ROB BLACKBOURN wandered into my office clearly wanting to get something off his chest. He’d been subbing the Jaguar review this issue and bemoaned the fact that the shapes of cars these days seems to be dictated by safety regs more than design. In fact, there seem to be a handful of universal shapes: hatchback, sedan, two-door coupe, SUV and people mover. Picking one brand from another can often be a real challenge.
He’s got a point. And that of course set me off on another, related, theme. Whatever happened to engine bays? For Mr B, the purest expression of an engine is a single-cylinder motorcycle powerplant, where you can easily trace the ingestion of fuel into the single carburettor, the place where it goes bang, and then the expulsion of gases.
Car engines of course tend to be bigger and more complex, but these days you open the bonnet and are confronted by what he terms “a picnic table”. What a perfect way to express it. He’s right.
Generally there’s some giant plastic cover which the maker may have made some minimal effort to decorate in some form. But its relationship to anything mechanical is tenuous at best and at worst downright insulting. I mean, really, why not put a picture of your cat there instead? It would, in many cases, be more decorative.
Now the Jaguar F-Type we feature is an interesting example. It makes loud and angry noises and definitely sounds like it runs on meat. So far so good. It’s terribly luxurious inside, and terrifyingly fast. It’s a proper no-holds-barred modern luxo bomber with teeth. Lovely.
So I opened the bonnet on the thing, expecting perhaps to see actual teeth, or at least inlet trumpets and evidence of things exploding and got confronted with an aluminium casing that could have been anything. Industrial refrigerator, back end of a hadron collider, who knows? Nothing that said ‘engine’. Geez, if I’d spent all that money, I reckon I’d be dropping in on the design team and asking some questions.
Of course all that is academic, as the new Jag is more expensive than anything I’ve ever bought, including my house. The good folk at brand J can rest easy.
However, being a bit of a petrol-head, I can’t resist a mechanical work of art and came within a whisker of buying an XJS recently, complete with the full V12 orchestra in the engine bay. Now that does look like an engine, even if it’s edging more towards the archetypal plumber’s nightmare.
Just as the deal looked like being done, one of life’s little surprises popped over the horizon and swallowed the Jag money. Some people reckon I dodged a bullet. Evidently they’re not the easiest things in the world to live with – although I’ve met owners who would hotly deny that.
Still, it’s not over yet. The whole idea of having a V12 lurking in the shed still has huge appeal. It’s easy to imagine hanging around the garage, with the bonnet open, pondering its mysteries, perhaps with the aid of a glass of claret. There would be worse ways to spend an evening.
So here’s a thought: what’s the best-looking engine bay out there? Drop us a line and let us know…
Guy ‘Guido’ Allen
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