Steve Cropley

Hon­our­ing the late John Sur­tees

Auto Car (UK) - - THIS WEEK - Steve Cropley


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

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