Friday, 2 May 2014

Winners, losers and well, lepers

When I was in my mid teens our family went to have lunch with the family of my youngest brother's friend. It was a slightly odd experience for us in a few ways. The family lived in a totally unfamiliar suburb. We hardly knew these people. And finally, myself and the other 'older' brothers were instructed to "watch yourselves and don't cause trouble" with extra comments like...

"This is for your younger brother." Whatever that meant.

As it turned out, there wasn't any great dramas coz the man of the house was a motorbike and car fan. So my twin brother and I wound him up and let him talk off all his years of motoring stories.

It was pretty cool.

At the centre of them was the fact that he had once worked for Leyland Australia. To be specific, he was there in the final days of Leyland and worked on this car.

The Leyland P76

The P76 is an interesting part of Aussie motoring history. It was 'computer designed', had a [shock horror] 'all alloy V8 engine' and heck, you could fit a whole 44 gallon drum in the boot (on purpose). But basically, it killed Leyland Australia. 

This poor guy we were talking to that afternoon was lamenting all the good things about the project, specifically the new sports coupe he helped design that never got finished but, "would have saved the project". He told us all the finer points of the car and at the time I believed him. But well, it was worse than a loser. 

It was a leper.

Not that's not to say that P76's didn't sell, coz they did. However, between the price of the development, the poor production and the low sales, it all fell apart. British Leyland hobbled on and died a similar death some years later in the UK.

The interesting thing for me is how unpopular P76's continue to be. Of course, there's an owners club. A few people have done them up and thrown stupid money at them to make some cool projects. Even still, whenever you see one on the street (like almost never) or at a show (more often) there are the snide comments, the pointing and laughing, the general atmosphere of the schoolyard victim.

I've got a mate who until recently owned an early (narrow light) Morris Minor. In fact, he'd owned it for many, many years. He's a church pastor and found it was a great way to strike up a conversation and get to know people in the community.

Until recently that is. Recently lots of people started making fun of the car and asking, "can it do a burnout" instead of just chatting. It got so bad that, as I said, he sold it. So the humble and dependable old 'Morrie' has gone from a quaint old machine to a total loser in just a few years. 

Weirder still is the next car. In so many ways, it should be a winner. It should command mass appeal and respect wherever it goes.

The Citroen 2CV. 

But it doesn't. The 2CV is a sort of automotive joke between the French and Ferdinand Porsche. The car was being designed at the same time as the VW beetle (or KDF wagen). In fact, if the engine was in the other end of the car, the 2CV would be a beetle. There are so many parallels. It had a long and effective production life, it was a true 'people's car', it's rugged and agricultural, it is a work of flowing art, etc, etc. 

However, it is a loser.

Sure, there are clubs, there are barnfinds, some people love em, but they don't really draw attention. And that is the real measure of winners. When I say "draw attention" I don't just mean attracting bearded, cardigan wearing, car nerds with an encyclopedic knowledge of anything ever made (especially the rare stuff). 

When I say drawing attention I mean this; Little kids waving as you drive by (or playing punch buggy), young tradies hanging out their windows checking the car out, older people telling you, "I had one just like that", girls smiling at you as you park the car. All of these things are daily experiences driving a beetle. 

VW's strangely, are winners.

I say strangely, because they're no more incredible than the 2CV or the Morrie really. At the end of WW2 they might have easily gone the way of the P76, sinking into history, being mocked all the way. Only Ivan Hurst and Heinz Nordhoff saved them.

The motoring world is an odd place, that's for sure.

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