Something for the ladies

Something for the ladies

I do like a well executed retro car. Take, for example, the new shape Mini, the latest incarnation of the Volkswagen Beetle (2012 onwards), less daffodils on the dashboard, more go faster stripes, and the Fiat 500. These are desirable cars. Particularly desirable for those who value style over practicality and have a little extra disposable income, whatever that is.

In Portugal, last year, I had a cream Fiat 500c with a burgundy roof for a few days. It was a rental car so I assume the 30k kilometres on the clock were pure abuse. However, I can report that it was a pleasure to drive. The controls fell easily to hand, the gear change was reasonably slick and though the steering was very light, it suited the car. The second best feature was the retractable rag top. My favourite feature being the look of the thing. With its squat stance, the wheels pushed out to the corners, contrasting colour combo, and shiny chrome accents glinting under the Algarve sun, I found myself turning to have an admiring glance every time I parked it.

The boot was so small I had to partially fold the rear seats to accommodate two small suitcases and the lack of power on the open road meant I had to downshift to drive through a stiff breeze. But I forgave it because the plus points far outweighed the negatives.

Sometimes I think I would actually buy one with my own money. Then I remember I don’t have ‘disposable income’. Nor have I breasts. To drive a Fiat 500 in Ireland, you must be a woman. It is, without a doubt, a girly car. And this is the problem with any retro car I can think of, they do tend to be for the ladies. Show me a man who owns a Mini and I’ll bet he also owns moisturiser and worries about his cuticles. No doubt the Mini is a great driver’s car but I couldn’t be dealing with the image problem.

I did once see a man pull off the impossible; Galway Docks, sunny day, pastel green Nissan Figaro, huge hairy gentleman with a gorilla forearm resting on the windowsill, cigar wedged in his jaw, Aviator shades on. He was a cross between Tony Soprano and Dan Bilzerian. Nobody in their right mind was going to tell him he had a hairdresser’s car. But he was an exception. The rest of us wouldn’t get away with it.

Green-Nissan-Figaro-front
Nissan Figaro

 

 

 

If James Bond was a Traveller…

If James Bond was a Traveller…

Rear wheel drive, 2.5 litre engine, push button ignition switch… sounds good doesn’t it? I had most of my formative driving experience in this vehicle. A battered blue Hyundai H100 van.

IMAG0539[1]

This particular example had a very special feature. At some point in its shady past, someone had attempted to steal it. After ruining the ignition barrel and most of the steering column they gave up and left. Maybe they were chased away. Maybe they took a long hard look at themselves and decided that they should be doing other things with their life that didn’t involve crouching in the footwell of a dirty old van. Anyway, this incident led to the installation of a shiny black start button mounted near the handbrake.

Jump in the driver seat, belt up, button down and go, go, go. If James Bond was a Traveller then this van would be his weapon of choice.

It was a wonderful thing to drive. It shared its engine with the Mitsubishi L200 at the time, except in the van, the engine was thrumming away beneath the front bench. There wasn’t any great top speed to speak of, but from a standstill to 40mph, the acceleration was instantaneous. I found out, by accident, that if you pressed the start button while the van was in gear, it wouldn’t stall – instead it would bunny hop into life and take off down the road. If this happened, you had better be ready to pop it into second gear and keep her lit.

It was noisy and cramped. The driver seating position meant that you sat close to the dash with the steering wheel between your knees. The divider between driver and cargo was comprised of a stiff grey curtain so you were always aware of the avalanche of tools and tyres slewing around in the back.

The Hyundai was my first taste of freedom and I loved it. At 17 years of age nothing can compare with the feeling of giddy fecklessness that comes from having a set of car keys, a full tank of fuel and enough insurance to get through a checkpoint. The vehicle isn’t important. The enthusiasm is.

Aquaplaning

Aquaplaning

It’s summer time here in Ireland, so let’s talk about aquaplaning.

In dry road conditions, the tread on your tyres is in contact with the road. You turn the steering wheel, the car points in the desired direction, and everybody arrives at their destination unscathed.

In wet road conditions, those grooves in your tyres funnel the water away, allowing the tread to maintain contact with the road. Again, everybody arrives at their destination unscathed.

Aquaplaning happens where there is standing water and the car hits it at speed. The water need not be very deep, and the speed need not be very high, for it to happen. The grooves cannot funnel the water away quick enough and this allows a film of water to occur between your tyres and the road. While you are aquaplaning you won’t have control over steering or braking. A clear indication that you are aquaplaning is the steering will feel very light. Avoid braking or sharp steering at this point or else everybody will arrive at their destination sideways and with poo in their pants.

Instead of brakes and panic, you should ease off the gas and focus on keeping the car pointed where you want it with steady steering input. When you pass through the water the car will grip again.

To help avoid aquaplaning; change your tyres if they are wearing down to the legal limit of 1.6mm, watch the road ahead for standing water and lower your speed on the approach to any standing water.

Car Wash

Car Wash

561610_542343709191084_1945855228_n‘Cadbury’s Crème Egg. How do you eat yours?‘ – It’s all nonsense, isn’t it? Obviously you bite the top off, tongue the filling a bit, and then munch away at the rest of the chocolate until it is gone. That is it. That is how one eats a Cadbury’s Crème Egg. End of story.

A better question is; ‘Washing your car. How do wash yours?’. So many possibilities.

There are those who like to do it themselves. Hose, bucket of warm soapy water, one or two sponges depending on whether or not they have obtained their black belt at the ancient art of car cleaning. Usually a systematic approach, panel by panel, washing and wiping and rinsing. Finishing with a rub around the wheels with a soft brush to remove brake dust and dirt. Washing the car by hand is a chore but it’s rewarding. A shiny clean car for a shiny happy driver.

Then there are the fetishists. They go that bit further. When they have probed all the nooks and crannies, and done the final rinse, they break out the special equipment. They use a chamois to dry the car. Did you know a chamois is a type of goat? Who first decided that the best thing they could use to dry their car was a goat? This is followed by the assorted cloths and tubs and bottles of polish. Apply a small amount of polish to a soft cloth and apply in a circular rubbing motion until your shoulder is dislocated and the floor is soaked with your sweat and tears…

I don’t trust people who polish their car. Life is too short.

At the other end of the spectrum is the person with zero mechanical sympathy. To them the automated car wash is an acceptable way to clean their car. Insert a few coins and hey presto the colourful rollers spring to life, batter your bonnet, steam your roof and remove your radio antenna. They are a bit like Guantanamo Bay for cars.

Personally, I prefer to pay €7 and let the professionals handle it, while I go and get myself a Cadbury’s Crème Egg.

Review Mercedes C180 w202

Review Mercedes C180 w202

Mercedes-Benz produced a very special car from November 1997 until July 1999. It came with a 4.3 litre V8  engine producing 306 bhp. It went from 0-60mph in a respectable 6.3 seconds and on to 155mph. It was rear wheel drive and had an automatic gearbox. It turned petrol into noise and speed. This car provided the driver with a wall of power and no unnecessary drama. It could seat five people in comfort. It was safe. It had a big boot. A fine German automobile.

It was called the Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG. The car under the spotlight today is not a C43. The car I’ve tested for your reading pleasure is the lowly C180. However, it does share many traits with the C43. The 1996 C180 I have at my disposal is also a fine automatic rear wheel drive petrol powered saloon with some airbags and room for passengers and shopping. Unlike the daddy, it only produces 122bhp and the dash to 60mph is more of a stroll, taking over 10 seconds.

Now, I like unnecessary wheel spin and the ability to reel in the horizon with a prod of the accelerator as much as the next man, but to be honest, life with the C180 isn’t bad. Yes, the car is slow and the handling is a little vague and the brakes don’t bite with as much enthusiasm as I’d like, but for a daily driver it ticks all the boxes. It is reasonably efficient, very comfortable and so far it has soaked up the worst the Irish road network can throw at it without any mechanical complaints. It’s easy to find a decent seating position. Everything still works including all the electric windows and the sunroof. My car doesn’t have a leather interior or cruise control but you wouldn’t miss them. The secondary controls all fall to hand nicely and are wearing their age well. It looks classy in the right lighting. The turning circle is surprisingly small. You can swing this thing around where a smaller car would have to do a 3 point turn.

There are some niggles though. Rust is a common problem with any older car but this model seems to suffer badly. If you are shopping for an older Merc do inspect the bodywork for signs of corrosion, particularly the bottoms of the doors, sills and around the boot lock. The driver’s seat bolster often shows signs of wear on cars with high mileage. However, don’t let high mileage put you off if the car looks to be in good condition and has some service history. All the engines offered in the C Class tend to run forever provided they have been serviced on time.

This is the smallish saloon that Mercedes produced for the 90s. It compares well to the competition. I would pick it over the same age Audi A4 and BMW 3 series every time. Especially nowadays. If you buy a 20-year-old BMW you had better have deep pockets for the inevitable garage visits. The Audi cabin is a gloomy place to sit and the styling looks dated in a bad way. The Mercedes looks dated as well, but not in a negative way. The big square grill and 3 pointed star are instantly recognisable. Everybody likes an old Merc.

If you turn up to pick up your date in a 1996 Audi A4 she will think you are struggling along on the bread line. She will survey the drab anonymous vehicle and she will begin to fear dinner is going to involve a Living Social voucher for the super saver snack box meal deal. If you rock up in classic Mercedes-Benz then things are altogether more positive. You are a bit eccentric have a taste for high quality machines.

Expect to pay between €300 and €2000. Look for an automatic with high spec. Avoid manuals, you won’t like the long ponderous feel of the gear change. Classic trim is the basic model so seek out Elegance, Esprit or Sport. A well-kept estate is rare but probably the best buy.

If you liked this, subscribe to Motorbanter on WordPress or find Motorbanter on Facebook.

Convenience Food

Convenience Food

When you do big mileage each week, you do find yourself eating a lot of convenience food. I’m talking to the truckers, taxi drivers, sales reps and all the others who spend enough time on the road to know where the speed camera van might be, and where the best takeaway coffee is. You’re on the road and you have a deadline – whatever it is. Drop off the package, collect the client from the airport, get your trailer back to the depot for the evening run. Collect little Jimmy from crèche before they put him in the closet with the unclaimed coats.

So you’re in a rush and you need to eat because your stomach is grumbling. The Weetabix from this morning has long been digested and the resultant energy has been spent powering up the right hand side lane on the N17. Need some food. Hopefully tasty, preferably hot, and above all else it must be quick. It must be a dining experience that takes only minutes from the moment you park to the moment you re-join the flow of traffic.

Let’s have a look at the options shall we..

In no particular order;

Carvery lunch. Pros: Speedy and hot. Cons: Relatively expensive and possibly stodgy from the hot hold unit.

Burrito. Pros: Delicious and cheap. Cons: You will burp later on and someone will be sick.

Fast food drive-thru. Pros: Super fast and super cheap. Cons: Instant regret and greasy steering wheel.

Café. Pros: Likely to be fresh food and a healthier option. Cons: Wildly unpredictable waiting time.

Shop. Pros: Fierce quick altogether. Cons: Two Nutrigrain bars and a Lucozade is not a balanced meal.

Now I know the real quick and healthy option is to pack lunch from home but does anybody relish the thought of a plastic box of warm browning fruit and a slab or two of Ryvita multigrain plasterboard? I certainly don’t.

There is a gap in the market for convenient road food that won’t cause you to be all blubbery and dead before 40. Someone should get on that.

Car Enthusiasts

Car Enthusiasts

If you read last week’s piece you will be aware that my 21 year old Mercedes was due it’s NCT. If for some reason you didn’t read last week’s piece, then you should. I assumed the car would be declared unsafe for human consumption and that I would be advised to take the bus home. Now it did indeed fail the NCT, but the technician who conducted the test must have been a Mercedes enthusiast because it didn’t actually fail by much. There are three small jobs that need attending to and then theoretically the big blue Merc is ready to be deemed road legal. Weld the exhaust. Weld a plate into one of the rear arches. Weld a front suspension mount. If I could weld I’d be sorted wouldn’t I?

Anyway, it is not the damning report I was anticipating; Mercedes is a bright girl but she is lagging behind the other students at braking, lighting, maths and home economics. Her German is good though…

I drove home and concluded that the technician must have had a soft spot for old Mercs. It got me thinking: When you hear the term ‘ car enthusiast’ what kind of person springs to mind? Blue Subaru jacket man standing behind a dry stone wall at a rally stage? Reckless young fella practising his handbrake turns in the local car park? Waffling old codger rambling on about the virtues of his nearly always not working Ford Cortina? Or maybe that one man in your village who owns one of everything – Mini, Beetle, Bmw E30, pre 1980 Ford of some sort, and something odd like a Mercedes Unimog. Maybe that man springs to mind when you hear the term ‘car enthusiast’. Every village has one. Hi Eamonn.

Remember how popular plastic fantastic jap scrap used to be, everybody wanted a Honda Civic with a bodykit and Lexus lights. Well that day is gone. The insurance companies seem to have priced them off the road. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, the individual who in the past had a penchant for lights underneath their car a lá Fast and Furious now has to change with the times. Diesel is desirable now. Young lads and ladies aspire to drive a diesel VW Passat, Golf, or something similar and ideally it should belch black smoke under heavy acceleration and emit a  loud ‘boo’ noise between gear changes. I’ve just searched the term ‘boo’ on Donedeal.ie and I swear it returned over twenty ads including phrases like ‘nice boo from the exhaust’ and ‘great boo off her’.

I don’t understand the appeal myself but it’s good that enthusiasts are plentiful enough to have a few different species. Feel free to use the comment section folks – what car appeals to you and why?