Cars have always been a big part of my life. Alas, the same can’t be said of David ‘Son of the Dales’ Bellamy. However, back when I were smaller than I am nowadays, the colossally bearded Bellamy put his name to my favourite ever book; and acted as a quasi-ambassador/patron of all the titles within the populist series of kid’s paperbacks of a similarly interactive ilk; in a pre-internet kidscape. Said publication was also solely responsible for my future car-spotting career, which in a nutshell is a similar leisure time pursuit to trainspotting; only engaged in by people who don’t own a duffel coat and most definitely do not glance at young boys longer than is appropriate to do so.
The book in question was entitled ‘Cars’ and formed the backbone of the ‘I-Spy’ series of pocket-sized handbooks that sought to educate children in the joys of all manner of fun subjects. ‘I-Spy on the Pavement’ and ‘I-Spy Churches’ being the two exceptions to the rule. The gist of the books was to get the reader to open their eyes and look around their immediate environment. Which before the advent of the internet and smart phones, was all the rage. Clearly in the case of I-Spy cars, the environment was faster moving than public walkways and religious architecture and could render the eager participant blind if they didn’t blink once in a while. That might have served as a disclaimer, can’t remember.
To this day I still have a signed copy of I-Spy Cars, handed to me by the Woolly Mammoth-faced Bellamy when I attended one of his workshop/seminars whilst school holidaying with my Grandmother in County Durham in the early 1980s. Like recurrent shingles, the book was something that I just couldn’t shake, nor get out of my system for years after. Said non-fiction masterpiece worked on a points system, whereby the more unusual examples of cars you saw on your travels (and noted) accumulated points that would eventually determine your overall standing in the scheme of things. Ultimately ensuring you were duly awarded Car Spotter Gold status (1500 points), or the lesser Car Spotter Silver honours for bagging a lacklustre 1250 points. Dependent on how observant you were and whether or not your father was Josef Fritzl.
At the time – and without the benefit of my adult car knowledge – you’d gamely tick away from the comfort and safety of your dad’s Ford Cortina (if he was a cool dad, that was). Or a Datsun Bluebird, if he was mine; as you ventured forth as a family unit to holidaying pastures anew. Which obviously would take in miles of the black ribbon that criss-crossed the country and therefore guarantee lots of car-perving opportunities. In theory. The reality was somewhat different if you spent more time discovering the North of England; whereby new cars (like jobs, clothes and hairstyles) were pretty thin on the ground in the 1980s.
Anyway, so far, so good. However with a certain degree of hindsight it soon becomes apparent that Bellamy and his cronies didn’t have the foggiest about cars. A childhood-ruining fact that is made all the more evident when – in your early 40s - you begin to scrutinize (and subsequently unravel) the points scoring system that was brazenly operated, and systematically re-explore certain aspects of your formative years as part of your regression therapy. Let me explain. Understandably if, hypothetically-speaking you were to acknowledge the passing of, let’s say, an Austin Maestro out of your side window, you’d think that this phenomenon was possibly worth a fair-to-middling 20 points. After all, as of launch in Spring 1983 it did boast a talking dashboard, while the economy of the 1.3-litre base model resulted in average extra urban returns of some 56mph. Yet when flicking the page of your I-Spy cars booklet over – and subsequently almost dropping your Sherbet Dip all over your trousers on sight of the Audi Quattro in 2.2-litre turbocharged coupe form (complete with flared wheel arches and four-wheel-drive) – you would think that clocking one of these rarities would be worth at least 3, maybe 4 times the face/market value of the erstwhile but terminally dull Maestro. So imagine my utter shock when confronted with the galling truth. Score, 20 points. What? The exact same points tally as that of the Maestro? There must be a miss-print here. A typo error of biblical proportions. But, no. And let me remind you this was before the introduction of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.
Worse was to shortly unfold as this reacquainted points system continues woefully overleaf. For example, if you heroically managed to contain both your excitement and wee at noticing a Datsun Cherry 1.5-litre hurtling past you in the outside lane, you’d duly award yourself 20 points. And a few deep breaths into a brown paper bag. The exact amount of I-Spy tokens you’d collect for pointing, shouting and flailing your hands about at its stablemate – the slightly more inspiring Datsun 280ZX Targa – if it pulled up alongside your dad’s rig at the lights. See the indiscrepancies mounting up here? Unfortunately the alarming imbalance is never redressed as you progress further through the book and into the annals of history.
Here’s another moot point I feel obliged to raise, albeit some three decades later. Should you be circumnavigating the grounds of a stately home after taking some sort of wrong turning in the home counties, you could reconcile yourself and calm the histrionics of the developing ‘family situation’ by giving yourself 30 I-Spy points for spotting a Bristol Brigand. Understandably so when taking into account its turbo-charged 5.9-litre V8 Chrysler engine housed beneath its all-aluminium clothing. But then if your father was to stupidly drive into a northern council estate - where the civic reception might run to being cut-up by a hoon at the wheel of a Rover SD1 3.5-litre Vitesse - said event would muster a score of a parity-delivering, class-spanning 30 points too. I know, go figure?! And can someone please explain to me in painstaking detail why a Vauxhall Astra L 5-door estate with a 1.2-litre power-plant, or a Volvo 345 (with a 1.4-litre Renault engine I may add), be on level 25 point-giving car I-Spy terms with an E-Type Jaguar or an Alfa Romeo GTV6 2.5-litre coupe? This can’t have happened surely?
I could go on, but I promised my readers I wouldn’t. On the plus side, Car I-Spy pictorially depicted some of the most iconic cars of the 1980s as far as I’m concerned (you can draw your own conclusions). After all, who can deny the beatific Aston Martin Lagonda (an insulting 30 points), the beginner’s Ferrari GTB 400i (a paltry 50 points), the resolutely subservient Ford Granada Ghia estate (score a measly 20 points), the aerodynamically suspect Lancia 2000 HPE (a seismically unjust 25 points), the sales rep-done-proud Opel Manta 1.8-litre (a mathematically improbable 25 points) and the rural outpost-commuting Renault 4 GTL (an undisputed 20 points) their collective ascension to auto greatness. It’s a rhetorical question; hence the lack of question mark.
Which leads me to this unanswered poser. What would you score today’s cars should you pen a similar book/guide for the next generation of hapless car spotters, en route to somewhere other than a young person’s detention centre? Think long and hard, and remember, there’s no definitive answers. Just like there’s no prizes. You could argue that there’s even no point, but hey, if you do I believe you’ll be missing an ideal opportunity to add your worthless opinion. And perhaps even get some sort of link bait back to your DriveTribe channel. Have a little fun with it and add your comments to the blank thread beneath. Or alternatively just go and look at another Tribe which, let’s face it you probably did a long time before you’d have reached this closing paragraph.