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There is no such thing as a crap classic car

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

By Tony Batchelor.

It might look like a "bitsa car", but can you guess what it is? Find out later. (Image Wikipedia)

Turning out a cupboard recently I came across a book entitled “Crap Cars”.

I must confess I rarely read books, but those with pictures and a short piece of text might get more of a flick through than those with thousands of words page after page after page.

In the case of this Crap Car book I recall flicking through it when I received it as a gift. Having flicked through it again, which was far more interesting than turning out the cupboard, I came to the same conclusion that there is no such thing as a crap car, it is just that some cars are better than others.

Anyone who has read my previous blogs would have gathered by now that I love all classic cars. I admit I like some more than others, and I guess that is the same for most classic car enthusiasts. Every car has its foible, and with hindsight a design could have been better thought through or engineered given better resources, or most likely more time or cash investment. But at the end of the day they are old cars, part of our motoring heritage and we love them all, but we love some more than others.

The Crap publication about cars (image BBC books).

Looking in more detail at the Crap Cars publication I noted the author is Richard Porter, Script Editor for Top Gear, and then the penny dropped. Mr Porter is credited for his part in the script writing for Mr Clarkson and co on the hilariously funny, and hugely successful, programme where all cars were rubbished unless they could go around a race track in a minute or so and cost best part of £100 000, which most of the viewers could not afford.

I will not venture into the world of Top Gear, but I would say I found the Clarkson, Hammond and May era highly entertaining and far better than the current scripted slapstick offering by the BBC. I gave up on the latest series after 10 minutes of horseplay by the new hosts. If I wanted slapstick comedy I would watch the gods of slapstick Laurel and Hardy, not a car programme. I would say about Mr Clarkson and the Top Gear production team that in my view, he / they, greatly assisted in the final demise of Rover Cars. The mere mention of the word Rover and the comment was “rubbish”. Not so Mr Clarkson, as a family on a modest income we owned five Rover models, I have driven every Rover model and they were pretty good horses for courses cars.

You cannot fit a tow bar on a Koenigsegg or a Zonda, nor a roof box, but I would admit you can get to the shops quite quickly if you avoid the speed humps. Does that make the Rover 25 a better car than the Koenigsegg and the Zonda, no but the Rover is able to perform several functions the supercars cannot.

Back to this crap book about cars, and you see what I have done there which sets the tone for the following comments. I went to the end of the book to see what Mr Porter considers to be the all time number one “Crap Car”, and in his view it is the VW Beetle. Number two is no surprise as it is the easy target, the Austin Allegro. I will come back to that later. Skipping past number three, the Suzuki X90 and number four, the Morris Marina, the number five all time crap car in Mr Porters view is the Lada Riva.

At this point I started to question Mr Porters judgement as to whether he is actually a good judge of cars or was he just writing a crap car book to make some cash. I feel in the former he is clearly at odds with the 21.5 million people who purchased a VW Beetle, and the 17.7 million who purchased a Lada Riva. What does Mr Porter know about those two “crap” cars which the almost 40 million owners do not. I concluded on this that it is a crap book about our beloved classic cars, and I was reminded of a saying by Mr Clarkson about “talking out of their bottom” (possibly script edited by Mr Porter).

In search of a considered opinion about what might be deemed good and not so good classic cars, for the purposes of research I purchased from eBay for £1 85p (including postage), the publication “The Worst Cars Ever Sold” written by Giles Chapman.

Definitely not the worst book ever sold about cars, quite the reverse really.

I needed to be sure that Mr Chapman does indeed know about cars, so a quick web search revealed that he is a motoring journalist and a one time Editor of Classic and Sports Cars. He has also written a number of publications including “Cars We Loved in the 1950’s, the 1960’s, the 1970’s and the 1980’s”. I have actually read those publications from cover to cover, yes a rare occurrence indeed, but this was mainly due to the fact there are not too many words and lots of pictures, but also because they are really excellent books. If your family is looking to buy you a small present or a “stocking filler” suggest they buy you one of those rather than the Crap Book of Cars by Richard Porter. Ebay is a great place to buy.

Mr Chapman’s book "The Worst Cars Ever Sold" is also a good book, mainly because it is well balanced with the Minus” and the “Plus” side of the cars featured. It does not simply blurt out the word crap for the greatest effect. It has the old favourites and some less well known cars, and for £1.85p including postage you cannot go wrong really.

Mr Chapman also wrote the publication “100 Cars Britain Can Be Proud of". This book is the ideal “Dads Day” book, I would go so far as to say it is “the dogs ….. “

"The dogs" dads books, ideal for light readers who like lots of pictures.

I said I would come back to the Allegro, which has had its fair share of kicking and jokes over the years, which I feel is unjustified and I will prove why. The "100 Cars" book mentions the failings in the car, but it recognises the contribution it made at the time. It even goes so far as to say the Allegro was not “as dire as many claim, and its kitsch kudos today is immense” Yes we acknowledge that it was not brilliant, for various reasons, but we should still love it as it is part of our motoring heritage.

Strangely I am quite liking the Allegro. I actually went for a test drive in one in the late 1980's. I chose a Vauxhall Chevette instead, but only because I preferred the flexibility of a hatchback. (Image Sunday Times Driving)

Come on, tell me you are not liking the early 70's look. Why did people have problems with that steering wheel, fuss about nothing or what. Image Wikipedia

Not wishing this blog to sound like a book promotion exercise, the final publication I would offer as proof that the majority of the publishing world is not of the same mindset as the Top Gear Team is the publication by the Design Museum entitled "Fifty Cars That Changed The World". A quick web search on the Design Museum states that the "Design Museum is dedicated to contemporary design in all its forms, from industrial and product design to graphics, fashion and architecture" In fact it looks quite interesting and I might make a trip up to London at some point, they also serve nice looking lunches.

The "Fifty Cars" book. C for constructive comments as opposed to crap condemnation

Anyway, rather than saying the Allegro is crap and only beaten into second place by the VW Beetle, according to the Design Museum "the general proportions (of the Allegro) were not all that different from the Alfasud, which everybody liked, showing just how subtle and challenging car design is". They also hold the VW beetle in high regard, so another significant body who disagrees with Mr Porter, along with the 21 million VW Beetle owners.

The Alfasud, the Allegro's more popular rival (Image Powerflex)

Alfasud interior so much better than the Allegro, really????? (image Best Car Mag)

Has the thought of the "crap car" been generated by people who make a living from writing such comments, or those who repeat the views on the web without any real knowledge. From what I have gathered through a little research I do not think classic car enthusiasts as a whole feel the same. We know about old cars, how they drive and make allowances for them, it is like stepping back in time driving around in a classic, wonderful.

To me there are no crap cars, it is just that some are better than others. All cars are part of our motoring heritage, and I feel we should accept them for what they are and what they have contributed to what we have today. We should also think about our life experiences associated with these cars, I have great memories of every car I have owned. Now I have been prescribed rose tinted spectacles I just smile when I see every classic car because they all hold memories for me, and I am sure it is the same for you also.  

Aaahhh I hear you say, what about the Morris Marina, a terrible car in some peoples view. Well that was the number 4 all time crap car according to Mr Porter, but having sold more than 1.2 million cars compared with the Allegro’s 650 000 clearly it must have had something going for it. I guess having an estate, a van and a pick-up in the range helped, but the Allegro had an estate also and was supposedly a more technically advanced car.

The Marina 1.8, not a bad car, you just needed to know how to drive it. Image car and classics.

The Marina interior. Nothing special fitted in basic cars in those days, but fully functional and nicely colour coordinated. Image Morse Classics

Admittedly the Marina had its issues, such as BL management interfering with the design prepared by their senior designers Roy Haynes, and then Harris Mann following Roy Haynes resignation. There was also issues of poor manufacturing by an unreliable "rulebook" BL workforce, a manufacturer with no funds from which to properly develop new models and a hostile press happy to criticise it when comparing it to the Ford Cortina. The Cortina was considered a better car but earlier models also had issues with reliability and rust.

However, setting the Marina’s sales against the Ford Cortina, according to Wikipedia a total of more than 2.8 million Cortina’s were sold in Britain during its twenty year, five-generation production run. This is compared with the Morris Marina’s 1.2 million sales in nine years.

I have actually driven a Marina which belonged to my brother, this would have been around 1980 when we were living at home with Mum and Dad. I needed to move it so as to get my Hillman Avenger out of the garage, and instead of moving it a few feet I decided to take the Marina around the block as I had never driven it. Apart from the surprise when it wallowed a bit at the first corner I took at some speed, well it wallowed quite a bit really compared with the Avenger which caught me out, it was however a perfectly good drivable car. The handling was so very different from the Avenger, but hey I can drive a car and I adapted my method of driving once I got the feel of it.

The Marina could be a seriously useful vehicle. Imagine having one of these at a car show, make yourself a cup of tea or cook yourself a nice lunch, or get under cover if it rains. Image ebay - but now sold in case you are interested.

It was a horses for courses car. It was cheap to buy, fitted a family of four with luggage, you could put a tow bar on it and a roof rack. In the day it was a popular car but it had its faults, like most other cars at that time. The Mk1 and Mk2 Cortina was not immune with poor starting on cold / damp mornings and the front struts popping through the bonnet due to rust on top of the wings. It was quite common to ditch the Ford carb for a Zenith as the former caused problems.

Finally, can you guess what it is yet?. The answer to the image at the header of this blog is an Austin Kimberley.

According to Wikipedia, "the Austin Kimberley and Austin Tasman (sold by Morris in New Zealand alongside the Austin models) "X6" models are a pair of Leyland Australia designed front wheel drive saloons based on the Austin 1800 (ADO17) platform, that were produced from 1970 to 1972 and sold by Austin"

"At the time of the X6 being launched onto the Australian market it was quite an advanced design in comparison to the other competitors from Ford, Holden and Chrysler, whose rear-wheel drive, conventionally sprung underpinnings dominated the market at the time". (images Wikipedia)

Are you now loving the Allegro, or a Marina maybe?

POST SCRIPT .............

Interestingly having spent some time researching and drafting this blog, and expressed my dislike for the latest Top Gear series, I was alerted by Lee Pegrum to an article on their latest programme featuring an Austin Allegro Estate and a Matra-Simca Bagheera. Rather than redrafting the entire blog I though I would be lazy and just add this Post Script.

According to the website Cars uk, "the duo of Freddie Flintoff and Paddy McGuinness took two cheap and rare classic cars to take off to the jungle of Borneo to see how they cope in terrain they were never designed for. Paddy chooses to take a car no one has heard of, the Matra-Simca Bagheera, a long forgotten 1970s French sports car (not the presenters possibly, but most classic car enthusiasts have heard of it). Freddie opts for something probably now as rare but rather more prosaic, an Austin Allegro Estate".

The Matra-Simca Bagheera, an interesting rear engine 3 seater sportscar

I was therefore compelled to actually watch an episode, but on iplayer I could fast forward the bits I really did not want to see. Bits like Freddie riding on an Oxen and the "star" in a reasonably priced car who at one point seemed to be playing golf. Interesting, to me no. If you ignore the test drive in the hideous £250k Rolls Royce SUV you get about 25 minutes of watchable stuff on cars, which allows time to watch a show actually about cars on another channel.

Back to BBC Top Gear, it was great to see the Allegro stand up to the very difficult conditions and demands of the journey, well both cars really. I must admit I have mixed emotions about taking cars into jungles and across deserts. I do not mind if it is something like a two-a-penny BMW 3 series, a Volvo or a Merc, something Jap maybe, but a couple of rare classics which looked in very good order at the start of the programme, by the end both were pretty much trashed. I only hope the former owners of those cars are not Top Gear fans. If it was my former cherished classic I would be absolutely crestfallen at this time, I am sure you would feel the same if they had done that to your former much loved pride and joy.

It did however prove how tough the Allegro was / is. Hopefully Mr Porter managed to watch the programme, maybe he is now busy re-writing his crap book on cars.

If you want to see the full episode I suggest you look at BBC iplayer. The outcome, well I must say it was a very tough test and I am proud of the car and proud to be British, but sad another good classic car has been trashed. Well two really as the Bagheera did really well but was also pretty much trashed.

Allegro Estate gone a bit too far off-road, very ably assisted back on track by some Gurkahs and Paddy McGuinness. Matra-Simca Bagheera in the background. Image Cars uk.

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Neville Pugh
Neville Pugh
May 05, 2020

Your obvious dislike of current Top Gear is interesting, as all the flaws you aim at it were just as applicable to the old Top Gear. The Clarkson era TG was completely scripted (I've been at a recording ... fun as it was, knowing that all the adlibs were scripted and took 3, 4, 5 takes kinda ruined it for me). They destroyed many 'classic' cars too (how many Marinas ended up under a piano ?). And they did just as many ... if not more ... silly, irrelevant and tenuous side items. I enjoy new and old (to a point), but your criticisms of new don't wash for me.

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