Motormuse

My Random Ramblings about the motoring world as i see it.

Meeting Heroes! ‘Ferrari’ and Bret Hart

It started like this:

(Video to be placed here)

Back in the late 80’s, early 90’s I was just entering my teen years and back then I had two heroes in life at the time. One was the holistic brand of Ferrari, and the other was Bret Hart.

Bret "The Hitman" Hart

Bret “The Hitman” Hart

As with many a youth of the time, I was really into Wrestling. We’d just got the recently launched Sky TV and I had discovered the World Wrestling Federation. The glitz and drama and well-made production made for compelling viewing as a youngster. Was it real or not? I didn’t know. I didn’t care. Bret Hart was a major player in the circuit at the time and he was the ultimate cool in the world of Alpha Male. Women went nuts for him, blokes wanted a physique like him and kids loved him. And he always worse those shades and gave his pair to kids in the audience when he made his entrance. A man so cool, he made ice look slightly boiled.

At the same time that the Superstars of Wrestling were becoming an exciting part of life for me, so were cars. Back then, you just didn’t see a Ferrari. Ever. I had all the books and posters but I had never seen one in ‘real life’. Even Porsche’s were rare. My school friend at the time went abroad a few years later as part of a school programme and he brought back a photograph of a Ferrari 348 that he had spotted and duly pap’d at the side of the road. I still have that photo. I couldn’t believe he had actually seen one, I recall being mesmerised by the almost perfect shape in automotive design.

Fast forward twenty-plus years and somehow (I’ve no idea how) my friend, fellow car enthusiast (and Ferrari owner) Mike and I got talking about WWF wrestling (now known as WWE). Neither of us had watched it since our early teens. The conversation rekindled past memories of some of the sporting stars of the time. What had happened to all of those superstars? Where were they know? Through the joys of social media, I discovered that there was a Wrestling Convention being held in the centre of London just a few months’ later. Lots of the stars from yesteryear were lined up to be there, including our fan-favourite Bret Hart.

“Let’s go and make a weekend of it!” laughed Mike. This sounded like a plan and so the idea was put forward to our better halves. And with our bemused wives giving the green light on a mad, lad, geekfest weekend, Mike suggested that we book the same hotel that the convention was held in. “I guarantee you, they will all be in the bar later,” he said, with a rather curious confidence. And so rooms were booked at the posh London hotel. “We’ll go in the Ferrari”. “I’ll insure you on it and we’ll share the drive” he says.

F*ck yeah!

Ferrari 360 TDF Blue

Ferrari 360 TDF Blue

Fast forward a few months and we are primed and ready to go. I arrive at Mike’s house early on the Sunday morning ready for what will ultimately become a fantastic weekend. The TDF blue Ferrari 360 spider was eased out of the garage. Luggage loaded and I’m in the driver’s seat.

Sitting in this Ferrari and with a completely un-objective tint of ‘dream realised’, everything immediately feels just right. They are really wide cars, lots of power and lots of noise and yet, despite this being someone else’s £70,000 pride and joy with a reputation for going sideways if not driven carefully on public roads, the car it isn’t as intimidating as you might expect. It feels like just ‘a car’. A very, very cool car. A dream car.

Standard car-like features are all present and correct: An auto ‘F1’ gearbox, stop and go pedals around my feet and a steering wheel in front with a Ferrari badge staring back at my face. My big, grinning, happy face.

Ferrari 360 Interior

Ferrari 360 Interior

We set off down the road, tentatively at first until I get used to width and the accelerator travel and then it’s time to press the loud button and have some fun. Yes, this car actually does have a ‘loud’ button. Press that and the exhaust valves open up. Couple that with a push of the right foot and the blue 360 screams, wails and thunders up to the redline, before I grab the right paddle for the next gear to have the same thing happen again. It really makes you giggle; the noise seems to be directly controlling my facial expression. On deceleration, dropping down a gear, the F1 style throttle blips make themselves heard and provide more reasons to grin like a Cheshire cat. After a short blast on the country lanes, we hit the M6.

The motorway journey was interesting; one thing I found really noticeable was just how much attention a Ferrari gets, even in this subtle shade of dark blue. As you travel past other motorists, you see windows drop down so they can hear the noise as you go past. Car after car with kids in the back, faces pressed up against their windows, presumably having been given advance notice by driver-dad spotting us in his mirror, anxiously waiting to hear the engine note as pass by. And did I drop the gears a few cogs and go screaming past like my inner 10-year-old would have given anything to see and hear? Of course I did. Every single time! The child in me was just imagining what those young chaps would have been thinking as we drove past. Inspiration? Future owners perhaps? I hope so.

Driving a Ferrari in London

Driving a Ferrari in London

Any they weren’t the only fans. As we later cruised along the M1 motorway talking about this and that – simple chatter you understand as the majority of the time my inner voice was just repeating “I’m driving a Ferrari!” over and over in my head – Mike spots a car full of ladies as we drive past. “The fans, Paul! The fans are here!”, he laughs, clearly seeing something I hadn’t. “Slow down, they’ll speed up to come past us”. And they surely did. With the noise on loud and the gears on low, the blue Fezza was making all kind of racket as the car packed full of women momentarily arrived adjacent to us. Big smiles everywhere, heads and arms all out of the windows waiving, haha!! So much fun. An obligatory burst down the highway under a crescendo of noise took us shortly to the service station where it was time for a break and a swap of seats. We are nearly in London and with its narrow roads and busy traffic, if anyone is going to be scraping up’side a black cab, it’s going to Mike rather than me.

Whilst we crawled in traffic with the roof down, more requests followed to rev the engine for awestruck back-seat kids and we eventually arrive at our destination. After parking out the front of the hotel – and learning that in most cases hotels don’t mind exotic cars parked in drop-off spaces – we check in and head down to the Wrestling Convention. Geek mode on.

The lifts in the hotel became our rather co-incidental place for meeting wrestling stars. As we entered the lift to head to the show, we were joined by a female wrestler of the modern era, someone who neither of us knew. Pleasantries were passed and we entered the main hall where, after getting our bearings and turning around, we spotted Bret Hart, who was sat signing autographs for a line of people. It looked like we had just arrived at the right time as the line was short and he had almost completed his session there. We queued and got our material signed, said some hello’s and a shake of hands before we moved on, quite satisfied at finally meeting him almost 25 years since he first arrived on our respective tellies, but now equally excited at who else we might see.

Meeting Bret The Hitman Hart for signature.

Meeting Bret The Hitman Hart for signature.

We entered the main hall, bypassing the utterly enormous queue for a photograph with a couple of other modern female wrestling stars (whom we also didn’t know, but would coincidentally meet in a lift later that day) and into the main hall where the stars of yesteryear were in abundance.

We met and had photos and memorabilia signings with Davey Boy Smith Junior (the late, great, British Bulldog’s son), Diana Hart (British Bulldogs ex-wife and Bret’s sister), the Nasty Boys and then we met Tatanka.

Tatanka was a great guy. He was really approachable and open about his life in wrestling, and extremely happy talking to us as his fans for as long as we wanted. As we got into the conversation, the crowd started to grow around us with others wanting to hear his stories too. No ‘queue up in line, quick sign, and leave’ here as with most of the others, Tatanka was open, relaxed and very talkative. And huge! These guys are still big pumped-up fella’s! We duly purchased photos and signatures from him and not wanting to outstay our welcome, we moved on for a brief meet and signing with Shawn Michaels.

Signed memorabilia by Bret Hart!

Signed memorabilia by Bret Hart!

Later in the afternoon, we had the opportunity for a professional photo with Bret Hart, with Mike getting a big grin out of the main man declaring “For the fans eh, Bret!” with a shake of hands and a final reprise “for the fans….!” as he left Bret’s photo area. We are nerds and we know it. As the day drew to a close, we attended a Q&A session with both Bret and Shawn Michaels, hearing their stories of behind-the-scenes from the time period that both Mike and I watched the show. A superb insight into the world of wrestling and was hosted by WWE commentator “JR”.

Time for a quick change of clothes, food and back downstairs to the bar, where hotel security was checking and refusing access to anyone without a hotel room key. Like something out of Wayne’s World, we flashed our room keys proudly and bounced into the bar for some beer. Tatanka was already in there and one by one the wrestlers arrived.

A short time later I realised that my phone’s battery had almost run out of power and I returned to my room to put it on charge. As I headed back to return to the bar, to my disbelief, there stood Bret Hart next to the lifts, waiting to head down also! Now, what exactly do you say to one of your childhood heroes at an impromptu one-to-one without any pre planning of things you might want to voice or ask? Maybe ask for a photo? I couldn’t, my camera-phone was on charge. So instead I said hello, he shook my hand and asked if I was enjoying the event as an opener and we passed the time of day. Being somewhat taken aback, I said absolutely nothing memorable or inspirational but he was good enough to accommodate my ramblings graciously until we arrived at the bar, where he went to meet his friends and I went back to tell Mike. Top tip: always have something ready to say in your head – you never know!

Bret Hart and Family

Bret Hart and Family

By the end of the night, moreover the start of the morning, everyone in the bar was drunk and the laughter was in full flow. We listened to the stories of old and generally looked on at all of these superstars from our childhoods. We had a great chat with Diana Hart, who told us stories of her time with the British Bulldog and we bought some of the wrestlers a few drinks. We had a quick chat with the host of the event too who was at the bar for a short time which was very insightful.

And then, somehow, at about 3am this happened….

Mike and the Wrestling Legends

Mike and the Wrestling Legends

That’s Mike in front along with the wrestlers of the evening, left to right, Blade Hart, Chavo Guerrero Jr, Papa Shango, Bret Hart, Nasty Boy Nobbs, The Mountie, Davey Boy Smith Jnr (background).

And so that’s how it came to pass that we ended up in a bar, listening to the TV superstars of our childhood regaling stories of their own best-days on the road. I’m not particularly phased by – or particularly interested in – celebrity, but this was an exception and such a fantastic experience. A childhood dream come to life.

Ferrari 360 Interior badge

Ferrari 360 Interior badge

The next morning – very hung over and sleep deprived we got up for breakfast. As we entered the lift, Shawn Michaels joined us at the next floor and we said hello. The lift really was the place to be. We wished him well on his trip up to Manchester that evening and headed for breakfast. Sat at the table across from us was a number of the wrestlers along with Shawn. How cool.

Mike didn’t want to drive back after a heavy night on the tiles, and despite the awesome prancing horse waiting for me in the car park, neither did I. My head was thumping and sleep was drastically missing from my day. So, as we hit a stalemate we elected to walk into central London to go all touristy and see some of the sights. Later that day we headed home, tired but happy.

Bret Hart. Ferrari. There is a saying “Don’t meet your heroes, they will only disappoint”. I’m pleased to say that I’ve now met both of mine and, together, they produced one of the most memorable weekends of my life. Awesome!

An Undiscovered Talent

So, one morning back in September last year, my daughter and I were doing the usual morning routine – largely comprising of playing with just about every toy she could get out of the toy box. One of those happened to be the Magna Doodle – Disney Minnie Mouse edition, no less.

I decided that, after drawing stick-men versions of Grandma, Grandad and the dog several times upon request that I’d have a go at a car instead. And in doing so, I revealed a talent I never knew I had….

Behold… the Escort Cosworth.

sketch1

(For the young ‘un amongst you who haven’t immediately identified the car, you can clearly tell it’s a Cossie, due to the 3 door shape of the car and the large rear wing).

Then I thought I’d have a go at something more exotic. The classic Ferrari 355 Spider

sketch2Note the acute attention to detail here; pop up headlights, roof cover, 5 spoke alloys, and the SOS Box at the side of the road.

Realising I’m onto something here, I cast aside Mr Potato head and sent my two-year old on a distraction mission setting up a plastic picnic in the centre of the living room, I then decided to start copying from pictures on the web.

And here we have the Lamborghini Murcielago

sketch3

And finally… The Porsche 911 Turbo (notice the Turbo vents on the sides and the rear spoiler??).

sketch4

So there you have it. Awesome drawings. Awesome fun. I haven’t created any art since September but thought it was high time I put magnet to doodle and created some more one-off drawings. I put a request on Pistonheads to join in on my jovial talents and here were the commisions I did… 🙂

All in the name of fun. Hurrah!

Silent Speed

Speed. It’s one of the main talking points when owning an exotic sports car. One of the first questions you are asked by friends, relatives and even strangers is always “How fast does that go?”. What’s your reply? Do you quote the top speed, or the 0-60 time, or both?

The bigger question though is; can these numbers really get any more impressive? Back in the early 90’s, the Jaguar XJ220 could break the 60 barrier in around 3.7 seconds. A few years later, McLaren eclipsed this figure, with quoted times at 3.2 seconds to 60mph and a 240mph top speed.

This figure has largely been the one to beat. The standard by which all other cars are measured. Through the 20 years or so since McLaren released the F1 there have been marginal increases in performance figures – the Zonda R for example, claims a 2.7 second time, and Koenigsegg’s CCR has a 242mph top speed.

But these numbers are, in real world terms, small increases (would you really be able to tell?) and this is due to the sheer technological advances required to achieve just a few extra on the top speed, or point-something’s on a 0-60 time. When the Veyron SuperSport came out, it topped the charts with a 0-60 of 2.5 seconds and a top speed above 250mph. This is a limited run hyper-car, but the new Lamborghini Aventador comes close to these figures – and this is a production vehicle.

So, where can manufacturers possibly go from here? In 30 more years, will cars really be able to go from 0-60 in 1 second? If a production supercar can get to this level, then one would expect that your regular hot-hatch would follow suit and have acceleration times of 3 or 4 seconds and 200mph top speeds.

The physics surely can’t allow for this. Can a car get that much traction to allow a sub 1 second 0-60 time? Road safety would then be an issue. Let’s face it, no road-going car ever really needs to get above 100mph and if you were to get a blowout at a 250mph speed, or someone pulled into your motorway lane without realising your there, you’re going to be firmly heading to the gates of doom that are not of this world.

Regardless of whether it is technically possible to get such low 0-60 times (and higher top-speeds) I doubt that this technology would be allowed to end up in the hands of us mere mortals. It will remain as a technical proving exercise, accessible to the privileged few only.

With that in mind, where can the motor industry go now to keep developing cars and making them better, more desirable than the previous model? I think this is where the environment has come to the rescue. Manufacturers have to comply with ever stricter standards on emissions, coupled with a subconscious mood of buyers to get higher mileage from a tank, lower running costs, greater reliability and increased safety.

Whilst our future purchase decision is unlikely to be influenced by the fact that a car is, let’s say 95% recyclable, it will make you feel good inside to know that there is an environmental benefit over the old model. And 60 miles to the gallon from a desirable supercar would also be nice.

Step forward Porsche 918.

A concept car with imminent release. With a hybrid petrol-electric car, the Porsche represents the first phase in a shift towards Supercar ‘green’ness. It will get to 60mph from standstill in 3.2 seconds, so whilst not a trailblazer of performance by Veyron standards, it’s still not something to be sniffed at. But crucially, it uses the latest hybrid technology to develop more than 700hp from effectively a 3.4 engine (218 of those stallions comes from the combined electric power). Being a Porsche it will also be every-day useable (in as far as you’d actually want to) with reasonable running costs. 80mpg too!

It could now be that, thanks to the increasing external pressure on making cars more eco-friendly, a by-product is that manufacturers still have an area of focus and interest. And it is no longer all about headline speed, but about its green credentials. Gone are the days of the Anorak Prius, being eco is becoming cooler.

Speaking with a friend recently, he mused that in a couple of generation’s time, the young drivers of today will be told by their offspring; “I can’t believe you were allowed to destroy the planet like that in those cars, Grandad”. We will all be in fuel efficient, but equally fun cars that don’t operate solely using a combustion engine (if at all).

I’m in agreement on anything that can reduce the impact on the environment (solar powered cars – there’s a dream!), but providing Porsche and friends keep making cars as interesting, sporty and fun like the 918 promises to be, our motoring hobby will continue to thrive – albeit somewhat quieter on the roads.

Motormuse: Convertibleness

MX5

There aren’t many times when one can just sit down and be totally content with watching the world go by, but this was one of those times. My girlfriend was in the hospital having an operation on her back. I was being the strong, confident, up-beat partner and although I didn’t show it, I was worried. Its a fairly routine operation and the doctor gave ample reassurance but I’m of a nervous disposition around hospitals and with any lower back op the risks include life affirming terms like “death” and “paralysis”. The time was upon us though and she was taken in to surgery – it would take approximately 2 hours.

This left me with nothing to do except wait, hope and look for distraction. Relatives live not too far away from the hospital and although I had originally thought to call and see them, truth be told I didn’t want to speak to anyone right now. My own company was all I wanted at the time. It was a lovely day and there were some shops about a mile down the road. Time for a good head-clearing stroll. As I arrived at the shops, I noticed a bench near the bus stop which looked out over the pavement and road ways. This is where I would take up residency for the next hour or so.

Armed with a magazine, a bottle of pop and some fatty badness in the form of crisps and sweets I sat on the bench in the summer sun and watched the world go by. Being a car enthusiast my attention was naturally drawn the passing motorists. Convertibles are more conspicuous than than a regular car and nothing brings out more drop-top cars than a beautiful day…

An old triumph passed by, piloted by its middle aged owner with a cap on. The day had come to finally allow him the liberty of taking his pride and joy out of the shed and onto the road. Then passed the mum in the blue MG-F; top down, shades on – reliving her youth.

It wasn’t long before the modern Beetle passed me, occupied by a group of immaculate young women all smiling and laughing, shortly followed by several MX5’s in various shapes and guises.

Lots of other cars were on the road that day, but those that appeared in a more relaxed disposition where the convertibles. They just seemed in no rush, just enjoying the experience.

The 80’s Porsche. Red. Pop up headlights and cream folding roof. Does anything symbolise the ultimate historical motoring desire than the 80’s Porsche? The sunshine positively radiated from the bonnet as the owner parked near a junction and waited for his passenger. It sent me straight back to my youth when a convertible Porsche meant it was likely someone of importance in society. The modern world is one of finance and overpaid celebrity, so many cars are achievable with just a little hard work, or a big personal gamble. But back then, the red Porsche convertible was owned only by the seriously rich. It still looked good and its gleaming red coachwork was commanding attention from passers by. Still got ‘it’.

I was tucking into the crisps I had bought as a BMW 3 series pulled up outside the shop next to me. Black. Folding metal roof. Driven by Mean-Looking Bouncer Man. Black shades, black jacket. Mean. Except today he wasn’t mean. He had brought his young daughter to the shops with the roof down. He’s also a cautious guy, raising the roof before leaving the car. Now it looks like a coupe; nice car.

As I started my hike back up the hill, some 60 minutes after my journey began, I realised that there really is a convertible car for everyone. From the older hobbyist to the young and youthful, or the image conscious motoring purest, there is a something to suit everyone. Even a hardened bouncer, immortal to pain but with a serious reputation to uphold has a model of choice. From practical to poseur, its a topless path that few people who only need just a small interest in motoring choose to embark upon at some point in their lives.

A vast choice available to suit all pockets. From a few hundred quid, to a few hundred grand. Its a dream of motoring desire, not always spoken; the care-free wind in your hair feeling of driving – maybe even without a predetermined destination. Heading out to your driveway, shades in hand, into the driving seat, roof down and off you go. Feeling nature and machine working as one – all for your benefit. No matter which model or marque you choose – everyone loves a convertible.

The operation was a success. A very nervous time had now passed. I was back at the hospital bedside, waiting anxiously for my lady to wake up. It had been a worrying few hours, one which denied me an ability to focus on anything significant. On that beautiful day, just watching the world go by was a great stress reliever. I wanted for nothing and life was, for a short time, on hold.

I imagine that the driving experience for those people in the convertibles – that drop-top pleasure, made them feel the same.

23rd December 2009

Motor-nature

People like to be around people. It’s a fact of human nature that we love to love and to be loved. Finding your perfect partner and living life happily with someone is the stuff that both life and Hollywood dreams are made of.

Books have been written about the psychology behind companionship and how depression can be linked to loneliness. I understand where they are coming from too as, most of the time anyway, I like being around people. I enjoy time with my friends and family and nothing beats a nice relaxing afternoon spent with my good lady girlfriend.

I’m fortunate enough to have the ability in my daily job to work from home when I want or need to. This is great for those traffic infested days when someone chose to park their car in the boot of the one in front. It allows me to avoid the resulting absolute chaos that subsequently reigns all over motorway-land.

Despite this great benefit of my chosen career, its not something that I choose to do very often because, whilst its an expensive waste of time driving to the office, I do enjoy the social aspect of being around people and catching up with what’s going on in everyone’s life. It’s just more rewarding than being at home on my own. So, unless your one of the fine lone warriors from a David Gemmel fantasy novel its fair to say that people enjoy being with people. Everyone wants to be with someone.

This well known fact surprisingly runs contrary to a belief which, until last Saturday I had no idea even existed, but for the purpose of this Motormuse I would like to clarify this point and set the record straight:

My car does NOT need any company.

It is a machine. An enjoyable machine nonetheless, which when I’m having a good driving day feels like its just an extension of my very being. However it should be noted that it doesn’t understand the concept of companionship. It isn’t Herbie, it doesn’t get lonely. Its MY car and I know whats best for it.

Maybe you’re confused. Perhaps you already know this. “Of course a car doesn’t need company” you are thinking. Well, it would appear that the owner of KG03 ZGX has no idea that human emotions aren’t extended into a cars computer chip and on that basis I feel some people probably do need a little factual information outside of the cinema screen. Think of it as a public service. No charge.

You see, on Sunday afternoon me and my lady went on a shopping trip to Morrison’s. The drudge of the shopping grind made all the more better by going as a twosome (back to the human nature thing again). Being later in the afternoon the car park was pretty empty. Its a huge car park, also designed to cope with the business of weekend shoppers who are just wanting a look around town rather than just grocery shopping (Pay and Display of course).

Is there not enough room everywhere else?

Is there not enough room everywhere else? Note that this is only a small section of an empty car park!

I’m still of a paranoid nature with my cars so I headed over to the far reaches of the car park where only a handful of cars were parked. With no-one around, we could open those chunky doors nice and wide and get in and out comfortably. Plus, with chips on the doors (one now repaired at our not insignificant expense) already from moronic individuals who are unable to get out of their car without bashing the one next to them I don’t like to run this risk unless we absolutely have to. A little stroll back to the shop will do us good anyway.

So, we’ve parked, we’ve strolled and we’ve loaded our shopping trolley with the obligatory £1. We are ready to shop. As we get to the front doors, imagine my surprise – and immediate anger – as I glance back to the car park to find that KG03 has parked right next to us!!

Try to imagine if you will – an almost empty car park, large enough to host an annual HGV lorry parade and KG03 has decided that the best space to park, in this vast arena of emptiness is in the space right next to our car.

It’s not even like we are near the door. It’s not like we are near anything! It makes no sense and the only rationalisation I feel that KG03’s owners could have possibly come up with, is that Sally might have been lonely without Lightening McQueen. Therefore our car couldn’t possibly stay on its own in the car park without any company. I can only imagine their distress seeing the handful of other cars out on their own in the wilderness of Morrison’s finest complimentary tarmac.

So, it comes back again to that delicate balance between works of fiction and genuine common sense in the real world. I guess some people really are seemingly incapable of distinguishing between real-life and ‘make believe’.

Either that or they did it for no other reason than to selfishly piss me off. Well done KG03, mission accomplished.

August 2010

Light Fantastic

Lately, there seems to be an obsession with lights – specifically, car lights. A new directive from the health and safety executive in Europe has decreed that people are now so ignorant and blind that they are unable to see any of the huge, multi-tonne, brightly coloured vehicles during the day – unless they’ve got lights on. So, from 2012, this will be a requirement that all new cars will light up the roads, whether the sun is out doing it for them or not.

Volvo have done this for years and, lets face it, a Volvo with their dim lights shining ahead on a lovely sunny day do not look good. Something had to be done to modernise this visual jewelry and Audi would be the first.

Enter the R8. With its bling bling daytime LEDs firing crystal clear white lines in a menacingly shapely arc it signalled the start of a new craze in motoring fashion. All cars are getting in on the act. Even boy racers can buy aftermarket LED strips to chav up their motors. Mercedes have put them on their cars as well, largely to ill effect, but y’know, they’ve had a go. Like they do.

Seemingly happy with their year-round festive creation, Audi have applied the LED design to all models in the range at both ends of the car. The A4 now has eye brows, the A5 squints when an indicator is put on (can’t do both, as the LED lights are too bright you see) and the A3 scowls now as it passes by.

And with attention now on rear lights, headaches are my main point of concern.

My first car was a 1983 Ford Fiesta. It had two brake lights, one on each side. They were about 2″ square and when they lit up, they advised the person behind that I was indeed slowing down. Over time, lights on new generation cars got bigger and bigger.

The Bright Lights of Volvo

The Bright Lights of Volvo

The previous pioneers of motoring safety – Volvo – have been caught up in this area by other manufacturers over the years so clearly they needed something to make their cars extra-safe. They introduced the 3rd brake light years ago – but what now? Well, it would appear that someone at the Volvo Brake Light Design Studio felt they hadn’t been given enough focus of late.

The solution then: Now Volvo new cars have brake lights so bright that they simply burn straight through your retina and into the back of your skull, thus making sure that every inch of your brain is left in no doubt that the car in front is indeed slowing down. Or, as is more likely in Britain’s highly congested roads, the automatic Volvo in front is in fact stationary and the lazy driver is sat with his foot on brake pedal. These lights, akin to the glare from a sun heading to a supernova explosion are so big and so bright that you can do nothing more than be persecuted by the lazy moron in front who hasn’t discovered what ‘Park’ means on the gearbox whilst you queue endlessly on your way home from a tiring day at work. But it wouldn’t be so bad if they were just normal lights. But they aren’t, they have expanded in size and shape and on the estate cars occupy a head-splittingly large acreage of the car posterior. Thanks Volvo.

Bentley, for a long time has had brake lights that are so wide that I’m convinced they are sending messages to outer space. The Space Station can now tell when some well healed individual is stopped in traffic, and you can probably spot them on Google Earth.

Mercedes, obviously thinking this was a good idea applied similar logic to their Compact car – giant strips of red across the boot laughably destroying what little appeal the car had at the arse end of the frame.

And then we come to Citroen. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. They’ve obviously taken a leaf out of the Volvo Estate break-light manual and decided to go one better. Their new people carrier now has wrap-around lights. They head from the middle of the boot, aaaaaalll the way around the top of the car and then down the other side. A bit like a square Christmas tree. When Volvo sees this, there will be hell to pay. Doubtless their next models will have full rear-window lights and the entire glass screen will light up red when the driver touches the stop pedal. Of course, they’ll be made of LEDs so they are super bright. The car will be called the Volvo Nurofen and the pharmaceutical industry will rejoice muchly. Nobody beats Volvo.

At that point, right before the powerful orb in the sky – the Sun – takes its bat and ball home after being made redundant, the Eco Warriors will start bleating about the amount of light-pollution that we’ve now got on our roads.

Me, I’d be inclined to agree.

July 2010

‘Service’ or ‘Care’

Recently, both our cars have been in the garage for some paint repairs. The circumstances surrounding each have been different, but ultimately the goal was the same.  Both companies (Ford and Porsche) agreed to undertake the work and both outsourced the work to a 3rd party. The only difference being that we were paying Ford to do the work, whereas Porsche were doing complementary. Additionally Ford are two miles from our house whereas Porsche is a hundred.

The Fiesta had a slight chip in the door which had scraped the paint off, caused by some mindless moron banging their door against ours in a car park. The Cayman had a fault with the lacquer on the front bumper and required re-spraying.

After calling the Porsche centre from whom I’d purchased the Cayman, they agreed to do the work without question. I informed them I could only get to the dealership on weekends – they said they would arrange a courtesy car for the week, no problem. After calling on the morning before I set off, we headed up the motorway. We entered the showroom – immaculate, looking more like a high tech business office with very expensive toys than an oil shop. Greeting us was the smartly dressed receptionist, not a hair out of place. After I informed her of our business, she contacted the sales manager. He arrived momentarily, just as another member of staff came over to offer us a drink.

Mark, the sales manager, came out with me to inspect the problem. He was surprised at problem and said it would be rectified without question. After some general chatter, Mark showed me to my courtesy car – outside the front door. A brand new Cayman S, PDK. “We’ve filled the tank up for you to use and we will fill up your car on your return for the inconvenience. I think you’ll really enjoy this car.”. Nice!!!

We finished our drinks and after a couple of obligatory signatures, we left in the showroom in what is without question the best sports car I have ever driven. A few days later, Mark called again to say that my car was ready. It had been fully valeted and was now in the showroom to keep it looking good as new until I could pick it up. I said this would be at the weekend. “No problem”. On our return the following week, I was shown to my car, gleaming in the lights of the showroom – immaculately presented. We swapped keys and I went on my way completely satisfied, in both the work and the service I had received. Cost to me? £zero.

Next up, was the turn of the Fiesta. We arranged a courtesy car for this as well, as my lady needed it for work. After numerous calls to the dealership and always explaining the situation at length to whoever was on service desk, to avoid being incorrectly directed to some bizarre call centre, our car was booked in. We also got to the dealership as soon as it opened so that we could be away quickly for work. On arrival, we queued at the reception. For about 20 minutes. No matter, this is a busy dealership and Ford sell a lot of cars so they are bound to have a lot of people. Plus I can look at the cars in the showroom – regardless of the Marque, I like showrooms and Fords Kuga and Focus ST are particular favourites of mine.

Eventually it was our turn. The receptionist, dressed in a Ford jumper akin to the coat of a shaggy dog was something of a contrast to Porsche. “Go on, crack a smile” – the words repeatedly swimming through my brain – but I held my vocal chords back on account of moral decency. I couldn’t help but grin though.

“We’ve got a courtesy car booked”. Insurance forms were promptly displayed for the courtesy car – which we had to pay for. After waiting several minutes for them to find the keys, “its over in that direction” was our informed location. “Just put in the amount of fuel you think you’ll use”. Oh dear, an empty tank then. Why can’t dealers leave them fully fuelled, and instruct to bring them back full on return?

We found the car eventually, a boggo standard Ford Fiesta. But it was in a different colour, so my girlfriend was happy. Until we got inside. Squeezing the driver door into the narrow space between the huge Transit parked next to it we encountered another problem. On that frosty morning the screen was completely iced over. And being a cheap-as-chips model it had no quick-clear front screen. Or air con. Or a scraper. Or de-icer. So, there we sat, with a car with such little fuel that I thought it might not even make it out of the forecourt, much less get us to a petrol station, waiting for the screen to clear.

After a few minutes I headed over to my car to get my scraper. We were now 30 minutes into the experience of simply dropping a car off. “I’m going to be late, I’ll have to take your car” my girlie said to me. I didn’t mind, but knew she was looking forward to driving a ‘different’ model. Being late, and the fact that it was simply the same car but much lower in the range took the tinge of the dream. A few minutes more and one of the employees came out with de-icer. A bit late now as my lady was on her way in my car. Eventually the screen was cleared and I limped to the nearest petrol station and finally set off for work.

After several chase-calls and an extra day, my car was ready. After payment I went to pick it up. It was “somewhere in the car park”. Its a big car park. I scoured the whole place several times and after 10 minutes, I went back in. “Oh, it might be in the compound then”. They took me to the rear of the building in a lockup area, and there it was. Hurrah! Unfortunately I couldn’t tell how good the paint job was as it was dark and there was no lighting. Left to my own devices I squeezed into the car – again parked dangerously close to the van next to it and went home….

Both companies had completed the work perfectly, both cars have been expertly finished and you can’t tell that any work has been done. We are very happy with the end result but the two journeys couldn’t have been more different. With Ford it felt like a chore taking the car in and a relief when we got it back. Contrast this to Porsche who provided an event and an experience – and made me seriously consider trading up to buy the courtesy car.

An there-in lies what I believe to be the difference between an after-sales service and exemplary customer care.

Jan 28th 2010

The “To-Do” List

I’m sure many car nuts have a to-do list, a list of cars they’d like to own at some point in their lives. There have been several on my list of  “cars that I must own” and I’ve now got just a couple left. There are some newer cars which I quite fancy, but this first list is my definitive selection of cars that I have always wanted….

Red Toyota MR2 The car that I always wanted from being but a small boy was the Toyota MR2. When the MK2 edition came out, I resigned myself to the fact that I had to have one at some point in my life. I achieved the dream in 2002 and it didn’t disappoint. It was a Rev3 with a sportier rear end, t-top roof and leather interior. In bright red, it was every inch the sports car I hoped it would be.
Boxster After that, my plan was a Boxster, which I purchased in 2005. The introduction to semi-convertible in the MR2 meant I had to go the whole hog and experience the full monty. I’d recommend anyone do the same.
Red Porsche Cayman The Cayman entered my to-do list not longer after its launch. I liked the shape and as soon as they brought out the 2.7 model I wanted one. I bought this in 2008.
Ferrari F355 Next up on the To-do list is a Ferrari in some guise. I’m not too picky. Either a 348, F355 or 360 will do me nicely thanks. They all look awesome in their own right.

The 348 has got a chequered reputation for both performance and reliability but they are well within the realms of initial purchase affordability. However, I have my doubts on how liveable an 80’s supercar would be in the modern traffic congested, pothole ridden, speed bump obsessed land that is Great Britain. I sat in one a few years ago and quickly realised that one would need knees and thighs of steel to move the clutch! But it would be a Fez in the garage, hey!

The F355 is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of Ferrari – and indeed all automotive – design. It looks exactly as a sports car should and doubtless will ever be bettered. This is largely reflected in the price of these cars, which now cost the same to buy as the 360. So, an expensive car with 90’s driveability then. Not one that you could enjoy on a commute without the AA card being close at hand.

That leaves the 360. A great modern Ferrari which could be used a lot more frequently than the other two – and in all weather. It could be left outside sometimes – even if it rained! The is the most tempting of them all, as I’m not very content with unreliable cars – they make me mad. I am also lazy, and the F1 gearbox looks appealing. The shape has a question mark in my mind, but its a modern Ferrari and it does look more up to date than the others. A further caution is that its almost as wide as a garage door, so success on keeping it hid away might be thwarted by its size.

Anyhow – One of those will satisfy the Ferrari craving, and it needs to happen in the next 5 years. I refuse to approach the mid-life crisis age with a Ferrari in the garage! Its just too stereotypical! Note to self: Work harder then. 🙂

Escort Cosworth The final car on my to-do list for now is the iconic Ford Escort RS Cosworth. “Cossie” for short. In red. This has been a desire twinned with the MR2 since my teen years and I still want one now as much as I did back then. Those phat wings and enormous spoiler had me hankering since day one. However, they are approaching 20 years old now and becoming even rarer. In addition, my girlfriend hates these with a passion like I’ve never known so true ownership experience might never come to fruition. But we’ll see!

The ‘Almost’ list
There are tons of cars that I like the look of, but they’ve not quite earned a place on the must to-do list (yet). These include the Jaguar XF, XK, Aston Martin, VW Scirocco, Lexus IS and a number of others. Here are some of my more interesting favorites…!

Red Toyota Celica 2000-2007 Toyota Celica.
I remember seeing one of these for the first time on the motorway. At the time it was a real edgy, fresh design and for some reason I’d not seen any pictures of this model prior to its release. I remember mouthing the word “Wow!” as it went passed. Initially I wondered if it was a new baby supercar! I’m still very fond of the looks and the shape, but as I’ve already got a small coupe on my To-do list, this car was pipped to the post by the Cayman. But never say never…
Crossfire Crossfire I’ve never been in one, and the reviews are generally not positive towards this little car, but I like the looks of them. They are quite rare and look smart, the convertibles have better dimensions than the coupe though..
Porsche Cayenne Porsche Cayenne S. If you’ve read my reviews, you’ll know how much I love these cars. But the 18mpg and expensive running costs outweigh its desirability as a daily commutable at the moment.
MG ZS 2005 MG ZS. Cheap and chearful motoring from a legendary UK car company that ultimately lost its way. The last-of-the-line model was great to look at. I’m still not sure how this company went to the wall, as every other youth used to drive the smaller MG ZR. I really did think they were on the cusp of a great return to profitable british motorcars. I like the look of the MG ZS, but in real life it appears a lot more dated than some of the nice imagery that presents itself through the Auto-Trader.

The dream list
These two cars are reserved for those special “6 plus bonus ball” type moments. The outlay and running costs are reserved for the uber rich…

Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40. Poster for my bedroom wall when I was a child, this car represents the ultimate in motoring achievement. A rare sight on the roads keeps this car as revered today as it was when it was launched in the 80’s.
Lambo Gallardo Lamborghini Gallardo. The first time I saw one of these on the road, it overtook me on a dual carriageway. In shiny black with that pointy, purposeful nose it looked like a stealth bomber for the road. I’ve loved them ever since.