By Simon Hacker
No, I’m not talking about the Vauxhall Nova, which did, finally hit the showrooms in April and just a few months behind its European Opel counterpart. More on that gem later.
The more lasting new arrival was, of course, the humble pound coin.
Inscribed ‘Decus et Tutamen’ (or an ornament and a safeguard if you’re not Roman), the round pound signalled the end of the road for the equivalent folding denomination of cash and, whether you have grown to like it or not, represented a corresponding diminution in the value of a pound in our pockets.
The immediate consequences of the coin’s arrival spelt good news for trouser repairers nationwide, given the increased wear and tear most blokes experienced from heavier coinage. It’s fascinating, incidentally, to recall quite what £1 would buy you when the Western Group was struggling in its amoebic stages. You could drown your sorrows in a pint of bitter for 67p while a loaf averaged 38p and a pint of milk just 21p. You could argue the £1 coin has been 97% a success – around 3% of coins in circulation are fake.
There was nothing fabricated about the most significant new technological arrival this month.
You might guess we’re talking about the maiden space flight of the Challenger Space Shuttle, though that idea is already history. No, it was the UK debut (ie largely a demo) of the Motorola Dynatac 3000 8000x, which was nicknamed ‘the brick’ and took ten hours to charge.
Talk time was 30 minutes, barely enough for Zog Ziegler to clear his throat.
The first mobile was invented in 1906 as the “vest pocket telephone”, so the idea goes back almost as far as the automobile, though this Motorola was a major stepping stone towards the ingenious devices to which we are so lovingly glued today.
And so to the Nova, which translated awkwardly around Europe as something that wouldn’t go. Displaying markedly less contempt for the customer than the Chevette which it replaced, the Nova was Vauxhall’s attempt to steal supermini sales from Ford’s Fiesta and Austin’s Metro. On the whole, it worked, though the birth was pained by industrial disputes: British unions objected to the fact that it was built in Zaragoza and not sunny Luton.
On a personal note, the Nova was one of the first test models I ever piloted. I recall being scandalised by the fact that rotation of the steering wheel (and therefore column) caused tangible footwear friction around the foot pedals. Nevertheless, thirty years on, this is a design feature which still crops up in some modern motors.
Should you feel any desire to stifle a giggle about the box-plain simplicity of this design, cast an eye west for a little contemporary comparison: the Mercury Grand Marquis, built at Ford’s St Louis plant, had a five-litre V8 engine as standard and was essentially a rehash of a 1967 design.
For all its plasticity, the sprightly little Nova was light years ahead.