The theme of this years Axa Classic Car show was decidedly French.
I was at the Dublin Classic Car show this weekend when a friend asked me what sort of cars I was in to? A good question, I struggled for an answer, but then it was perhaps not the question that I could answer, for it’s not the type of car that engages my attention but how they are designed, what is their form and how did they take motoring along to the next stage that I find so fascinating. To help me explain it might be worth looking at a few before coming to any conclusion about which I would most like to take home if I had that fantasy million.
The 1920’s Horch, still at Home in Dublin.
The first to be considered is a Horch from the mid Twenties. To say this car is magnificent is to do it an injustice, it is a drawing room for the gentry that happens to be mobile and takes every care to ensure that those in a certain position retain both their dignity and elegance. Naturally we expect such flattery to be served up by Rolls Royce yet they were not the only company to pamper the well to do and in this vehicle we see the finesse of German engineering coming to the fore. There is something whole and complete about this car, it is not a confection of chassis and body builder but constructed as one and therein lies it’s appeal. However, it is a car of its time and the conflict and tensions of the 20th century later saw its descendant company produce, of all things, the Trabant!
To the staid and sober European there is really something quite horrendous about the monsters of chrome and bad taste that infested the roads of the US during the sixties. And indeed horrendous they are, but there is also something really quite wonderful about them as well. This was a dead end for car evolution and the reasons why it was so eagerly pursued tell us much about the confidence of the country back then. A cliche I know, but one that is no less worthy of our our attention when we consider these cars because of it. Half a century later we can step back and view these manifestations in all their grossness with an enlightenment that comes with the knowledge that perhaps we don’t actually own the world after all, but are the custodians for future generations. This Buick is worth preserving for that very reason, if no other.
And now for something completely different, the humble Imp. Different in size and scope to the two already viewed maybe, but it was a remarkably innovative car. It had an all alloy engine, a first for a mass produced car, the engine was at the rear, another first for this type of vehicle and it employed a novel clutch that beat its BMC Mini rival hands down. They were super little cars, I was once an owner myself, and they still retain a following despite their head gaskets blowing every second Sunday and the build quality being somewhat indifferent at times. Made by ex shipbuilders in a run down area by the Clyde the manufacturing arrangements and costs never did justice to the design. Even so, 500,000 were produced and thankfully many are kept alive. It is a car of fond memories rather than modern day use so I would linger, but pass on to another should I ever need to choose just the one.
So what would I be tempted to spend my million on? It needn’t be a million of course, something far more modest might suit, but the sum would remove the constraint of price to a large degree. And so we come to what I think I would most prefer to have taken home, a car that I hardly took notice all day of but walking past from behind the purposeful urge of the body caught my eye, and by degrees I fell in love with the Citroen Athena CX. I know the company’s hydro pneumatic suspension to be quite brilliant, the controls advanced and the ride quality exquisite, but there was something besides, there is a determination about its style, whether the driver knows his route or not, the car is taking him there with a confidence and comfort that dismisses all other considerations. A tour of France would be an exercise in impunity, of certainty and aloofness that may well end in tears, but it would be such fun in the meanwhile!