Ghostly Spirito: R.I.P Fiat Punto – 1993-2018

Earlier this week, dozens of Europeans and a sprinkling of souls from further afield, united in a common shrug, when the news came that the Fiat Punto has finally been axed after spending years in conditions of wilful neglect.

While it’s been a long, long time since the Punto has fought rivals on a level playing field, that hasn’t always been the case. Once upon a time, the Fiat Punto was a force to be reckoned with, and genuinely one of the most desirable superminis in the showroom. With its number finally up, please join me in a little Hooniverse celebration, eulogy and post-mortem of Fiat’s forgotten family favourite.

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Car design today: Is baroque back?

Hey, yo, slam your eyeballs against this. Few cars are as iconic as the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado, especially in its convertible Biarritz form. There can be few people of any age who aren’t aware of its form, even if they don’t know exactly what it is. As a non-American, my curiosity was piqued by seeing it in animated form as the transport of choice for Rude Dog and the Dweebs in 1989, but its outlandish befinned silhouette had plagued my subconscious since I was far younger.

Today, the ’59 is celebrated for almost ironic reasons. It’s more of a symbol of the age than it is an object of design triumph. There are many stories of its rapid plunge from high fashion to loathed throwback, with folk sawing the fins from their Eldorados in an effort to distance themselves from a particularly faddish fad. Indeed, the fact that restoration candidates invariably end up pink is a strong hint that we’re looking at what has become a novelty item.

Thing is, though generally accepted as being among the most overwrought designs ever to be signed off, the ’59 achieved immortality through being fiercely individual. Visually, it represented the very most of everything, with more stuff for the eyes to process than virtually anything else on the road. And today, well, blow me down if we haven’t come full circle. And yet, will any of today’s wildest designs be celebrated at all 59 years from now?

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When you can’t unsee the similarity

Year in, year out, I take a holiday in Cornwall, South-West England. I inevitably end up at the same campsite, commanding a view from the cliffs above a tiny resort village called Millendreath. Just off the beautiful sandy beach, there juts a large, rounded rock, and on my first visit to the village at age seven, I excitedly exclaimed to my parents “that rock looks just like a frog.”

Thirty years on, my wife joins me on this annual pilgrimage. Every year I point out the same rock, and every year she reminds me just how much like a frog it doesn’t look. And that’s the way of things. Sometimes you’ll see a resemblance between two things you find so striking that you’re baffled that others don’t make the same association. And so it goes with cars.

These days, there’s a certain amount of follow-my-leader in car design. It seems there’s not quite enough imagination to go round, and there are certain cars that are tricky to distinguish from one another. But sometimes I’ll see a car and it summons up images of another that I really thought had disappeared from my conscience altogether.

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Mad Mike’s Modified Mazda: MADBUL

The greatest thing about any hobby is variety. The determined reader has endless books to choose from, the whisky connoisseur might spend a lifetime tracing some elusive expression that was distilled 80 years ago and thought lost to history. Meanwhile, motorists and car enthusiasts can either satisfy themselves with the machines plentifully available in their home country, or they can import something a bit more obscure from elsewhere.

Thing is, a surprising number of people have a taste for the obscure, and there’s only a certain amount of variety out there. Head to a meeting of JDM car fanatics in your wildly-specced Nissan Leopard, and you might well end up parking next to another. There’s only really one way to avoid this happening: Build something that nobody has ever thought of.

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Rally cars of Goodwood: All the world’s a stage

Ah, just when you thought it was over. For the three or four individuals who have yet to tire of our 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed coverage, you’ll be pleased to know that I have a swollen bag of images and things to release in dribs and drabs over the coming weeks. This’ll be my last mention of the FoS as an event, for a while, though. We’ve established that it’s awesome; now we can concentrate on what really makes it. Yes, the catering. It’s delicious.

The cars are pretty spectacular, too. The supercars, bikes and racers thrusting their way up the hillclimb are a treat to behold, but not, through my eyes, as spectacular as their off-road brethren. The Goodwood rally stage, a ten minute ride away in a suspensionless tractor-hauled trailer with slatted wooden seats, offers a different kind of excitement. And an awful lot more dust.

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A ’68 AMC AMX… Rally car?

Amid the lovelies seeking shade at the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed rally paddock, you’ll encounter a deliciously varied array of classics. Some, like the Lancia Fulvia, Ford Escort, Subaru Impreza, Mini Cooper and Ford RS200 are larger than life rally heroes, permanently etched into history for their contribution to motorsport. Others, well, others aren’t so obvious.

The American Motors AMX, for example. This underdog of the pony / muscle car wars of the late sixties is no stranger to motorsport, particularly that which is played a quarter mile at a time. But I was unaware of it having any rally heritage to speak of. Throw “AMC AMX rally car” into Google (other search engines are available, but not really worth bothering with), and your results list will pretty much boil down to one car — the machine in these pictures.

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Porsche: Bringing home the bacon, and then sharing it.

Porsche is in justifiably high spirits right now. People seem to have an insatiable appetite for the brand’s products; the second generation Panamera and Cayenne are attractive enough that fears of Porsche losing its way now seem to have evaporated. Celebrating 70 years of sports cars this year, the Stuttgart stalwarts are feeling confident. Winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and doing so in such flamboyant style, must help, too.

So it’s hardy surprising that they’re bringing a party atmosphere to Goodwood this year, and the Pink Pig is here to join the party.

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Hatchback Hero: Metro 6R4

Imagine car shopping in the 1980s. Your parents are the market for a small, economical hatchback that’ll be easy to park and simple to drive. The family makes a trip to ‘big town’ to visit a few dealerships, with the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Nova and Austin-Rover Metro in mind. You, age seven, have been having a whale of  time. A car showroom is like a toy shop and an adventure playground all rolled into one. Naturally, while Mum and Dad are looking at the thoroughly sensible Fiesta Popular and Nova Merit, something has drawn you to the more exotic Fiesta XR2 and Nova SR. They’re just, well, more awesome.

And then you visit the Austin Rover showroom. While Mum, Dad and the salesman partake in more free coffee and a glance through Metro City X paint swatches, you’re busy behind the wheel of the all-white MG Metro Turbo at the far corner of the showroom. And there, next to the Turbo is a huge wall poster, showing a Metro speeding through a forest in dappled light. But this Metro way more awesome than the one you’ve been making broom broom noises in, and graunching the gearlever back and forth despite the clutch being way out of reach. You stand, and you stare, transfixed by the poster of a strange, musclebound Metro with ‘Computervision’ emblazoned on the front bumper.

“I want that one”.

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Justifiable obscurity? Porsche-Enzmann 506 Spyder

Goodwood FoS is an undertaking of such magnitude that its gravity can pull in far more than your average classic car show can manage. Sure, there are MGBs and E-Types, Austin Healeys and Aston Martin DB5s, but they mostly stay in the car park. Head on over to the Cartier ‘Style et Luxe’ concours, though, you’ll find an array of machinery that never fails to astonish.

I’m reasonably well versed on early Porsches, but my depth of knowledge comes to an abrupt halt where it comes to those where independent coachbuilders are concerned. I’m happy to concede defeat, though, when the subject is as obscure as this — the only Porsche-Enzmann 506 ever built.

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Robocar: It’s Motorsport, Jim, but….

It was something of a departure for Goodwood. Here, heading up the hill, is a car that’s all but silent. That’s nothing new in itself, of course, and it’s possible that the 2038 Goodwood Festival of Speed will be dominated by cars powered by a flow of electrons rather than a flow of high-octane gasoline.

What was new, though, is that this car, the Robocar, is unmanned. It’s fully autonomous, and makes its way up the hillclimb as a result of quick-fire measurements, signal interpretations and calculations, rather than good old fashioned instinct, bravery and hope. Could this be the future of motorsport? Or could it be the future of something completely different?

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