Saturday, February 26, 2022

THE 'GOOD PRESS PRINCESS' by John Crawford & Russell Turnham

The Royals have been copping a lot of rotten eggs recently, but have no doubt I have maximum respect, admiration and affection for Queen Elizabeth II. 

It’s not hard to admire a real pro and the indefatigable service she has given to her country and the Commonwealth over her 90+ years.


I thought it was time for a good news story about a member of the Royal Family.


Back in the good old days, when I was PR Director for Jaguar Rover Australia, one of the highlights of our year was the chance to pilot Range Rovers with some of our best mates in the media into the uninhabited interior of Australia.


It is such beautiful country, and although we stuck to ‘made tracks’ they really tested the Range Rovers’ legendary long-travel suspension, mainly because most of the areas we frequented were national parks, and not on the receiving end of much road maintenance. Our permits and generous donations allowed us pretty much free range to explore the country, but the highlight was always the overnight camp.

The programs were put together by a couple of dedicated off-road tragics we were lucky to have in the company - my great friends Russell Turnham (left), and his partner-in-crime, Owen Peake (right).

What these two haven’t done, or haven’t experienced in Range Rovers isn’t worth writing about.


Russell was our chief marketing manager, and Owen was ostensibly the Victorian PR manager, but any chance these two could put together a serious off-road expedition, they were off into some of the wildest terrain this country offers.


However, one of the most important elements of our annual treks into the wilderness each year was our guest of honour, Captain Mark Phillips. He was more than happy to join whatever adventure we had planned.

He was fun, and I enjoyed his company, and he’s not only a highly medalled equestrian, he could very competently guide a Range Rover through the toughest tests of the vehicle’s famous capabilities.


One year, when sadly I was on a visit to Britain, Mark Phillips was joined by his then wife, the Princess Royal. As I wasn’t on hand to enjoy the company of the royal couple, Russell made sure we all got to hear about the conviviality and sense of fun that Princess Anne brought to the event. As Russell says: “She’s quite a gal (lady).”

I’m sure Russell won’t mind me handing over the story-telling to him …….

Ever wanted to invite a Princess camping?

At the time it was 1983, and Australia had just won the America’s Cup, so anything seemed possible.  Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, was on a private visit to Australia with her then husband Captain Mark Phillips.  Over the years both had enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Range Rover so whilst they were here inviting them camping for a few days in Range Rovers seemed a good idea!


First conundrum is where do you take someone who is a household name around the world so they can be away from the public spotlight, yet still offers a truly Australian experience? The Deua National Park near Moruya on the NSW South Coast immediately sprang to mind!  The park is a remote wilderness area covering over 1,200sq km, only established as a National Park a few years earlier in 1979, and was in 1983 still largely undeveloped and unknown except to a small hardcore of 4WD’ers and bushwalkers.  In the centre of the Park is a 20 sq km grassy river valley called Bendethera (below), bisected by the Deua River.

An amazing array of Australian flora and fauna, and as rumour would have it the largest population of goannas per sq km of anywhere in Australia? The perfect place for a high-profile Royal and her equally high-profile husband to get away from it all, and a terrific location to showcase Range Rover’s legendary off-road prowess.


Easy?  Not necessarily!  First yours truly had to inspect the area with the NPWS’s Head Ranger for the South Coast, who was the source of the rumoured goanna statistic and all-round good guy.

First creek crossing heading into the valley we stopped near a tree and an eyeball confrontation with the biggest goanna I’ve ever seen cemented his bona fides! 


A week later I again surveyed the Valley, and the tracks in and out, this time safely by helicopter with the Federal Police to get their tick of approval.  Then followed several hectic and sometimes character-building days organising vehicles, supplies, tents and Porta-Loos. 

After all everything had to be just right for a Princess!


Finally, everything was in place, and early one morning found a small group of us waiting in Moruya for the Royal couple to arrive after they’d driven down from Canberra.  Not having met a ‘Real Royal’ in person before we were uncertain of the protocols, and what to expect, other than to call the Princess ‘Ma’am’? 

On arrival the Princess jumped out from the driver’s seat of a Range Rover, suitably attired for off-roading in old jeans, boots that had seen better days, a country style shirt and her signature headscarf.  A big grin indicated she was looking forward to getting away from the public spotlight, and to do some off-road driving! 

After we’d all said our carefully rehearsed “Ma’am’s the formalities were quickly dropped, and the atmosphere turned informal and relaxed as we got into our assembled Range Rovers to head bush.


This informality made the 4WD’ing along the way easy too!  Used to driving in very different “Green Lane” conditions in England we were not sure how Anne would cope with the rougher bush tracks and fire-trails we would encounter, or how in turn we would go ‘counselling’ her? 

We all breathed a quiet sigh of relief when Anne demonstrated she was more than up to the challenge of the trails enroute to our campsite.

No-one more so than Owen Peake. ‘Peakie’, as he was known, (usually but not always affectionately), was our in-house 4WD guru and instructor to whom we had happily delegated the delicate and tactful task of “counselling” the Princess should it be necessary?

Not only did she listen to his advice on the harder sections, but on more than a few occasions was giving it out too!


Any formality or unease was long dispelled by the time we arrived at camp for a quick lunch break.  Being in the middle of 20 sq km of one of the most remote and beautiful valleys on the East Coast of Australia everyone was keen to explore. None more than Anne and Mark who no longer had to worry about prying cameras and paparazzi.  The Valley has it all, river crossings, caves, ruins, wallabies, wombats and of course lots of goannas!  And some great 4WD trails that, as inevitably happens in any 4WD group where ‘Peakie’s involved, led to some challenges being laid down.

My lips are sealed as to who did, and who didn’t get stuck or bogged, but while gratuitous advice flowed as freely as the creeks these amazing vehicles never let us down.  As the afternoon progressed the mood relaxed even further as our Royal guests morphed further into two people exploring and having fun 4WDriving in the Australian bush!


This mood continued on into the evening.  Good food, good wine and good company around a campfire under the stars brings out the best in people, and showed us a very different Princess to the one we expected!  Apart from a natural ability to put people at ease, a good knowledge of contemporary events, a surprisingly varied and sometimes risqué repertoire of jokes, but even more surprisingly the revelation that she was a very skilled and competitive Frisbee player! (“Peakie” and I lost badly in the Frisbee equivalent to the Ashes Series played much later in the night over the campfire, but at least we could both claim to have played Frisbee for Australia!)


Some years later in my role as Global Marketing Director for Land Rover I had the opportunity to meet Princess Anne on numerous other occasions, and in other capacities, some formal some not so. 

But in Bendethera, and not in the public spotlight, we all experienced a much more relaxed person with a wicked sense of humour, who got on with everyone through her easy-going nature.


If the media had been present, I’m certain their impressions would have reflected John’s title – the ‘Good Press Princess.’


The next day after some more Range Rover offroad adventures we returned our guests to Moruya for their return drive to Canberra.  Standing, talking at the local ‘servo’ I suspect not a single person who walked past our small group would have recognised the happy,  smiling woman as a member of the world’s most famous and recognisable Royal Family. 

Whilst the trip involved a lot of planning and some anxious moments beforehand it could perhaps best be summed up as anticlimactic!?  Why? Because the trip ended up simply as a group of like -minded friendly people laughing about enjoying a couple of great days spent in the bush  

So, would I invite a Princess camping again?  You bet!

PS. Over a decade later I was having lunch with Princess Anne at her family estate Gatcombe Park. (Being the Marketing Director for Land Rover had its privileges). The trip came up in conversation, and I was surprised that given her busy life not only did she remember it, but remembered it in more detail that I?  On reflection I suspect she could have written this article with more detail, humour and insights than me, and that says it all.

Russell Turnham

NOTE: The Princess Royal will visit Australia at Easter this year to formally open the Royal Easter Show, the first time the Show has been opened by a member of the royal family in 34 years. The Princess will attend in her role as the patron of the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth.

Princess Anne is a hard worker, as patron to over 200 charities, and attends more than 440 events each year representing the royal family.

Friday, February 25, 2022


Yesterday my friend, and Driving & Life contributor, Paul Gover, told me that the only truly effective way to stop an EV fire was to ‘dunk the car in a swimming pool’!

“Yeah, right”, said I. Now, to the news ….

Recently in Texas a Tesla burst into flames.

Firefighters needed four hours to douse the flames, in part because the lithium ion battery kept reigniting. When the blaze was finally over, about 30,000 gallons of water had been poured on it - what the department normally uses in a month.

Electric vehicle fires aren’t common, but they’re different enough from fossil-fuel-vehicle fires that fire fighters need new approaches. One firm in Europe has developed a shipping container-like box in which a blazing EV can be deposited and blasted with water from all sides. But it requires a dedicated truck, making it a costly addition for a fire department.

A challenge for the EV PR companies?

Next year, though, firefighters will have another option—a high-pressure nozzle that can be shoved underneath a burning vehicle to deliver water directly into the battery. 

Rosenbauer, an Austrian company that makes fire trucks and other equipment, says it has successfully tested the devices on a variety of battery designs, including pouch, prismatic, and cylindrical cells.

So, EVs are the future, right? Great!


Thursday, February 24, 2022

SUBARU BRZ FOR 2022 - by John Crawford

In 2012 when Toyota and Subaru announced the one-for-two sports coupe known as the 86/BRZ it was no surprise. The Japanese companies – all of them – knew that to survive they have to get together to achieve common goals. Both companies wanted a sports car, but the development costs exceeded even a less-than-sensible back-of-the-envelope calculation.


But now, it’s v.2 from both companies (although we won’t see the Toyota version until later in 2022), so let’s just take the Subaru BRZ for a spin.

Quite frankly I don’t care if they’re the same car with different badges. It’s an impressive gamble that there’s enough people out there still lusting for a rear-drive coupe with spirited performance.


However, the Toyota version is as common as chickens, so conversely the BRZ is as scarce as hens’ teeth. Because I’m a particularly perverse character that makes it essential that I would choose the BRZ.

Who cares if the first shipment is sold out?

Subaru has announced important upgrades – stiffer chassis, sharper turn-in, better cabin materials, new infotainment system and slicker clutch action. Also, the new seats are superbly comfortable.

It all works to make Version 2 definitely better than the original. It’s always nice to be able to have a second go.


You might ask, what is he going on about, when we’ll all be driving EVs in less than a decade? Well, it’s simple. Electric vehicles are about as exciting as scrambled eggs made from powdered egg mixture.


Admitted – I’m a dinosaur, and I love genuine ‘drivers’ cars’ and the chance to get out on a deserted stretch of blacktop with a few curves and undulations. By the time EVs are commonplace, I’ll be six feet under and my opinion will matter less than it does now.


I really like the BRZ, and although I have elevated myself to more driver involvement with ‘flappy paddle’ transmissions, the six-speed manual in the BRZ I’ve just driven was delightful.

The sales data from its 2012 intro to end of January 2022 tells the story of the popularity of the two coupes. The various dips in sales will be due to supply constraints or new competitors, however I'm assured by Subaru Australia that is entirely satisfied with the BRZ's status in the Australian market. It has been profitable and enjoyed an ongoing appeal to the folks who 'didn't' want a Toyota.

If you’re contemplating the last ‘hurrah’ with a real sports car then I think the Subaru BRZ will suit you just fine, maybe not quite as purist an experience as the Mazda MX5 manual, but certainly you will definitely return from a spurt in the backblocks with a big smile on your face as you slam the BRZ’s door.

I don’t care who designed it, or who engineered it, or how much it costs – it is a great idea, and one that should be celebrated by genuine enthusiasts who want more than a Caterham 7, but less than a Porsche 911.

Get one while you can!



NOTE: For the record, the 2022 BRZ manual is AUD$38,990.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

MASH-UP WITH MOXIE by John Crawford

Here's a truly American re-think on three original Chevys from the late 50s. 

This choice automobile comes from a small company in Anaheim, California called, N2A (which stands for No-Two-Alike)!

N2A has produced a variety of reworked classic American cars, but I think they excelled with this one.

As only American custom car companies can do, N2A have delivered a whole new take on some flashy flim-flam from the General Motors Design Center.

This gem is called the '789' because it poaches design themes from the 1957, 1958 and 1959 Chevrolets, and out of the blender comes this really original custom car.

N2A plans to build 100 only, and the body is created from 80% carbonfibre, and 20% fibreglass.

Also of interest, just as my friends Touring Superlegerra of Milan take a donor-car and use it to build an exotic and glamorous one-off, N2A have based the '789' on the chassis and platform of the Le Mans class-winning C6 Corvette.

I've never been a great lover of some of the excesses we saw from the early 50s through to the 70s, but this one I like, and the workmanship is of the highest standard.

I think they'll get killed in the rush!

John Crawford

The photos were supplied by Wally Clark, an Aussie who was involved in stock car racing, and moved to Niagara Falls in the 70s. Wally was inducted into the U.S. Stock Car Hall of Fame recently, so I can see why this particular Hot Rod appealed to him. Thanks Wal.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

AUSSIE EV SALES 2021 by John Crawford

The data is in, and there are a couple of surprises in the choice of EVs made by Australians last year.

And all this, despite no government incentives to buy EVs, in fact no subsidies whatsoever - which I guess vindicates my position on the EV market - that the Australian government should definitely NOT use taxpayer's money to subsidise the sale of EVs.

Let EVs find their own level in the market place and take no notice of anyone with a vested interest in selling EVs, that the Australian government should join 'farsighted' nations like Norway. Norway's electrical grid is almost entirely dominated by hydro-electric power, and by global standards, it's a tiny market.

Market leader - no surprise there was the Tesla Model 3. It is now the only Tesla EV available in Australia, but its sales keep rising dramatically, as the sales chart reveals.

In 2021 20,665 EVs were sold Down Under, which is a big jump from a year ago, and EVs now hold 2.7% of the total market. That's big change in just twelve months, with just 6900 EVs finding new Aussie owners in 2020 - for a market share of a paltry 0.7% of total Australian car sales!

For me, the big surprise was that the Porsche Taycan, outsold the Hyundai Kona! The Kona, which will disappear this year, to be replaced by the Ioniq, is affordable whilst the Taycan is affordable only to a select few - with the big bucks.

I'm certainly not planning to buy an EV anytime soon. The reason being, the only EV I truly enjoyed driving was the Porsche Taycan Turbo S - and I just don't happen to have AUD$390,000+ lying around in any form. If you've never driven an EV, don't sample the Taycan - it will spoil you for any other choice.

The Taycan is the bee's knees believe me.


Tuesday, February 8, 2022


In 2017 MG revealed a luscious dihedral-doored concept coupe at the Shanghai Motor Show called the E-Motion coupe, forecasting an on-sale date in 2022 for ‘a remarkably low price’. Will it ever appear? That’s what concept cars are for, a toe-dipping exercise.

However what does seem to be real is the prospect of today’s MG (sort-of) revisiting the Octagon company’s roots with an electric, open roadster called the Cyberster (below).

MG, under the direction and management of the giant Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, has done very well, not only with its MG3, and MG6 hatchbacks, but also the larger ZS and a new EV based on the ZS.

They are very keenly-priced, and from my own straw poll survey of four neighbourhood friends who have purchased ZS models, the quality is surprisingly good.


None of these owners have had any problems in the early warranty period; they like the interior design and the performance, and the only female in the group says she thinks the interior materials hold up very well to her four rough riders aged between 7 and 13.


So, an MG roadster! It’s nothing like we would have expected had the marque survived in its original form, but then everything has changed in the automotive industry in the last 20 years. So let’s go with the flow.

Since Tesla highlighted neck-snapping acceleration with its ‘ludicrous’ performance mode, and even before that with a whole range of EVs, we’ve become very used to hearing about the brilliant acceleration of EVs.

Thus, the MG roadster (sorry, Cyberster) will arrive with a claimed 0-100km/h time of ‘less than three seconds’; a claimed range of almost 800km, and on sale in 2024.

The launch may not be greeted with much enthusiasm from the rusted-on, cloth-capped MG diehards, but the truth is they’re in the ‘disappearing’ range today, and SAIC’s MG appears to be pretty confident about pitching the Cyberster to the young and affluent.

Every carmaker I talk to says there’s no profit in open sports cars any more, so save the investment dollars for something that will sell in big numbers, but I forecast as we shift to more and more EVs hitting the blacktop, this MG will do very well for the brand’s new owners, simply because it's 'different'.



Saturday, February 5, 2022

VALÉ - DIGBY COOKE, RACER by John Crawford

Digby Cooke passed away recently, but he was not a world famous racing driver, just one of many thousands of Australians who became racing drivers as the sport grew in popularity all over the world.

Why am I writing about Digby, who never progressed to Formula One, or even regular stints in open wheeler racing cars? First, Digby was a good friend, and a racer I much admired.

Second, he was a warm, jovial, good natured man, but a tenacious driver behind the wheel of a racing car. They were mostly sedans, but there was considerable variety among his many mounts.

Among them they included a Peugeot 203, Simca Aronde, Austin-Healey, Chrysler Valiant, Mini-Cooper, Holden Monaro and Torana XU-1, but the car in which he endeared himself to me as a 'never-say-die' racer - was a humble Austin Lancer from the BMC stable.

The Austin Lancer was launched in Australia in 1958. Originally intended as a replacement for the Morris Minor, it took on its own identity, powered by BMC's 'B' series engine.

In performance terms, when tuned for racing, it was a very capable sedan, with good handling. I first saw Digby at work in the Lancer in 1965, at the Catalina Park race circuit, near Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

Race photo - Paul Cross Archive

In autumn 1965 I arrived on a crisp and chilly Saturday afternoon during a race which Digby was contesting. I left my car and sidled up to the track crossing and was immediately assailed by the sight of Digby fairly howling through Energol Corner, but known colloquially as the 'Tunnel of Love', because of the high, timber safety fences.

Triumph TR3 and a Morgan in the 'Tunnel of Love'

The Catalina Park circuit was only 2.1km - so you'd probably call it a short circuit. That was underscored by the lap record, held by Frank Matich in a Matich SR4 Repco at 53.4 seconds. It was nonetheless challenging, because of the three major corners and the undulations of the terrain.

Video - Andrew Knight

Humble and quiet off the track, when he wasn't laughing vigorously at a joke, Digby turned into a strongly determined 'take no prisoners' driver as he pushed the compact 1500cc Lancer to many class wins.

There were times when I had difficulty aligning the man, and the racing driver, but he certainly had skill, and daring.

He enjoyed a career as a successful insurance broker, and retired to the Gold Coast. His personal car collection even included a replica Jaguar XJ-13, which was a labour of love.

Digby will be missed by the many friends he made over his 93 years.

Condolences to Digby's widow Joan and his children.

Digby, it was a great pleasure to know you. RIP.

John Crawford