Letter to readers

The Bright Side

Dear Reader,

As we plough our way into the 1990s, and for many it is not proving too easy, there should be a simple goal, to reach the year 2000. Not because the year 2000 is particularly significant, unless you happen to have been born in the year 1900, but it does seem to be a nice round figure and a point at which to look back to see where we have come from. Much more important will be to spend a good deal of time looking to where we are going. Looking back is easy, looking forward is very difficult but very rewarding if you have an active and inventive mind, and every now and then I remark to a good friend of mine "We live in a wonderful world" and I really mean that.

Driving in the vicinity of London Airport at Heathrow one day when the sky was blue and there wasn't a cloud in sight, I saw Concorde zooming up into the pale blue yonder, followed by a lumbering Boeing 747 Jumbo carrying some 350 people, and then a small private Falcon executive jet. There were aircraft taking off for all parts of the world, the exclusive few in Concorde about to travel at twice the speed of sound, the public en masse heading for South Africa non-stop in the Jumbo, and the small group in the Falcon going about their private business. Meanwhile cars, coaches and giant articulated lorries were pounding westwards on the M4 and thousands of vehicles were circulating our vast capital city on the M25 Motorway.

I was driving a "state of the art" Porsche and was well aware that not far away were Mulsanne Bentleys, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguars, BMWs and a lot of other good cars transporting people about. Family saloons and small vans were hurtling along at speeds unobtainable by sports cars a few years ago, and in the distance I saw an HST train heading to the west on its 125 mph journey to Bristol. I could not help thinking "we live in a wonderful world" but I must admit that my second thought was "but we are all mad, because we are all going to finish up six foot under the ground, so why are we bothering?" Not long after these thoughts I am sure someone did something stupid on the M25 and the whole world that was circulating London came to a grinding halt and then the world was not so wonderful.

Then we have a bad air crash, or rail crash, and suddenly the world is even less wonderful, and then someone starts a war and you then know the whole world is mad. If you only look at the gloom and doom, as some newspapers do, then I feel you are not only heading for a mental home, but you are missing out on opportunities. Few things are perfect and even fewer remain perfect, so it pays to enjoy them while you can, and when they change you can either look back and enjoy that which has gone, or you can look forward to the next change, in anticipation of it being better. Which way you look depends entirely on yourself, it is your choice. My natural instinct has always been to look forwards, with occasional looks back into a period in which I have lived, but at the time was too young to appreciate our wonderful world. I have no interest in looking back for the sake of being fashionable, which I think is what the word "Nostalgia" is all about.

Recently there was a gathering at Donington Park to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Jaguar E-Type and my first instinct was "Why?" For its time the E-type was a giant of a car and I enjoyed more than 200,000 miles of European motoring in a couple of 4.2-litre E-types and have a lot of happy memories. I also have a lot of happy memories of a lot of other things I have done, but I have little interest in celebrating any of their anniversaries, whether the first or the ninth. I must admit to celebrating my own birthday 70 years after it happened, but that was a personal thing, not an organised rally. When I saw the first E-type I must admit that I raised an eyebrow and jumped at the chance of trying it, but I soon gave it back for there were too many things not to my liking. This was in the days of 600 miles in the day motoring about Europe and the 3.8-litre E-type had awful seats, a terrible gearbox, abysmal headlamps and suspect disc brakes, but the engine and the looks were superb, but they were not sufficient to tempt me. Four years later the 4.2-litre was introduced with most of the faults corrected and I was sold on the E-type and motored impressively for the next ten years in a perpetual state of wonderment, saying to myself, "this is unreal, it can't go on." This was before speed limits or radar had been invented, when traffic was still relatively scarce, when such European motorways that existed were almost empty and the E-type was King of the Road and you could spend all day cruising at well over 100 mph without let or hindrance, as the saying goes. But those days are long gone, they were the wonderful world of the nineteen-sixties. If I wanted to pay tribute to the E-type Jaguar it would be in 1994, but why 30 years anyway? If it is just a convenient opportunity for a jolly among friends, fair enough, they can happen at any time and the more the merrier.

Some years ago I set off with some friends in vintage cars to attend a gathering due to take place at an old disused racing circuit. Inevitably, we were late in leaving, and even later arriving, and the gate guardian said: "Oh dear, you're too late, they all left some while ago, but go on in, as you may find the answer still there." We went in and the place was deserted, apart from two other cars that had arrived as late as we had. None of us knew where the Run had gone to, or where the lunch-stop was due, or even if anyone was coming back, so we had our own "jolly" on the spot. It was a glorious summer's day so after nosing around the place and driving round the circuit the four vehicles went off in convoy to a local pub for lunch and a chat. By mid-afternoon we set off home having had a most enjoyable day that was totally impromptu and we wondered if all those who had turned up on time had as nice a day and those that were late!

Looking back on my Jaguar days I remember being told by a number of Grand Prix racing people who were using 3.8-litre E-types for transport, not to have chromed-wire wheels. If you were going to use the performance and roadholding of an E-type, especially on European roads, you would crack or break spokes, especially in the back wheels. It was something to do with the chrome-plating process, so I took their advice and used painted wheels; not that I wanted chrome wheels anyway. Nowadays when I see a pristine E-type with chrome wire wheels I cannot help looking sideways at it, especially if it is cruising along at 45 mph on the way to a Concours d'Elegance, as I go by at 70 mph in my Ford Diesel van with my racing motorcycle in the back. To each his own.

I am sure that most readers follow the "Old Car" Auction world, even if few of you ever get involved financially, and the fact that there has been some serious changes taking place cannot have been missed. I would not go so far as to say that the selling of old cars by auction has collapsed, but the top of the icing on the cake has gone, and at one point the icing seemed to be thicker than the cake. The peak of this world for the moneyed few and the speculators and entrepreneurs, was at Monte Carlo just prior to the Grand Prix, but this year the peak was very flat. Christie's, Sothebys and Brooks all had exotic auctions this year, which in itself seemed unreal. One auction at Monte Carlo seemed enough, but three within hours of each other seemed unreasonable.

From the auctioneers point of view none of them were a roaring success, exotic cars just did not sell and there was an undercurrent of doom and gloom. But not from one of the Auction Houses, they were priding themselves on the fact that a lot of their cars NEARLY made their bottom price estimates. They did not sell, but that did not seem to be important! I could not help likening it to the Grand Prix qualifying scene, where the team that was 27th and failed to get into the race by a couple of hundredths of a second, were congratulating themselves on NEARLY qualifying for the grid. I suppose it is like the teams who NEARLY win. What you might call looking on the "bright side". -- DSJ

The Things They Say

Make your minds up, lads! After the first big race on the completely rebuilt Silverstone circuit drivers were heard to say that it was all right, but too bumpy! After some initial testing on the brand new Formula 1 circuit at Magny Cours in France, drivers were heard to say that it was all right, but was too smooth.