Sunday Column: Peter Griffiths – I can see for miles

Y’know how we take things for granted, right? Well take sight as an example, you would miss it if you didn’t have it and you would long to be able to if you never had been. Colours, movement, shapes, friends and family are all right there all the time if you have the full faculty. It can be tiresome sometimes when some people decide to wear clothing inappropriate to their body-shape, or produce films like ‘Priest’ (terrible film) but on the whole those of us blessed with sight make the most of it on a daily basis.

All of which is painfully obvious! Sorry about that. The thing is that those of us who are blessed with sight do still manage to complain about life at some point or other. Well get your head around this – we are all living in the past by fractions of a second. Think of it this way: sound travels slower than light so we see a car accelerating to the red-line before we hear the glorious inline-six sounds it is making which means that the brain has to delay what we see in order to line up the two because it can’t speed up what you’re hearing.

That is really on another level for me. This world is so much more complicated than we realise and it is a constant source of fascination and intrigue until it all becomes a little too much and one simply has to go and have a pint of proper beer. Another phenomenon which fascinates me is the process of latent heat exchange and how it informs the movement of glaciers and can also be felt in the kitchen at home. Fill a glass bowl with hot water until the glass is warmed through, then suddenly fill the bowl with chilled/cold water while holding the bowl from beneath with your bare hand – you’ll feel the glass get hotter before it gets colder, work that one out.

So it’s really no surprise that when we look at a vehicle with two headlights on the front, a badge in the middle for symmetry, a bumper, and a grille, we see a face. That is a simple thing which we can all relate to because it is most natural to humans in terms of interactions, decisions, and relationships. Sherlock Holmes wasn’t one to meet someone and immediately take in their face, he observed the whole picture at once including the massive and minute details in an instant, only to focus on the face later and upon interrogation. Apart from that awesome fictional character, us normal humans usually rely on the face as a good way to get to know the person we’re meeting.

Two very different cars, with two different points to prove.  Technology vs dignified wafting 60s style.

The old saying goes something like ‘try to avoid making assumptions based on the first impressions you get when you see the outer pages of a published novel’ and it has been consistently proven to be true, despite it often being valuable to remember what you first thought for comedy value. The marketing people of this world know that we can’t help but make snap judgements and so tailor the products to our fickle natures through careful studies of trends, choices, and idiots.

To what extent have cars been anthropomorphised over the years then? A little or a lot? To leap to the Issigonis Mini is not a stupid thing to do because it has the classic innocent and cute looks. It’s not really a car you can get angry with even after you’ve lost yet another finger to the cramped conditions in the engine bay. Thinking further reveals that the Mini was designed to be as compact a package as possible and locating the headlights as far up and forward made more space for the engine which makes it hard to tell which came first, the exterior or the mechanicals.

Forward thinking, but as simple as it appears on the surface? I’m not so sure

Of course this is all in the eye of the beholder in that we proscribe character and identities to cars which will almost certainly be different to the person standing next to you. The laws of design allow for the inclusion of lines, detail and positioning to help us on our way to making our opinions of the attitude of a car and in this way we are excused this particular frivolity! I look at my ideal car, the E39 M5, and think smug, bold, subtly confident, and know that it is extremely accomplished. Would I think it looked smug if it weren’t so accomplished? No, wouldn’t look twice at it.

Bavarian Perfection has Q car looks and blistering pace

What do you think when you see the front of the Vauxhall Firenza ‘droop snoot’? It’s a faintly ridiculous name for what is in fact a great-looking car with a lot of character about it. For me it is one of the last great Vauxhalls and I am a huge fan of these rare things. The twin square lamps behind the angled near-rectangle covers lend a purposeful glare, pointing out the road ahead. Of course the non-snoot Firenza had the opposite angle at the front with more of a BMW ‘sharknose’ slant. Both look great and for me look like I want to feel if I were to drive the thing – focussed and arrogant.

A long-winded name, but the last of the proper Vauxhalls?

This is part of the reason why the TVR Cerbera has a place in my heart because it really is a race car underneath a pseudo-classic bodyshape. It looks best with the twin large lamps rather than the arachnoid later iterations, in front of a traditional low-slung  curvy body which has it’s own modern cues in the shape of the bootlid and door construction. The interior is truly original and really does give a sense of occasion. It’s necessary to waffle on about these details because it’s ‘face’ is pretty plain and non-descript and, despite being great to look, at it doesn’t say much about it’s attitude. Despite this, anyone who has even been in one as it’s ticking over will know it’s just raw. The exterior is not to be trusted.

The last of the British Muscle? A good mix of tradition and stinking pace

Today has been a nice little flight of fancy into imagining that a car could have a personality which of course it cannot, it’s only us projecting our feelings on to it as parts break or we have an epic blast through the country. The chances are that these old cars will out-last us all and other people will own them and develop different personalities for themselves. This is what loving old cars is all about, they come and go and we use them for what we want – either to show off, to titillate our senses, to preserve for future generations – but above all most of us want to share our mutual appreciation with other enthusiasts and not take anything for granted. See what I mean?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s