Talking Motors: Silverstone spectacle cures Wembley blues

A happy columnist with James Hunts  1976 McLaren M23
A happy columnist with James Hunts 1976 McLaren M23

My girlfriend makes a lot of room in her life for my obsessions.

As a result of one of them, she knew exactly how to cheer me up after last Friday’s Challenge Cup semi-final defeat.

I’ve already decided to put myself on washing-up duty for a month (don’t tell her) for the fact she accompanied me while I sat in traffic for three hours on the way to Doncaster, and then she dealt with my mood as time ticked down and I got used to the fact the closest I was getting to Wembley this year would be when the train passes it on the way to a theatre trip.

She took me to the Silverstone Classic the following day – talk about an early Christmas present!

In giving-up what was left of her weekend, I was able to wander around the track while classic Jaguars, MGs, Triumphs and Alfas slid around corners upon our arrival to the circuit. There were more than 100,000 visitors over the weekend but this was a relaxed event, there was space to walk around and we could walk right up to the fence at the side of the track. Any closer and tyres would have kicked gravel in our faces.

And with this year being the 40th anniversary of James Hunt’s Formula One World Championship year, I was running about flapping my arms like a kid on Smarties for most of the day with Hunt-mania at every turn.

After having my picture taken with James’s 1976 McLaren M23, we settled on a grass verge by the bridge on the Hangar Straight to watch a Formula One masters race where Heskeths and Tyrrells from the 70s battled with the likes of 80s WIlliamses - and John Player Special Lotuses.

From our spot we could see them fly around Stowe and onto the straight – and they were really going for it, with shrieks and splutters you can’t help but smile at.

There were classics parked everywhere and a shopping village crammed with books (I had to keep reminding myself we’ve run out of space) and car parts.

It was as if I’d opened a shop.

Back at the pits, there were no barriers, and we could walk in and amongst people fettling cars for races, being careful not to knock anything over while peering into windows.

The organisers thought of everything, and at the risk of sounding like a carrier bag-wielding Roy Cropper, another highlight was catching a Routemaster bus from one end of the circuit to the other.

And among some of the most iconic cars ever built, was one I’d add to my list of ‘Lottery win’ cars.

There are no door handles, the boot was a slightly paler shade of red than the rest of the car and you could easily fit a magazine in between the gaps in the door. I was already Googling MkI Midgets for sale on the way home, arms loaded with posters and goodies like a schoolboy carrying prizes home from a funfair.

Handled with care...‘Midge’ given the female touch

It finally happened last Sunday. At first, the feeling was quite odd. It was one of fear and excitement. I was unsure of what was going to happen and how much of my masculinity would be left after the event.

My girlfriend drove my car.

It’s not entirely fair of me to pretend it was some sort of giving-in to months’ worth of pleading on her part - it was quite the other way round (I had added her to my insurance policy when my renewal was sorted in the hope she’d catch the classic car bug).

Nonetheless I was still nervous – more so than when I took ‘Midge’ home after parting with what was left of my savings a couple of years ago at a time when the top of my list of driving achievements was checking tyre pressures.

I had drawn-up a lesson plan in my head. All the unique characteristics of driving a Midget, which would be alien to a person who’d not driven anything pre-2007, would be covered in a completely non-patronising way.

There would be walk-throughs of how to deal with a clunky gearbox that doesn’t always want to go in the gear you’d like and the heavy brakes, which must be pressed firmly but not stamped on.

“Remember, you’re on skinny tyres so you’ll go into a slide if you slam on…” I was sure I would say.

You know as well as I do that learning mechanical sympathy takes weeks, months … years – and each car from an era when advert slogans like ‘Your mother wouldn’t like it’ were seen as the best way to peddle MGs to hip accountants was as different as the colour of tea we like in our mugs.

So I began the journey to the industrial estate where I taught my girlfriend the basics of driving a (modern) car a few years ago before an instructor undid my work and got her through her test.

Midge seemed smaller from the passenger seat.

“I like the steering wheel,” was the first comment I registered once I’d finished inspecting a spot of rust I’d not previously seen from my old vantage point on the right hand side of the car.

The engine was warm, no need for choke, and she started him (yes, him – I’m very attached).

A click signified we were in first – it’s a satisfying noise that comes after some gentle persuasion, and I was kindly allowed to explain that the left and right foot movements should be as delicate as possible.

Honest – it reads a lot more patronising than I think I sounded. And we were off.

The first turn was no problem, the gearbox whine from second was no different. Confidence grew.

In fact, apart from swiping to the left hand side of the steering column for the indicator (everything is on the other side to her car) confidence grew to a point where we went on the road.

We went further, up to Haigh, and on country roads that allowed us to get the hammer down a bit. All beautifully controlled. We didn’t fall-out. I’d have taken a picture but we had the top down and she wouldn’t have approved of what her hair was doing.

I should have been over the moon. But if I’m being completely honest I was a tad miffed.

Not only was the person I bleat on about cars to every waking second a natural (she’s a much better driver than I am, but don’t tell her), she also discovered a secret I once kept very closely-guarded. There isn’t really a great mystery to driving classic cars.

A Bugatti Veyron is our Sam’s dream drive

While Sports Editor Phil Wilkinson took some well=-deserved annual leave this past fortnight, it presented me with a few more opportunities to chat to Warriors players.

And it was nice to meet Sam Tomkins while he took delivery of a new Dacia early this week for an interview opportunity. Away from the DW Stadium or Orrell training base, it provided an opportunity to ask a few different questions to the normal pre-match bread and butter.

The subject of cars was obviously on the agenda as Sam tried out his new car for size and I asked him what he’d go for as a dream car if practicality wasn’t an issue.

“A Bugatti Veyron,” he replied with a touch of enthusiasm.

“But you can’t get a child seat in them so I’ll have to wait until my little lad is grown-up.”

It’s certainly a good, if a little obvious, choice of dream car. Its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it top speed of 253mph certainly gives it plenty of appeal, and that’s before you consider its hauntingly-attractive design.

So it looks as if the selection means Sam won’t be joining my Lada appreciation society any time soon, although it should be pointed out to him that a Lada can 
easily accommodate a child seat.