Sam Skelton thinks that in trying to be cool, society is looking backwards.
I’ve spoken a lot about the unexceptional in my column of late – the cars we like because to most they’re unloved, uncool, and largely forgotten. But that’s not all there is to the world of classics, as my editor likes to remind me. There are cars like the Jaguar E-Type, Aston Martin DB5 and Ferrari Daytona to consider. Each oozes cool like a freshly popped champagne bottle oozes bubbles at a garden party. Each is desirable. Each has sex appeal.
And yet they’re beyond the reach of the masses – and those of us with smaller budgets have noticed. We want our own cool classics, and to find that on a budget we need to turn to the modern classic era. I think I’ve found the coolest old car you can buy right now, and they’ve never been more affordable. But it’s going to take some explaining, because you won’t once have considered it…
Rebellion has led to a lot of unexpected things in the car world. Baby boomers rebelling against their parents led to the development of cars like the Mustang and Capri, whereas Harris Mann’s sharp Seventies look was the thin end of the Wedge to Issigonis-driving dads. The punk generation was defined as much by its hopped-up Minis and Transits as it was by Sid Vicious and John Lydon, and they spoke of a need to be different like nothing else before or since.
And yet these days, the rebellions of the past are, if anything, the defining symbols of the establishment. I know a school headmaster who drives a Ford Capri, and last week I slipped discreetly round Hammersmith in my Jaguar Sovereign, suited and booted, listening to The Jam and The Clash. John Lydon can be seen on television – not smashing up furniture in a hotel room in England’s capital, but advertising butter from a country lane somewhere in the greenest and most pleasant bits of our green and pleasant land.
It’s all wrong. Not only because the symbols of upheaval have now become the accepted right of a dominant elite, but because it means that effectively the modern rebellion has been neutered. How can a society use technology and intense, frustrated music to express its separation from the one before when the older generation has embraced both entities with open arms? How can one be subversive when one has been robbed of the tools? I’m convinced that this is where the modern attraction toward a ‘vintage’ lifestyle and hipsterism has come from. When trying to show the Sid Vicious generation how things are different, a thwarted youth has turned toward the tweed sport coats and now semi-ironic pipe smoking of its grandparents. Victory rolls and fob watches are back in fashion and Siouxie and the Banshees are old hat.
And I think the same thing is happening with cars. Anyone who is anyone favours the modern approach; Teslas, Priuses, technological tours de force with green credentials and invariable monochrome paint finishes. The counter argument has got to be elderly, large, and a little self-consciously of a different era. While the film’s perhaps a little old to illustrate my point, Jip in Human Traffic hit the nail on the head by smoking round in a knackered Ford Zodiac, a move not too far removed from my tired X300. But I’m not about to argue that the Jaguar is the coolest car you can buy. It’s a bit desperate, a bit flash, a bit too try-hard to be cool.
No, I’m going to give my accolade to an unlikely hero – one which probably won’t have crossed your mind, and yet you will see scores on a daily basis. The coolest car you can buy today embodies that same vintage sense that today’s hipster youth embraces and celebrates, on a tight budget, and with easily available spare parts. It’s even cheap to run and viable as an everyday prospect.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Rover 75. Arguments on the back of a postcard.