southport

Why closed roads motor sport would be a win for West Lancashire

I WOULD love to see the day that Lord Street in Southport – which is almost exactly, give or take a few yards, a mile long – is used as a drag strip.

Before you start hammering the keyboard with an indignant email to The Champion’s letters page, expressing your outrage at the sheer stupidity of an elegant shopping thoroughfare being temporarily used for such a low-brow, knuckle-dragging excuse for a weekend’s fun, it’s worth pointing out that Brighton’s been using its seafront for just such a purpose for decades.

What’s more, it’s been much easier to do this sort of thing legally for about two years, since the Government introduced a law allowing event organisers to temporarily close off public roads and use them for motorsport. At the time it was even championed by David Cameron (remember him?), but very few people have taken advantage of it.

But – if a conversation I had the other day with the organisers of the Ormskirk MotorFest was anything to go by – Aintree Circuit Club could be about to. It’s already proven with its annual visit to Ormskirk that people (roughly 15,000 of them, if official counts are anything to go by) are more than happy to watch E-types and Ferraris doing laps of a one-way system, but now it wants to up the stakes and have a fully-fledged, competitive event where cars will really be able to strut their stuff.

It’s not been decided where such an event should take place – although it’s likely to be somewhere a bit quieter than Ormskirk’s one-way system, for all sorts of logistical reasons – but I reckon a properly managed, safety-assessed bit of driving against the clock would be a great way of putting the North West on the petrolhead map. Remember I said that very few people have actually used that change in the law? A couple of event organisers down south and over in North Wales have put their own events on rather successfully, but the only comparable example I can think of is the Coventry MotoFest, which used parts of the city’s ring road for timed sprints. From what I gather, it was a big hit, but there’s nothing in this part of the world that’s comparable.

I can see all sorts of applications (and, if you’re the shy and sensitive type, I suggest you skip this bit and go straight to the Sports page). Half Mile Island in Skem would be perfect – would it possible, given sufficient skill and a tuned Nissan 370Z, to drift it in its entirety in front of a mesmerised audience? Or what about Parbold? The Parbold Hill Climb has a lovely ring to it – in yer face, Shelsley Walsh!

Obviously, I fully suspect that anything that does materialise will be at least a little bit more sensible (and fully risk assessed, of course). But anyone does have a valid economic case for closing off Lord Street for the afternoon – and a burning desire to find out whether a Nissan GT-R would be quicker than a 911 GT3 RS in a straight line – just tell them that I sent you…

The Woodvale Rally is gone – but not forgotten

SO LONG, Woodvale Rally. You’re gone, but not forgotten – but I’ll remember you in your prime whenever I look back.

Chances are you’ll have already read about the cancellation of this year’s event, but for me it’s a bit more than just any old car show being culled. The Woodvale Rally is the first one I remember going to, and the one that I’ve grown up with. It is the show that nurtured my love of anything with an engine in it.

For a long time since the early Nineties one weekend in early August meant wandering around an air base for hours, getting sunburnt. I remember going twice with the cub scouts on litter picking duties (and getting a nasty gash on my knee during the latter), as a youthful helper-out with various Land Rover and model railway stands, as a Champion reporter and – perhaps best of all – as a classic car exhibitor when my Minis and MGB took part.

The masses of old motors, the endless model aircraft displays, trade tents covering just about every hobby imaginable – I lovedall of it. Even the queues stretching right the way down the Formby Bypass as everyone crammed through the gates were somehow part of the fun. Sure, it was congestion, but it was a traffic jam with Triumph Stags and Jaguar E-types in it. I can understand completely if your local summer treat was the air show, or the flower show, but for me it was always the Woodvale Rally, and it was for most of the other car nuts I grew up with, too.

That’s how I’ll remember the Woodvale Rally, as the big, bustling, and normally stifling hot get-together at RAF Woodvale. Not the show at Victoria Park that followed it from 2012 onwards. I know that the discovery of asbestos at the original venue forced the organisers’ hands, but it just wasn’t the same. Family-friendly and fun? Undoubtedly. A weekend’s worth of great engineering and model aircraft displays, just as the event’s instigators intended when they set up the Rally back in 1971? Erm, not really.

I reckon that the original Rally’s petrolhead pull has been taken on by the Ormskirk MotorFest and, to a smaller extent, by events like the Lydiate Classic Car Show, but with the cancellation of this year’s event and the loss of the Manchester Classic Car Show I mentioned last month that there’s a real gap for another car-focused event in this part of the world. A full weekend packed with old cars and motorbikes, plus aircraft displays, model railways, steam engines and tractors. I reckon that the Leisure Lakes Steam Rally – back in Tarleton in June following 2018’s cancellation – will do the trick, but there’s room for another.

Hopefully someone high-up at RAF Woodvale is reading this. You know what to do…

Milton Keynes is the venue to win motoring hearts and minds

Ford has developed technology that can sense empty parking spaces
A LONG time ago the blistering heat of the California desert or a fortnight spent in the bitter cold of the Arctic circle were what counted when it came to developing your new car. But it turns out that the latest battleground for motoring supremacy is… Milton Keynes.

Ford dispatched a fleet of Mondeos fitted with some very clever experimental equipment there and – in the best traditions of Tomorrow’s World – a man with a beard and a tweed jacket to attempt to explain their cunning new plan. Essentially, they’ve sent a team of drivers out into this glorious 1960s vision of a New Town and asked them simply to park somewhere. Which, if you’ve ever been to Milton Keynes on a busy Monday morning, can be easier said than done.

If all goes to plan, the Fiesta or Focus you buy in a few years’ time will be able to scan the car park quicker you can, letting you know exactly where that elusive empty space is before the irritating birk in the BMW 1-Series swoops in and steals it at the last second. It’s important stuff; apparently most of us motoring types lose a day a year looking for parking spaces.

Naturally, Volkswagen wasn’t going to let Ford take all the credit for solving our parking problems forever, and just a few days later put out a press release pointing out that it’s been honing its Park Assist system for more than 20 years across three generations of tech, and is now working on an app that’ll talk to your Golf and let you know where all the empty – and better still, cheap – spaces are.

The fact that the combined brainpower of at least two motoring giants is finally being applied to making parking less irritating is wonderful, but what I’m really looking forward to is seeing the Fiestas and Polos of a decade’s time solving the really annoying problems of car parks. Wouldn’t it be great, for instance, if they could fire lasers at all those off-roaders parked diagonally across three spaces? Or have anyone who clips your bodywork with a carelessly-opened door automatically arrested on the spot and sentenced to four years’ hard labour for automotive neglect? I’d go out and buy a new Golf tomorrow if it knew what to do when the ticket reader at a multi-storey stops working, leaving you trapped with six impatient shoppers stuck behind you.

What I’d suggest to Ford is that carries on its important research in the interests of helping the British public by moving its crack team of Mondeo-driving scientists a bit further north than Milton Keynes.

If they – or Volkswagen’s researchers, for that matter – can solve the stresses of parking in Southport town centre or the Skelmersdale Concourse for good, then their millions will have been worthwhile.

I’ll admit it – driving in Scotland is fun

David was able to enjoy Scotland safely in his Mazda MX-5

IT’S BEEN a while since I’ve had a pen pal but I seem to have picked one up at Classic Car Weekly. He doesn’t write often but the topic’s always the same – I’m apparently guilty of glamorising driving dangerously on rural roads.

So he’ll no doubt be writing in when he discovers I’ve just spent a weekend driving around the Scottish Highlands, not to visit a distant aunt in Fort William, but for fun. I’ll admit it; I did nearly 1000 miles over four days for no good reason other than to drive on great roads simply because I enjoy doing it.

We’ll start with the location. Pick up any of the glossy travel mags and they’ll tell you that the A82 between Glasgow and Glencoe is Europe’s best stretch of road but this simply isn’t true – you can’t enjoy driving it because you’ll be stuck behind a lorry winding its way up to Inverness, and you can’t stop to admire the view because all the laybys are full of Dutch motorhomes. But the A87 and the A887 are utterly wonderful. Set off from Southport tomorrow morning and you’ll be there by mid-afternoon, and because you’ll want to stay overnight you’ll be giving the Scottish economy a helping hand, too.

But the real joy is you can do all of this without going anywhere remotely near a speed limit. Yes, I’ll freely admit that there were far too many people up in the Highlands driving dangerously in BMW X5s and doing silly overtakes in Honda Civic Type-Rs, but that’s something you’re as likely to see in Parbold as you are in Pitlochry. The trick is to drive around in a car that thrills at real world speeds.

I spent the weekend up there in my Mazda MX-5 but you’d be just as happy in any MG, Caterham, Lotus or Alfa Spider – and if you do need something with an extra set of seats, anything vaguely old with a Peugeot, Ford or BMW badge up front should suit the bill. Some of the best drives I’ve ever done have been at the helm of a derv-driven Peugeot 306 and a 15-year-old Ford Mondeo, so don’t knock ‘em until you’ve tried them!

But the end result is always the same; you emerge with a smile on your face, the Highlands economy gets a boost, and – unless you really do drive like a berk – Police Scotland don’t have to deal with unnecessary paperwork. Drive sensibly of course, but freely admit that it’s something you enjoy, like playing a piano or going fishing.

I might even arrange for my pen pal to go up there and for there to be an Austin-Healey 3000 waiting at the other end. Chances are, I suspect he’ll enjoy it…

Mercedes X-Class – the perfect car for Southport’s golfers

The new Mercedes X-Class could be the wheels of choice for the next Open

IT FEELS like the population of Southport’s halved over the last few days. Apparently all the people who’ve just vacated the resort were here for something called ‘the golf’ – and I don’t mean the Volkswagen hatchback, either.

The one thing that did strike me during the North West’s moment in the international sporting spotlight was that virtually everyone seemed to travel to the Royal Birkdale in either a series of commandeered Stagecoach double-deckers, or in a black Mercedes. It felt like every other car was a black E-Class with tinted rear windows.

The Benz blokes have obviously thrown a lot at The Open, which is why it surprised me enormously that it didn’t bring along its latest model. It claims the X-Class is the first pick-up truck from a premium manufacturer, but that’s not entirely the case.

Firstly, the posh pick-up from a luxury carmaker isn’t a new idea, because both Cadillac and Lincoln have already tried it (albeit with virtually no success, which is why they never sold them over here). Secondly, the trimmings might be Mercedes’ finest but the bones most definitely aren’t; keep it quiet, but the X-Class is essentially a Nissan Navara. So I suspect all the building site operatives who actually buy pick-ups are probably going to stick with the cheaper Japanese original.

So who’s going to buy the X-Class? Originally I’d suspected it’d be perfect for anyone who appears in or produces hip hop videos, but I can’t imagine there are too many of those in Formby or Parbold (Straight Outta Crosby does have a nice ring to it, though). Nor is it going to appeal to the sort of managing director types who normally go for big, German off-roaders, because the ML-Class already does it without relying on pick-up truck underpinnings.

But – and this is why I think Mercedes missed a trick at The Open – it has plenty of potential as a golfer’s chariot of choice. It has a sufficiently posh badge to mix it with the Jaguars and BMWs in the club car park, more than enough room inside to take four of your chums out for a quick round, and with it being a pick-up there’s plenty of room out back for all the sets of clubs you’ll ever need. Pack carefully and you could even bring your own golf buggy with you!

I can’t wait for the golf to come back to Southport, because the resort is going to be rammed with X-Class Mercs.

Drive the new Volkswagen Polo? I’d rather take it jogging

There is a reason why the new Polo is roomier than the old one

I’VE LONG suspected that jogging is just a sweatier form of walking. I’ll cheerily wave at people powering past on yet another 10k, but I’m quite content that simply strolling to the nearest pub is exercise aplenty.

But then a colleague – who’s practically taken me on as some sort of flabby protégé –  insisted I give it a go. Worryingly, I’ve found this whole moving quickly without a car lark to be surprisingly good fun.
I feel better for myself after every run, and I’m already beginning to see the results on my waistline. The idea is that I’ll get fitter, build up my speed and stamina – and then I’ll invite the new Volkswagen Polo along too, because boy does it need it.

By the looks of things Germany’s supermini of choice has been spent too long watching The Jeremy Kyle show with a can of Stella in one hand and a freshly cooked Fray Bentos in the other. By Volkswagen’s own admission it’s taller and wider than the outgoing model, and bumper-to-bumper it’s 94mm longer, which is like going up three waist sizes in car terms. What’s more the latest press packs favourably compare its dimensions to how big the Golf was in the Nineties but don’t mention weight once, presumably because the Polo’s scared of stepping on the scales and screaming in horror.

Which is a shame, because while the new Polo looks like the Golf (which is a good thing) and builds on 2009’s European Car of the Year (ditto), it’s getting increasingly hard to relate to it as a small car. The gap between the new boy and the pint-sized Up is bigger than you’d imagine.

But then the Polo isn’t the only one looking a tad porky these days. The other day I had a nose around Nissan’s new Micra and it is vast compared to the lovably cute bubble-shaped ones learner drivers used to have crashes in, and while I love the looks of Renault’s latest Clio I had to conclude the 900cc engine in the one I borrowed felt a bit strained because it’s a far bigger car than its predecessors. Virtually all of today’s superminis are blobbier than they used to be – very few are lighter, smaller or nimbler.

But I can guarantee that while small cars have got bigger the multi-storey at the Concourse in Skelmersdale hasn’t expanded, and nor have any of Southport’s parking spaces. If you really do need to squeeze into those awkwardly tight spaces outside supermarkets, you’d be better off slipping down a size and buying something like Ford’s Ka+.

That or jog down to the shops

A Triumph TR4 or a year of parking tickets? I know which I’d take

Being stretched for time is no excuse for poor parking

IT MIGHT not buy you a house any more but £24,500 still bags you a lot these days. A mid-range BMW 1-Series, for instance, or a Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport with most of the options chucked in.

Classic car nuts like me would probably end up with a Triumph TR4 or Jaguar Mk2 for that sort of money. Or you can follow Carly Mackie’s lead and blow the lot on roughly a year’s worth of parking for the car you already have. That’s something in the region of £65 a day for a car that’s not even moving.

The punishment administered a court up in Dundee this week is widely being described as Britain’s biggest ever parking penalty – but it does (in Scotland at least) scotch the myth that parking tickets issued by private companies on private land are legally unenforceable. All it’ll take is one court case of a similar nature either here in England or over in Wales to make the precedent Britain-wide, and I don’t think any of us want to test it out.

Yet I think this is no bad thing. Too many people on the internet have been perpetuating the idea you should refuse to pay these private penalties under any circumstances, but I’d much rather take the precedent of a court ruling over some self-appointed internet legal eagle and – while it’s unfortunate for Ms Mackie – this does at least clear things up. It also highlights how bad the situation in most town centres has ended up if people are prepared to run this parking gauntlet.

On a busy day Southport and Ormskirk are particularly tricky to find spaces in and I’ll inevitably end up circulating like an automotive vulture, waiting to swoop down the instant someone’s Fiesta backs out and frees up a space. Skelmersdale does rather better, with its swish multi-storey at the Concourse – but it’s a shame the spaces were designed for an age when everyone drove Austin 1100, not BMW X5s.

But there is a solution both to the parking precedent and to another news story that’s been doing the rounds this week. Apparently a third of us are so fat and lazy these days that we’re costing the NHS a billion quid a year, largely because we can no longer be bothered to stroll to the corner shop.

So let’s walk more. I’ve spent years parking on the fringes of Southport on my shopping trips, saving a couple of quid in parking and doubtless extending my life slightly at the same time. If you’re a mum with three prams to push around or someone with a wheelchair or crutches then go ahead and use the town centre, but for the sake of a few minutes I’d much rather enjoy some exercise. Bit rainy? Use an umbrella. Lots of shopping to carry? That’s what bags are for.

I know this new-fangled walking thing is going to take a while to catch on, but just think of all the money you’ll be saving. Enough to buy a Triumph TR4 within a year, if the latest precedent is anything to go by.

Classic cars pack into Southport pub for new meet

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ADMITTEDLY the car park behind The Arion pub in Ainsdale isn’t massive, but filling it with classics on a quiet weekday night at a new event is still quite an achievement.

Aintree Circuit Club – which is also behind the Ormskirk MotorFest – says the first of its monthly meets on Wednesday (7 September) was a big success, with 50 petrolheads from across Southport bringing their cars along. The turnout included three Jaguar E-types, six Minis, a Jensen Healey, an MG RV8 and two Austin-Healeys.

 

The next weekday meet takes place on 5 October from 6.30pm, and the first of the club’s Sunday morning meets – which also take place at The Arion – starts at 9am on 3 October.

Love classic cars? Then don’t miss this brilliant new event

Whatever your taste in classics it will be welcomed at The Arion.jpg

IF YOU love classic or performance cars you won’t want to miss a new car meet being launched in Southport next week.

The first of the Aintree At The Arion meets – following a successful trial last month – takes place at the Arion pub on Kenilworth Road in Ainsdale from 7pm on Wednesday, 7 September.

Organiser Aintree Circuit Club is also planning a weekend meet, starting in October.