Vauxhall

The Saab 9000 Turbo is dead. Long live the Kia Stinger

Kia has tough competition from the Germans for its new Stinger sports saloon

MANY have tried, but none have succeeded. Who’d have thought the Saab 9000 Turbo would be such a tricky act to follow?

It’s a curious (and not particularly lucrative) corner of the car market to capture; the people who are in the market for a tarmac-snorting, junior-sized sports saloon that ISN’T a BMW, AMG-tweaked Mercedes of hotted-up Audi. This particularly elusive species of motorist is after something with just enough cachet to cut it outside a nearby golf club (so that’s virtually every fast Ford and sporty Vauxhall out), and is hung up enough about long-term reliability to give anything made by Alfa Romeo a wide berth. Not entirely fairly, I’ve always reckoned.

Just think about all those cars over the years that have offered a 9000 Turbo-esque premise but never really taken off (no jet fighter puns intended). The Lexus IS-F, MG ZT260, Mazda6 MPS, Volvo S60R, Chrysler 300C, Volkswagen Passat W8, for instance. For all their leather seats, ample equipment levels and muted growls from their exhausts none have ever really managed to convincingly win over the anything-but-a-blummin’-BMW brigade. In fact you could argue that Saab itself never nailed it either, given the Swedes ran out of cash five years ago.

But that isn’t going to stop Kia giving it their best shot anyway. Their new BMW-baiter arrives here in January and it’s already onto a winner because it has a cool name; it might not be posh and German, but you can at least tell your mates that you drive a Stinger. Which it makes it sound like an American muscle car.

It also picks up the Saab’s old trick of using turbos to rustle up the sort of mid-range thump that comes in handy on a motorway’s outside lane; in the range-topping 3.3-litre V6 there are two of them, and they send 365bhp to the rear wheels. The upshot is that you’ll end up surging to 60mph in 4.7 seconds and onto a top speed of 168mph. Yes, I know that’s academic when you can only legally do 70mph, but when you bear in mind that sports saloon ownership is basically a better funded version of Top Trumps for grown-ups the big Kia comes across quite well.

For the same sort of money as a BMW 340i you can have a four-door saloon that’s bigger, better equipped, quicker and more powerful – and it’s styled by the same bloke who did the original Audi TT, just for good measure.

So it’s a no-brainer that your next sports saloon’s going to be a Kia Stinger, then? Nope, didn’t think it was. The BMW brochure’s just over there, seeing as you’re asking…

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Separated at birth – the story of two very different Peugeot hot hatches

Peugeot made one of the greatest hot hatches in the 205 GTI - but prices now can vary wildly

WILLY Russell fans might want to stick around for this week’s motoring musings. It’s essentially Blood Brothers in four-wheeled format, albeit starring a couple of old Peugeots rather than two Scousers separated at birth.

Our two protagonists both happen to 205 GTis, born in the same French factory and fitted with the same delightfully revvy 1.9-litre, 105bhp engine. They were even painted the same shade of Alpine White, and both were welcomed into a world where excitable road testers thought the 205 GTi was the best hot hatch ever made. With the exception of not quite having the same birthday – oh alright, one’s three years older than the other – they’re pretty much identical.

Except, as anyone familiar with Liverpudlian musicals will testify, they really aren’t.

Our two go-faster Peugeots, having led very different lives once they’d left the factory, both happened to go under the hammer at two separate auctions within 24 hours of each other recently. The younger of the two, which had done 103,000 miles but definitely wasn’t a shabby example, was yours for a shade under six grand. That’s a lot more than they used to fetch, but even in 2017 not exactly verging on unreasonable.

But then its older brother stepped into the spotlight. It was a 1988 car that had been given away in a competition – to a winner who couldn’t drive – and as a result still has fewer than 6000 miles on the clock. It’s also been wrapped up in cotton wool every night and doted on for the past five years by a Peugeot evangelist, so you’d expect it’d fetch a little bit more at auction.

It ended up selling for £38,480. That’s 15 grand more than you’ll pay for a brand new 208 GTi, which has airbags, traction control and a warranty.

Obviously just about everyone ended up fixated on what was a phenomenal result for a 29-year-old hot hatch, but if you live in the real world it’s the first price that’ll bear more relevance. Old cars with minimal mileages and unblemished panels come out of the woodwork every so often and go for some eyeball-grabbing price, but it doesn’t suddenly make that old Golf GTi rusting away at your mate’s garage worth a million quid. Only last weekend a Vauxhall Nova with a particularly exciting backstory sold online for £65,000 – that’s Porsche Cayman money – but it doesn’t mean the one you used to own is worth the same.

Blood Brothers ends of course with both protagonists getting shot – something which probably won’t happen to either of our elderly Peugeots. But if you believe the hype and spend over the odds on some vaguely trendy bit of 1980s motoring, you might end up shooting yourself. In the foot, of course…

BMW make a great 1-series – it just isn’t this one

BMW has made the 1-series brilliant on B-roads, but not so great everywhere else

BARBECUE envy is a bad thing to suffer from at this time of year.

Essentially it involves dragging your rusty old bit of al fresco cooking equipment – inevitably bought at a supermarket for about £30 five years ago – in preparation for a lovely evening with your friends and family. It’s only then you find you’ve been upstaged by an irritating mate/relative/colleague with three grand’s worth of Napoleon Prestige in their garden. You can’t help but marvel at all the polished stainless steel, backlit controls and ceramic plating – but it’s all a bit over-engineered for burning burgers on Britain’s ten hot days each year.

It’s not unlike the BMW 1-series I’ve just spent a weekend with, because it manages to be just a tiny bit too brilliant for its own good. Can a car be too, er, good for its own good? If the 116D is anything to go by, the answer’s an emphatic yes.

If you’ve never driven a 1-series then you won’t appreciate that for all its slightly awkward hatchback proportions it is a proper BMW of the old school, focusing on engineering above all else. So it has a delightfully smooth engine (even for a diesel) up front, all the power heading to the back, and perfect weight distribution in the middle. As a result it’s a real joy to drive, with beautifully balanced steering, a low driving position and a slick gearchange. No bad thing if you’re up in North Yorkshire, where I was working over the weekend.

But once you peel off the B-roads and back into the real world it’s not so impressive. The reason why the rest of the world stopped making rear-drive hatchbacks once the Vauxhall Chevette disappeared is because you have to send all the power down a propshaft to the back wheels, which in a low-slung car like the 1-series robs space. As a result the footwell is cramped, there isn’t much rear legroom and the boot isn’t exactly commodious.

The sharp suspension that proves such a joy on country lanes translates into a firm ride once you’re on the motorway, and I now understand why 1-series drivers never indicate. The flickers seem incapable of self-cancelling, so why bother using them?

This is normally the point where I’d recommend buying a cheaper, roomier Golf that’s very nearly as fun, but I can’t because I know deep down that the 1-series is a truly capable bit of kit that just needs more BMWness to work. It deserves to be ordered in full fat M140i form rather than the apologetic fully skimmed offering you get with the 116D.

I can fully approve of a car where going for the turbocharged one with 335bhp represents the sensible option. Let’s face it, you were only going to spend three grand on a barbecue anyway.

Bloodhound SSC – inspiring the next generation of Blue Peter doodlers

Bloodhound SSC is aiming to break the world land speed record

WHEN I was about ten I entered a Blue Peter competition that involved sending in drawings of Britain’s biggest and boldest achievements.

Everyone else sent in pictures representing the Millennium Dome and the World Wide Web – which is hindsight is weird, because the former was lambasted a colossal waste of public money and the latter is now used for amusing cat videos.

But my rather badly scrawled doodle depicting Andy Green at the helm of Thrust SSC, correctly predicted that Britain would ace the world land speed record. What I didn’t realise was that the 763mph record would still stand today, two decades later. Which is why my inner schoolchild beamed with excitement this when I heard that Thrust SSC’s successor is finally ready for its first outing.

For starters it has an equally brilliant name – Bloodhound SSC – but the stats sound like they belong in an episode of Thunderbirds. Try 0-60mph in less than a second. Barely a minute later it’ll be doing 1000mph.

On its low speed demonstration runs later this year it’ll comfortably keep pace with a Ferrari F40 at 200mph or so, and run on tyres borrowed from a Lightning jet fighter. But when the big day comes it’ll have no rubber at all, because there’s no tyre in existence that can cope with a wheel spinning 170 times every second.  Some of the numbers that come with Bloodhound SSC’s record attempt boggle the mind.

Why does it matter, particularly since this project’s been nearly a decade in the making and so far hasn’t moved beyond static displays at car shows? Because it shows we Brits can still do all the ballsy and brave stuff when we aren’t making Range Rover Evoques and Vauxhall Astras. In the same way that the British motor industry rallied behind Donald Campbell and his Bluebird record attempts half a century ago, the Bloodhound project is being used to get schoolchildren excited about engineering and technology.

I really do hope that when the blue and orange streak of flag-flying tech finally does those demonstration runs in Cornwall later this year – followed by 800mph and then 1000mph runs on the salt pans of South Africa – it’ll inspire some bright spark somewhere to get inventing. You never know, they might even enter a competition run by a children’s TV show.

Oh, and I never did get my Blue Peter badge.

Lotus – The Movie! Why it won’t happen anytime soon

Lotus makes some of the best handling cars on the market today

IF LOTUS were a bloke he’d have had his life story turned into a Hollywood movie by now – probably with Christian Bale playing the lead role.

It’s a compelling enough tale. A troubled young individual who grew up on a farm in Norfolk ends up hanging out with the world’s F1 stars, James Bond and that bloke from The Prisoner. Then he ends up falling in with a dodgy American entrepreneur and narrowly avoiding jail, losing loads of money in the process – before bouncing back spectacularly by winning Britain’s petrolheads over with his charm and character. But then he gets big ideas of taking on Ferrari, ends up cocking it up again and annoys his accountants.

Lotus has all sorts of baggage attached to it but none of it matters a jot when you’re at the helm of one on an open road. I’ve driven a couple of Hethel’s products over the years and they’ve all – from the 1970s Elan +2 to a brand new Evora S – been pretty much unbeatable when it comes to ride and handling. Even the 1990s Elan, which plenty of pub critics will kid you is a bit rubbish because it’s front-wheel-drive, was years ahead of its time when it came to mid-bend agility.

But the really important thing about Lotus isn’t all those dusty old F1 trophies or the pictures of the (now late) Sir Roger Moore posing next to a white Esprit; it’s all the work its engineers do behind the scenes on ordinary, everyday cars. Vauxhall and Proton are just about the only ones who’ll admit to having Lotus experts work on their cars’ handling but there are plenty of others who use its services; if your car doesn’t corner like a drunken tea trolley then it’s probably down to Lotus know-how.

Which is why I’m glad that a majority stake in Lotus has finally been snapped up by Geely, a Chinese manufacturer. You might not have heard of them but they’ve owned Volvo for the past seven years, and the Swedes seem to be doing rather well out of it.

I’m optimistic that Lotus will be allowed to thrive with a new influx of cash, rather like Jaguar Land Rover has under Indian ownership. For too long it’s depended on the Evora, a model launched back in 2008, and the Elise, which can trace its roots back to the early 1990s. Both are brilliant, but with the right investment Lotus should be able to develop some world class cars.

Starting with a new Elan, hopefully. Maybe the movie script writers should put their pens down for now…

The Volkswagen Scirocco is part of a dying breed

The VW Scirocco is now part of a dying breed of car

I DON’T know if the car world has a Grim Reaper – I imagine he’d look a bit like The Stig in some black robes – but he must be rubbing his hands with glee at the moment.

Not long ago I wrote about the death knell being sounded for Skoda’s Yeti, but now an entire automotive species is facing extinction; the fun, affordable coupé. Rumour has it that once Volkswagen’s Scirocco is put out to pasture, it won’t be replaced. Which for a fan of small two-doors is a big deal, because it’s pretty much the only one left.

Cast your mind back to the days when Tony Blair was eyeing up Number Ten and you were spoilt for choice if you had roughly £20,000 and a generous fleet manager prepared to offer you something sleeker than a Mondeo. Ford had the trendy Puma, and was in the process of replacing the Probe with the Cougar. Smile at a Vauxhall salesman and he’d rustle up a Tigra or Calibra, and that’s before we get to all the sleek two-doors Peugeot, Fiat, Honda, Toyota and just about everyone else had to offer. There were 20 different coupés on offer, and they were all exciting in their own way.

But now there’s the Scirocco, and that’s about it. Sure, there are a couple of three-door hatchbacks flaunting the c-word on their bootlids – and they’re coupés in name only, really – but nowadays you have to venture more upmarket before you arrive at the Toyota GT86, Ford Mustang and BMW 4-series. Hardly the sort of affordable offerings that give Mr Family Man hope.

The world needs coupés as much now as it did when the Ford Capri and the Opel Manta were the top dogs. They offer a welcome injection of panache into a motoring landscape dominated by boring family hatchbacks and me-too off-roaders, but because their underpinnings are ordinary they’re affordable, reliable and easy to service. So what if they’re a bit cramped in the back?

Perhaps we should persuade Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn that as part of their election pledges there should be state-funded grants for people prepared to brighten up the landscape with two-door coupés.

Alternatively, just buy a Volkswagen Scirocco while you still can.

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.

The yellow car convoy says a lot about our motoring freedom

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FIRST they came – to badly misquote Martin Niemöller – for the owners of yellow Vauxhall Corsas.

But car lovers across the country did speak out, by effectively telling aggrieved residents of the Cotswold village of Bilbury to get stuffed. You might have read about Peter Maddox, the 84-year-old man whose brightly hued supermini was vandalised by people who objected to it being parked in the picturesque village.

So owners of yellow cars from across the UK are responding by organising an entire convoy to pay the villagers a visit later this spring. As long as it’s all above board – and the organisers are in talks with the local council to make sure it is – I completely support it.

This from someone who hates the Vauxhall Corsa. But I hate curtain-twitching, NIMBY-ist busybodies who resent car enthusiasts lawfully enjoying their hobby even more.

If someone doesn’t like a yellow Corsa I respect their right to poke fun at it, but to scratch someone’s pride and joy, smash its windows in and scrawl the word ‘MOVE’ on it is completely beyond the pale. It’s as though someone watched the hit film Hot Fuzz, where resentful locals forcefully kill or remove anything or anyone that ruins their chances of winning the Best Village award, and thought it was a documentary.

It’s the same with people who write to the council because they object to their neighbour having a partially restored Triumph Spitfire on their driveway or those who take racetracks to court for being a bit noisy, even when the circuit was there long before their house was. Objecting so strongly to someone’s choice of car – and what they do with it, as long as it’s legal – is absurd.

I’d hate to think people who read about Peter’s car and thought ‘Oh, good’ aren’t emboldened by it, because they’ll move on to green Chrysler PT Cruisers and lowered Audi A3s next. Then it’ll be those Toyota MR2s that have been body-kitted to look like Ferrari F355s, followed by people who drive Range Rover Sports and BMW X5s with oversized alloys. Owners of Nissan Jukes, even in completely standard form, should be looking worried by this point.

Then they’ll come for the owners of MGB GTs with slightly flaky paintwork. Only they won’t, because car fans are letting them know now that it’s a ridiculous idea. I may not agree with your yellow Vauxhall Corsa, but I’ll defend to the death your right to drive it.

Originally published in The Champion newspaper on 15 February, 2017

Buying Vauxhall? Please don’t screw it up, Monsieur Peugeot

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THE TV news is full of doom ‘n’ gloom. The internet is creaking under the weight of patriotic complaint, and pundits everywhere reckon it’s all going to end in tears.

Nope, it’s not one of Donald Trump’s speeches, but the conclusion it’s all too easy to draw about what’s happening with Vauxhall at the moment. The Government is apparently keeping a close eye on talks some people from PSA – that’s Peugeot to you and me – are having with General Motors about whether it should flog off its European operations. In other words Opel over in Germany, and Vauxhall here in the UK.

There are two things to bear in mind straight away. Firstly, Vauxhall is as British as the Queen sat on a Range Rover’s lowered tailgate sipping Tetley – in other words, as British as a person of German descent drinking an Indian-owned beverage on an Indian-funded car. Vauxhall might still proudly manufacture its cars in the UK but anyone gasping in horror at the thought of it being taken over by a foreign firm should stick their Union Flags and Winston Churchill books back in their boxes. Last year I drove a Vauxhall T-type made way back in 1929, and even that had General Motors bits in it. Being foreign-owned, as Jaguar Land Rover can testify, is by no means a bad thing.

But that doesn’t make Peugeot the right parent. It’s stuck by Citroen for more than 40 years but the last British firm it snapped up – Chrysler Europe, which through lots of boring corporate takeovers had the rights to Sunbeam, Humber and all sorts of other wonderful names – vanished without trace. It also has form for closing down UK factories, calling quits on Ryton when it moved Peugeot 207 production to Slovakia.

I’d love to be proven wrong but I can’t help think Peugeot taking over Vauxhall is a bit like Manchester United being allowed to buy Liverpool FC – why would it be in the interests of one to allow one of its biggest rivals to thrive? Someone in France might have come up with some brilliant plan where the two brands compliment one another, in much the same way Peugeot already does with Citroen, but I have my doubts.

All this at a time when Vauxhall is making some genuinely good cars too; I understand entirely why Astra’s the current European Car of the Year, and the latest Insignia looks very promising. I might even forgive them the Mokka, because by and large it’s a decent range of cars that Brits rightly love.

If you are thinking of buying, Monsieur Peugeot, please don’t screw it up.

These are the ten cars that made my 2016, and why

IT’S been a whirlwind year of motoring adventures. Over the past 12 months I’ve driven 88 different cars and been to 34 classic shows, but a couple have left particularly big impressions, and for very different reasons.

These are the automotive memories that’ll stick out more than most…

 

Porsche 928

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Where: Southport, Merseyside

Confession time. I’ve had my fair share of Ferraris, Astons, Jaguars and TVRs, but until 2016 I’d never driven any kind of Porsche. No 911s, no Boxsters, nothing. But what a car to start with. Wonderful looks that have barely aged in four decades, a thumping great V8 soundtrack, plenty of straight line shove and handling to die for.

 

Vauxhall 6hp

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Where: Luton, Bedfordshire

How can a car that only does 18mph be so tricky – and a bit frightening – to drive?  This 112-year-old is one of the stars of Vauxhall’s heritage collection, and for one morning its custodians were brave enough to let me have a go. The steering’s by tillar, none of the pedals do what you expect them to do and it has just two gears – but boy is it rewarding when you finally get it right.

 

Wolseley Hornet Crayford ‘Heinz 57’

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Where: Swanley, Kent

Regular readers will already know I love Minis. I’ve owned two and over the years sampled many a Cooper, van, Moke and just about every other derivative besides, but this just about tops the lot. It’s one of only 50 convertible versions of the Wolseley Hornet created by Crayford as prizes to give away to the winners of a Heinz competition back in 1966. It’s Half a century on it’s still bloody brilliant to drive.

 

Ferrari Testarossa

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Where: North York Moors, somewhere near Whitby

It’s one of my favourite Ferraris and it was in the North York Moors – home to some of the best roads you’ll find anywhere in the UK. You might think the Miami Vice poser might not be the best car for this sort of territory, but the Testarossa handled more deftly than any of the armchair critics would have you believe. It didn’t disappoint.

 

 

Ford Mustang

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Where: Birkenhead, Merseyside

It’s a blisteringly hot summer afternoon, you have a bright red Ford Mustang convertible at your disposal – oh, and it has a V8 for good measure. It didn’t matter a jot that the summer afternoon in question was in Birkenhead rather than Beverley Hills. Everybody loved the ‘stang, including the guy grinning behind the wheel.

 

 

Volkswagen Up!

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Where: Stelvio Pass, Italy

I have longstanding affection for the Up!, honed after many weekends using a company-owned one on Classic Car Weekly adventures. What turned out to be jolly good fun on the Cat and Fiddle road in the Peak District translates into equally smile-inducing motoring on the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps. It might have only had 60bhp at its disposal but its size and agility made it a perfect partner, embarrassing plenty of quicker cars up there. Hire car motoring at its best.

 

Messerschmitt KR200

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Where: Scarisbrick, Lancashire

Until 2016 I’d never driven a bubble car – and then I got to drive three in one day! The BMW Isetta and Trojan 200 were huge fun but for ultimate kicks the Messerschmitt KR200 is in a different league. Super-sharp, yoke-operated steering, a tiny engine that thrived on revs and a centrally-mounted driving position made this a drive quite unlike any other. Utterly exhilerating.

 

 

TVR Chimaera

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Where: The Golden Mile, Blackpool

Over three wonderful days I fell just a little bit in love with a TVR Chimaera I borrowed. It was very, very good on the roads criss-crossing the Trough of Bowland (keep an eye for the forthcoming feature in Modern Classics magazine) but the real highlight was cruising into Blackpool at the height of the Illuminations. It was a huge privilege to bring this piece of the resort’s motoring heritage home for the night.

 

MGB GT

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Where: Glencoe, Scottish Highlands

Not just any MGB GT, but my MGB GT, and it was finally on the spectacular journey I’ve always wanted to do with it. Wonderful roads, spectacular scenery – and it actually got there AND BACK without breaking down!

 

Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow

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Where: Southport, Merseyside

I wasn’t even behind the wheel – that job I left to Bryan Glazer, the car’s owner – but this was the most important journey of my motoring life. On 29 July a blushing bride hopped out of it – and she’s now my wife. Then I got to do a champagne-fuelled lap of my hometown of Southport in it. It was the motoring moment that left the biggest impression on me. Well it had to be, didn’t it?

Additional photography courtesy of Richard Gunn and Classic Car Weekly