Wednesday, 29 June 2011
Monday, 27 June 2011
THERE is, positioned in the House of Commons alongside some other Prime Ministers, a statue of Magaret Thatcher.
This is unusual for just one historical reason, no matter what you make of The Iron Lady. Say what you like about The Falklands, the miners' strike, the Poll Tax, the right to buy and the fact she wasn't for turning, because you're wrong. What makes her statue unique is that - unlike all of the other PMs staring down on in the successors from their stoney perches - she hasn't died yet.
A bit like Saab, then, which this week was given a shot of adrenalin in the form of an order for 600 cars from a mysterious Chinese company. It's a step in the right direction, but it's still an Elastoplast on the gaping war wound of a company that - as of last weekend - couldn't pay its own workers and had seen two rescue deals fall through. If cars were Members of Parliament - and I know I've already touched on this crucial topic in a previous piece - the stonemasons would be getting busy.
If all this sounds familiar it's because we British have already shown the Swedes how to utterly cock up a car brand through the final fling of Rover in 2005. The crucial difference is that the Rover 45 was a terrible, dated bit of rubbish that wasn't a patch on its predecessors, whereas Saab's latest 9-5 is an impressive executive express that really can hold its own against BMW's 5-Series. I know because I've driven both.
Saab has a long and colourful history of producing some of the quirkiest saloons in the business, and I'd hate it to end at the 9-5. The guys from Gothenburg are the people who brought you the multiple rally-winning 96, the rampant 900 Turbo, the smart and sophisticated 9000 and even the middle class icon that is the 900 Cabriolet. You, the car-buying public, ought to give them a second chance.
There will, in the next few weeks, be a test drive of the 9-5 in The Champion. I just hope it's not too late.
Wednesday, 22 June 2011
I'LL BEGIN this week's road test by declaring an interest. I have, in an article I wrote for The Champion last year, argued Ford's Focus is the world's best car.
It might not be the most exotic motor you'll ever come across, but the Blue Oval's big seller has always done absolutely everything either brilliantly or at least very well, so it's no wonder you see so many of them on Britain's streets. Unfortunately, it also means Ford's third generation of the mid-sized hatchback has some very high expectations to live up to. Yours.
On looks alone it's off to a good start, because while the last Focus drew criticism for its conservative styling the new arrival's much more exciting, offering up lots of edgy angles and swoops in the body details. Subtle it isn't, but you couldn't ever accuse it of being boring.
Inside it's instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with the current Fiesta, with the chrome embellishents of the steering wheel especially similar. It's a comfy, well-presented place to be, although like its smaller sibling I found the control panel for the entertainment system a little too fussy for my liking.
The third Focus, particularly when you get out onto the road, feels like a Fiesta at 1.5x scale, but don't let that put you off because that means it's a smooth and straightforward car to drive that just happens to be a tidy handler. Paradoxically it's bigger than the old Focus - particularly in terms of interior space - but it feels smaller and hence sportier.
Should you buy the same car you know half your neighbours are going to buy? I would, because the latest Focus shows it hasn't forgotten how to make safe, sensible cars which just happen to be fun to drive, even if it isn't the image-conscious choice. If it's the 1.6 TDCi version I tried, with 115bhp, you've got practicality, pace and panache in one handy package.
Amazingly, Ford has done it again.
Tuesday, 21 June 2011
FORD'S Transit isn't just a favourite with British businesses - thieves love it too, as newly-released statistics have revealed this week.
The Association of Chief Police Officers' Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, or AVCIS for short, said that Britain's best selling van is also the nation's most nicked motor, beating the thieves' favourite car, the Vauxhall Astra, into second place.
The organisation said that not only are Transits are popular choice because they offer a lot of value in terms of spare parts and scrap metal, but are also likely to have valuable tools stored in the back.
Britain's top ten most nicked vehicles, according to the figures released this week, are:
1) Ford Transit
2) Vauxhall Astra
3) Ford Fiesta
4) Volkswagen Golf
5) Vauxhall Corsa
6) BMW 3 Series
7) Ford Focus
8) Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
9) Ford Mondeo
10) Honda Civic
Head of AVCIS, Detective Chief Inspector Mark Hooper, said:
"Vehicles appearing in the list may surprise motorists. Although high-end cars are stolen to order by criminals, those driving more affordable vehicles should not be complacent.
"Whatever vehicle you drive, security should always be a priority."
Do you have any motoring related stories you'd like to share? Get in touch with Life On Cars by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01704 392404.
Monday, 20 June 2011
I PITY the fool who didn't check out one of the north west's gems for car enthusiasts before it closed. Cars of The Stars, home of the A-Team van, is no more.
Not following? Cars of The Stars, hidden away in a quiet street in Keswick, was exactly what it said on the tin; a museum stuffed full not just with any old motors, but ones synonymous with the TV shows and films they're famed for appearing in. Weirdly, it was the only place in the world you could check out Knightrider and FAB 1 at the same time.
It was so successful that owner Peter Nelson, the former dentist who built up the eclectic collection pretty much from scratch, actually had to open a second museum on the other side of town just to house his cars from the Bond films. I said in this column last year that it was brilliant and you should all go, but you can't because when I went up last weekend I was greeted with a sign saying it had shut and all the cars were being moved to Florida. Whether you're into cars, celebrities or just Cumbrian tourist attractions, it's a sad day when Cars of The Stars closes.
I loved it because it was a museum with the personal touch; I will, for instance, never forget being shown around Mr Bean's Mini by Peter himself, who clocked me and my friends taking an interest in the only car I've ever seen being driven sucessfully via a sofa tied to the roof. It was, if you were up in that part of the world in the Nineties or Noughties, a place you wouldn't want to miss on a rainy day. Holiday visits to Cars of the Stars will be forever etched into my childhood.
What's more, I'm not even sure if Florida will particularly ‘get' what is still a collection with a peculiarly British twist. The Yanks would, for instance, love the Delorean from Back to the Future, but are they going to understand Del Boy's three-wheeled van?
There are, of course, lots of other utterly brilliant museums across the noth west which are well worth the day out, but it's a real shame that one of my particular favourites is being bundled off to the States, although I wish its charismatic owner well.
Best of British, Peter, and thanks for the memories.
Monday, 13 June 2011
IT'S got to be one of the best car-related tales I've ever been told. David Cameron is a sports car and Gordon Brown is a Volvo. Ed Balls and the tabloids told us so.
The "If you were a car, what would it be?" question's been doing the rounds in the motoring magazines for donkey's years but thanks to the emergence of - and I'm honestly not making this up - Project Volvo from the Labour party's skeleton closet it's suddenly a game that's entered the national consciousness. It's a fun way of matching up your own automotive prejudices with people you don't like very much.
It's also a fun way of wasting the next five minutes.
Project Volvo, I reckon, shows up not what people thought of Gordon Brown a few years ago but the lack of petrolheads in the last Labour government (with the possible exception of Stephen Ladyman, who owned an Alfa 156 at the time). Gordon Brown a Volvo? Not a chance. Given the task of assigning an automotive brand to our last Prime Minister, I'd opt instead for Humber. Like him, it's sturdy, reliable, well-built and proudly British. Oh, and not here any more. Perfect.
David Cameron, I suspect, is much more Volvo; plenty more street cred and always full of clever ideas, but ultimately a darling of the middle classes. Nick Clegg, meanwhile, is any car you want him to be but with the the unfortunate snag of a knackered steering rack; vaguely promising to go in one direction, but then suddenly snapping at the last minute and going in the other. Don't worry; for the sake of impartiality I've got to take the mickey out of each of the three big parties equally.
The best bit about all of this though, was that Project Volvo actually upset the Swedes so much that they went on the defensive and issued a press release distancing their cars from Gordon Brown, in which they said senior politicians are all out of touch and haven't got a clue about what modern Volvo stands for.
Peter Rask, Regional President of Volvo Car UK, Ireland and Iceland, said: "If only the Labour party had been like today's Volvos - dynamic, agile and innovative - perhaps the UK economy would have been in a better place than it finds itself today!"
We'll get the Prime Minister's reaction to that in a minute. Oh wait...
Sunday, 12 June 2011
Thursday, 9 June 2011
UGLY, well-built and not as attractive as this time six or seven years ago.
Anyway enough about me; let's look the new BMW 1-Series, the second generation of BMW's entry-level offering, and the new MINI Coupe, which has finally been unveiled in production form after what feels like an epoch. Given the number of their immediate predecessors you see knocking around it's almost certain they'll sell like hot cakes.
But wait. Is it just me or are neither particularly good looking?
It would be spectacularly stupid to buy a car on looks alone because, like a pretty girl who turns out to be rubbish in bed, there a lots of motors that look great but turn out to be a letdown. Nor should you dismiss something with the looks of bulldog that's swallowed a wasp, because otherwise spectacularly ugly cars like the Alfa SZ wouldn't be acknowledged today as classics.
Even so, I still wonder what the BMW group's stylists were thinking of when they signed off a MINI Cooper wearing a baseball cap instead of a roof and a small hatchback wearing horn-rimmed spectacles. Artworks these new arrivals aren't.
I know beauty's in the eye of the beholder, but most people agree on motoring's mingers and I can't see why - no matter how degrees in Art and Design you've got - someone would deliberately come up with something like the Ssangyong Rodius. There is, in this day an age, no excuse for coming up with an ugly car.
Especially not when you consider what Vauxhall came up with just a few days after the 1-Series was announced. I know that small boys don't dream of owning an Astra when they grow up but the new GTC three-door might help change things; have you seen the styling of this thing? I've no idea whether it's any better to drive than Volkswagen's Scirocco, my favourite of the small coupes, but it is the Siena Miller of three-door hatchbacks and the Veedub isn't. I'm not saying it'll be brilliant, but being a bit of a looker's a good place to start.
So the Astra GTC's a svelte and pleasingly-styled car where two other new arrivals aren't. She is, as some of my mates would say, proper fit.
Tuesday, 7 June 2011
THIS is, depending on how you look it, a multiple award-winner that'll start a revolution in motoring or a flop in the making.
It's not unfair to say that Nissan's LEAF, winner of both the European and World car of the year awards this year, is the first electric car to get taken seriously by the motoring press. It's also got the Government's blessing, because they'll give you a whopping £5,000 off as part of efforts to wean you away from petrol and diesel. Getting this car right isn't just good for Nissan, then. It's good for saving the ice caps and mending the ozone layer too.
It's just a shame then that this all-important car isn't going to woo with its looks, which is important because a lots of people do buy cars on style alone. I admire Nissan for avoiding the electric car cliches and going for the classic five door hatchback look, but to my mind at least the fresh-looking front end is ruined by a rear that's strangely proportioned and hard to get used to.
The inside's far better, thanks to a great use of colour coordination, a suitably futuristic dashboard and a feeling of general solidity and safety boosted by its 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating. Roomy, robust and a nice place to be, it's somewhere you'd happily stay even after the battery's run out.
Obviously you don't get your characteristic petrol throb or diesel rattle when you start it up, but the great thing about the noise the Leaf makes is that there isn't any. All you can hear is the roar of the tyres, which you won't notice because you'll be busy wondering why you can't feel the weight of the batteries in the steering or handling. Make no mistake, this is one cleverly-engineered car.
Sure, there's the issue of range - 100 miles, if you're asking - but if you only ever do short trips, like lots of people I know, then it's unlikely you'll notice.
It's tricky to say how much it costs to fill up - it depends on whether you have Economy 7 or not - but the smart money says it'll cost you about 2p a mile in fuel, compared to around 15p for a small petrol car.
But as always there's a price to pay for being ahead of the pack - which is the price. At £23,990, the LEAF isn't rubbing shoulders with Focuses and Astras, but 3 Series BMWs and Golf GTis, and that's after the Government discount.
It's an impressive car but to buy it you'd have to be someone who either has a second car for longer journeys, or just really, really want one.
Thursday, 2 June 2011
WASPS. Hayfever. Hosepipe bans. There are, unfortunately, lots of things about summer you won't like.
But one of the things you can't beat is blasting down a B-road on a warm evening, and there's no better way to do it than in a British sports car. That's why the latest issue of the Life On Cars Magazine, which is finally ready, is a summer special devoted to them.
So enjoy the latest issue, preferably in the sunshine as you would a sports car itself...