The ultimate in British cool is a car named after somebody called Trevor
Saturday 01 March 1997
According to Vanity Fair, icons of cool Nineties London include Gazza (a Geordie), Manchester (eh?), Bjork (who comes from Iceland) and Ruby Wax (who's about as British as the Vauxhall Corsa she promotes). And if you really want to get depressed about the state of modern British icons, there are also mobile phones, ecstasy tablets, Loaded magazine and Liam and Patsy. But what about the cars?
The E-type Jag and the Mini were massive Sixties statements, as much a part of the trendy times as Twiggy, Ossie Clark's chiffon dresses and Carnaby Street. The E-type was a mobile sign of sexual liberation - a thrusting, phallic-shaped sportster that was also one of the fastest cars in the world. The Mini was the first British classless car, as likely to be driven by Peter Sellers or Lord Snowdon as by a stevedore from Skegness. As for cool transport in the Nineties, the only mode that gets a mention is Virgin Atlantic Airways Premium Economy.
Restaurants, fashion, music, magazines: they're all booming in the Great Wen. But as for cars, London apparently swings with all the vitality of a traffic jam on Putney Bridge.
Is this a reflection of our neutered motor industry, now foreign owned and largely a manufacturing site for cars designed and engineered elsewhere? Or are the self-styled arbiters of swinging Nineties coolness giving the poor old car business short shrift?
The Mini is just about worthy of another plug, in the same way that Terence Conran gets one again. They're both Sixties icons still going strong. But while Conran keeps reinventing himself, the Mini really is on its last wheels. The only people who love it now are the Japanese, and that's because it's now Brit traditional, not Brit radical. Which means it just isn't chic any more.
No other Rover product is cool, either, though the MGF almost qualifies. It has an androgynous quality - rather like many Britpop stars - and is a fine sports car to drive. But it's more Marks & Spencer than Alexander McQueen.
More smiling is the Ford Ka (OK, it's made in Spain, but was partly developed here). It is cool and has a beguiling pout - rather like Patsy Kensit in a bad mood - but is a bit too Fisher Price from some angles. Close, but not quite.
What about the E-type's successor, the Jaguar XK8? It looks great, and drives great too, but its styling is too derivative. The host of British- made Japanese cars, of course, do nothing to imply British trendiness. Quite the opposite. They define a nation obsessed by practical, everyday, utilitarian virtues: a nation of shopkeepers. There is nothing cool or trendy about Vauxhalls (and very little British about them, either). Pink Rolls-Royces are no longer made for latter-day Lady Penelopes or John Lennons; Astons and Bentleys are too trad and conservative.
No, there's only one make of car that's in tune with the modern British Zeitgeist, even if the editors of Vanity Fair have probably never heard of it. It's a car that's loud, unreliable and uncouth - just like Liam Gallagher. Yet it has a perversely classical twist, like a Paul Smith suit. It is made in a factory that's dirty and down-at-heel, rather like Camden (the Nineties Chelsea, according to Vanity Fair). And it's as flag- wavingly nationalistic as a crowd of Gazza groupies.
Finally, in keeping with its working-class origins, this car is an abbreviation of the name of one of its founders: a bloke called Trevor. So hats off to TVR, that dyspeptic, belching, brutish, eye-catching, fast, laddish sports car, sold mostly in Britain because so few other world car markets would tolerate its foibles. Like Liam and Patsy, Loaded and Gazza, TVR makes you proud to be British!
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