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Life After Top Gear: The 20:00 Void

Chris Haining March 29, 2015 Top Gear

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What to do? There’s a 42″ black rectangle where there should be a moving image of something exotic being thrapped to within an inch of its carbon-fibre life. My Sunday Evening living room is no longer home-cinema filled with mind-blowing visuals, flat-plane crank V8 howls or tinkling piano-meets-Marina crashes.

With the house being freed of “witty” car-derived banter for an hour every Sunday, I feel at a bit of a loss as to how to satisfy my octane dependency. I could enter into discussions with my fiancé, debating the trade off  tyre profile and width vis-a-vis ride quality and refinement, but it would doubtless lead to a rapid and acrimonious divorce before the wedding bells have even stopped chiming. No. I need to find something else.

Or: Maybe there’s something else I could be doing? Maybe, now BST has arrived and we are assured of long, bright evenings, there’s something far more life-enriching I could be doing than being glued to my sofa for an hour every Sunday night? Maybe the answer is just outside my window?

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The Carchive: The 1967 Ford Thunderbird

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It’s that time again when right-minded folk will change their browser to another channel and go read something else for the next couple of hours. Those of you who remain can join me for a rummage through the dirty laundry of time in search of an interesting sock or cherished, fading T-shirt. Welcome to The Carchive

A while ago these vaults hosted “Thunderbird Week” where we fondly revisited Ford’s “personal luxury” offerings from ’78 through to ’93. And very nice they were too. Well, give or take. Today we head back to ’67 and look at what is very probably, no, very actually my favourite American Ford of all time.

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Miserable Review: 2014 Seat Leon 1.6 Diesel.

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This is the first time I’ve ever embarked upon a car review while I’ve been in an absolutely foul mood. Usually you’re plied with goodies and refreshments and then handed the keys by a beaming member of a manufacturer press relations team. They then send you out on either a well chosen set of lightly trafficked roads, a private circuit or maybe a proving ground, and usually you’ve allocatedyourself enough time to build some kind of meaningful relationship with the review subject.

This review, however, started out with me being two and a half hours away from an appointment, in a city separated from me by 120 miles of near-stationary traffic.

So it all starts rather badly, and that’s not just the writing.

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Ewww, I’m not touching that!

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If somebody offers me a can of drink and I notice the term “Diet” or “Sugar Free” on the label I politely decline. It usually means aspartame content, and that phenylalanine-rich crap takes much loved carbonated beverages and turns them into sickly, poisonous pastiches of what they once were. I’m looking at you, Doctor Pepper. New and Improved my arse. If a drink has some kind of sugar alternative going on, I know I’m not going to enjoy it.

Offer me the keys of a car, any car, and I’ll gladly jump in and take a drive. No matter what it tastes like. However, if that car has a plastic steering wheel I’ll probably spend the whole journey gurning and looking genuinely disgusted. I really am that weird.

You have to have standards. The steering wheel is the bit of car that you’re supposed to be touch-feely with 100% of the time. A helm station which isn’t tactile and rewarding to hold is a fundamental failure of the vehicle’s function as a whole. I require, at the very least, a leather rimmed steering wheel if I’m going to spend any time in a car.

What’s your weird minimum standard requirement?

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Diecast Delights: The Ford GT90 in 1:18 Scale

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What if? It’s a fun if ultimately futile game to play. What if, in 1995,  the Ford Motor Company had successfully designed, built and sold a supercar which was absolutely without equal?

Well, it never quite happened. But fortunately, Maisto built a model which is plentifully available so you can wistfully gaze at the legend that never was.

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Magic Numbers: Symbiosis at 77

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There is no place on earth more relaxing than in a 1997 Rover 825 Si at 77 mph.

Seriously.

At that speed, all the little resonances, rattles and shimmies unify and seem to cancel each other out. Wind noise vanishes to just the slightest murmur around the mirrors. The normally mediocre stereo somehow acquires extra weight, drive and authority, delivering music to your ears as if the car was always supposed to be a mobile concert-hall. The ride settles so the car feels as if it’s levitating, heped no doubt by the razor-edge (by current standards) 195 section tyres.

77 is a magic number. If there were no other cars on the road to compare speed with, I could be travelling at any velocity. 77mph feels like flight. Could be 777mph. All this smoothness acts like MSG, enhancing the flavour of speed and acting as a multiplier. At 77 I could keep on flying until I run out of planet.

I love it when everything comes together like this.

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Disposable Heroes: #1 The Ford Mondeo

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Time, I’ve decided, is a right bastard. Ten minutes ago, in 2004, I graduated University. The Chris Bangle era of BMW was getting into full swing; Rovers were still trundling out of Longbridge and Mercedes-Benz found a new niche for the banana-shaped car with the CLS. Put briefly, a terrifying number of things have happened in a very short period of time. This point rather erupted in my cerebral cortex when it occurred to me that the Ford Mondeo has now been with us for twenty-two years.

I vividly remember the explosive fanfare which accompanied the Mondeo when it arrived back in ’93. It’s difficult to comprehend just how much impact it had back then, and even harder to assimilate the media hoop-la that surrounded it. Sadly, today we see it as Just A Mondeo, and that’s just a tiny bit unfair.

So let’s start what promises to be a thoroughly edifying series in which we celebrate those cars which were celebrated as phenomenons when they were first released, only to later be rendered disposable by a combination of ubiquity and indifference. Mondeo, take a bow.

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The Carchive: The Series III Hillman Minx

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The Carchive is where we close our eyes to whatever’s going on at the cutting edge of the automotive world, take a deep breath and ponder the past, rummaging through the highs and the lows of history.

From a brief flirtation with heavy trucks last week we drop down a couple of dozen sizes today with this fascinating little artefact from the late ’50s, it’s a British printed brochure for the US market Hillman Minx, as issued in dealerships throughout North America

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Diecast Delights: A BMW M635CSi in 1/18th Scale

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You can come back now. Those of you who were mortified by the sinister direction in which Diecast Delights turned with the Cadillac Escalade review the other week can relax.

We’re back to cars, and nice ones at that for a little while, starting with this one. It’s an AutoArt E24 M635 CSI, and not only is it one of the nicest models in my collection but it’s also probably one of the nicest items I own, and probably ever will.

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Who Moved My Damn Switches?

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You get used to your car. Far more so than you’d ever realise. You jump in, point it in whichever direction you’re aiming to travel in and then jump out again after a certain mileage has elapsed. You’re either driving for the sheer pleasure, in which case you’ll remember every single second, or you’re just getting a journey out of the way. If the latter applies then you’ll probably not recall a single moment of the trip. You’re basically on autopilot.

It’s on those journeys that you realise how familiar you’ve become with the controls of your car. Every control falls to hand so readily it’s used through instinct rather than thought. I only realised how true this was the other day when I reached for the stereo controls on my steering column to up the volume on a particularly absorbing Led Zeppelin track and the car suddenly changed down to third gear. Wondering why this had happened I suddenly realised I was driving a paddle-shift 2015 Mercedes and not my familiar old Rover.

And that wasn’t the first time, either.

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