Cars are a medium for all kinds of romantic ideas. Sit behind the wheel of an Alfa Spider and you’re suddenly a 1960s Italian stud, all smouldering side-eye as you toy with the limit on a Mediterranean coastal road. Jump into a vintage Bentley in thick English drizzle and you become that honking combo of fighter pilot and Toad of Toad Hall. And as I slide onto the plush leather seats of a slightly dinked Range Rover from a few generations back, for one sweet moment I too can be the yummiest of mummies, furiously elbowing my way through school run back-markers like Max Verstappen…
Category: Long Reads
Three days, two drivers, and one race-striped tearaway – the Fitzroy Motor team get to grips with the 620R, Caterham’s most extreme offering yet…
“So, what next?”
I thought back to my first time in a Caterham – a year ago, roaring through Kentish villages in a Seven 270, my senses straining to keep up. Nothing since then had quite matched it.
“I’ve asked them for something a bit special this time,” I answered. “I’ve asked for the Lego Cat.”
A moment’s thoughtful pause. “Oh dear,” said Phil.
A sunny afternoon in the Eifel. I was on the Nürburgring Nordschliefe, a coil of unforgiving racetrack wrapped around the castle of Nürburg in the Rhineland Palatinate.
Jackie Stewart had christened it the “Green Hell” in far less cosseted times, when race drivers risked their lives on every lap. The name has stuck, perhaps because it describes the psychological as well as physical experience of driving it. A sense of foreboding unspools itself as fast as the pleasure of hurtling through its seductive turns and undulations. You know that somewhere in the serpentine complexity is a set of fangs.
For over a quarter of a century and four generations of development, Mazda and owners of the MX-5 have had to tread carefully. First, Mazda smiled sweetly and self-effacingly as it took the idea of the classic British two-seat roadster and showed fair Albion, and arguably the world, how it should really be done. Then, on delivery of the first ever MX-5 and probably on every occasion since, the new owner has had to turn around to disbelieving friends and say, voice quavering, “…but trust me guys – it’s amazing to drive!”.
Aye, there’s the rub.
There’s something about seeing an Abarth 124 Spider which makes you do a double take. Yes, if you squint, Abarths look like Fiats. But they ain’t. Not really. There’s more there, something more boisterous, pugilistic, testy. You don’t see Abarth’s scorpion badge around much either. The brand is a sort of secret, only known to people who’ve looked at the offerings of the Fiat Chrysler group and then asked where they keep the good stuff. Come right this way, signore. Because from the moment you see one in the flesh, you realise that an Abarth has a kind of purpose, a certain spirit about it. Then you turn the engine on and you hear it. It’s the Spirit of Carlo.
For decades now the BMW M3 has been The People’s Sportscar. From a well-travelled daily driver for a few grand to a six-figure special edition you’ll never have the guts to drive, there is a car out there for you. Indeed, now is an especially good time to be on the hunt, as two of perhaps the finest M3 models are within the same price range – the E46 and the E92, the somewhat stale codenames for the far-from-stale third and fourth generations. Yet while both are held in high esteem, they are rarely compared directly. So what exactly does the M3 canon look like, how do these two fit into it and, of course: which should you buy?
As a little boy I used to play with toy cars. My favourites from the fleet were a red Rolls Royce, a battered Lamborghini Miura and a raceworn Jaguar XJR-9. But there was one rather quaint toy car which I remember as having a particular significance. It had elegantly curved front wings, delicate cutouts in the side doors, and a distinctive wedge of a rear which, however many times you had seen it, always tempted your gaze down to the chromed rear exhaust.
Holding it in my hands, I remember asking my dad what it was. “This is a Morgan,” he said. “It’s a very special kind of car.” Little was I to know that twenty five years later, I would find myself feeling like a very special kind of driver, coaxing a purring jet-black Morgan 4/4 along a winding country road with a huge grin on my face.
But let’s not get carried away too soon.
The modern car is a lie. All you’ve been told about the necessity of power steering, traction control, heated seats and Radio 4 muttering away as you cruise down the M6 is false. Society does a great job of filtering most of our experiences through several layers of abstraction, and almost every modern car reflects this philosophy. Carefully designed to protect us, and keep us comfortable and safe as we get from point A to B, modern vehicles are in a balancing act; how to navigate through the natural world without spending too much time in it.
I say “almost” every modern car, because there are vehicles in production today which do away with familiar luxuries in order to capture some of the original rawness and thrill of motoring as it used to be done. It’s the simple magic of using exploding gas to propel a human object through beautiful surroundings at thrilling speeds. One such vehicle, and perhaps the archetype, is the Caterham Seven sports car. And we had two of these at our disposal over a glorious English summer weekend.
It was an early start, and I hate early starts. After a sleepy coffee and accidentally waking the dog on the way out of the flat, I pulled myself into my Renault, nipped at by the morning cold. Dawn was breaking over London, and my body sullenly questioned what it was doing. But as I typed a destination into my sat-nav, I felt the first prickle of excitement. My destination was Goodwood Motor Circuit. I was going to my first Breakfast Club.