An Inadvisable Spectacle

Twinkly, not manly.

I was recently at Sytner’s BMW dealership in Nottingham. I was doing my usual thing of wandering around, daydreaming uselessly. Dealership staff must be used to people like me who stroll around. I try to take up as little of their time as possible in case a real prospect should come in. I’d hate someone to lose out on a sale because they’ve been talking to me.

BMW dealerships are strange places. New BMW saloons and estates are almost invariably a shade of grey or blue. It leads to a very cool atmosphere as you walk around. I like the BMW aesthetic even if its palette is somewhat restricted. I said in my last post that the 5-series in particular is graceful and restrained. It’s a fine thing to watch as it passes you on the road and God knows, there are enough of them around now.

As I was leaving the showroom, I looked over and among all the cool blue and grey BMWs there was a lone Jaguar XF. It wasn’t a red one but even so it was a striking sight. It’s a very beautiful object, an XF. It was parked nose-on to a wall, otherwise alone in a line of 3s and 5s. Sometimes, you’ll see an utterly gorgeous individual just going about their business and everyone else will seem just a little less attractive in comparison. I was once at a party and Helena Bonham-Carter was there, sitting under a tree in the garden, talking to a couple of her friends. It was that kind of party. She was in jeans and trainers, no big thing, but she still managed to look just a little brighter than anyone else there. That XF managed to pull off the same trick in a car park full of BMWs.

The new XF has been out for a few weeks now and I’ve begun to see it in some numbers. The lights are new and it’s the lights which bother me. They’re spoiling the car. They’re like those on the XJ and those on the concept which introduced the XF and that’s a good thing. What spoils the car is the LED running lights: they’re overwrought. BMW’s rings of light and Audi’s strips and bars both work well for them. The Jag’s hooky things just don’t. If you have one of these rather lovely cars, do me a huge favour and turn off the running lights. You’re making a spectacle of yourself.

Try Talking About Anything Else Today

I was going to write a very interesting post about Moskvitches, GAZes and Ladas today. There is lots to say about the role of class analogues in Soviet society. It was riveting. Then I saw this.

Jaguar, you completely screwed up my carefully planned, closely argued post and I hate you, you bunch of bastards. Who is going to be prepared to read about Homo sovieticus motoris on a day like today? This is the Jaguar C-X16 Concept and is going to appear in a Jaguar showroom near you some time next year as the fabled New E-Type of myth and legend.

The C-X16 has an intriguing drivetrain. It’s front-engined and rear drive and has an eight-speed automatic gearbox which also has a 90-odd bhp electric motor-generator built into it. This combines with the 375bhp, supercharged, direct injection petrol V6 to do uncomfortable things with your innards when you fully depress the accelerator pedal. So, it’s a hybrid. Bit nicer than a Prius or Insight, eh?

Take another look.

If you were to present me with Keira Knightley, naked except for a light slathering of chocolate mousse, I don’t think I’d be drooling more. It has a side-hinged hatch just like an E-Type and those slim rear lights which remind me of an E-… You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?  The quad exhausts and diffuser-doodah are very contemporary expressions of power and motorsport and all that good stuff. See, nothing like a Prius or Insight.

The interior of the C-X16 is redder than a Lada driver’s face on a hot day. Note the gear lever. The rotary knob selector Jaguar is using in the XF, XJ and XK doesn’t make it to the new car. There are paddles to control the gear selection too.  The big red button on the steering column to calls up additional electric power in a racy ‘push-to-pass’ stylee. All very motorsport again.

The performance is zoomy. 0-60mph in not much. The maximum speed is lots. Confusingly, the carbon dioxide emissions are low for the performance. It’s really got that hybrid thing going. You can see it in Frankfurt next week if you’re going or in every magazine and motoring website in the country right now, including this one. Sorry.

Another Broken Dream

I think I was on the Autocar forums. It was one of the perennial “Fantasy Garage” discussions which crop up wherever car nerds gather. That day my choices were a Bentley 3 litre Speed, a Jaguar C-type, a Land Rover Defender 90 station wagon, a Renaultsport Clio Cup 197 and a Bristol Fighter S. The list changes almost every day but I remember this one.

The ex-Forrest Lycett Bentley 3 litre Speed

This is the Bentley I wanted. It was ordered new by Forrest Lycett, a founder member of the Bentley Drivers’ Club and the owner of a succession of rather quick Bentleys. This is the car which another owner complained was too slow. Lycett sold it to a Mrs de Vries who took it to Bentley’s service centre with her complaint. The lads in the shop fettled it and checked it and could find no fault with it. In desperation they advanced the speedometer by 5mph and she went away quite happy.

Fangio's C-type

The bronze coloured C-type in the photograph once belonged to Fangio. That Fangio. The one who was Formula 1 world champion five times. The one who was kidnapped by revolutionaries in Cuba. Yes, that Juan-Manuel Fangio. It was built in 1952 and will you look at it? It retains the proportions of the XK120 – it was originally the XC120C, after all – but has been lovingly tended and smoothed and aerodynamified by Malcolm Sayer. Yes, I know aerodynamified isn’t a real word but this is my blog and I’ll make words up if I want to. So there. Any C-type is going to be a special car, but who wouldn’t want one which had belonged to Fangio?

I don’t have any huge preference for the Landie or the Clio Cup. I’d like a red Defender on steel wheels and proper off-road tyres and I prefer the look of the Clio 197 to the new 200. The only one of the five cars I would want to order new is the Bristol and the news I read in today’s Autocar means that particular fantasy just became slightly less likely: Bristol Cars has gone into administration. I know that a lottery win sufficient to purchase Forrest Lycett’s Bentley and Fangio’s old Jag was on the tenuous side of unlikely anyway, but let me have my dream. I wanted to go into Bristol’s showroom on Kensington High Street, chat about this and that over a cup of Lady Grey for a while and commission them to build me a Fighter S in Ferrari TdF blu with tan leather upholstery and Fighter T wheels. Side-exit exhausts would have been nice too but would not have been essential. It’s possible that I might have ordered a Blenheim 3S instead. I wouldn’t have wanted to shout about having come into a lot of money and Bristols are nothing if not discreet.

The factory in Filton has been closed and the craftsmen there laid off. Autocar reported that they had been spending nearly all their time on restoration work instead of building new cars. The service department moved last year from Chiswick to Brentford and I would imagine that that will remain in operation. Toby Silverton, Bristol’s chairman says he is confident that they will be able to find a way forward for the business. I really hope they do. Bristol is never going to play a major role in the car industry of the 21st century but we need manufacturers of quiet, confident and idiosyncratic cars like the Blenheim and Fighter.

Catfight!

I am grateful to my old friend Nigel Smith – @neij on Twitter – for drawing my attention to this story. A Swiss bloke with lots of dosh and presumably a preference for old Jag styling over contemporary commissioned a Swedish company to build him this homage to the E. The car is called the Growler E and was built by a company called Vizualtech. They have some previous, having done some unpleasant things to the new Camaro and an unsuspecting Volvo C30. Rather more successfully, they’ve created a seriously gorgeous retro powerboat design.

Vizualtech is of the opinion that nobody much likes Jaguar’s current styling and that they can do better. I’m going to make one of three assumptions here; that they’re blind, that they’re stupid or that they’re picking a fight they know they’re not going to win in order to gain publicity. They are at least getting some attention from the car blogs. They think that the XK, the E-type the Mark 2 and the Series III XJ are all better in visual terms than current Jags. I’m not convinced of that. I was only today drooling gently over the rear haunches of an XKR for sale at Marshall’s on Newmarket Road. I admire the style of the old cars but I’m a gym-going, blogging, 21st Century man and I will happily dribble all day on Jaguar’s current line-up. At least until the showroom staff ask me to leave.

This confection owes a lot to the Jaguar XKR. Its supercharged 5.ol V8 has been boosted from 51obhp to 600bhp. I’m not at all sure that those rather attractive wire wheels will be able to cope with the torque of the engine. The central tub is made of carbon fibre and the oily and springy bits from the XKR are attached to tubular frames bolted to the carbon tub. The bodywork is made from composites. I quite like it but it’s not anything like as sexy as the original E-type or even Ian Callum’s XKR. While the Growler E has hardly been beaten with the ugly stick, it does look as if a Series 1 E-type coupe spent the night giving a ’56 ‘Vette a thorough seeing-to and nine months later, this was the result. Both Corvette and Jag have good genes so their offspring is hardly a minger but it’s no match for me for the XKR. There is too much pastiche in the design for my taste. Vizualtech say that they will build a limited run of Growler Es if there is sufficient interest.

I can’t help feeling that Mr Swiss Bloke would have been better advised going to Eagle and having them build him one of their re-engineered E-types. He could then have 21st century engineering and performance in proper 1960s styling. If he’d wanted a saloon, then Beacham would have built him a supercharged V8 Mark 2. If he were slightly strange, and being Swiss that’s just possible, KWE would have done him a very nice Series III XJ or even better an XJ-S. My favourite new old Jags are the XKs that JD Classics build in Maldon. If you haven’t been, I can thoroughly recommend a visit to their showroom and workshops. They ran some open days in 2009 which were very well run and well-supported by local petrolheads. I made the trip down from Cambridge for the last one of the year when they had Brian Lister as guest of honour in conversation with Tony Dron. It was fascinating. As well as repair, restoration and maintenance of all sorts of classics, they have a series of upgrades for the XKs of the 1950s which will result in a car which looks like a very nicely restored XK but which will not overheat in heavy traffic, will handle nicely on modern tyres and will be wind- and weather-proof. I know that they’ve done at least one Series III XJ and that was a very, very nice motor car indeed.

There are few things which were better in the Sixties than today. The absence of AIDS is about the only think I can think of which makes that period better than this. In every other respect we’re better off today than we were then and that includes the design of our Jags.

Back To The Future

There are a couple of anniversaries this year I’m keen to mark in some way. The Geneva Motor Show opens in about 10 days and it’s the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Jaguar E-type.

Phwoar!

 I’d normally expect a new concept from Jaguar to mark the anniversary but last year they built the rather wonderful C-X75 as a 75th birthday present to themselves. That car was an awful lot of concepts all rolled into one: a range-extended, plug in, gas turbine-powered hybrid with four in-hub electric motors and a ridiculously gorgeous two-seat supercar body. All that engineering effort means that there is probably precious little left over to build a new E-type even though such a car has been mooted for years now. I expect there will be some kind of special edition XK or XKR with some nice leather seats, a turned aluminium dash and some crackle black trimmings to the fascia.

You might also expect Renault to party like it’s 1961. That’s when they launched the Renault 4. The boxy little Renault is pretty much everything the Shaguar isn’t. It’s lack of overt sex appeal was such that it is alleged that one Italian model refused to be photographed with it. I think it’s quite sexy in a French peasant way, you know like really rough wine, cheese that smells like a goat with halitosis and a mustache that’s been marinaded in Pernod for years. Having said all that, the Quatrelle was in production for much longer than even the Jag and that lasted in three series until 1974. The Renault was in production until 1992 and it changed a lot less than the Jaguar did.

Renault will no doubt have some kind of celebration planned for the anniversary. Its new electric cars could form part of the celebrations but none of them are the basic transport for four people that the Quatrelle was. The Fluence is probably closest but it’s a bit too posh. The Twizy is too small and weird. The closest in spirit to the 4 in the current Renault line-up is the Kangoo van-with-windows thing. It’s nice and simple and has a big hatch at the back. It’s one of the things I like. Renault will build an electric Kangoo van and it would be the work of but a moment to add the windows, back seats and big hatch and I would have only the second electric car that I actually like.

Another of the things I like is the new Morgan 3 Wheeler. Only Morgan could introduce a car which looks even older than the car it’s had in production since the Norman Conquest. It has a big, throbby, 100bhp Harley-Davidson engine and a five speed gearbox from a Mazda. It’s made from aluminium but to be honest, from not much aluminium so it only weighs about 500kg. It has leather seats and a cockpit like a Tiger Moth. The brochure says it has an aerodynamic bullet-shaped body. Yeah, right. Adrian Newey would laugh his very technical socks off at that notion. The brochure also talks about a feeling of flying through the air so its top speed will probably feel about 400mph. In truth, it’ll be flat out at 115mph but frankly, who cares? It’s a thing a beauty and a joy for ever. The price will likely to be around £30,000 and that’s quite a lot of money for three wheels, some tubes, the engine from a Hog and the instruments from a biplane. On the other hand, it’s not much to pay for the most fun you can have with your bobble hat on.

Tally ho, chaps!