The guilt industry shame us for the things we hold dear including our cars. "How dare you" they tell us, in self righteous outrage as they fly or sail from one energy hungry event to the next. Cars make a visible, somewhat valid target yet consume only around 5% of world oil production. Over 30% of a cars total lifetime carbon footprint is from its manufacture yet government policies always encourage replacement. So what do cars say about us? Lets have a quick look eh.
The contrast between American and English car interiors has its roots in the difference between American and English social structure.
American convertible car
English cigar club on wheels
English cars were made for a middle class yearning to rub shoulders with aristocracy and their behind closed doors world of timber panelling, handmade ornaments and soft Scottish leather. The landed gentries desk of French polished walnut, Stirling silver writing accessories and leather upholstered captains chair were reproduced and now available to the factory owner, medical professional and chain store entrepreneur in the form of a car interior presented as a mobile cigar club. Acquitted with the same eye for detail, intelligence of reserve and clarity of aesthetic famous since the time of Thomas Sheraton (1750-1770), from Wolseley's ornamented Mini, the Hornet; to a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud the reference or essence was somehow the same The same sense of aspiration, but not the only set of aspirations.
Wolseley's ornamented Mini, the Hornet
Rolls Royce Silver Cloud
Post WW2 British cars had a look about them which to this day screams England. In 1940s England, patriotism and a sense of national identity had the buoyancy generated during the war and this manifested itself so evidently in automotive design. British cars of the 40s and 50s are distinctly different from European or American offerings with their rounded lines and friendly faces. A growing and educated middle class provided a new market for these vehicles in what was a very class conscious society with an obedience to class structure. The car became a statement of rank, with size as the measuring stick. Three factors prevented mischievous social climbers from misrepresenting themselves in a big car. Purchase price was one and the English trait of knowing ones place was another. The third was petrol which was rationed until 1947 and highly taxed thereafter resulting in even large cars such as Jaguar and Daimler having only 1500cc 80 horsepower engines. From a Morris Minor to the Rolls Royce at the top of the pile English cars cleverly displayed the willingness of the owner to move up to the next level, but never that American habit of actually claiming to have done so. WW2 halted the development of the automobile in Britain from 1939 to 1945 hence post war American cars appeared futuristic in comparison. The English penchant for tradition and the American idea that the future was brighter than the past contributed to this. The Morris Minor was to England what the Model T was to America. It gave mobility to working class people. Morris Motors was headed by William Morris (Lord Nuffield) who stated, in England of all places, that working class people didn't want heaters in cars. The gorgeous Morris Minor lacked a heater or radio but its build quality was such that 70 years later in 2020 a rusty one is still the exception. A class structure drag on British economic and industrial development by culturally isolated aristocrats who still lived in a world of flintlock rifles tweed caps and old red setters helped prepare the British market for Japan and the USA.
Morris Motors was headed by William Morris (Lord Nuffield) who stated, in England of all places, that working class people didn't want heaters in cars...
As 1960s British culture exploded with sex drugs n rock'n'roll and all its subsidiaries a new egalitarianism crept in, along with an ocean of immigrants and now to be self-made or self-assured was equal (in the minds of the self-made or self-assured) to blue blood. Paul Mc Cartney's first car was a 1963 Ford Consul which, like the English Ford Cortina was an American Ford Thunderbird scaled down for the British market but still representing the values of modernity, democracy and virility of its American big brother.
Paul Mc Cartney's first car was a 1963 Ford Consul
American Ford Thunderbird
Within two years the Beatles had a new problem. How to appear totally English but in a rock n roll sort of a way. A problem addressed by John Lennon's much publicised purchase of a brand new Rolls Royce Silver Cloud which was promptly outfitted in an outrageous psychedelic paint scheme with the back seat converted to a double bed, a precursor to that 1970s sex symbol; the panel van. Apparently to the consternation of the establishment. Many of Lennon and McCartney's musical heroes were Americans, one of whom; described by Lennon as "the greatest" was the loudmouth son of a poor black preacher who shot to international stardom with his songs about love, school and cars. His "Coffee Colored Cadillac" was indelibly etched into the minds of millions who had never actually seen it. One of the most influential figures in music history and maybe the first to both write and perform his own songs, a man who dearly loved his wife of 69 years Themetta and his collection of Cadillac cars he so proudly profited from others enjoying hearing about and "OH MY WHAT THAT LITTLE COUNTRY BOY COULD PLAY". Mr Chuck Berry 1926-2017 RIP. Berry's devastating February 1972 performance of Johnny B Goode at the Lanchester Arts Festival Coventry, with all the ensuing chaos recorded on the vinyl The London Chuck Berry Sessions is documentary evidence to the validity of Lennon's statement.
Chuck Berry with a beloved Cadillac
John Lennon's psychedelic Rolls Royce Silver Cloud
The gorgeous early 60s Ford Anglia with its stylistic references to Detroit's (God I want one) 1957 Ford Thunderbird, its cute face and cartoon like tail, was aimed at Britains optimistically looking to the future, rather than the past; and nearly 60 years later the little Anglia is a chick magnet par excellence, a dangerous man would never drive such a car, just ask a girl. The Americanisation of British automotive culture, preceded by the Africanisation of American music culture gave the world some of the happiest looking vehicles ever made.
Detroit's 1957 Ford Thunderbird
The gorgeous early 60s Ford Anglia
1961 brought what was probably the most aesthetically cosmopolitan English sports car of all, often voted the most beautiful ever. Difficult to write about after all that has been written the E Type Jaguar was based on Jaguars 3 times Le Mans winning D Type racers. This is perhaps the most phallic looking motor car ever made as it was designed to slide into the air giving maximum speed on Le Mans infamous Mulsanne straight. This translated into the almost pornographic E type derivative which appeals to men and women in often different ways. The only way an E Type could appear more phallic would be to turn it upside down. The E type is now iconic of the swinging sixties and whilst it conveys a similar message to the late sixties Ford Mustang the contrast in appearance is the width of the Atlantic Ocean, literally. The somewhat sexless Datsun 240 Z was not Japans answer to the E Type but its tribute to it.
The only way an E Type could appear more phallic would be to turn it upside down
By the late sixties Rolls Royce had a similar problem to the Beatles, how to appear totally English; but in a more accessible way, a more purchasable way; in a way that still meshed with the self image of the old money; but also with that of the new money; wherever it may be from. That the once poor were now newly rich created a marketing conundrum solved by the greatest advertiser of them all, David Ogilvy. When the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow hit the showroom floor in 1969, gone was the aristocratic pretense of the Silver Cloud. Here was a car to be driven by the purchaser, parkable in a supermarket car-park yet still stated wealth in a way no other car could. The timber and leather interior was still magnificently there, but now TV documentaries showed dedicated old craftsmen in grey leather aprons creating by hand the components of every car from spirit of ecstasy hood ornaments to the leather and timber interior paneling for which they were famous. The pride and artistry of a bygone era, a new Rolls Royce was now identified less with the aristocrats who inspired them and more with the craftsmen who made them. Running costs were of course maintained at aristocratic levels.
Rolls Royce Silver Cloud
Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, sans aristocratic pretense
As the seventies came along the British government were on a path of nationalisation with most automotive brands now coming under the umbrella of truck maker Leyland, by now; British Leyland. The architects of these plans held similar prejudices and insecurities to the "woke" outrage culture of the 21st century and then as now, "woke" rhymed with, and resulted in, broke; and broke they went.
Released in December 1984 one of the most influential pieces of music ever produced featured a film clip which showed its creators on trains and oppressors on motorcycles to tell a story untellable with cars. Bashing gay men had been a British pastime for thousands of years and nothing seemed able to change that. British band Bronski Beat changed it considerably and measurably with their 3 minutes and 58 seconds single "Smalltown Boy" and its accompanying video. Co-written and beautifully sung by countertenor/falsetto lead singer Jimmy Somerville who sang as only a gay man could on this issue, and boy did people take notice.
In 1990 Ford purchased a controlling interest in Jaguar and with the resources of the giant multinational conglomerate behind it, Jaguar produced the retro futurism XJ X308, a muscle car in a tuxedo and one of the finest cars ever made; once again the XJ drove better than a Mercedes S Class and was more reliable to boot. With BMW finance Rolls Royce produced the peerless Phantom and Volkswagen having acquired Bentley, proceeded to cram two Volkswagen Golf V6 engines under the bonnet of their Phaeton to turn the peoples car, now with Bentley badges; into a wealthy peoples car. And the King still reigned, the 6.75 litre twin turbo V8 Bentley Arnage drove like no other car drove. The boys were back, and so was British automotive engineering as Frank Williams and McLaren Racing Limited commenced their near total domination of the Formula One drivers and constructors championships.
Jaguar X-308, muscle car in a tuxedo
Volkswagen Phaeton became the Bentley Continental