Saturday, 19 April 2014

Fay Taylour: The Racy Lady Who Spied for MI5?



Recently I finished a Kindle book project, called `Jacks, Knaves and Kings of Speed.'

It doesn't just cover the racing careers, and off-track antics, of colourful male characters like Hunt, Sheene, Hailwood or Achille Varzi. As fascinating as the men who raced motorcycles and cars are, I wanted to cover some of the 20th Century female racers life stories too. 

Here's an extract looking back at the exploits of Fay Taylour, a fiery Irishwoman speedway racer, midget car racer and possibly one of the top MI5 spies of her time too.

You can check out the book here by the way, it's refreshingly cheap;




Fay Taylour was a remarkable woman, a brave motorcycle speedway racer, once so famous that crowds of over 20,000 people turned out to watch her in action.

Yet Fay is all but forgotten today and the reason is probably her bizarre flirtation with British Fascism, which saw Fay jailed on the Isle of Man during WW2- just in case she left Britain and became a dispatch rider for the Nazis.

Born in Ireland to middle class parents, and privately educated, Fay realized that Ireland in the early 1920s was heading for Civil War and off she went to find her fortune in mainland Britain. She was a natural on motorcycles and won trials, grasstrack and scrambling (Moto Cross) events.

Fay then thought she’d sneak into Speedway which was rapidly becoming the most popular spectator sport involving motorcycles at that time. Fay was impressively fast and pioneered the `trailing leg’ technique, as she powerslid her way around the cinder ovals of Britain.

She beat all other women speedway riders with ease, and broke track records set by fed-up blokes. Fay was dubbed the `Speedway Queen’ and off she went to Australia and whupped the local heroes there, setting course records on the big half mile dirt tracks. 

 She had a few crashes too but plenty of wins and seemed to be adept at making a good living from racing, no mean feat for anyone in those days.

But in 1930 women were banned from Speedway for `safety reasons,’ and the ban quickly followed Fay out to Australia. That meant a switch to car racing and she was good at that too, winning the Leinster Cup in 1934, but although she was Grand Prix winner and she didn’t get signed to a factory team.

This brings us to an interesting question; as Fay wasn’t born very rich, how did she fund her racing career and globe-trotting lifestyle?

Nazi Sympathizer or MI5 Spy?

When the Nazis came to power in 1933 Fay began to hang around with the slightly deluded Mitford sisters and Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Fascists – Max Mosley’s father by the way.

It’s rumoured that Fay joined in with jew-hating marches in the 30s, and according the M15 records, whilst interned on the Isle of Man, Fay Taylour carried a photo of Hitler and kept telling everyone that the Germans were really nice people.

Yet for all this Nazi adoration, Fay was released from her prison camp and sent home to Ireland in 1943, long before the war ended. Surely she was a security risk, as a known fascist supporter?

Was she sent home to Ireland as a spy, to see how `neutral’ the Irish government really were? We will never know, but after WW2, and a brief stint in London, (where again, she seems to have joined up with a gang throwing bricks at shops owned by Jews) Fay headed off to Hollywood where she either a. sold sports and luxury cars to movie stars, or b. ran a string of expensive call girls.

The story goes that she met a well connected prostitute in the Isle of Man internment camp, and this woman gave Fay some `useful introductions.’ In turn, Fay realized that some wealthy men of her acquaintance might like to meet women who could be discreet. 

Oswald Mosley’s former secretary recalled that Fay drove him home from a window-smashing brawl in the East End, in a Jaguar that was owned by `a well-known `high class call girl.’

Aboard a Douglas speedway racer in the `20s
For fun in the USA, she raced midget cars, which was a kind of four wheeled speedway on dusty ovals and run by some famously dubious good ol’ boys. Again she was highly competitive in a real `man’s game.’

After mysteriously making pots of cash, in a few short years, Fay returned to the UK in the early 1950s and went car racing, competing against the likes of fledgling would-be GP champion Stirling Moss. 

After touring around Europe – hugely expensive back in the early `50s - she then buggered off to South Africa, giving her address as the Carlton Hotel, Johannesburg and joining the local sports car club.

Fay then turned up back in Britain, where she saw out her final days in a nursing home in the South West of England.

Fay Taylour never married, despite being a good looking woman well into her 40s, endowed with what would now be called ` a very perky rack.’ She gave men little time, except on the track, where she basically liked to whup their sorry, sexist asses.

Fay Taylour was undoubtedly a trailblazing motorcycle racer and fearless car racer. Her murky activities with the fascists might – just might – have been part of her true lifelong work, which was as a female James Bond, spying on Mosley’s crackpots, the Irish government and perhaps even Hollywood movie stars, on behalf of M15.

Taylour’s father was an inspector in the Irish Police, before the 1916 rebellion and civil war of the 20s. It’s not stretching things to imagine that he taught her at a young age to trust no-one, and that information was often the most valuable commodity of all.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Why We Need Concept Cars: The Good, The Bad and Downright Ugly

It took about 40 years for anyone to build a bigger ship
Great engineering is always forged from visionary ideas, a desire to improve. But sometimes a creation that seems utter folly, like Brunel's Great Eastern for example, can eventually become an accidental catalyst for global progress.

Without the Great Eastern the repair of the first Transatlantic telegraph cable would have required another two or three years of head-scratching and painstaking, bespoke shipbuilding.

The sheer size of Brunel's ship, its capacity to absorb huge reels of copper cable, meant it could begin the process of linking world trade by wires, not letters. Other ships took years to accomplish what the Great Eastern managed to do in months.

So, a ship built to ferry migrants to far corners of the globe found its true purpose, after Brunels' death. This grandioise piece of engineering, deemed a `white elephant' at launch, later served a perfect, practical purpose; the birth of worldwide digital communications. All those dots and dashes, fired along the seabed, were a pulsing harbinger of the internet.

News that took ten days, now took less than an hour - just think of that huge leap forward in communication. The Great Eastern enabled that technological step just as much as the copper cable itself; the ship was a crucial part of the means of delivery - a waypoint on the map of the future digital economy.

Toyota FT-1 is a bit too Fast & Furious/Playstation.
OK, What Does This Have to Do With Concept Cars?

Good question. The answer lies in the foggy business of predicting the future.

Will electric cars ever be practical for a family of four who don't have time to charge a battery for eight hours solid every two days? Who knows? But if we don't attempt to tweak the laws of physics and squeeze ever more range from heavy lithium batteries then we are prisoners of the oil industry forever.

Can lighter materials save more lives in road crashes, or make cars cheaper to repair, as well as reduce consumption? Are driverless cars the answer for millions of time-poor commuters, who would rather check emails, rather than their wing mirrors?

These are reasons why I salute concept cars, especially those which make their debut at car shows, thus spicing up interest from the public and justifying the often outrageous admission fee.

If I attend a show and all I can view is next year's range of colours, or iPod connected dashboards, then why should I fork out £20 and pay £3 for a tepid coffee? Blow my doors off car-makers, shred my mind car designers - I need to be inspired, surprised, maybe even moved to laughter at the weird science and silly styling.

So here's my own pick of the 2014 concept cars. No particular order, it's just for fun.

Exalt has steel body, synthetics & wood materials inside.
Peugeot Exalt

A car made from hand-beaten steel, with added sharkskin sections? Well, not real skin - it's a synthetic material that mimics sharkskin and, so say Peugeot, it helps the car slip through the air better.

There's an unusual mix of materials in the Exalt and if that makes us think beyond the mix of alloy shells and samey injection moulded plastics that make up most modern cars, then that's a good thing.

If we can make machines function better, last longer, or just consume less resources when manufacturing the damn things, then let's imitate what nature does so well.

That boot holds a diesel engine & a little boot space!
Volkswagen XL1 - 300mpg Economy For Millionaires

As clever as the VW XL1 is, with its small diesel engine and electric motor combining to return up to 313 miles per gallon, the price tag is ridiculous at 111,000 euros.

I had a look at the VW concept at the Gadget Show recently and it doesn't look worth that crazy price tag. Carbon fibre bodywork sections aren't that expensive to manufacture. If they were, then BMW wouldn't be selling its i-3 electric car for under $50,000 in the USA.

From the outside, the XL1 really looks the part; like a car from a 70s sci-fi movie, designed to run on some type of electro-magnetic railway.

The whole car is set ultra low, almost like a squashed Porsche, with a narrow track and seating for two (only just) inside the cabin. Its flip-up doors add the `wow' factor.

You do get rear view cameras, otherwise a tad dull.
But inside...God's teeth what a disappointment. The XL1 looks like a base model VW Polo or Beetle.

This is not the interior of a $100,000 car, it has no bling, no sumptuous feeling, no luxury.

Hats off to VW for having the balls to manufacture the XL1 and making us dream about 300mpg cars. But you should've got the Italians to style it boys, or just cut the price by about 60,000 euros.

Hyundai Intrado SUV - Hydrogen Cell Plus Battery Equals Practical Transport

This hydrogen/electric SUV is one of my fave concepts of 2014 so far. Why? Two reasons; first any car that runs on water-sourced gas has to be good news, and secondly the way this car showcases a kind of hybrid construction interests me.

There's a carbon fibre section in the body shell, married to lightweight steel sections. The carbon-polymer bits allow the Intrado to do away with the B pillar - that's the pesky bit needed for structural strength that proves a royal pain in the ass when getting rear passengers, or heavy shopping items, in and out of the car.

The seats also clip-on to the floor, which means you can easily remove one or two if you wanted to take your MTB somewhere and ride it.

Inside, the Intrado has a one-piece, injection moulded dashboard that looks capable of withstanding normal daily life. You know, people eating food...playing with games consoles...wet dogs etc. It's a clean design although I think the orange might not be everyone's thing.

One final point; the range is 370 miles. That's enough for the average person to get to work, do some shopping, ferry kids to school and friends houses, and then refuel maybe once a week.

Consider this; You could go on holiday to Devon in the Intrado, even if you lived in Lancashire - wow. Try that in a Nissan Leaf and you'll be staying overnight in Staffordshire..and again in Somerset.

Compare the everyday practicality of the Intrado to the useless 30-80 mile range offered by many `pure' electric cars. Range `fear' isn't marketing speak - it actually sums up what many people think is the achilles heel of electric vehicles - the physics defeats the functionality.

The future needs to take account of human nature and the realities of our lifestyles. Or it won't work. That's why concept cars matter - they make us think about the future.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Road Tests: Land Rover Discovery SDV6 HSE is a Luxury Diesel 4X4

Understated, classier than a Range Rover?
For years the Land Rover Discovery, or `Disco' was a byword for dodgy reliability, shocking resale values, and a fair bit of bodyroll when attempting to corner at a decent speed.

But times change, and the 2013 Discovery V6 diesel is, in some ways, a kind of Range Rover `Lite.' It oozes class now, instead of spores of rust, and you can buy a Disco without first passing a training course in auto-electrics.

Apart from the fantastic view and excellent driving position, the first thing that strikes you inside the HSE 3.0 diesel is the simple, but elegant dashboard layout and the overall ambience. Leather seats, plush carpets, proper chunky door handles and an impressive amount of room for rear passengers too. This is a very nice place to be, you're definitely travelling Club Class.

Push the engine start button and that signature Jaguar/Land Rover central dial glides up, then you click from Park into Drive, as easy as whacking an oven grill on for a bacon sandwich. There's a central touchscreen, which shows you what's happening behind when you click Reverse, and your Sat Nav, MPG, radio options, or 4-wheel drive modes are all dsplayed there.

leather interior on the HSE model
Interior Gadgets and Comfort

There aren't too many buttons to play with, and mostly it's a just a few seconds trial and error to figure out which button does what.

In the central console there's an impressive coolbox, which is big enough to hold a four pack of beers, not that you should be drinking and driving...but hey, your passengers might like a few scoops as you rumble down to the rugby club.

The only slight fault I noticed with the cabin layout is that the USB and iPod connections are inside the lid of the console - so if you want your music on, or someone needs their phone/tablet charging, the coolbox lid remains open and upright.

You can't rest your arm on top of it then, `cos your iPhone's plugged in....seems a bit of an afterthought really, surely there's a reason why people plug their phones into the front of the dashboard? It means the phone and cable aren't in the way.

The door pockets are huge and can easily handle a 2-litre bottle of Diet Coke. There's also a big sunroof, which personally I'm not that keen on ( just don't like sunroofs) but it does give a feeling of real space...boardroom level space.

iPod/USB connection points not ideal
Handling and Performance

First up, I only had use of the Discovery SDV6 for about an hour, so this is just an impression. But what stands out is the accomplished feel of the LR on a twisty road. Everything feels solid, predictable and super stable. You won't be racing any reps in their Audi A5s, but the V6 diesel has enough punch to make overtaking easy and that automatic transmission is near-perfect.

It covers the 0-60mph dash in just under 9 seconds, which is quick for a vehicle that weighs about the same as a terraced house in Wakefield.

Travelling back to Land Rover's test base in the Midlands, I stoppped at lights on the A45 and gunned the Discovery 4 away on green, surprising the Alfa Mito driver next to me. People just don't expect a 4X4 to rocket from the lights as quick as many `sporty' hatchbacks, but it does.

It's an eight speed box, just like the big Jaguar diesels, and equally as impressive on the open road. You can make rapid progress in the Discovery and it's physically such an intimidating front end on the car that lots of people in small hatchbacks tend to cower a bit and let you past. Did I go all Clarkson for a moment then?

Well yes, but that's how the Discovery gets to your inner Mr Toad - it just feels SUCH fun flinging a mahoosive 4X4 about. Naughty but nice. I love the Spongebob Squarepants styling of the Discovery, it looks Tonka toy tough and apart from the slightly dated back end, I think this latest version is the most handsome yet.

Running Costs and Boring Stuff

Come on, the HSE model starts at about £53,000, before you add any options, so do you really care that it's in the high VED tax bracket, and will cost you £750 for the first year?

Fuel consumption, even with stop-start technology, is about 33mpg average, but the on-screen display kept reminding me that by driving fast I was getting more like 28mpg.

Need to make more of a staement? You can add things like blingier wheels, privacy glass and choose fancy paint schemes. It is easy to get the HSE model price over £60,000, which is lots of cash for a Land Rover. The Discovery range starts at £40,000, if you can live without leather seats, touchscreen Sat Nav, rear parking camera etc.

In truth, this is a company car, or a personal lease package, you'd be throwing money away owning it. The other advantage with a business use deal is that the expensive servicing, tyres and spares are all on the company, not you.

Back end looks slightly dated?
There's one more thing worth saying about the Discovery 4; driving it is like piloting a Merc S Class, or a big Jaguar V8. You really feel you've made it, and driving is a pleasure, not a chore. It also feels incredibly safe. Sturdy - good word, sturdy...

So if your company is doing well, then maybe you should treat yourself to a bit of old school 4X4 fun, that's stuffed with modern technology.

More at; www.discovery.landrover.com









Saturday, 16 November 2013

Peugeot Scooters UK recently sent me the blurb on the retro style Django scooter. You know what, I really like this scooter and think Peugeot have created a model that is the Fiat 500 of the bike world in many ways.

Django will feature a long list of personalised options
Now all they need to do is drag the Django (and their other scooters) out of the backward thinking, blatantly sexist, UK dealer network and sell it in shopping malls - where women actually go to spend their money.

Yes, I know....hardly anybody in the bike industry listens to new ideas. So what do we know about the Django?

Channelling the curvy styling, pastel colours and Bakelite homewares of the 1950s, the Django is available in 50cc two stroke, 125cc and 150cc four stroke engine formats.

There are lots of styling options as well, including paint combos like two-tone brown, red and white, blue/grey and a striking French Blue.

But although the Django is old fashioned, the Peugeot factory have done something modern, in that you can personalise the scooter almost any which way you like. In fact, the bespoke factory customisation service means there are 118,000 different styling options.
Yes, 118,000 variations.

Under the 50s glamour looks, the Django has modern features like fuel injection, linked disc brakes, LED instruments and a 12v socket to charge up your smartphone. There’s enough space under the dual seat for a Jet style helmet. There’s a small luggage space near the headset too.

No prices for the UK as yet, but you can bet a personalised Django 125 will be around £2800-£3000, depending on your options wish list. More info from Peugeot Scooters website here.

new peugeot django scooter offers personalised colour schemes
Django is available in French Blue, plus lots of other colour combinations – you can customise it before you buy.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

If Every Coupe Looked The Same, We'd Get Tired of Looking At Each Other

Just thinking the other day how similar some luxury coupe cars are looking.

Maybe it's the CAD software, maybe it's the regulations on body shapes that don't hurt pedestrians, or slip through the air sipping less fuel?

Who knows, but lets start with Jaguar's handsome XF series;











Now compare that to the Tesla S electric coupe;












Moving on to the Audi A5 Coupe - nice wheels;













Now here's the prototype Ford Coupe, which might be the new Capri in some markets, higher door line there, top marks for that;











Now take the cheesy 1990s spoiler off the Hyundai Genesis Coupe...














It's not just me - there is a definite pattern here!

Trouble is, I don't want to live in a world where all the cars, especially the sporty cars that are supposed to connect with us emotionally, look almost identical. There are enough city cars that look like washing machines out there, enough vans with windows aimed at older drivers.

Come on car makers, fire up your imaginations. Make us go `wow' when we see a new Cuope, not go `hmmm, it's a nice shade of red...'

Monday, 30 September 2013

Tested and Reviewed: Jaguar XJ Premium Luxury 3.0 V6 Diesel

Short wheelbase XJ has enough sportiness to make driving fun
If you surveyed 100 company directors about ten years ago and asked them to name a rival to a Mercedes S Class, as a symbol of company and personal success, most would have named BMW or Audi model. A few might have said Lexus.

I'm willing to bet that just one or two would have mentioned Jaguar, which was then regarded as a retailer of `old men's cars' and jazzed up Ford Mondeos.

Times change, and when you get behind the wheel of a 2013 Jaguar XJ 30.0 litre diesel you feel this brand is now getting close to the Germans in terms of image, driving experience and sheer quality. Jaguar is cool again and I reckon the XJ makes a credible rival to the big S350 diesel.

Jaguar XJ vs Mercedes S350 Bluetec - Which is The Company Car Winner?

I drove a `full spec' S350 Class Bluetec diesel last year, which - with all the options - cost an alarming £98,000. It felt like I was driving the Tate Gallery to be fair, and the XJ 3.0 didn't have the same ultra expensive feel inside, or the S350's sheer presence on the road. But then the XJ Premium Luxury is a bargain at just under £60,000 compared to the Merc.

What struck me within 30 seconds of pressing the start button was that Jaguar have a diesel engine that is just as quiet and smooth as any German power unit.

Handsome front end
With 275bhp, it also aces the 254bhp the Merc S350 makes as well and the XJ's beautiful 8-speed auto transmission lets you crack on when the traffic offers a gap. The Jaguar feels more exciting than the S350 Merc in the corners, it handles and brakes with understated ability - in a way, the whole package feels German; efficient, yet fun.

One thing I loved about the XJ was the feel through the steering wheel. It's super-light around town, letting you pilot the car with a dab of your fingertips, but the electronic gadgetry stiffens things up on the open road and the wheel tells exactly what's going on beneath the tyres. For a relatively big car, the XJ can be hustled along country lanes very quickly and you feel safe in the XJ, the car gives you confidence.

The on-board computer was showing an MPG of around 34 miles per gallon on test by the way; mix of town roads, fast driving down lanes, stopping for photos etc.

Jaguar XJ Specs and Interior Gadgets - Got All The Toys?

Sat Nav snapshot on the virtual `clocks' display
So what does £60,000 buy? You get leather as standard on the Premium Luxury model, plus heated screen, rain-sensing wipers and parking sensors.

The Xenon healdights have LED daytime running lights in the shell too, plus the headlights are those `follow the corner' type, so you get a better view on unlit roads at night.

The Meridian sound system was impressive and the steering wheel has all the buttons you need to scroll through radio stations, or your iPod tracks. The Sat Nav is one of those super-trick ones where you can programme routes and waypoints too. The Sat Nav voice was mildly bossy, but not too irritating by the way.

One handy feature is that you get a snapshot of the Sat Nav map on the virtual dashboard - there are no `real' clocks - so you don't have to look across to the central console to check the map and route. That's a good idea.

There are also heated seats as standard and the heat can be split between the seat back, and the bum section, so if you have a poorly back you can get deep heat treatment on the way to work. Excellent.

Extras and Accessories

You can choose from a range of alloy wheels - the model tested had the Venom alloys on - plus a Sport interior pack, (£3400) which features ivoy coloured leather, carbon fibre veneer details etc.

There's privacy glass, a heated steering wheel, (£595) illumination pack, multimedia system at nearly two grand, plus in-car TV at £900. Plenty of ways to get the price over £70,000 basically.

Would I Buy One?

Back end needs a makeover, bit ungainly
The correct answer is my company would lease one. Nobody in their right mind would buy a brand new car at £70,000 or more and then watch depreciation eat up nearly all that cash.

For me, the real rivals to the XJ series are the Audi A5 and BMW 5 series. The Merc S Class is more of a company all-rounder and has better rear passenger space.

The XJ is a sportier type of car, you sit very low in the driving seat and the whole feel of the car on the move is different from the Merc.

The Merc means business, the Jaguar XJ wants to have some fun. That's the difference.

More at www.jaguar.co.uk











Monday, 16 September 2013

2013 Jaguar F Type - Eileen's Eye View

Eileen says `I could get used to this.'
This is a guest post by Eileen O'Neill, a freelance blogger from Altrincham in Cheshire. Eileen spent the day with Jaguar UK, taking a ride in the new F Type sports car.


OK, so here's the thing; women think differently about cars than guys do.

The good news is that manufacturers are waking up to the reality that more women can - and do - buy their own cars. Sports cars, hatchbacks, 4X4s, business estate cars - you name it, ladies drive it.

So although I'd be the first to say the new F Type has definite bloke appeal, as the V6 S model makes a noise that any boy would love, plus it's a compact, quick-handling car with superb brakes, I also think that it ticks all the boxes for a successful woman too.

I mean just look at it - it's absolutely gorgeous, especially in red. It's also kinda small, not intimidating, and that makes it a sexy little number for me. From every possible angle, the F Type looks beautiful, well designed and funky. In some ways it reminds me of the Mazda MX5 - there's not not an inch of space wasted.

Slide behind the wheel and you can soon adjust the seating to suit yourself and grip that little steering wheel. The V6S has a paddle shift as well as the conventional automatic gear lever - stick it into Drive with one little flick, press the button on top of the lever to deactivate the parking brake and you're away.

Is it fast? OMG yes. How fast? No idea and you know what, like most women, I don't really give a monkeys about valves, camshafts, bhp or how many torqueys it kicks into other cars faces.

All I know is that the F Type feels safe to drive quite quickly, thank you. It's also easy to park, has incredibly light steering and is one of those cars which has brakes and suspension that feed info through to your fingertips.

Lovely curvy body, great exhaust note, feels like 100% fun
Have I gone all Jeremy Clarkson yet? No, thank God for that.

The bad news then is that the new F Type costs from £68,000 or so, with the S version on test requiring about £79,000 from your bank account. Or your company could lease one for you eh?

The good news is that this car is the first Jaguar in ages that I would consider owning, because for me Jags have always been a bit of an `old man's car.'

You know, golf clubs in boot, Rotary club functions, cardigans, fake Rolex and fully paid up member of UKIP.

The F Type on the other hand is pure `Sex And The City.' Samantha would own an F Type, mainly because there's another good word that begins with F of course...

But let's lipgloss over that one. Because the cuteness, the cool factor, the sheer swinging 60s revviness of the F Type, would make Sam, and the other ladies from SATC, give the F Type a cheeky wolf whistle and a saucy shake of their Louis Vuitton handbags.

You Jag boys done good. ;-)

More at; www.jaguar.co.uk

Eileen reckons this is a `Sex And The City' sports car