Last year these 2 gents drove their ’89 wooden 240 wagon across Europe, clad in nothing but towels.They covered over 4000 miles in 2 months They visited 12 countries, starting in the UK and traveling to Prague, then Stockholm, then back home to Sevenoaks, England. They were on a mission to help fund brain tumor research and they report collecting $5000 for the Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust.
A sauna company helped sponsor the ride so they decorated the entire brick in wood paneling and dubbed it “The Sauna”. They kept the heat on the entire trip even though they made the trip in July and August.
We first noticed something was awry when a faint whiff was detected in the cabin. A whiff in the cabin is not in itself unusual – undesirable yes, but not unusual. The whiff however was quickly identified as burning friction material on the brakes. We stopped (after a fashion and more by luck than judgement) and allowed the old girl to cool before ploddering hesitantly on towards Bormio in Northern Italy through a serious of treacherous Alpine passes.
We then sauntered off down the pass after a meal, admiring the truly stunning alpine scenery, scraping motorcyclists off the woodwork and listening to Jimi Hendrix at full volume… feeling, all in all, very smug.
That was when the brakes caught fire, suddenly, dramatically.
Using the handbrake to take pressure off the main brakes is only a good idea if you’re handbrake isn’t awful. Ours is.
So, we’re a fire extinguisher down, no sweat. We cooled off for half an hour, enough time for the whole population of Stelvio to mistake Chris for an Italian and then headed off on the rolling roads of Austria, past lakes, twee villages, and interested Austrians who huddled round the Sauna for a picture. Fantastisch.
I had a friend back in 1980 who had a jukebox in his rec room that played 45s. One of the discs we played over and over again was “Cars” by Gary Numan. It was the year of cheesy Christopher Cross and Olivia Newton John tunes and Numan’s music sounded so high-tech, heavy and out-there that we loved it. Now he’s shilling for Sears and their DieHard battery with this odd rendition of “Cars” using autos set up like the keys of a synthesizer.
There’s a used bookstore in Maryland I’ve been frequenting on trips down 95 and last week I scored Brock Yate’s “The Decline and Fall of the American Automobile Industry“. Having read some of Yates crotchety screens in the Wall Street Journal I figured I’d at least get something entertaining and I haven’t been disappointed. The book documents the trumpeted launch and immediate failure of General Motors J-car line from 1981. He talks of the insular “Detroit Mind” which produced a car that was supposed to compete with the European and Japanese imports but wound up being just another anemic, ill-fitting American rustbucket, albeit with a smaller wheelbase than usual. Yates was at least 20 years ahead in outlining the reasons for the eventual bankruptcy of GM. His book is an indictment of the 50′s and 60′s organization men who rose to the lofty heights of American hubris but didn’t have the creativity or foresight to redirect their giant multinational corporations to produce high-performance, reliable cars at the end of the 20th century.
The ad above is for the Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport, built on the J-car base in the mid 80′s. The transparent grandiosity of the name of the car is comical. “Celebrity”? I suppose I could be famous if I drove one around, but not for the reasons GM is touting. “Eurosport”? Let me guess: it’s designed to compete with Mercedes/BMW/Volvo? Their ad company should have been fired for cramming 6’6″ Ken Howard, who played a basketball coach on TV’s “White Shadow”, into the drivers seat and having his head continually rub against the roof liner. When I’m looking to not-fit into a car to drive slowly across vast expanses of highly polished studio floors I’ll head straight for the Chevy dealer.
The Euro package came with mammoth 14″ alloy rims, V6 power, sport handling and black and red-lined trim and badges that look more appropriate as a logo for the latest Nightmare on Elm Street than on a domestic car. I love it.
Bonus: This article in Popular Science takes the odd position of testing America’s “Eurosedans” against themselves, instead of the European high-performance cars they obviously strive to be.