Smog on the Seine

Well that lasted ages, didn’t it? On Sunday 16th March, it was reported in the Guardian that half Parisian motorists would be banned from driving their cars into the city because of the smog caused by high PM10 (particulate matter of 10 microns in size) levels and the prevailing weather conditions which had beset Paris over the last few days.

Traffic leaves Paris fuming (Picture source - telegraph.co.uk)

The environmental impacts of traffic – and of its amelioration – leaves Paris fuming (Picture source – telegraph.co.uk)

Air pollution from transport is a real issue, and Parisian authorities have pondered banning vehicles before – this time, though, they meant it.

Not all motorists would be banned – drivers of electric vehicles, for example, were still allowed to use their cars but internal combustion-engined cars would be permitted depending on whether their number plates were odd or even.

Free public transport and Vélib – the Parisian bike hire service – use was provided over the weekend, at some expense to the transport authorities, to dissuade people from using their cars and ameliorate the pervading air quality. You never know, perhaps one outcome of this measure is that more people may make use of these modes of transport in the future.

Anyway, on Monday 17th, less than 24 hours later, the Guardian was reporting that the ban was to be lifted because air quality levels – along with the weather forecast – had improved. The exercise had been a success.

Had it really been that successful? Both the article and the perceived wisdom from reader comments suggested that Parisians would routinely flout the ban, with some quoted in the article that a €22 fine was worth paying – indeed over 3,500 drivers were penalised. Had conditions really improved that quickly, or was this a response to public reaction?

It seems one thing that the ban had achieved, if only for one day, was reduced congestion. As for air quality – well, if it had improved sufficiently then, if nothing else, the one-day ban has provided a graphic illustration of the nature of traffic pollution and of the difference a transport modal switch can make towards the health of our cities. Of course, it may also be that weather conditions are better placed to disperse excess air pollution, allowing the turning a blind eye to traffic pollution. Again.

After all, it was reported that even those who had complained about traffic pollution were still prepared to use their cars, citing their essentiality. What does this say about our mobility demands and expectations, our mobility rights?

In my last blog post, I pondered the ethics of a similar, longer term, banning of older petrol and newer diesel vehicles from London’s ultra low emission zone (ULEZ), however necessary it may be, noting that if we are to promote a truly sustainable low carbon automobility, a draconian disenfranchising of ordinary motorists is not the best way to go about it. In a consumer society, it seems meeting the environmental imperative is a PR exercise in itself. We need to bring motorists with us.

The car is ingrained into our way of life; it has utterly shaped our landscapes. However, perpetual prevarication over air quality and emission measures may well have left us with no alternative but to apply such stark automotive sanctions. The environmental imperative isn’t going to go away, and we have to consider what price we put on our respiratory health; are we really prepared put our cars and our mobility before our ability to breathe?

Classical gas: Volume 2

Last weekend, I visited an incredibly busy Classic Motor Show at the NEC. Here’s a brief roundup.

Such a lovely couple - Lamborghini Miura and Ferrari 208 (Picture source: author's photograph

Such a lovely couple – Lamborghini Miura and Ferrari 208 (Picture source: author’s photograph)

In the post I wrote on last year’s Classic Motor Show, I noted how busy the show had been compared to when I had previously attended in 2010. At the risk of repeating myself, this year’s show also seemed busier than last year; much, much busier. Having to queue to buy a ticket was no surprise (though this didn’t take long), but queuing to get into Hall 12 once I’d got my ticket was unexpected to say the least.

Eventually inside, I adopted the same plan as last year, which was to scoot around the stands taking as many photographs as possible before the NEC lights cast their distinctive hue upon everything, then peruse the autojumble for interesting models, books and brochures that I couldn’t afford (I almost succumbed to an Austin A90 Atlantic brochure), prior to making my way back through the show, all the while taking more time over things. It almost worked, but I still didn’t quite manage to get around it all.

It is remarkable to consider that while there is no British Motor Show any more, and hasn’t been since 2008, the Classic Motor Show seems to go from strength to strength. This year’s show was the 30th such event held at the NEC, and has grown from occupying just two halls in May 1984 to ten halls in November 2013. Taking photographs was difficult at times this year because of the sheer number of people there, and I began to wonder if the Classic Motor Show is beginning to get a bit big, a bit too successful.

I then stopped thinking like that, because it’s great that so many people want to look around cars that may well have played a part either in their past or in their dreams. The Classic Motor Show and its ever-increasing crowds would appear to prove how the automobile is more than mere transport; rather it is a culturally dynamic artefact, with each car on show invoking its own affect, for a whole host of reasons.

Taking a literal approach to the 17th century philosopher Benedict de Spinoza’s definition of affect, it is perhaps true to say that cars on show moved each of us present to a ‘greater perfection’ within ourselves, if for differing reasons. Such feelings of a greater perfection may be manifest in a comfortable nostalgia as we glimpse an example of our parents’ old car, or of the car we learned to drive in, or of our own first car, or perhaps in something more stirring as we espy a sports car we may regard as a piece of art (or something more primal…).

Events like the Classic Motor Show provide the chance for visitors to realise that all these cars, whether on show or in our past, make us feel a ‘something’, providing an illustration of how the car is ‘consumed’, something we perhaps seldom dwell upon as we drive our cars today. Such consumption constitutes a geography in itself and, as such, these events are worthy of academic consideration in themselves!

In no particular order, here are just some of the cars that invoked a ‘greater perfection’ the, er, greatest.

BMW Z1

BMW Z1Probably my favourite car at the show. While I’ve always liked the Z1, enough to include it in my PetrolBlog Real World Dream Barn, this was the first one I’d actually ever seen in the metal (or plastic, even). Suffice to say I like it even more now, and I really rather want one.

Mercedes Benz 190SL

Mercedes Benz 190SLThe Mercedes Benz Club stand was a delight, with several wonderful cars thereon serving to remind how Mercedes Benz was once a byword for style and elegance. The ‘Pagoda’ 250SL, 300SL Gullwing and 600 Grosser present on the stand were all were fabulous, but the one I really liked was this 190SL. Almost impossibly glamorous, and also probably my favourite car at the show.

Austin Maestro

Austin MaestroI may be showing my age here, but I recall how, in my youth, I dragged my dad down to the local BL dealer launch party when the Maestro first went on sale, so the fact that the Maestro – noted for its talking dashboard – celebrated its 30th birthday (blimey!) this year made me feel a little old.

Renault 16TX

Renault 16Very smart, with an almost tangible comfiness, this Renault 16 was another ‘car of the show’ contender for me. There are, unfortunately, far too few R16s left nowadays.

Bugatti Type 51 – ‘le Roadster Mysterieux

Bugatti T51Dubbing a car ‘the mystery coupe’ might prompt memories of Scooby Doo for some but, in this case, there appears to be a real puzzle about this particular Bugatti. It seems that while the factory production records show this car to be a Type 51, it seems that the identity of the coachbuilder who created the bodywork is less certain. A splendid car, whoever was responsible.

Jaguar C-X75

Jaguar C-X75It wasn’t just old cars which were on display at the NEC last weekend, as the hybrid Jaguar C-X75 supercar which made an appearance on the Jaguar Classic Parts stand shows. Having not made production, it perhaps wasn’t quite the halo car for low carbon automobility that it could have been but, from popular reaction, it certainly seemed to provide a halo for Jaguar here.

Morris Ital

Morris ItalThere was a large Morris presence at this year’s show, as the marque celebrated its centenary. The Morris Centenary stand had a wide range of cars from the marque’s history from a 1913 ‘Bullnose’ to this Morris Ital which, for some reason, I really liked.

Peugeot 304

Peugeot 304Very sweet and utterly French (or should that be tout à fait Française?), this 304 estate was an unassuming delight which raised a smile. Incidentally, behind it was another new car at the show, the Peugeot 308. I only managed a brief sit behind the wheel, but I was impressed; that early road tests suggest it is more suited to the Périphérique than the Nürburgring than have some cars been of late (even from French manufacturers – quelle horreur!) is also good news in my book.

Citroën DS

Citroen DSAnother voiture tout à fait Française – quintessentially so, even – surely no classic car show is complete without a Déesse (another car to reside in my PetrolBlog Dream Barn), and this was a splendid example. I had a really good chat with the folk on the Citroën Car Club stand not only about things Citroën, but also the environmental impact of the car and the merits of contemporary low carbon technologies versus the reuse and recycling that constitutes classic car motoring. We also talked about next year’s Coventry MotoFest being held from 30th May-1st June 2014 – click the link to find out more.

Audi Sport quattro

Audi Sport quattroI must admit that I was a bit of an Audi fanboy in the 80s; I had the Audi Sport t-shirt and rally jacket, Hannu Mikkola was my hero and so the Sport quattro became very much a favourite of mine back in the day (the ur-quattro is another inclusion into my PetrolBlog Dream Barn too). Chatting with the Club Audi member in attendance, it was pleasing to hear that both the ur-quattro and Sport quattro on the stand had attracted more attention than had the newer mid-engined R8 also present. Which is as it should be.

Triumph 1300

Triumph 1300For a Triumphista such as myself, this was an epic car in more ways than one. While some classic cars are stored away, this particular car was taken on a 13,000 mile post-restoration trek to the China. I think it’s fair to suggest that it’s probably run in by now.

A whistle-stop tour, then, of the 2013 Classic Motor Show. There were many other cars I could have included (maybe enough for a Classical gas: Volume 2 ‘B-side’?). A cracking day out all-in-all but please, NEC, sort out the lights – these classic cars deserve better than the jaundiced glow afforded at the moment. Perhaps the show could be moved to a time of year permitting longer ambient daylight (how does May sound…?). Even so, I’m sure I’ll be back next year.

Something in the air

In a recent report, air pollution has been recognised as one of the top 10 global disease risk factors. Can low carbon vehicles make a difference?

A report published recently in The Lancet medical journal and highlighted here by the Green Car Reports website has investigated ‘the global burden of disease’ between 1990-2010 and listed blood pressure, smoking and alcohol use as the three leading risks to global health in 2010. But the article’s abstract also refers to ‘changes in the magnitude of … ambient particulate matter pollution’. As increasingly affluent populations aspire to the motor car, such pollution will surely increase as global automobility, led by China and India, also increases.

We’ve all seen pictures of the Los Angeles haze and the Beijing smog. From my own experience of walking down Oxford Road in Manchester, reportedly Europe’s busiest bus route, the localised air pollution from the petrol and/or diesel internal combustion engine (ICE) is almost tangible. We drink in an airborne cocktail of carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrous oxides (NOX), ozone (O3), hydrocarbons (HC) and  particulate matter of various sizes (PM10 and PM2.5) along every busy road we walk down. I have to say that I’ve tasted nicer cocktails.

Thanks to improved emission technologies and EU bureaucrats beating car manufacturers with their legislative sticks, cars sold in Europe are much cleaner than they once were and, as a result, air pollution from the internal combustion engine has greatly reduced, and will continue to do so. Yet we should remember that this is perhaps tantamount to ‘running to stand still’, as localised air pollution will continue to be a problem as car numbers increase.

The electric vehicle (EV), promoted ostensibly as low carbon transport, provides an answer to this issue. Admittedly, the environmental credentials of EVs are called into question given a largely fossil-fuelled mode of electricity generation and, with a blinkered government seemingly intent on pursuing fossil fuels at the expense of renewable energy sources, it is true to say that the UK’s current energy mix means that equivalent CO2 emission figures of EVs – while still lower than those of ICEs – may not be quite as hoped.

But in focussing on carbon reduction, we may overlook the fact that EVs not only lack tailpipe CO2 emissions – they also lack tailpipe emissions of CO, SO2, NOX, O3, HC and PM; any tailpipe emissions, in fact. While accused by some of merely transferring carbon emissions, EVs could actually play a real part in reducing more localised, urban air pollution.

But the fact that the car is more than mere transport means that there’s more to reducing local emissions than simply changing technologies.

Will cars like the Renault Twizy lead the charge (ahem) to a low carbon urban automobility? (Picture source: author's photograph)

Will cars like the Renault Twizy lead the charge (ahem) to a low carbon urban automobility? (Picture source: author’s photograph)

For example, in an earlier post, Défense de fumer, I mused upon my cultural unease about the potential exclusion of les voitures iconique from the streets of Paris on account of their age related emissions, and wondered if EVs like the AutoLib Bollore BlueCar or Renault Twizy might become new Parisian automotive icons. Cars don’t just carry people; indeed it is precisely because they carry people that they inevitably carry experiences and meanings. My early research suggests that EVs provide a different experience of, and meaning to, how we present and perform – or affect – individual automobilities and I wonder about the degree to which we are culturally ready to change ‘how’ we go from here. Can we change? Do we even want to?

EVs may not be the answer to the environmental impact of the car; they are instead an answer. Costs, practicalities and even desirability would appear to demand a suite of technologies to ameliorate our automotive environmental impacts, and the electric car is perhaps the most immediate answer to the provision of a low carbon automobility. Even if we are absolutely wedded to the notion of personal mobility and to our beloved cars, a wider adoption of EVs in an urban environment would at least mean that we can all start to breathe easier.

Classical gas

A few folk in the automotive blogosphere, including some of those I follow on twitter, have been posting about the 2012 Classic Motor Show which took place at the NEC from the 16th-18th of November. Somewhat behind the curve, here’s my take.

Once upon a time, the NEC was the site of a bi-annual pilgrimage to attend the British Motor Show. Back in the day, you could even get a combined rail-and-motorshow ticket, such was the joined-up thinking that may or may not have resulted from the (then revolutionarily) obviousness of the proximity of Birmingham International railway station compared to the relative faff that was getting to London’s Earls Court for Motorfair on other alternate years.

How times have changed – joined-up thinking appears to have been a casualty in the wider battle to provide what passes for public transport and we no longer have a British Motor Show. However, all is not lost for those with a drop of unleaded in their veins as we do have the Classic Motor Show. This year’s show was the second Classic Motor Show I’ve attended, my first being in 2010 – I missed last year’s and really wished I’d gone and so, after some nice comments on Twitter from my last post, ‘Défense de Fumer’, I decided to make amends this year and maybe even write some words about it.

I was struck by the number of people attending this year’s show compared to 2010. Early omens such as the number of people wearing t-shirts and baseball caps emblazoned with automotive marques boarding my train from Manchester at Wolverhampton and again at Birmingham New Street hinted at an increased attendance and, after a walk from the railway station that seemed to take forever, the scene at both the NEC ticket sales and collection offices this year was indeed duly one of organised chaos, with seemingly random ‘queues’ for tickets whether for sale or collection. It was quite a contrast to 2010 when, upon landing at the NEC, I was able to simply stroll up to the ticket office without queuing.

Nonetheless, it is good to see so many people taking an interest in classic cars. Looking at things academically, the profound impact of the motor car upon our landscape and our society suggests that the culturally dynamic nature of the motor car provides the potential to evoke a wide range of socio-cultural memories, for example of our parents’ car or our own first car and of the activities afforded or performed therein. At a classic car show, these memories are tangible, three-dimensional, made metal. From evoked memories to contemporaneous styles, the power of the car as a cultural artefact is made real.

I’m guessing that this year’s show was bigger than that of 2010. This is for two reasons: firstly, I ran out of space earlier than anticipated on the (admittedly small) SD card in my camera and secondly, unlike 2010, I didn’t actually get to see everything. This was despite having a master plan based around scooting through the show getting as many photos as I could before the ambient hue became jaundiced by the NEC’s unique lighting, then hitting the autojumble to peruse books, brochures and models (bliss!) before taking a little more time over things as I worked my way back to whence I’d started.

I’m afraid I rather glossed over the collective Rootes and Ford stands (sorry guys) and I even somehow contrived to miss every opportunity to catch the ‘Wheeler Dealer’ boys in action. Another facepalm came with the realisation that I’d completely bypassed the BMW Car Club, despite having spent some time cooing over the collected Maseratis on the adjacent stand. I somehow managed to miss the Club Audi stand too. Doh!

Despite those glaring oversights, and experiencing range anxiety with my phone battery, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day. It’s wonderful seeing so many cars that can take you down memory lane, or bewitch with their style and glamour, or quite simply make you smile. With my academic human geography hat on, it was marvellous to behold so many socio-cultural, economic and industrial artefacts and also to overhear snatches of conversations as people reminisced and shared memories of their cars and so provide a glimpse as to how they ‘consume’ the motor car. There’s a study in there somewhere, I’m sure…

In no particular order, here are some of the cars from the show that, for one reason or another, compelled me to go back and have another look at them.

Austin Allegro Vanden Plas

My dad had a Mark 2 Allegro 1300 Super, in which I subsequently learned to drive and which was also my first part-time biffabout when he wasn’t using it, so I’m grateful that we live in a world where there is an Allegro Club International. This particular car was actually on the Vanden Plas Owners Club stand and, perhaps due to my Allegroid  affiliations, brought the biggest smile of the day. Delightful in a thoroughly Olde English way, and a lovely example too.

Auto Union prototype

Actually a replica of a 1933 study by the pre-war designer and aerodynamicist Paul Jaray, it attracted plenty of attention and rather overshadowed the other cars on the Audi Owners Club stand.

Bugatti Type 57 Corsica

I’d never a seen a Bugatti Type 57 in the metal before, having only succumbed to the glories of various Type 57s such as Atlantic and Atalante in books, and I’d never even heard of the Type 57 Corsica. Voluptuous in form and mechanical in execution, Bugattis are where industry and art collide.

Enfield 8000

This is the Flux Capacitor, a modified Enfield 8000 – a British electric car of the 1970s – which it is hoped will be the fastest street legal electric car in Europe. The brainchild of Fifth Gear’s Jonny Smith, you can follow its progress at http://www.flux-capacitor.co.uk/.

Ferrari Dino 246GT

Choosing a Ferrari may seem a bit obvious, but the Dino 246GT is just such a pretty car. It makes the notion and the pursuit of hundreds of horsepower seem unnecessary and superfluous which, of course, to a treehugging petrolhead like me, it is.

Lamborghini Urraco

The Lamborghini Club UK stand contained a variety of models from the latest Aventador to a rather vintage tractor. For me, there were two stars on their stand – a wonderful silver Espada and this brilliant Urraco. Often overlooked, the Urraco may not be as classically glamorous as the Espada, but the baby Lambo is one of my favourite 70s wedges.

MG PA Midget

Quite possibly my favourite car at the show, even though it sported a red octagon on its nose. An exquisite little car and the cockpit was delightfully evocative, with the dashboard and the gearlever being particularly joyous. It was for sale too, at a whisker under £39k. My lottery numbers are still very much conspicuous by their absence, however.

Morgan 3-wheeler

I visited the Morgan factory with Coventry University late last year and came away wanting a Morgan – any Morgan – rather badly. From customer specification to its hand-built manufacture, each Morgan is surely imbued with a personality in a way that few new cars can match, and the 3-wheeler in particular seems to exist purely to make motoring fun. Not strictly a ‘classic’ car perhaps, given its ‘12’ plate, it is certainly a quintessential car possessing as much national and, in its own way, temporal identity as any other car at the show.

Riley Elf

This was another car to provoke a huge grin upon seeing it. Very, very sweet.

Triumph Gloria Speed Six

I couldn’t not include a Triumph on my list although, with Dolomites, Stags and TRs also in attendance, this may not be an obvious choice. It may be a late-onset Art Deco thing, possibly as a result of drooling over a variety of Bugattis or (particularly) the Peugeot 302 D’arl Mat, but I’ve recently begun to appreciate cars from the 1930s more than I used to. This Triumph Gloria was beautifully proportioned and very stylish. Glorious indeed.

Zundapp Janus 750

Entering the show as I did in Hall 12, this car provided the first big smile of the day. Look carefully at the picture and you’ll see that, resembling the result of somehow managing to reverse two Isetta bubble cars into each other, the Zundapp Janus 750 does indeed have doors at both ends, and not at the sides. Occupants sit back-to-back on two bench seats with the engine sat between the two seats, like luggage does on the train.

I hope that’s provided a taste of what was on show, as it would be impossible to cover everything here. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to next year’s show already!

Défense de fumer

Local air pollution wrought by the internal combustion engine is a real and, in some cases, almost tangible concern, but might plans to remove older cars from the streets of Paris leave the city culturally bereft?

It was reported earlier this week on MSN Cars that the Mayor of Paris has proposed a ban on cars over 17 years old entering the city http://cars.uk.msn.com/socialvoices/blogpost.aspx?post=50e7822d-2760-4002-ae58-4d7c77fdd10b#scpshrtu with the intention of cutting pollution.

The seemingly numerically arbitrary nature of the plan has echoes of the recent UK scrappage scheme which saw many perfectly serviceable older cars – and even the odd classic – sent to the crusher, in a move that was ostensibly as much about boosting retail car sales as it was about any environmental motives, because they were at least 10 years old. Why 17 years? Next year will be the 17th anniversary of the introduction of the Euro 2 emission standards in 1996, a standard which the Maire de Paris seems to have deemed to be some kind of baseline.

However, the article suggests that French emissions testing and monitoring is somewhat less than stringent, and goes on to highlight several shortcomings in the plan, from the fact that many younger cars don’t meet current emission standards to the observation that not that many cars would actually be removed from Paris streets, meaning that the city’s congestion and pollution will remain ever thus.

Any drive to reduce city-centre air pollution has to be a good thing, although this particular drive seems a tad draconian and, my own eco-leanings aside, I do rather feel a cultural unease about this.

A national emblem and cultural icon – and the Arc de Triomphe (Picture source: bahighlife.com)

Why? Well, it’s because I can’t – and nor do I want to – imagine a Paris without a Citroën DS or 2CV, or a Renault R4 or a Peugeot 205 bounding around La Périphérique or parked within a nonchalant approximation to the kerb. To me, these cars are as much a part of the architecture and culture of Paris – and France in general – as the Marseillaise, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. For them to be arbitrarily removed from Paris’ streets would be tantamount to cultural vandalism.

This may seem a romantic, even stereotypical, view and one that rather smacks of cognitive dissonance given my environmental concerns but, in my capacity as treehugging petrolhead, such views are perhaps inevitable and provide an illustration of how the cultural consumption of the car renders it more than mere transport.

Very evocative (Picture source: wikipedia)

Maybe, in time, electric cars such as the Bollore BlueCar used in the AutoLib electric car-hire scheme or the brilliant little Renault Twizy (as pictured in the banner image in the title of my blog) will become les nouveaux icônes de rues Parisienne.

Until then, I echo the calls of the article’s author to leave the classic car alone. The DS, 2CV and R4 are as iconic as the Mini and Jaguar E-Type are on this side of La Manche. A city like Paris stirs the passions – all the books say so (!) – and I reckon if one of Europe’s great capital cities were to be bereft of some it’s nation’s great cultural emblems, it would lose part of its essence, its nature, its affect.

Ce serait tragique!