When I say ‘never meet your heroes’ I don’t mean in terms of people you admire – I never got a chance to meet racing driver Ayrton Senna, but I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with 1992 Formula 1 World Champion Nigel Mansell several times in his capacity of IAM RoadSmart President, and talk at length with him about his career and viewpoints.
What I mean is the cars I always had a soft spot for personally, those cars I loved when I was growing up. At my age, I regard the classics as cars like the Ford Escort RS2000, Ford Cortina Mark IV and V, Ferrari 308 GTB, Aston Martin V8, the short lived rally-derived Ford RS200, Lancia Delta Integrale, and so on.
A number of years ago attending the Western Group of Motoring Writers’ Test Day at Castle Combe circuit, I had the chance to drive the Ford Sierra 2.3 Ghia from 1983. At the time this was the futuristic, space-age replacement to the conventional Cortina, the car to take Ford into a new era. I even had the Corgi toy version of this car.
Having got behind the wheel to try out this car I’d long admired, what did I find? It was old-fashioned, clunky, with cheap plastics, and an interior that looked like Fisher Price. Those space-age glowing graphics on the dashboard looked tacky, and it handled like a barge – on a choppy day.
After 15 minutes of this, I was pleased to hand the Sierra back. So what did I conclude from this disappointing exercise?
What I can say for sure is that cars are always getting better. In real terms prices of cars are falling. They hardly rust any more, reliability is 100 times better than it was, and the safety features they now have are mind-boggling. Consumers have pushed the demand for better safety in cars, and manufacturers have had no choice to respond to that. Euro NCAP initially wasn’t taken seriously by car makers – until they realised that a five star rating was a real marketing benefit, something the public responded to. So safety become a selling tool – and one that worked, and benefited everyone.
I guess the point of my experience with the 1983 Sierra is that time moves on, and what was once considered good quickly becomes dated. Not that this car or its rivals were ever bad, but it was ‘acceptable in the 80’s’ as Calvin Harris once said!
So I am thinking if I ever do get the chance to drive a Cortina, I might just turn it down.
The Ferrari on the other hand … !
Rodney Kumar, IAM RoadSmart senior communications executive