Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Archive for the month “August, 2011”

Uneasy Rider – I attempt life with a Vespa


Piaggio Vespa PX125

The past week has undoubtedly given me a clearer understanding of how sufferers of amnesia must feel and the frustrating emotions these poor souls endure. It’s well documented that amnesiacs are often fully aware that they should recognise a person or place, and yet their memory cannot completely make the link. Thankfully, I’ve not suffered any major head trauma to gain this empathy, I simply did my CBT.

Just to clarify things further, I mentioned recently that I intended to purchase a Vespa and lo and behold, the very next day I was lucky enough to be the highest bidder for a 2006, Vespa PX125. Many years ago, I would have been able to cruise the streets on my new purchase by virtue of holding a driving licence but in 1990, in an effort to reduce accident rates, Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) was introduced. The initial aim of the CBT was to reduce accidents amongst inexperienced motorcyclists by 33%, in its first year it achieved a cut of 43% so evidently the figures speak for themselves.

Luckily, I live fairly close to a motorcycle training centre which had come recommended to me by a friend so one phone call and £135 later, the date was set for me to attempt to make the transition from four wheels to two. They advised that I reacquaint myself with the highway code and gain as much knowledge as possible on what to expect when riding a motorbike on the road so after a trip to the library, much studying ensued!

Now, I’ve been riding bicycles on and off road since I was about five, I still cycle as much as possible now so I would say that I’m familiar with riding a two wheeled machine on a public highway. I passed my driving test first time when I was seventeen and have owned a car ever since. I consider myself to be of a fairly high standard of driving with a clean licence and have never caused an accident which has been deemed my fault (touch wood). I am also entitled to drive LGVs as I often drive fire appliances, sometimes at high speed. Again, I’ve only had one accident and I would argue that it wasn’t my fault but that’s another story altogether. All of this, you would assume, would stand me in high stead when it came down to adapting my driving skills to riding a motorcycle.

I wouldn’t say I was over confident when arriving for my CBT but nothing could have prepared me for the shock to the system I was about to receive. After an hour or two in the class room, my instructor and I travelled to a large playground (devoid of children) in order to get to grips with the basic operation of the bike. This actually went ok, once I’d accepted that a 125cc motorbike is going to take some revving in order move from standstill with my not unsubstantial frame onboard. A couple of hours were then spent learning basic manoeuvres and controls, followed by common sense measures such as emergency stops.

Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in easy rider

Easy Rider

Following lunch and another hour or so in the classroom, it was time to hit the road and this is when the amnesia kicked in. For some reason, I felt as though I’d never seen tarmac before, never mind driven for fourteen years on it. The feelings of alienation were far greater than my first driving lessons at seventeen and yet I’ve driven tens of thousands of miles already. I kept trying to remind myself that I drive almost daily down the very same roads, almost without thinking about it but it was no use, I may as well have been on the moon. I was approaching junctions with feelings of trepidation as I couldn’t even remember which way the traffic should be coming from, roundabouts simply resembled a free-for-all to my now addled brain. This complete memory loss, coupled with repeatedly reminding my hands and feet to swap the roles they’ve become accustomed to whilst driving resulted in a pretty sweaty couple of hours.

Thankfully, my instructor deemed me safe enough to warrant a CBT certificate and I’m really hoping that practice will make perfect, or acceptable at least. I’ve only been out on the Vespa once since as it’s not yet taxed and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the next time will feel as bizarre as ever.

By Ben Harrington


Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL

Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL

The last few weeks have been quite eventful for me in motoring terms. Firstly, the Audi has moved on to pastures new. It was a great car but, although neither of us wanted to say it, we both knew deep down that it was time to move on. Sometimes that just happens in relationships, no-one knows why. This of course left me car less (except for the other two cars in the house but they don’t really count) and after two unscrupulous individuals attempted to swap their lies for my cash, I decided to leave the hunt until my return from a well earned rest in Spain. Thankfully some very good friends of ours came to my rescue and offered me the loan of an S-class Mercedes that they happened to have lying around, as you do. For two weeks I stumbled from one petrol station to the next, trying desperately to satisfy the 4.3 litre V8’s insatiable appetite for fuel, groaning at the slightest incline as this would inevitably result in actually pressing the accelerator. A magnificent car, effortless to drive with blistering performance (so I’m led to believe!) but I don’t mind admitting that it was almost a relief when our time together came to a premature end as the car was required elsewhere.

Brutus at Cholmondeley

Brutus + Rain = Terrifying!!

On Sunday the 17th of July, I attended the final day of the Cholmondeley Pageant of Power. The rain was incessant but the action continued regardless with most drivers simply adjusting their driving to suit. The fastest run of the weekend went to Nikki Faulkner in his Lamborghini LP570-4 Performante, beating other modern day super-cars such as the Nissan GTR and the Lexus LFA. The thing is though, lovely as they are, it wasn’t this modern exotica that the crowds had come to see. Their times were impressive but it became apparent to me that it’s the romance of the purer, rawer cars that appeals. For me, the sound of a car is a major part of the attraction and manufacturers are so stifled by bureaucracy today that even Lamborghinis are practically silent. Huge thanks must again go to John Hanlon of Hansport for taking me on the rally stage in Hannu Mikkola’s actual Audi Quattro. Having previously had a ride in it on the press day, John assured me he’d give it 100%, ‘No holding back this time’. I’ve captured it on video but I’m not sure it does justice to the speed of this machine and the skill of it’s driver. One thing’s for sure though, he didn’t hold back!


Our Opel Combo Rental Car

The next day was holiday time and off the Harrington clan flew to sunnier climes in Spain. This brought about some motoring experiences in itself, starting with the stifled laughter of our rental car rep when he introduced me to our steed for the week. ‘Is it this Focus?’ I enquired cheerfully, a sensible guess as they had provided us with this exact car last year. ‘Oh no’ he replied, avoiding eye contact, ‘Yours is an Opel Combo’ I mulled this over for a minute, wondering if this was the Spanish name given to an Astra or an Insignia. The gentleman obviously noticed my confused expression and simply said in reassuring tones ‘It’s very big’. He wasn’t joking. Turns out we do have Opel Combos in Britain, they’re obviously called Vauxhall Combos and they are vans. My prior worries about luggage space evaporated instantly and to be honest I really grew fond of the Pope-mobile. It was nippy, efficient and most importantly of all, the air conditioning was ice-cold.

Buggy safari Marbella

Buggy Safari

My other motoring experience of our week away came about when my friend Mark and I went on a mini adventure, or more accurately, a buggy safari. This basically entails driving what consists of some scaffolding, a 260cc engine, two seats, four chunky tyres and a steering wheel over the dusty back roads and through the river beds of Marbella. You very rarely get much speed up, the brakes may as well not be there and our buggy cut out regularly but I can honestly say that the fun factor was immense. Point in case again being that you don’t need huge expense and modern technology to have fun on four wheels, simplicity is best. Huge thanks to Mark for organising it, hopefully same time next year.

Back in blighty and the hunt for a car is back on. My very generous friends who lent me the Merc mentioned that there was also a redundant Ford Ka on the driveway that I was welcome to use so this has bought me yet more time. I don’t remember ever driving a Ka before and I’m sure I would if I had as it’s just so much fun. I can honestly say that I wish I’d bypassed the S-class and gone straight for the blue oval. Yes, it would probably fit in the Mercedes’ boot but again, it’s beauty lies in it’s simplicity. The levels of grip are relentless and the feed back through the wheel is reminiscent of the 205 Gti I owned in the nineties, it really is that good.

So I’ve decided to make a sort of summer resolution, from now on, I’m going to be less blinded by big numbers and impressive performance stats and get back to the real thrill of driving, however slow or antiquated that may be. Oh yes, and I’m buying a Vespa………..

By Ben Harrington

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