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A petrol-head reports

The present UK government, like many socialist-leaning administrations, does not like cars. Besides complaints – sometimes justified – about pollution and congestion, a lot of the hatred of the car contains a puritan impulse (sometimes this is also seen among a certain tweedy sort of conservative). Congestion charges, petrol taxes, speed cameras, road bumps… you name it, owning a car will soon be on a par with smoking, eating red meat, or confessing to enjoying recreational sex.

Well, I have bad news for the puritans. I spent last Saturday in total petrol-head heaven – the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed in west Sussex, and the event was a total sellout. I saw the Lotus of the late Ayrton Senna driven immaculately on a wet track at 150 mph and hear the unbelievably high noise that a F1 car makes. Vintage Maseratis, Ferraris, Lotuses and BRMs vied with Le Mans endurance cars such as the Ford GT40 or the Gulf Porsche (of the kind that Steve McQueen drove in the movie, Le Mans). Magic. There is an almost sensual pleasure involved in the sight, shape, noise, and yes, the smell, of a very fast car.

The crowds were large although not so big as to impede my enjoyment. From what I could see, Britons remain firmly in love with cars, including very fast and noisy ones. I would not presume to check the political/cultural views of the crowds, but I would guess the bias would be towards liberal (small l), fairly pro-enterprise, pro-fun, and not very keen on environmentalism and high taxes. If I were Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, then the Goodwood Festival of Speed clientele would be the sort of folk I would have in mind as a target constituency. I would call it the ‘Jeremy Clarkson Voter Segment’.

The Goodwood event also reminded me of something else, which is the high number of South Africans, Finns and Scots who have excelled as drivers over the years. I wonder why that is?

37 comments to A petrol-head reports

  • Yes it’s all adrenaline all the time in our corner of Sussex.

    The brother of a friend of my girlfriend did bar work over there at the weekend and got to meet Jenson Button and Kimi Raikonnen amongst others.

    The reckless fun and whizz-bang action continues this Sunday when the world famous Bognor Birdman contest will see assorted dare devils and lunatics launch themselves off the pier in an attempt to see which of them can travel the furthest. It’s sort of like Spaceship One over water.

  • I’m not a serious motorsport devotee (I watch F1 when I remember to), but I still can’t think of many world-class South African drivers: Jody Schecter in F1, Sarel van der Merwe in rally, maybe Graeme Duxbury in sports cars… (and Dux only because I went to school with him).

    Almost as thick a book as Swedish war heroes, Irish chess grandmasters or Jamaican Olympic swimmers, come to think of it.

  • Oh, you dog. I’ve dreamed of events like this since I was twelve, hand-filing the ports and welding extractor exhausts for my go-kart, and reading biographies of Tazio Nuvolari.

    There’s a big gang of street racers over in Hong Kong, but it’s illegal; across the bay in Zhuhai there’s a “grand prix”, but it’s pretty tame. Once in a great while you can see an eccentric Chinese huddled over his tiny Japanese roadster, tuning. Should I move to England?

  • Pete(Detroit)

    Or the US – car cult is still strong here, too.
    But hell yeah, Goodwood is Mecca for gearheads, need to make the Hajj at least once in the life.
    Good Job, you lucky rotter!

  • I’m glad to see you Brits may still enjoy that sort of thing.

    I still have hope for you.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    I heard that illegal racing in Hong Kong is pretty big, with some triad support and lots of betting on the results.


  • The Wobbly Guy

    A cool article on street racing(sorta).

  • Only a few days ago I told my wife that I would love to go to F1 again. My last 2 were Holland about 1 years ago and before that Stiling Moss driving a vanwall at Aintree in about 1962. I am seriously envious.

  • Mark Ellott

    For me, it’s the TT. Two weeks’ of pure motorcycle heaven. Walking along Douglas seafront during TT week is a spectacle to be savoured. As you say, the sights, sounds and smells. Despite the “nasty dangerous bikes” propaganda, it continues – and the Manx government is all in favour. Commerce is a massive driving factor. Which, I guess, is why the Isle of Man sells itself (optimistically) as the motor sport capital of the world.

  • Bob Dacron

    Couldn’t agree more – motor sport contributes much more to the economy than pointless sports such as soccer. God I hate it – it’s never off TV.

    Michael Howard should attend events such as Goodwood instead of attending the more Labour constituency sports like soccer.

    This Labour government truly hates cars. They increased tax on company cars, fuel duty is the highest in Europe and they put speed cameras everywhere. I should be able to drive my car as fast as I like when the road is clear but this nanny state doesn’t allow me. What harm would I do?

  • R C Dean

    Cars are all about freedom – no wonder the statists hate them. A man with a car is free to move anywhere he wants, keep his own schedule – hell, even the sexual revolution was triggered by the fact that teenagers were much more independent once they got access to cars after WWII.

    Mass transit is a central controllers wet dream – all those people standing in line, enormous staffs of public employees, enormous tax-funded public works, and best of all – control. Lots and lots of rich, creamy control – control over where people live, where they work, what they can and can’t do. I

    Freedom of movement is right up there with freedom of speech, IMO.

  • Bob Dacron

    RC Dean now you are talking. All that destruction of the planet’s ozone layer is left wing garbage – they are simply jealous because they can’t afford to run several big cars.

    My current favourite is the Escalade truck – it gives a sense of superiority and is a throwback to the pioneering spirit. No matter how they try no statist can control me – I refuse to drive on their constricting nanny state highways and with the Escalade I can get off road wherever I like. Curbs are no problem and I love seeing other peoples reaction when I bypass the traffic gridlock by cutting straight over the common! Freedom to move wherever I WANT.

  • llamas

    Goodwood is heaven on earth – as said.

    What p**ses the Puritans off most of all is what you will see every two minutes or so when the rides are running, namely –

    A man, or a woman, gets onto, or into, some piece of unique, irreplaceable hardware – something that belongs in a museum, or is lathered in history – and proceeds to [i]wring it’s neck[/i] all the way up the hill. Hang the consequences, ride it, don’t hide it!

    They HATE that – the idea that a person will take those chances. The successful nanny state requires all the inmates to be in a continual condition of mixed fear and apprehension of bad outcomes, in all things. Watching people take huge risks, whether physical or fiscal, and getting away with it through skill, nerve or luck, is antithetical to the mindset that the state must foster to ensure its survival.

    At Goodwood, you’ll see one-of-a-kind rides worth northwards of a million being used as they were designed to be used, regardless of their value or historical significance. Such willful freedom must be suppressed!

    I’ve been to Goodwood once, in the 90’s, and hope to be saved to go there at least one more time.



  • Euan Gray

    I like cars. My last one was a Z28 Chevrolet Camaro, which is a bit OTT in Britain since 15mpg at our fuel prices is a tad heavy on the wallet.

    However, I now have a mountain bike. I cycle to work (14 mile round trip each day). I get to work in the morning faster than by car, and get home at night faster than the bus (although slower than a car, it’s mainly uphill coming home). For weekly shopping, I use the bus, but other than that the bike is generally more convenient than a car – it doesn’t cost anything to run, it’s faster around town, you can park anywhere, it’s less frustrating to drive, and so on. There are very few occasions when I miss the car, and those generally are when I need to buy or move something too bulky for public transport (which is privately owned up here in Edinburgh, so it’s ok). Frankly, even if petrol was free of charge, I still wouldn’t particularly want a car right now.

    I think it’s misleading to suggest the car is all about freedom. It WAS, a long time ago, but now it’s just a burden, another self-inflicted means of adding frustration, expense and inconvenience to one’s own daily life. There are millions of the bloody things, they clog up our cities taking people (very slowly) from place to place in one of the least efficient ways possible.

    In other places, though, they are still about freedom or more prosaically about sheer necessity – remote areas, sparsely populated areas, etc. – but other than that the freedom of the road stuff is just a delusion these days.


  • Duncan

    And at least over here in the U.S they tax the !@#$ out of you to drive one!

  • Bob Dacron

    Euan Gray says

    There are very few occasions when I miss the car, and those generally are when I need to buy or move something too bulky for public transport (which is privately owned up here in Edinburgh, so it’s ok).

    It’s OK?

    What difference does it make whether it’s privately owned by stagecoach or publicly owned by London transport? The experience is equally as bad. Humping shopping bags and sports equipment onto a bus sounds a nightmare.

    And I bet I get more totty in the Escalade.

    Libertarianism means being free to make the choices you want. Although you delude yourself it doesn’t sound to me as if you can afford that choice.

    Sorry old boy but you can keep your bus (public or private) I’ll keep the cars.

  • Euan Gray

    I can afford to buy and run a car if I want to. I choose not to. This leaves me with (substantially) more money to do things I actually want to do rather than wasting time sitting in a queue of cars (as the cyclist whizz past me). When I need a car, I can borrow or rent one. In the past twelve months, I have borrowed my friend’s Volvo estate twice (very handy for lugging timber home and rubbish to the dump), and rented a car once (cycling to the hills for a spot of walking is a little too much for me).

    And as for totty, well I don’t feel the need to have an automotive phallic substitute. The days when I thought that sort of thing important are long gone – perhaps one of the benefits of getting older is that you realise how petty and frankly stupid are the preoccupations of overgrown schoolboys. Of course, you also realise that it really would have been a good idea to listen to your parents sometimes, but by the time you figure this out it’s way too late.

    I think perhaps the advantages of public transport are often overlooked here. Not everyone can afford a car, and of those who can it seems a number don’t want the general hassle, cost and inconvenience in return for those few occasions when the thing really does have no better alternative.

    At least here in Edinburgh, public transport is cheap, clean, reliable and frequent. And profitable, it might be added. It goes everywhere I need to go, and it does so every 10 minutes.

    I understand the average cost of car ownership in the UK is around £5,000 p.a. For £372, I can buy a one year bus pass good for any route anywhere in Edinburgh and outskirts. For £240, I bought a mountain bike which has cost under a tenner in maintenance in a year. I can hire a car for moderate sums when I need one, which is not at all often.

    Of course, the freedom to choose to own a car is important, but so too is the realisation that exercising this freedom robs you of other freedoms. The point I’m making is that the idea that having a car gives you freedom is, increasingly, an illusory one – it’s slower than anything else, more expensive than anything else and more inconvenient most of the time. If like me you live in a city, car ownership is of increasingly doubtful utility. If you live in the country, of course, it’s pretty much essential.

    Imagine what would happen if the government decided it liked cars, cancelled all taxes on them and so forth. The number of cars would increase, probably quite a bit, which would make congestion, delay and inconvenience even worse than it already is. Careful what you wish for, folks…


  • Bob Dacron

    Gosh. Touched a nerve there.

    How about we have a race – London to Edingburgh – or even North Berwick to Edingburgh. Me in my “phallic substitute”, you on your bike (or you can even take the bus). We’ll see who gets there first; who looks more sweaty and crumpled; and who gets soaked through.

    I’ve earned the right to choose my mode of transport through my families hard work, and despite your delusions I think I’ve made the right choice.

    EG says

    Imagine what would happen if the government decided it liked cars, cancelled all taxes on them and so forth. The number of cars would increase, probably quite a bit, which would make congestion, delay and inconvenience even worse than it already is. Careful what you wish for, folks…

    As a libertarian I was imagining no government and no taxes – what the hell else were you thinking?

    Congestion, delay and inconvenience should be sorted by the market; as should healthcare, education and the so called greenhouse effect.

    “Not everyone can afford a car”, good job too! Not everyone can afford a holiday or a hip operation either – do you propose we abandone those too? You’ll be advocating a socialist National Car Service next for those who can’t afford a motor.

  • Euan Gray

    As a libertarian I was imagining no government and no taxes

    So there would be essentially the same effect on the car population as if the government removed taxes and restrictions, wouldn’t there?

    Congestion, delay and inconvenience should be sorted by the market

    Which would be done by the levying of tolls and charges. Kind of like the current situation, really, isn’t it?

    I do not propose the wholesale abandonment of the private car. However, the point is that the “freedom” gained by having a car is, especially in cities, increasing illusory. For long journeys it can be useful, although in some cases even here it has drawbacks. For use in rural areas it’s pretty much essential.

    As for a London to Edinburgh race, no problems – you drive, I’ll take mass transport (the train). I’ll be there in half the time it takes you and I won’t have to bugger about looking for parking spaces either.

    Sometimes the car is the best solution (weekly shop at out-of-town supermarket, for example). Sometimes it is not (e.g. daily commute in a congested city). To pretend that it ALWAYS is is just as wrong as to pretend everyone would be better off abandoning cars and relying on state operated public transport for ALL their travel needs.


  • Bob Dacron

    What are you saying the governement has transport policy just about right?

    Bloody troll with your third way socialist transport policy!

    The market means I can afford to run a £65,000 jeep and you can’t – so you get on your bike Michael Foot – this is evidence that the market prevents too much traffic.

    What gives you or your commie government the right to tell me how to travel. Freedom of movement is right up there with freedom of speech.

    And anyway the railways are a shambles (even since privatisation) – and my car could beat any train as I tend to ignore the nanny state speed restrictions and drive between 100 and 120mph, and don’t have to stop at Peterborough, Grantham, Doncaster, York, Darlington, Newcastle or sodding Berwick.

  • Euan Gray

    Bloody troll with your third way socialist transport policy

    Oh, grow up.

    The market means I can afford to run a £65,000 jeep

    Bully for you. If that makes you feel better, I’m happy for you. However, it’s not actually the market that enables this but your place within the market.

    and you can’t

    So what? No, I can’t afford a car like that, and even if I could it isn’t the sort of car I would buy. However, it does seem a little bit depressing that your ownership of an expensive car compared to my ownership of a mountain bike seems to make you think you are more qualified to talk about transport policy.

    my car could beat any train as I tend to ignore the nanny state speed restrictions and drive between 100 and 120mph

    Maybe, but it cannot travel consistently at 150mph as the express train does, and there is no way you can drive a Jeep, however expensive, from London to Edinburgh in under four hours, again as the express train does. Your comment seems like a slightly more adult version of “my dad’s bigger than your dad” and is no more impressive.

    don’t have to stop at Peterborough, Grantham, Doncaster, York, Darlington, Newcastle or sodding Berwick

    But how often do you need to stop for petrol? Or the bathroom?


  • It’s truly bizarre the way they treat car drivers, especially when you try to work out what they could possibly replace motoring with. It is quite obvious that Blair, Brown et al. have not used the public transport system recently or their policies would be far, far different.

  • Euan Gray

    I imagine the PM and the Chancellor are actively discouraged from hopping on the local bus, plus it’s expensive when you have to buy tickets for all those Special Branch minders who guard them, so it’s no surprise they might not be au fait with the state of public transport at present.

    Polls consistently report that many car drivers (up to 80% in some polls) would happily use public transport for e.g. commuting to work, short hop trips, etc., IF said public transport was clean, safe, reliable, cost-effective and served where they needed to go, and so would use cars for longer trips, driving at night, out of the way places, etc. This is because many drivers don’t actually like being stuck in crawling jams, and watching the buses and bikes zooming past doesn’t help.

    The problem is that state or local govt. controlled public transport is grossly and expensively mis-managed. A classic example of incompetent privatisation is the railway system, so although it is private it isn’t as good as it could be (although parts of it are undoubtedly very good, most is hopeless).

    General rail travel for the bulk of the people probably is never going to return, but urban rapid transit systems are eminently workable, especially if linked to the mainline network, major road arteries, and places in town people actually want to go. The traffic problem is generally on commuter routes, so if these were augmented by light rail systems I think you’d see a big difference. The answer is NOT more roads, because you still have the bottlenecks inside the cities, which are simply not capable of handling huge numbers of cars with any degree of speed – and no, I don’t think the major cities are going to be bulldozed and rebuilt to suit mass car ownership.

    However, these days most business seems to be driven only by short term greed and the desire to make long term strategic investment doesn’t seem too common, even though there is no reason to suppose mass transit would be unprofitable, therefore it would appear taxpayer funding will be necessary. This is unlikely to be politically popular. Result: political inaction and corporate unwillingness to spend.

    It will change through either the state grasping the nettle and doing something, or business looking further ahead than the next dividend payment. God knows if either of these things will ever happen.


  • Bob Dacron

    I can get to my house in The Lakes from London on just over half a tank in the SUV and you may be surprised to know that some of us can go more than four hours without using the lavatory.

    Of course my cars make me feel better – why else would I buy them?

    Your response is typical of what I call ‘penile extension envy’ – I get quite a lot of it.

    And judging by your increasing mad advocacy for mass systems, I expect you’ll be telling us next the trains would be fine if we all limited ourselves to one offspring, Chairman Mao.

  • A_t

    Bob, what does “I’ve earned the right to choose my mode of transport through my families hard work” mean? Are you sponging off your parents? Are you part of an illegal ‘family’? Have you worked hard yourself then? I’m puzzled.

    I hardly think Euan’s mildly put points, which as far as I could gather were never disputing your right to drive whichever vehicle takes your fancy, warrant calling him a troll & 3rd way socialist. But hey, what do I know about transport policy… i only drive a (relatively) tiny old car that would probably fall apart if i tried to cut across the common, & is unlikely to get me any “totty”. Fortunately I know of a number of non-car-based schemes to do that; they have so far cost me a lot less than 65 grand.

    (he’s right about Edinburgh btw… much easier city on a bike or bus or walking than in a car)

  • Bob Dacron

    sigh…more’penile extension envy’

    It means I benefit from the family firm and the foresight of their capital investments some time ago. Of course you trolls will disapprove that my idea of work doesn’t involve wearing a Davey lamp or standing on a production line.

    I have a right to earn an income any damn way I choose – and I can spend it any damn way I choose too! And if it wasn’t for paying for the likes of you getting educated at comprehensives and polytechnics via the theft that is taxation (and patently doesn’t work) I’d have a lot more of it.

    You’re jealous and your type should be the last to accuse anyone of sponging.

  • Johnathan

    Bob, much as I agree with some of your points, you seem to be a bit rude towards Euan, who expresses a detailed series of points.

    First off, I agree that rapid transit systems can be very important and are indeed vital in parts of the world. I live in central London and use the Tube. While I curse its dirt, lack of reliability and so forth, I happily concede that it is also a marvel in many ways.

    But cars still, despite the congestion issue, embody a degree of personal freedom and flexibility that other transport systems cannot match. There are also lots of other things, such as the ability to drive in solitude with your favourite music playing on the radio, in airconditioned comfort, and without having to put up
    with the stares and smells of the Great British Public.

    And there is the simple pleasure of owning a car, right down to the ritual of giving it a good polish, jazzing it up with wire wheels, etc. Silly I know but don’t forget that cars give folk a lot of aesthetic as well as practical pleasure.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    It all depends on how much utility you can derive out of each transport method. In the presence of a good public transport system(hi Singapore!), I find traveling by public transport, especially to the commercial areas to be very, very convenient, and cheaper to boot.

    I can drive down, but between the traffic jams, looking for a parking space, the parking fees themselves(fees are bloody high in some areas), it’s altogether too much hassle.

    And even our public transport companies are semi-privatized. Mass transport CAN be profitable. Nyah nyah! 😛


  • Bob Dacron

    I’m beginning to think this site has been overtaken by a load of socialists. The tube “is a marvel in many ways”????

    The WobblyGuy says

    I can drive down, but between the traffic jams, looking for a parking space, the parking fees themselves(fees are bloody high in some areas), it’s altogether too much hassle


    Exactly the market has determined that you belong on a bus because the parking fees are too expensive for you – whereas I belong in a car because the parking fees are easily affordable to me. This is the market sorting out congestion problems. And I’m quite relieved poor people can’t afford to park in town – otherwise I couldn’t get a space.

    “Clean your own car”!!!!!??????

    Have we forgotten wealth creation? Trickledown? I get the autistic lad whose dad is one of the gardeners to do it every two weeks. And he doesn’t do a bad job either for a moron. I give him a fiver so if he also does the Spyder, the Range Rover and my wife’s Mercedes he earns himself a nice £20. You should see the look on his daft little face when I give him the money – it’s something these socialist do gooders just wouldn’t understand.

  • Euan Gray

    I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that trolls are undeserving of nutrition.


  • Bob Dacron

    At last we agree on something.

    You see the libertarian argument is infallable – eventually you all see sense. Welcome aboard EG.

  • Gentlemen, please… lets keep things civil and ensure that passionate argument, which is welcome, does not decend into name calling, which is best kept to a minimum at the best of times.

  • Euan Gray

    You see the libertarian argument is infallable

    But you aren’t making a libertarian argument. All you’re doing is stating that you have the means to afford expensive cars and therefore don’t need to avail yourself of mass transport. This means nothing for libertarianism, it just means you have money.

    If you or your family has prospered and as a result you can afford the sort of cars you like, then good for you. It is, after all, your (singular or plural as appropriate) money. This does not mean public or mass transport is beneath contempt or worthless – many millions depend upon it, either through choice or economic necessity. It can be profitable, too, so why should the entrepreneur be sneered at for wishing to make a profit out of providing it?

    As an aside, I would say that the kind of sneering, I’m-all-right-Jack attitude of those libertarians who happen to be comfortably off is quite possibly the most unappealing aspect of the entire movement. It’s one of the reasons libertarianism will NEVER, IMO, make the political mainstream – it’s utterly selfish.


  • A_t

    If Bob Dacron is a real person, i’ll be damn surprised. Obvious, caricatural provocation; not worth wasting words over.

  • Bob Dacron

    Are you Sion Park in disguise? (That was a question not name calling)

    What’s the point in being a libertarian if you can’t afford to make the choices that your philosophy espouses?

    I’ve heard of champagne socialists – how gallant and silly; but poor libertarians? How ridiculous.

    I’m rich therefore libertarianism suits me (low / no tax – no government interference – capital to invest).

    If I only had a moderate income I would probably support Tony Bliar.

    And if I was poor I’d advocate hanging the rich and redistributing wealth.

    Lucky me I’m not.

  • Johnathan

    Back on the actual issue that Euan raises, it is actually dumb to suppose that rapid, mass transit systems like Tubes are inherently socialistic. Bob seems to think that anyone who takes the Tube or the train is some sort of Michael Moore supporter. That is silly. After all, many such systems operate in a free market and of course they should do so. London Underground was initially begun as a private venture, as was the UK rail network back in the great days of steam.

    Anyway, my earlier point about cars and their appeal stands. It is fun to own them, fun to look after and drive them, and even great to look at them. Some of the cars I saw at Goodwood were absolutely gorgeous. In truth, life without cars would in some ways be rather dull.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Especially when you are on the open road, with nothing but blue sky around you…