Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Gaydon: Twinned With The Louvre

(Author's Note: This article was written after confirmation that the National Motor Museum at Gaydon had been leaving priceless exhibits outside, unprotected from the elements, because of lack of space)

Outrage at Mistreatment of Louvre Exhibits.

There was mounting anger on the streets of Paris last night, as a small but vocal crowd gathered to protest the mistreatment of many valuable artworks by the Musée du Louvre, Paris. Protesters said that some priceless, irreplaceable works, such as David’s Oath of the Horatii and Alexandros’ Venus de Milo, had been left in totally unsuitable conditions for their preservation. Photographic evidence, meanwhile, suggested that paintings and sculptures were being stored outside the museum’s walls, in an insecure location by the site’s waste disposal facilities.

In a recent press statement, the museum’s press director, J Merde, gave assurances that the exhibits were being stored outside only temporarily, and that the situation would soon be rectified.

“This process has been more prolonged than we anticipated as planning permission has had to be sought from the local authority. As a result we have had to keep some paintings outside, a situation we are clearly less than happy with…We have been able to move a significant number of the most fragile paintings… into covered storage and we hope to complete the process for all the collection with 4-5 weeks. At the same time we have also taken the opportunity to inspect paintings and sculptures in our workshop. We certainly have no intention of keeping any works outside during the winter period and have no plans to sell any works from the reserve collection.”

However, protesters point to the recent grant given to the Musée by the Lotto, which has been spent on an interior remodelling rather than the preservation of existing works. It is strongly felt that the money has, at least in part, been mis-spent. Merde insists that “We have taken the opportunity to spruce up the rest of the museum,” and that “Whilst it may feel more empty, this is in response to an often-raised comment by visitors that they would like more space around the exhibits, to view them more easily.” Many protesters, however, see this as an indication that the displaced works will not be returned to public viewing, and instead will be allowed to languish in inappropriate conditions for the foreseeable future.

The French Secretary of Culture, Jamie Lesoignons, was unavailable for comment.

Then, with a jolt, Russ woke up in his bed, reaching immediately for two aspirin. His head was spinning, and he was appalled by what he had dreamed. No museum would be allowed to carry on like that, would it? Would it?

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Bumper Cars

I'VE never been much of a fan of the ill-fated Rover Streetwise. Indeed, I’ve always thought it cynical, a pastiche on a ‘proper’ off-roader and a shameless attempt to cash in on the trend towards urban mudplugging. Along with its CityRover contemporary, I have always held it as symptomatic of the desperation evident in the final days of the Phoenix 4’s tenure. Above all, I’ve always hated its stupid, faux-tough, dodgem-style bumpers.

For the first time in many years, I may have to admit that I was wrong.

Allow me to present case A). A good friend is following an old giffer in a Vauxhall Meriva up to a junction. He checks – there’s nothing coming for ten miles. He accelerates and goes to turn left, only to find the Meriva still stationary, its driver rearranging his tweed, or whatever it is that old people do at junctions.


The resultant accident can’t have occurred at more than 5mph, but it caused a four-inch crack in the Meriva’s rear bumper. The bodyshops’ quotes to repair ranged from a worrying £400 to a faintly ludicrous £700, so his pockets have now been lightened to the tune of a nice, round, £500. You could blame youthful impatience or geriatric dithering for this: me, I blame Vauxhall. Why, when you know a car’s going to be used in the city and get a few parking knocks, would you fit bumpers made from that stuff they make Tesco Value egg boxes out of?

Now, ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, please examine case B). I have recently completed a banger rally in a 1988 Audi 100 which had standard 1980s “diving-board” style bumpers. The contrast with the modern ones could not be more marked – we drove the poor car into trees, walls, and Team 182’s Ford Mondeo more times than I can remember. Damage to the Audi – slim to none. Damage to trees, walls and Ford Mondeos – devastating. If the chap above had rammed us at thirty miles per hour, never mind five, I can guarantee that the damage to the Teutonic tank would have been nil.

Now, I know that these bumpers are to pedestrians what a hot knife is to a packet of Anchor, but surely there’s a case for some kind of compromise? Can’t manufacturers make bumpers which are tough, built to withstand low-speed impacts without damage, but which are pliable enough not to turn your RTA into a kneecapping? Why can’t a manufacturer fit bumpers like this to a city hatchback, which, after all, is the most likely car to suffer this kind of prang?

Enter, from way out of leftfield, the Streetwise. Tough, yet EURO NCAP compliant bumpers, and a jacked-up ride height for increased city visibility. You’re not going to take it on the motorway much, so who cares about the aerodynamics. And you can grin smugly at all the passing soft-roaders – you’ve made the more sensible city-car decision.

When you put it like this, it all makes perfect sense. The trouble with the Streetwise was the way it was marketed, all that faux-macho bollocks. They could have run an advert which said “Look, we know it’s no Defender, but it’ll save you £500 every time you reverse into a post. Fair enough?” They could even have called it a “25 with tough bumpers”. But no, they went and spoiled it with that ridiculous name, and an advertising campaign which suggested it was an “urban on-roader” – easily the daftest strapline of all time.

I’ve been man enough to admit I was wrong about the Streetwise. I wonder if, looking back, Rover’s marketing men would be able to do the same?