Holiday Cars

I’m using the word “holiday” in its universal sense, not in the American one (which refers to “holy days” because we’re too literal). I’m doing that because “we’re going on holiday” sounds more cheerful than “we’re taking a vacation”, and this is a cheerful post.

So you arrive at your holiday destination at some excellent beachside place (Cannes, Cabo, Caymans, whatever) and decide that you want to do a little exploring of the town, the area, whatever. Assuming that you’ve flown in and not driven, how are you going to get around?

Well, that depends. If you’re in the Greek Islands or somewhere thereabouts, you’ll either rent bicycles (ugh… way too much hard work) or one of the near-ubiquitous Vespa scooters (fun but dangerous, even if you are, as writer George Mikes once described it, walking sitting down).

The problem is that both bicycles and scooters are pretty much single-seater conveyances — yeah, the Vespa nominally has two seats, but on anything other than downhill you’ll be traveling at slower than walking pace (especially if like me you are a Fat American and therefore, statistically, your companion will also be a Fat American). Really, if you aren’t traveling solo, a single-seater isn’t an ideal option. So you want a car; but yuck, you’re in some sun-bleached paradise, so you want to be en plein air (if you’ll excuse my French) rather than in a small rental econobox with, most likely, no air-conditioning.

What to do?

Unfortunately, now that Foul Government has stuck its safety-first fat nose into all our fun activities, our options are limited because what was fun and available in the 1960s, for example, is now streng verboten (yeah, sounds better in the original German, doesn’t it?) and I’m going to suggest at this point that we may be safer nowadays, but we’re the poorer for it.

What am I talking about? I’m talking, of course, about little open-air runarounds like the VW Thing, the Austin Mini-Moke, and the Fiat Jolly, all of which can still be found, but sadly in ever-shrinking numbers. Pound for pound (and dollar for dollar), these little things probably offer more fun and excitement than any other car ever made. Here they are, in the same order:

 

Now at this point, of course, the Safety Nazis are reaching for the smelling salts because OMG no seatbelts! no roll bars! no doors! wicker seats? and all the usual crap that the PC Crowd like to throw around when telling us how to behave For Our Own Good. And yeah, I know they’re unsafe, by any standards let alone today’s. But I have to ask myself (and I have absolutely no data to back this up): did people die in their thousands from driving these wonderful little buggies around in the manner intended? I sincerely doubt it. If driven around at 20-30 mph around seaside towns and villages (i.e. as they were most of the time), I bet the total “death toll” in the 1960s would have been measured in single digits, if there were any deaths at all.

Imagine what the Safety Nazis would think when seeing this little sight:

They’d probably have a collective heart attack. Which would be a Good Thing. (I would too, just for different reasons.) And let’s not even talk about the decorations one could add to these lovely little runabouts:

No wonder they’re banned. That’s Way Too Much Fun for our modern-day Puritans.


Afterthought: I know some crowd called “Jollycars” is retrofitting the new Fiat 500 into a modern equivalent of the Jolly:

…complete with either canvas seats or wicker ones. Problem is, these cars are selling for $85,000 — or, the cost of a new Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

No comment.

 

 

Restored Beauty

As a rule, I’m not one for restoring old cars — I’m irretrievably non-mechanical and worse, I hate getting my hands dirty — so when Longtime Friend Knob sent me an email about the old Citroën Type H Van being restored, it took me a while to get up the enthusiasm to click on the link. I mean, sure, the Type H was in production from 1947 until 1981(!), and apart from only a few cosmetic changes, looked pretty much in  1981 as it did in 1947.

When you’ve got decent style, good engineering and excellent functionality, why change, right? (And yes, I do love the Colt 1911 for precisely the same reasons.)

To be honest, the Type H never got me going, although I cannot deny its appeal: those corrugated panels make it look like the French van-equivalent of a Junkers Ju-52 transport airplane (which is unsurprising, because the Citroën engineers actually copied the Ju-52’s style), and its 1.9-liter engine was more powerful than most other Euro vans of the late 1940s. (By the way, although the Ju-52 originally started production in 1931 and finished in 1952, it remained in service with various airlines around the world until the 1980s — making the similarities between it and the Type H even more striking.)

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.

When I finally did click on the link Knob sent me, it was not some boring nut-by-bolt restoration story; oh no, it involved transforming a modern Citroën Jumper van back into a Type H. Here’s what the Jumper looks like before the retrofit:

…which is okay, but dead boring in the usual modern wind-tunnel-design kinda way. However, here’s the retrofitted Type H:

…and I think it looks fantastic. Of the two, I’d take the retrofitted Type H any day of the week; but you knew that about me already, didn’t you?

Bucket List Entry #3: Spa Francorchamps

I’ve never been a racing driver, nor wanted to be one. However, I do like driving sports cars hard, ever since a buddy let me cane his Alfa Romeo Montreal over a newly-opened freeway outside Johannesburg. I haven’t had much opportunity, however, so on my bucket list here’s a simple entry: drive a sports car around a race track — and the track of choice would be Spa Francorchamps, in the Ardennes Mountains in Belgium.

…and I have to tell you, a large part of my desire for Spa is that the countryside surrounding it is just gorgeous. Ditto the Circuit Paul Ricard, because it’s in Provence, fer goshsakes (but Spa still wins it every time, for me).

The car? I don’t really care, as long as it doesn’t break down in mid-circuit. Modern sports cars are too clinical, too perfect with all the mechanical and electronic doodads they bring to the party — not that I’d say “no” to a flip around Spa in a Ferrari California, though:

But I’m an old fashioned kinda guy, and I’d prefer to drive something a little more… elemental, something which captures the spirit of a bygone era. Something like a Caterham Seven 360, which is based on the old Lotus Seven of the 1960s:

Six-speed manual gearbox, 2.0-liter Duratec engine (yeah, from a Ford Mondeo) which puts out 180hp — on a chassis that weighs less than I do — all in a car that seats my ass but six inches off the ground and can out-drag a Kawasaki.

Sounds like fun, dunnit? Which is why it’s on the old Bucket List.

 

Carry Knives

Via Insty, there’s this interesting article about the proper knife to carry on one’s person, and how to carry it, etc., with all the caveats about legality and such.

However, the writer’s basic premise is that nobody should leave home without carrying some sort of blade, and it’s a sentiment that I wholeheartedly support. Honestly, I’ve been more likely to forget my 1911 than my carry knife, especially when I’m in a dead hurry. Hell, I’ve forgotten my wallet but still had a knife on me. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to use my blade just in the past year, whether it’s cutting fruit (often) or a stick of dried meat (very often), or cheese (almost every other day, on the way back from the supermarket when the urge to taste the cheese can be overwhelming). And, of course, there’s always that stubborn piece of knotted string, or an over-wrapped package that needs a little coaxing.

As to which blade, of course, we are going to have all sorts of interesting discussions, you betcha. I have two favorites, both presents from The Mrs. from her various business trips: a beautiful Al Mar “Secret Service” from Tokyo, and my favorite folder of all, a Julius Herbertz from Ahrweil, Germany. Here they are, top to bottom as mentioned:

Here’s the thing: I’m aware that the Cold Steel this and the Gerber that are probably “better” knives than these two in terms of fighting or survival or whatever. I don’t care. If there’s going to be a fight, I carry a 1911 for that purpose; and in a survival situation, one razor-sharp blade is going to be pretty much as good as another.

I prefer to carry beautiful knives; and in my opinion (and remember, beauty is the ultimate subjective opinion), the Al Mar with its simple yet elegant pointed blade, and the Herbertz with its swooping edge are more beautiful than any Cold Steel / Gerber knives ever made. Here’s another pic of the Herbertz which shows off its walnut grip a little better:

In any company, that’s a knife which frequently draws ooohs and aaaahs from people who appreciate fine cutlery. (I apologize for the picture quality, by the way; I’m still getting used to the smartphone camera instead of my old Canon, which was already packed for the move.)

And I refuse to apologize for the rather battered state of my carry knives. They may be beautiful, but they have to work for me — which is the ultimate criterion for any tool, right?

Fernando And Me

Some time back, I happened upon an interview with F1 driver and former World Champion, Fernando Alonso. At the end of the interview, Alonso was asked a series of questions, and the eclectic nature of the questions intrigued me. So, if Fernando will forgive me, I’ve posted his responses with mine immediately underneath.

If you could pick just one meal to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Fernando Alonso: Pizza.
Kim: Boerewors [South African sausage] with Jarlsberg cheese on the side.

If you could pick just one [tropical] holiday destination…
Alonso: The Maldives.
Kim: The Seychelles — if not so far away and spendy, I’d go there annually. And I don’t even like tropical paradises.

If you could pick just one track to race on…
Alonso: Suzuka.
Kim: Spa Francorchamps, in any type of car.

If you could pick just one F1 corner to drive…
Alonso: Eau Rouge [Spa].
Kim: Ditto. Here’s why.

If you could pick just one race car to drive…
Alonso: McLaren MP4/4.
Kim: 1959 Ferrari 246 F1 — still one of the most beautiful racers ever made.

If you could pick just one F1 era to race in…
Alonso: The 90s.
Kim: The late 1950s — yeah, it was dangerous; don’t care.

If you could pick just one road car to drive…
Alonso: The McLaren P1.
Kim: 2017 Bentley Continental.

If you could pick just one other motorsport to watch…
Alonso: MotoGP.
Kim: World Endurance Championship Series, esp. Le Mans (long video).

If you could pick just one video game to play…
Alonso: I play a lot of football games. Probably it would be FIFA.
Kim: Probably none; maybe EA Sports Cricket, if I had to choose one.

If you could pick just one colour to wear…
Alonso: Black.
Kim: Dark blue or -green.

If you could pick just one sport to play…
Alonso: Basketball.
Kim: Cricket. Test cricket, at Lord’s.

If you could pick just one song to listen to…
Alonso: “Have A Nice Day” by Bon Jovi.
Kim: “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas (assuming the genre is rock ‘n roll).

If you could pick just one thing to drink…
Alonso: Apple juice.
Kim: Fresh squeezed OJ, from South African oranges.

If you could pick just one book to read…
Alonso: “Open” by Andre Agassi.
Kim: Fiction: “Goshawk Squadron” by Derek Robinson; non-fiction: “The Proud Tower” by Barbara Tuchman.

If you could pick just one city to live in…
Alonso: Oviedo, my hometown.
Kim: Vienna, Austria:

or Plano TX (my new apartment will be just around the corner):

If you could pick just one movie to watch…
Alonso: It would be a comedy…
Kim: “A Good Year” by Ridley Scott — I watch it about once a month anyway.

If you could pick just one person to live with…
Alonso: That is a work in progress.
Kim: Nobody. Splendid isolation, remember?

If you could pick just one fruit to eat…
Alonso: Banana.
Kim: South African white peach, or papaya (paw-paw).

If you could pick just one vegetable to eat…
Alonso: Courgette.
Kim: Potato, in all its various forms.

If you could pick just one mode of transport to use…
Alonso: Train. I like to use trains. Everywhere that I can, I take trains.
Kim: A performance saloon car like a Maserati Quattroporte or Bentley.

If you could pick just one gadget to own…
Alonso: iPhone.
Kim: Laptop PC — I’d say a Smartphone, but the screen’s too small to read.

If you could pick just one age to be…
Alonso: 23 or 24. From then on it is only going downhill!
Kim: 25 or 26. (I absolutely ruled at that age.)

If you could pick just one band or singer to listen to…
Alonso: Bon Jovi.
Kim: Procol Harum.

If you could pick just one thing to collect…
Alonso: Probably watches.
Kim: Also watches, or electric guitars.

If you could pick just one type of shoe to wear…
Alonso: Sneakers.
Kim: Minnetonka moccasins. That’s pretty much all I wear anyway, unless it’s cold or raining.

If you could pick just one type of chocolate or candy to snack on…
Alonso: Lollipop.
Kim: Buchanan’s Clotted Cream Fudge, from Britain.

If you could pick just one famous celebrity to date…
Alonso: Probably Charlize Theron.
Kim: Nigella Lawson or Carol Vorderman.

And of course, I have to justify my two choices with completely gratuitous pics of Nigella and Carol:

  

Yeah, I have a type. And finally:

If you could pick just one piece of exercise equipment to train with…
Alonso: Bicycle.
Kim: Bar stool.