The Write Stuff

Car magazines.

Voltaire once wrote, “Judge a man by the questions he asks, not his answers,” and that’s not a bad way to evaluate the worth of a motor magazine. Does it tell you what it wants you to hear or thinks is expected, or does it challenge, entertain, inform, intrigue, question and surprise through original thought, deep understanding and captivating prose? Of late I’ve become a little disillusioned with motor magazines and the quality of content and writing, and perhaps this is directly proportional to the increasing number on the market….

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Bug Life

1938 Volkswagen Beetle.

Beneath a heavy grey December sky which promised snow, a beige ’61 VW 1200 De Luxe chugged its way south out of Edinburgh along the A68 to the steady beat of an air-cooled flat-four. Past Fala Dam and through the Lammermuir Hills the little car climbed, and as the long steep ascent of Carter Bar approached its driver dropped a gear and the exhaust note hardened. It was 1971 and a few days before Christmas. I was making my way home from university for the holidays, and undertaking the journey…

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Panda Crossing

Fiat Panda Cross parked in the snowy conditions that suit it best.

The wild winter of 2010 saw the roads of North Yorkshire snowbound from well before Christmas until far into the New Year. This was not good news for drivers of BMWs with wide wheels and tyres, and it became a standing joke that whenever the TV news showed a clip of some unfortunates pushing a slewing car along a snow covered road it was inevitably a BeeEm. One morning, following a heavy overnight fall, I gingerly set out for my office 35 miles to the north by first driving south…

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To Portofino By Jaguar

Peter Herbert's Jaguar XKR en route to Portofino.

Hull, City of Culture, is looking particularly moody beneath a grey threatening sky as we make our way through a barren landscape of factory units, car dealerships and wasteland to the King George Dock. Aboard the good ship Pride Of York the news is not good. Engine trouble will delay our overnight departure for Zeebrugge, a disappointment only compounded by the surly Spanish waiters serving dinner. It is as if they are still mourning the fall of Franco. But hey, this is the start of a continental road trip, and…

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Cars In Books

Citroen Traction Avant, the car chosen by Georges Simenon to feature in the Inspector Maigret books.

Dawn was beginning to soften the edge of the night as the Buick convertible cruised through the Essex countryside. Its driver was a small man, so short that he had to sit on a cushion and lean forward to see over the Buick’s broad bonnet. His right leg was at full stretch; even so, only his toes pressed the accelerator. The rush of air lashed his curly hair forward. There were three other men in the car, all asleep. Like the driver they were all young, and dressed in lounge…

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The Golf GTI: An Appreciation

Red Volkswagen Golf GTI MkI parked next to a stone staircase.

This is the man who put a million on black and it came up red. This is the man who married a sex kitten just as she turned into a cat. This is the man who moved into gold just as the clever money moved out. This is the man who drives a Volkswagen. Everyone must have something in life he can rely on. So goes the voiceover, and then to the strains of Ravel a sleepy eyed tuxedo-clad bon vivant leaves a Riviera casino in the early hours, pockets…

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Fresh Eyes On An Old Magazine

Extract from a November 1923 issue of The Motor magazine.

On the most recent of our get-togethers to discuss motoring and other matters over tea and buns, my friend and colleague Jim Hunter brought with him something he had just rescued after what must have been many decades of neglect, correctly guessing (“jalousing,” we would say) that it was just the sort of thing I’d like to borrow. It was the 6 November 1923 edition (or at least most of it) of The Motor magazine. The Motor was first published in 1903, though this was really just a relaunch of…

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Gran Torino

Fiat factory, Lingotto, Turin.

Turin stands on the banks of the River Po against a dramatic backdrop of the snowcapped Alps. Capital of Italy’s northwestern Piedmont region, it was also the country’s first national capital following Italy’s unification. While many overlook it in favour of the more widely recognised attractions of Florence, Rome and Venice, Turin is a centre of both culture and industry and possesses enormous charm, with wonderful museums and fine architecture. Stately Baroque buildings and old cafes line its boulevards and grand squares. Yet the place is refreshingly un-touristy, with barely…

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Traffic: The Case For The Defence

Mercedes and Fiat parked in a town side street.

It’s five o’clock on a June Paris afternoon, and the pavement tables outside a small left bank cafe begin to fill with an eclectic mix of home-bound office workers, tourists and the St Germain smart set. A steady stream of cyclists, scooter and motorcycle riders, light commercial vehicles and cars, mostly Euro-boxes, passes by. Some also emerge from the narrow street opposite. There is plenty to watch. From time to time one of those on wheels recognises one of those who is drinking, and friendly exchanges take place. There is…

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Vauxhall’s Diesel Record Run

Vauxhall Astra diesel (the "green car") on a successful world speed record attempt at Millbrook.

Although I knew about it, through private information, several months before the event took place in early October 2013, it did not occur to me that I would be asked to participate in Vauxhall’s speed record attempt until I received a surprise phone call from Simon Hucknall. Simon, one of the motor industry’s most creative PR people, had had the splendid idea of celebrating Vauxhall’s 110th anniversary by breaking, and in some cases establishing, a cluster of UK and world records for standard production diesel cars up to 2000cc in…

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