Thursday, 27 March 2014

First Anniversary CCC Early Spring Dinner, Bristol Hotel, Warsaw 24th March 2014

After the postponement of the last convivial gathering in February it was gratifying to see a record turnout of 18 CCC members for this First Anniversary Dinner -actually not far off half the membership which now stands at 50.

We were dining in the elegant Slowacki Salon so named after the major Polish Romantic poet and playwright Juliusz Slowacki (1809-1849). He was born in Volhynia presently Ukraine in the town of Kremenets (Kzemieniec in Polish) which was then part of the Russian Empire. His work embraces Slavic pagan traditions, orientalism, mysticism and the complexities of Polish history. 

But we were here for the car talk, social pleasure and a lecture on Spiders - something the poet never dreamed of to my knowledge.

Click on photographs to enlarge - far superior rendition. 

Blazej Zulawski documented the evening.

Some of the CCC Members at Dinner

Transfixed with concentration on the Lecture.
Lt to Rt. Przmek Vonau, Mathieu Spencer, Michael Wrobel, Paul Ayre

Towards the end of the dinner over coffee and Bavarian Cream we were treated to an exceptionally brilliant lecture by Grzegorz Gratkowski entitled

The sheltering sky
Spiders – a social and motoring adventure

Here are some extracts and photographs. His emphasis was mainly on fantastically eloquent stills from classic Italian films, examples from Italian coach-builders and mainly Alfa Romeos but that was fine by me! 

Please remember this lecture is in English (not Polish, his native tongue)which is major achievement at this extraordinarily high level of literacy and fluency. The lecture was also highly amusing in a characteristic English manner which is surely a real triumph in a foreign language!

Grzegorz just before beginning his enlightening presentation 
"A convertible car is something that best incorporates a charm and adventure of hitting a road just for pleasure, for the sheer hell of it. In fact, the tradition to support the point is huge, even if seen only through film directors’ lenses. Whenever they intended to present scenes from elegant, fashionable, pleasurable life, a convertible car seemed a natural choice. And while some top-class cabriolets are better associated with representation   -   with a hint of solemnity and a lofty lifestyle, a top chic, it is roadsters or spiders that best hit the mark as cars for a lighthearted quality time to be had, not excluding a shade of a playboy style or even challenging to our good sense of understatement. A fine tree-lined road, an undulating landscape, some impressive vistas with preferably some sea in the background and not a nasty weather was all that was needed to complete the set and it was in scores that filmmakers were taking advantage of it, especially in the dolce vita late Fifties to mid Sixties. Another possible reason, apart from spiders being lifestyle symbols, visual signs readily defining what and who we see, was compositional: movies of that era, not yet completely detached from theatre, spent most of the reel spinning on talking and more talking, so an attractive car simply provided visually spectacular decoy interspersed here and there. In short, the spiders were immensely en vogue. Tonight we are going to try and sum up the colourful variety of their uses. [...]

          Its pace should remain in proportion to sensual impressions savoured while driving. For as we slide along the landscape, the contact with nature outside must not be torn. On a nice B-road cutting through meadows and woods we are meant to smell the scent of a field warmed by sun, to sense a cool and humid shadow, strokes of wind on hillsides or a refreshing fragrance of a lake. On a town street or a piazza at daylight or just as well in the evening or on a night boulevard , with speed abated down to a walking pace, such a car may revoke the ancient habit of walking or riding down a corso to see and be seen, with much entertainment and some innocent vanity. Most of all, we delight in and appreciate this broad range and high amplitude of sensations delivered by spiders. 

We don’t regard them mere means of daily commute – indeed, other, more modest cars play that role and sometimes the choice takes a while. So, as spiders accompany us in our quality time, they also become places witnessing very diverse states of mind, moods and humours, sometimes of equally extended amplitude. And that also makes them fit the movies so well. [...] 

    Shall we apply director’s lenses now and zoom in a couple of cars seen in these movies. First, Alfa Romeo 2000 and 2600  Presented in 1957, at the same time as the saloon it was based upon, it was a two-seater with Touring body, in practice often used as a three seater. While it is rather uncommon for a sporty, more expensive and less practical version of a model to sell better, this was the case with the Alfa 2000 Spider. It might have been more powerful than the saloon but its success was mostly due to it being vastly more attractive aesthetically and fitting perfectly within the dolce vita time and mood.
    What we have is a low and sleek, elegant body, instantly recognisable as Alfa Romeo. A heart-shaped scudetto shield serves as the centre of composition – it’s from here that halves of bumpers and air intakes surrounded by chromed slats centrifugally escape, stopped and framed by vertical sets of lights, appropriate for upper class. Upon the bonnet two shallow cuts open a pair of air pockets pulled back to the windshield. Their function apart, this is about style. It complements double motives, with only the key scudetto being single in the pattern. And this is the architecture parlante – emphasising there is a double overhead camshaft right below. [...]

[I simply adore the this model of Alfa Romeo and regard it as one of the most beautiful Spiders ever conceived on a drawing board by the Italian coach-builder Touring.]

The Lancia Aurelia B24 , one of milestones of Pininfarina style, came in 1954, inheriting from earlier saloon and coupĂ© versions the world’s first V6 engine, all alloy, here in a 2.5 litre variant and a transaxle i.e. a gearbox at the rear axis. The first generation, known as Spider, featured the notorious tilted windscreen modelled on American cars. It was a short series, though, soon replaced by much more popular version called Convertibile – the one vastly used in films. [...]

While Spiders can be described in technical terms, they are better considered in social terms, those involving human relations. Or, to be more specific, those between men and women. Starting from plain and simple things, a spider acted as great facilitator in making new acquaintances in a relatively short time. A couple of theatrical moves and gestures mostly got things done.

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly high above Monte-Carlo on a picnic in Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief  (1955).
For me the ultimate in erotic roadster assignations. A Sunbeam Alpine Sports Mk 1

    The same worked the other way round. Really, not much was needed but a pretty face and a stunning roadster, here a Jaguar XK 140 roadster, to have boys swarming around in either singular or healthy plural numbers. In fact, one thing more was vital – to accept a good advice here and there.
Once aboard, a spider cabin, usually quite compact, unlike larger noble cabrios, ensured a feeling of intimacy, of sitting really near each other, like on a tiny park bench. It must have been something in an era when explicit confessions of male curiosity about female attraction was expressed like I want to hold your hand

[If I can interpolate here, the cosy MG T Series of which I owned all models in my youth, provided one with a sudden, breathless intimacy with the fair sex as one flew down the Australian coastline towards a shimmering day the the beach. Entering and exiting these vehicles by the girl of the moment opened many longed for vistas in those early days of exciting immodesty - known more commonly as the 1960s. No a posteriori prosecutions please for these entirely innocent revelations...]

          Spiders – at a risk of repeating myself, should not be raced at their top speeds with just a cord of the road in feverish sight. They are intended to make us communicate with our senses with the surrounding world. To be driven forty – fifty miles an hour through bends, along pastures and woods. Over bridges whose railings reflect the vibrating engine note. Or revving quite low, with just a humming under the bonnet, along avenues where sun and tree shade pulsate on the face with alternating sequence or present us with an evidence of autumn – huge rusty leaves slowly gliding overhead. And on the May queen days, if there’s a bustle in a hedgerow, you’re sure to hear it. This is the true charm of spiders. You never complain about scarce luggage room, a hood that’s leaking or the heating that’s next to non-existent. You don’t mind reversing several hundred yards to retrieve a silken scarf taken away by wind. This is how these cars really are – unpractical, cramped and noisy but utmostly lovely. Unless one gets a taste of that, the whole story is a waste of time. As are articles presenting these cars as sets of figures and technicalities while in reality they are a fabulous way to stay young for a little longer

And 'Amen' to that...

Grzegorz Gratkowski is a true original with the extraordinarily aesthetically analytical mind of the art historian which he marries to an encyclopedic knowledge and appreciation of classic cars. We are truly honoured to be given the opportunity to listen to these remarkable performances. 

Look, I know about these things. For a major part of my life I was a professional lecturer in British Cultural Studies at a Swiss Educational Foundation in Eccleston Square in London. I know a brilliant lecture when I hear one!

For anyone who might like to engage this gifted individual his email is :

The dinner and meeting wound slowly to a close and it was decided that many more personal initiatives would be acted upon for events and outings by the CCC Members rather than leaving the inspiration entirely up to the Chairman.

A couple of intrepid individuals brought their cars despite rain being forecast. Our highly talented photographer took these atmospheric pictures after the dinner (and heavy rain).

The Chairman's RR 1975 Silver Shadow - completely original car with a few war wounds from the Wild East. Not particularly pampered or polished  which is ideal for Warsaw.
My roadster is a 1949 MG TC which I enjoy with my beautiful Polish blondynka.
Ian Booth's E Type Series II  2+2 coupe  

CCC Members present at this dinner were:

Paul Ayre
Iain Batty 
Paul Blackman 
Ian Booth 
Michael Moran (Chairman) 
Michael Motz 
Blazej Zulawski 
Bartek Trzebinki
Adam Mozel
Marcin Zientara
Grzegorz Gratkowski
Kuba Owoc
Mirek Staniszewski
Eugene Houx
Michael Wrobel
Mathieu Spencer
Eric Hallgren

Incidentally this is the Goodwood Road Racing Club (GRRC) 72nd. Member's Meeting which Lord March has resuscitated which I am attending this weekend in the UK (March 28-29th)….nice pictures if you browse.  Full report and photographs on my return.

                                                                                           Michael Moran (Chairman CCC)