IT’S NOT often that you can say a Fiat Stilo is as good at something as a Porsche 911 is – but then it’s not every day that parts of the old Aintree race circuit are opened up for go-faster fun.
No, not that Aintree circuit – if you’ve ended up here by mistake because you’re actually looking for The Champion sports pages then I’m afraid to say that there are no jockeys, highly decorated ladies’ hats or whinnying thoroughbreds here. Nope, this particular course is the one famed for racing of the motor variety, including the very first British Grand Prix won by Sir Stirling Moss. He tackled it in a single-seater Mercedes W196 – but if you wanted to follow in his tyre tracks last weekend then all you needed was a racing helmet and a secondhand hatchback.
Liverpool Motor Club holds a couple of track days a year on the surviving bits of the track – and for a fiver to spectate I reckon it’s a bargain-priced way of spending a couple of hours listening to screeching tyres and watching all manner of motors scrabbling for the best lines through the sweeping right-handers. I popped along last Saturday during the Bank Holiday weekend and the thing that surprised me was the mind-boggling variety of what was out on track. Sure, you’d expect Elises, 911s and Honda Type-Rs on a track day, but I wasn’t expecting the next car to barrel into the first corner to be an 05-registered Fiat Stilo. Or a TVR Tuscan virtually unchanged from when it took part in the bonkers Tuscan Challenge race series 20 years ago. Or an Opel Manta, for that matter.
It’s good, old-fashioned car-related fun that doesn’t get hung up on who’s got the priciest entry or the quickest lap time – there was a chap with a Lister ‘Knobbly’ continuation racer, for instance, but the chaps taking part in Ford Fiestas had equally big grins on their faces after venturing back into the paddock.
More importantly, it keeps part of the North West’s motoring heritage alive – yes, I know that the full Aintree circuit that Sir Stirling would’ve diced with Fangio on closed in the 1960s, but by having Porsches and Lotuses screeching around the club circuit it keeps the idea that Aintree isn’t just about horse racing in the wider public imagination.
And any element of keeping history that involves hoofing about in a Fiat Stilo has got to be worth it for the amusement factor alone. Count me in.
I IMAGINE there are quite a lot of entries under ‘K’ on the waiting list for Rolls-Royce’s next model; Kanye, Kim, Khloe and Kourtney for starters.
When you name your new model after the world’s biggest diamond it’s inevitable that it’s going to end up with rather bling connotations, even before it’s launched. But then that’s the Rolls-Royce Cullinan all over – it’s a Range Rover for people who consider the Range Rover a bit too common. It’s an off-roader with a whisper-quiet V12 where the establishment makes do with ‘just’ a supercharged V8. A toff-roader, if you will.
It is a completely pointless, jacked-up Phantom that in reality will never venture any further than a slightly damp stretch of field immediately outside Aintree Racecourse or the Royal Birkdale – in fact, you’re more likely to see one appearing on MTV Base alongside someone whose name begins with K.
But that doesn’t stop me liking it. Bentley and Jaguar doing posh mud-pluggers just doesn’t sit right with their carefully honed collective heritage as custodians of well-heeled driving fun, but a Rolls-Royce off-roader is so delightfully silly that it might just work. It’s Kingsman in automotive form; still refined enough to insist that you call its offerings motor cars, but in the background it’s teaming up with The Who’s Roger Daltry for its charity ventures, letting grime artist Skepta spec up the speakers on its one-offs and allowing its older cars to take part in marvellously OTT displays at the Goodwood Revival.
So the idea of taking your Cullinan to the Arctic Circle and lording it over everyone slumming it in Toyota pick-ups – and Rolls-Royce has been testing the new car there, just to make sure it’ll cope – fits in perfectly with the manufacturer’s softly spoken sense of fun. If it can haul itself up the same mucky hill as a Range Rover, but in a much more needlessly expensive way, then so be it. The one per cent have been doing pointless things with Rolls-Royces for generations, and the Cullinan fits in perfectly.
And if any pub bores do wander over (and it’ll be a very upmarket pub, presumably) and start piping up about how Rolls-Royce shouldn’t be doing off-roaders, then you can point out that it was taking on remote places and winning long before Jeeps and Land Rovers were even conceived. In the 1920s farmers used to travel around the Australian Outback in Silver Ghosts because they were the toughest things on the market. So the Cullinan does have off-roading pedigree.
So I like Rolls’ toff-roader because it’s a completely needless car that I’ll never be able to afford. Unless I change my name to one with beginning with K, of course…