Driving Torque

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Archive for the tag “Porsche 911”

My own MINI Adventure – how I rediscovered my idenity

No man is an island, as they say. Neither is any man a T-junction or dual carriageway, as no-one says. I’ve waxed lyrical in the past about the inextricable link between man and machine, in particular his/her chosen mode of transport and what this choice says about us to the onlooking world.

Audi A6 Avant

Audi A6 Avant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since selling my excellent Audi A6 Avant in June 2011, I’ve been without a ‘car’ of my own, but a couple of weeks ago I came in out of the cold (literally) and rejoined the rat-race – I bought a bona fide automobile. The effect this has had on my life is infinitely more than the mere convenience of owning another car, it’s had a huge impact in a more spiritual sense.

Some may argue that I never really went cold-turkey on the transport front as I would never sell Matilda, our beloved VW Type 2, I own a Vespa which I classed as my everyday transport and ultimately, I could use my wife’s Citroen whenever the need arose. So why the tangible shift in attitude, just what can a humble car bring to aid one’s wellbeing?

My Vespa - Not so useful in winter

My Vespa – Not so useful in winter

As a hopeless car addict who’s owned one in some shape or form since he was 16, through thick or thin, in good times and bad, I couldn’t possibly have predicted the effect that non-ownership would have on my life. As handy and, in many ways, more convenient as it is to switch from car to scooter, I just couldn’t bring myself to jump whole-heartedly into the two-wheeled camp. The sensation could only be described as treachery, as many people would ask ‘So, what’s replaced the Audi?’ and I’d point sheepishly at my pretty Vespa, quickly uttering some pathetic excuse, like ‘I’m in-between cars at the moment’ or ‘It’s so I can save up for something’. Like someone who’s covering up for recently being sacked, I just couldn’t face the fact that I didn’t actually possess an everyday car to call my own.

A huge part of how we view and judge each other is based on what we do, both professionally and for pleasure. It generally doesn’t take too long for perfect strangers to realise that cars are of substantial importance in my life, usually because I’ve bored them to death about it within half an hour of introduction. It was therefore acutely alien, not only to me, but to my friends and family, when I was without an automobile, like a yin without its yang, like Ant without Dec – you get the idea.

My dream car - temporarily put on hold

My dream car – temporarily put on hold

So, just what vehicle has brought me in from the wilderness, what’s ended the drought? Well, having made no secret of my desire to own a late 80’s Porsche 911, that was the plan, but then our Victorian house started falling down so that budget literally went up in smoke. An Oak Green 16v Mk2 Golf Gti was a slightly cheaper proposition, but they were mostly going the same was as my house – crumbly. The highly desirable E36 M3 Convertible in Estoril Blue was my next target but I was told one too many tales of astronomical running costs for one of those and the idea lost its appeal.

So……. just what ended up fitting the bill? Well, it’s built beautifully by BMW, it’s a very hot hatch with some of the usual practicalities this brings and it’s roughly as quick as an ’87 911…….. It’s a MINI!!! Not just any MINI though, it’s a Cooper S. Not just any Cooper S though, it’s a JCW Cooper S. Pushing out 210bhp through the front wheels, courtesy of a supercharger and various engine upgrades, performance is, shall we say, spirited, especially in this treacherous icy weather we’re currently enjoying.

2003 Mini JCW Cooper S

Our new baby – a JCW Cooper S

If anyone’s considering a Works MINI, just bear in mind that it’s fairly uncompromising in many ways. The suspension upgrades, coupled with 17” wheels make for a ride that eventually forces you to weave across your lane, avoiding the many pot-holes in an effort to preserve one’s spine. The trade-off is obviously limpet-like handling characteristics, just don’t expect to waft to one’s destination, it’s more of a trial than a waft.

By far the most characterful part of an early Cooper S is the supercharger and its unmistakable whine. To say this scream is addictive would be an understatement and the faster you go, the louder and more satisfying it gets. I’m currently achieving an average of 30mpg in my Works but if you suffer from a particularly addictive personality, or a heavy right foot, those economy figures could easily tumble, along with your bank balance as you constantly top up the tank with the 98 RON petrol it demands.

I seem to be painting a fairly negative picture of my new pocket rocket so far but I’m just getting the potentially bad bits out-of-the-way first. Having sorted the fiddly seating position to my liking, this car is evidently serious quality and gravely serious fun. It is so obviously a 0.5 series BMW, they just refused to put their moniker on it, partly because it’s front wheel drive, partly to preserve the MINI identity without linking it to the far more grown-up BMW range. Space inside is a lot more reasonable than I envisaged and my daughters find the rear seats palatial. One word of warning though, whichever way you look at it, THE BOOT IS SMALL. I presumed that a spindly single Maclaren buggy would squeeze in – I was wrong.

Having been generously specced at the factory, my MINI wants for nothing, neither do it’s occupants. Everything’s either heated or electric which gives the sensation of sitting in a little M3. The extra weight added by these luxuries may detract from the go-kart sensation a Works offers but they’re more than welcome if you like your creature comforts.

Like every good relationship, any initial doubts I may have harboured about my new acquisition are rapidly dissipating as the satisfaction of MINI ownership shines through. Perhaps more importantly though, I feel complete again.

By Ben Harrington


Automotive Annoyances

Please note; this list is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to contact me with your own irritations.

Indicator ignorance = annoying

Indicator ignorance. People who either refuse to use them or have no idea when is appropriate i.e. Indicating left to go straight on at roundabouts or, worse still, not using them at all. My psychic powers just aren’t up to the job of predicting every driver’s next movement.

Private Registrations = annoying

Private registrations. Generally used either to disguise a car’s age or tenuously individualise the car to it’s driver . Why not just stick your name on the car in those italic letters? It’s just as tasteless, costs a fraction of the price and your name should hopefully be spelled properly without the person reading it needing to squint. The worst crime possibly is to state the make or model of your car on it’s plate e.g. A911 POR on a Porsche 911, do they seriously worry we may mistake it for a Range Rover, a Lada Riva or a leek?

Amateur car modifications = annoying

Modifying cars. Now, I’m not talking about a trick exhaust or a fancy air filter here, I’m talking about those automotive disasters we’ve all seen attempting to outrun an M3 on the bypass. Some very clever people are paid a lot of money to design and engineer the cars on our roads. Why on earth does some spotty oik, armed only with Halfords vouchers and superglue think he can do a better job?

Disabled parking abuse = annoying

Disabled bay abuse. Those of us who are lucky enough to be able bodied should consider parking in the space furthest away from the store and rejoicing in our ability to walk. Instead, some selfish souls would rather display ultra laziness and take up a disabled bay. Those found guilty of this should be made to crawl to the store on their hands and knees, let them know how it feels – end of.

Littering = annoying

Littering. I view any kind of littering as a sin; throwing rubbish out of your car window is the worst. When you’re in your car it’s not as if carrying litter is a great inconvenience, most cars have handy storage spaces such as passenger seats and footwells especially designed for the purpose. Also, I can guarantee that 99% of car journeys end at a destination that will be able to provide a bin, be it work, petrol stations or the mother in law’s. Simply winding down the window and hurling it out marks you out as a Neanderthal.

Rudeness = annoying

Lack of manners. My eldest daughter is nearly three, my youngest daughter is eighteen months old. It was vitally important to me and my wife that some of their first words should be ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ as we believe that they are essential in civilised society and will get them far. Thankfully, most of Britain’s educated folk seem to agree but this rule appears to be null and void the instant certain people get behind the wheel. The old adage is true, it costs nothing to thank someone who has, for example, waited to let you squeeze through a gap or join their lane, yet some ignoramuses simply cannot be bothered.

By Ben Harrington

Early to Mid Life Crisis – Only a 911 can save me

Nineteen and a half years. Assuming every penny of it was banked, that’s roughly how long it would take Mr U.K. average to earn the amount that I’ve recently valued my life at for insurance purposes. Unfortunately this figure doesn’t take tax or National Insurance into account so unless you live in Switzerland or have an extremely clever accountant, it’s more likely to take around thirty years, with no outgoings, at all.

I’d always been led to believe that mid-life crises occurred when one hit the big 4-0 but as I approach my 31st birthday, I can only assume that mine decided on an early start. A few years ago I wouldn’t have even contemplated doing something as boring as taking out life insurance, why would I when I was invincible? Yet recently I’ve been struggling to sleep at night in case an errant satellite felled me in the street before my policy details were finalised – how middle aged is that?

It gets worse though. In true ‘Bucket List’ fashion, I’ve decided that it’s time for a long term ambition to be realised, possibly before it’s too late. I’m going to buy a Porsche 911. Since their images adorned my walls as a child, owning an 80’s 911 has been an inevitable event in my life, a box that simply must be ticked. Recently however, this need has escalated from ‘I’ll get round to that one day’ to ‘I’d better start seriously considering that’. My amateur psychoanalysis has reached the conclusion that this is partly due to turning 30 but more importantly is due to the overwhelming terror of my next milestone being 40!

porsche-capI do adore the 911, especially air-cooled examples from the 1980’s with their dramatic styling and big wings. Whenever I see one, I can’t help but take a glance at the lucky sod driving it and this, is I think what’s persuaded me it’s time to take the plunge. For me, the whole image is ruined if I see Bob the scaffolder behind the wheel, well into his 40s and well over a 40 inch waist, light reflecting off his balding pate or worse still, a Porsche baseball cap attempting to disguise said pate. This is certainly not how I want to be seen in my 911. I want young blondes to take a glance and see someone with youth, vigour and his own teeth, someone who’s still in his prime, not incontinence pants. This may be the sad attempt of a thirty something father of two trying to kid the world but as long as I’m convinced, I don’t care.

Of course, deciding to buy a 911 is just the first step, achieving it may be a couple of years down the line as I’ve got to save up the cash. Well I’m not going to get a loan am I, that would be far too irresponsible!


By Ben Harrington

Preaching to the non converted

audi-R8-spyder in red

Audi R8 Spyder

In a recent episode of BBC’s Top Gear, Jeremy tested two of my favourite cars on sale at the moment, the Porsche 911 Turbo and the Audi R8 V10. They are both frighteningly fast, extremely expensive and combine exotic looks with build quality typical of the Fatherland. Unfortunately, both cars had been ruined before they even left the factory by one common problem – no roofs. Let me make myself clear here, I’m not against convertibles per se. I just feel that there is a certain type of car which lends itself beautifully to being scalped and others which, well, don’t.

I appreciate that the sensation of open top driving is pleasant, with the wind in your hair, the sun on your back and generally feeling closer to nature. But let’s be honest, a large proportion of convertible buyers are simply wanting to be seen by as many people as possible in their status symbol, posers in a word. One car which fits the bill for these people is the BMW 320Ci. It’s certainly not made to break records at the Nurburgring yet the image and the badge combine to make the perfect ‘look at me, I’ve got expendable income’ mobile.

This brings me on to my issue with the likes of the 911 Turbo cab and R8 cab. They are both designed in hard top form in order to push the boundaries. They must be the quickest, nimblest and shoutiest in their class otherwise they have failed miserably. Engineers work tirelessly to push output higher, weight lower and chassis’ stiffer. We adore seeing covert spy shots of the new models being pushed to their limits around ‘the Ring’, talking in hushed tones about rumoured performance figures. Buying the likes of these cars will hopefully provide a driving experience like no other, setting us aside as a true admirer of automotive engineering.

So what do you think it says about the person who opts for one of these exquisite cars and then chooses the one with no roof? I’ll tell you what it says, it says that the owner would like everyone to think that they are a driving god but when it actually comes down to the nitty gritty, they care more about being seen in the car than actually driving it. This therefore makes them not only a poser but a poser and a fake.

By Ben Harrington

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