Friday, December 30, 2016


Just as Donald Trump’s Presidency seems set to signal the end of the same-old, same-old of American politics as we know them, so too the auction of a famous, and rare example of British coachwork highlights the end of another era.

The British limousine.

Influenced by the state limousines chosen by successive British Royal households, the existence of regal, upright and palatially-grand sedan cars, was a fixture of the British automotive scene for more than 110 years.

The trend began in 1900 when Prince Edward 7th chose a 6hp Daimler (left) as his Royal Motor Car. From that point on cars for the Royal garage featured hand-built coachwork designed to be impressive and intimidating, and to show off the occupants as they motored past.

Reflecting their Victorian origins almost all of these cars were similarly designed, and the British upper classes soon came to consider the style as the only acceptable design for someone aspiring to the loftiest heights of British society.

1937 Daimler Straight-Eight
The brand most often chosen in the early part of the 20th century was Daimler, which were cars built in Coventry, England by a pair of Brits who licensed the rights to use the Daimler name from Gottlieb Daimler himself. However, British Daimler cars bore no similarities whatsoever to their German cousins.

It wasn’t until 1954 when the Royal family acquired a Silver Wraith (left) that Rolls-Royces began to dominate the fleet. 

From that time on Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor Cars of Crewe became almost the sole supplier of coachbuilt sedans.

This Rolls-Royce Phantom 4 (right) exemplifies the accepted style of Royal cars.

But everyone got into the act.

Daimlers, owned by Jaguar since 1966, morphed into a very conservative, stuffy, long wheelbase sedan which became the favourite among limousine companies in London, doing the airport run to and from Heathrow.

Queen Elizabeth II no longer uses Rolls-Royces. Her favoured transport is a custom-designed Bentley, provided to the Queen for her Golden Jubilee in 2002.

She now has three of these Bentleys.

However, the car which got me started on the death of the stately British limousine is not a passenger car at all. It is the Austin Princess funeral hearse, owned by John Lennon.

The Austin Motor Company introduced ‘The Princess’ in 1947, and its subsidiary, Vanden Plas, built cars with a range of different bodies until 1968.

The 1956 hearse was acquired by Lennon in 1971 for use in the 1972 film “Imagine”.
In typically eccentric Lennon fashion, he had it converted to passenger car use, by fitting two rows of aircraft seats, which reclined.

He used the car right up until he moved to America, and later it was donated to the Rock & Roll Car Museum in Austin, Texas.

It comes up for auction by Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 14, and comes complete with Lennon's personally-signed registration paper.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


One of my good friends, who has been a major contributor to DRIVING & LIFE, is Roger Putnam – whom I worked with when I was PR Director for Jaguar Cars North America. Roger was Jaguar's Director of Sales and Marketing, poached from Lotus by John Egan.

Roger’s automotive career is long and varied and he has amassed not only a wealth of experience, but also interesting tales.

His post-Jaguar career saw him appointed Chairman of Ford of Britain, and in 2007 earning a CBE from Queen Elizabeth II for services to the motor industry.

However, probably the most interesting aspect of his career must surely have been when he was sales director for Lotus Cars, working alongside the fabled Colin Chapman.

Former British PM Margaret Thatcher with Lotus founder Colin Chapman and Roger Putnam (standing, second right)

Roger Putnam in Brescia

In 2005 he was due to co-drive the famous Jaguar XK120 (NUB-120) from the Jaguar Heritage Trust in the Mille Miglia, with a celebrity chef. The celebrity chef withdrew at the last minute, so Roger asked his friend ‘Jerry’ Juhan if he would like to drive the car.

Roger takes up the story:

“As it transpired the weather was awful from Wednesday to Sunday. Heavy rain, freezing temperatures, and hail and sleet between San Marino and Rome. We had the only car from the Jaguar Trust's five entries that had a top for which we were very grateful.

Jerry Juhan
Jerry was 83 at the time and as we set off it was apparent that he could still drive very quickly but didn’t have the eyesight to match. When he was driving I was in the ‘suicide seat' - RHD - which was very exciting on the long three lane road from Forli to San Marino.

When we were briefed we were told that the MM is no longer a race and we only had to average 42kph for the 1000 miles. I had no idea that when you’re driving on modern roads full of heavy trucks from Eastern Europe that average is no mean feat!

After the first day we somehow managed to get classified in the top 15. JJ was delighted to discover that he made the TV news in Prague on the back of that. Jerry also struggled with the gearbox, which only had synchro on first so he had to double declutch up and down the box. Apparently the Porsche gearboxes he was used to were much more sophisticated and the clutch much lighter.

Somewhere north of Rome with JJ at the wheel we rain into cloud and another heavy sleet shower and were overtaken somewhat dangerously by one the ex-works 550’s that he had driven for Porsche.

Sadly the ‘red mist’ descended and Jerry charged off after the 550 and started dicing along some very twisty roads. An Alfa and another Jaguar decided to follow us and as a result all four of us missed a crucial turn, and when we arrived at the next checkpoint it was the one beyond where we were supposed to be, and so we were all disqualified.

We drove on to Rome very despondent and arrived ahead of the main body, but were able to enjoy a better meal than the one the other competitors were offered. We did however miss the triumphant floodlit entry into Rome as well.

We drove back along the route but weren’t allowed to participate in the special stages. The weather over the Futa pass between Florence and Bologna was appalling and I did most of the driving on the way back and found the car sliding all over the place even at slow speed.

Also it could not deal with standing water and jumped sideways if you hit a puddle too fast. I have no idea what it would have taken to meet the average speed in those conditions.

Needless to say we were both shattered when we arrived back in Brescia even though we had not competed during the last day.

However, in retrospect, of all the things I have done, I wouldn’t have swapped this one for any money. It was priceless.”

Thanks for sharing that tale Roger. I'm sure all of us with petrol in our veins would love to do the Mille Miglia.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


In 40 years in the car business I am completely convinced that we owe a great debt to European design aesthetics as the crucible which has been responsible for producing some of the most truly beautiful automotive art forms.

Whether you are talking about great designs from the 1930s, and 40s, or the edgy shapes from the 60s and 70s, to today’s crisp designs, Europeans have been responsible for more than just cars styled for European marques.

In recent years oriental newcomers have reached out to Italian designers like Giorgetto Giugiaro (Daewoo), German designers like Peter Schreyer (Kia), and even Australians, like Peter Arcadipane (BAIC).

Now, another example of the European influence is evident in a new SUV from China, the Haval H6, created by former BMW designer, Pierre LeClercq.

LeClercq was most recently responsible for the BMW X5 and X6; and also a number of M-sport designs.

The SUV he has produced for Haval/Great Wall shows fantastic attention to detail, impressive restraint in surfacing and a cohesive flow of themes.

I’m not suggesting it’s the greatest SUV design on the market, just that it would seem that Haval/Great Wall recognized that their companies needed to embrace design thinking from Europe, in order to compete successfully on the global market.

Yes, the H6 has some recognizable themes (I’m thinking Evoque); but that simply shows that LeClercq is right on to the design ideas which are resonating with today’s customers.
I will drive the Haval H6 in coming weeks, and look forward to a detailed investigation of LeClercq’s work on the interior as well as the exterior, which I have to say, looks pretty sharp.

I think it’s worth mentioning that Pierre LeClercq is yet another graduate of the Art Centre College of Design in Pasadena, California. Add his name to the long list of automotive sculptors who have begun their design careers in this wonderful enclave of talent and stimulus.


As if we needed more evidence of great, contemporary European design, what about this beautiful sculpture from Donato Coco for Lotus.

This is the Eterne concept car, which is destined to be a front-engined, rear drive four door sports saloon, powered by Lexus mechanicals.

However, it was mooted to be released in 2015, and no sign of it yet, so when we do see this challenger to Aston Martin's Rapide, is anyone's guess.

If you think there are some familiar themes in the design, it should come as no surprise that Donato Coco's last job before joining Lotus, was Design Director for Ferrari, and his final effort for Maranello was the 458 Italia (below).


My thanks to Bentley Motors for the use of its 2009 Xmas card


Recently I wrote about Jaroslav 'Jerry' Juhan and his exploits with Porsche 550s back in 1953, racing in both Carrera del Pacifico, and the Carrera Panamericana 'Mexico'.

Here's a bit more to add interest to the story.

At the Amelia Island auction this year, held by Gooding and Company, a 1955 Porsche 550 was on the block, from the Jerry Seinfeld collection.

When the hammer finally fell and the winning bid was received, the crowd was amazed to see that the auction result for this 1955 model, with three owners since new, and just 10,500 miles on the clock was, wait for it!
USD$5,335,000! That car-collecting hobby can turn out okay!