It’s been too hot to spend any time outside down here in leafy Sussex. ‘Er indoors and I tried to visit Eastbourne on Saturday during one of the hottest weekends we’d ever known and, after parking somewhere bloody miles from the seafront, we were lathered before we had even seen the sea.
Regardless, we soldiered on dodging the pensioners and howling children on the promenade, wolfed down some fish and chips, bought a brace of ice creams and that was it – we admitted defeat. Shuffling back to the car with facial expressions like the desert scene in that excellent film Ice Cold in Alex, we came home.
Checking out the old mags
Both being bookworms, we purchased some reading material from a charity shop while we were there – in my case, one of them was an old car magazine which was testing a Cavalier with a Montego LX and a Sierra – one would never have thought a hospice book shop sold porn would you?
During the nice cold, ice cold Golf climate-controlled journey home, I was pawing through the mag with all the adolescent glee I would have done decades earlier. A rusty silver Merc E-Class estate slowly passed us on the A27 looking as rough, appealing and offensive as a cold pizza and I chuckled at the badge on the side: Elegance!
I pointed this out to ‘er indoors and she replied in her blunt Cheshire style ‘how’s that Elegant’ and so right she was on that score, too. You see my point is this: once upon a time, car model monikers were simple digit affairs that not only pigeonholed you in the class society as an adult but also gave you that playground credibility when your parents picked you up from Comprehensive school.
Screaming poverty and desperation
For example, a Champagne-coloured Maestro City or Terracotta Escrot Popular 1.1 screamed poverty and desperation – not to mention the skin graft inducing vinyl trim in the Ford on scorching days.
Oh, the horror of being penned into the back of the car with your younger sibling armed with luke-warm Ribena and a ham bap glumly staring at the blanking plate where the wireless should be. A Granada Ghia slowly passes by with the serene grace of an ocean liner in the billion mile traffic jam at the end of the M55.
You just knew they would all be appreciative of the Windsor velour cloth and the standard Ford ERST-21P radio cassette player providing stress-relaxing Ovaltine for the ears as they all listened to National Radio One – calm and cool as cucumbers.
It used to be so simple…
It was all so simple then, too – as a young car spotter I could tell the difference between a Marina De-luxe or a Super from 50 paces and, just to confirm, the badge on the boot would tell you. Today everything seems de-badged with only subtle differences in wheel styles or interior trim.
Now, everything has a name like the aforementioned ‘Elegance’ or ‘Dynamique’ or ‘Avantgarde’ – oh, spare me please and just give me GL or HLS or GTi. But who remembers the heady excitement when Ford and Vauxhall offered the world the X factor, eh?
I think it may have been Ford who started the trend with the outgoing Granada Mk2 by trying to add some X appeal by adding a rev counter, front fogs and a sunroof to the cooking versions shortly before replacing it with the new model. And what about Vauxhall with their Cavalier shortly before the Mk3 was launched?
The thinking-man’s SRi became the Cavalier LX or LXi with its pretty alloys and faux Recaro front seats – just one cleverly-added letter made middle of the road become the new black.
Take a Cavalier and add some alloys and a red stripe, call it the LX and voila! – instant hit!
The Montego catches the Cavalier
Rover followed suit with the Montego ’89 range adding electric bits and a nice two-tone paint job with similar tweaks to the Seamrot – oops! I mean Maestro. Owners actually thought they were getting a little extra for free and, in the case of the Montego LX, they were really strong sellers.
I owned an LX Monty myself and almost fainted with euphoria when I added some walnut garnish door cappings from a written-off Countryman. With the introduction of the ‘X’- names like Vanden Plas or Ghia became as stale as a week old French stick, but then things took a turn for the worse!
De-badging became de-rigueur with Rover offering a de-badge option at no extra cost cleverly saving three bob on the production line while passing motorists were none the wiser if you were smoking an Si or SLi.
Why aren’t brochures as good as they used to be?
Long gone are the epic brochures of yesteryear where all the UK makers had everything from a Bobby-basic Metro through to an all-singing Granada 2.8i Ghia X Executive – learning all the trim differences in time for the playground trivia test on Monday morning break periods sure took some serious studying I can tell you.
The Montego LX became a strong seller thanks to good advertising and good trim spec.
Nowadays, as we all have stiff limbs and grey hair, even the model names are being changed for a surreal mixture of letters and numbers rather than safe classic titles like Astra, Megane or Mondeo. No one is more guilty of this than Hyundai, whose cars all look the same but just come in different sizes and with an i-40 Dtech 1.7 Hokey Cokey 3000 title.
Names and numbers are all we need – it was all so much simpler.
**STOP PRESS** my idea pitched to Hyundai to bring out a special ‘i- Claudius’ edition celebrating the Roman empire and Derek Jakobi seems to have been rebuffed – oh, well… back to drawing board!