By Sam Smith*
ONCE, I WAS a professional mechanic. In my twenties, after earning a university degree in English Literature. After months of searching, I hadn't found a job in my chosen field that would simultaneously fund both rent and cheap soup, because that is how literature degrees work. So I started working on cars for a living. I was good at it, in the sense that I repaired things. I was also terrible at it, in the sense that I was slower than uphill mud.
By Mark Walton
A NEW RACES INTO the F1 season, and already there are rumours about drivers getting dropped or replaced. Williams has had a dreadful season and Sirotkin is looking vulnerable; Stoffel Vandoorne lacks raw pace and is permanently in Alonso's shadow; and that youngster, Max Verstappen, surely he's going to get sacked by Red Bull. He's useless.
By Gavin Green, The Voice of Experience
HEY MERCEDES! It seems puerile – don’t you think? – to slip behind the wheel of a car wearing the three-pointed star, probably still the most distinguished badge in motoring, and say ‘Hi’ to your Mercedes-Benz.
Does Lewis Hamilton salute his F1 W09 racer with ‘Hey Mercedes’? Did Moss have a natter with his 300 SLR before the ’55 Mille Miglia? I have owned five sturdy Benz estates – a breed of car I like – and I have never spoken to any of them. We have happily communicated by touch, not speech.
By Sam Smith, The Gearhead
THE BEST WORST car I ever owned died a horrible death twice. The interior smelled like a cross between elephant and old grandmother house. The middle of the left door, maybe six inches up from the sill, held a rust spot the size of a football but still managed to be one of the nicest panels on the car. The silencer hangers and clamps were so rusty that the exhaust fell off weekly. Paint flaked off in chunks. For the entire time I owned this buttbeast – roughly a year, start to finish – I did not have a girlfriend, which is far from coincidence. No other vehicle in my personal history has been as laughably ugly or as structurally unsound.
By Gavin Green
ELECTRIC CAR adventures began when 'my' Tesla Model S on autopilot lane-changed in front of a speeding Transit on the M4 near Heathrow. Robots may not fall asleep, lose concentration or take their eyes off the road. But nor can they compute the irrational behaviour of a White Van Man doing (about) 9omph in a 60 zone.
By Mark Walton, The Incurable Enthusiast
WHO REMEMBERS Exchange and Mart? It does still exist as a website, though as a household name it’s been usurped by the likes of eBay and Auto Trader. My dad was a car enthusiast before me, and he used to buy Exchange and Mart every week, to thumb its densely packed pages (no pictures!) in search of cars. Consequently, I grew up driving all sorts of old dross that would come and go on the farm: an Austin Champ, a Peugeot 304, a Mini pick-up, a Mk1 Polo, a Jaguar 420G… eclectic, eccentric and always cheap.
HE ISRAELI ACADEMIC Yuval Noah Harari, author of the beautifully written and scholarly Sapiens, has a new book. Rather than breezing us through the history of our species, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century warns about tomorrow. In particular, the threat of misusing personal data, algorithms and AI.
Our data that we casually hand over, says Harari, is as bad a bargain for us today as the exchange of land for beads was for African tribes in the past. Yet every time we use Facebook, Google or any of the other data gatherers, we ‘sell’ (for free email access, funny videos or easy messaging) information gold.