Posts Tagged Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher’s death earlier this week was been provoking many discussions on her policies and legacy. It might sound surprising, but that discussion should probably include Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson.

Before rebuilding Top Gear in his own image in 2002, Clarkson did a series of solo programs on different motoring topics. One of them was “Who Killed the British Motor Industry?”

Today, Britain’s car industry is pretty much non-existent; all of the big names are owned by foreign interests. It’s the fallout from the spectacular collapse of government-supported conglomerate British-Leyland in the 1970s, which Clarkson gives a blow-by-blow account of here.

We join the story via Youtube just before Thatcher’s rise to power, with massive strikes, foreign competition, and shoddy, outdated products crippling B-L. The Thatcher government’s solution to the problem was to sell off nearly everything, sparing only Rover, Land Rover, MG, and Mini.

Do you agree with Clarkson? Are we better off without rusty Austins and malfunctioning Triumphs? Speak your mind.

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Other People’s Cars: Vauxhall Astra

In America, when people think “police car” they usually have a Platonic image of a Ford Crown Victoria in their mind. In England, people feel the same way about the Vauxhall Astra.

The Astra is a compact, competing with the Honda Cvic and Toyota Corolla. It’s actually built by Opel and rebadged as a Vauxhall for the British market (both companies are divisions of General Motors). It was actually sold here a few years ago as a Saturn.

Like most European cars, police-spec Astras are usually equipped with diesel engines for economy. Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson quipped that using diesel hatchbacks doesn’t make the British police look very cool, asking “how would the Blues Brothers have looked in that?”

The Astra may not look very intimidating, but it does look pretty good. Econobox or not, it’s one of the best looking police cars around, a rare styling hit for GM in a mainstream segment. I still wish they had found a way to sell Astras under a different brand in the U.S.

While the Crown Vic is a more badass car, a V-8 powered land yacht probably isn’t suitable for police work on the tight streets of London. They are much narrower than the ones in American cities; a bigger car might have trouble weaving between black cabs and wheezing Ford Transit vans in a pursuit.

In many respects, England isn’t that different from the United States; in London, they print McDonald’s coupons on the back of bus tickets. But the automotive landscapes in the two countries are still worlds apart. You’ll never see an American cop driving an Astra, or a Bobby driving a Crown Vic.

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What technology says about us

If you have an electric car, you’re more likely to get a girlfriend. At least, that’s what Top Gear’s irascible host, Jeremy Clarkson, said when he and colleague James May test drove two such cars last season. Cars have always been totems of pop culture, but it seems that efficiency and environmental awareness have trumped performance and style in the public’s eye. If that’s the case, is it time for desperate single men to trade their Mustangs for Nissan Leafs (Leaves?)?

The new definition of cool? Image courtesy of Wired.com.

Humans would not have survived this long without technology, but not every piece of tech is created equal. Some machines and gadgets are more than just tools, they capture the imagination. That’s why there are so many songs about cars, and why a well-placed Dodge Charger can liven up any bad movie.

It wasn’t just the cars themselves: the lifestyle surrounding them had its own mystique. Seeing America by car inspired Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and the photographs of Robert Frank, among others. For Twentieth Century Americans, the car was an engineering marvel, a sculpture, and a piece of folklore.

Now we’re in the Twenty-First Century, and we have a new piece of epoch-defining technology: electronics. If you don’t have an Internet-enabled device, you’re nobody. This trend has led people to reassess their feelings for the car. Upon doing so, they find that cars are expensive to buy and maintain, the fuel they consume threatens national security and the environment, and many of them look the same anyway.

Practical concerns, it seems, have taken away some of the car’s romance. But, in addressing those practical concerns, the game hasn’t really changed. It might take years to travel coast to coast on batteries, but the important thing is that the electric car driver will project an image of environmental awareness, of being a good person.

High style and high emissions. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Cars have always been about projecting images their drivers think will impress other people. The eco-aura of a Leaf is the same as the sex appeal of a Corvette or the yuppy-ness of a BMW. Clarkson is right: people want to be seen as environmentally conscious. Whether women will find the whirr of an electric motor attractive is another story.

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