James May's Cars of the People (2014) s01e02 Episode Script

Episode 2

1 By the second half of the 20th century the word "consumption" already had positive connotations.
It denoted economic growth, choice, happiness even.
But it was also still also the name of a wasting disease, one in which the sufferer grows smaller and weaker and eventually fades away.
In the '50s, '60s and even the early '70s, both definitions could be applied to the Cars of the People.
This week, how the people's car lost a wheel and lost its way, comedic French cars that go like a bomb .
.
and how noodles saved the world.
Nothing can stop noodles! MUSIC: "Go Johnny Go" by Chuck Berry America, the 1950s.
Happy Days.
The nation is rich, there's excess manufacturing capacity after the war, fuel is cheap, materials are plentiful, space is seemingly limitless.
What does this mean for the car? Well, something like this - a wheeled automotive palace celebrating the jet age with bosses and fins.
American cars of the 1950s oozed wealth and glamour, and this rubbed off on the driver.
Who's the best pilot you ever saw? At the top of the pile - Cadillac.
This 18-foot, 2.
2-ton Eldorado Biarritz seems a bit unnecessary.
But, despite its 5.
6 litre engine, and enough heavy metal to headline Donington, this overblown jukebox on wheels had its fair share of supersized rivals.
American excess? That'll do nicely.
Now, I'm only guessing because I wasn't there, obviously, but I reckon that life in 1950s California, where this car came from, was probably better than life in 1950s Birmingham.
But it's just a hunch.
I feel unhappy Birmingham then, as now, was utterly depressing.
But it wasn't alone in its abject misery.
Unlike America, everybody in post-war Europe was broke.
With rationing still in force, people did what they could to get by.
MAN: A colander, for example, needs a little embellishment but a dash of colour works wonders - even if it does leak in rainy weather.
For smart vegetarians, a salad bowl, with servers, too, you'll notice.
It wasn't just hats.
Elegant, a funnel hat.
It really wasn't.
The motorist longed for the bejewelled decadence that the Americans had.
But what they got was a bunch of midgets with funny accents.
COMICAL HORN TOOTS Welcome to the exciting and occasionally baffling world of the European microcar.
The idea was really very simple.
They were cars but they were smaller and simpler, so they use less materials, they were easier to make, they have simple engines, usually single cylinder, often two stroke, they were cheaper to buy, they were usually easier to run.
The microcar promised to revolutionize motoring for the masses.
They didn't just aim to solve post-war hardship but also congestion in the crowded European cities and towns.
And because they were pretty basic to make, all sorts of people had a go.
This is a FMR Tg500.
Better known as the Messerschmitt Tiger.
Now, let me say straightaway it's a complete myth that Messerschmitt built these using leftover canopies from World War II aircraft.
But you can see where they got the idea from.
It looks like a 110 Zerstorer fighter bomber with the wings and the tail chopped off.
Doesn't have a steering wheel, as such.
It has a yoke, again a bit like, let me think Yes, an aeroplane.
The Messerschmitt came with a 500cc two-stroke twin cylinder engine, four gears, and a spare seat for your rear gunner.
It was also small and very cheap.
It's very ingenious, though, because it is, of course, German.
German aeroplane designers weren't allowed to make aeroplanes after the war, so they applied their considerable talents to this sort of thing.
In fact, if you get the sun in the right position you can bank some lesser European microcars and shoot them down before they even know you're there.
Yes, the Tiger is a rich source of cheap and predictable Battle of Britain gags.
But, compared to some other first-time designers, at least Messerschmitt knew if they were coming or going.
This, for example, is the Zundapp Janus, named after the Roman god who could look in both directions at the same time.
I presume they called it that because it's almost completely symmetrical front to rear, apart from the lights.
And the big surprise for you is - I'm not driving.
I am.
MUSIC: "Back To Front" By The Kinks # East is west, left is right Up is down and black is white Zundapp was a motorcycle maker and, not surprisingly, the Janus is powered by a 250cc bike engine.
It's mounted exactly in the middle.
Where else could it go? Do you know, this never caught on.
I wonder why not? Maybe because it's confusing.
Maybe that's why I left the indicator on all day.
Advantages of a symmetrical car? Well, the doors and the glass are the same at both ends.
And the seats are the same as well.
That makes it cheaper to build.
Disadvantages - it sort of interferes with your passenger's minds a bit.
All the small things While the experimental Zundapp might have caused its occupants temporary insanity, other models like BMW's iconic Isetta became the byword for reliable, low cost family motoring.
But, despite their wildly differing designs, all the early microcars offered the cash-strapped European worker something that a normal car couldn't - you could drive these four wheel marvels on a motorcycle licence.
Well, you could unless you were British.
Here's one from a very prolific British maker - Bond.
Bond and this British Messerschmitt and this British Isetta have one important difference.
They only have three wheels.
Because a piece of legislation said you could drive one of these if it was below a certain weight and you only had a motorcycle licence, so long as it only had three wheels.
This is very, very complicated and nobody on this programme really understands it properly but we are fairly confident that this bit of government interference spoiled everything.
The three wheel legislation aimed to draw a line between proper middle class motorists, and working class oiks and bikers who wouldn't or couldn't obtain a full driving licence.
But all it actually achieved was to wreck the British microcar's chances right from the start.
Many affordable three wheeled models were available over the years, but sales were poor for two main reasons - they made you look like a berk, and this tended to happen Reliants uniformly gormless range symbolized all that was wrong with the British three wheeler.
It was mocked to the point of ennui, and in 2005 was voted the Worst British Car in History.
Across the Channel in la belle France, however, things were a lot more laissez faire.
You could have four wheels if you wanted - no-one really cared.
And it didn't matter what sort of licence you had.
Boff! You didn't need a licence at all.
There was but one small catch and it came in the shape of a chewed block of Duplo.
This is a KV1.
It's a so-called voiture sans permis, a car without permit.
It's awful.
Honestly.
I'm not camping it up or anything.
This is truly diabolical.
This represents the most ruthless attempt yet to pare back both the car and the ownership burden.
This isn't a particularly rough road, honestly.
Voitures sans permis, or VSPs, were a truly egalitarian attempt at a people's cars.
Small, simple and very "merde," they would mobilise the very fringes of French society.
There were some rules governing the car.
It had to be below a certain weight.
It was only allowed to have two seats and, for some reason, no boot.
That was pretty much it.
For your part you, just bought it and drove away.
Even if you couldn't drive.
Pre-1988, French urchins as young as 14 were allowed to drive these things.
Again, no test, nothing.
You just got one, nicked one - there are no keys or anything - and you had a car.
I use the term "car" quite generously, obviously.
You'd think that the manufacturers of this abomination on wheels wouldn't have been able to give it away.
But you'd be wrong.
When this car went on sale in 1978, it cost around £700.
Now, I was around in 1978 and I seem to remember that £700 was a huge amount of money.
But it's not just the build quality, price, performance, or the sheer insanity of the thing that lets the KV1 down.
It is, quite honestly, pantaloon- fillingly-terrifying to drive.
- Oh, - BLEEP, - I've pulled out! Oh, Christ! What a merciful man.
Merci, monsieur.
Oh, my God! Oh, God I'm joining like a proper LORRY HORN HONKS There's a gigantic lorry behind me.
It's massive.
I'm going left, I'm going left.
I don't know, call me a wimp if you like but I didn't really like having that behind me.
In order to show just how lethal these microcars are, we must put one in the hands of a typical VSP driver.
Blondine, who is perfectly sane and absolutely normal in every way, but she's only 15 and therefore has never driven a car, no car, not even a VSP.
However, had she been 15 in the early '70s she could just climb in and drive away.
We'll be marking Blondine down for each imaginary French pedestrian - she kills in this old Axiam.
- Trois, deux, un.
Partez! Brake, brake, brake! 'There goes the first one as Blondine reverses into an imaginary 'blameless baguette seller, orphaning a French family of 16.
' Terrifying.
'Remember, in the '70s this could be you in the 'passenger seat next to somebody who doesn't know where the brake is.
' Touch the brake 'That's a whole troupe of imaginary mime artists silenced for ever.
' Keep going, keep going, keep going.
'Small dog.
' Good recovery.
'Blondine's safari continues by ploughing through 'a sizeable pavement cafe.
' Stop.
Stop, stop.
Reverse, reverse.
'It's a massive overshoot as the Axiam enters the local bibliotheque 'through the window.
' You have to goparallel.
'And one more point for murdering the idea of parallel parking.
' Tres bon.
'The final score is ten confirmed kills 'in just under a third of a mile.
' And if you think that's over the top, consider this - it wasn't just underage French people, but drivers banned for being dangerous or drunk who could all legally get behind the wheel of a VSP.
At the height of the unlicensed VSP disaster, there were around 50 deaths on French roads every single day.
VSPs are horrible.
I don't want anything else to do with them.
I'm sure you're bored of watching them as well.
I'll tell you what, why don't we go back to that road at the beginning of this French sequence and I'll come over the hill in something a bit more interesting.
And better.
MUSIC: "La Marseillaise" Yeah, all right, it's a cliche, but, like all cliches, it's a cliche because it's good.
This is just tremendous, this thing.
While the VSP took everything bad about motoring and made it worse, the Citroen 2CV can claim to be one of France's greatest ever achievements.
What could be more French than this? I mean, it's utterly ridiculous, and yet it's charming, and strangely adorable.
Right, first of all, let's clear up something you're all a bit too embarrassed to ask.
Why is it called the 2CV? Well, it actually means "deux cheveaux vapeur," which is "two steam horses.
" It's the nominal output of the original 375cc engine, measured in the way that you would measure the output of a steam engine.
Anyway, don't worry, this is a later 425CC car and this develops a heady nine horse power.
For most of us in Britain, the 2CV is bound up with tie and dye in that '70s and early '80s period.
You know, when people where starting to experiment with brown foodstuffs and barn conversions.
That sort of thing.
In actual fact, the 2CV is a pre-war design.
It comes from that era when any nation worth its salt was head-butting the complex idea of a car for the masses.
In 1938, Citroen unveiled the 2CV's earliest prototype.
Codenamed the TPV, or the tres petite voiture, the car came with Citroen's revolutionary soft suspension that put the fun into road rage.
So far so good.
But in 1940, just as production began, Hitler swept into France.
The Citroen factory appeared to carry on as normal, but in secret all traces of the little car were hidden from the invader.
And post-war, enough 2CVs were recovered from their hidey holes to launch the car at the 1948 Paris Motor Show.
And, so, the 2CV began its long and enduring love affair with the French people.
And to this day, like Japanese soldiers still fighting World War II, prototypes are still being found, hiding from the enemy in barns all over France.
So, the 2CV is a contemporary of the Beetle and they share a similar philosophy.
They're both full size four-seater cars.
They're both very simply made so they're easy to maintain.
You could take that apart with a handful of tools.
The engine is air-cooled but now it only has two cylinders, and it's mounted at the front, and it drives the front wheels.
Apparently, it can be driven at full revs all day long without exploding.
Where they differ, though, is in the vision of their creators.
The German car was for high speed efficiency on revolutionary autobahn.
The French car was designed to be driven across a ploughed field by peasants carrying a basket of eggs, and without breaking any.
Eggs or peasants.
If ever a car suited its people, it was the 2CV.
It cost less than half the price of a VW Beetle, yet was infinitely more practical.
Actually, the 2CV is a handy denoter of Frenchness.
If you're making a film, a TV series, illustrating a comic strip, you simply plop a 2CV in and that says, "This person, this scene, is very French.
" It's utterly unequivocal, like a Breton shirt or a sting of onions hanging from a bicycle.
Or a beret.
You'd think that thanks to its brave war record, and its strong national identity, the 2CV would easily be France's most celebrated people's car.
However, the French know that this is all complete nonsense.
Their real automotive hero, the one that Delacroix would have painted standing atop a pile of vanquished bodies, waving the tricolor, is in here.
And that, if you didn't know, is a Renault 4.
The Renault 4 is the most successful French car of all time.
It may be the most successful French thing of all time after the croque-monsieur.
Which is really just a cheese and ham toastie, and they stole that from us.
At Agincourt.
While the 2CV acted as a sort of missionary, spreading the gospel of French chicness and eccentricity around the globe, the Renault 4 soldiered on with the more onerous task of being France's true people's car.
Under four million 2CVs were built but over nine and a half million Renault 4s, and not just in France.
It was built in other parts of the world.
It sold in 125 countries.
Its mission was quite simply to make the motoring world French.
Those impressive figures may be partly down to an innovation that puts the Renault 4 firmly above the 2CV.
It's a masterstroke that changed car designs for ever.
Renault's ideas for a voiture des peuples, or people's car, were formulated in the late 1940s and originally they thought it would be an enlarged, more powerful version of their 4CV saloon - no relationship to the Citroen whatsoever.
But that would have made it rear engine, so they scrapped that and put the engine in the front - which makes this the first ever front-wheel drive Renault.
And then they realised, because there was no engine in the back, they could make the rear seats fold down.
And then .
.
they invented le hatchback.
Now we can have produits dans la voiture very easily.
That and so much more besides.
But it wasn't all boring baguettes in the boot.
Unlike the homely 2CV, the Renault 4 was marketed as a macho four-wheeled version of Ross Kemp, ready for slightly camp adventure in exotic locations all across the world.
And this gung ho attitude was backed up under the bonnet.
The engine 747cc and four cylinders, and liquid cooled.
That's bigger than any 2CV engine ever was.
And you can tell.
ENGINE ROARS That's second of the three gears.
Look at that, I'm doing 40.
It may be basic, it might have a baffling gear change, it's slow, but the Renault 4 allows us to roll about in more lovely cliches.
It's got Gallic charm in spades.
Drive one for long enough and you'll occasionally lapse into Frenchness.
Bonjour, mademoiselle.
Crikey, what a ripping girl.
So that would appear to be a cut and dried victory for the Renault 4 over its rival.
But Citroen wasn't about to give up without a fight.
The Renault 4 and the 2CV were mechanically simple, very robust cars.
So they were infinitely adaptable.
Yes, they were the standard cars but then there were pick-up versions, covered pick-up versions, small camper vans, bakers' vans.
They were used by the fire service, they were used by the police.
They even made, in the case of the Renault 4, a sort of beach version.
Infinite variety.
But this sort of thing can go too far.
And it did.
In a vain quest to sort it out once and for all, Renault and Citroen both produced military versions.
And while the Renault 4 Sinpar served with the French military in Africa, the 2CV pick-up found itself with the British Royal Marines in the Far East as a helicopter-bourne light assault vehicle.
What on Earth were the French thinking of? Cardboard cars with comedy gear changes as assault vehicles? Sacre bleu! But let's give them the benefit of the doubt, with a wholly gratuitous and typically scientific Top Gear test.
Now, these two examples, the 2CV and the Renault 4, have been converted to military use in much the same way the originals would have been.
They have been painted dark green.
But which was best on the field of battle? Let's find out.
We've set our quarry up in this French quarry.
Our two sturdy light grade passenger vehicles will advance very slowly along the ground to simulate the terror of the soldiers who were forced to drive them.
Meanwhile, up in our bunker, we have the sort of weaponry these cars would have faced during their post-colonial adventures.
This is a good old British rifle, the Lee-Enfield, and this is what it fires, the .
303 British cartridge.
These were used in pretty much everything, really - Lee-Metford and Lee-Enfield rifles, Bren guns, Browning machine guns in Spitfires and Hurricanes, and the gun turrets of Lancaster bombers, and so on, and so on.
Thousands of millions of these have been made and fired at everything from paper targets and beer bottles, to big game and foreigners.
We're not sure, though, that any have ever been fired at French cars, so let's give it a go.
All clear! 2CV.
Window.
Window.
Empty.
So far, it's a typically French military performance.
Neither car seems to be putting up much of a fight against the .
303 round.
But both cars are still drivable, so let's take this up a notch.
Can I do some more shooting? This town ain't big enough for the both of us.
I don't think that was quite scientific enough, so let's move on to a more contemporary weapon - the AK-47.
This is the very cheap Chinese-made one.
Now, I'm not allowed to use this, because it's a Section 5 firearm.
It's fully automatic.
So it will be fired today by my glamorous assistant, Joss.
- Sir.
- Thank you.
# Heartbeat, increasing heartbeat # You are a khaki-coloured bombardier # It's Hiroshima that you're nearing This town ain't big enough for both of us GUNSHOTS, GLASS BREAKS GUNSHOTS In normal life, Joss does crosswords and likes small animals.
Our two French vehicles are certainly starting to look more Swiss.
But I can't in good scientific conscience say that either of them is out for the count just yet.
Time to bring in the big gun.
Now, I would normally baulk at an act of unbridled vandalism to cars, such as you are about to witness, but let's be honest - in this instance, they were literally asking for it.
Ready, sir.
As another great military strategist said, "Now I have a machine gun.
"Ho-ho-ho.
" OK, here we go.
LIVELY GUNFIRE MUSIC: "Symphony No.
9 in D minor" by Ludwig van Beethoven SILENCE Quite a lot of stuff hit me in the face then.
And, so, the great Renault 4 2CV rivalry shoot out reaches its conclusion.
Our imaginary infantrymen, those unhappy few, those band of buggered who drove the 2CV or Renault 4 into the heart of occupied territory have been comprehensively Oh, sod it.
Let's have a tie-break.
We may be finally be seeing the Renault 4's defence capabilities.
Or we may be rotten shots.
One of them missed the camera by about a quarter of an inch.
'Actually, no, it didn't.
' BLEEP.
'But just when we thought we'd got this all wrong 'and the Renault did come with force fields' MUSIC: "No Regrets" by Edith Piaf He may not make it back to base.
The vehicle has been defeated.
And, as the smoke cleared, we were left with an impossible decision.
We could only come to one reasonable conclusion.
Both cars were utterly, ludicrously inept as military service vehicles.
But then the 2CV caught fire so we gave it to the Renault.
So, what have we learned? You can go to market in them, you can go out for a picnic in them, you can go the shops in them, and you can go on a romantic date in them, but don't, for God's sake, go to war in the Citroen 2CV or the Renault 4 because they're rubbish.
I hope that was useful.
OK, they're not military vehicles but let's not hold that against them.
These are truly iconic cars that are deeply engrained in our motoring consciousness and I can demonstrate that to you, because if you go outside - I don't know what sort of mid-sized mainstream car you may have - but if you just took one bit off it you wouldn't be able to identify it from that, and yet if I hold up this rear wing from one of our blown up cars and you ignore the bullet holes and the fact it already says 2CV on it, you would still identify that as the rear wing of a car that once took a lovesick young poet to the Rive Gauche, or a pastis-soaked protester to a fishing port in Calais.
That's how iconic they are.
And now for something British, and so pathetic, it's not even worthy of target practice.
Faced with the growing evidence that microcars were not much good at dealing with congestion, the British looked for inspiration to a place which had no congestion at all .
.
outer space.
This is a Peel Trident.
The original was made on the Isle of Man for just a year, 1965 to 1966.
But this one is a faithful modern replica.
Back in the mid '60s everyone was space mad, which is why it looks like something from the Jetsons.
This one, as you can hear, has an electric motor.
The original had a 50cc petrol engine, a top speed of 38mph and, as usual, not enough wheels.
Doesn't really solve anything.
OK, it might look futuristic, but if you thought this space cadet capsule could ever be the way forward for mass transport, you'd need your head examined.
You see, the reality is, if you want to change the world and save it, you actually need something quite large.
It's not obviously a car, it's a van, and maybe even more than that, because at one point Ford took to calling it a "delivery system".
A delivery system? Well, yes, but I'd go further than that.
The Ford Transit was launched in the same year as the Lost in Space Peel Trident.
But that's where the similarity ends.
Over six million Transits have been produced to date.
And as no-one buys one for fun, that tells us something.
The Transit may actually be the most useful vehicle on our roads.
There have been eight marks of Transit van but only three basic platforms.
There are, however, innumerable variations on the Transit theme.
There's the Luton, the drop side, the 3/4-door van, 4-door Crew Cab, the motorhome, the Connect van, the 2-door chassis cab, the One Way Tipper I could go on! There's the Three Way Tipper, the 14-seat minibus, the 17-seat minibus, the 4x4, the XXL, the armoured van, the riot van, the long bonnet ice cream van Children have been conceived in Transit vans, other people have been murdered in them, I don't doubt.
Stolen goods have been transported, new televisions have been delivered to excited owners.
You cannot think of a sphere of human activity that can't actually be improved by a Transit van.
You could say this noble, heroic, big lump of metal has done more for the common man than any car.
But, again, I'd go even further - in its own way, the Transit has helped save the world.
Approaching now from the left of your television screens is the brand-new 2014, Mark VIII Transit van.
Gorgeous.
The Transit van has been the best- selling light commercial vehicle in Europe for over 40 years.
Just sign there, please.
Cheers.
Saving the world? Well, in a way, I think it has, yes, because it's neatly nailed the very problem that all those makers of daft microcars were worried about - it has reduced congestion.
Cheers, thanks.
Look at me, not driving to the supermarket.
So, that would appear to be that.
The really small car, the microcar, is a terrible idea that came to nothing except a lame three-wheeled joke in a sitcom about market traders.
Or is it? We've rather overlooked a country for whom making things smaller anybody thought possible is something of a cultural cornerstone.
Japan.
Could they make something of the microcar idea? The short answer - and not very wide or very tall either - is hai.
Yes, Japan, home to the Karaoke Kids, used panty vending machines, Russian roulette for minors, aerobicised exercise English lessons .
.
and this, the Suzuki Wagon R.
And it has everything you could want in a car - air-con, electric windows and mirrors, ABS, 4-speed automatic, Sat Nav I'll stop at the cup holder before I turn into the brochure.
The point is it's engineered like any other modern car.
Just not quite as bigly.
This is a so-called Kei car, short for Kei Jidosha, which translates rather disappointingly as "light car.
" Kei Jidosha is a set of regulations governing things like weight, dimensions and engine capacity.
There's just 660cc under the bonnet of that baby.
If you buy a Kei car, you pay less purchase tax than you would on a regular size car.
There's also a weight tax in Japan.
That's lower for a Kei car.
Road tax, yes, that's lower, too.
And in Japanese cities there are places where you can park a Kei car where you're not allowed to park a normal one.
So, what's the catch? Well, there isn't one, really.
As long as you accept your car looks a bit ridiculous.
There are millions of Kei cars in Japan, especially in the cities.
Over half of all Japanese households own one and it's not just regular cars.
There are miniature Kei removal trucks, delivery vans .
.
and bin lorries.
Meanwhile, down at the Tokyo Fire Department, Pugh san, Pugh San, Barney McGrew san, have started using Kei car fire engines as part of their rapid response fleet.
TRUMPTON THEME TUNE It might look cute, but these are perfectly suited to emergencies in the narrow Tokyo Streets.
Like a kitten stuck up a Bonsai tree.
It's easy to see the logic behind all this.
Japan is not a very big country.
It's also a very populous one.
More to the point, 75% of it is useless mountains, Fuji, and what have you, and that leaves very little room for rice, Sumo wrestlers, Hello Kitty, people, and cars.
So, a few inches saved here and there, well, it all helps.
This lack of space is almost certainly at the root of Japan's expertise in miniaturization.
They can just make anything a bit smaller.
Radios and personal hi-fi, obviously, but also trees, escalators, hotel rooms, even food staples.
I mean, a grain of rice is smaller than a chip.
However, saving space was not, originally, the point of Kei cars.
It was all about, as usual, mobilising the masses.
This is all going to sound a bit familiar.
Post-war Japan was even worse than Europe.
There was devastation, poverty, no raw materials.
But the people's need for transport was just as great as their European counterparts.
So, in 1949, Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry came up with a sort of people's car plan.
Not one of those Ein Volk Ein Auto plans, like the Germans had with the Beetle.
More a simple set of rules.
They called for a car with an engine of not more than 150cc, not more than a metre wide, and costing no more than 150,000 Yen.
The idea was this would encourage development of new domestic models.
Japanese industry looked at this and said, "Soddu offu! It's not possible.
" So they lobbied government for some more reasonable rules on engine sizes, dimensions, price, and all the rest of it.
They made some prototypes and in about ten years they started making things like this.
This is the work of the Uchiyama Manufacturing Corporation.
They made cork for bottle stoppers and all the other things cork is made for.
And they thought, "We'll have a go at this car lark," and set up an automotive division.
And this is what they came up with.
It's called the 360, because it has a 360cc rear-mounted V-Twin air-cooled engine.
All very people's car.
I wonder what became of the Uchiyama Manufacturing Corporation's automotive division.
So while we in Europe we were still mucking about with three-wheel back-to-frontmobiles, Japan let the people who actually make cars get hold of the rules and solve the problems.
And I have to say it is very small, it is fairly basic, but it is a proper car.
As somebody once said of Richard Hammond - "He's like a person, only smaller.
" That's true of this, as well.
If you're a regular Top Gear viewer, you might be a bit disappointed that this programme is full of stupid, small cars, but, I have to say, I'm enjoying myself immensely.
This area where I'm driving, on the outskirts of Tokyo, is proper old Japan.
The streetscape, the street plan, is as it has been for hundreds of years, ie, not really designed for cars.
So you can see already the benefits of having a small car mentality are paying dividends.
I have, for example, lost our camera car, which is a Land Rover Discovery.
The reason I can't see our camera car is because it's managed to get itself stuck on the narrow rural lanes and leave some of its paint on a 1,000-year-old village fence.
Are you stuck, camera car? I don't want to appear smug or anything but I could get two of these through there.
One-nil to the Uchiyama Manufacturing Corporation.
HE LAUGHS What is it that made the Japanese so good at this small car lark? Simple necessity, perhaps? Maybe it's because Japan was prevented from re-arming after the war, so all its big brains went into things like cars, motorcycles, not fighter aircraft, missile systems programmes, and Star Wars.
Maybe it's because the Kei car rules were reasonable, they were the result of ongoing intelligent dialogue between government and industry, rather than some arbitrary nonsense about three wheels or four wheels, or bike licences, or no licence at all, and all that nonsense.
And it must be said that the benign restrictions of the Kei car class have been a constant spur to the ingenuity of their designers.
They've come up with small metal folding roofs, tiny little turbochargers, and all that sort of stuff, and these cars have been a sort of showcase for technology that has quite frankly staggered the West.
The Amara has automatic windscreen wipers.
If I pour water onto this sensor here, they wipe automatically.
Unbelievable.
These early Kei cars are like the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Japanese car industry.
Early evidence of a national enterprise that would go on to sweep the globe and almost destroy the old motor industries of Britain and America.
But, for all the eventual global dominance of Suzuki, Diahatsu, Toyota, Mazda and the like, the Kei cars themselves still have a rather glaring shortcoming.
HORNS BLARE Since I'm not doing anything, I haven't been for the last 20 minutes, it's a good time to consider the fundamental flaw of the Kei car philosophy.
Of all microcars, in fact.
Yes, they're very good for small parking spaces, they're very good for negotiating those tiny side streets in Tokyo and Kyoto, even Siena in Italy, or a small Cotswold village in England, but they don't actually deal with this problem.
They don't deal with congestion because they can't make another lane for themselves.
Now, we all get very excited about buying a very short car, a smart car, a G-Wiz, but actually length isn't the issue.
The road is infinitely long but it's finitely wide.
To get through that, you need something very narrow.
Narrower than Jeremy Clarkson's mind.
It's been in production since 1958.
It's been made in over 20 countries around the world.
It is a product of the Rising Sun on which the sun never sets.
It's the Honda Super Cub.
And this little bike has done more to get the people mobile than any car in history.
Pretty much the least motorcycle you can get away with.
The frame is made of pressed steel welded together, the leg guards are just a piece of plastic, the engine's just 50cc and it has only three gears, but they're very cleverly spaced.
Two and three are for cruising along, one is for climbing up hills, very steep hills, as it happens.
So, you bought a 50cc motorcycle, but Honda gave you a mountain.
Thing is, of course, it's brilliant because it was the work of Sochiro Honda, one of the greatest automotive minds that ever lived.
Honda, unimpressed with the dirty, unreliable bikes of the time, wanted to make something that catered to the Japanese market.
So the Cub had an enclosed chain, big wheels for Japans unmade roads, very deep mudguards and that small but efficient motor.
But Honda's real masterstroke was in marketing the Cub as a clean, safe and female friendly, completely overturning the reputation that motorcycles had in America.
By contrast, the Honda Super Cub was like a tea towel with puppies on it.
You meet the nicest people on a Honda.
The Cub subsequently became an unprecedented hit in the States, in Japan, and in developing countries all over the world.
The VW beetle - 21-point-something million made.
The Fiat 124 and its derivatives, we think around 20 million.
The Ford Model T - 13-point-something million.
But this is chicken feed.
The Honda Super Cub to date 85 million and counting.
It's by far the most successful vehicle of any kind in history.
But, for all its adaptability, it was designed with a very specific task in mind.
Back in the 1950s, when the Super Cub was being developed, the staple lunch of the Japanese working population was takeaway delivery noodles.
Still is for a lot of people, of course.
And the noodles used to be delivered by bicycle.
The rider would go one-handed, one hand on the handlebars, one hand to carry the delicious lunch item.
For this reason, old man Honda decreed that it must be possible to ride the Cub one-handed, because that way every single noodle shop in Japan would buy one for deliveries.
And that is why the Super Cub still has a proper motorcycle gear change that you operate with your foot but has no clutch on the left hand handlebar because the clutch is an automatic centrifugal device.
Now, Honda made a big deal of this at the Cub's launch.
The publicity picture showed it standing outside a noodle shop.
It was in fact this very noodle shop.
And that's given me an idea for a race.
To demonstrate that this little bike, not the microcar, is the true people's champion, we're going to have a bike versus Kei car noodle delivery race.
Starting from this historic shop, I'll bike some steaming soba noodles ten miles across town to the Global Honda headquarters in central Tokyo.
There, I shall offer them in homage to the current Honda Super Cub executive, Mr Takeyama.
And my four-wheeled competition? Mr Toshio Suzuki, Formula One driver and Le Mans 24 Hour winner.
There's only one rule - the noodles must still be at least 50 degrees C on delivery.
Mr Suzuki wouldn't be seen dead in a Suzuki so instead I have arranged for him to drive this - it's the Diahatsu Copen.
Now, it looks like a shoe but it is a perfectly miniaturized Kei sportscar.
It has a 650cc turbo-charged engine, which will do 118mph, and has a removable roof.
Now all that remains is to decide who goes in to buy the noodles first.
And we will decide that with a game of Janken.
Janken.
Honourable victory.
Finally, I'm on the move.
It might not be the quickest start, but I can't really blame that all on the bike.
Suzuki may be way out in front, but now that I'm on the Super Cub, I can exploit its nimble thinness on the congested Tokyo roads.
Select a gear.
Victory is a good as in the noodle pot.
I should explain I have a temperature gauge on the handlebars and a thermocouple in the noodles to tell me how hot they still are.
They're 72 degrees.
They can't fall below the ideal Japanese temperature because that would be dishonourable.
Oh, sodding traffic lights! Japan's full of them.
I have to say, I thought this was going to be a doddle.
In a straight-up urban race I was sure the Cub would win, no problem.
Oh, God, traffic lights.
Come on! But suburban Japan seems to contain more red lights than downtown Amsterdam.
Every single set of traffic lights is red.
Mr Suzuki, on the other hand, is scything through the lights like a samurai.
As my noodles get ever cooler and Mr Honda starts considering a pizza instead, Mr Suzuki and the Kei car are powering on.
He's already stormed through the level crossing at Jiyugaoka, nearly half a mile ahead of me.
But I am starting to catch up.
Hooray! Been through a green light! I didn't think that was possible.
Right, I think I'm through the worst of it.
Time to give it 50cc worth of Trains! Another train.
I'm now hopelessly behind.
Mr Suzuki and the Kei car are already over halfway to Honda and approaching downtown.
But, like the Super Cub itself, I just carry on.
The Cub is not fast, not by modern small bike standards, but it keeps going.
And as I at last hit a long straight of open road I can finally deploy the ancient motorcycle secret of putting your head down a little bit.
Up ahead, Mr Suzuki has become so over-confident he's started to listen to his audio tapes of aerobicised English lessons.
Little does he know I'm hard on his tail.
Come on, baby.
Have I got the balls? Yee-ha! We're now just two miles away from Honda HQ and getting deep into downtown Tokyo.
HE CHOKES I need one of those Japanese mask things.
But just ahead is Shubiya junction, the busiest crossing in the whole of Japan.
I may be here a while.
This is the famous crossroads.
Yes, it was in Lost in Translation.
As roughly 3 billion people cross in front of me, I notice someone driving a distinctive red car.
Oh, cock! How did he get there? I've just seen the Copen go the other way across the famous Shibuya crossing, and my noodles are down to 55.
Mr Suzuki knows the territory.
And he is a racing driver, let's be honest.
Trying to stick to the route I'd memorised was getting me nowhere.
It was time to think of the Super Cub delivery boy, use my noodle and head off the map.
Not down there.
Turn right here, take a short cut.
Soon I began to suspect the two Mexicans fighting over a broken television is the sign for pedestrian zone.
But it's got me exactly where I want to be.
Now I've got him! And thanks to a kamikaze lady with an umbrella, I take the lead.
With just a mile to go to Honda, Kei car and Cub are neck and neck, but now I know that main roads are for losers.
50cc versus 650c and a turbo charger, I need to find a really short cut.
This'll do.
This is why the Super Cub is the people's choice.
Yes, I might have had a bit of a shaky start, but let's not forget, the Cub that I'm riding is 50 years old, but it can still dart through the streets like a metal fighting fish.
Nothing can stop noodles.
Noodles 53 - that's still hot enough for any executive.
Whoa! Less than half a mile to go.
Victory is at hand.
Every time you ride a Honda Super Cub it's with the ghost of Sochiro himself on the pillion seat.
Laughing at the success of his creation.
I think it's time for Little Honda, by the Hondells.
It's all right, it's all right That's the Honda HQ, right there.
# I'm gonna wake you up early # Cos I'm gonna take a ride with you We're goin' down to the Honda shop I'll tell you what we're gonna do.
Noodles at 51 degrees.
No sign of Suzuki.
ErTakeyama San? Konichiwa.
For Takeyama San.
- Hi! - Takeyama San? - Yes.
- Your noodles.
- 51 degrees.
- Thank you.
- Delivered from the Super Cub.
A pleasure.
Thank you.
Pleasure.
Honda Super Cub.
51 degrees.
As the Hondells said, it's not a big motorcycle, just a groovy little motorbike.
But it has condemned Mr Suzuki, with his lukewarm lunch, to shame and dishonour.
Close, but no Kei car.
So, the microcar, whether in Japan or Europe, never really dealt with the challenges posed by congestion.
It was just quite easy to park.
As for the Super Cub, well, I liked it so much I rode it all the way back to England.
This difficult period in the history of the people's car, the '50s and 60s, seems to have yielded an unlikely pair of champions, because neither of them is a car.
And, let's not forget, this is exactly how the modern world works, with vans and small bikes.
Back in the early noughties, the buzz-word of the day was "Go for it!" But now we realise that that's all complete nonsense.
Why not just have whatever "it" is delivered? But let's not write the '50s and '60s off just yet.
They did, of course, produce one of the greatest people's cars of all time.
Some of you will have guessed what it is.
Some of you will be screaming at the television.
"Come on! "Where is it?" Well, don't worry, because it's here.
The Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.
See you next time.