Sameness

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I read a piece in the Daily Mail which seemed an appropriate comment on how very much of the same appearance most of the cars encountered on our roads have become. In it, Stephen Bayley was making a plea for a return to more individualistic motorcars but he was also deriding the posh limousine and the fierce midengined V12 sports car as no longer symbols of exquisite taste and confidence or red-blooded wind-in-the-hair sportsmen. He thinks such vehicles now represent rich, narcissistic, self-satisfied folk, and are status relics dating back to the ’80s and that it will be a long time before they have a renaissance.

I do not believe this. But I do go along with his plea for the return of true fun cars, which can actually be recognised as they go past. To support his first theory this writer in the Mail on Saturday points to a vast stock of S-class Mercedes-Benz sitting on the dockside at Bremerhaven, unsold, with the makers reluctant to reduce prices in case it reflects on their long-lasting prestige value, and to Ferrari’s 1980’s waiting-list having changed to stocks of 1992 models unsold in America, with Honda in the same position with its NSX, and Mazda faced with an undignified 30% price-cut on the RX7. And Porsche 911s now available for the price of a mid-range Escort, . .

Maybe! But let’s look at that other point Bayley is making. He instances the VW Beetle and the Fiat Topolino as the kind of real cars which are the vogue of the ’90s, although if the current editorial in VW Motoring is correct (and Editor Wager should know) he is wrong in implying that VAG (UK) Ltd are reimporting the celebrated insect, from Nigeria and Mexico — although, as I have often predicted, the Beetle will never quite fade away. And the current interest in smaller, more economical, practical cars is very real. It seems VW Golf sales here are in the doldrums, but Bayley predicts that the latest Fiat Cinquecento will prove “the ultimate urban performance car”.

That after sneering at those who buy a 200 mph Lamborghini Diablo when “there is no public road on the Earth’s surface where such a car can be driven to its capability” and remarking that while there is “no moral or practical objection to an individual spending his money on a large comfortable car” (thanks!) Bayley makes the point that you can get many fine ones for about £30,000. Thus, he argues, a large £100,000 Mercedes-Benz may be seen by some as rather unattractive, its conception of luxury dated, its status reaching back to the Borgias. I do not go that far, but I do endorse Bayley’s appeal for a return to fun-cars with their own individual characteristics. As he recalls, the simple Renault 4 was in production from 1961 to 1992. He reminds us that the Range Rover has been largely unchanged since its advent in 1970, and had survived jokes about “traversing Knightsbridge bogs” and its many imitators.

Bayley is keen, too, and rightly, on the Alfa Romeo, as representing a real car — “the divine Alfasuds” — and emphasises that the last rear-drive model, the Alfa Romeo 75, is still in dealers’ stocks since its birth in 1986. There is justified praise for Issigonis’s Mini (“cramped and uncomfortable, but wonderful to drive”) but Citroen 2cv addicts may take less kindly to Bayley’s comment that “the deux chevaux is most favoured by sandal-wearing Friends of the Earth”. Lots of other people think it fun (that word again) which is why it has survived so well, as also an eminently sensible and thoroughly individual car, a throwback to the cyclecar (two air-cooled cylinders, remember), which for some is part of its fascination, for others a dubious virtue . . Few will quarrel with Bayley’s call for cars that are functional but have their own individual appearance. He says that from 100 metres even Industry experts cannot identify a Ford Mondeo from a Mazda 626, a Toyota Carina or a Honda Accord. Can you? W B

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