Pistonheads Sunday Service at Silverstone

Since Owen was born I haven’t been able to get out in the MR2 much, so when Pistonheads announced another one of their Sunday Service events at Silverstone, I had to go.

Rather than driving straight to Silverstone, a few of us met up between Coventry and Birmingham to drive down together. I’ve joined a few of these convoys previously, but this was much bigger – around 30 cars, ranging from my MR2 all the way up to a Porsche Cayman GT4 and a brace of Italian supercars. We took the scenic route to Silverstone, somehow managing to arrive all together, despite the group splitting up and following different routes. I made a time-lapse of the drive.

At Silverstone I met up with my Dad for breakfast and some tyre kicking, before heading out on track in the MR2. I had driven the National Circuit at Silverstone a few times previously, but I felt like I was faster than before, I expect that this is due to having a few more trackdays under my belt in the MR2. I really enjoyed myself, the driving standard was better than the same event last year, where Jen drove the MR2, and I was surprised to have the track pretty much to myself for the last few laps – perfect.

To finish off a great morning I followed my Dad back to his house – via the cross country route. I has been a long time since we’d both been out together in our sports cars, and driving together through the Cotswolds, with autumn leaves being kicked up by Dad’s Boxster in front of me, was just as enjoyable as convoying with the supercars or taking the MR2 on track earlier that morning. Including driving back to Coventry I did 170 miles in the MR2 and I can’t think of a better way to use 2/3rds of a tank of petrol.

Classic 500

Jen in the 500 To celebrate our first wedding anniversary Jen and I hired this little Fiat, and spent the day pootling around South Warwickshire in it. Jen has got her own modern 500, and both of us love the 1950s classic, so when I found out that Great Escape Classic Cars have one available to hire, a plan was formed.

The 1966 model is a lot harder to drive than the modern version, especially as this one was LHD. Both brakes and steering are unassisted, the 4 speed gearbox didn’t have synchromesh so double clutching was needed. Top speed was 40mph – you wouldn’t want to go any faster!

We both enjoyed our trip in the little 500, it could have been a case of “never meet your heroes”, but it wasn’t at all. Despite the trickiness to drive we would buy one if we had space for another car, even a really small one.

Donington Park Track Day

MR2 at Donington Park

After drag racing last month I had my first real track session of 2016 last week at a rainy Donington Par with Circuit Days.

Checking the weather forecast the evening before the track day I knew it was going to be wet, so I dug out the old bottle of RainX from the car cleaning box and applied some to the windscreen. The MR2 had recently been treated to a big service at Rogue Motorsport so that was the extent of my trackday prep.

The weather forecast was right, the track pretty wet to start with, a lot of the race cars stayed in the pits so the speed differential between the MR2, which in my hands is usually the slowest car on track, and the faster cars seemed lower than normal. The lack of power probably helped me to stay out of trouble. As I was on my cool down lap after my first session the red flag came out for a radical which was backwards into the pit wall, right by the pit entry. Possibly the worst place to crash as everyone else has to drive past you on the way in from their cancelled session. Later in the morning I had some instruction, which was especially useful for finding the right line in the wet and telling me where I didn’t need to brake.

In the afternoon the rain stopped and the track dried out, the MR2 was still going really well, and after my instruction I felt like I was going faster than the trackday I did at Donington last year. I was able to lap with other cars too which was fun, notably an Austin A30 race car. Just like last time I was there, about 15 minutes before the end of the day the rain started again, last year I pulled into the pits and went home, but with my new-found confidence from the morning, I pulled into the pits, put the roof up and went out for a few more laps! By this point the track was almost empty, but I spent the remainder of the session lapping with a Caterham, swapping places every few laps, probably the best experience I’ve had on track. The car had been moving under me all day, especially at Redgate and Coppice, but on my penultimate lap I had a bit of a tankslapper coming out of McLeans, fortunately the Caterham was well in front at that point and I managed to keep it on the black stuff – I did catch this on video, so hope to share it with you soon!

I was happy with the 185 miles I clocked up on track, I was doing 15 mins on/15 mins off with no trouble from the car. I had a few people come up to me and say how the MR2 is so underrated. After the last month of drag strip, road trips and a track day I really need to treat the MR2 to a good wash!

Drag Racing

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Since visiting Santa Pod Raceway as child drag racing is something that I wanted to have a go at. With Pistonheads having one of their Sunday Service events at Santa Pod was the perfect opportunity.

Sat in the staging lane amongst BMW M cars, AMGs and other high performance cars I was thinking that taking the MR2 up the strip was a bit optimistic, so I was relieved to line up next to a Mazda RX-8. I took my position at the start line, without doing a burnout, revved to 3,000rpm, with my eye on the christmas tree and let the clutch out when the yellow lights went out. Redline in first. Up to second gear. At this point I realised the RX-8 may not have been standard, as it broke traction on its upshift. Redline second. Up to third. RX-8 is well ahead. Up to fourth and across the finish line. Such a rush of adrenaline!

The only thing for it was to drive straight back to the staging lane for another go! This time I was up against a Golf R. I knew I wouldn’t win, but went for it anyway – starting with a big burnout! With my tyres suitably warmed I gave it a few more revs for the launch, but still watched the Golf fly off into the distance, my little MR2 didn’t stand a chance with less than half the power and only two driven wheels. I did learn that fourth wasn’t needed, I crossed the finish line just as I hit the rev limiter in third gear. At this point I still had no idea what my times were – they are displayed at the finish line, but only once you’ve passed, so you can’t see them. I went to the timing hut to get my print out and was pleased to see that both runs were in the 16s bracket, with the second being slightly faster  – along with an improvement on my reaction time.

My next couple of runs were also against turbo four wheel drive cars, an Audi TT Quattro Sport and a Golf R32, but I was getting the hang of it more, except where I was lined up behind the Ford Mustang press car, which did a monstrous burnout, leaving me in a cloud of tyre smoke and I fluffed my burnout – they were still sweeping up the tyre debris from the Mustang. For my fifth run I lined up next to a Saab 95, I must admit that I felt a bit excited, surely my lightweight sports car could out drag a Saab. Talking to the Saab’s driver put a stop to any excitement – he was running 14s. Then I was approached by someone with a VW Eos who wanted to race me – as he was also running 16s and wanted a closer match – brilliant! On the strip I got a much better start than the Saab, but it rapidly caught me and passed me.

Back in the staging lane I lined up next to the Eos, by this time of the day people had started matching themselves with similarly performing cars, so it must have been better to watch from the stands, but it meant a bit of car shuffling The queue seemed to go down fast, and in next to no time we were called forward to do our burnouts and line up at the start. I knew I’d got a good start. Perfect change to second. Couldn’t see the VW ahead of me. Perfect change to third. Kept the throttle nailed. Still no sign of the Eos. Across the line and saw the yellow light to say that my lane had crossed the line first – an even bigger buzz than the previous runs. The guys in the Eos had enjoyed the close run too. On checking my times this had also been my quickest run – 16.4741s.

Thanks to my Dad for the photo!

BMW 120i

Now that I’m a married man I thought it was the right time in my life to buy a sensible car – don’t worry, the MR2 isn’t going anywhere – it is safely tucked up in the garage and will still be used regularly.

The main reason for buying the BMW is that I can put my mountain bike in the back, allowing me to explore more exciting terrain than I can cycle to from Coventry. It also has the benefit of not needing to use Jen’s 500 as much, which I’m sure helped with Jen getting on board with this scheme.

I chose a BMW as the roads around the best mountain biking terrain are good for driving too – think Scotland and North Wales, I’m still a car guy and driving those roads in a boring car would really get to me. After driving grey cars for the last 10 years I was happy to find a suitable car in a bright colour – especially as everybody knows that red cars are faster…

La Vie En Bleu

La Vie En Bleu hillclimb at Prescott (Lewis Craik/Lewis Craik Photography)

 

Last month Jen and I met my parents at Prescott Hillclimb in Gloucestershire for the “La Vie En Bleu” French themed hillclimb event. As Prescott is owned by the Bugatti Owners Club, I was expecting a mixture of Bugattis and French hot hatches, but there was a good mix of cars, from Morgan 3 wheelers to Aston Martins. Of course there were plenty of Renault 5s too!

However my favourite cars of the day were the Lorraine Dietrich and the Darracq pictured above. The Darracq particularly caught my attention as it had a 25l engine and no body work, not even a floor – the flywheel was spinning inches from the drivers foot. I later discovered that this particular car held the land speed record in 1905! It also set the second fastest time in class and sounded awesome. I’m glad that this 110 year old car is still being driven as intended and not locked away in a museum somewhere.

evo GREAT DRIVES – Scotland’s greatest driving road

I only usually post my own work on this blog, but I absolutely loved this video by Henry Catchpole and the evo team.

The A93 and A939, from Blairgowerie, past Glenshee and the Lecht is my favourite driving road and it is good to see that one of my favourite journalists shares my view. Watching the film brought back good memories from when Jen and I drove this route in my MX-5 en-route to the Isle of Lewis in 2012. It also got me excited for my next road trip to Scotland in two weeks. It will be the first time I have taken the MR2 up there and I can’t wait to get it on the awesome highland roads.

That Aston Martin isn’t bad either…

MX-5 – Throwback Thursday

I found this picture whilst looking for images of my old MX-5 to upload to my cars blog on Blatters, I thought it would be perfect for the #throwbackthursday hashtag on Twitter, but instead of keeping it on my Twitter account I thought I’d blog about it too.

This picture takes me back to 2007, while I was working as a web developer between finishing my degree and graduating. Most days I would head out for a blat around the Welland Valley on my lunchbreak. These were the days before I had a DSLR, so this was taken on my Dad’s Nikon FM2 and the slide scanned.

Coventry Motofest

From the 30th May to the 1st June 2014, Coventry city centre was taken over by cars and motorbikes for the first Coventry Motofest. Coventry is the spiritual home of the British motor industry, with an automotive design pedigree and engineering history to rival any other city in the world and I am proud to live here. It is the unique motoring heritage that is celebrated through MotoFest – a free motoring extravaganza which for one weekend each year, turning Coventry city centre into the UK’s most exciting display of great cars from the past, present and future.

The focal point of the event was the display of classic cars on Broadgate, the cars on display ranged from the more common classics; Minis, Triumphs and E-Types through to 1930’s Bentleys and Bugattis. Alongside the classic cars there, were motorbikes from Triumph and Francis Barnett as well as the new Lightning GT – an electric supercar being built here in Coventry. The degree show for the Coventry University Automotive and Transport Design course was part of Motofest and was a good opportunity to see the work of the car designers of the future.

Classic car display on Broadgate

In addition to the static displays an oval racing circuit had been set up in the Cox Street car park, under the ring road for stunt displays and stock car demonstrations. The stock cars sounded incredible, with the V8 noise ricocheting from all the concrete supporting the ring road and it was only when I got back home that I realised my face was covered in black dust from all the tyre smoke.

Stock cars at Coventry Motofest

Sunday saw even more cars on display on Broadgate, but also the anti clockwise lanes of the ring road turned into a racetrack for cars to do demonstration runs (hopefully there will be some timed competition next year), cars running on the ring road ranged from historic competition cars, such as Mini, Talbot Sunbeam and Skoda rally cars, to Time Attack cars and performance road cars from Jaguar, all lead around by the “Dreadnought” pace car.

Motofest Pacecar

My photos from the weekend are in the Coventry Motofest 2014 gallery:
Coventry Motofest 2014

Morgan Factory Tour

Pistonheads Sunday Service at the Morgan Factory

When Pistonheads announced that they would be holding a Sunday Service at the Morgan factory in Malvern I knew I had to go! I like the values of Morgan, that it is still owned by the Morgan family and that a few years ago their then CEO Charles Morgan tested their new 3 wheeler by entering it in the Gumball 3000 rally and driving it across the USA – if only more motor company bosses had that much passion for their cars! Through my day job I have spent a lot of time – possibly too much – in modern car factories, so getting to see how a more traditional factory worked was an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss. Even Jen was excited about it and she doesn’t usually come to car things with me.

The lead up to the event didn’t go too well, the day before I’d had a tyre let go on my MR2 at motorway speed – not fun. This meant that we had to take Jen’s Fiat 500, not as fun for a cross country hoon early on a sunny Sunday morning. The beauty of the Pistonheads Sunday Service events is that they are all including, so it doesn’t matter if you turn up in a Fiat 500, you still go into the same car park as the Porsches and Lamborghinis. As usual the car park was filled with all manner of interesting cars, including a Mercedes SL “Pagoda”, a modified/restored Morris Minor which we both liked, the usual array of Porsches and Loti and even a few Arbath 500s – although Jen’s was the only standard “cute” 500.

By far the highlight of the morning was the tour around the factory – Morgan had even got their employees to come to work on a Sunday morning, just so we could see the factory working and laid on guides for a shortened version of their normal tour (30 minutes, rather than 90, due to the number of people they had to get round). The tour started with a explanation of their current line up, with a handily parked line up of Morgans. Then it was on to a museum room, pictured above, housing some important cars from their history, such as the Aero 8 which competed in the Le Mans 24 hour race.

Next it was in to the assembly workshop, where the newer cars get their BMW engine mounted to their aluminium chassis; and the traditional cars get their steel chassis built up and attached to the wooden frame. This part of the factory wasn’t too dissimilar from other car factories I’ve been to, you could see the line of cars, each one more complete than the previous and the “just in time” parts supply next to the line – but there weren’t any robots or conveyor belts in sight – the cars were resting on wooden trestles. Adjacent to the assembly workshop was the body workshop, where the aluminium bodies are shaped by hand, using traditional methods, I was in awe watching the skilled craftsmen shape sheets of metal into car parts, seemingly just by hitting it with a hammer! The woodshop was next and I’m sure this is pretty unique in vehicle manufacturing these days; the room smelt off sawdust, just what I was expecting from the Morgan factory, the workshop was in two parts, the first which we didn’t really get to see was where the wood got turned into the various parts for the frame, then in the second half, they are fitted together, then glued and screwed to form the frame, which I’m sure is harder than it sounds.

In the opposite shed building was the trim shop, where the cars go after they have been painted, now they really started to look like complete cars, the guide explained the myriad of options available and it was good to be able to see a lot of them being built. After the trim shop we went back across the yard to another workshop where the new 3 wheeler is built, what really amazed me is that the 4 wheeled cars had various workshops, yet the 3 wheelers were made in just one – 15 at a time, each car assembled by one man – that has got to be a really satisfying job!

Jen and I both enjoyed the tour, and I’ve vowed to go back for the full 90 minute tour with my Dad – hopefully tagged onto a drive of a 3 wheeler through the Malvern hills!

Hopefully Soichiro Honda’s prediction that “in the future there would be just half a dozen car companies – and Morgan” rings true and craftsmen continue to hand build cars from a small factory in Malvern because the automotive landscape would be duller without them!