✨ “Take it easy driving – the life you save may be mine.”
― James Dean


Friday, 27 September 2013

Evolution of the Classic Car movement

As the 20th Century drew to a close, we seemed to look back as much as forward, pining for what were, as we see it, better times. We can't revisit our Golden Age, but at least we can own and experience the material objects that evoke it : clothes, music, films, furniture and cars - classic cars. Glamorous, kitsch, humble or high bred, these mobile time warps powerfully conjure up a particular period.

The hobby of preserving and collecting cars built after the Second World War began to take shape in the early 1970's. Veteran (pre-1905), Edwardian (pre-1919) and Vintage (pre-1931) cars - as defined by Britain's Vintage Sports Car Club - have always been easy enough to categorise, but, by the end of the 1960's, post-war motor cars of the better kind were coming of age. To call them simply "old cars" no longer seemed appropriate : whether beautiful, fast or technically re-eminent, the post-1945 car had at its best all the gravitas of the pre-war machinery. Slowly, quietly, the "new Vintage" had arrived, filling the gap between Vintage and modern for a new generation of enthusiasts.

ABOVE : Classics so evocative as these - the AC Ace, Ferrari 166 and C-Type Jaguar - have always been in strong demand and are priced at a premium. 

One-marque clubs for well-bred sporting marques such as Aston and Bentley had been around for years, but as enthusiasts for the less exalted makes felt the need to huddle together around a common banner, many new guilds and registers sprouted. Traditionalists had long complained that modern cars all looked the same:, but in the 70's there was a gut feeling that the motor car had seen its best years as safety and pollution regulations made inroads into designers' freedom. Styling, particularly in Britain, seemed to be losing its way.

No wonder older cars began to look increasingly attractive. They were plentiful, cheap, easy to work on and still very usable on increasingly busy roads. Drive an old car and you made a statement about your individualism: you weren't prepared to become just another faceless, sterile tin can on the bypass to oblivion or obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses in the yearly new-model scrum. It all came together in 1973, when a UK magazine, Classic Cars, was launched.

The new "classic" stuck, a useful catch-all term for a sprawling, ill-defined genre that, in just 20 years or so, has blossomed from an eccentric past-time into a multi-million-pound industry.

Not much happened for about ten years, until about 1982-83, when the nature of the hobby began to change dramatically. Slowly, under the noses of true enthusiasts, market forces took hold as it dawned on investors that really prime machinery could prove a fine hedge against inflation or an appreciating asset. Suddenly, the market hardened as Americans came to Europe seeking prime collectables.

At first, gilt-edged pre-war hardware - Bentley, Bugatti, etc. - set the pace in auction rooms, but by mid-decade, super cars of the 50's, 60's and 70's were hyped on their coat tails. Once-affordable Ferraris, Astons and Jaguar XK's and E-types became "investor" cars, commodities too expense and precious to be driven (which was rather missing the point).

As the auction houses pulled even bigger numbers, hype went into over-drive. Banks and finance companies offered loans to buy classics. The increasing ranks of classic car magazines bulged with advertising. Enthusiasts' gentle hobby was turned into an ugly, cut-throat brawl driven by greed. Many found themselves with cars that were worth more than their houses, machinery they were now too nervous to use. The boom couldn't last, fortunately. the recession hit in 1989 and demand quickly fell.

Today the market is stable again and most cars are where they could be - with enthusiasts and enthusiastic investors. Rare and high-calibre thoroughbred cars - especially those with a racing pedigree or an interesting history - will always be in strong demand. Fashion still has its part to play in the lower echelons of the market, but those who bought Citroëns and Jaguars have learnt about the dedication required to run an old car - some went back to their moderns, others caught a life-long bug!


Thursday, 19 September 2013

Spring news

Winter is at an end and, hopefully, mild blissful summer days lying ahead. Time to pull out the 'ol' lady' and give her a good debriefing for the outings ahead. I'm not saying that nobody ventured out during the winter, but summer always brings visions of lazy days in the country and more comfortable clothing (getting in and out of an E-Type or Healey with all the winter woolies can be quite an experience!).

During one such winter outing, the Jaguar Club met at Leopard's Lodge near Hartebeespoort Dam, and my E-type (among others) appeared in Volume 8 of 'Jaguar Magazine'. The day was glorious with Vultures soaring over-head, the cars being dwarfed by the majestic cliffs behind the Lodge. Here are some of the pics taken that day.

This picture of Dave Clarkson’s 1966 Jaguar E-type 4.2 Series I appeared in Volume 8 of ‘Jaguar Magazine' during a club visit to Leopard Lodge at Hartebeespoort Dam.

 Leopard Lodge

The view


Interior of the 1966 Jaguar E-type 4.2

The Jaguar E-type was an instant classic, an exercise in cool aerodynamic theory and unashamed showmanship, producing probably the most beautiful sports car of the 60s. It had the ability to live up to the looks, too. The 150mph (241kph) that Jaguar claimed for the E-type was devastatingly quick in 1961 (in reality only the tweaked-up press cars could achieve it, and 140 (225kph) was nearer the truth), making the new Jaguar Britain's fastest production car. Better still, it was probably Britain's greatest bargain price-wise, undercutting its nearest rival, the Aston Martin DB4, by a third.

That curvy shell, inspired by the Le Mans-winning D-Type racer, was immensely stiff - all the better to take advantage of its new wishbone and coil-spring independent rear suspension.

Combining near-limousine ride comfort with vice-like grip, even on the slender cross-ply tyres that looked like something off a bike to modern eyes, the new Jaguar handled superbly.

Providing the power was the 3.8-litre XK engine, already 13 years old but still well worthy of the new chassis.

JAGUAR E-TYPE (1961-75) 
Engine: Straight six/V-twelve
Capacity: 3781/4235/5343cc
Power: 265bhp
Transmission: 4-speed manual - 3-speed auto
Top Speed : Up to 150mph (241kph)
No. Built : All models - 72,507

A woman and a man are involved in a car accident; it's a bad one. Both of their cars are totally demolished, but amazingly, neither of them are hurt. After they crawl out of their cars, the woman says, "So you're a man. That's interesting. I'm a woman. Wow, just look at our cars! there's nothing left, but we're unhurt. this must be a sign from God that we should meet and be friends and live together in peace for the rest of our days."

Flattered, the man replies' "Oh yes, I agree with you completely, this must be a sign from God!"

The woman continues, "and look at this, here's another miracle. My car is completely demolished but this bottle of wine didn't break. Surely god wants us to drink this wine and celebrate our good fortune."

Then she hands the bottle to the man.

The man nods his head in agreement, opens it and drinks half the bottle and then hands it back to the woman. The woman takes the bottle and immediately puts the cap back on and hands it back to the man.

The man asks, "Aren't you having any?"

The woman replies,

"No, I think I'll just wait for the police..."

Go well everybody!


Thursday, 5 September 2013

Classic Engines

Above : The 16-cylinder powerplant used in the racing BRM: fantastically powerful

Once the classic is in motion, the engine does more than any other feature to give it character.. The 1945-75 period started with almost universal use of side-valve power, except on the most costly and exotic cars, and ended with multiple camshafts and valves, fuel injection and unusual materials becoming the norm. Most of these advances were first developed for racing, then refined for road use as they showed the way to efficiency.

Above : The fearsome V-twelve of the racing Sunbeam Tiger. Aero engines were a convenient route to high power. 

Progress had meant more performance. Where 1940's power outputs were small, by the 70's, engines in better sports cars were up to 80bhp per litre. Efficiency came from ideally-shaped combustion chambers, usually hemispherical, for which a more complex valve arrangement is usually needed. The simplest way to operate these is by overhead cams, first seen on a Clément of 1902 and used by Alfa Romeo, Bentley and Bugatti in the 20's, MG in the 30's and Jaguar since the 50's, but not used on non-classic until the 80's. It's costly to develop, but usually leads to better breathing. 

Above : Alfa Romeo's 2.9-litre engine of the 1930's used a twin double-overhead-camshaft, straight-eight layout. 

 Further advances included fuel injection, which did away with compromises forced by carburettors. it was first used on production cars, in rather basic form, by Chevrolet on it's Corvette in 1954 and by Mercedes-Benz on its technical tour de force 300SL in 1955. In the early 70's, Bosch's Jetronic systems began to appear on performance classics such as the Porsche 911. Since 1903, with universal fitment of catalytic convertors, fuel injection has become a necessity, along with electronic ignition, which began to appear at the end of the 60's. For convenience, the hydraulic tappet was designed by Bollée in 1910. General Motors began to fit them in the 30's, leading to extra mechanical refinement and less servicing. Hydraulic tappets were universal in America by the 60's; now almost all cars use them. 

Above : Classic Italian - the Maserati 250F V12 racing engine with twin camshafts and a separate carburetor choke for each cylinder. 

These are some of the milestone power units : 

The XK was designed in the Second World War by the nick-named "Firewatchers" Walter Hassan, Harry Mundy and Bill Heynes, when they were on evening fire duty. It is the epitome of the classic in-line twin-cam engine and was sorely needed as an alternative to the pedestrian Standard engines Jaguar was forced to use before an immediately after the war. Launched in the XK120 of 1948, displacing 3.4 litres and producing 160bhp, it enjoyed its finest moment in a road car as the 265bhp 3.8, which propelled the 1962 E-Type coupé to 150mph (241 kph). In 3.0- and 3.4-litre dry-sumped form, it took D-Types to Le Mans wins and powered Jaguar saloons right up to 1987.

a CAST-OFF FROM Buick (the Americans had found themselves good at thin-wall iron casting so there was no need for fancy light-alloy stuff), this 3528cc engine was discovered by Maurice Wilks on a visit to America in 1966. Realising this compact unit would be perfect for powering Rover's big P5 saloon, he quickly acquired the rights. It was a good move: the staid, heavy saloon was transformed into one with a top speed of 110mph (177kph) and 0-60 (96) in 10 seconds.

Above : The light-alloy 3.5-litre Rover V8, beloved of specialist sports car makers, is derived from an unwanted Buick unit of the 1960's 


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