Have you ever heard of Mastodon? A mastodon – small m – is an extinct hairy elephant-like creature but Mastodon – big M – is a social media platform that has enjoyed a lot of growth lately. If you’ve never come across it before, the best description I can give you is that it works in a similar way to Twitter, but with the important difference that everybody seems to be nice to each other.
I’ve been using Mastodon for almost a year now and there is a small but lively community of car enthusiasts there. When I joined, I decided to do my bit to help get things going by posting a photo of a car each day with an explanatory caption. The car photos are all snaps I’ve taken over the years, mostly at motor shows, classic car events and manufacturers’ press launches. At first, my repertoire was a bit limited, as I only had easy access to the photos on my current phone and some I’d previously posted on Twitter, but I started rummaging through my kitchen drawers and all the nooks and crannies in my house, and unearthed several other old phones and tablets. When I pulled all of the photos together, I found I had several hundred pictures of cars I’d driven or seen over the years, so at the rate of one per day, that should keep me going for a bit.
One thing I noticed – I had captured much of the early days of electrification. I couldn’t find a picture of the first EV I drove, the Piaggio Porter Electric, but plenty of the other pioneering products I’d driven were there – the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Nissan Leaf, and the Renault Zoe and Twizy. I also had a snap of the then new Chevrolet Volt occupying the space in front of one of the just-installed charging points at my local Sainsbury’s supermarket in 2012.
I found several photos of older experimental EVs from classic car shows – and lots of snaps from a Volkswagen e-Mobility event in Berlin in 2014 at which the company not only showed off its then-forthcoming products like the e-Golf, but also its previous electric trial vehicles such as the CityStromer plug-in versions of the second- and third-generation Golfs, and a favourite of mine, the 1970s T2 Elektro VW bus.
At first, I made each daily post a self-contained item which told a story in its own right. But as I scanned my collection of pictures every day, I started to notice obvious and less obvious connections between different cars, and developed linked sequences of posts. One covered cars designed by Frua. Another sequence explained the full family tree of the Vauxhall/Opel Viva/Kadett/Chevette/Astra line. That one was more complicated than you might expect and stretched to eighteen posts.
On the subject of electrification, I recently noticed I had the photos I needed to tell the story of Honda’s efforts to incorporate alternative powertrains into its products, from the radical first-generation 1999 Insight hybrid to its much more mainstream 2009 successor, then on to the hydrogen fuel cell powered FCX Clarity and the 2018 Honda CR-V, which was only sold as a hybrid, at least in the UK, and finally the all-electric Honda e.
In July, I made it to my first Festival of the Unexceptional (FOTU) – which I can strongly recommend, by the way – the classic car meet that celebrates ordinary mainstream cars like Mondeos and Marinas, and it got me wondering how many of the first-generation hybrids and electrics from my collection of old photos might achieve the cult status that some of these historic humdrum motors have acquired over the years. I’ve always assumed that most interest in classics is driven by the ‘my dad had one of those’ factor – men in middle age nostalgia for the cars their parents, teachers, or neighbours drove, or if they can pull together a bit more cash, the out of reach dream cars of their youth. By that reckoning, by 2040, there should be a wave of interest in old Leafs, Zoes and i-MiEVs. On the other hand, I was struck by the fact that at FOTU, many of the cars seemed to be owned by enthusiasts who were far too young to have remembered them in their heyday. Is there something special about an Allegro or a Dolomite that gives it eternal niche car geek appeal, or will the Leaf and the Zoe displace them in the long run? Only time will tell…