MY WEEK IN CARS
The Cropleys go camping
Change of heart alert! Having whinged about caravans all my life I was persuaded by the Steering Committee to take the high road in a borrowed VW California, a gentrified version of the Transporter delivery van that honours and updates the 60-year traditions of the ubiquitous Kombi camper. The result is that I now believe no home should be without one.
They’re beautifully built, fun to drive, compact yet spacious, frugal, fine for sleeping in and whenever you open a cupboard or throw a switch you’re reminded that every function has been honed by discerning Germans. The bugbear is price: you could pay a lot of hotel bills with the £62k. But the experience is quite different from any hotel: it makes total sense of parking in random grassy fields, something one does plenty of times over a British summer. Maybe the SC and I won’t blow our savings on a California, but you can bet we’ve thought about it.
Those who criticise modern Formula 1 have a poor memory of how it was, but this week I’m joining the complainers. The Monaco race was dull, for sure, what with all the coasting and tyre-preserving, but what really got my goat was the inability of Channel 4 pre-race grid walkers David Coulthard and Mark Webber (who between them have 21 grand prix victories and 77 podiums) to hold a single, rewarding conversation with an expert. Instead we made do with celebs whose major observation was that this was a glamorous weekend (something their presence made me doubt).
As much as the driver-reporters did badly, this was also a major indictment of F1’s bosses who, by failing to see the problem and help, behaved as if we TV watchers were as dim and unimportant as ever. Occasionally in the distance we sighted these wise men surveying the scene, ostensibly deciding what to change. But expressions I once read as wise and insightful are starting, sadly, to look ineffectual.
News that Daimler is getting serious about converting Smart to a maker of battery-only cars comes as a relief. The green light seems to be the departure of CEO Annette Winkler, who in an eight-year reign allowed a decent Smart re-engineering job to be spoiled by poor styling, and failed to make much of an awkward Smartrenault alliance. Now Smart can match its cars’ compactness and agility to electric car givens like smoothness, torque and a perfect step-off.
Given the above you may think it weird that our family has owned four Smarts in 20 years. The first came because I loved the original, mid-1990s ‘Swatch car’ concept, and bought an early left-handed edition straight from the motor show stand. The others have been for my mother-in-law, an active older lady who enjoys the small size, big doors and high seating. Still, we both agree there’s now a chance for Smart to properly justify a name that has always smacked of overpromise.
There’s now a chance for Smart to justify its name
Not To Be Missed Dept: final eliminations were held this week to identify 50 finalists bidding for glory at this year’s Festival of the Unexceptional, to be held at Stowe House, Bucks on 14 July.
Allegros, Marinas and Maxis have previously featured heavily, but this year’s star attractions will include several of the UK’S four surviving Hyundai Stellars (which through half-closed eyes resemble small Maserati Quattroportes, says event organiser and serial optimist Gary Axon).
The finalist list isn’t actually final. Judges may pluck promising pre-1989 drive-ins from the car park on the day if they’re good enough. If you can’t make the Goodwood Festival of Speed that weekend, this may be your thing...
California dreaming: a hotel on wheels is unexpectedly brilliant
Date for your diary: 2018 Festival of the Unexceptional, 14 July