Honouring the late John Surtees
There are too many high points in my motoring year for the term to have any kind of credibility, so let’s call the Geneva show the best of the best. The Swiss salon is such a happy event. It’s held at the right end of the year, when we’re all optimistic about new initiatives. And all manufacturers meet on an equal footing. I flew in early to see the Car of the Year announced and was happy enough with the Peugeot 3008 decision, although I’d have been happy with others, too. For once, there was a case to be made for each of seven finalists. Glass half empty: it was tough for the backers of the losers. Glass half full: it was great achievement to be a finalist at all.
Mr Holder (our editorial director) and I were very delighted to have our own interview with Opel boss Karl-thomas Neumann, because he met only a few hacks. Neumann has always struck me as a nice guy doing a creditable job. But I’ll remember this encounter for two things: the strong suspicion – which Neumann never confirmed in words – that the business he’d worked so hard to improve had been sold out from under him, and his unguarded admission at the end of a formal chat that recent events made him “a little bit emotional”. We often envy car bosses for their money and power, but this was a clear view of the downside.
Morgan is prominent at Geneva because its stand is well placed and its cars are so different. Morgan people seem happier, too. This year, MD Steve Morris staged an end-of-press-day whisky tasting. The Mog stand proved a happy place for friends, suppliers, local owners and the odd hack to convene and discuss the day, but behind the scenes, the company grows more efficient. Stuff like delivery and dealer procedures are being revolutionised. Meanwhile, chief designer Jon Wells daily improves his reputation as one of Europe’s best – something we hope to prove to you in a few weeks’ time.
Lunch with Alpine’s MD, Michael van der Sande, during which I learned about a special Alpine app (search ‘Alpine cars’) that lets you order one Wondering how many cars this Alpine A110 bodychassis sold at Geneva. Must have been plenty. There can be no better selling tool than a unique chassis, an all-wishbone suspension and such a superbly styled set of body panels, all in aluminium. Makes £50k seem a snip. of the 1955 launch-edition cars. In exchange for (a recoverable) 2000 euros, you can order a ‘premiere’ version, which comes specially numbered and with extra bells and whistles.
Hot-footed it to the Alpine stand to sit in the car and discovered a combination of compactness, beauty, ease of access and package efficiency – plus clever styling echoes of the original A110 – that set the old pulse racing. Back in my hotel room, I investigated the app (my finger hovered for quite a while over the ‘buy’ button) to discover that two-thirds of the available numbers are already allocated. Van der Sande says the French allocation sold out in 48 hours.
I investigated the A110 app. My finger hovered for quite a while over the ‘buy’ button AND ANOTHER THING…
Very sorry to hear of the death of John Surtees, famous for two things: for being the only person ever to win world championships both on motorcycles and in cars, and for being unjustly denied the knighthood easily awarded to much lesser men. Surtees wasn’t the easiest person to get on with, but he was generous, hard working, a great storyteller – and I never met a man who wore his fame so lightly. He always had a project, worked hard to the end, and took full advantage of his opportunities. We will all miss him.
Surtees won the Formula 1 crown for Ferrari in 1964
Alpine design boss Antony Villain has done a good job