23 November 20117 Comments

It’s Christmas in Leiden…

Andrew Meehan Christmas card 2011

 

Ok, not quite. It's not even Thanksgiving yet, but I've managed to find some inspiration in my new home and finish my Christmas card early this year.

As usual, it's inspired by the great Art Deco racing posters of Geo Ham (and others) and this year features a 1933 Bugatti Type 59 Grand Prix racing along the canals of old Leiden.

15 January 20112 Comments

The car search begins…

Navigating the European car scene.

To those who might not have heard the news yet, a few weeks ago my wife, 8-month old daughter, and I packed up our things, sold our house, and moved to The Netherlands. That's a dramatic life change, coming on the heels of our first child last April, but one that we both have been desperately seeking for quite some time. My wife Mary was the one who managed to make it happen, with a lucky web forum post and a skillset that perfectly matched a Dutch company's needs, but I was not only happy to follow, I was thrilled at the opportunity.

For me, living in Europe isn't a novelty. I spent a year of High School as an exchange student in Italy and did all of my University studies around Europe (Switzerland, France, Italy), holding a diploma from a school in Paris (whose name shall remain unspoken due to a pathetic and continuous downward spiral since). I didn't leave the continent willingly either. I was unable to find a job as a car designer and lost my visa, pure and simple. Hadn't managed to get back (to live) since.

But despite my previous multiple years of residency in Europe, I have never really lived here. As a student, I never had the money or time to enjoy the things that I coveted so much. The food, wine, and cars remained largely objects of desire, and only when I've visited have I really had a chance to sample them first hand. For better or worse, that's all different this time around.

And the first order of business? Buy a car (well, technically it's "wait for the visa to come through and get a bank account", but I'm not going to go into that here). My Peugeot short-term lease car goes back in just 2 short weeks (unless I choose to extend it), and it's becoming apparent that our current apartment just isn't as public-transport friendly as we'd hoped. We really need a car to get around here, especially in the winter months with a little baby. Bikes are nice and all, but you can't take a baby on a bike to the airport to pick up your mother-in-law and her three oversized American suitcases.

So what to get? The options here are endless and fascinating. There are entire segments of vehicle in Europe that don't exist in the US, as well as dozens of brands (or, at least one dozen). As a true gearhead, and a former car designer, my simple goal is to buy a car that is not sold in the US, fulfills all the needs of our little family in our little Dutch town, and is either fun to drive or quirky enough to not be (something French, for example).

But the options are staggering. Under €20,000 is my target price. That's not bad, but quite limiting actually. First of all, 20K Euro is roughly equal to 27K USD, but add on top of that the painfully high taxes the Dutch government slams on car buyers, and all of the sudden things are tighter than they seem. That said, there are still tons of options, new and used, to look at. A 4-year old Alfa? A brand new Fiat? A year-old Citroen? A Skoda or Dacia or Opel?

So I'm putting the first round out to the readers. Drop me a comment and let me know what you think I should buy. Keep in mind the requirements of a young family with a 9-month old, city living, and only the occasional road trip to southern France or the Nurburgring. Tell me what you'd like to see me test drive, what you've read about and never dared consider, or why I'm being a dope for not just buying a German car outright.

Help me make sense of the European family car landscape, and I'll do my best to document the process.

24 December 2010No Comments

Peugeot Partner Tepee – First Impressions

Peugeot Partner Tepee in the Snow

Peugeot Partner Tepee rests in Switzerland before the long ride north.

As I stepped out the customs line in Zurich, I immediately heard it over the loudspeaker, "Mr. Andrew Meehan, please come to the information desk". Regardless of how this car would turn out, it seemed that the drop off would be one of the most seamless and efficient things I'd every experienced. What I would be picking up, however, would need to prove itself. The Peugeot Partner Tepee isn't just a car with a silly name. It's a silly car with a silly name.

Based on the "popular with the plumbing crowd" Peugeot Partner panel van, the Tepee is a consumer version marketed as a low-cost, high-versatility minivan for families on a budget. What you're likely to notice first, however, is just how hideously ugly and awkward this car is - and how, in white, you will likely be mistaken for a local tradesman everywhere you go in Europe. But its utilitarian background has the benefit of ensuring this "car" will be incredibly practical. Taller than it is wide, the Partner Tepee has huge windows and a tailgate that's closer in size to a barn door than a traditional hatch. The huge cargo area immediately showed its worth as we crammed our little van to the gills with our oversized American suitcases (enough for a permanent move to Europe), with 5 fitting easily in the trunk area under the cargo cover. What I also realized is that the big stroller we'd brought along might not so easily fit back there, and I might need to utilize one of the Partner's biggest assets - the easy-fold seat. As I had seen on the introduction video online, the rear seat quickly folded up and out of the way (a la Honda Fit) and the stroller easily was on board (unfortunately, the fold-down button broke just as easily when I put the seat back up later). The floor being higher than average, loading was easy and back-injury free.

The high load floor means the driving position is somewhat like sitting on a bar stool with a steering wheel in your lap, but it wasn't uncomfortable on the hour-long drive. The adjustments seem quite limited, but I haven't had much chance to further inspect the layout to see if maybe there's something else hidden deep within the slightly confusing French ergonomics. Once out of the airport (and fueled up with diesel for the long trip to come), the 90bhp diesel engine surprised me with admirable low-end grunt, and although it quickly became a bit rough and noisy at highway speeds, it had no problems keeping up with Swiss highway traffic. So far, I'm pretty indifferent to my Partner Tepee. It's tall, ugly, and strange, but has enough personality and "Frenchness" to possibly convert me. There will lots more driving to come, and many more bags to carry in the month I have the car.

Check back soon for more updates from the Tepee.

20 November 2009No Comments

Follow my Christmas card progress!

So last year I dropped the ball on my Christmas card. It was the first time in years that I didn't produce something worthy of public consumption and it's been buggin me ever since.

This year will be different.

I've started early and I'm feeling good about it. Already have the setting and the car picked out and sketching has begun in earnest. I'm going to try to keep updating this blog with snippets of my work progress until the final card is ready in early December.

As you can see from the sketches, I've chosen a 1955 Jaguar D-type longnose (Le Mans winner) as the car. The location will be unveiled in my next post.

Stop back often for updates!

MeehanCCard09sketch3

MeehanCCard09sketch2MeehanCCard09sketch1MeehanCCard09sketch4

20 June 2008No Comments

The democratization of car buying?

I've always said that you can tell a lot about a person by the car they drive. Whether you like it or not, even the blandest car makes a statement about who you are and how you live. Very rarely would you be surprised by a slick salesman in a Honda Civic or a hippy in a BMW M3. But these days, gas prices seem to have changed that, forcing rednecks into Geo Metros and Soccer Moms out of their SUV high-horses and into more practical station wagons (gasp!) and reasonable sedans. But is this a permanent change, or a temporary reaction?

I'm not sure, but it occurred to me this morning that Europe has always been a more democratic car buying environment. Small streets, a near total lack of parking, insane taxes on vehicles, lack of credit, and, of course, high fuel prices have meant that for decades Europeans drove what as practical above what was cool. Only showoffs drove BMWs and SUVs. Only rich people drove Porsches. Everybody else, well, they drove what was cheap and local. The French have been buying Peugeot and Renault hatches, the Germans their Golfs and Opels, and the Italians their crappier than thou FIATs for generations. I've seen businessmen in Pandas and well-to-do families piling out of a Renault Scenic and never batted an eye. In the US, it's so rare, that pulling up to a family picnic can be a nerve-racking experience if you feel like you're "under-driving" (what will Aunt Jane think of me driving an old Saab? Will Uncle Mark think I've lost my job when he sees the '99 Passat wagon?).

But now it's all changed. I think that these gas prices are likely to stay over $4/gallon, so SUVs will slowly go away in favor of smaller cars permanently. The credit crunch will likely pass though, so as upmarket fuel-efficient cars start filtering in to our protectionist little country (I'm looking at you BMW, where's my efficient dynamics, huh?), will the level playing field tilt again to towards the wealthy? Will my neighbors put away the Civics in favor of Explorers? Is this just another malaise era that creates a generation of little fuel-efficient cars only to be completely forgotten when things get better again?

One way or another, it's going to be interesting. I can't instantly judge people by the car they drive anymore. That's no fun, but probably not a bad thing. I'll be keeping an eye out though. Will the market change to fit the cars, or will the cars change to fit the market? Only the automakers can decide that.

©2019 DREW MEEHAN + VIACELLI
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
CONNECT WITH ME ONLINE:
Twitter
Instagram
Medium
LinkedIn