MONDAY - It’s pretty special when one of the car industry’s top men turns out to be as keen a car nut as any of us.
The rigours of business tend to blunt the enthusiasm of the industry’s biggest men, but when Ford’s European president and CEO, Jim Farley, came to our London HQ, his credentials soon came to the fore.
Farley agreed to be interviewed in the less than salubrious setting of our photo archive and (as well as talking business) gave us lots of insights into his credentials as a car lover.
“I didn’t have money,” he explained, “so I took vacation jobs. One of them was in an engine remanufacturing plant, a long way from home. I bought a ’65 Mustang junker, lived in it while I re-did the engine, cashed in my return airfare to buy fuel and drove back to Michigan – with no licence or insurance. Not even a spare tyre. Didn’t tell my parents, of course. What I loved most about that car was washing it, and driving it slowly. I’ll never forget the feeling of freedom.”
TUESDAY - Loose the fireworks and ring the bells: the Steering Committee has a new car. After model deliberations that have stretched on one axis from Range Rover Evoque to BMW i3, and on the other from Hyundai i10 to Volkswagen Up, we are about to swap a seven-year-old Fiat 500 diesel for… another Fiat 500, this time a 105bhp Twinair.
I was concerned at first about the choice of Fiat’s unique two-pot engine (although charming, a Twinair needs ‘understanding’) but as well as packing 23% more power, the latest version is smoother and its throttle response is more intuitive.
Although our new 500 is a run-out model (you save £3500), its suspension has been updated several times in seven years. And within 100 yards, you’re aware of a big reduction in nose weight. However, the best justification for buying another Fiat comes from the owner herself: “It makes me feel happy.”
WEDNESDAY - After a recent story about British Motor Heritage – the Oxfordshire company that makes new MG B and Mini bodyshells – a neighbour hastened to show me his superb, rebodied 1964 MG B, which he’s certain will now last another half century.
However, while writing about BMH, I realise I failed completely to credit the vital efforts of ‘Mr MG B’ David Bishop and his associate, Neil Morrick, who – as present BMH proprietor John Yea made clear when we met – was the main driver both in the company’s formation and its ‘repatriation’ from BMW. Without this pair, BMH could never have worked.
THURSDAY - To a pre-Goodwood ‘heritage’ dinner staged for hacks in a Surrey pub by Land Rover where we met 95-year-old Arthur Goddard, one of the marque’s all-time heroes. At 24, Goddard was plucked from the company’s stretched engineering team to be chief engineer on the original Landie, launched in 1948. Despite his years and a pretty decent dose of jetlag, Goddard dealt remarkably well with an hour-long interview, during which the audience was transfixed.
The US army Jeep, known to have influenced Land Rover, was useful for two key things above all, we learned. First, it showed that Land Rover should do whatever it could to avoid early-onset rust. Second, it became the body-strength standard to which Land Rover worked.
Given that the British 4x4’s outer panels were to be formed in relatively soft aluminium (supplies of steel were very restricted), Goddard and Co decided to make their box-section chassis as rigid as the total Jeep structure. It worked. Early Landies may have had glitches but no one ever complained about their chassis strength.
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