Sunday, 30 August 2009


I cycled the 8 or so miles to the Goodwood breakfast meeting today. I bumped into a friend who runs a business related to motorsport and who has over the years built up a very nice collection of classic cars and bikes. He had brought along the Mrs’ Mercedes, a sweet restored 280SL, which shares garage space with a ’73 911 2.7RS and a 246GT Dino amongst others.

His daily drive is a mk1 Golf convertible, and we shared views of the detached driving experience moderns provide, although for a winters motorway jaunt to the other end of the country we both admitted a large comfy SUV would do the job nicely.

The vehicles on offer were the usual eclectic mix, with many regulars as the day's theme was very general. In fact many missed the 1966 age cut-off by decades!

My particular favourite was a late 50’s Ferrari 250 Tour de France tucked away at the back of the gravel paddock.

I took along the camera, there are some more pics on my Flickr page here

Roll on the Revival in two weeks time!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Old Skool

I was going through some old family photographs recently and found these shots of some of the first cars I owned. The pictures were taken around 1979.

The Morris 1800 was purchased to replace a Jaguar(!) as it had a boot big enough for a school trunk and a tuck box. My brother’s equipment then went on the roof rack for the run to school at the beginning and end of each term. The ‘S’ version of the 1800 mkII had big 2-pot brakes and an MGB spec. ‘B’ series engine offering all of 98bhp.

I remember acres of interior space, a floppy gear lever, a strip speedo and a handbrake that you pulled out from under the dashboard. No tacho was provided, you just changed up when it the power stopped increasing or it hit valve bounce, although I suspect the result was more noise than anything else. Shortly after purchasing it, my father replaced the bus-sized steering wheel with something sporty from Motolita.

I learned to drive in this car, building miles and experience on the 45 miles drives to school - probably to the horror of the other occupants! After the family had finished with it, it became my car, I think probably after the Lancia Fulvia coupe (that didn’t move off the driveway) and before the first MGB. The Morris was a big solid old thing, and I distinctly remember displaying to a girlfriend its ability to understeer across a wet road, over a verge and into a tree! It eventually went as a result, not because of the bodywork damage, which was minor, but the bodyshop's failure to re-attach an earth strap, which lead to engine damage when it earthed through the throttle cable causing it to stick open.

By contrast the E3 BMW was a sublime thing with 150bhp from its creamy small bore ‘six’, and capable of a comfortable 100mph motorway cruise. The BMW also became mine once it finished with family duty – my dad replaced it with the white Porsche 924.

It did have the old style BMW swing axles though, it would spin the rears under acceleration in a straight line, as a result the back would start to slide down the camber, somewhat alarming for the overtakee, let alone the driver. It would also exhibit roll-oversteer after turn-in on faster corners. I thought that was perfectly normal at the time, but in hindsight the damper were worn out.

You can also just see the front corner of a dark red Jaguar XJ6 series III. It belonged to a neighbour (and father of aforementioned girlfriend), and I used to chauffeur him up to London and back every day in exchange for a lift.


Thursday, 27 August 2009

On the continuing theme....

A Ferrari owning friend has just emailed me. After a succession of modern Maranello products in bright red with cream coloured interiors he’s just picked up a black 348 for a decent sum and has been enjoying the analogue experience:

"Really pleased with it. What a lot of car. On the road it looks great. Black is a good colour for it. However one thing is really bothering me. All the time I am thinking you would really like this car. Its got that pre electronic feel. The steering wheel is pure Momo, no bag, no paddles, no packets of sweets plastered on. Its a good old fashioned three spoke Momo just as God intended. Three pedals is very retro but they work, its pure driving.

Visibility is
also pure Ferrari, later cars actually allow you to see where you are going, this is guesswork. but that's some of its charm. It relies on some driving skill and judgement.

However much I hate to admit it and it really is hard to admit, the black interior is just how it should be. No gimmicks, just old fashioned Fiat. :-)

Your recent rantings
just keep playing on my mind with this car. Its a good old fashioned
sports car. Yes things have moved on a long way but this brings back the days of simple driving. You could argue it is not 328 pure but for me this is a happy middle ground. I want A/C that works and it does, in fact its excellent. You cannot find a 328 that has strong A/C.

The car has done 48K miles and it has worn it well. I was
concerned that 10 owners is high but as Terry Hoyle said last night, it means 10 people thought it was the best that they could find. It really does look nice and correct for the mileage.

So its not perfect, its not concours, but it was priced as such. I won’t worry about the amount of money tied up and hopefully I wont try to make it perfect as that would be wasted.

There is the chance of a big bill and that is always a risk. That's the price to play. If I only had £20K for a toy then this would be a top contender for keepsies."

Have we latched onto a trend?


Friday, 21 August 2009


I’ve set up some Autotrader searches for 911’s and this one popped up within 15 miles of SS7 Towers. As I was looking to kill a couple of hours on Saturday morning while SS7 Jnr was sailing, I thought I’d arrange to pop up to Fernhurst TVR in the cabby with SS3.5 and try out my first torsion barred 911.

Or it might be the first - I do remember frightening myself in what was probably an SC running wide onto a Windsor Great Park verge at huge speed when I was younger, but it was many moons ago and I’m (somewhat) saner and (much) older now.

On first sight it was like being in the Kings Road 25 years ago. Bright red paint, big rear wing, black pin stripe interior and a shiny Panasonic stereo were all present and correct. Rear seat belts were noticeable by their complete absence however.

The car had been owned by a polisher. He’d even got to the oil pipes in the front wheel arch, which gleamed a dull brass against the (no doubt polished) red under arches. No rust to be seen anywhere, the rear N spec Pirellis were new and the fronts had plenty of tread to go with the age related sidewall cracks. Hmmm.

Although it was Saturday morning, and there was a fair amount of traffic around, the sales guy was happy to let me take it out alone. Or at least, he would have been had it been taxed. So he had to come along with us with the younger SS7 unsecured in the back cuddling the trade plates. The targa top stayed in the boot, even though it was dull and threatening rain, and we headed south to Midhurst with the sales guy driving.

First impressions were of the small size of the car, particularly the anorexic width, but the inhabitants had ample room. The dash showed its age with hard plastics, tired looking switchgear and the classic shot-gun blast 911 ergonomics. Every hing seemed present and working though.

The ride was great, nice and compliant but without wallowing, with only a suggestion of scuttle shake over larger bumps. Certainly its nothing like as bad as the floppy cabby we’d arrived in. The sakes guy and I chatted about our shared dislike of the remote experience driving moderns gives, and he told me about his early Griffiths 500 and the woes of TVR's later straight 6 engines.

At Midhurst I took the (unassisted) wheel for the 10 min drive back up. The seating position with the power seats was high, and the steering wheel, an un-delightful 4 spoke Porsche job from the mid-80s, was a slight stretch away.

The over-centre pedal action and skewed position was also pure old skool Porsche, but within 30 seconds it didn't register. My first impression of the ride was correct; this is what we’ve all been missing in the recent pursuit of huge rims, pencil thin tyrewalls and granite suspension; the ability to float along the road at speed, not beat it into submission. If Porsche could do it in 1985 (and who knows what state this one was really in after 24 years with no major bills in evidence), what have they been doing since? Add pin sharp steering with real feel and feedback, the sound of the sky and wind rushing past the targa top, and you have a really great driving experience. At no point in the admittedly gentle 5 miles back did it feel like we were going to go through a hedge backwards, just great turn-in and traction allied with uncanny body control.

On the negatives, the 915 gearbox is the fly in the ointment; vague and slow no matter how you dress this up as 'character'. The car didn’t really feel fast either, not much cam effect, or 'bissen' as Porsche call it, at 4000 rpm when I did push, plus the interior was not a great place to be. The lack of rear belts would be a complete showstopper as far as Mrs SS7 goes.

Since the little drive my head’s been spinning. I’ve practically already spec’d a G50 3.2 coupe (I’m prepared to give up the targa for something more solid) duck tailed and chromed of window frame fitted with a late (plastic inlet manifold) 3.6 motor, a fresh interior and Tuthill suspension and brakes. All in a shade of seal grey with and trad. polished Fuchs and the best of 2009 tyre technology.

Someone talk me out of it.


Thursday, 20 August 2009


I had something of a Damascean moment the other day.

Or maybe its (another) middle aged crisis.

In any event, my recent experiences driving modern cars have brought it into sharp focus, but the more I think on it, the more I'm convinced. Here it is: for driving pleasure, car design peaked a few years ago.

That's it folks, things aren't getting better, they are getting worse, so enjoy things now, while you can.

Influence of the health & safety and the eco lobbies, the massive addition of electronics, plus financial pressures mean cheap, dumbed down solutions are now the norm. For the last 15 or 20 years, mainstream manufacturers have been headed up a development blind alley. Purity and integrity of response ("It does what you want it to") and anability to reward effort and skill have gone, and been replaced by, in no particular order:

- Massive weight gain, to the point where a small car weighs 1400kgs and a 'luxury' off roader 2600kgs
- Built in ‘flywheel’ lag for emission and usability reasons
- Drive by wire throttles engineered with artificial engine response and initial lag
- Brake+gas cut-offs to make left foot braking impossible
- Over-servoed brakes which make heel and toing almost impossible
- Over-assisted, lifeless electronic steering systems, utterly lacking in feel
- Massive ‘A’ pillars producing equaly massive blindspots
- Huge road wheels and ultra low profile tyres tuned for ultimate grip (and cosmetics) over steering delicacy and a compliant ride
- Granite hard suspensions tuned for the Nurburging Ring that make the rutted B2141 to Petersfield a nightmare
- ASC systems which cut power immediately at the slightest hint of wheelspin
- Automatic transmission systems that change gear better than a numpty, but worse than anyone who cares about their driving

So the next SS7 addition to the fleet will be built no later than 2001.


Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Abarth Time?

As part of my infrequent series of test drives I tried a Fiat 500 Abarth last week.

Although I'd booked by phone in advance, I'd not had great Fiat customer service experiences in the past so I was somewhat taken aback when I turned up at the dealer in Slough to find an enthusiastic salesman actually ready to answer my questions and take me out on a decent test drive.

In brief, it’s a nice little package. The ride (on £175 option non-RFT 17”’s) was firm but not harsh like the previous weeks' MINI. The driving position was high, the seat was short and the wheel adjusted for rake only – not as good as the MINI for sure. Some very neat lower c/f seats are a £2k option !!! The steering was better than the MINI (tyres again?) with more feel, yet feel and feedback are still not even as good as old fashioned hydraulic systems - even the one in my old Golf(what are manufacturers playing at???).

On the grunt front, there was plenty to keep you smiling, my seat-of-the-pants accelerometer suggested its not as quick as a MCS, but it is within striking range. As in the MINI, style over substance dictated the interior, the button quality on the FIAT is lower, and the rev-counter within the speedo is just as silly as the MINI’s ‘solution’.

The ‘up’ change indicator on the dash pod is just daft (black tape?) and it makes the turbo boost gauge almost impossible to see. I can’t really recall any great difference in gear change; both had that slightly remote cable feel (what are manufacturers playing at #2 ???), and the 500 only had 5 gears, but the ratios's seemed well chosen.

The numpties who represent the core market for these fashion-led sportsters have also been at the Drive by Wire throttle; in ‘Sport’ setting (I had to laugh – the salesman said this made it possible to rev the engine higher, bless!) the map ramped faster and the steering effort was reduced. Of course, the least sh+te solution (normal throttle/heavy steering) was not possible to achieve. (what are manufacturers playing at #3???)

Also in its favour, the Abarth didn’t rattle like the MCS over the poor surfaces of the roads 'round the back of Slough we tried, and everyone else on the road seemed to love it. Its also definitely got more rear legroom; enough to make it quite comfy my two youngsters behind me – to achieve this in the MINI would mean me moving my seat comfortably close to the wheel.

All in all, a neat little package and at £14.5k, a useful £4k or so less than a MINI.

And yet neither really snagged my wanna-wanna button. Hmmm.


A disappointing MINI adventure

Summer's proving to be pretty quiet on the business front as you'd expect.

So picking a morning without any meetings scheduled, I arranged a test drive in a Mini Cooper S. I'll be adding a daily driver to the fleet in the Autumn, and the Mini's ('MINI's') combination of quality, performance and low running costs makes it appear an attractive package. I've tried the old supercharged versions in the past, and loved the chassis BMW's engineers had bestowed on their little fwd speedster.

The dealer pulled a used car off his forecourt for me to take a spin in, a current model, 18 months old and showed 15k miles on the odometer.

I'm afraid I was disappointed.

The MINI has a great driving position and demonstrated a decent level of straightline performance, but the drive-by-wire throttle map was very non-linear, giving lots of throttle early on then flattening out. I imagine this is to give an impression of large reserves of performance, but in reality it shoots its bolt early.

Additionally, the brakes are the usual modern over-servoed mess, ruling out heel&toe down changes on the road. The steering was light and lacked feel, and the interior and position of the instruments was nuts; a giant useless central speedo and a tiny digital readout in the tachometer that disappeared if you used the drivers information system.

This car had the ubiquitous Chilli pack fitted and as I expected on the ride on its 17" runflats was harsh over broken tarmac, but what I didn't expect was a cacophony of squeaks and rattles around the interior.

And in my natural driving position rear leg room was non-existent, removing much of the point of the two rear seats. Its also expensive, a Clubman 's' in the showroom was stickered at £24.5k

I was hoping for a car that was practical and stylish, but with real depths of ability under the bling. But I’m afraid for me the compromises needed to appeal to its natural fashion-led non-enthusiast market ruin any claims it has of being a performance car.

A faint glimmer of hope emerged when I contact MINI customer services later in the week. I understand that non-runflats might become a factory option from September's build. Its a faint hope, I'll try some of the competition in the meantime, and try to get a longer drive on normal tyres. disappointing