Style takes a front seat once again
After an eventful week, Campbell Spray took a sentimental journey to a time when fit and finish earned respect
Nostalgia has waved its friendly hand around my head over the last week.
Some of it was induced by the pleasure of being in Paris for the Sweden game - courtesy, I must ethically point out, of Kia. Over there I met up with my son Marcus, who took a break from his job as an economist in London to go to that match and yesterday's in Bordeaux. After an early start on Monday and a very late post-match celebration it was a pleasure to get back to Dublin and bed on Tuesday evening. The night didn't go uninterrupted as at 1.40am my daughter Laura phoned from Manchester to say she had just given birth to my third grandchild, later named as Thomas Daniel Jole.
Two articles in last week's Motoring, so well edited by Geraldine Herbert and designed by Philip Hedderman, on the demise of Saab and buying classic cars, had already sent my mind back, first to the 1970s when I had bought my first Saab 96, and then past another generation to my father's 1954 Riley 1ƒ litre, which went out and back to Australia with us. I can still smell the lovely leather and wood, well-mixed with my father's pipe smoke and mother's My Sin. The car was impressively beautiful from outside but when you were inside you felt that there were still craftsmen about, even with such a car that was below the luxury brands but could still hold its head high at that time with marques like Jaguar.
I also remember the smell and touch of the Rovers and Wolseleys of those days, the Bentley of my father's friend (which was eventually driven off a cliff, but that's another story) and the Morgan that a former Spitfire pilot used to visit us in.
It is a far cry from where many brands have gone over the last generation with styling, inside and out, becoming so predictable. Yet that might be about to change, and I have been struck by how marques like Mercedes are really beginning to up their game, internally anyway.
This impression was reinforced by an article called 'Cabin Fever' in The Economist's 1843 magazine by Matthew Symonds. He writes: "Performance is no longer the main territory on which car companies compete: these days nearly all cars drive, brake and handle so well that their owners will never come close to exploring their limits on ordinary roads. Safety and reliability are not differentiators either, for most cars have a fair claim to both. Owners may fall for the beautiful lines of their cars' bodywork, but even the most infatuated petrolhead is not going to spend hours gazing at the object of his desire parked in the drive."
We have all seen the gap close between many once middle-market cars and those at premium level. One of the first was Honda, then Hyundai joined in with its slogan "affordable premium". Now Peugeot is not far behind.
Symonds writes: "Cabins have become the biggest point of difference between brands". He quotes Stefan Sielaff, head of design at Bentley, who says: "In the fight to appeal to the customer, the moment of first love may come from the external design. But it is the interior design that will create the bond of a long-lasting relationship."
Symonds points out that "No brand better illustrates the power of a great cabin to change a carmaker's fortunes than Audi. In the 1990s, Audis were seen as little more than tinselled Volkswagens, barely considered comparable to Mercedes and BMWs. All that changed when Audi's interiors suddenly stole a march on their previously more upmarket rivals, becoming admired for their fit and finish, and the sophistication of their interfaces."
After reading Symonds's article I heard from the impressive Emma Toner, marketing manager at Peugeot, about the latest development of the 3008 which, with the new GT and GT Line, continue the lion brand's move upmarket, and will be available at the end of 2016.
She writes: "Inside, the choice of materials, including alcantara or leather, fine copper stitching and genuine aged-oak trim on the dashboard and door panels, make a significant contribution to the level of luxury and perceived quality in the passenger compartment. The meticulous attention to detail on the part of the designers has produced something extremely refined and elegant."