Matters of moment, May 1998

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So now both Bentley and Rolls-Royce are owned by BMW, what are we to think of this peculiar state of affairs? I think we should be depressed but not for the reasons you might think. I have no problem with the principle of foreign corporations looking after the interests of quintessentially British marques. You have only to look at how jaguar and Aston Martin have thrived under Ford to see the move’s potential. Left to independence, I doubt either marque would have survived. I also think BMW was, of the available options, the most likely both to preserve the marques’ values and fund a proper investment plan.

What depresses me is Vickers wanting to sell Rolls at all. When Jaguar and Astons were sold, both were alone among richer opponents with better products. This is not the case at Rolls. Sales are up, it sits in a niche of its own and had the alleged support of a huge parent company. Vickers would doubtless say it was only acting in the interests of its shareholders and the leap in its share price as the auction was announced demonstrably supports this.

The fact this meant flogging off Britain’s two remaining automotive crown jewels seems, sadly, to count for little. Happily, for the loyal workers at Crewe, I suspect their future is more secure than ever. Time will tell whether the same can be said for the cars they create.

• • •

Certain words trigger volleys of letters from outraged readers. But how else can I tell you that Mansell is back, racing a Ford Mondeo this year? Now, I have had it. Even if I say this is the best thing to happen to touring cars since Volvo raced estates with labradors on board, I’ll be accused of failing by a factor of a million to do justice to the talent of our Greatest living Englishman. To some, no chance is too small to miss taking offence on behalf of he who is known as ‘Our Noige.’ So as I say I think it’s a brave and exciting move for a man with more to lose than gain, I do so in the knowledge that global condemnation will almost certainly follow. You’ll find the address on Page 3.

• • •

I never met Enzo Ferrari, Colin Chapman or Soichiro Honda. And now I will neither meet Ferry Porsche, nor any of those individuals who started great car companies. Porsche was the last of the line and his passing closes not just a chapter in Porsche’s history but also that of the world’s car industry.

Car companies no longer service upon the will of one man, TVR being the obvious exception. Even so, there must be something to be said for it as, now the board of BMW has had its way with Rolls-Royce, TVR is, unbelievably, our largest car company. Who can tell what responsibility this places on the shoulders of its maverick boss, Peter Wheeler? However, I take comfort from the certain belief that, come what may, he isn’t about to sell out to anybody.

• • •

Goodwood press day. As the Aston DB3S came through Woodcote, a gasp went up from the pits. It seemed not to be driving around the corner, but floating upon its surface. It was spell-binding. At its wheel sat one Tony Brooks, 66-years old and still a bloody genius. Thought you’d want to know.

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