NZ Classic Driver
ON THE CREST OF A WAVE
Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to see and hear some fabulous road and racing cars in many locations – from Levin to Goodwood, and even at the Geneva Motor Show.
My pick as the best-looking car ever goes to Ferrari chassis #3269GT, the only 250 GT to be bodied by Bertone, in the early 1960s, complete with ‘twin-nostril’ grille that mirrored the 1961 F1 Ferraris. But I’ve only seen it in photos so that doesn’t count. On the brutally attractive scale, I’d vote for the dramatic Maserati Tipo 152 coupé that I drooled over at Le Mans in 2015.
There’s no doubt that the most significant car I’ve ridden in is 9600HP – the actual dark-grey E-type Jaguar coupé that was driven at high speed across Europe to arrive just in time for William Lyons to oversee the model’s launch at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show. This is a car that’s sufficiently famous to have a whole book (written by its owner and publisher, Philip Porter) devoted to its history and restoration. I worked for said owner in the UK for a few months in 2008; I even once drove 9600HP very gingerly for a few metres onto a trailer! The car lives in a thatched barn in rural England alongside 848CRY, the actual red E-type roadster from the movie The Italian Job. Neither is a pampered pet; they get regular use and are invariably the centre of attraction at Jaguar events.
But the car that seems to have made the most lasting impression on me is something far more prosaic. Before we emigrated to New Zealand in late 1956, I was an inveterate collector of numbers – both steam trains and cars. So, there was 10-year-old me, sitting at the end of our road in the Midlands with my notebook, mostly watching what Motor Sport called ‘grey porridge’ (my father had just bought his first car, which was a Fordson van with some additional seats in the back). Suddenly, along came this vision of elegance and colour: a just-released ’57 model Vauxhall Cresta in light blue with a white side flash. I can still picture it in my mind.
By the standards of British cars of the day, the Cresta was well-equipped; a Ford Zodiac equivalent I guess. However, reading a road test from The Motor of October 31, 1956 makes you realise that such things are relative. Here was a 2262cc, six-cylinder saloon with seating for six. It’s 0–60mph time was 20.5 seconds, and maximum speed was around 84mph (about 135km/h). Although the test refers to a Cresta “having as standard many items of equipment not normally offered”, it’s hard to see what they might have been; the list of extra-cost options included a radio, wing mirrors, reversing lamps and a lockable petrol cap.
The Cresta didn’t lead to a lifelong love of Luton products, although the first new car I bought was an HC Viva so maybe something rubbed off on my subconscious? Ah well, isn’t nostalgia a wonderful thing!