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

Welcome to NorthamptonshireI 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!

Autosport International 2014

Autosport Show Pistonheads Sunday ServiceAutosport International at the NEC in Birmingham is traditionally the first event on the British motorsport calendar, a chance to get up close to the upcoming seasons cars and generally break up the boring off season. For 2014 there was the added bonus of a Pistonheads Sunday Service event before the doors to the show opened, and free indoor parking!

As always, the standard of cars at the Sunday Service was high, with everything from my MR2 to a Porsche GT2. Some people had even braved the freezing temperatures to arrive in Caterham 7s. However, my star of the PHSS was the yellow Nissan 350Z GT4 special edition, shown in the picture above – now a serious contender for my next car.

After a bacon and egg roll at the cafe the NEC had opened just for the Pistonheads event, it was time to go through to the show. The layout was pretty much the same as it has been since the ’90s when I went as a child, but the Performance Car Show part of it seems to have got bigger, with a lot of manufacturer presence. Tucked away in the corner between the Performance Car Show and the motorsport stands was an iterating display of cars and bikes raced by John Surtees. The F1 cars of the late ’60s are to me the most exciting despite their simplicity – I would have loved to see them racing in their day. Nearby the 2013 field of F1 cars were on display, I found it interesting to look at the details of the Red Bull F1 car, especially the rear, somehow it all looked a lot neater than the other cars, neat must equal quick (although I still prefer the earlier cars).

I felt that the Live Action Arena had too much talking and not enough live action, but once again I was impressed by the Autograss racers, as I didn’t already have a new years resolution I have made it my resolution to go to some of their meetings this year and picked up their calendar.

I had an interesting chat with an engineer from Caterham about the digital dash screens they are developing for their cars, this is of particular interest to me as infotainment screens in cars is my day day job and Caterham are one of the last companies I would expect to be developing screens. The car which grabbed my attention the most was the Zenos E10, a small track day car, built by a company based over the road from Lotus. The attention to detail on the E10 was really impressive, the car seems to have been designed by petrol heads, for petrol heads without too much interference from marketing or money men – a refreshing change and I wish them good luck.

MR2

Toyota MR2 Roadster

 

The lease deal on my MX-5 is coming to an end, so it was time to search for a new car. Jen and I had been toying with the idea of driving down to the Historic Grand Prix of Monaco, so I had been looking for something suitable for a two week roadtrip around Europe. However, nothing with storage space and in budget caught my eye, but I kept getting drawn to the little Toyotas with no boot!

After looking at a few with Jen and confirming that the storage space (behind the seats) would be enough for a weekend away, I saw this one, which had fewer miles and was in much better condition than the others – so I bought it!

As I still have my MX-5 for a few more weeks, the MR2 is going into storage – but I got it insured for the day to drive it home and it would have been rude not to take it for a run out!

The first trip was to Tesco – I can confirm that it can fit a large weekly shop in the storage bins. Then we went for a picnic at Broadway Tower near Evesham. Broadway Tower is an old tower and country park, on the A44 between Evesham and Moreton in Marsh. Aside from the great views, free parking and cafe the other attraction to Broadway Tower is that the road to get to it, known as Fish Hill has some great alpine style hairpins, so was a good place to test out the new car – don’t worry, my standard Melton Mowbray and Uppingham test will happen when I get it out of storage! The return journey, through the Cotswolds, was a good comparison with the MX-5, as I’d driven that route last month on the way back from Croyde. The MR2 isn’t as refined as my mk3.5 MX-5 (more refined than my old mk1 MX-5 though), but being lighter, mid engined and more powerful, the handling is better than either and I can carry more speed through corners. I’m going to have to take it on a track day to see what it can really do! That will have to wait until it is back out of storage and in the mean time I’m going to make the most of my remaining time with the MX-5!

Autosport International 2013

Ari Vatanen Peugeot 405

 

The evening before I went to Autosport International, at the NEC in Birmingham, I’d been watching a video, posted on Bill Caswell’s Facebook page about Ari Vatanen’s Paris-Dakar Peugeot 405 being stolen from parc ferme, a randsom being demanded, the car eventually found but Vatanen still being disqualified from the rally. This wasn’t a story I’d heard before, but I wasn’t expecting to see the subject of the story the next day. At first I thought it was just another Paris-Dakar 405, but upon reading the plaque I realised that it was the exact same car, what a nice coincidence!

The rest of the show was good, especially seeing a Lamborghini Miura and a Toyota AE86 in the metal, two of my favourite cars, which somehow I’d never seen in real life.

Rally of the Midlands 2012: Escort mk1

Merevale Hall stage of Rally of the Midlands 2012 (Lewis Craik/Lewis Craik Photography)

Finally, on the third year of meaning to go, I managed to keep the weekend free and made it to the Rally of the Midlands. Having grown up in the McRae/Burns era rallying is probably my favourite form of motorsport, so it’s a bit rubbish that I haven’t been to many rallies. I’d decided to go to the Merevale Hall stage, as the only other Saturday stage open to the public was at Mallory Park and I’ve shot there before, upon arriving at the stage the first thing that struck me, as someone who has spent a lot of time at race circuits, was the lack of barriers, although there were some in the main spectator areas, most of the time the only thing between spectators and cars was common sense! The stage was run twice, once in each direction, my favourite angle was from the afternoon run, where a hay bale chicane had been placed infront of the main door to the hall, the gravelly surface allowed the cars break traction and the cars were running towards me, perfect!

Cholmondeley Pageant of Power: Works Mini

Ex works Mini Cooper at Cholmondley Pageant of Power (Lewis Craik/Lewis Craik Photography)

For Father’s Day I took my Dad to the Cholmondeley Pageant of Power in Cheshire which is a similar event to the Festival of Speed, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. In amongst the modern supercars and aero engined racecars from the 1930s (42 litre V24 engines!!!) my favourite car of the event was this little Mini Cooper which was driven by Paddy Hopkirk in the mid 1960s. Unlike a lot of the other historic vehicles there which looked like they had come straight out of a museum, with spotless engine bays, this Mini looked like it had been driven hard, the engine bay was suitable oily and the block painted in the original British Leyland green.

Other highlights were Bentley demonstrating the smoothness of their engine, by balancing coins on the rocker cover and the drive there and back with my Dad, we were in his Porsche Boxster with the roof down, managed to avoid motorways for both journeys and stopped for an Olympic Breakfast at the Little Chef on the way there, all ingredients for a good road trip!

A39 Road Trip

Silver BMW Z4 3.0 on Exmoor, Somerset, UK (Lewis Craik/Lewis Craik Photography)

This is my friend Ali’s BMW Z4, the photo was captured near Porlock on Exmoor whilst we were on a road trip.

A group of us were renting a house in Croyde, which I’d spotted last time I was there and after spending a week living in it, it is still my dream house. The plan had been to get a lot of surfing done, but mother nature had other ideas, and there weren’t any waves the whole time we were there. After being shown an article about the A39 on the Greatest Driving Roads website about how despite being named as a major road the A39 from Barnstaple to Minehead was in places just a single lane and had 1 in 4 gradient hills up onto Exmoor, a road trip was needed!

Unfortunately, as we are taking my MX-5 to the Western Isles later in the year, I was driving Jen’s 500, Ali & his girlfriend, also called Jen, joined us in Ali’s Z4. The 500 coped surprisingly well with the hills and the views over Exmoor and over the Bristol channel to Wales were great, Minehead was less so, my advice to anyone doing this road trip would be to stop at Porlock, which seemed much nicer than Minehead and the last part of the A39 wasn’t anything special. On the return journey we stopped at the top of Porlock Hill and I asked Ali to drive the section of road a couple of times so I could take some photographs. I’m quite pleased with the final result, I’d wanted to capture the sort of image that is used in Evo magazine which I think I managed, the only thing I don’t like about the image is that the roof is up!

After the photoshoot we went to Lynmouth for a cream tea and walk along the harbour, before heading back to Croyde. So even though we didn’t get to surf a road trip to Minehead was a great way to spend the day!