ISSUE NO 3 – SPRING 2018
Published in early April, contents includes legendary gentleman racer and journalist, Denis Jenkinson’s remarkably prophetic 1964 essay on the future of motoring and car design, John Simister’s meetings with three of Italy’s design legends, a fascinating account of Donald Campbell’s first foray into land-speed record breaking, Douglas Blain reporting on the 1972 Targa Florio, Mathew Vale’s controversial critique of BMC’s longstroke engines, Richard Bremner on the car industry’s obsession with ‘retromobiles’, Richard Williams recalling eccentric jazzman and racing driver Buddy Featherstonhough, Colin Goodwin’s wry memories of working on a Ferrari production line, Mark Williams writing about Road Movies, Neil Lyndon waxing lyrical on Volvo’s P1800 and so much more.
THE SCIENTIFIC CUBE
Half a century after they were written, renowned motoring journalist Denis Jenkinson’s thoughts on the future of car design, its causes and consequences, now appear entirely prescient – and not necessarily in a good way
IT ALL STARTED WHEN I BORROWED A MINI-COOPER S, THE latest and hottest version of BMC’s remarkable little front-wheeldrive box-like vehicle, which I just cannot bring myself to refer to as a motorcar. For the ordinary Mini I have no use at all. I cannot stand the look of the thing: the driving position is like that of a fair-ground dodgem car; it is uncomfortable and noisy; and above everything else it just does not go – at least not by my standards.
Various tuned versions from people like Downton, Nerus and Speedwell have proved that the last complaint can be rectified, and those used in races have more than proved their point, but all with which I have come into contact have had shortcomings such as astronomical rpm and no torque, unbelievable noise, a vast Weber carburettor by your left hand, and an air of ‘racing car’ about them.
They have been terrific fun and exhilarating in a wild sort of way, but I could never take them seriously as usable transport. However, with the introduction of the Cooper-S version of the Mini the great BMC factory produced a practical and saleable proposition, with its 1100cc engine and 70bhp, and all the finish and quality of an ordinary car. So, once again, the last of my complaints was taken away. The others remained, but the way the Cooper-S got about the place, and the ease with which it went up to 85-90mph caused it to grow on me – so much so in fact that, given the occasion to do a brief 50-mile journey on crowded roads, I chose the Cooper-S in place of my 110mph GT car or my 100mph sports car.
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REVERSING INTO THE FUTURE
The past two decades have dished up more than a backward glance at motoring’s glorious past and, as Richard Bremner confirms, from a most unlikely source, the world’s major manufacturers
‘YOU CAN’T REPEAT THE PAST,’ SAYS NICK TO JAY GATSBY IN Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. ‘Why of course you can,’ Gatsby replies, and attempts to prove it by showering Daisy, his idealised lost love, with gifts, parties and the purchase of a fabulous house just across the water from hers, as he chases their former idyll with increasing desperation.
It’s doubtful that anyone has yearned for any mere ‘object’ as deeply or extravagantly as Gatsby did Daisy, but that doesn’t stop the makers of clothes, houses, furniture, domestic appliances, wallpapers and motorcars also tempting you with the ghosts of bygone eras. Remakes, reissues, re-interpretations have all appeared in these worlds, along with pompous ‘homages’. Retro-look cars, as they were known for quite a while, have and are allowing quite a number of models to enjoy an afterlife, if in altered states. Among the most obvious, and common, are the Mini and the Fiat 500, both of which continue to be substantial sellers. There are also the VW Beetle, Fiat’s throwback 124 Spider and its Abarth 124 cousin, the Ford Mustang and most recently the pretty Alpine A110, which reprises the 1960s rear-engined Renault sports coupé of the very same name. Inevitably some of these re-runs have been more convincing and successful than others. But at least we’ve had the pleasure of choice.
A few decades ago there were only four ways for the enthusiastic motorist to enjoy a whiff of the past. You could buy a (very) old car, you could buy a Morgan, a kit-car, or an alleged replica. I don’t much enjoy the random light violence dealt out by the Morgan’s ride, but if you fancy a fat slice of pre-WW2 authenticity, this roadster is a good way to get it. And the more distant the era from which it emerged, the more compelling the Morgan Plus 4 becomes. Kit-cars? Most are highly likely to send you wild – with frustration – amid a potent mix of glass-fibre resin, poor instructions and even worse engineering. If you do get to the end, you’ll more than likely have a car whose mechanical confection bears no relation, physically or philosophically, to the car that you’re cheap-skating onto your drive.
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BAPTISM OF FERRARI
Ferrari’s 288 GTO scored many ‘firsts’: their first turbocharged road car; the first built largely from composites; first to be homologated for Group B racing. And on his first visit to Maranello, an eager young Gavin Green became the very first to drive one home to the UK
IT STILL LOOKS SO FAMILIAR. THOSE BIG ELECTRIC GATES ON the Via Abetone. The Ristorante Cavallino opposite, lunch-time haunt of Formula 1 drivers and Ferrari management alike. The old twostorey terracotta-coloured factory frontage with its distinctive arch and Ferrari script. All just as I remembered when I first came here in 1985, a young journalist on his first pilgrimage to motoring’s Mecca.
The factory then was much smaller, its products less finely honed and the business decidedly less professional. Ferrari was still a cottage industry. There was no Ferrari Store opposite the front gates, selling shiny goods to the label-conscious. In fact, there was no merchandise at all. Now, sadly, Ferrari is as much a global luxury brand as a sports car maker. Now they sell image more than driving excitement, and much else has changed. Vast new glass and aluminium structures house achingly modern production facilities (although the V12 engines, pleasingly, are still assembled by hand).
In the ’80s, Ferrari invitees were the lucky few. Now busloads of Chinese and American tourists ply the factory’s tree-lined streets,
named after past Ferrari F1 drivers. A ‘visit to Ferrari’ is ticked off like a trip to the Colosseum. But in the Apennine hills just north of Ferrari’s headquarters outside Modena, new Ferraris are still tested, and in this factory motoring legends are still made.
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