Thursday, October 2, 2008


Since FP & DsD opened the door last week to high fashion and Ms. Bristol took it further, I thought it possible that we might introduce some other non musical interests, here's one of mine.

I've mentioned here several times my lifelong musical obsessions which began in adolescence; running simultaneously throughout there has also been a strong interest in cars, not all cars, but rather what we might call 'specialty' cars, ie, sports cars, racing heritage cars and cars with limited appeal. In a way it's similar to my musical tastes which are fairly narrow but also wide ranging, ie. I can ignore large swatches of 'jazz' and still consider myself as a jazz fan and similarly with pop music, my tastes there are also fairly narrowly defined.

Cars: As with most things the majority have improved dramatically in the last umpteen years, 50 years ago in UK many cars were for the most part overpriced, unreliable and uncomfortable, they were status symbols and were used in business as perks. In terms of performance, comfort and reliability they have improved beyond belief, I'm in awe of some paint finishes on 'cheap' cars today, they're the equivalent of what we used to see on cars at Concours d'Elegance and the economy and performance from small engines is also beyond anything we could have imagined. But they've also become the equivalent of mobile washing machines, people no longer view them in the manner of yester-year, they now buy them and treat them as casually as they do laundry appliances.

I've owned quite a few cars over the years, some bought entirely for basic transportation but several for some magical other reasons, almost all bought 'used'. When I landed on these shores my first new car was a Citroen DS, I'd read avidly of that marque in England but was never in a financial position to even think about it. Here my salary increased dramatically plus I married and with both working we were making more money than I ever thought possible, so I bought a milk-chocolate brown Citroen. It was a wonderful car and absolutely unique on these shores, people would ask at traffic lights 'What's that?' Without doubt the most comfortable car I've ever owned. Soon thereafter a friend decided to sell his Jaguar XK 150 and buy a Mercedes 300SL, I bought the 2 year old Jag for $1900, about £750! Another wonderful car, a very fast two seater but noisy, especially with the top down, I enjoyed it but it cured me of ever wanting another convertible. My next purchase was a Porsche, a 1964 Porsche 356C that I bought in 1970 for $3000, I still have it. For many years it was my everyday transportation car, I loved it, fast, comfortable with very good handling, it was a pleasure just to drive it in remote twisting mountainous roads of which there are plenty around here. Today it's worth something over $20,000.

I had started doing as much of the maintenance and repairs myself and with the Porsche it became part of the joy of ownership. I was always interested in racing, specifically vintage car racing and there were several race tracks that had those events each year so I became involved in that. One Saturday morning in the mid '70's as I drove along a busy street I caught a flash of red with a 'For Sale' sign attached in my peripheral vision, God! Was that a Ferrari parked back there? I did a quick U turn and parked next to it. It was a Maserati Sebring series 2, I'd never seen one before, the asking price was only $8000+, I already had two cars but my thought at that moment was that I'd never have another opportunity to own a Maserati. So after some discussion with the owner I bought it for $7000. A scary car, it had so much power and the engine generated so much heat, most of which found it's way into the car that it was intimidating and uncomfortable but also much fun to drive at the races or on the long flat desert roads to and from the races; I once pushed it to 140+mph on such a deserted road. I sold it some years later for 20 odd thousand dollars to a Finnish auto museum. I think I've sold all my specialist cars at some profit, they don't depreciate like street cars if you keep 'em in good nick.

All along the way I've enjoyed taking photos of all types of odd and exotic cars at the races and at exhibitions so I've wound up with a fairly large photo collection, maybe the makings of a book? I think that perhaps my absolute favourite cars are the Delahayes and Delages of the late 1930's, stunning sculptural works of art but I've always had an affinity for Italian cars particularly Alfa's, Maserati's, Lamborghini's and Ferrari's, not so much the current models but especially those from the 50's-60's and earlier. The list could go on forever, Lotus XI, Bugatti, Allard, [which I almost bought] plus Lancia, D Jag, 300SLR, Talbot-Lago, Aston Martin etc. My bookshelf has about 4-5ft of auto books and there's plenty of info and interest on the internet and of course many magazines devoted to very specific topics. If any of you find this interesting there's a website by a very close friend that's packed with his writings on all sorts of auto exotica, it's at: Highly recommended.

In later years I became interested in Diesel engines, primarily when I built the Iveco vehicle for camping and travelling. It has a German Deutz five cylinder air-cooled diesel engine which has been very reliable and requiring minimal maintenance beyond attention to cooling and regular oil changes. I was intrigued to discover that Deutz was the earliest user of diesel engines, simultaneously having on their staff in the late 1800's three automotive giants, Otto, Diesel and Maybach. My everyday car, a Mercedes 300SDL is a 1987 diesel, I've had it for about 15 years and it's still in showroom condition with over 200,000 miles.

OK, that's it for another of my 'obsessions', perhaps given the headlines and the state of the world this is all a lot of nonsense befitting an earlier age. Does anyone else share these interests? If not what other obsessions lurk hereabouts, I suspect there are some interesting ones. Sorry, I don't have any music for this post, though I do have some albums with racing engine sound effects from various Grand Prix races.


CaroleBristol said...

You'd get on with my partner - she is a car and bike buff!

My big obsessions outside music are books, clothes, food and wine.

I am a bit of a wine collector, OK I drink the stuff too but I like to keep a couple of hundred bottles around at any given time, some for immediate drinking, some for laying down to develop and some just for special occasions.

I also have a complete fetish for quality kitchen equipment; Global knives, Bourgeat pans, decent plain iron omelette pans that you temper yourself and let that lovely black patina develop - the kind of stuff you find in pro kitchens, I suppose.

Fashion is a biggie for me too. I don't blindly follow trends but I like to make a statement with what I wear sometimes. I love all sorts of clothes, I am a bit of a fan of retro looks and I tend to hang onto things until they come back around again. I love vintage undies and stockings to make an outfit look just rightDon't even get me started on shoes...............

Books are necessary for me; music books, food and wine books, cook books, novels, history, biography - I read a lot and I rarely get rid of a book unless it is rubbish.

treefrogdemon said...

Books and lots of books...I've hardly ever thrown a book away either, Carole; and I'm just now planning a trip to IKEA so that I can line my bedroom with bookshelves and have all my books in Dewey order (nonfiction)and alphabetical by author (fiction) I did in my previous house.

Gardening I love, though my garden here is very difficult - a lot of it is solid rock and because it's by the sea it can be very windy. But when something dies I call that an opportunity.

Genealogy I inherited from my mother (lol)(along with the books and the gardening really) - it's such a shame she died before she could get to grips with the internet. She did all the slogging round record offices, and I sit her clicking my mouse. I've identified nearly 3000 relations for my family tree so far, and the release of the 1911 census is eagerly awaited.

The surprising one, to me, is the Sasha dolls. I was never a doll person as a child, but when my own children were young I was aware of Sashas and we did have a couple, but they were very expensive even then. Two years ago I started thinking about what toys I would get for the house, so my grandson (and my future grandchildren - one coming in December!) would have special toys to look forward to when they came to Grandma's house. I rembered Sashas then, and thought I'd get a couple more...well, now I have 23 and my grandson so far shows no interest at all! They are beautiful dolls and MUCH more expensive these days - for instance
Scroll down...

Not interested in clothes at all; like cars and wish I had a DS; music and fillums, bien sur.

Frogprincess said...

OOOOOh they are beautiful. I love vintage cars. There's a meeting up at Baden Baden every year and I'm always planning to go - just to admire those beauties. And the owners really go the whole hog - with the leather helmet and gloves to go. Phenomenal. Seriously overawed by Carole's wine collection. How do manage to keep the stuff? We only have a small stock and it never lasts long. Whenever you're invited anywhere - you always take a bottle. Serious respect!

blimpy said...

i really enjoyed seeing those photos. thanks gf.

sourpus said...

Yeah, great pics. I too have always had a soft spot for old cars, even to the point where I completely lost interest in the modern ones to the point where I (honestly) regularly cant even spot the car I arrived in when returning to a full car park - I no longer have a car of my own (no real use for one) and cant see that much difference between too many of the new ones. Give me an old Citroen or a huge Saab, or an old sixties Mini; or if im feeling particularly dreamy, a nice shiny red E-type. Ooh lady!

saneshane said...

as a 12 year old I drove my first Lamborghini, about 6 months later a Ferrari.. the boys at school were WOW.

They just didn't understand that
1: it was so cool to be on a farm (really!)
2: they were tractors, and I skipped school to work.

my Nan bought us an old Austin for £20 that me and my brother rallied around the cherry orchards.. my 12th birthday present was a classic working tractor... okay, it was cool to be on a farm, didn't feel it at the time.

Helped build a replica Lotus7.. still a favourite, and our friend got hold of quite a few classics.
Driving his Rolls just made me panic about the price..

Age 14 I wanted to design cars....
Pinifarini being my idols of design,

as you might guess.. it was just designing things that got me, and the best test of what you could do with facade.

My other half was gob smacked when visiting friends in France the rest of the cars embarking on the ferry were going to a meet at Le mans and I told her all about the Maseratis and Bugattis.

She feals the same when I get animated about old school football.. and dress designers!

also get me on a rant about magazine designers (or more obviously record cover designers)

there may be a link to my obsessions.

goneforeign said...

Shane: I saw A Ferrari tractor once at an Concours d' Italia, in fact I think I have a picture of it with a picture also of a Maserati motor bike! At a recent LA auto show on TV I saw the current Lotus Seven, it was described as the fastest car in the show, 0-60 in less than 3 seconds! For none car types that means that a 1960's fairly primitive English car, a la backyard special, was outperforming everything in the show!

Shoegazer said...

The music obsession thing doesn't leave a much time for many others.

Great car pics, you're quite right that modern cars have lost the soul and style of these classics

treefrogdemon said...

gf, I once had my furniture van (and my car) pulled out of the mud by a Lamborghini tractor...bit of a thrill! (And a relief.) Once he's pulled the furniture van out the farmer gave me a ride on the tractor back to get my car...

saneshane said...

GF driving the Caterham (Lotus) 7 was one of the most frightening things ever.. but for a teenage boy on a test track cool as...

(for others) if you don't know the car it the one at the start of
The Prisoner

Ferrari tractors were two a penny on the rich farms around us who could afford new machinery.. and My brother and I were cheep labour, being 12 and 14... the Lamborghinis were a lot rarer.
Guess you wouldn't get away with that now.

So hard to contemplate the difference in 20 years later.. I feel guilty driving anywhere!

goneforeign said...

Shane: Where was that? Where were Ferrari tractors 2 a penny, I don't think they had a US importer, was that UK?
I always had a soft spot for anything by Colin Chapman, I was messing about with Austin 7 specials when he was building the first Caterhams, My hero!
The 50/60's were a very interesting period in UK for sports/racing cars, there was so much 'underground' stuff happening; Chapman, Cooper, BRM, Connaught, etc.
I saw an interesting play on BBC back then, it was a re-creation of the Moss/Jenkinson victory at the Mille Miglia, totally authentic for the feel of driving 1000km at 100 mph plus on public streets and the D Jags were dominating Le Mans.

saneshane said...

This was the Uk, but the 'Gentleman farmers' were the only ones that could afford them.
They weren't that expensive but the 'lefties' didn't want the Italian imports.. End of 70's Buy british big time. We had second hand Masseys. (and yes we were slightly on the extreme left of the lefties.. oxymoron alert)
No-one believed me when I told them Ferrari and Lambo only went into supercar competition to get one over on each other from their tractor businesses.

Wish I could type properly.. would love to tell you about it better.

I'm a Norfolk boy so the lotus badge with Colin Chapmans initials was a big thing for me.. the test track is cool and I now haved move back.. (I still get a thrill because a prototype will pull out in front of me wearing skirts (hiding the new shape) in my short cuts... I could make money photographing this..) but it's not me anymore.

I am such a Hippy that this sounds so strange even to my other half.. that I can get excited about cars..
the fascination with DeLorean and Lotus was better than any thriller as a lad.

and all of this does relate to why I'm the way I am..weirdly.

If we were sat in a field together looking out having a drink I would be jumping up and down going BUT BUT what about......
I'm sorry that I can't express it here properly in type

Shoegazer said...

Showed your post to a car freak friend and he is still drooling.

goneforeign said...

Shane: My sister's house is/was [she moved to Spain recently] right on the edge of Snetterton in the village of Old Buckenham, I've visited there dozens of times over the years and there was always the sound of fast cars/bikes being tested right over the fence.
I share your 'lefty', 'hippy' ideals and also feel a slight guilt re. that side of my personality but it's not just the cars, it's design and engineering and there's the whole thing about 'why certain societies built specific cars' ie; the Italians, the Germans et al, they all built great cars but they are all so different. I think you can see qualities of a society in the cars they build.
I'd love to sit in that field with you sharing that pint and talking about this and that, I'd be going 'but, but' but probably not jumping up and down.
You expressed it beautifully, thanks.

treefrogdemon said...

My son-in-law had a Caterham...he insisted on driving my daughter to their wedding in it, and no sooner had they turned out of the gate when it FELL down with rain. It was 8.6 miles (I've just looked it up) so both bride and groom had rather a soggy wedding. They're in a rather sticky financial patch just now so he's sold it, which is a shame: still, when he strikes it rich he can always buy another one.

Tatanka Yotanka said...

I already revealed myself as a bit of a Citroënista; in a small, Midlands market town I have a memory of seeing a DS Safari (estate) passing through and being struck by how different it was, somehow organic. The first Citroën I rode in was a 2CV, touring in the UK and travelling to Germany and later when working in France as a student, riding in variants such as the Dyanne and Ami 6 … but surrounded by Ds and ID models … and the first CXs that had begun to replace them.

Back in Britain I spent some time working for the exhibition company that did all the British Leyland stands for the motor show and worked on the first show at the NEC which launched the Rover SD1 … alongside Allegros, Marinas, Minis and Triumph Spitfires.

Growing up in farming country my early driving experience was agricultural; quite normal to send a pair of 12 year olds off across several fields with a tractor and trailer to collect bales., Fergusons and John Deere where I was, and some ancient TVO, sit up and beg models at that. This was a period when agricultural exemptions meant you could be on the road at 14 with a provisional licence, driving all sorts of kit. I went on to work in forestry and some of the best stuff was all the ex-military trucks that were adapted with cranes and winches for timber hauling and loading, things like the classic Matador and central control Alvis, again, all driven on a provisional licence. Got a taste for proper Landrovers back then, although I’ve never owned one.

I started with a Mini, despite being 6’4”, but I’ve now I’ve been driving Citroëns for 20 years, interspersed with the odd Transit van. The DS is my preferred model (strangely, also my initials) and I’ve had several of these and run them as everyday cars. I had my first CX about 12 years ago and the series 2 models, such as my current 1989 Safari 2.5 TRi, are still a match for most things on the road and when the hydraulics are set up and cared for properly it can’t be beaten for ride quality. The classic Citroëns combine fantastic engineering with unique style and the central hydraulic systems which provide the suspension, braking and steering give them a living, breathing quality.

Of course, with your attraction to Maseratis, your ideal Citroën would be the SM. I’ve driven a few of these (and even a D that had had the Maserati engine shoehorned in), quite phenomenal …. Once you get to grips with the beast. The only car that comes near E type Jaguar, which is an entirely different set of stimuli really.

I’ve never bought a new car and there’s still a lot to be said in ‘green’ terms for keeping older ones running. Manufacturers are cagey (and downright dishonest) about the exact proportion of a new vehicles lifetime emmissions involved in the production process itself … it’s a big chunk. As you’ve noted, a sound classic car well used and maintained, doesn’t suffer depreciation and might even make you a profit … and pre 1973 still has road tax exemption in the UK.

I might be tempted to buy a new Citroën C6 if I had the cash …. But that money could get me three top class DS saloons or estates, or half a dozen interesting CXs (perhaps a nice, chrome bumper, series 1 Prestige with the long wheelbase) … or would be a useful deposit on my ultimate dream, a Paris built, Chapron bodied DS convertible. I’m fortunate in living just a mile or so from a classic Citroën specialist garage, so no problems with spares or servicing. I used to do this myself, engine rebuilds and everything but don’t seem to find the time these days … and I never did like having dirty hands, really ;)

Top tip for Paris tourists, C42, Champs-Elysées . Citroën have renovated their longstanding premises and it now features a brilliant 6 level turntable stocked with a changing selection of models old and new .. Metro Franklin-Roosevelt and there you are.

Tatanka Yotanka said...

Meant to give you a link for C42

And of course, lots of Citroens in French films ... always a bonus

Depardieu & DS - Les Valseuses

Tatanka Yotanka said...

And here's the Chapron convertible

You can get a decent DS for a few thousand .... but these babies are now making serious money.

goneforeign said...

Tatanka: I googled and checked your Citroen website, didn't find the classified section but it was all interesting. I've always been interested in the SM but they were not sold here so it's a rarity though I've seen the odd one. Apart from the odd overseas delivery VW Beetle the Citroen is the only new car I've ever bought, I recall the day. I went for a 'test drive' with a salesman, we were tooling through a rural section of S. Cal. at approx 60+mph when he took it off the road and onto the grass shoulder, still doing 60! It made a believer of me, we signed the contract.
Thanks, I'll follow your links.

saneshane said...

@tatanka yotanka

still remember my 14th birthday legally driving on the roads on a John Deere (the green and yellow has strong joy around these parts.. along with the Delia track. I had to download and send to my Dad!)

@GF yep it's around Old Buckenham that I drive through on my short cuts every couple of weeks that I get glimpses of the Lotus cars, shame your sister isn't still there.

Hippy ideals ran in the family We were driving the Vans mixing old chip oil in the fuel a long time ago.. til that hurt the planet just as much!

@tat yo
"I’ve never bought a new car and there’s still a lot to be said in ‘green’ terms for keeping older ones running"
think this is a very good point.. once again Zimbabwe was amazing to see all the old cars still running.. it did help that they didn't rust like they do in Uk rain!

I've never paid more than £500 for a car and neither had the mssuss 'til we got together and the Father in law got us a more Reliable (second hand still) car.. pain in the wallet I say. She was going crazy having to drive into the City today. She rides everywhere....

I'd like to just sit and watch the world going round.. but don't get that choice.

DarceysDad said...

Evening all.

I used to love the whole old car thing until we got smashed up in '03; took all the joy out of cars and most of the pleasure from driving, I'm afraid. These days the points considered when buying a car are EuroNCAP crash-test scores first, comfort second, cost third, and the environment a very distant fourth. Sorry.

But before kids & injuries, DarceysMam & I had a car that is in the ALL-TIME Top Five for lifelong environmental friendliness. Ladies & gentlemen, I give you .... the 4.0litre Jeep Wrangler!! Would someone help goneforeign pick his jaw up off the floor, please?

Seriously, this 4x4 gas-guzzling monster absolutely trounced the likes of the Prius etc, because
- it uses so few non-recyclable parts;
- it has had so little spent on R&D on it in 60 years;
- they last so long on the road;
and so on and so on, that when everything from raw material production to marketing (paper/electricity, etc) to disposal of dead parts (eg. batteries, Toyota-San) was taken into account, it simply didn't figure as an abuser of our planet's resources.

Anyway, regardless of what you're in, drive carefully everyone, and watch out for the inattentive dangerous pillocks - the bastard rarely only kills himself, unfortunately.

goneforeign said...

DsD: I'll drink to some of that.
Shane; A couple of notes of trivia.
1. Did you know that in WW2 there was RAF station Old Buckenham and that the commanding officer there was Jimmy Stewart?
2. Right outside Bury on the Stowmarket road there was another, RAF Rougham which is where I learned to drive and I read that's where Glenn Miller took off from on his last trip to the continent, his plane went down with no survivors.