TUESDAY - Driving about in the Autocar Mini Cooper, a 1.5-litre petrol turbo triple of unbelievable torque and smoothness, reminds me of the continuing, breakneck progress of small, cheap engines.
When I came into this racket (behind the thrashings of a puny pushrod Hillman Minx), the only way of enjoying truly sophisticated propulsion was to buy it from Jaguar or Ferrari, with all the money you didn’t have.
Now, because of a growing coterie of engines like the Mini triple, 1.0-litre Ford Ecoboost and 850cc Fiat Twinair, we ordinary drivers enjoy response, torque spread and power per litre of which our predecessors could only dream.
Much of it follows the implementation of clean air standards, which have demanded dramatic efficiency improvements and brought design sophistication and high performance along for the ride.
WEDNESDAY - Big shindig in London to launch Fiat’s all-important B-segment SUV, the 500X, tipped in some markets to match the marque-saving sales of its city car relatives, the 500 and Panda. Fiat boss Olivier François reckons they’re first and second A-segment sellers across Europe.
All the big company men were on hand apart from Sergio Marchionne, but the main event was the performance of magician and illusionist Dynamo, who turned a 500X image into an actual car in front of a huge, gasping crowd.
Amid the hoo-ha, we slightly ignored the 500X itself. It looked distinctly promising, although its somewhat cautious styling did remind me (as Fiat insiders know) that the current 500 hatch is a truly exceptional design among modern cars.
FRIDAY - Memories of our recently departed friend and colleague Ronald ‘Steady’ Barker keep crowding in, perhaps because so much has been written about his life.
The recent sighting of a Ferrari 308 GTB in London’s morning traffic put me in mind of a trip Barker and I once made through France, Belgium and the Netherlands in my own GTB, searching for a particular car. An inveterate buyer of daft motors, Barker at the time owned a Lafitte, an Austin Seven-sized car powered by a three-cylinder radial engine.
Our mission was to find another Lafitte for me to buy – so we could found a UK Lafitte Owners’ Club for which Steady, addicted to puns, had already written the motto: “Lafitte First”. It warms me now to think of two car-obsessed idiots in a Ferrari spending four days of their lives trying to buy a car for no better reason than to fulfil a dopey, home-made mission statement.
In later years, Barker’s main ambition was to outlive his great friend Alex Moulton, and he managed it by about two years. I like to think that somewhere, right now, Steady and Alex are happily reunited, bickering away about sleeve valves and interconnected suspensions.
SATURDAY - My rule on single-model car books is that they’re mostly for zealots, not weekend reading for me, but I made an exception today for a highly detailed tome on the Mercedes-Benz W123, the ubiquitous ‘Berlin taxi’.
The book, written by Martin Buckley and Mark Cosovitch, labels the W123 “the finest saloon car of the 20th century”, a bold claim that encourages you to search 220 pages and 400-odd images for the evidence. The most effective recommendation for this book, however, is the quality of its writers; Cosovitch is a peerless marque expert, Buckley one of the nation’s finest writers on cars. Even if you don’t especially care for the W123, this is a book you’ll enjoy.