Blog : Why Millennial British cars are the mutt’s nuts (according to my old mate Alex, who couldn’t care less about cars)

Jaguar X-Type

I had a strange moment recently. I was out and about, browsing the shops, minding my own business, when I get a tap on my shoulder, and a quiet, ‘Hey…’ Normally, that would set off my fight or flight instinct – but, just this once, I turned round, focused, and realised I was squaring up to of my old college mate Alex, who I’d not seen for 30 years!

After the usual, ‘How time flies’ comments, we got down to what we’re up to these days over a Costa. He’s done well as an IT consultant, living a good life, and I said I ‘do cars’ for a living. Now Alex was a good egg – bright, funny and good to hang out with, but he couldn’t care less about cars. Or at least the finer details. However, once he’d latched on to my day job, he started to tell me about all that’s good and bad about the cars he’s had over the years. But what surprised me more than anything else was that, despite the Kia keys on the table, he has a soft spot for ‘old’ British cars… and reckons we were doing our best work during the Britpop era!

Interesting, especially as I never mentioned AROnline. But then some of my fondest car memories of my time at College were of being flung around the back lanes near Bispham in Alex’s mum’s Rover 216 Vitesse. Inevitably laughing like drains. Anyway, he got down to telling me about what he loves about cars from ‘his best times’, and the things he misses today.

What’s good, what’s not

Cupholders

Let’s kick things off with an essential aspect of any car interior – the cupholders. Alex described them as gamechangers, correctly reckoning that before the 2000s, we just had to do without a cheeky Costa on the go – whereas now, he could drink and drive without a care in the world. I told him that back in the Noughties, car makers were engaged in a full-on war to see who could shoehorn the most elaborately-engineered cupholders into a motor. Wonder if he could get it up on two wheels and manage not spill a drop?

Subtle styling

‘Remember when cars had curves instead of looking like coal sheds,’ he said. The 2000s were all about sleek, understated styling – and, here’s a surprise, he had a Rover 620ti back in the day, and even today, nothing comes close to that car for not attracting attention while going quickly. No flashy spoilers or overblown grilles – just graceful, classy lines. He replaced it with a company Jaguar X-Type in 2002, and reckoned it wasn’t a patch on his Rover. Again, I’d not told Alex about my website, I was just listening and smiling inwardly.

Gadgets galore on the dash

‘Ah, the gadgets that X-Type came with,’ he smiled. ‘Simpler times.’ Back then, having a CD changer in the boot was posher than afternoon tea in the Tower Ballroom. And if you had an in-dash CD player and a cassette deck like his Jag? You were practically sipping tea with the Queen. Alex didn’t care much for music on drives, despite all that, preferring Test Match Special – as you’d expect, given his wood-lined Jag.

The joys of improved fuel efficiency

‘Like everyone I worked with, I chose a diesel,’ he said. In the 2000s, soaring fuel prices had us all tightening our belts and grumbling at the pump. When it shot past £1.00 per litre, it felt like the world was ending. So much so that we ended up having fuel protests. Thankfully, British carmakers started building better when it came to fuel efficiency. The result? Cars that could go further without emptying your wallet. Alex didn’t care about that much fuel efficiency with his fuel card – he just hated stopping at petrol stations.

Manual transmissions

Sure, automatic gearboxes are everywhere now, but the 2000s seem in retrospect to be the last time that cars across the board offered some fun for those who loved to shift their own gears. Alex is no exception, and he said as much – which surprised me, given how much busier the roads are now. Manual transmissions are like a secret handshake among drivers – a connection with the road that can make every drive feel like a bit of fun. Today, I don’t get to drive many, and they are a bit of a treat when it happens, and Alex said the same. Having said that, that opinion can swing as soon there’s a sea of brake lights ahead on the motorway and you’re slowing to a crawl.

How about a classic car for the weekend?

That’s where I come with a retort, and after taking my Parkers hat off and replacing it with an AROnline flat cap, I reckon if he wants to rediscover some of those lost feelings he could do worse than spend a little of his spare IT dosh on something interesting from the 2000s as a plaything for the weekend. He said he’s bored of his Sportage, but needs it for work and family duties. The 2000s blessed us with some absolute gems like the MINI One, Cooper and Cooper S, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage (I reckon he’s good for it), and the second-generation Jaguar XK, and he could easily run to one as a second car.

Now Alex, is no classic car fan, and wouldn’t have ever considered cars from this era in this way, but I quickly changed his mind. When I told him about things such as classic car insurance, and how you can get a MINI Cooper S to play with for less than a three grand, it certainly got him thinking. Almost as much as when I reminded him that we’re talking more than 20 years ago. He looked at me and said, ‘yeah, and you look it, you old git!’

So, there you have it – a proper catch-up and a warm endorsement for the British cars of the 2000s (and 1990s), straight from the bloke who couldn’t really care less about cars. While we may have a giggle at some of the quirks from that era (he wanted a Rover 75, but his boss wouldn’t let him), there’s no denying that these cars gave us countless memories, and the occasional half-hearted nod from Alex.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, here’s the danger of nostalgia. I’m off to find a 2003 Mini Cooper S for sale, and then maybe Alex will buy it off me and take it for a scary thrash around the Trough of Bowland for old time’s sake.

MINI Cooper S John Cooper Works - Car of the Decade 2000s

Keith Adams

7 Comments

  1. Premier Automotive Group, MG Z’s, some half decent Peugeots.. a good time to be a petrolhead. I remember the hierarchy of taillights – one roundel for a Mondeo, 2 for an S-type.

  2. I have to agree with a lot of this – in many ways those early Millennial cars now come across as the beginning of the end of an era where cars were still being designed with physical buttons to operate all the essentials, manual transmissions and keep-fit window winders on entry level models. The only screen you had was to operate the satellite navigation system or watch television when the car was stationary. It was also still possible to tell an entry level model from a mid or top-of-the-range spec model by the wheel designs it wore.

    Ken Strachan has already mentioned some great examples, although you can extend this to the Rover models as well (25 GTi and 45 V6 immediately spring to mind), the advent of the pseudo-urban warrior hatchback from Rover, Citroen and Volkswagen with their SUV design cues, and the clever delivery of niche offerings based on hum-drum hatchbacks such as the Ford StreetKa, Peugeot 206CC and second generation Vauxhall Tigra. And let’s not forget about the 8th generation Honda Civic with its quirky design flourishes such as rocket-shaped door handles.

  3. The Japanese badged cars built in Britain in the nineties have to qualify as these were the first British made cars that were completely faultless and capable of enormous mileages. Some like the 1993 Honda Accord were also excellent cars to drive.

  4. And yet back then everyone said new cars all look the same they’re all awful, old cars from 20 years ago are much better……Amazing how effective those rose tinted specs are, especially when they’re calibrated somewhere between 20 and 40 years ago.

    • There was a huge leap forward in quality in the nineties and noughties. There were some cars that were less reliable than others, but the days of cars that started to rust within a year of purchase, that had bits fall off them and would break down on long journeys had gone. I did read on here some years ago that Rovers made in the mid nineties were ten times more likely to survive past their tenth birthday than the Austin M cars from the mid eighties. You could add features we take for granted now such as five speed transmissions, airbags, PAS and fuel injection were fitted to most cars by 1995.

  5. Every generation has that problem of “……..cars today all look the same, whereas when I was young they were all different and recognisable”.

    You can tell how old a person is by how far they have to go back to the ‘good old days’

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