My Motoring Year

How was your motoring year?

Oh yes

The biggest single event of the year involved a huge drive from the middle of Denmark to the north of Italy. I remember a lot about the drudgery of extended motorway travel and seeing 500 cars in a shiny metal herd edging towards 12 petrol pumps is not an uplifting experience.

One of the cars I am talking about in this article

I am quite surprised in retrospect how difficult it was to find the motivation to photograph the i40 we hired for the trip. There was no lack of photogenic places in the Sudtirol. The car simply didn’t generate much emotion either way. It really wasn’t bad and wasn’t that good either. I didn’t know anyone could afford to make cars that left one indifferent.

So, it’s the experience around the rental that stays with me: stressful high-speed mile-munching on Germany’s packed autobahns, some really horrible service stations and the hang-over of two speeding tickets garnered when I tried to escape the autobahns (both were awarded on the same day). I figured that traffic jams were destroying my average speed so why not travel at the average speed on local roads? Well, apparently getting nabbed by speed cameras is the counter-argument. I wasn’t even trying to go fast.

I’ve not driven so many rental cars this year either which means I am a little short on rental car experience. I suppose the Alfa Romeo Alfetta 1.6 I sat in in Brixen, Italy, counts as part of my motoring year: the interiors are a lot nicer in the metal than they seem in photos. And you have to experience the seating. That leads me to the general insight that Alfa Romeo really knew how to do seating, as good as their engines but never subject to much commentary or praise. You won’t read that at Evo or Car or WhatCar, I reckon.

Next year I promise I will get out to test-drive some new cars. How about you all?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

6 thoughts on “My Motoring Year”

  1. Caen to the med. Only using départementals. In December. With butchered pist-its in different places where my eye might glance at them. “Keep Right” on the door mirrors, the rear view mirror, dashboard Etc. 1000km+ of undulating bitume. In a c6. Home in one piece.

  2. My motoring year made me think about relative values and makes me question the sanity of it all.

    I discovered (by needing to know) that a replacement Xenon headlight unit for a Mitsubishi ASX costs a little over £1500, which is more than my other car is worth in it’s entirety. Crazy, especially as I never went looking for Xenon lamps when buying the car, it just happened to have them.

    Later on in the year I had to have a ‘diamond-cut’ super shiny, super corroded at three years old alloy wheel refurbished. This was done by someone I can only describe as a true craftsman, with attention and care and a pride in the end result. The wheel was stripped, painted, baked, re-skimmed in a lathe that cost tens of thousands of pounds, then lacquered to finish. The total cost for such attention to detail and craftsmanship was just £105.

    Then as the year progressed a friend and I were discussing my lack of love for the ASX, which in turn led to contact with a Volvo dealer that he uses in Scotland (we’re in Devon). An XC60, it turned out, could be rented for only £30 a month more than I was paying to purchase my ASX. So a four year rental was agreed, a diesel, with no risk of worrying about residual value as I just hand it back at the end.

    So after many years of steadfastly resisting such deals I am now driving a hugely capable, comfortable car ordered and built to my specification – so no black interior and no diamond cut alloy wheels! The drive home from Scotland (fly up, drive back) was the only unusual journey of my actual motoring year, as well as the usual summer fortnight in the Vendée region of France before we ditched the Mitsubishi.

    And as if to prove the daftness of it all, we enquired about an XC40 as part of the process. Mrs T quite likes the look of them, and after all the list price is over £10k less than the XC60 isn’t it? But not to lease, my friend, oh no…. an XC40 will cost you more than an XC60. We will continue to ‘slum it’ in the XC60 then.

  3. Over the past years the rental car company I have chose to trust apparently has also chosen to trust me. That is to say that one of their employees has been very generous with granting me upgrades at modest expense:

    The Diesel Monster

    Earlier this year I booked a Mercedes E 200 “or similar” to commute from Berlin to Essen to visit the Techno Classica. “Or similar” turned out to be a BMW 750d. Yes, the latest and greatest BMW Diesel beast powered by a 3 litre 6 cylinder quad turbo engine producing as much as makes no difference power and torque. Well, it looks bloated, uninspired, baroque. Of the German plus-size saloon cars, this remains my least favourite. The red-ish quilted leather seats were not to my taste either. The semi-digital dashboard to me combines the worst of both worlds: the rigidity of an analogue instrument cluster with the often misguided, Play-Station-Game like graphics of digital drivers’ displays. So much we knew before.

    But what was it like to drive? Here, finally, the BMW started to shine. The very impressive 3D surround view camera made getting out of the tight parking garage almost a pleasure, the engine pulled the car quietly and strongly towards the Autobahn, where never ending road work limited speeds to a (by German standards) modest 120 km/h and pushed the average fuel consumption down towards the 5 litre mark. This restraint of the right foot was difficult to maintain, nonetheless my verdict for the overall comfort-performance-fuel-efficiency balance remains: very impressive!

    The car also gifted me with a very interesting automotive sensation I have not had with the same intensity neither before nor after: Quickly slipping past a vehicle parked by the side of the the car reacted to my gentle but sure-footed push on the acceleartor in such a way that it gave me the very interesting impression of having pushed the car directly with the motion of my leg… Can anybody relate to this?

    The Land Yacht

    A little later the game was repeated when I had reserved a Mazda MX-5 “or similar” to end up with a Mercedes S 560 Cabriolet. Thank! You! As much as I wanted to hate the car for being the complete opposite to my all-time favourite Bruno Sacco Mercedes designs of the good old days, the car broke my resistance basically with the push of the start-stop-button. All the bling and all the vroom just incites an intense fight between the educated, rationale voice of reason and the inner child – a fight which the inner child probably wins 9 out of 10 times.

    We drove aimlessly up and down the winding (not so) quiet country roads around Berlin and became addicted to the car’s split personality: a top-down, shouting and screaming performance beast on the one side and a subdued, silent and safe cocoon, spinning the ground away under it’s wheels, rather than driving over it. I have never experienced a car that made you feel to be in the center of the universe like this one. I didn’t plan to be so emotionally overwhelmed by this car. But there you have it. I was.

    What I still didn’t like: the interior looks like it was drawn by a child (some might say, it actually was) and is made even worse by the materials feeling very cheap considering the car’s sticker price. How on earth can Mercedes justify to not use actual aluminum rather than squeaky plastic bits in a car that costs around 150k €? A car to own once it has depreciated to the bottom of the classifieds? I wish the way it looks could match the way it can make you feel… But alas, I don’t think it can.

    The Golf

    Less excitingly I also drove a Golf, powered by a cylinder-de-activating 4 cylinder petrol engine. It behaved very competently on the Autobahn, quiet, fast, comfortable. But it’s fuel economy was a big disappointment (above 8 liters if driven with modest Autobahn speed, my Mercedes E 430 T needs only 2-3 litres more driven at about the same speed, how can that be?) The Golf was as competent in its driving quailites as it was boring though. It left me with absolutely no emotion and I was quite happy to return it 3 days and 1200 km later.

    The Transit

    Just a few days ago I hired a Ford Transit Cargo van to move furniture from one place to another. I always find these Sprinter-class transport vans a blast to drive. The high driving position, the great view out the huge wind screen, the nippy turbo charged diesel engines – the Ford delivered in all of these categories. What I found most disappointing: The sliding door has been sound dampened, it doesn’t make this very satisfying tinny sound any more but now feels much heavier and more expensive – not qualities I appreciate in my cargo van. Besides: Why does Ford appear to be so unable to maintain any kind of design continuity from one generation of their vehicles to the next? I quite liked the look of the previous generation Transit. The current one doesn’t resemble it at all. I suppose these vehicles usually aren’t bought based on looks (maybe they are?) but still…

    I also drove a Daihatsu Tanto custom as a rental car while in Japan. That car was a true revelation. But I’ll leave the review for another time.

  4. P.S.: Oh, and a sure way to avoid both, dreadful German Autobahn traffic and the speed cameras while still traveling (mostly) by car, is to take the AutoZug (yes, the car train) from Hamburg to Munich. Cars are loaded on the train and you enjoy the journey from the comfort of your sleeper train compartment with time to reflect about the future of the automobile – or indeed the lack thereof.

  5. Three distinct highlights from my motoring year;
    1 – visiting the Vauxhall open day in Luton and seeing their extensive and impressive fleet from yesteryear. This includes Wyvern’s , One of the last vinyl roofed Viva’s, a Bedford lorry from the 1930’s, the ‘60’s Orange VXR and round the world Frontera amongst many others. They even laid on a free bus from the centre to a local car show which was nice. Knowledgeable and friendly staff, a proper car day out.

    2 links into 3 – The Isle of Anglesey. Quality roads, mainly traffic free and leading to some glorious coastlines and tucked away corners just begging to be driven again and again.
    And tucked away literally in a very quiet corner I found the resting place of the Land Rover instigator, Maurice Wilkes. He holidayed frequently on the island, did a lot of the initial LR testing there and resides there forevermore in an easily missed churchyard. A splendid, calming moment in time.

    Plans for 2019 include testing the Peugeot 508 fastback, the new Jimny and avoiding the gaze of an eight year old F10 535i that refuses to go away and keeps nagging me to go and try it for size, go on, it won’t hurt, course you man manage the fuel/insurance/ tyre costs, go on, go on, go on…

  6. 2018 was a rather boring motoring year for me. No car rentals at all, if I don’t count the drive to Stuttgart in one of our company Golfs. Yawn. The two courtesy cars I had during the year were nothing to write about, either: a Mitsubishi Colt that stirred no emotion whatsoever, and a Citroën C1 that at least had the benefit of being quite a nimble thing with a nice 3-cylinder sound (if one likes that) and a large folding roof through which I could enjoy our unusually warm autumn.

    Perhaps the only highlight was a re-encounter with the Citroën XM after what must be almost fifteen years. I was looking forward to this opportunity to have my brother’s car for some days, and I wasn’t disappointed. Although I was a bit shocked by all the rattles and creaks and the amount of wind and road noise (compared to my C6), it still left the impression of a very comfortable car with a bit less body movements than the C6 and a much swifter engine / gearbox combination (including the rough sound I like about the PRV V6).

    Regarding the C6, it’s still the car I don’t want to give away. Contrary to Adrian, I was surprised that the Xenon light unit I had to replace was only priced around 100 swiss francs (plus about the same amount for the work). Other than that, there were two minor parking damages on opposite edges of the car, occurring within less than two weeks (one by my own fault, the second caused by an other motorist). This was mostly covered by insurance, but I decided to afford a little more money by myself and have some other scratches removed while the car was in the shop anyway. Great reward, it looks great for a ten year old car now, and I really hope it stays so for a while. For 2019, some in-depth care for the leather seats is planned to make the car look even nicer.

    Due to a lot of work and an extended visit by our Peruan relatives, work on my GS restoration project was slow this year. It’s now almost completely dismantled, so next year will see a lot of cleaning, refurbishing, plus numerous tasks on the bodyshell (including reverting it to original colour) and on the engine. I still have to figure out how much I can do by myself…

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