I have never understood how it was that, back in the 1930s, Americans built proper cars with decent motors and cool names like Packard Super 8, or Lincoln LeBaron v12 convertible. Whereas the British insisted on constructing vehicles out of Meccano and four-cylinder biscuit tins, with brand names like the Chumley Chinless Mk I or the Dribley Allegretto.
All of which then pootled about the countryside at half the speed of an asthmatic ant, trailing loose bolts and breaking down, which meant the hapless driver was usually stranded with only the Times crossword to while away the hours.
Honestly, it was enough to make the average Self Respecting Englishman want to write a Letter to the Editor. I did hear it was something to do with tax laws that meant no vehicle could have an engine larger than 142 cc and a chassis width of 32.2 cm. But it might have been something else.
Apart from the SS Mk IV Jaguar my father used to own (which also used to break down a lot) the Brits didn’t produce anything decent car-wise, as far as I am concerned, until the 1961 PA Vauxhall Velox. This looked like the Adam West-era Batmobile, apparently because the styling was based on the same 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car. It also had an uber-cool ‘magic ribbon’ strip speedometer that changed colour from green to orange to red as you accelerated.
As a teenager, around 1980, I occasionally drove the 1964 PB model with 2.6 litre motor, which had the same speedo and was a good car as long as you could do your own mechanical repairs and didn’t want to stop in a hurry or turn a corner. You can see a Vauxhall above, in cream, but it’s not quite the same.
And yes, I know about Sir Alec Issigonis’ 1959 Mini, which certainly helped define the ‘look’ of swinging 1960s Britain. But it also introduced the worst idea anybody ever had for a car. Why? Ask me.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015