Classic cars, buses, bikes and more at Hornby Visitor Centre in Margate

Cars of the Past: Miniature classics and McQueen’s actual Great Escape TR6 motorbike

As regular Cars of the Future readers know, we occasionally like to look back into the world before self-driving in a series we call… Cars of the Past.

Before Christmas we were delighted to be invited to the newly revamped Hornby Visitor Centre, here in our home town of Margate.

As shown on TV’s Hornby: A Model World, ‘The Wonderworks’ features a host of miniature automotive legends, including Beatles buses, Bond cars, and an Airfix model of my Dad’s favourite Bentley.

Beatles, Bond and Bentley Cars at Hornby Visitor Centre
Beatles, Bond and Bentley Cars at Hornby Visitor Centre

There was a Margate-themed Scalextric racetrack too, and, considering the lack of match practice, yours truly was quite pleased with a sub-10-second lap!

Hornby Visitor Centre's Margate-themed Scalextric racetrack
Hornby Visitor Centre’s Margate-themed Scalextric racetrack

As to the full-sized treats, they had Daniel Craig’s Scrambler from No Time To Die, and, for one day only, the original Triumph TR6 motorbike ridden by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. It doesn’t get cooler than that!

Steve McQueen's bike from The Great Escape
Steve McQueen’s bike from The Great Escape

McQueen himself was keen to emphasise that the famous barbed wire fence jump was performed not by him but by his friend and stunt double, Bud Ekins.

No self-driving cars?

What’s all this got to do with self-driving you might ask? Well, our sector is somewhat underrepresented in the model world.

There was this Matchbox bus we covered a couple of years ago, but not a lot else. It’d be nice to change that wouldn’t it?

Tesla has enjoyed success after success in recent years, but other VMs have been quietly making progress on self-driving.

Testing times for Tesla: Twitter, self-driving and Merc Level 3 success

With self-driving advertising issues, critical viral videos on Twitter, and Mercedes winning the race to SAE Level 3 in the US, these are testing times for Tesla.

In January, the respected Barron’s website noted that: “Tesla’s brand is the most valuable among the world’s auto makers, but it could be stronger. Tesla investors, along with Wall Street, are worried that CEO Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter is hurting Tesla’s brand image.”

That was before the Dawn Project’s advert during the Super Bowl savaging Tesla’s Full Self-Driving and calling on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to ban it.

The Dawn Project’s advert criticises Tesla’s Full Self-Driving

True self-driving?

Just before Christmas, legislators in California had already clamped down on the terminology permissible in self-driving advertising and marketing.

The new law’s sponsor, Senator Lena Gonzalez, said: “[Senate Bill 1398] increases consumer safety by requiring dealers and manufacturers that sell new passenger vehicles equipped with a semiautonomous driving assistance feature… to give a clear description of the functions and limitations of those features.”

This has been coming for a while. Back in May last year we noted “It’s a shame, given everything Elon Musk has done for electric cars, that so many hyperbolic headlines are caused by its confusingly-named Full Self-Driving (FSD) package”

Then there was the Tesla which stopped abruptly in the Bay Bridge tunnel in San Francisco, reportedly with Full Self-Driving Beta active, which caused a multi-vehicle pileup.

Journalist Ken Klippenstein detailed the incident in The Intercept and helpfully posted the surveillance footage to Twitter, garnering 40m views.

January 2023 Twitter video of “self-driving Tesla” on the Bay Bridge

More recently – and thanks to AV safety expert Philip Koopman on Linkedin for alerting us to this one – actor James Urbaniak tweeted video of a Tesla he’d borrowed confusing a train with a succession of trucks. This also went viral and currently has over 10m views.

Another Tesla Twitter video – from February 2023

“Just because an autonomous vehicle passes a test doesn’t mean it actually understood the situation,” said Koopman. “Does the vehicle know it is stopped for a grade crossing instead of a traffic light? Or does the driving software know what is going on and it is just a lame user interface? Hard to tell. But to the extent the user interface is there for the driver to ensure the vehicle is operating properly (a claim I have heard made) then this is problematic.”

Conditional self-driving

If that weren’t enough, in October we posited that “with EV no longer a USP, ADAS is the new battleground”. Well, if so, Mercedes struck a significant blow in January by announcing that its Drive Pilot had become the first SAE Level 3 system in a standard production vehicle to be authorised for use on US public freeways. Many had expected Tesla to get there first.

“Complying with the requirements of Nevada Chapter 482A for Autonomous Vehicles, Drive Pilot will allow the driver to hand over the dynamic driving task to the vehicle under certain conditions. Drive Pilot will be available in the US market as an option for model year 2024 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and EQS Sedan models, with the first cars delivered to customers in the second half of 2023,” read the Mercedes statement.

“Certification in Nevada marks the start of its international rollout and, with it, the dawning of a new era,” said Mercedes-Benz CTO Markus Schäfer.

Tesla has enjoyed success after success in recent years, tearing up the carmaker’s rulebook, but other VMs have been quietly making up ground. The new champ is about to be tested and the battle promises to be epic.

Cars of the Future editor Neil Kennett interviewed Sir Stirling Moss OBE in 2011.

Video: Stirling Moss calls Tony Brooks “best driver the public haven’t heard of”

As avid Cars of the Future readers know, we occasionally like to look back to the glory days of motoring in a series we call… Cars of the Past. Well, today is one of those days.

Following yesterday’s sad news of the passing of F1 racer Tony Brooks, at the age of 90, we thought it appropriate to share this short clip of Sir Stirling Moss OBE talking in glowing terms about his former Vanwall teammate:

Sir Stirling Moss OBE talks in glowing terms about former teammate Tony Brooks

Sir Stirling Moss OBE said: “The best driver the public haven’t heard of in my mind was Tony Brooks. Tony was as good as nearly anybody, and he could do sports cars and Grand Prix cars. Fangio was not very good on sports cars – I mean, I could beat him in sports cars, but in Formula One he was the tops.”

New car tech editor Neil Kennett conducted the interview at Moss’s house in Mayfair, London, in 2011.

“I remember we recorded it the day after Vettel secured his second F1 title,” he said. “Further into the interview Sir Stirling talks about how racing helps to develop new automotive technologies, such as energy recovery systems. He and Tony Brooks were both racing legends.”

Frequently referred to as the greatest driver never to win the F1 World Championship, Sir Stirling Moss died in April 2020.

Tony Brooks won six Grand Prix, finishing second in the World Drivers’ Championship in 1959 with Ferrari. He died on 3 May 2022.