Sunday, July 31, 2022


My eight years as PR Director for Bentley Motors North America took me all over the USA (and Canada) promoting the latest Bentleys, but my sideline was equally as enjoyable.


I began a wonderfully warm and fraternal relationship with the Bentley Drivers Club of North America – thanks to a superb introduction to these hardened Bentley aficionados by a man I now call one of my best friends, Dr. Paul Sydlowski.

I had been in the job barely a few months in 1999 when I got a call from Paul asking if I was ‘game’ to front the BDC as the promoter of modern Bentleys.

Of course, I realised that if I was successful in winning over the BDC members who were mostly hard-core owners of ‘Cricklewood Bentleys’ (W.O.Bentley’s original cars), then they would make fine advocates for the messages I had to convey to the media about Bentley’s great history and traditions, which would be very much a part of the ownership dimension when buying a new Bentley.

I’m a great believer in genuine advocacy (more about that later), and to have owners of proper vintage Bentleys supporting our PR efforts was a great bonus – if I could pull it off.

The first meeting was a weekend retreat at a flash, upscale resort hotel, and although I had prepared a Powerpoint presentation with lots of photos of ‘new’ Bentleys I realised after a few minutes in the meeting room that this group was completely uninterested in any sort of ‘corporate’ presentation. It would be far better to speak from the heart. I ditched the laptop.

So, I told the BDC that although I was new to Bentley, I had spent considerable time in the UK meeting and discussing the history of the marque with the British Bentley Drivers’ Club and had received a rousing send off when I returned to Crewe from their annual meeting.

I talked about how my challenge was to present the new cars, but all the while blending the history and tradition into the mix. The 40 minute talk appeared to go over well and it appeared that I had ‘won the crowd’.


Next morning as the group prepared for their first foray onto the local roads for a 200 mile run to celebrate the qualities of their vintage Bentleys Paul Sydlowski said: “I guess you’ve never driven a vintage Bentley then?”

My response was of course ‘No’ – so he promptly passed over a set of driving gloves and invited me to take the wheel of his pride and joy, a three-litre Bentley Supersport. We had about two minutes of instruction about gear changing techniques, and some familiarity with the pedals which, from the right were: accelerator, clutch and way to the left, the brakes. The gear lever was next to my right thigh!

We took off, and my first challenging shift (from 2nd to 3rd) was completed without a 'graunch'. Wow! Success! There were a few missed shifts over the next few miles, but I climbed from the driver’s seat at the coffee stop with full approval from the owner.


Bentley Motors owns two original Blower Bentleys (plus other special models in its collection). The first it acquired was GH6951, a Bentley company demonstrator, whilst the other is UU5872, a Bentley team car – prepared for Le Mans in 1929. The people allowed to drive these multi-million dollar cars is a very short list – not including me.

However, I was able to feel the sensations of driving a 170hp Blower, in North America.

Alas, it was not an original Blower with secure provenance, but a replica. 

However, it was true to the original design drawn up by Captain Tim Birkin in 1928, with the monstrous Amherst Villiers supercharger extending out the front of the engine.

Along with the Blower, I did get to drive a truly genuine racing Bentley.

It was the 1926 ‘Reserve Team Car’ prepared for Captain Clive Gallop, however it was never called on to participate in the race.

The car, remains as original as the day it left Le Mans in 1926, and is now owned by a wonderful couple of Bentley enthusiasts, Frank and Leah Gabrielli of Oakland, California.


Coupled with my first drive in EL8239, I can safely say I passed the test, and am very confident about piloting rare and valuable vintage Bentleys – however, when you see the prices these rare vehicles bring, I think further driving is best left to the owners.


Years later I had the pleasure of hosting America’s first F1 world champion Phil Hill on a Bentley Grand Tour (a series of driving events I used to put together for automotive and lifestyle media, where they drove new and vintage Bentleys) and he told me all about his past ownership of the ‘original’ development Blower built up in 1928 by none other than Amherst Villers himself!

As we tooled along in a beautifully restored Speed Six, he regaled me with his ownership of the Blower, which he said was fine to drive fast in a straight line. The real challenge came when wrestling the huge steering wheel to deal with corners on the Le Mans circuit.

Maybe Ettore Bugatti was right when he referred to the Bentleys as ‘big British trucks’.


Still Team Bentley and the Bentley Boys went on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans five times from 1924 to 1930 – and then again, with a modern Bentley GTP car in 2003.

Oh, that mention of advocacy previously - in 2002 I was asked to prepare some background on the great history of Bentley and its racing victories for rapper 'Puff Daddy'. Sean Combs (his real name) owned a Bentley Azure convertible and after sighting the Bentley display at the NY Auto Show, was keen to know more about the company's history.

He was mightily impressed, especially went I told him that he most probably qualified as a modern day 'Bentley Boy' and I'm certain his advocacy sold a lot of Bentleys among a large group of young American entertainers.



Saturday, July 30, 2022

A PLATINUM E-TYPE? YOU BET! by John Crawford

Jaguar Classic showcased a bespoke Jaguar E-type at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Pageant on 5 June 2022.

The one-off renovation features a comprehensive list of enhancements carried out by the expert technicians at Classic Works, and metallic blue paintwork inspired by the Union Jack.

The bespoke JAGUAR CLASSIC division creates beautifully crafted E-types by restoring Series 1 models to their original specification. This bespoke example goes even further, showcasing the full breadth of personalisation available from its state-of-the-art home in Coventry. 

The one-off E-type was commissioned by a client who had specific requirements. He wanted a Roadster, manufactured in the year he was born, and finished to a bespoke specification. 

The team at Jaguar Classic set to work and tracked down a Series 1 E-type that was built just two days after the customer’s date of birth. 

Over the following 12 months, the car underwent a complete rebuild, beginning with the bodywork. Finished in a unique deep metallic blue inspired by the blue of the Union Jack, the new blue, was exclusively mixed by the paint shop following numerous consultations and sample creations to craft the perfect hue over several months.

The original engine was totally rebuilt, with original parts, but with some modifications such as porting and polishing the cylinder head, and higher compression pistons.

The bespoke interior features striking leather upholstery finished in a shade of red inspired by iconic British pillar boxes, and was hand finished using traditional methods at the in-house Jaguar Classic Works trim shop.

I've seen some very spectacular restorations over the years, but this one is a credit to JAGUAR CLASSIC. No mention of the budget, but the end result, suggests  the owner wasn't hurting financially.

For such an originally-beautiful creation, first seen in 1961, this is a beautiful homage to one of the world's most famous cars.



The answer is, NO. The Chinese owner has just glued the octagonal badge to a whole new ball game.


MG is currently one of Australia’s top-selling brands, but, as I’m sure you’re aware it’s nothing like the range of sports cars which carried the badge from 1930 until 2011. Today China’s giant SAIC applies the original octagon badge to a range of highly successful compact SUVs.

The most popular being the ZS, which up to year-end 2021 had sold 574,000 units worldwide. The decision to start with SUVs was a clear strand of thinking, because once the name and brand has established values, maybe there IS opportunity for an MG sportscar!


The original MGs were produced almost as an afterthought by Morris Motors.

Cecil Kimber had joined Morris Motors in 1920 as General Manager of MORRIS GARAGES, a retail outlet owned personally by William Morris.


The company sold basic Morris cars, but as a sideline Kimber began using Morris 8 parts, plus different bodywork, to create what we now know as ‘the British sports car’.

At the outset the early cars were just cobbled together from Morris 8 & 10 bits, to provide a ‘trials’ car for those diehards who wanted to attempt racing up muddy hills on weekends.


However, the success of MGs on motor racing circuits vastly improved the appeal of the fast, lightweight English roadsters – and once the Americans started buying MGs, sales increased rapidly.


The MG Car Company was formed in 1928, and production of unique MGs became a serious stand-alone venture.


But the brand’s status and reputation had sagged by the time sales of MG-B came to a halt in 1980.

That was however the most successful single MG model over its lifetime, selling 574,000 cars.


Thoughts of an all-new MG sports car followed a 1985 concept car.

Called the MG – E-XE, it was designed by a quartet of some famous British car guys, also great friends of mine.

Design head Roy Axe and his protegé Gordon Sked. Engineer Spen King, and interior designer Richard Hamblin.

It was a sleek, futuristic design which most thought would never make it out of the studio.

Shortly before the concept moved to become a production car, a very young Gerry McGovern joined the design team as a student.

When the development of a new, volume-selling MG began in 1991, it was nothing like its predecessors.

It was mid-engined, and compared to MG’s rather spartan beginnings in the 1930s, the MG F would have a leather-bound steering wheel, splashes of real wood trim, leather seats and, ‘sacre bleu’ – air conditioning.


Back in 1998 I was asked to write a comparison story about the differences, benefits and disadvantages between the Mazda MX5 and the MG F.

It was obvious that the editor who had commissioned the article sincerely wanted to compare these two popular sports car concepts head-to-head, but from the outset I thought the outcome would be a no-brainer – the MX-5 would win hands down.

It wasn’t even a close-run thing in the end. The Mazda was demonstrably better in pretty much every area – however, before writing the final piece I had a good look over my notes and the dear old Brit didn’t do all that badly – that is if you took a broad brush approach.


First, Japanese quality control meant the MX-5 wiped the floor in that area.

The MG’s inconsistent panel fit margins; its uneven assembly quality, and the poor quality of interior trim components were a dreadful commentary on the standards of British car building.


However, when it came to ride and handling, and comparative performance, the MG and MX5 were pretty damn close.

The inherent handling balance delivered by the MG’s transverse, mid-mounted engine resulted in remarkably competent handling, and in fact the Austin-Morris-developed K-Series engine was the equal of the Mazda’s conventional ‘north-south’ four cylinder.

When you let the MG-F loose it was a lot of fun to drive. It revved freely, had a very flat torque curve and despite quite long throws between changes, the manual transmission ratios were beautifully matched to the engine.

Now during my long career, I spent a pretty good chunk of it in the early days hanging around cars from Austin, Morris, BMC, MG Rover, Leyland Australia et al. There was actually no difference between the factories that knocked out the cars, regardless of the name of the parent company. They all produced very shitty products.


Thereby, the crux of the matter. Not much wrong with the designs and the intentions of the creators, it just all fell apart when it got to the assembly bit.


In between being a motoring writer and an automotive PR executive I got to see both sides of the process – both in Britain and Japan. Because British Leyland had a lovely friendship with Honda, I got to spend considerable time in Japan talking to design engineers, production engineers, quality managers and workers on the line (thanks to a very nice lady interpreter).


The difference you won’t be surprised to know was summed up in just one word – attitude.


The Japanese workers would think it very bad form to simply throw the cars together; fill up the internals of the doors with a variety of odd-sized nuts and bolts, or deliberately scratch the paint on the doors when fitting the dashboard.

It would NEVER enter their heads. They were proud of the company they worked for, and proud of the job they were charged with. They took their responsibilities seriously.


Now, let's travel 9500km to a group of factories making Austin, Morris, Triumph, Rover, Land Rover and Range Rover vehicles located in the British Midlands. Walk up and down the line,  listen to the foul language, watch the guys who kick a freshly-painted door shut with their hob-nail boots, pilfer stuff out of the bins alongside the line, and shout and jeer if a manager of any rank dares to show his head on the production line.

Remember I’m talking of my own experiences in the period from say, 1976 to 1993. The difference was a chasm as wide as the Grand Canyon – in both attitude and outcomes.

I should mention before departing, that there were two consistent design problems with the MG F which afflicted the first two year’s production. The Hydragas suspension (later replaced by coil springs), and a poorly-located thermostat which resulted in MG Fs blowing head gaskets regularly.


So, as I wrap this story about the MG F and its ‘quality’, many years after doing the comparison, I can better understand why it failed in a shootout with the Mazda MX5.


Make no mistake, the MG F, dynamically, was a great car, let down by bad attitude of the workers, poor discipline from management, lack of interest and energy to solve problems, and raging internal bitterness, because the management thought the people on the line were all dopes. All it needed was a little more respect – on both sides.


I really loved the MG F – and the good ones (mileage below 60,000km) bring good prices. See, it wasn’t as bad as you may have thought.

Trouble is, the damage is done. 

Reputation is everything.


And, in the context of the cars you see wearing the MG badge these days, don’t criticise what SAIC is doing, because MG, especially after the formation of BL Limited, and its subsequent corporate deities, was forced down exactly the same road. 

This was especially so much later in life when we saw a Pininfarina-designed sedan (sold in Australia as the Austin Freeway) wearing the octagon badge.


MG itself developed a range of early sedans, which wrote their own histories as appealing four-door sports cars. 

Probably the most memorable were the MG-Y and the Magnette.

So, the octagon badge has survived, and maybe (below) this is the future MG sportscar we've all been dreaming about.

However one thing is clear, if it comes from SAIC it will almost certainly be an EV.

Don't be concerned what the cloth cap brigade would think, we're pretty much dying out, leaving the way for a new bunch of MG enthusiasts.



Friday, July 29, 2022

NOOSA'S NEXT BIG THING! by John Crawford

The inaugural Noosa Concours d’Elegance  will be staged on Saturday 15th July 2023, in Hastings Street, Noosa.


This exciting new event is being organised thanks to the vision and enthusiasm of business owners and residents of Noosa; who have always promoted motoring activities thanks to passionate individuals and car clubs.

Classics old and new will be invited to attend.


Hastings St will present a display of spectacular automobiles and memorabilia with the Concours d‘Elegance attracting enthusiastic owners, renowned judges and interesting personalities from the motoring world.  There are over 40 highly-regarded Concours events in unique locations around the world so that rare and important vehicles can be seen and enjoyed by owners and enthusiasts alike.


The Noosa Council and Hastings Street businesses have combined to block off the boulevard from 10am to 5pm to present this unique display. Hastings St is both a popular location, and a perfect setting for what will be a memorable event in the Australian and International motoring and concours calendar.


One of the instigators of the event Steve Padgett OAM, who is the Chairman of Alliance Airlines, as well as a major sponsor, car collector and passionate aviator said: “The Hastings Street Concours d’Elegance will, in a boutique way, mirror the famous, world-renowned motoring showcase held annually at Pebble Beach in Monterey, California, so I am delighted to be part of what will be a wonderful new event for our region.”


Wednesday, July 27, 2022


A loveable rogue, a charming grifter, a garrulous spirit, a hard worker and a staunch friend. Those epithets and many more could be applied to my dear friend Max Stahl, who left us last Wednesday, aged 87.


I think everyone loved Max Stahl for his open and good-natured personality, his warmth, sense of humour and generous mateship.

Of the hundreds of people I’ve met being around motor racing Max is one person I will never forget. 

We met in 1969, and we remained in contact until 2019 when Covid separated us from in-person meetings.


The obituaries for Max will describe his business life in advertising. A young Max formed his own successful agency, sold it, and took on the editor’s job at Racing Car News magazine on a temporary basis. Not long after that he became its owner, and it became the ‘chronicle’ of Australian motor sport.


RCN covered national and international racing, Max went on to gather friends from all over the globe, especially throughout the Tasman Series years (1962-1975) when the cream of international drivers came Down Under during the Australian summer to race at Sydney’s Warwick Farm circuit.


Along with his links to motor sport via advertising Max also went rallying and racing. He acquired the ex-Brian Muir Holden 48-215, and for those of us behind the barriers Max was a very entertaining, very colourful competitor, whose career included some unbelievable DNFs, from which he always escaped.

Like many budding motor sport journalists, I took on writing race reports for RCN in 1969, during which my writing improved, my personal wealth didn’t, but Max and I formed a staunch friendship which was one of my most valuable in terms of warmth and understanding. We were always on the same wavelength. His friends included racing drivers, the media and his loyal readers who kept RCN afloat.

Australian journalist the late Mike Kable, Publisher Ray Berghouse & Max

If you were seriously into motor sport in Australia, you bought RCN every month. Max insisted reports carry as much detail as possible about every race meeting and every race. He demanded accuracy and any quotes from drivers had to be substantiated. In that era Max made sure RCN was profitable, its advertising profile was respected and utilised by every business connected with the sport.

Max and Racing Royalty - Sir Jack Brabham

Max Stahl was my staunch friend, and I will miss him very much, however I am so pleased he was released from the physical hell his life would have been had he survived his massive stroke.


R.I.P. Max.



(Photos - Chevron Publishing, Bill Forsyth, Lance Ruting, Paul Cross)

Tuesday, July 26, 2022


GT is more than just a name and badge, but life with a supercar is not always as good as it looks.


How many times do you want to sit at the lights, going quietly about your business, while someone alongside fills the memory on their smartphone with pictures?

And what about the wannabes who crave a drag race from the wheel of their home-built beater?


And then there is the need for somewhere special, most probably a racetrack, to properly exercise a car that will likely crack the 100k/h limit in Australia in first gear.


Once you get past the gee-whizzery of the sights and sounds that dominate any drive in a Lamborghini or Ferrari, well …


They are hard to park. The cabin access is tight and complicated for anyone with a few years on their bones - and, let's face it - they love petrol the way a politician loves a debate.

It’s true that Ferrari and Lamborghini owners, and I’m not remotely qualified, are likely to have something much more mundane in the garage for their daily drive. 

                                Perhaps a Bentley … 


But there is an antidote to supercar strain.


It’s called the McLaren GT and it’s a daily driver as well as an exotic speed machine.

I have just spent a week with a GT in the UK and I have very few complaints - apart from knowing it will take the thick end of $400,000 to park one in my garage. It’s not a traditional GT as there is not even a dream of back seats and the luggage space is tight, but it’s a car to enjoy for the long haul.


Yes, it can - and will - crack on at a dramatic pace from a 0-100km/h sprint to 3.2 seconds to a top speed of 326km/h (that’s 203 miles-an-hour) and it corners like a white line painted on the road.


But the GT is equally comfortable at a consistent 110km/h cruise, or winding down a narrow country lane, with the ability for an occasional blat to clear its cylinders and the driver’s head.


Confessions first, because I have been a McLaren booster since I drove the company’s original supercar, the 12C, soon after its global debut. It helped that McLaren hosted me at Dunsfold Aerodrome, a deserted airfield that’s best known as the Top Gear test track and hot laps by The Stig.


I was captivated by the car’s restrained design, its twin-turbo V8 engine, the brilliant view from the cabin, and a sublime ride that was more like a luxury car than a track-day speedster.

Now, back at the McLaren Technology Centre just outside of London, there is time for a deep dive into the McLaren road car factory before I get the keys to the GT.

It’s an impressive place, more like a movie set than the Broadmeadows factory that used to crank out Falcons, and the cars are almost totally hand-built with no sign of any robots.


And the car?

It misses the instant impact of a McLaren Senna or sporty Longtail, but the basics are great. It has a carbon-fibre centre section, the same basic bespoke V8 that I remember, old-school rear-wheel drive and a frunk - that’s a front trunk - that swallows plenty of soft luggage.

The layout of the GT puts more carrying capacity over the engine room, so you don’t have the visual impact under the tail or the top-exit exhausts of some McLarens, but it’s worthwhile and welcome.


As for rear seats, that will have to wait for the upcoming SUV. Yes, after a decade of denials and a focus only on sports and supercars, McLaren is now talking openly about a future family hauler.


But back to the GT, as the first few miles - not kilometres - pass in comfort and calm. 


The cabin is roomy for a car like this, the seats are supportive, noise levels are commendably low apart from some road roar from the tyres, and the steering wheel - without a single button or knob - is beautifully crafted and comfortable. I would have this wheel, happily, on every car I drive.

Yes, I give it a couple of cracks. And it romps. It’s not as joyously soulful as a Ferrari, or as flat-out outrageous as a Lamborghini, but it also doesn’t attract attention like a Hemsworth doing the shopping at Byron Bay.


And that’s what I like most about the GT.


It’s an everyday car that has comfort and class, with the ability to go as fast as you like - or dare - on a Sunday fun run.


Frustrations? The satnav is worse than the one in a basic Hyundai and there is no CarPlay, the brake pedal is too close to the accelerator for a left-foot braker like me - something I whinged about in the 12C - and access to the cabin is predictably challenging.


But the ride is sublime in all conditions. You can switch - literally - from mumbling to supercar in a couple of seconds, and the styling allows you to drive without attracting too much attention.

So a Ferrari would be fun, and a Lamborghini is - well - a Lamborghini - but a McLaren is just what you need to combine real-world convenience with serious supercar speed.

Goldilocks? Quite likely.