Zoooom! What The F*** Was That?

There aren’t that many things coming the other way which distract me these days. I spend so much time on the road that I’ve seen pretty much everything anyway. What’s more, the need to keep all four tyres sticky side down on the tarmac means that I really can’t afford the distraction on our crowded roads. There are occasional exceptions.

I’m not talking about PYTs in strappy little summery dresses; not this time anyway. I’m talking about the rare stuff, the unusual stuff and the exquisitely beautiful stuff which occasionally and momentarily means that I watch it instead of the road ahead. I was in Scotland last week which is why there were no blog posts. My dongle wasn’t working. It’s not often a man admits to a fault with his dongle, but I’m secure and know that sometimes equipment failures happen and it’s really nobody’s fault… Was I just talking about PYTs in summery strappy dresses?

Anyway.

The A14 is a complete sod of a road. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s a two lane dual carriageway for most of its length and it has a lamentable standard of driving combined with very heavy traffic loads most mornings around Cambridge. There are few mornings I go along it when there isn’t a queue of traffic and sadly sometimes it’s been caused by an accident. Last week, as I headed out of Cambridge along the A14 towards the A1, there was the usual long line of nearly stationary cars and trucks trying to head in the opposite direction from the Swavesey junction. What was unusual was the Ferrari 458 trickling along with the rest of them in the outside lane. It was Retail Red. I couldn’t tell from my side of the carriageway and at the speed I was doing what colour the interior was but if it wasn’t either Nero or Crema, I’ll eat some of Jeremy Clarkson’s hairy omelette. And that wasn’t a euphemism. I hadn’t understood the 458 until that moment. I’d seen the pictures and it just seemed odd-looking. I saw it at the showroom in Edinburgh and thought it looked surprisingly okay, considering. It’s only when you see it out of doors, in real light that the shape finally clicks. I’d still rather have the McLaren but I’m not going to think anyone who’d have the Ferrari is an idiot any more.

I saw a few nice vintage Bentleys and one Rolls-Royce 20/25hp during my week in Scotland. I’ve written about my weakness for the fastest lorries on Earth before in this blog so I won’t go on at length here. I will confess however that I missed the VSCC Spring Start this year for the first time in ages because I was distracted by running. I’m training for the Edinburgh Half Marathon on 22 May and if you feel so inclined, you can sponsor me on my Just Giving page. I’m raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. Back to last week’s Bentleys. The one which stuck in my memory the most was in Fife. It wasn’t a vintage car, it was a special. It was a two seat roadster with what looked like a cut down Mk6 or R-Type radiator surround at the end of its long, green bonnet. Again it was travelling in the opposite direction to me leaving a village as I was entering and I really couldn’t affort to watch it at all because of the children playing with a ball on the pavement a couple of hundred yards ahead. All I had was a flash of sunlight reflected from the radiator and the merest impression of a rakishly unkempt body. I liked it very much indeed.

Soon you won’t be able to move in some parts of the world without falling over a Ferrari 458. They’re going to make a few thousand a year of them, after all. Even old Bentleys are not that unusual in the quieter backroads of rural England on some sunny weekends. Ariel Atom V8s are never going to be a common slight unless you work for Ariel while they’re building them. I saw one on Friday afternoon. It was just south of the Scottish border on the A68 and it was all wings. I know that there isn’t much more to the V8’s bodywork than that in any case but all I noticed were the front wing as it closed on me and the rear wing as it disappeared up the road in my wing mirror. I didn’t have time to lower my window to hear the engine as it passed but it was travelling slowly in any case. That is a single carriageway and traffic was light but constant in each direction. The road is bendy there, all short straights and frustration if you’re caught behind a caravan or a truck with not much chance to overtake unless you’re sociopathic or suicidal. I was stuck behind a tour bus which was travelling quickly enough down the hill but had insufficient momentum to go up slopes all that well. My swearing at the back end of the stupid bus stopped for a few minutes after I saw the Atom. There was a nice long straight which was free of oncoming traffic a few corners later and I breezed past it. Sometimes, a moment’s distraction is enough to refocus on the task in hand.

Ships That Pass In The Night

There’s something about a fleeting glimpse of a rare car at night, especially when it’s a rare car you like and especially, especially when it’s a rare car you like that hardly anybody else does. You see a flash of  unfamiliar headlights; the reflection of streetlights on chrome trim or side panels; or the red blaze of tail lights as the disappear again into the darkness. Like most things at night – rats rustling about in the undergrowth, foxes screaming somewhere not quite far enough away or cats fighting and fucking just round the corner – sounds attract the attention more than sight does. You can hear the howl of a flat-plane Ferrari V8 for a long time before you ever see it and there is a special quality to sound at night. I remember the first time I saw a Ferrari 360 Modena. I almost didn’t see it at all. I heard it coming in the stream of traffic but it disappeared round a corner and all I really saw was the tail-lights streaking red through the night.

The Modena is quite a rare car but not as rare in thse parts as a Cadillac CTS. The Caddy is a car that few people understand and even fewer actually like. I really do but I’m one of about four people in the UK who does. I don’t know why that is. It’s handsomely styled with a minimum of chrome trim. It’s well equipped and not that expensive. The interior doesn’t feel like it’s made from discarded wheelie bins and has nicely stitched leather trim and a sat-nav screen which rises from the top of the dash.  There’s no diesel engine but you can have a supercharged V8 that’s more or less the same as the one in the Corvette ZR1 and yesterday’s rant on sportiness notwithstanding, I know which one I’d rather have. There is a V6 in 2.8 or 3.6 litre flavours if you think 556bhp is excessive.

The one I saw last week was black. I saw the chrome grille flash orange under the streetlights and another bluish flash from the xenons as it passed the pedestrian crossing where I was waiting to begin my evening run with the rest of the Run Club. I recognised it but none of my friends gave it a second glance. I couldn’t take my eyes off it as it passed a couple of feet away. I swear that the tail lights had a red comet tail as it disappeared round the corner and over the rail bridge. It didn’t of course, but the CTS is a car which deserves its own comic and that’s how it happens in comics. The V6 like this one is Clarke Kent but the supercharged CTS-V definitely wears its underpants over its trousers whatever time of night it goes out.

When Harry Met Sally. (Not Really.)

Because When Ford Sued Ferrari wouldn’t really have worked as a title. Well, I thought about it and then changed my mind. I mean, I wanted to do something about faking a spectacular orgasm but couldn’t work it in neatly enough. There was something about faking a spectacular toy ejection from an over-large perambulator but that doesn’t really work either.

Anyway.

Ummm, Ferrari F150, I think...

Ford is launching a lawsuit to protect its trademarked “F-150” nameplate which gets attached to monstrous pick up trucks against those well-known commercial vehicle builders in Modena, Ferrari.

And this is the Ford F-150, isn't it?

Ferrari has called its 2011 F1 car F150 in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. Who wouldn’t want to mark that in some significant way?

Unfortunately, Ferrari’s evident patriotic pride has upset Ford to the point that in order to protect the investment they have made in the F-150 name, Ford is spending money on a lawsuit in a US District Court. The damages they are seeking will probably be less than the amount they have to spend on lawyers. Daftness, if you ask me.

It’s worse than that, in fact. Ford sells thousands of these things in a year and the business is very profitable for them. They will probably sell more of their F-150s in a few minutes than Ferrari will build in the course of the 2011 season, even if Alonso and Massa go on a bit of a banzai bin it spree all year and destroy a chassis each at every race meeting.

If the Ferrari turns out to be a dog this year, then at least we’ll all have a chance for some good pick-up truck jokes.

As with most things in business, there’s a long back story to this. Back in the early 1960s, Ford almost bought Ferrari. They fell out over how much control the Old Man would retain over his beloved racing team and the deal fell through. Ferrari sold a stake in his company to the Agnelli family and FIAT and Ford went on a spending spree to beat Ferrari at Le Mans. Ford, or maybe Lola, built the GT and won in 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969. Ferrari hasn’t won at Le Mans since. This is an old, old family feud.

Ford has a history of winning but occasionally its lawsuits come unstuck. A British kit car manufacturer called Dutton was producing a faux-roader called a Sierra in the late 1970s. Ford wanted to use that name on its replacement for the Cortina. It sued Dutton and was forced into accepting a compromise; Dutton could continue to use the Sierra name as long as they referred to is as the “Sierra kit car.”

I like the F-150. If I were in the market for an oversized beer-hauler, I’d have one rather than the Dodge or Chevy alternatives. And Ford is a company with some momentum now. The new Focus is in the dealers and, slightly apologetic looks apart, is set for success. There’s an electric version of it coming soon to grab attention from the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf but this week, they’ve shot themselves in the foot. Shame.