Road cars

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Found myself wanting to throw things at the television this morning when a campaigner from Brake, the self-styled road safety charity, was on the news crowing about Oxfordshire’s decision to turn its speed cameras on again, despite the absence of proof that the rise in accidents and injuries since they had been turned off was anything more than coincidental.

In fact I expect it’s not, though the evidence cited that average speeds had risen past cameras the public knew no longer to be operating was one of the more blinding glimpses of the bleeding obvious to have been broadcast of late.

But they miss the point entirely. Campaigning for speed cameras (or ‘cameras for the community’ as Brake nauseatingly puts it) is Elastoplast politics. With the ever-widening use of portable navigation systems — not to mention local knowledge — people know where the cameras are, slow down before them and speed up as soon as they are past.

This may indeed prevent a few accidents if the cameras are genuinely sited in areas where there are real problems, rather than just past the 30mph board where the police know it can make most money. What it won’t do is educate people not to drive dangerously in the first place. Charities like Brake are fond of screaming ‘Speed kills’ because as a phrase it’s short, unambiguous and impactful. The fact that it’s simply not true appears to be neither here nor there. Speed never killed anyone, only its inappropriate use.

This is not semantics. If you went driving with most professional road testers as they assessed a bunch of supercars on the public road, you would be amazed not only by how fast they went at times, but also how slowly. Through towns and villages, past schools and sports grounds, you’ll find no more saintly bunch. But we’re lucky: it’s what we do, the one thing we’re meant to be reasonably good at.

Understandably others need some help. Yet teenagers are spilt onto our roads by a system that thinks it’s OK for them to take charge of a tonne of metal capable of travelling at over 100mph without training them to drive at night, in the rain or even on a motorway. And then, once these hormone-laden youngsters have made it through their entirely inadequate driving test, they can spend the next half-century forgetting what little they’ve learned and picking up as many bad habits as they like. And what do we get? A monodimensional Brake banging on about speed cameras.

What we need is road safety education in the classroom from the moment children go to secondary school. We need a test that actually tests, and then far bigger incentives for people to seek re-training at regular intervals throughout their lives on the road.

So much of the bad and dangerous driving that takes place on our roads is not the result of hooligan or criminal behaviour, but a simple lack of rigour on the part of the person behind the wheel, a direct result of a lack of relevant education.

Bad driving is not a disease, it is merely a symptom. And until we decide prevention is better than cure, I’m going to continue to want to throw things at my television.

Fascinating chats with Ferrari engineers at the launch of the FF. As all appear to have been to the Francis Urquhart school of media management, extracting concrete information from them is not easy, but I did manage to elicit sufficient along the lines of ‘you might think that but I couldn’t possibly comment’ to be able to say the following about the replacement for the 599GTB with reasonable confidence.

The car will be unveiled next year and will continue to be architecturally conventional, that is to say it will be a two-seat, rear-drive sports car with a V12 engine in its nose and its gearbox between the rear wheels. You could have said the same about the Daytona in 1968. Moreover while rivals from Lamborghini, McLaren, Pagani and so on have all embraced structural carbon fibre, the new 599 will continue to campaign the cause of aluminium, both for its body and space frame.

The engine will be a further development of the 651bhp, direct-injection V12 used in the FF, with an output almost certain to top 700bhp. Bear in mind that without direct injection, this engine has already given 880bhp in the Enzobased FXX Evoluzione track car. The car will also be slightly but significantly lighter than the 599GTB. It is almost certain not to use the FF’s all-wheel-drive hardware even though Ferrari has made it clear it’s intended for use in more than one car: expect to find it in the next generation of California.

And as for the next Enzo, Ferrari will admit only to working actively on the car. However, one engineer did venture that the world was a very different place to that which greeted the Enzo and that this was a challenge to which Ferrari would be rising. If it doesn’t make an Enzo look like a moped, I’ll be surprised.

No one appears interested in my one-man campaign to rid the world of the soft-roader. These hateful devices that try to combine elements of conventional cars and offr oaders and end up ruining two perfectly serviceable concepts are spreading out of control.

Porsche has said it’s going to build one called the Cajun to fit in with its similarly spicily entitled Cayenne big sister, though rumours (started by me) of a hot version called the Scotch Bonnet are sadly wide of the mark. Jaguar is eyeing up the concept closely, Alfa has all but committed to making one, and now I understand that Maserati has one up its sleeve too.

It’s so depressing. These fashionable trinkets are bought by people wishing to stand out from the crowd without realising that if everyone does that, all you get is a taller crowd. They ignore not the argument but the simple physical fact that these higher, heavier cars will always be slower and more wasteful than conventional alternatives in an age where we’re meant to be building cars that are more efficient than ever.

Sooner or later they’ll fall from grace and, like flares and kipper ties, people will wonder what on earth it was that persuaded them to buy one in the first place. But not soon enough for me.

But most galling of all is the Land Rover Evoque. This is the ultimate soft-road fashion accessory — the anti-Defender if you like, the antithesis of honest-to-goodness, hose-outthe-interior Land Rover authenticity. You don’t have to buy it with four-wheel drive, and when I recently spent a day being introduced to the car at an engineering level, I received a presentation all about its 17-speaker Meridian sound system.

And then I was taken out to the test track and, for a few minutes, got to drive it. To my total horror I thought it utterly brilliant. Space precludes further details now, but if you can bear with me, I’ll tell you why next month.

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