Driving Torque

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Ultimate Satisfaction – True love for a Renault Vel Satis

Oliver Hammond and his Renault Vel Satis when he met Driving Torque

Oliver Hammond and his Renault Vel Satis

Take a good, hard look at this picture because it may be a while until you see this car again. I can say this with a fair amount of certainty as earlier this week I had the pleasure of a morning with fellow motoring journalist Oliver Hammond of Simon’s Car Spots, who also happens to be the founder of the U.K. Vel Satis Owners Club. According to Oliver, there are less than a thousand of these Gallic oddities left in the U.K. including his own so the chances of stumbling across one are, shall we say, Velly slim (sorry, no more puns from now on. Promise).

Being the owner of a classic car myself, I’m well aware of the ‘labour of love’ style relationship which Oliver has developed with this French luxo-barge. The old adage that some children could only be loved by their parents can often be translated into an owner’s emotions towards his or her car, with outsiders often wondering how and why we tolerate what can only be described as despicable behaviour.

Ben Harrington of Driving Torque in rear of Renault Vel Satis

Nicolas Sarkozy could have been lost for days in here!

Everyone to their own though I say and as Oliver is proudly showing off the many highlights of the big Renault, I’m beginning to warm to this MPV/Estate/Limousine with its subtle design cues, unimaginably large pews and rear leg room not equalled since Concorde was decommissioned.

We went out for a thoroughly enjoyable tour of the area whereupon Oliver ably demonstrated the car’s prowess when smoothing out bumps whilst not appearing too shabby under hard acceleration round a tricky bend. The President of France previously utilised a Vel Satis to waft arrogantly from place to place and I was really seeing why, even to the point where I found myself pondering the inevitable question – ‘just why did Renault sell so few of these cars?’ Even the name ‘Vel Satis’ (which is simply gleaned from ‘Velocity and Satisfaction’) was beginning to seem wholly appropriate.

My quizzical confusion must have been painted on my face, however, because it was at this point that Oliver shattered the illusion of vehicular superiority and brought the scene into glaring, terrifying focus. Tales abound of spending over four times the car’s value on repairs, struggling to find simple, everyday parts such as tyres and then being charged £200 (each!) to own them. Garages have been known to flatly refuse to work on the car or helpfully suggesting that every component be replaced at a cost of £5k as this was the easiest way to rectify an electrical fault.

So why on earth would someone voluntarily own an apparent money-pit such as this?

Ben Harrington Driving Torque meets Oliver Hammond and his Vel Satis

Ben, meet Hubert the Vel Satis. Hubert, this is Ben

Oliver is very knowledgable in many areas, especially cars so it’s not as if he doesn’t have either the confidence or common sense to invest in a far more sensible proposition. Not only this but Oliver doesn’t even hide his love for his ‘Vel’ away like some sordid affair, far from it, he runs a successful website dedicated to the model. His own Vel Satis even has a name! (Hubert if you were wondering)

But then, I guess that’s the point. You can’t put a value on true love, neither are we granted the luxury of choosing who the recipient of our affections is. Personally I’m glad people like Oliver exist; seeing unbridled passion about a car that strays away from the norm is a joy to behold. Without people like him, the roads would be a whole lot less interesting and varied. It pains me to say it but even classic Volkswagens go largely unnoticed these days due to their large population.

French presidential Renault Vel Satis escort

The Renault Vel Satis – a car fit for Heads of State

It was a true pleasure to meet Oliver and his Vel Satis and I’m looking forward to many chats over coffee in the future. The only slight snag may be that I’ve promised him a ride in my VW Type 2 next time and I can’t help but feel that he’s going to find it a bit boring!

By Ben Harrington

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VW buy Porsche, what’s the big deal?

vw buys porsche logoSo, in a bizarre twist of events, Volkswagen have finally bought the remaining 50.1% shares it didn’t already own in sports-car giant Porsche in a deal that cost VW  a whopping £5.4bn including repaying Porsche’s £1.9bn debt. I say bizarre because in the not too distant past, Porsche were raiding their own copper-jar to amass the funds needed to buy Volkswagen. Confusing, eh?

If you’ve been living on Mars for the last four years, you’ll be blissfully unaware of the changes that have occurred to the global economic climate. Porsche haven’t been afforded this luxury however and it’s this worldwide recession, coupled with tragic timing that has left them in a position of unaffordable repayments on the loan they acquired in order to purchase Volkswagen.

1970's Porsche 914 in green

Porsche 914

So, that’s a brief history of how we came to be in this position but what does this unification mean in the real world? Volkswagen and Porsche have been inextricably linked since a certain German megalomaniac ordered Ferdinand Porsche to build him a car for the people and the VW Type 1 (Beetle) was born. Since then, the two marques have never been poles apart, even co-producing the mid-engined Porsche 914 in the 1970s. More recently, the two companies have shared various components on their Touareg and Cayenne models, along with Audi and their Q7.

This new German ‘supergroup’ contains more than just VW and Porsche however. Volkswagen also bring to the party Skoda and Seat and when you add Audi to the equation, there’s all of their models and, as if we could forget, Lamborghini to throw a bucketload of spice into the mix.

audi a7 sportback grey

Audi A7 Sportback

It has been suggested that there are too many elements here to make up a happy family, that certain models from this amalgamation of brands are competing against each other and will simply take their market share from within the group, particularly from Audi. I’m not sure that I subscribe to this theory however; Both VW and Porsche haven’t proved themselves to be highly resilient manufacturers in tough economic climes without good reason. If we take the models that Porsche bring to the fold, they are very much in a sub-category that shouldn’t affect the rest of the group. As previously mentioned, the Touareg, Cayenne and Q7 have always shared components yet seemed to have found their own niche in the large 4×4 segment. The Cayman is a class above the TT coupe and a class below the R8, both in terms of cost and appeal. The Panamera is too much car for Audi’s A7 to compete and the upcoming 918 Spyder is an unknown quantity as yet that will undoubtedly now be marketed to avoid it detracting from the Lamborghini stable.

1963 porsche 911 in red

1963 Porsche 911

That leaves the Boxster and the 911 which could be argued to face direct competition from the TT and R8 respectively. This is certainly feasible but in the case of the Boxster vs TT, I feel that the different drivetrains and layouts of these models means that they can co-exist in their current guise and with a little tweaking from within the group, they’ll start to drift apart in terms of consumer appeal. That leaves just the 911 and the R8 but the evergreen Porsche with its four seats and rear engine layout seems to offer so many ticks in so many boxes that it’s hard for anything else to compete. This, combined with a seemingly infinite choice of models may explain the longevity of the 911 which now covers nearly 50 years.

What’s pertinent to remember  is that this wasn’t some oil baron buying a football club on a whim. This multi-billion pound deal will have been scrutinised to within an inch of its life and, historically speaking, both marques are prone to making good decisions where others have fallen. In my opinion, both VW and Porsche will profit hugely from their coming together and form a beautiful union. I might be wrong, but I doubt it.

By Ben Harrington

Cööl βritannia – Jaguar, Aston Martin and Bentley fly the flag

Jaguar F-Type rear light cluster

A close up snapshot of the upcoming Jaguar F-Type

For a city with a reputation for nose-to-tail gridlocked traffic, the New York 2012 Motorshow has yet again given us some interesting focal points, not least of which are the Land Rover DC100 and the Jaguar F-Type – undoubtedly the highlight of the show. The attention lavished on both of these cars confirmed something for me that I’ve suspected has been emerging of late, British automobilia is once again leading the way in the ‘cool’ stakes. For a while I feared that I was allowing myself to be swept away on the wave of hype surrounding the Olympics and the Jubilee but now I’m not so sure. Think about it, Bentley and Rolls-Royce can’t produce cars quickly enough, especially to satisfy the demand in the cash-rich Asian and Middle-Eastern markets. Jaguar and Land Rover have well and truly disposed of their stuffy, tweed jacket images and seemingly have the Midas touch with every new model they conjure up and Aston Martin are regular victors of the coolest brand in Britain competition – that’s not just automotive brands by the way, it’s every brand on the planet!

Rear view of the BMW 5 Series GT

BMW 5 Series GT

Contrarily and for the first time that I can remember, the previously untouchable über-cool German marques look a bit lost. Their pedestal looks shaky at best and they appear to have resorted to attention grabbing party tricks in an attempt to regain some of the limelight. Top of this list of tricks is undoubtedly the ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ niche market trick. BMW and Porsche seem to have followed Mercedes down this well trodden path, apparently working on the theory that if you make enough variations on a model, there must be one to suit every need.

Now I know what you’re thinking, the only reason that many British car brands still exist is due to massive inputs from across the globe, even Germany and you’d be right. It took our friends from the Fatherland to show us how to build Rollers and Bentleys properly but they seem to have been so preoccupied with rebuilding our houses, their own have been sorely neglected. The same can hardly be said of Jaguar Land Rover‘s new owners though can it? Their owners –  Tata  seem to have revolutionised the management procedures of the company but left the important bits like how the cars look and feel up to us Brits.

Bentley Continental Convertible with roof down

Bentley Continental Convertible

The USP of the German marques for years was, of course their build quality and I’m not saying for a minute that they’ve forgotten which end of a screwdriver is which but it was somehow inevitable that, given enough time, money and help from VW and BMW we were going to catch on eventually. The problem the likes of Audi have now is that their USP is no longer unique and, worse still, the lowly British brands that they used to deride have re-discovered their USP in abundance. Amongst other things, its called style; it simply oozes from every pore of the current crop of British marques. From Astons to Range Rovers, from their interiors to their wheel nuts, British cars have once again got that certain something that makes them stand out from the crowd and the Germans seem to be floundering in their attempts to recreate it.

Unfortunately, one plucky Brit appears to be stuck in the stalls and that’s Lotus. It’s still early days in their master- plan and I really hope that everything comes into fruition but as it stands, they’re really lagging behind the competition. They undoubtedly make some of the best driver’s cars on the road but in these days of frugality, that simply isn’t enough. When people spend tens of thousands of pounds on top-quality items, they demand just that – quality, a car must not only get them from A-B in style but be able to recreate that feat on a daily basis. Without some serious re-jigging of their priorities, Lotus will continue to be a flashback to the days of British car manufacturing when the notion of quality-control was a mere pipe dream.

By Ben Harrington

For Richer or Poorer – Are our cars an accurate reflection of today’s society?

The rich are getting richer and the poor are helping them get there. For a few years now, the headlines have been dominated by global, double-dip recessions and credit being crunched beyond all recognition and yet some small pockets of society seem to be  immune to these awful afflictions. On the contrary, certain, more affluent members of the population are reeking of their own grotesque prosperity, seemingly oblivious to the general mood of the masses.

Multi Millionaire - Premiership Footballer Carlos Tevez

Carlos Tevez – laughing all the way to the bank

Footballers are one such group that spring to mind. You can’t blame them; combine the prospect of a short career with an IQ smaller than their (sponsored) boot size and a parasitic agent who doesn’t even have the decency to work up a sweat for his money and who wouldn’t take every penny they could get?  Of course, the irony is that without us plebs trying to enhance our humdrum lives by cheering on our team of choice every week, no-one would go to football matches, pay Sky to watch football matches or buy replica shirts for easy tribal recognition and where would the footballers be then? The world of finance shares similar ironies, every week new reports surface from the seemingly failing banking world, detailing the inflated bonuses being received by the head honchos, on top of their already inflated salaries. If my memory serves me correctly, this whole mess was kicked off by these same bankers irresponsibly lending money to people who quite obviously couldn’t afford the repayments.

Car manufacturers have by no means been immune to this worldwide recession with automotive giants such as Ford and GM staring into the precipice of permanent oblivion, holding onto their lives by the skin of their teeth. Some long-established marques such as Saab have gone by the wayside but hopefully we’re on the better side of things and the car industry as a whole can go onwards and upwards, back into profit.

The Bugatti Veyron L'Or Blanc - Highly Exclusive

Bugatti Veyron L’Or Blanc

How different manufacturers have gone about this seems to fall into two categories. Some of the traditionally more luxurious marques have taken a huge gamble and made their products even more exclusive, even more out of reach of the masses whereas the other 90% of cars on the road are apparently made to be as cheap to run as possible. Take Ferrari for example. Thankfully, no-one on the board at Ferrari has ever sat down and announced that their products are just a bit too shouty and maybe they should look into the practicalities of an MPV. On the contrary, Ferrari have obviously realised that if you can afford to pay a lot for a supercar, you can afford a lot more and so that’s how much the price of their mid-engined supercars has risen in the past five years. In 2007, an F430 would have set you back £128,000. Today, if you can find one, the F430’s replacement – the 458 Italia would set you back upwards of £160,000. That’s an increase of  25% but has it deterred buyers? Has it heck, supply can’t keep up with demand because when you’re in the market for a new Italian supercar, an extra £32,000 makes little to no difference. Maybe this is partly due to what I call the ‘Veyron effect’. When Bugatti unleashed this hyper car on the world it came complete with a mind-boggling array of huge, impressive numbers. 1,000 horsepower, 0-60 in 2.5s and a top speed of over 250 mph. The one fact that everyone remembers though is the list price of $1,000,000. All of a sudden there was a car being manufactured that was out of the reach of your everyday lottery winner, this one set the rich apart from the super-rich at a time when the rest of the world was worrying about job security and mortgage payments. The likes of Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce and Porsche must have thought all their Christmases had come at once, they could add a few thousand pounds to the list price of their entire range because they knew that they had a ‘get out of jail free’ card – compared to the price of a Veyron, all of their products cost peanuts.

Of course, every action must have a reaction and in the real world that 99% of us live in, the way in which we buy cars has also altered. In the past we would gauge our opinions towards the cars we drove in various ways but they would usually  involve either how quickly they got us from A to B or in how much comfort, that was it. These days, no matter what, the first thing someone will think of when they consider a particular car is what MPG it can achieve and which tax bracket it will fall into. It’s become a national obsession and when you think about it, it’s bordering on the ridiculous. Just because the world’s finances are in a bit of a mess, why can’t cars that are made for the general population be interesting instead of just frugal?

Ford's 1.0l Ecoboost Engine

Ford Ecoboost Engine

Take Ford for example. They’ve recently announced that the Focus will soon be available with an all new engine. Through wizardry and witchcraft, this five door, family hatchback will be powered by a 1.0 litre unit, it’s block being smaller than an A4 sheet of paper. Whether this will result in the Focus becoming the most terminally boring car on the planet to drive or not hasn’t been mentioned, probably because Ford don’t really care. As long as the emissions from the exhaust are lower than their competitors, that’s all that truly matters as that’s what sells cars.

The world of used cars has also suffered from this phenomenon and their value can vary dramatically dependant on how much the annual tax bill will cost, even if a far cheaper model is only £50 a year more expensive to tax. £50! That wouldn’t even pay for a meal for two in a half decent restaurant and yet many people will dismiss a perfectly good automobile on the basis that it’s less powerful, less luxurious sibling will save them this paltry amount once a year.

What I think I’m trying to say here is that if the makers of luxurious marques for more affluent people want to charge what they want and can get away with it, good for them. But to the manufacturers of the majority of the world’s cars- have the nerve to go back to letting the quality and driving experience of your products be what sells the car. Let owning a car return to being the pleasurable experience it once was for all of us instead of simply trying to make car ownership seem like one expensive chore that the masses can little afford and could do without.

By Ben Harrington

You can’t kid a kidder, even with a fancy car!

Here’s my somewhat early entry into 2012’s ‘stating the bleeding obvious competition’: ‘Cars are no longer simply a means of transport, they are an expression of our character’. There you go, a winner if ever I saw one, but it is true or at least partially. You see, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the gap between the reflection our cars give of our actual lives and how they reflect our idealised lives is widening to astronomical levels.

rover-p6

Rover P6

Until fairly recent times, a car was bought primarily to suit our needs best. If you were young and footloose, you bought a two-seater sports car before the impending requirements of family life hit. Once family had arrived, more doors and a larger boot were deemed necessary so you’d pop down to your local Ford dealership and buy whatever sensible model they were producing at that time, be it the Cortina, Sierra or Mondeo. If you required yet more space, various estate cars were available or you could buy a van. This carried on until old age, upon which time you could treat yourself to either a Rover or a Jaguar, dependent on how financially prudent you’d been in the previous 65 years.

These days however, armed with niche markets appearing in existing niche markets and an almost desperate desire to express ourselves, we can live out our fantasy lifestyles through the cars we buy and most people are.

Littering is without doubt one of my greatest pet-hates, seeing ignorance of this level has the ability to catapult me to hereto unseen levels of annoyance. Recently however, I witnessed some extraordinary discarding of waste that got me thinking about how much we are attempting to pull the wool over each other’s eyes, just with the mode of transport we use. What really got my attention about the moronic, selfish, lout desecrating our streets was the fact that he had wound down the window on his Toyota Prius to do it. That’s right folks, the driver of a car that comes equipped with its own soap box for impromptu ‘I’m helping save the world’ speeches, purposefully ejected his litter onto the street. He thinks that by buying a Prius, he could be mistaken for Leo Dicaprio arriving at his latest premier but the truth is he couldn’t care less about the environment, he’s just tight and wants to save a few quid on petrol.

discovery

Land Rover Discovery

When you think about it, this type of masquerading is commonplace on our roads today. The much highlighted abuse of 4x4s is an easy target. Once the reserve of farmers and the Queen, today, no mother could possibly expect to survive the perils of a modern day school run without permanent 4wd, a limited slip diff and bullet-proof glass all-round. In truth, any large hatchback could easily replace 90% of 4x4s on the road but, and here’s the sticking point, they wouldn’t portray the horsey, rough and tumble image that is deemed so desirable.

Sports car owners are just as guilty. You count the amount of young, attractive men equipped with a full head of real hair that you see driving a Porsche Boxster or a BMW Z4. Now tot up the drivers of these cars who want you to think they’re youthful and virile yet in reality smell slightly of wee and swear by sanatogen and cod liver oil. This can partially be blamed on the economy or insurance premiums but no-one forces pensioners to buy two-seater convertibles.

rod-ferrari

Rod and his Enzo

The examples are numerous and widespread; ‘Hells Angels’ Harley riders who are actually merchant bankers and would cry if they got dirt under their recently manicured nails. New Mini drivers, clinging desperately to their youth whilst simultaneously subjecting their teenage children to years of physiotherapy caused by being shoe-horned into the back seats alongside the weekly shop as the boot is the same capacity as a Samsonite briefcase.

I think the point I’m trying to make here is that we are increasingly putting vanity ahead of practicality which is fine when buying say, a t-shirt, a car should primarily fit your needs and everything else comes second. We need to realise that it might not be cool, but it’s ok to be ‘Mondeo man’. (I wouldn’t have one though – far too boring!)

By Ben Harrington

An Idiot (hopefully) Aboard – The Bucket List (cars to drive before you die)

Having been recently inspired by the hilarious second series of ‘An Idiot Abroad’, I’ve decided that it is my duty to draw up a bucket list with a difference. Instead of a predictable procession of things to do before you die, I feel that what would be far more interesting (to those of a petrol obsessed nature anyway) is a list of vehicles I feel I must own before I die, or the DVLA revokes my licence due to 90% blindness – whichever comes first. Obviously this list is by no means exhaustive and will be updated when I see something else that takes my fancy.

Just to clarify, this is by no means a wish-list of unobtainable, ridiculously priced automotive rarity. Only vehicles which are realistically affordable to the average person are permitted, although I can’t be held responsible for any astronomical running costs that may be incurred.

1. FordCapri280 Brooklands                  Current Purchase Price – Circa £7,000

Ford Capri 280 Brooklands

Ford Capri 280 Brooklands

Having been brought up on a strict diet of various Capris, I can’t even look at one now without going all misty eyed and nostalgic. The sleek Mk111 has always been my favourite, its ultimate incarnation undoubtedly being the limited edition 280 Brooklands. Only 1038 were made, all in metallic ‘Brooklands’ green and signalled the end of the line for  the capri in Europe. Even as a child, I recognised that these were the Capris to own and begged my dad tirelessly to buy one, but unfortunately to no avail. I feel I must right a wrong.

2.  1968 Dodge Charger                            Current Purchase Price – Circa £25,000

1968 Dodge Charger in black

1968 Dodge Charger

Possibly at the limits of my realistic ambitions this one, 12mpg from a 7 litre engine is enough to worry the most committed of petrolheads but, oh my, does that V8 snarl sound tempting. The Charger just edges the Ford Mustang for the title of my ultimate muscle car but it’s got to be a ’68 and it’s got to be black. Slim hopes of actually owning one are only kept alive due to Mrs Harrington also wanting one, although she would insist on it being bright orange with a confederate flag on the roof, can’t possibly think why!

3. Harley Davidson Fat Boy                      Current Purchase Price – Circa £15,000

Harley Davidsom Fatboy Motorbike

Harley Davidson Fatboy

There’s nothing quite like a Hog for fulfilling those Route 66 fantasies and the Fat Boy is the most fantastic. Arnie riding one down a storm drain in Terminator 2 was enough to sow the seed for me and I still can’t hear that distinctive air-cooled, V twin sound without yearning to own a Harley. Fitting a 1.3 litre engine to a motorcycle may seem excessive to us Britons but surely that’s the whole point of an All American Fat Boy – excess.

4. Volkswagen Karmann Ghia                 Current Purchase Price – Circa £10,000

1960's Volkswagen Karmann Ghia in blue

Volkswagen Karmann Ghia

Here’s a little tale for the romantics amongst you. Back in 2002, I was left in no doubt that I had met the future Mrs Harrington when a conversation I was having with my girlfriend got onto cars. Being a devoted lover of all things Volkswagen and air-cooled, I was left awestruck when she told me, without prompting I may add, that the car she desired most was the Karmann Ghia. That’s right, not the latest Range Rover or the most expensive Mercedes sports but the relatively unusual, chirpy coupe from VW. We promised ourselves there and then that we’d buy one but in the end opted for a more practical Type 2 instead. Got to have one someday – it’s our destiny!

5. Jeep Wrangler 4.0                                   Current Purchase Price – Circa £4000

4.0 litre Jeep Wrangler

Jeep Wrangler

I think that my passion for no-nonsense engineering is aroused by the notion of owning a Wrangler. They’re so simple and in some ways antiquated yet undoubtedly a design icon that’s never been bettered. Ok, so the 4 litre – straight six can’t exactly be described as frugal and the ride quality may be a little pony and trap but who cares? This car costs peanuts, typifies the American dream and yet has the steering wheel on the correct side and a main dealership in Stockport.

6. Ferrari 355                                               Current Purchase Price – £35,000 min

Ferrari 355 in Red

Ferrari 355

This one’s really pushing my ‘available to the average man’ rule, I know but their purchase prices are creeping down all the time so maybe with a little windfall, this could be a realistic purchase. Running the thing would obviously be a different kettle of fish, more of a money-pit than a kettle if I’m honest but personally, I’ve got to hold onto the dream. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is the last truly beautiful car to have rolled off the Modena production line. Its graceful angles and purposeful stance are such a visual treat that I couldn’t really care less if it drives like a complete dog, which of course it doesn’t.

7. Ducati 916                                                 Current Purchase Price – Circa £7000

Ducati 916

Ducati 916

When it comes down to motorbikes, my knowledge is, shall we say, sketchy at best. Sure, I admire some of them, I even own one (sort of) but at 31 I’m still a beginner when it comes down to controlling one and when it comes down to superbikes especially, I’d have to look for the manufacturers badge in order to pick one out of a line up. Nope, when compared to the cars, my emotional attachment to bikes is miniscule. All except that is, for the Ducati 916. As a teenager, our neighbour had one and if he were to start it up in his garage, I swear our house used to shake. Visually, it’s typically Italian – audacious yet delicate. Acoustically, it initially gives you a little shock on start-up but turn the accelerator round a fraction and it gives you the fright of your life. Like all the best Italian operas, both overwhelmingly beautiful and crushingly dramatic in equal measures.

8. 1977 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow II                Current Price – Circa £10000

Rolls Royce Silver Shadow II

Rolls Royce Silver Shadow II

I don’t care that I’d either look like a dodgy second-hand car dealer or I was transporting the bride to her beloved. I don’t care that the ancient 6.75 litre engine would struggle to achieve over 10mpg yet only provide a somewhat pathetic 189bhp. I don’t care that the wallowing suspension is bound to bring on sea sickness. I don’t even care that many of them were sold in delightful colours, the most popular shades being Costume Jewellery Gold and Angel Delight Brown. What I do care about is that for me, the Silver Shadow is the archetypal Rolls Royce. Yes, it’s still as subtle as a sledgehammer but it also has a certain grace that was lost on later models – it’s slightly round at the edges –a look Rolls Royce have reverted to with their recent land yachts. I honestly can’t think of a more rock and roll car.

9. 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera                                 Current Price – Circa £15000

1987_porsche_911_carrera_26864627

1987 Porsche 911 Carrera

I know I’m forever prattling on about Porsche, this model in particular but no bucket list of mine would be anywhere near complete without this car. Flawed in almost every aspect of its design and constantly looking for new and exciting ways to launch its driver into the nearest large oak tree but still, every inch an icon. Ultimately, mine would be black with a red leather interior although I can be swayed on colour. What is an absolute must however is the oversize, whale-tail spoiler that must protrude from the Porsche’s rump. I’ll even play nothing but 80’s power ballads on the stereo.

By Ben Harrington

Uneasy Rider – I attempt life with a Vespa

black-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

Simples!

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!

opel_combo_front

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

Ferrari 458-: Prancing Pony or Braying Donkey?

One of the many qualities we possess as human beings is the scarcely believable yet inescapable truth that all 7 billion of us are individuals. Inevitably this equates to every single one of us having our own unique viewpoint on any given subject, even if the differences in our opinions are sometimes miniscule. Thankfully, in Western society we value the right to free speech and thought very highly and are quick to chastise oppressive regimes who seek to silence their adversaries.

Ferrari 458 Italia in yellow going around a track

Ferrari 458 Italia

I’m now going to fully exercise my rights and voice an opinion that I feel will be both unpopular and fairly unique. It relates to Ferrari’s 458 Italia, the latest 200mph, mid engine creation from Maranello. It possesses an astonishing V8 engine, capable of producing 562bhp and, oh I’m just avoiding the point I actually want to make here – IT IS NOT A PRETTY CAR!

There, I’ve said it and I feel much better for it, thank you. Now, before I’m hanged from the nearest suitable tree, please grant me the opportunity to quantify my argument. When one envisages Ferrari, the two words that I imagine would materialise for many people are ‘speed’ and ‘beauty’, not necessarily in that order.

I’m fairly sure that the reason for Ferrari’s enduring popularity is less to do with Formula One and power stats and more to do with the universal acceptance that their road going offerings hold the same overwhelmingly attractive visual qualities when static as they do on the red line at 202mph.

For decades, children and adults alike have placed pictures of Ferraris on their walls, ranging from the sleek lines of the 250 GTO to the elegance of my personal favourite, the F355. Endless women who openly admit to having little automotive passion still can’t help but glance yearningly if a Ferrari should come into view and I just don’t feel that the 458 lives up to its more attractive predecessors.

Mclaren mp4-12c Orange

McLaren MP4-12C

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not been fortunate enough to drive one and I’m not doubting for one minute that it is stupendous fun from behind the wheel. Every single review states that this is a real tour de force for Ferrari and the opposition may as well pack up and go home. One review I read recently though really confirmed my fears regarding the 458’s visual appeal. The review in question was assessing the Italia’s abilities when put against a close competitor – the McLaren MP4 – 12C. The result was astonishingly close it terms of speed and agility but what I simply couldn’t draw myself away from was how similar the two cars looked.

Now, McLaren have either made or contributed in making some of the finest driving machines ever, fact. Their engineering prowess is unquestionable and much of the technology they develop for their F1 cars then appears on their road cars, this can be no bad thing when your primary objective is getting quickly from point to point. What McLaren are not renowned for however is producing beautiful machines. I’m not saying they’re ugly but function over form is evidently their mantra, I mean, even the name MP4-12C sounds functional, kind of like a washing machine.

Ferrari 458 front view in red

Ferrari 458

McLaren MP4-12C in white front view

McLaren MP4-12C

If you place the 458 Italia and the MP4-12C next to each other, their similarity is evident for all to see and this is my point. A Ferrari has always been instantly recognisable, take away its badges and most people would successfully pick one out in a line-up. The 458 however seems to have somehow been born lacking some of this Ferrari-ness and the world can only be a far more wretched place when you take away Ferrari-ness.

By Ben Harrington

Anyone for Golf? Why Volkswagen’s Hatchback is truly a car for the people

Volkswagen Golf mks1 - 6

The Volkswagen Golf through the ages

Whenever anyone asks my advice regarding what car they should buy, I have a one size fits all answer. Without the need for any further questioning, I can almost guarantee that there is a car which in one of it’s many guises will suit your needs. It may come as no surprise to some of you that this seemingly magical automobile is, drum roll please, the humble Volkswagen Golf. I know, I know, surprise surprise I hear you chant but I truly believe that there’s a Golf to suit every need and I just can’t shake my own personal desire to own one.

I’ve recently decided that, excellent as it is, it’s time for the Audi to go. I can’t fault this truly amazing car but I’ve owned it two and a half years now and anyone who knows me will testify that this is the equivalent of nearly three decades in Ben’s car ownership years (it’s a little like dog years). As many men grow bored of perfectly fine women and play the field, I find a similar compulsion with cars. It’s a blessing really as changing your car undoubtedly results in miniscule financial and emotional suffering when compared to divorce.

Inevitably, one decision has spawned another question and that is which car to purchase as the Audi’s replacement? I’m fairly certain that I don’t need such cavernous proportions anymore, although reasonable storage is still necessary and five doors is still a must. I’ve made no secret of my desires to get away from diesel but a fairly frugal petrol engine is the only acceptable alternative. Having read many, many car reviews, I’m aware that the Ford Focus is an excellent all rounder, as is the Mondeo and oh my god, who am I kidding, all of this reasoning and weighing up is completely irrelevant because I just know that I’ll end up with a Golf.

I can only put this borderline-obsessive behaviour down to certain automotive perceptions developed during my formative years. As a young child, I was brought up on a strict diet of Jaguar and Ford but as my more opinionated teenage years loomed menacingly, the quality control departments at both marques were seemingly redundant. The German brands however were all conquering with their seemingly effortless cool and their reputation for indestructible build quality.

But what was the big deal about the Golf? On the surface it appeared to be an ordinary hatch like any other but we all knew that this couldn’t have been further from the truth. If you wanted ordinary, you bought an Astra or an Escort, buying a Golf simply screamed that even in an every day family hatch, you demanded excellence, and that was the fundamental difference.

Back to the present time, in my head I know that many of the Golf’s competitors are in many ways its equal, some have even surpassed it. Unfortunately though, we all know how events in our youth can leave an indelible impression upon us and for me at least, the Golf will always have a special place in my heart.

By Ben Harrington

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