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.

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!

How do we go from here?

Somewhere around here I suggested that this blog would pertain to my PhD study, as well as to other automotive, environmental and geographical gubbins that take my fancy. As such, I would like to use my first academic(ish) post to introduce my research. How is the way we ‘consume’ the car manifest, and will the need for more environmentally friendly personal transport change our relationship with the car forever?

We aspire to the car, we want the car, and we desire the car. But will the way we regard the car stop us from choosing a less polluting, low-carbon car? (Picture: classicfordmag.co.uk)

The transport sector is responsible for up to 25% of all man-made carbon dioxide (CO2), emissions. The dominant source of CO2 within the transport sector is the car, which is responsible for just over half these emissions. In other words, just over 10% of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions come from the use of our beloved cars.

The need to act so as to mitigate the environmental impacts of our actions, or, as I call it, the ‘environmental imperative’, demands that we adopt a low carbon mobility to mitigate the environmental impacts of our movements. However, contemporary society – whether by dint of the spread of suburbia, various shift patterns or a fragmented public transport system seemingly run for profit and not for the public – appears to demand a low carbon automobility.

Much has been written about the costs, impracticalities and/or technologies of low carbon vehicles in academia and in the media. But how many of us think about the way in which we consume the car ‘as object’? How might the environmental impact of the car be influenced by the contemporaneous socio-cultural consumption of the car?

When I use the phrase ‘consume the car’, I don’t use it as a reference to how and why we use it; any motorist will tell you that the car is very useful, very convenient, if a bit pricey these days. Instead, I use it in reference to how we regard the car as status symbol, as icon, as cultural artefact, as avatar, as experience. I believe that how we ‘consume’ the car is fundamental to the environmental impact we have individually as motorists, because such consumption influences our choice of car, how we view the car, how we aspire to the car, how we drive the car, how we feel the car.

And why we will keep on wanting, if not needing, the car.

However, the pursuit of various low carbon automotive technologies as a means to address the environmental imperative could suggest that the nature of the car may change. In one of his columns for CAR magazine in 1996, Stephen Bayley described the car as a mature product, in that we know what it is, what it does, what to expect from it. We’ve become conditioned to the car and how it works which, in turn, impacts upon how we consume it. Yet various low carbon technologies – such as hybrids, electric vehicles (EVs), range-extended EVs, fuel cells – surely render the low carbon vehicle an immature product, in that while we may know what it is, the way in which it does it will, in some cases, be new. Low carbon vehicles may require new knowledges, new behaviours, new strategies, and also produce new experiences which, together, might impact upon how we consume the car.

As the adoption of low carbon vehicles is being left to the market and to the vagaries of consumer choice (with, admittedly, the odd governmental nudge), it is pertinent to ask whether the ways in which we use and regard the car today – our existing automobilities – can aspire to a future low carbon automobility, to find out whether irrationalities of the way in which we consume the car – our automotive peccadilloes, if you like – can be reconciled with the rationality that the environmental imperative demands. How do we consume the car? How will we reach a low carbon automobility? Do we even want to? Will we enjoy it when we get there?

To answer the question in the title of this post (which is also the working pre-title of my PhD study), we need to ascertain where ‘here’ is. I would say that ‘here’ is the latest automotive propulsion technology, whether this technology is electric, hybrid or an internal combustion engine with the low-carbon fixes and fuels, and the associated (im)practicalities of these technologies; ‘here’ is the comparatively high cost of this low carbon technology, which may well decrease over time; ‘here’ is what we know about the environmental impact of motoring and what we are prepared to do (and to pay) to mitigate and/or ameliorate it; and ‘here’ is the contemporary socio-cultural consumption of the car.

As mentioned earlier, the first definition of ‘here’ has been well documented by both academia and the technical media, as battery improvement continues apace, fuel cells are continually developed, and the internal combustion engine is constantly refined and made cleaner. In addition, the second and third definitions of ‘here’ have also been subject to a wider discourse. However, the final definition of ‘here’ is just as important, as it is through the social, cultural and experiential aspects of the car that we can begin to appraise a holistic consumption of the car. By framing the socio-cultural consumption of the car within an environmental context, and also within a technological context, it may be possible to reconcile the irrationality of car consumption with the rationality demanded by the environmental imperative, and so provide a new perspective upon the appetite and potential for low carbon automobility.

In 1957, French philosopher Roland Barthes made what now appears to be an extremely prescient observation, when he suggested that the Citroën DS may mark a change in the ‘mythology’ of cars, noting that “until now, the ultimate of cars belonged to the bestiary of power; here it becomes at once more spiritual and object-like”. The power race practised more recently by, for example, some of the German marques, together with a mindset fomented by certain TV programmes, suggests that this mythological change hasn’t been universally adopted. That said, an environmental imperative fostered by the threat of climate change suggests that a change in our automotive perceptions may be overdue. Might an environmental awareness acquire such a status within automobility that supplants the ‘bestiary of power’ of which Barthes writes?

Any changes in the way we consume the car may provide an appropriate answer. As a result of my PhD, I hope to have answers to some of the above questions in due course.

A version of this article previously appeared on the Cartechnical website, the link to which is here.