Sunday, 6 November 2011

Wonder Cars

It's strange how even people like me, who think a car is just a means of transport, can still have affection for national cars. As I never had enough money to afford a decent car in England, I have little nostalgia for the cars I had or even that friends had.

There was one near thing, though. My mate John was a motor mechanic who I helped when he was repairing cars for neighbours at the weekends - I wanted to learn how to look after my own. Many of the parts were bought from local scrap yards, who he therefore got to know. He took me one day to show me an Austin 3 Litre, a bigger, luxury version of his own 1800.

This was as near to Rolls Royce class that I could ever aspire to: they even thought it had a Rolls Royce engine. It was in good condition overall, but "needed some minor mechanical work", which I think was intended as an honest appraisal. However, the parts were difficult to get as the car was so rare, although John was eager to get to work on it. The scrapyard man just didn't want to break the car up, so it was very cheap - only slightly above what I would otherwise have thought of paying to replace my stolen Austin 1100 (in which we had just put a factory rebuilt 1300 engine, adding an improved Japanese carburettor - the thieves must have thought it was their lucky day when they opened the bonnet). However, I knew I wouldn't be able to afford the maintenance, insurance and petrol, not to mention the impossibility of finding a parking space big enough outside my house.

Another car I really liked the look of around that time was the then new Austin Princess. It seemed at the time to have a radically new wedge shaped look, although the pictures I have looked at don't give me the same impression now.

Except this one, that is.

Some time later, working in Poland, I drove my father-in-law's Maluch - Polski Fiat, which was a fun car to drive. I don't have any pictures of it, but it was something like this, rust and all:

Warsaw roads were much clearer in those days and drivers tended to leave the right hand lane clear. My English driving habit of staying in the slow lane let me drive past everyone, especially, but not only, at traffic lights. The Maluch's acceleration was appalling, although my change-down-gear and stoke-up-the-revs got it going, with the valves hammering the camshaft into, I suspect, shreds (assuming that's how the engine worked). I was likened to a taxi driver, intended as a compliment. Who needed a new, two halves welded together Mercedes? I have tracked Maluchs doing 120 kph on fairly flat roads, which isn't bad either, given the 90 speed limit. (The Yaris still had better acceleration and another 40 or more kph, so 'Bye Bye, little one'.)

Although I never drove a Polonez, I was impressed by the wide diversity of body works, from the standard saloon and estate, to pick-up, small and large vans, including a refrigerated version. There was quite some excitement when the Rover engine was fitted, so we went to see one in the showroom. I was asked incredulously whether I wanted one, to which the politic answer was that of course I didn't, although a more honest answer would have been that I would love to have tried it. Although they largely seem to be relegated to poor people's cars these days - you can tell poorer areas by the numbers in the car parks, they still provide the backbone to many small businesses. (The only car picture of my own on this post.)

Its days were clearly numbered, but I did think that there was one niche market that it could have been adapted to. Its heavy use as a rough use, land and road vehicle for farms particularly fired my imagination - conditions very familiar on many 'roads', paved and unpaved, in Poland as well as private dirt tracks. If the Polonez could just be given a much higher chassis clearance without exorbitant cost, it had great potential to be a cheap, no thrills, but completely practical rough use private car and commercial vehicle: not just in Poland, but everywhere. (I don't know if reliability was a real problem, as was its reputation, rather than, like Austin etc, a legacy of the failure of early models even though these were subsequently rectified.)

This is Sweet Flag Street (ul Tataraków) in Walendów after a long, dry autumn. You can imagine driving conditions in the wet and snow.

From 2011 11

I was wondering for some time how I could depict my vision of the Polonez, but I came across something similar: an official prototype called the Polonez Analog. This version was produced in 1993/94, but development ended when the company was taken over by Daewoo in 1995.

I suspect the difference between my vision and that of the creators of the Analog, was that I just envisaged adapting the existing vehicle variants to have higher ground clearance, whilst they were trying to develop a new version of the car that would compete directly with other all-terrain vehicles. See this 2009 Suzuki Equator as a comparison: its how the Analog would look like with today's rounded body look.

Not that I had any idea what technical problems there would have been, but it couldn't have been that difficult. Four wheel drive and luxury equipment could all be developed later. I'm no expert on cars, but I don't know anything in the economy bracket even today, whilst I can see the market for it around me here. Oh well, I'm only dreaming.

'Around me' being a literal truth. I think this is a public road (Upper Street), but it is primarily used by tractors and farm vans, as the housing plots are empty. It had got into the state where even small tractors had difficulty going along, but they bought a huge John Deere tractor, which can easily plough it - twice this year: modern road resurfacing in action.

From 2011 10

What would the Polish public's reaction to this change to the Polonez have been, though. The following photograph is labelled "funny pictures and photos".

Isn't it brilliant? Its described as a "Polonez, Audi and Jeep in one" on the website, but one comment suggests it's basically a Polonez cabin placed on a Jeep chassis, with an Audi front. Although I wouldn't have contemplated replacing all the drive components in the initial product, this would be something like how a pick-up version could have looked.

Still dreaming, still dreaming, still dreaming: not quite the right words, but 'lay back and dream'. There's some great portrait photography and artwork in this video, even if you don't like Jimi Hendrix, but if you do, separate your speakers and turn up the volume:

I just wondered if the full version of Voodoo Chile was available.

No it isn't quite, but you can switch quickly to the last 5 minutes.

No naked ladies from the original Electric Ladyland album cover, for some reason. I remember them as being strangely unerotic: they were an odd looking bunch. Since this post was supposed to be about cars and every knows that men link cars with sex, I really should rectify the omission.

I'm now trying to remember the name and author of the book that ... Crash' - just remembered - by err ... I might have liked the book better if I'd understood what the car/sex link was. Him?Really? I think of him as a science-fiction writer.

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