The unending joy of beaters

Chris Haining February 26, 2018 All Things Hoon

As Antti recently demonstrated, it’s entirely possible to buy a running car in Britain for £250 or less, and then drive it at least as far as Finland before beating the living shit out of it. Or, if you prefer, you could take it on as a daily driver instead. Having served time as a salesman, I could list dozens of trade-ins that I’ve taken in for that amount or lower, which had served dependably before their owner chose to upgrade to a newer car.

This sector – the very bottom end of the used car food chain – exists in a bizarre twilight world that few choose to acknowledge, and I’ve never fully understood why it’s treated with such disdain. The estimable James Ruppert coined the term ‘Bangernomics’ for buying the cheapest possible car, running it on a shoestring and junking it when you’ve worn it smooth – a principal that has always appealed to me. My daily driver ’98 A4, while probably not quite falling into the bangernomics sweet spot, has me wondering why people spend such enormous sums of money on car ownership.

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Great automotive design atrocities of our time

Chris Haining February 22, 2018 Hooniverse Asks

We live in a world that couldn’t be more fickle if it tried. Not only do fashions come and go like a sneeze on a sunny day, but yesterday’s sound thinking becomes tomorrow’s crazy idea almost overnight. And so it is with car design.

In my lifetime I’ve seen pop-up headlights fall from vogue, a brief fascination with bodyside decals that describe every facet of a car’s specification in minute detail, and I even caught the tail end of those jagged louvered panels that folk would use to obscure their rear visibility. Inexplicably. Generally, though, car design has made subtle, gradual movements towards the better – today’s cars may not be anywhere near as interesting as those past masters that tug at our heart strings, but they’re faster, quieter, safer and more efficient. Overall, I’d say it’s a net gain.

Every now and again, though, the natural process of evolution is interrupted by something really stupid. Case in point: Saturn and the ION’s stupid centre-mounted instrument panel.

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Odd things that made you go “ooh” when you were younger.

When you’re very young, the smallest things can make a huge impression. You would occasionally assign rather more value or significance to something than it might realistically merit. Such it was when I was growing up. My Dad was a Ford man for much of the ’80s, and I spend the latter portion of that decade cruising in the back of his top-of-the range Sierra Ghia.

I recognised – and felt smug – that it had features that were absent in the lesser cars my friends would trundle around in at the time. It had head rests for rear seat passengers, a true sign of luxury and refinement. There were adjustable map-reading lights in the front, too, and few cars could match the Sierra’s ‘graphic information module’ that warned of low temperatures, unclosed doors and failed bulbs, and looked awesome lit up at night. There was one feature notably absent, though – one that I first spotted in 1987 while perusing a Ford brochure. The Granada Scorpio had red door edge-illuminators.

My little mind was blown.

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BMW 335d SE: The subtlest ‘sleeper’ of all time?

Chris Haining February 15, 2018 All Things Hoon

The turbocharged, go-faster Volvo 850T-5 caused something of a stir on its release in the early nineties. For a start, it was a Volvo, and Volvo were more associated with ever-so-sensible brick shaped cars best suited for carrying elderly people and antiques. Then there was the power, the front-wheel-drive layout, the modernity of those foot-tall taillamps, something of a break for the staid old firm. Then, in ’94, Volvo took the 850 racing in the British Touring Car Championship. And, as if taking the piss out of everybody, the combatant they fielded was an estate car – and it did rather well.

Nowadays, fast estate cars are nothing new. Everybody latched onto the idea during the nineties and, er, zeroties. Today the Germans have fast estate cars coming out of their ears, BMW with the M5, Mercedes with the E63 and Audi with the RS6, but most of them wear their hearts on their sleeve. They are all festooned with extra grilles, shouty badges, look-at-me wheels and they all emit thunderous exhaust notes when provoked.

Altogether more delicious were the factory sleepers out there, and this was one of the best.

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The Carchive: The ’67 Citroen ID19.

It’s Friday night (here), and from where I’m sitting the past looks a little more appealing than the present, automotively speaking. So lets leave today simmering on the back burner, and dive into the rusty fridge to rifle through yesterday’s dubious cold cuts. And as it happens, what we’ll find is full of meaty goodness. Welcome to The Carchive.

These posts from the past have been a little sporadic lately – we nibbled a little taste of Japan last Wednesday and haven’t been back to the larder since. Today, we’re hitting 1967 France for a look at the Citroen ID19. It also feels doubly appropriate after looking at interesting steering wheels the other day.

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Join The Steering Committee

Chris Haining February 7, 2018 All Things Hoon

Sometimes you’ll learn something that changes everything. A rumour, a theory, or a chance glimpse at something you’ve never seen before, can be enough to turn your world upside down and inside out. This was what I felt when I found that the Australian 1982 Ford Fairlane was fitted with a wildly asymmetrical steering wheel.

Get a load of it! Not one thing about it as you’d expect. The Ford blue oval is offset to the right of the rectangular boss, which is, itself, offset to the right – if only naggingly slowly. Why? Well, I can’t rightly say. Quickly Googling for ’82 Fairlane interior shots reveal a dashboard that had nothing to gain from such a peculiar design of steering wheel – it’s not as if the massive gap on the left hand side provides an uninterrupted view of anything particularly useful. Very odd, yet almost iconic, and now a much-loved feature of ZJ Fairlanes and XE Falcons alike.

So, having now added this remarkable find to my internal databanks (and cursed the fact that my ’81 Fairlane brochure features the earlier, altogether less inspirational ‘wheel), I figure it’s about time that we celebrated the great steering wheels we have known.

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Diecast Delights: An MG 6 in 1:16th scale

Impulse buy time. I’ve not bought many diecast models of late because, well, I thought I had all those that I wanted. Turns out I was wrong, and clearly have absolutely no clear vision of what I actually want to collect.

Every model I’ve collected so far has been of either a car that I thought historically significant, memorable in design or just plain intriguing, and it’s the latter category that the MG6 vaguely fits into. The SAIC MG 6, a car still being built in China today, and that still has elements of Rover 75 in its genetic makeup, was sold in the UK until very recently… and has all the hallmarks of a car that will become astonishingly obscure in a very short timescale.

So, of course, I had to add it to my collection.

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Carchive Special: The endless fascination of JDM

There’s little doubt that my favorite section of the entire Carchive is that covering Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) models. I leap on any opportunity to expand it, particularly with brochures for cars that were likely seen as monumentally dull in their homeland.

Cars like the Toyota Mark II. This was an upper-midsize car, fitting somewhere between the Camry and the Celsior in the global Toyota continuum. An inherently dull machine, really – engine up front, drive out back, four doors in the middle, it’s as traditional a car as you might expect to find. It is enlivened somewhat by a choice of engines that run to the twin-turbo 1JZ-GTE, though, and it’s not a disastrous choice for drifting, it seems. But what really appeals to me abut the Mark II and its ilk, aside from the almost total absence of them on UK roads, is the peculiar and optional features they possess.

When I mentioned this the other day, it seems I’m far from alone.

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The Carchive: The BMW New Class sedans in 1970

Well, it’s all going on in the world of The New, right now. Peugeots and Citroens could soon be littering North America’s roadsides (like in the olden days) , there’s going to be a two-door Range Rover again (like in the olden days), a BMW 8 Series is on the way (like in the olden days).

There’s something quite reassuring about this whole history repeating thing, particularly if, like me, you occasionally like to run away screaming from the storms of the present and bathe in the cool, calming waters of the past. Last time we were looking at Subaru in ’82, today it’s the turn of Die Neue Klasse von BMW. Wilkommen in Der Carchive.

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Car cigarette lighters are weird

Chris Haining January 24, 2018 Terrible Ideas

A friend was having trouble with an aftermarket sat nav the other day – there was a question mark as to whether the 12v socket was working. I suggested to her “check that the cigar lighter works”, to which her reply was “…the what?”

Indeed, she had no idea that the 12v dashboard socket on her Suzuki Swift was ever home to an electric cigar lighter. To her, it seemed like a somewhat baffling piece of standard equipment. “You mean I have no air conditioning or electric mirrors, but I do have a way of lighting a cigarette?”

I immediately saw her point, and suddenly found myself marveling at the fact that a cigarette lighter, of all things, became almost universally standard in the modern car.

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