Thursday, 28 October 2010

£26,000 for a Toyota Prius?

Upon reading a notable motoring publication, it has been brought to my attention that the Toyota Bono has been with us for ten guilt-ridden years. There is a new Prius 10th Anniversary editon to "celebrate" the fact. Joy of joys it is based on the top of the range T-Spirit model. The special edition of this hybrid that is noted for its efficiency is equipped with body kit front and rear, sports wheels, side skirts and spoilers galore. Which means adding weight. Which means decreased efficiency. What price to pay for all this? £26,150! Yes, that's twenty six grand for a blasted Prius!!! Get the fuck out of here, as Axl Foley would say.

The new Toyota Prius 10th Anniversary Guilt Edition
Apparently, the impressive claimed 70mpg remains the same and the equally impressive 92g/km emissions remain the same. However, the claimed MPG is very rarely obtained as pointed out in another acclaimed motoring publication. A roadtest between some standard economy cars (Fiat Panda, Citroen C1 and the Mini Diesel) and the Prius drew some very notable conclusions. Well, in the overall verdict the Prius finished fifth. Out of sixth. And the economy? The Panda, C1 and the Mini whipped the Prius' arse good and proper. So, twenty six grand for a car that is the supposed epitome of economy and efficiency beaten by three cars, the cheapest of which costs a full £20,000 less than the Prius. If you want to do your bit for the environment, there are better ways out there. Buy one of the economy cars.

If you want something bigger, for five grand less you can have an Alfa Romeo Giulietta 2.0 JTD. It produces 170bhp, drives fantastically, looks great and more importantly it can nearly match the Prius for emissions and fuel economy. Its emissions are that low, you don't pay road tax and it only looses out on about 4mpg compared with the Prius. Also people won't think you're a preachy, hypocritical, guilt-ridden wanker for driving one. They may, however, think you're good friends with the AA. Having said that, Toyota have recalled a further million vehicles in their luxury Lexus range of cars (which also include bloody hybrids) for more problems with the brakes. Toyota wants to ensure that fluid does not leak from the brake master cylinder, causing the warning light to turn on. The fault could cause the brake pedal to feel spongy, and braking performance to "gradually decline". In other words, when you've crashed into the car in front.

Giulietta... Or Prius... Giulietta or Prius... It's a tough one. Alfa methinks.

As I've said before in a previous blog issue, hybrids are nonsense. They are not a long term fix, and how can it be more ecologically friendly if all the initial manufacturing is done on both sides of the world for one car and transported by machines that use fossil fuels.

As well as the aforementioned Panda, C1, Mini and Alfa Giulietta, here are some more Prius alternatives that won't make you into a Bono or Chris Martin if you own one.

Volvo C30 1.6 Drive S - Will beat the Prius' economy with a claimed 75mpg and impressive 99g/km and nil road tax. Quite a funky looking motor too.
Ford Fiesta 1.6 TDCi DPF ECOnetic - 99g/km and 76.3mpg. Looks great and drives well too. No road tax
Fiat Bravo 1.6 Multijet Dyanmic Eco - Looks fantastic, drives well, a little bit higher at 119g/km and means £30 a year road tax but it's the same size as a Prius and HALF the price!!
Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion - Again, 99g/km and economy that makes a tight Cornishman generous.

Please Toyota, stop it now so I don't have to waste everyones time by writing another rant.

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Lightning Seeds - Change

Right, for the second installment of Song of the Week. This week is the first of many Lightning Seeds songs that are likely to feature.

The Lightning Seeds started out in the late 1980s as a side project for Ian Broudie - a respected record producer and ex-band member for legendary Liverpool punk band Big In Japan, a band more famed not for being successful but for spawning band members that would later have a successful career (Holly Johnson, Bill Drummond et al). Initially a low-key affair it allowed Broudie to make some of his own music and continue to help and produce other acts.

The debut single was Pure, a gem of a song that went to number 16 in the charts. Two albums - Cloudcuckooland and Sense - and a trio of top 50 hits - The Life of Riley, Sense and Lucky You all preceded the fabulous hit single Change.

Change was released in January 1995 and was the second single released from Jollification. The album and this single would prove to be the turning point for the band. Firstly it would provide their biggest chart hit to date reaching number 13, but also it could no longer be classed as a one-man's-side project. Signed to a new label which took the band seriously, they were now a serious proposition and with a touring line-up put together, Ian Broudie would now focus full time on the Lightning Seeds. Touring the US and a new outlook to making videos resulted in the glossy and well produced promotional video for Change. The packaging also signified better promotion and marketing. It was released in four formats - 7" vinyl, cassette and two CD singles - with unique artwork. Now all the artwork surrounding Jollification-era singles had strawberries of some kind, and this was probably the best example complete with Groucho Marx disguises. The digi-pak had a pull-out section where you could "Change" (geddit???) the strawberry into a disguised one. This is rocket science stuff, this you know!

This was the song that got me into the band in the first place. I'd seen the video on things like the Chart Show and also had a Top Gear compilation where this little gem was hidden in amongst some ace rock songs. This is the song I remember playing the most and wanted to know more about the band that did it. Turns out they made songs I already knew - The Life of Riley and Sense. I found a copy of Jollification in my local independent record shop, which is alas, no more. I've never really looked back, as Jollification to date remains my firm favourite album of all time. If you don't own it, why not? You really, really should.

There are a couple of versions of the song, the album version and the single edit. Don't bother with the single version as it cuts out a portion of the guitar break and a verse. What remains on both versions is the driving guitar through the song with a distinctive lead guitar sound. A light, bouncy bass line added to quite effective synthesized drums, this makes up a fantastic pop song. Naturally, though, the best version of the song is when played live. After finally seeing them live after a fifteen year wait, I got to see them in April of this year, and the live performance puts a whole new energy into the song.

Click here to watch the promo video for Change

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Some say he's a money grabbing, greedy, disloyal, sawn-off twat.... all we know is....

I've thought long and hard as to my feelings on Ben Collins and what Daily Mail readers will no doubt refer to as "Stig-gate". I've stopped myself for some time actually writing a blog about it because I've done that much verbal ranting about it, normally with Alec, that it didn't warrant any musings on the interweb.

However, I have just finished watching two episodes of Fifth Gear from the new series and that has changed my mind and I feel the need to vent somewhat. Vicki Butler-Henderson is as lovely as ever, although she's spending less on-air time on it now owing to the fact that she's pregnant. I like Tiff Needell as well, but I just cannot really watch a full episode of 5th Gear as Jason Plato annoys me and the other presents are that memorable that I can't actually remember who they are. Now, however, they have added Ben Collins to the team over at Channel Five. Or just "Five" as it's now known. Or the channel that shows only three programmes I actually watch.

He introduces himself as the man that has spent too long inside a stormtroopers outfit for his liking. Bearing in mind, the man had a contract with the BBC to not reveal his identity. He breached that contract for revealing himself in the autobiography he was writing at the time. Granted most people could have made an educated guess as to who the Stig was, but the whole point of the Stig is that no one really knew except for the people who worked with Top Gear and those within the industry. The whole point of The Stig is (or was, depending on whether Top Gear bring the Stig back) the mystery surrounding it. Children love the Stig. People who don't even like cars watch Top Gear (yes I mean you Jayne and Katherine) because it's entertainment rather than an out-and-out car programme and the Stig is/was the driving force behind it. However, since Ben Collins has become greedy it's all become a bit of a biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you kind of scenario.  All in the name of making a fast buck, he's written an autobiography for which he hopes to sell a few books at Christmas. Which got him the sack. I for one will never buy the book. I'm not interested in who the Stig is portrayed by. I'm interested in the Stig itself.

Jeremy Clarkson once noted that the reason the identity of the Stig was never revealed or why he never spoke was that motorsport drivists are not interesting in any way, shape or form and that their opinions are not worth anything. Judging by what I've seen him do on 5th Gear, this is totally correct. Like I mentioned before, he introduced himself as being locked in a stormtroopers outfit too long for his liking. Isn't it any bloody wonder? His presenting skills are non existent. I've seen paint brushes with more personality than him, and his delivery and general attitude is as wooden as a mahogany dining table. A supreme driver he may be. Another Clarkson, May, Hammond, Butler-Henderson or Needell he certainly is not. In fact he's not even another Jason Plato which is shocking.

If you are going to buy someone an autobiography for Christmas this year, do me a favour. Don't buy his. I was heartened to see it half price already in my local branch of Tesco.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Song of the Week - Crowded House - Fall At Your Feet

I've decided to create a separate blog to deal with my musical musings, such as a thing I want to do which, as the title states, I want to write about a song each week and why I like it or why it's important to me.

To start it off, I'll begin with Fall At Your Feet by Crowded House.

Neil Finn is perhaps one of the most underrated and overlooked song writers. After being hired by older brother Tim to fill in a vacancy in Tim's band Split Enz, Neil ended up penning their biggest hits (I Got You to name one). Much to the annoyance of Tim. In 1984, Tim left Split Enz for Neil to carry on but by the end of the year, the group has disbanded. Neil took Paul Hester who was the final drummer for Split Enz, added Nick Seymour on bass, Craig Hooper on guitar and formed a group called The Mullanes, after Neil's middle name. They relocated to Los Angeles, minus Craig Hooper and changed their name to something that summed up their living conditions - Crowded House. Their first album from 1986 spawned the hits Don't Dream It's Over, Mean To Me and World Where You Live. In between was their second album Temple of Low Men, which Neil wanted to call "Mediocre follow-up Second Album".

Fall At Your Feet came from their most successful album Woodface. The beginnings of Woodface saw the near split of the band and most of the material for the album rejected by the record company. Neil had patched things up with brother Tim and co-wrote some songs and Tim briefly joined the band. However, Fall At Your Feet is purely a Neil Finn composition. Anyway, enough waffle on the history of the band. If you want that, head over to Wikipedia.

To me, this song always stuck out from Woodface and pretty much anything else Neil has written. Essentially an acoustic strum-along love song, with a simple bass line, small amounts of electric guitar and as usual, rock steady drumming from the late, great Paul Hester. Tim's backing vocals throughout the song compliment Neil's perfectly. As you'd expect, being brothers they harmonise well. But the vocal interaction between the two during the bridge is fantastic. Neil's knack of a good melody shines though, which is most noticeable in the chorus - one Paul McCartney would probably have wished he'd written.

It's perhaps the only song on Woodface where the production doesn't sound flat. However, the song comes alive when performed live, which can be said for 90% of Crowded House material. If you've never seen the band live, I urge you too, they are that good. I had the good fortune of seeing Neil perform with Tim as the Finn Brothers back in 2004 and saw a reformed Crowded House with new drummer Matt Sherrod in 2007. If you cannot get to see them live, pick up a copy of Farewell To The World.

Witnessing my favourite Crowded House song being played live in two different venues is a fantastic experience. The Finn Brothers rendition was excellent, but the Crowded House was simply brilliant. They made an arena concert seem like they were playing to just you. But when the audience (including myself) are singing along with the whole song in tune (alas not me), I got quite emotional.

What, though, is the main reason I dig this song so? Yes, I'm a big Crowded House fan, but it's become a hugely personal song and means so much to me. It's also my wife Jayne's favourite song. We used it for our first dance at our wedding reception. I need say no more...

Promo video for Fall At Your Feet

Click here for Fall At Your Feet from the Farewell concert 1996

One final note. It's just such a shame James Blunt got hold of it....

So, what's to be expected next? Well, there's tunes by Lightning Seeds (predictably), Iron Maiden, Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, Paul McCartney, Volbeat, New Order, Joy Division and many many more. If you're interested, please continue to read. If not, it really would be a waste of your time and it would be a shame!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Fantasy Garage Part Thirty Three and a Third

Right, this is the final installment of my moment of self indulgence. This fantasy garage features cars that are well out of my reach. Hey ho.

Corvette Stingray
All the cornering ability of a drunken Londoner, but just look at it. This one is here on looks alone.

Ford Mustang
I want the car photographed here. Americans a lot of the time make a lot of stuff look vulgar. This has all the right curves in the right places.

So fantastic it deserves two photos. Stunning, isn't it?

Citroen DS
Just because it was one of the most advanced cars of the time. Launched in 1955 it had a semi automatic gearbox, power steering, hyrdopneumatic suspension. The face lift in 1966 (pictured here) brought swivelling headlights when you turned the steering wheel. It was so advanced it made every other car look like a horse and cart. It's like the Jetsons and Thunderbird 2 combined. 

Predictably, the rest is Italian. So, here we have the rest 

Fiat X1/9
Another car ahead of its time. A budget, mid-engined, rear wheel drive 2 seater sports car. Came out in 1973 when the Brits were still making MG Midgets. Originally with 1300 engines, later 1500. Handling was top notch.

Lancia Beta Montecarlo
So-called to celebrate Lancia's win of the Montecarlo Rally. Really like a mini-Ferrari, fitted with the celebrated Lampredi 2.0 twin-cam engine. Mid-engine, rear wheel drive layout again. I was offered the chance to buy one and I declined. I have been kicking myself ever since. Especially since I bought a Fiat Punto instead. What an ass.

Again, so good it's having two photos.

Lancia Stratos
Mid-engined rally car, essentially, fitted with the engine from the Ferrari Dino. Just look at it though. Perfection.

A new, up-to-date version has been given the green light. At the moment it's a one off, based on the Ferrari F430 Scuderia. 
New and old Stratos together.

Lancia Delta Integrale
Perhaps not the prettiest car ever, but still one of my favourites. One of the most successful rally cars of all time. Without the Delta, the Mitsubishi Evo or the Scooby Impreza wouldn't exist. This is The Daddy. 

Alfa Romeo 105 GTA
Another successful racing car from Alfa Romeo, based on the same chassis as the 105 Giulia saloons. Pretty little car.

Ferrari F40
This needs no write up. Just look at it.

Ferrari Dino 246 GT
My favourite car of all time. Never officially badged as a Ferrari, it was Enzo's tribute to his son Alfredino who had died. Small, mid-mounted 2.4 litre V6. Enzo's finest hour. 

The End.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Part 2 of my fantasy garage of cars that no one likes

Fiat Coupe 2.0 20v Turbo.

Launched in 1993, initially with Lancia Intergrale engines, later updated to sweet five cylinder 2.0 engines. 220bhp through the front wheels meant lots of torque steer, but when the turbo kicked in it would go all the way to 158mph. Why do I want one? It's the fastest I've ever driven a car, 150mph on a private road of course, and I love the styling - by Chris Bangle before he went all twattish at BMW. It was a hoot to drive too.

 Fiat-Abarth Strada 130TC

Everyone else in the 80's made their hot hatches with fuel injection. Not Fiat - two big burbling carbs and it was so focused on being a drivers car that you couldn't tilt the front seats forward to get passengers in the back. And it fell apart quickly and would never start. Perfect.

Fiat 131 Mirafiori Abarth

In fact, I'd even settle for one of the normal 131 Mirafioris, but the Abarth as pictured here went on to be a particularly successful rally car. It took the baton from the Lancia Stratos as the Fiat Group's secret weapon in rallying. I had a Matchbox toy in the Alitalia colour scheme (google it) and wanted a real one ever since. Sad but true.

Alfa Romeo GTV
I could wax lyrical about these. In fact I'm going to. I mean, just look at it. It's a delight. I'd have one purely for the way it looks. It drives wonderfully, it handles well, and either engine is a peach. When they're working. The V6 is pretty strong if maintained and is the best sounding V6 in the business. The Twin Spark is a gem of an engine but neglect it and it will self destruct very, very quickly. That's if the electrics have allowed it to get going in the first place. Ultimately owning a GTV is like being with the most beautiful woman in the world and finding she's brilliant at everything - cooking, washing, sex, the whole nine yards, but then finding she had a nasty habit of stabbing you in the head every night. But you still would...

Rover SD1

A badly-built British car with a front end ripped off the Ferrari Daytona? Yes please. Especially with the fantastic 3.5 litre V8 lump under the bonnet. Never actually driven or been in one, I've just always wanted an SD1 3500.

Ford Capri 280 Brooklands

Again, featured in The Professionals and driven by Bodie (played by Lewis Collins). Well, to be pedantic, the 3.0 V6 was featured in The Professionals. I would really like one of the last of the line 280 Brooklands - has the best engine, and looks absolutely brilliant.

Mini Clubman

No, not the monstrosity just launched by BMW, but the original Clubman. The supposed ugly Mini and unfairly called Mini Clubfoot. But I actually like these. I'm not bothered by all these Mini Cooper derivatives, just give me a basic Mini with a basic engine and it'll still be fun to drive.

Land Rover Series 3

Well, any beaten up Land Rover really. For pure simplicity really. An old tatty one will do quite nicely, so I can do what it's intended for, just like in the picture. For that purpose alone there's no point at all getting a decent one.

That's it for part two. These first two parts feature cars really that are not out of the reach most people. In fact most of them can be had for as little as few hundred quid. There will be a third and final volume of this to bore you to tears. This will feature my top 10 favourite motors from any age and any price bracket which need a place in this fantasy garage thing.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Part One of my Fantasy Garage of cars no one likes

Every man that likes cars has a fantasy garage, or at least makes a list of what they would like to own should the opportunity (and money) present itself. True to form, I created a Facebook photo album depicting what I would like to have in my fantasy garage and predictably most of them are Italian. It's crammed full of Ferraris such as the 365 GTB/4, commonly known as the Daytona, the Dino 246 GT, the 599 GTO, F40 and a brace of Alfa Romeos, Lancias and a couple of Fiats and Abarths.

I've made it no secret that I like cars no one else likes. Or what other people would class as crap cars. So, this is part 1 of my guilty pleasure fantasy garage. No specific reasons as to why they are in here except that I like them.

So what car are we going to have lining up first?

The humble Fiat Panda 4x4. Why?

It was cheap, and certainly felt cheap, but was an endearing little car. A capable off-roader, this mountain goat of a car got where most couldn't.

The Citroen Visa.

Not a brilliant all round car in the same way that say, a Peugeot 205 was. But I liked these because they were quirky, fun to drive and in the pre-1984 models the interiors were typically bonkers Citroen before they went all serious and boring.

Citroen GS / GSA

What we have here is a proper Citroen. Hydropnematic suspension and flawed in its extreme. Underpowered, slow, bonkers inside and nothing is where it's supposed to be. Satellite units to operate most important controls. Operate the horn and the heater came on, the indicators were operated by a switch under the seat somewhere and the wipers were operated by mind control. But the car came out in 1972 and looked like nothing else. I'd have one of these because I love the styling so much. And the suspension. And the mental interior.

Citroen AX GT

I've owned two basic 1.0 AXs and can tell you the pluses and minuses for owning them. The minuses far outweigh the pluses. For instance, it seems to be made out of recylced Milk Tray boxes, and if you crashed into a leaf it would write the damn thing off. But because they were so light and so chuckable, that made it excellent fun to drive. Even the 1.0 engines punched far above their weight, but the little 1360 GT was a true pocket rocket. Later AX's were boring, my choice is the Mk 1, with a few bonkers Citroen things like single spoke steering wheel and a dashboard made from tracing paper.

Peugeot 104

Or to be exact the 104 Z, which was a three door, short wheel based version. Provided basis for Talbot Samba and Citroen LNA (predecessor to the AX). Basically, another overlooked small French car that was a bit of a laugh. Not the prettiest car in the world but I like them all the same. Hang on, I'm noticing a pattern here. Small French cars seem to be recurring....

Renault 11

And another French car. Bit of a wolf in sheep's clothing this. My mates parents had one many moons ago, a 1700 GTX and I swear that car was the fastest thing on four wheels. I doubt a Veyron could have caught it. It also looked a whole lot better than the car on which it was based - the Renault 9. A car so boring you lost the will to live before you got to the back. But with quad headlights and a glass wraparound tailgate, quite a stylish car for the early 80s.
Fiat Uno

Ah, something Italian, back to normality then. My first car was a Fiat Uno and my dad had one when I was a kid. Launched in 1983, it still remains in production in India and Brazil. It was a cracking, if somewhat fragile, little motor. Lively performance, brilliant interior space and best in Mark 1 form where it had a Citroenesque interior with satellite pods for lights and wiper controls. It was also a bit Citroenesque when it was wet as a push start was sometimes required.

Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint

I'd love an ordinary cooking 'Sud, but there's something about the shape of the Sprint coupe version. Neat, uncluttered shape by Giugaro, neat handling and a sweet, free-revving flat four engine.

But the main reason I want one? My first ever toy car was a Alfasud Sprint. And now I want a real one.

Lancia Beta HPE

Only the Italians would attempt to make an estate car (HPE means High Performance Estate) where you can't fit much in it. Still, it looked more like a coupe. Of course, being Italian and from the 70's it earned a reputation for being rusty, and the Beta saloon was the car that pretty much killed Lancia in the UK

Talbot Sunbeam Lotus

Take a Hillman Avenger, wrap the oily bits in a neat hatchback body. Bring to the boil with some with the Lotus tuned handling and simmer with the Lotus 2.1 slant four 16 valve engine. Garnished with rear wheel drive and you have a capable rally car and a brute of a road car.

Ford Escort RS2000

The Professionals is one of my favourite TV shows and the character Ray Doyle (played by Martin Shaw) drove a white RS2000, drifting and handbrake turning it everywhere. I wanted one because of that. Then I saw some of these taking part in motor sport events and wanted one even more. Looks ace with the so-called droopsnout front.

Ford Fiesta Mark 1 XR2

Has to be the Mark 1. It wasn't very fast and wasn't as good as the Mark 2, but this one looked the business with the circular headlights, the spotlights and the pepperpot alloys. The Mark 2 just looked shite.

Stay tuned for part two if you are nerdy enough like me. Though if you got this far you must be.