Newspress celebrates 40th with classics

Newspress, the key source of motoring press releases and automotive reference material, reaches the grand age of 40 this year. For those in the industry, I need not labour its importance; for everyone else, I’ll just highlight that it is a huge enabler for press offices and journalists alike.

At the SMMT industry test day at Millbrook earlier this month it also provided some period cars for us to drive around the SMMT facility’s alpine circuit. Not only did these 40-year-old vehicles remind us of the length of time Newspress has been around, they were also part of my formative years, when I would mentally catalogue everything with wheels, long before my feet could reach any pedals.

Firenza Droop Snoot

While school friends’ mums had Vauxhall HB Vivas, the car which stood-out was the Firenza Droop Snoot version, of which only 204 were made. This one was restored and is owned by the Vauxhall Heritage people and balances looking well-kept while retaining some of its original patina.

It fired-up with the ‘click-whirr’ of Vauxhalls of the time and with a couple of blips of the accelerator settled-down to a healthy idle. Throttle response is crisp (carbs always delight with their immediacy over fuel injection) and despite the fairly small steering wheel, it’s easy to pilot and remarkably well-balanced through the corners. The gear change took a little getting used to with first being down-left and a dog leg up into second. It isn’t particularly quick by today’s standards (it was still the first Vauxhall to crack the 0 to 60mph in under 10 seconds) but the purity of the driving experience and dramatic looks had me grinning inanely for some time afterwards.

Queen Mum’s Jag

The next gem was a world away from a track car: the (late) Queen Mum’s Series 1 Jaguar XJ12. In long wheelbase form (a short time before this was available to the general public) the Jag was a proper alternative to the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow I and II of the era. The silky V12 engine, straight out of the E-Type, is truly remarkable – seemingly impossible to fluster. Again, performance felt modest opposite mid-range motors of today but it gobbled-up the hill route with its twists and turns extremely well. Finished in the Royal colour of Claret, this car had a top speed of 146 mph and still feels that it could cross continents in an extremely unruffled manner today. Some of the features we take for granted now were also present, although it’s remarkable to see how we have progressed. For example, the door mirrors are adjustable from inside but used rods and levers so they’re a bit of an art to set correctly. The electric windows have what sound like industrial motors in them – all working beautifully but almost noisier than the V12 engine.

Jensen Interceptor III

Alas I didn’t have chance to drive the iconic Datsun 240Z (in dramatic lime green). However, the Jensen Interceptor III more than made up for this, being one of my favourites from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Stunning looks, an advanced interior on this series III model (feeling almost 1980s) and a great waffling 7.2 litre V8, I could have quite happily pointed its long nose toward the real Alps and (fuel consumption aside) driven it for a week. To be fair, it was late in the day, it was very warm and it had had a non-stop stream of drives so I suspect it was ready for a rest. Idle was a bit lumpy and its get-up-and-go was having a rest. It highlighted how we need to look after our ageing population of cars but also their sheer magic and beauty.

Happy birthday Newspress.

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