Thursday, 18 September 2014

I want to put the brakes on one of my motoring pet hates

PETER KAY would have been proud of the perfect comic timing with which I rediscovered one of my motoring pet hates the other night.

Four of us had spent a very long day working at the Goodwood Revival – an enormous celebration of the cars, clothes and culture your mum and dad used to enjoy in the early 1960s – and we’d broken out of the long traffic jams on the nearby roads to venture into nearby Chichester for dinner. While we’d all embraced the 1960s theme and were dressed from head to foot in marvellously silly period costumes, I’m ashamed to admit the car I’d brought along was a not even remotely period, 11-reg Volkswagen Passat.

A truly accomplished cruiser of a car, but one with a nasty surprise.

It was just outside the city’s branch of Pizza Hut that I nosed past my chosen parking spot, flicked the gear lever into reverse and gently backed the German repmobile favourite into the bay perfectly, the VW badges on the alloy wheels lined up perfectly with the painted white lines on either side.

As I switched off and we clambered out of the car I turned to my colleagues to share my smug moment of Passat parking prowess.

“Never let it be said that Mr Simister can’t park a car”. As I finished my sentence I was met with a mixture of shrieks as the Passat started rolling forward, as though it were on a mission to turn the adjacent Italian restaurant into a drive-thru of its own accord. The people of Chichester were treated to the sight of four men – three of them dressed in tweed suits and the other as a 1960s F1 pit mechanic – fleeing a runaway Volkswagen. 

I realised my moment of motoring brilliance had been cruelly taken from me - by the electronic parking brake!

I’ve driven a couple of cars equipped with such devices, and I hate all of them because they replace something perfectly good with a system that’s as best clunky and at worst downright dangerous. The Pizza Hut parking calamity might have generated an entire night of mickey-taking at my expense, but a couple of us did find it genuinely trickier to set off on hills without the finesse a proper handbrake affords you. The split second you have to wait for the computerised system to strut its stuff, we found all too often, was that split second you needed when pulling out at a busy junction.

What was wrong with the old-fashioned handbrake? It is, like the manually-operated gear lever, a perfectly good device that’s being slowly phased out by car makers. I’d love to be proven wrong by one that works properly, but until then I’ll maintain they just aren’t as good as the proper handbrakes they’re increasingly replacing.

Next year, I’ll have to embrace the Goodwood period thing properly and go in my MGB. Largely because it doesn’t roll into Italian restaurants when you park it.

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