This driving work is not all glamour. It’s not every day that I breeze into a swanky car dealership pursued by the paparazzi and a bevy of young ladies to pick up a Range Rover or Merc and waft away under blue skies and a warm sun. Some days, I find myself in some God forsaken place in the middle of nowhere and it is cold, damp and grey. And do you know what? I still enjoy it. One morning last November was a case in point. Myself and a colleague were deposited on a very foggy Thurleigh airfield in Bedfordshire to collect a couple of cars. Problem was, we were deposited at the wrong place on the airfield (and airfields are big places). My colleague had a vague recollection of having picked up a car there before and thought we needed to be somewhere near the control tower. Now a control tower is a big thing and usually a prominent landmark on an airfield. However, on that day it was completely invisible due to the fog! Thanks to a lone passing car amidst a motley collection of buildings doing an impersonation of the Marie Celeste, we found where we were supposed to be – over a mile away round the perimeter track. Quick historical note: Thurleigh is an ex-RAF base used by the USAAF during World War II from where they flew B-17 Flying Fortresses. Today, at one end of the airfield is Bedford Autodrome, a race track designed by ex-F1 driver Jonathan Palmer (father of current F1 driver, Jolyon). The other end is used for mass storage of cars. Which brings me back to the main subject of this post….
After a brief wait (in the right place), a rare splash of vivid colour appeared against the airfield’s monochrome backdrop. It was a very bright red Ford Focus ST which I was to deliver to Northampton, about 30 miles away. This was the diesel model with 185 horsepower compared to the 250 horses of its petrol-engined sibling (so slower on paper but far better fuel economy). It looked rather splendid and, of course, red cars go faster than cars of any other colour.
I snuggled into the extremely comfortable Recaro driver’s seat and set off. I have to say I was surprised – the engine was extremely quiet and refined and the ride was pleasingly pliant. Given the ST’s hot hatch billing, I was expecting a rather rock hard ride. My comment about the quietness of the engine may not thrill the boy racers among you but please remember I have to drive these cars carefully. For all I know it may make the right sort of noise when pushed. And then there is that Recaro sports seat (rest assured, the Focus had two of them but, funnily enough, I only used one). I would venture to say that it was the most comfortable driver’s seat I have come across in a long time. It cosseted my sometimes troublesome back perfectly and the high sides gripped me snugly.
Now this puzzled me. I am just about of average height but comfortably below average weight, especially for someone of my age who can (just about) remember ten shilling notes, Pogle’s Wood and cars with trafficators. So streamlined am I, that I have to walk around in the shower to get wet. When I’m in trouble with my wife (e.g. for leaving scatter cushions in random places), I stand behind a standard lamp in order to become invisible until her anger has subsided. So if the Focus’s seat gripped me so snugly, how would more generously proportioned people (a significant portion of the adult population, especially males) even fit in them? I’m happy to say that the new owner of the car seemed to be able to get in, and more importantly, out of the driver’s seat with ease and without any sort of creaking noise followed by a large pop.
The drive from Thurleigh to Northampton was not the most exciting but the few bends and roundabouts I negotiated definitely gave the impression that the Focus had loads of grip and little body roll. More interesting was my destination which, quite appropriately, was located right next door to engine manufacturer, Cosworth which has a long history of making things go faster, including hot Fords.
After leaving the Focus with its new owner, I jumped into his old BMW 320d to take that back to the car auction site at Bruntingthorpe airfield near Lutterworth in Leicester. By comparison with the Focus, the BMW seemed very rattly and noisy but to be fair it was about 4 years old with over 79000 miles on the clock! It was not a bad companion to handle the twisty country lanes approaching Bruntingthorpe.
Bruntingthorpe, like Thurleigh, was cold, damp and grey. It is an interesting place though. Again, a wartime bomber base, after the war it was used by Sir Frank Whittle’s Powerjets company for the development of jet aircraft and today it remains one of the largest operational airfields in the UK. From 1993, Avro Vulcan XH558 was based at Bruntingthorpe where it was restored and returned to the air in 2007 (the last airworthy example); sadly it is now grounded. Bruntingthorpe is also home to the Cold War Jet Collection which includes Buccaneers, a Nimrod, Hunter, Canberra, Sea Vixen, Starfighter and more. The oddest exhibit is probably the supersized Super Guppy which was used to transport (very large!) parts of Airbuses. Look across the airfield and you can see several of the aircraft near the main hangar which now houses the car auction. Walking back to the main gate (where a SEPECAT Jaguar stands guardian), I came within touching distance of an English Electric Lightning looking in very good condition.
Also like Thurleigh, Bruntingthorpe is in the middle of nowhere so it was a call to nearby Lutterworth for a taxi, a couple of buses, before home and a nice cup of tea.