Citroën BX

It was 1983 and we were in need of another car. The Renault 6 had finally persuaded Lynda and I that it’s clutch wasn’t long for this world so we sold it. The whole car, not just the clutch. That bit was fast becoming worthless.

By now I had got a job so we had a few more spare pennies each month allowing us to be a bit more frivolous with our purchasing. With Lynda’s enthusiasm for all things brand new, apart from me, coupled with the fact I had never owned a new car we started to look at what dealerships might offer. So instantly made our way straight to the Renault garage where her family had jointly bought their last three vehicles from.

I was no particular fan of Renaults myself because their line up was uninspiring. At the time they had the ageing, pressed tin 4, the chubby little 5, the uninspiring, dated 6, two boring box shaped saloons in 9 or 18 patterns and the Fuego, the expensive, dumpiest fastback on the planet which no one had ever owned. Except Lynda of course, a year or two back.

But they had recently released a new, updated model 9, more modern in styling with a sharp looking front end incorporating quadruple lamps, more reminiscent of a Lancia than a Renault which is never a bad thing. Unfortunately the designer popped to the loo before he got to draw the back end and they just used an Etch-a-Sketch to finish it. Luckily by the time we got to the dealership the designer had finished his ablutions and had set about creating a new hatchback end, so improved from the staid saloon rump that they called it the 11 as it was at least 2 better than the three box solution. So we borrowed one for a day long test drive.

We decided to visit my family who were unimpressed, largely because no one from our side of the street had ever seriously been able to entertain buying a new car and their spotty 22 year old fresh out of unemployment was hardly likely to break that mould. We were told to take it back to the adults and apologise for stealing it.

We were more smitten though. It was smart and modern both inside and out and like all Renaults extremely comfortable. We were leaning toward a high spec 1.4 litre GTS model so started to get together our finances and choose colours when we had an epiphany. We saw a big road side poster of a car we had never seen before and it looked fantastically modern and chic. The poster gave no obvious indication of who built it.

We checked more carefully and upon closer inspection the car was a Citroën BX. Brand new into the country and like nothing we had seen before. Apart from a vague styling nod to earlier Citroëns, our experiences of which until that point were mixed.

My brother, Mark had an old, white DS. It was like being in a spaceship designed in the Victorian era but more comfortable than nestling in a freshly laundered bed. It swooped about with a lightness of steering, strange swivelling front lights and a button mushroom to call upon the braking system. The dials and switches were somewhat unconventional and placed at random places about the car which itself rose and fell at the behest of the owner or upon accelerating or cornering. And not always in the direction one would expect. All this strange and lovely comfortableness supported upon metal bowls filled with green fluid located under the wheel arches. Which eventually leaked all over the road whilst my brother was taking a guitar lesson.

The unreliability didn’t put Mark off though as he then bought one of its smaller brothers, a GS which was slightly more modern, slightly less weird but sadly slightly more suffering from I’ll let you down at the most inconvenient time syndrome.

Lynda’s brother, Kevin, also rambled on fondly about the brand and had long harboured thoughts on changing his Renault, the aforementioned tubby 5, in would a man really buy it in that colour yellow, for a GS himself. Side note, he never did because he bought a CX instead. Then an XM. But only after he bought our… Hang on the story isn’t there yet.

We suspended our prejudices and hot footed it to the local Citroën garage where we discussed the car. Not that we could actually get to see one it was that new. Notwithstanding this small hurdle we agreed to buy one and choose the BX16RS version. They even threw in a free hotel stay as inducement to buy, which clearly sealed the deal and saved us paying for our upcoming honeymoon stay.

The BX16 rather than BX14 because in cars bigger numbers are preferable and the RS because it was better equipped than the base model. We could have gone all out on the TRS version but felt the extra money for plastic windowlets in the C pillar wasn’t worth the upgrade.

The 1580cc motor would put out 91 horses when spun over 6000 times per minute and 97 units of imperial pulling power at a lower 3,500 but as it was French the figures were 68kW and 131 Newtons respectively. Which is all utter taureau-merde because who cares about how many horses are put out? It’s far more important to know why 91 were on fire in the first place.

The net result of all this revving and powering was a 0-60 time of under 11.3 seconds which I know because records indicate that it could go to 62mph by the 11.3rd second and then proceed on to do 176 but this was because it was French and they measure in something called kilometres which are like miles only in France. In England where I was it could only get to 109mph and that never happened anyway. It had to be run in.

There is a certain thrill of driving away a brand new car. The excitement that you are the first to drive it. After the man driving it off the production line, the factory delivery driver who puts it on the lorry, the guy who loads it onto the ferry, the one who drives it off the ferry the other end, the person who puts it on the transporter in this country and the other who gets it off the other end before being tested by the PDI technician and used by the salesman who nips out in it to get his sandwiches on the Thursday before you arrive to pick it up. Once it has been driven about the place by the valet cleaner of course.

But you believe you are the first one in it and you find yourself edging out carefully onto the highway with not a care in the world. Apart from a real fear of every other road user who seems to eyeing you up and waiting for an opportunity to administer the first scratch or dent. Along with an underlying gut feeling that you have just spent far too much on what amounts to a piece of metal sculpture.

In fact a lot of it wasn’t even metal. The modern design incorporated new fangled lightweight materials for the bonnet, hatch and bumpers. Not carbon fibre, just a form of wobbly plastic. Like some big red Reliant Robin.

Yes it was red. A deep post box red with a suitably contrasting light grey interior finish. We had opted for the fabric seats as leather was a spend too far but they were accommodating and adjustable enough to get at all the strange and quirky controls that Citroën decided to design into the first variant of this model.

For example, the indicators were not on handy stalks like every other car but instead incorporated into a rocker switch on the top of the lighting cheek protruding next to the binnacle, a handy finger stretch away from the wheel. All well and good for operation when approaching a bend, provided the bend wasn’t ahead of a long curve when your hands may not have been at the ideal position to reach. Plus their lack of proximity to the wheel shaft meant that no self cancelling function was incorporated so more thought had to go into repositioning hands for indicator cancelling after a manoeuvre as well.

The speedometer was also different from standard cars of the time. Instead of the standard big dial and sweeping pointer the speed numerals were printed on a vertically rotating drum which rolled past a fixed point line. All very Star Trek. All very difficult to read at a glance or at night.

The wonderfully sounding rear speakers set into the parcel shelf. Big enough for all the bass you need, despite needing a better base themselves

One thankfully useful feature was a standardised DIN space for a retrofit stereo, a common upgrade to cars at the time and we spent time hunting out a fantastic Pioneer set up incorporating a slick KEH-9300 head unit coupled to a pair of TS-168 door mounted speakers and another stunning pair of powerful TS-2000 speakers inset into the hatchback cover which created a great deep, lustrous sound using the whole boot space as a bass box. We had to incorporate quick release audio leads but found the structural reinforcing within the plastic cover made it difficult to add extra strengthening to dampen out the uninvited audio induced bounce every time the volume went up.

Citroën fitted the car with its famous hydropneumatic suspension. Still using the gloopy green gunge that had visited the road outside my brother’s guitar learning shop but this time reliably contained within the pipes and spheres of the car. This gave it four settings of height. Maintenance level for fans of low riding, standard, raised and fully raised for wheel changing. It always travelled best in standard mode as raised firmed up the ride to extremely bumpy. As the years passed we saw a number of older BXs travelling out on motorways in raised mode which meant one of three things, firstly, that the system had failed, secondly, the operator didn’t know they could or how to alter the setting or thirdly, the driver was an idiot.

When driving our new, correctly set up car it felt modern, free-revving and comfortable. The manual five speed gearbox slipped into each ratio nicely albeit being a bit spongy in feel plus the power assisted steering was super light. The interior was spacious and having a hatchback always assists the practicality. The only real fault being the aforementioned non cancelling indicators. In fact I’m pretty sure they were still clicking quietly on and off when we sold it. Which was so much sooner than one should for a new car.

It’s not that there was a problem. In the year of ownership it never missed a beat. Unfortunately it also never missed the company entrance gatepost I drove through either but that minor scrape was soon fixed.

A time to practice getting through small gaps. A skill which would have been useful near a certain entrance

We had used it to visit t’North, a camp site in the west and to compete in a local manoeuvring contest held by our Institute of Advanced Motorists group wherein I proved conclusively that I could have missed the gatepost if only I had tried harder.

The reason we sold it was I got a new job. This came with not only a new gatepost entrance but more importantly to this tale a fully expensed company car rendering a second vehicle a bit of a luxury that we had to fuel ourselves. Lynda carried on commuting in the bee-ex for a while but we decided to sell it to Kevin’s partner, Rob, who needed some wheels and a mint condition [once the door was repainted] Citroën was a great deal for both of us. We got back some cash and he got a pretty new low mileage car that he kept for a number of years. With a banging stereo fitted.

My Citroën bubble had been pricked but the experience was far too good to be so short lived. I would no longer refrain from visiting the brand again. And I didn’t… But that story is for another day.

Author: Vince Poynter

First Published in my website vinceunlimited.co.uk on 30 May 2020
A DIN space is a reference to a standardised opening panel space of 180mm x 50mm for dashboard mounted head units as prescribed in ISO 7736 
The header photograph shows the actual Citroën BX16RS in the story, parked on the author’s driveway shortly after it was purchased in 1983
The second image shows a close up of the Pioneer rear speakers fitted in the back parcel shelf of the car. The photo was taken by Lynda after the car had passed ownership to Rob around 1987 
The final image shows the author manouvering the Citroën at an IAM day in Southampton, around Spring 1984

Suzuki TS185

In 1982 Lynda and I were using her Suzuki GSX250.  You may have just read the story [See my WordPress post 29 April 2020] but in essence her bike was as new as our relationship and I had no wheels to call my own.

Enter stage left my brother Mark.  Once again you may have read about his first bike, a Gilera 50 Touring moped [See my WordPress post 6 February 2018] which I had commandeered on regular occasions to get my inaugural fix of two wheeled action before graduating onto some actual motorbikes.  These actual bikes had since gone the way of my job and were nowt but memories, plus photos of some of course.

Mark now had a job and more interestingly a new two wheeled powered toy.

It wasn’t Mark’s first off roader.  His first foray into trail style riding was a few years earlier but that had ended in a wheelie attempt on rough terrain and a broken ankle.  I can’t recall the bike he had because he owned so many vehicles and he hasn’t documented his motorised transport life story so fastidiously as I, so let’s just say it was a 125cc Japanese single cylinder trail bike.  Probably in white.

marksuzukits185
A compilation of shots of Mark, Vince and Lynda riding the Suzuki off road

Now he owned a slightly bigger, blue one, specifically a Suzuki TS185.  And one day he invited Lynda and I to have a go on it on a bit of rough in the Lordshill area of Southampton.  Now I am not one to turn down having a go on a bit of rough from the Lordshill area of Southampton so we agreed to join him one sunny day to play about on his Suzuki.

It was an R reg model, making its birth day somewhere between August 1976 and July 1977 and it featured off road style knobblies, a raised front mudguard, a light blue colour scheme with stripes and an optional front headlamp guard.  And it was terrific fun.

We rode singly, two up, sat on the seat, stood up on the pegs, revved the thing across some fields, balanced carefully at the top of hill descents and generally went a good deal of places we couldn’t possibly countenance on our, sorry, Lynda’s GSX.  Ingrained memories from that afternoon would stay with us in spirit and on film stock for years afterwards.

Move on a couple of years from that day mucking about on the rough and Lynda and I had moved into our first owned property.  The Suzuki had been changed for carpets and a little later the empty bike space had been filled by a stunning Kawasaki GPz750R.  Again, I have already written and published the story of this monster on this web site [See my WordPress post 4 May 2018] but as I was now working and more importantly earning we had a bit of spare spondoolies so were able to entertain expanding our garage portfolio.  It seemed a natural thought to recreate the fun we had in Lordshill, only this time we could do it all over again and again and not rely on a once more generous brother/in-law.

Suzuki TS185 & Kawasaki GPz750R
Just the right mixture of road and off road wheels to chose from

So we bought our own Suzuki TS185 and it looked great parked next to our big sports bike.

It was a slightly newer bike than my brother had, having been assembled around the time we had been originally riding Mark’s one.  But it was chosen partly because it had the earlier styling of a lowered front mudguard.  You may already know that I favour this style and if you didn’t you haven’t read the road test of my Yamaha DT175 [See my WordPress post 9 January 2018] .

We could have picked a Yam DT again but I am not fond of repeating my choices when choosing vehicles as variety is more interesting so we went for the Suzi.  Kawasaki also offered a similar bike called the KE175 and Honda the four stroke XL range but the former was considered less reliable at age and the latter too heavy.

We planned some lovely off road trips on our brand new, second hand bike.  It was styled for fun, not showroom new so we could feel comfortable taking it places where damage could ensue and it was light weight enough to manoeuvre around some awkward routes.

Trips were planned and maps poured over.  It appeared we could travel anywhere, even on roads marked as RUPP which stood for ‘roads used for public purposes’.  An Act from 1949 allowed use of powered vehicles along such marked routes and my Ordnance Survey map was consulted to pick some great local routes.

Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman we were not.  More like a pair of Charlies but in our minds such road trips represented a new found way of enjoying our bikes.  And every ride seemed to feel like a long way round because, as is often the case, reality doesn’t always match the ideal of dreams.

Firstly, if we wanted to go a-travelling off road we had to go together on one bike and it wasn’t great at getting us both to the dusty/muddy bit.  Its power was no better than the Yamaha I had when I was seventeen.  Apparently, six years of development had not added to the basic physics of the machines.  Again the ride could only be described as poor when riding alone and positively dire when two up.  The passenger still bounced around on footpegs attached to the swing arm so comfort on even medium journeys was cramped when setting off together.  The electrics were poor as well making even fairly local jaunts seem like a trial, even before we got to the actual trail.

Then there was the ability to actually go off road.  The bike could manage something of this ilk but it seemed there was nowhere really suitable.  We live a half hour from the most wondrous place in the UK to enjoy a spot of rough riding with excellent terrain amid perfect views.  It’s called The New Forest.  And they hate anyone using it.  Despite the size no trail routes are allowed for motorised vehicles and mini moats are carved into the grassy bit on every side of every road way to yell at motorists and bikers to stay away.

Of course any decent trial bike or 4×4 could surmount such obstacles but one just knows that such action would immediately summon a resident, a rambler, a horser or by-law ready to shout at you.  So we looked beyond such a natural playground for other routes and set off looking for some alternative dirty fun.

Vince on Suzuki TS185
A scouting trip to the Portsdown Hills, probably mainly to get a good photo

The first was a route down the side of some farmer’s fields but farmers don’t really like you doing this, even on the edge of their selfishly, massive plots, so they build in difficult obstacles to negotiate.  Such as turnstiles, deep ditches and one tonne, unnecessarily testy bulls.  We got stuck too many times and didn’t really enjoy the route.  So planned an alternative the following week.

I found another RUPP in the area.  We would ride up to Farley Mount, a popular tourist destination on one of the highest hills in Hampshire.  Both Lynda and I had been there several times as kids with our respective families and parking was allowed in those days all over the place.  The only limitation being the trust you had in your vehicle’s handbrake and ability to hill climb the car back to the roads.  However our modern world determined that cars stick to the roads and wait in the soulless, gravel car parks.

Craftily, my map reading skills determined I would not just be able to get to the car park where most cars go but be able to continue on across more of the hillock on one of the rough surface RUPPs back to terra tarmac on the other side.

It was a beautiful sunny day and the usual crowds on The Mount seemed to be joined by another set of crowds making the place, how shall I put it, crowded.  Cars had filled the top car park and on either side of the single track road leading to the views.  On two wheels we sailed by, up to the top and across the car park headed for the marked dusty lane.

A big wooden horizontal pole stopped all the cars from going further up the hill but was easy to circumscribe by a little lightweight bike.  In fact I could have probably done a ‘Dougie’ and crawled over it.  I chose to push the bike through the pedestrian side option, Lynda remounted my pillion and we set off up the track.  I was particularly careful due to the huge number of people also walking along, armed with children and dogs.  I was going barely more than their walking pace, threading myself in between the groups but carefully not speeding or revving my motor to avoid any nuisance.

Although progress was slow on this bit I did not loose patience and ticked over slowly behind each walker until they saw I was there and politely moved aside.  That is until we came across a two family group taking up much of the path.  There was a small gap between them and I rode toward this in the same careful way.  Then suddenly, at his own risk, one of the fathers, without looking, deliberately side stepped into my path.  As I was not going fast I was able to stop easily.  Then he turned around.

He stepped forward, legs each side of my front wheel and started up a tirade on why we shouldn’t exist in the universe, that I had been tearing up the trail like MeatLoaf in a scene from Bat Out Of Hell and that I had one thing on my mind which was to to reduce his precious children into a sticky strawberry jam like mess all over the path.  Lynda dismantled as he noisily fumed but I was unable to go anywhere due to his positioning.

Things got more heated in his tiny, biased mind as he edged closer toward me, whilst I carefully and calmly explained my interpretation of a RUPP.

The situation was getting more tense and I knew I was in a position that had no good outcome for me.  It looked like he was about to get physical, or explode and the thought of dropping the bike to defend myself, or preferably running the bugger over would not look good on a future police report.  The headlines in papers the next day would almost certainly read ‘mad biker cuts up family during peaceful sunny day out’, no matter what the reality of the circumstances were.

By now Lynda had moved around the back of him and his mate who was also getting closer, buoyed by his fat friend’s positive action and my non fighty, calm response.

The rotund geyser, upon getting no irrational argument from me, decided to up the stakes and give me a good shove, using both arms, into my chest.  This caused two things.  Firstly I continued to not respond in kind.  He wasn’t going to trick me into an aggressive situation.  The other thing done was that Lynda grabbed his mate from behind in an attempt to even up the fight, as she figured two against one was just not cricket.

This caused a bit of a Mexican stand off.  The Chubby bully didn’t understand why his pathetic shove hadn’t goaded me into being an aggressor and the skinny one trapped in the clutches of my beloved started whimpering about how he wouldn’t hit a lady.  She of course carefully explained to the shivering specimen that she held no such concerns and was more than happy to kick him black and blue at a moments notice.  That’s it, go girl power.

I had to properly diffuse the state of affairs so switched off my motor, carefully walked it backward out from between the legs of Hardy whilst Lynda finally let go of Laurel.

Thankfully the fathers stayed put, allowing us to make a tactical retreat back to the car park from whence we came, no longer in the mood to argue the laws regarding RUPPs.

We were back at the car park discussing our options when we saw the pair coming back down the track to the car park.  We stayed put but they hadn’t seen us and veered straight off to their cars.  Presumably only to check they were OK as they looked but took nothing from them.  Mind you we had now seen what they arrived in and duly let their tyres down as soon as they resumed their walk back up The Mount.  Our day had been spoiled for no reason other than selfishness so it was the least we could do and besides we were very angry.

Our anger continued as we went back home, with our day wrecked we stewed on this.  Angry that our day had been ruined.  Anger that we seemed unable to use our off road bike anywhere, anymore.  Angry that I had to accept an unrequested shove which wasn’t returned in any way other than vocal reasoning and a spot of tyre air letting.

We decided to go back.  I voiced my concerns about still being labelled the big bad biker in the ensuing newspaper article so we took my car.

It was later in the evening so getting to the car park proved easier but when we got there their cars were gone.  They obviously had Formula One tyre changing skills.  However, we spotted one of the cars leaving in the queue so set out in hot pursuit.

They must have seen us behind them.  After all it is difficult to not notice a speeding saloon in your rear view mirror overtaking every car down a dusty lane which was only one car wide.  By the time we got to the bottom of The Mount we were directly behind our prey.  He moved over to let us by but I stopped short, just looking at him.  He eventually pulled out, his estate laden with family.

I continued to follow him, always keeping a distance.  He knew we were there but would have no reason to understand why.  Just this mad driver overtaking anything that got between us but driving at a great stopping distance when directly behind.  So far back he could barely have been able to read my number plate.  He started to weave around various roads, clearly trying to see if we would follow, which we did.

By the time we got to Southampton we were still on his tail and his contorted route had not lost us.  So he decanted his family at the side of the road and sped off.  We followed, again down various roads until we eventually started to get bored.  After all we had no real reason to catch him.  Causing him distress seemed to be so much more fun.  But he never went down a no through road, presumably reasoning that he didn’t want to be trapped by a scary car full of unknown beasts.

Eventually we gave up and dropped right back.  However, he then foolishly drove into a close just as we rounded the previous corner.  I noticed his diversion and stopped across the junction of the close and looked down only to see him parking up in front of his house, chatting to his re-found family.  I revved the motor, he glanced round, looked as scared as a rabbit in the headlamps and we shot off.  Never to return.

He must have pissed himself for weeks afterwards.  Even now I presume he can never watch the film Duel without feeling some sort of angst and whilst I rarely hold grudges I hope he still has nightmares to this day.

Vince stood on Suzuki TS185
Unable to find somewhere to go the bike is ridden off into the sunset [read text for actual reality]

There were never any repercussions from our antics.  Over the next few days I half expected a visit from the local constabulary but then again I had not actually done anything wrong in my car.  And unless the half wit is reading this now and finally making sense there was no apparent link to the earlier biking episode.  Where again I had done no wrong.

Actually there were repercussions.  Lynda and I decided that off road trail riding was just too much of a trial.  Nowhere to go in our local area and too uncomfortable a ride to get to other parts of the country or world.  After all we already had a super bike on our driveway which was much more fun and adventurous.  Plus a car.  The summer days turned to autumn then winter as Lynda started using the little blue bike as a commuting tool until it finally gave up.

In many ways the Suzuki was much like my earlier Yamaha DT.  Fun but flawed and I would love to have it parked ready in a garage for use whenever I wanted it.  Which in truth wouldn’t be many times a year.  But unlike the DT it wasn’t my first so ultimately doesn’t hold such emotion.  Just that great pub story.

Author: Vince Poynter

First published in the Bikes section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk web site on 28 Apr 2020
The first photograph, or rather collection of six photographs, show scenes from the day out on Mark’s Suzuki TS185 trials motorbike in Lordshill, Southampton.  The riders are Mark, Vince and Lynda
The second photograph shows the author’s two bikes owned in 1985, a Kawasaki GPZ750R and Suzuki TS185 trials bike, parked on his driveway in Eastleigh, Hampshire
The third photograph shows Vince sat on his Suzuki TS185 trials bike parked on Portsdown Hill, overlooking Portsmouth
The final photograph shows Vince riding the Suzuki TS185 on Portsdown Hill
All photos were taken by the people named in this article on Lynda’s Canon AE-1 Program 35mm SLR camera fitted with a fixed FD 50mm 1:1.8 lens.  On Mark’s Suzuki in 1982 and on our one in 1985
Full disclosure we had another trip out with Mark into the New Forest to do the same sort of thing again but the lack of much photographic evidence and the spoiling of a good narrative implied we only went on Mark’s bike on one day.  But this was still once more than the number of times he went out on ours.  Why did we never return the favour?  Probably the lack of a third seat
Knobblies is a term to describe off road style tyres
A RUPP [Road Used as a Public Path] was defined in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and were generally used as footpaths or bridleways but could be accessed by motorised transport.  The Countryside Act 1968 required councils to redefine all RUPPs as public footpaths, bridleways or a BOAT [Byway Open to All Traffic, except ironically boats].  I recall the RUPP marks on my Ordnance Survey maps but not BOATs.  So I presume the 1980s maps I had were unmodified from before the late sixties, therefore I blame the OS for the whole situation
A ‘Dougie’ is reference to the skills of Douglas Lampkin, a professional, multi World Championship motorcycle trials rider.  Only it isn’t as I invented the term just for effect in this article.  Only it will be now
The references to Hardy to Laurel are descriptive of a comic duo called Laurel and Hardy, who were big when TV was in black and white.  Stan Laurel was a slight, slender guy teamed with the larger, fatter Oliver Hardy.  If you haven’t heard of them then you are a millennial and you should educate yourself
The 1971 film Duel was written by Richard Matheson, based on his own previous short story and was about a lone driver which overtakes a huge Peterbuilt truck which annoyed then appears to hound him across many miles in a mad, murderous way.   It was the directorial debut of Steven Spielberg

Suzuki GSX250

Lynda on Suzuki GSX250
Lynda’s Suzuki GSX250 so new it’s still proudly displaying its L plate.  Her now superseded Renault Fuego now skulking in the garage behind

The Suzuki GSX250 came into my life at the same time as my wife, for it was her bike so the story must start with her.

Lynda always hankered after a motorcycle but left it until her late twenties in the early eighties before taking the plunge.  An inexperienced rider who had owned new cars for ten years took her disinterested father to the local bike showrooms to choose a steed.  She wanted the fantastic new six-cylinder Honda CBX1000 but laws restricted learners to a maximum of 250cc.  Unfortunately she discovered the Honda CB250N Super Dream was more difficult to get on the centre stand than the big six.

Honda didn’t produce a two stroke 250cc road bike but other manufacturers did as this was a popular option at the time, offering high performance, light weight and easy maintenance for these ‘starter’ machines often purchased by those on a tight budget.  Kawasaki offered the manic, thirsty but ageing, triple cylinder KH250, Suzuki the super light, super fast GT250 X7 and Yamaha the stunningly engineered, water-cooled RD250LC.

Four stroke options other than the Super Dream included Honda’s own slim CB250RS, the similarly square and unremarkable Kawasaki Z250A, Suzuki’s ageing GS250, newer GSX250 and Yamaha’s twin-cylinder XS250 or custom style, single cylinder SR250.

There were also some alternative options to the Japanese big four but none were widely sold.  Benelli 254 anybody?

Given these choices my heart would have hankered after the Kwacker triple but my wallet would note the high fuel costs and suggest the ultra smooth, modern, beautiful, water cooled LC.

But I wasn’t around and Lynda’s dad advised her to avoid the two strokes, purely on engineering grounds.  It was also this thinking that considered the high level of sophistication of the Suzuki’s DOHC motor.  It’s a pity that they didn’t stand back and look at the damn ugliness of it compared to its contemporaries.

Kevin on Suzuki GSX250
Lynda’s brother Kevin sitting on the Suzuki.  Unfortunately for the viewer he is stationary so has his leg down, revealing the horrendous side panel

Looking at it now you may wonder why I disliked the look so much.  Yes, it has a slightly dated 1980s vibe, but it was the 1980s so that can be forgiven.  The overall styling is fairly neutral and the twin megaphone, slightly upswept exhausts look OK.  I preferred the circular cam covers of other Suzuki four cylinder bikes over the newer more befitting square ones on this model but this alone shouldn’t relegate the thing into the ugly bin.  What did this was mainly the slender, tall styling exaggerated by the crappy side panels with their multiple parallel indents.  Furthermore, the upswept optional rear rack and engine mounted crash bars didn’t help.

The NVH was also irritating and shouldn’t have been so.  It was designed to be able to willingly rev to a maximum power at 10,000 rpm but didn’t have the banshee lightness through the power train of a two stroke, meaning a chainsaw motor but no pay off in top end speed.  Buzzy but strangled.  It lacked the lazy, comforting thump of other four stroke motors and allowed the motor’s vibes to be easily felt through the handlebars and hard, narrow seat, which inexplicably rose over the tank.

But it was brand new, a nice red and Lynda liked it.  Slightly less than the physically bigger, more accommodating Super Dream which she admits she should have had.

However before I entered the picture Lynda had to set about becoming a motorcyclist.  Enter brand new bike matching leather jacket, trousers, gloves and moto-cross style boots.  On her head a matching, quality full face helmet, around her a fluorescent body sash and in case of rain a full one piece Belstaff all in one waterproof suit.  She was quite literally the example set to others on her motorcycle training course.  In fairness the other young lads there hadn’t just sold their less than year old new Renault Fuego to their dad to fund their steeds.

Lynda riding Suzuki GSX250
A shining example of how all new motor bikeists should present themselves.  All the gear and riding in a carefully controlled, professional manner

It didn’t take long for Lyn to get her riding skills up to speed.  She passed her gold star training easily, utilising the benefit of a decade of driving and set about joining a local club to meet new friends in her newfound hobby.  Which is where I joined the story.

I was a reasonably experienced biker by then and a member of the same local club.  I was without a ride due to self imposed poverty and had virtually only the clothes I stood in.  But I did have my jacket and helmet which became useful when I persuaded this naive, new biker to give me a lift back to my place.  We became close friends and have spent the rest of our lives together.

Her dad wasn’t impressed.  Nor her mother.  They never liked the idea of Lyn taking up two wheeling and thought it dangerous and dirty.  My lust for life and adventure and unwashed jeans only served to confirm their suspicions and it took me some time to win them over.  And one episode in those early days didn’t help.

I never minded being on the pillion seat whilst Lynda was riding, other than the narrow, hard seat.  Many men feel this placement is incorrect and wouldn’t countenance the idea of sitting at the back.  But it was her bike after all and it was very snuggly holding onto my new girlfriend, knees tightly gripping her bum and indicating directions by friendly taps on her thighs.

However she also liked me riding her bike.  When tired at night it’s nice to just sit there holding your partner whist they do all the riding and concentrating stuff.  Plus I had to show her how to really ride.  All the stuff that the new riders course didn’t go into.  Such as how a bike could perform, why full revs don’t harm the thing, how it could really lean in corners to the point of foot peg grinding, how you can overtake any car you chose to, the safest way to brake sharply in full control and most importantly be ultra defensive when needed to survive.

But an early incident could have derailed all this.  I was riding, Lynda on pillion and we were leaning through a series of tight corners when I hit a huge pothole with the front tyre.  It destabilised the bike which slid away leaving us sat on the tarmac.  The corner was so tight that there was virtually no speed and we were properly dressed so there was no human hurt.  But Lyn’s shiny new GSX had picked up some battle scars.  Still, it was her first lesson from me on how to crash.

I made sure she was alright, retrieved the bike, jumped back on and we shot off to my parents house for a quick fix.  Within moments Dad had helped me remove the handlebars and crash bars, straighten them back into position, reverse the clutch and brake levers so the damage didn’t show, tugged the loose rubber snags from the grips and forced the left foot peg back into shape ready to get back on our way after a nice cup of tea from Mum.  Lynda was astonished by the speed and efficiency of repair and her own parents never found out about the incident until we told them several decades later.

Suzuki GSX250 at MAG Rally front
The Suzuki attending a Motorcycle Action Group [MAG] rally in Southsea, Hampshire.  We were also there, me riding helmet less with many of the other attendees in protest about compulsory helmet wearing laws.  Which we actually agreed with.  Still, anything to have fun when a biker

We had many more adventures on the thing.  Pottering around two up all the time, going places, touring, learning together improving our riding, avoiding any new crashing etc.  But I never really enjoyed the bike itself.  It wasn’t something special to ride or to arrive on.  It never excelled at anything or even disappointed in any aspect to give itself some sense of character.  It was just there.  Well engineered but ultimately soulless.

It should be noted that Lynda doesn’t share the same negative feelings as I do.  But consider it was her first steed and on it she was introduced to a wild new world and friend in me so must be influenced by this.  But unlike my feelings for Lynda the bike never really grew on me.  She should have had the Yamaha ‘Elsie’ or the Honda Super Dream, both of which still have legions of fans nowadays.  I could have taught her how to get the awkward Honda on the stand in no time.

Author: Vince Poynter

First published in the Bikes section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk web site on 29 Nov 2019
The first image is of Lynda Clare sat on her brand new Suzuki GSX250 outside her parents home in 1981.  Photograph taken by Lynda’s brother Kevin Clare on her Canon SLR digital camera
The second image is of Kevin Clare sat on Lynda Clare’s brand new Suzuki GSX250 outside their parents home in 1981.  Photograph taken by Lynda on her Canon SLR digital camera
The third image is of Lynda Clare riding her brand new Suzuki GSX250 outside her parents home in 1981.  Photograph taken by Lynda’s brother Kevin Clare on her Canon SLR digital camera
The final image is of Lynda Clare’s Suzuki GSX250 parked in Southsea, Hampshire in 1982 at a Motorcycle Action Group [MAG] Rally.  The helmet and gloves on the seat are Lynda’s and the one strapped to the rack is the author’s.  Photograph taken by Lynda on her Canon SLR digital camera

The Renault 6 Story

Slippery Comfort

The story starts with a couple of push bikes.

It’s 1983 and a year since I met Lynda.  I had become a we and together we had just purchased a brand new apartment to live in but had no vehicle as Lynda had sold her Suzuki GSX250 motorbike so we could have carpets.  Of course I was ahead of the game as I already had no wheels.  However, we needed some form of transport for commuting and shopping so decided to purchase a couple of push bikes.

I had never had a new vehicle, powered or pedalled and only one previous, very second hand ‘bitsa’ bike.  So I enjoyed going out to choose something special.  Lynda had owned a number of bikes growing up including models from Dawes, who made quality bicycles, so it was natural we looked at the choices offered by them and ended up with a pair of stunning matching Dawes Shadow racing bikes.  They were a gorgeous, shaded silver to black colour with velour seats and cushioned drop handle-bars.

Lynda & Vince with Dawes Shadow bikes
The we had smart, matching new pushbikes.  For a little while at least

We purchased the bikes on a weekend, the next week we insured them and added postcode stamping of our names onto the underside of the frames.  The week after we took a trip over to the Isle of Wight.  On the third we joined a bike riding club and ended up cycling over 70 miles in a day and on the fourth weekend we took them into Southampton and chained them to a lamp post whilst we went to the cinema.

They were stolen.  Completely removed from the lamp stand they were attached to apart from their locks which remained in place, still secured shut.  Oh, and we had the frame mounted hand pumps that we took into the cinema with us so that they wouldn’t get nicked.  Which in fairness did happen.

We immediately reported this to the police who rather dismissively said they were wearisome of dozens of bike theft reports as apparently some low life thieves had driven around town that night and taken everything with two wheels.  We had an offer to check out their selection of recovered bikes in a few weeks and picked up a crime report number.

The next day we claimed on our new insurance policy and had the retail price paid for both bikes.  In under six weeks we had bought new bikes, had some adventures and got paid back in full.  In fact a few extra pounds as we had previously negotiated a discount with the retailer for buying two at once.

We did go back to the police station a few weeks later but they had no bicycles there in their stolen and recovered bike pile, just a pile of scrap metal as far as we could tell.

Ern and his Renault 6
Uncle Ern stood next to his pride and joy.  His garden. Whilst leaning on his car

All this explains why we needed another form of transport and helpfully Lynda’s auntie Ethel came to our assistance.  Her recently deceased husband, Ern, had owned a nearly new Renault 6 for less than a year.  Ethel didn’t drive so kindly said we could have the car.  We offered to buy it but she was adamant that she wouldn’t charge us so we agreed to give her any money we got for it if we sold it.

The Renault 6 was originally launched in 1968 but the one we had been given was a face lifted ‘R’ plated model, the version with square headlamps.  The registration plate dates it from around 1976/1977 but the black grille it sported suggests a 1978 minor face lift model making it around five years old when we got it.  Ern had not put many miles on it and kept it very clean so it was in as good a condition as you could expect.

Not that the condition had any bearing on the perception this car made.  It was dated both in styling and power output and was not a remarkable car.

It sported an unusual dash mounted manual gear selector which felt like you were stirring pudding rather than selecting a gear and our version had the exciting option of a slipping clutch.

It was, however, extremely comfortable.  The big bouncy front seats were able to be extra wide because of the front wheel drive arrangement and the column mounted gear selector so making use of the lack of a central transmission tunnel.  This gave the impression of a front bench seat and coupled with the typical french soft sprung suspension it felt so cosseting.

Vince with Renault 6 at Launceston Drive
Now we had finally repainted the awful green frontage to a lovely red.  Oh, plus we had a matching car parked outside

The downside of such a plush ride was massive lean during hard cornering.  A useful option Renault could have offered would be casters on the door handles.  Also the skinny tyres couldn’t grip such a slippery surface as dry tarmac and stressed the rubber in fast or tight bends to the point it felt like at any moment there would be an unscheduled, imminent tyre change.

Furthermore the wide front seats had no bottom cushion shaping so cornering was also limited by the ability to stay in front of the wheel and not slide around the car from one side to the other.

The weedy litre sized engine produced only around 45 horsepower and many of these horses were usually asleep.  This made progress more leisurely than hurried which aided the dull braking system no end.

Good things about ownership was the aforementioned ride comfort, reasonable economy and the bright front lights.

A few paragraphs back I mentioned the slipping clutch.  It is still slipping, only worse, when we reach this paragraph and in it I am to tell you about our trip to Cornwall.  An obvious holiday destination when the engine doesn’t always wish to connect with the wheels on any kind of incline.

We wanted to go on a road trip and the West Country beckoned.  A bed and breakfast was booked, the fuel tank brimmed and the AA Atlas referred to.

Lynda sat on Renault 6
Lynda demonstrating that the bonnet wasn’t as nearly as slippery as the tyres or clutch

The 200 odd mile trip there was, as expected, comfortable and taken with just a single stop at a Little Chef but as the inclines increased so did the engine revs despite the actual progress slowing.  Most hills were taken without too much thought but one or two tested our limitations in the way one would expect of any car if driven up a steep mountain in the Himalayas.

In fairness this amused us young adventurers more than anything else and added to the thrill of intersecting Cornwall’s narrow lanes.  So much so that now, many decades later I recall the driving experience more than the actual holiday bit.  As is usual Lynda actually remembers everything about the car and holiday like it was just yesterday and what socks I had on.

In the end we didn’t keep the car long, certainly not as long as my socks.  I was re-employed by the company with which I had served most of my apprenticeship and as I would now be a fully fledged engineer would get a fully expensed company car.  We no longer had need for the little red Renault and sold it.

In our ownership we had never spent a penny on servicing, clutches or tyres but got £600 for it, sold as clean as the day we picked it up.  We then gave Ethel the £600 as promised despite her protestations.

In hindsight we enjoyed having the car at such a critical point in our lives but could never really love the thing.  It just wasn’t the sort of thing you could be passionate about.

Really loved those bikes though and wish I still owned them.

Author: Vince Poynter

First published in the Cars section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk web site on 17 Apr 2020
The header image shows the Renault 6 with Lynda parked near the rocky coast of Cornwall and was taken by the Author in 1983
The second image shows Lynda and I posing with our brand new Dawes Shadow racing cycles in 1983, taken by a passing neighbour.  The bikes were completely stock except for some reason the pedal cranks had black painted spurs.  If your ancient Dawes Shadow looks exactly the same check under the frame stock.  If this is scraped or has our names engraved on them they are our actual stolen bikes.  So give them back
The third image shows Lynda’s uncle Ernest Dollin leaning against his car and was probably taken around 1982
The fourth image shows the author holding onto the open hatch in front of our house/flat/apartment/flying freehold place in Boyatt Wood, Eastleigh and was taken in 1983 by Lynda
The final image shows Lynda sat on the bonnet of the Renault 6 in Cornwall, taken by the author in 1983.  Note the little red enamel badge affixed to the front grille.  This is Lynda’s Institute of Advanced Motorists car test pass badge.  She also had a white plastic cover which had to be fixed whenever a non IAM driver, i.e. me, was behind the wheel.  We didn’t keep the Renault long enough for me to study and take the test
You may wonder why our first new bikes were not of a mountain bike style.  The reason was that ‘mountain style’ bicycles were not commonly available at the time.  Although mountain biking as a sport can be dated back to the 1970s road versions were only introduced around 1979/1980.  All this was happening in the United States of America and took a few years for the concept to mature then cross the pond.  The earliest form of a tough framed bicycle with off road wheels that I was aware of was the Raleigh Grifter.  That was introduced in 1976 but was in essence a child’s toy.  BMX as a concept became popular in the UK around 1982 but these bikes still suited children or chimps rather than grown adults.  Accordingly in 1983 adults usually rode either traditional road/commuter bicycles or more lightweight racing style models

Solar Panel Innovations

We live in a fast moving world.  Fast both in development and motion.  And traditionally we have powered all this with fossil fuels.  We have long known that this energy supply will come to a natural end and now global warming and climate changes have accelerated to a point where we must act much more quickly to avoid further, costly environmental damage.

A sea change in finding alternative solutions for this has been the rapid recent development of electric power.  Although some of this is generated by traditional fossil fuel sources a growing amount is being powered by cleaner and greener options such as wind, wave and solar power.

For transportation to embrace this power source there is a reliance on batteries, from early developments in heavy lead acid technology, through modern Lithium Ion versions which provide greater storage and even new ideas still on drawing boards and in the test tubes of many industrial chemical institutions.

Presently getting the electric power to the transport medium is a bit of a faff.  High power electrical charging networks have only recently been planned and built also recharging batteries takes either massive amounts of time or massive amounts of power along with super cooled refrigeration mechanics.  This is because fast charging generates huge amounts of heat as a by-product which can seriously damage or impair the equipment of the charging process.

For this reason a good compromise is solar powered battery recharge.  Often readily available this is generally a fairly low powered constant supply, providing the daylight is present.

However, providing sufficient electric output for a high powered transport device such as a car is currently almost impossible to achieve other than for extremely lightweight prototype concepts.  This is why no attempt is made to cover the roofs or panels of fully electric vehicles with solar panels and why all these vehicles are creeping quietly around the country looking for a fixed high amp electric charge point which they can sidle up to.

And providing sufficient panels for more energy intensive vehicles such as trucks, lorries, boats or even massive ships is even less likely.

Unless you are an ideas man like me and can see a way to beat this problem.  And I present here a number of innovative concepts that may assist.

Solar Powered Cars

Let’s start with cars.

A couple of extremely light weight, prototype, hyper mileage, single seat, pram wheeled, ultra low drag vehicles with a streamlined plastic covering have been produced.  These concepts were built to prove solar power concepts or challenge for self invented high mileage travel records, usually carried out in perfect solar producing conditions.

However, as discussed above our standard, fully equipped five seater electric cars need too much power storage and are used far too often in too many differing conditions to benefit from a charge source via just a few square metres of solar panel on their roof, even if you did add in the bonnet and side doors.  There is just no more space to mount the panels.

This is why they are charged from a static point, either a mains public charger, from a parked charging space at home or something similar at a destination.  This system works fine, providing the owner remembers to plug the car in to the mains and isn’t going on an extended journey.  If such an undertaking is attempted a time consuming electrical fuel stop or two would be needed to be factored in.

So, the problem is the square meterage available of solar panels.  So why not just tow a solar panel array?  The increased surface area may just keep a car going for the number of miles needed for a longer trip.  Imagine a trailer being towed behind the car, stretching back as far as an articulated lorry, quietly sucking up solar rays and sending the charge back into the cars battery via an attached coiled wire.

This is obviously all well and good on main, open, multiple lane roads and shouldn’t be too much of an issue but that’s not the only place cars need to go.  On smaller, twistier, single carriageway roads, local suburban areas and cities a long trailer may be unruly and difficult to handle by the average driver so further innovation is required.

In these instances it is clear that the trailed array of panels needs to be shortened.  So why not have an unfurling array?  A twin axle trolley which automatically stretches out and also retracts to suit the road conditions.

The arrays will either have to be flexible enough to retract into a large roll or perhaps be designed to stack over and under each other in order to suit the trailer wheelbase length.

Maybe the ultimate version of this system would be a roll out trailer actually incorporated into the boot or within the rear bumper area of the car, which automatically deploys, dropping out and extending dependant on road suitability.  Neat and tucked away for parking in congested cities and adjustable enough to suck up some sunshine dependant on the situation.  With the advantage that the most effect will occur on longer runs on main roads, which is the weak point of electric propulsion systems.

Is it possible that this idea is so innovative and indeed needed that current, existing cars may be modified to remove the oily, noisy fossil fuel sucking engine with an electric powered transmission system and fitted out with an inboard, deployable towed power station?

Another associated thought may be that a future roadside recovery vehicle would be equipped with a trailer load of deployable, pre-charged, arrays ready to hitch to cars that have inadvertently run out of sun juice and are stranded on the edge of the carriageways?  ‘Eh, eh’, I hear you mutter.

But enough of cars for now, what about other means of vehicular transport?

Vans, Trucks and Lorries

A similar system could be adopted for vans and trucks.  But with these larger vehicles there is additional unused roof space for fixed panels and more space for incorporating a slide out additional array.  Already many vans and lorries incorporate rear mounted equipment such as fold out load lifting platforms and even especially designed slimline forklift trucks.

For larger lorries already incorporating articulated designs an additional fixed or roll out trailer would be too unwieldy however their roof space is even more generous in the first place so should be utilised.

And in the case of the many articulated lorries which are just independent truck and trailer models with the cab owner hitching up the trailers of others the two parties would need to work to a commonly agreed system to ensure compatibility.  Which makes me think that maybe the universal container design needs remodelling to incorporate solar arrays?  And to avoid having to bolt on ill fitting solar panels to the corrugated roofs why not ‘paint’ a solar panel direct onto the corrugations?  Surely this must be possible using laser etching?

But what if we consider other means of transportation?

Rail

The idea of roof mounted solar panels on trains is not required on much of the already electrified network.  However the rail network system certainly lends itself to miles of fixed solar panel arrays alongside or between the rails for use of the rail network or to feed other non-rail infrastructure, homes and businesses nearby.

Notwithstanding the above, much of the network is not yet electrified and to convert it may be very expensive and require a lot of disruptive construction often in remote and environmentally sensitive areas.  In these cases adopting roof panel mounted arrays on the long trains could be a good option and the towing of multiple, long, linked additional arrays is certainly a feasible thought.

And why isn’t wind power harnessed as the trains pass by?  If you are unfortunate enough to be close to a passing high speed train you would feel the rush of wind created.  Put up vertical fans near to the edge of the train which would spin up when a train passes and convert this mechanical energy back into electrical energy to help power the network points, lights and other infrastructure.

Canal Boats

Canals have some similarity to the rail networks.  Some of the bends may be a little tighter but it is still essentially a system that suits elongated design.  And much like the rail system many miles of it are very open to daylight.

Already many canal boats, usually those that house live aboard residents, take advantage of a few solar panels along with the necessary electronic systems and batteries to power their onboard electrical needs.  However, their roofs are often too congested with guy ropes, poles, brightly decorated watering cans and other useless ephemera to be fully equipped with major arrays.

This is because few canal craft rely on full electric propulsion.  Most instead rely on fossil fuel powered engines.  But if one considers that these engines are usually very low powered they could simply be replaced with a similar power output electric system.

It is doubtful that with current technology that a single boat, even one that extends a full 72 feet in length, would be able to site enough panels on its own roof, even if we utilise my earlier idea of spray painted arrays.  So instead, why not tow an additional hull packed with a full set of solar arrays?

I would add a couple of other extras onto this big fuel cell to make the system more easily manageable down the cut.  I would add a small seating area at the rear and a deployable electric outboard type motor, powered from the array, to make the craft individually controllable when needed.  This would be required when the towed power source is detached from the main boat in order to pass through the standard locks on the canal system.

Finally why not incorporate onboard the hull array a mechanical or electrically automated pivoting system to steer the individual array panels towards any light source to increase efficiency of the system?

The ideas are just flowing out now so let’s scale this up.

River Boats and Ocean Yachts

Already there are fully electric powered catamarans on the market taking full advantage of their generous roof and deck spaces being covered with solar panels which feed battery systems and electric propulsion.  At present their power is limited compared to other more powerful, faster boats and yachts but they can apparently sail continuously in the right conditions at a modest cruising speed.

The trouble with non catamaran design is the lack of roof and deck space.  Plus many yachts are designed with open flybridge cockpits and many, many more are already built already incorporating big, heavy, fuel sucking engines.  So I need to find a solution for these craft as well.

The natural energy source can be the same as the model suggested for the canal boats.  Towed solar panel arrays, powering an onboard battery storage, electric propulsion motor system.

Yes, I can hear you already picking up on a couple of key points.  Calm down I have already thought of these and have them covered.

Firstly, yes some modifications have to be made to the original watercraft.  The current diesel or petrol engines will need replacing with electric units.  But these will be much more compact and whilst being fitted likely to incorporate updated innovation such as steerable pod propulsion to increase low speed manoeuvring around the harbours and marinas.

The balance of the boat design caused by the reduction in engine weight from big heavy fossil fuel engines and gearboxes with huge fuel storage tanks to more compact electrical motors can be offset by judicious positioning of the necessary battery and charging equipment.

Alternatively just build new boats with design incorporated, electric motors and battery storage systems.

But, you exclaim, what about having to tow a massive solar panel array craft behind us whilst trying to pose around the Mediterranean beaches and tearing about in pointless but addictive high speed turns?  My answer is don’t.  The power source doesn’t have to go everywhere with you.  Just tow it to a convenient bit of empty sea, anchor it from tidal movements, disconnect and go off to have some fun whilst it sucks up some sun, only to return at the end of play to recharge from your own self sufficient ‘fuel’ station.

And if you wish to harness even more power why not incorporate some wave energy technology into your floating power station as well?  I’ll explain how when we really scale this up.

Ocean Going Ships

You may think that this article has developed from my ideas on road vehicles, adapting some of these basic ideas onto small water craft and now I’m going all in in an attempt to exaggerate and scale up a basic concept.  In truth it was the energy efficient powering of ocean going liners that made me come up with these ideas in the first place.

I have been on a few cruise trips, including ocean crossings on some magnificent vessels and enjoy it too much to want to give it up for the sake of the environment.  But I have a conscience and want my actions to impact the world in which I live in the most sustainable way.  I heard that cruise ships have an enormously disproportionate effect on natural resources and they are getting ever more popular so I wanted to come up with a solution to save the industry.  I know, it’s all me, me, me.

But how do you electrify a huge cruise ship without if being tethered to a large cable attached to shore?  The answer lies in utilising wave and solar power whilst out and about.  And much like smaller boats and craft the onboard surface area is not sufficient to meet the needs of the many decks of energy hungry occupants below.

I therefore envisaged an idea that the vast surface area of a massive solar array could be towed behind to power the ship, all fitted out with steerable panels to zero in on the source of light power.  Overall size and space taken up need not be a consideration due to the environment in which these vessels operate.  Why not tow massive panel sets over a mile in length?  If size requires it to be unhooked and anchored temporarily whilst the ship puts into ports then shore power can be used whilst the ship is there.

Yes, the towed power source will need some battery storage for harvesting power whilst unhooked, it would be best served with independent motors for manoeuvring and probably incorporate a small manned onboard control tower [and lifeboat for emergency], particularly if it is a mile long!

Finally add in some wave energy harnessing technology as well into this power station, possibly by articulation of sections of the craft and hey, I may just have had an idea that could help save the industry and our planet.  And more importantly, my future cruise desires.

And finally, as a call back to the section above entitled Vans, Trucks and Lorries, remember my idea that all standardised containers incorporate solar panels.  These adapted containers can all be linked whilst transported on massive container ships to provide more self sufficiency and even more planet saving.  I’m starting to wonder whether I could actually be saving the equivalent of two planets by now.

You’re welcome.

Oh, and as for powering all the oil tankers chugging around the world.  No need, they will all become redundant.

Summary Of Ideas

Wow, what a lot to think about.  Just in case you have been overwhelmed by the number of innovative ideas in this one single article let me summarise them below.

  • Towed solar panel arrays for vehicles
  • Adjustable length towed arrays – Retractable roll out and stackable
  • Adjustable towed arrays stored within the rear of vehicles
  • Roadside recovery vehicles carrying spare, pre-charged roll out towed arrays
  • Redesign of the universal container system to incorporate solar panels, adaptable enough to be joined up to help power a container ship
  • Spray painted on solar panel arrays with laser etching
  • Fixed solar panels within or without the parallel rail lines to power electrified trains and infrastructure on electrified and non electrified routes
  • Harnessing wind created by high speed passing trains to power the network infrastructure
  • Floating, towed solar panel arrays for canal craft, boats and even big ships
  • Floating, towed solar panel arrays incorporating wave energy harnessing technology

Author: Vince Poynter

From the Ideas section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk web site Version 5.284 dated 15 Jan 2020 [First Publication]

These are conceptual ideas, untested and made without engineering calculations.  For instance I have no idea how many more miles a towed array would make to an electrically propelled vehicle or craft.  I do however surmise that it would be more with than without

I have not overly emphasised the additional components of solar panel and battery systems.  I do understand that there would be other components such as solar charge controllers, inverters, wiring and isolation to consider.  I also understand that all these things would add both weight and cost and be needed to be incorporated in either the vehicle or towed array or both.  An unaccompanied, towed array left to soak up some sun whilst drifting quietly at sea would do no good to its owner when it returns if an onboard battery etc is not included

At the time of publication I had not fact checked whether any of the ideas listed above have already been produced, developed, patented or are in the process of development.  All I claim is that I have not come across them naturally.  If you know of such innovation already out there let me know and I’ll amend and credit accordingly

I place these concepts into the wild as I feel it wrong to keep them to myself and I also hope to inspire others and generate interesting discussion

As ever, my many ideas are never commercially exploited nor formally patented by me but I would like to see them used.  I presume if you are the sort who takes up the ideas of others and passes them off as your own you would not be the sort who credits the original inventor or chucks them a bit of financial thanks.  If however you are not such a dreadful monster my name is shown above.  Find me, thank me, credit me, reward me.  You’ll feel a much better human

These innovations have not been fully developed, tested, proven via prototype, safety tested, manufactured or fully engineered and are just conceptual ideas therefore the author cannot accept any liability for loss or damage in the testing, use or manufacture of any of these conceptual ideas

The Hillman Avenger Story

How do you define your first car?

The question can actually be read in many different ways.  Let me explain.

Take a look at the photograph below.  Here you will see a very young me sat in black and white next to my mother on our front door step.  In my hands you will see a small toy.  A fifties style car the make and model of which I cannot recall, nor determine from the picture.

Vince with Lilian on doorsetep
The earliest photograph of me holding a car so it must be mine

I don’t remember that car but by the look of my tight grip it looks very much like mine.  Is this my first car?

The first toy car that I definitely remember owning and which became my favourite one was a red Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Corgi toy.  So was this my first car?

But toy cars don’t count as a first car, do they?  One needs to be able to get in and drive.  Well, I could do that in the go-kart that my brother and I were given.  I may only have been around four or five years old but it was me doing the driving, providing all the self-propelled forward motion, steering and braking.  In doing so I learnt width judgement, the consequences of speed, under and over steer and when ignoring all the above what happens when the corner is tighter than the grip.  So surely my first car.

Then motorised transport came into my life.  You can read about the origins of this journey in my Bikes section because like many others in those days I started on two wheels.  On the road since my sixteenth birthday on a borrowed moped, then at seventeen my own trail bike, followed by a small road bike then mid sized tourer.  You will also have noted that I finished this section of my life with a crash, a girlfriend, thoughts of future passengers and a story involving a bicycle and a Hillman Avenger.  My first actual car.  Or was it?

It was certainly not the first I drove as I had been driving for about three years by then.  I started as soon as I was legally allowed at seventeen.

The first I got behind the wheel of was a Vauxhall Viva.  Not the latest, rebadged 2016 Chevrolet Spark, but the much earlier HC version that Vauxhall produced during the 1970s.  It was red and new and light to drive through its enormous steering wheel.  I had already garnered a good sense of road craft from my year on mopeds and a trip or three on my Yamaha Trail bike.  And crucially I couldn’t fall off it.  Driving a car should have been so easy.

The trouble was that it was owned by a gross, un-sympathetic, interfering Driving Instructor and I couldn’t afford many or even regular lessons.

I hated every moment of the driving not because of the car but because of the instructor.  He would arrive late, squish down in the passenger seat with his plump thighs overhanging both sides of the wide seat usually with his used handkerchief dripping out of his side pocket hanging over the handbrake.

He would then fuss and panic about someone driving his car and constantly grab at the steering wheel and gearstick then pump his feet up and down on his new toy, his dual pedal set up.

I already knew how to meander through traffic from my year and some of biking, I was aware of my surroundings, familiar with junctions and traffic signs.  I just needed some practice at the bits of a car that were different such as clutch changing using my foot and steering with a big circular wheel.  But I was not free to plot my own course without unnecessary intervention, or pull to a gentle stop without my passenger stabbing the brakes.

I was just seventeen and didn’t have the life experiences or confidence to change instructors or the funds to do back to back lessons and as a result every two months it felt like another brand new start.  Just let go of the controls you gross, pig-headed bastard.

Overall I had just six lessons, one every two months or so during the year before I was advised by Mr. Slob to take my driving test and inevitably failed it.  I can’t remember exactly why but do recall it was only a couple of minor issues.  The main thing I needed was regular, unhindered practice.

I was also under pressure from work.  My job required me to visit various construction sites around the local counties and my white collar image was being smeared by the arrival in motorbike clothing and helmet.  Plus I was unable to transport the required oddments and official documents that my role dictated.  The boss wanted me driving and I had colleagues’ cars awaiting my piloting.

I finally got my chance when my mother persuaded my dad that I could be added onto her car’s insurance.  With the assistance of my older brother in the passenger seat and a couple of L plates I could get all the practice I needed.

It was a first generation white Triumph Herald 1200 with bright red seats and I took it out as often as money, my brother and time allowed.  I even took my friends, Jeff and Spike, in the back a couple of times.  Although regretted it when they gesticulated at a passing police car which got me a lecture about how I, as the driver, should be in control of my unruly passengers.

But it did the job, I got the regular practice needed and re-hired the Viva to pass my car driving test.

Not that I swapped my exciting twin wheeled vehicles for a car immediately.  Why should I?  I already had 120mph travel potential and a 0-60mph time of around three and a half seconds.  Cars were dull, slow things that in my budget were rusty and unreliable with excessive insurance premiums.  And besides that I had started driving anyway.  Virtually every day.  In nearly new cars, fuelled by a large on-site petrol tank.

I worked in a small to mid sized building services company.  Our task was to design and build the intricate pipe work and associated plant that courses its way around commercial and industrial buildings and my role was to manage or assist in the supervision of these projects.  The company needed me to deliver tender offers, visit the sites for meetings and help with previously forgotten small deliveries.  And so leant me the company cars for this purpose.

I particularly took advantage of tearing around the place in John’s blue facelift model Vauxhall Chevette 1.3 L as he was generous enough to let me have the keys, thanks John.  Malcolm was less forthcoming with his near identical green model.  In fact I was more often offered the mid-size executive 1.6 Vauxhall Cavalier Mark 1 LS of Senior Engineer Jeffery.  And once had to deliver our MD Peter’s BMW 525 E12 post facelift model to Salisbury.  I saw 125mph on the speedo.  Err, it was just under the 130mph on the dial, officer.

However time was moving on, I had done all that I needed to at that moment on two wheels and as explained in my Honda CX500 article the market for potential new female friends would be increased exponentially by having my own four wheels so I advertised my bike for sale and included a thought that I would consider a swap for a car.

I had a reply.  Some chap had a car and wanted a bike.  We agreed that any difference in value would be included in cash and he duly arrived in his Hillman.  I can’t recall who got some dosh with their vehicle but he took away my shiny ‘as new apart from the frame reshaped’ bike and left me the keys to his slightly tatty Avenger.

Hillman Avenger front
My Hillman Avenger in all its glory when first purchased by me

I had received not only the keys but also the car.  A Hillman Avenger GLS with vinyl roof.  This pleased me immensely as for a start it exceeded the company cars I had use of in virtually every aspect.  It was a GLS model, not a mere L, or LS and as anyone around this time knew this was important.

It had four headlamps, velour seats, Rostyle wheels and it’s black vinyl roof.  Plus an enormous 1.6 engine as big as Jeff’s one.

It also had some extras not normally on these models.  A bit of surface rust and a distinct lean towards the front right hand side.  But let’s not forget, it was a GLS.

Driving the car felt good.  It’s soft, probably knackered, suspension wallowed it around to suit it’s big comfortable presence.  There was a dashboard full of dials and accomodation to easily fit five adults.  The multi headlamp set up lit up the darkest of night lanes and the powerful engine provided prompt passage to wherever you chose to travel.  Everything worked and I was a happy owner that summer.

I loved having the car and was the first of my gang to have one.  Yes, Spike had occasional use of a huge four wheel barge that had Vauxhall VX 4/90 written on the back.  It was an FD series and actually his Dad’s car.  All the others were still tootling around on just two wheels.  I became the go to guy for transporting numbers greater than two.

In fairness the others didn’t have cars because they were still at school, or sixth form college as they put it.  I was the only working one with a wage, although a fairly meagre one as I was doing an office based apprenticeship.  But at least I could run the thing.

Jeff, Vince, Theresa & Jackie
Jeff [the ‘student’, not the Senior Engineer version], Vince, Theresa and Jackie, pictured at another time completely.  The Pot Noodle is irrelevant to the story.  But in the interests of complete disclosure was a Chicken and Mushroom version

The most memorable of these journeys happened at the beginning of August that year.  My good mate Jeff had been dating Jackie for a few years by now and a suggestion was made that I could get together with Jackie’s friend Theresa.  A plan was hatched for us all to go to the British Biking Grand Prix together, ostensibly to help with the marshalling but mainly to snuggle up in handy pairs in a tiny overnight tent.

Jeff had just been signed up for his Polytechnic, err University, course and was already there sorting out his new accommodation so I was tasked with collecting the girls, passing by the big school to pick up Jeff and then for all four of us to travel towards Silverstone.

The problem was that it was fresher’s week so Jeff was therefore torn between his long planned trip to the races and getting in on the first social events with all his new poly buddies.  He felt he had no choice but to choose his new social contacts meaning I had to take a very tearful girlfriend and her sympathetic bestie onwards to the racing circuit where the only racing certainty was that the threesome in the tent would end up as a sad, sob fest.

Our weekend duties were also squarely curtailed.  Without Jeff we could hardly form a reliable marshalling team for a major Grands Prix event so we were asked to ‘assist around the pits area’.  A euphemism for don’t get in anyone’s way.  We didn’t have much to do and sat around watching things happen.  At one point I had popped to the loo and Barry Sheene was told off by the girls for ‘sitting in Vince’s seat’.  In the Yamaha pit area.

But I should be reporting on the car.  Well it was near perfect.  Plenty big enough for three adults and all the camping equipment that we could muster and very comfortable on the long trip.  The only issue being the windcreen wipers that decided to stop working just as the rain started to.  Oh, and the fact that Jackie threw open the passenger door too hard when the car was parked facing downhill resulting in a slightly bent front door where it met the hinge and a bit of a gap where it now couldn’t meet the back door.  A judicious slam and a bit of securing rope and it closed providing access wasn’t needed any more on that side of the car.

It wasn’t quite the end of the car.  That would happen later that year as autumn, winter and my circumstances started to take it’s toll.  The ownership coincided with a dramatic time of my life.  I decided I had made an error in joining a company in the construction industry.  I wasn’t planning to stay beyond my apprenticeship so immediately junked the job.  It was the week before news headlines reported the first time unemployment had reached the milestone of one million.  I was out of work, likely to be staying that way, poor and had only just left home to stay in a shared house with some of my old school buddies.

The car was parked, unused, at my parents house and when the tax ran out I popped it up on the front lawn.  Not as dramatic as it might seem at first because the lawn had become a regular spot for many of my brother’s many broken down vehicles.

However, my car wasn’t welcomed.  Possibly in fairness because I wasn’t living there any more.  I was asked to move it.

As usual it fired up first time but then immediatly became sick and started to wet itself all over the floor.  That day I learnt three important things.  Firstly why antifreeze is a critical component in a coolant system.  Secondly that you cannot trust a previous owner to know about the first thing.  And thirdly that if you are oblivious to points one and two the ordinarily very durable metal crankcase can be split in two.

I had no funds to repair the car and had to come up with a solution.  And it looked like I found one in my new friend Stuart.  He offered to take the car off my hands and give me a bicycle.  This pleased me because I had never had a bike, could actually afford to run one and there was more talk of a cash value to make up the difference.  And I desperately needed cash at that point in my life on the simple grounds that I had precisely none of it.

Sadly the deal didn’t go down too well.  Newly discovered ex-friend Stuart arranged to take the car promptly then procrastinated about the bike.  It appeared he didn’t have one to give me, or didn’t want to part with any he did have and spoke about building one for me.  I had previously envisaged a shiny brand new racing bike but was now looking down the barrel of a rusty frame fished from a canal, bent spokes and a soggy seat.  The bike, when it was finally delivered wasn’t that much better.  It was a recycled frame with a lovely hand crafted paint job with a unique paint run effect.  None of the components were of any quality or purchased recently from a store.  And when the cash differential was raised Stuart disappeared and so became someone I never saw again.  Shame really, he seemed like quite a nice guy.

So, in summary I had started with a fairly new motorcycle and ended up with a crappy bicycle.  But in between loads of fond memories of my first car.  Because that was what it was.

And that’s how it should be because, as anyone knows, the first car is the cheapest.  Queue the song Rod.

Author: Vince Poynter

The header photograph shows the author sat on the bonnet of his Hillman Avenger 1.6 GLS, taken by a family member in 1981
The first photograph shows the author aged around three to four sat with his mother, Lilian on their doorstep and must be dated around 1964/5.  The next image shows the front view of the Hillman Avenger, also from 1981.  The final photograph shows the author and his friends Jeff, Theresa and Jackie, also from 1981 but a bit later
This article first appeared on the vinceunlimited web site on 20 September 2019 and can be found at vinceunlimited.co.uk/cars.htm or if you are on a mobile device and want a more suitable reading experience on vinceunlimited.co.uk/carsm.htm

Autonomous Vehicles

Part One – An Introduction

The latest news in driving is that driving is to expire.  For us mortals at least.  Soon the only thing driving our cars will be the cars themselves.  Yes, all over the news we hear of self driving cars.  Just use a common search engine to see who is big in this field and you’ll instantly get the idea.  I suggest the search engine Bing.

Some vehicles already have lane departure systems that bleep at you or shake your steering wheel if you dare to cross the line markings without first advising the car.  Many more have cruise control to avoid us having to make the effort to maintain a speed, sometimes enhanced with additional radar control to keep us from accidentally bumping into the vehicle ahead.  We have self parking systems to get us into a gap and detailed mapping to get us out of holes.  Although to map out all the actual potholes encountered may take another 30 years.

This is all big news and for those that follow my every word across all the social media platforms that I use, yes you two, you will be well aware that I have a great fascination in this sort of technology with the development of autonomous vehicles being of the most interest to me.  In fact I have been picking at this subject for a few years now, as I shall demonstrate.

My first ever public comment on any aspect of autonomous driving was made on the Twitter platform back on 1 June 2014 when I posted the thought ‘Can’t wait for these driverless Google cars.  Will make my border drug running business a lot less risky’.  And if you think I have blown a cover on an illicit controlled substance operation then you haven’t been following my Twitter stream very carefully.

Then, after reading about a potential development on a Honda Accord car that would use ‘radar, cruise control and the ability to follow white line markings whilst steering to effectively allow the car to drive itself’ I posted a blog on my web site on 14 June 2006 entitled ‘According To Me’ [link below].  In this I mused over a potential dispute between various interested parties in the event of a collision of an autonomous vehicle.

I continued within Twitter on 17 June 2014 publishing another tongue-in-cheek tweet writing ‘Love the internet technology on new cars.  Just emailed my brakes.  Now waiting for a reply’ with another post a month later on 17 July 2014 wherein I wryly mused ‘If spell check gets in the way, in the future will Google produce self driving cats?’

By 3 September 2014 I had more to say on related matters in this field which I literally did within my fifth podcast subtitled Lanserguided [link below].  Please feel free to check out the whole aural experience but if you find the idea of my voice droning on then in essence I raised an idea about potential laser projections on the front of cars to map out a stopping distance ahead of a moving vehicle.  Then I considered whether future autonomous cars would actually allow us to get into them or consider driving away completely if sent off to seek a parking space.  I also predicted a simpler future driving test.  Plus I concluded that the take up of autonomous technology would be inevitable.  I did offer a caveat that despite all the promise of automation there will always be human skills needed to maintain and service broken vehicles.

In addition to this early sporadic public commentary on the subject I had many other thoughts on this developing and fascinating technology but the next tranche of public comments came again on Twitter in a series of tweet posts over a year later on 26 October 2015 as follows:

  • If I bought a driverless car and sent it to park while I was at work, what’s to stop it starting it’s own taxi service?
  • Of course the wealthy already have driverless cars.  Or as they call them, chauffeurs
  • Personally I’m waiting for the first fight between driverless cars over a parking spot.  That may sort out the Android vs iOS argument
  • I bought a driverless car last year.  It read roads, maps, the Internet & communicated.  It went straight to the High Court & claimed freedom

Using a different medium, this year I tried some stand up comedy and for one performance I wrote a routine about driverless technology which I performed at The Studio within The Point at Eastleigh, Hampshire on 20 February 2019.  It was a deliberately light hearted slant on the subject but did cover many interesting points within this field.  You can view the performance on YouTube [link below] but I have extracted some of the ideas here for information whilst simultaneously extracting the humour because this is a serious article and nothing even remotely amusing must colour the tone.  Ever.

  • Autonomous cars, driving around with no apparent attention being paid at all.  Is that taxi drivers?
  • How do you operate a driverless car?  If you’re wealthy, use voice commands.  It lets the chauffeur know where you want to go.  For the rest of us you’re no more than a dog.  Open the hatch of your Rover, get in and it takes you to your destination
  • Future driving tests will be so much easier.  “Show me your car.  Get in.  Seatbelt on.  Good, that’s a pass”
  • Cars will be able to communicate to work anything out as a group.  At a traffic light on the illumination of green they all move off at the same time and on red they all stop as one
  • All controlled within parameters of the users choosing a priority mode of travel – Tourist mode, in a hurry or even declaration of an emergency.  Enhanced by the cars choosing priority based on types of occupant
  • On the open road cars will be able to go really quickly with future motorways packed tight full of high speed cars, all talking to each other
  • Are our current cars going to be scrapped being no longer useful?
  • Are we are going to have to fit our present cars with similar cameras, lasers, radars and sensors similar to those needed for the autonomous ones?
  • What if we have super smart self driving robots that can get into our current cars whilst still quickly communicating with the new tranche of driverless vehicles?  These to connect with all the other cars, fitted with multiple ‘limbs’ for steering, gear changes, handbrake, wipers, lights etc.  Plus being plugged into the car’s on-board computer and fitted with all necessary cameras, lasers, radars and sensors all over to simultaneously look out the front, the back, see the traffic, see every single mirror, check the speed, revs and fuel gauge etc.
  • And my latest public commentary on the subject came on 27 March 2019 when I tweeted ‘If my car camera automatically reads speed limit plates to restrict my progress I may need to tape a photo of a national speed limit sign onto the end of a fishing rod and hang it out the front’

So below I expand on these thoughts posing a number of ideas, questions and ideas on this subject to summarise my position, as follows:

  • Autonomous Vehicles – A Transitional Period
  • Autonomous Vehicles – Issues and Scenarios
  • Autonomous Vehicles – The Future
  • Autonomous Vehicles – Interesting Questions and Considerations

Part Two – A Transitional Period

This section will look at my thoughts on the transitional period between full driver control and full autonomous control.  But before we proceed too far what is meant by an autonomous vehicle?

According to Wikipedia, which is the best source I can suggest if you wish to know more, automated driving systems were first trialled as early as the 1920s.  However autonomous driving as we know it now with greater control by electronic means was worked on in the 1980s but it wasn’t until the 2010s and the development of more powerful and cheaper computer systems that modern recognised autonomy tests were being carried out.

For information the most accepted standard of defining autonomous control is from SAE International, an automotive standardisation body, which defines levels of driving automation as follows:

  • Level 0 – Basic – Automated warnings and momentarily intervention but no sustained vehicle control
  • Level 1 – Hands on – The driver and the automated system share control.  Examples include Cruise Control, Adaptive Course Control, Parking Assistance and Lane Keeping Assist.  The driver must be ready to retake full control at any time
  • Level 2 – Hands off – The automated system takes full control of the vehicle with the driver monitoring and regularly demonstrating this and fully ready to intervene immediately at any time if the automated system fails to respond properly
  • Level 3 – Eyes off – The driver can safely turn their attention away from the automated driving but be prepared to intervene within some limited time
  • Level 4 – Mind off – As level 3, but no driver attention is ever required for safety and could sleep or leave the driving seat.  The vehicle must be able to safely abort the trip if the driver does not retake control
  • Level 5 – Steering wheel optional – No human intervention is required at all

There are problems transitioning between these various levels of autonomy, particularly from levels 2 and 3 and major car manufacturer Ford announced in February 2017 that they gave up attempting to develop a level 3 stage opting for working on the safer level 4.

Well, that’s the vital but soulless bit out of the way so I can now concentrate on my own related thoughts.

This may surprise some but we already have a great deal of autonomy in our cars, in fact every driver who has ever driven has experienced some form of autonomy because some aspects actually go back to the earliest days of motorised transport.

benzpatentmotorwagen
The Benz Patent-Motorwagen, the very first automobile with some partial automation arguably making it technically the first level 1 autonomous vehicle

For example the very first motor car, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen required a considerable amount of driver input control.  Speed, braking and steering were all completely operated by the person in the driver’s seat.  However some of the mechanical operation had been automated, for instance the trembler-coil ignition system.  This was technically an automated device to avoid the driver having to manually open and close an ignition switch for each stroke of the engine.

If you feel that I am stretching a definition of autonomy then where do you put your line?  On the subject of ignition again is it an autonomous function for a car to adjust advance and retard on a car without electronic ignition?  Cars used to have advance and retard for their ignition to be manually selected by the driver dependant on the incline and thus load on the engine.  Now it’s the car that works all this out and only a retard would dismiss this advance.  This function used to be manually operated and is now an automated function, with a great deal further development in the electronic ignition systems of modern vehicles.

Perhaps your ‘line’ is drawn at automated gearboxes.  These are fairly usual nowadays particularly as manufacturers have improved the efficiency of auto gearboxes.  I ask, why choose the manual option if not for cost?  Nowadays I’d much rather drive virtually any auto than a fiddly manual because I just can’t be bothered with all that awkward left leg clutch balancing stuff, particularly in our congested, traffic jammed streets.  And if I really want to drop down a gear for added oomph, or preselect a cog for better downhill control I can always flip the flappy paddle.

Now gearboxes have gone beyond just selecting gears based on engine pre-selected power [revs] and speed.  The Volkswagon Group DSG type gearboxes are designed to pre-select gears based on assumed future driver requirement and Rolls-Royce provide a gearbox in their latest Phantom VIII model which means it can preselect a gear based on GPS receiver and terrain information drawn from a map system.

And even if you don’t accept these gearbox functions as autonomous features then surely many will have driven a car with cruise control fitted, which is a defined level 1 stage of autonomy.  And some may even have had a go at successfully operating it.

I personally have experience of driving vehicles to at least level 2 autonomy which are now often fitted with technology to level 3 but restricted in use due to legislation.  This level is not uncommon on modern vehicles with adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, automated lane changing and automatic braking.  Although I accept at present these systems are often unreliable in some circumstances, such as when the road lines fade away or within the confines of supermarket car parks.

I have no experience of driving to level 4 known as ‘Mind Off’, but I reckon many have.  Usually just before they crash!

So, as you can see we are already accepting the partial automation of our driving.  The transitional period is already here with us.

So how will we actually ‘drive’ a true self-driving car?  What will be the process?

I have already suggested that operating a level 5 autonomous car would be so simple that a future driving test would be almost completely pointless.  However, we would need to show some control, after all the car would need to be summoned, opened and told where to go so manufacturers should make these basic steps as simple as possible to enable maximise occupancy use, for occupants such as the old, infirm, children or dogs that wish to go walkies while their owner watches the snooker on TV.

However when in the interior space it won’t be a free-for-all, at least not for now.  You will not be able to meander around a vehicle making tea and dancing to Reggae music.  The laws of physics still apply so when the vehicle accelerates, brakes and corners you need to be securely strapped in to avoid spilling that tea or turning your Jamaican moves into an impromptu break dance.  Whether we get to the stage where accidents are so rare and driving so smooth that full freedom of movement will be allowed in the vehicle is yet to be proved.

So what are the level 5 control systems likely to include?  A reasonable guess is that within cities the vehicle may not be where you are when you first summon it.  There is a high likelihood of car sharing in the future and possibly the common use of tightly packed, remote storage.  If cars can operate autonomously why would they need to remain outside your property getting in the way of the rest of your life?  They are more likely to drive themselves off to a charging point or park in a remote car park, possibly automatically stacked several cars high or at least packed in nose to tail with no room between them to open doors.  For this reason to get in your car you will first need to summon it and this will in all probability be an application on your mobile device.  By then we would have to be accustomed to summoning a ride in good time and if it was a genuine emergency the system will just divert a closer ‘common use’ vehicle.

Just before the vehicle arrives it will probably be sending out a message for you to let you be aware of when it will get there and once at your location will be linked to your mobile device so that it is open as soon as you are ready.  A quick, bluetooth style, electronic ‘handshake’ between you and the vehicle and it will be ready for instructions on where to go next.

Of course it won’t move off until all occupants are secured into a seat, so no racing starts to beat your neighbour to the end of the Close.  The seats will then probably be able to determine who is sat there and make suitable adjustments that the occupant has used before, whether it be facing ahead, in a face to face group gathering or prone for a sleepy ride.

One person will then probably state a destination requirement, such as “Hey car, take us to The Dog & Duck, via Barry’s place.”  This will prompt the car to respond such as “You wish to go to Kentucky to buy some milk, please confirm.”  Or at least it will do if voice command doesn’t get any better.  But in any case the vehicle will have a tablet device slotted in somewhere so that more precise directions can be commanded.

But where can these vehicles operate in this transitional period?

At first driverless vehicles will be at level 3, with the ‘I’m busy, I can’t get to the controls at the moment’ mode not yet an option.  The driver will still be sat behind a steering wheel and actually using it in most cases.  The first autonomy will likely be allowed on main roads in good conditions in the beginning with driver control on local streets.  This could happen now as many makes of cars already have the technology fitted to do this but are restricted only by local laws.  This may mean the learning of new motorway and A-road signs permitting such autonomy.

 

avplate
A suggestion for an illuminated plate to be attached to the rear of a vehicle to indicate to following vehicles that autonomous operations are in use

I foresee from this an interim period when autonomous vehicles have to display some sort of external evidence of potential auto control, probably backed up by an electronic ‘black box’ of trickery to meet certain criteria.  Could there eventually be lanes designated only for autonomous cars, the outer lanes, geofenced to prevent access until you select autonomous mode?  You might try to join in but the system just won’t let you.  But when you can join in you could be cruising with cars travelling along at near to 200mph.

So does this mean that wise purchasers should be ticking these level 2/3 autonomous options on their vehicle builds now?  Note to self when ordering that car, choose adaptive cruise control, lane departure and speed limit recognition camera option on the next build.  It’s only another £4k after all.  And when LIDAR becomes available I’m sure this will be just as, ahem, competitively priced.

This will all have to be developed in conjunction with the latest 5G mobile networking systems.  This new high speed, high capacity internet will be needed to do the physical geofencing and authorisation along with the various car to car [v2v] and car to surroundings [v2b – b for base/infrastructure] communications needed for safe use of packed roads and high speeds.

In time it will be these same main roads where eventually all lanes introduce compulsory autonomous operation and older ill equipped vehicles will be barred.

And you can be certain that at all these stages governments and authorities will meet resistance from some, so expect a considerable amount of discussion and opinions.  Mainly by me.

All this as we head towards full level 4 and 5 autonomy.  But as I am considering the transitional period proceeding this then what else can we expect?  And in particular what about the transition of our current cars.

At present the driverless mule cars being developed by manufacturers, the big tech giants and tech start ups resemble our current vehicles but splattered with an ugly array of cameras, radars, LIDAR, other sensors and devices all over them.  In time this technology will be miniaturised and so seamlessly integrated into our current saloon, estate, SUV and lorry shapes.

It is also reasonable to assume that the developers of this technology will also want to sell it as aftermarket accessories to vehicles that don’t sport such stuff at present.

But this may not be the only offering because I predict the self driving robot.  I discussed this in my comedy piece in February this year.

I foresee the introduction of approximately human sized self driving robots with the ability and technology to lock onto the necessary 5G systems and other relevant networks, connect to our cars using their inbuilt OBD socket then accurately survey and assess their surroundings.  These robots would be able to actually clamber into our current cars and quickly communicate with the new tranche of driverless vehicles around them.  Within they would have powerful computers and externally cameras, sensors and multiple ‘limbs’ to operate all the various functions of our current vehicles wherever the switches, seats, foot pedals, handbrakes, dials and controls are fitted.  They may even be able to get out to change a wheel, check the tyres and even set the clock to British Summer Time as well.  So clearly better than us.

I predict these robots will come before stage 6 autonomous cars are universally widespread, with licenses to roam wherever other autonomous vehicles may go.

Mind you there should always be a need to retain our own manual driving skills.  I don’t foresee most cars without any antiquated steering, speed or braking controls, even if they are usually tucked away out of sight.  We’ll need these to go where the maps don’t map, such as into the wilderness, through temporary road diversions or into the depths of Morrisons’ car parks.

And some specialists will still be needed to drive these auto-cars when things go wrong.  I’m assuming the car will work out itself when to drive off to the garage for an oil service or get a flat tyre sorted but someone will have to pick up the ones that have faults reading something like error 404 bad sector.  So don’t put that Highway Code in the bin just yet.

Part Three – Issues and Scenarios

Within this third section I highlight just some of the issues surrounding this fascinating and complex subject.

One frightening aspect of autonomous control is the question of how a vehicle automatically relates to making life or death decisions.  This is something we as humans already do when driving.

For example if you are driving along past some parked cars and a person, previously unseen, steps out from between two high sided vehicles in front of the car most of us would brake heavily to avoid contact.  It’s natural.  Usually before we can reassess whether our braking may affect any following driver.

Make that person stepping into the road your own child and you are likely to alter your decision, even swerving into the path of an oncoming vehicle with a chance of potentially killing yourself rather than the child.  All without any thought to the opposing driver or occupants.

If asked to assess this in a calm and controlled manner, with enough time to work out all the permutations a different scenario may present itself.  If you knew that hard braking would avoid your child’s death but knock them over without any major or long term repercussions, plus any following car was astute enough to brake behind you in time and the opposing vehicle had a number of other children on board who would all escape injury then your decision may change.  To knock your little offspring over to teach them a lesson for being so cavalier in their attitude to road safety.

The trouble is we humans can’t work all this out quick enough.  But we are building machines that can.  So these machines have to have these sort of morals programmed into them.

There are many examples of these ethical decisions already out there in Internet Land so I won’t be repetitive here suffice to say they mostly base around speeding trains and pulling levers to decide which sub-branch line is selected thereby rendering different groupings of people being hit.  The concluding moral usually being, choose to hit less people, select killing the elderly over the young and save people rather than cats.  However, the true lesson to be learnt should be stop hanging around highly dangerous train sidings, particularly if you are an elderly singleton with your pet.

So let me propose some novel but more real world driving scenarios.

You are travelling in lane one at the legal speed limit on a multiple lane high speed road and arrive upon a joining junction. You notice two cars driving slowly up the slip road who will want to join your lane.  They have not yet got up to the speed you are maintaining and you have plenty of room to pass by before they join the stream.  You are also aware that no one is travelling along in the lane behind you but a fast moving [read speeding] vehicle is behind you coming up fast in the lane outside of you.

Suddenly, despite the adequately long slip road the first car joining the traffic makes a sudden and poorly executed swerve manoeuvre straight into your path right in front of you, seriously impeding your position and rendering you unable to brake in time.  At the same time the speeding car in the outer lane is now blocking your escape route into any outer lane and the second car joining the traffic is blocking your escape route back onto the slip road.

You have no choice but to collide with one or another.  Which car should you hit?

Take the opportunity to craft your thoughts as a comment.  Take your time to consider all the implications.  But if you are an autonomous vehicle you have 15 milliseconds.

Let’s try another.  A little simpler this time and with no potential death.

An autonomous car is joining a motorway.  A car, already on the motorway on the inside lane moves out to the centre lane to allow the autonomous car to join.  They are now both on the motorway doing the legal top speed but travelling along next to each other.  Should the autonomous car slow to allow the car already on the motorway to move back to lane one?  And if it did and the other car did not move back to lane one what action should be taken by the autonomous one?

Again please feel free to comment.

A third scenario.  Two autonomous cars, each equipped with v2v, approach a roundabout to arrive at the same time.  Normal yielding rules apply on roundabouts but what if the one who has to yield has to wait a long time because the other has a long train of vehicles behind them?  Logic may dictate via the v2v system to slow the approaching car with priority to allow all to progress the most efficiently.  Or should the car with priority consider the stream of vehicles behind, who all technically have priority over the other.

Remember to consider all general occupants and the environmental impacts of your choices.

Now, add in a priority level.  If one were an emergency vehicle or even if an emergency vehicle was in the train of following ones surely they would command full priority, no matter how much any other vehicles are impeded.

So, with priority level a consideration could the collective computers start addressing occupant needs?  Is one occupant late for work?  Is one just shopping [you can tell from my biased terminology that I am probably male. I am]?  Do more occupants increase an individual vehicles’ priority?  Or even, has one driver had the benefit of more priority decisions this month?

And will autonomous vehicles make overtaking decisions based on all this?  Deliberately slowing or stopping cars to allow others to proceed.

If all this is so, I think I’m registering my occupation as a Heart Surgeon and then filling my mobile phone’s calendar with fictitious operation appointments.

And so far I haven’t really touched on the subject of goods vehicles.  These classes are the most likely to be fitted with this autonomous technology at first.  After all the big lorries tend to travel major routes and often visit the same tightly controlled distribution depots.

So let’s set a scenario involving a number of autonomous heavy goods vehicles, all in an effective convoy, possibly cruising along, slipstreaming each other inches apart in order to travel the most economically.

What happens when you are cruising along in lane 2 in your non-autonomous car passing this effective wall of trucks on the inside lane but you need to exit a slip road ahead?  What could you do?  Should legislation determine convoys have to leave a gap between every, say, 5 lorries?  Or should legislation dictate that ‘convoys’ completely break apart on approaching junctions to prevent last minute exiteers* attempting to fight for the same limited space?  Or will we need a different road engineered solution, such as ‘convoys’ being restricted to outer lanes?  So will we eventually have new junctions that pass over the carriageway and join from the other side?

As you can see there are a number of issues that are currently going through the minds of the programmers and engineers who are active in the field of autonomous vehicle operation and the more scenarios like this that we can imagine the better the autonomy will become.

Part Four – The Future

I have already addressed priority mode, particularly in relation to emergency priority, but what about our future day to day journeying?

I foresee an important setting to be made at offset is your own, settable, priority mode.   Unless the car is singing the same tune as your calendar of appointments within your connected mobile device it will need to know the urgency of your journey.  After all at times we are in no particular hurry and don’t mind a leisurely drive.  During other times economy may be our main driver, as it were.  Maybe you wish to avoid tolls, or motorways.  Then on some occasions you may be running a bit late and want to get on with things.  Or there may be an emergency which you need to attend to and the vehicle would be instructed to travel as fast as is safe to do so.

In a sense we already have similar basic options on our current cars, or at least those sensible ones fitted with automatic gearboxes, although admittedly the actual speed is more dependent on the angle of your right foot.  That is what the E-S-M [or similar] switch does in your car, it chooses your selected priority mode and adjusts the car engine and possibly suspension characteristics to suit.  Typically, E for economy, S for Strewth this car can shift a bit and M for Memories wherin I remember when we had to actually choose the gears ourselves.

This of course means that when the autonomous vehicles are trundling around those cars set on the more leisurely settings should prioritise those on a speedier setting so every traveller is satisfied.  Overtaking will occur in this future but only with the ‘permission’ of other vehicles.  In fact you may notice that in some cases all cars going in opposite directions stop to allow another to overtake a whole queue.  Even if you don’t spot this happening because you are resting in a catatonic state in your car, or perhaps reading the latest Rom-com, which amounts to much the same thing.

Also at junctions those cars set to economy or leisurely may wait for those with more urgent settings to pass by first.

This automated priority could be abused by some so don’t be surprised if future legislation limits instances of hurrying to create a fairer system.

However, in time we shall become accustomed to this sort of behaviour without entertaining jealous thoughts of others.

But whatever mode we preselect all will be prioritised over the autonomous goods vehicles trundling around, looking for somewhere safe to drop their cargo.

Then there is the case of money.  Isn’t this always the case?  Could wealthy individuals purchase priority?  Maybe self appointed ‘celebrities’ will demand progress to avoid being caught up in a queue with the rest of us?  And perhaps the most interesting question of all, what about the old geezer with a classic car?

By classic car I am thinking maybe a 2019 model.  You know the sort.  One that is not really autonomous at all.  This ancient relic has no way of interacting with the then contemporary tranche of autonomous vehicles and will struggle to merge into a gap of fast travelling auto-vehicles seemingly joined nose to tail at high speed on the major roads.  Well, fear not.  For the rules of autonomy mean that autonomous vehicles have to do all they can to avoid accidents, so even a rogue, manually controlled one will have carte blanche to proceed as they wish and all the driverless ones will just jolly well have to get out of their way.

Now when the majority of vehicles are fully automated and controlled under a vast database of v2v and v2b systems, will we no longer need visible, plated speed control signs?  After all the vehicles will know what speed to travel according to legislation and the road type.  So, will top speed be effectively unlimited?

I think not.  For a start there are consequences of potential accidents being more dangerous at higher speeds.  Autonomy, whilst highly likely to reduce accidents, could not work to prevent them altogether.  Mechanical failure, physics and build quality could all still play a part.  Road traffic accidents can be minimised by risk management but no matter how much effort is put in they can still happen.

Finally, unlimited top speeds present questions from an ecological standpoint.  Even if we have entered an age of unlimited free solar energy, because wear and tear on components would still apply.

So these are a few things we will probably have to look out for in a world of common autonomy amongst vehicles.

Part Five – Interesting Questions and Considerations

Let me ask a question that may seem silly at first but bear with me because it has a serious undertone.  Will our vehicles eventually let us get into them in the first place?

After all we will programme them to protect us from ourselves.  We will demand that these cars can take us to the pub and return us home when we ourselves are incapable of doing so without risk to ourselves or others.  We will ask them to transport our nearest and dearest in the safest way possible.  We will use them to transport our goods to destinations of our choice reliably and efficiently, without additional supervision.  And the elderly and infirm will need to be able to fully trust these machines to protect them when they are unable to do this themselves.

To ensure the highest standards of safety we will programme them with the ability to self learn from errors made and their experience will be put to common use in vast databases to ensure the errors of one can be learnt by the many.  In time this self learning will be more efficient within the databases than within human programmers so in essence the learning will supersede human ability.  Some characterise this learning curve as becoming ‘self aware’.

This could be a frightening issue for those that construct their mindset based on dramatic science fiction stories and who may foresee a future when these advance vehicles refuse to transport their owners because they judge their safety to be more important than the journey.  And no journey can guarantee safety.

Or if we send them off to find a parking space will they definitely return to us when summoned back?  Or will they consider the effort just too much to bother with?  Or possibly will they be too busy picking up a more ‘deserving’ passenger?

This is all of course something that will not happen because we can, or at least I can, foresee this potential issue.

There is a fear amongst the pre-mentioned sci-fi followers to assume that a robotic future means that mankind will be made irrelevant upon machine self awareness.  After all, some argue, if the machines are ‘better’ than us then why we would we needed?  The answer to this is actually simple.  Machines are made by mankind, for mankind and without mankind what is the purpose of said machines?  I can work this out so I am sure robotic vehicle version 935.8.487 can figure this out as well.  Even if it has to find and read this article first.

The above arguments raise another issue.  Should we be able to trust future autonomous vehicles to transport our children and therefore at what age?

I believe this is no more complex than consulting current standards of childcare.  In other words it is fine to send the car off to take your child to middle school but not send your new born baby fifty miles alone to be greeted by the grandparents.

The same would be for transporting your animals.  By all means send Fluffy to the vet, provided the surgery is prepared to accept the consignment and Fluffy is secured in the vehicle with sufficient fresh air and water.

And on the subject of transporting goods this will become commonplace, with the vehicles secured at offset and only accessible by the appropriate person on arrival.

All of which is ideal for drug running businesses across the border.  The authorities never suspecting this, mainly as they will rightly assume all the drug transport will be via autonomous drones.  But what if the drug vehicle carriers are impounded?  Who is deemed legally responsible, the vehicle owner but it could have been stolen, the manufacturer or the software engineer?

Sorry, I have swayed into story time again.  Anyway it’s fun so let’s continue with some other radical thoughts.

What about a future where autonomous cars, who’s owners have died or abandoned their vehicles, still roam the streets?  After all that is their raison d’être.  Forever left to search for electric charging points, heading off to get serviced and driving around with no passengers aimlessly searching for a reason to exist?  If this isn’t a side feature in the next Ridley Scott movie I will be extremely disappointed.

And finally, could self driving cars communicating together end up doing formation patterns, just for the sheer fun of it all?  I hope the programmers include this possibility.  Look out for future photographs of busy motorways from above wherein the cars are precisely positioned to spell out ‘vinceunlimited’.

And that’s neatly back to where we started off.  So, while you still can, drive safely** Vince

I’m sure I will return to this fascinating and developing subject in the future so keep following me on this web site, on WordPress, Twitter and in an appropriate lane on the A31 for more insightful commentary.

Author: Vince Poynter

Originally posted on my web site, version 5.267 http://www.vinceunlimited.co.uk/autonomous.htm during the five days of week commencing 24 June 2019
Also available as a mobile version at vinceunlimited.co.uk/autonomousm.htm
The aforementioned blog post ‘According To Me‘ is also on this WordPress site dated 1 June 2018
The aforementioned podcast ‘Pod 005 – Lanserguided‘ is also on this WordPress site dated 3 September 2014
My short stand up routine about driverless cars was performed on 20 Feb 2019 and can be found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7g5UuzeIm-M
Wikipedia Autonomous Driving Information Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomous_car\
The photograph is of a Benz Patent-Motorwagen and was taken by the author at the Beaulieu Motor Museum, Hampshire on 10 November 2013
The Autonomous Vehicle Plate was designed and drawn by the author. It was created by adding the text into a Keynote slide, then printing and hand drawing the lines and graphics
* Note: This is not a Brexit reference
** Message also addressed to all future autonomous vehicles

The Smelliest Car

A vinceunlimited blog article from 19 Nov 2008

I read in Advanced Driving magazine about a new car from the French battery company Bolloré.

An electrically propelled vehicle to be called the B0.  That is the ‘B-zero’.

I somehow doubted that it will be called that.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Blog and Petrolhead sections of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 11 Jul 2018
First published on 19 Nov 200
8
The first prototype was called La Blue Car.  It became the La Pininfarina B0 [zero] in 2008 with model releases in 2013 and then with Renault in 2015.  Since then it appears to have passed in the wind.  Like the Mercedes-Beans

Advanced Driving magazine was published by the Institute of Advanced Motorists [IAM], an advanced driving charity with a purpose to improve driving standards, now called IAM RoadSmart

The Driver

The Driver

Fiction By Vince

Written July 2006 as a submission for a BBC radio writing request held during the 2006 football World Cup.  In all the BBC received over 1100 entries but they didn’t think this eligible for publication.  I do, so have done so here.  Belligerent?  Damn right.


 

The author photographed sitting in a blue Mercedes AMG GT V8 powered sports car
A professional driver. A powerful car.  All that’s needed is an empty road

Can you hear it?  Just there, right now.  That eerie silence.

Normally right here about this time there would be a cacophony of sound.  It was there just a few minutes ago but now it’s all gone.  All gone with the rest of them.  Just me.  And that beautiful silence.  It’s about time I changed all that.

[The sound of V8 engine rumbles into life]

Now that’s even better.  The purest sound known to people like me.  You can forget your whale song, newborn and opera, this is the best sound available to mankind.  At least if your veins gush with four-star and you pray to the God of Clarkson.  And for us true petrol heads right here, right now is when we can get our biggest fix.

You see to really appreciate a car like this you need, well first off, a car like this.  A thrilling combination of beauty, power and performance.  But just as important you need space.  Space to fulfil your dreams.  Space to stretch her legs.  Space to touch the edge of the envelope.

And don’t go thinking that the reference to stretching her legs is some sort of sexual suggestion.  No, for the true purist you can forget your Kirsten Scott Thomases and Angelina Jolies.  Right now I wouldn’t even have the gorgeous Vicky Butler-Henderson sat here.  What I’m about to do is at its best as a solitary pursuit.  You can’t say that about many things.

It is indeed a rare occurrence, blue moon, haystack needle sort of thing and I’m about to make the most of it.  I’m at odds with the rest of the world but at peace with myself.  On the starting grid of something truly spiritual.  Outside, rebellious, dangerous, exciting.

This has all happened because of football.  It’s never been my kind of thing really.  Of course I sound authoritative discussing some points with my peers and often watch a publicised match or two.  I even casually follow my local team’s progress.  However, I have a sneaking admiration for those that truly no nothing of the beautiful game and believe that the overpaid superstars really ought to get a proper job.  But right now, when communal fervour has driven everyone inside and off my road I am truly grateful that it is our national sport.

[The V8 revs]

Did you hear that?  Primed and ready to rock and roll.  Not that I’m going to play any music.  Truly great driving sounds come from pistons, intakes and exhausts.  Motorhead has nothing on a V8 in a tunnel.  And a tyre squeal sings better than Led Zep.

I’ll have to be careful though.  I won’t quite be the only one out here for the next ninety.

I’m not talking about other demons like me.  We are a rare breed and share an instinctive support for each other.  If we pass there will be no tantrums, no drama.  Fast at speed maybe, but in total control as only a true driving god is.  We may kick at the speed of light but we know where and when it is right to go for a goal.

Even the mortals in their Sunny one-point-twos quietly going about their daily business, as oblivious to the tournament as they are to life in general won’t be a problem.  My sudden presence then disappearance would only shock if they actually had the ability to react.

No, my real problem will be those boys in blue who are forced to miss the moment that everyone will be talking about for the next forty years.  This will instil a deep rooted jealousy that can only be satiated by persecuting a man like me.  I’ll have to be on my game.

Kick off in five minutes time.  Just like the others but for other reasons I’ve etched this time firmly in my psyche.  Sat here in this lay-by counting down the minutes, then the seconds.  Watching the fading remnants of morons racing past to get to their phosphor alters.

Nearly time to go.  Nearly time for life to take its true meaning.  Nearly there.  The road ahead clears.  No-one around.  Empty silence.

Dip clutch…first gear…final check over shoulder…ease out clutch…and we’re off.

[The V8 rumbles]

It is totally clear ahead and my freedom beckons.  I can go any route I chose, like an eagle soaring through the skies.  Left or right at this junction, the choice is only mine.  Floor it now…

…With any luck I’ll make it back in time for the match.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Fiction section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 26 Jun 2018
First Published: Version 2.04 in Dec 2006

Written July 2006 and submitted to the BBC as part of a radio script submission request

According To Me

Another blog from the 2006 archives. My first mention of autonomous driving and the insurance implications…

A close up photograph of toy green classic mini in a rather tatty state with red overpainted opening doors, bonnet and roof with a blue circle logo on the door
The result of an accident between a car and a small child

I have just read about a development of a technology from one major car manufacturer that encompasses radar, cruise control and the ability to follow white line markings whilst steering to effectively allow the car to drive itself.

All these technologies are already produced but this car combines them all.

The car in question is a Honda Accord – the pensioners of Britain must be wetting themselves with glee.

All this relies on effective road marking of course but nobody has yet made that quantum leap into the future to envisage who might have to take responsibility should it all go pear-shaped.

Can we look forward to the accident case where the driver claims that he was not actually controlling the car, whereas the manufacturer will be pointing to some small print in their instructions whilst the insurance company attempts to blame the road maintenance companies?

All of which means the poor motorist that was crashed into will be a pensioner himself before he gets compensation.

All of which he’ll spend on a new Accord.

And the circle will continue ad infinitum…

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Petrolhead and Blog sections of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 1 Jun 2018
First Published:
 Version 2.03 on 14 Jun 2006

Kawasaki GPz750R

Top Bike

By Vince, Written Sep 2005

Vince Poynter, in full motorbike clothing and boots, sat on his black and red Kawasaki GPz750R motorcycle, which is stood on it's centre stand on a grass mound
Top Gun style. Sat on my brand new red and black Kawasaki GPz750R

The Kawasaki GPz750R is a better known bike than many may at first think because it had a part in a top grossing Hollywood film.  The bike was Tom Cruise’s mount in the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun.  But I had mine first.

The year was 1985 and I had recently met my wife.  We shared a passion for bikes and as she was prepared to share her greenbacks with me we had the chance to trade up to a decent steed.  Frankly I was fed up at the time with her ugly Suzuki GSX250.  It’s narrow seat and uninspiring performance wasn’t suited to the two-up riding we did and I hankered after a big sportsbike.

My Honda CX500 was now a distant memory and I wanted the misses to appreciate the benefits of big bike riding.  We considered a litre-sized machine as we felt the need, the need for speed and looked around for an interesting bike.  There was only one, the Kawasaki GPz900R.  It was the spiritual successor to the legendary Z900 series using a new water-cooled version of the firm’s famous four cylinder motor.  It eventually grew a big reputation for speed and handling and for a time looked to take the legendary title from the Zed.

We looked at getting the 900 version but the 750 was really big enough, looked identical, had cheaper insurance and came in a gorgeous piano black and red finish that looked so much better than the dull 900 options, which is probably why Tom had one as well.

B328 WOW was one of the new generation of sportsbikes that came complete with full fairing.  This, along with the heavy water-cooled motor in a frame set-up that preceded 500cc Race-rep styling meant for a long wheelbase and top-heavy tendencies.  Combine this with a large turning circle and small diameter front wheel and the result was a bike that preferred speeds of three figures to three-mph and it was this characteristic that explains the first anecdote.

The bike was brand new when collected and had been prepped by the dealer.  Because of the danger of theft by leaving the tax disc stuck to the inside of the screen the dealer had helpfully put it in a plastic holder but using a decision that could only be made by a blind grease-monkey connected it to one of the fairing screws slap bang in the middle of our shiny new black and red fairing.  It was an eyesore that the misses and I vowed to eradicate just as soon as we got home to our screwdriver set, which as usual was waiting patiently in the shed ready for more screwing action.  No I’m not going down that route!

A black and red Kawasaki GPz750R motorcycle, which is stood on it's centre stand on a grass mound
Such a beautiful bike, spoilt only by a naff plastic tax disc mount in the middle of the fairing

Anyway, before we got home we had to visit various family and friends and show them what fantastic people we were by showing off our shiny new bike and one of the first was my wife’s auntie.  We did the visit and were rewarded as expected with a nice cup of tea then set off on our merry way to the next (dis)interested family member.  As we were leaving the auntie’s the trouble and strife decided to take the helm and I obediently climbed on the pillion seat.  We pottered off and headed for the main road, a sharp left turn two hundred yards from auntie’s.  The misses carefully pulled up to the junction and waited for a clear moment to join the traffic.  A gap soon appeared, she let out the clutch then the water-cooled engine spluttered and stalled.  She had hardly commenced the turn so was in mid lean with no power.  We had dropped below the hard-deck and there was no choice but to let the damn thing fall over.  Personally, I stepped off the back.

We were distraught.  Our shiny new bike laying at 45 degrees, resting in the pavement, dribbling fuel.  One day old and a new fairing seemed to be needed.  We lifted her up [the bike, not the wife] and inspected the damage.  One broken plastic tax disc holder – but that seemed to take the entire brunt.  That blind grease monkey had inadvertently saved us 700 quid!

The story might imply that the love of my life is an incompetent buffoon on a bike and I must have been one Tomcat short of a carrier for letting her anywhere near the front seat but that cannot be further from the truth.  After mastering the idiosyncrasies of the bike she went on to pass her Advanced Motorcycle Test on the beast, raising major praise in the bargain and could turn tight consecutive figure of eights on it at slow speed.  In the same way I was mimicking Maverick at speed she was proving an equal exponent in the guise of Ice-Man.  We later realised that the keeling over incident was caused by fuel starvation that occurred when leaving the bike for an hour or two after riding which resulted in fuel evaporation in the feed pipes to the carbs, well that and the top-heavy balance.  Well at least that was the reason when I dropped the thing outside the in-laws a few hours later.  Luckily I held it before it actually grounded this time as there wasn’t a tax disc holder on the right.

The GPz750R always was kept in quite spectacular condition, receiving almost as much cleaning as riding and stayed in pristine original condition.  In fact it was so clean that when Ice entered it into a concours competition it won first place.  Admittedly it was only a smallish local car-group competition but the judges did consider age and it was only one year old.  Our friend with the 15-year old Beemer was not amused and claimed unfair play but the judges couldn’t fault our bike no matter how hard they looked.  I told my mate with the BM that he should have at least washed it!

I too, took my Advanced Motorcycling Test on the bike and passed.  I don’t recall much about the test apart from the poor weather and the tea at the Little Chef afterwards.  In fact I recall many a Little Chef visit on the bike as it took us on adventures all over the country.  It was a great bike to buzz the tower with.  Cars were eaten alive with its rapid acceleration and our riding got quicker and quicker.  It was built in the days before tyres became fatter than Pavrotti so it’s skill was in fast open road riding rather than track-day scratching although I did ground out the pegs on roundabouts sometimes.

The dials of a Kawasaki GPz750R motorcycle
The dials go up to 160 so that must be it’s top speed [said every pimple-nosed boy]

In fact it was the incredible speed that eventually killed off our relationship – the Kwaker and me, not the misses.  The buzz was getting too intense and risks were getting more and more hairy.  I recall one of the last rides, destination unknown.  It wasn’t hard to overtake cars on single carriageway roads, in fact it was easy to blip past two without dropping a gear such was the power.  However, when dropping a peg or two in the gearbox acceleration was phenomenal.

Car drivers have no idea how different a big bike can be to a car when accelerating.  Most car drivers haven’t experienced supercar acceleration which smash through sixty in fewer than six seconds.  Bikes are twice this fast and the power is there from any speed.  Enough to quite literally take your breath away.  For anyone with fuel in his or her veins experiencing this is a must.  And I used this force on many an occasion.  Drop two gears and even if the road is short you can sail past cars, one, two, three at a time.  When the road opens up, and providing there are no turns, getting past four or five at a time becomes possible and it’s addictive as hell.

Even modern busy roads help the motorcyclist in a strange way.  Because there are so few chances for an average sub-1400cc tin-box to get past another car drivers tend to drive in a monotonous mode, not ready to pounce when the road does open up.  They think that even if they wanted to pass by almost certainly there will be someone coming the other way.  So they drive on the bumper of the car in front, not looking any further ahead than the bootlid of their predecessor.  I sometimes think that you could cause multiple suicide just by driving slowly then off a cliff as every car in the queue behind will follow.  For a keen biker all these cars are collectively known as mobile chicanes.  And one day I came across one of these target rich environments, a slowly moving train of cars and decided to overtake two or three of them.

Said cars were all pootling along in a queue at about 45mph, with me following.  I rounded a corner, knowing that the road would probably open up and I might get past a couple, so I dropped a couple of cogs.  Before the corner had unwound I saw the straight and had passed my first victim, this gear took me past the second as well and the third now looked a likely sure-fire bet.  By now I was probably travelling about 70mph so passing the others was quick but at this stage a keen car driver may have started to spot the overtaking opportunity and I was on the highway in the danger zone.

Idle drivers never check their mirrors so the good rider is keeping a keen eye on all the tell-tale signs of overtaking, and none of them usually include actually indicating or looking.  The signs are in an exhaust puff of smoke, a twitch of the front tyres, possible re-positioning, putting a second hand on the steering wheel, all that sort of thing.  In short second sight.  Luckily for me car three was so close to car four that I assumed the towrope was invisible so I treated cars three and four as one.  By now the revs had reached the point where the dial turns from black to red but I wasn’t looking anywhere but the road and cars ahead.  The slight tail off in power gave me the incentive to snick up a gear and I snicked away.

Passing car four I was probably travelling near to 90mph but now a lorry had trundled into the distance.  I read this as a good sign.  The lorry wasn’t travelling fast so I now knew how much space I really had, after all an empty road could mean a potential fast car, one blocked by a moving lorry is a calculable, albeit reducing, gap.  Add to this the presence of oncoming vehicles usually dissuades cars from overtaking.  I had an open road, the best view, a line of cars who weren’t about to overtake, a gap to aim for and a powerful bike that was singing tunes only racers usually experience.  I flew past cars five and six like they were stationary and in all fairness comparing my speed to theirs this wasn’t far short of the truth.  In fact it now looked like I could actually get past them all.

It is a strange fact that for some reason we all secretly believe that if only we could pass one more car or lorry then we might actually be at the front of the queue with no more traffic ahead, ever.  On the kind of road only seen in car adverts.  Common sense trashes this theory but common sense didn’t make me pass six cars at these speeds.  That was caused by adrenalin and I had it in bucketfuls at this moment.  One more vehicle lay ahead, the box van heading this little queue.

Naturally I made the narrowing gap, I’d been through the fire and came out the other side glowing – but only just.  You probably wouldn’t be reading this now if I hadn’t.  I glanced at the speedo after I swept through the gap and it was coming back down, through 125mph.  I had just passed seven vehicles in one twist of the throttle in a space where no car could get by, exceeding the limit by a factor of more than two.  And it was raining.

I was Maverick, I didn’t want to be Goose.  I told the misses and we sold the bike.  I’ve never owned another sportsbike since then.

Although on those hot summer nights when I feel like playing with the boys I get that loving feeling…

The soundtrack to this webpage is available on Columbia Records

Footnotes and Feedback

Vince Poynter, in full motorbike clothing and boots, standing at the rear of his black and red Kawasaki GPz750R motorcycle, which is stood on it's centre stand on a grass mound
Looking back on my time with the bike, it was one hell of a ride

Note originally added December 2006

Since delivering this fine piece of writing I have received word from sources abroad that Mr Cruise’s bike was probably a nine-hundred.

According to my source’s knowledge the seven-fifty wasn’t marketed in the land that used to be passed from Red Indian father to son.

This fact was delivered by a Kawasaki nutter [Niek’s words, not mine] from the Netherlands so it may be double-dutch.

Are you reading this Stateside?  If so pop into your local dealer and quiz him mercilessly until he squeals out the truth.  Then let me know.

Or are you in the movie industry and know the truth?  In which case stop arseing around reading this and sign me up to write your next blockbuster.

Or are you Tom Cruise, in which case stop arseing around and send me Nicole’s number.

More note originally added March 2011

A lull in my schedule allowed me some time to net-hop and I typed in Honda CX500 to see how far up the Google chain [my bikes] webpage was.

During my search I came across a link to the Internet Movie Cars Database.  Here I hastened to the Kawasaki GPz750R and 900 links and discovered that it seems Niek seems indisputably correct.

The bike that TC rode in TG was a 9 but as suspected was mistaken for a 7-5 because it was a special in 750 colours for the movie.

imcdb gives some info on the matter but the full convoluted and strange story is told by Mik Anderson who seems to be an obsessive fan.  And without these types the net would be rubbish.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the Bikes section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 3 May 2018
First Published: Version 2.02 in Sep 2005
The four images show my red and black Kawasaki GPz750R motorcycle shortly after being purchased brand new, stood on the crest of Toot Hill, Romsey, with me posing by it’s side.  All photographs taken by my wife around the beginning of Aug 1984
The movie Top Gun had a US release in May 1986 but wasn’t released into the UK until Oct 1986
The soundtrack to Top Gun was released by Columbia Records in 1986
The Internet Movie Cars Database resides under the URL of imcdb.com
Mik Anderson’s article about the GPz900R featured in Top Gun can be found at http://mikandersen.dk/index.php/top-gun-motorcykel/top-gun-bike-english-version 2018

Honda CX500

My Maggot

The front three-quarter view of a S-registration red Honda CX500, parked in the sunshine by a Willow tree
The front end of my lovely big red Honda CX500. Purchased just for the bit above the headlamp

Those regular readers of my road tests will both by now know that I started with a small Yamaha trail bike before graduating to a rather uninspiring Honda CB200.

The choice of these bikes was helpfully determined by outside influences [Hi Dad] so my next upgrade had to be my own choice.  I decided on a Kawasaki 750cc 4-stroke bike.

However, the external influence raised its profile once more and I brought a 500cc Honda.  Something to do with him ‘only’ having a 360cc bike at the time and about to change it for a 650cc methinks.

Maybe that’s a bit unfair.  Although my shiny new second hand Honda CX500 wasn’t a Kawasaki nor 750cc it had many redeeming features.

Firstly it was as bulky as a 750cc.  This provided the stability and comfort that bigger bikes give.  Secondly, Honda’s were better built and more reliable than products from the Big Z.  And thirdly, well mainly really, it had a dashboard.  Yes, I agreed to the choice on the grounds that there were lights built in between the speedo and tachometer.  Sad really.

The other exciting addition to this on-bike dashboard was a temperature gauge because the bike had a water cooled engine and believe me in those days that was cutting edge.  Only the Suzuki GT750 ‘Kettle’ could boast this technology but that bike was styled in the dark and drank fuel like a whale filters plankton.

So I ended up with a red ‘S’ registration Maggot, for that is how I later understood that they were known.  The name wasn’t unjustified either as the bulky water encased engine resided under a substantial spreading fuel tank and enormous padded double seat.  Everything seemed styled for a much bigger bike and I suspected that Honda had plans for a 750cc version.  In fact, later incarnations took the size to 650cc and added turbos then a 750cc was made, so my suspicions were right.

The CX500 also took the mantle of tourer for those who didn’t want or couldn’t afford the magnificent 1000cc Gold Wing.  As it happened in silly laid back style it later became the Silver Wing.

My version was the bog standard CX500, a purring water cooled v-twin.  It was only a couple of years old and in fantastic condition.

It became a weekend plaything, tourer and then reliable commuter and fulfilled all roles well.  I reckon it is now still going, probably as a courier somewhere.

I first used the Maggot as a weekend plaything because I worked too close to my home to warrant using it much.  In the three mile journey I barely had time to close off the choke before arriving at my destination and actually spent more time warming the engine than riding to work.  So the Honda was used for getting to the disco at weekends [hey, it was the early eighties] and impressing the sixteen year old girls.  Nothing suspicious here, I was only a late teen myself.

The sheer bulk always made an impression and warranted due care when reversing off pavements.  Once, I went too slow and got to the point where foot doesn’t touch ground then side of bike does.

The rear three-quarter view of a S-registration red Honda CX500, showing the standard nature of the bike aside from a rear carrier and engine protection bars
The back end of my bright red Maggot, as purchased. Just look at that lush seat

I also increased my radius of exploration exponentially over the previous CB200 and the Cotswolds and Wales became my hunting ground.  Funnily enough I don’t recall ever going to the midlands or Norfolk – Can’t think why.

Inevitably I wanted to travel further and my mates and I discussed a round Britain tour using all the coastal routes.  This never came to pass but I still think it would be an adventure and will do the journey someday.

A few of us did settle on a tour into France, the evocative, exotic, topless French women of St. Tropez were the incentive so four of us planned to go.

As is usual in these cases circumstances changed and two of my friends, Jeff and John, taking advantage of their break from A-level schooling went ahead early and ended up settling on an island mid-way down the French west coast for the rest of the summer.  Spike and I had jobs, me full time and Spike as a paperboy or something, so we intended to follow on later.

The journey down through France was not as fun as it might be today.  We had never travelled abroad and the only preparations we made were painting our lights yellow and buying a map.  The map was poor and we got lost leaving Calais.

The French weather was burning hot and Spike, who had just purchased my father’s Honda CB360 yellow banana, was obsessed with his motor overheating so insisted on travelling around 40-50mph.  At these speeds the air cooling effect must have been abysmal on his engine as it was hardly effective on my CX500’s radiator.  However being the one with the temperature gauge made me the one worrying about it.  It set a poor tone for the holiday and resulted in a disagreement half-way down France.

In essence Spike wanted to join Jeff and John and start ‘pulling birds’ and I wanted to motor on down to St. Tropez where I argued the real action was.  Spike won out by refusing to leave the camp we had arrived at and my topless French women dream was destroyed.  We never even met up with the others and from what I heard later that decision could have saved Jeff and John’s friendship, but that’s another story.

The author on his red CX500 with Spike on his yellow CB360, flanked by some campsite friends
The mid-size bikes proved popular in France so Spike and I did make temporary friendships. And no, I do not know the contact details of the hunk on the right

Another memorable long journey made on the maggot was one into Wales.  I had a met a new girlfriend, Inger, who had never been on a motorbike before so we both looked forward to our trip.  She had no more idea than me that we were to undertake a 400-mile, six-hour ride and it showed how versatile the big Honda was.  In fact testament to the comfort of the seat that there was no complaint from either of us.

The amusing fact with Inger was that as she hadn’t ridden pillion before I asked that she leave the steering to me and remain upright at all times.  I meant perpendicular to the bike but she interpreted it as bolt upright.  Every time I leant into a bend she twisted her torso to remain upright.  I thought it hilarious, She was hardly big enough to destabilise the beast below so I let her carry on.  I didn’t tell her until we reached the Severn Bridge.  And for that Inger I apologise.

Mind you I cannot recall going out with her for long but that was more to do with the fact that I fell for her friend Fiona than because of my riding.

Excuse me for one moment while I recall Fiona … Thanks.

Fiona unfortunately didn’t have the inclination to get on my bike.  It wasn’t because she only had eyes for Suzuki’s or anything it was just that some people just don’t seem to get the biking thing, mainly because of the sort of event that next happened on my bike.  A car pulled out on me at a junction.

It was midday and I was taking a well earned lunch break.  Although I had crossed half of Southampton I only had a feint purpose in mind so was in no particular hurry.  The sun was out and the roads in those days still clear enough in places to enjoy a midday ride.

I was travelling towards Portswood doing no more than a few mph above the limit when I noticed a car waiting to pull out to my left.  I was on a main road so took little more care than at any of the other two-hundred or so filled junctions that I had passed that week.  The driver however didn’t want to follow the crowd, opted for not seeing me at all and pulled out across my path.  Naturally I braked.  Very hard.

The car in question was a Citroën Dyane, a sort of [hardly] upmarket 2CV.  The driver, fool enough to pull out in the path of a huge red bike, added to his stupidity by stopping once he saw me.  Little tip, why not consider keeping going next time?  If he had accelerated with all the pull his pathetic vehicle could manage I could have steered behind.  As it was he stopped slap bang in front of me across the whole road.  There were no steerable soft options and I braced myself for impact.

Now a fact known only to experienced bikers and the local Accident and Emergency departments is that many frontal motorcycle crashes result in damage to the bikers lower legs because when a bike hits a stationary object the rider slides forwards and imprints his knees into his own handlebars and stationary car.  Therefore in any bike accident, once it is inevitable, the golden rule is to get well clear of all metalwork.  In the case of T-boning a car that means heading straight on over the top.

I slowed as much as I could leaving an impressive black streak of rubber and picked my point of impact.  My heart wanted to hit the git square in his door but my head ruled that the bonnet would be a lower hurdle to cross.  The bike wedged itself behind the car’s front wheel, I raised my torso and took up flying.

I cannot recall the flight but do remember the landing.  Sliding down the road my episode with the Gilera moped came to mind but this time I reacted differently, I quickly stood up.  Unfortunately, I did this too soon and went flying once more.

It seemed my shoes were not designed for thirty mph and their destruction was testament to this.  Thankfully, other than the two vehicles and my crash helmet my shoes were the only casualty.

My helmet was a write off because they always are in these situations.  There seemed no damage to it other than a couple of round spots worn off the orange and green stripes at the forehead, but the car had a matching two-foot long parallel stripe on the bonnet.  This is proof that helmets save lives and why I didn’t need the ambulance that some witness called.

I went back to inspect the damage, such a long walk!

Despite the fact I had just invented unpowered flight I was in a better state than the driver, still sat quivering in his car.  An old man, I doubt that he drove again.  His car certainly didn’t, my CX500 was parked bolt upright three feet into it.

Annoyingly my motorcycle recovery specialist had just purchased a frame re-jigger and wanted to justify it’s purchase and bend the bike back into position.  It was just a few pounds short of write-off and I was too inexperienced to insist on it to the eager insurance company.  I didn’t even get compensation for my high speed shoes.  So, in effect the maggot wrote off a car and lived.

After the impact one of the replacement items was the forks, naturally.  Not that they needed a Citroën Dyane to make them flex, they were the weak point of the bike and were clearly not designed for the ‘two-ton’ weight.  Occasionally I would lean over the handlebars and look down the shaft of the forks whilst braking just to watch them bend back toward the radiator.

Other than that I couldn’t fault the Honda.  It chugged along effortlessly at any speed I chose to travel at and for any number of miles.  Reliability was excellent and fuel consumption acceptable for the size.  It was big and red and comfortable.  The v-twin throb was unusual, the modern era of popular twins hadn’t yet started and when I fitted an aftermarket stainless steel exhaust it sounded good.

It worked in rain and shine then more rain, mile after mile with little attention other than basic servicing and the shaft drive kept the back end from looking like a freshly hit oilfield.

All this reliability came in handy because for the final few months it became the archetypal commuter as it took me into the New Forest day after day in pursuit of my new girlfriend, Karen.

The author and his girlfriend Karen astride the Honda CX500
Things were getting dirtier as attention moved from wheels to girls. Meaning, of course, I didn’t give it such a thorough cleaning quite so often. The bike, I mean. The bike!

Those late night return trips along an empty motorway allowed me to test its standing start quarter mile abilities.  Can you imaging finding any time of day or night you could stop in the centre lane of a major motorway nowadays?  Mind you today’s 500cc bikes, although water-cooled, would now pull wheelies under such conditions. The CX kept its front wheel firmly rooted to the ground.

It was eventually sold when I realised the Fionas started outnumbering the Ingers so I had to get a car.  I did a poor deal that involved swapping it for a Hillman Avenger that eventually got swapped for a bicycle that got nicked.  It was a sad end to a good bike.

But the key question is would I have it back?  With that repaired frame?  No way.  Other than for sentimental reasons.  Parked up in a garage.

Author: Vince Poynter

From the Bikes section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 2 Apr 2018 but first published in the website in Jul 2005
The first two images are of the author’s Honda CX200 as originally purchased in late 1980.  The engine protection bars and rear rack were non-standard fitments by the original owner [image first added in Version 3 of the website]
The third image shows the author sat astride his bike, along with Spike [wearing leathers] and his Honda CB360.  The girl next to the author is a german friend met at the campsite.  The other two guys were also at the site but the author didn’t seem quite so keen on these two for some reason.  The image was taken around Summer 1981
The fourth image, dated around late 1981 shows the author sat astride the bike with the new non-standard stainless steel exhaust.  The other non-standard feature is the author’s girlfriend of the time.  The image was taken outside her, decidely non-standard, family home
The final two images and all captions were added on 2 Apr 2018

Honda CB200

Not a dream machine.

A standard S registration red Honda CB200
My brand new, second-hand, nearly stock red Honda CB200

With age comes experience.

The trouble was that when I purchased my second motorcycle I had neither.

I had just turned eighteen and had already cut my teeth on motorbikes (along with other parts of my body as well) and was ready to move on.

The Yamaha trail bike I was selling just couldn’t handle the way my biking days were developing and I needed a new steed.

More of my friends had graduated from their mopeds and I didn’t want to be left behind with all the high-powered horses that were amassing around me.

I say, high powered, all were under 250cc as this was the usual starting point for teenagers in those days.  Something to do with the fact that 251cc was deemed too powerful by men in grey suits for new riders.

Plus the Yamaha trail bike just wasn’t designed for two and my loins were calling out for company.

The author sat on his Honda CB200 which is loaded with huge bags and two spare helmets
My loins were calling out for company.  However, taking two spare helmets but having no spare seating is the definition of optimism

I set about searching for my next bike and considered all the two-fifty options available.

It was 1979 and Honda had just launched the SuperDream in 250 and 400cc flavours.  The SuperDream, or CB250N if you prefer, was a fantastically new variant on the old and bulbous Dream 250.  The trouble was it was brand new and very expensive for a new kid on the block.

Yamaha had the RD250 but Yams were always too race orientated.

Suzuki tried the same game with their GT250 but didn’t even have Kenny Roberts on their side.

But the most desirable to me was the Kawasaki KH250 triple.  It oozed sex appeal with its multi-exhaust layout, screaming two-stroke noise and links to the fantastic K900.  The twenty miles to the gallon was pitiful and the reliability suspect but the triple hit all the right notes.

I wanted to go with my instinct.

The problem with instinct is that old chestnut – practicality.

I wasn’t affluent enough to make passionate decisions and had to rely on my family to help finance the deal.  This help came with the inevitable ‘advice’ and that came in the form of ‘strong suggestions’ that I ought to buy a Honda and it shouldn’t be as powerful as 250cc.

I didn’t want a smaller engine than my 175cc Yamaha so there was only one choice.

Honda’s Dream machines had a sibling, the CB200.

It was an ugly mutt of a bike designed primarily for commuting and generally unloved, even by its owners.

It had good reliability from its basic, tried and tested, twin 200cc power plant but that’s like saying Nora Batty is good at washing up.  So what?

And its power was poor.

The only plus sides were it had a four-stroke engine and was red.  Despite my earlier love of the Kawasaki triple I have to admit that four-stroke power is much better unless your only desire is top speed or acceleration.  And Kwacker green is putrid.

The Cee-Bee’s most admirable quality was its comfort, particularly in comparison with the unforgiving seat of my previous trail bike.

In fact, I now wonder whether the ease of riding distances coupled to the (let’s be generous) gentle power helped form my love of touring mindlessly around.

Mind you at 18 to 19 a man has to look cool and the nondescript Honda did nothing for that.

It needed improvement and I started exploring the black art of customisation.

Not in the sense of chromed engine bolts, lowered track or power enhancements. Just a replacement exhaust and new headlamp.

A red Honda CB200 with Cibie Hedlamp and replacement exhaust
A Cibie headlamp, an upswept exhaust, no crash bars.  Much cooler.  Still not cool

The original exhausts were low uninspiring pipes running at low level parallel to the ground with unsightly oversize mufflers.  My replacement exhaust was a potent two-into-one upswept stainless steel pipe terminating in a stubby megaphone – loud and stylish.  Not many CB200s had them so it made it distinctly different.

The headlamp conversion was a Cibie unit, from the famous French manufacturer who were making a name for themselves producing large concave, efficient, bright headlamps.  Again this added to the style.  And let me see in the dark.

But despite these lavish and expensive enhancements the Honda was still as ugly as a Yak.  Only the Yak now had bigger horns.

The bike did fulfill some requirements though.

It’s rear seat was shared a few times and I put a few miles on the clock but I struggle to recall those miles with any detail.

I cannot even recall crashing the thing.  The only ‘off’ that I remembered is when I tried to charge down one of my ‘friends’ who had been terrorising my sister’s boyfriend’s party.

My colleague Chris had been idly throwing a knife into the kitchen wall due to a lack of ability to entertain himself properly at a party and I chivalrously intervened.

The result was that after a few more beers and being ejected Chris turned his attention to me.

I suppose trying to run down a threatening, drunken yob stood just outside the gateway, with a Bowie Knife recently in his possession, is a silly move but, despite warnings, he refused to move out of the way.

I gave it full throttle and dumped the clutch at which point he twisted deftly to one side and kicked out at the Honda.

His foot caught the rear of the front wheel and sent me and bike in different directions.  He then proceeded to kick a man when he was down – How cheap.

I would love to tell you that I leapt to my feet and battered the drunkard black and blue but anyone who knows me would write in and get this website closed down due to fraud.

Instead I writhed around wondering why it didn’t hurt.

Now, I know it was down to his soft trainers reigning hail on my thick jacket and helmet.

If I had kicked back he would have suffered worse – I had steel toecap motocross boots.

However, frustration took its course and Chris changed tack and decided to lay into the Honda instead.  It suffered worse.

Two weeks later, and after the intervention of parents, Chris had been forced to pay for the damage repairs and we were all mates again.  Kids eh?

So a few months later the Honda was sold to a new keen owner, ‘provided I removed that awful loud exhaust and huge headlamp’.

Thankfully this pre-dated eBay by several years so I still had the original parts.

It seemed the buyer wanted an original Yak.

So, as a conclusion – I should have brought the Kwacker.

I wouldn’t have needed to change a thing and would now probably be telling you a story about how I was innocently playing with my own knife when some do-gooder squealed to the host and got me kicked out of a party.  Then tried to run me down.

So in retribution I bravely kicked the living daylights out of him.

And then did the same to his naff Honda.

Author: Vince Poynter

From the Bikes section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 28 Feb 2018 but first published in the website in Mar 2005.  All photos added in 2018
The first image is the author’s stock Honda CB200 as originally purchased at the end of 1979.  The crash bars and rear rack were non-standard fitments by the original owner
The second image shows the author sat astride his fully loaded Honda CB200 and was taken around Summer 1980
The third image, dated around late 1980 shows the author’s modified Honda CB200, showcasing the Cibie headlight unit and featuring the two-into-one upswept exhaust

Bentley Arnage

The Best Car In The World?

Although not an owner of one of these magnificent beasts I am fortunate enough to have driven one, in comparison with its bigger and older brother the Continental Series, no less.

A row of four Bentley Arnages in various colours
Pick a car.  Any car

I had always been a fan of the Continental; its raw powerful looks and sheer road presence always allured me.

I was always so impressed by the way that whenever you see one on the road, it seems to be going past at great speed yet appearing totally unruffled, a task mimicked well by the ‘smaller’ Arnage.

So, when a Cardiff dealer offered me the chance to take part in a test drive day in the grounds of a luxurious hotel, lining up the whole Bentley and Rolls Royce range next to a chartered helicopter and sumptuous servings of quality food, I couldn’t resist.

It would be ungentlemanly to refuse, wouldn’t it?

The author stood in the open doorway of a dark blue Bentley Continental
Driving a quarter million pound car.  The author with a Bentley Continental

So I got my chance in a Continental.

The keys, a full tank and a stunning twenty-mile route to savour.  And I did.

The car was very special, as you might expect for a quarter of a million pounds.

Forget the opulent interior – it was the engine that impressed.

Bentley (and Rolls-Royce) didn’t formerly tell anyone about the engine size, merely pointing out that it was ‘adequate’.  They should have added ‘for towing a 5 bedroom house.’

The torque was storming.

Try to imagine someone pushing the back of your chair right now.  Into the next room.  Through the wall.  Then into the next room, without hesitation, even quicker.  All more speedily than you could read this.

Yes, forget horsepower.  From now on, I buy my cars based on torque, whatever a Newton Metre might be.

The author's wife stood ready to get in a dark mauve Bentley Arnage
My wife, Lynda, tries out the Arnage

There was one caveat to the Continental though – the Arnage.

At nearly half the price the Arnage wipes the floor with the Continental.

When I tested it, it came in two flavours.  I’m talking engines again, by the way.

The traditional V8 lump and the newer BMW-sourced straight 8.

Bentley helpfully made it easier by labelling them Red and Green, quite literally.

Go for the Red one.  I’m a new fan of all things BMW but this car needs the V8.  I just wish it wasn’t named after the cheapest tea in Tesco.

The Arnage shares all the grunt of the bigger car and sets it all to a modern theme.

From the outside, the car does resemble a weather-worn brick but inside, you realise this can compete with the best-finished modern cars.

Some comment that it can’t match a Mercedes-Benz’s build quality and to an extent, they would be right.

When the floor carpet is pulled back around the accelerator, you do not expect to see the trimming work of a six year old.  But when the carpet is reinstalled the thick pile helps to remind you that you are in a special place.

The drive is modern, easy and relaxing, even when applying that torque.

The interior ambience is impressive although the modern devices we all need in cars today are not as well accommodated as they might be.

Designed before the satellite navigation era, you will have to suffer the indignation of a pop-up screen spoiling the sweep of the dash, but I suspect you will be more likely looking at the array of dials and switches, many designed and styled to feel good, solid and traditional.

The only gripe is that because customers can select from a huge range of colours and trims (The ‘brochure’ was a hand-finished solid wood briefcase), getting a used one to suit you perfectly may be a problem.  Burgundy leather seats trimmed with cream piping and mixed with a black dash don’t quite do it for me.

A dark blue Bentley Arnage
My new favourite car.  A dark blue Bentley Arnage

The drive is solid and reassuring and belies the car’s two ton size.

Forget you are in a limousine and treat it the way Bentley intended.  It is a sports model after all.  If you want to float everywhere, get one with a small silver statue at the front.

The Arnage will flick through corners and holds the road like the tarmac’s melted.  You don’t even get to hear the rubber ripping.  Very strange.  Very addictive.

But the best bit is sitting deep in those accommodating hide armchairs and looking down at people next to you, even those in four by fours.

In both ways!

Gripes?  Well there are always some.

On the pre-2005 model I drove, I don’t think the headlamps suit the nose, the fuel consumption is for those who never care about it, and it costs £150k.

At least it’s better than that Continental I always wanted.  Thanks Bentley, you have saved me £100k.  Now save me another £30k by making the new baby Bentley even better.

Author: Vince Poynter

From the Cars section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 23 Feb 2018 but first published in the website in Feb 2005.  All photos added in 2018
Also published by Channel 4 Car Road Tests around 2005 (but now no longer available)
The first image shows part of the Bentley line up presented by a generous Cardiff Bentley Dealership in the grounds of Miskin Manor in 2000
The second image shows the author parked up during a road test of the fabulously expensive Bentley Continental in 2000
The third image shows the Author’s wife, Lynda, with the Bentley Arnage in 2000
The fourth and final image shows a Bentley Arnage, parked in a service station car park, photographed in Jan 2012

Alphacar

A to Zoom

I was talking to a friend of mine about cars that people drive.
We all have preconceived ideas about their thoughts and lives.
And when I thought back on my life and cars I used to own,
I fitted all the types there were.  And I was not alone.

I started with an Austin.  A10 I think it was.
I loved that little car you know, with its paint a thick black gloss.
But when I was in the country and doing thirty-five,
All I got was horns and lights and people shouting “You can’t drive!”

So I got myself a new car.  I felt just like a king,
Even if the handling was like a prayer upon a wing.
But my Beetle days still haunt me.  In spirit anyway,
I still want love not war you know … and at any time of day.

Those days with my old Beetle made me think environment,
My mind was getting greener about the energy we spent.
So I went down to the High Street and got my fivers out,
And bought the latest fashion one couldn’t do without.

I purchased one of those things Sinclair called a C5.
I even bought the pole and flag so I’d be seen and kept alive.
I thought I was a hero and pollution was no longer,
But everyone who saw me in the street thought me a plonker.

I had to go upmarket so I became a Gent.
My Daimler was a class act, everywhere it went.
With tables in the rear and leather lined throughout.
The shiny paint was gleaming, I never had a doubt.

Until someone with a switchblade, ran it down the side.
I couldn’t keep the car no more, so sold it then I cried.
I had to get a basic car, something not so new,
An ubiquitous vehicle, an old Escort would do.

Although it was a simple thing I liked that little car,
And when the MOT ran out I didn’t look too far.
The company helped my choosing, I wasn’t at a loss,
They brought out a modern version.  I brought a new Focus.

I had the modern family car but with styling like a shark,
But I couldn’t find the damn thing when in a big car park.
So I changed it for another.  A car that looked much harder.
The Sweeney gave me the idea, I brought a black Granada.

I raced it here and raced it there all around the town,
But when the local bank was done they nearly sent me down.
I had to trade it in for something not so big and black.
So brought a Hillman next.  An Imp, with its engine at the back.

I tottered round the roads nearby but never went too mad.
The handling was, lets put it this way, pretty flipping bad.
One day I took a corner, I was only doing twenty-eight,
The skinny tyres gave me no grip, the car just went on straight.

Over pavement, through the hedge, half way up a leap.
I thought, this was fun I’ll go again but this time in a Jeep.
My off-roader was a total hoot.  I went round with muddy feet,
And everyone got out the way when I drove down the street.

But the Jeep was far too thirsty and I’m a sometimes frugal man,
I still needed all the cargo space so I brought a Kangoo van.
Economy and load lugging – they were second to none.
But nought to sixty in eighteen secs meant I didn’t pull anyone.

And a man has needs above the needs of his economy,
So I splashed my cash and traded up for a new Lamborghini.
Ray–bans specs, laying rubber lines and acting just like Rambo,
I terrorised the neighbourhood driving in my Lambo.

It had to go when I got caught going more than fifty-five.
Not much you think, but then again, it was in my front drive.
And when I tried to fit it past all the cars in my small street,
It wouldn’t fit as it was about as wide as seven feet.

I changed the car for something that I could drive most anywhere,
A shopping trip, an opera, a classless car without a care.
My little Mini would park up outside a flash boutique,
Or fit in with chavs at markets collecting their cheap meat.

So I lavished love and bits on it at every opportunity,
So much that it resembled last year’s Christmas tree.
And when the thing was laden down with all the bits from near and far,
I decided to trade it in for a proper custom car.

I looked around the free-ads and asked around the meets,
But most were overpriced and under funded junk-yard heaps.
Finding one seemed just like hunting out a four-leaf clover,
So I bought the latest ‘in-thing’ a custom Vauxhall Nova.

The bonnet bulge and paintwork made it stand out alright,
And the turbo-charged conversion set the big fat tyres alight.
Even the huge spoiler, which did nothing for my front wheel drive,
Seemed to shout I’m here – I’m now – I’m definitely alive.

But then I got my hair cut in the shape of cheddar cheese,
And wore my jeans hung down so low the crotch was near my knees.
And when I got the beanie hat, worn facing back to front,
It fell across my eyes and resulted in a shunt.

The Nova was a write off (all I salvaged was the dice),
So I had to start again from scratch and look for something nice.
The fancy car mags were the first place that I kept my eye on,
So, how is it I ended up with a mangy Ford Orion?

I guess they call it growing up and finally settling down.
The car was Mr. Sensible – for motorway or town.
I only had it two months, but it really seemed an age,
I guess that’s what happens when you drive something beige.

And in those two months living with the dreadful booted Ford,
Invisibly travelling round the place, getting me quite bored.
I had to get a car that shouted out until it’s hoarse.
Yes, you’re there before me.  A turbo-charged black Porsche.

I was the Mr. P-Man.  Seeing cars off at every light.
I’d give the single finger but I never stayed to fight.
They just couldn’t catch me when I laid my horses down.
The kids would grow up thinking I’m King without a crown.

I attained a God like status, pulling all the skirt,
I saw so much good loving that things started to hurt.
But when I faced up to a car and saluted in my way,
I didn’t realise his little Caterham could blow me away.

And when he got my number and threatened life and limb,
I chose to ditch the Porsche and get a hiding thing.
Something that had no-one thinking – he is up for S.E.X.
And Nissan came to my rescue with its big QX.

Now Q-cars look quite normal but are faster underneath,
With acceleration giving goose bumps and speed to clench your teeth.
It was big and strong and manly but this was not enough,
The stylist had a day off when this car was signed off.

And with performance comes the cost, fuel soaked up like a sponge,
But the styling didn’t get the looks despite being painted orange.
It finally put paid to all fast living and days out clubbing.
I had more luck when I changed it for a new Reliant Robin.

A new Reliant Robin buyer – I must have been a mug,
The salesman saw me coming and sold me a three-pin plug.
If you missed a hole with the front wheel the back would surely find.
Speed-humps eventually wrecked the car and rattled up my mind.

So I changed again and this time I went out all the way,
I brought a big red car with wings – a Chevrolet Stingray.
I posed about the town again driving like a lout,
But as it was American it didn’t make the roundabout.

A British car would make more sense than a big Yankee car,
And nothing seemed better than one named after a girl’s bra.
The Triumph was a perfect car made in steel for Purdy’s Steele,
But rust took away the pleasure along with the nearside cill.

I needed a rainproof vehicle ’cause I parked it near the shore,
Where savage rains and sea-salt oxidised metal to the core.
I had to get some transport built for this environment,
And invested in a U-boat from the German government.

Now, as you can imagine, this idea was not plain sailing.
At over fifty years old I spent too much time a’bailing.
And when I visited relatives or went down to the mall,
Torpedo tubes and periscopes couldn’t make up the shortfall.

I sold the boat to a contact in a complex and shady deal,
He would let me know his name, but Prince H was on the bill.
I had to get a some normal wheels and settled on a car,
You can’t get more normal than a (yawn) Vauxhall Vectra.

The lanes of Britain’s motorways opened up for me.
I say the lanes, actually it was only the one we all call three.
I finally had a way to do ninety mph city-to-city hacks,
And as a bonus somewhere to hang my coat up in the back.

But doing this for nine months solid without missing out one beat,
I put too many miles on and had a rapid over-heat.
I needed a new engine and wanted something cool.
I went for a different way of things and brought a new Wankle.

The rotary engine was a talking point in shops and at the Pub,
But when I loudly said its name I got fired from the country club.
They wouldn’t let me back in until I apologised and show,
I could get a classic British car to sit in the member’s row.

But I had followed alphabet choice, so was a good trendsetter,
And classic steeds did not start with requisite next letter,
But Jaguar they saved the day and followed up the hype,
With a brand new four-wheel drive, shiny new X-type.

With all my wheels in motion I could climb the highest peak,
But spent all day in traffic jams, cars tucked cheek to cheek.
The daily grind was wasteful as the fuel gauge dropped so far,
But that was nothing next to depreciation that fell off the radar.

I had to ditch the cruise control and my leather seats all had to go,
I swapped it at a dealers for a few grand and a nearly new Yugo.
And that is why I’m writing this to recall my memories.
I’ve been from A to Y in cars and motoring was a wheeze.

But I have yet to finish – It’s the way that I behave,
And I’ve settled on the last one that shall take me to the grave.
When I’ve saved enough to get me a fast zed for a few bob.
A classic Kawasaki or a Zonda Paganini should do the job.

Author: Vince Poynter

From the Cars section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 21 Feb 2018
First Published: Version 1.04 in Mar 2005, with photos added in 2018
Performed as part of the vinceunlimited Podcast 013 entitled Alphacar on this WordPress site dated 29 Oct 2014. Also available via Apple iTunes.
The image depicts the rear of a Ferrari 360 with a photoshopped registration number plate.  It was taken from a cherished number plate site, source now unknown, around 2002.  Please advise if you know of the source material and I will duly give credit.