V.I.S.O.R: A Czech military toybox

I bet you’re the same. I can’t just sit and watch the scenery pass me by if I’m on a train in a foreign land, I’m constantly scanning the vista for interesting things as I hurtle past. On the very impressive Railjet between Prague and Vienna, I happened to have my camera on standby, together with a long zoom lens and the ISO set as high as I could possibly get away with. Other passengers were looking at me as if I were a child trapped in the body of a man, with my constant shooting and frequent blurts of “ooh, look at that”. And staggeringly, a few of the frames actually recorded something of note.

So it’s here that I present our first instalment of Vehicles I Saw On Rail. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea where they were. Perhaps you can help me out.

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The Fickle Pheneomenon of Unwarranted Vitriol.

“I’d rather push a Chevy than drive a Ford”, the bumper sticker says. The world of motoring is a maelstrom of blind leanings and biases, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon. Many, many years ago, Skoda was the butt of cheap shots from British ‘comedians’, but these all stemmed from the Czech company’s unfortunate position behind the Iron Curtain, where building a car to cutting-edge Western standards simply wasn’t gonna happen. Yet, once the wall came down and Volkswagen took a controlling interest, there was still a considerable time delay – Skoda Jokes didn’t really fade away until the excellent Octavia was deep into production.

There are many cars, and other vehicles besides, which have garnered a sub-optimal image that really isn’t entirely warranted. Obvious contenders include the Pontiac Aztek, which was seemingly damned to ridicule by its looks more than any inherent failing, and the Yugo which was admittedly terrible, but so cheap as to make criticism rather cruel and redundant. There are certain machines, though, that are the target of vitriol so unjust it borders on slander.

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The Carchive: ’74 Ford Econoline vans

The last time we visited the Ford section of The Carchive, it was to take a glimpse at a car that Ford didn’t have the faintest idea how to market. It was the European Ford Fusion, a car that came some way short of appealing to the people it to whom it should. Today’s helping from the venerable vault of vehicles is rather more straightforward.

I do love a vehicle with an earnest name, and Econoline is one of the best – although GMC’s Value Van was pretty good, too. Here’s a slim sales brochure for the ’74 version.

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V.I.S.I.T: 1963 Daimler V8 250

Two Daimler-badged cars were ever offered that offered the exquisite, turbine-like power of Edward Turner’s jewel-like small V8 engine. The first was a befinned,  plastic-bodied atrocity with a guppy mouth and propensity for cracking in early models. It was the Daimler SP250 (nee Dart) – and I rather like it, of course.

The second was eminently more sensible and a good deal classier, too. It was the Daimler V8 250 saloon, and one Saturday morning, as I sat by the river’s edge enjoying coffee, croissants and Arthur C Clarke, I was joined by this pristine red example.

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The Carchive: The 2007 Japanese Motor Vehicle Guidebook

Among the several documents that make up The Carchive, the Japanese Domestic Market volumes are among those that I revisit the most often. It all comes down to the ‘forbidden fruit’ nature of so many Far Eastern cars – just like even the most prosaic of North American cars, you just don’t see them on British roads.

I took myself out to Japan a decade ago for the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show and, needless to say, ended up comfortably exceeding my Cathay Pacific baggage allowance on the way home, having amassed a handsome assortment of JDM brochures. In addition to those, I invested ¥1,200 on this, the 420-page 2007 Japanese Motor Vehicles Guidebook, and it’s one of my favourite publications of all time.

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Fighting Obscelescence as a Grumpy Old Man

This coming weekend I will become 36 years old, distressingly sweeping me into the ‘late’ thirties bracket – an age that I remember my parents being just five minutes or so ago. While I know that many of you have a good few years on me, and that I still fall into the ‘what does a young buck like him know about anything’ category for some, I still know how it feels to watch far younger folk snapping at my heels and stealing a march on me when it comes to progress.

Progress. Moving on. Developing. I love to do it, I love to see it. But in so, so many ways, I hate to experience it. I’ve just bought a new DSLR – after eleven years and 28,597 shutter actuations I felt it was time to upgrade from a 6.1 megapixel Nikon D50 to something only a few years out of date, and as soon as it came out of its crisp new box I was already finding things I don’t like about my new D5300. Buyer’s remorse immediately hit me, and I was starkly reminded of the sacrifices I’ll be forced to make if I ever have to buy a new car.

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SO, do we actually want Automotive Autonomy?

Autonomous cars are gradually lurching closer to being a reality. Pretty soon kind of cars that mortal man can dare to aspire to will soon have an automatic pilot that runs beyond a simple cruise control. But what do you – the folk who will be sharing your roads with robots – really think?

Personally, despite my slightly dystopian outlook a year ago, I’m all for it. So long as I have the choice to drive my car how I like, when I like, if I like, it matters not one jot if it’s endowed with layers of NASA-grade technology. As autonomy reaches Level Three capability and beyond, though, one point intrigues me:

How many drivers will actually use it as it’s intended before it becomes mandatory?

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V.I.S.I.T: A ’79 Chevy Van in Woodbridge, Suffolk

The Chevy Van was one of those machines which was so numerous on North American roads as to blend in with the visual white noise of street furniture and roadside ephemera. No doubt it will become increasingly sought after as good examples become scarce, but I don’t suspect the supplies are due to dry up any day soon.

Examples in the UK, though, are few and far between, and tend to be rather well looked after. This is clearly true of the this superb bronze ’79 example seen in the well-to-do riverside town of Woodbridge in Suffolk, UK

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Peugeot Oxia Concept: Like reality, only better

I’ve always thought that the best concept cars are those that feel like they’re only a few degrees separated from real life. As if the car you’re looking at comes from some parallel now on some much cooler planet. One such car was the Peugeot Oxia concept of 1988.

One of my favourite years, ’88. Some of the best disposable pop music of all time (I loved Debbie Gibson when I was seven, and Voice of the Beehive and our own Transvision Vamp had the same appeal for my Dad, I’m sure), and it was also the year the Oxia was released at the Paris Auto Show, looking for all the world like the Peugeot 405 would if normal non supercars had never been invented.

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The Carchive: The European Ford Fusion

Sometimes a car brochure will positively sweat with pro-lifestyle excess, while others simply play things straight down the line. The best brochures will give you an accurate description of the conveyance they represent, the worst will leave almost everything to your imagination and force you to carry out your own research.

The most fascinating, though, are those which point to a car manufacturer not having the faintest idea what to do with one of its products. A case in point is the European Ford Fusion – a very different car to the comfy family sedan of that name that clogs the streets of North America

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