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COMPUTERS VS CLASSIC CARS

COMPUTERS VS CLASSIC CARS

Posted by Matt Bell on 7th November 2018

Those intelligent computer algorithms may not be quite so clever when it comes to classic cars. Obviously (and thankfully) Nigel Fryatt’s love of classics doesn’t seem to follow the rules

While trying not to get too overwhelmed by the usual stereotypes, does my age and my love of old cars automatically make me slightly wary of computers? Don’t get me wrong, I am a massive fan of Apple products, having used them for many (many!) years to produce articles and magazines. Looking back on my career, I sometimes wonder how the hell we ever produced weekly copies of Autocar magazine using manual typewriters, regularly unreliable couriers, and telephones firmly attached to desks.

The most technological piece of equipment we had was a fax machine, which worked overtime on a Friday afternoon when we were trying to get the last news stories ‘up the pipe’ to the printers and hopefully into the next week’s edition. We used to get thrown out of the building by a particularly unpleasant security guard at 7pm, meaning that I often had to Sellotape A4 pages together, feed one end into the fax machine and hope all would be well. The back-up plan was to take the carbon copies (younger readers can check Wikipedia) to the local pub where I would use the coin-operated phone in the bar to check it had all gone through OK.

Even writing this I shake my head…. It sounds like I was working in Victorian times, not a modern tower block in Sutton, Surrey.

Today, of course, computers are just a ‘normal’ part of life. As a journalist they’re an amazing research tool, albeit one that needs care when using (don’t check Wikipedia), they have been a great help to me, allowing me to work from home in my own office while keeping in direct contact with the rest of the world.

What I find a little concerning, however, is when they start to think for themselves… but thankfully, when it comes to older cars, the writers of these super sophisticated algorithms haven’t quite worked out what makes me tick when it comes to enjoying the classics.

While starting to research a feature the other day, I turned to Google to find out more. My research was directed towards those amazing glassfibre kit car specials that were built in the 1970s and 1980s. There’s no embarrassment on my behalf to say I have a soft spot for some of these highly individual machines, and one such that has always appealed is the Clan Crusader.

Clan Crusader (1971)

The man behind this original design was Paul Haussauer, a former project engineer at Lotus (working on the Elan) who left the company to pursue his dream of producing a low cost two-seater sports GT. His experience at Lotus led him to design the Clan to be a single glassfibre monocoque (body and chassis as one piece), keeping the weight down (another Colin Chapman philosophy) and fitting a simple and light engine with a modest power output (ditto Chapman). It’s a matter of taste, of course, but for me the design was impressive – perhaps excluding the treatment for the front headlights, but then Haussauer was trying to keep the costs down. Sadly, the history of the Clan Crusader is muddled and troubled, with struggles with the HMRC and tax changes, the fuel crisis of the Seventies and a number of well-meaning, but ultimately unsuccessful different owners.

My query was what it would cost me to buy one today. With a mere click of the mouse I was directed to eBay and a 1987 McCoy Clan Crusader appeared but this was one of the later versions where this particular manufacturer had missed the whole point of the car, dropping the Hillman Imp engine at the rear and fitting an A-Series under the bonnet. Not quite my idea of a Clan Crusader.

Of course, my search had sent the eBay algorithms spinning and snapping wildly; “We’ve got one here boys. One of those classic car types. Let’s see what else we can tempt him with.”

This particular technique is common these days. Buy anything on Amazon and you’ll get told, ‘people who bought this also bought…’ My eBay Clan Crusader search had followed a similar road, but boy had they got it wrong.

Apparently, schmucks like me would also be interested in a Jowett Javelin barn find, a BMW E36 cabriolet (a real retro car, it declared) and a non-running Renault R8 Gordini which I would need a trailer to collect. And if these chosen choices didn’t hit the spot, the final trump card that the eBay algorithms played was something of a surprise. Clear as mud, anyone searching for a Clan Crusader would obviously prefer to consider a Ford Zephyr/Zodiac Mk2 gearbox, with overdrive; available at what seemed to be a rather costly £662.

None of these cars appeal to me whatsoever, and the only thing they have in common appears to be that they can be covered by that wonderful phrase ‘unfinished project’.

It was quite satisfying for once to be able to see that the mystical smoke and mirrors world of computer programming hasn’t been able to work out what I like about old cars. It is a minor triumph, perhaps, but a pleasing one. We all love our old cars for a huge variety of reasons. One man’s much cherished classic is another’s pile of scrap, and long may that continue. It seems it’s going to take eBay some time to work that one out.