Other conventional wisdoms, now largely redudant were that the French were good at designing interesting looking cars – note ‘interesting looking’ is not exactly a ringing - endorsement, and could be quite good on the technological side, but generally were to complicated for their own good and a bugger to repair (i.e. very high garage bills). The Italians were said to have the design side sown up but generally the cars they produced were rust buckets, fine for the sunnier, dryer climate of the Med, but hopeless once they crossed the Alps.
Then there were British cars: often technologically innovative, but the Brits designed about as well as they cooked. That is their designs were a joke: so we got the ‘Dagenham Dustbin’ – usually the various Ford Cortinas, but more or less any Ford car built in Britain; the Flying Turd – the Mark I Vauxhall Astra:
more or less each and every car produced by a British company that was obliged to keep changing its name to escape prosecution, but here I’ll refer to British Leyland.
They were usually quite awful and that was when they were not simply abysmal. I, who is by no means known for my style, have owned seven of them, two Allegros, two Maestros and three Rovers. In my defence I’ll say that I don’t give a flying fuck about whether or not whatever car I am driving is cool or stylish: when I buy a car, always to replace one which is by then a short drive from the nearest scrapheap, I decide how much I intend to spend – invariably less than £800 – and then cast about for one which is still half-decent and fits my sole criterion.
That was all then, of course, and the whole industry has changed in that most car groups, especially those producing saloons for the middle market, is global. So engineers will be hired in Germany and Britain and designers in Italy. And then, of course, there is the whole range of Far Eastern cars, from Japan, Korea and Malaysia. But they are pretty irrelevant as far as this entry is concerned. This entry is purely concerned with how BMW more or less bought nothing by a name, designed a new car and, almost magically, seemed to have revived the spirit of the original. And then, almost be design, comprehensively proceeded to fuck it all up. That car was the Mini. Here is one of the very first.
It was something else technologically, although the original Fiat 500 (I might well be off on some of the names, but then I am not in the slightest what is known hereabouts as a petrolhead) was a pretty clever design, as was Citroen’s 2CV (of which I have had three, the first, for which I paid way, way, way over the odds to some shyster or other, lasted just one week). But the Mini, which took off like a rocket, was seen everywhere. It was horribly cramped and the suspension was, unless the one you were driving was brand-new, pretty awful. But it was something of an icon, which is why, I suppose, BMW kept the name after buying out British Leyland (or whatever alias it was using in 2000) and sold off everything else to whatever sucker it could find to buy it from them.
Here is one of the first BMW Minis, and the resemblance to the original is uncanny.
But enough wasn’t enough and it could not leave well alone. So then we got this
and then this in my view one of the nastiest designs I have come across. What were they thinking?
And I don’t apologise to anyone who saved up and bought one: you’re a sucker.
. . .
As usual, we don’t really have any idea what is going on except what we see on the TV news or hear on the radio. Newspapers, except perhaps – perhaps – for the ‘serious’ Press (their description, not mine). And, needless to say – although, as always when someone uses that completely redundant phrase, I shall say it, despite it being ‘needless’ – I have no better insight than you.
So, going by what you and I have heard, Russia has more or less ‘invaded’ Eastern Ukraine without appering to have done so. And that, whether you agree or not, is a pretty neat way of going about it. The free West – their description, not mine – claim that bit by bit Russian soldiers have been arriving in dribs and drabs, disguised as tourists or tradesman or something and there is now a sizeable contigent of them sitting somewhere far west of Kiev doing all the things soldiers do when they are about to fight. Russia, for its part, ‘innocent’ and ‘misunderstood’ Russia – its description, not mine – says this is all stuff and nonsense, all made up by America and if there are several of its citizens in Eastern Ukraine, well, why not: a chap needs a bit of down time, fishing or elk hunting or something. You didn’t know there were elks in Eastern Ukraine, did you? Neither did I.
ard on the heels of this revelation or complete nonsense – what you choose to believe depends very much upon whether you dress to the West or the East – comes another story: that far from presenting a united front on these matters, as the euro nerds in Brussels would so dearly love given the huge salaries they command, different EU members are blowing either hot or cold on ‘greater sanctions’. Why that should be the case, if it’s true, and I rather think it is, is the result of just how dependent different EU members are on Russian gas. The Germans, who have jettisoned all their nuclear power production because it’s now cool to be green, are a lot more dependent on it than the French, who produce more than 70pc of their energy in nuclear power plants.
That is not good news, and not just for the euro nerds who are still pushing the ‘EU: all for one and one for all’ line. The latest I have heard is that Putin is now ready for ‘negotiations’ with the government in Kiev – which, remember, is arguably pretty illegitimate given that the previously democratically elected president was more or less deposed in a coup – but that part of the substance of those negotiations will be an element of statehood for Eastern Ukraine. That sounds about right, although I am still baffled by what Putin might be aiming to achieve in the long run. Along those lines I did read – online on The Spectator website – a piece (you can read it here) that in Russian terms Putin’s nationalism, if that is what it is, is by far not the danger we think it is, but that there is a far more nationalistic element in Russia who think Vlad the Lad is a bit of a wuss in matters nationalistic. Who knows?
But I did recall a few days ago how two former British ambassadors to Moscow did opine that by his behaviour this year Putin has rather painted himself into a corner. He must now either press on and on with similar action as we saw in Crimea to keep his popularity up – which, to the universal disgust of Western liberals, is very high – or risk losing face by being more conciliatory and, dare I say, pursuing a more peaceful outcome to what is happening. I think our - the West’s – Achilles heel is our mindset which is now hooked on ever more economic growth and for whom nationalism is a dirty word and which doesn’t simply not accept that for others – many Russians, for example – nationalism can be and end in itself, but can’t even comprehend as much.
e are still stuck in the development of our varied imperialist pasts over these past 100 years or so: in the 18th and 19th centuries Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, to a lesser degree Germany, and the U.S. – yes, them, too – went around ‘conquering the world’ mainly to find more markets for their goods. That, in a way, is how we still think.
Whatever nationalism which became apparent was, as far as I am concerned, merely a fig-leaf to hide our more venal instincts. We can’t quite grasp that ‘making ever more money’ might not be quite as vital to the psyche of a nation than national pride, however lethal the national pride might find itself being expressed.