Letter to readers, January 1989

What turns you on?

Dear Reader,
A little while ago I was driving into London’s Heathrow Airport, following a Saab Turbo. I was in a Porsche, and we weren’t racing or competing, merely going about our business. As we wound our way along the perimeter road we came up behind a Jaguar XJ-S, and turning into a car park I looked in my mirror to see a Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL behind me. I have a fairly simple outlook, in that I like all cars and some more than others, and from early schoolboy days certain cars have always excited me more than others. I suppose it started with things like 8-cylinder supercharged 2.3-litre Alfa Romeos, Tourist Trophy Lagondas, MGs and Rileys, all orientated to racing and competition. I don’t recall getting excited about the latest Morris 10/4 or the Austin Ruby saloon. I am talking of 50 years ago, or more, when the chance of seeing a high-performance car on the road was pretty rare, so one had to be content with photographs in The Autocar, The Motor and Motor Sport.

Today things are very different and much better, and the schoolboy enthusiast on his bicycle can stand on a bridge overlooking a motorway and watch most of his dream cars go whizzing by underneath. He might even see a Ferrari doing some dastardly illegal speed like “more than 70mph”. The fact that all the Cavaliers are passing at 110mph will probably leave him cold, like the Morris 10/4 did for me many years ago.

That little quartet of Jaguar, Saab, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz going into the car park at Heathrow caused me to reflect on what an interesting motoring world we live in and what super cars the world’s manufacturers keep producing for our enjoyment, either as users or viewers. I can stand on a street corner in any city and happily watch the traffic going by, for the scene is always changing and there is always a “nugget” hidden away among the dross if you are interested in cars.

l am not saying that all cars excite me, but all cars do interest me, some more than others, and some really “turn me on”. They need not be perfect, and on acquaintance many of them have the most awful faults, but they still “turn me on” as they go by, or if I see them parked in a row of bread-and-butter vehicles. I won’t list my “priority” cars because they are personal to me, and your list is probably personal to you. I am sure we all have our likes and dislikes, and if we all liked the same thing the scene would be about as exciting as a taxi-rank. Just think over your own list of cars that “turn you on”.

For some people Ford Sierras are probably exciting, but for me they are merely cars that are always leaning on my back bumper trying to get by in the most unsuitable places. Volvos may be somebody’s “exciting” cars, but for me they are merely cars that are always in the way! To each his own choice.

Last summer I was driving across the Lambourn Downs in Berkshire with a friend, in my van, acting as “tender vehicle” to some more friends in their vintage cars. It was a glorious sunny morning and all was well with the world. Looking in the mirror, I said to my friend: “We are about to be overtaken by a K100 BMW motorcycle, and behind it is something really interesting”. The four-cylinder “Bee-Em” purred past, and then came a lovely healthy sound as a Le Mans Replica Frazer Nash went by, its Bristol based engine well on song. It was a fine sight, and my friend nearly swooned. “Ooh! That is my idea of the ultimate sports-car,” he said, and went on to explain that when the Le Mans Replica Nash first appeared in 1949, he was doing his service in the RAF and it really “turned him on” even though he could never aspire to owning one. Like me and the 2.3 blown Alfa Romeo some years before.

To appease him I explained the philosophy of driving a van. “If we had been in the Porsche we wouldn’t have seen that lovely sight, we would have been going at the same speed as the ‘Nash and the two would never have met.”

Another close friend, from a later era, is still very “uptight” about the only real, working, Vanwall going to an American Museum. He was at school in 1957-58 when the Vanwall team finally conquered Maserati and Ferrari, and his prize possession was a small model of a Vanwall. When Tony Vandervell had to close down his Grand Prix activities at the end of the Championship-winning 1958 season, this young lad was so upset that he went down to the end of his garden and set fire to his model. His world had ended.

I am happy to say that he recovered and today is a motor-racing enthusiast second to none, or perhaps I should qualify that and say “second to me”!

I find that most people get “turned on” by a particular car at an early age, but there are exceptions. I once met a very boring man who had “discovered” racing cars at the age of 31. He was very nouveau riche and bought the sort of cars that other people would enjoy, simply because he lacked any sort of “grounding” in what was right and what was wrong. I asked him what he had been doing up to the age of 31, that he hadn’t discovered racing cars. His reply shut me up! He said, “I’ve been making money”, to which I could only comment “How dull”.

Then there was the racing driver who didn’t learn to drive until he was 24, and cars had never come into his life until then. His family did not own a car, he was quite happy in his work and enjoyed athletic sports, and didn’t really know that motor racing existed. A friend at work introduced him to Brands Hatch and the racing bug bit. He became a very respected Formula One World Champion! It is never too late.

Going to the other extreme, what I find nauseating is the sight of a small boy who can barely read or write being forced into driving a mininiature car by a doting father. Usually these fathers are suffering from frustration at not becoming a World Champion, or even a kart champion, through their own inability or lack of judgement, and they seem determined to force their offspring into the role they missed out on. These are the fathers who indulge in fisticuffs in the paddock at a kiddies’ playground, while the kiddies just want to mess about with miniature cars. Some of the kids really are turned on by a mini-replica of a Ferrari or a Porsche. Aren’t they the lucky ones?

We all get “turned on” by something; so what turns you on? Yours, DSJ