It is, at the time of writing, mid way through a frosty, winter weekend. It’s the sort of weather that makes you wish it was still summer and wishing you could be jumping into a shining classic car and heading to a nice, local pub for a pleasant Ploughmans in the pub garden. And who wouldn’t fancy that, right?
But here’s the thing. Before you can set off for a satisfying lunch, you need the classic car. And whilst I’m generalising somewhat (ok, a lot but I reckon this roughly holds true) there’s probably two types of classic car owner.
Firstly, there’s the chap who lovingly tends to the subject of his automotive affection. Happily spends weekends rebuilding carburettors, weekday evenings laid on his back on the cold concrete attending some minor oil leak, again, but he doesn’t mind as that’s all part of the classic experience and when he’s finished then there’s myriad shows and events all based around the very model he owns. And that’s great if that’s what floats your boat.
But there’s the other sort of classic owner. They for whatever reason just want to drive the thing to somewhere nice occasionally and enjoy the experience without having hair smelling of gearbox oil or leaving the bath with a ring of Swarfega.
And I’d think that especially for that person, and for most of us, really, one of Great Escape Classic Car Hire’s Experience Days is pretty much the perfect day out. And for the purposes of proving this theory, and because they were kind enough to invite us, we had a go.
You see, with most classic cars there’s probably a shortish ‘Golden Hour’ – the bit where you get in, drive and enjoy without fretting that you’ll need to attend to the trunnions (whatever they are) or that mysterious noise from the back end that you end up with when you own and maintain the thing yourself. When its someone elses car, you can just enjoy the experience without worry.
The Experience Days work something like this; set off in car A, drive maybe 40 minutes, stop for a coffee, drive car B. Stop for lunch. Drive car C and so on and so forth until you get back to Great Escapes base with five or six newly driven classics under your belt. By doing it this way, you really do get the best bits of the classic car experience – you just get in and drive – and drive for long enough to really enjoy it but no so long that you notice, in some cases, the poor ergonomics of older cars or that things like heating and ventilation have moved on quite a lot in the last forty years.
Our day started with coffee at Great Escape’s Redditch base from where we ventured into the Cotsworlds in a HMC Healey with Ford V6 power under its rather beautiful bodywork. The Healey is pretty much the perfect start to your classic day – looks, power and a surprisingly easy way to ease you into a day of classic cars. The HMC bit tells you that whilst you wouldn’t really know it, this isn’t your actual Austin Healey but actually a later replica although only things like switchgear give the game away. Its a properly well screwed together car and really looks the part. And in truth is possibly better than the real thing. Anyway, its a huge amount of fun and made a nice contrast to our next set of wheels – which we should add was no less fun – which was a 1989 Jaguar XJS V12 automatic.
Now I’d image that even the most committed Jaguar enthusiast must get a little twinge in the wallet at the mere sight of a V12 XJS. Its dipsomaniacal thirst at the green pump must be incredible at accruing a healthy Nectar points balance and surely a few hours in one is the ideal way to experience what is a superb cruiser and what the phrase ‘effortlessly wafty’ was made for without ending up in the clutches of loan sharks.
So the XJS wafted us serenely to the excellent Caffeine & Machine (more on which in a couple of weeks but in short, you must go) and after a superb lunch we had a change of big cat and what a change it was, in the shape of an XK150. Now I don’t mind admitting that both I and my co-pilot for the day, Mail Online’s Simon Lambert, finished our lunch and approached the XK with a certain amount of apprehension. Coming from the XJS, this could hardly have presented a more different vehicle. Where the XJS was an easy, wafty sort of car to pilot through honey coloured Cotswold villages, the XK demanded a lot more actual driving. Thus, conversation slowed as greater wells of concentration were needed but, despite the car being more of a challenge, it was perhaps one of the most satisfying to drive – that age of cars needs a lot more effort to go reasonably quickly – and it can go surprisingly quickly indeed. You could, back in 1957 have an XK150 with an impressive, if mildy terrifying, 250bhp and 132mph top speed, although we explored the limits of neither on this occasion.
A mid afternoon stop saw us hop into the one I’d probably be taking home if I could – a Ford Capri 280 Brooklands. For those who don’t know, the Brooklands was the final incarnation of the Mk3 Capri and the swansong of the entire Capri range and as such holds a special place in the heart of Ford enthusiasts. To me, sitting behind the wheel of a Capri looking over that long bonnet stirs exactly the same emotions as those of someone slightly older in a Jaguar E Type. But whatever, I love Capri’s so driving the 280 ‘Brooklands’ was always going to make any day A Very Good Day Indeed. Its 160(ish) bhp doesn’t sound remarkable these days, but the Capri is a light, agile car and also makes a superb sound so you’ll always end the drive with a smile on your face. Plus, seemingly the entire population loves Capri’s so you get a lot of love from the passing public too!
One last, final, stop saw us change cars again. Our final car was one which I’d never driven before but always found intriguing, one that has attracts die hard bunch of aficionados and also just looks ace. Yep, our final car of the day was a Saab 900 Turbo.
Pages and pages and pages have been written about Saab build quality and design and despite ‘our’ example nudging close to 200k, it still felt fit and willing. In fact, it must rate as pretty much the perfect modern classic. However if you’ve read about 1980’s turbo’d motors you’ll have read about turbo lag. And this was as perfect an example of the condition as any other. Stand on the accelerator and wait. Wait some more. And then, like (quite literally) a rocket, it blasts you down the road leaving you and your co-pilot in a fit of giggles. Its a very nice, entertaining car. But with that, it was back to base.
So on the experience days, you get to drive a few cars. But its more than that. Way more. You’ll drive cars, and really enjoy cars, that you’d never have expected. If this was a classic car version of Thrifty or Enterprise, where you pick one car and have it for 24 hours (although you can do that too), I’d have chosen the Capri. That’d be great but it would mean I’d have missed out on such a lot of other cars that I wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise have driven. Plus, there’s the social element. When you stop and change cars there’s chance to compare notes as it were, to see what other people enjoyed and above all you come away with a new experience and understanding of a few different classics as well as having had a superb day out. And perhaps best of all, you don’t need to worry about having to maintain the car or any of the less fun side of the classic car world.
Massive thanks to Great Escapes for inviting us, you can find more details of their events here!