In this week's automotive adventures Steve discovers the ideal Bugatti for children (and perhaps most adults), reflects on the costs and opportunities of lockdown for dealers and more.
To Bicester Heritage, fast becoming the Goodwood of our neck of the woods, to see the new electric Baby Bugatti 2, launched at the 2019 Geneva motor show to commemorate Bugatti’s 110th anniversary and to reprise an idea hatched by the great Ettore Bugatti, who built a half-size Type 35 for his youngest son, Roland.
It’s a kind of kids-and-parents back-garden Bugatti – electrically powered, like the original, but now a 75% creation so that adults can share the fun. It’s no toy; much attention is paid to Type 35 quality and authenticity. The shape is dead accurate and even the suspension geometry is correct. The top model is clad in hand-beaten aluminium, can do 45mph flat out (with the help of a ‘speed’ key) and will set you back £30,000- plus. Bugatti itself has embraced the project, and chief test driver Andy Wallace was on hand to talk and drive (that’s him in our picture, above).
It’s all the brainchild of Ben Hedley, former British Olympic speed skier, and his Little Car Company, which plans to make other cars in a similar mould, with 14bhp rear-drive electric power and a 25-mile range. Marques in the frame include Aston Martin, Bentley and Jaguar. Hedley has sold most of the first 500 Bugs and plans to make six a week in a new Bicester Heritage factory, eventually staging all-marque races for kids. This was all a big surprise for me; I was expecting a kiddie car and discovered a multi-million-pound business.
An absorbing few minutes listening to Marshall Motor Group boss Daksh Gupta explaining to BBC Radio 4 listeners how lockdown has affected his 117 dealerships. Short answer: a £10 million first-half loss replaced last year’s £40 million first-half profit – but there’s more to the story than that. There’s plenty of pent-up demand right now, but Gupta is concerned about post-September business, when the initial 21-plate rush ends and the furlough scheme finishes.
Gupta, whose various interviews and articles through this crisis have cast him as the thinking man’s car dealer, raised two more matters new to me. One was the rise of the ‘revenge buyer’: the person who has saved money through lockdown and now wants to spend it. The other is the advent of unaccompanied test driving (they haven’t lost a car yet). Reminds me to put my name down for Land Rover’s much-publicised ‘three hours in a Defender’ campaign, which looks enticing.
I’m finding this week’s collection of future classics stories as attractive as ever – although I keep being surprised that cars made in such volume at such high quality still end up quite rare. People don’t crash that much, do they? I guess it’s because it’s no longer wear or rust that kills cars but a combination of fashion, failing electronics and the hefty cost of modest repairs. We recently paid £1000 to fix a couple of minor wing bashes on our 15-plate Fiat 500, which, with 90,000 miles up, is probably worth only £3000 to the trade. Given that it’s still perfectly healthy, I guess that means we drive it until it drops.