The European: I just don’t want one

AUSmotive.com - The European
HSV VT Clubsport

When I arrived in Australia, I saw a land of milk and honey. A land full of sun-kissed blondes and brunettes, sand and sun. I had landed in Bondi in the middle of December after a trip to Thailand which deviated as far from the conscientious traveller as you can imagine. Eat Thai food? You’re kidding. We watched James Bond in Siam Square after having eaten at Hungry Jacks and at McDonalds and ingratiated ourselves with every local within 500m of the Kho Sahn Road and no further for fear of missing out on happy hour.

Australia looked to be just more of the same boozing and sitting on the beach and I loved it the moment I saw it. My mate Chris, as big an automotive tragic as me, was immediately taken by the cars here. We would cross four lanes of traffic to see what would now qualify merely as “a shitbox”. But, to us at the time, it was like landing on another planet and discovering squirrels with two heads. Every so often a bogan would roll past in a VN Commodore with enough modifications to make Max Rockatansky’s Interceptor look like an OAP special and, having been raised on one litre French hatchbacks, we would stop and drool. Yeah, I know.

It was about the time that Holden had the Commodore VT, which we knew from back home as the Vauxhall Omega, Chris’ dad having had one when he momentarily lost touch with his Volvoness. Omegas were really quite a fashion forward design at the time, so to see the same thing with a slight Antipodean bent was of real interest. Sensing our moment as a sort of latter day automotive Joseph Banks’, we mentally began noting the various differences, which started with four more cylinders and double the capacity of the most popular Omegas back home. The interior didn’t have quite the same attention to detail as the Omega but the first time we saw a red Clubsport in Canberra the effect was immediate—this M5 eating beast had everything two Poms could ever want and I promised myself that one day I would have myself one. A few weeks later I was walking back to our flat and saw one parked up so edged closer for a proper perv.

Imagine going in for a kiss with Sarah Murdoch and just as her chest begins to press against yours, you see… the mole. The hairy, how-did-I-miss-it mole.

In this case of vehicular spoil I’m talking about is the body panel shut line between the rear door and the rear wing, or more accurately the rear wheel arch itself. This is a line that arches around the rear wheel to a ten o’clock position then tucks itself into the underside of the door frame, leaving the most unresolved piece of industrial design I have ever seen.

It’s really that bad and yes I’m really being that much of a pedant. It’s as though the engineer and designer forgot to agree who was going to sort this bit out and then—bam—the project had been signed off and they were already pressing body panels by the thousand at Elizabeth and the cars were sitting in showrooms by the hundreds.

So does it matter? To the thousands of real buyers and fleet managers not one bit of course, but to car tragics like me it matters a lot. No matter how good that car was—and plenty of European mags raved about its prowess, I could never have bought it.

And I have plenty of others in my bag of shame, so step forward Lexus, who might well have executed the tightest laser cut shut lines in the industry and the most highly engineered vehicles yet to come out of any factory but they can’t make a classy gear lever surround to save their life. This part simply needs to state PRND32 and if you drive a European executive car you’ll know what I mean, because the graphics Lexus use for this are nothing short of comically putrid compared to the simple white graphics of a Mercedes.

Lexus did a fantastic job of ripping off (or in polite circles “being inspired by”) certain European marques, but when it came to their interior typeface they seemed to have gone for Eighties Sony Walkman. Consequently I never got to own an IS200, which is a pity because as far as interesting cars go I think I would have liked to.

People sometimes ask why I don’t like certain cars and probably think I’m being unnecessarily evasive when I stare at my feet and mumble something about “design integrity” but you know what? It’s really hard trying to articulate how furious the boot lock on the Mk1 Focus makes me and not to look like I should be put away into a home for lunatics.

So, you’re a car tragic, too, right? What details get you mad and did any ever stop you buying a car?