MID-WEEK CAR DIARY! POLDARK, GREAT JAGUAR XE AND BIRDINGBURY SHOW

A mid-week diary because I’ve finished work for the week prior to our hols. We are off to Cornwall for a couple of weeks in search of Poldark and his scythe (for wife and daughter) and Cornish pasties and clotted cream (for me). The clotted cream is for combining with scones by the way, not pasties but there are probably many ladies up and down the country who wouldn’t mind combining clotted cream and Aidan Turner. My wife’s sister’s husband’s sister (hope you kept up with that) might be one of those ladies. She rallies the troops via Facebook just before every episode (“Come on Ladies, get comfy, glass of wine at the ready…..”) and then I think they keep up a “shirt off” count as the story – and Ross’s clothes – unfold. Apparently, you can get a Poldark app which tells you where they filmed which scenes in Cornwall. Fortunately it took up too much room on my daughter’s phone so she had to get rid of it. Unfortunately that means we will have to spend two weeks looking for the clifftop that Mr and Mrs P gallop along six times every episode. Who knows, we may even bump into the man himself – probably having a chat with Doc Martin about a nasty scythe injury (oh dear, the Doc’s just passed out). Anyway, here’s what I got up to in my shortened working week:-

Monday: New Land Rover Discovery 3.0Td6 HSE Luxury; Jaguar XE S supercharged 3.0 V6 (340hp); Jaguar F-Pace S 3.0TD V6

Tuesday: Bentley Bentayga diesel, Crewe, Cheshire to Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire; Volvo XC90 R-design D5, Lutterworth, Leics to Gaydon, Warwickshire to Leicester

Wednesday: Volvo XC90 R-design D5, two Bentley Bentayga diesels and a Ford Transit Connect in and around Leicestershire

After more than a year of doing this driving work, I have driven a car which I actually covet! Up to now I have only lusted after a van (the VW Transporter Kombi) but the Jaguar XE S is a car I really would like to take home – discrete looking but fun to drive. The journey from Bruntingthorpe airfield (where the local JLR dealer had been displaying some cars at a show) is quite short but covers several miles on twisty country lanes. Perfect territory for the XE. I have driven a couple of manual diesel XEs and described in an earlier post how well the XE goes round corners. However, I wasn’t that impressed by the manual gearbox (despite normally preferring manuals). But this XE S was a very different proposition with a decent automatic box and some fairly serious petrol power. So, think of all the clichés you can about feeling a part of the car, fine handling, balance, grip and turn-in and add smooth gear changes, sprightly acceleration and a decent sound. The sound is not in the same league as a Bentley V8 but interesting enough. A more revvy engine than the lazy V8, it reminded me a bit of a motorbike but with a deep voice. I was following a colleague who said the XE just totally looked the part in his rear view mirror as it negotiated the bendy bits.
Jag XE S
The wonderful Jaguar XE S. Interesting name if you put it in reverse.
By contrast (and I know I shouldn’t really compare), the new Discovery was a bit of a fish out of water on the country roads. Like the Range Rover I drove a few weeks ago, it wallowed round corners and got thrown around by the lumps and bumps. Ironically, it presumably finds its niche on much bigger lumps and bumps off-road and no doubt it would be right at home on the motorway where there are no bumps at all (or rather where there’s not supposed to be any bumps). It was nice inside though.
A fairer comparison would be between the Discovery and the F-Pace so it was interesting driving them back to back. In short, if you like going round bends and must have a 4×4/SUV thing, buy an F-Pace. More accomplished and confidence-inspiring….. unless, you have serious off-road requirements in which case (by reputation not my own experience) you’ll probably want a Land Rover product. It was whilst contemplating the issue of bumpy roads and their effect on the Discovery and the F-Pace that I realised I couldn’t remember bumps registering with me at all when driving the XE. So, along with the Ford Fiesta and my Sprite, I think I have a new favourite car. And guess wot??!! We won the Premium Bonds this month!! So …….. unfortunately, it was only £50. But I suppose that will buy quite a few pasties and tubs of clotted cream. Possibly with some left over for Poldark and Demelza action figures for my wife and daughter.
Finally, a few photos from Birdingbury Country Show that I went to on Sunday. Classic cars, commercial and military vehicles, steam stuff plus loads of tractors. This meant a sixty mile round trip in my Sprite to the venue just south of Rugby. The Sprite performed perfectly.
Campers at Birdingbury
I loved this summery scene!
Standard Doretti
The most unusual car at the show – a 1955 Swallow Doretti. Designed in 1953 using Triumph and Standard parts, only 270 were made. This one is owned by the chairman of the Standard Motor Club who restored it from a derelict wreck.
Gentrys
Gentry kit cars (MG TF replicas) including my next door neighbour’s. My Sprite (r) became an honorary Gentry for the day.
big thing
A big thing – at the shoe shiner!
steam
A dog living dangerously!!
IMG_20170709_103726
There were two long rows of little stationary engines, all chattering and spluttering away with their owners just sitting and watching. I’m sure they have other hobbies – like learning sign language.

Might be a little while until my next post!

Colin

ARMY TRUCKS, A CASTLE ON THE HILL AND A VERY LARGE COAT

Last Thursday and not a normal car delivery job! Leicester’s main Land Rover dealer requested four drivers to provide meet and greet/car park duties and to shuttle guests to and from a Land Rover experience event in two “gun busses”. Gun busses??! All became clear when we pulled in to a muddy parking area on the edge of the Rockingham Castle estate in Northamptonshire (more about Rockingham Castle later on in this post).
In the car park we were met by two large, green mechanical beasts. They were the military vehicle equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster, being made of bitsa this and bitsa that and about as handsome as Mary Shelley’s literary creation. The boss of the Land Rover dealership was there to meet us and explain all. “What on earth are they?” we asked. “Reynolds Boughton RB44s. They were used by the British Army but not very popular.” Good start. On the Frankenstein theme, the cab was from a Dodge van, the switchgear was pure British Leyland (gulp) and the diamond shaped recess in the middle of the steering wheel looked as if had been made to accommodate a Renault badge. I have since found out that they have a 4 litre, 109bhp Perkins diesel engine. The rest was probably from the manufacturer who supplied the army trucks to Trumpton’s Pippin Fort (younger and foreign readers please refer to Google or ask Jeeves, if he’s still alive). We assumed the trucks were used on the estate for shooting parties, hence “gun busses”. The pictures of game birds painted on the cab doors were a big clue.
We then received the briefest of instructions: “Dog leg first gear, reverse is over to the left and up, push this thing in before starting and pull it out to stop the engine.” He then handed both sets of keys to one of my colleagues who instantly passed them on like a hot potato, one set landing in my paws. For some reason, two of our number decided that car park duty was for them (which they carried out with great skill, I have to say) and they had no ambition to add the Reynolds Boughton RB44 to their driving CVs.
We had some special equipment for the day too – walkie-talkies and long, padded high visibility jackets. These accessories would help us get guests safely and efficiently from the car park down to the start point for the Land Rover event. At the start point (let’s call it “base camp” from now on), they would find various hospitality facilities and a fleet of white Land Rover experience cars to drive.  Interestingly, the hi-vis jackets were all one size which was about six sizes too big for me. My jacket absolutely swamped me. Had it been any bigger I would have been charged council tax for residing in it.
Now back to the RB44s. Fortunately, we had time for a practice run down to base camp, just over a mile away along a narrow, grey muddy track. Up into the driver’s seat I climbed as simultaneously the collar of my jacket climbed up around my ears. Remembering the instructions, I made sure the in-out thingy was pushed in (it looked like a large red organ stop). Wincing in anticipation, I tentatively turned the ignition key and brought the beast to life. What a din! Agricultural and clattery is being kind. Then I engaged the dog leg first gear – to the left and down – and slowly started to raise my foot off the clutch pedal. Eventually we had movement as the vehicle slowly inched forward. First gear was very short, its purpose only really to get some rotation on the wheels. So it was quickly up into second gear: clutch and firmly thrust the gear lever forward. Then I was away, bouncing down the track and edging up to a heady 10mph. After a short straight, there was a sharp left. Lift off a bit and heave the steering wheel round. The power steering was OK and meant that you did not have to be Popeye to change direction. Since my arms are more like Olive Oyl’s, this was a good thing. However a lot of arm twirling was needed to make the 90 degree turn. Then the track meandered its way to base camp and my eyes peered out from over the top of my jacket to admire Rockingham Castle’s scenic parkland and thousands of seagulls that were a long way from home. A sweeping left hander down a hill and round a tree then up again, bearing right onto a slightly uphill straight. It was here that I thought I would try for third gear, so I accelerated – probably from about 10mph to 12mph – and as I was pinned back in my seat, wrestling the g-forces, I grabbed third. Or it may have been fifth. Anyway, there was much juddering and an even more thunderous noise than before. I reached the “crest” of this slightest of slight inclines (barely visible to the naked eye) and things settled down from absolute cacophony to just an horrendous din. So it may have been third gear after all (I did master third gear within a couple of runs). Now things had been more than a little rocky up to this point but then I discovered the really bumpy part of the whole voyage. A short but very rutted section of the track threw the vehicle and any less-than-muscular body parts into a wild up and down oscillation. Now I never thought I would say this but a sports bra suddenly seemed like a must have garment. Fortunately, that section quickly came to an end so we were just back to persistent rock and roll but now the slimy track headed down and through an impossibly narrow looking gateway. Close eyes, breath in and try to change down into second gear. After playing a little tune with reverse gear and much stirring of the long wobbly gear stick, I managed to get second. The track descended to the right over a small bridge so it was feet off everything as I let the engine and second gear do all the braking. I could feel the truck squirm a little unsteadily beneath me, but kept faith with the beast’s 4×4 abilities. Finally, a bit of welly was needed to get up a steeply sloping right hand bend before levelling out in the middle of base camp. I came to a stop with a classic French Citroen H van (in a fetching emerald green) on my left and a large teepee on my right. In a fleetingly surreal moment, I half expected to come face to face with Big Chief Sitting Boeuf. But I had made it. All I had to do now was turn round and go back again. The track was no wider in base camp but a guy from Land Rover came to the rescue: “Carry on down the track, through the trees, past the white cottage and you’ll see a pile of roadstone on your left. You can turn round there.” This was very helpful and I executed a three point turn with no trouble at all (even getting into reverse gear at the first attempt).
After that little exercise, I was ready to take real live passengers. For the rest of the day, I happily traipsed to and fro between the car park and base camp in “my” truck (I was growing attached to it). My constant, beaming smile lit up the inside of my jacket. I would try to relax nervous looking guests with witty banter as I helped them up the ladder into the back of the truck: “There will be no in-flight service today but you can expect a good deal of turbulence” or “If you have any fillings, you may be seeing your dentist sooner than you expected”. These hilarious quips solicited a few nervous laughs but most guests just looked astounded at being addressed by a headless, walking, talking hi-vis coat. We would then set off, rolling along in an army truck, a humpity, bumpity army truck (Trumpton again) with me making the necessary calculations before choosing my moment to make the jump to light speed in the middle section of the trip. Well, the jump to third gear and something approaching 15 mph.
Throughout the day, the beast only misbehaved twice. On the first occasion, I had a full load of bodies in the back and a gentleman riding shotgun with me in the cab. We were going up that last slope before base camp, in second gear, when the truck lost momentum, no longer responding to the throttle. Curious. Handbrake on, then into first to attempt a hill start. Foot off clutch, revs, nothing (except disconcerting backwards movement). Tried the same thing (optimistically) in second. No drive again. I glanced helplessly around the cab until my eyes fell on the hitherto untouched high-low ratio shift. Hmm, sure it wasn’t in that position earlier. Somehow it had jumped out of high ratio and into neutral. I simply pushed it down into position, problem solved. The second bit of mischief occurred when it started to rain. I flipped up the wiper stalk and the wipers staggered about a quarter of the way round their assigned arc and stopped. I moved the stalk down to the off position then back on. Another quarter arc. Off, on, off, on. Made it. I repeated the procedure to get the wipers back to their starting position and then carried on in a similar vein for a couple more traverses. I began to think that this was the first vehicle I had ever driven with wipers operated by hand pump. Eventually however, the wipers took the hint and moved entirely of their own accord. Poetry in motion. Then it stopped raining.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my day driving the noisiest, bounciest, most uncomfortable vehicle I have ever driven. It is the slowest too (with the possible exception of a Citroen C1 automatic but that’s another story). From the comments I heard upon their return to the car park, all the guests seemed to enjoy the whole event too. This job was also a reminder that I should really make another visit to Rockingham Castle itself (the previous visit having been over twenty years ago). It is a dinky little castle on the hill above Rockingham village but with no connection to Ed Sheeran as far as I know. The original wooden fortification was built in William the Conqueror’s time and the stone castle started in his son’s (William II’s) reign. The same family has occupied the castle since Henry VIII first leased it to the Watsons in 1544. The top of the hill (and castle) is reached via a climb up the wonderfully picturesque Main Street with its dark honey stone cottages and ivy covered pub. As a picture of chocolate box England, it matches anything the Cotswolds has to offer. Unfortunately, Main Street is also an A road so it doesn’t quite have the cosy feeling it should have but it is definitely worth a look.
Rockingham is also home to a motor racing circuit. They probably race RB44s there.
Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY

Again, a quiet week work-wise but two good days out and a particularly interesting vehicle on Thursday!:-

Monday: Volkswagen Transporter van 2.0TDI 150hp Startline, Leicester to Glasgow with five others. Returned in Ford Galaxy hire car.

Thursday: Reynolds Boughton RB44 Utility Truck, Rockingham Castle estate, Northamptonshire shuttling guests to and from a Land Rover experience event.

What, you have never heard of a Reynolds Boughton RB44? Neither had I before yesterday; it’s an army truck. A full post (and photos) about this blast of a day out will follow very soon!

More time to myself and a suitable weather window meant I was finally able to go out for a drive in my 45 year old Austin-Healey Sprite. Yes, that’s my car in the title photo of this blog. I had not driven it for about three weeks, the longest it has remained in the garage since I bought it last June. Had almost forgotten how much fun it is.

Last weekend, my wife, two grown-up children and I went for a short trip to the Harley Gallery on the Welbeck estate near Worksop, Nottinghamshire. No, we are not art fanatics – they had a Lego exhibition on! We are all big kids really. However, if you want to dip your toe into the world of art this is a very good, bite-sized place to start. The art equivalent of an amuse-bouche if you like, before you graduate to a starter and main course. The gallery is housed in old estate buildings and a smart modern building for the Portland Collection. The best bit is – it is all free! So worth a couple of hours if you live in the area. We had a great lunch in the cafe there too.

Colin