Darren’s going back to basics

Darren Leslie has been thinking about our ever increasing desire to add options and accessories to even the most basic of cars. Sounds like he yearns for a return to the good old days of motoring.

Here are Darren’s thoughts…

Having recently read Dave Bicker’s thoughts on 2CVs on this very blog, it made me think about what we expect from our cars, and indeed, what we need. The Citroën 2CV is probably as basic as you can get, but I agree with others, being in an accident with one isn’t going to be pretty.

So the question is, can you get a basic car in which you would feel safe in?

I’ve just downloaded a copy of the brochure for the Ford Ka, a modern car designed as a cheap city runabout. I think this is a reasonable place to look.

Ford Ka on PetrolBlog

It seems as though the ‘Studio’ spec is the basic version and its features include a 6-speaker stereo with CD, MP3 and Aux jack, power steering and multiple airbags. This is pretty standard fare, although why power steering is needed in a car with skinny tyres is anyone’s guess. You also get as standard a headlight courtesy delay, which keeps your headlights on for a few seconds after leaving the car. I personally feel it’s a bit pointless. It’s fairly low level spec in today’s world, but would anyone tick the option box?

The next spec up adds air conditioning, electric windows, remote central locking and power mirrors. At a guess, this is probably the level of spec most buyers would consider. But just how far can you go?

The Titanium model add such luxuries as the Advanced Music Pack (with subwoofer, amplifier and ‘premium’ speakers) and climate control. There’s the usual array of wheel choices (ranging from 14” steels to 16” alloys), paint (most of which cost extra), leather seats (which can be heated), built-in iPod connection, Bluetooth and the most amusing of all, an ability to read text messages from the car’s information display. Do we really need any of this stuff? Nope.

You may have read about our Nissan Primera SVE which was the top spec of the range. Sat nav, premium sound system, four electric windows etc. The most useful bit was the reversing camera, but only because the rear window was so small.

On most occasions I would put on Radio 2 and head off. The electric rear windows didn’t move in the time we had it and if I went anywhere I wasn’t familiar with, I looked it up beforehand and took a map. The climate control was adjusted in very rarely and if it was, it was only by a couple of degrees up or down.

In short, we didn’t use all the gadgets that were available to us.

Inside of K.I.T.T from Knight Rider
Less K.I.T.T, more O.T.T for Darren

We now have a Volkswagen Sharan SL with pretty much no gadgets at all. It’s made no difference to the way we feel about the car and we actually quite enjoy having something where so little could go wrong.

I think I’ve made my point, but please allow me another example of some of the pointless gadgets. I recently had the pleasure of having a brand new Vauxhall Zafira for a day during our seven days of summer back in May. The cabin was rather hot and so the climate control was put on maximum cold and full power. Half an hour later, we were still hot. So we opened the windows and felt cooler almost immediately. Now, this probably has more to do with a rubbish air con system than anything else, but it does point to the fact that just because it has something, doesn’t mean it’s any good.

I also remember when I was a young lad that cars of the day didn’t have the likes of air con, electric windows, parking sensors or sat nav and I don’t recall being unduly concerned about it. Maybe the fact that you can’t miss what doesn’t exist plays a part in this.

1968 Mini interior
Back to basics?

So back to the question in hand. Can you buy a base spec car and perhaps more importantly, would you actually buy one? The aforementioned Ka would appear to be rather basic, as is the new Skoda Citigo, which has a similar level of equipment. Then there’s the Kia Picanto, which offers a greater level of kit, presumably to attract new audiences.

A quick Google search shows that a spec list that includes ABS, PAS and a reasonable radio/CD/MP3 player is about as basic as you can get in the UK.

Would we buy one new? Well if you can live without many of the niceties provided on today’s cars, then yes. With EuroNCAP meaning all new cars must meet certain safety standards, you’ll not feel as though you’re in a 2CV. You may have problems come resale time, but you shouldn’t buy cars for the next user anyway.

K.I.T.T image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Further waffle you might like

Facebook Comments


Darren Leslie
Having an Engineering-esque background, Darren is just as happy looking at technical stuff as telling the whole world that the latest and greatest from all manufacturers is to ‘blingy’ and laden with pointless gadgets. Conservative and practical are the watch words occasionally used. To enforce the point, he is currently forcing his family into using a low spec VW Sharan and has now developed a strange fascination for all things MPV-ish.


  1. September 13, 2012
    Simon Hingston

    Can we (and a few hundred others) all club together and buy this for no frills motoring?


    Or we could get a series 1 Landy and a chiropractor?

    • September 13, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Oh, just look at that interior!

      • September 13, 2012
        Simon Hingston

        Gorgeous isn’t it. Conserved rather than restored, much better.

  2. September 13, 2012

    I’m with you on this. A car should be fit for purpose, ie. get you from A to B safely and economically (and quickly would be nice). My car has electric front windows and that’s about it. And it all works quite nicely. Except for the passenger electric window, which doesn’t.

    • September 13, 2012
      Simon Hingston

      Aah but air con dries the car out quicker when the sun roof leaks or the window won’t go back up again.

      • September 13, 2012

        Sunroof? Bourgeois frippery 🙂

  3. September 13, 2012

    great subject! I never had any problems with electric windows, air con, sat nav,abs,pas, blah blah……I wish I still had my 1968 850 cc.minivan! although looking at the interior/dashboard above I remember now why I got into the “custom” habit

  4. September 13, 2012
    Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

    I miss the bargain-basement stuff too. The Up/Citigo/Mii are heading in the right directions – if only because they have incredibly simple interiors too. Basic ones of each even come with steel wheels – and Seat doesn’t even make an effort to hide them under wheel trims. Just has old-school hub caps like an early 90s Ibiza.

  5. September 15, 2012
    Daniel Ramos

    Great car!

  6. September 15, 2012

    I think you allude to a valid point: the very availability of certain features has created the demand for the same. If all this stuff, didn’t exist, we’d be quite happy without it. I also tend to think cars are too complicated now, and I’m not convinced that all of the extra does actually makes our lives better.

    • September 18, 2012
      Dave Bicker

      Spot on Darren!
      I think buyers would be dissuaded if the ‘options’ available in the brochure were renamed ‘things to add that are very expensive to repair’.
      Likewise there are so many computers that second guess our driving and adjust accordingly – what about driving the thing correctly in the first place?
      What a miserable old b*****d I am…

  7. September 21, 2012

    I agree too! Is it really such a hardship to wind up windows and lean over to unlock your passenger’s door?

    Even my Vivaro works van has air con, power steering, Decent radio, 6 gears etc. Before we had lockers the central locking was a nightmare as in certain areas when you opened the van some wee effer would jump in the passenger side and steal your laptop!

    Its probably a bit rose tinted as i’ve not driven an old car for a while, but there’s something great about driving a really basic model that does not have anything you don’t need, a speedo, a chocolate fireguard fuel gauge that goes up and down after every corner, and maybe some seats and a steering wheel! My first car was an ’82 Mini Metro 1.0, it didn’t have much more and I loved it! This is dangerous, thinking about an ebay browse now…

  8. September 21, 2012

    Good post. I can see the appeal of decent sat nav and stereo, but otherwise it’s just stuff to show your friends once then forget about.

    Slightly off topic, but was thinking the other day how long cassette players were still available in cars. 2005/06 is latest I’ve seen……


Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *