliest sports car (Triumph TR6, if anyone's wondering) but I really don't know why anyone actually cares. I know convertible connoisseurs often care more for image than engineering, but how can a car possibly reveal anything about your sexual orientation?
I love open-top sports cars for the traditional thrills they give you, so the last thing on my mind is whether I look like a prat or not. As long as your choice of wheels does what you want it to and keeps you happy, even in a humdrum, it-gets-me-to-the-shops sort of way, surely that's all that matters.
There's been lots of occasions when I've actually looked at getting one of the original MX-5s outside my home, and that's simply because I think it's a cheap car that'll give you a thrilling time on a country lane without breaking down, and not because of how it looks or what it says about me.
My girlfriend, I reckon, probably agrees with me.
Monday, 19 October 2009
I MET a cyclist once who managed to get from Merseyside to Carlisle in twelve hours.
I mention this because I've just completed the return journey, but I had a broken car and some breakdown trucks instead. Despite having the M6 and the fourth emergency service at my disposal, my ride home took ten hours.
Admittedly the cyclist in question was made almost entirely of Lycra and bits of string but I'm still dumbstruck how it took the AA team just slightly less time to rescue and recover me.
While I'm not exactly a stranger to breakdown crews - my car is almost three decades old, after all - I'm used to the boys in yellow being a smiley service, who send you texts to keep you updated and apologise profusely if they're more than a minute late.
In the adverts they even sing, with some poor soul in a dead Vauxhall being serenaded by the company's entire workforce (although curiously, you never saw the car getting mended).
But last Sunday they sounded more Simon Cowell than Susan Boyle, with their lorry arriving four and a half hours after that first phone call. Even then, the car wasn't going anywhere, because the poor driver had just clocked off and needed a cuppa. That'll be another 45 minutes, then.
Yet what wound me up most of all was that we weren't even going to Southport - we were headed for a service station, somewhere on the M6, where I'd have to change trucks. I'm used to changing at Lime Street station, but between two yellow lorries somewhere near Charnock Richard is something else. Naturally, the second driver had just clocked off too.
I don't blame the truckers - in fact they were really were soldiers of fortune - but the rest of the AA-Team failed their mission this week. The dead motor eventually croaked onto my driveway at 8.30pm, a depressing ten-and-a-half hours after I first called them.
I think I might take the Raleigh Chopper next time.
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
IN an odd move for a journalist, I'm actually thinking I might sue the entire motor industry for harassment.
Why else would almost every single carmaker bombard me with press releases about electric cars for weeks on end? I wouldn't mind normally, but until (Flash) Gordon Brown sorts out the infrastructure, vehicles that run on volts rather than V8s are about as relevant as inflatable dartboards.
I've actually got to the point where I'm bored of reading about them, and long for the day someone revives TVR or reinvents Rover as a maker of big, beefy cars. I know these cars aren't exactly PC, but at least they don't take sixteen hours to recharge.
However, the carmakers think differently, and are determined that you read up on all their upcoming electromobiles. I've done just that, so you don't have to:
Mitsubishi I Miev: Amp-happy version of its quirky supermini, but police version (pictured) not exactly a hot tip for high speed car chases.
Peugeot iOn: As above, but with Peugeot top 'n' tail treatment. Am not convinced.
Audi e-tron: Electric version of the R8 supercar presumably tailored for Bladerunner remake.
Volkswagen E-Up: Version of Up concept car presumably tailored for Yorkshire.
Chevy Volt: Actually quite-nice-looking 'leccy supermini that's crucial to GM's future.
Think City: Electric Smart-a-like which has been threatening to go on sale in Britain for ages, but still hasn't yet
And so the list goes on, but I'm still wondering why - after years of failing to get us to go electric - so many firms are determined that we will buy these cars. Admittedly, they're a lot better than they used to be, but there's no way of escaping that they're still not as good as petrol ones.
The last thing I'd want is be accused of is the heinous crime of Global Warming Denial but until you can drive 600 miles on an electric car and then fill it up at an electricity station, I wouldn't buy one.
I dread the next pro-electric press release...
Thursday, 8 October 2009
FEW things are more embarrassing than stalling, but I think I've found one. Stalling a bright red sports car - with the roof down - on a busy high street.
Luckily, it's a fate I've just narrowly avoided.
Morgan's 4/4 is a sports car from the old school and - thanks to a blend of luck and being annoyingly persistent - I somehow managed to blag a road test for GR8 Life, the glossy sister magazine of The Champion.
I won't go too much into what it's like to drive - you'll have to read the write up to find out - but it's about as far removed from family hatchback motoring as you can imagine, especially in some of its quirkier charms.
The indicators being on the right (i.e. wrong) side you'll get used to, but what I found trickiest of all was the endearingly unique handbrake, which took me pretty much the entire drive to master.
Taking any unfamiliar motor out onto the streets can be a little daunting at first, no matter how much you revise the controls beforehand, but threading a scarlet red roadster which you only clapped eyes on 20 minutes earlier is in another league.
But I don't think anyone cared, because they loved the 4/4. Other drivers get aggravated if you're in other flashy sports cars, but become a Morgan man and they're suddenly prepared to forgive anything.
I'm just lucky stalling on Lord Street wasn't one of them...
Read my thoughts on the Morgan 4/4 in next week's Champion and in the winter edition of GR8 Life, due out in December.
Sunday, 4 October 2009
YOU could almost imagine Bob Geldof and his buddies singing songs to save cars like the one I’ve just driven.
Unfortunately, I can’t see the next re-release of Do They Know It’s Christmas being used to help rescue rotting old motors, so us mere mortals had to step in instead when it came to stopping this two-decade old Mini from meeting its maker.
And do you know what? I feel proud I’ve played my part.
Admittedly, it’s familiar territory – I already own one – but beneath £100’s worth of rot and rust is actually a perfectly good car, which if a few mates and I hadn’t stepped in to save would have been heading to a scrap yard this Friday.
People go on about saving puppies and small children but they never stop to think about the forgotten machines hiding behind hedges and in garages – machines that are part of our culture and heritage, yet are being squandered as part of the Government’s scrappage scheme.
I’m not going to deny that this 1989 Mayfair model’s not going to need a lot of TLC, but on a quick test drive it felt exactly the same as my own Mini. It’s not a rust bucket, but someone’s pride and joy that’s been cruelly forgotten.
The new owner’s one of these James May characters who already has two Ford Capris, a Golf GTi, a Metro, and a Ford Racing Puma, which already probably constitutes more cars than anyone could really need (and two don’t even work). But he’d bleed Castol R if you cut him, so he happily breached a self-imposed ban on any more motors to give an unloved Mini the care it deserves.
And even if he hadn’t stumped the £100 asking price, I probably would have just to make sure it’s got a loving home. You might worry about attaching so much sentiment to a machine, but the Flying Scotsman or Concorde wouldn’t be allowed to wither away either.
Forget Animal Hospital and trendy charity records. Do something really remarkable by rescuing an old car instead…