Monday, 22 June 2015

Understanding car culture better

I spent most of May in England with my family. This has meant next to no work getting done on the beetle, but the holiday was excellent. So much cool stuff to see and I even managed to fit in a few cars shows. I'll tell you about them first, then give you my reflections on driving in the UK.


This event was held at York Raceway about 20 minutes out the historic town of the same name. We saw a bunch of cool cars there, the most interesting ones being drag cars really. My youngest son loved all the racing.

This beetle was the first aircooled VW in the UK to do a 9 sec quarter mile. On the track he was pulling 10 sec quarters. I'll explain why later.

This black golf was a whole other story...

Where has the engine gone? Well may you ask...

The whole back end of the car was ripped out and replaced with an Audi transaxle and healthy V8 of some sort. I suspect it's a rover, but I can't be sure. It was the nuttiest thing that day.

Behold, the ONLY kombi in the world my wife likes. I had to take a picture. In the camping area, there were a shed load of kombis. Split, bay, T3, T4 and T5 campers. This surprised me as I saw 4 kombis on public roads in the whole time (apart from shows) and no beetles.

York Dragway was interesting to say the least. I'm pretty confident it's an old WW2 airfield and to be fair, it looked like it. It was literally surrounded by fields being ploughed by tractors. The track surface was another thing altogether. The first 20metres of tar were sort of ok... but only a car width wide. The rest... werl it got worse the further down the strip you went. It was literally falling apart. The most powerful car at the strip almost ended up spinning just off the start line. I think this was down to two things. First up, the surface. Secondly, it was bitterly cold. I had to take my hat off the to the Poms. They don't give up when it gets cold.

Tatton Park

This was a HUGE standing show. Every make, car, etc, etc. To be honest, except for a few cars I think I found it a little ho hum. But there was some amazing stuff there. A 1950s Allard for instance and this car...

Mercedes 300SL.

I don't know if there is even one in Australia. I tried to explain to my boys that if they touched it, they'd die. It was driven quite some distance to get to the show, which was just outside Manchester. Amazing stuff. Although, like I said before, I don't have much patience for the "polished to within an inch of it's life" crowd. I talked to one Lotus owner asking him what it was like to drive a mid engined car on the edge of grip. He had no idea, saying something along the lines of, "I've never pushed it that far". *sigh* Colin Chapman wouldn't be impressed. In the end, my fave car at the show was this...

 A ratty old triumph. Everything on the car was original, patina-d and looked like it was driven. Perfect.

English roads

English roads are a LOT different to Australian. EVERYTHING is smaller, with the exception of the motorways. Every other road however, is narrow, tight and often surrounded by stonewalls and hedges.

It's hard to explain it without having experienced it, but this road above isn't a lot wider than the BMW X3 soft roader we had. It scared the willies out of my wife. Keep in mind, this is what they'd call an "A road" in some places. That is, a main thoroughfare from one town to another. "B roads" are often just as narrow. Then there are country lanes... yep. There's barely wide enough to get 1 car down. The reason for this is the roads have been there for millenia. A hundred years ago they got some tar, but are much unchanged aside of this. Double decker buses drive down these roads. In many places in the country, with lots of trees, hedges and winding bits, visibility is down to 50metres on a nice sunny day. Which is when I began to understand old school british sports cars.

British sports cars

I'm sure I'm not the only one to notice that most old school English "sports cars" are about as wide as single bed, barely fit two skinny people in and have gutless engines no bigger than about 1.5 litres. There is a good reason for this. On B roads and country lanes, you don't need anything more than this. You never get much above 50mph, there are corners everywhere and you've got no room.

So, to Australians with mostly long, straight roads with smooth corners, a mini cooper S or lotus 7 seems like torture. In the UK, either of those cars are perfect for giving yourself as much room to slide around while still staying in a narrow lane on a winding road. Which is just as well because they also have ENORMOUS tractors that come out of nowhere on country roads.

The other upside of all this is, building a fun sportscar in the UK is significantly cheaper than places like Australia or the US. You don't need a big 6/V8, big expensive tyres to get the power down or huge brakes. Build it small, light and nimble and don't over-engine it coz you never get above 70mph anyway. In Australia, an MGB was a breathless hairdresser's car. In the UK, it was a fun fang in the country. Which is the other interesting thing. In most places outside of London, a fang in the country is only 20mins drive away from home.


The other that struck me, yet again, was the amount of rust in UK cars. EVERYTHING was in the process of rusting it seemed.

This Issetta bubble car was nicely painted, but I could see rust bubbling up under the lower door hinge straight away. This wasn't uncommon either. Everyone who owns a classic car in the UK is fighting to stop it from disintegrating each year. Yet again I came home super thankful for dry, warm conditions.

Having said all that, the English are better motorists. More courteous, generous and patient. We drove thousands of miles all over England and barely ever had anyone blow their horn... and I was an annoying tourist driver it a big black monstrosity. I'm looking forward to going back one day. Hopefully by then my wife's cousin will have his mini finished and we can go and have fun in that.

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