WEEKLY CAR DIARY – POSH STUFF & SOUTHEND WITHOUT THE SEA

Quite busy this week so I earned a few pennies. You couldn’t earn a living doing this driving work because it is very poorly paid. I think of it as a pleasant pastime with the bonus of a bit of pin money. Enough for the weekly gruel ration and to fund my wife’s turmeric habit. This golden spice is the latest superfood discovery in our household. Half a teaspoonful in porridge (I haven’t plucked up enough courage to try it myself yet) apparently ensures eternal life and cures every form of illness known to humankind, except jaundice. Well, it may cure jaundice but since turmeric turns you yellow, it is difficult to tell. Anyway, here’s what I drove this week:-

Monday: Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 R-Sport manual and Land Rover Discovery Sport TD4 180 HSE auto, Rockingham, Northamptonshire to Leicester

Tuesday: Vauxhall Vivaro van, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire to Aldershot, Surrey; Peugeot Expert van (2012), Aldershot to Blackbushe Airport, Surrey

Thursday: Bentley Mulsanne Speed (2015), Leicester to Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Friday: Mercedes E220d AMG Line auto, Nottingham to Leicester

So, mostly quite posh fare this week apart from the two vans on Tuesday, although the Vivaro (a Renault Trafic with a Vauxhall badge) is a lovely van to drive.

You may have noticed I delivered cars to Rockingham twice last week and collected a couple from there on Monday. That’s because horse trials were held on Rockingham Castle estate last weekend (scene of one of my best driving days out!). Apparently, the atmosphere at the trials was tense as five horses were found guilty and two were acquitted. One horse was sentenced to life imprisonment. That’s a lot of porridge and, if he adds turmeric, a very long time. Daylight Robbery is still protesting his innocence but with a name like that, I think he’s flogging a dead …. Sorry, think I better stop there.

Driving the Jaguar XE back from Rockingham confirmed a niggle about this car that I had when I drove another manual example last year – the whole experience of changing gear leaves a little to be desired. The gear change itself is not the slickest, I don’t find the flat-topped, brushed aluminium gear knob very tactile (maybe that’s just me) and the slightly high, fixed centre armrest under your elbow doesn’t leave your arm in a totally natural position for changing gear manually. Maybe they forgot about the manual version when designing the armrest because it would not be an issue in an automatic (by all accounts, the eight speed automatic available in the XE is very good). Apart from that niggle, the XE is great. You really feel a part of the car, the steering is sharp and precise, it rides well and there is plenty of punch from the 180hp diesel engine.

Taking a Bentley on a trip to the seaside on one of the hottest day of the year sounded nice and indeed, until I got to within six miles of my destination, it was. However, my plans to have a quick peek at the sea en route to the train station after delivering the car were scuppered by a serious incident on the main route into Southend-on-Sea. I sat stationary on the A127 dual carriageway for quite a while as emergency vehicles picked their way between the two lanes of traffic. Eventually, a policeman wandered along (on foot) and started getting the cars and vans just behind me to turn around and drive the wrong way down an entry slip road. Then it was my turn. So, there I was coaxing the 5.6 metre, 2.7 ton, £200k+ leviathan round 180 degrees across two narrowish lanes of the A127 under the watchful eye of the policeman and several of my fellow motorists sitting in Golfs, Clios and Transit vans. Half of them were probably thinking “Damn fine motor car. Best of British”. The other half: “Filthy rich b*****d” or worse. I wanted to wind down the window and assure everyone that the car wasn’t mine. However, that may not have been a terribly good idea in front of a policeman. Could have led to an awkward situation (although I don’t think I look like a car thief but then again, I am a bit biased).

It took me well over an hour to do the last six miles and I had a train to catch, so no glimpse of the sea. The Mulsanne Speed I drove last year had an all-black interior. Thursday’s car had lots of off-white leather to lighten the mood and, in my view, looked much better for it. In fact, the almost white leather together with all the very shiny chrome embellishments gave the interior a nautical feel, like the interior of a super yacht. The fact that the Mulsanne is the size of a pocket battleship and its long bonnet noses majestically ahead of you like the bows of said battleship (complete with winged Bentley figurehead) furthers the nautical impression, so at least I had some sort of maritime experience. If you want to read more about the Mulsanne Speed (and a visit to Middle Earth) check out my epic two-part post here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

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The interior of the Bentley. Not a bad place to be.

Colin

PART 2: TO MIDDLE EARTH AND BACK IN A BENTLEY MULSANNE (AND AN AUDI A6 ALLROAD BITURBO)

For those of you who read Part 1 of this tale (posted 15th February), I hope you have been able to cope with the suspense over the last week. What was I going to do? Now that we were close to somewhere near Evesham, where could the Mulsanne and I spend an hour or so in total safety, with appropriate facilities? As the forefront of my mind churned away, the answer appeared before my eyes. In the form of a brown tourist sign pointing the way to a National Trust property. Brilliant! I am a member so I could get in for free.

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The property in question was Coughton Court and as I serened glided up the drive to this imposing Tudor mansion, I waved regally to a few of my subjects. With the Mulsanne parked safely, I enjoyed the sunshine, a quick look round the ornamental gardens and grabbed a bite to eat. The same family has lived at Coughton Court for 600 years, managing to survive their involvement in the Gunpowder Plot of November 1605. Attempting to blow up King James I and the Houses of Parliament was a slightly risky thing to do.

Then it was time to get back on the road. On the final leg of my journey to somewhere near Evesham, the Mulsanne’s sat nav took me through a magical place with the achingly quaint name of Inkberrow. Inkberrow is a verdant dale, the slopes of which are dotted with heavy oak portals concealing labyrinthine, underground dwellings. These are inhabited by small hobbit-like creatures wielding extravagantly sized, inky quill pens. They are the self-appointed scribes of Middle Earth, recording the history and legends of this ancient land. Of course, that’s all twaddle. But “Inkberrow”? Surely, that name comes from the inky pen of J.R.R. Tolkien? After all, this was (more or less) his childhood stomping ground. Apparently, he used to frequent nearby towns such as Alcester, Alvechurch and Bromsgrove and the Clent and Lickey Hills, all of which are said to have inspired the Middle Earth setting for the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.

In reality, Inkberrow is a traditional English village, fully equipped with churches, two pubs and a village green. There’s not a hobbit, elf or orc in sight and its name owes nothing to ink at all. One of the pubs, the Old Bull, is a picturesque, half-timbered building with a roof made of gingerbread. The Bull pub in BBC Radio 4’s long-running drama, “The Archers” is based on the Old Bull in Inkberrow (I know I have wandered off into the realms of fantasy a bit but that’s true). Inkberrow also happens to be home to my wife’s best friend from school days (also true). I sailed right past the end of the small cul-de-sac in which she lives but by now I had no time to stop. Anyway, drivers of Bentleys do not knock unannounced on the doors of mere commoners (I may get into trouble for that bit).

Finally, I arrived at somewhere near Evesham and dropped off the Mulsanne to its keeper for the next twenty-four hours. The deal was that he would lend me a car from his “stable” to go back to Leicester. The car I was given for my return journey was an Audi A6 Allroad BiTurbo (3.0 litre diesel with 320bhp), a four wheel drive A6 estate on stilts. The What Car website mentions the “sheer bulk” of this car but when I jumped in, it felt like a roller skate after the imposing Bentley. And when I got on the move it felt like a rocket-powered roller skate. Whilst the dignified Mulsanne disguised its brutish power behind opulence and serenity, the Audi just felt like it wanted to show off. Like a hyperactive dog, it felt like it wanted to be let off its lead.

Well I was having none of that (well not quite, but we’ll get to that bit in a minute). In the meantime, I had a couple of interesting toys to contemplate. The first was the massage seat. This didn’t give you a gentle, soothing massage; that would be dangerous because there would be a risk of dozing off. Instead, it reminded me of the last time I had physio when the therapist used firmly planted thumbs and then the point of her elbow (with some weight behind it) to effect the treatment. However, having the Audi’s mechanical thumbs and elbows running firmly up and down my back was far more pleasant than having a physiotherapist dig sadistically into a torn calf muscle.

The second toy was the head up display; a projected image of key information seeming to float above the car’s bonnet. The technology was developed originally for military aircraft so that pilots did not have to glance down at their aircraft’s instruments; instead they could keep their eyes peeled for bandits or bogeys or whatever. Now this was all very weird. Do you remember those geometric patterns that were all the rage a few years ago? If you stared at the pattern long enough and relaxed your eyes a picture would emerge. If you were hopeless at this, your eyes eventually felt strained. Well that’s how my eyes felt now. Looking ahead at the road, my eyes kept getting drawn to the HUD and were trying to focus on two things at once. I felt like I was going cross-eyed. Since there was little risk of incoming enemy MiGs, I could probably have done without this optical embellishment.

However, I will grudgingly admit that the HUD did come in useful on one occasion. Just as I had done in the Bentley, I came up behind a car on the motorway with the active cruise control on. The Audi slowed of its own accord. Then I signalled to pull out into the outside lane in order to allow the clever cruise control take the Audi back up to the preset 70mph. Wo!!!!! All hell broke loose as the Audi took off like a weasel with a rocket up its backside. The  HUD was telling me that the cruise control was set to 115mph. How? Why? I quickly braked (with my lightning reactions, I got nowhere near 115mph) as it dawned on me what had happened. Cruising along with my hands at a relaxed twenty past eight on the steering wheel, I hadn’t flipped up the indicator stalk when changing lanes – I had flipped up the cruise control stalk (set just below the indicator) thus increasing the set speed! All very interesting and it proved two things: 1) the Audi is a quick car (0-60mph in 5.5 seconds) and 2) diesels can sound sporty.

The rest of the journey was uneventful so I was soon home where I could uncross my eyes and have a nice cup of tea.

Colin

TO MIDDLE EARTH AND BACK IN A BENTLEY MULSANNE (AND AN AUDI A6 ALLROAD BITURBO): PART 1

“Get to Bentley’s for about 10, there’s a Mulsanne demonstrator to deliver to somewhere near Evesham between two and two thirty.” Over four hours to do just sixty miles or so from the East Midlands to Worcestershire?? Since this was going to be an executive sort of day, I sort of made an executive decision and went along to Leicester’s Bentley (and Lamborghini) dealer at about 10.30. This was early last October but weather-wise it was still summer. I had not driven a current Bentley before, so I asked the salesman to give me a quick tour round the black Mulsanne which sat gleaming in the sunshine. Funnily enough, things like the sat nav and Bluefang worked much like any other car. It’s just that the setting was different. Acres of black, diamond-stitched leather, swathes of dark wood veneer and highly polished chrome detailing.

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But this was not your common-or-garden, ten-a-penny Bentley Mulsanne. Oh no. [Warning: techy bit coming up.] Not content with catapulting the 2.7 ton, 5.6 metre mobile gentlemen’s club to 60mph in a sedate 5.1 seconds, Bentley added a few horses to the 6.75 litre twin turbo V8. The resulting Mulsanne Speed gets to 60mph in a snappier 4.8 seconds and on to a 190mph maximum. Descending to the mundane and putting my sensible hat on, I was surprised at how modestly sized the boot was for such a big car. That explains why you don’t see many quarter of a million pound Mulsannes at the local tip, disposing of garden refuse and old mattresses. I knew there was a good reason.

The salesman reiterated that the car was not to be delivered before 2pm. So I used the dealership’s facilities at least twice – a) to kill a bit of time and b) to have a nose at the Lamborghini’s at the far end of the showroom. Then I was staring down the Mulsanne’s long bonnet at the winged Bentley “B” as it nosed its way at walking pace out of the dealership. Well, there was simply no point in hurrying. Having already set the sat nav to somewhere near Evesham, it appeared that I had more than two and a half hours to do a journey that should take just over an hour. I was soon on to the A46 and then the motorway, so I set the cruise control at 65mph instead of the usual 70. Isn’t it ironic – I was in the fastest car I had ever driven on the road and ended up driving even more slowly than normal as I pondered what to do to kill more time.

Putting my pondering to one side, I had toyed with the idea of inventing a new verb to describe driving the Bentley: “to serene”. As in: “I serened here, I serened there, I serened to somewhere near Evesham”. It could also be used transitively: “the Mulsanne serened me to somewhere near Evesham.” But then I remembered how much I detest it when athletes say “to medal”. So, dear reader, to allow me to stick to my principles, please erase this paragraph from your memory.

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Of course the Mulsanne was whisper quiet. The only time it bared its teeth was on the motorway when the adaptive cruise control automatically slowed us down as we approached a vehicle up ahead. I then pulled out and let the cruise control accelerate at its own chosen rate back to the pre-set speed of 70mph (yes, I had given up with 65mph – it just felt too slow!). The Bentley’s chosen rate of acceleration was rather brisk and it was accompanied by a wonderful growl from the V8. (I put that bit in to keep petrol heads happy but actually it did sound good!)

I soon fell off the end of the motorway on to A roads. Initially straight ones, then more countrified, bendy ones. The Bentley purred along in a supremely relaxing way and I had only the vaguest awareness of its weight when negotiating the bends. So relaxing was it, that I couldn’t imagine why anyone would actually want to exploit that savage performance. It would seem a bit vulgar to tear along like a lunatic in such a stately conveyance. I guess Bentley owners just like to know that the performance is there if they need it.

By this time, the sat nav was telling me that I was quite near to somewhere near Evesham. My earlier pondering about what to do had initially been at the back of my mind. Now it had shot firmly to the forefront of my brain (I think this happened when I braked sharply due to a very low flying pigeon). Where could I while away an hour or so? Where could I park the pristine Mulsanne safely, free from the threat of other car doors and supermarket trolleys? Where could I eat my sandwiches? Where could I avail myself of some convenient facilities? Will I find be able to find somewhere near Evesham? Will I be able to resist the temptation to turn unsuspecting adjectives into verbs? Why on earth is this post called “Middle Earth and Back ….” etc?

All these questions and more will be answered in Part 2 of “Middle Earth and Back in a Bentley Mulsanne (and an Audi A6 Allroad BiTurbo)”. Watch this space – around the middle of next week.

Colin