Thursday, 30 August 2007

Weekend fun

I took the opportunity to get away for the bank holiday weekend (25th – 27th), to visit friends and watch some motor racing. The weekend started with a trek up the M6, which invited a number of observations.

1. The M6 toll is a wonderful road, beautifully surfaced and it seems to attract well behaved drivers. Everyone keeps left, everyone seems content to travel at their own pace, no one crowds and no one seems aggressive.

2. The M6 toll should be extended north. The way the traffic stopped dead at the end of the toll section brings you back down to earth with a metaphorical bump. It seems that the M6 northbound cannot cope with the traffic from the toll road rejoining.

3. Congestion is self-limiting to a certain extent. The overhead signs warned of congestion for some distance surrounding the junction I needed. However, thanks to a little local knowledge I was able to come off a junction before the hold-up and follow an alternative route. When a road becomes known for slow or stationary traffic people will, wherever possible, modify their journey time or route to find a less congested alternative.

4. Our roads work very well. Even with the traffic as bad as it was my journey from Warwick to Urmston (not far from Old Trafford) took no more than two hours 15 minutes. That’s only 15 minutes more than I would expect the journey to take on a clear motorway.

My improvised route took me through the outskirts of Crewe. I know Bentley is based in Crewe so I was not surprised to see signs offering direction to the factory (although I always associate Rolls-Royce with Crewe even if BMW would rather I didn’t). What did astonish me was that the last of the signs I saw directed people to both the local recycling centre (rubbish dump) and Bentley. It seemed so incongruous that I was tempted to stop and photograph the sign, I suppose it illustrates the old saying, “where there’s muck, there’s brass”!

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Britain in danger of running dry?

Apparently the number of petrol stations is at its lowest since 1912. With 150 forecourts having closed down already this year there is increasing concern about how difficult it might be to refuel in future.*

The pressures on retailers are understandable. For each pound (sterling not avoirdupois) of fuel sold something like 70-80 pence is tax revenue for the government which doesn't leave much money to cover the cost of the fuel, pay for the infrastructure and staff. No wonder petrol station shops all seem to be turning into mini supermarkets.

Urban petrol stations must also feel the pressure of high demand for land, forcing rents upwards. In the town wher I used to live I know two petrol station sites that are now residential flats.

Is there a solution? Probably not one single solution, more tax relief for petrol stations (especially those that are not associated with supermarkets) would help. Even more important is for us all to think about where we buy fuel. I could fill my car at the supermarket when I do my weekly shop but instead I support the petrol station in my village. It is more expensive but the loss of the only petrol station is more important than a few pounds in my pocket.

*Source: Retail Motor Industry Federation

It is very nice to be asked

One of the nicest things that happened to me recently was to be offered my own forum in a motoring forum run by a friend. The forum is for enthusiasts of post-war classics and is full of entertaining discussion - if you like old cars it is well worth a look.

I've also had someone else ask if they can re-use some of my blog articles on his web site. Nothing has happened yet because the site owners have other commitments. It is very encouraging to know that people read what I write and anything that helps me reach a wider audience has to be a good thing.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Books Lately: Citroën 2CV by John Reynolds

My experience of car books suggests that most titles fall into one of two categories. There are thorough, in-depth studies carefully researched and lovingly written. Then there are books turned out as money-spinners. Some have titles like “Great Sports Cars” with a few performance specifications and glossy photos that look strangely familiar because you’ve seen them in half a dozen similar books before. Others will have a celebrity name on the cover and be smaller in format covering odd cars or bad cars, picking on the familiar whipping boys (Austin Allegro, Morris Marina, Reliant 3-wheeler etc).

John Reynolds’ history of the Citroën 2CV belongs firmly in the first group. First published in 1997, seven years after production of the 2CV ceased, with a 3rd edition published in 2005. It is a tribute to Mr Reynolds’ skill that you don’t need to be fanatical about the subject to enjoy the book. The background story, looking at the history of Citroën, the men responsible, the development story and even the way France changed in the 40 or so years all add colour to what might otherwise be a dry chronology of specification changes and model variants.

Of course details of the changes made as the 2CV was developed are recorded and the 2CV derivatives, the Dyane, Ami, Mehari and Bijou all receive fair coverage. Unlike plenty of one model books there is even a chapter devoted to the 2CV’s rivals. The way the book is written allows the reader to choose whether to read each chapter in order or to dip in and out depending on what captures the interest. There are even plenty of informative sidebars detailing areas of particular interest.

Even if you have little love for the 2CV (and it seems to be a love or loathe sort of car) but enjoy a good read this book is worth seeking out. It might not be packed full of glossy colour photographs (colour is confined to a couple of small sections) but there is plenty of intelligent content. Like the subject it covers the book is slightly quirky but has an undeniable appeal.