Wall to Wall

Wall to Wall

I’ve driven a few cars that tend to get you noticed.

There was a Ferrari California that came my way for a week. Driving it resulted in a great deal of double takes and pointing. I remember a bunch of builders sitting on a bench eating sandwiches. The synchronized chewing stopped and four heads turned in unison as we passed.

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It was a car that seemed to attract awe, envy and contempt, looks that said; ‘he’s got too much money and is having a mid life crisis.’ Only one of these things is true, by the way. Perhaps that’s why nobody would let the car out at junctions.

I once borrowed Vauxhall PA Cresta that caused almost as much gawping as the Ferrari, but for different reasons. The Cresta is a small, fake 1950s American car with extravagantly curved front and rear screens, little fins on its back wings, a great deal of chrome and two tone paint. The interior, with its bench seats, column gearchange and metal dash with instruments and switches that looked as if they belonged on a jukebox, was equally flash.

The car was spectacularly vulgar and a lot of fun as a result. Older people would reminisce along the lines of ‘we had one. Great car until it went rusty’ –which didn’t take long. Old Vauxhalls went very frilly, very quickly. Younger people wanted to know what it was, children were mesmerized, but almost everyone smiled when they saw it.

Another unlikely car which created a big stir was a four wheeled version of the Bond Bug, that strange, wedge of cheese shaped three wheeler built by Reliant in the early 1970s. The Webster Motor Company retrieved the moulds for its fiberglass body from an old chicken shed, re-engineered the car to take an old Mini’s front subframe and changed the Bug from a wobbly trike into a fun, baby sportscar with very good balance thanks to its engine being in the middle of the car. It made some people do cartoon double takes and others collapse with laughter, but then, driving it was a laugh too. I gather than in the end only about 22 were built, so I the survivors are probably still causing a stir.

Recently I’ve been driving about in a facelifted Mazda 6, which is a handsome car, and an Infiniti Q70, which has a certain presence, but both have allowed me to preserve my anonymity by attracting no attention at all, but one unlikely press vehicle has.

It’s a Great Wall Steed pick up truck. Made in China, it looks a bit like an old model Isuzu pick up, because, apparently that’s what it’s based on. This is a working vehicle with truck like rear suspension and a rather truck like handling and ride, which I suspect would improve if you loaded it with builder’s rubble. I spent 500 miles jiggling about in the Steed, and was amazed at the ‘what’s that?’ looks it got as drivers strained to read its unfamiliar badges. For work-related reasons I was interviewing people who sell cars, and several of them, including the dealer principle of a swanky Jaguar/Land Rover showroom, rushed to see it. When I passed another Steed its owner waved enthusiastically. We felt like pioneers –almost.

The reason? As the Jag man said, the Steed might be unusual now, but everyone expects Chinese-made cars to become very familiar in the next few years. So the Great Wall is a lot more significant that it at first appears.

If you think that’s fanciful consider this. Indian conglomerate Tata now owns Jaguar and Land Rover, but first came to Britain as the purveyors of a cheap, basic pick up truck.




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