Off on a tangent: Alternative control techniques

Chris Haining September 4, 2017 All Things Hoon

It was supposed to be a break from cars. We’d been living practically off-grid for a week, beginning with five days in our favourite corner of Cornwall for some R&R, before moving to the ‘Beautiful Days’ folk and rock music festival in Ottery St Mary, Devon.

It was while watching a band called Lau, that I started having impure thoughts. Lau is a Scottish / English folk act with an electronic twist. I had never heard them before, and the music started with all the charm, subtlety and intelligence of your regular folk band. That was until Martin Green fired up his Noise Device. Never before had I seen or heard an instrument sound like this or be played in such a way. And it got me thinking.

What if everything we ever knew about how cars were driven was to change?

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Carchive Special: The European cars that caught me unawares

As we know, true car geeks will feverishly devour any relevant information that comes their way on their journey along the path to enlightenment. The thing is, though, that information doesn’t necessarily arrive in the order you expect it to.

When I was growing up, my local newsagent stocked all the most popular British car magazines, but I had to travel quite a lot farther afield to satisfy my appetite for info on American metal. By 1990 I was pretty well versed on what was happening the other side of the Atlantic – my friends in primary school were probably sick of me going on about the exciting new Chevy Corsica all the time.

I was shocked, then, when the ‘International Car Catalogue’ washed up in the newsagent, to reveal cars you could buy in Europe that I’d never even heard of. I had concentrated so far on automotive treasure near and far, that I’d totally ignored the middle distance.

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eBay finds: W126 Mercedes S-Class….hatchback.

Once upon a time, the hatchback was invented, and we saw that it was good. It allowed small cars a far greater degree of versatility than cars with a separate trunk could offer. Gradually, it dawned on carmakers that this extra practicality shouldn’t be the exclusive domain of the hard of spending, and larger, more comfortable hatchback models came to being.

Until fairly recently, though, hatchbacks never really went beyond the upper mid market. There were loads in the 80s, there was the Ford Granada (or Scorpio in Euroland), the Renault 25, Citroen XM (the hatchback-look CX was a sedan) and, of course, the 1976 Rover SD1 begat the 1988 Rover 800 Fastback. But there was nothing in the premium sector.

Well, if you were a crazy Englishman with a selection of tools and a fistful of determination – it turns out there was.

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The Carchive: The 1980 Dodge Imports

Our last visit to The Carchive took us to mid-sixties Luton, where the Vauxhall Viva veritably glistened with all the trappings of mid ’60s British austerity, providing a striking contrast from the American iron we’ve looked at over the last couple of weeks. We’re heading back Stateside today… or are we?

This 1980 Dodge Imports brochure is a fascinating thing. Not just because so many of the cars herein were processed into Chinese refrigerators years back, but for the fact that Dodge saw it prudent to highlight the non home-grown nature of cars that, nevertheless, bore the Dodge name.

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The changing times of the true Car Geek.

Chris Haining August 11, 2017 All Things Hoon

As a kid, I used to love knowing more obscure facts about cars than anybody else. In primary school, and at the beginning of junior school (before testosterone took over and my school year descended into Lord Of The Flies, albeit a more violent version) my automotive leanings even got me off the hook for wearing glasses and being shit at sport. Knowing about cars was officially approved by the jock contingent.

I’ve kept my car geek persona intact ever since. I’ll stifle a snigger whenever I overhear an incorrect automotive statement from somebody clearly old enough to know better – perhaps I’ll inwardly shake my head and feel a little embarrassed on their behalf. Thing is, the only reason I know stuff is because I’ve cram-read automotive publications for the last thirty years. I suspect the majority of you chaps are the same.  But here’s the thing. Back in the ’90s there was an actual challenge to it. You had to work for your knowledge.

Today’s new generation of car geeks have it way too easy – and it’s damn hard to stay ahead.

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Quick Spin: 2017 Chrysler Ypsilon. Y not?

Five doors, two cylinders, and a wildly inappropriate bonnet badge. What’s not to like?

The Lancia Ypsilon was / is a fascinating footnote in FCA history. Still available new in Italy only, it has long beaten a retreat from other markets, and never made it to the USA despite wearing Chrysler badges in many territories, including the UK. I never fully read the CAR or Autocar reviews of the Ypsilon, preferring to make my own mind up. I know that those two most trusted of organs rated it at three stars out of five, or ostensibly half marks, so it made sense to have a drive, to experience what counts for average these days.

The first thing I’m going to do is to ignore the badging. If I could legitimately chisel those hilariously Aston-Martinesque bewinged Chrysler emblems off this car’s snout and arse, I would. It’s not a Chrysler, not even slightly. And, though last time I drove a Lancia it was a Y10 Turbo, fifteen years ago, I find it hard to think of it as one of those either. It may follow a few cues from the final generation of Lancia Delta, but in recent times the respected Italian name has been whored out in any number of appalling directions, for example being foisted upon on the Chrysler 200 cabriolet to become the Flavia.

It makes me shudder just thinking about it.

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The Carchive: 1966 Vauxhall Viva

The last few weeks have been a little Americentric, so I figured I’d stick a little closer to home today. We’re staying with 1966, but visiting Luton, Bedfordshire to take a look at the upgraded Vauxhall Viva range.

Keep the last fortnight’s AMC Rambler and Marlin, and the Buick Riviera before that, in mind and remember – this is what mid 1960’s family motoring looked like in the UK. Welcome back to The Carchive.

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Project Car SOTU UK Edition: Nothing to see here

Three cars belong to my household. There’s the Audi A4 1.8T, a car with a reputation for a serious appetite for suspension ball joints and ignition coilpacks. Then there’s a ’95 Peugeot 306, which has the multiple afflictions of being French, old and worthless. And pride of the fleet is our Rover 800, widely regarded among the lowest point of Rover’s recent history. Best of all – mine has the 2.5-litre K-Series V6 engine, renown for its sinister cambelt arrangement and hunger for head gaskets.

So, what litany of woes can I report in keeping this motley collection of automotive detritus?

Well, none. Sorry about that. A far more interesting article will be along in a little while.

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BMW Z4: Sampling the old in anticipation of the new

With an all-new Z4 under development as a collaboration between Toyota and BMW, it’s worth looking at where BMW’s sports roadster has come from before we welcome the future.

Once upon a time, BMW was very good at preserving its principles. The famously stubborn brand said it would “never produce a front-wheel drive car”, a promise first rescinded by using the MINI brand as a workaround, and the more brazenly with the MINI-base 2 Series Active Tourer. For a long while, there “would never be a turbocharged M car”, owing to the fear of corrupting throttle response sharpness – though that fear, it turn out, was later quashed by twin-blown engines in the most recent M3 and M5.

BMW also once strenuously denied they’d ever put a folding hard-top on a Z4. A sports car didn’t need one, they said. With the 3-Series they had held off from folding hardtops until they found a way of packaging one effectively without it ruining the weight distribution. They finally managed, but you have to assume that they worked some kind of witchcraft to fit one on the E89 Z4 without exchanging the original’s no-frills premium for no-thrills tedium.

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The Carchive: 1966 American Motors Marlin

After last week’s Rambler Classic, I thought we’d carry on the AMC theme for another week with a look at another Kenoshan creation.

While the Rambler brochure was gorgeously photographed and remarkably forward-thinking in terms of presentation, this is something else. Inexplicably, though clearly based on photographs, the illustrations have been meticulously produced in an archaic oil-painting effect. Weird. Yet kinda beguiling.

Welcome back to The Carchive.

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