WEEKLY CAR DIARY – SUPERCHARGED BIG CAT & GENEROUS PRESTON

Some familiar vehicles delivered this week plus a star car on Friday. Why a star car? Because I had not driven this top of the range, petrol powered version of the F-Pace before and I suspect it’s really quite rare on UK roads:-

Monday: Bentley Flying Spur W12 (2007), Nottingham to Syston, Leicestershire; Audi A1 Sport 1.4 TFSI (125hp), Syston to here, there and everywhere (and back).

Tuesday: Ford Transit Custom, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire to Croydon, Surrey via …. Worcester(!). Long story.

Wednesday: Audi A6 Black Edition 2.0TDI (190hp) auto, Leicester to Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

Friday: Jaguar F-Pace S 3.0 V6 supercharged (petrol) auto, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire to Preston, Lancashire.

It was off to the frozen north again on Friday amid more forecasts of freezing temperatures and heaps of snow. So, I dressed appropriately (a woollen tie rather than a silk one). In the end, I saw nothing but blue skies and clear roads as the supercharged Big Cat whisked me to a little town just north of Preston. I had never been to Preston before so what did I know about the place? I pondered this while sitting in the leather-clad and calm interior of the F-Pace and made a mental list:-

– Preston is in the county of Lancashire in the north west of England (knowing this came in useful when delivering the F-Pace).
– It has a football team (that’s soccer for any American friends) called Preston North End which is very old.
– It is home to the National Football Museum.
– The town shares its name with the arch villain (Preston, a robotic cyber-dog) in Wallace and Gromit’s A Close Shave.

So, not a very long list and I even got one of these things wrong – the National Football Museum moved to Manchester in 2010. But travel is an education so what did I learn about Preston on my travels? The couple to whom I delivered the F-Pace very kindly drove me into the town in their rather nice new toy. So I asked them: “What should people know about Preston?” They told me two things about the town. Firstly, it doesn’t have a lot going for it (very honest of them). Secondly, the first ever guild in the country was founded here. The Preston Guild controlled the right to trade in the town and the right to establish the Guild was granted in 1179 by none other than Henry II. You may remember him from an earlier post – he’s the bloke who imprisoned his missus at Old Sarum. What some people will do for a bit of peace and quiet.

Walking down Preston’s main street to the train station, I saw that their first point about the town may have been fair. Nothing offensive, mind you. Not like Croydon where I went on Wednesday. Horrible place. In the highly unlikely scenario that you are planning a day out and your options boil down to Preston or Croydon, take my advice and head for Lancashire. In the equally highly unlikely scenario that a Croydonite is reading this – my apologies.

Preston railway station is a traditional, pleasant-to-behold, Victorian affair where steam trains and young ladies waving tear-soaked hankies at their departing, uniformed sweethearts would not look out of place. Here I learnt something about Preston for myself and it is related to those uniformed sweethearts. Large lettering and brass plaques on the waiting room walls inform the waiting traveller that that very room was given over to a free buffet for servicemen during the First World War. Three and a quarter million soldiers and sailors passing through Preston station benefited from free refreshments “and comforts” in the buffet which opened around the clock between August 1915 and May 1919. Three and a quarter million. That’s a lot of tea and black pudding sandwiches. Ee, thems is reet generous, them northern folk.

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And what of the F-Pace? Lovely. And with the supercharged engine, it felt a bit different. Quiet when cruising, a bit of a drone when accelerating gently and a distinctive howl when pressing on a bit more briskly. With 380 supercharged horses under bonnet, the F-Pace is obviously quick (0-60mph in 5.5 seconds) but a laid back driver may prefer the the less dramatic shove of the 3 litre V6 diesel where fewer revs are needed for the car to get up and go. I tend to divide SUVs into two categories: the squashy ones (very cosseting but very wobbly round corners and on country roads, e.g. Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery) or the firm ones (not necessarily uncomfortable and much better round the bendy bits). The F-Pace falls into the latter camp, as in fact I have alluded to in an earlier post after driving the 3 litre diesel version (and, incidentally, that same post features the wonderful Jaguar XE with the 3 litre supercharged petrol engine). And, by the way, the F-Pace is definitely more than comfortable enough.

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Cats don’t normally like water but this big one seemed to relish its wash. As a treat for good behaviour over the 190 mile trip, I then took it round the corner for a small saucer of milk just before delivering it to its proud new owners.

Any downside to the handsome, practical and quick supercharged F-Pace? Well, it is a little thirsty, with an official fuel consumption figure of 32mpg (compared to 47mpg for the 3 litre diesel). Ouch (well its “ouch” by European standards!). And, of course, official figures bear no relation to the real world. I managed 28mpg over my steady 190 mile motorway trip. That’s less than I have got out of V8 Bentley Continentals (30-33mpg) on similar journeys!

Finally, going back to last week’s post about Edinburgh and the train journey between Scotland’s capital and Newcastle, I saw an episode of Coastal Railways with Julie Walters during the week. And guess wot?! The wonderfully funny Miss Walters (comedian, British national treasure and Mrs Weasley from the Harry Potter films) did much the same thing. The same train journey and a little exploration of Edinburgh itself, including some fascinating revelations about a clock and a secret passage between Waverley train station and a hotel. Definitely worth a watch if you have access to Channel 4’s catch up service (All 4) on the interweb.

Colin

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WEEKLY CAR DIARY – GRAND OLD EDINBURGH & MERC GLC

Another big day out this week (Thursday):-

Monday: Range Rover Velar D240 auto, Nottingham to Wakefield, Yorkshire.

Wednesday: Range Rover Velar D240 auto, Wakefield to Nottingham; Mercedes GLC 220d AMG Line auto, Nottingham to Leicester.

Thursday: Mercedes GLC 220d AMG Line auto, Leicester to Edinburgh.

Friday: Vauxhall Vivaro van, Cannock, Staffordshire to Harrow, London; Vauxhall Vivaro van (2013), Edgeware to Camberley, Surrey.

All the way to Edinburgh on Thursday – 300 miles through darkness, dawn, snow, hail and sun, having set out at 4.30 in the morning. Driving the Mercedes GLC back to back with the Range Rover Velar the day before was interesting and showed up how refined the Velar is. And so it should be because it’s substantially bigger and more expensive. The GLC is not a small car but jumping into it after the futuristic looking but grander Velar, it seemed much more fun-sized and positively nimble feeling. The firmer ride enhanced this impression as it was flatter in the corners compared to the slightly wobblier but cosseting Velar. The next day, the GLC grew in size as I set off for Edinburgh and the memory of the Velar faded. It became a comfortable and generally quiet cruiser (no aches or pains after about five and a half hours driving) as it battled through the elements.

OK, let’s not exaggerate. There was a mini blizzard followed by hail around Alnwick in Northumberland and it became quite murky. But it wasn’t the snow Armageddon forecast by the Daily Mail (funny that). Soon I was enjoying the wild scenery of north eastern England, the North Sea coast and, at last, Scotland. After the business part of the day (car wash, deliver car, bus into the city), I had the briefest of walks through Edinburgh – the only city I know of which has a canyon running alongside its principal street (Princes Street). Well, its a very large ditch at the very least, through which the train tracks run. But don’t let that put you off! With Edinburgh’s main Waverly station at one end of the canyon/ditch, right in the heart of the city, it’s all part of Edinburgh’s character. The place has bags of atmosphere and plenty to see and do. When I walked through it on Thursday (around lunchtime), the grand old place was lively and seemed to have a distinct confidence about it.

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The sparkling Mercedes GLC safely delivered to a very grand office in the middle of a golf course on the outskirts of Edinburgh. A quick glance at Google maps (satellite view) will show you that Scotland’s capital city is surrounded by golf courses. 

We last came to Edinburgh, as proper grockles, in 2003 for a long weekend. And you really do need a long weekend to fit everything in, including (deep breath):-

Edinburgh Castle. Everything a castle should be! Dark, forbidding and occupying a commanding position, situated on a rock overlooking the city. Still very complete. I can remember the exact date we visited Edinburgh Castle. It was 24th October 2003. How do I remember that? It was the day of Concorde’s last ever commercial flight. Three Concordes flew into Heathrow Airport from three different locations, one of which was Edinburgh Airport. From the walls of Edinburgh Castle, we saw Concorde fly over the city and say its final farewell. Makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up just thinking about it. What a beautiful aircraft. A little loud maybe, but stunning.

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Edinburgh Castle

Arthur’s Seat. A very large hill barely a caber toss from the city centre. A visit to Edinburgh has to include a hike up Arthur’s Seat. Why? Because it’s there. And the views from the top are fabulous.

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So close to the city – Arthur’s Seat. Who’s Arthur? No one really knows. May be the legendary King Arthur. Or maybe not.

The Royal Mile. The historic main thoroughfare through Edinburgh’s Old Town comprising a succession of old streets, closes, nooks and crannies. Discover museums, shops, restaurants and, at festival time, loads of entertainers and buskers. The Royal Mile runs downhill from the castle to the equally historic Holyrood Palace (many things in Edinburgh are historic) and is, you will be surprised to hear, one Scots mile long. A Scots mile is the distance covered by 12,000 haggis laid end to end and is slightly longer than an English mile (12,000 Yorkshire puddings). It looks like the Royal Mile is going to survive the UK’s stay in the EU without being renamed the Royal One Point Eight Kilometres.

The Camera Obscura (literally, “the dark room”). This Victorian curiosity is actually a giant pinhole camera. You go in the turret-shaped dark room for an unusual city tour. A revolving lens at the top of the turret focuses light – and an image of city – down on to a large round white table. Your guide moves the lens around to pick out different parts of the city and, of course, it is all alive with miniature images of people, cars and buses all going about their business. On your climb up to the Camera Obscura, you pass through the World of Illusions – six floors of interactive optical exhibits to play with and learn (you’re never too young for that).

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The rather fun Camera Obscura!

Royal Yacht Britannia. Moored in the rejuvenated Leith dock area, the Royal Family’s biggest ever toy provides a fascinating tour of a real piece of recent British history. It’s opulent and homely all at the same time. Our kids (about 7 and 5 at the time) loved it too. They had their own audio guides with special kiddies’ commentary. They sought out each numbered board dotted around the boat, pressed the corresponding number on their audio gadget and listened avidly to each and every bit of commentary. At no time before or since have they ever done that at any other attraction. As adults, my wife and I had an equally enthralling commentary. Oh, how HMQ and Prince Phil must miss the old tub.

The Edinburgh Festival. If you happen to be in Edinburgh in August, lucky you! Loads of culture, opera, plays, comedy and stuff. In fact, it’s the largest arts festival in the world. My wife and I were there in about 1986 BC (Before Children) and saw two very bizarre plays in tiny venues. If you don’t want to part with any cash, there are loads of street artists who could keep you entertained all day (but I’m sure they would appreciate a few groats for their trouble).

After my all too brief visit to Scotland’s capital city, I was whisked back to Leicester by train (well, I should have been whisked but there was the inevitable delay, missed connection and more delay). However, the first leg of the journey from Edinburgh to Newcastle was a joy. The train line runs close to the coast and, compared to driving, I was better able to enjoy the scenery. As well as a lot of greenery, rolling greyery (the North Sea) and bleak whitery, I spotted several landmarks such as Berwick Upon Tweed and its bridges, Torness Nuclear Power Station, Lindisfarne (the Holy Island) and a quaint looking town lying at the mouth of a river. Thanks to the wonder that is Google maps, I was quickly able to identify this as Alnmouth. Oh, and there was loads more snow on the way home, in Northumberland, but I heard no reports of the world ending when I got home.

Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY – GAME OF URNS & BOWLED OVER BY JAG XF

Driving took a backseat this week, at least in my mind (my arms aren’t that long). Winter is coming. And this year that means one thing: the Ashes series Down Under. For the uninitiated, this is cricket. Australia versus England in the most historic and bitterly fought contest in sport. Why “the Ashes”? Because in 1882, those upstart colonials came to England and dared to beat the complacent imperial masters for the first time ever. This shocking turn of events prompted an English newspaper to publish a satirical obituary stating that English cricket had died and “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”.

The Ashes is a tempestuous rivalry to match Game of Thrones, with the likes of the cool Dawid Malannister facing the fiery Mitchell of House Starc. Ice and fire. This is a war fought with willow clubs rather steel swords, where leather-bound, rock-like projectiles are hurled at the enemy’s head at 90 miles per hour. To the victor goes the Terracotta Urn rather than the Iron Throne but they are both uncomfortable to sit on. Before play started in Brisbane, Australia (frustratingly at midnight on Wednesday UK time), I was in a state of nervous tension. Should I join the ranks of the Night’s Watch and forego sleep? No, I need my beauty sleep too much (although it doesn’t work). So, I wake up each morning actually dreading looking at the score. Hopefully, England will get away with an honourable, narrow defeat over the five test match series (each match lasting five days) rather than complete humiliation. But sometimes, in the odd foolhardy moment, I dare to dream of a well earned series draw or, heaven forbid, a win. Dream on. Anyway, despite the sporting distraction, I did drive some cars this week:-

Monday: Volkswagen Up! Move Up! (60hp), Northampton to Spalding, Lincolnshire
Tuesday: BMW X4 Xdrive3.0d M Sport auto, Leicester to Coventry
Wednesday: Jaguar XF R Sport 2.0d auto (180hp), Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire to Manchester; Range Rover Evoque SE Tech TD4 auto (180hp), Manchester to Melton Mowbray.
Friday: Nissan Juke Envy 1.2 DIG-T, Leicester to Uxbridge, Middlesex; Nissan X-Trail (hire car), Uxbridge to Leicester.
At last! I got to drive a current model Jaguar XF and it was as good as I had hoped it would be. Just like a larger version of the nimble XE but more space, more refinement and more comfort. To drive, it didn’t feel like a big car and seemed just as twinkled-toed as the XE. The 180hp diesel engine is fairly low down in XF pecking order but I wouldn’t argue if someone were to give me one of these! Not least because I got 60 miles to the gallon out of it over the 120 miles between Melton Mowbray and Manchester. Plus I’m sure most people would find it perfectly quick enough and, under acceleration, I actually think it sounds pretty good for a diesel. Almost sporty. I have thought the same when driving XEs with the same motor but not the various Land Rover products that also use the same powerplant (like the Evoque I drove back to Melton Mowbray after delivering the Jag). So Jaguar must sprinkle sporty dust on the engines they use, or something like that.
However, there were a couple of niggles. Firstly, on occasions there was a lot of wind noise from the driver’s door mirror. It was an extremely windy day though, so I would like to drive other examples to see if this was a one off (the XF I drove wasn’t brand new, it was a few months old). Also, I drove the R Sport version or, if you like, the boy racer version with red leather inserts on the seats and doors. Hmm. A question of taste. Very few modern Jaguars have the full wood and leather treatment to make them feel truly special, as they did in days of yore. And yet, although smart, the interiors do look a touch dated. Still, I would happily have an XF if the bank balance permitted. For the time being I will have to make do with the Jaguar tea bags we have in the kitchen cupboard. Actually, they are Tetley (and its redbush/rooibos not tea) but Jaguar Land Rover and Tetley are all part of the same group, being owned Tata of India. So, I have racy rooibos bags.

WEEKLY CAR DIARY – BARGAIN INSIGNIA & KNOLE PARK, SEVENOAKS

Bit late with this week’s diary because we have been to visit family in Sevenoaks in Kent, a county in the south east of England known as the Garden of England. Fittingly, we had far too much good food. Fantastic. An early morning Sunday walk through Knole Park made us feel good about ourselves – and also made room for a delicious lunch. Knole Park surrounds Knole House, one of the largest stately homes in England. The building of this impressive pile was kicked off by an Archbishop of Canterbury in 1456 and bits and pieces were added over the centuries. Knole is Kent’s last remaining medieval deer park, so if you want to know what medieval deer look like, see the pics. The park was beautiful in the watery winter sun and the deer were out in force. The whole place is owned by the National Trust but you can enjoy the parkland for free. We didn’t have time to go around the house but I am told that you can only access a limited part of it. That includes the impressive Gatehouse Tower from which you get spectacular panoramic views. We actually missed a trick there because climbing the steep spiral staircase to the top of the tower would have made even more room for dessert at lunchtime (although to be fair, the three helpings I had were probably sufficient).

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Knole House with the Gateway Tower in the centre. And below green parkland, blue sky, rusty trees and lots of deer.

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Car-wise, this past week was not quite as interesting as the previous week but that’s not to say the Audi A3 and the Mercedes C-class are not fine cars. In fact, I particularly liked the Audi, as good to drive as the Audi A1 but a bit bigger:-

Monday: Audi A3 S Line 1.5TFSI (150hp), Leicester to Kibworth Harcourt, Leicestershire

Wednesday: Seat Ibiza 1.4 (2006) chase car, Leicester to Bicester, Oxfordshire

Friday: Mercedes C220D AMG Line auto, Nottingham to Bournemouth

I’m actually going to jump back to the previous week because I am keen to tell you about a new budget car brand I have discovered: Vauxhall (or Opel if you live outside the UK). I hadn’t realised what good value they are. I knew the latest Astra was a good car but en route from Southampton to Old Sarum, I discovered that the new Insignia Grand Sport is a decent car too. Wider and lower than the old Insignia and very handsome with it, the new model (sporting a grand title to distinguish it from its predecessor) is also lighter and cheaper. Solid feeling, quiet and relaxing to drive with a modern interior that could hold its own against most of the obvious opposition, it’s a traditional, full-size family car (which may be a drawback because everyone wants SUVs or smaller cars with premium badges these days).

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The handsome Insignia Grand Sport safely delivered to Old Sarum, virtually in the shadow of the Iron Age hill fort described in my last post.

But if you have a family to transport and don’t care two hoots about fashion accessories or badges, an Insignia Grand Sport could be yours for just £17635. That’ll come with plenty of kit and what looks like a perky a 1.5 turbo petrol engine with 140 horses. In the UK, you’ll pay £1.8k more for a Mondeo and £4k more for the Optima from budget stalwart, Kia! And bizarrely, you will pay £2.5k more for the cheapest and smaller Ford Focus (yes, really – the cheapest Focus in the UK is £20135 which is more than the entry-level version of its big brother, the Mondeo).

I delivered a 110hp 1.6 diesel Insignia Grand Sport to Old Sarum and it did the job just fine. Funnily enough, at 70mph on the motorway it was just as fast as a Lamborghini Aventador doing 70mph. So, if you want a version of the new Insignia that does 70 miles to the gallon, you will have to part with £19,075 but that’s still less than the cheapest Mondeo which is petrol powered (one of those little one litre wonders but may be a bit out of its depth in a Mondeo??).

And finally, to confirm Vauxhall’s budget credentials, there’s a huge £3.6k difference between the cheapest Vauxhall/Opel Astra and the basement Ford Focus in the UK.

Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY – THE G-MONSTER! MERCEDES-AMG G63

The weekend is off to a good start. I have just returned from the dentist having had a wisdom tooth removed and I’m not allowed any hot food or drink for the rest of the day. That’s the second tooth I have lost this year. A few months ago, I finally lost my last baby tooth. Yes, really. I’m 53. I got my money’s worth there. I asked the dentist if I could keep the wisdom tooth but no, that’s not allowed these days. Health and safety (surprise!), infection control, bla bla. Now that has blown my brilliant plan for my wife’s Christmas present. I was thinking of making her a bracelet. So annoying. Exactly how would I infect the masses with an old tooth?? Wave it around on a crowded bus? And what would I infect them with? Foot and mouth disease? Anyway, here are the cars and vans I have driven this week:-

Monday: Volkswagen Touareg R Line Plus (262hp) auto, Nottingham to Orpington, Kent

Tuesday: two Ford Transit Customs (one a rare automatic), Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, Staffordshire to Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire

Wednesday: Vauxhall (Opel) Insignia Grand Sport SRi 1.6 Turbo D (110hp)  Ecotec, Southampton to Old Sarum, Salisbury; Nissan X-Trail Tekna 1.6 DCI (130hp) hire car, Salisbury to the Aston Martin factory, Gaydon, Warwickshire, then to Bicester, Oxfordshire back to Gaydon, then Gaydon to Leicester. Phew.

Friday: Mercedes-AMG G63 (G-Wagen), Oakham, Rutland to Nottingham and back.

So much I could write about! Like Wednesday’s epic adventure which included a delivery to Old Sarum with its iron age hillfort and The Curious Incident of the Aston Martin in the Night-time. Maybe something about that another day because the clear highlight of an interesting week was the Mercedes G-Wagen …..

And what a great little jaunt that was! Perfect for the last day of the week. A short hop on the train from Leicester to Oakham in the dinky little county of Rutland where the G-Wagen was waiting to be taken to the Mercedes dealer in Nottingham. There I was to wait while it had a new bobblecog and thingummy fitted and then take it back to Oakham – a round trip of 60 miles. Unless I’m overdue a trip to SpecSavers, the G-Wagen is a very rare sight on British roads. It’s Mercedes’s answer to the Land Rover Defender and was conceived with military use very much in mind. Indeed, as I approached the G-Wagen from a distance, I did wonder whether it was a relic from the Rutland War of Independence (you can read an in-depth account of this little known conflict by clicking right here). A closer inspection enhanced this impression because a heavy duty dog guard separated the boot space from the passenger compartment. Clearly to keep gnashing German Shepherds in check when they weren’t on duty patrolling the Rutland – Leicestershire border. Actually, it turned out that this G-Wagen was only made in 2016 (by hand in Austria, where all G-Wagens are made), long after Rutland regained its independence.

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The Mercedes-AMG G63. Spot the curves. Yes, yes, I know – the wheels and headlights are round…. Notice the exhaust tail pipes peeping out at the side. Or should that be side pipes? These were matched by a pair on the other flank.
To call the G-Wagen’s looks “utilitarian” is an understatement. They are based loosely on a shipping container but with flat panels rather than corrugated. Like shipping containers, they are built to last. The basic exterior (designed using a ruler and nothing else) has hardly changed since it was first introduced. I was actually surprised to discover that it first hit the roads (and battlefields) as late as 1979. Take the Mercedes badges off, paint it green and it could almost pass as a Soviet military vehicle from the fifties or sixties.

Now this G-Wagen was no ordinary G-Wagen (if there is such a thing as an ordinary G-Wagen). Instead of the usual diesel power, this AMG version had a 5.5 litre, 571hp, petrol gulping V8 lump capable of hurling the brute from 0-62 mph (100kph) in 5.4 seconds. Not sure I would like to try that.

Once settled in the cockpit, it was obvious that Mercedes has attempted to give this no nonsense, rufty-tufty off-roader a luxury makeover (well, you would expect that for the £136,000 asking price, wouldn’t you?). However, despite all the usual modern gadgetry and swathes of leather covering the seats, doors and slab-like dashboard, it still felt old-fashioned and, er, utilitarian! The big grab handle above the glove box and conventional handbrake added to this feel. And the upright, flat windscreen which didn’t seem that far away from my nose. And looking out over the angular bonnet. And the narrow, slightly cramped nature of the cabin. Actually, it was all quite exciting. Not sure why. I guess it reminded a bit me of the Reynolds-Boughton RB-44 (the wot??) I drove back in February which was such great fun.

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A Room with a View. And look at those indicator lenses. Good example of recycling – they used to contain Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Coleslaw. Mercedes just wash them, turn them upside down and voilà!
Starting the V8 wasn’t quite as dramatic as starting an overtly sporting V8 such as a Bentley Continental but it did give enough of a roar to give away the fact that this was not an everyday car. So what was it like to drive? Different. A firm ride, not soft and wobbly like a Range Rover. A bit bumpy at times. Virtually no noise from the engine unless accelerating. Relatively little wind noise despite the shipping container aerodynamics. No boy racer histrionics when lifting your foot off the throttle or changing down manually. But, a lovely low, V8 burble, rumble and grumble when you did accelerate. In fact, with the V8 doing its thing, this black beast felt more like an extra from Mad Max than a prop from a Cold War thriller. And it all felt very quirky. Mainly because of the steering.  It was surprisingly heavy and it soon became clear that it was low geared as well. More turn on the wheel was required compared to “normal” cars to get it round corners. Add to this a bit of body roll and I sensed that hustling the G-Wagen quickly into a corner might induce a sudden bout of Durchfall (look that one up; it translates literally as “through​ fall” – wonderfully descriptive). Being a coward (and also being responsible, even if having a baby tooth until the age of 53 might indicate a degree of immaturity), it was steady as she goes on the fairly bendy and up and down country roads between Oakham and Nottingham. I still loved driving the G-Wagen though and I did listen to the V8 occasionally on the straight bits. And because I enjoyed driving the G-Monster so much, I will describe the odd steering as having “character” which basically the whole overgrown Tonka toy had in spades.

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Not what you would call a looker is it? But lots of character. At Mercedes Nottingham about to have a bandanbladderstiddle transplant.

I’m off to have an ice cream sandwich for my lunch now.

Colin

 

WEEKLY CAR DIARY – LANCASHIRE LARKS & VOLVO XC60

I had two trips to the county of Lancashire this week, including a visit to Wallace and Gromit’s home town of Wigan. Apparently, they live at 62 West Wallaby Street but  strangely, I couldn’t find it on any map:-

Monday: Nissan Juke 1.2 DIG-T Envy, Leicester to Wigan, Lancashire

Tuesday: two Ford Transit Customs, Doncaster to Nottingham

Wednesday: Audi A1 Sport 1.4TFSI, Syston, Leicestershire to Grantham, Lincolnshire; Bentley Continental GTC Speed W12 (2015), Grantham to Syston; Volvo XC60 D5 Power Pulse R-Design Pro AWD (auto) in and around Leicestershire; Bentley Continental GT W12 (2008), Syston to Rugby, Warwickshire, Peugeot 2008 Active 1.2T (82hp), Rugby to Birmingham to Syston.

Friday: Range Rover Velar D180 S, Derby to Colne, Lancashire

From what I saw of Lancashire, it certainly lived up to an image. Victorian towns built in a uniform, yellowy grey stone, hidden amongst the hills of an imposingly bleak countryside, made bleaker on Friday’s visit when grey clouds crept ever lower and blew drizzle across the landscape. Remnants of those dark Satanic Mills from the days of the Industrial Revolution can still be seen, some starkly empty and haunting, others put to more modern uses. When the trains eventually arrived, the trip from the small town of Colne in the Red Rose county of Lancashire across the Pennines to the White Rose county of Yorkshire was fascinating. The vista alternated between the grand but often grim Victorian industrial architecture and nature’s daunting best.

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The natural Lancashire landscape. The Forest of Bowland, in fact.
So, from the perspective of an ignorant non-Lancastrian, what characterises Lancashire which, historically, included the great cities of Manchester and Liverpool until 1974? I have done a little research:-

– Industrial Heritage. Although most of the county is rural, Lancashire was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. Liverpool and Manchester grew and dominated world trade. Many folk swapped a hard life in the fields for what was arguably a harder life in the cotton mills that sprang up in many Lancashire towns such as Accrington, Burnley, Blackburn, Bolton and Colne (there are places in Lancashire beginning with letters from further on in the alphabet by the way). By 1830, 85% of all cotton manufactured worldwide was processed in Lancashire. If you are interested, The Road To Nab End, an autobiographical book by William Woodruff, is a very readable and vivid insight into the grinding hardship and miserable poverty endured by those living in the Lancashire mill towns as late as the 1920s. Lancashire also boasted one of the country’s most important coalfields, Britain’s first proper canal (the Bridgewater Canal) and the world’s first properly signalled and timetabled inter-city railway. This line between Liverpool and Manchester was opened in 1830.

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Burnley’s industrial landscape of yesteryear.
– Rivalry.  With neighbouring Yorkshire that is. This reached its bloodiest peak during the War of the Roses when the House of Lancaster and the House of York were constantly at each other’s throats. Think Game of Thrones, subtract a witty dwarf, a Wildling or two and a bit of incest and you get the picture. This bit of medieval fisticuffs lasted about 30 years and culminated in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 when Lancastrian Henry Tudor won the game (and the throne) after the infamous Yorkist king, Richard III was stuck with a few pointy ends. He lost his horse and his life. In more modern times, battlefields became cricket pitches and Yorkshire tends to get the better of things (33 County Championship titles to date versus Lancashire’s 9).

– Comedians. Has any other county in the UK produced so many top class comedians? Stan Laurel, Eric Sykes, Arthur Askey, Ken Dodd, Eric Morecambe, Les Dawson, Peter Kay and Lee Mack to name but a few. I guess there is a joke in there somewhere about needing a sense of humour to live in Lancashire. And no, I haven’t forgotten the utterly brilliant Victoria Wood who is now, sadly, beating angels on the bottom with a Woman’s Weekly.

– Food. Lancashire hotpot (lamb stew with a crispy, sliced potato lid), Lancashire cheese (a white, creamy cheese which comes in hard or crumbly varieties), black pudding (a blood sausage), Eccles cakes and the similar Chorley cakes (both flattish sweet pastries filled with raisins and/or sultanas). All good hearty, no nonsense stuff.

– Sport. A hot bed of Rugby League (13 rather than 15 men running around with odd shaped balls); many old and famous footballs clubs, several in the Premier League (Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Everton, Burnley) and others dreaming of past glories (e.g. Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End). And cricket, with Lancashire County Cricket Club having been founded in 1864 and managing to finish as runners-up in this year’s County Championship. England’s best ever Test bowler hails from Lancashire – the Burnley Express a.k.a. James Anderson. Jimmy is generally more reliable than the trains in Lancashire. Hopefully, he can work his magic this winter in Australia and help England retain the Ashes (but I must confess, I’m not optimistic!).

– Countryside. I suspect Lancastrians would say that Lancashire has it all (except the weather to go with it): rambling countryside, hills, deep valleys and challenging moorland some of which is covered by two officially designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Forest of Bowland and Arnside & Silverdale. And there’s coastline too, including that most famous of old seaside resorts, Blackpool.

And what of the cars? I had not driven the new Volvo XC60 before Tuesday. The old one was a worthy car but a tincy bit unrefined. So the new one has that sorted, right? Well, I’m not sure. It was unmistakably a diesel and road noise was more noticeable than I expected. The much cheaper VW Tiguan is quieter. However, the Volvo definitely feels more upmarket and is something a little bit different. I quite liked it. And it has the best 360 degree camera I have come across so far (i.e. where the touchscreen gives you a shot as if you are actually looking down on the car). How do they do that? I even stuck my head out of the window to see if there was a camera drone hovering above the car. To see what I think of the other cars (and van), click on the links in the list above. The Juke was still bumpy but I liked the 1.2 turbo petrol engine. The Peugeot 2008 was still horrible.

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Volvo XC60. Smart.
By the way, as well as being grey, damp and cold, Friday was also one of my worst days travel-wise. En route to Colne, the M6 was closed which resulted in a lengthy detour and over an hour’s delay in delivering the Velar. Plan A for my return trip was scuppered by a bus which didn’t turn up – another hour’s delay. Then a train cancellation caused yet another sixty minute delay and all five trains needed to get home ran late. But at the end of the day, many people in this world have far bigger problems than coming home to a congealed curry. So, am I bovvered? No, I count myself very lucky.

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Friday evening. After six hours and five trains, I began to hallucinate. On the last train, I thought I was sitting behind Martin Clunes doing an impersonation of Vincent Van Gogh.
Colin