A few firsts for me this week including the mighty Renault Kangoo which has a lot in common with the Fiat Doblo – a van with a silly name but a surprisingly comfortable and relaxed long distance companion. By the way, in case you are wondering about the photos, you are right – they have nothing to do with the contents of this post. Fine cars as they are, do you really need to see pictures of modern day Kangoos, Sciroccos, Polos or Golfs (even a Golf R)? No. Better to look at the two beauties my son and I spotted at another classic car gathering at the Great Central Railway a couple of weeks ago. So, back to this past week:-
Monday: Renault Kangoo Maxi 1.5TD (110hp) van, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire to Clevedon, Avon
Wednesday: Volkswagen Scirocco R-Line 2.0TDI (184hp) DSG, VW Scirocco R-Line 2.0TDI (150hp) DSG (2015), VW Golf GTD (2015), VW Scirocco 2.0TDI (140hp) (2011), all in and around Leicester; VW Golf R (2015), Leicester to Wymondham, Leicestershire
Thursday: Volkswagen Scirocco R-Line 2.0TDI (184hp) DSG, VW Golf S 1.2TSI (85hp) (2015), VW Golf 1.6TDI, VW Polo 1.2TSI DSG (90hp) all in and around Leicester.
Volkswagen Sciroccos are like buses. No, that’s not an derogatory comment on the way they drive, but I had never driven a Scirocco before and then three came along at once on Wednesday! I spent two days this week working for the local Volkswagen dealer, collecting and delivering cars for the Service Department. It was pure coincidence that everything I drove on Wednesday happened to be a VW with sporting pretensions.
I wasn’t 100% sure about the looks of the current Scirocco when it was first launched (which seems a very long time ago). However, it has grown on me and now I think it’s a good looking car although a little oddly proportioned from some angles. From the brief time I spent in each, it was difficult to get a full impression of what they are like to drive but they seemed grippy with accurate steering and firm ride. I liked the interior which was typical Volkswagen (i.e. smart and an above average feel in the quality stakes) plus a few sporty accoutrements. These included three extra instruments on top of the dashboard – oil pressure, turbo boost and a stopwatch. The latter would be very useful if you want to boil an egg on the go. I believe this is a throwback to the original Mk 1 Scirocco but I wonder how many Scirocco owners have ever used it. All three Sciroccos were diesels and I am sure the 184hp version goes very quickly when you want it to. Very much like a Golf GTD which I also drove on Wednesday and have also commented on in a previous post. However, these Scirocco diesels did seem a little bit old school in terms of noise. I’m sure the same engines are a bit quieter in other VW applications.
The pick of all these sporty VWs (and the only petrol powered one) was of course the Golf R. Wow! A searingly hot hatch: two litre turbo power, 296hp, four wheel drive and 0-60mph in 4.9 seconds – this DSG (automatic) version being a fraction of a blink of an eye quicker than the manual. A facelifted Mk 7 Golf (a sort of Mk 7.5) was introduced earlier this year and the R is now more powerful (306hp) and quicker still. VW didn’t really need to bother because the 2015 Mk7 I drove was brilliant. Unlike the Sciroccos and Golf GTD, I tragically had to drive the R for about 25 miles out into the Leicestershire countryside. It was fun. Naturally, it felt very quick and, with loads of grip, it was flat and unfussed going through the bends. Could be addictive. In this day and age of seven, eight and even nine speed automatic boxes, the Mk 7 Golf R “only” has six. This was a good thing in my view because driving it manually via the steering wheel mounted flappy paddles (which is far more interesting than letting the car do its own thing) was much more manageable and instinctive if you are used to driving five or six speed manuals. Inside, the Golf R has to make do without the Scirocco’s three extra sporting dials but surprisingly that does not hinder progress. It does however have racy luminous blue needles for the two main dials found in most cars, so that’s obviously the real secret to the R’s extra pace. The seats were great too.
Finally, an honourable mention in despatches for the 1.2TSI (turbo) Polo, again another DSG (automatic) and another first for me. What a great way to get around the city – like a little go kart. Smooth, refined and it felt really quite punchy (0-60mph in 10.8 isn’t bad for a humble supermini). Would liked to have tried this Polo out on the open road. This “old” 1.2 petrol engine is now sold alongside a new 1.0 turbo in the Polo, which is more powerful, quicker and more economical than the 1.2. What modern day wonders these tiny one litre engines with spinny things are.
Back in May, I eulogised about the VW Transporter Kombi and finished with the question, is the VW Transporter Kombi the ultimate family transport? Well, in my experience…… not quite. You see from 1999 to 2004, we owned a VW camper van – a 1995 Autosleeper Trident based on a VW Transporter T4 (the current generation Transporter is the T6). This is another reason why I have come to enjoy driving vans so much. It has been interesting comparing modern T6s (of which I have now driven a few) and our old T4. With its non-turbo, 2.4 litre five cylinder diesel engine and a mighty 78hp, our old van was on the slow side and noise levels meant that travelling at anything over 60mph (100kph) was a trial. The modern VW Transporter is a dream by comparison. The purchase of our camper van was the fulfilment of an ambition fuelled by my fond childhood memories of French holidays in the van my parents bought in the late 1960’s. A classic 1967 VW Type 2 split screen camper with green lower bodywork and off-white above. What would that be worth today??! It was a Canterbury-Pitt conversion for those interested.
When we first bought our Autosleeper Trident in October 1999, our two kids were about 3 years old and 18 months old and we soon found out that, for a family with young children, the benefits of a camper van were many. A VW Transporter is not much bigger than a large MPV so it can be used as a normal car every day of the week. However, on days out a camper van becomes a civilised changing room (for nappies as well as clothes!), wash room, café, toilet and of course, bedroom. The versatility doesn’t end there. When you can no longer avoid doing those jobs around the house and garden, there is plenty of space for junk to go to the tip or for purchases from the DIY store or, worse still, IKEA.
Over the four summers we had it, our van took us on a tour around Devon and Cornwall, to the French Alps, to Cornwall again(!) and then to the mountains of northern Spain (via the two-night ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Bilbao) and back through the length of France. In addition, there were numerous cheap weekends away including our very first night camping in the van in … Sandringham (so, it was a truly nostalgic return in June this year). The beauty of a camper van holiday is that you can do as much or as little preparation and research as you like before you go. For a foreign holiday, just book the ferry or simply turn up at the Channel Tunnel and off you go (but don’t forget travel and breakdown insurance and any necessary legal requirements for motoring abroad!). If you wish, you can make up or change your itinerary as you go. If you come across a place you really like – well, just stay a few nights and enjoy it. Freedom is the word that springs to mind.
The disadvantages of a camper van are very few but we (or rather my wife) did discover one hazard of having a mobile toilet. If anyone is familiar with Porta-Potties they will know that the waste is contained in a sealed (and airtight) tank which forms the bottom half of the toilet. On our summer holiday in the French Alps, we had descended from a lofty summit when one child decided they needed to avail themselves of our portable convenience quite urgently. No problem. We just pulled over in a lay-by and my wife sat small child on the Porta-Potti. Once finished, the product of this call of nature sat on the sliding lid of the waste tank. In accordance with Porta-Potti protocol, my wife started to open this lid …. suddenly there was a loud “PHHSHHHT” from the toilet followed by a loud “URRGH!” from my wife…… Now, I know I really should not have laughed (nor indeed failed to have recovered from my helpless convulsions in order to help clear up the mess) but only the most serious-minded, cheerless soul would deny that an exploding toilet and a faceful of wee (provided it’s someone else’s face) is pure comedy gold. Of course, we had used the Porta-Potti (and closed the airtight waste tank) some time earlier at the top of the mountain where the air pressure is lower. Now, down in the valley, where the air pressure was greater …. well, let’s not get too scientific.
In addition to all the pleasure (and laughs) we got from our van, there was also another benefit. In terms of overall cost, it was the cheapest vehicle we have ever owned. Insurance was cheap (through specialist motor caravan insurers), fuel consumption was comparable to a petrol-engined family car at the time and servicing costs were similar to a car. And the biggest cost of owning a motor vehicle – depreciation – was spectacularly good because these vehicles hold their value really well (especially the combination of a VW base vehicle and conversion by a top converter such as Autosleeper). Sadly, our van was stolen off our driveway and never recovered but the payout we received from the insurance company meant that depreciation cost us less then £500 a year. Even in 2004, that was not bad for all that fun and cheap holidays!
Happily, that was not the end of our camper van ownership. The VW was replaced by a Ford Transit-based camper which we managed to keep hold of for eight years.
Test Match Special is back for the summer! YYYES!! In case you are wondering what I am on about, Test Match Special is the BBC’s legendary radio coverage of England’s international cricket matches. I am a TMS addict. In fact I am listening to England’s one day international against Ireland as I write this. All this puts me in mind of a delightful day out late last October when I delivered a Volkswagen Transporter Kombi to Clevedon just south of Bristol. Why was this such a delightful day out? Well, four reasons:-
I was driving one of my favourite vehicles. I enjoy driving vans and the VW Transporter is the best, particularly (as far as I am concerned) in Kombi configuration.
Summer had forgotten to turn into autumn. Unusually for Britain at that time of year, it was pleasantly warm and the sky nothing but blue.
I was able to listen to TMS on the van’s DAB radio – the first day of England’s test match against Bangladesh. This added to the summery feel although for England this was a winter tour match in far away Bangladesh!
I know, that’s only three reasons but I’ll come to the fourth shortly. For the uninitiated, the Kombi is a version of Volkswagen’s Transporter panel van (the direct descendent of the famous Type 2 van) with windows in the side doors and a second row of seats. The rear third of the vehicle reverts to pure van, being a big empty space and no windows in the side panels.
I had a breeze of a journey westwards then down the M5 motorway to Clevedon (about 140 miles) and a very pleasant train ride home, starting at the charming station of Yatton. With its picturesque stone-built cafe on the sun-drenched platform (had time for a cuppa!), this tidy little country station seemed a throwback to the heyday of rail travel. All that was missing were milk churns on the platform and a steam engine pulling elegant, glossy green or burgundy carriages. I also had the satisfaction of being able to split tickets to save about £20 on the train fare back to Leicester (if you missed it, learn about splitting tickets here!).
Coming back to the subject of driving vans, I find them more comfortable on long journeys than a lot of cars. I like the upright seating position in a van compared to a car’s feet-out-in-front posture. Also, sitting high up looking out over most other vehicles just makes you very relaxed. In addition, today’s vans generally offer a good ride and easy, refined cruising at motorway speeds. And the VW Transporter is the best of all with its slick gear change via a short lever which sprouts handily out of the dashboard and a confidence-inspiring ability to go round corners. The particular Kombi I was driving had a lesser engine option (102hp) and only a 5 speed ‘box but that didn’t matter as it was more than up to the job. It also came in a high spec (“Highline”) with such creature comforts as air conditioning, cruise control, leather-covered steering wheel and, best of all, that DAB radio (you can only listen to Test Match Special on DAB or Long Wave). The Transporter is a smart looking machine especially in the dark blue metallic paint sported by this particular Kombi.
But I haven’t got to the best bit – the fourth reason why this was such a good day out. It was the customer. To this day, he is still the most excited and enthusiastic customer I have yet delivered to. And with my liking for vans, I can understand why. Friends have asked me, of all the vehicles I have delivered, which one would I like to keep for my own. Well, it would be this one. Actually, that’s not true. It would be the Bentley Mulsanne Speed. But I would sell the Bentley and buy a Transporter Kombi and a house by the sea.
The customer’s enthusiasm made me jealous of a new vehicle owner for the first and only time since I have been doing this delivery work. He very kindly offered to give me a lift to Yatton station (in the Kombi of course) and all the way we talked with a shared enthusiasm about the vehicle. The conversation was interspersed at regular intervals with excited exclamations of “this is brilliant” and “this is awesome” from the customer. I learned that he had a young family and this was to be his family transport as well as the vehicle he would use for his small business. The Kombi was to replace an old Mercedes E-class estate with which he was not very enamoured. He and his family were into beaches and surfing. Forget what car companies try to sell us as “Sports Utility Vehicles”, the Kombi is a true SUV. Room for six people and a whopping load area for all sorts of sporting, leisure and/or holiday paraphernalia. There would even be room for an ironing board should you wish to indulge in a bit of extreme ironing, which as you all know (having read the post “Bradford and a Stormtroopin’ Evoque“) was invented in Leicester.
So don’t you get all that with a large 4×4? No. Most 4x4s could not match the Kombi for load or even passenger space. And don’t think that this is a huge unwieldy beast – it is shorter than a Mercedes E-Class estate and a Range Rover. In my view, the Kombi is a much more honest, down to earth vehicle than any 4×4/SUV (many SUV’s not actually being four wheel drive despite appearances). The vast majority of families are far more likely to make use of the people and load carrying capabilities of a Kombi than the four wheel drive benefits of a 4×4. Think of days out with house guests, trips to the tip, holidays, picking up that new fridge and pastimes involving really big things. Compare that with the only real advantage of a 4×4 for most people, which is the ability to get to work on the 1 or 2 days a year that it snows. So 4×4 owners can feel really smug about getting to work while the rest of the population get an extra 1 or 2 days holiday (er, I mean they get to work at home).
So, is the VW Transporter Kombi the ultimate family transport?
Survived decorating and even slow torture by IKEA this week. I noticed you can’t get a phone signal in the depths of IKEA. That’s because they don’t want anyone calling for help. Fortunately, I had some work to otherwise occupy myself:
Tuesday: Citroen C1 (2015), Bruntingthorpe, Leicestershire to Market Harborough.
Friday: Volkswagen Golf GTD (184hp), Nottingham to Epping, Essex.
The office phoned to ask if I could do the Epping job just as I was making my escape from IKEA (normal phone service resumed as I neared the razor wire and machine gun towers). “Am I delivering to Rod Stewart?” I quipped light-heartedly. Sir Roderick used to live near Epping in a mansion complete with the usual tennis court and swimming pool plus …. a full size football pitch. Apparently, the Faces versus the Rolling Stones was always a fiercely contested derby but Ronnie Wood used to get confused as to which side he played for. Keith Richards didn’t care. The two goalkeepers, Kenny Jones and Charlie Watts were apparently good between the sticks and also drummed up a lot of support among other rock stars. Rod’s good pal, Sharon (Rod’s pet name for Elton John) would sometimes turn up with his own team but given their professional status that was a little unfair …..*
“No, not unless he lives in a flat,” came the answer to my question. “But we did once deliver two Lamborghinis to him, one red and a sort of green one just so he could see what colour he liked.” Seems rock stars don’t have to go to a showroom or consult a brochure when choosing the colour of their new runabout. I once had two different coloured Kias delivered to my house just so I could …. no I didn’t. That was just a fantasy.
I have driven older Golf GTDs before but yesterday’s was the first brand new one and a good drive it was too. A subtly aggressive front end compared to lesser Golfs, smart monochrome tartan upholstery à la GTI – and yes, it’s very tasteful – but no golf ball gear knob because this was an automatic (would have preferred a manual!). This sporty Golf feels very upmarket and mature, the clear electronic instrument display giving it a really premium feel. On the go it is swift and rides well on its sports suspension and 18 inch alloy wheels – just a little harsh over the few unavoidable potholes. There is always a bit of a growl from the engine when accelerating (even under light acceleration) to remind you that this is a hot hatch but cruising on the motorway was very civilised. All in all, it was a fine, comfortable ride for the 130 miles between Nottingham and the fair county of Essex to the northeast of London.
* I have never admitted it on this blog before but I am a Watford FC fan and season ticket holder. On current form, we would struggle to beat a bunch of ageing rockers in their seventies. In case anyone does not know, Sir Elton is a life-long Watford fan and owned the club for many years. He is now honorary life president of the club.
Monday: Range Rover Evoque SE Tech TD4 (a rare manual), Nottingham to Great Haywood, Staffordshire
Tuesday: Range Rover Evoque SE Tech TD4, Great Haywood to Nottingham
Friday: Mercedes A180d Sport, Derby to Derby(!); Volkswagen Golf GTD TDI (2014), Derby to Nottingham
The Golf I drove yesterday must be one of the dirtiest cars I have come across! The whole interior was like the bottom of a well-used birdcage. Nice to drive though – the 180bhp diesel equivalent of the GTI, complete with trademark golf ball gear knob and tartan seats.
Some Spring-like moments this week. Had a pleasant, sunny walk through Shugborough estate on Tuesday to get from a bus stop in the middle of nowhere to the pretty little village of Great Haywood near Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. Shugborough was the home of Patrick, Lord Lichfield, a cousin of the Queen and a well-known photographer. It is one of the few remaining complete working estates in the country and was taken over by the National Trust just last year. The Georgian mansion is currently closed for the winter so may have to return here for a visit later in the year!
Thursday afternoon also felt like Spring as I pottered around in the garden in bright sunshine and – best of all – listened to cricket on the radio. Managed to make a small amount of digging look quite substantial as England piled on the runs. My wife thinks I’m digging a long, narrow pond; she’s not yet queried why its six feet deep…….. Ha ha.
That attempt at dark humour was inspired by the fact that we went to see a production of Joe Orton’s “What The Butler Saw” at Leicester’s Curve Theatre this week. Mad, frantic, dark and funny. Orton was brought up on a council estate in Leicester and this production marks the 50th anniversary of his violent death.
Monday: Mercedes C350e saloon (plug-in hybrid), Leicester to Derby
Wednesday: Mercedes C350e saloon (plug-in hybrid), Derby to Leicester
Friday: Volkswagen Caddy, Kettering to Bury St. Edmunds
The Mercedes plug-in hybrid was interesting – might be a full post in due course.
Meanwhile, we had a day out in the Cotswolds last weekend, an area of south central England famous for its quintessential Englishness. Rolling green countryside and picturesque towns and villages whose buildings have been chiselled out of solidified honey. We stopped in a couple of the more well-known places, Moreton-in-Marsh and Bourton-on-the-Water, the charms of which are well-documented. However, I will mention the rather brilliant Cotswolds Motor Museum and Toy Collection in Bourton, a wonderfully ramshackle place where you are guided through the history of motoring from its earliest days to the 1960s and 70s.
The cars on show include Austins, Morris’s, MGs, Jaguars, Rileys and a 1938 BMW 327. The information accompanying the BMW explained that the first BMW cars were Austin 7s manufactured under licence. Every day an education! The car that caught my eye, simply because of its name, was a 1911 Alldays and Onions. These were probably manufactured under licence from the German company, Jedentag und Zwiebeln GmbH. Or was it the French company, Chaquejour et Oignons SA? Not quite sure.
In addition to cars, there are motorcycles and old caravans and an astonishing array of memorabilia and old enamel signs covering virtually every inch of the walls. The memorabilia and signage are not just limited to cars. There are artefacts and advertisements for all sorts of things, plus of course the substantial collection of old toys. This is not just a journey through motoring history but a truly atmospheric and nostalgic look back at life in bygone eras.
Away from the bigger villages/towns, we also came across a couple of interesting places off the beaten track that are probably missed by most people:-
Longborough. This was really the main purpose of the trip – to look around the church in this quiet, pretty little village. My wife and daughter are heavily into genealogy and had traced some ancestors back to Longborough in the 18th century. These ancestors went by the family name of Tombs. So there we were looking around a graveyard for Tombs. I kid you not. Apparently, there was a Scottish branch of this family – the MacTombs – who were well-known race horse owners in their day. Unfortunately, the search was in vain because the older gravestones had eroded very badly. However, the village was charming and came complete with an inviting looking pub – the Coach and Horses Inn – but we had no time to sample it.
Donnington Brewery. En route from Longborough to Bourton-on-the-Water we drove down some interesting, narrow country lanes. Descending a small hill, we glimpsed what we thought was a large old house below us. It was nestling snugly between the hill and a lake. As we drove past, we saw a sign “Private Road Brewery Only” and then “Donnington Ales” on the side of the building itself. Wow! Is this the UK’s most scenic brewery? We didn’t stop but I have since looked it up. It is based in a 13th century watermill and the mill wheel is still used to drive machinery. The same family has brewed beer there since 1865. Unfortunately, there are no tours of the brewery but, according to their website, you can stop there and buy the beer! There is also a 62 mile circular walk (the Donnington Way) which goes past the brewery itself and 15 of the brewery’s tied pubs. Might be a bit wobbly by the end. The abovementioned Coach and Horses Inn in Longborough is a Donnington Brewery pub.
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.