MONDAY - Sorry to hear of the quiet, sad departure from Volkswagen’s top echelon of 64-year-old design chief Walter de Silva, whose world has clearly fallen in following the departure of big boss Martin Winterkorn.
As car-creation royalty, the pair toured the motor shows of the world, admired wherever they went. But when Big Martin had to walk the plank, things must have looked much bleaker for de Silva, especially since VW is now intent on making savings, including on concept cars.
Still, de Silva leaves a wonderful legacy. He created many fine cars with his own pen and influenced others to create more. In many convivial meetings he proved to us hacks – via skilful sketches on convenient scraps of paper – that even as a big cheese, he still drew cars with the same delight as a kid doodling on the back of an exercise book.
De Silva always said his most beautiful car was the Audi A5, but I reckon the accolade goes to the Alfa Romeo 156, a car of enduringly fine proportions whose design influences on the just-launched Giulia are perfectly obvious nearly 20 years later.
TUESDAY - You’d think, given the wall of verbiage we’ve seen and read on VW, that everything worthwhile had been said. But a note that landed today from Steve Randle, who runs a Warwick-based engineering consultancy, offers something new. It’s not necessarily top management skulduggery that’s to blame, Randle suggests, but a too-rigid, results-driven culture imposed on middle-rankers.
Listen to this: “Within large organisations the fear of failure, and consequent loss of livelihood, is a powerful motivator. What starts as a fudge, begun in the hope things will come good, has a nasty habit of getting out of control. The way we manage our people is even more important than the way we manage our engines.” Makes plenty of sense to me.
WEDNESDAY - Amazing news! MotorSport Vision, the driving and race circuit group owned and fronted by former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer, has completed the purchase of a 1263-acre former military airbase at Laon-Couvron in France – complete with 60 buildings.
The plan is to establish a gigantic ‘motorsport village’ – featuring a five-mile circuit – that will emulate the success of Bedford Autodrome and attract car lovers from across Europe, particularly those from Germany, France and the UK.
The emphasis will be on driving days, but there’s also a plan to stage four race weekends a year and offer supporting activities such as 4x4 driving. Palmer will cater especially for today’s super-fast road cars by making the circuit very fast but very safe. Drivers will be able to sustain top speeds without the brake and tyre-killing effects of continual low-speed corners. The opening is bound to be a traffic-stopper; I can’t wait.
THURSDAY - Handed back our holiday Volkswagen e-Up with regret, having come quite easily to grips with the fast charging culture of Ecotricity’s motorway-based ‘electric highway’. Despite this, the experience convinces me that to be taken seriously, cars like this need longer ranges.
The official claim for this one is about 90 miles, but the reality is you start worrying at 60 miles, and by 80 you’re really concerned if there isn’t a charging point around the corner.
The e-Up’s makers will point out that the e-Up is a city car so journeys are shorter, but the trouble with that argument is that they’ve made the car so capable in every other respect (barring an occasionally curiously bouncy ride) that it feels as if you could drive the thing around the world.