WEEKLY CAR DIARY – VANTAGE vs VANQUISH, S-CLASS vs RANGE ROVER

Dashing this quick post off on my phone at Sheffield train station ‘cos we are going away for a long weekend. Obviously all of the best drivers must have been unavailable this week (I know one of them had to take his guide dog to the vets), so happily I was landed with this lot:

Monday: Aston Martin V8 Vantage S automatic, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire to Nottingham

Tuesday: Mercedes S500e plug-in petrol-electric hybrid, Leicester to Hinckley, Leicestershire

Wednesday: Aston Martin Vanquish S Volante, Gaydon, Warwickshire to Williams F1, Grove, Oxfordshire

Thursday: Range Rover Vogue SE TDV6, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire to Sheffield

My working week in numbers: 4 cars, a total of 1,725 horses, 2,370 Nm of torque and list price of about £490,000 (no doubt some of the cars had extras on top of that so quite probably over the half a million mark).

My working week in words:

Aston Martin V8 Vantage S. It’s not all glamour – pouring with rain, rush hour, short trip (15 miles), about half of it in slow traffic. Still an occasion though. In fact, just starting an Aston Martin is something to be relished –  see my post about my day working at the Aston Martin dealer in Derby (which has now closed down – hopefully nothing to do with me). Sluggish gear change in either auto or manual mode just like the V12 Vantage auto (again see earlier post – I politely described it as “slightly hesitant”) but learnt it is much better driving in manual mode and lifting off the throttle with each change up, just as if driving a proper manual with a clutchy pedal thing. As hard and bumpy as the V12 version​. Probably no surprise but who cares – sounds as wonderful as the V12 and this one had brilliant interior. Ultra smart, tasteful black leather dash, bit of blue stitching for that sporty touch. Something to admire sitting in a traffic jam.

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The V8 Vantage waiting to be woken up and taken out into the rain. Small and perfectly formed. Gorgeous.
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After their morning shower. Three of us took these cars to Aston Martin Nottingham – a Rapide S and DB11 alongside the dinkier Vantage. We even managed to park them neatly.

By the way, I never did marry Philomena Wingnut after my day in Derby. We agreed that her giving me a scandalous number of loyalty points wasn’t actually much of a scandal – plus my wife wouldn’t let me.

Vanquish S Volante. Compared to the Vantage, a positively sumptuous ride (everything’s relative!!). Glorious V12 – goes without saying but I just did. Felt very grippy, nice weighty steering. Engine hushes up when cruising but significant road noise and bit of flutter from the soft top. Much better automatic gearbox – quick changes with the flappy paddles when in manual mode. Dash layout and controls virtually same as all current and recent Astons (DB11 excepted, I think but still to find out!) so no familiarisation needed. This one had all cream interior. I like cream leather seats in a car, not so keen on the whole dashboard. Not complaining though!

Disappointingly little to see at the Williams F1 headquarters where three of us delivered the Vanquish and two DB11s. I went into reception, mainly to use the facilities but also in the hope that there would be a few exhibits – like a couple of old F1 cars or Alan Jones’s lucky underpants (Australian Jones won the 1980 F1 championship in a Williams and his lucky red underwear). Instead, there was a Brompton folding bike and a futuristic, plastic electric vehicle. Might have been the reception for the on-site conference centre rather than the actual team.

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The Beast: Vanquish S Volante waiting to leave Gaydon with one of the DB11s behind.
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… and the other DB11 up ahead of the Vanquish.

Vantage versus Vanquish? If I could choose, I would love to have a longer run in the seven speed (proper) manual V12 Vantage that I drove back in May.

Mercedes S500e. Have read a few times that the S-Class is the best car in the world (may have been Mercedes saying that though). Is it? Can’t tell you because a) I haven’t driven every other car in the world and b) more specifically, I haven’t driven the new Ford Fiesta (and no, that wasn’t an attempt at humour or sarcasm). However – shock, horror – I was disappointed with the S-Class. Maybe I had read too much about it beforehand. It didn’t have a 100% silky magic carpet ride (little bit jittery in the M69) nor was I able to listen to the clock in monastic silence. Obviously, it was still very quiet and comfortable but I was expecting something supernatural. Also, it was a little bit jerky driving through town, partly the petrol engine kicking in to help the electric motor and partly the gear change. Apart from that, quality was impeccable and rear passengers would love the reclining seats and oodles of legroom in this long wheel base leviathan. It did feel a bit Percy though. Soulless (hope you read my last, very silly post).

Range Rover. A more cosseting ride in my view than the S-Class although the Range Rover does wobble and wallow a bit when going over crests and bumps. But so, so smooth going up through the gears I didn’t notice it. Also, despite being a diesel, it was commendably quiet. The S-Class was probably quieter but the Range Rover was more than quiet enough. The Range Rover does have a bit of character about it plus you and your passengers have that commanding view but things will be a little cramped for your rear guests compared to the Mercedes.

Mercedes S500e versus Range Rover Vogue SE TDV6? If I was forced to have one of these luxury barges, then I would have to choose the Range Rover, especially for munching motorway miles. Would have to put up with some wobblyness if driving down country roads – I’m sure the S-Class would make a better job of that.

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The long ….
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… and the tall. Tuesday’s Merc S-Class and Thursday’s Range Rover

Footnote: I have delivered four of the smaller Range Rover Velars (all two litre diesels) in recent weeks, all a similar distance on motorway standard roads, including one from Peterborough to Sheffield. They managed 34-36 miles per gallon which I thought was a bit poor. Driving from Peterborough to Sheffield again, cruising at the same 70mph, the three litre big daddy Range Rover did 37mpg. Interesting … or maybe not. Sorry. Anoraky.

Not quite a quick post, was it? That’s a lot of typing on a little phone. But I did finish it before the train got back to Leicester.

Colin

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FORZA FERRARI! AL PALAZZO DI BLENHEIM

Ferraris galore and so, soooo much more!! Kid. Sweet shop. Excitement. Contain. Can’t!!!!! We went to the magnificent Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire last Saturday, a place we had been meaning to visit for some time. By very happy and sheer coincidence, there was a major car event on in the Palace grounds. The Salon Privé is the UK’s longest-running, professionally-judged Concours event and is graced by every manner of supercar, hypercar, classic supercar, hyper-supercar, super classic-hypercar….. there’s a lot of expensive and exotic cars there. The Salon was held over three days and on Saturday when we visited Blenheim, the day was given over to a celebration of 70 years of Ferrari. However, I didn’t get too excited beforehand because I knew it cost £150 to get in (and I’m guessing you had to book in advance anyway) but I hoped to at least glimpse a few interesting cars. Well, I wasn’t disappointed. As a member of the great unwashed, the tented citadel where the main event took place was out of bounds but there was still plenty to see.

I’ll shut up now and just let you feast your mince pies on the photos (I might do a separate post on the Palace itself one day!)…………

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Sigh. Drop dead gorgeous Ferrari 250GT SWB. One of these sold at auction for £8m a couple of years ago. I’ll have two please. Apparently the last genuine road car built by Ferrari that could be raced successfully with little or no modification, 250GT SWBs took the top four places at Le Mans in 1960. Stirling Moss won the 1960 RAC Tourist Trophy at Goodwood in a 250GT SWB while listening to songs and commentary of the race on the car radio. He probably had a tin of boiled sweets in the glove box as well.
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1974 Ferrari Dino 246 GT. Knees have gone weak. I love the diminutive Dino. Keith Richards used to have a silver-grey one. I don’t think it’s too controversial to suggest that, in the youthful good looks department, the Dino has fared rather better than the veteran Stones guitarist.
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1967 Ferrari 330
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1956 Ferrari 500 Testa Rossa displaying its prize!
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The Forbidden Palace … unless you had £150 to spare. Actually, it didn’t seem bad value for a very special day out – Champagne reception, luncheon (a simple “lunch” wouldn’t do) and full-blown afternoon tea. Plus all those beautiful cars to drool Champagne over. We were able to get up close and personal with that supercar guard of honour on the left and there was another public area crammed with the old and/or expensive. As you can see, some of the blazered and brogued arrived by helicopter.
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A Spyker! A C8 in fact. Never seen one in the flesh before. Ugly mutt but unusual and eye-catching. Front end looked a bit like a gasping fish.
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Let’s get back to the beauty pageant. A 1951 Jaguar XK120. The world’s most beautiful cars are either British or Italian.
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Another Ferrari 500 – this time a 1957 TRC. Can’t have too much of a good thing.
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Probably not many places in the world where you could see a Pagani Zonda parked next to a 1931 3.5 litre blower Bentley.
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Quite an early Austin Healey judging by the shape of the grill. Absolutely gorgeous.
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The walk of supercar fame. There was a Koenigsegg Agera in there somewhere, a couple of Ferrari F40s, a Bugatti Veyron and a …… yes and one of those, and, …. and …. There was even a tennis player scratching her bare bottom – sorry, wrong poster – it was a Countach (there were only two posters on sale in the UK in the late 1970s and 1980s – one of a cheeky tennis player and the other of the Lamborghini Countach).
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More best of British – an Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Coupé of which only 99 will be made. There will be equally limited numbers of a Vanquish Zagato Volante and a Speedster plus just 28 examples of a Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake. UK readers will know that the “67” in the registration number means that this car could only have been registered the day before (1st September) at the earliest. Probably still has that new car smell.
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1972 Ferrari Daytona Spyder
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Sums up the day – palace, helicopter, supercar. This Raging Bull could probably outrun the helicopter by about 50mph.

I’m just off to have a lie down.

Colin

 

 

 

POTTERING TO LE MANS AND BACK

I had no time to do a mid-week post this week because I was packed off on my longest driving job yet. Aston Martin needed some specialist equipment taking to Le Mans for the famous 24 hour race this weekend so, on Tuesday I picked up a hire van and trundled over to the Aston Martin factory in Gaydon, Warwickshire.
Upon arriving at Aston Martin’s VIP Reception (where else?), I had to sign a secrecy agreement at security before being allowed into Fortress Aston Martin. So, what was this specialist equipment that warranted such measures? I probably shouldn’t say, but here goes ….. parasols, chairs, bedding, tableware (mostly IKEA – aargh!), candles, framed photos, a gazebo and a portable bar!! Crucial to the team’s efforts at the forthcoming endurance race. Aston Martin rent a gîte near the famous Circuit de la Sarthe every year in order to entertain guests. I have good reason to believe that these guests may have included a well-known celebrity baker (and part-time racing driver who has competed at Le Mans in an Aston Martin in the past).
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Having loaded up this vital gear on to the van, I set off on my epic journey. Fortunately, the van (a very long Peugeot Boxer) had air conditioning, sat nav, cruise control and an adjustable lumber support. What could be better for a long journey?
By coincidence, I had some appropriate reading material for the trip because I’m part way through Harry Potter et l’Ordre du Phénix. I’m sure even non-linguists can work out what that is in English. A few months ago, I set myself the challenge of re-reading the Harry Potter books in French – I’m on the fifth book and thoroughly enjoying it. It does help that I have read them all in English and seen the films (albeit a long time ago)! The odd thing with the French versions is that some of the names have been changed. For instance, Hogwarts is “Poudlard”, Muggles are “Moldus” and the tragic Professor Snape has been renamed “Professeur Rogue”. I have learnt some new vocabulary which I am sure will come in useful on a trip to France one day (but not this week). So, for example, should I ever see un loup-garou (werewolf) and une licorne (unicorn) racing each other down the autoroute on their Nimbus 2000s, I will be able to report it to the local gendarmes with confidence that they will understand. Amusingly (to me anyway), the French for magic wand is “la baguette magique”. Now this just conjures(!) up an image, doesn’t it? Harry, Ron and Hermione doing battle with Lord Voldemort brandishing French loaves of bread, the intrepid young wizards trying to turn He Who Must Not Be Named into French toast and vice-versa. Out of interest, I looked up the Italian and German for magic wand: la ciabatta magica and der magische Pumpernickel.
HP & Goblet of Fire poster
Looks like Harry and friends have swapped baguettes for breadsticks. Probably about to try the taramasalata spell.
Enchanted with the idea that French bread has magical properties, I thought about going into a boulangerie and buying my own magic baguette. Then if the van broke down, a quick REPARO! would solve that problem. If I encountered any officious gendarmes or customs officers, they could be transfigured into frogs (what else?!). And best of all: middle lane hoggers – EXPULSO! and they would be blown out of the way. In the end I decided not to because I wasn’t sure if I could claim for a magic baguette on my expenses.
Talking off middle lane hoggers…. there weren’t any! Mainly because most French motorways don’t have a middle lane (what an obvious solution). They are however a delight to drive on. I left Calais early on Wednesday morning after a night in a hotel and absolutely breezed down to Le Mans without any traffic problems whatsoever – about 280 miles with a couple of short stops. There was hardly any traffic on the autoroutes and they have decent, smooth surfaces – not like some of our lumpy, bumpy, noisy concrete excuses in the U.K. But all this does come at a price. In tolls, it cost me EUR 58 each way between Calais and Le Mans.
Apart from a drive through Rouen, it was autoroute all the way to Le Mans. And unlike UK motorways where you often have an enclosed feeling, driving between two embankments, French autoroutes generally have a more open aspect allowing you sweeping views across the landscape. Another feature of the autoroutes which I like are the frequent large brown signs depicting features of the town or area that you are passing. Add to all this, two or three spectacular viaducts and all in all it was pretty good as motorway journeys go.
I arrived in the Le Mans area at about 12.30. I had been told by the good folk at Aston Martin (who were arriving later by plane and hire car) that the gîte they had rented was hard to find because it had no sign outside with its name. So I didn’t bother looking for it and just phoned Monsieur Le Owner who kindly said he would come and find me. I then followed him back to his gîte to see a large, clear sign at the entrance with the name on! It would have been dead easy to find had I just carried on up the road for half a mile or so. Monsieur le Owner must have thought I was un vrai imbécile (he may be right).
After unloading, I turned round and went straight back to Calais. No messing around, sight seeing or legendary three hour French lunch break. I was booked on a Eurotunnel train early the next morning, so it was easier to spend Wednesday night in Calais again and I arrived back there at about 8pm.
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Just leaving the gîte after unloading. The van felt like home for three days.
Throughout the journey the big Peugeot van performed superbly. It was relaxing and comfortable to drive, reinforcing my opinion that most modern vans, thanks to their seating position, are more comfortable than ANY car I have driven over long distances. Maybe I’m just a funny shape?! There may have been quicker ways to travel but by all accounts Floo Powder is very stressful. And judging by the spectacular amount of insects on the van’s windscreen, Heaven knows what state my glasses and teeth would have been in had I gone by broomstick (extra protein intake though!). Plus you couldn’t carry many parasols on a broomstick.
Next morning it was back to Blighty and the M20: noisy, bumpy concrete and three lanes full of traffic. Seemingly within minutes, I came across a major traffic jam between junctions 7 and 2 and had to cut across to the M2. Welcome home!

And guess what? I’m setting off tomorrow to do it all again!

Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY & ASTON MARTINS GALORE!!

If variety is the spice of life, this week was a vindaloo:-

Monday: Ford Transit Connect, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire to Leeds. Ford Fiesta 1.0 turbo Zetec, Manchester to Leicester.

Tuesday: Ford Fiesta 1.0 Turbo Zetec, Leicester to Brentford, Middlesex; Kia Cee’d 1.6 diesel, London to Leicester

Wednesday: Aston Martins galore – Rapide S (2014), Vantage S manual (2016), Vantage S auto (2014), DB7 Vantage (2003), DB9 (2014), DBS (2012), all for about 8 miles each! Second Rapide S (2014) Derby to Scunthorpe; Mercedes C220d, Scunthorpe to Derby.

Friday: Ford Focus Titanium 2.0TDCi, Thurleigh Airfield, Bedfordshire to London SE1.

Monday saw Episode IV in the Rebel Alliance’s mission to supply X-wings to satellite station Sky. Or was it Episode I?? Like George Lucas, my episodes count can’t I.

Wednesday saw something a little out of the ordinary. Seven Aston Martins in one day – all 5.9 litre V12s. I was just told to turn up at Aston Martin Derby who needed a driver for the day. Most of the time was spent taking some of their used stock for a run down the A52 dual carriageway to give each one a drink of their favourite super unleaded. The grimmest of tasks, I know and the weather was miserable too – all warm and sunny.

I got to know the lady in the petrol station quite well. Her name is Philomena Wingnut, she lives on a canal boat called the Mary Rows (it has no engine) and she has a life-sized tattoo of Richard Hammond down her left thigh (apparently). People began to notice our frequent meetings and all those loyalty points she was giving me so to stop tongues wagging we are having to get married next week but don’t tell the wife. Anyway, before 1pm I had driven five different models of Aston Martin. Shame there was no Vanquish or DB11, but let’s not get greedy, eh? Here are some brief thoughts on each based on an 8 mile drive, except the second Rapide in which I drove about 70 miles to somewhere near Scunthorpe:-

Rapide S – a five door family hatchback. Starting up all these V12 Astons was an occasion in itself. Pushing the button instigates lots of dramatic whirring noises followed by a loud bark. The Rapides were no different and on the move, they would growl even under mild acceleration. When cruising you can always hear a muted engine note just to remind you that there’s a 5.9 litre V12 lurking under the bonnet but it is perfectly civilised. The one I took to somewhere near Scunthorpe was quite comfortable but had an annoying rattle coming from the back. The source was nothing to do with the car, it was a very rattly child seat. Told you – this really is a five door family hatchback (albeit with a luxury leather-clad interior).

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Rapide S. Most of the cars were untaxed so I had to stick trade plates on – with hi-tech gaffer tape!
Vantage S Manual.  You could tell straightaway that this is an absolute little hooligan of a car. Growling, howling and snarling loudly the whole time. If it had nostrils, fire and smoke would be blowing out of them. Obviously very quick off the mark – really exhilarating and I didn’t go over 70mph (truly). You sit a bit lower and the suspension is noticeably harder than on the other Astons so 70mph feels much faster than say, in the Rapide. This was the only manual I drove, a seven speed box with dog leg first (just like a Reynolds Boughton RB44 but there the similarity ends!!). The shift was quite stiff and the clutch heavy so an interesting challenge.

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Vantage S manual with its aggressive snout. Or slightly creepy face? you decide.
Vantage S Automatic. As above but with a slightly hesitant self-shifter. This one had a fetching red stripe down the black centre console. Added to the drama.

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Vantage S auto waiting for petrol pump to become free and to see Philomena Wingnut for the nth time.
DB9. Somewhere between the Rapide and Vantage S in manners and probably the most beautiful. Good combination of brute force with some civility if you want it.

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The DB9. Stunning.
DBS. To be honest, on such a short drive I couldn’t tell the difference between this and the DB9. Even the interiors looked the same. Hang on, yes I could. One was metallic bluey silver (“Skyfall” – what else?) and one was black (probably “Taxi de Londres” or something).

DB7 Vantage. About 14 years old and looked a bit antique inside. Lots of wood to go with the leather and smelled liked a classic car. For some reason I was surprised when it made a proper and youthful sound on start up. Still went well too.

Lots of Astons
Vantage S manual again and the DB7 Vantage in green
The pick of the bunch? For me, the manual Vantage S. Enjoyed not just the outrageous sound track but also the challenge of mastering that slightly awkward clutch and gearbox and driving it smoothly. Might be a bit wearing on a long journey though!

I have driven a couple of Aston Martins before. Last year I drove a DB9 round a track in absolutely torrential rain. Surprised at how fast the instructor got me to go in those conditions. If I had been on my own I would have tiptoed round. All credit to him.
About thirteen years ago I had a day driving classic cars. Eight cars in total from the Classic Car Club in Birmingham (don’t think it exists anymore) to the Cotswolds. The eight cars included the recently restored beauty below. Slightly disappointing to drive mind you. Took a while to gather its skirts when accelerating and cornered like a battleship.

Classic Aston

All in all Wednesday was an unusual and interesting day. Had ostrich for my evening meal when I eventually got home (but not ostrich vindaloo). Don’t know why I mentioned that. Probably because it was unusual and interesting (and delicious).

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Another Aston. Oops, no – its Friday’s Ford Focus. Silly me. But it’s an Aston sort of colour and if you screw your eyes up, that grill looks a bit like …….
Colin