Goodbye 2020. 8 things that made it interesting.

Collectively, we seem to all agree on one thing: 2020 kinda sucked. The virus turned into a pandemic which in turn created havoc with people’s lives, many losing theirs. This wasn’t the GFC, people were dying, and still are. But those of us lucky to avoid serious illness or worse, we just wanted to get on with it, perhaps impatiently so given the freedom with which we have consumed modern life and the expectations of instant gratification.

Here are some of the talking points and themes which stood out in 2020 from a Privateer Garage point of view.

1. THAT BMW face

Is it really that bad? Well 6 months on, the answer is still yes. Even the wide arches of the GT4 racer nor the aggressiveness of the M3 and M4 can’t soften the impact that nose has on the 4-series BMWs. But you know what? We need brands to take risks, to be bold, and to push the design envelope because to be honest, it’s all converging and getting a bit same-same. There’s a nice idea in the huge kidney grill, just the execution seems a little off.

BMW M3 from the front at a circuit

The grill will see out its intent across multiple cars and variants over the next few years but don’t expect it to change anytime soon, even if it gets a lot of negative press. The cost of changing that front end will be high, too high to justify a business case, unless sales absolutely tank and can be attributed to the grill, which won’t happen. 

Best to remember the 2020 M3/M4 as BMW’s “Porsche 996” moment. Maybe these will become sought after in a decade or so, who knows!

2. We got a Formula 1 and MotoGP season

I think a season without these two great championships would have been a great loss, so when they both kicked off, we rejoiced. An when the first cases of the virus entered the paddocks we held our breaths but they somehow managed to continue on. 

Formula 1 drivers standing on the straight with their helmets at the side

The F1 season kept the status quo with a couple of surprises along the way, but it wasn’t a stellar year. The best stories were probably Perez getting his first win, Russell showing everyone his talent and at the same time just how it’s possible to jump in a Mercedes and win straight away (barring no bad luck), Gasly’s first win, Ricciardo pushing the Renault onto the podium twice, and the most heart wrenching—watching Grosjean escape a fiery death.

MotoGP started off with a first race which was scary to watch. Scary because it showed just how fast Marquez was and could be on the 2020 Honda after running wide into the gravel and making up seconds a lap later on the rest of the field only to fall and injure himself towards the end. One suspects the championship would’ve been a Marquez whitewash but with the Spaniard out for the entire season, it was a free for all with new winner after new winner and first time podiums. Disappointing results for Viñales, Dovizioso, and Rossi who all had an opportunity to win without Marquez around. Instead consistency prevailed and Joan Mir put together a solid performance throughout including a first win to take the title. 

3. The Toyota GR Yaris

The GR Yaris is probably the most celebrated of all new cars in 2020. 

Toyota GR Yaris in a studio

Its success lies not only in the fact that it’s a true homologation special, nor that it’s a brilliant car to drive. The biggest surprise and something which will completely change the landscape of the lower end of the market is that this is a homologation special that can be had for $50,000 AUD. Most “special” cars these days are well above the $100k mark. The M2 CS and Cayman GT4 are cars many enthusiasts would love to have in their garage but few can afford to do so.

And if you want affordable, there’s plenty to choose from below the $20,000 AUD mark.

The amount of enthusiasm for the car hopefully shows manufacturers you don’t need to create $500k supercars to draw attention, passion, or interest in a brand. Most of the noise comes from the grassroots level and the GR Yaris is an attainable bit of noise.

4. Japan are building sports cars again

Toyota are currently leading the charge firstly with the Supra which by now you’ll have decided is either a real Supra or a BMW in drag. Remove that from the equation and it’s a brilliant car that brings a whole new aesthetic to the road that should be applauded. The only thing that’s missing is a manual gearbox.

Toyota Supra in white outside on old stone building

Toyota’s rally homologation special the GR Yaris (see above) is an example of what happens when Japan injects a little bit of their own philosophy and engineering knowhow into their own cars. It results in something utterly unique at a great price point that people want to own and drive.

Toyota aren’t finished though. They’ve also got the new 86 coming our way which we’ve seen in Subaru BRZ guise a few months go. The collaboration between the two continues with the 86/BRZ looking a bit more grown up. 

Then there’s the Nissan Z, or Z400 as it’s rumoured to be named. Very much underpinned by the outgoing 370Z with proportions that can’t hide the fact, but it’s still a new car. Designers and stylists have done their best to create something new given the engineering constraints with which they are under.

Mazda have been mysteriously quiet. The next gen MX-5 will surely be in the works while we hope there will be another RX-7. Given the challenges Mazda had with the last rotary for reliability and oil and fuel consumption it’s hard to imagine another RX-7 landing anytime soon, if at all. But Mazda are committed to the rotary and combustion engines, and they might find a way to make it happen through hybrid technology.

5. Electric supercars and hypercars have reached saturation point

For two reasons. There are so damn many of them! Seemingly every week there was a new electric hypercar promising to do the 0-100kph sprint in less and less time, with wild styling and bespoke interiors. But the other reason is, they don’t offer anything new or different from each other because of the very nature of electric drive-trains and dynamics. Some, like the Lotus Evija are at least getting closer to being production ready while many will not make it past the concept stage.

Pinnin Farina Battista electric hypercar in a dark studio

Ferrari could bring out an all electric supercar tomorrow but they would arrive at the very same engineering conclusion every other manufacturer has offering nothing different other than a prancing horse on the bonnet, probably holographic because you know, digital and electric and stuff.

Brands are all too aware of the challenges ahead to ignite interest in consumers and the reason why Porsche are investigating synthetic fuels with Formula 1 facing the very same challenges. They know sound is a differentiator and highly marketable.

6. Used and classic cars are in high demand

Thanks to Covid, we thought people might stop driving. We also thought people would be offloading their toys due to lack of work or financial stresses. How wrong we were! The classified were running dry of stock, the dealerships couldn’t keep up with demand, auction sites like Collecting Cars continued to do well and new auction sites like Meccanista were born. 

1992 Porsche 911 964 Carrera RS Clubsport in Ferrari yellow

Thanks to the travel restrictions in place, people suddenly used the money they normally reserved for trips abroad for the car or bike they had been keeping their eyes on. 

This in turn drove up demand and with it prices, sometimes doubling what may have been asked just 1 year prior. When will it come back down? That’s a hard question to answer but it may take a number of years given how long it’s taking for Covid to be eradicated. 

7. Despite all the talk of minimalism, we are still buying stuff

If there are new hypercars every week, there are new cameras every day. The rate of technological improvements seems to never end with the likes of Fujifilm, Canon, Nikon, Sony, Leica and a few others all delivering more pixels, better sensors, full-frame this and that—it’s impossible to keep up with. While sales may be down on previous years, the projection is they will rise again. 

Leitz camera auctions saw record auction sales for rare and vintage cameras and lenses. Clearly there are plenty of people still making huge sums of money in 2020!

Leica SL2-S camera on a table with lenses

And despite the smartphone and subsequent Apple Watch release, we value mechanical watches more than ever. A correlation is often drawn between the watch market and the classic car and now internal combustion engined market with the regard for the value we place on craftsmanship and the experience of owning something considered “inferior” by many.

Sales have dropped in 2020 but are expected to return to pre-Covid levels much like cameras starting next year. 

8. Playstation 5 is worth waiting for but Cyberpunk 2077 maybe less so

Hand up, I haven’t played anything on Sony’s new console let alone the most anticipated new game of 2020, Cyberpunk 2077. But I’m addicted to reading reviews on Kotaku and elsewhere and the reports aren’t that great. Sure it’s an amazing achievement but due to it being rushed to market there were noticeable bugs, so many so that Sony were offering refunds for customers, something unheard of. Then there were the reports of terrible work conditions and demands placed on developers to release code that wasn’t ready. 

Hopefully patches will turn this into something worthy of the wait. But what I’m really busting for is Gran Turismo 7, a return to form for what has been a largely sports focused and sterile racing sim. Back are many of the features of the first two games, again finding interest in the cars many of us aspire to attaining. The graphics look superb with all the ray tracing capabilities that Playstation 5 will bring. 

So that was that. In fact, 2020 sets us up for a more interesting 2021. Will we get on top of Covid? Not likely, at least globally but it will hopefully start to be in decline. But we are better equipped to deal with the challenges which means we understand how to navigate through and get on with life in the meantime. F1 and MotoGP will continue while new cars, cameras, watches, and quality gear will continue to be made. We may not be traveling as much but we will continue to drive, ride, and meet new people. All from 1.5 metres away.

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