Drive on and don't look back - Motoring - Life and Style - The Independent

Drive on and don't look back

Iam sorry to hear that the Lotus Grand Prix team isn't dead. In truth, it died many years ago, not long after its founder, Colin Chapman, passed away in 1982. In practice, it struggled on, post-Chapman, sustained by Britain's endless enthusiasm for nostalgia and history and because a few die-hards risked all on some major sponsor bankrolling the magic of the Lotus name. The inevitable happened late last year. Lotus's GP team joined Colin Chapman in the grave.

The Pacific team, wooden spooner of 1994, thought Lotus would help it get extra sponsors, and so merged with Chapman's old team. So Lotus isn't dead, in name. It is merely dead in spirit. Still, the Grand Prix old boys are satisfied, and the one-time premier team in GP racing is facing another season of tail-end ignominy.

Why are we British so obsessed by great old names? Is it our perpetual fondness for the past, on the basis that we never had it so good back then? Why not let Lotus die, in Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest fashion, and celebrate the fact that loads of other British makes now dominate GP racing.

It's much the same with road cars. Britain is the world's only major producer of a big-selling car that's more than 30 years old. The Mini is small and fun and characterful, sure, but it's also slow and noisy and cramped and a bad place to be in a crash.

New car, old name: the Aston Martin DB7 is very handsome and, once early production glitches are sorted, it will probably be very good. But the only Aston Martin thing about it is the badge. It is a Jaguar, and an old Jaguar at that, bankrolled by Ford, built in a characterless new factory by machines. It is called an Aston purely to tug the emotions of heritage fanatics, and hark back to the great old days of Le Mans wins, cloth caps, cast-iron roadside furniture, and to a time when the peasantry - if they could afford a car - would at least get out of a chap's way.

As with Lotus, Aston's great days are not now, they were then. Back in the Fifties and Sixties, Astons won sports car races and were special and, as with Lotus, were the pride and prejudice of one eccentric man. When David Brown got rid of Aston Martin to concentrate on his tractors, the cars immediately deteriorated. Astons of the Seventies and Eighties were mostly awful.

Our sports car future lies with newer makes, such as TVR, or with established makes whose consistency hasn't wavered, such as Jaguar. They are winning sales not by looking back but by looking forward. And, no doubt, in due course they, too, will peak and deserve to perish and some other sports car company with a vision will take their place. TVR even has an up-to- date name for the yobbish Nineties: it is an abbreviation of Trevor.

Our obsession with motoring past isn't restricted to things British. When production of the 2CV ceased in Paris in 1988, a few fans of the tin snail were on hand at Levallois to mourn its passing, as the factory closed its doors for the last time. They were British, of course. The pragmatic French couldn't have cared less. They simply wanted to buy the new and vastly superior Citron AXs instead.

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