13 January 2024

What's Your Flavour?

Somebody far more famous than I, once said “If you restore a car, and you're making money, then you're doing it wrong.”  Jay Leno is known for his wit but he makes a fair point.  It starts at the point of sale, when all rational thought goes out of the window, perhaps because it’s red, or there’s a V8 under the bonnet, and sometimes simply because “my dad owned one when I was a kid.”`

You get your beloved prize home to discover it needs a shedload of wonga spent just to make it driveable.  So you spend said wonga, safe in the knowledge that you’ll never actually recover even 20% of the expenditure before you shuffle off this mortal coil.  But does it matter?  Every time you open the garage door and twist that ignition key to start that journey, your grin becomes wider than the Thames Estuary.  Smiles per mile are more important than pounds per mile.

And ultimately this is old car ownership, or it was.

Over the past four or five years there has been a noticeable increase in car related gatherings.  Cars and Coffee meets are happening on a regular basis, usually monthly, where the only criteria for membership is car ownership.  There are also well known venues such as Caffeine and Machine, or the Ace CafĂ©, where people can meet, enjoy a meal and perhaps a beer whilst admiring the various cars in the car park.

And this is where I believe the move away from traditional “Classic Car” meets to just “Car” meets has arisen.  Last year I attended the Bicester Scramble, Leighton Buzzard Cars and Coffee, Caffeine and Machine, Sywell Pistons and Props, plus the Chiltern Hills Rally and a couple of Silverstone Social gatherings.  At all of these I found a mixture of traditional classics (MGs, Jaguars, Older Astons, Peugeots etc.) together with more recent machinery such as Subarus, post 2005 Mustangs, Dodges, Chevrolets, high performance Audis and BMWs etc. 

In earlier times the fun came from modifying a standard car to reflect the factory and/or racing modifications, hence 1500GT Anglias, wide arch twin cam Escorts and the like.  Customising was a popular choice.  Cars were lowered at the front and jacked up at the rear to look like dragsters on the road.  The fact that the engine was possibly standard and so breathless it wouldn’t pull you out of bed, was immaterial. They were fun.

Often, and rather amusingly, the effect of these restomods on the traditional classic car owner can be likened to the effect of a ham sandwich on a vegan!

Now along has come the “Restomod” whereby you can either buy the kit to install yourself, or have a dedicated company restore and modify your car.  Examples include MGBs with Mazda MX5 engines and gearboxes, revised suspension systems, uprated brakes etc. They still look like an MGB but are far superior in the handling, and more importantly, reliability areas.  Often, and rather amusingly, the effect of these restomods on the traditional classic car owner can be likened to the effect of a ham sandwich on a vegan.

If the important thing is the car, then what is driving the scene today?

It could be that enthusiasts today are not as lucky as some and thus own only one car.  In which case it must not only be interesting, it has to be reliable.  Gone are the days when an enthusiast had one or two classic cars in the garage and a good daily for normal trips.  Nowadays the “classics” have to perform sensible duties as well as being suitable for displaying at a car meet. They need to be interesting, either by way of looks, or by the type of engine installed.  An example of the former is this VW Golf.

There are many interesting cars; possibly prompted by the performance Fords of the eighties but you don’t have to look far to find reasonably priced (in real terms not Gezza’s Top Gear terms) performance cars.  A Jaguar XK8 similar to this one, seen at at Pistons and Props, will set you back around £6-8k.  Not unreasonable for a 370bhp V8 sports car.  And at this age all the original niggles will have been solved.

And if your taste is for Americana you could spend a bit more and snag a Mustang GT such as this one for around £28k, earlier “live axle” versions are somewhat cheaper but "only" 4.6 litre. 

Then again, if performance is the main criteria there are quite a few options available.  0-60 in 5 secs and 150 mph?  Why not try a Focus ST? As daily drivers go the Focus meets all the requirements.  Fast? Tick. Good handling? Tick.  Takes mum shopping? Tick. Easy to service?  Well most people have access to the diagnostic tools, and one of the advantages of the coffee and cars crowd is the general willingness to assist a fellow driver who may find him or herself in difficulty.

Perhaps this illustrates the point that the car, rather than the marque is what is becoming increasingly important to enthusiasts.  And the effect of this may be that younger enthusiasts are ignoring the clubs; such as the MG Car Club/Owners Club, Club Triumph and others that in most part cater for what may be called “proper classics”; and are now just simply turning up at random events where their car, rather than it’s pedigree, matters.

The fear therefore, is that the traditional car clubs may wither on the vine.  I spoke to a couple of blokes at the Classic Motor show who were interested in joining the MG Car Club.  They told me that they’d spoken to a member locally to them who wanted to sign them up there and then, simply because they were under fifty!

Often the traditional club members deserve their reputation for stuffiness but equally those traditional club members are important because they tend to be part of the archive for all things about a particular marque, or model.  But there’s definitely a case for moving with the times.  In the case of the Jaguar Enthusiasts Club and the Jaguar Driver’s Club, they cover vehicles from prewar right up to current production, likewise the two MG clubs have “modern” MGs to discuss and preserve along with a wealth of important models from the 1920s onwards.  But generally, none of them deal with the restomod issue. Arguably there is little point in restomodding a Jaguar since they have all the right bits anyway.

By way of illustration, this wide arch XJ-S just doesn’t look right to my eyes.

When it comes to values, according to the most recent Hagerty Market Analysis, the period of the 80s and 90s is providing the biggest increases.  Although generally these cars are not outstripping inflation they are attracting Millennials, as is borne out by the RADwood exhibition at Bicester Heritage last year. 

This is what they say:

“The criteria encouraged for the cars shared at RADwood events is simple. They need to have been registered in the ‘80s or ‘90s, and should loosely fit with the ‘greed is good’ theme that permeated those decades, where drivers aspired to own hot hatchbacks, sports saloons, sports cars, supercars, luxury cars and 4x4s.

Authenticity and originality count for much, but period-correct modifications are also welcomed.”

Here again, a quick look around and we note that the values of 911 Porsches, 635 BMWs and the like are improving quite nicely.  But there are some bargains still to be had in the shape of the Jaguar XJ-S (make sure all the necessary restoration work has been carried out), and the Golf GTi, but Sierra 4x4 Turbos, Escorts XR3i, RS1600 and RS Turbo are increasing quite rapidly and probably moving beyond the useable daily criteria and into the second car/classic area.

Perhaps it's time for the traditional single marque clubs to consider opening their doors to "restomods".  A good way would be for those clubs who run "Pride of Ownership" events to open a category for examples of these cars?

So, what's your flavour? A full blown classic, a restomod or a modern?  

Food for thought.

(All pictures by Peter Mallett) 




Electric Vehicles – Control of Public Mobility?


If one goes to the UK Parliament website www.parliament.uk and searches for the first passenger railway you’ll find that this was the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1826.[1]  The South Eastern Railway Act was passed ten years later in 1836.

The website goes on to explain that the advent of rail led to “significant changes in British society”. A contemporary study compared the road and rail journeys between the two cities and concluded that road transport could not compete with the railways.  The journey took 4 hours by road, whereas the rail journey was one and three-quarters hours.  The expansion of railways overtook road and canal travel as being the “go to” transport system for coal/food and other necessities.

Later on in the fifties, road transport improved, motorways or trunk roads were built to take heavier lorries from city-to-city.  This allowed for goods to move quickly and freely from point of production/import, to the final destination.  So, whilst power stations, steel works and the like, used the railways to transport coal/ore and other dense raw materials, the roads took on the job of transporting goods to the heart of the cities and towns around the country.

Also in the fifties air transport became more accessible to the general public.  The development of larger, jet powered aircraft permitted goods and passengers to be transported swiftly from country to country; and, continent to continent.

As time moved on these transport systems evolved; the railways became less passenger friendly as the cost rose, but road transport, in particular cars, became the transport of choice for people who had freedom to determine their way of life.  And this is where it comes to a screeching halt because we don’t have those freedoms anymore, we are told that we can’t choose our mode of  transportation, but must bow to those who think they “know better” and thus restrict our movements and drive (if we can afford to) an electric vehicle (EV). 

So, let’s look at EVs:

First thing to do is decide if you want to be able to travel longer distances or you will simply be commuting to town or the railway station on a daily basis, with the odd short trip at weekends.  If the former you need, as a minimum, a range of two-hundred and fifty miles.  And you must bear in mind that this range is 80% of battery capacity because you can’t keep charging to one hundred per cent for fear of damaging the batteries.  So, to achieve this you will need to spend upwards of £60k.  It is noted that the government’s discount excluded cars over £40k so immediately we were encouraged to select a lesser range vehicle.  Thus, if you are thinking of the latter requirements then you can opt for a 40k car with an 80% range of around 150 miles.  We will return to range later. 

As one who owned an EV with a stated range of 300+ miles I can tell you that it only ever achieved that once.  The average range on 100 per cent was closer to 280 miles and that was when the ambient temperature was 20o.  Then we come to winter and that range just dies.  In order to get at least a sensible distance in winter, the heater is switched off and the heated steering wheel and seats are employed, both of which also drain the range and have to be switched off.  I have a 1965 MGB classic car, the heater is pretty inefficient but it at least provides some comfort and using it doesn’t materially reduce my range.  So, in order to travel we have to go back to pre-1965!  Not exactly progress is it?

Whilst I could get into the moral arguments surrounding the rare earth minerals and their mining, I’ll leave that for someone else.  What I will say though, is that EVs are not all bad; they are quiet and  comfortable, they can be very quick if you want to upset the odd Porsche and Ferrari driver and our dog loved mine.  But due to the batteries EVs are necessarily over sized and thus not particularly efficient (small load carrying capacity), hence the smaller EVs generally have no range to speak of.  Furthermore unless you can charge them using wind or solar power, they aren’t green (but arguably, neither is wind and solar in reality due to the materials needed for turbines etc.).  They are just as carbon loaded to manufacture as an ICE vehicle.

Why did I sell mine?  I loved it for the reasons of comfort, I could heat it up on the mains charger before leaving home in winter (very important for battery life).  Having that charger installed at home meant I was never worried about getting away.  But, on the occasions I tried to use a public charger, they were either blocked by cars whose owners had parked for what appeared to be the day, or they didn’t work!  Fortunately on those occasions I didn’t need to charge the car to get home.  However, those in apartment blocks, or terraced houses on inner city streets, have no choice.  The upshot is that in my eighteen months of ownership I never once used a public charger.

In conclusion, I suggest that far from being an improvement in mobility, as was provided by railways, roads and air travel, this latest modernisation of our transport system is in fact a means of reducing mobility and controlling our lives.

Peter Mallett

03 March 2023

[1] https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/transportcomms/roadsrail/kent-case-study/introduction/railways-in-early-nineteenth-century-britain/#:~:text=The%20first%20purpose%20built%20passenger,Act%20of%20Parliament%20in%201826.

24 July 2018

Digital Watches and Formula One Road Relevance

If I may use an analogy; back in the 1970's and 80's we were able to purchase a digital watch.  This was a marvelous piece of technology because not only did it tell you the time, you could also time sports events and even time the egg you were boiling.  The fact that you needed two arms, one to wear the watch; and, one with the hand that pressed the buttons so you could read it, mattered not.

At the same time we had arguably the best period of regulations for Formula One, in fact these regulations, which started mid-sixties, lasted well into the 80's.  With 1.5 litre turbos or 3 litre normally aspirated engines.  Of course it was Renault in 1977 who developed the first turbos for formula one use.

Anyway what has this to do with anything?  

Well going back to the watch, we now have "smart watches" which not only tell the time; help with that boiled egg; and time laps, they also monitor heartbeats, steps, exercise etc.  Clever stuff and considering our stressful lives, quite probably good things to wear.  And of course all this represents a vast improvement on the original, although it still does the same job.

Not so the current formula one power units.  These power units incorporate some heavy components, KERs etc.  which, although they provide power in terms of electricity, they take a lot of lugging around.  What is the point?  If you can produce a normally aspirated 3 litre, or turbocharged 1.5 litre engine that only needs 100 litres of fuel to push a lighter, more nimble Formula one car around at speeds in the region of 200 mph for 200 miles then why carry all that hybrid junk? As to road relevance.  We are after all talking about 9 mpg whether it's a hybrid or a "normally aspirated" engine.  Already the majors are moving towards plug-in electric rather than hybrid power, so the road relevance argument is somewhat flawed.

Not to mention the vast savings in cost, coupled with the ability for smaller independent engineering companies to build engines thereby increasing the competition.  What's not to like?

I believe reality is starting to bite.  Formula One TV audiences are diminishing; assisted by the inexplicable need for penalties for engine/gearbox changes; something that a reduced cost, more simple engine regulation would obviate, since nobody will be paying umpteen millions of Euros for an engine deal.  

The cars look like leviathans, nothing agile or indeed nimble about them.  Whilst nobody is going to unlearn aerodynamics if the overall size and weight  of the car were reduced, together with a limit on size of wings there would be more interest in my opinion.  Who hasn't heard the spectators expressing their pleasure at seeing the historic formula one cars that perform at a few of the Grands Prix?

We need to go back, to progress the sport.