Pistonheads Sunday Service at Aston Martin

Owen and I had a great morning visiting the Aston Martin factory in Gaydon for the Pistonheads Sunday Service. Owen has been to a few Pistonheads events before, but only as a baby in a pushchair, this would be our first one just the two of us in the MR2. My parents were also going, so I knew I would have back up if needed.

One of my favourite parts of Sunday Services is the convoy down with my friends from the Pistonheads Midlands forum, it was Owen’s first time experiencing this. He was made to feel very welcome, and enjoyed checking out the ten or so cars assembled before we set off. Once back in the MR2 it became clear that Owen had a favourite car – he was asking about “the fast version of Grandpa’s car” (a Jaguar Project 8) all the way to Gaydon! He definitely has good taste in cars!

At Gaydon I was going to park next to a group of Toyota GT86s, but at the last moment spotted a space next to a 1920s “Blower” Bentley – as much as a line of sporty Toyotas would have been cool, Bentleys are way cooler! As we were checking out the Toyotas (I decided not to tell Owen one was actually a Subaru – two identical looking cars being made by different companies would have caused a flood of “whys”), my parents turned up in their Porsche. So I suggested to Owen we had a look at a cool Porsche I had spotted. He was happy to see his grandparents and excitedly told them about the cars we had seen. As we walked past the Jaguar Project 8 he told my Dad that it had a big wing and big brakes. We then looked at a lovely yellow Triumph TR6 – exactly the same as the one my Dad had when I was a toddler!

Inside the Aston Martin HQ/factory Owen was most excited about the model cars in the gift shop, but with prices starting at £180, he left empty handed. As we walked from the entrance to the cafe to grab some breakfast, there was a display of Aston Martin cars from 1905 through to the current day, which we all enjoyed. My favourite was the DB5 “Superleggera” – I have not even dared to check how much they are worth though! Aston Martin had loads of staff on hand to help people and had obviously put a lot of effort in to hosting the event. When Owen started to get into a grump as we were leaving, straight away an employee came to offer him a sticker, which cheered him up. Owen proudly wore his Aston Martin sticker for the rest of the day!

With so many new Aston Martin cars about, on display and in the car park, the main thing that struck me was just how big they are, with the exception of the Valkyrie. Maybe it is because I am used to my little MR2 Roadster, but they all looked huge! My Dad and I agreed that the previous generation Vantage looked perfect though.

Every time I visit the Aston Martin part of Gaydon (they share the site with Jaguar Land Rover) I leave thinking “this would be a great place to work!” – I have been keeping an eye on their job postings, but have yet to see anything that would suit me… Owen seemed to really enjoy his morning, other than the one almost-tantrum he was on his best behaviour, but the excitement was obviously too much for him, as he fell asleep on the way home, despite the roof being down in the MR2.

Clean MR2

One of my goals for 2019 was to detail my MR2 Roadster. Now, this may not seem like a big goal, but given I last cleaned it in 2016, after a hoon to the Peak District, it was going to be a big job. As it is my pride and joy I wanted to do it properly – no cheating by taking it to the local hand car wash! Cleaning cars is something I find therapeutic, but to do it properly takes a lot of time, which is something increasingly rare for me these days.

Unfortunately I failed in my other MR2 goal, which was to get it to 60,000 miles before the MOT. I was 1,000 short, in fact it clicked over 59,000 while I was giving it an “Italian tune up”, after it initially failed the MOT on emissions.

Jen took the boys out to visit a friend, leaving me with an afternoon free – and a space on the drive! Getting the MR2 on to the drive is usually a three car shuffle, so one less car to deal with made things easier. In fact, my BMW also got a quick wash too and the drive got swept. The MR2 had the full works though: snow foam, two bucket wash, tar remover, fall out remover and a final rinse, before being driven back round to the garage to be dried, panel wiped and treated to a coat of Soft99 Fusso Coat Dark – a Japanese wax/sealant that I had bought for Jen’s Toyota Yaris and seemed to give good results. Given that the MR2 is usually garaged and rarely gets used in the rain, I would normally use a regular wax, but as I had a tin of this special wax for Japanese cars, it seemed a shame not to use it. Waxing the car I noticed that is has picked up a few chips and scratches, but from a few metres away I think it still looks great – especially now that it is clean. I had forgotten just how sparkly the Toyota Sable grey paint is.

After treating the roof and tyres with the appropriate potions, I was able to get out for a drive. It rained – typical! However I still had fun and when I pulled over in front of a yellow field, the sun popped out from behind the clouds and I was able to get a photo of my newly clean MR2.

MX-5 Thirtieth Anniversary – Throwback Thursday

This week is the thirtieth anniversary of the Mazda MX-5’s debut at the Chicago Motorshow. The MX-5 is always going to be a special car for me as  it shaped a lot of my outlook on cars. To this day I will always pick a lower powered, lightweight, engaging car over something with a big engine or high top speed. I will never forget my first drive in one – I had a Saturday job at the village garage and my first job after passing my driving test was running an errand round the village in my boss’s red Eunos Roadster.

A few years later I bought my first one by accident. Between my first and second year at university I had been looking at Ford Pumas, but my Dad heard of a little sports car for sale. It seemed like a good car and was a good deal, so I bought it. The silver MX-5 mk1 with a 1.8l engine was a big step up from the Rover Metro I had been driving before and over six years I drove it over 100,000 miles. Using it for track days, hooning around the shire, trips to Cornwall and Nurburgring and to racing circuits far and wide when I was official photographer for the Ma5da Racing series. I bought it as a student, then when I got my first real job used it to commute from my parent’s house near Kettering to Coventry. Then when I moved out and had my own place in Rugby. It was the car I owned when I met Jen. Unfortunately, like a lot of mk1 MX-5s, it got a bit rusty over the years and in 2011 failed the MOT so badly that I had no choice but to scrap it.

It took me all of a few days to decide on a replacement – another silver MX-5! However this one was different – I leased a brand new one! For two years track days were replaced by road trips all over the country from the Outer Hebrides to Cornwall. I loved how the newer MX-5 kept all of the character of the old one, but was reliable and comfortable – Jen even liked driving it!

When the lease was up, I was tempted by another MX-5, but after eight years I fancied a change, but I knew I wanted another small, lightweight car…

Toyota Yaris

Meet the replacement for Jen’s Fiat 500 – a Toyota Yaris Bi-Tone in “Cyan Splash” blue! As much as we all loved the 500, or “Mummy’s white car” as Owen called it, Jen really needed something a bit bigger, with 5 doors. We were also a matter of months away from running three cars over ten years old. Cars which seem to have a knack for breaking down at the same time.

We did a tour of local garages, but as soon as we saw a Yaris identical to this one at the Toyota dealer Jen was smitten. The good news was that the Yaris ticked all the practical boxes – it feels bigger inside than my BMW, and fits Owen’s pushchair in the boot. I also discovered that in What Car’s 2018 Reliability Survey, the petrol Yaris got a perfect score – no owners reported any faults! The bad new was that the colour that Jen liked was only available on the top of the range model, which was over budget. It was only when we got home that Jen discovered that the dealer had a few pre-registered ones on the forecourt with less than 100 miles on the clock and priced nearer her budget.

The technology in the Yaris is a big step up from the 500 – most importantly for Jen it has DAB and Bluetooth music streaming, without me having to modify the audio system! However I think some of the spec choices from Toyota are a bit strange – auto dimming headlamps, but no auto lights for example. Even my fourteen year old BMW has that! I am glad that Toyota didn’t use their standard clock module, which seems to have been used on most of their models in the last twenty years – the one with the pointless “:00” button, that is in my MR2 Roadster. The controls on the Yaris seem very sensitive, I find it harder to drive smoothly than the 500, especially if I’ve just jumped out of one of my cars, which require far more input. The brakes are especially sharp!

We haven’t been on any adventures in the Yaris yet – for the first few days it was tucked away in my garage, so that I could give it a thorough detail and protect the paint with Soft-99 Fusso wax, and other than a trip to Blenheim Palace, we have just driven it locally. However now that we have a choice of cars for family outings I am sure it will get used more than the 500 was recently!

I had been meaning to borrow the Yaris for a proper shoot, however my lack of free time and shorter days have conspired against me. I was able to grab this shot whilst I was out in the car. I only had my Fuji X-T2 and new 23mm f2 prime lens with me, so it was a case of park up, frame the shot, click and drive off in a couple of minutes. I am looking forward to doing a proper shoot at some point though.

Farewell to the 500

After nine and a half years of faithful service, Jen’s Fiat 500 has gone to a new home. Jen sold it to her sister, so I am sure we will see it again in the future. I am yet to do a photoshoot with the replacement car, although it has popped up on my Instagram stories, but stay tuned…

Jen had the 500 when we met, in 2010, so it feels strange not having it around. We had some great adventures in it. The first one I remember was going to see Faithless play in Nottingham. It was a great gig, but when we came out of the arena the city was white – covered in snow! This was before I was insured to drive the 500, or indeed had fitted it with winter tyres, but Jen did a great job of getting us home safely. Not only was it tricky driving round an unfamiliar city with all the road markings hidden by snow, there were a lot of drunken people, who seemed very excited about the snow, playing in the road.

The 500 carried Jen and I on trips to Scotland (at least twice), Croyde (at least three times) and even to a Pistonheads Sunday Service at Morgan factory (after I had a tyre blow out on the MR2). Last year we had to use it to transport all three of us to Chester for Rich and Anna’s wedding, as three of our cars managed to break down at the same time and the 500 was the easiest to fix.

Writing this post made me realise just how much the 500 had been a part of my life. I have had four cars since meeting Jen – my old MX-5, my new MX-5, the MR2 Roadster and my red BMW. Until a few weeks ago Jen had only had the 500! For most of this time the 500 was the sensible car, used whenever we had people or things to transport, including a lot of Ikea and tip runs during the 119 Project.

I posted this picture back in 2012, but as it is still one of my favourite car photos I thought I could get away with reposting. It was taken on the industrial estate behind my old flat in Rugby. I seem to remember I had dropped Jen off for a haircut and drove round town taking photos of the car until it was time to pick her up.

Cotswold Drive – Throwback Thursday

As I have moved from Canon to Fuji camera gear, I was feeling nostalgic and looked through my Lightroom catalogue for the first photo taken on my Canon DSLR. It was this photo of my Dad driving his first Porsche Boxster – he’s on his third now! The photo was taken eleven years ago in Bourton on the Water in the Cotswolds, I was sat on another bridge over the stream, with my legs dangling over the side waiting for Dad to drive past.

I reprocessed the photo in Lightroom CC, to benefit from the newer tools and much more experience on my side. These days I would have gone for a slower shutter speed and panned with the car, blurring the background. However, I am still pleased with it as a first try at automotive photography.

Sunday Drive

My poor MR2 has been taking a bit of a back seat recently, which is slightly ironic as it doesn’t have any back seats… These days most of my Sunday mornings are taken up with mountain biking, so the MR2 only gets used if I’m driving somewhere and don’t need to take a bike or Owen with me. However this weekend both my bikes were broken, awaiting parts to be delivered to fix them, so I decided to take the MR2 out for a blat!

I had been thinking of driving to the Elan Valley in Wales, somewhere I have wanted to check out for a while, but I didn’t really have time before family duties kicked in again in the afternoon. So instead I kept it fairly local, the first part of my route to the Elan Valley started in Alcester, so I decided to drive there – taking the fun way of course! Coming out of Balsall Common, I ended up following an MGTF for a while. Back in 2005, the MGTF would have been one of the main competitors to the MR2 Roadster, I imagine that road tests in magazines would rate the handling and driving dynamics of the MR2, but that the MGTF would ultimately win out due to being more practical. I’m certainly glad I bought the MR2 though!

I continued cross country to Wooten Wawen, where I picked up the B4089 to Alcester. This is one of my favourite local(ish) roads, and it was great to have a clean run at it. The road has both corners and gradient changes in abundance – the sort of road where the MR2 shines! From Alcester I joined the A422 towards Worcester. I’d only ever driven this road in Jen’s Fiat 500 enroute to the Pistonheads Sunday Service at the Morgan factory after the MR2 had a tyre blowout the previous day, so the 500 was promoted to show car. I had wanted to return in the MR2 ever since.

The A422 did not disappoint! Starting off with great views over the farmland on both sides of the valley, then progressing through pretty villages as it snaked towards Worcester. I enjoyed this section of road so much that I decided to turn round and drive it again! Unfortunately the traffic had picked up by this point, especially the Lycra clad road cyclists, so I stopped for some photos, and took a detour off the main road, towards Redditch. After a while I started to recognise some roads from when Jen and I hired a classic Fiat 500 on our first wedding anniversary and pointed the MR2 back in the direction of Coventry. With the roads now busier, and the sun already beating down on me, the pace slowed and I enjoyed the sensations of being out in an open top car, cruising though the beautiful Warwickshire Countryside on a warm summers morning!

I was only out for less than two hours, covering ninety miles, so I had plenty of time left to work on my bike and wrangle Owen whilst Jen ran some errands. Whilst getting caught up in mountain biking I had forgotten just how much I enjoy an early morning hoon in a sports car. Plans are currently being made for that trip to the Elan Valley before the summer is out!

Pistonheads Monday Service at Silverstone: Damp on track (again)

Monday Service? You may be thinking that it is usually a Sunday Service… The reason for the Monday Service is that there was a Sunday Service scheduled in March, but snowpocalypse happened and it was moved to Easter Monday instead. Unfortunately, despite it now being April, the weather wasn’t that much better, with a lot of the country under snow and suffering from general traffic chaos.

It wasn’t that bad in the Midlands, it was just very wet. So, much like last year, I led a convoy of cars down a very wet motorway to Silverstone and drove carefully around a wet track. What was different is that the circuit had been resurfaced, so there was less standing water, with the exception of Brooklands corner, which was very wet. Given the conditions I was taking things easy – I would rather be slow than in the gravel trap/pit wall. I still had fun and even managed to do some overtaking, albeit only a replica A-Team van! There was a red flag towards the end of the session, after a Caterham had got stuck in the  gravel trap. I was first back into the pits and lined up ready to go out again, but everyone else, bar two other cars, decided to call it a day. So when the track re-opened there were only three of us out! The clip above is from one of these laps – as you can see I had no traffic. Perfect!

I’d met my Dad and his friend Mark, for breakfast before going out on track. I then convoyed back to Chipping Norton with Dad, where Jen, Owen and my Mum were waiting for us. We spent a lovely afternoon all together, followed by possibly the best meal I have ever had – Mum’s roast gammon with corn in cheese sauce and Jen’s Creme Egg brownies with ice cream. By this point the weather had improved enough to drive home with the roof down. A great end to a bank holiday!

Ferrari: Under the Skin at the Design Museum

The Design Museum, now in Kensington, currently has an exhibition called Ferrari: Under the Skin, all about the brand and most importantly – their cars. So when my Dad suggest a trip to London to see it, I didn’t take much convincing – especially as he’d planned it to coincide with Porsche night at the Ace Cafe!

The journey to the Design Museum took in car (Porsche of course), tube and bus. Whenever I’m in London I’m reminded how lucky I am to live in Coventry, walking/cycling distance from most places I need to go – getting round London is a faff. A very slow faff. I was impressed that I could travel on the tube and bus, just by waving my iPhone at the machine though.

The Design Museum’s new location is impressive in itself and much bigger than the old site near the Tower of London, that I visited with Jen in 2015, for their bike exhibition. We were on a tight schedule, so unfortunately only had time to look at the Ferrari exhibition. The first few sections were about Enzo Ferrari and the background to the formation and early years of his most famous racing team. I particularly liked the original design drawings from the 1950’s. I work with automotive CAD at work, so seeing similar drawings done by hand was very impressive. The next section – about the design/construction of Ferraris, as an automotive geek I was in heaven. There were wooden, wireframe and clay styling bucks from over the years, a rolling chassis from a 250 GT and various bits of engines, paired up as rough castings and finished parts. I love seeing how cars are put together!

The rest of the exhibition was cars, first road cars, including the gorgeous 275 GTB4 (the blue one in the photo), which was my favourite. Then race cars, on a large banking, starting with the Ferrari 500 F2, which Alberto Ascari drove to victory at the F1 championships in 1952 and 1953 to the Ferrari F1-2000 driven by Michael Schumacher, which also won a world championship. The F1 cars were impressive, but I liked how close to the road cars the GT cars were, including one which Stirling Moss won the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, whilst listening to the race commentary on the radio! The final part of the exhibition was “the future” and the star car was a white LaFerrari Aperta – one of only 200, this one owned by chef Gordon Ramsay.

The car that made me smile the most though, and grab my phone to get a photo, was the little Fiat 500 driving up Kensington High Street, at rush hour, in the rain. I love seeing classic cars being used, but after having driven one I had even more respect for the driver – it was difficult enough to drive on empty country roads, London rush hour in a Fiat 500 would be way too stressful for me!

From the Design Museum, we were back on the bus/tube/car to the Ace Cafe, taking about twice as long as the way there, due to London rush hour. We were still one of the first Porsches there, so grabbed a burger whilst waiting for more to arrive. I’d forgotten just how good a flat six Porsche engine sounds, hearing them all pulling up had me thinking that it may be good to have one in the garage instead of the MR2…

Unfortunately we had to leave before it got really busy, we had a long drive ahead and my Mum was babysitting Owen whilst Dad and I were out looking at nice cars. I can’t wait until we can bring Owen along on our automotive adventures!

Pistonheads Sunday Service at Silverstone: Damp on track

Being at Silverstone for the WEC race reminded me that I hadn’t blogged about the Pistonheads Sunday Service I’d attended at the circuit last month. It was similar to the event I attended last year, except it was wet. Very wet. I was leading the convoy of cars down from the Midlands forum and had to slow right down on the M40 due to standing water.

The weather wasn’t much better at Silverstone, with the first track session being cancelled. By my session the rain had stopped and the track was mostly dry, except for a river across the track where the access road to the international paddock cuts across the National Circuit, between Becketts and the Wellington Straight. Copse corner was also extremely slippery, it felt like the MR2 was understeering, but was ready to snap into oversteer at any moment. It took some delicate balancing on the throttle to keep on the track. I found it a lot trickier than the wetter trackday I did at Donington Park last year. The wet weather seemed to have put people off attending, so I managed to get some relatively clear laps, including the one in the clip above, and coping with different track conditions is all part of the fun!

When the MR2 had its MOT test recently the tester pointed out that it really should have a suspension overhaul before I do any more trackdays. Following on from the big bill on the BMW and my plans to buy a new bike, that may have to wait until next winter, so this short session at Silverstone may be my only track action this year.