Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Life On Cars highlights of 2013

2013’s been a petrolhead year defined largely by three words for me – Classic Car Weekly.

Thanks largely to landing my dream job in full-time motoring journalism back in April, most of the motoring experiences Life On Cars has encountered have involved blasting into the past in cars which are usually older than I am. This year’s been an incredible automotive adventure, taking me everywhere from the Scottish Highlands to the southern coast of Spain in search of classic car stories. I can reveal, however, that the issue which got Life On Cars readers talking the most this year was rooted firmly in this blog’s home in the North West; the ongoing saga of whether the Woodvale Rally will ever return to RAF Woodvale.

Some of the highlights from a year peppered with petrolhead moments you might be familiar with – others, unless you’re a regular reader of Classic Car Weekly, you probably won’t be. Here are ten of the moments I’m not going to forget in a hurry…

1) Discovering it’s never too cold to drive with the roof down
January is normally a time for wrapping up warm, snuggling up on the sofa and nudging the thermostat into firmly toasty territory. It definitely isn’t the time for heading into a totally deserted corner of the North Wales countryside and dropping the roof on a (much-missed) Mazda MX-5. The temperature, indicating by the mate’s Saab 9-3 following closely behind, was a chilly -1 degrees Celsius.

Not that I cared, because the MX-5 on those roads was a blast. If you’ve got a convertible, wrap up warm, drop the hood, and get out there!

2) Blasting across the New Forest in a Jaguar XK150

Considering it was only my second day at Classic Car Weekly, this was definitely the sort of motoring journalism small boys dream of – a classic Jaguar with lines so fluid you could almost drink them, empty roads to enjoy it on and an incredibly beautiful bit of England to soak up at the same time.

To be honest, I was expecting another Jaguar I drove that same afternoon – the first E-type I’d ever experienced from behind the wheel – to be the highlight, but it was the simpler charms of the older XK I’ll never forget. The howl of the XK straight-six as I nailed it through the New Forest is something that’ll stay with me forever.

3) Listening to this engine

Regular readers will already know I’m well acquainted with the charms of the MG BGT. You might also know that – thanks to a childhood spent in the company of old Range Rovers – that I’ll never get tired of listening to the lumbering burble of a Rover V8 engine.

Seeing and hearing the two in the same package for the first time, however, was a treat for the eyeballs and eardrums alike. Hit play on this short video I made, and see what I mean…

4) Finding out the only way is Up!
An ongoing joke at Classic Car Weekly is that I’ve driven the VW Up pool car not just more than anyone else, but probably more than I have my own cars this year!

While I found myself behind the wheel of Wolfsburg’s 1.0 litre wonder for all sorts of trips to cover shows in the North West, for ferrying colleagues to the Goodwood Revival and – for reasons I’m still not entirely sure of – for a slightly mad return trip to Cornwall, I’ve always enjoyed the fizzy personality of VW’s smallest offering.

For every moment its lack of outright oomph, its tiny boot and its impossibly small fuel tank frustrated me, there was another when the bark of its three-cylinder engine and entertaining handling proved utterly captivating. Put it this way – it is the sort of city car that doesn’t feel outclassed on the Cat and Fiddle pass.

5) Finally trading up in the repmobile stakes
This time last year, I was lauding the vaguely indestructible qualities of the 1995 Rover 214SEi, which I bought back in 2010 for just £300, and I’ve been treated to more of the same throughout 2013. While it’s gone everywhere from Peterborough and London to Bristol and North Yorkshire without so much of a whisper of breakdown – and with a bit of newfound fame in Classic Car Weekly.

The increasingly noisy transmission whine and the quietly creeping onset of rot, however, showed that after three years the old dog, which I’d only ever bought for smoking around Southport in, was beginning to feel the strain of its new life of shooting across Britain.

After two final missions, visiting Classics On The Green in Watford and the Severn Valley Railway’s classic car day in Kidderminster, I finally traded up to its thirstier-but-faster replacement – a 2001 Ford Mondeo Ghia X.

Finally, I’d put my money where my mouth was and bought the big saloon I’ve always recommended to anyone who’d listen. It’s superb.

 6) Thundering up Blackpool seafront – in a Chevrolet Corvette

If Blackpool is Britain’s answer to Las Vegas, then surely the ideal classic for experiencing the Illuminations is a big, all American classic with a big V8 and an open roof. Cue a 1980 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, even if getting it to the resort meant conquering left-hand-drive first by thundering across the Pennines from Harrogate to get it there.

It might have had an appetite for Esso’s finest and drive up a cold, rainy seafront involved never venturing past 25mph, but it was the most enjoyable bits of motoring I’ve ever done. Raucous, traditional and just a little bit showy – a bit like Blackpool, then!

7) Driving an Aston Martin for the first time

While it might not have been the car I enjoyed driving most in 2013 – take a bow, Suzuki SC100 ‘Whizzkid’ – there is a certain pub brag factor about getting behind the wheel of an Aston Martin for the first time. Particularly if it’s a Timothy Dalton-era V8 which uses its 5.3 litre V8 to play a never-ending game of tug of war with the horizon. After doing my best not to get distracted by the James Bond connotations, I found myself truly enjoying its burly demeanour and its thunderous engine note. 2013 also saw me driving my first Rolls-Royce.

Maybe 2014 will be the year I finally get to pop my Ferrari cherry?

8) Seeing Life On Cars printed in a national publication

 Since its launch way back in 2009, Life On Cars has been limited to this humble motoring blog, a series of online emagazines and a weekly column in The Champion series of newspapers in the north west. Seeing a column from Yours Truly printed in Classic Car Weekly back in August, then, was a particularly proud moment. It’s also been great to continue contributing my views to The Champion on a weekly basis, even if a lot of the time those reflections have been e-mailed in from deepest Cambridgeshire!

9) Dressing up in a silly outfit at the Goodwood Revival
I already knew the Goodwood Revival is an unashamed nostalgia trip into the high-octane era of motor racing in the Fifties and Sixties. What I didn’t know, however, was how much fun it is, or how seriously the period charm gets taken. Luckily, I’d donned my best tweed in a semi-successful attempt to look like a period newspaper reporter, as you can see from the not-at-all disturbing shot, and spent three days lapping up the best-before-1966 feel of it all.

Weirdly, thanks to the rigours of helping to produce a bumper report on the show, I didn’t see a single race during a weekend of historic motorsport, and yet I still fell in love with the event. In fact, the only thing which ruined it slightly was the minority of visitors who chose to turn up in tracksuits and trainers. Ban them!

 10) Finding out Petrolhead is a universal language, wherever you go

Until now, my passion of taking pictures and chatting to people at car shows has been limited largely to the North West, but this year my show visits have spanned the nation – and further afield. By far and away the bit of being a car nut I love most is chatting to people about the classics they own, and finding out why it is they love the cars they do. It’s a passion which car lovers, whether they’re in the Scottish Higlands, the North West, the heart of London or tranquil towns in the West Country, have all shared.

It even works abroad too, as a trip to Barcelona to cover Auto Retro proved. Even if the people there, while fluent in Petrolhead, had virtually no grasp of English. Ooops!

 Look out for more of David Simister’s motoring mishaps in both Classic Car Weekly and The Champion throughout 2014. Life On Cars wishes both of its readers a happy New Year

No comments:

Post a Comment