Wheels, not Budgets, Make Our World Turn Round: Elise Steering Wheel
Editorial by Chris Harris
SO FAREWELL THEN, to the Transport Revolution. The multimillion dollar reappraisal of the way individuals arrive at point B from A in the United Kingdom is apparently over. Labour has allocated the cash, spent it and quietly announced that over the next four years the Department Against Ever Getting Anywhere On Time Or For Reasonable Outlay will have to make do with year-on-year budgetary increases of just one per cent. Somewhere miles below inflation, then.
Naturally, the announcement wasn't an announcement at all. And, of course, it was hidden in the usual swampy Gordon Brown Budget monologue, all neatly punctuated by his fetish-like obsession with the word fiscal.
Where does it leave us then? Where's the money gone? Well, it all started with the M4 bus lane. A typically well-resolved piece of nonsense from 'Rocky' Prescott. We have a few more buses, a disintegrating rail network and thousands of grey boxes on the roadside to direct carefully chosen obscenities at. And it appears to have ended with some impressive looking electronic signs on the M4 near Reading that don't work. Well done chaps, you've done us proud and delivered on all those promises.
But 'how to achieve an integrated transport policy: discuss' is only the second-most important point of debate for the UK-based car enthusiast at the moment. Yes, its influence on our lives is all pervading, but persistent moaning about the subject has clouded our awareness of other, more important issues. Time normally allocated for constructive discussion is now wasted on the political quagmire. Pub arguments - the very basis of all car banter - are now squandered on political phenomena over which we will never have any control unless we all start marching. And we're frightened of marching. The core politics of our world aren't in speed cameras, toll roads, sleeping policeman and insipid Daily Mail headlines. They lie elsewhere: in the finer detail.
Like Tony Blair, we need to go back to basics - we must debate the raw ingredients of this car thing. And, like any political agenda, that means tackling the big questions before the small.
So, to begin this journey back to our roots, we'll start at the very top. What's the best steering wheel ever?
Now there's a question. The steering wheel is everything. It's the point of contact, the apparatus through which you apply your skill (or lack of) to the machine. How it looks, feels, turns, even the angle at which it protrudes, is the singlemost important aspect of interior design. It doesn't matter who climbs into a car they haven't sat in before - Wurzel Gummidge or Damon Hill (or are they one and the same these days?) - The Procedure has, and always will be, the same: settle, cast a few glances around the place, prod a button with minimal interest, then concentrate and grin before flexing those fingers and clasping the round thing. And resist the temptation to make brum-brum noises.
Ferrari has long been the Louis Vuitton of the wheel world and, with the help of Momo and Moto Lita, has crafted some pieces that deserve to be exhibited in the
Musee d'Orsay's contemporary art section. Some may prefer the Enzo's integrated rev lights, some a 250 SWB's almost flexible wooden rim. But I will never forget the first time I sat in a 288 GTO and carried out The Procedure. A simple three-spoke Momo of the most sublime proportions. That the driving position confirmed the stereotypical Italian posture was still thriving in 1985 didn't matter. What a wheel.
Not the finest, though. A small, suede-rimmed Caterham Momo is worth having just to twiddle when you're watching the box, and a company called Reverie will even make you a wheel to the same dimensions entirely out of carbonfibre. Six-hundred quid for 180g sounds a total scam, until you study the weave and feel it in your hands. The nape of Uma Thurman's neck, or a carbonfibre wheel? The wheel every time, thanks.
Other greats? The Porsche 911 2.7 IRS's four-spoker, the Citroen DS's gorgeous mono-spoker and the Peugeot 205 GTi's post '88 lift-off oversteer catcher. But Lotus has made the greatest of the lot since 1996, and it still does now.
The Elise wheel has been treated to the odd cosmetic boss-tweak and a sprinkle of Alcantara, but its dimensions and rim-thickness have always remained the same. It's part of the reason why all Lotus products feel so intuitive, even from those very first moments.
Now take that piece of information, and the next time you feel a political grumble bubbling to the surface, quash it and prove that I'm wrong about the Lotus steering wheel. Or anything else supposedly trivial. Which, of course, I'm not.