Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Mum did some major house-clearing, and guess what turned up? Among other back issues of CAR, these three gems:

- Richard Bremner’s epic, groundbreaking trip to the Sahara dunes in a Ferrari F512M (nee Testarossa). Why? Well, the title said it all: Because It’s There. Remember, this was before Ferrari had (more or less) sorted its reliability issues. This was surely the precursor and daddy of all the offbeat drive stories to follow.

"‘When d’you think you’ll be back?’ ‘Well, I don’t quite know,’ I admit. ‘Maybe 10, 12 days – it depends.’ ‘OK. Good luck. Ciao.’ That’s it. I leave, feeling like I’ve pulled off a bank robbery."

- The first drive of McLaren’s seminal F1, in all its exquisite detail. This included 6 pages of gorgeous photos highlighting the individual components contributing to this supercar of supercars’ low weight, stratospheric performance and equally eye-popping price.

In these post-Veyron days, GBP540,000 may not seem like much (heck, even a Lexus sells for over GBP300,000), but back in 1994, this was unheard of. Which prompted the great LJK Setright (who else?) to consider alternatives to spending half a million quid on one car. While his list included typical Setright fancies – spare tyres for a Bristol, GBP40,000 worth of additions to his library – he was inclined to agree with a like-minded soul: ‘surely a life-time’s supply of NSXs’.

- That infamous, damning long-term review of the VW Golf MkIII VR6, succinctly summed up its stark cover: Lemon. Trim falling off, engine heat entering the passenger compartment, dodgy suspension, it made the Vatican’s assessment of The Da Vinci Code look quite glowing in comparison. Volkswagen, as you can imagine, was not pleased.

But this was the kind of thing that only CAR could get away with – I remember my dad posting a study when he was writing for a local car magazine, where Saab scored higher than Volvo in a safety test, and Volvo immediately threatened to pull all advertising from the publication. Impartiality, what’s that?

It must be my eyes glazing all rose-like, but everything about these 15 year-old magazines evoked polish and quality, that rags today (yes, even CAR itself, sad to say) seem to lack. I think that political correctness, attention deficit and an inordinate obsession with the bottom line have so subtly subdued our society that writers end up practicing more self-censorship than they are aware of.

Not so journalists like Setright and George Bishop, who regaled us with the pleasures of wine, cigars and the art of driving fast. They never shied away from writing exactly what they thought, in the most lucid, idiosyncratic way you could imagine. Their articles, while sometimes difficult to digest, always demanded a repeat read, and could provide lessons in the English language all by themselves.

Ah, glory days!