PH blog: interactive experience
Do you want to go for a drive or just get to where you're going? Garlick's in reflective mood...
For the outward journey I’m driving a new Mini Cooper D. It’s a decent car to be honest, with enough power to be fun coupled with the tidy handing we have come to expect from Mini. I enjoy the drive, the dual-carriageway is a breeze, the Cooper charges along at a decent lick, the brakes are strong when needed, the lights and wipers work well and I don’t really have to think too much.
I then swap the keys for the courtesy car Mini for those to my 4.0 Chimaera. By now it’s gone 8pm, dark and wet. The car fires and idles lazily with a few short prods of the throttle to clear its throat (you must hear a TVR cold start, it’s great) and I allow the misted windscreen to clear. My mindset has immediately altered and I’m watching dials, getting comfortable and I no longer want to listen to Radio 2.
My headlights aren’t that bright, so that twisty B-road is now harder to negotiate, but we settle in and start to press on once the car has warmed up. As bends approach I see wet leaves on the entry, no ABS means an early lift and gentle braking. I’m not accelerating hard until we are out of the bend and after a while I realise I am grinding my teeth a little such is the concentration to not only see ahead but to actually drive the car safely in these conditions.
On the dual carriageway that concentration remains as stopping distances are kept bigger than many others thanks to no ABS with stop/start traffic and wet roads. The fast sweeping bend taken at speed in the Mini is different when in the TVR. I’m conscious of the glistening tarmac and change in road surface and can see a little standing water too. Despite all that I’m enjoying myself, I’m not thinking of anything else but driving and I’m relishing the silenced radio (the V8 soundtrack is better) with both hands firmly on the wheel.
I make the return leg in about the same time as the outward run, but I am so much more focused throughout and it feels faster. I’ve worked harder, concentrated more and ended the run exhilarated and a little tired. Most of all I had respect for the TVR, and that was lacking when in the Mini.
It’s all too easy to drive fast in a modern family car; it doesn’t mind what you do to it. Want to brake mid-corner? That’s fine. Want to plant the throttle around that damp bend? Go ahead. That’s all very well and good, but you don’t learn to respect the car, to think far ahead, to constantly read the road just to maintain a safe 70mph cruise on a wet dual-carriageway.
Driving is fun, it’s just a shame many of us never get to experience what driving actually means these days.
Modern cars have taken a little of the fun out of driving and speed is definatley not everything.
I often rag my Clio 182 Cup down country roads with relative ease, safe in the knowledge that most of the time I will be ok unless I do something particularly stupid.
Slightly ashamed to say it but in the wet I occasionally have more fun and certainly more hair-raising times in my old K11 1.0 Micra with it's terrible budget tyres, wallowy handling and lack of ABS!
Respect really is earned!
You only have to go back to the mid 80's and all cars didn't have all the safety gadgets that have been phased in since then. I remember my dad getting one of the first Granadas that had ABS as standard ....the car could stop in 150 feet in an emaergency stop while the bloke behind you stopped in 200 feet!!
To me TVRs in particular and other specialist cars without all the safety gizmos are real drivers cars because you only have yourself to rely on and not a set of electronic interfering systems to fall back on.
pre war Opel P4 and Olympia cars to Peugeots after WWII.
Sadly this generation is not there anymore to speak to, but
you could do the same roads in one of their cars for comparison.
Take an MGB first, than a TC and than an Alvis or whatever you find.
Take the camera crew away from Chris and give us the vid.
Okey I'll stop dreaming now.
The dumbing down, in the name of H & S, was always inevitable. Little wonder there is great demand for the proper analogue motors- a classic case of less is a lot more.
Someone once said that the best safety feature any car could have would be a six inch dagger sticking straight out from the middle of the steering wheel...
I have a modern Megane diesel, , simple to drive, tech laden with power steering, ABS, EBD, auto lights, auto wipers etc, all in all a perfectly competent car and one that is a breeze to drive on virtually any occasion.
I also have a Mk1 MR2 which I need to fully concentrate on to drive at anything like the speeds the Megane takes in its stride. Anything about 50mph in the Toyota is a noisy and bumpy affair, the brakes are shockingly bad and the lights are truly feeble. And yet it's the car I enjoying driving, because I have to drive it, there's no temptation to switch to autopilot and let the car do the work, I choose to do it myself and that is what makes it so involving.
It was a bit scary to drive to be honest when in other than perfectly dry conditions. The back end started to come round to meet me on more than one occasion. Having had rear-wheel drive cars in the 1980s taught me to recognise it quickly. (Cue tales of 1.8 Morris Marina and 2.0 Cortina, both with paving slabs in the boot)
 although I'd say the lights on my MINIs weren't/aren't any better, really than those on the TVR...
Also, an interesting side to this story is as explained - modern day cars do so much for you, forgiving to 'cack handed driving'.
Sure, I haven't really been driving anything that can be described as interesting, but I do take pride in my driving. Trying to be as smooth as possible while making swift progress in North London traffic takes some practise. Looking far ahead, judging surfaces, perfect gearchanges and imperceptibly smooth braking as a challenge to see if I can get home without rousing my dad from his nap in the passenger seat. Pretending to be a limo driver is a fun game to play in a diesel hatchback.
But the difference with some drivers in modern cars is huge. They don't really concentrate on their driving at all, so many modern little cars are just appliances. I changed my car for a newish Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI DSG for my wife (Canadian, had to be auto). The car is nice enough, London to Manchester and back on a tank with no fatigue at all, very comfortable, but about as involving as playing Micromachines V3 on the Playstation 1. The difference is when she drives, it almost feels like the driving aspect is only really a secondary function of what is going on in her brain. The car manages all the gears for her while she zips around with one hand on the steering wheel. Sometimes a little too fast in the rain, usually approaching traffic a bit too fast and digging deep on the brakes. Not really taking much notice, why even give a damn about the road surface and conditions when there is so much grip and the traction control handles the rest? Its not a dig at SWMBO at all, her driving is fine compared to other friends and family I drive around with - the lack of concentration is a theme. Being in the right gear, matching revs, braking smoothly, just paying attention... none of that really seems to matter to most people, they are too busy talking on the phone over Bluetooth or fiddling with their iPod stereo to bother too much about their driving.
Seems like we are doomed to be heading down the road of cars that just drive themselves while you sit there and text your mates, because maybe that is what most(1) people want.
(1) Not people who read Pistonheads, obviously.