Everybody loves a Top Ten list. Unfortunately, people set out to spoil things for everybody else through cliché, lazy plagiarism and pure clickbait. Here are four Top Ten car lists that we need a moratorium on, preferably now.
So it turns out some car names, in certain languages, mean some of the baser physiological functions. And many of us find that hilarious, if we’re the people for whom a typical day involves sitting at the back of the class in Primary Seven.
And the same tenuous examples are trotted out repeatedly. The Buick Lacrosse sounds onanistic if you habitually use teenage slang in Montreal. Most manufacturers have an actual department to deal with this sort of thing so they can catch themselves on at an early stage. And change the name in the territories where it is likely to be a problem. So how big an issue is it if your pride and joy has a name which means poo in a different language?
Let’s explore this through the medium of the John Wick movie…
Scene: John Wick is at a petrol station somewhere in New York filling up his car. Three suspicious looking gentlemen roll up in a black BMW 7-series. They exchange light-hearted yet sinister banter in French before clocking the mid-engined Japanese sports car.
French Voyou 1: Une belle voiture.
JW: Merci. Toyota.
FV1: C’est quelque sorte de Celica?
JW: Non. C’est une MR-deux.
FV2 (en riant) Il a dit merde!
FV1,2,3 (tous en riant): Sa voiture est merde!
JW takes out his gun and shoots all three in their legs.
As he prepares to drive off, FV2 limps towards his car and leans through the open window:
FV2: Avez-vous une… bonne journée, Monsieur.
You could imagine exactly the same scenario playing out when Wick is refuelling his Buick Lacrosse, again in New York, and a car load of Quebecois youths arrive, except he probably aims slightly higher.
And so on. It’s the sort of thing that happens in John Wick movies. And you’re not going to be accosted during your routine business by a group of thugs hailing from a country where the badge on the back of your car reads ‘gingivitis’.
For me to click on that Top Ten bait, I’d be expecting to read about the Triumph Haemorrhoid, whose name meant piles in all major European languages, including English. Launched while the Name Check Department of British Leyland were out on strike. Or the Hillman Manderley, which nobody bought because of a sneaking concern they might come home some night and find it on fire.
What is going to happen in real life is the neighbour telling you that your Saab 9-5 is really a Vauxhall Vectra. Every time he sees you. Where’s John Wick when you need him?
My postman is a premillennial dispensationalist. I disagree strongly with his assertion that Ursula von der Leyen is the Whore of Babylon in the Book of Revelation, even if she has, on occasion, appeared arrayed in purple and scarlet.
I do, however, give some credence to the theory he mooted lately that the Personal Contract Plan (PCP) is the prophesied Mark of the Beast without which no-one might buy or sell. He tells me that many PCPs ask for a £999 deposit, which of course is 666 upside down.
This explains why most Top Ten Cars for First-Time Buyers lists recommend brand new cars with tempting low monthly payments. But Young People, wouldn’t you be surprised to hear that for the cost of one or maybe two of these payments you could buy and actually own a car which is indestructible and infallibly reliable?
Sure, it won’t communicate with your smart fridge and tell you that you need to take the first exit at the next roundabout to buy tofu, or generate TikTok videos automatically, or whatever cars are supposed to do nowadays. But it will start first time every morning and its carbon footprint was washed away by the rising sea level years ago.
The Mk1 Toyota Yaris. The motoring equivalent of the cockroach…
Thirty years after World War Three. The earth is a desolate post-apocalyptic wasteland. A five and a half feet-tall mutated rat emerges from a sewer and spots an abandoned Toyota Yaris. After using one of his non-mutated brethren to wipe the ash off the windscreen in the traditional fashion.
He gets into the car and turns the key. It starts immediately and after a slightly jerky start he drives off into destiny…
Sixty years later, a rat civilisation has reclaimed the planet. Giant rats driving Toyota Yarises traverse the world. Our pioneer, now the president of the Rat World Government, is retiring and is presented with a Honda Jazz, the only other human artefact to survive Armageddon intact and reserved for older members of society.
If the Toyota Yaris can provide the basis for a post-human civilisation, it should be your first car. End of.
Admittedly some cars were bad. Life-threateningly bad, like the G-Wiz, although that should more correctly feature in Top Ten Electric Motors Connected to Wheels, along with the Sinclair C5. But the annoying thing is the laziness of these lists. You can pretty much guarantee that the Austin Allegro will feature, probably in the top three, and that the usual anecdotal foibles will be trotted out with much implied hilarity.
It’s more aerodynamic going backwards. The same could be said of anything of that era with a front grille and slopy back. In fact, Ford had to bring in aerodynamic grille slats around 1980, to try and improve matters. Incidentally, the Allegro’s much derided styling was ahead of its time; if MG or BMW or whoever owns the rights were to do an EV homage now, people would say how much cuter it is than the Honda e.
If you jacked it up, the body flexed and the back window popped out. Yep, if you didn’t use the proper fecking jacking point on the sill. I’ve stuck a jack under some of its contemporaries only to see the whole sill disintegrate in a cloud of iron oxide, which was a somewhat bigger deal than having to bung a window back in. I was there in the 1970s and I have no recollection of motorway hard shoulders littered with Allegro back windows.
It had quality control issues. As did they all. Read car magazine road tests from that era. Dashboards, door handles and gearboxes fell off on a regular basis and nobody batted an eyelid (except when the rear-view mirror detached and headed in the direction of your face). And any long-term test would include at least two weeks when the car – including Fords and Vauxhalls and Chryslers – would have to be hauled away on a low loader to get a new engine.
It had a square steering wheel. The Vanden Plas luxury version had a ridiculously ornate, oversized grille. Um- have you been on the BMW website recently?
Let’s have a bit of context. Talk Allegro and you’re talking about the 1970s. Cars were rubbish, and so was life in general. And when you typed your Top Ten list of Worst Cars Ever on a manual Olivetti – electric typewriters were difficult when you had five power cuts a week – you didn’t have the internet you could upload it to.
The best you could hope for was post it to the Midsomer Midden Tribune and Advertiser (weekly circulation 1,200) in the hope that it would get published. Except it wouldn’t be, because the owner of this august periodical played golf with the Austin dealer in the village. Who was responsible for half his advertising revenue. So you would get a polite rejection letter back.
And you’d think that was that, except they now knew where you lived. A young Tom Barnaby could thank you for his promotion after he solved the case when your bloated cadaver was fished out of the local reservoir. And somebody selling Datsuns would replace the now incarcerated Austin dealer, contributing to the demise of the British car industry.
Folks, the Allegro is a cheap and undeserving target. It was by no means the worst of its day and in some aspects like susceptibility to rust it was vastly better than its peers. Even CAR magazine isn’t above a poke at it, although they thought the Allegro important enough to publish a really rather complimentary entire supplement about it at its launch in 1973. They seem to have forgotten about that, although that may be thanks to the sterling work of young Winston in the Minitrue section of their archives.
I was going to move on to the Morris Marina next but I’ve got to lie down now.
McLarens, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, top line Audis. Whether he drives them in films or in real life, somebody has binge watched the Fast and Furious franchise clutching a biro and notepad or Googled the subject to produce a Top Ten list. For most of us who escaped puberty more than ten years ago, mind-numbingly boring. Want to do some proper research and generate something interesting? How about Top Ten Interesting Cars Driven by Jason Statham?
In Killer Elite (2011) he’s in a Mk3 Cortina, hotly pursued by Clive Owen’s XJ6 in a reversal of the old Sweeney trope. But look carefully:
From the front it seems to be a GT, the side a GXL and from the back a 2000E. Turns out this is an Australian-spec Cortina XLE. Now isn’t that more fascinating than a bog standard Lamborghini Aventador? There’s your starter for ten. Killer Elite scores 28 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. You’re welcome.