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- Part One

 

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Observer Interview

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Chai at the Lazy Lounge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acronym Research Selection & Evaluation Dept.

By Nick Summerhayes, March 2009

 

Growing up on the Welsh/English border in the UK, in the 1960s and 70s, I certainly knew my place within society.  The freedoms and excesses normally associated with these two decades, took a long time to reach the sleepy hamlets of Caerwent.  The Roman wall strait-jacketing the village seemed a fitting symbol for repelling the march of progress. 

The standard method of escape from your cell within society was to use a motor vehicle. Either by owning a vehicle that took you out to the edge of society, or by physically using the pesky thing to get the hell out of there and go to Europe; grape picking, maybe ? 

Running away to the continent was perhaps just exchanging one constricting society for another, but at least you wouldn’t have to put up with your pub being invaded anymore by the Hooray Henrys or the Green Welly Brigade, or commuters to London removing your chances of ever owning a property in the area you lived. 

So, how to escape, and how did your vehicle put you outside the realms of decent society?

Well, it had to be threatening in some way, and proclaim that you weren’t just the ordinary standard saloon, or commuter moped.  For cars, in the good old days, it was GT or GS (GL and GLS probably didn’t quite cut it, being more suitable for ‘Dad’). These days, the equivalents would be DOHC, GTi, 4WD, EFI, Turbo, 4WS. 

Bikes weren’t immune either; there was RAM AIR, LC (Liquid Cooled), RD (Race Developed), Delta box frames, GSXR, FZ, CBR, ZXR, with point-less (I always liked that phrase) ignition. 

Are these labels indicating status or quality ? If it’s not status then I suppose it comes down to fitness for purpose...  with cars, S type sport versions are great on smooth roads but can suffer when ground clearance is an issue. Turbochargers can be useful for temporarily boosting the relative cubic capacity of your engine and great for overtaking power, but can be sensitive to heat and fail in hotter climes.  

All these advancements tend to increase complexity. I believe the same probability that governs quantum mechanics is going to produce some remarkable failures… I’m imagining the unlucky guy (it will be a guy, won’t it ?) whose electric aerial shorts out while he is leaning over it.  This sends the aerial up his sleeve while he is operating the remote which opens his garage door, which inadvertently operates the closure mechanism of his electrically operated car roof and literally hoists him up on his own petard. 

I didn’t play the status game with cars; principally because I’m not comfortable playing status games, but also because of the relative large difference between car and bike costs!  I also think that however grandiose the acronyms, I couldn’t get past the fact that I would be dragging round a three piece suite with me wherever I went, even if I got to be the proud owner of a Porsche 911. 

I chose bikes; the Suzuki Katana GS 650 (pictured above with double overhead underhangs!), and, (pictured below) my personal favourite, the Moto Guzzi Le Mans Mk II in fire engine red with a black trim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did escape British Society on occasion, with a few trips to France; one highlight being:

Three of us on two bikes, twenty something years ago. Andrew piloting a Moto Guzzi Spada up front, and pillion was Jim, a mature student mate of mine who hadn’t been biking before. We had lent him a waxed cotton suit, and an older style Bell Helmet.  At every stop Jim would make a point of waving at ANY bikers going past. 

I was a couple of hundred metres behind Andrew on my Katana, and we were on one of those classic rural French roads, tree-lined with a slight upward incline.  We were travelling at about 80 mph; going fast, because everything was set back from the road and you had time to anticipate problems… the only warning I got was a sudden flash of light in one of my rearview mirrors, then the roar of what I assumed was a low flying aircraft, although I quickly worked out it was a motorbike. Did I see a flash of bare leg and high heel I asked myself ?!

We pulled over to settle our nerves and Jim gasped:  “All I heard was the noise, Andrew physically jumped and temporarily left the seat of the Spada… Jesus, what was that thing?  What speed was it doing ??”.  Andrew, who was the most up to date on the models, thought it was a new Yamaha FZR 1000, and we guessed that it must have been travelling at somewhere between 140 and 160 mph. I asked about the high heels, and did anyone notice who or what was on the back of it.   Jim suggested that it was Lucifer… 

“I digest” as Ali G would say; I’m in New Zealand now, where one can be more or less free of the British class system. There are still pockets of bias though, especially here in Christchurch, the most English of New Zealand cities and known as ‘The Garden City’.  In the 1990s, due in part to the lack of salt on the roads, we still had many of the old British classic cars around.  On the tail end of heavy tariffs on importing new cars being phased out, it was like driving around in the UK in the 1970s. There was a large cottage industry in maintaining old British cars and you would see Jaguars, Triumphs (such as the 2000 twin carb, and 2.5 PI), Minis, Avengers, and even that abomination, the Morris Marina 1800, famously reinvented into the Ital; mostly in pretty good condition.

A pair of New Zealand Marinas

Of course, these days, it's mostly Japanese imports, but I'm sure there will be many dusty models of the ones mentioned above, sitting in private garages all around the country and you’ll still see the odd GT, GS or GTS on the streets.  Now, we also have a GST, which is a tax that pays for…  No, I don’t know what it pays for, but politicians tell me it is a very good idea. 

I still can’t shake free of the acronyms, what with all the four wheel drive diesel RVs and SUVs being driven around usually by mothers doing the school run, or off down the shops (as Alexi Sayle would say “Your four wheel drive, is so bleeding useful for popping down to Sainsburys !”).  Diesel ?  Diesel ?!?  Why do I need to be told what fuel it’s powered by ?  I think this trend will swiftly go out of fashion when we have vehicles powered by “effluent” gases.

However, in response to this, and I guess harking back to my halcyon years, I introduce you to my 1978 Mini LE.  What does LE stand for ? Late Entry ? Low Engine ? Large Economy ?  Or was it a failed attempt to capture the masculine French market ?

 

I think it has a 998cc engine but I’m not sure. I owned a couple of Mini Vans when I lived in the UK, and I'm trying to think if there are differences such as engine size between this one and them. I bought this Mini for $800 a few years ago with the intention of overhauling it, but of course, haven't got around to it yet.  It is the smallest tin box that can transport four fully grown adults and has tyres narrower in width than many motorcycles’ and a roof rack that can take a standard three piece suite !

 

This Mini does not rust easily thanks to the lack of road salt over here.  There is damage to the boot caused by some kids when the car was sitting outside a car dismantler’s yard where it was waiting for repair. From the same yard, I bought a secondhand boot lid, which I naturally keep in the boot as there’s no room in my garage. 

 

For an easier life, I thought if you can’t beat them, join them, and I will have to extol the Mini LE’s virtues with a badge informing the world of its qualities, an acronym that looks as mistreated as the vehicle itself:   

2WD Petrol GST inc 

P.S. Once she is fully restored (see a similar Mini below), I will add the Limited Edition ‘carburetted’ badge to the wing!

 

Please note that the copyright of this paper remains with the author who needs to be contacted directly for permission to use this material elsewhere. 

nick@headway.co.nz