Geneva motor show

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Expensive exotica

For all its lavish displays, this year’s Geneva Motor Show produced little in the way of the unexpected, although the strong indications remain that, whatever the European economic situation, there will always be a steady market for exotic and wildly expensive machinery.

Wandering between the plethora of Maseratis, Ferraris, Jaguars and Mercedes-Benz, not to mention the seemingly endless stands full of specialist coachbuilders doing weird and not-so-wonderful things to previously perfectly reasonable motor cars, there was no doubt that the Hooper coach work stand was the centre of attention. Attention, if not neccessarily attraction…

At the risk of being branded naive, I have always privately wondered why people dressed up Mercedes and BMW models with special bodywork from respected concerns such as AMG and Lorinser. Each to his own, I grant you, but I am tempted to ask: “If it’s such a good idea, why didn’t BMW or Mercedes do it – or at least offer it – from the outset?”

I stood for several minutes eyeing the dark blue bulk of the Hooper Empress II, feeling a quizzical expression spreading across my face. Priced at £275,000 it is claimed to be the most expensive car in the world, and I’m not going to argue. But, for all it’s detailed excellence and splendid standards of workmanship, I would prefer the straightforward Bentley turbo, which is a fine car in its basic trim.

The Hooper Empress II might well be “a classic to be cherished by collectors in the future,” according to company chairman John Dick, but its styling is a curious blend of mid-Atlantic trendiness and English conservatism. Don’t worry, at least the wire wheels are genuine!

Coming back to a financially more manageable level, the coupe versions of the medium-sized Mercedes range were making their show debuts. They were just what one would have expected from M-B – stylish good taste, combining elan with a degree of restraint. Engines and suspensions are shared with the saloon and estate models in the range, but the wheelbase and floorpans are 3in shorter, and the roofline a little lower.

These new Mercedes coupes will make their British debut at Motorfair in October, but, with the pound looking healthier by the day on the foreign exchange markets, we had better hold our breath when it comes to seeing their prices. There is no word on that score yet. but you can rely on these splendid machines being even more costly that we anticipate!

One car not allowed on the stands was the prototype Ford Sierra Sapphire Cosworth, not yet a production model. You had to attend the Ford press conference on the evening prior to the first press day in order to view this well-balanced high-performance four-door machine, which is almost certain to be in even greater demand than the homologation special two-door, be-winged Cosworth which has already finished its 5000 production run.

Ford sheepishly admits it dramatically underestimated demand for its high-performance version of the Sierra. The new Sapphire, available from about October, will be out to attract business from those hundreds of people who had their deposit returned after attempting to buy one of the earlier versions!

Whilst there was nothing breathtaking or surprising on view, it was a timely opportunity to reflect on just how well the British motor industry is doing at the present time. The status generated by, and respect for Jaguar’s products is heart-warming to see on public display. The Rover Group is marketing its products aggressively and with a new found confidence, and decisions by Ford and General Motors to increase investment in British-based facilities augur well for the next few years.

Overwhelmingly, the mood at Geneva was one of unbridled optimism, although Sam Toy, recently retired from Ford and now President of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, made the very valid point that the British public as a whole does not fully appreciate the need and siginficance of such a large manufacturing industry.

At a time when Britain seems to be in danger of becoming little more than a service industry economy, he feels we should enhance awareness and consideration of our largest exporter of manufactured goods. He is probably right. AH