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Tony Dron's Column - The Driver

  • Tony Dron - August 2008 - 0
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New cars might be getting cleaner and greener, but we shouldn't be made to feel guilty about our love of historic racing...

It came as a jolt a few days ago when a friend of some 20 years, and often a rival in historic races, mentioned that even he is beginning to question the environmental impact of cars in general. Although I disagree with him fundamentally I was prepared to hear him out, and to think about what he said.

He has a powerful old race car which he drives with tremendous skill but increasingly guilty pleasure. His machine is about 40 years old, has a fairly big engine and the emissions from his exhaust would not attract unanimous admiration from the green lobby. In short, he’s getting a bit uneasy and is beginning to question how he feels about that.

Not only do I think he’s entirely wrong on this point, I’d go further than that and suggest that this a very dangerous line of thought which does seem to be establishing itself more widely, bit by bit. It should be knocked flat with logical argument before it begins to take a serious hold.

Let’s admit it, unless we’ve had our heads right down in the sand in recent years we’ve all thought about these issues from time to time, and more so recently – even if it’s just been to wish that it would all go away. It’s quite obvious that it’s not going to and we have to decide where we stand on this matter.

On this green front, we absolutely must not feel bad about the past. Conscious of the need for a different motoring future, whether it’s really for the sake of the world or simply a battle against misguided enemies, it is essential that we continue to celebrate motoring history robustly. Historic motor sport is an echo of a truly glorious past packed with human endeavour of the very best sort.

We should stand up and be proud of maintaining and running historic racing cars as their makers intended them to be used. There are so few surviving old cars, on road and track, that they amount to a statistical irrelevance in terms of emissions – but even that is far from the main point at issue here.

We cannot change history, nor should we try to deny it or feel guilty about it. What matters is what happens next in new road cars. We’ve all seen that the drive to produce cars that are genuinely green-friendly is happening faster than ever now, and there’s no reason why we should not join in the enthusiasm for that. Actually, there’s a certain appeal to the increased efficiency of the latest road cars which attracts me strongly.

Another personal feeling is we should wean new road car buyers off unnecessarily high performance and make them realise that the fun factor in road driving is more to do with handling and the feel of the vehicle, not more horsepower. Perhaps perversely, I have always had just as much fun, often more fun, in a good slow car than in something really quick, but I’m funny like that. I know plenty of people who would disagree.

Last week I spent a day driving the new Fiat Bravo Eco and it’s a pretty impressive step in terms of emissions and mpg. It’s quick enough, quite quick enough, and I found it smoother and more pleasant to drive than its standard equivalent, which was predictably quicker but used more fuel and was less green in other ways. More interesting developments in this line will be seen even this year and there are very dramatic developments coming up in the very near future. The motor industry is doing its bit and is rapidly picking up pace in this quest.

As for emissions from houses, factories, ships and planes, that’s another matter. There’s a very long way to go in some of those areas but this is no place for a debate on climate change and whom to blame, if anyone, for what’s going on.

So, road cars are getting greener and that’s great. I think that new cars in the next few years will be increasingly fun to drive, much more efficient and hugely cleaner. Splendid, but it’s completely irrelevant to historic motor sport, of which we should be proud and not in the least ashamed. There is no conflict of interest here and nothing whatsoever for us to feel guilty about.

That’s my view anyway. What do you think?


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