A weekly guide to all that’s rotten about car ownership, plus some good bits
Given notice of a radically new Peugeot planned for the Paris Motor Show in September – “something very outstanding and radical” – I took a squint on the Peugeot site – nothing there, so I looked at the concept they exhibited last year and something significant struck me: tiny windows.
Laying aside anything can be ‘very’ outstanding as opposed to a wee bit outstanding, I looked back at cars of yesteryear and saw nothing but glass with small wheels. What we have today is little glass and all wheels.
Back in the day the standard brief for a car designer was (a) good access and egress, (b) good interior space, and (c) all-round visibility. Today’s car designers have junked all three standards. Doors are too low or narrow to get in without a limbo dance or the folded envelope lope, and interior space is excessively cramped by acre-wide transmission tunnels covered in switchgear. Windows are a joke.
To own a vehicle with big windows and a decent visibility 360 degrees you usually have to buy an SUV or a 4×4, a Range Rover being the obvious choice. Yet even Land Rover compromises its window area on some models for the sake of style.
A Range Rover Evoque, that trendiest of trendy city SUVs, incorporates an annoying slope to the roofline culminating in a narrow strip of a rear window, the kind of restricted rear view that stops you seeing the child or the bicycle or the wheelie bin behind the car when you park.
To compensate you can buy a rear view camera as an extra and see what it is you are crushing to death behind you as if watching a soap drama on television.
Saloon car window shapes are all over the place none more so that rear side windows. Some are so narrow backseat passengers feel imprisoned with nothing but a letterbox aperture to see outside, like a prisoner with his only view of the sky.
Side windows are cut sharp, angled acutely, narrowed to a slit in the pursuit of fashion.
To compensate for poor visibility manufacturers have taken to adding roof-lights to their most prestigious vehicles, in some cases the entire roof made of tinted plastic rather than glass, front to back. This is a weight saving device. Invariably, the full transparent roof cannot be opened and you get fried on hot days. Makers add an inner pull-blind that replaces the weight lost by the plastic roof.
Glass sunroofs (moonroof in USA parlance) are useful when they open fully to let heat out and tilt for draft-free driving. The trick is to remember to close them while you have that office meeting or go shopping prior to a thunderstorm.
While glass above your head encourages you to appreciate architecture you’ve never noticed before, sunroofs do nothing for straight ahead and to the side sight lines when attacking corners or checking vehicles and pedestrians on either side.
If you look at how thin were windscreen pillars on classic cars – those at the front are A pillars, B pillars are side centre, C pillars at the rear – you can see how today’s roll-over crash protection standards dictate thick A pillars to stop us getting folded like a napkin when the car somersaults upside down.
Wide A pillars block vision. The ever innovative Volvo, always safety conscious, first to install their safety ideas in automobiles, designed a pillar you can see through but neither Volvo or any other company adopted it.
We, the driver, make narrow windows worse by adding tinted film to them to make us seem mysterious, or posh people not keen to be observed by riff-raff, or to stop alert police spotting we are on our phones, or snogging the mistress in the back seat.
In designers ambitions to cut weight from cars to make them more aerodynamic to save on fuel, window widths and heights have been halved. Windscreens, (windshield in USA parlance) have gotten bigger but are raked at such an acute angle they too are realistically reducing vision. While an angled windscreen helps flying stones bounce up and away, the dash top has to get bigger to accommodate the acute slope. Worse, the driver is forced to drive almost lying back at the same daft angle as the windscreen.
I prefer to drive sitting upright as if on a horse, but upright windscreens chip or crack taking a stone from the tyres of a big rig, or boy racer overtaking in the outside lane.
I looked at old cars from the sixties and seventies in comparison and was impressed at how elegant they were with there conservatory glass house cabins.
The 1970 BMW CSi is a prime example of perfect proportions with the dividend of excellent visibility in all directions. I think we’ve lost a lot of elegance in cars in addition to a panoramic view that once allowed driver and passenger to enjoy what was outside the car as well as keeping an eye on the road.
The narrowest of window glass is to be found on sports cars, the more exotic, the smaller the area of glass. Some dispense with all-round vision altogether and you get next-to-none behind your head making reversing a nightmare in a wide car shaped like a wedge of cheese. The human brain has an endless capacity to accept things that are totally impractical and think they are perfect.
As we move to electric cars heavy glass will still be a handicap, but I’d like to think Pilkington will come up with a scratch and stone chip resistant substitute to allow designers to return to day and night vision and we can see out of our cars once again.
Cars with slitty windows should offer a periscope as an extra.
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDINGS
James Bond’s Aston Martin goes up for sale at Goodwood’s Festival of Speed in July. It’s not the one Connery drove to fame in Goldfinger – “Ah kept hittin’ ma head off the roof” – but the one used by Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye. The original, the only one with all the gadgets, was stolen some years back. How much will Brosnan’s fetch? Expect some prat with too much money and a large ego to part with over a £1 million, as an investment, of course. By the way, those old Astons are really awful to handle. And in the same marque, a decrepit rust bucket of an Aston Marin DB4 has been found not in a barn but in woods, windows open to the elements decades. That should sell for £50,000 or more, so rare are they, and so stupid are collectors. But someone will buy it … as an investment.
What 20 mph?
Edinburgh’s experiment to turn the city centre into a 20 mph zone has reached the stage where most drivers ignore it, and in frustration drive as fast as they can. Expect to be overtaken at 40 mph, or have a driver try to push to faster by hanging on your tail a foot from your boot. I never understood what the problem was in the main centre roads. They were so crowded most cars, buses and taxis moved at 10 mph. Insider gossip has it the Edinburgh police want nothing to do with enforcing the limit. Once that is common knowledge pedestrians should be advised its back to wacky races so wear clean underpants at all times in case of an accident.
When Harry met
For Royal watchers wondering what the car was that Harry and Meghan drove off in from the church for an evening playing Monopoly in their hotel suite, it was an open topped Jaguar E-Type. There is one in the New York Museum of Modern Art. (The coupe is the beautiful version, but who said Americans had good taste?) One supposes Harry and his moll were asked to make a concession to the prevailing poverty all around them shoved behind hedges and stored in wheelie bins until the ceremony was over. I’d like to think they were asked to choose a commoner’s car, rather than the Aston his brother used, or the Bristols his granddad drove. Then again, to a Royal a modest car that is not a specially made Rolls-Royce or Bentley would be a second-hand old classic Jaguar. One has to keep up appearances, you know.