Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 has been a year of great motoring moments

STRANGER things, I guess, have happened, but I’ll share it with you anyway. As the clocks chime midnight and drunks everywhere usher in a New Year, the most popular Life On Cars piece of 2012 was about the Raleigh Chopper. Which isn’t a car at all.

Still, there were plenty of proper motoring moments – you know, ones involving cars – which I’ve enjoyed over the past 12 months. Here’s ten of my favourites:

1) Doing an advanced driving lesson... in a Lotus Evora S 

2012 marked the year when I took the plunge with the Institute of Advanced Motorists and did their advanced driving course (thoroughly recommended, by the way). I did all of the lessons in my Mazda MX-5 – which was fun in itself – except for the one week when I had a supercharged Lotus Evora S at my disposal. There are probably more sensible choices for what’s basically a driving lesson than a mid-engined supercar, but I used it anyway. Big fun...

2) Setting a blisteringly fast lap time in a Wigan cotton mill 

Literally, as the sharp pain in my hands – shot to bits from fighting furiously with a tiny steering wheel – proved for hours afterwards, but a karting race organised a birthday treat for Yours Truly was well worth it. If you’ve ever fancied flinging a go-kart around a two-storey track crafted from an old cotton mill, give Elite Karting in Wigan a bell. Then again, the three seconds my mate shaved off every lap over mine meant he lapped me twice in our 40 minute race. He still hasn’t let me live that down...

3) Driving a Rover which refuses to give up 

The MGB GT and the MX-5 are undoubtedly the glamour models of the Life On Cars fleet, but when the going gets tough it was always the ancient Rover 214 that’d be called upon – and it delivered, time after time, without a whisper of complaint. In February, it drifted its way across a Cumbrian snowdrift which had defeated a much newer BMW 1-Series, a MINI and a SEAT Leon. Then it sailed right the way across the country to deliver two people and a week’s worth of camping gear safely in Norfolk, and got back again, without a hiccup, and only last month it freed a far heavier Mondeo Estate from a muddy campsite. Not bad for a car costing £300. Rover and Honda engineers of the late Eighties... I salute you!

4) Pitting sports cars against hot hatches in Mid Wales 

We took four performance hits to the utterly wonderful A44 and found four very different ways to get your motoring kicks. Given the choice between a Volkswagen Polo G40 (ultra rare hot hatch from the people who brought you the Golf GTI, with added supercharger whine), a Rover Metro GTi (affordable, rev-happy and goes like stink), a Mazda MX-5 (slowest of the bunch but the only one with rear-drive and the option of driving al fresco) or a Ford Racing Puma (pretty, rare, quick and controversial – see number nine) which would you pick?

5) Going back in time 

Obviously not literally but on the few occasions when I brought the MGB GT to the right road, on the right day, it really was like driving in a simpler bygone age. This heady blend of high-octane petrol, 20w50 oil and Rostyle wheels - which proved a big hit at this year’s Ormskirk MotorFest – provided a nostalgic treat, which is best expressed in moody, monochrome pictorial form. Like the shot you see above.

6) Discovering that you don’t need four wheels to make a great car 

 A couple of people have already asked me how a three-wheeled car with a 1920s body, skinny tyres, a motorbike engine bolted to the front and an absence of any doors, windscreen, windows or roof can possibly be good enough to be named as the best thing I’ve driven in a year that’s produced such hits as the Toyota GT-86. But it just is. Take a Morgan Threewheeler out for a blast down on a country lane on a sunny day – in fact any day, come to think of it – and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

7) Capturing the moment at the Ormskirk MotorFest

The special online magazines made by Life On Cars are, by and large, quite well received (which, given it was only ever meant to be a one-off originally, is a good thing). The edition I wrote with the cooperation of the Ormskirk MotorFest organisers, however, went a bit further than that, being read not by a few dozen or even hundred people, but by thousands of people. I just hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I did researching, writing and producing the thing!

8) Driving Britain’s best roads... in an MX-5 

 The Buttertubs Pass is great in any car but when you’re in something as delicately balanced as an MX-5 it feels a little bit extra special (although the bright evening sunlight didn’t help). But even that wonderful moment couldn’t top the occasion when what seemed like a farm track in the middle of nowhere eventually brought us out onto the road between Pentrefoelas and Ffestiniog, which is one of the most spectacular bits of tarmac I’ve ever encountered. To have discovered it any car would’ve been fun but it was even better being behind the wheel of a great little sports car.

9) Discussing whether the Ford Racing Puma deserves its classic-in-waiting status 

Just one of the many pub arguments I’ve had with the small-but-dedicated group of petrolheads who hold Life On Cars’ automotive assertions to account. Other topics to get The Farmers’ Arms treatment include whether or not off-roaders are stupid and pointless, whether a Toyota GT-86 is better than a top-of-the-range MX-5 and if in cash-strapped 2012 MPG was more important than MPH. For these endless hours of entertaining discussion, I thank this small group of people who know who they are.

10) Raising £126 for charidee

Finally, there was the night when Life On Cars and the region’s petrolheads came together to help support a very good cause by taking part in a pub quiz with a difference – all the questions were motoring-related. Even though there was a broken sound system, a very drunk Nigel Mansell fan and a slight mistake in a motorbike question to deal with, the night still managed to raise £126 for the National Autistic Society. You never know, there might even be another one in 2013...

Make no mistake, 2012’s been a great year for motoring moments and Life On Cars will continue giving you a petrolhead perspective throughout 2013. Happy New Year!


  1. Yup! 2012 offered great experiences for the motorists. Thank you for giving a good recap through this blog.