This Isn’t Going To End Well

I heard about this story on the Transport Evolved podcast which I listened to this afternoon. My thanks to Nicky Gordon-Bloomfield, the podcast’s host. You can hear the podcast here. Transport Evolved is a green transport podcast with a strong emphasis on cars which come with a plug attached. It has a bias but it’s worth listening to because it’s the only extant podcast on electric vehicles which is made in the UK. I’d planned to do a review of the show at some point in any case because I find it interesting. I’ll do that when I’ve had a chance to talk to Nicky.

In the meantime…

Tesla Motors, the makers of my favourite electric car, have issued a lawsuit against Top Gear, the makers of my second favourite motoring-based nonsense show claiming that the show fabricated scenes depicting the failure of its Roadster and scripted the conclusion of the test before carrying it out. I can’t believe that this will end well for anyone concerned, other than the lawyers both parties will be obliged to pay to argue their cases in the British courts. They’re going to coin it. What’s more, they’ll be coining it at the expense of the Licence Fee payer, at least as far as the defendants are concerned.

I watched the film again this evening and it was a remarkably positive review apart from the conclusion in which Clarkson said that the Tesla doesn’t work in the real world. He considered that £92,000 was quite a lot to spend on an electric Elise, even if it goes like stink and handles quite well. He was worried about the range. He said it was 200 miles but that they would get about 55 miles if it were driven hard at track speed. The brakes failed during the test and required a fuse to be replaced before they worked effectively again. The motor overheated, the car went into a reduced power mode and the car was seen being pushed into a garage or hangar at the test track.

Tesla is worried that this constitutes bad publicity and is damaging to their reputation. In my opinion, they’re wrong. I loved the film and was excited to find out more about the car as a result of seeing it. Like the presenters of the show, I think it’s far too expensive but unlike them, I don’t think that the range is an issue. The problems with the motor and the brakes would almost certainly not be repeated in everyday use. It’s not as if Tesla is the only company to be on the receiving end of an indifferent review. TVRs used to be pasted for their unreliability and idiosyncrasy. The Aston Martin Vanquish was lambasted because the belt for its power steering pump slipped off and had to be replaced not once but twice during a test. The Bentley Arnage shredded its tyres. The Prodrive P2 made Jeremy chunder and the Nissan GTR almost broke his neck.  In each case, the problems were brought to attention in the test and the manufacturer hasn’t sought redress in the courts.

I really think this is a bad idea for Tesla. They’re going to look foolish and churlish if it ever reaches court. I can only hope that they’ll see sense and withdraw the suit before it gets there.

What They Didn’t Tell You On Top Gear

Some stuff got lost in amongst all the hoo-hah about feckless, sleeping Mexicans on Top Gear a week ago; they didn’t actually mention the car they were supposed to be talking about.

I’m not going to get into whether I think the schtick was funny. We’ve all had extended stupid rants about stuff. Mine are usually about the piece of shit laptop I’m writing this blog post on and they are much, much more sweary and offensive than what Hammond was saying. I suppose the difference is that my audience extends no further than a couple of cats, my wife, step-son and occasionally the neighbours if I’m especially loud.

(Bonny and Asha, if you’re reading this, sorry for this afternoon’s sweary interlude.)

More orange than an Apprentice Boys' Parade

Anyway, here is the car they forgot to mention when they were having a pop at the Mexicans. It’s called the Mastretta MXT and it looks to me a little like an Exige designed by a talented sixth-form class. It’s powered by a turbocharged 2.0 litre Ford Duratec engine sitting across the middle of an aluminium and carbon fibre chassis, driving the rear wheels through a five speed gearbox. Mastretta says that it produces 250 bhp and 250 lb ft of torque. They also say that it’ll do the zoomy thing from 0-62mph in a smidge under 5 seconds and that’s quite zoomy. In fact, it doesn’t sound like anything you’ll find sleeping under a blanket with a hole cut in it for a neck.

It weighs about the same as a Lotus Exige S. Its claimed perfomance is slightly worse but only by a couple of tenths. I’m not sure that most people would notice the difference in absolute terms between 4.7s and 4.9s even if they could actually manage to get close to those figures in the first place. If you’re paying for your own clutches and tyres, the chances are that you’re not going to be  trying to match them anyway.

The MXT was first shown as a prototype at the London Motor Show in 2008 where owing to my extreme dislike of motor shows, I didn’t see it. It was launched at Paris last year. Again owing to my dislike of motor shows compounded with my antipathy towards Parisians, I didn’t see it. I would have quite liked seeing it on Top Gear last week, but there you go. Can’t have everything.

One other thing you can’t have is a test drive unless you live in Mexico. You can have it in right hand drive, though. They will build 150 MXTs in 2011. Its quoted price was thirty-odd thousand pounds when the prototype was shown in London in 2008 which would be quite a lot for slightly slower, slightly uglier Exige. I’ll be waiting for news about how it drives later in the spring. I hope it will be fun and not soporific.

Not Another Car Blog

I’m afraid so. It’s only taken me three weeks to complete Word Press’ famous five minute installation. That’s because I’m an idiot and that will probably be a recurring theme for this blog. So, where to start?

I’ve been reading the motoring press since I was about twelve years old. That’s more than thirty years now. I’ve read either Motor or Autocar nearly every week since the late 70’s. To tell the truth, I prefered Motor. The writing was livelier and it just seemed less dull. The covers were always better and more interesting. Autocar just seemed stuffier and cheaper at the same time, like a retired army captain living in a room in boarding house with his memories, his photograph albums and too much furniture. It’s much improved, of course. Successive editors have made it better and better. Wednesdays are not really Wednesdays unless I’ve bought my copy. I occasionally buy Auto Express. It’s all right but I don’t like the layout and design and I have no real interest in the consumer advocacy work they do.

The monthlies are where things get interesting. CAR is the journal of record. It always has been for me. They’ve had the writers I most admire. I loved LJK Setright and Phil Llewellyn and Russell Bulgin and ‘Steady’ Barker. That was the classic line-up of columnists at the front of the magazine. It’s where I first read the expression ‘muttering rotter.’ It might have been in something Steve Cropley wrote, or maybe it one of the others. I don’t remember who, but the expression stuck with me. So did the photography and the layout. It was all the class of the field. I remember a collection of CAR photography which I kept for years until one day it fell apart in spite of the quality of its binding. I’d pored over every picture so much.

I remember Street Machine which I bought each month with my pocket money while I was at school. I had a kit car phase which went on for years. I bought Kit Car Magazine and read stories about building cars every month. Now I can’t for the life of me remember why. I suppose I liked the idea of taking an old rot box and making a shiny red sports car out it. (It was always red, wasn’t it?)

I like Top Gear. It’s entertainment. It’s not really about the cars any more but it’s silly in a good way. It’s pretty much everything that the likes of evo isn’t. evo is fetishistic. It’s also the only magazine I currently subscribe to. I was going to cancel my subscription but then Chris Harris started writing for them and he wrote the best article I’ve ever read in any car magazine ever. It was the first drive feature in Autocar about the mark 1 Focus RS and it was so full of the enthusiasm and exuberance I would have been feeling had I been there.

That’s what marks out the best motoring journalism. It’s about putting us there in the car and telling us what it’s like. There are cars like rare classics which I’ll never be able to drive but the journalists at Classic & Sportscar and octane can put me there.

I’d like to write for the motoring press but I’m now too old to start a new career at the bottom of the heap. I have my wife and stepson and cats and chickens and mortgage. I have a company car and a twenty year career selling books behind me and I can’t afford to be an intern. I can blog about the things I read. If  I get enough readers, I might be able to persuade come press officers to let me have a go from time to time but that’s not why I’m writing this blog. I’m trying to convey some of the enthusiasm I feel about these inanimate chunks of metal even if I’ll never be as good at it as the guys I’ve been reading all these years.