Does anyone remember that there was once fairly widespread call to class the 1980s as the “Second Vintage Decade”? As far as I am aware that never happened, and rightly so: The 80s were an interesting time for production car development and they gave us such classics as the Golf GTi, the Peugeot 205 and the new Ferarri Testarossa – which was in essence a re-styled 1970s Berlinetta Boxer….
The word ‘Vintage’ is a winemaker’s term which literally refers to wine ‘of a good year’, and as far as I can ascertain the first official use of the term in referring to anything other than wine was with the formation of the Vintage Sports Car Club in 1934. The young men who formed the club were of the opinion that the modern cars of the time were fairly ghastly, being the product of the depression years, and that cars built prior to 1930 were generally better built, more exciting and therefore of a good year… Vintage.
The last few days in the workshop have involved work on a few ‘modern’ cars built in the 1990s and 2000s, and for me the 90s is the time period which most nearly fits the bill for the ‘Second Vintage Decade’: Although arguably cars have become rather less interesting over the years it’s probably fair to say that they have become steadily more evolved and more ‘user friendly’, and cars built during the 90s are very user friendly indeed. Cars have been extremely reliable for the last 90 years or so, but more recent cars are also long lived and low maintainance. Aside from a dreadful ‘blip’ in the 1970s, car manufacturers had been steadily working to make their products better for the consumer in terms of durability and maintainance costs, and the peak of this development was probably the late 1990s.
A good case in point is the ‘works hack’ – a 1998 Peugeot 106 diesel. I purchased it 3 years ago with 78,000 miles on the clock and, at the cost of a driveshaft, a battery and an exhaust system, it has covered a further 60,000 miles with nothing more than regular service items. The car is now due for MOT and I have had to fit rear hub bearings and brake hoses; this is cheap motoring – especially since it never fails to return at least 60mpg. Also due for MOT this week is a customer’s 1997 Volvo S70 diesel which I have known since new. The only new part this car has ever required other than service items is a replacement alternator.
The problem that I have with cars built since the 1990s is that the manufacturer’s priorities seem to have changed: The cars have become a little more complex. Now I’ve no problem at all with complexity – a few months ago I completed quite a lot of work on an early Maserati 3200 which involved setting the timing on 4 camshafts with dial test indicators, and stripping down the front of the engine bay in order to fit a new cambelt (to be repeated every 10,000 miles or three years). Not a problem really because although it’s a lot of work and expense, Maserati built it that way since it was the best way that they could come up with which would offer the customer the driving experience which they had in mind.
The sort of complexity which I don’t enjoy is the type which has no benifit for the consumer whatsoever, like the E Class Mercedes with no transmission oil filler, and which has to have fresh oil pumped into the drain plug hole. Perhaps this sort of design does have some benefit for the original manufacturer but the trouble is that it needlessly pushes up the cost of maintainance and repair for the owner. The perfect case in point being the 2002 model Vauxhaull I saw this year, on which the screenwash wouldn’t work because of a faulty body control module. After fitting an expensive new module, it has to be coded with a manufacturer specific device in order for the engine ECU to recognise it. If someone can tell me what’s wrong with a switch to control the washers I would be very grateful…..