Monday, July 15, 2013

American cars? Be careful what you wish for

IT’S the baking heat, one too many cheeseburgers, and The Beach Boys blasting out over the loudspeakers which I blame for my latest motoring misadventure.

Cast your mind back a couple of weeks, to that first swelteringly hot Saturday of July. While you were queuing up for ice cream served by a bald bloke in the back of an ancient Bedford van I was rolling up in the grounds of a stately home in Cheshire that, for the day at least, had become a little overseas corner of California. Acres of nothing but old American cars – that’s the Stars ‘n’ Stripes show at Tatton Park for you.

Old Yank tanks aren’t normally my bag but what started out as a work assignment quickly became an indulgence in fins, chrome and people wearing precious little but denim shorts and cowboy hats. As Sweet Home Alabama belted out of the stereo and I wandered, slightly heat hazed, through a sea of Confederate flags, pick-up trucks and Cadillacs, I might have got a bit carried away with the whole yee-ha-aren’t-American-cars-brilliant thing. I left Tatton Park not just with plenty of pictures, but my very own American dream too.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice, I pondered, to don my best pair of shades, stick on a cowboy hat and get behind the wheel of an American car myself? My head, for about a fortnight afterwards, was full of ideas. Perhaps I could lower the power-operated hood on a ’62 Cadillac – so much cooler than the Thelma and Louisa ’59 model – and cruise down the nearest sun-kissed boulevard, or play the rebel without a clue in a Chevrolet El Camino SS (Google it, trust me). I even entertained the idea, despite the ongoing Queer As Folk connotations in this country, of blagging a go in a Jeep Wrangler.

I really, really, wanted to go for a drive in an American car. Unfortunately, fate dealt me with a cruel hand and gave me one.

True, it was a Chevy, but it wasn’t an old Corvette or Bel Air. It wasn’t even the intriguingly entertaining Camaro Convertible I tried last year. It was a Captiva, which is the Vauxhall Antara’s cheapskate American cousin. Only it isn’t really all that American because – like the Antara – it was developed and made in South Korea. Not that I’d mind if it was any good, but it isn’t. It’s roomy and generously equipped, for sure, but it’s not especially nice to drive, uninspiring to look at, and the materials on the inside feel at least a generation behind most of the competition. It’s not as bad as Ssangyong’s Korando, but that other Korean contender, Kia’s Sportage, runs rings around the Captiva.

Worst of all, it’s a Chevrolet, so you know full well that while your Stateside cousins are lapping up the sunshine in proper American cars, you’re getting lumbered with what’s basically a old Daewoo cast-off. Still, I was looking for a drive in an American car, and I sort of got one.

As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

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