The Rotties 2012

In line with everyone else at this time of year, I’m going to be handing out awards to my favourite cars. The Rotties have to be the least prestigious awards in the automotive world and I can’t imagine that terribly many Rottie laureates are going to be all that chuffed to be on the winners’ list. I have absolutely no budget for hosting a posh dinner anywhere and we all know that drinking and driving don’t mix in any case. I’d hate for an award winner to get a ban on the way home from the Rotties awards ceremony down the Dog and Sprocket. On the other hand, it might be something to put into a press release on a quiet day in Ulan Bator, so here goes.

Least Memorable Car of the Year

The shortlist for this award was quite long. There is stiff competition among the forgettable cars on sale in Britain in 2012. There’s the Thingie, you know, the Thingie. You know it. You must. You go past enough of them on the way to pick up some more Cornflakes on a Saturday morning. It looks quite nice in that anonymous dark blue shade. Then there’s the Whatumacallit. You must know that one. It has a very nice handbrake button. It’s driven by genial people. You’ve never seen one cut anyone up because it’s quite slow and the drivers are too amiable. Neither the Thingie nor the Whatumacallit is the winner tonight. Each has at least one feature which brings it to mind. No. This year’s Least Memorable Car is… Nope. It’s gone. Can’t remember. We’ll come back to it later.

Dysfunctional Family Car of the Year

For the man who thinks he has everything.

The dysfunctional family has very particular needs. Mum and Dad, (or Dad and Dad, or Mum and Mum – this is 2012 after all) are not going to be talking to one another. The children are going to be bored, hate one another and on the point of pre-pubescent violence pretty much all the time. Had the Rotties been around in 1995, the Renault Espace F1 would have been a shoe-in to win. Everyone wears a crash helmet and it’s incredibly noisy so communication would be impossible. The four seats each have multipoint harnesses so the children would be restrained from striking each other in the few brief moments when the terror generated by its acceleration subsides. An 800bhp V10 engine from a Formula 1 car will cause enough acceleration to subdue the belligerence of even the stroppiest 10 year old and drown out their screams anyway.

And the award for Dysfunctional Family Car of the Year goes to...

My arbitrary rules have excluded the otherwise perfect Renault Espace F1. It’s too old, too singular and has too much black paint on its otherwise acceptably yellow bodywork. Instead, the Rottie for Dysfunctional Family Car of the Year goes to the remarkable new Land Rover Discovery. The parents up front can avoid talking to one another. This new one has the screen which allows the front passenger to watch a movie (The Witches of Eastwick or The Wars of the Roses for example) while the driver uses the sat-nav on the same screen. There would be no point in asking the front seat passenger to help with directions. They’d only point out where you’re going wrong in your life. You know exactly where it all started to go wrong in any case: getting involved with them. You can have it with a rear seat entertainment package which allows the passengers to watch films instead of scream at one another. The seat backs are durable enough to cope with the most inisistent of rhythmic kicking. The 3.0-litre diesel engine is joined to an 8-speed automatic gearbox as used in the Range Rover and assorted Jags so while the family may be dysfunctional, the car itself does everything one could possibly reasonably ask of it.

Least Memorable Car of the Year – Take 2

It’s on the tip of my tongue.

Wait…

No, sorry it’s gone. We’ll have to come back to it again.

Sports Car of the Year

Sports Car of the Year? Really?

2011 was a good year for sports cars. We’ve had the Porsche Boxster Spyder (almost like a Boxster S, just a little more powerful, slightly lighter and with a tent thing instead of the powered folding roof) and the really rather smashing Morgan +4 Supersports about which I have really been dreaming. I talk in my sleep fairly often. Her Indoors says that she is sometimes bamboozled by my nocturnal mutterings. I may have been mumbling about leather bonnet straps in the night.

So, why is there is a photograph of a Transit minibus at the top of this section? You’ll have to bear with me a little on this explanation. If you actually play any real sports at all, you’re not going to be able to use your Boxster or Morgan. If you play darts or snooker, you could. A set of ‘arras’ or a snooker cue would fit into either one easily. If, God forbid, you commit golf you’d have to put the clubs and their stupid, stupid bag onto the passenger seat so you couldn’t carry a passenger. That would be all right though because people who commit golf don’t really have friends. Real sports get you sweaty though and no darts player has ever got sweaty playing darts except just before his heart attack.

I’m a skinny runner and I can carry a pair of cross-country spikes in a very small canvas bag which would fit on my equally skinny friend’s lap. I could get away with the Porsche and or the Morgan. If you play another real sport like rugby and have any friends then you need a Transit minibus to take you and your friends to matches. Rugby players can be largish chaps (or chapesses, 2012 again) and they have lots of kit including all that poncy body armour. Dysfunctional Dad could use his Discovery, I suppose but he’s probably not allowed to play sports any more. He needs to take the boy or girl to their Saturday morning misery session instead. Some of my friends used a Transit minibus for their Three Peaks Challenge during the summer and found it an admirable way to get from one mountain to the next.

So, because sports cars are of limited use to anyone who actually plays sports, the Rottie for Sports Car of the Year goes to the Ford Transit minibus. It sort of makes sense.

Least Memorable Car of the Year – Take 3

Nope, still can’t remember. Moving on.

Most Over-engineered Shopping Car of the Year

In case Knightsbridge gets flooded.

I have no idea whether Keira Knightley has a sister, nor do I care. If she does, she’s probably nearly as gorgeous as Keira but not quite. In the same way, the five door version of the Range Rover Evoque isn’t quite as gorgeous as the three door. I’m not going to give in to the marketing people and call it a coupe because it’s not. Neither am I going to cut off my own nose just to spite my face and ignore the smallest Range Rover. Every time I see one of these things, it acts like an attention-hoover. It just looks right. The proportions are unusual so that it looks bigger than it really is. That those same marketing people are quite clever is a given. This very wonderful car is going to be badly parked in the better shopping areas of the world’s costlier cities. It’s capable of doing so much more but like Keira – and her sister – nobody is going to be interested in it for anything other than it’s looks and that’s a crying shame.

Least Memorable Car of the Year – Take 4

Ummm… Oh, forget it.

Repmobile of the Year

Because even muttering rotters can be sensible too

This is the only car I have driven of all the ones I’m handing out awards to. I’ve racked up over 30,000 miles this year in my Octavia Elegance. It’s done everything I’ve asked of it without complaint and with only a couple of small faults. Last winter, on the coldest of cold days, the windscreen washers froze on a motorway journey and I had to stop on the hard shoulder to wash the salt and grime off the screen myself. It was -12 Centigrade and the wind chill would have been horrendous so I’ll forgive it that. Rather more inexplicably, just last week I came out of the house to find all four windows wound down. The car was locked and the ignition was off. My step-son is not a practical joker so I have ruled out one particular reason why this might have happened. I’m slightly worried that it will happen again in a less safe area or on a wet and wild night but so far it all seems normal. No more ghosts in the machine. Oh, and the headlamp doesn’t want to come out so that I can replace a blown bulb but that might be my cack-handedness. I’m not good at things like that.

Those are the only faults or frustrations I’ve registered in 18 months and 52,000 miles. I have driven from Darkest Aberdeenshire to the Fens in a day with no backache, no ringing in my ears and on much less than a tank of diesel. The 1.6-litre common rail engine is powerful and torquey enough in this car to let me get on with driving without beimg stuck in a queue of slow moving traffic unless I have one of those nervous passengers. The dark upholstery even hides chocolate stains admirably. It has plenty of stowage space round the cabin for the little bits and bobs of a rep’s life on the road. The boot is gigundous and easily swallows everything I throw in there. I love this car and I’m already dreading the day I have to replace it because it may have been replaced itself by then.

The Muttering Rotter’s Car of the Year

Car of the Year, 1932

You know that this is a car blog of uninformed opinion, don’t you? So my Car of the Year is not based on long exposure in road tests. Sadly. My Car of the Year is the one which I have most wanted to spend time with. The Morgan 3 Wheeler is that car. I’ve read every word written about it. This is the car I’d have in my garage while the Audi A7 and McLaren MP4-12C – the other cars on the shortlist – sat alone, cold, unloved and lightly vandalised on the pavement outside. The A7 is beautiful and beautifully appointed and the McLaren is scandalously fast. The thing is that while I can imagine either of them taking me to my happy place quite quickly, my happy place is the driver’s seat of a Morgan 3 Wheeler.

Porsche-Faced…

Green is good

If you’re in the market for a fiftyish thousand pound sportscar, you’d be well advised to have a good close look at the Porsche Cayman R. The reviews have been excellent. It’s a Cayman S with a bit less weight and a bit more power and seats which hold you like a teenager holds a grudge. You can have it in a silly colour with silly graphics down the side and you know that movable spoiler at the back? It no longer moves. And while we’re on the topic of stuff the R doesn’t have, that includes air-conditioning and a stereo. They’ve been removed to save weight. Unlike the GT3 RS, they’re not no-cost options. If you want the nice people at the factory to fit them into your Cayman R, you’ll have to give them some money and by ‘some’ I meant quite a lot.

I was talking to a nice bloke at the Porsche Centre in Hatfield about the Cayman R. We were talking about test driving the demonstrator and he said that they have a driving consultant who would take me out and show me what the car could do. I was a little hazy about what a driving consultant does but it sounds a lot like an instructor. Now, surely some Porsche customers would be willing to take instruction? They can’t all be know-it-all smart arses incapable of listening to someone who knows how to drive better than they do? It’s possible that they are. An instructor is just a teacher who doesn’t teach children. These people haven’t listened to a teacher since they first realised they knew everything. While they wouldn’t listen to a teacher, Porsche thinks that they might listen to a consultant. A consultant is someone who tells you what you already know and charges you £400 an hour for the privilege.

All this is confirmation, as if any were needed, that Porsche knows how to market its cars. They’re very serious cars for very serious people. My old mum would have called them ‘po-faced.’ They employ consultants or are consultants. What you see above is not a serious car, at least not in the way the Cayman is. While the Cayman R doesn’t know how to tell a joke and drinks only spa water, the car above has a store of ribald and indiscreet stories and goes on occasional whisky binges to celebrate its successes. The car above is a Morgan Plus 4 Supersports. It’s a celebration itself; 2012 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Plus 4’s class victory at the Le Mans 24 Hour race and this year is the sixtieth anniversary of the original introduction of the Plus 4. It’s a Plus 4 with a little less weight and a little more power. There’s a theme developing here. You can have it in slightly silly colours and there are slightly silly badges and graphics.

I’m a Morgan fan. I like the cars and the culture and the fact that Charles Morgan follows me on Twitter. I also like that this wonderful thing is only the second most wonderful thing that Morgan makes. It’s a stablemate to the unutterably magnificent 3 Wheeler. It costs £49,995 before options. The Cayman R starts at £51,728 before you add the air-conditioning and stereo and you will add the air-con and music. The idea of air-conditioning in the Morgan is as silly as expecting the Queen Mum to have been a skilled unicyclist. You can have it with a hard-top and even a stereo, if you must. It’s more likely you’ll want it to come ready to race. I know I do.

“It’s Only Half A Car!”

I have strange obsessions these days

I blogged a few days ago about the new Morgan 3 Wheeler. I love this thing. It’s full of vim, vigour and vinegar. It has that character thing sussed.I don’t think it’s for everyone, though. I introduced it to my lovely wife as the newest object of my lust and her response was “It’s only half a car!” She’s wrong. It’s at least three-quarters of one, the fun three-quarters.

I was passing near Allon White Sports Cars in Cranfield earlier in the week and dropped in to have a chat about it. They didn’t have any sales material. They’ll have some when they get the launch cars back from Geneva. When they get back to Malvern the cars will be stripped and rebuilt as part of their production engineering process. Allon White won’t get a demonstrator until June. They’re booking test drives for it now, though. I’ve asked them to call me when they get their demonstrator. This is something I have to see for myself.

I was told that they only have four more build slots for 3 Wheelers for 2011 with the next available one in August for September delivery. If you want one of these wonderful-looking little cars before the weather turns completely cruddy, I suggest you get in touch with your dealer PDQ.If you go to Allon White, mention my name and I might get an extra hour or so in their demonstrator. Well, a boy can hope, right?

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!