My elder daughter recently passed her driving test and now pootles about the place in a six year-old Toyota Aygo, the only car she has ever driven. Interesting, huh?
FEB 24th 2017
Thank Frankel it's Friday: There's driving, and there's Driving
Well, not really. But that’s because, as least when it came to instilling a love of cars in my children, I have been an entirely rubbish parent. My father was cut from a rather different cloth.
When I was growing up we lived in a house with a couple of fields out the back. And his view was why grow potatoes in said fields when you could be driving cars around them instead? So a succession of scarcely mobile wreckage would come, be driven to destruction by me and my two elder brothers, and carted off to the scrapper. The first was a Renault Dauphine, but my feet wouldn’t reach its pedals, but then came an Austin A35, which I was driving with reasonable proficiency by the age of eight. I was then as I am now, somewhat taller than average.
The A35 turned into a couple of Morris Minors costing £20 each but the real high points came at weekends, when my father would return from some business trip not in the car he’d left at the airport, but whatever he could hire cheaply from Avis, the sole stipulation being it must have rear wheel drive. I remember a MkII Escort with particular fondness and an MG Midget which I drove repeatedly into a telegraph pole to test the veracity of MG’s claims that its fat, squidgy bumpers would absorb any impact at up to 5mph without damage. Much to my surprise and disappointment, indeed they did. Then he’d drive them back to the airport on Monday morning and hand over the keys wearing his most innocent face. And despite all the creaks, rattles and loose bits of trim from which they all suffered after a weekend lapping bumpy fields at maximum attack until their tanks ran dry, he never got a repair bill.
When it came to driving on public roads, his attitude changed somewhat. Now he wanted the slowest, strongest thing on the road, which is why I passed my test in the Series III Land Rover that I now own and, 35 years later, still drive every week.
So I could drive. But I still couldn’t drive. I still didn’t understand how weight transfer affects a car’s balance and how the attitude of a car in a corner can be adjusted by exploiting it. In other words, I had no idea how to manage the mass of the car, let alone understand tyres and the fact that the more you asked of them in a longitudinal direction the less they’d be able to do laterally. For that, I needed my own car and my first, a Mini Metro, didn’t really cut the mustard. It was only during my brief city career that I could afford something rather more responsive. And I learned how to drive it at Goodwood.
Goodwood was quite a sad place in the mid-'80s. I’m not sure it was even used for testing, but it could be quite affordably be rented out for track days, to one of which I proudly turned up in my brand new Peugeot 205 GTI. It was an early one with a grand total of 105bhp under its bonnet, but even that was more than I could handle. First time into Madgwick I found myself running a little wide so eased off the power to slow things down a bit. In an instant, I was facing the way I had come. I did it again at Lavant and, a few laps later at Woodcote too. I presumed my car had fatally misaligned suspension.
It took a chum who had done some racing to drive me around and show me where I was going wrong. Memorably he demonstrated how the car could be made to tighten or widen its line through a corner without moving the steering wheel at all. Suddenly the concept of ‘steering the car on the throttle’ which I had always thought a load of old cobblers, was there before my eyes. I never spun it again.
I still think of that moment over 30 years ago every time I go to Goodwood. Whatever small talent I may possess behind a wheel, it was uncovered that day. Three years later, I’d be earning my living from it, and have been doing so ever since. One more reason to be grateful for the West Sussex circuit that plays such a large part in all our lives. And why a few years back I could resist temptation no longer and went out and bought another 205 GTI.
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